The all-powerful King of Shadows discovers, much to his fury, that He has NOT been running the Crystal Empire all this time, but rather a race of pan-galactic, hyper-intelligent beings running a 10 million year program have.
How do you tell King Sombra, the most feared King in all of Equestria, that he has NOT been ruling the Crystal Empire his entire reign, but instead a race of pan-galactic, hyper-intelligent beings running a 10 million year program on the planet have? Worse, how do you follow that up with the news that this is all in pursuit of discovering the question to the answer of Life, the Universe and Everything?
Very, VERY carefully.
An insane cross-over with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
“Experiment number 3202016. Check!” drifted a voice across the surface of crystals clinging to the walls of the mines underneath the castle of the Crystal Empire.
“Check!” came the reply near the entrance.
“Are the shadow guards in place?” asked the first voice.
“Affirmative. And the slaves should be coming through...NOW!”
As if on cue, several crystal guards, bereft of their crystal coat, their eyes saturated green and leaking purple mist from the corners, marched a line of sad-looking crystal earth ponies past the area of the voices. Only when they were out of sight, did the first voice – a high-pitched, squeaky sound, speak out.
“Shit! They were supposed to be shadow guards!” it said in an annoyed, angry tone.
“Sorry sir,” the other voice apologized. “I think Nyx called them away again.”
“She keeps interfering with our plans!” Number One complained. “I want her taken out!”
“Uh, we can't do that, sir,” Number Two shook its tiny head.
“And why not?”
“She's an integral part of the question matrix...and she's scheduled to discover us as soon as Tight Planner spills the beans and starts - “
“ - screaming? Who the Tartarus will be making all that racket?” the Marazon TimeWitch yelled as she walked briskly through the Crystal Empire's castle. Servants and advisers parted the way for her, bowing slightly as she passed. She hardly noticed them, gesturing sharply for two shadow guards heading for the mines to stop what they were doing and accompany her.
“Yesssss, Missstresss?” one of the umbrum shadows replied as it took up position next to her.
*Guard 456, who is going to let a little girl into the castle and why will she be screaming like that?” Nyx snapped. “We have to stop her before she starts up and interrupts his Majesty's meditations. He's at a very delicate juncture in his time magic studies!”
*We hear no ssscreaming, Missstresss,” the other guard whispered. *You ssspeak in future tensesss.”
The first guard spoke up. *Ssshe seesss the future, 710, hence her future-ssspeak.* The smoky wraith turned to Nyx. *Apologiesss, Missstresss. 710 hasss been reasssigned from the outlandsss.*
*Fine, fine,* Nyx waved the creature's explanation for his fellow's confusion away. *Just take care of that horrible noise before it happens.* She stopped abruptly, looking down the juncture of several adjoining corridors. *It will be down there, in the dining annex to the kitchens. Probably in the kitchen itself, but check - and fast! I must get back to my Liege before he tears that hole in reality he's about to. I don't want to clean up the mess that will result.* She turned around and walked briskly back the other way, leaving the two guards to a quick bow to her before they shot across the long corridor towards the sounds just starting of chaos in the kitchens beyond.
“I despise working with time-travelers!” Number One yelled, which was not very impressive since his voice barely carried a foot past the area of him and his fellow. “Always mucking up our quantum calculations!”
“Yes sir,” Number Two agreed. “but we would have been done with this damnable business seven centuries ahead of schedule if we had factored in their presence. That was a harsh lesson at the hands of The Doctor.”
“Don't talk to me about The Doctor,” One mumbled sourly. “And 'hooves', Two. Hooves. These creatures have hooves!”
“Oh, right,” Two mumbled, scratching his head with a clawed hand. “I was assigned to the human dimension before this one...it's hard to break the habit.”
His boss looked over their calculations on a portable, quantum calculator that projected the latest experiment results in holographic form above their heads. “You may not have to worry about breaking the habit, actually. The calculation matrix says this place is due to be frozen by a time anomaly - “
“Not surprised,” his subordinate nodded. “what with the TimeWitch teaching this Empire's King's time spells.” He peered harder at the data readouts. “Ooohhh...that's quite some interesting output due to happen in the next few days, but isn't it a danger to us?”
“Not if we evacuate on schedule,” One shook his head. “But we will need that data and with her unpredictability, we will have to keep a closer eye on Nyx and his Highness.”
“Oh, oh no, no, no, no!” Two said, perturbed. “Don't tell me we're moving the lab to - “
“ - 'fraid so,” the head scientist said. “It is where they conduct all their – research...”
“ 'morning, Captain Iron Blade,” the Head Chef, Au Gratin, greeted as the King's Grand Commander strode into the dining room. The white, prissy stallion with a green garnish cutie mark clicked his hooves at the servants. “Come now, snap to it! His Majesty will be wanting lunch at noontide sharp, as usual!”
The staff increased their pace. Satisfied, their boss turned back to his visitor. “You are back early from morning exercises, Commander. Will you be joining His Majesty and the First Consort for the meal?”
The red unicorn stallion waved a hoof in the air. “Not for midday, Au Gratin, but put me down for dinner.”
The earth pony pulled out a guest list and updated it. “And will Quiet Hoof and the children be coming as well?”
“Most definitely, Au,” Blade replied. “I promised them they could discuss the history of His Highness's military campaigns with Him in person for their school projects.”
“Ah!” the chef smiled. “Getting the facts straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak.”
“Yes. Apparently my recountings of our glory days are not nearly as exciting as when they come from King Sombra himself.” Blade grabbed a roll from the ones set out on the table and grabbed a quick bite. Gratin smiled tightly at his lack of table manners, saying nothing only because Blade was the second most powerful stallion in the whole of the Crystal Empire.
“Of course. As it should be, I suppose,” Gratin waved a hoof in the air and rolled his eyes. “This younger generation has no respect for its elders, nor table manners.”
Iron Blade grinned good-naturedly at the barb. He enjoyed humoring ponies impressions once in a while that he was a barbaric savage heading the most feared army in all of Equestria. “The little warriors get hungry after decapitating enemies all day in the field, Au.” He tossed him back the half-eaten roll, knowing it would annoy the fussy stallion. Gratin's eyes got wide, shocked at the implication that Blade's teenaged colts were already beheading enemies at such a young age. The Commander laughed at his look, knowing the chef would have thought exactly that.
“Well,” Au Gratin huffed, annoyed he had fallen for the jest. “decorum is all important in this castle, Commander. It should be maintained at all times - “ he was cut off by a muffled scream coming from the kitchens. Their heads swiveled towards the sound, then back to each other.
“You employing little screaming girls to wash dishes now, Gratin?” Iron Blade grinned.
“Ugh!” the chef rolled his eyes in disgust. “You and I both know, Commander, that such a dreadful racket could only be coming from Planner!”
“No doubt Nyx has sicked the shadow guards on him to throw him out the window yet again,” Blade said, smiling.
At that moment, two Umbrum shadows drug the King's Head Scheduler, Tight Planner, from the kitchen and seeing Captain Iron Blade, plunked him down in front of him in a heap on the floor. He didn't have the grace to stay there, but curled himself up as best he could into a tight ball, rocking back and forth.
*Apologiezzzz, Grand Commander.” Guard 456 whispered. “but this was threatening to interrupt Hisss Highness'sss meditationsss, and by order of the First Consssort, needed to be neutralizzzed before such interruptionsss occurred.*
Blade grunted, leaning his head down to the Scheduler's level. “Planner, Planner, Planner! You keep up that racket and privileged class or not, King Sombra will end you.”
“Mmmm...” was all Planner said, shivering violently.
“What was that?” Blade leaned closer.
“In the kit-kit-kitchens!” he wailed. Shadow Guard 710 clamped a solidified appendage over the pony's mouth before his screaming escalated again.
“What's in the kitchens, Planner?” Au Gratin asked, irritated. “Beside pests like you who need to wait for mealtime like everypony else?!”
“Mmmm...pests...!” the terrified pony managed to get out from behind the guard's grip over his face. “Mmmiiii...!”
“Guards,” Blade looked at the wraiths in irritation. “you need to let him talk.”
*But First Consssort Nyx ordered him sssilenced, Commander,” one of them whispered. *The King isss engaged in delicate – experimentsss.*
“Mmmiiiccc...” Planner continued to struggle.
“Experiments?” Blade's head nodded. “Nyx ordered? In their quarters?”
“More like the delicate practice of copulation,” he muttered, using a term he knew neither the Head Chef nor Tight Planner nor any of the guards would be familiar with.
“'Copulation?'” Au Gratin asked. “What is that?”
“A - term in the future Nyx brought back with her. It means - “ he glanced at the shadow guard. “experimentation. Just like the guard said.” He turned his attention to the cowering pony still on the floor, still pinned by the guards. “Now, Planner...what is in the kitchens?”
Outside, in the hallway shadows, Number One and Number Two scurried unseen towards the King's inner chambers. Two was distracted as the Head Chef yelled, “What?!?”
“Wait, Boss,” he paused. “That wasn't Tight Planner!”
“Shit!” Number One cursed. “It was the Head Chef. He wasn't due to scream for another ten seconds!” He pulled out his quantum calculator and checked as the time differential skewed the current calculations, then continued on.
Two facepalmed himself. “No wonder this project has taken ten billion years!”
Meanwhile, in King Sombra's inner chambers...
“Oooo!” Nyx moaned, shivering. “It's perfect, my King!”
“Why thank you, Nyx,” he sounded quite pleased with himself.
“Might I hold it, my Lord?”
“Of course, my dear. You helped me in its creation, after all.”
The TimeWitch carefully took their accomplishment in her hands, stroking it. “It's so firm, it gives me shivers!”
“As well it should...”
The two scientists cringed at the conversation going on as they snuck into the royal stallion's bedchambers. From their angle they couldn't see what was going on, or what they were cooing over, to which Number Two was grateful, but right now he also desperately wished they were deaf as well!
Taking up a position unseen behind the drapes across the room from the bed, Two's boss quietly pulled out his quantum calculator. His subordinate shook his head in warning. It was possible that Nyx, with her sensitivities, would detect the device as it used temporal theory to crunch its numbers. One waved him off. “We need this data!” he whispered as low as he could. “What they are doing at this moment will render the destiny of power here completely off - not just in the Crystal Empire and Equestria, but everywhere! And that will affect our ability to reach The Question on schedule!”
Nyx chose that moment to moan loudly, followed quickly on its heels by a sinister growl of pleasure from her handsome overlord. “I wish it would at least render me deaf as well!” Two groaned, putting his small hands over his ears.
One shook the calculator as its outputs fluctuated wildly with improbably futures not meant to come into existence. “Oh, this is BAD! Producing this, this THING...” even One cringed now as Nyx let out an empassioned cry of pure pleasure. “could extend the King's hold over the Empire for several thousand years and shatter the balance of power on this planet!”
Two shivered. “If by balance of power you mean creating an heir to the throne, I wish they would get this accursed copulation ritual over with and get back to - “
“What are you talking about, you idiot?!?” One said, exasperated.
Nxy shot up in bed, nearly dropping the ball of temporal energy King Sombra had created. His aura shot out, catching it before it hit the bed. “Careful, my dear! It may be firm, but you did tell me if it gets out of our control - “
“Somby!” she hissed, backing up on the bed. “There's somepony in here!”
His eyes widened. He dissolved the spell and the sphere of firm, magical energies was safely banished back to the time vortex. He turned His attention fully to her. “What?” He whispered. “None would DARE enter here!”
Her black eyes scanned the room. “Somepony dared, I tell you!”
Sombra heard it then, too. A low, echoy muttering in the corner, behind the drapes. His horn bubbled with the colors of dark magic and His fury. He looked to His consort. She in turn nodded, their eyes traveling back to the drapes. Whoever it was, was going to suffer DEARLY for this violation of their privacy!
As the King of Shadows prepared to rip away the curtain with his magic, He felt Nyx's hoof on His arm. “Wait, I sense something else.” She paused. “Can you feel it, my love?”
He paused, expanding His senses. There was something else there, vaguely tickling His new ability to detect temporal energy. “Yes,” He said with uncharacteristic hesitancy. “but...I am uncertain if it is not remnants of the temporal bubble we birthed.”
She lifted her hoof from Him. “I am confused as well.” She watched as he turned his attentions back to the intruders. “Be careful, Somby,” Nyx whispered.
He shot her an “of course” look, then shifted His lower half into shadow. Tendrils of darkness snaked out toward the strange chittering sounds.
Suddenly He yanked the curtain back!
Nyx's eyes widened. The King sighed. “Just mice.”
One and Two froze in terror for an instant, then ran!
“Mice? MICE? GRAB THEM!” Nyx snarled, her voice tinged with Umbrum fury.
Sombra turned to her, startled. “What? They're just mice, Nyx.”
She shot out bolts of time-freezing, temporal magic towards the fleeing rodents. “They're not, my King. They're spies, hidden by magic!” she raged.
The mice fled, too small and too quick to be caught by Nyx’s wild shots. Sombra simply stared at her as if she had lost her mind, wondering if He had finally and truly driven her over the edge with pushing her too hard lately.
She was about to dive off the bed when He wrapped her in his magic, stopping her. “Hey, hey, hey!” He said gently, pulling her back to Him. “I think I have been too hard with the lessons as of late. Why don’t we take some time and go to the hot springs like you have been asking of me for the past - “
The TimeWitch shook her head. “No, we can’t. There’s no telling what those despicable creatures would do to the kingdom while we were away.”
Now He knew she was serious. She NEVER turned down going to the springs!
The doors to their chambers opened and several shadow guards along with Commander Iron Blade rushed in. “We heard the blasts, Sombra!” He said breathlessly. “Are you alright?”
Sombra let his magical grip on his consort go. “I am not certain,” He said hesitantly.
“Aye?” Blade said, confused.
The King gave Nyx a look she despised. A look that said, “Okay dear, yes we believe you.” when He actually didn’t. Crazy until proven sane was, unfortunately, a hard habit to break after years of her living in the castle with Him, and while she had always been shown to be sane in the end, He felt that at last her winning streak was finally and truly done.
“Nyx, what insane thing have you done this time?” Blade asked her point-blankly.
“Not me, Blade,” she replied, jumping off the bed, pacing back and forth. “They are not just spies, Somby. This is much, MUCH worse than just a spy or assassin this time.”
The Commander looked to Sombra who simply shook his head and followed her off the bed. “We have - a problem, I fear,” was all He said, but then the weight of her words sank in. “What could be worse than - “
Nyx stopped pacing and turned back to Him and Blade. She sounded completely sane now, having calmed down. “I know this is going to sound insane, my King, but please, believe me. I have run into these foul things before and we HAVE TO GET RID of them!”
“What is worse than spies or assassins, Nyx?” Iron Blade asked.
She hung her head for a moment, trying to find the right way to break the news while hunting around the back of the curtains at the same time. There was no easy way to say this. “If they are here, well, you are not going to like this, my Liege…”
Sombra’s face darkened, losing patience. “Nyx…”
Nyx picked up something from the floor. A tiny something she held in her magic before them. It was flat, white and had colorful buttons on its surface. After a moment she found what she was looking for and pressed one.
A floating display of the castle leaped into existence in the air around them. It was insanely detailed - every level mapped out, strange lettering coding each area in an alien language. It turned slowly in the air before them, a stream of real-time data updating at the bottom, much of it slowly turning red with the epicenter a level Iron Blade recognized as the room they were currently in. Nyx shook her head. “It means, my King, that THEY are running the Crystal Empire. Not you!”
A charcoal colored hoof slammed down on the war council table, further denting the area Sombra always hit when angry or frustrated. To his Majesty's credit, it had seen very little abuse since Nyx's arrival, she having the effect of calming his volatile temper with her presence over the years.
Iron Blade and the King both raised an eyebrow at the sound. This time it had been Nyx who had hit it. The Grand Commander blew out a breath, his gaze returning to the castle floor plans suspended in holographic imagery above the table, a single shaft of light beaming upward, connecting it to the tiny datapad the rodent invaders had dropped in their haste to flee Nyx's wrath.
“I still don't get it,” Blade shook his head. “Invasion, I get. Acquisition of land and slaves for a workforce, of course.” His eyes searched Nyx's. “But a search for – a question?!?”
“There are stranger things in heaven and earth,” Sombra muttered under his breath.
“This is of neither!” the TimeWitch spat.
“And how do you have proof of this?” their red stallion army leader wanted to know.
“What – the floating holographic tech is not proof enough, Blade?” she asked, incredulous.
“Sometimes – just sometimes, Nyx, a more detailed explanation would be nice,” he retorted.
Nyx nodded, opening her mouth to answer, when a tiny, squeaky voice piped up from the other end of the war table from where they were standing. “Ahem. Excuse me.”
Everypony's gaze shot to the doors. “Who dares interrupt us?!?” Sombra growled. “I left strict instructions not to be disturbed!”
“Heh, 'dares',” the tiny voice said mockingly. “Ohhh...we're so scared!”
“Am I hearing things, Sombra?” Blade spoke up, seeing no one, now looking around the room in confusion.
“He isn't THAT scary, Number One,” another, slightly different but still annoyingly squeaky voice chimed in. “Don't know why we ran.”
The three ponies finally saw them at the end of the table - two tiny white rodents who looked perfectly average, but just so happened to talk. Blade's jaw dropped in amazement, Nyx snarled and Sombra fumed, narrowing his eyes at confirmation of his consort’s rantings.
The mice seemed to be oblivious to the reactions their small presences were eliciting until the ponies began approaching them. “Uh, uh, uh,” Number One said, waving a tiny, clawed hand. “That's close enough, please.”
“'tis true then?” Blade asked. He broke out in uncontrollable laughter. “Our realm has been invaded by...talking rats?!?” Dissolving into more laughter, he couldn’t continue on.
Number One looked offended. “We are NOT ‘rats’. We are mice,” he corrected with an air of haughtiness. “And technically we are not even that. This body is merely a projection into your realm from ours.”
“You are still invaders into MY Kingdom,” the King declared, stepping forward, his horn bubbling a slowly building brew of red and purple energies. “And if I must drag you fully into our realm by your ‘projections’, you WILL tell me your intentions before I feed your carcasses to the vultures - while you are still ALIVE.”
“The Time Wench already told you what our mission is, Umbrum,” Number Two answered, unimpressed by the threat.
“A question? To an answer? And you expect us to believe such utter nonsense?” Blade cut in, his laughter spent, though a smirk was still on his features.
“It doesn’t matter what you believe or don’t believe, primitive,” One said in a condescending tone the Grand Commander disliked intensely.
“Yet no doubt you crawl out of the floorboards for a reason, vermin,” Nyx retorted.
“Quite right, my dear,” Sombra agreed. “They want something.”
“Yes,” Number One replied, grateful to get to the purpose of them risking not only the project, but their hides revealing themselves to these lower life forms. “We would like our datapad back, please. Then we’ll be on our way and you can get back to your droll little existences pretending you rule the Crystal Empire...if that’s what makes you feel better to believe, of course.”
The tiny datapad levitated off the table, held aloft and floated over to the King, his eyes never leaving sight of his ‘guests’. He would make them pay for that remark with their lives - and slowly, he silently vowed.
“Hey! Give that back,” Number Two complained. “That is government funded equipment and we have to account for all of it at the end of the fiscal quarter!”
“Psah, we can take it whenever we want!” his rodent boss snorted, waving a tiny foot while Sombra handed the datapad off to Nyx. The two ponies exchanged looks and smiled.
“My King?” the mare asked her consort.
“I see - and not just now, Nyx,” he replied, nodding. His eyes flared emerald green, the edges bleeding an excess of purple energies. “But when! This is truly an amazing gift!”
“The lessons are paying off!” the two said to each other, Nyx in delight and Sombra in evident pleasure. They turned back to the intergalactic beings. “This will be - amusing,” Sombra rumbled, his excitement visible in the increase of his aura in every physical aspect.
“Oh?” Iron Blade asked, but then suddenly understood. “Oh!” He looked back at their unwelcome guests. “Indeed it will!”
“Now listen and listen to me well, whatever you things are,” Sombra rumbled. “The questions have long ago been known - and answered for this King, our kingdom and,” he looked at Nyx, a smile briefly lighting on his features. “our consort. You no longer have power here, so I suggest you make peace with your gods as this moment is the only moment I will allow you to do so before I end you.”
There was a moment when Number One and Two looked uneasily at each other before chaos broke out.
Nyx’s eyes flared green and she was gone in an instant. A split second later, the space next to where she had been filled with a strange, swirling black vortex through which the projection of a huge appendage with five long protrusions attached to a central mass - like the hand of a monkey, shot through, too late to grab her.
She appeared next to the door, making a gesture of yawning, lightly tossing the datapad in the air and catching it again.
“Damn!” Number One cursed, making gestures like he was typing on an invisible keyboard in front of him. “Oh yes. Right. This time - “
Nyx vanished again, and three more times in quick succession, each time the “hand” missing her by a fraction of an instant. During this, Iron Blade laughed, grabbed an apple, took a bite and sat back down, kicking his feet up on the war table. “Oh, this is going to be good!”
“Your calculations are off!” Two criticized his boss.
“Fractal probability can only cover so many possible places she'll pop up!” One snapped. “She’s obviously had more experience at this than we thought!”
The TimeWitch reappeared by Sombra, rubbing his side with her head in affection. “I don’t want all the fun, my Dark Heart. Care to take a turn?” she asked.
He took the datapad and smiling grimly, said, “Of course, but I prefer my natural form.” His body melted, turning to smoke, then vanished.
“Shit! Where did he go?!” One yelled, looking wildly around the room. The pairs beady little eyes came to rest on the only pony left in the room.
He took the last bite of his apple, unconcerned by their stares. “Don’t cross my gaze whilst thou art so tiny, miserable creatures,” he warned. “Or I will be scraping you off my shoes.”
There was a moment when nothing happened, then, “Blast it!” suddenly Iron Blade yelped as he was tipped back on his chair, the hand appearing behind him. A second before it swallowed him up, Sombra reappeared behind it, blasting with his magic, grabbing the Grand Commander, then both disappeared.
Mocking laughter accompanied a black mist that flowed over and towards the mice, racing across the room faster than they could react. It split into two arms that flowed around them and out the doors.
More laughter, this time Nyx’s, came from in front of them. The Marazon appeared, minus the datapad, waved and smiled. “Farewell, my little dung droppings.” Her own eyes flared with green and purple magic. “Ohhhh...OUCH! My evil lover didn’t make your deaths quick.” She tsk’d, then snickered. “But they were VERY entertaining! Honestly, I never would have thought to end you like that!” She turned and walked away, vanishing, stepping back out of their time once more.
A vortex of swirling energy opened up in the very same room. Nyx stepped lightly out, Sombra with a slight bump. The Marazon Witch looked around. “Where’s - “
Blade came out an instant later as if he were spit out and landed heavily at her hooves. “ - Blade,” she nodded.
He looked up at them both. “How in Tartarus do you manage to land on your hooves after travelling like that?!?” he groaned, getting up.
“You become accustomed to it,” Sombra replied dryly as Nyx looked around, expanding her temporal senses, scanning for the foul, otherworldly invaders. “Can you sense them?” he asked her.
“No. But they are here. I only sent us back a month ago. Nothing screws up their calculations worse than going into the past and changing it, but going back further could be potentially more damaging to us than them. Even the tiniest bit done now can wreak havoc they’ll take days to compensate for.”
“I prefer our revenge on these creatures be much more personal - and painful,” Sombra growled.
“Hear, hear,” his Grand Commander agreed. He looked to Nyx, “Can they really be running the Empire instead of Sombra, though, Nyx? ‘tis a grand boast of them to be making - and a dangerous one!”
“They once pulled a comet out of orbit and smashed it into a continent just to wipe out the dominant life forms on this planet,” she snorted in disgust. “They no longer required them for the next stage of their pursuit of this accursed question. They’ve had a little shy of ten million years to learn the fine art of manipulation on a much more subtle level to get what they want. Running an Empire is child’s play for them at this point.”
“How long ago was this comet? Surely we would have stories of it,” Sombra frowned.
“It was when they came back to check up on their ‘progress’,” she wrinkled her nose at the thought of their ‘project’. “Probably about ten thousand years ago.”
“Then how do you know about it?!” Blade exclaimed in surprise.
“I sabotaged their ship,” she smiled. “They managed to get it off the ground, but it probably still smells of dinosaur dung, if they didn’t scrap the garbage scow, that is. Stupid of them to bring a vessel into our dimension instead of sticking their little weasley snouts in like they usually do. They thought it was safe because sentient life had not evolved here yet. They learned their lesson.” She caught Sombra’s look of admiration and grinned wickedly.
“So much for ‘safe’,” he rumbled. “There is never a place safe from you! You never cease to amaze and amuse me, Nyx,” he shook his head.
“Such a compliment!” She tensed in the next moment, however, scanning the room, her cutie mark and horn glowing from a quantum calculator signature nearby. “They know we’re here!”
Sombra pulled them both into his dark aura and the three vanished seconds before Number One and Two poked their rodent heads into the room from a crack along the floorboards.
An hour later the three time travelers popped back into the room. “We have to effect an alteration to the timeline quickly, before they sense us again,” Nyx said urgently.
“I am for that plan. We can’t keep running,” Blade paced.
“Agreed,” Sombra replied. “It allows us no advantage nor time to plan a counterattack.”
Nyx nodded. “A change of significant magnitude at this moment would keep them busy enough recalibrating - “
“What?” Blade asked, thrown by the strange word.
“Regrouping,” she explained in simpler terms. “Then they would not be so quick to search the castle for us.”
“How do we effect this change, and what is large enough yet safe to alter at this juncture in time, my dear,” Sombra asked her.
Nyx’s eyes flared with dark magic, causing her to rise above the floor, the timestreams becoming visible around her as ribbons of light etched with ancient runic symbols. She scanned alternate timelines, bringing them closer to view, pushing them away when they presented nothing useable to their cause. Sombra and Iron Blade watched as always in fascination at how easily temporal magic came to her and how beautiful and utterly ethereal she looked surrounded by the soft blue glow of the timestreams, the hot greens of her scleras, radiant amethyst mist at their edges.
At last her evil smile told the two stallions she had come up with something. Ending the spell, she floated back down to the floor.
“A solution?” Sombra asked as she crossed over to Iron Blade and put her hoof on his withers.
“Something I think Iron Blade will - enjoy…” she grinned, whispering into the war pony’s ear.
“It’s behind this wall,” Number Two said, scanning the interior of the war council room.
“It’s probably just Nyx bouncing around time, screwing up our calculations again,” his boss said in annoyance.
“Then she’s taking a helluva chance considering she is already here in the castle in this time stream,” Two mumbled. He stopped short. “Wait, it’s not just her.”
“What do you mean?” One asked.
“There are three time anomalies, not just one.” Two shook the scanner, trying to make sense of the readings. ”I think, from the look of it, she’s brought company!”
They peeked through the floor skirting and saw Nyx was accompanied by King Sombra and Grand Commander Iron Blade.
“What the hell is she doing dragging them with her?!?” moaned One.
“What are they doing?” his assistant asked, the hole only large enough for one to see through at a time.
“Talking - no, Blade’s leaving. That’s risky. I wonder where he’s going,” One mused.
“Now what are they doing?”
“Kissing,” One replied.
*Mmm...I approve of this method of keeping them from hearing us,* Nyx whispered in Sombra’s ear in Umbrum.
*I thought you might,* the King rumbled, pleased, making sure his back was to the rodents. He flared his tail into wide, deep shadows, spreading it out to create a thick, impenetrable barrier of darkness between them and their enemy, making it impossible for the invaders to observe them.
Nyx snuggled happily into the comforting embrace of her consort, sighing. *Nice, but I have a much better idea for driving them out of the room, my shadowy lover,* she whispered, leaning up, nipping his ear playfully…
“What are they saying now,” Two asked.
His boss watched for another moment, then yelped, “We’re leaving!”
“What? Why? Isn’t it important - “
“NO!” One interrupted, turning away from the view of the room. “No amount of fascination with improbability in this damn job is worth trying to unsee this!“ He scurried backwards.
The sound of laughter and growling filtered through the wall. “Geez, what could be so - “ Two began to ask, looking himself. He gazed upon the scene in the room only long enough to see King Sombra had removed the impenetrable field, ebony mane now flowing in deadly shadows, curling around his consort’s shoulders and mid-section. His eyes blazed with lust and restless dark magic, hiking Nyx’s front hooves up onto the edge of the table, grabbing her flowing mane in his fanged teeth from behind, holding her in place as he reared up on his mighty, armored back legs...
One grabbed his associate as he seemed frozen in shock at the sight before him. Pulling him back, he dragged him until he got his senses back and they both ran for the sake of their lives and sanity back out along the wall until they turned the corner and vanished.
Half an hour later, Grand Commander Iron Blade came back to the room, humming to himself, a lighter, happier canter to his trot.
Tight Planner accosted him just outside the doors. “Oh Commander!”
Blade rolled his eyes and sighed to himself. Nyx had told him to avoid as many of the castle staff as possible on his way to the concubines quarters in order to not accidentally change any history. He had managed it up until now and of course it had to be Tight Planner he’d run into. “Yes, Planner?” he sighed again, this time aloud.
The fussy unicorn frowned. “I just saw you not a minute ago in the gardens. How on earth did you manage to beat me here?”
“Teleportation spell,” he lied. “I’m in a hurry. What is it you want?”
“Have you seen his highness?” Planner asked.
Blade caught a peculiar sound from just the other side of the door to the war room. Peculiar, but he knew exactly what it mean Nyx and King Sombra were up to. “Yes,” he grinned evilly. “He’s right in there, but I don’t think you should - “
Planner snorted. “Now now, Commander. I have the King’s permission to interrupt him no matter what he is engaged in in the event of urgent business matters.”
’I sincerely doubt that, simpleton,’ “Even if he’s - busy?” Blade’s grin widened. Oh, this was going to be good!
“Even if he’s tied up with Nyx!” the scheduling unicorn insisted.
The Commander pursed his lips. “Tied up by her's more like it,” he said thoughtfully.
Blade shook the image of their King and Sovereign Umbrum Lord in bondage and Nyx with a riding crop over him firmly out of his head. “Nothing, Planner. It’s your funeral,” he quipped, shrugging.
“I really do need to speak to him about Au Gratin and the problems of cleanliness in the kitchens,” Planner flicked a speck of dust from his withers, amazing Iron Blade that the uptight stallion could actually see something so tiny on his formal attire and be annoyed by it in the first place. “There is talk of a rodent problem in the palace and this simply won’t do.”
“Yes, yes. We know about it,” the Commander replied distractedly, frowning as a tiny sparkle of light on the floating dustspec caught his eye as it traveled down from the scheduling pony on its way towards the ground.
It was one of those times when the Grand Commander’s restless nature would rather be killing enemies on the battlefield than listen to a bureaucrat. His brain filtered out the boring creature’s mild tirade until all he heard was: “Blah, blah, blah - would be a disaster if word got out amongst the guests for tonight’s dinner. Despite their horrid manners, blah, blah - quite important delegates blah, blah - Yak Yakistan…” the annoyance that was Tight Planner droned on.
Spacing out over whatever it was the uptight unicorn was wittering on about, Blade caught another flicker of light as the tiny hands of an aforementioned rodent peeked out from the floor skirting just behind Planner’s back right hoof. Blade bared his teeth in a snarl at the sight of another one of those tiny, hyper-advanced quantum calculators in its grip.
The dustspec continued it lazy descent towards the ground, in no particular hurry to get there.
“Damn rats!” Blade snapped his teeth at the sight of the foul little creature that had tried to snatch him earlier and pitch him into the deadly void of Tartarus.
“Yes exactly!” Planner was babbling excitedly, pleased that someone important was actually listening to him for once.
“ - and you know - blah, blah - to add - garnishes of - rodentia to their meals.” He droned on. The war stallion’s ears twitched, annoyed at some high-pitched whine that was coming from the machine their tiny, hated enemy seemed to be pointing at Tight Planner.
“Yes, yes, whatever, Planner. I will speak to His Majesty about it,” Iron Blade waved a hoof distractedly in his direction, not taking his eyes off the floor.
“ - blah, blah - excited someone of importance is finally listening to me for once!” the unicorn went tortuously on.
Blade watched as the smooth, white quantum device was waved about in the air, as if searching for some other target. He moved a fraction to the left, avoiding the strange, blue pulse of light it emitted, sighing in relief.
Then he heard it. A tiny, tiny sound. It was nearly drowned out by Planner’s droning, but Iron Blade’s sensitive ears caught it.
“We are here! we are here!”
Blade’s eyes widened as it seemed to be coming from the dustspec!
“ - blah, blah - delegates from the Griffon Empire saw - blah - behavior - “ Tartarus! Would Tight Planner ever shut -
The quantum device was turned in the direction of the dustspec...
“ - BOIL THAT DUSTSPEC! BOIL THAT DUSTSPEC!” the tiny chant continued, sounding like a miniature mob of rioters so small as to be invisible, their screaming the only evidence of their existence. Blade shook his head to clear it, wondering if he were finally letting the mice drive him mad...
“ - exhibited at the dinner table, - blah, blah - would start fighting over who would get to eat the dreadful creatures first!” Planner went on in his peripheral hearing.
A small sliver of red light pulsed from the floor, hitting the dustspec with deadly accuracy, frying it.
“Tartarus!” the war stallion yelped, jumping backwards. It was as if a million tiny voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
Silenced as if...
“ his Majesty put me off all morning,” Planner refused to wait, ignoring the fact Iron Blade had just jumped a foot back away from him. “It won’t take a moment...”
...as if...they were real!
“Are you listening to me, Commander?” the unicorn asked.
The charred, blackened remains of the dustspec and its tiny world of voices fell heavily the rest of the way to the floor. For some reason, as Tight Planner’s hoof moved slightly, crushing it, a shiver ran through the Commander’s sturdy frame. He who had slaughtered armies in the name of the Great Dark Pony King Sombra, enslaver of thousands for his Umbrum Lord, burner, rapist and pillager of entire nations, was now witness to the callous, wanton elimination of an entire world in a second by the single act of a horrible, foul white rat!
It shook him to his very core!
“So you see why I really must speak to the King about getting rid of these vile creatures!” Planner finally finished.
“Tartarus yes!” Shaking his head, yet not quite getting rid of the image of the mass extinction he had just witnessed, Blade waved a hoof and shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he replied distractedly and moved aside for him.
The unicorn opened the door. Blade caught sight of Sombra’s shadowy essence obscuring part of the room and Nyx as Planner went inside. Oh yeah, he recalled. Forgot they were up to that… Smiling evilly, he shut the door behind their annoying servant.
“One, two, three,” Blade counted off casually, opening the door. The fussy stallion came back out, face pale, a look of shock and profound embarrassment on his features. “Told you,” the Commander grinned at him. Slapping him hard on his withers, the war pony shook his head. “Maybe next time you’ll listen.”
Planner only nodded, watching in further consternation as the war pony strode confidently back into the room despite what was going on within.
They had to wait a full five minutes for Nyx to recover from her fit of hysterical laughter at the thought that Tight Planner had just walked in on her and King Sombra when he did. Blade did have to admit it was a tale he would one day look forward to telling his two colts after they had the talk about the Griffons and the Bees, but for now there were more important matters to attend to.
“An entire world, Blade?” Sombra muttered, listening to his Grand Commander’s account of his encounter outside the door while speaking to Tight Planner.
“Aye, Sombra. Was the most brutal thing I have ever witnessed,” he confirmed grimly.
“And that’s saying something coming from you,” Nyx agreed. “So, Tight Planner already knew of the mice,” she asked him, intrigued.
“Yes,” their friend replied. “We never would have known if we had not come back in time - are you alright?” he asked, concerned as Nyx lost her balance for a moment, Sombra having to catch her.
“Oh, that was quite the temporal shift!” she said, fighting to get a strong dizziness out of her head. Turning to their King, she asked, “Did you feel that?”
“Quite, though not as strongly as you, my dear,” he confirmed. “but if it was as profound a shift as I believe it to be...“
“Yes,” Nyx agreed, finding her balance again, righting herself. “The mice are most likely wetting themselves over the ramifications.” The two looked at each other, then turned to Iron Blade. Sombra smacked his long-time friend on the back. “Your ‘interference’ in time has born fruit, my friend!”
“Literally,” Nyx smiled, nuzzling her King. She placed a hoof on her belly for a moment, smiling. “Congratulation will soon be in order!”
Iron Blade’s eyes widened. “You mean?” he asked excitedly.
“Yes,” Sombra rumbled warmly.
“And is it...I mean, will it be - “ his Grand Commander asked, daring to hope.
Nyx’s brilliant smile was all the confirmation he needed.
“YES!” Blade yelled, laughing and cantering back, then quickly around the room in joy.
The two rulers let him have his moment before returning to the more dire issue at hoof. Nyx wrapped a foreleg around Blade’s, guiding him back to the war table. “So, Blade, this conversation with Planner may be important. It did not occur before and may aid us now. What was discussed between you two?”
“Oh, yes,” he refocused, coming back to the present problem. “You know Planner, I was barely listening to his endless droning, especially since I was trying to avoid those dung droppings and their death machine. He was blathering on about the Yak/Griffon dinner last week, er tonight,” he corrected himself. “How those beasts might eat our filthy little invaders given half the opportunity - “ He stopped short, the light of an idea dawning in his head. He face-hoofed himself as Nyx’s eyes lit up.
“That’s IT!” she nearly screeched.
“I have seen that look too many times to not recognize trouble when it surfaces in your twisted little head, Nyx,” Sombra rumbled.
“It would be rather bad form diplomatically to feed these foul invaders to our neighbors during their visitation,” Blade said thoughtfully.
“Perhaps,” their King mused. “But there may be another way…”
“You’ve outdone yourself, Au Gratin!” Commander Iron Blade beamed, letting out a mighty belch. His two sons giggled, then imitated their father, causing Quiet Hoof to gasp.
“Apologies, your Majesty,” the Marazon blush brightly. She turned to all three of her stallions - young and older. “Manners!” she scolded. “We do not belch in front of our King!”
“I refuse to break a habit with Sombra that has been in place since our childhood, my dear,” Blade balked. He turned to the royal stallion. “He’s used to it.”
Sombra laughed. “That is quite all right, Quiet Hoof. Ever since Blade learned in Kajeiri it is considered a compliment to the chef, I have never been able to break our savage friend of the habit.”
“I am raising a stable of animals,” she pouted, shaking her head in mock disgust. “and worse, with the approval of His Majesty!”
“That’ll never change,” Nyx shrugged, finishing off her own meal.
Hoof leaned slightly back, feeling something rub against her leg. Looking down, she saw the reason. “Oh, when did you start allowing cats in the castle, your Highness? I thought you despised them.”
“We came to an equitable arrangement for peaceful coexistence, you could say,” the Umbrum rumbled pleasantly.
“We had need of their services,” Blade clarified, abandoning his glass in favor of the last of the wine in the bottle Au Gratin had brought out for the occasion. The chef silently rolled his eyes, snapping his fingers for one of the servers to bring out another bottle. Blade downed the remainder of the wine. “They’re rather sloppy at it - “
“ - but they are quite the efficient killers when they finish playing with their food. You have to admit that much, Blade,” Nyx smiled, picking up a mostly-eaten carcass with her magic, studying it.
“Oh cool!” one of Blade’s colts exclaimed, coming over to inspect it. “Can I have the skull?”
Nyx smiled, prying the tiny datapad out of its clawed hand while his mother and Au Gratin exclaimed in disgust, much to Sombra and Blade’s laughter. “I think it a fitting prize,” Blade agreed. “But let’s let the cat finish his job for the King first, eh?”
The young unicorn colt took the dead creature in his magic, throwing it back to the floor a few feet away. The cat pounced on it, continuing its meal as Sombra, Nyx and Blade toasted the furry solution to their temporal invader problem and the return of the Crystal Empire to its dark pony ruler.