Ebony and Ivory expand their horizons to become the leaders their hive needs. While old enemies conspire against their family.
Chrysalis has taught her children as much as she can. Now they look to expand their horizons to discover their cutie marks and become princes worthy of recognition. While they struggle for the respect of their subjects old enemies conspire in the shadows to overthrow Queen Chrysalis.
Priamus, Ebony, and Ivory walked down the main street of the Hive flanked by four guards. Ivory had his arm around her waist while Ebony hooked onto one of her arms. The two looked around as their citizens went about their days. Some stopped and bowed or knelt while others scurried to their jobs, many buzzed above their heads. They rarely traveled far across the citadel and when they did they traveled by cart with their vision obscured by curtains. Before leaving their mother strongly urged Priamus to not have them walk to today’s lessons with her. However, their aunt was able to convince her otherwise stating it was important their lessons
“I’m so glad that you decided to go out with me today, boys.” Priamus smiled, her voice was soft and rich like fine glass, yet still very brittle.
“Of course Aunty Priamus we love spending time with you.” Ivory beamed. With a fond gentle squeeze of her waist.
“Well that’s a good to hear. I’ve been so busy with all these projects that it feels like we haven’t been together in ages.” She responded, “I honestly began to think you thought I was boring.”
“Of course not Aunty we’ve all just been busy is all.” Ebony said. In truth spending time with Priamus at the castle was rarely all that interesting. She was so reserved that it was difficult to strike up a lasting conversation. Unless she was with Papillia in the animal sanctuary then it was like she was a whole other person. The two of them chatting away about the exotic fauna and animals.
“Well today’s going to be even busier. First we’re stopping by the colosseum to get things ready for the grand Aquicos cup. Then we’ll be going to the zoo to help coordinate their new expansion. Then we’ll be helping with construction of a new housing project on the east side of the citadel.” She smiled.
“Got it so what will we be helping you with?” Ebony asked.
“Whatever they need. Today you two are going to be busy little bees like the other workers doing whatever the other supervisors need.” Priamus replied. Ebony and Ivory looked perplexed at their aunt.
“But Aunt Priamus we’re princes isn’t it beneath us to do exactly what the workers do? I thought we would be helping you in a more commanding position.” Ivory stated.
Priamus gave a wry chuckle. “That’s… true but before you can lead you must work your way up. Understand what those beneath you are going through. Alex did not start as a lieutenant or colonel she was a soldier like the rest and worked her way up.”
“I thought her first time in battle was as a platoon leader?” Ebony asked.
“It was but she worked her way up to platoon leader at the military academy.” Priamus replied but it did not stop the funny looks her nephews were giving her. “Please just trust me on this okay?” Priamus asked placing her hands on their heads.
“Okay Aunt Priamus.” They said in unison.
After walking for what felt like hours they finally reached the Colosseum. They distinctly remember the massive structure from their mother’s duel with councilman Fissure. It was hard to believe that it was years ago when it felt like it was just yesterday. As they entered the building they were greeted to the site of a swarm of changelings. Over a hundred changelings buzzed around the colosseum. Working together in groups on different tasks. Already the arena looked nothing like when their mother dueled. The seats were being cleaned one by one till they sparkled. A track had been molded from the once barren arena with faux grass placed in the center for various other attractions. The centuries old structure looked brand new.
“Wow, how long have you guys been working on this?” Ebony asked looking around.
“Oh a little more than a day,” she responded. “We still have to put up the flotation rings and along with various other preparations, but I am impressed with how much they’ve gotten done.” Priamus smiled.
“Don’t you think you’re moving too quickly? The grand cup doesn’t start for several more weeks, right?” Ivory asked.
“True, but the grand cup involves more than just races. There will be jousting, aerial shows and other attractions along with the races. So we need to get the big stuff out of the way first so we can focus on the details. Always remember to tackle the biggest challenge on your plate first and never forget to check every detail.” She stated.
Just then a changeling wearing a pinstripe suit and clipboard flew down to meet the group.
“Royal Sister Priamus, Prince Ivory, Prince Ebony it’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said with a bow to each of them. “My name is Rose and I’m the senior supervisor for preparations of the Grand Cup,” she smiled.
“It is a pleasure to meet you Rose I see you are making excellent progress on the preparations, well done.” Priamus stated.
“Of course Royal Priamus and it’s all thanks to your planning that we’ve been able to get so much done.” She smiled leading them through the arena as changelings buzzed overhead.
“Well I can’t take all the credit it’s thanks to your direction that the plans were able to come together.” Priamus responded. “Now what’s next on the agenda,” she asked.
“Well we should have the Colosseum cleaned in no time at all. The next task would be the flotation rings.” She responded, after a quick look through the papers on her clipboard.
“Wonderful then these two are your men,” Priamus stated. With a gentle nudge for Ebony and Ivory to step forward. “These two should get those rings up in no time at all.” The two princes looked warily at each other. Still slightly unsure if this was the proper course of action for princes but they decided to trust Priamus.
“We’re here to help with anything we can but first, what are flotation rings?” Ivory asked.
“Well each race has two legs: one on the ground and one in the air. These flotation rings provide checkpoints for the riders,” Rose explained. “They’re powered by magic to float in the air.”
“Oh well we can definitely take care of that no problem,” Ebony smiled. He tried to crack his knuckles but failed miserably. Ivory looked at him and shook his head condescendingly. “Well please show us to the rings,” he coughed. A faint shade of pink blossoming in his cheeks.
“Of course right this way,” she said. Trying her best to suppress giggle at the prince’s expense. She lead the group to the middle of the Colosseum were the massive flotation rings were spread out. As they left Ebony glared at Ivory for his mockery. The flotation rings were big, about 30 meters across, and made from surprisingly flexible material that looked like smooth obsidian. Long holes were cut into stone with massive openings on each cardinal direction. The openings were lined with a bright metal conductors.
“So what do we need to do?” Ivory asked.
“Well it’s quite simple you just just need to charge each of the conductors with your magic then the ring will begin to float.” Rose responded.
“Perfect we should get this in no time.” Ebony stated. The two princes walked over to an opposite end of the ring.
“Um with all due respect Prince Ivory and Ebony. Usually it takes up to four changelings to power one ring.” Rose muttered.
“Yeah but were not changelings.” Ivory replied with a cheeky smile.
The two princes pointed their hands to a different conductor. Their hands lit up as a magical hum filled the air. As the magic grew stronger rune-like lines spread across their hands. Ivory’s magic was a bright green while the runes flowed across his hand in wrist. Creating interesting designs: bending, twisting and looping across his skin.
While Ebony’s magic was a bright crimson and the etchings carved across his hand like cracks. Cutting through his skin zigging and zagging around his hand. The ring began to pulse as each of the slender openings filled with a viridian light. It took the two princes a little more than a minute before the ring began floating off the ground. Rose and their escorts stared in shock and awe while Priamus smiled with pride.
“I told you they were perfect for the job,” Priamus chuckled, amused by Rose’s and the guards reactions.
“My word, I heard Equestrians had more powerful magics but I never would have imagined they were this much stronger. It takes four changelings to fill one of those and it takes significantly longer.” Rose remarked. She walked over to the flotation ring and gently tapped it with her finger. The massive ring drifted slightly from her touch.
“Remarkable,” she muttered, satisfied with the rings magic she waved down a couple of changelings. “This one is ready put it in place at position one.” She ordered. The changelings quickly seized the massive ring, and put it up right, before taking flight and placing it high above the stadium.
“Can you two do that again?” Rose asked.
“We can do it a lot more than just that” Ebony replied with the cockiest smirk he could muster.
The two princes continued to light up the various flotation rings at lightning fast speeds. Eventually the two split up to take care of the rings individually. Ebony had little trouble filling each ring with his powerful magic even as the number completed rose. At first Ivory was able to keep up with his brother but as he completed more and more rings his magic drained and he eventually had to rest.
However, as Ebony completed more and more rings he noticed more and more eyes focus on him. They were looks of discomfort, malice, and fear rolled into one. He was used to it but it felt different this time. As he looked around he noticed that there were a lot of guards spread throughout the stadium.
“Ebony, why don’t you take a break and let the other workers finish the rings!” He heard Priamus shout. Ebony walked over to Priamus; who was standing at a large wooden table with Rose and Ivory. Ivory was sitting in one of the chairs drinking from a bottle of water while Rose looked tentatively over his aunt's shoulder at the table.
“Hey Ivory has everyone been looking at you funny?” Ebony asked.
“Not more than usual, why?” Ivory asked.
“Everyone has been giving me nervous looks and I mean more than changelings usually do. It feels different somehow.” He said. “Also have you noticed there are a lot of guards stationed everywhere?” He asked.
“Yeah I did I was just about to ask about that,” Ivory replied looking up at Priamus. Priamus sighed and dismissed Rose. After quickly looking around she pulled the two princes into a little huddle.
“A couple of days ago while on a training exercise a group of recruits and their commander were slain. One of the bodies at the site of the attack was a Lazarus Changeling.” She said. Both of their eyes widened in confusion.
“Lazarus Hive? I remember learning about them but didn't’ we beat them into submission ages ago?” Ivory asked.
“We did, what remains of their hive is nothing compared to what they once were, but they are still a threat with relentless fanaticism.” Priamus said. “They believe themselves, and all changelings, to be superior to all other races. They still conduct themselves in harvesting love through cocoons rather than funnels.” She explained with a sniff of disdain.
“Okay what does that have to do with me?” Ebony asked.
“The biggest difference between us and the Lazarus hive is the color red. Just like how all of our eyes are green and a majority of our changelings have green magic, their color is red. They all have red eyes and most have crimson colored magic. Even Alex has gotten weary looks when she’s used her magic.” She answered.
“So if these… vermin. Are threatening our hive why are we wasting time with this rather than hunting them down?” Ebony asked.
“We have no leads and we want to keep the citizens calm. The best way to do that is to keep fun distractions like this going on schedule.” Priamus replied.
Ivory opened his mouth to rebuttal but knew his aunt was right. He cocked his head to the ground in rage. Priamus smiled and rubbed the top of his head. Her hand drifted down and she began to caress his cheeks. She tilted his sorry head upward to look into her eyes; hoping to comfort the upset prince.
‘Oh my little Ivory I know you’re anxious to help but you must be patient. You’re just like Alex and you’ll do great as a captain.’ She smiled at him.
However, when her attention turned to Ebony her smile quickly faded. His face was ice cold but his eyes burned hotter than the sun. He was staring off into space but for Priamus his gaze felt like daggers.
‘Here I thought Chrysalis was scary when she heard the news.’ Priamus muttered in her mind. With a shake of her head she broke the huddle and broke Ebony’s concentration.
“Alright go to Rose and see if there’s anything you can help with. We’ll be departing for the zoo after I finish up drawing up the final designs and not a word of what we discussed.” She ordered. With a quick salute the two princes walked over to Rose while Priamus returned to the table.
The two princes split away from each other and worked for hours on everything from cleaning to decorating to construction. While some changleings steered clear of the two and did their duty far away; other’s jumped at the opportunity to work with them. It brought the two immeasurable joy to be reminded how many of their people accept and love them as princes. It was sometimes hard to hear the cheers over the jeers.
“Ebony, Ivory were leaving now!” They heard Priamus call. Ebony set down some cleaning supplies. While Ivory handed his paintbrush to another changeling and met up with Priamus.
“Alright let’s get a move on you two we have a long day ahead of us and we’ve only just begun.” She exclaimed leading the way. Ebony and Ivory sustained a groan as they were reminded of their impending work. Their bodies already began to ache from working and walking for hours.
Thankfully the zoo wasn’t too far from the Colosseum. It was a recent edition to the hive built by their grandparents at the behest/nagging of a young Papillia. It quickly became one of the Hive’s most popular venues as they brought in more and more exotic animals from around the world.
As the group entered the from the back entrance they were greeted by two male changelings. Both had green hair cut short in a professional wave and were of equal height.
“Royal Sister Priamus, Prince Ebony, and Prince Ivory, welcome.” They said in unison bowing to the three respectively.
“Hello Slab, Boulder, it’s a pleasure to see you again. I trust you remember your tasks for today?” Priamus asked.
“Of course, Royal Priamus we are to have Prince Ivory and Prince Ebony shadow us today.” Slab responded.
“Very good. Boys, I have worked with Boulder and Slab many times before and they are some of the best architects I know. They’re also expert zoologists. Stick to them like glue, watch and learn, and only give your input if asked. Understood?” She asked, Ebony and Ivory nodded their heads and walked over to the two changelings. Ebony went with Slab and Ivory to Boulder. “Also these guards will be escorting you the entire time, I trust that is not a problem?” She asked.
“None at all Royal Priamus.” The two replied in unison.
“Alright I’ll be waiting on the observation platform if you need me.” Priamus said, taking her leave. As soon as Priamus left the group Boulder and Slab turned to the two princes.
“It is an honor to have you shadow us today, my princes.” Boulder said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both I’ve heard Priamus mention your names many times in passing.” Ivory said
“I’m happy to hear that so I trust you two have been informed on what the expansion will entail?” Slab asked.
“Of course this expansion we’ll be bringing in several dangerous beasts: Manticores, Chimeras, and the like.” Ebony said.
“Correct, that means we can get straight to business. I will be handling all preparations to make sure the animals will be comfortable in their habitats, while Slab will be supervising all safety requirements before we take in such dangerous animals.” Boulder stated.
“Understood, I would be honored to shadow you Slab in ensuring that the exhibits are safe for visitors.” Ivory said.
“And I would gladly shadow you Boulder in ensuring the exhibits are comfortable for the animals.” Ebony followed up.
“Excellent follow me, Ivory.” Slab said walking with Ivory and two of the guards in tow. While Ebony followed Boulder with the remaining two escorts.
As soon as the duo were away from the others Ivory breathed a sigh of relief.
"Thank you Slab for willing have us shadow you individually." Ivory smiled.
"Need sometime away, my prince?" He asked.
"You could say that just good to spread out a bit." He sighed.
"I know the feeling including Boulder I have 5 siblings so I probably know more about how suffocating they can be." He chuckled.
"Well you don't know Ebony." Ivory muttered.
“So Prince Ivory what do you know about construction, building or design?” Slab asked to change the subject.
“Um not much sir only very cursory knowledge.” Ivory replied.
“Well then this will be a good learning experience,” he smiled as the two rounded a bend. “Learning how to build something to design can be applied to almost anywhere.” Slab continued.
“Even military things?” Ivory asked
“Hmm well I don’t know anything about that but I’m sure you can draw a lot of parallels.” Slab replied. “This is our first stop this will be where we’ll be housing probably our most dangerous new arrival, a chimera.” He said as they rounded the corner to the unfinished holding area. It was made from white stone fashioned in a massive circle several meters high. With stairs on either side of the circle leading down to the bottom for visitors to get a better view of the animal.
Meanwhile Ebony and Boulder walked to the other side of the zoo to another exhibit. This one was much larger and molded in an abstract shape. A massive net extend around the exhibit and connected at the top of a fake mountain in the center.
"Thank you for taking the time to teach us today, Boulder. I'm sure this a bit of an inconvenience for you and Slab." Ebony smiled as they walked to the exhibit.
"No trouble at all my prince, we are happy to help." Boulder replied.
"Still I'm sure it would have been easy for one of you to teach both of us. So I appreciate a little one on one experience." He chuckled.
"You mean away from your brother?" Boulder asked. Ebony only shrugged in response opting to not give a full answer.
"Well I have five siblings including Slab so I get the feeling. Brothers and sisters can be a bit smothering." He chuckled.
"Oh you have no idea." Ebony muttered. Thankfully they soon reached their destination.
“Tell me, Ebony, what do you know about Hippogriffs?” Boulder asked.
“Not much only that they’re related to Aquicos.” He replied.
“Good start, like Aquicos they have the head of an eagle and wings but they have the body of a horse instead of a reptilian body.” He explained. “They’re probably our least dangerous edition of the new exhibit. Like Aquicos they are only really dangerous if provoked or disrespected. So it’s vital that they’re living conditions are above satisfactory to avoid trouble.” He continued.
While Ebony found learning from Boulder to be mostly textbook knowledge on the wants and needs of different animals. Ivory found Slab to be a more practical mentor.
“So Ivory how do you propose we keep this exhibit safe?” Slab asked at the chimera holding pen after laying out plans for basic safety measures.
“Well I would say our biggest worry is a changeling or hatchling getting over the palisade as it is.” He stated.
“Good point so how do we make our rampart more secure?” He chuckled. A poke at Ivory’s unique word choice. Ivory sniffed indignantly keeping down a blush and returned to his point.
“Well maybe a fence on the wall, like a really tall one, maybe even a net above the holding pin just as a second measure. If that doesn’t work maybe put barbs or spikes on the fence.” He responded. Slab didn’t say anything but gave him an amused smile and raised eyebrow.
“Is that not correct?” Ivory asked.
“Well you’re heart is in the right place, but maybe a bit extreme. After all the point of the zoo is for changelings to enjoy themselves. Kind of hard to do that from behind a big spiky fence,” Slab responded.
“Well isn’t it more important to keep our changelings safe? I mean we are dealing with a chimera here one of the most dangerous animals in the world.” Ivory retorted.
“Indeed it is but never forget the main objective of the task which in this case is to provide a fun exhibit for families. Some people will get hurt no matter what we do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try but never lose sight of the goal over things that might be out of our control.”
Ivory knitted his eyebrows in thought. Unsure on what to make of his words. If he were to be honest they sounded conceded but he kept his mouth shut and nodded in acknowledgement.
The two Princes continued to follow their temporary mentors. Watching from the wings as Slab and Boulder directed the workers, and helping when necessary. Laying out grass, hammering spikes, carrying stone and bags of cement etc. This combined with their work at the colosseum made for the hardest day they’ve ever worked in their lives. They were exhausted as they trudged up to where their aunt was waiting bodies aching.
“How the hell can you still walk that fast? Don’t you feel like collapsing?” Ebony groaned. As he trailed far behind Ivory up the incline.
“All that extra training with Aunt Alex.” Ivory chuckled. “Got to be strong if I’m gonna enter the academy.”
“I might have to go with you sometime cause right now I just can’t wait to get home and sleep all day.” Ebony yawned.
“Right there with you. How are all of you holding up? You do have to walk with us in full armor.” Ivory asked the guard next to him.
“We’re fine Prince Ivory. It’s as you said you need to train hard to be a guard. Long treks in full armor is no big deal for us.” He replied.
“Regardless thank you for escorting us.” Ivory stated.
“Yes, thank you for escorting us.” Ebony echoed. Finally they reached the observation deck where Priamus was sitting at a desk. Intensely examining a large sheet of paper before her.
“Ah there you two are did you enjoy your time shadowing Boulder and Slab. Did you learn anything from them?” She asked.
“Yes Aunt Priamus, although I’m not sure how I’m going to use it. Unless I become a zookeeper.” Ebony laughed.
“Well you never know maybe you’ll become Ebony, King of the Animals.” Priamus replied.
“Hey look at that you might be king of something after all brother.” Ivory grinned nudging Ebony with his elbow. Ebony rolled his eyes and shoved Ivory’s elbow away.
“What about you Ivory will you become will you become King of Safety?” She asked.
“Nah being king of anything never really interested me. I still intend to be captain though I do think today has been useful, maybe. Thank you for taking us with you today Aunt Priamus.” Ivory replied
“Of course, it’s good for you two to expand your horizons. Especially when you need those cutie things we got to try everything.” Priamus responded. She quickly turned back to the sheet of paper and placed in a drawer after folding it.
“Well I’m all done here so we’ll be heading to our final stop. I hope you two learned at least somethings today. This time when we arrive you’ll be with me, the housing board and the counciling of that sponsored the project. You won’t be doing anything major but you will be with important changelings so use discretion when speaking and mind your manners.” She explained.
“Yes Ma'am.” They replied in unison with a quick salute.
“Alright let’s get a move on the site is on the other side of the city and I want to be there before sunset.” Priamus chirped taking the lead. It took Ebony and Ivory all their willpower to not scream in terror.
By the time the group reached the area the two princes felt like they had been pummeled. Their joints ached, their muscles burned, at their feet felt so sore that walking on glass would be more comfortable. To their credit the princes did not show it as they marched through the city with their heads high and chests out. It was as their mother always taught said: “Never let the people see weakness even for a moment. Act strong even when you’re at your weakest.” However she also said there was no harm in showing a bit of frailty to a certain few, like their escorts.
However, as the two prepared themselves to keep their guise on for the duration of the meeting. Their armor faltered as they entered the spacious office of the construction and were met face to face with a changeling they had only heard of, yet she seemed familiar. Mirage, they had heard their mother talk about her, or more like complain about her constantly. She was their mother’s biggest critic and leader of the opposition party since the start of her reign. Though, that all seemed to have changed a little over a decade ago. Since then her influence had waned giving rise to a new leader, Counciling Storm. Yet despite her declined influence whenever she was brought up their mother couldn’t stop cursing her.
“Ah there they are, finally.” Mirage said. Her voice was heavy like smoke but smooth as glass. It felt like honey to their ears and made the hairs on the back of their neck stand up. They knew right away why their mother was wary of her. Her voice was too calming, almost hypnotic.
Mirage sauntered over to the group. Ebony and Ivory stood prouder. They watched her every movement as she finally reached them.
“It's a pleasure to see you again Royal Priamus.” She said holding her hand but their aunt did not take it.
“Mirage, a pleasure as always.” She smiled extending her arm with her hand facing down. Mirage took said hand and kissed her index knuckle. After kissing it, Mirage extended her own hand for Priamus to return the gesture. She then took Mirage’s hand and kissed the top of it. Mirage then turned her attention to the princes. Looking at them like smiling hawk.
“It is an honor to finally meet you Prince Ivory and Ebony.” She cooed extending her hand to them. Unfortunately for Mirage their mother prepared them for meetings like these. They heard her lesson clearly.
“When meeting a counciling or a Changeling of similar status never kiss their hand first. Always have them kiss yours first for you are princes and above them.”
Ivory was the first and extended his arm past her palm. “It's a pleasure to meet you too, Mirage. Our mother has told us quite a bit about you.” Ivory said. He smiled at her with a sickly sweet smile of his own.
“Has she now…” Mirage muttered but she did not move to take his hand. So the two stared at each other with gross honey smiles. Mirage’s friendly stare turned into a deadly glare at the smaller boy. To Ivory’s credit he did not waver under her gaze despite the chill that ran down his spine. Finally Mirage let out a deep cute chuckle and took hold of Ivory’s hand. She placed a feathery kiss on his the top of his hand. Another piece of Chrysalis’s wisdom spread through his mind.
“When they do kiss some will try to get away with not kissing your middle knuckle, as is customary for the Royal family. When that happens kiss their index knuckle as a greater show of respect. Kill them with kindness.”
That is precisely what Ivory did upon taking Mirage’s hand. Placing a much firmer kiss on her knuckle.
‘Hmm it seems I made a mistake underestimating these two. Chrysalis has taught them well.’ Mirage mused in her mind before turning to Ebony. This time she held out her hand as she did with Priamus.
“It's a pleasure to meet you as well Mirage. Oh and call me Prince Ebony, please.” He grinned holding out his hand. Mirage, satisfied with their knowledge, kissed Ebony’s middle knuckle. To which he responded with a kiss on her index knuckle.
“Well now that pleasantries are out of the way, shall we begin?” Mirage asked with a wave over to the table.
Despite the tense introductions the meeting was rather productive and amicable. Mirage and Priamus worked rather well together in coming up with the plans for the new buildings. To Ebony and Ivory’s credit they did not stay silent during the meeting. Despite being the least knowledgeable people in the room Ebony and Ivory did not shy away from lending their opinions. Perhaps it was the fact that Mirage was there that spurred them to leave a good impression.
“I’m worried that the spaces between each house isn’t big enough. Especially after that fire that wiped out over a dozen houses in the historic district. I know most of them were from when the hive was smaller, but weren’t a good portion of them newer and separated the same as these? I also heard of a couple of other houses catching fire quickly despite being similarly apart.” Ivory chimed in.
“Well it is true despite our efforts to prevent fire leaping from house to house like matches, it hasn't saved all them. However, I would say the majority of times the spacing as it is now works the way it should. I think increasing the separation would waste what valuable space we have . It takes a lot of time and money to tear down a portion of the walls for expansion.” One of the housing board changelings replied.
“Yes but how much time and money does it take to build new houses when a group of them goes up like tinder?” Ebony asked. “I agree with my brother not only would it be safer but I think it would improve their lives. Right now the spaces is a cramped walkway that is difficult to clean. We make it larger that could help flow the traffic to the main street as of right now they all have to go the same way.” He continued.
“I think it might be possible we’ll have to see about the nearby area.” Priamus said.
“I think it’s a great idea so long as it doesn’t get in the way of our original plans too much.” Mirage chimed. Ebony and Ivory’s eyes went wide in shock.
“Well I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to humor this idea.” One of the board changelings spoke.
“Alright well how about we go out and investigate the area. Boys you two can stay here and relax. I’m sure you’re both pretty tired. Someone should stay here and check the blueprints and make sure they will fit.” Priamus ordered. She then stood up and walked over to the door but stopped when one of the housing board offered an outlandish idea.
“Well Mirage is the one’s who helped come up with them so she would be the best choice.” Priamus stopped mid step and looked between the princes and Mirage.
“I think maybe I should check the blueprints instead.” Priamus said. She turned around to face the group but her eyes locked on Mirage.
“But Royal Sister we need you there and Mirage did help come up with the blueprints after all.” The changeling muttered.
“You can go Aunt Priamus we’ll be fine.” Ebony said waving her away. Priamus opened her mouth to retaliate but she knew for the sake of the project Mirage was the best to stay. She looked back to Mirage and her gaze turned to ice. It was barely a twitch under her eye but that subtle got her point across.
With that Priamus left the small shack with all four board members in tow. Leaving Ebony and Ivory with Mirage, alone.
Ebony and Ivory sat in awkward silence while Mirage scribbled on the massive blueprints. Mirage at one point looked up from her work at the two princes. Putting them back on alert and straighten up like a couple of prairie dogs. Mirage pursed her lips into a sly smile before returning to her work. The air was so thick with tension you could stab it with a 4 foot blade and still not pierce it all the way through. Finally the worst came to pass as Mirage set down her pencil and finished her work. Slowly she crossed her legs and rested her chin in her hand with sweet little smile peeking between her fingers. She was eyeing the princes like they were cute little lambs and she was the big bad wolf.
“I understand why you must be wary of me if Chrysalis had told you everything.” She said shattering the silence. “But I had nothing to do with that nasty business when you were little. That guard acted on his own, you have my word as a counciling.” The princes looked at each other and then back to Mirage in utter confusion.
“Why are you looking at me like that? You your mother told you everything isn’t that why you're so uneasy around me?” Mirage asked her smile disappearing to her own bewilderment.
“She just told us you were here biggest enemy in the council years ago before Storm came in. Every time you’re mentioned she complains about you in the council.” Ivory responded. For the first time Mirage’s cool demeanor evaporated as she was visibly shocked. Her eyes turning to wide disks of shock.
“You mean she never told you…” She muttered.
“Told us what?” Ebony asked.
“Well that’s a question for your mother because she has not told you everything.” Mirage replied. Ivory was about to follow up but stopped when Priamus and the others returned.
Questions twisted in their mind like blizzard. They didn’t even register that their ideas couldn’t be done for the current project but would be considered for future ones. The meeting resumed but Ebony and Ivory remained silent as they planned. They were too preoccupied by the storm of mystery in their heads.
What could Mirage mean?
Should they trust what she says?
What could their mother be hiding from them?
Why would she keep something from them for so long?
“Lift off!” Chrysalis shouted. She then lifted baby Ivory high above her head as laid across the floor of their playroom. Ivory giggled and snorted as he was lifted high up again then he came crashing back down onto his mother’s chest. Eliciting more giggles from the happy baby. Just then her vision was obscured by Ebony pushing his stuffed owl into her face. After taking the stuffed owl she placed Ivory back on the floor and rolled to her side to face Ebony. Who was having his stuffed lion prowl across the ground.
“Who, Who, Who,” Chrysalis cooed as she flew the owl above Ebony and the lion. Every once in awhile flying down and tapping the lion with the owl. Ebony giggled each time the two animals touched. As she was playing Chrysalis felt a tap on her shoulder. Looking down she saw Ivory holding out his hand to the stuffed owl. It seemed all her lessons of asking things for things kindly were beginning to take sink in. Chrysalis handed Ivory the owl.
After playing with each other for a few moments the two babies crawled over to their toy box. Chrysalis stifled a mighty yawn watching the two play together. It had been a grueling couple of weeks for the queen as yesterday the council was dismissed for a 2-month long recess. So the past couple weeks leading up to it was a long series of a bill after bill leading up to the break. Chrysalis could feel her eyes grow heavy and she drifted off to sleep.
“Chrysalis, Chrysalis, Chrysalis wake up.” Chrysalis stirred from her rest by someone shaking her. She looked up and saw it was Papillia.
“How long was I asleep?” She yawned. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and stretched out her arms.
“I don’t know I was just walking by and saw you asleep on the floor,” Papillia replied.
Chrysalis turned to see Ebony and Ivory were still at the toybox but with different toys scattered around. ‘Couldn’t have been more than a few minutes.’
“Alright, you need to go to sleep in a real bed. I’ll watch the twins.” Papillia stated.
“But I haven’t been able to play with them in weeks thanks to the council barraging me with plans and bills.” She groaned.
“That may be but you need a good sleep. I’ve heard horror stories of accidents happening when the parents are asleep and not paying attention. Who knows what kind of trouble they could get into.” Pappilia responded. Chrysalis let out an aggravated moan.
“You’re right, thanks. Come here sweeties.” Chrysalis called over to Ebony and Ivory with her arms outstretched. Ebony and Ivory crawled over to their mother who lifted them into her arms. Where she peppered them each with kisses making the two giggle excitedly.
“Alright mommy has to go lie down we’ll be able to play later. So Auntie Papillia’s gonna watch you for a bit.” She cooed and set them down. Chrysalis walked out of the room with her two sons grasping desperately after her. Tears swelled in their eyes as they stared at the empty doorway.
“Don’t cry! Your favorite aunt is here instead.” Papillia cheered and crouched over them. But it didn’t seem to ease their suffering. They wanted their mother who they had barely seen in an eternity, not their lovable aunt.
“Come on. Turn that frown upside down.” Papillia sang. She gently pinched one of their cheeks and carefully pulled it up to stop their quivering mouths. It failed to do much to ease their suffering as a couple of tears cascaded down their cheeks.
“Please don't cry. Your mom needs to rest a little bit. Come on let me see those smiles.” Papillia sang as she began to tickle their necks. Ebony was the first to break with his quivering lip twisting into a smile. He feebly tried to push her hand away when a small squeak escaped him. As his brother faltered it didn't take long for Ivory to follow. Under Papillia’s assault, the two babies forgot their worries and were howling with giggles.
However, before she could begin babysitting in earnest she felt a buzzing in her head.
“Papillia can you come up and grab these letters to the Griffion Kingdom . I need you to proofread them.” Arthemis’s voice rang in her head.
“Can't it wait? I'm babysitting the twins while Chrysalis sleeps.” Papillia replied and poked Ebony’s belly.
“Oh.” Papillia could still hear a twist of disappointment in her voice. “Well, no it can't, they're trying to get more gold from us for their bricks. Also one of their prominent senators was a changeling so they are not happy.”
“Can't you bring it to me?” Papillia asked.
“I'm tired too sister and I just got the triplets asleep and I'm finally comfortable. Can you get it please.” Arthemis pleaded.
“Fine,” Papillia sighed. With a huff, she stood up from the two princes.
“Love you.” Arthemis sighed.
“Alright, I'm going to be right back.” She said, “guard come here, please.” She called at the doorway and the guard posted outside walked in.
“Yes, Royal Sister Papillia?” He asked with a bow.
“First, what is your name?” She questioned.
“I am Corporal Korik.” He responded.
“Hmm, an old fashion name, I see,” Papillia commented.
“Yes, ma'am lovingly given to me by my parents.” He responded.
“Well, I need to go grab something from Royal Sister Arthemis so I need you to watch the princes while I'm gone, understood?” Korik saluted in response. “Good, I shouldn't be more than a few minutes, I’ll be back soon you two.” She cooed and with a wave to the princes she ran out of the room. As soon as she left Ebony and Ivory turned back to their array of toys with Korik standing awkwardly in the center of the room.
Korik looked at the two princes and a bead of sweat dripped down his face. He could feel his heart beat faster and faster as ideas swarmed in his head. He had worked hard to get close to Queen Chrysalis for the “honor” of guarding her two children.
‘This may be my only chance… the queen is asleep… but what would she say? No, I have to do this now for the good of the hive.’ Korik’s horn lip and a viridian flash illuminated the room.
Papillia came skidding into the door frame with several documents clenched in her hand.
“Alright I’m back, sorry it took a little longer than I thought.” She panted trying to catch her breath, but once she got a good look of the room her breath caught in her throat. The room was barren of anyone: no Korik, Ebony, or Ivory.
“Korik!” She bellowed into the empty room as fear crept into her heart. She scanned every corner of the room for any sign of life but the room was empty, except for her. Dread coiled around her like a snake and bit into her heart. Papillia stormed back into the empty hallway her breath short and erratic. She looked up and down the massive hallway for the slightest glimpse of the two princes, but it was no use the princes were gone. The forgotten papers fell from her hand to the floor.
Papillia dived into the hive mind and screamed. “Alex! One of the guards has taken Ebony and Ivory! Corporal Korik has kidnapped Ebony and Ivory from the nursery.”
“What? Are you positive?” Alex asked into Papillia’s mind.
“Yes! Put the castle on lockdown, now!” She screamed.
Alex didn’t respond but the sound of heavy metal boots pounding down the hallway was sufficed. Her hands trembling Papillia braced herself against the wall. The sound of soldiers’ boots and buzzing wings calmed her nerves but not enough. She could feel her stomach tighten and her breathing became haggard. Terrifying premonitions bombarded her thoughts of what might be happening to her two nephews. Finally she could take it no more expelled the contents of her taught stomach onto the floor, appearances and nobility be damned.
“Papillia,” she heard a voice call from down the hallway. Looking up she saw Alexandrae sprinting toward her with two guards. When she was finally on her Alexandrae snatched her up.
“Are you alright. You didn’t get hurt did you?” She asked. Checking her over for any wounds.
“ I’m fine, but Ebony and Ivory they’re gone; I was supposed watching them, and someone took them.” She cried, folding into Alexandrae’s arms.
“It’s alright Papillia we’ll find them I have my guards on high alert searching the hive for them.” She soothed, stroking Papillia’s hair.
“No, it’s not! I was supposed to be watching them, and I left them, and I lost them, and I...” she was once again hyperventilating as she poured out her strife.
“Papillia, remember what I taught you when mom and dad died: stay calm, take deep threats, and settle down,” Alexandrae whispered. Papillia tried to calm herself and clung to Alex like she was an anchor.
“Okay, okay, I’m calm, I’m okay, I… oh by the mothers and fathers,” Papillia gasped as another horror pierce her heart. “Alex what are we going to tell Chrysalis?”
It was rare, but the strong-willed Alexandrae, general of the army, felt a chill run down her spine as her heart stopped.
Korik looked down at the two sleeping princes, concealed in a large black blanket, once more with a curdling look of disdain. ‘I’m sorry but don’t belong you here. You’re mother never should have adopted you but if all goes well maybe you can still live with her in exile.’ He thought to himself as he snuck up to his destination. A large pure black mansion atop a faux grass hill. When he made it to the door: Korik knocked on it twice, then paused, then three more times, then paused and knocked twice once more. The door opened to reveal his employer, Mirage.
“This had better be good,” she growled an angry scowl plastered on her face. “I was just about to go to bed.” She yawned as Korik slipped inside after her
“Yes ma’am, I’m sorry ma’am,” repeatedly bowing his head in apology. “But I have something that you would want to see,” Korik then dropped to one knee before the counseling. Mirage was taken back by the sudden action. Flipping open the blanket he offered the two princes to her like she was a god. Mirage’s tired eyes shot open and her lips trembled as she lied eyes on the two. Carefully she lifted them up as if they were made of porcelain. Their eyes shut they looked peaceful as angles.
“They aren’t…” she started and shot Korik a worried look.
“No ma’am they are merely sleeping. I was thinking you could use them as leverage to take back the throne from Chrysalis.” He smiled with pride.
“How did you get them?” She asked pacing back and forth before Korik. Transfixed on the two princes.
“Royal Sister Papillia left me alone with them while she retrieved some things from Royal Sister Arthemis. I feel somewhat bad about deceiving someone as nice as her but this is for the hive.” Korik explained.
“I see,” Mirage muttered. She then walked over to a small couch across the foyer. She delicately removed the ugly brown blanket from around them and placed them on the couch; their heads resting against the pillow. She then grabbed a clean white blanket from an ornate trunk and draped it around them, tucking it in for good measure. Mirage’s horn glowed a dim green and a lime bubble surrounded them. The room was dead silent. Mirage stared at the sleeping babies in an almost caring fashion.
The serenity was shattered by Mirage twisting around to face Korik. The magic in her horn flared to a dark green color and discharged a green bolt that soared across the room. The bullet smashed into Korik’s chest with a crunch. Korik screamed in agony as he tumbled across the foyer.
Mirage strpde over to the groaning Changeling, her eyes burning with hellfire.
“You fool,” she seethed. “You dare bring them into my home and implicate me into your little scheme. You dare insult me!” She roared. Korik tried to get up but was stopped when Mirage stomped her foot on his bleeding chest. “When I take the crown from her it will be because the people will realize that my father was right and I should lead the hive.” She spat with a vicious stomp to Korik’s head. “You dare insult me by bringing these two to be hostages as if I was a common gangster!” She screamed unleashing a barrage of kicks and stomps on the changeling below. A kick to the gash on his body that spilled more blood, a savage stomp to his face shattered his teeth and the beating went on like this with no remorse. “You think I need to stoop to such savage tactics to beat her?” She hissed and pulled up the changeling’s bloody head by his throat to meet her eyes. Korik tried to croak out a feeble response but could not respond through his broken teeth. Aggravated Mirage let his head drop. With one final blow to the bridge of his nose rendering the changeling unconscious but alive, barely.
Mirage breathed deeply to calm her rage. Once the furious shaking in her hands stopped she strode over to a cabinet and grabbed several towels. She always ensured there were towels nearby to clean up any messes that took place around her house. Mirage took a seat next to the still two still sleeping princes. Mirage smiled warmly at the two as she meticulously cleaned the blood from her feet. She was more satisfied that her noise canceling shield worked than care for the two babies. As soon as her body was clean she walked over to Korik’s body and tried to clean the floor of any fluids. Lifting him up with her magic and tried to clean what was under him but became annoyed when more blood and spit dripped onto the floor she just cleaned. Finally Mirage gave up and dropped Korik to the floor, decided to have one of her servants clean it. After she has washed her hands of this mess.
Mirage strode over to the two princes and dropped the bubble. She carefully lifted the two and cradled them in her arms. With her magic, she lifted the still unconscious Korik and walked out the door to face Chrysalis.
Luckily, or maybe unluckily, Mirage wouldn’t have to make a long trip to meet up with Chrysalis. Looking up to the sky she could see an impressive swarm of Changelings descended upon her home. Guards landed on every side of her: spears and swords were drawn. While a furious Chrysalis landed before her with Alexandrae and Papillia by her side. Mirage could see there was murder in her eyes.
“I should have known,” Chrysalis growled. She marched over to Mirage unable to contain her rage as her magic was already bubbling around her horn. “I actually didn’t want to believe you would stoop to this but you surprised me.” She spat. To Mirage’s credit she remained calm despite the urge to slap Chrysalis but now was not the time.
“I had nothing to do with this. It was all this fool’s idea,” she responded. Gesturing to the floating Korik.
“You expect me to believe that?” Chrysalis hissed with another step toward Mirage. “Give them back, for your sake.” Chrysalis held out her arms to Mirage.
“Of course. I was just about to come find you and return them.” Mirage gingerly placed the two boys back in their mother’s arms. Once they were secured in their arms Chrysalis backed away. Crouched over them like a mother bear. Chrysalis put her ear between their heads and sighed when she could hear their soft breaths.
“Why are they asleep?” Chrysalis asked.
“Relax it’s just a sleeping spell by that idiot, they’ll be fine,” Mirage responded.
Chrysalis gave another big sigh of relief and melted into the embrace with her sons. Bending her head down and putting it between theirs. Planting a kiss on each of their foreheads. Even Mirage had to admit it was a sweet sight.
Once she was finished Chrysalis handed the Princes over to Papillia. Who also desperately pulled them into her. Now that the calm had passed the two Changelings in the center found themselves in the middle of a storm again. Chrysalis spun around her horn pulsing with magic. Mirage could feel her body tighten as she was forced to her knees. Forcing her to drop Korik to the floor with a dull thud. A green magic ebbing and sparking off of her limbs.
“Now I’m going to ask you without my hostage sons in your arms. Did you have anything to do with this?” Chrysalis stood over Mirage forcing her to look up at the queen.
“I had no part in any of this,” Mirage hissed. It was painful to speak.
“Why did he come to you then? Also, why is he bloody mess.” Chrysalis asked.
“He was my little spy in your castle. He was the one that told me their names back then. He’s a bloody mess because he insulted me by bringing your children to me. He needed to be punished.” Mirage responded.
“I see, so then why did you give them back? How did he insult you by bringing them to you? I probably would have given you the crown for them. So why didn’t you take it? ” Chrysalis put her finger beneath Mirage’s chin so that she could get a good look Mirage’s eyes.
“I may not like your ideas or the direction you’re taking our Hive, but I do not hate you and I am no monster. It’s clear that you love those two with all your heart and only some monster would try to tear that apart. That fool insulted me by thinking I could take the crown from you by extorting babies like a thug. I am no thug.” She hissed response. The two Changelings looked into each other’s eyes for a moment. Each staring deep into the green orbs of the other. Then Chrysalis fell upon Mirage pulling her into a warm hug as the spell around her dropped.
“Thank you Mirage for protecting them. I’m sorry for accusing you.” Chrysalis whispered. She ran her hand through Mirage’s spectral hair. Mirage did not return the embrace but did not move away from it. She knelt silently as Chrysalis squeezed her tighter and stroked her hair. Finally, Chrysalis relented and pulled away her. Chrysalis stood up and her attention turned to Korik still lying upon the dirt.
“So Mirage you bear witness to his crimes of kidnapping Prince Ebony and Prince Ivory?” Chrysalis asked.
“Yes, Queen Chrysalis.” Mirage responded.
“Royal Sister Alexandrae and Royal Sister Papillia will you bear witness to my decree?” She asked.
“Yes, Queen Chrysalis.” They responded in unison.
“Then for crimes against the crown for kidnapping my sons: Prince Ebony and Prince Ivory and for breaking his vow as a royal guard. I, Queen Chrysalis, daughter of King Morpho and Queen Articia, sentence the Royal Guard Korik to death. In two days he will be hung for his crimes.” Chrysalis pronounced.
“Are there any objections Royal Sister Alexendrae and Royal Sister Papillia?” She asked. They did not object.
“Guards take him away, treat his injuries and then throw him in the dungeon. When he awakes inform Royal Sister Alexandrae who will tell him his sentence.” She stated. With that, the two guards grabbed Korik’s body and the group took off back to the castle.
“So that’s what Mirage was talking about. So what happened after that?” Ivory asked. After they returned from their outing with Priamus Ivory asked their mother about Mirage’s words while at dinner.
“Well Korik was executed, Alex vetted the entire royal guard for any ties to Mirage. That was when Mirage’s power with the opposition slipped. When I first adopted you two there was an explosion of extreme opposition. Many felt she was a coward for not, at the very least, spiriting you two away from the hive. Giving rise to counseling Storm.” Chrysalis responded.
“You forgot the part that you got so paranoid you wouldn’t let them leave your sight for a few months. She moved basically the entire playroom to her room, it was an absolute mess.” Arthemis commented.
“Thank you for that Arthemis.” Chrysalis deadpanned.
“Just keeping the events accurate.” Arthemis shrugged.
“Okay, so why keep this a secret from us? I thought you said no more secrets.” Ebony pouted and crossed his arms.
“Sorry but this was a different thing entirely. We didn’t tell you because we didn’t want you to be afraid that it could happen again and not trust the guards.” Alexendrae responded.
“I was also afraid you would think differently of me for what happened. That you would blame me. So I asked everyone to never mention it again.” Papillia muttered. The two brothers exchanged glances before responding.
“I understand. It’s kind of a hard thing to talk to your kid about the time they were kidnapped.” Ivory stated.
“Yeah I guess, but no more secrets. We’re almost adults now and if we’re going to be given responsibilities we want to be treated like we can handle them.” Ebony stated to which Ivory nodded at their family.
“Alright, no more secrets. Now get to bed and don’t stay up too late because you’ll be with Alex tomorrow.” Chrysalis stood from her chair and left the dining room.
“Yeah and we’re gonna see if you’re ready to be treated like the adults you think are.” Alex chuckled.
Ebony gasped for breath and doubled over as Ivory delivered a powerful punch to his ribs. Ivory had landed five punches in the same spot over the course of the fight. A purple bruise started to form and Ebony could swear it went down to the bone. Ivory prepared to follow through with a blow to Ebony’s wide open head but Ebony caught his arm at the bend. Despite the crippling pain, Ebony sprang forward his arm sliding up from the block and striking Ivory square in the mouth.
Ebony could feel blood spray onto his knuckles from Ivory’s nose. Ivory stepped back from the pain but Ebony wasn’t done. Pouring all his strength into his left fist he delivered a devastating blow to Ivory’s left side. Ivory choked for air and skidded back to escape Ebony’s barrage. Looking to end it Ebony once again through a powerful right cross to Ivory’s skull. However, Ivory managed to catch the attack like Ebony did before. This time, though, Ivory pulled Ebony toward him and raised his leg for a kick at Ebony’s stomach. Ebony tried to use his free hand to block it but Ivory’s superior strength won the clash. Ebony’s hand barely managed to absorb most of the kick but he could still feel it in his gut. With Ebony’s hand crushed into his sole Ivory stomped down, and Ebony’s hand followed.
Dread swept over him as he looked down at his wide open abdomen. Ivory sprang his other leg up and readied another kick. With his arms to the side, Ebony could only clench his teeth and ready his body for the blow. Ivory’s leg shot forward and dug into Ebony’s gut. Ebony was not prepared for just how much stronger his brother had become. He stumbled backward and fell to his knees, clutching his stomach.
“That’s enough,” a voice called from the other side of the room. Alexandrae, who had been watching from the side of the ring, walked onto the mat. With the fight over Ivory collapsed onto the ground holding the various bruises on his body.
While Ebony did lose he made a mess of his brother. Ivory had a cut on his right temple that started to swell, the bridge of his nose had been split open, and he had deep purple bruises all over his body, legs and arms. Ebony on the other hand from a quick glance looked less beaten up but he was probably in even more pain. His cheek had a deep gash, the right side of his body had a massive purple welt, and he had a deep purple bruise on his left thigh. Each of these wounds was from Ivory’s precise assaults, attacking the same spot over and over.
“Very good, you’ve both been improving but some more than others…” she looked from Ivory to Ebony.
“Ivory, congratulations, you’re strength one this match but just barely. You left yourself open too often. All it would have taken is one solid blow from Ebony and you would be tasting the dirt.” She ran one of her fingers across a bruise on his chest. “However, your form was impeccable you had a strategy and you managed to stick to it. Now learn how to keep your hands up and guard yourself, and you’ll be a force to be reckoned with.” She smiled and ruffled his hair.
“Ebony,” she walked over to the still huddled prince. “You lost this match. Now use this as an opportunity to improve. So what will you not do next time?” She asked.
Ebony looked up at his aunt. “Lose?” He asked back, which earned him a smack on the back of the head.
“Don’t be a smart-ass,” she growled. Ebony, unwisely, chose to take his smartassery a step further and rolled his eyes. Alexandrae grabbed him by a tuft of his hair and pulled his head up to look him in the eyes. “Stop being a sore loser and answer my question.” Ebony still had a small pout on his face, he already knows why he lost why announce to everyone?
“I got tired too quickly. I was winning but then I got tired and had to go on the defensive and catch my breath. That’s when he started to beat me.” He mumbled. Alexandrae sighed and let go of his hair.
“Good start.” She mumbled. She then knelt down next to the beaten prince. “If you would spend less time moping and spent more of it training you could be even better than Ivory. You’re built to be a fighter. You got these bony knuckles that hurt like hell.” She started, rubbing the bloodied stubs. “You’re good at taking a punch and dealing one back, not to mention your magic. But all of that means nothing if you don’t apply yourself.” She explained. It was a speech she had given a dozen times, but one Ebony found difficult to adhere to. Alexandrae let out a defeated sigh.
“Well think about it while I patch up Ivory.” The winner was always healed first. Ivory laid down on the ground as Alexandrae’s horn illuminated with magic. A soft red glow surrounded his many cuts and bruises. Leaving Ebony alone with his thoughts.
He knew his Aunt was right but it felt like he couldn’t apply himself anymore. He was “good” at just about everything, a jack of all trades, but he didn’t excel at anything. It burned a hole into his stomach as he looked over to Ivory. Ebony stewed and let time escape him until Alexandrae brought him back to reality.
“Ebony lie down it’s your turn.” Ebony looked over to see that Ivory’s beaten body was almost completely healed. All of the smaller injuries were gone, the swelling around his eye had gone down, and the larger bruises became smaller.
While Alex was tending to his brother Ivory was stewing in his own problems, mostly about Ebony. He knew Alex was right that he could have lost to Ebony just as easily and it burned him up inside. He had been learning from Alex nonstop preparing for the entrance exams to the academy. Yet his brother’s natural talents kept them on even playing fields.
“I think what you two need is a look at what it takes to enter the military. What they go through and how they prepare themselves. Today we’re going to the military academy so you can get a taste of training with incoming freshman. See how good you have to be just to be accepted.” Alex and Ebony stood up. His nastier wounds had healed to an acceptable level. He still had a nasty cut on his cheek, a sizable bruise and it still was uncomfortable to put pressure on his left leg.
Ivory perked up at the idea of visiting the academy. “Really? Are we really gonna get to see the marshalling-grounds and practice on it?” Ivory was practically jumping in place.
“We’ll have you go through a couple of drills and see what you can handle. You’ll also get to see what the classes are like.” She replied. Ivory pumped his fist in jubilation.
“Maybe that’ll give Ivory enough time can get some autographs, shine their armor, and maybe relieve some tension,” Ebony smirked and shook his hand in a suggestive manner. Ivory glared at him and jabbed him in his still sore side.
“Ouch, bastard!” Ebony cried and grabbed his side. He turned to Ivory and hissed at him. To which Ivory hissed right back.
“Both of you stop it,” Alex ordered. “Hopefully the ride to the academy will give you a chance to cool off.” Grumbling, Ebony and Ivory followed Alexandrae out of the room.
On the cart ride to the military academy, the two princes sat as far as they could away from each other. They were hugging the walls of the cart. Ebony peeked through the thin cracks of the thick curtains, still sulking. Ivory, on the other hand, had his arms crossed and was staring into space.
Alexandrae placed her chin in her hand and quietly sighed. ‘What on earth is their problem,” she pondered. ‘I can get why Ebony would be sulking. He’s always taken any loss a bit too hard but not Ivory, especially not after winning.’ She knitted her eyebrows and pursed her lips. ‘Do I ask them what’s wrong, would that work,’ she theorized.
“So is everything alright? You know you guys can tell me anything that's bothering you.” She cooed. The response was a unanimous and terse, no. The two didn’t even bother to look at her.
Alexandrae’s lips curled into a scowl. “Tch, teenagers,” she huffed. She leaned back and folded her arms with a sigh. Letting the carriage return to a tense silence.
Finally, the carriage arrived at its destination.
"Before we go in I want you to drop whatever attitudes you have. I will not have you embarrass me by entering this place like a couple of spoiled brats. To enter these hallowed halls without ever being accepted into its ranks is a great honor, even for royalty. Chrysalis rarely enters the place unless it’s vitally important to keep the sanctity.” Alex stated.
“Yes, ma’am.” They replied. They may be miffed at their situations but they would never risk jeopardizing their family’s honor or reputation.
Flanked by a platoon of guards the three royalty entered through the massive iron gates. The military academy was an intimidatingly beautiful structure. Sheer black walls made up the central academy building. The roof was sharp and jagged like a crown. With sharp spires extending towards the sky. To the right was a massive obstacle course that stretched to almost the entire length of the 100 yard-long walls.
Ivory looked ahead and saw another file of guards walk towards them. Between them was three other changelings. In the middle was a rather small woman, just a little taller than Arthemis, but she had the walk of a changeling of power. The changeling to the right of her was slightly taller and well built with well-toned muscles. However, he looked puny compared to the giant on the other side. The two princes had never seen a man that large. He was almost taller than their imposing aunt and his arms were like tree trunks.
“General Alexandrae, Colonel Kirix reporting. It's good to see you again sir.” The woman saluted.
“Corporal Avalanche, reporting general.” The right man saluted.
“Corporal Roaring Wind, reporting general.” The giant man saluted.
“At ease,” Alexandrae ordered. “Roaring Wind, huh? Quite the interesting name.” Alex looked over to the Roaring.
“Yes, ma’am, I was born in the sub-hive close to Manehatten. My parents took a liking to Equestrian naming conventions.” He replied. Alexandrae didn’t say anything but nodded her head in approval. “Boys introduce yourselves.”
Ebony and Ivory stepped forward and placed their fists on their hearts. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintances: Colonel Kirix, Corporal Avalanche, and Corporal Roaring Wind.” They said in unison, addressing each of them.
“It is a pleasure to finally meet you as well Prince Ivory and Prince Ebony.” Colonel Kirix responded with a bow.
“Very good now show us to the new recruits,” Alexandrae ordered.
“Of course, general, although I am still unsure about them joining in. You do remember today is orientation day.” Kirix asked. Alexandrae gave them a cruel smirk.
“Of course I do.” She chuckled.
Ebony and Ivory could feel a chill race down their spines.
It felt like Ivory’s heart was about to explode. Never before had he worked his body to this level exhaustion. His body was so desperate for a rest that the mud beneath him felt like as cloud. His sterling white hair was turned to a light brown by the mud. His face and naked body, save for some trousers, was caked in mud. He looked up at the shimmering green razors that crissed-crossed just above his head. They were made by finely cut magic crystals pumped with magic. They were officially called Verdant Wires but soldiers lovingly dubbed them Spring’s Edge; for they shined like spring and when they cut, it rained.
Ivory looked over his shoulder to Ebony who was just behind him. He was crawling beside two other changelings of the platoon they’d been assigned to. All around them were changeling cadets crawling along with them. Out of breath and trying to keep the mud from their mouths. Many of them were part of different platoons. He looked ahead at the “leader” of his platoon. The captains of each group were chosen before they arrived. He recalled the warning their aunt gave them before they left.
“Alright, cadets as you should know these are: these are your Princes Ivory and Ebony.” Alexandrae declared to the packed lecture hall. “They will be training with you for today. Now simply because they are your princes, that does not mean I want you to give them any special treatment. Treat them as you would your own comrades. So if anyone treats them as less than their comrades...” She began, “you’ll get to be the targets for today's exercise on the shooting range, do I make myself clear?” Enunciating every syllable.
“Yes general sir,” the audience boomed back with a salute from every member.
“Excellent, now I understand you’ve already split up into your own platoons. Out of courtesy, I’ll ask if any captains will volunteer,” Alexandrae called. Immediately a hand shot up from the crowd. The princes felt their collective hearts skip a beat at the quick volunteer.
“What is your name, cadet?” Alexandrae called.
“My name is Xorik, general,” he responded. Alexandrae lightly hummed to herself.
“You have spoken to your platoon about adding two more members to it?” She asked.
“Yes general, we only have four members and with the two princes, we will have an even six like the rest. If that is alright with you general.” He replied.
“I have no qualms about this. Ebony and Ivory fro today you are in Xorik’s platoon.” She pulled the princes close before they left to meet their squad.
“Remember a kind gesture can be bait for a trap. Gauge their intentions and signal me if anything seems wrong.” She whispered and sent them on their way.
Next to Xorik was the self-proclaimed lieutenant, Oak. Behind him was the other two members Vora and Topaz. Ivory looked behind and was surprised to see how well he and Ebony were doing despite their younger age. With Ebony keeping up crawl for crawl with Topaz at the rear.
Finally Ivory saw the end of the grueling crawl just ahead of them. As soon as he was positive his body was ahead of the painful beams did he crawl to his feet and face the next obstacle. It was a massive wall of dark wood planks with spaces so small not even an ant could slip through.
“Ivory over here!” Xorik called from near the wall with Oak beside him. “Alright you two send me up and I’ll pull you guys over.” He ordered. Oak nodded and got in position while Ivory suppressed a groan. Despite his exhaustion he set up next to Oak and the two made a platform with their hands. Xorik took a step back before climbing onto their palms. With all his might Ivory pushed up with Oak. Ascending Xorik as high as they could go. The changeling jumped off their palms and grabbed the top of the wall. Despite his muddy feet slipping and sliding against the wood he reached the top of the wall. Xorik dangled over the edge and extended his arm to the two still at the bottom. Ivory could see his arm faintly glow and stretch a few more inches.
“You go you’re stronger than I am.” Ivory turned to Oak. The changeling opened his mouth to protest but he knew the prince was right.
Ivory cupped his hands together to give Oak a boost up. Oak put his sole in the prince’s hands and climbed up to his shoulders. Were he stretched up and grabbed onto Xorik’s outstretched arm. Xorik grunted and heaved the changeling up to the top.
Now with both of them up top, they reached down to grab the next person as Ivory was joined by the remaining troop.
“Vora you go next you’re the largest of us,” Xorik called from above.
“That had better not be a dig at my weight!” She yelled back before getting ready go up.
Topaz ran over and put his hands into Ivory’s as Vora got into position. As Vora climbed onto their hands the two smaller males knees’ buckled.
“Oh fuck off I’m not that heavy you babies!” Vora spat.
“Never said that you’re a perfectly healthy normal woman which is kind of the problem,” Ivory grunted trying to push up with Topaz. “Ebony help us!” He shouted.
Ebony nodded and got behind Vora and began pushing her up by her posterior.
“Ooh, hello prince I see you were staying behind me on purpose.” Vora chuckled.
“Vora shut up and climb!” Oak yelled. Without another word Vora pushed against their palms and grabbed Oak and Xorik’s hands. Pushing against the wall she climbed up to the other two.
“Xorik you were up here first right?” She asked. To which the captain nodded. “Then go down and take a breath, I’ll take it from here, ” Xorik gratefully nodded and jumped off the wall to the other side.
“Alright, Ivory you’re next,” Oak called down. Ivory nodded as Ebony took his spot beside the wall. Around them, several groups had pulled their last member over the wall but much more were still lagging behind.
“Let’s pick up the pace changelings!” They could hear Xorik shout over the wall. Ivory quickly scurried up the wall and was quickly pulled up thanks to Vora’s longer arms. As soon as he got up Ivory opened his mouth switch with Oak, but he beat him to the punch and jumped off.
‘Hive mind,’ Ivory theorized as he reached down for the next person.
“I’m taller so I’ll go last,” Ebony stated. Topaz voiced no objections and scaled Ebony and was hauled to the top. This time, Vora stayed while Topaz jumped down.
Ebony took a few steps back and looked up at the intimidating wall. He took a moment to brush the thick mud from the bottom of his feet. Ebony then sprinted as fast as his tired body would let him at the wall. He took two steps on the walls surface before propelling himself upwards and latching onto Vora’s hand. Ivory tried to reach down and grab onto his brother’s other hand but it was no use. Ebony tried to pull himself up but the slimy mud still on his feet made it difficult to get any traction. Vora reached down with her other arm and tried to pull him up. However, with the thick mud coating their bodies Ebony could feel his hand begin to slip. Frantically, he kicked against the wall to reach Ivory but his hand was sliding away from Vora. Their fingers were centimeters from each other when Ebony slipped. He let out a shriek as he came crashing down to the filthy ground head first. If it weren’t for the soft muck on the course he might have seriously injured himself.
“Ebony, are you okay!” Ivory cried. Ebony hissed and clutched his throbbing head but nodded.
Taking a few more uneasy steps back he prepared to try again.
“Ivory I’ll lower you down so you can grab him,” Vora ordered and grabbed the hem of his trousers. Ivory gave a nod of approval and let Vora dangle him from the ledge of few feet lower.
Ebony took another run at the wall and clambered up, grabbing Ivory’s hands. With his brother firmly in his grasp Vora pulled the two up and the trio fell over the wall. Ebony and Ivory gasped for breath and looked in horror ahead as they were only halfway done.
As soon as their group crossed the finish line Ebony and Ivory collapsed to the ground utterly exhausted. The two were relieved to see that they were not the only ones feeling the burn. All around them, the other cadets were exhausted. On their backs and knees gasping for breath and trying recharge their bodies. Several groups finished long before their own but as Ivory looked back a couple more still had not finished.
‘Not first but definitely not last,’ he thought to himself.
“You did pretty well Prince Ivory, for a changeling so young,” Xorik said patting him on the back.
“Please, just Ivory, like my aunt said,” Ivory responded, still gasping for air.
“Of course, sorry force of habit,” Xorik replied.
“Hey Xorik, I never got to ask you before that gauntlet, but why were you so eager to have us for your group. We’re not exactly popular with most,” Ebony walked over to the two with his hands on his head. Ivory shot him a quick glare that Ebony quickly dismissed.
“Well for one we had fewer changelings for our platoon, so we would be at a disadvantage’ but I was also honored at the chance to have you two as my comrades, even for a day.” He replied.
“Mind telling me why? Remember it’s unwise to keep secrets from your princes.” Ebony stated. Earning another sharp glare from Ivory.
“Not at all when I was a young boy my parents were harvesters at a small Equestrian hamlet. I enjoyed the Equestrian culture and I made many friends.” He smiled but then his happy recollection turned sour. “However, one day my father’s disguise accidentally dropped. My parents were terrified of the mob that would come to attack us. I had never seen my father so terrified. He was bawling how sorry he was that he let this happen.” He continued, “but we were surprised when the townsfolk came to us, not with torches, but with friendship. They welcomed us to the town for who we were; we didn't even have to keep up a disguise. So my opinions of Equestrians is far better than most,” he smiled. Ebony eyed him like a hawk and tried to look for any hint of a lie. Just like his mother taught him.
“Ebony I’m pretty sure he’s telling the truth.” Ivory sighed.
“Fine but- whoa!” Whatever Ebony was going to say was cut off by two hands firmly grabbing his buttocks and squeezing. He spun around to see Vora pop up in front of him.
“Sorry my Prince it was just to make up for the course,” she cheekily smiled. “Besides I don’t think I could’ve resisted much longer, Equestrians are incredibly cute.” She wiped a bit from his face.
“God, Vora you are such a xenophile,” Topaz shook his head at his friend’s antics.
“That’s not… inaccurate,” She chuckled and brushed some mud from Ebony’s hair and forehead.
“Need I remind you I am your prince?” Ebony asked but did not stop the changeling’s poking.
“Not today my dear prince, today you’re a comrade.” She smiled back and pulled some more goop from his hair.
“Then is this how you would treat a comrade,” Ebony asked with a raised eyebrow.
“A cute Equestrian comrade, yes.” She replied with a saucy wink. “Oh and don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, my sterling prince.” She called to Ivory and walked over to him. “He was just more forward.” She whispered and proceeded to clean the Ivory’s face as best she could.
Watching from the observation deck afar Alexandrae sighed and put her face into her hand. “What did I just say?” She sighed.
“Something wrong general?” Kirix asked.
“That changeling over there, what’s her name?” She asked pointing to the group.
“I believe her name is Vora, general, she's the daughter of some governling, and she scored high on the entrance exam, what about her?” Kirix asked.
“It’s only been one exercise and she’s got those two by a string,” Alexandrae replied sitting back in her chair. Kirix looked back and couldn’t help but chuckle as Vora was picking the dirt from Ivory’s hair.
“Well, they are young, general, still exploring. Besides, I wouldn’t worry, she actually reminds me of a younger you.” Kirix patted her old friend on the shoulder.
“That just makes me worry even more.” Alexandrae sighed.
“Well I’m sure it’s fine, they’re just trying out the world is all. I take it they’ve made love already?” Kirix asked.
“No, not yet, apparently the suitable age for Equestrians is about seventeen so they have a little over a year left before Chrysalis would be comfortable,” Alex replied.
“My, my, I heard Equestrians grew a bit slower than Changelings but I didn’t think it would be that much slower.” Kirix gasped. "Does she intend to bed them herself or will someone else do it?" Alexandrae shrugged.
"It will be up to them who will receive the honor but Chrysalis will most likely persuade them to choose her. I doubt she would stand with someone else having them." She replied.
Ivory stared through the sights of the rifle and took a careful aim at the red ringed target 50 meters away. Taking a deep breath he poured his veridian magic into the barrel and squeezed the trigger, exhaling as he fired. An emerald bolt raced across the field and hit the innermost white ring. He couldn’t help but grin. The two brothers had of course practiced with a variety of spell guns before, but this time it felt different. Their practices at the castle were a lot more controlled after Ebony accidentally overloaded his first one and causing it to erupt into flames.The incident almost gave their mother a heart attack. Now, there was no controlled environment. It was just him with fellow cadets, though he, officially, wasn’t one yet. Still he was allowed to train to serve their Hive. Licking his lips he took aim once more.
Ebony, on the other hand, was having a nightmare of a time with the exercise. He had become hesitant and fearful of firing them after several other mishaps besides destroying his first one. He aimed down the sights once again and trickled his magic into the chamber. Ebony fired once again but the little bit of magic he used caused the crimson bolt to disappear halfway to the mark. His target remained untouched.
“Cadet Ebony! What do you think you’re doing?” Alexandrae shouted in his ear, causing him to jump. Ebony opened his mouth to respond but stammered for the words. “I see your excuses are as weak as your magic.” She growled. “You think you can bring these half-hearted attempts into this academy? You are the only cadet here to not touch their target. Hell you can’t even muster up the magic to miss. Now, I know you have stronger magic than that. Use it! Quit being a coward and hit the damn target!” She barked. Ebony looked to his sides at the other cadets. Some were giggling as his aunt chewed him up like a bone. Many more smugly smiled down at him, a feeling of changeling superiority and vindication washing over them. Hot shame bottled up in his throat as his cheeks burned red.
“You wanna see more? Fine!” He muttered to himself and took aim once again. This time he funneled his magic into the barrel, and the rifle hummed to life. As he pumped more into it, the humm turned into a high pitched buzz. A crimson light illuminated the opening of the cylinder. As more magic charged Alexandrae’s drill sergeant act faded and was quickly replaced with fear.
“Ebony, be careful-” she blurted out, but it was too late. The spell was loosed and the gun recoiled into his shoulder, hard, but Ebony managed to keep it under control. The furious bolt raced down the range and struck the target. The stone exploded with magical energy and a crater was created inside one of the inner rings. Completely destroying a part of the target. Debris covered the surrounding area.
Alexandrae looked in shock at the damage. Her arms half outstretched to Ebony in an attempt to stop him. She looked back at the other cadets who were shocked in their own ways. They looked from the target, to her, and back again. Ebony on the other hand looked at his results with pride. Finally, after so long of trying to control his magic he had fired a bolt without damaging himself or others. He flashed a cocky arrogant smile up at her. Alexandrae looked down at him in annoyance. As much as she wanted to beat on him for not only giving her a heart attack but also flashing her that stupid smirk. But she couldn’t, though she was annoyed, she was also proud of his development. She curled her fingers in and stood up straight; trying to regain her composure.
“Well it seems you are at least competent to get a shot off after all, now maybe you can shoot properly. Seeing as you only hit the… uh…” Alexandrae looked back at the demolished target. Trying to determine where the magical lance struck exactly, but as more stone fell away from was left, the examination proved to be difficult. “Well I don’t know exactly where you hit the target but it wasn’t a bullseye so keep training and stop slacking off!” She barked and spun around. “The rest of you... Did you come here to watch or become the Hive’s best? Get back to work!” She roared. The cadets scrambled and returned to their exercises.
Ivory glared at Ebony’s target his face burning with envy. It didn’t matter if he ever hit the bullseye. The purpose of this exercise was to increase soldiers’ accuracy so they could use as few shots as possible. Changelings have the least amount of available magic compared to other races so each shot needed to count. By the end of training each changeling would need to fire at least 20 bullseyes in a row to graduate, but Ebony wouldn’t need to.
It didn’t matter where he hit the target for his magic was like a cannonball. No, it was even more fearsome. Like a force of nature demolishing everything in its path. Ivory blushed as he had to admire the twisted beauty in the carnage. It was so powerful that the destroyed stone looked smooth like it had been sliced by a scalpel. He morosely turned back to his own target, which looked like a piece of badly burnt toast.
Meanwhile, Ebony continued demolishing the stone target. Yet, despite his efforts, he could not get in the bulls-eye of the target. Indeed, he was great at hitting everything but the center of the target. As the area around the small circle disintegrated, the red dot stood proud among the rubble, mocking the prince. Ebony looked over at Ivory’s impressive results. With enough practice, he could become an expert marksman. It was picture a perfect example. Scorch marks surrounded the outer area and slowly closed in around the red dot. He bit his lower lip and fired again. Hitting another piece of previously broken stone. He growled as the hot shame from before boiled in his throat. He prepared to absolutely demolish the insulting red dot.
After an hour of practice, Alexandrae blew her whistle, and the cadets put down their rifles and stood at attention. While Alexandrae assessed their results with the other instructors. The regular cadets targets looked like they had been swarmed by mosquitos. They were freckled with small black holes. Some of them never strayed past the inner circle. The judges looked over Ivory’s first. However, they found judging his target to be difficult. By the end of the training, he had created a crater where the target should be. With the bullseye thoroughly dug out and every outer ring less damaged leaving the fifth ring with only collateral scorch marks. In the end they decided to mark him as above average. Taking marks off for hitting the 6th 7th and 8th rings as much as he did, but they were still impressed with how hollowed out the center was. Alexandrae didn’t say anything special, but as they walked away, she brushed her finger across his ponytail.
Finally they reached Ebony. The instructors scratched their heads on how to grade what was left of his target. He had managed to hit the bullseye midway through and continued to demolish what was left. Leaving a broken shadow of a circle. There was a semblance of a pattern but much of it was lost in the destruction. In the end, they chose to mark him as above average as well but Alexandrae requested to mark him below Ivory. Taking points off for damaging the outer rims including the fifth ring. Alexandrae also admonished him for not properly focusing his magic but did not mark him for it at the behest of Xirix. Impressed by how much power he could use and not exhaust himself. Before they moved on to the rest Alexandrae ran her finger down the back of Ebony’s head.
Ebony and Ivory let themselves relax and relish in their success as best they could. While it wasn’t much Alexandrae’s small gesture was enough praise. However, it wouldn’t last as Ebony couldn’t help but dwell on his aunt’s insistencethat he be marked below Ivory. His accomplishment paled in comparison to Ebony’s sheer force.
“Well done my prince.” Vora whispered to Ivory as soon as Alexandrae was far enough away.
“Oh, thanks, Vora.” He smiled back, yet his face reflected disappointment.
“So, you you’re not the least bit tired even after all that?” she asked.
“A little bit tired from that, but I’ll be fine in a bit.” He replied. She whistled in amazement.
“Wow, so you planning on enrolling for real?” she asked.
“Definitely, It’ll be another two years until I’m eligible, though,” he replied.
“Hmm, that’s a shame, but I hope we can work together in some capacity.” She smiled. “So, if you were already planning on enrolling, why are you here exactly. To see if you could handle it?”
“No, we’re here because of our cutie-” but before he could explain he could feel a dagger sinking into his back. He turned around to see Ebony glaring at him. While a part of Ivory was irked at Ebony trying to boss him around, his brother was right.
“Nevermind it’s nothing.” He waved Vora off. Satisfied Ebony turned back and waited. Ebony meant nothing by it, and on any other day it would have gone unnoticed, but this was no ordinary day. The tense atmosphere that had been building between the two, made Ebony’s turn even more dismissive. Like how a superior would turn away from a grunt. The anger and feelings of inferiority that had been pent up over weeks had finally boiled over.
Vora watched Ivory with concern as the young prince bristled like an alley cat and looked ready to pounce on Ebony. He, in turn, looked back at Ivory and caught a glimpse of his brother’s wrathful gaze
Ebony was shocked at Ivory at first. Unable to comprehend why his brother was so angry. Rather than ask why he was upset he mashed pieces together in a way they didn’t fit.
‘Is he getting angry at me for telling him to stop running his mouth?’ He growled bitterly to himself. Not one to back down he glared right back at him. The two brothers bared their teeth at each other and made high pitched chirping sort of growl. Their platoon looked warily at the two who looked like they were about to throw down in front of them, regality be damned.
“U-um Ebony, Ivory are you guys okay?” Xorik asked unsure on what to do. They were fine mere moments ago. He looked back at Vora to see if she had any ideas but she only shrugged her shoulders
Meanwhile Alexandrae was finishing the assessments. She quickly pulled Kirix away from Roaring Wind and Avalanche. “Kirix hold off on calling for the sparring exercise I need to make sure they are ready for it,” she stated
“Think they can’t handle it, General?” She asked with a wry smile.
“I’d advise you not to insult or underestimate my nephews Colonel or you will fight me as an example exercise.” She warned.
“Meant nothing by it, a simple jest that’s all.” She nervously chuckled. Not wanting to face the legendary warrior in any capacity.
“Smart choice,” Alex purred. “Besides I’m not quite worried about them more so who they might be facing. They already sparred earlier today and did quite a number on each other. I think something is bothering them but they won’t tell me.”
“Hmm, probably the usual sibling conflict. I remember one time you and Priamus were practically at war with each other. Didn’t she place a charm on your boots to make them fill with mud?” she asked.
“Yes it just so happened the exact force needed was falling from the rope ladder! She can be a devil when provoked.” She grimaced. Recalling how she sat through an entire class and firing exercises with her mouth on fire. “Nonetheless I’ll need a moment to check on them.”
Alexandrae patted herself on the back for her gut instinct as she walked up behind the platoon. Ebony and Ivory were hissing like cats and neither was going to back down. She gently pulled Xorik back from them.
“What happened?” She asked telepathically through the hive mind.
“We don’t know general, one moment everything was fine Ivory was chatting with Vora and the next they’re like this.” He replied.
‘Hmm Ivory was most likely talking too much so Ebony probably warned him. That’s the trigger but what was the primer?’ She ran her finger across her chin in thought.
“Anything else cadet?” she asked.
“Nothing that comes to mind it was all pretty sudden.” He replied.
Alexandrae hummed to herself on how best to proceed. A part of her wanted to drag the two away by their ears but that wouldn’t be very good for them or the family’s reputation. She looked around at the two other platoons, thankfully they didn’t seem to notice their princes murder in each other’sgazes. She needed an excuse and a good one.
“Ebony and Ivory, I completely forgot to give you a tour of the grounds didn’t I?” she called.
The two princes almost jumped out of their skin and spun around to meet their aunt. They were too startled to respond.
“That’s what I thought. Come, the day is growing short and I want to give you a tour before we leave. Besides their next exercise is sparring which you’vealready had enough of today.” She clicked her boots and marched away. With Ebony and Ivory reluctantly in tow.
“I could still go for a fight,” Ebony muttered.
“Are you sure? Do you want to lose again?” Ivory sneered. Ebony would have clocked his brother in the jaw if not for Alexandrae.
“What was that boys?” She asked innocently.
“Nothing, sir.” They shouted and silently walked back to the compound.
They walked in complete silence through the halls of the academy. Ebony and Ivory pondered what kind of tour this was. They hadn’t stopped at any of the rooms it was more like their Aunt had a destination in mind. After going through the entire compound Alexandrae stopped and turned to them.
“I have something to show you boys, but before we continue I have one question: what is wrong with you two?” she asked. “Something has been eating at the both of you for days now. You two haven’t been spending as much time with each other and when you do it seems forced. Chrysalis might have taught you how to lie and act but you can’t fool me.” She stared them down like a hawk. Not even a twitch would go unnoticed. The two looked at each other and waited for the other to speak up. After all it was the other brother that had the problem they were simply the victim of their pompous attitude.
When no one spoke up Alexandrae sighed and opened the door. The stairs led to a part of the academy that looked out of place and older than the rest of it. Rough black stone covered the walls and ceilings while steps were faded in red brick. There was no light source, so Alexandrae created one with her magic. It had an ominous ancient presence around them as they took the first step down.
The stairwell only got darker the further they traveled. Ebony and Ivory lit their hands and forearms with magic. Yet the darkness barely faded and masked the glares the princes were giving each other.
‘This is all Ivory’s fault,’ Ebony thought bitterly. ‘He’s the one that needs to speak up. He’s the one being insufferable. He’s always been rubbing in my face all of Alexandrae’s praises. He’s her little soldier that will rise quickly through ranks she says. It’s only because he knows I’m still stalled on what to do. So much for that agreement should have known he would let his ego get in the way.’ He ranted to himself.
‘Quit being selfish and just tell her already.’ Ivory grumbled. ‘Ever since we were kids you’ve always done this. Lording over me with your natural abilities. You never care about anyone but you. We were supposed to help each other with the hive I should have known you would have been too selfish for that.’ He spat.
Finally they came to their destination. It was an old door made from two white slabs of stone. It looked ancient.
“Alright before we enter here I will ask you again. What has been bothering you two? Talk to me, talk to each other about it. I know these past few months have been stressful. You two are in a position none of us have been before. Which is why it’s important for you two to be there for each other the most,” she cooed.
‘I know that, dammit. Everyone has been breathing down my neck for months. I don’t need this. He’s the one that’s been getting in my way.’ Ebony growled but wouldn’t let it out.
‘I know that, by the gods, I’ve been trying. It’s all because he keeps trying to get one up me. I know what I’m doing.’ Ivory grumbled.
Alexandrae waited a little while longer for one of them to talk. Alexandrae sighed and turned back to the door. The magic around her horn flared and she fired at the door. The crimson magic flooded the slabs, tunneling between the intricate runes until the two stones were glowing. The door heaved itself open, revealing a dark room. Alexandrae then fired a blast that flew around the edges of the sanctum lighting a dozen torches breathing light into the darkness. The room itself was bare with the exception of a chair at opposite end of the door and a dirt circle in the middle.
“Do you know what this place is, boys?” She asked. They shook their head no. Whatever this place was it felt ominous. Perhaps it would have been better if they spoke up. Yet, they didn’t “A long time ago, disputes between royalty were settled here. Everything from minor squabbles that were talked out to one-on-one battles for supremacy. Dynasties were broken and new ones were forged in the blood of the old. It was a dark time, and yet, not long ago,” she explained and walked over to the stone throne. She slowly sat down and gestured them to step into the circle. They hesitated. The raging fire in them was quickly snuffed out. They looked back up to her, clearly afraid.
“Oh, come now, do you really think I’ve brought you down here to fight to the death? I’ve brought you here to settle whatever bad blood you have. You may fight it out and see if that gets you anywhere, talk, or just cry it out. But whatever it is, I need you two to settle this now before it festers any further,” she said.
“Aunty, is this really necessary?” Ivory asked “I mean, we get it. Everyone has been telling us how important family is, but is all this really necessary?”
“It is for the reasons I’ll explain later, but for now, get in the circle!” she ordered. The two reluctantly entered the arena. The dirt was ice cold and so packed they had to kick it around to make it soft. This coupled with the musty stench showed that this room had not been used in decades. They stood awkwardly across from each other, unsure of how to proceed. They were so ready to go at it out in the courtyard, but now, such action felt wrong. Yet, they still got in their stances and the three waited. The tension in the room grew thicker by the second. Eventually it was so heavy they could see their breath.
Finally, Ebony dropped his nerve and spoke up, “This is all your fault, you stubborn jackass!” he shouted at Ivory who was at first stunned, yet Ebony’s words were the exact coal he needed to reignite his fire.
“My fault? What are you on about?” he sputtered back.
“You’re the one with some kind of a problem. Constantly flaunting your accomplishments. With every lesson you’re ahead of me, you have to rub it in my face,” he growled. “You’ve always thought you were better than me.” Ebony took a step forward.
“You dare accuse me of flaunting, you selfish brat!” Ivory shouted stepping toward Ebony. Whatever hesitation they felt was now firmly out the window. “Mr. ooh look at me I am soon-to-be King Ebony. Watch as I lift a house with my magic and call down lightning from the heavens.” He spat back. “Your magic makes my best effort look like a joke!” He roared stepping forward.
“Well excuse me for taking pride in something I do well. Meanwhile you bring the smarmiest attitude ever into every little thing you do. Any time you were slightly ahead you made sure to brag about it to every person that will listen. Remember Princess Cadance? You practically talked her ears off. Remember, ‘I’m a pretty fast learner’?” Ebony fired back with a mocking impression. A vicious broadside to Ivory’s pride. He stepped forward pressing the assault.
With that the war was on, and Ivory threw a vicious uppercut. Ebony’s teeth smashed into each other. Biting his gums and cheek and he was sent reeling back. Pressing the advantage, Ivory delivered a punch to Ebony’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Ebony fell to his knees.
“Well of course I did! She was one of the few people that could see me underneath your fat shadow!” He snarled emphasizing ‘fat.’ Ivory stepped forward again..“You have no idea what it’s like to be around you. I bust my ass off just to get on your level while you do everything effortlessly. Then you have the audacity to mewl like a bitch over every little thing!” Ivory shouted.
Ebony shot up and sprung forward. Ivory attempted to push him back by his shoulders but Ebony was just too strong. He grabbed Ivory by his knees and pulled his feet from under him. The two fell down together, as they landed Ebony landed a powerful blow across Ivory’s face. His brain was rattling as Ebony scored another strong punch. Despite his spinning vision Ivory managed to slip his leg out from under Ebony, and kicked him in the ribs. Throwing him off and stumbling to the other side of the table. Ivory scrambled to his feet to face his brother. He could faintly see his eyes were wet. Rather than stop Ivory chose to pour on his tongue lashing.
“Oh, poor Ebony, never to be king. Boohoo! You’re always acting like a tragic hero from a crappy story born with some terrible curse. When really you’re just self absorbed! Do you have any idea how worthless I feel standing next to you!” He shouted.
Ebony hissed at Ivory and fired up his magic into his arms. The dim room was lit up by his crimson magic, quelling the candles around them and throwing their shadows to new heights. The muscles in his arms bulged and tightened in an unnatural way. Ivory gulped as it dawned on him that he may have taken this too far. Ebony strode toward Ivory but he was too stunned and scared to move. When he was finally upon Ivory he slammed his fist into Ivory’s face.
Ivory offered a feeble attempt to block but his arms were thrown to the side, along with the rest of his body. The blow was like a tremor in his skull, shaking his brain and blurring his vision. It split open the side of his cheek as he stumbled around and tried to regain his composure, but Ebony wouldn’t give him the chance. Pressing on like a tank Ebony punched him in the kidney. Ivory gasped for breath and stumbled forward, hacking and choking. He managed to turn around as Ebony moved in again. Ivory managed to power up his own magic, lighting the room with viridian. He tried to stop a punch to his ribs but it was blown away like candle in a storm. Ebony’s attack landed true and Ivory was sent stumbling back, choking on air again.
“What I have is more of a curse than a blessing, you hypocrite! I’m the one self absorbed? Ha!” He shouted at Ivory. “How long did my “amazing” magic practically poison me as a child? How long did it take me to use properly without it hurting me?” Ebony roared, “For the queen’s sake it looks like cracks in my skin when I use it!” He raised his arm up. However, the time for talking had passed. Ebony’s tirade gave Ivory enough time to get his bearings back and he charged forward.
Ivory threw a fake right that Ebony fell for easily. As he went to block Ivory hit him in the ribs with his left. Before he could step back Ivory threw his right arm behind Ebony’s neck and stepped on his foot. With Ebony pinned he repeatedly jabbed his side like a jackhammer. Ebony buckled under the assault, but he managed grab Ivory’s fist and throw him back. As Ivory stepped back Ebony grabbed him and lifted him in the air before slamming him into the dirt. Ivory heaved as the wind was knocked out of him again and his vision went blurry, but not before he could see Ebony fall down with him.
Ebony punched him again in the face opening the cut even more. Ivory wrapped his legs around Ebony’s waist and flipped the pair over with Ivory now on top. He threw a quick jab into Ebony’s nose and it burst with blood. Before he could follow through, Ebony grabbed his arm and easily over-powered him. Twisting his arm and pushing him off like a toddler. To add injury to insult Ebony then punched Ivory in the nose and split the bridge of it open. Ivory fell back, clutching his bloody nose. Ebony wanted to keep going but his body was aching from Ivory’s blows and his own magic cramping up his muscles. So maybe words could finish this.
“You think I don’t work for what I have everyday? I do! yet no matter how hard I try, I don’t seem to get any better. Everyone says how great my magic is, blah, blah so strong blah, blah. I know how strong my magic is, how gifted I am, how great my potential is. Yet I am still terrified of my own gifts.” He shot back. “Everyone tells me with my natural talent I should be great, but no matter how hard I work to improve, I still always feel like a failure.” He sighed.
Perhaps their adrenaline had finally burst and faded, or maybe it was all the blows to the head, but finally, they heard each other’s words.
“Wait, you feel worthless next to me? Am I making you feel worthless?” Ebony asked. His magic fading.
“Sometimes, I mean, yeah! I just... whenever I watch you do all that amazing stuff I feel like what I do can’t even compare.” Ivory stuttered. “Look at us now despite all my training you overpower me like I was a child.” Just like that, the rage died and was replaced with other pent up emotions that Ivory blinked away.
“Ivory, I had no idea, you were always so confident. I would never try to make you feel worthless, I’m sorry. I was just trying to make myself feel better. I wasn’t even thinking what it to you.You’re right I am selfish,” Ebony muttered and hung his head.
“No you’re not I’m the one who should apologize. I’m the selfish ass. I completely forgot about all that magic did to you as a kid. Gods, how many times were you bedridden or nearly killed?” He pondered as the memories of a sick little Ebony came back. He blinked back more tears as he realized how terrible his words were.“ You’re even scared of it yet I made you mad enough to use it. Hold on a second. You feel like a failure?” he asked. Ebony could only nod yes. He had his teeth clenched and his mouth was quivering. Blood from his cut gums dripped from his mouth.
“Ebony I worked as hard as I did to be more like you. When I talked with Cadance, I decided I was going to be smart and work hard to be as great as you were and still are.” He put his hand on Ebony’s shoulder. “I never stopped to think what kind of a burden your powers were,” Ivory muttered. Ebony sniffed and let out a weak chuckle.
“To be honest I always admired you too from the start. You were always so confident like you had everything figured out. You were always two steps ahead. I wanted to be just like that. But you were right I was showing off and flaunting. I wanted to show what I had achieved through my own effort not my birth. I was being self absorbed.” He choked out as a couple tears slid down his dirty face.
“We both were.” Ivory replied as he let a tear fall. With no more words necessary. Ebony embraced his brother. They were still sore and in pain from their fight. Their tears burned as it mixed with the dirt around their eyes. Their bodies still covered in dried mud and chafed against them as they held each other. Overall it was not a pleasant experience but it still felt good to let it all out. It was like a weight had been lifted as they released all their pent up emotions onto each other.
“Looks like we did a pretty crap job of that pact we made, huh? Along with each other” Ivory whispered.
“Yeah but it’s like Papilia always says a promise is just words. It’s the follow through that trips people up,” Ebony replied.
“We need to work on that,” Ivory muttered.
“One thing at a time. I have enough on my plate right now, like getting patched up. I think I might have a concussion.” Ebony chuckled.
“I definitely have concussion and probably a bruised rib.” Ivory groaned.
“Sorry,” Ebony chuckled, “well it’s only cause you’re so hard to hit. Gotta take my chances with one punch.”
Suddenly they felt a third party, as Alexandrae pulled them both in. She stroked Ebony’s hair and rubbed Ivory’s back.
“Good job, you two.” She whispered, and the trio stood in the dark room until the last tears were shed.
Ebony pulled on his collar as they waited in the foyer for their Aunt to escort them to the council chambers. Their mother insisted that they wear their royal finery for today. Well crafted garbs made from arachnia silk. Ebony’s was the color of charcoal with silver trimmings, stitched in an intricate fashion by the hive’s best craftsman. The hive’s symbol stitched onto his left breast. A black cape was draped over his right shoulder. Ivory’s was the same quality and to capitalize on the twin’s natural duality his was a stunning alabaster white with gold trimmings. They were near perfect to wear except for one aspect. The collar that covered their entire neck and felt like they were being choked by a mouse.
“You're gonna ruin your collar if you keep pulling on it like that.” Ivory chastised.
“I can’t help it, I hate this damn thing.” He muttered. Ebony then unbuttoned the top two button of the tall collar that strangled him. He tried to fold the collar back even further leaving his neck mostly exposed.
Ivory sighed and gently tugged on his own collar. “Were supposed to look our best, even if it is a tad uncomfortable.”
“Relax, I’ll button in back when we’re in public.” Ebony replied.
“I’m more worried about aunt Arthemis she already doesn’t like us, do you really want her to think we’re a couple of lazy slobs too?” He asked.
Ebony ran his fingers through his black hair and scratched his head. “Yeah, you got a point. But why does it have to be so unbearable?”
Then they noticed a person at the top of the foyer steps. It was Arthemis. She was in a pure white and gold lace dress. The neckline ran deep down her chest almost to her naval. Her breasts were well covered but her cleavage laid to bare for the world. Her black chitin skin made a stark yet gorgeous contrast to the soft white of the dress. Clutched under her arm was a black and gold bag.
She swept down the steps and over to the two princes. “Ebony you’ve unbuttoned your shit. While I appreciate the initiative your mother wants you two to be wrapped up like presents, and what present, is complete without a bow?”
Ebony swallowed hard and went for his collar. “Sorry, Aunty Arthemis.”
“Prime Counciling Arthemis today,” she corrected. “Ensure it doesn’t happen again, even in private. A part of regality. is appearance you need to look like princes even when you’re not being seen.”
“Yes, Prime Counciling Arthemis.” They replied in unison.
Arthemis gave them a curt a smile but gently rubbed their cheeks with a finger. “I know these outfits are a bit constricting but think of them as your own cocoons. One day you will shed them and step into your own garments as confident... men.” She gave a deep sigh as she finished her thought.
“Here these are for you two. They are the itinerary for today at the assembly. They also have notes and any files I could find on certain cases.” She reached into her bag and handed them two thin black books, engraved in gold with the royal symbol. The two opened them pages of notes and files between the black covers. It seemed there was a different event at every hour of the day. In the middle of the book though they found a single silver leaf page. “Everything before the silver divider is what will be presented before us personally at my office. Everything after is what the council will deal with it. For today I want you two to mostly worry about the first half. Study them closely, as you won’t simply be sitting there as I hash out business. As princes, I and those that come before us, will ask for your input. I trust you two don’t want to look unprepared. Be wary not all who come before us is a friend and they are crafty.” She explained.
“Yes Prime Counciling Arthemis.” They replied once again and flipped to the beginning to get started. She smiled at them softly as they studiously read through her notes. She felt a strong desire to reach up and ruffle their hair, but the princes should not look disheveled. With that they left the castle for the carriage that was waiting for them.
They managed to read most of their assignment when the carriage reached the assembly palace. “Alright first order of business will be the council chambers. You’ll be sitting with me on my balcony. Were you able to reach the second half?” She asked. The two shook their hands. “That’s alright this is a bit more advanced and intimidating compared to later. Simply sit their and continue reading.” She lead the two up two flights of stairs to the top of the massive chambers. A changeling was waiting for them when they reached their destination. With a bow he opened the door to the room and ushered them in.
The prime counciling’s box was a rather lavish open room. Six ornate chairs took center stage giving a cushy birdseye view of the assembly. To the right was a well stocked bar of various refreshments. While to the left was a small desk with a small crystal receptor, an expensive means of instant communication. Arthemis took the middle seat of the first row of chairs as the two princes flanked her. The same changeling graciously offered them each glasses of water and was waved away by Arthemis.
The two princes looked down upon the chambers as other Changelings took their seats. Their mother still had not taken the throne yet. They looked to their right at the other boxes for Auxiliary Prime changelings.
“Primce Counciling Arthemis, who is that?” Ebony asked pointing across the room to one of the other balconies. For sitting inside was a practical giant was sitting in an even bigger chair. The changelings beside him looked like children as they didn’t even reach his shoulders.
“Ah that is the infamous Counciling Storm.” She replied. The two princes eyes went wide. They had only heard of their mother’s rival after Mirage was usurped. From the way their mother spoke of him she painted a picture of a frail old man. Not the behemoth that stuck out like a black sore thumb.
“Wait why on earth is he an auxiliary?” Ivory asked.
“Because a majority of the council voted for him.” Arthemis replied confused by such an obvious question and answer. “I believe he’s held that seat for about ten years now.”
“But why would our mother ever give him such a position, she hates him, and she has final say, doesn’t she?” Ivory asked.
“She does but this is one of the few things that council feels that they have control over. Taking that away would only fester more anger. Think of it as throwing an old bone at an annoying dog.” Arthemis gave a sneering smile. “Besides look at where he is. Several auxiliary seats have opened up since then but he’s been stuck in that dark corner for the past ten years.”
Ebony and Ivory looked at the arrangement of the auxiliary boxes to see what their aunt was talking about. At first the box seats look like they were in an even circle but upon a closer look it was more like a tail. Starting with Storm at the tail end near the entrance and ending with them at the base and closest to the throne.
“I see what you mean, surprised he can hear anything from over there,” Ebony noted.
“He probably can’t, he is awfully old, but he’s far too proud to ever admit it so he sits there for show and gets the information later. Shame too, he was a general under our mother and decorated in the Lazarus war.” She muttered. “Well enough ogling, finish those files. Especially the one involving our friend Storm. I may actually need help with him. Old age has done nothing to dull his mind and his request may be disastrous for us.” She ordered and settled into her chair.
Several minutes passed in hushed silence until it was broken by the sound of trumpets. Ebony and Ivory were roused from their studies and looked down at the assembly. Every changeling stood at attention and saluted. They looked at the sight in confusion when they heard their aunt aggressively cough. They looked up to Arthemis with her fist on her heart and a waiting gaze. The two quickly understood and followed suit, then they saw her.
Their mother, the queen, strode onto the stage. She wore a sheath dress that looked like she had wrapped the ocean around herself. The main body was a deep dark blue, almost sapphire, that ebbed out like the waves with the hem and tail of her train a sparkling turquoise. She rode in with the power of a tsunami. It was strange for the princes to see their mother in such a light. They had become well acquainted with her strong and graceful presence as queen but it was almost always at her side. Now they were opposite of her and completely understood how, despite her bold and unpopular rulings which earned her powerful enemies that would have crippled or crushed other monarchs, she remained. With a power and grace that made them all stand in fear and reverence. It struck a deep chord with the two princes that sent chills down their bodies. This was their legacy that once terrified them to live up to, now excited them.
Chrysalis looked up to the balcony and gave them a small smile with a sly wink. She leaned back into the black stone throne and crossed her legs. Finally with a wave of her hand the council began.
It soon grew noisy in the assembly as councilings debated and shouted. Eventually Ivory excused himself to the back of the room and took a seat at the desk to get some quiet. Ebony found a strange rhythm to the chaos. Reading and listening to the discussions below. He could see why these seats were so desirable you could hear just about everything even some hushed whispers.
“Did you hear what happened between him and his assistant?” He heard someone mention below, it sounded masculine. Ebony couldn’t help but tune his ears to the juicy bit of gossip. As he finished the last bits of the itinerary.
“The whole bloody hive heard it. What happened?” The other voice asked, this one definitely female.
“Apparently he got furious when one of them pointed out that he forgot something. Came out of nowhere too. He just started raving and ranting that he the assistant got it wrong not him.”
“Well he’s always had a temper heard that it made him a terrifying force during the war. For both his troops and the enemies.”
“Well he’s got a temper and according to rumors this isn’t the first time his memory has slipped him and that it’s become rather common.”
“You don’t mean to say he’s losing his memory?”
“That’s only what I’ve heard but it may explain why his dear partner left him. That plus is temper and pride may have have sent them over the edge.”
“Wait I thought she only moved to a sub-hive did she also sever their connection?”
“From a reliable source says that it’s far more than but you didn’t hear that from me if Storm starts asking.”
“Of course but I don’t seem to remember you telling me anything.” Ebony heard the female changeling chuckle.
“It was just idle chatter nothing important.” She replied.
‘Storm eh he’s having trouble remembering and he split from his life partner? Interesting.’ Ebony hummed to himself.
“Auntie Arthemis what do you know about Storm’s life partner?” He asked. Arthemis didn’t respond however. “Sorry Prime Counciling Arthemis what do you know about Storm’s life partner.”
“Not much never met her but I did hear that she moved with their hatchlings to the largest sup hive, that’s about it.” She responded.
“You haven’t heard anything else?” He asked.
“No, what have you been hearing?” She asked.
“Only some rumors and gossip.” He replied.
“Really? Well, gossip and rumors do us no good unless you have some kind of proof.”She stated.
“Perhaps but mother says that in the right situations with a juicy enough lie people will create their a sweeter truth.” He replied.
Arthemis gently hummed to herself. “You know it’s not wise to listen to everything your mother says.” She muttered, “but you believe you have a sweet lie about our friend Storm.”
“Sweet enough to be truth.” He grinned. Before removing himself and walked over to Ivory.
“Hey, Ivory I need that encyclopedia brain of yours.” He said.
“What is it?” Ivory asked looking up from his book still roughly in the middle of the first half. While not a fast reader he had near perfect photographic memory.
“What’s that disease that causes changelings to forget things as they get older?” Ebony asked.
“Alzheimer's?” Ivory responded. “Why are you asking about that?”
“A theory I’m cooking up about Storm, what are those symptoms again? Anything like mood swings or anger?” Ebony followed up.
“Yeah, that can be one of them. Usually stemming from the memory loss people get angry and upset. It’s not a pretty process. What does this have to do with Storm?” Ivory asked.
“I think he may have it. I overheard two councilings discussing him. He evidently blew up against one of his interns. Apparently this wasn’t the first time he got irrationally angry and it stemmed from him forgetting something.” He replied.
“You heard that from up here against all that noise? Damn are you sure you’re not some demon spawn? It would explain why you're so freakily good at everything and bad breath.” Ebony gave him a righteous smack across the head for that remark, which Ivory took in stride. “Hmm okay possible but what about it? It’s gossip and not good gossip. I don’t like the him but such talk is deeply insulting.” Ivory stated.
“Agreed but have you read his outlandish request?” Ebony asked.
“Not yet, look you want to use this encyclopedia of mine I need to take my time.” Ivory replied.
“Well flip to it, you won’t believe it.”
Ivory reluctantly skimmed through the book until he reached the page which had Storm written in big bold letters at the top. Silently Ivory read through their Aunt’s copious notes and his face put on a play: from shock, to confusion, to anger, to deep thought, eventually transforming into deep resentment as he finished the final page. His hand resting on the silver leaf page.
“Alright I see what you mean. So just to make sure I’m not going crazy. He wants us to build him a grand palace and fort, at the entrance of the Jagged Pass between us and Equestria?” Ivory asked redundantly.
“Your eyes do not deceive you. Worst part is that he seems to have a precedent thanks to our grandfather. I guess he never imagined he’d go political, much less against one of their daughters.” Ebony replied.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted us.” Ivory stated.
“True, so what’s say we throw an unexpected wrench in his plan?” Ebony asked, with a conniving grin.
“So you want us to use his possible alzheimer's against him to prevent this deal from going through.” Ivory questioned. Ebony didn’t reply but his facial expression was enough. Ivory pinched the bridge of his nose, “This feels wrong.”
“It’s as mother taught us we must do everything to protect the hive even if it doesn’t feel ‘right. Above all else win.” Ebony responded. Repeating the mantra their mother carved into their minds.
Ivory sighed “Do you have a plan?”
“No that’s where you come in. I just provide the information.” Ebony replied. Ivory sighed again.
“Fine go and I’ll think of something. Can I trust you to handle most of the other requests then?” Ivory asked. Ebony saluted him in confirmation before returning to their aunt’s side.
It another few hours until their mother excused the assembly. It took everything in their power to not to fall asleep. They watched their mother stride away in the same splendor as she did when she came in. The trio walked to the back of the room and stretched out their tired bones. Away from any peering eyes in case of any unflattering looks by them.
“So what have you two been conspiring about?” Arthemis asked.
“We believe we have an idea to shut down this deal and keep him out of mother’s hair.” Ivory replied.
“Ambitious, but can you pull it off? I feel you are underestimating what a great man Storm is. I dislike him but his record speaks for itself.” She questioned.
“Probably but first there are couple of things we want to go over with you first. Mostly the implications of this deal and anything else you might be keeping from us.” Ebony stated.
“Very well we still have an hour before any of our meetings begin we can talk over your lunch,” Arthemis replied.
So the three talked and Arthemis became perturbed by their theories about Storm and their plans. However, all were more disturbed by the possibilities if he succeeds.
“So it was Xorix that told you the breach in the wall was only two miles away from Storm’s estate?” Ivory asked taking a bite from his sandwich.
“Yes she had taken it upon herself to lead the investigation when it was all soldiers from her division with along with one of her personal guard. Poor thing blames herself apparently they were on their way to her estate for a little get together. She was the one that discovered them when they were late.” Arthemis replied.
“Xorix is one of Alex’s trusted generals has she said anything about Storm’s possible involvement?” Ebony asked. Placing his now empty plate down.
“Since she has nothing concrete she’s chosen to avoid any accusations but she has hinted to him being the prime suspect,” Arthemis replied.
“If he’s even on the bottom of the list of a hundred suspects we can’t let him have this.” Ebony stated.
“Why not just let mom, I mean Queen Chrysalis, turn it down herself? Then he can’t even entertain the idea anymore.” Ivory asked.
“Because if I allow it to be seen by her then that means I agree with the request in some way. Considering this promise is from our father if I let it through and she denies it will look like a massive betrayal of our parents. We need him to take it back and I think this plan of yours will work even if it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.” She sighed. “Alzheimers, I still don’t believe it but we must do what all we can for the hive. But even if he has this awful disease he is still crafty do you honestly think you two with no experience can topple him?” She asked.
“Not alone, we’ll need you, but it’s our inexperience that makes me believe we can do it. He’s gonna underestimate us, also were not completely inexperienced. Mother has taught us well on negotiations. Especially how to lure them into a trap. It’s why you wear something so revealing right?” Ivory asked. Arthemis couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Alright I’ll trust you two but I’ll lead the charge. We have several appointments before him so steel your nerves.” Arthemis stated. The two saluted at their aunt but not before Ivory made one last request.
“One more thing Prime Counciling Arthemis for this to work do you think you can brew some tea yourself? No servants and something with a hint of alcohol something to relax and weaken the mind. Maybe Darjeeling?” He asked.
Arthemis raised an eyebrow at the cheeky little boy requesting tea from her. “Alright, I see what you’re saying.” Arthemis replied. With that she walked over to a nearby cabinet and pulled out an old tea set, some Darjeeling leaves and a bottle of bourbon whiskey. She used her magic to start up a fire and with that the cogs started to turn.
When the second to last appointment left the room Ivory commenced stage two.
His arms and later his clothes glowed a bright green and seemed to stretch and expand growing a full size so that they seemed large on him. The crisp well made suit was now baggy and unkempt. While the prince looked like a child playing dress up in their parents shirts. Ebony tried it to do the same but made it grow a little two large but satisfactory for their purposes. With that the two took their seats on each side of the couch. They sunk into their seats, slouching, head low, they looked absolutely pathetic, like beaten puppies.
‘My word they are good at this. Maybe they can pull this off.’ She thought to herself and grabbed a kettle of tea that had been brewing and placed it on the coffee table and then she opened the door.
She was a tad alarmed to see Storm was awaiting just outside. Now that they were up close the princes could see just how large the changeling was. He just barely cleared the door frame, their aunt just came up to his chest and if Alex was there she would still been a head shorter.
“Counciling Storm, it’s a pleasure to see you again.” She smiled and held out her hand for him.
“Prime Counciling Arthemis as beautiful as always.” He replied and kissed her hand.
“Well please come in I have tea brewing or would you prefer something stronger?” She asked.
“Oh no, I think not, it’s too early for that.” He replied a bit reluctantly.
“Of course.” Arthemis smiled and lead him into the room. He barely took a step in when he noticed the poor princes and stopped.
“I did not realize that they would be here.” He growled.
“They are my assistants for today, I trust you’re not worried about them?” Arthemis asked. Storm grunted and walked over to his seat.
“Worried? Bah, I wasn’t worried when I faced down the Lazarus maggots, outnumbered two to one at the uh hill of Sun- umm.” He struggled with the name of for a few minutes until Ivory chose to speak up.
“Do you mean the hill of Sanoxura?” Ivory asked in a low shy voice.
“I was getting to that boy.” He glared at him. “It’s rude to interrupt people you know and stand up straight, at least look like a prince.” Ivory feigned a flinch and sank lower to his pitiful state, but underneath his sad mask he was smiling like madman. Storm was a smart man but head strong and would stick his nose in a bear trap if it look harmless enough. He grunted settling into his seat and pouring himself a cup of tea. It was comical as the large man took a dainty sip from the teacup that he had to hold with four massive fingers.
“Yes sir, I’ve been reading up on your battles you were an inspiration for our aunt Alexandrae and me, sir.” He weakly said with a small smile. That seemed to calm the man down.
“I’m honored to hear that. Prime General Alexandrae is an inspiration and a fine leader.” He nodded. “But we're not here for pleasantries I’m afraid, at least not yet, I’m here for what I’ve earned. That’s all Prime Counciling Arthemis.”
“Of course sir, however, in my clumsy haste I seem to have forgotten that letter from my father would you mind reminding me what it was promised?” Arthemis asked. She took a sip from the tea and leaned back a bit. Her breasts spilled to her sides opening up her already revealing dress. Storm did not skip a beat and continued.
“Well Prime Counciling after the siege of the uh sub-hive, umm, Xemura I was offered by your father. To take a command of a new fort at the opening of the Jagged Pass. To be on the first line of defense against any foreign threats.” He replied and took another drink from the tea. This time recoiling a bit from the bitter taste.
“Right that’s what the letter read. If you wouldn’t mind sir regaling me of what happened at the siege of Xekorama?” She asked “The queen was awfully young when the war came to end. I think a little first hand account would be helpful when I give her the resolution, plus I’m sure Prince Ivory would love to hear about it. He’s a bit of a historian with a love for war stories.” She smiled waving over to Ivory who took a sip from the tea.
“Well, alright, I guess it wouldn’t hurt and I do love regaling the young ones of what heroes are made of.” He chuckled and took a sip from the tea and coughed. “Prime Counciling Arthemis what did you put in this?” He chuckled.
“Oh just my own little recipe of Darjeeling and some milk and honey with some chamomile, for the mind. My apologies is it a bit too strong I enjoy mine a little bit more bitter.” She asked. As Ebony and Ivory took another drink. Unbeknownst to Storm it was taking all their willpower to not cough up the alcoholic beverage. They did their best to soften the taste with sugar and honey based on what they learned making poisons with their mother but the bourbon remained and powerful.
“No it’s fine but I will take a bit more sugar.” He smiled and put a spoonful of sugar in the drink and mixed it well. “Always had a bit of a sweet tooth, now onto the siege of Xenora.” He said with a bit of hesitation.
“Xekura you mean sir?” Ebony meekly asked.
Storm scowled down at him. “Right that,” he grunted and with muttered something under his breath. So Storm spun them a yarn of bravery and epic strength against a mighty foe. Ivory couldn’t help but pity the poor old man as he got fact after fact wrong.
“Finally after we had pushed them from the outer tunnels, we cornered them in the grand palace, so we, we then grabbed some, no we, yes we grabbed ladders and launched a final assault and then-umm…” The man stumbled over his words. The once mighty giant was now a sweaty mess, his cheeks flushed, he had three cups of the tea taking a sip each time he had difficulty remembering and he forgot a lot. The princes weren’t fairing much better they made sure to pace themselves but still finished a whole cup. Their minds were fuzzy and they felt invincible.
“I’m sorry Storm was this before or after you set the grand palace ablaze with fire spells?” Ivory asked. Storm stared blankly he stuttered for a response but just couldn’t. He gritted his teeth as no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t remember.
“Also was this on the third day of the siege it took only two days for it to fall.” Ebony put a finger to his chin in mocking thought.
Storm dug his fingers into the cushions. He was breathing heavily and his face was scrunched up in raging thought. He tried desperately to find the answers yet the fortress of his mind was crumbling. Battlements were broken off, the towers crumbled, the front gate smashed open, he tried to piece it back together but alas he couldn’t remember what it looked like. Meanwhile the two princes assault was relentless picking apart his story like vultures. Finally the general couldn’t take it anymore.
“How dare you!” He roared and shot up from his seat. Stumbling while he did so and bumping the table. “You ugly little bastards are a disgrace to your ancestors! No they’re not even your ancestors, you’re not changelings, and you are no princes. Just some play things that your mother picked up when she was weak. If it were any other time she would have smothered you! Your whole existence here is nothing happenstance. You have no right to speak to me like this!”
Arthemis rose to confront him but was shocked by Ivory who put his hand on her thigh. She looked over to him and was surprised to see he was smiling. But not just any smile it was a small devious smile that barely showed any teeth. It was the same kind of smile Chrysalis had before she beat someone.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk, such a temper is not good for you Mr. Storm. Tell me is that why your partner left you?” He asked. Storrm’s rage immediately turned cold.
“How do you know about that?” He asked.
“I am Prince Ivory, son of Queen Chrysalis, and grandson of King Morpho and Queen Atricia. It is my duty to know things.” Ivory replied. “It is also my duty to ensure the safety of my hive and while my grandfather promised you this grand position.” Ivory stood from his seat to face Storm. His baggy clothes back to it’s original state. “As prince I don’t think it would be in our best interests to have a man with a failing memory as our first line of defense. However, out of respect for your service I’ll make sure no one hears about it. As long as you drop this ridiculous claim. You understand don’t you? We have to do what’s best for the hive.” He smiled warmly at storm and held out his hand amicably.
Storm’s hands were clutched in fists of rage. He stomped forward and knocked the table into Ivory’s shins. Maybe it was the alcohol but he stood his ground. “You cocky little shit. You dare speak to me about protecting the hive? I’ve been protecting this hive before your Equestrian parents were born, and maybe I should-”
“You should what, Counciling Storm.” Ebony growled. Storm twisted to face Ebony and his heart stopped. Storm braved armies that outnumbered him, fought countless warriors, and survived dozens of near fatal injuries, none of it deterred him. He was the definition of fearless. Except for today. Ebony glared at him with his ruby eyes and it pierced him like an arrow. He was paralyzed until Arthemis stood between them.
“I suggest you leave Counciling Storm before you embarrass yourself to these ‘bastard’ princes any further.” She stated. “I trust we won’t be hearing about this claim any more?” She asked and stretched out her hand. Storm grunted but begrudgingly shook her hand. With a final huff he stumbled out of the office and slammed the door behind.
Ivory sighed in relief and slumped back into the couch, his head was spinning. Ebony remained standing, clutching the arm of the couch.
“I must say you two were marvelous.” Arthemis sighed, “I daresay your mother couldn’t have done better.”
“Thank you, Aunt Arthemis.” They groaned. “Can you get us some water?” Ivory asked.