Howlite Howler 3

by Three Tails

First published

Shiva endures Equestria

After a brutal battle with Chrysalis, Shiva had every right to think her conflicts were done. With the Equestrians owing her their lives and forced by honor and a guilty Celestia to leave her alone, Shiva felt she was finally free to take her pack North. There, guarded by the heroic changelings of Vespin Hive, she could finally sit back, bask and enjoy her fledgling diamond dog kingdom of Outer Haven.

But, of course, the land of Equestria is not that kind and forgiving. And any creature not directly befriended by Celestia is going to be seen as a potential resource by those who call themselves enemies of the sun alicorn's rule.

In this partial slice of life and partial adventure, rejoin Shiva and the diamond dogs and changelings of Outer Haven as they find themselves in the middle of a frantic tug of war between Celestia and King Sombra, Tirek, Discord, the Storm King and the many other threats that seek to take Equestria from the sun alicorn's rule.

Can Shiva's mind handle the constant stress of ruling a country that attempts to remain stubbornly neutral in the battles for Equestria? And when pups are born inheriting her priceless power, what will it mean for her future rule?

Chapter 1: A Proper Alliance

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The Changeling queen sat upon her throne, her eyes closed in a meditative stance. Around her, three changeling princesses bowed to their mother.

“Do you feel it, my daughters?” the Queen asked softly. “The world is changing.”

“Darkness is creeping back into the North,” the eldest replied.

“Rumors grow of a shadow,” the second said.

“Whispers of a nameless fear,” the third added.

The queen’s eyes opened. “The time is at hand.” She turned to the middle daughter. “Scorpia; inform your son that we can wait no longer. We must confer with the Howlite Howler.”

Scorpia rose with a bow. “It will be done, my mother and queen,” she declared, flitting away on her beetle-like wings.

Queen Vespa watched her daughter leave, a slow smile spreading across her snout. Lintra, the eldest, tilted her head at her mother’s grin.

“What is it?” the eldest princess asked.

Queen Vespa’s grin did not fade. “For so long,” she mused with a chuckle. “Ponies have shaped our fortunes. Yet now the time comes for diamond dogs to take the role of heroes.”

#

Shiva knew she was being an idiot. As she watched the lights from her magic dance across the walls, she knew everything that had just happened last night – heck, the last several nights - was probably wrong on a tactical level. Yet, each time, cautious thought and worry had fled her mind. And only now, as Shiva lay twined in Luke’s arms, did the worried thoughts and concerns decide to re-emerge.

“You alright?” Luke asked, feeling the tension in her muscles.

“Just… wondering where we go from here,” Shiva replied.

Luke chuckled. “We lead Outer Haven,” he replied. “With the gems we’ve been finding, magic can be implanted into spears and drills. We could sweep this entire region for diamonds in less than a few years.”

“And if something else crops up?” Shiva asked. “The ponies. The changelings. Rogue Diamond Dogs." Her ears flattened. "That weird gathering of magic in the north?”

Luke smiled, cupping her head in his hands. “We’ll take them as they come,” he replied. “We built this life for ourselves. No one’s taking it away from us.”

His words had an effect; Shiva felt the worries and fears leaving her mind. And even for a moment, Shiva was able to go back to that relief she had felt earlier that night. When she could just set aside her worries, and be alive for a little bit.

Then…

“Alpha? Alpha Shiva!” Skippy yelped, skidding to a halt outside their den. “Alpha, you… OH!”

“You mind?” Luke asked, as the diamond dog backed up, turning his head away.

“Sorry, just...” Skippy gulped, his face turning red as he tried to conceal his grin. “Someone needs to see you.”

Shiva rolled her eyes. “Can’t they see us later?” she asked, briefly worried that she sounded petulant.

Skippy chuckled. “Unfortunately, no,” he said.

Shiva leaned her head back against Luke’s chest with a sigh. “Can you at least… give us a moment.”

Skippy shrugged and backed out. Luke grumbled.

“Whoever’s bothering us at this hour,” Luke joked. “I almost hope they’re hostile.”

Shiva chuckled, pulling herself off her lover and tossing him his armor. “Be careful what you wish for,” she said, reaching for her own armor; a bright white diamond plated thing studded with blood red rubies and silvery pearls.

Little did she know how soon her words would come to fruition.

#

“So,” Shiva said, adjusting her armor as Skippy led them into the snow. “Who seeks an audience with Outer Haven?”

“Someone… unique,” Skippy replied.

“Whoever they are,” Luke grumbled. “Let em know we’re more than willing to rip em apart if they’re hostile.”

“Luke,” Shiva chastised. “We don’t even know these guys. Let’s try for a polite first impression... then go for the threats if the polite front doesn't work.”

“That would be... preferable,” Skippy admitted.

Eventually, the group reached a section of snow and ice; perfect for meeting. With a nod from Shiva, Luke and his Iron Paws moved into a defensive position. Skippy crossed over the clearing, glancing around.

“Hm,” Shiva said, keeping herself carefully close to her Spear Dogs. “So much for being 'eager to see us?'”

“They're just being cautious,” Skippy replied, turning back to her. “Alpha, before we go any further… you know the changelings weren’t all controlled by Chrysalis, right? There are other Hives out there.”

Shiva’s ears flattened. Her eyes narrowed, darting to the rocks behind Skippy. She sighed, and waved her claw, causing the Iron Paws to brandish their weapons.

“Alright,” she barked into the snowy wasteland. “Come on out.”

“No, look, Shiva,” Skippy started to say. “They’re not…”

“I know,” Shiva assured him. She turned back to the clearing and spoke again in a gentler voice. “Please. Come on out.”

For a moment, there was nothing. Then, the rocks burst into green fire.

The changelings that appeared, however, weren’t sickly like Chrysalis’. They were fuller, and lacked the holes in their legs. Green frills arced down their backs, and their eyes shined brightly like flashlights. The largest of them had bottle blue pupils like Chrysalis, and a frill that resembled a mane tied back in a bun. But unlike her evil counterpart, this changeling's eyes sparkled with a kind light.

“Alpha Shiva,” she said, bowing her head. “I am Princess Scorpia of Vespin Hive. It’s an honor to finally meet you.”

Shiva blinked, surprised at the politeness, before inclining her head as well. “Pleasure’s all mine,” she replied. “Though… I gotta ask: you’re not going to try and make us go after the ponies again, right?”

Scorpia rolled her eyes with a grin.

“Shiva…” Skippy hissed.

“Hey, I gotta be sure,” Shiva said.

“I promise, Shiva,” Scorpia replied. “We’re not dragging you into any fights.” She glanced at Skippy. “In fact… we’ve been trying to protect you for a lot longer than you know.”

“What?” Shiva asked. But then her eyes turned to Skippy. Her ears flattened. “No way.”

Skippy shrugged sheepishly.

“Wait, what?” Luke demanded. “Are you saying…?”

“No way,” Shiva repeated. “I’d have smelled dishonesty on you! I’d have smelled it!”

“That’s kinda the thing,” Skippy replied. “I wasn’t lying when I told you who I was.”

“But… if you’re…” Shiva stammered.

“I’m still Skippy,” he replied. “I still love books; I still love military tactics. The only thing that really changes is whether I look like this…” Green fire burst around him, and in seconds, he looked like one of the changelings before them, though there was a clear family resemblance between him and Scorpia. “Or this.”

Shiva shook her head, still disbelieving. “But… you said Chrysalis didn't... There are other hives, right? Chrysalis wasn't…?”

“Chrysalis was a tyrannical fool,” Princess Scorpia assured her. “And the world is better off without her. Changelings need love from others, yes. But kidnapping other animals and force them into cocoons. All that’ll draw out is fear, and that’s not nearly as effective as love.”

Shiva glanced at Skippy. “So… how were you doing it then?” she asked.

Skippy and Scorpia exchanged a glance, but after a moment’s thought, Scorpia nodded.

“We strengthen communities,” Skippy explained. “Help each other grow stronger. Then, we draw from the love everyone generates for each other, and take small caches back for our hives. Never enough to hurt; just enough to keep ourselves alive.” He shrugged sadly. "Shiva, I truly wish I could've been honest with you from the start. I do. But, with Chrysalis planning to use you, I feared going to you as I was would've only brewed suspicion."

Shiva pursed her lips, but did not protest. The truth was, she could easily understand his reasonings. And despite the shock and different appearance, she could still smell the same kind aura that he had the day they had met. It was hard to stay angry at someone that still felt so... genuine.

Scorpia nodded solemnly. "And right now, we do not have the luxury of mistrusting each other." Her face grew serious and solemn. "Something’s brewing on the horizon. Something bad."

Shiva's gaze crept to the North, where an ominous blizzard sparked with strange magic.

"Right," she admitted. "Whatever is brewing up north can't be good for anyone."

"Even if you didn’t know it," Scorpia said. "You’ve helped us a great deal. And we want to return the favor: to try and help keep your pack safe.”

Shiva’s tail wagged, and she chuckled softly. She turned back to Luke.

“You see this, guys?” she asked. “If Chrysalis had approached us like this, she’d be ruling Equestria right now.”

Scorpia shuddered at that. “Please, don’t joke about that,” she asked. “Princess Celestia nearly sent out a raid against our hives the first time Chrysalis fought her. It was thanks to my grandmother that Celestia chose to spare us. And Chrysalis attacking a second time…”

“Doesn’t put your group in a good light,” Shiva guessed. “Right.” She shook off a small scattering of snow that was dusting her armor. “So, do you have any idea what this threat on the horizon is?”

Scorpia nodded. “We’ve heard stories; legends of an empire of crystal."

"Crystal?" Luke asked eagerly.

"That sounds cool!" Duke, one of the Iron Paws, said.

"Ruled by a master of dark magic.”

The Diamond Dogs' faces fell. "Slightly less cool," Duke admitted.

“They say that the empire was banished into the snow by the alicorns," Skippy said. "The dark lord flung into an abyss of ice.”

“But not even alicorn magic can last forever,” Scorpia said. “And if the dark lord rises, your pack will likely be his first target.”

Shiva’s eyes narrowed, and she shot the gathering of magic a challenging glare.

“Then show us where this ‘dark lord’ is coming back,” she said. “And when he shows his face, we’ll make sure he stays dead this time.” She lifted her claw. “Together?”

Scorpia nodded and clasped her hoof to Shiva’s claw. “Together,” she promised.

Chapter 2: The City of Crystal

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The two pony scouts carefully watched where the magic was gathering. To be fair, there had always been something odd about that place. A large circular spot between two equally large mountains, the snow there was unnaturally smooth, as if something had been plucked off the face of Equestria. For a while, the snow had gathered there, slowly trying to hide whatever evidence had once dwelled there.

But now, the snow was softly glowing. Magic swirled with the blizzards of the north, reforming the circular gap and clearing it of snow or debris. The ponies crouched under their tarp, watching and waiting for when the magic completed itself.

“What do you think?” the pegasus with armor commented to her lab coat wearing companion. “Is it almost done?”

The lab coat unicorn hummed, checking over a pad of notes kept magically dry by his efforts. “Could happen any hour to any day now,” he said. “We should probably hold back until the magic completes itself.”

“Shouldn’t we tell the Princess?” the pegasus asked.

“And tell her what?” the unicorn refuted. “That something’s close to happening?” He laughed. “We’ll tell her when we have something worth talking about.”

The pegasus pointed from her tarp. “Like that?” she asked.

The unicorn followed her gaze, his brow briefly furrowing, before widening in alarm.

Trudging towards the magic gathering was a large pack of diamond dogs. But not just any diamond dogs; instead of grungy mutts in vests carrying pickaxes, these diamond dogs were outfitted in polished, gem studded armor. Softly glowing swords and staffs topped with pulsating crystals dissuaded any hostile intentions. Changelings oddly enough walked by their side, looking fuller and friendlier than the monsters that had menaced Canterlot not that long ago. And even the outside researchers could recognize the magic glow emanating from their leader. A magic glow and aura that could only belong to one diamond dog.

“That’s…” the pegasus whispered. “But… it can’t be.”

“The Howlite Howler,” the unicorn whispered. “The Princess warned us she might be around this side of Equestria.”

“W-Well, should we warn her?” the pegasus asked. “She’s walking right towards the source! She's got Celestia-cursed Changelings with her!”

“Can you feel the magic in the air?” the unicorn demanded. “There’s no way she couldn’t sense or see any of that!”

“Well, she’s still a diamond dog,” the pegasus noted. “And she’s got those changelings right out in the open next to her. Maybe… I don’t know, maybe she’s not smart enough to…”

A bark cut her off. The ponies watched, worried, as the Howlite Howler began pointing. The diamond dogs began to surround the source of gathering magic, planting staffs, digging tunnels and in general, preparing to meet whatever the magic brought forward.

“Sparrow?” The unicorn pat his pegasus companion’s side. “Get to Princess Celestia,” he insisted. “Tell her the Howlite Howler’s found the gathering of magic, and…”

CRACKLE-BOOM!

The ponies froze, while the diamond dogs jumped back. Thunder rattled the source of magic, cracking the ice like a dropped mirror. The first thing that flowed out was an outpouring of thick black smoke, like an industrial factory was hiding under the ice.

But as the smoke curled up into the air and turned the dark storm clouds an even more ominous black, what rose up after it was far from an industry plant. It was a city of crystals; quartz, pearls, amethysts, garnets and so many other gems all built together to form a massive city. The ponies gaped in alarm.

“And tell her that the Crystal Empire has returned,” the unicorn whispered, the pegasus only able to give one spasm of a nod before taking flight and fleeing into the blizzard.

The unicorn turned back to the Howlite Howler, who was approaching the reborn crystal city. Despite his heart pounding in fear, the unicorn prepared to go down and confront her. Smart or dumb, hero or villain, that diamond dog needed to understand what she was getting into.

But before he could take a step in her direction, a voice hissed up from the clouds.

At last,”it hissed. “SS-So long. Trapped. Cold… But now?”

The unicorn turned, his eyes shrinking to pinpricks as a dark unicorn face formed from the dark storm clouds above him.

Now… I return!” King Sombra bellowed.

The unicorn tried to run for the Howlite Howler – any ally was better than none – but he didn’t get even five hoof steps.

#

With the unicorn’s cry for help lost in the raging wind of the blizzard, Shiva and Luke slowly approached the crystal city. Scorpia and Skippy, approached behind them, the Iron Paws and Scorpia’s changelings intermixed with various weapons at the ready.

Shiva cautiously reached into the space where the magic still pulsed, but Luke pulled her back.

“Careful,” he said. “Let me."

Shiva grumbled, but stepped back, allowing Luke to carefully step out from the snow and onto the crystal streets. He took two steps, then stopped, looking around. Shiva wasn’t sure what she expected – some laser grid to hit him, or some magic aura to burn him – but whatever it was, it didn’t happen.

Shiva followed him in. The only thing she noticed was that it was slightly warmer in the Empire than out in the snow. Not that Shiva had to worry about cold; her thick fluffy coat protected her already, and she had figured out how to enchant her armor with spells that kept her the right temperature no matter where she was. But that didn’t stop her from feeling the change in temperature.

She stepped further in than Luke. Nothing happened to either of them. And as Shiva turned back to the others, the light of greed was rapidly brightening in her eyes.

“Ladies and Gentle-Dogs,” she declared. “I think we just found a perfect capital for Outer Haven.”

The diamond dogs howled in glee, charging into the city, claws itching for the gems and jewels that made up the city. But just as they began yanking the first quartz crystals from the first houses… the doors to the houses opened, and occupants limped out with trembling hoof steps.

“What… happened?” one of them asked.

“Who are you?” another asked, catching sight of the diamond dogs.

But Shiva froze, a growl choking her throat. Luke’s throat, however, was not as easily blocked.

Ponies,”he snarled.

Faded coats to be sure. Large, dull eyes that looked almost dead. But Shiva couldn’t help but parallel the equine forms to the same equines who caged her. The same equines who had to make her life complicated with their differing moralities and attempts to use her…

“Diamond Dogs!” several of them whimpered, ducking back into their houses.

“Oh, no,” Luke snarled, grabbing at the nearest pony before she ducked into her house. “Get out! This place is ours now!”

“Luke,” Shiva chastised, though she wasn't sure what she was chastising him for. Just as Scorpia and Skippy raced in to help her, one of the ponies spoke up.

“B-But what about King Sombra?”

Shiva paused. “King Sombra?” she asked, peering into the house of the pony who’s spoken. “I thought you followed Princess Celestia.”

“Princess Celestia?” the pony asked. She opened the door, hope glowing on her face. “D-Did she come to rescue us?”

No,” a demonic voice purred.

Shiva’s back fur flared, while the ponies screamed. She and her diamond dogs whirled around. Several whimpered in horror as a giant unicorn face emerged from the dark clouds above them, grinning maliciously.

Celestia cannot save you,” the dark visage grumbled. His green and red eyes landed on Shiva. “Now bow to me. Bow to King Sombra, and accept your fate!”

The ponies yelped and scampered back into their homes. Shiva, however, flared her lightning in rage.

“It’ll be a cold day in Tartarus before I serve another pony,” Shiva vowed, blasting at the dark visage.

However, the creature caught her lighting bolt, matching it with an obsidian dark beam.

How quaint,” the demon mused. “We already reside in the cold.”

“Into the city,” Shiva ordered as the dogs opened fire. “Take cover.”

As the diamond dogs retreated into the crystal city, Sombra pressed them, blasting at Shiva with an obsidian beam. Shiva tried to deflect, only for the beam to slash across her left arm. She howled in rage and pain, dark crystals sprouting up from the fur along her arm.

“Shiva!” Luke barked, before blasting his own spell at Sombra. “Idiots, help your Alpha!” he bellowed to the others.

As one, the diamond dogs extended their weapons to Shiva. Beams of light connected them in a spider web of magic. Shiva’s lunged up with a howl and fired a stronger beam at Sombra, though he managed to match it with a beam of his own. But as Shiva gave the scared, whimpering pony in the house another look, her eyes lit up with realization.

She extended a tendril of light that forced itself into the house, and connected to the little pony.

A surge of magic coursed into Shiva as she howled in victory, her beam overpowering Sombra and scattering him into clouds. The ponies poked their heads back out, gaping in alarm, but Shiva turned back to them with a glimmer in her eyes.

“All ponies capable of magic,” she barked, pulling the equine she had connected to out and extending her paw. “Lend us your aid!”

“B-But…” they protested. “We can’t fight against the King. He rules… A-And there's diamond dogs and changelings... we're so scared…!”

Shiva turned to the pony she had caught, and used her link to delved into her thoughts memories. She shuddered at what she saw: Broken ponies, garbed in chains. All forced to work or serve King Sombra – a dark pony whose green eyes shined from the top of a crystal tower.

Sympathy surged through Shiva’s heart, chasing the hate and suspicion she had once felt for these ponies.

“I understand now,” Shiva said, looking on the ponies with softer eyes. “I see how he’s hurt you. How he enslaved you. How he tortured you.”

The ponies blinked. “You… see?” they asked.

“Keep it off us,” Luke ordered the diamond dogs. Together with the changelings, they began firing at Sombra, keeping him at bay as Luke ran to Shiva’s side. “Yes,” he declared to them. “You stand before Alpha Shiva; Howlite Howler, Bearer of Magic, and Leader of Outer Haven.”

“Like you,” Shiva explained. “We were captured by cruel ponies. Tortured for things that were out of our control.” As she spoke, she pushed her own memories to them; let them see how she and her dogs were tortured by Beast Breaker. Then, she showed them busting out. “But we broke out. We took control of our fate. And we refused to let those who were cruel or ruthless enough to hurt others for their own gain succeed. Now, it’s time for you to do the same!” She summoned tendrils of light, who soared to the gathering ponies. “Stand up against your oppressor,” she demanded, pointing to Sombra as he struggled against the blasts of magic from the diamond dog’s staffs, and the changeling’s horns. “Use the magic you were blessed with to ensure he never can. Do not let him thrive off your suffering any more. Rise! Fight! AND SEIZE YOUR FREEDOM!”

Her speech worked. Emboldened by her words and the visions she sent them, several of the bravest ponies grabbed her tendrils, and their magic coursed into the howlite howler, forming a powerful beam of rainbow colored energy that finally exploded Sombra back into storm clouds. Yet the darkness didn’t fade from the clouds around them. Shiva glared around suspiciously as the diamond dogs, changelings and ponies converged around her.

“I-Is he gone?” the pony closest to Shiva’s side asked.

Scorpia glared at the storm clouds. “He’s wounded,” she admitted. “But he may come back.”

Shiva glared down at her arm, which still had several dark crystals jutting from it. She clenched it with anger.

“And we’ll be ready when he does,” she growled, turning away and delving into the city. “Luke, get a guard around the outside of the city,” she ordered. “Every stallion and mare who can bear arms, have them using their magic to defend this kingdom.” She turned to the pony she had grabbed. “You, what’s your name?”

“R-Rose Quartz,” she mumbled.

“Rose,” Shiva said, “Help Luke. Share what you saw with those too scared, let them know that we're all working to keep Sombra from taking charge again. Hey,” she added, gripping the mare’s shoulders when she started to tremble. She searched her mind, finding images of a stallion she liked, and the hopes of starting a family. “Do this for them,” Shiva told her firmly, making sure the thoughts were shining in the mare's head.

The mare’s resolve strengthened, and she nodded.

“A-Alright,” she said. “I’ll try.” She took off after Luke. Shiva smiled and continued towards the Crystal Castle.

“Skippy,” Shiva continued. “Search the libraries. I want to know this place’s history, and what we’re dealing with exactly.”

“You had me at libraries,” Skippy said in glee, practically teleporting into the city.

“And Princess Scorpia?” Shiva asked.

“Right behind you,” she replied, switching from her diamond dog form and glaring up at the tower. “Let’s see what the Royals left behind for us.”

#

In the Equestrian capital of Canterlot, Celestia sat upon her throne, watching grimly as the latest corrupt noble was carted screaming off to the dungeons.

The work load had truly picked up after the incident with the Howlite Howler. Celestia had put her guards into over drive, searching every noble’s house for even the smallest hint of corruption. Though many had been clean – Fancy Pants had been an especially good sport about the whole thing – there were still plenty of snobbish ‘nobles’ that she had found had gotten their enormous wealth from making certain ‘moral and ethical’ sacrifices.

The whole thing made Celestia shiver in disgust. The thought that, for so long, these mares and stallions had profited from vice and corruption in a nation she had built based on the values of friendship and harmony? Part of her considered setting the Elements of Harmony up as nobility. It truly said something when the noblest and kindest among them were simple cottage dwellers or apple harvesters rather than the ones that stood closest to Celestia’s side.

“All I’ll need is some recent proof,” Celestia decided. “Something to really rub in how much more noble and true they are compared to the ‘nobles’ that used to occupy this capital.”

Almost as if Faust herself was choosing to help her, the doors burst open, and a snow-coated pegasus galloped through the door.

“News from Northern Equestria, your Highness,” the pegasus – Speeding Sparrow, Celestia recognized – gasped.

“Calm now,” Celestia replied, rising from her throne. “What is it?”

Speeding Sparrow took a moment to catch her breath. But when she spoke…

“The Crystal Empire has returned,” Sparrow reported. “And the Howlite Howler has found it.”

Celestia’s small smile faded to a serious grimace.

Well, Faust, she mumbled. I did ask, but… the Crystal Empire? She shook her head, tossing her mane behind her. I’ll make it work,she decided.

“Find Princess Cadence and Shining Armor,” she commanded. “Along with the ponies who wished to join the Howlite Howler.”

As Speeding Sparrow departed with a quick, ‘Yes, your Highness,’ Celestia yanked the nearest blank scroll and quill to her side.

My dearest Twilight,” Celestia wrote. “You must come to Canterlot at once…”

Chapter 3: The Crystal Expeditionary Force

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Normally, ponies wouldn’t be caught dead in the outskirts of Equestria. Then again, neither would an alicorn princess.

“So,” Shining Armor noted as he and Cadence led the group of ponies into the snow. “We formed the Crystal Expeditionary Force to explore the newly restored Crystal Empire before Twilight arrives… why?”

“To get a feel for the land and to ensure that Twilight isn’t walking into anything that’s bigger than she can handle,” Cadence replied. “She and her friends may have managed to beat Chrysalis, Nightmare Moon and Discord, but Chrysalis was only with the aid of the Howlite Howler. If Sombra truly is back…” She peered into the blizzard, and glanced back at their entourage. “I still don’t think it was a good idea for all of you to come here.”

One of the CEF stallions – an orange coated older colt with bright blue hair not dissimilar to Shining’s – tried to crack a grin through his chattering teeth.

“A-After what the nobility nearly got away with?” he asked. “I’d prefer letting the rest of Equus know pony kind isn’t like that.”

“Just don’t assume it’ll be easy,” Shining warned, “There are things out here you really don’t want to run into after dark.”

A younger mare behind them gulped as an ominous howl cut through the air.

“What kind of things?” she asked.

Right on cue, the sky turned black around them.

Scared, little ponies? You should be.”

From the darkness, there came a familiar dark face. Cadence gasped in horror before her eyes narrowed in determination.

“Sombra,” she snarled, before blasting a beam of magic. The beam cut through his mist, but the dark face simply reformed from the unlimited dark clouds of the storm.

Shining looked around. “Where is the Crystal Empire?!”

“There’s no time!” Cadence cried, as another beam of magic failed to dispel the monster. It drew closer, its growl a mocking laugh…

Until a new barrage of magic managed to clear the clouds faster. With an annoyed roar, Sombra retreated, and the ponies found themselves joined by an odd duo: a pony that shimmered like quartz crystals, and a diamond dog shrouded in sparkling sapphire-studded armor.

The diamond dog made a face at the princess. “You again,” he muttered.

“Diamond Dogs?” Shining Armor asked.

“And that means…” Cadence stepped forward eagerly. “Shiva’s here, is she not?”

The diamond dog hefted his spear in self-defense. “Why you asking?” he growled.

Before Cadence could explain, the clouds began to reform. Sombra’s hiss sounded like a nest of vipers.

“Let’s worry about that later,” the crystal pony said. “We need to get back to the Empire.”

The diamond dog growled unhappily, but led the Equestrians alongside his crystal counterpart. Sombra tried to pursue them, but another blast of magic soared over the CEF’s heads, dissipating the clouds faster than Sombra could summon.

The ponies soon found themselves running through a force field of magic. On the other side, they found it maintained, not by a single being, but by a gathering of crystal ponies, changelings and diamond dogs. Together, they held lit crystal staffs, forming a barricade of magic that kept the dark being at bay.

Cadence gave the magic wielding dogs a glance before turning to her entourage.

“Every pony that can use magic,” she ordered, “Help them maintain the barrier.”

“Wait,” one of the mares asked. “Those are changelings. Aren’t they…?”

“They’re helping maintain the barrier,” Cadence said. “And so should we. Sombra does not get back in here.”

The unicorns in their group nodded, a few rather reluctantly, and joined the barricade. Cadence turned back to the angry looking Diamond dog and his companion.

“I’m Princess Cadence,” she introduced. “And you are?”

“Rose Quartz,” the crystal pony introduced. When the diamond dog just growled, she translated, “He’s Luke.”

“We deeply appreciate your aid,” Cadence replied. “Can you take us to your leaders?”

Before Rose Quartz could speak…

“No need to,” a familiar voice replied. Shiva and a larger changeling appeared down the street. “They’re already here.”

Shining flinched at the sight of the changeling, but Cadence calmed him with a wing on his shoulder. His discomfort was not lost on Shiva, however.

“It know it’s already cold outside, but try to cool it,” Shiva growled. “Princess Scorpia is not with Chrysalis.”

"She's right," Cadence said quickly, smiling at the changeling princess. "That's Princess Scorpia of the Vespin Hive." She bowed. "It's good to finally meet you. Your son was a massive help a few months ago."

Scorpia smiled and inclined her head. “It’s good to see you’ve recovered, Princess," she said with a bow.

Shining glanced between his wife and the changeling, his defensive stance faltering.

“Wish we could say the same,” Cadence added, noticing Shiva’s right claw. Despite being heavily bandaged, Shiva couldn’t hide the chunks of obsidian poking out from along her arm. Noticing their stares, Shiva put it behind her back, her expression giving no indication of any pain she might’ve been feeling.

“I have to say,” Shiva greeted, her ears perked, but her back fur slightly flared. “I… wasn’t expecting to see you so soon.”

“Well… I suppose fate has an odd way of drawing us together,” Cadence replied.

Scorpia nudged Shiva, and the diamond dog lowered her eyes.

“So… about Canterlot…” Shiva started to say, but Cadence brushed her concerns aside.

“It’s in the past,” she assured her. “And right now, we need to focus on Sombra.”

“Right.” Perking up, Shiva motioned for her to follow, the pink alicorn quickly falling in line. “We’ve done a sweep of the castle, but nothing special has cropped up. Sombra’s also cast some sort of spell over the populace – trying to keep them scared and frightened. Even with my pack link, there are still ponies that want to cower and hide. We need some way to bring them all together and combine their magic, otherwise the best we’ll do is just keep Sombra at bay.”

Cadence smiled, though Shining Armor gave Shiva an odd look. “You’re oddly eager to link with ponies now,” he noted.

“Don’t get the wrong impression,” Shiva warned, her voice darkening. “I’m still not sure what to think about all of pony kind, but I’m not an idiot.” She indicated the city. “These ponies were all abused by this ‘King Sombra.’ They have the magic to repel him, but they need something... closer to home to rally them all together.” She looked down. “And using force makes me no better than Sombra.”

Shining Armor and Cadence glanced at each other with grins. Though they were quick to hide their grins when Shiva turned to the others.

“Do you have any knowledge on the Crystal Empire itself?”

“Defenses? Countermeasures?” Scorpia added.

“Sadly, not so much,” Cadence admitted. “The Crystal Empire was taken long before either of us were born.”

Shiva paused. “Taken?”

“King Sombra,” Shining Armor explained. “That shadow out there? He took over the Crystal Empire, and even though Princess Celestia and Princess Luna managed to banish him to the artic north, he managed to curse the Empire so that it vanished along with him.”

Scorpia huffed. “The stallion’s a sore loser. He decided that if he couldn’t have it, no one could.”

“Pretty much,” Cadence agreed with a shrug.

“Well, his time is over,” Shining declared. “Twilight Sparkle and the Elements of Harmony aren’t far behind us. And together, we’ll be able to find some way for the Empire to be protected without outside magic.”

Despite his news perking up Cadence, Rose and even Scorpia, Shiva and Luke’s ears flattened at the mention of the lavender mare. She picked up her pace, following a scent trail to a larger gem studded building shaped like a book.

“Well, if my intelligence expert is as good as I think he is,” Shiva said. “We won’t need Twilight. He’ll have all the information we need as soon as I open this…”

She yanked open the library door just in time for Skippy to nearly crash into her.

“Alpha!” he greeted. “I have all the information we need on how to save the Empire.”

Shiva smiled, wishing she had the social immaturity to grin smugly at Cadence and Shining Armor.

“…door,” she finished.

#

“The Crystal Faire,” Skippy read from the topmost book he had. “According to this book, it was established by their first Queen, and became their most important tradition. The faire renewed the spirit of love and unity in the empire so they could protect it from harm.”

“That sounds pretty promising,” Shining Armor noted.

Shiva’s brow furrowed. “There’s a page missing from here,” she noted, checking the page next to it. “Something about a ‘Crystal Heart.’” She turned to Rose. “Is that like a relic or something?”

Rose rubbed her head, wincing as Sombra's spell tried to instill fear in her mind, but a touch from Shiva helped her gather her strength.

“Yes,” she admitted. “The whole point of the Crystal Faire is to lift the spirits of the Crystal Ponies, so the light within can power the Crystal Heart and protect the Empire.”

Luke gasped. “That explains why the gems around here were capable of absorbing Alpha Shiva's magic,” he realized in glee. “The Crystal Heart enchanted them.”

“But where is the Crystal Heart itself?” Cadence asked. “The gems around it might be powerful, but the Crystal Heart itself would be a perfect rallying point for the ponies.”

Rose wilted again. “King Sombra… he said he’d hidden it away where we would never see it again.” She looked down in horror. “Oh, no… we’ll never find it again…”

“Stop it,” Shiva growled. “We are going to find it. It’s just going to take some time.”

“Don’t forget,” Cadence assured the crystal pony. “Twilight Sparkle is on her way. If there’s any pony that can crack this case, it’s her.”

The ponies perked up in happiness, even as Shiva wilted in anguish, trying to cover it with a shake of her fur.

“Even if she is,” she declared. “We can’t just sit around waiting for her. We should at least make an effort to find it ourselves.” She turned to Skippy. “Skippy, tell me you have some idea where the heart could be hidden.”

Skippy blinked, surprised at the subtle tone of desperation in Shiva’s voice, but composed himself before the others could notice.

“Well,” he pointed out. “If Sombra was anything like Queen Chrysalis, then he most likely hid it in the castle.” He pointed. “There’s no way his subjects would dare go looking in his home court.”

“Brilliant, Skippy,” Shiva said, before turning to the others. “Cadence, you and the non-unicorns are free to search the castle with me.” She gave Shining Armor a disapproving glance. “You, uh… go help Luke and the others with the barricade.”

Shining Armor snorted in indignation, but Cadence put a hoof on his shoulder.

“She’s right, Shining,” she said. “Your protection spells would be perfect for the main barriers.”

Slightly sated, but still casting a suspicious look at Shiva, Shining cantered back to the Empire’s borders, while the others headed towards the castle.

“Alright, Crystal Heart,” Shiva growled as she pushed the doors open. “Where are you?”

#

After an hour of searching, not a single pony, changeling or diamond dog had found even a small clue to the whereabouts of the Crystal Heart. Though they took the bad news with varying shades of disappointment, Shiva’s reaction put them all to shame.

“Where did you put it, you SMOKE-BREATHING WHORSE?!” Shiva howled, her voice echoing through the castle, along with the sound of her blasting at the throne with her magic. By the time Skippy found her in the throne room, the throne was glowing from the magic she had blasted at it.

“Shiva, easy,” Skippy said as he raced in. “What’s the matter?”

“If I have to stand aside and let that idiotic purple mare solve this thing before me,” Shiva growled, keeping her voice down so that Cadence or the other ponies didn't hear her. “Not only would I probably have to give this place up as Outer Haven’s capital, but she’ll probably get to hold it over my head as a sign that ponies ‘aren’t as bad as I think they are.’”

Skippy blinked. “Well… are they? You got along alright with Spike and Applejack. Even Fluttershy seemed really eager to win your favor.”

“I know!” Shiva admitted. “But their friends?” Her ears flattened at the thought of Rainbow Dash and Rarity. “I don’t need them rubbing it in my face that I needed their help.”

“I’m pretty sure the others would stop them,” Skippy pointed out.

Shiva sighed. “Doesn't stop Twilight and the rest of her nosy dominant desperate-to-be-the-good-guy species aggravating me to no end!”

As she spoke, the throne… flashed. Shiva and Skippy froze, watching as a crystal on top of the throne briefly shined a cold, evil black.

Shiva tilted her head, before turning her eyes on her bandaged arm. As the crystal pulsed, the obsidian embedded in her arms pulsed as well. And they pulsed in tune with Shiva's throbbing frustration at having to rely on Twilight for help.

Shiva’s ears perked. With a thoughtful hum, she lifted her damaged arm up to the crystals. As another pulse ran through both, she experimentally focused on her anger towards Twilight, before shooting a burst of magic into the crystal.

Instantly, a shadow crept across the floor. Shiva and Skippy wisely jumped out of its way, before the shadow darkened the floor between them.

No, Shiva realized. Not darkened; it’s way too dark for a shadow. The floor had instead been opened into a pit. Dark stairs led deep into the darkness.

Shiva growled, before descending into the darkness, Skippy right behind her.

“Alpha,” he warned. “You shouldn’t go it alone.”

“Definitely not,” Shiva agreed. “Come with me. And let the others know through the pack link.”

Nodding, Skippy sent the message into a bolt of light that shot away to warn the others, before following Shiva down. Despite her agreeing to telling the others, she still raced dangerously fast down the stairs. The thought of Twilight and her friends showing up; smugly figuring out what had evaded Shiva for far too long, and then beating Sombra and forcing the dogs to leave this wonderful city of gems. All these thoughts drove Shiva deeper and deeper into the pit.

Until, finally, the stairs ended. Shiva found herself at the very bottom of the pit; the only way forward through an elaborate door with a similar crystal on top. Focusing once again on her grudge with the ponies, Shiva flared up the dark magic in her obsidian stricken arm, and the crystal responded, opening up to a gateway shrouded in light.

“This way,” Shiva said.

“Shiva, wait!” Skippy yelled. “WAIT!”

But Shiva didn’t listen. She raced through the doorway… and promptly ran into the bars of a cage.

Shiva’s fur paled to a ghostly white. “No…” she whimpered, backing away, only to run into another pair of bars.

She was back in a cage. Ponies were surrounding the outside. Beast Breaker, the fatal wounds she had inflicted on him oozing ink-like blood. Rainbow Dash, grinning maliciously. Twilight, standing further back with a quill and notepad in hand. And Luna, in the nightmarish visage of Nightmare Moon.

“No, how did…” Shiva stammered, trying to flare her magic. But her magic didn’t come to her. When she looked down, manacles bound her claws and neck. “No…” she whimpered, looking up.

But the lashes didn’t descend. Instead, Twilight opened the door, and the ponies changed; Fluttershy, Applejack and Spike beckoned her forth. Offering her the key to her manacles. A crown of solid gold.

But when Shiva started to approach…

“Don't!”

She spun around, to find Luke and the diamond dogs chained and pleading with her.

“Don’t leave us, Shiva!” Luke pleaded.

“You can’t do this, Shiva!” a chained down Skippy begged. “Please!”

But when Shiva tried to go back for them, a leash materialized around her neck. She was yanked to all fours. And as she looked up, she saw Applejack, still smiling, but the crown was changed to a collar and leash. And as Shiva hesitated, Luna, Twilight and Rainbow Dash all began to draw closer with their whips.

“It’s us or them, Shiva.”

“You can’t do this, Shiva!”

“Shiva-Shiva-Shiva!” Their voices mixed together into an ear-splitting chant.”

“STOP!” Shiva begged.

“Shiva… Alpha Shiva, snap out of it!”

A claw slashed into her cheek, snapping her out of the vision. Shiva scrambled back from the door, a bolt of lightning flying through the now open gateway. Claws gripped her, and at first, she tried to fight. But thankfully, she recognized Skippy before she could hurt him.

“Shiva, easy…” he said soothingly. “It’s okay.”

Shiva slumped into his arms, burying her head in her claws. “Curse it…” she swore. “Curse it all to Tartarus…”

Skippy gave a sour look at the innocent looking crystal above. “King Sombra’s dark magic,” he explained. “A doorway that leads to your worst fears.”

Shiva took a deep breath, but her claws wouldn’t stop shaking. She lowered them with a sigh.

“This is why I don’t want Twilight here, Skippy,” she admitted. “I’ve tried to move past it; I’ve tried to forgive.” Her face hardened. “But I still hate them so much.”

“Easy,” Skippy soothed, smoothing Shiva’s fur back down. “Hate isn’t going to keep us safe. Hate only risks conflict with the ponies who are actually good; who truly care about others.”

Shiva breathed.

“Yeah,” she admitted.

“The Crystal Ponies went through the exact thing Beast Breaker did to you,” Skippy assured her. “They don’t deserve hate.”

“Right,” Shiva said, lifting her head. “So, let’s find the Crystal Heart,” she declared. “And make sure Sombra never gets to enslave them – or us – again.”

Skippy smiled at her words, and helped her up. Together, they strode through the gateway, only to find stairs waiting for them. Miles and miles of stairs.

But stairs were nothing to the memory of the cage. And thus, cricking her neck, Shiva hopped onto the first of the stairs, and began to ascend.

Chapter 4: Sharing the Spoils

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Twilight Sparkle stepped off the train with determination in her eyes. Somewhere in the pitch-black clouds ahead was the Crystal Empire. And if Twilight could defend it, she would prove to Princess Celestia she was ready for the next level of her studies.

At least, that’s what she thought. Part of her was slightly worried about the presence of Alpha Shiva and the diamond dogs of Outer Haven being near the Empire. But she pushed it aside. Princess Celestia herself had trusted her with this, and she refused to let the complicated diamond dog get in the way of succeeding her test.

“Ha!” the voice of Rarity cried triumphantly behind her. “And you all made fun of me for packing so many scarves.”

Twilight grinned. Plus, she thought. I’ve got my friends by my side. There’s nothing we can’t overcome together.

“Twilight!” another familiar voice cried, widening Twilight’s grin in response.

“Shining!” she replied back, the familiar figure of her brother appearing from the frosty fog.

“You made it,” he sighed in relief, before glancing around. “We need to hurry,” he said quickly. “This mission is a little more complicated than I thought.”

Fluttershy gulped as they delved into the blizzard. “What do you mean?”

“The unicorn king who originally cursed this place,” Shining explained. “He keeps trying to get in.”

“But Princess Celestia sent us here to protect the Empire,” Twilight pointed out. “If King Sombra can’t get in, then… it must already be protected.”

“Maybe,” Shining said grimly. “But if you saw who was protecting the Empire right now…”

“Ya mean Alpha Shiva?” Applejack asked. “She's protecting this place?"

"Then what's the problem?" Pinkie Pie replied. "Shiva's a little mean, but she's not evil like Sombra."

Before Shining Armor could explain, a black wave of smoke billowed up from behind them. From the darkness, two evil green and red eyes opened, staring down at them hungrily.

Shining stared up at the eyes in fear. “We have to get to the Crystal Empire,” he declared. “Now!”

But Twilight grinned. “Don’t be so sure, big brother,” she said, reaching into her saddle bag. “After the fiasco with Chrysalis, we came prepared.”

Shining Armor backed up as the Mane Six produced the Elements of Harmony. Indeed, Twilight and even Celestia had been worried about bringing their most vital weapon with them. But after how they nearly lost them to Shiva and her dogs, the princess had agreed to keep the powered gems close to their Element Bearers.

As a result, Twilight was able to glare up at the shadow creature without fear, as she and her friends prepared to blast it with the power of Friendship.

But just as their gems began to glow, a strange pulse shot out from the storm. Sombra’s eyes flicked away from them, narrowing in surprise and anger. And as the ponies paused on confusion, Sombra spun away from them… and raced for the source of the pulse, barely regarding them as a threat.

“Yeah, you better run!" Rainbow Dash taunted.

"Erm, not that I want him after us," Rarity said. "But where's he running to?"

"Oh, sillies," Pinkie said with a giggle. "He's not running. He's floating!"

Shining Armor gasped. “He’s heading for the Empire,” he yelped, racing for the source.

“The Empire?!” Twilight stammered. “Girls, come on; we gotta stop him!”

But despite her motivation, the ponies began to fall behind, the shadows overtaking them. Sombra seemed to also realize what the Elements could do, as his shadowy figure dodged back and forth, keeping the mares from being able to line up a shot on him. On impulse, Shining blasted at Sombra, but the clouds easily dissipated away from his spell, and the ghost king continued his relentless streak towards the Empire. As the ponies fell behind, they spotted something white and blue, pulsating brightly between the mountains. Sombra was heading right for it.

“Almost there,” Shining gasped.

“But he’s getting ahead of us!” Rainbow Dash protested. “And we can’t get a hit on him! He’s gonna get there before us.”

Shining Armor’s eyes flicked downward, and a smirk graced his lips. “No, he’s not,” he realized.

Before Twilight could ask what he meant, a barrage of spells slammed into the dark king, forcing his smoky frame back as he bellowed in rage. The mares ducked under his attack, and launched themselves into the blue and white shield the beams of light were coming from.

Warmth hit them, a stark contrast to the ice and snow of the outside. The Mane Six skidded to a halt, panting and tired from the run, but otherwise fine.

“Every pony okay?” Twilight asked.

They all nodded and gasped out general agreement, more focused on catching their breath. Before Twilight could turn to her brother…

“If you’re okay, then help us with the barricade or get into the city,” a gruff voice growled.

A gruff voice Twilight recognized, as her heart dropped into her stomach.

“Oh, no…” she whimpered, turning to find Luke – Shiva’s personal bodyguard – maintaining the barrage of spells that had just saved her and her friends’ lives.

“Yeah, wish I didn’t have to see you either,” Luke growled.

A further look beyond revealed he wasn't alone; a small army of diamond dogs formed a barricade protecting the city, mirror like shields raised against the demon and magical staffs firing spells into the dark clouds. It took Twilight a moment to realize that not just ponies but – changelings?! - were standing by the diamond dogs side along with what looked like earth ponies, all either firing spells from their horns or from staffs topped with what looked like magic crystals. Twilight wasn’t sure if it was her mind playing tricks on her, but some of the ponies seemed to sparkle like diamonds. Or crystals.

Yet, as Twilight stared at the odd alliance in stunned disbelief, a blast of obsidian threw a section of diamond dogs, changelings and ponies back. Luke swore and raced to the gap, blasting at the obsidian before it could creep into the city.

“Don’t just stand there,” Luke bellowed at the Mane Six. “Something really pissed this guy off!”

Shining glanced at the castle beyond, his eyes narrowing. “Twilight,” he ordered. “Head into the city. Help Cadence and Shiva.” He took the diamond dogs’ place in the gap, flaring up a protective shield. “I’ll keep things stable here at the barrier.”

Without any time to argue, Twilight nodded. Motioning to her friends, they raced into the city. But as they approached the massive castle in the distance, Twilight noticed something white leaving the castle.

“Is that… Shiva?” Fluttershy asked.

Their eyes did not deceive them. The white diamond dog raced from the castle, Princess Cadence and a changeling princess behind her, a massive block of crystal carved in the shape of a heart tucked under her arm. As her paws hit the ground, Shiva unleashed a burst of light that traveled like a spider web through the empire.

“Citizens of the Crystal Empire!” Shiva howled, her voice echoing across the city. “Hear me!”

“No trouble with that,” Pinkie commented, rubbing at her ears.

Shiva lifted the Crystal Heart. “King Sombra has failed! Your Crystal Heart has returned to you!”

What?!” Sombra growled. “NO!”

But the crystal ponies looked back with awe and delight.

“The Crystal Heart is back!” They cheered. “We are saved!”

“Use the light and love within you!” Cadence beseeched.

“Ensure that King Sombra never gets to use it again!” Scorpia added.

As they spoke, Shiva caught sight of Twilight and her friends racing towards them. Emotions flashed like lightning across Shiva’s face – irritation at Twilight, fading into confused hope at the sight of Applejack and Spike. Then, just before Twilight could join them, Sombra let out another bellow. Shiva’s eyes darted behind them, her ears flattened in terror, and she threw the crystal heart into a pedestal that looked made for the relic.

And as the crystal heart spun between two vertical crystal spires, and the entire empire began to glow with a blue light, Twilight heard King Sombra growl, before shifting back from the Empire.

“This is not over,” King Sombra vowed.

And as he shut his eyes and faded into darkness, everything vanished in a burst of white light. Briefly, Twilight noticed Shiva’s arm, which pulsated with obsidian magic, before the crystals were torn away by the power of the Crystal Heart.

#

When the blobs of light faded from Twilight’s vision, she found the Crystal Empire changed for the better. The dark clouds that had surrounded the empire were gone, replaced instead by fluffy white clouds. An aura borealis glowed in the air. And every pony and diamond dog sparkled with crystalized sequins.

“Oh, my goodness,” Rarity cried in ecstasy. “Look at the way my mane is sparkling!”

“It’s truly a sight,” a changeling replied, resulting in all six mares yelping in alarm.

“Easy,” Shiva replied. “These changelings aren’t with Chrysalis.”

Despite Twilight’s suspicions to the contrary, it was hard to refute Shiva. As the diamond dog Alpha approached, flanked by the alicorn and changeling princesses, Twilight had trouble even looking at Shiva. Her pearl and ruby studded armor caught the light from the others, giving her the impression of Celestia raising the sun. The obsidian was cleared from her arm. Even Cadence had one eye covered as she approached the girls.

“Twilight,” she said happily. “Sunshine-sunshine, ladybug’s awake…”

“Clap your hooves and do a little shake,” Twilight replied back. “Cadence, I…” she looked around. “I was told I was supposed to protect the Empire…”

“Well, you can rest easy,” Shiva told them, the light making it hard to see if she was smiling or sneering at them. “The Crystal Empire has been saved from the evil of King Sombra.” She grinned at Applejack and Spike. “Not bad for a reunion, eh?”

The two chuckled, moving past Twilight to embrace the white canine.

“I wanna say it’s been too long,” Applejack said. “But…”
“It’s still good to see you both,” Shiva assured them. She grinned at Spike. “You been keeping these guys safe?”

Spike shrugged. “As best as I can,” he replied.

“Shiva!” Pinkie cheered, lunging up for a hug… only to be deflected by a light shield. Yet Pinkie wasn’t dissuaded, clutching the shield as if she could hug Shiva right through it.

“Aw, it’s so good to see you!” Pinkie cried. “Did you miss us? Did you at least miss me?”

Shiva barely glanced at her. “No,” she replied coyly.

Pinkie deflated, sliding down Shiva’s shield in mock disappointment.

“Um… Shiva?” Fluttershy whispered, inching up cautiously. She winced when Shiva’s ear flicked in response to her voice. But Shiva’s hesitation was only for a second, and the grin she gave the yellow mare seemed devoid of anger or suspicion.

“Hello again, Fluttershy,” she said, her voice growing colder when she glanced at the other mares. “The rest of you.”

Twilight deflated, while Cadence rolled her eyes.

“Come on, every pony,” she said. “Shiva helped us with Chrysalis. She’s helped us with Sombra. Do we really have to do this whole song and dance all over again?”

“But I expect they’ll want payment for their services,” Rarity pointed out.

Shiva grinned. “A certain payment,” Shiva admitted, glancing back at the castle with pride.

The others followed their gaze, Twilight’s expression fading to horror.

“T-The Crystal Empire?!” Twilight asked. “Shiva, be reasonable…”

“I’m willing to be,” Shiva replied, smiling at the crystal ponies as they hurried over.

“So… is Shiva going to rule now?” Rose Quartz asked.

Cadence paled. “Well…” she tried to say, but others jumped in.

“She saved us from King Sombra,” another insisted. “I don’t care if she is a Diamond Dog; she’s our savior!”

Twilight blinked. “Well… you know she had help…” she said.

“But the diamond dogs are the ones who helped us first,” Rose Quartz admitted, before sparing a cautious look to Luke. “And not just because of our gems… right?”

Luke chuckled nervously, before Shiva got in front of him.

“It was because you were enslaved,” Shiva said firmly. “A cruelty I will not stand for. Ever again.”

Cadence, Twilight and the rest of the Equestrians were only able to back up in shock as the crystal ponies gathered happily around Shiva.

“Praise be to Alpha Shiva!” they declared. “Empress of the Crystal Empire!”

“That’s, um… going to be Outer Haven,” Shiva tried to correct, as the ponies carted her off, the diamond dogs and changelings right behind them. Cadence and Twilight were left staring at each other.

“We need Princess Celestia,” Twilight declared.

“Oh, indeed,” Cadence agreed, right as the others shot by them.

“A Diamond Dog as a queen?” Fluttershy whispered as she floated after the dog.

“We gotta congratulate Shiva,” Spike said.

“About time someone saw that dog fer the hero she is,” Applejack said.

“Oh, this calls for a ‘Congratulations-diamond-dog-princess’ party!” Pinkie cheered.

“Praise be to Empress Shiva!” several of the ECF ponies added, racing alongside Fluttershy, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Spike as they chased after the crystal ponies. Twilight, Shining Armor, Cadence, Rarity and Rainbow Dash watched them go with dumbfounded expressions.

“Right now,” Cadence added.

#

An hour later, the group of outsider ponies stood outside the borders of the Crystal Empire, awaiting Princess Celestia’s arrival.

“Oh, how I wish the effect was permanent,” Rarity bemoaned, stroking her now ordinary purple mane. “I looked absolutely marvelous.”

The others ignored her. Twilight kicked at the ground morosely, her ears flattening as Celestia’s chariot grew visible on the horizon.

“Twily,” Shining whispered. “You okay?”

“This was my test,” Twilight whispered. “My chance to show Celestia I could be counted on. And Shiva did it all before I even got a chance to help.”

“I’m… sure she’ll let you retake it,” Shining insisted.

“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash said. “It’s not like she counted on Shiva showing up and taking over.”

Twilight gazed thoughtfully up at the chariot. “I hope so,” she said.

A few seconds later, Celestia’s chariot landed before them, and the white alicorn stepped off, gazing up at the Crystal Empire with a soft smile.

“You know,” she noted. “My experience with the Crystal Empire truly is limited.” She smiled at the sparkling buildings. “I forgot just how beautiful this place really is.”

Twilight bowed her head. “I wish it had been me who made it so,” she admitted. “But it wasn’t.”

Celestia tilted her head. “What happened?” she asked. She glanced up at their group. “Where… is Spike? And half of the Elements of Harmony?”

Then they heard the cheers… combined with the howls. Celestia’s ears flattened, before she composed herself into a more neutral expression. She strode forward, the others falling in line behind her.

They found Shiva on the steps of the castle before them. Yet, strangely, she wasn’t garbed in robes. She just had the same pearl and ruby studded armor as she always had. Luke and Skippy stood off to the side, looking rather miffed. But not without reason, for their usual spots at Shiva’s flanks had been taken by Rose Quartz and Princess Scorpia.

“The strength of the pack does not come from a single being,” Shiva was saying. “Just as this Empire was not freed by the efforts of a single diamond dog.” She gazed around. “As far as I’m concerned, we all are equal in this land. What we all contribute will benefit the new capital of Outer Haven.” She paused, spotting Princess Celestia cautiously moving forward.

“Princess Celestia,” Shiva greeted, inclining her head in greeting. “Welcome to Outer Haven.”

Celestia chuckled, inclining her head to Shiva as well.

“A pleasure to see you again, Howlite Howler,” Celestia greeted. “Though, I recall this city being known as ‘The Crystal Empire.’”

“Once, perhaps,” Shiva admitted. “Under the tyranny of King Sombra. But he has been dethroned.”

“All thanks to the Howlite Howler,” Rose Quartz added.

Celestia blinked. “Pardon?” she asked, glancing over at Twilight, who refused to meet her eyes.

Shiva chuckled at her dumbfounded look. “Well, I couldn’t have done it alone,” she admitted, before shrugging, a mischevious grin getting onto her face. “But yeah.”

Celestia wilted, shutting her eyes with a sigh.

“And I suppose you have taken payment for your services already, yes?” Celestia asked.

“One particular payment,” Shiva admitted, grinning back at the Empire. Celestia followed her gaze, her lips pursing.

“And… all of you are okay with this?” Twilight asked. “I-I mean… she’s not a pony.”

“She saved us,” Rose Quartz said firmly. “Sombra could’ve re-taken the city when we first awoke. But Shiva stopped him.”

“Well, we showed up…” Cadence offered.

“And how soon would that have been,” Luke pointed out. “After Sombra had already corrupted this place?” Several of the crystal ponies shivered at the thought.

Celestia glanced between her Equestrians and Shiva’s group, the gears visibly turning in her head. Finally, she offered a wing to Shiva. “May we speak in private?” she finally asked.

Scorpia, Luke and Rose fell in behind Shiva. “Depends on how private you want it to be,” Shiva said. She nodded at Cadence and Twilight, whom Celestia motioned to follow.

As the group returned to the castle, Twilight simpered behind Celestia like a kicked puppy.

“Princess,” Twilight stammered. “I-I’m sorry. I tried to get here as fast as I could, and I just…”

Celestia silenced her with a flare of her wing. She glanced back at Shiva, Cadence and Scorpia.

“Go on ahead,” she said. “I must confer with my student.”

Shiva and Scorpia glanced at each other, before reluctantly continuing forward, followed by Cadence. Despite her mixed feelings towards the mare, Shiva still felt a bit of guilt at the worried faces on Applejack and Spike as they watched Twilight and Celestia converse with each other.

“Is she going to be okay?” Shiva asked.

Cadence sighed. “I know you haven’t seen the best side of my sister-in-law, but she truly loves Princess Celestia. Failing the Princess takes a rather large toll on her.”

Shiva hummed, an old memory – feeling like it came from another lifetime – awakened in her mind: disappointing her human master. That shake of the head, and sad eyes that weren’t angry, yet somehow the lack of anger made it worse.

Thankfully, she was able to chase the old memory away when Celestia walked back to them. With a single nod, she led the others into the castle.

“Is Twilight going to be okay?” Cadence asked.

Celestia sighed. “This is a rather… unexpected turn of events,” she admitted, looking to Shiva. “Shiva, please believe me when I said I truly hoped we wouldn’t darken your doorstep until you were ready.”

“But?” Shiva replied. When Celestia tilted her head again, Shiva smirked. “I recall an old saying, ‘everything before ‘but’ likely came from one.’”

Celestia muffled a laugh, while Scorpia ruffled her wings, slightly scandalized. Turning her head to the doors, she shut the doors to the castle with a boom. Celestia turned to the others.

“Now,” she said. “It is imperative that nothing spoken here leaves this room, save for the knowledge that will soon become public anyway.”

Shiva, Scorpia and Cadence nodded, allowing Celestia to gather herself.

“It is noble of you to say you had help,” Celestia admitted to Shiva. “But they have made the truth clear; you found the Crystal Heart, and gave them the strength to do so.” She looked to Scorpia. “And you, despite being part of a species my little ponies will likely never trust again, fought Sombra, giving Shiva the time to find the Crystal Heart."

Both dog and changeling nodded. Celestia’s ears flicked.

“It is clear you have earned their respect,” Celestia admitted to Shiva. “However, our relationship did not have the best of beginnings.” She gave Shiva and Scorpia a hard look. “If you truly intend to keep your dogs here, how can I be safe in the knowledge that the crystal ponies will be unharmed?”

Shiva’s grin faded, but her eyes remained alight with passion. “These ponies have suffered like we did,” Shiva said. “They will be safe here.”

Scorpia stepped forward. “And we are not Chrysalis,” she said forcefully. “The changelings of Vespin Hive have always believed in strengthening both communities, as Shiva and Rose proved in their own alliance to stop Sombra: The diamond dogs couldn’t have repelled Sombra without the magic, yet the ponies wouldn’t have found the strength without the diamond dogs motivating them.”

Celestia gave Scorpia an intrigued look before inclining her head. “I… apologize for any insults regarding the… mistakes my ponies have made regarding your hive.”

Scorpia grimaced, but shook it aside.

“Regardless,” Cadence said, moving to Scorpia's side. “Her changelings have always believed in communities strengthening each other. An alliance would do exactly that.”

Celestia gave Shiva a wry smile. “So… should I start referring to you as Princess Shiva?”

Shiva’s brow furrowed. “I’d rather keep the title of Alpha,” she said. “While I’m sure we can work something out with the crystal ponies… I don’t want any Equestrians to just assume my land is theirs just because we’re willing to be friendly to the Crystal Ponies.”

Celestia and Cadence looked to each other with worry, before Cadence brightened with an idea.

“How about this,” she offered, flaring up her magic and producing a map of the Crystal Empire, drawing below the Empire. “Right now, the ‘Empire’ is a bit of a misnomer; it’s actually little more than a city-state right now. And being in stasis for an entire millennium means it won’t be easy to bring this city up to modern standards.”

Shiva highlighted the crystals. “This city is packed with valuable gems,” she noted. “The houses the ponies live in would be enough to keep them in bread for at least two generations.”

“Then, maybe we can use this city as a trade route between Outer Haven and Equestria,” Scorpia noted, “Gems and crystals for food and supplies.” She highlighted the above ground. “Some of the CEF mentioned crystal ponies that wanted to leave and explore the world. We can set up your diamond dogs in their homes as care-takers, even give them the homes if the ponies don’t plan on coming back.”

“So,” Shiva noted with slight disappointment. “This isn’t a takeover then; the Crystal Empire will remain as it’s own separate nation?"

“Just as Outer Haven will remain its own separate nation,” Cadence agreed, before indicating herself. “Shining Armor and I can stay as representatives of Equestria, and a few of the Crystal Expeditionary Force can stay on as guards and merchants.” She indicated Shiva. “You and your diamond dogs will obviously stay as representatives of Outer Haven.” She indicated both Celestia and Shiva. “And our trade will allow the crystal ponies to catch up with modern times, and working with diamond dogs will speed along the more open-minded reformations that Celestia’s been trying to run in Canterlot.”

By the time she finished her explanation, Shiva and Celestia’s ears had perked up completely. They glanced at each other with approval in their eyes.

“That’s… actually not a bad plan,” Shiva admitted.

“I agree,” Celestia said, a touch of relief in her voice. “Together, you, Cadence and Princess Scorpia can bring back the former glory of the Crystal Empire.”

Cadence chuckled. “And here Sombra likely though that glory was going to be his tyranny spreading across Equestria. He must be rolling in his grave right now.”

#

Meanwhile, inside a dark, warm place, green eyes opened, and a dark laugh emanated.

“Don’t be so sure, Princess,” Sombra vowed. “You may think you’ve won, but I will come back. Your so-called diamond dog ally will be your downfall. And the Crystal Empire will be mine once more!”

Chapter 5: First Day on the Job

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The next day found Shiva far less willing to get up than before. Despite her regaining consciousness, her body refused her mind’s request, and stayed firmly in the small nest she had built for herself and Luke in the suite they had set up in the Crystal Empire’s castle.

“You alright?” Luke asked her in concern. His eyes darted down to her stomach, before she lifted his head to hers.

“Fine,” she replied, gently touching noses with him. “Just… I hope our dogs are taking this alright. After all the time I spent preaching about how we couldn’t trust ponies…” she shook her head. “I don’t know if all of them are ready for this.”

Luke grimaced, but sighed.

“You’re the Alpha,” he insisted. “And the crystal ponies aren’t like the ones who locked us up. If they’ve got problems, we'll figure it out. And hey…” he tilted her head up. “If things don’t go right… they’re only leaving a few ponies, and most of the crystal ponies see us as heroes.” He grinned. “It can’t take too much effort to take this place.”

Shiva chuckled softly, but her eyes still drifted down. Luke followed her gaze, his claw softly touching her stomach. He looked back up to her, and her nod of confirmation sent a wave of emotions across his snout. Panic, joy, fear, love… all of it sorted itself together into a small smile.

“Should we tell them?” he asked. “Maybe have them give you some time?”

Shiva chuckled, and forced herself to rise.

“Dogs were having puppies long before either of us,” she said, stretching her creaking muscles. “And it wouldn’t make a good first impression to have the diamond dog rep in this alliance not show up.”

“It certainly won’t be from punctuality,” Skippy’s voice emanated.

Despite Shiva knowing he was doing it for her own protection, she had to hold back a laugh when Luke nearly leaped out of his fur and threw one of his pillows at the changelings.

“Seriously, Skippy!” he barked. “Learn to knock!”

Skippy deftly dodged the pillow with his own shrug.

“We’ve got an hour to prepare, and like Shiva said, it’s important to make a good first impression,” he insisted, turning back to Shiva. Despite him being in his changeling form, Shiva could still remember those brown eyes that she had grown so fond of back in the diamond dog caverns. “Shiva?”

Shiva nodded, and forced herself to rise. “Let’s get to work,” she said.

#

Despite Skippy’s advice, Shiva stuck with her normal pearl and ruby studded armor. She felt her power could give off an air of authority well enough without the extra wardrobe change.

Thankfully, Cadence and Scorpia agreed with her, as their regalia didn’t look too much out of place from what they usually wore. Cadence was decked out with a gold chest plate and horseshoes, while Scorpia had dark purple regalia accenting the dark green of her carapace. Together, Shiva had to admit that the three of them looked just as ready to fight as they were to rule.

And it was likely they’d have to do both. As they perched themselves before the door to the rest of the Crystal Empire, they could see the different races outside – diamond dogs, changelings, crystal ponies and Equestrians. Though the crystal ponies mingled freely with the changelings and dogs that had aided them, the Equestrians in the back looked rather scandalized at the other species being around them. The feeling was sadly mutual, and Shiva could already see several diamond dogs arguing with the non-crystal ponies.

“Let’s make this quick before a fight breaks out,” Shiva said.

Scorpia grimaced as she saw what Shiva was talking about. “Skippy,” she ordered. “Get some changelings to work on absorbing any residual anger. The last thing we need is conflict on our first day.”

"Is that... a good idea?" Shining asked. Cadence nudged him.

"Shining," she soothed. "These aren't Chrysalis' drones. You can trust them."

Shining nodded, though his expression didn't change as he watched the changelings moving around outside. Sighing, Cadence summoned a large parchment floating in her magic aura. Though Shiva had trouble deciphering the handwriting, she knew what it was meant to say:

The Crystal Haven Agreement:
A. The Crystal Empire recognizes Outer Haven as a nation.
B. Outer Haven recognizes The Crystal Empire as an independent Nation
C. The Crystal Empire shall grant the land around the Turquoise mountains and the rivers which flow from them.
D. A free trade zone shall be established between Outer Haven and the Crystal Empire
E. Outer Haven and the Crystal Empire Guarantee the others independence any attacks on their soil shall be met by both nations.

Equestrian addition:
Equestria recognizes both the Crystal Empire and Outer Haven and grants the Crystal Empire all former territory north of the Silver River

Signed
Shiva, Queen and Alpha Female of Outer Haven.
Co-signed Luke, King and Alpha Male of Outer Haven.

Princess Scorpia of Vespin Hive
Empress Mí Amore Cadenza IV of the Crystal Empire
Co-signed Prince-Consort Shining Armor, Marshall of the Crystal Empire
Princess Celestia of Equestria, Sol Invictus, Sun Mover, Diarch of Equestria
Co-signed Princess Luna, Stargazer, Lady of the Moon, Diarch of Equestria

“This is going to work out fine,” Cadence assured them. “We’ve got the paperwork; this is all about separate nations getting together and helping a city-state prosper.”

Shiva and Scorpia glanced at each other, before nodding in mutual agreement. With a nod of confirmation to both Shining Armor and Luke, both of whom were garbed in the armor of royal guards, the two pushed open the doors, and every eye fell upon the three princesses – or rather, Shiva thought, two princesses and Alpha – that descended the stairs to greet their subjects.

“Ponies of Equestria,” Cadence greeted, getting a round of cheers from the Equestrians, both crystal and otherwise.

“Changelings of Vespin!” Scorpia declared, getting a round of hissing cheers from the changelings.

“Diamond Dogs of Outer Haven!” Shiva howled, getting a round of howls from her beloved dogs.

“We thank you all for coming out today,” Cadence declared. “Thanks to your combined efforts, Sombra has been banished from the Crystal Empire. The city-state is free from his tyranny!”

Cadence had to stop, as the crystal ponies let out another cheer of relieved glee.

“However, that does beg the question,” Shiva said. “Who’s leading this place?”

“Obviously, Shiva!” one diamond dog said.

“Yeah!” several crystal ponies nodded in agreement. “She saved the Empire in the first place.”

“Wait, hang on!” another Equestrian said. “Princess Cadence helped! She has the crystal heart shaped cutie mark! And the Crystal Empire was a vassal of Equestria before Sombra!”

“Luckily!” Scorpia said quickly before an argument could break out. “We have found a solution that benefits all sides.”

The crowd listened intently.

“The Crystal Empire has been in stasis for a millennium,” Cadence said. “Much of the world has changed from what you know.”

The crystal ponies looked at each other with worry.

“But you have the resources to overcome it,” Shiva added. “The crystals and gems in this empire are a natural gold mine. Any diamond dog work their rocks would kill to live in a place like this."

The Diamond Dogs laughed heartily, despite several Equestrians – Rarity chief among them – huffing in scandalized disbelief.

"That is why, in exchange for our aid,” Shiva continued. “The Princesses of Equestria have agreed to a joint ownership of the Empire. Princess Cadence, Princess Scorpia, and myself will work together to lead the Crystal Empire back to its former glory.”

She braced herself for shouts of protest or fights to start. Partially, she hoped for rousing applause. Instead, what she got was confused silence.

“So,” Twilight’s voice suddenly shouted out. “Who’s the ‘Princess Celestia’ in this relationship? A-And who’s the 'Princess Luna?'”

Several of the ponies nodded, even as the changelings and dogs looked at them with confusion. The true meaning of her words, however, reached Shiva, and she had to keep herself from growling.

“Put aside any ideas you have on how Equestria works,” Shiva said firmly. “This isn’t just about rulers or rank. This is about equality.”

Scorpia nodded and strode forward. “For too long, relationships between our species have been shaky at best,” she admitted. “Diamond Dogs enslaved ponies.”

“Yeah,” Rarity and several other ponies agreed, despite some growls of protest from the dogs.

“The changelings of Chrysalis Hive,” Scorpia admitted. “Tried to turn Equestria into their slaves.”

“Yeah!” the ponies agreed again, though the changelings held their heads high.

“And ponies,” Shiva said darkly. “Imprisoned and tortured both changelings and dogs.”

“Yeah!” several dogs barked in agreement. The ponies all glanced at each other, while the crystal ponies looked at them with horrified confusion.

“But now, it’s time to put this senseless violence behind us,” Cadence insisted. “Together, Shiva and Scorpia’s forces helped my family and friends fight and defeat Chrysalis.”

“Yeah,” every pony, diamond dog and changeling managed to say in agreement.

“Together, we freed the Crystal Ponies and defeated Sombra!”

“Yeah!” they agreed.

“We can do so much more when we work together,” Cadence insisted. “So, let the Crystal Empire stand as proof of what we can accomplish, when we ponies open our minds and our hearts to others, rather than close them in fear and suspicion. Let it serve as a symbol that while we may be able to stand strong on our own, we are strongest when we stand together!”

Shiva had to wait a full five minutes for the applause from Cadence’s speech to die down. Further away, she swore she saw Celestia on the outskirts, nodding at them in approval.

“Now,” Shiva said. “We’ll be available in court all day today, answering any questions you may have. If there are Equestrians that wish to make trades of supplies for gems, let us know.”

“This is the beginning of a new era, everyone,” Scorpia said as the others turned to go back into the castle. “Let’s make sure it starts off on a good hoof.”

#

Shiva, Cadence and Scorpia didn’t get long to make adjustments to the throne room before Shining and Luke came rushing in.

“Well, you told them to come forward if they had questions,” Luke admitted.

“They got questions,” Shining agreed. "A lot of questions."

Cadence sighed, before glancing at her two companions. “You girls ready?”

Shiva glanced at the thrones prepared for them: a single large throne that was likely where Sombra had sat, and two smaller thrones set beside it. With a glare at Cadence, Shiva dragged the two seats forward, before retreating into another room and grabbing a third chair, which she promptly shoved to the middle.

“I said this was about equality,” Shiva said in response to Cadence’s confused expression. “It’s not equality if you get a bigger throne than us.”

Cadence took another look at the throne, and her pink skin paled.

“Good point,” she admitted, settling herself on the chair Shiva had brought forth with a hidden sigh of disappointment. Shiva and Scorpia settled into their own chairs, and nodded at Skippy, who stood between the captains.

“Send em in, Skippy,” Shiva said. “One case at a time.”

Skippy nodded, and as Shining and Luke took their place by their respective mates, the changeling raced back to the double doors, letting in a familiar orange mare.

“Howdy, Alpha Shiva,” Applejack said. “Princess Cadence. Princess Scorpia.”

“Applejack,” Shiva greeted, immediately getting off her throne. “What brings you here?”

“Just an idea that might help ya out,” Applejack replied. “How much do dogs ‘n changelings like apples?”

“Well,” Scorpia admitted. “We’re more used to feeding off emotions than food…”

“Diamond Dogs love apples,” Shiva insisted. “They’re like rubies they can eat.”

Applejack’s grin widened. “Then I have just the deal fer ya,” she said. “Sweet Apple Acres is always looking fer new folks to see our apples too. I figure we can help keep yer dogs ‘n ponies healthy ‘n strong in exchange fer some of our new-fangled contraptions.”

She grinned, only for Shiva’s grin to fade.

“What kind of ‘new-fangled contraptions?’” she asked. “I should remind you; the Crystal Ponies may be behind on the times, but they aren’t cave-ponies.” She touched Applejack’s forehead and transferred memories to her. “Did you know they had devices that ground diamonds into cider? It’s actually kind of fascinating.”

“Oh, uh…” Applejack muttered. “Well… my cider making presses might seem a tad…”

“T-That’s not saying it’s bad,” Shiva said quickly. “Just… don’t judge these guys based on what time period they’re from.”

“Right,” Applejack said. “Right.”

“Let’s… start with the basics,” Shiva offered, turning to Cadence. “How much sounds fair for the apples?” she asked Cadence.

Her eyes sparkling at Shiva’s enthusiasm, Cadence lunged into the conversation, and in less than five minutes, they had worked out an agreement of trading apples for rubies, which Applejack could sell in turn to get money to aid her farm.

“Hoo-wee,” Applejack cried in relief as they finished the deal. “Some ponies were worried ‘bout you, Shiva, but I gotta say…” she tipped her hat. “I’m mighty pleased to be working with ya.”

“The feeling is mutual, my orange friend,” Shiva said happily. “The feeling is mutual.”

As Applejack cantered out with a skip in her step, Cadence looked at Shiva with pride.

“I did not expect you to be that good with ponies,” Shining admitted.

“I’m good with some ponies,” Shiva said. “Ponies that haven’t hurt me.”

As if fate was testing that theory, Skippy let in the next case; Rarity.

“Princesses,” Rarity declared in a sweeping bow.

“Hello, Rarity,” Cadence said happily, only to find Shiva vanished from her side. When Cadence looked around for her, she found Shiva firmly on the throne next to Scorpia, her happy expression switched like a light for a more suspicious and slightly miffed expression. Luke was barely hiding a grin beside her.

“Element of Generosity,” Shiva growled.

Scorpia pursed her lips, trying not to laugh. Shining sighed, glaring at her with a deadpan expression of resignation.

“Um… well,” Rarity said, blinking in shock at Shiva’s attitude. “I-I run a boutique shop in Ponyville, and I’m always in high demand for gems.”

“We already worked out a deal with Applejack,” Shiva said firmly. “You can buy the gems we give her.”

“Oh,” Rarity stammered, put off by Shiva’s blunt reply. “Well… alright. But… I also have to admit… y-your diamond dogs can be…”

“Can be what?” Shiva growled.

“Shiva, be nice,” Scorpia said firmly.

“Please,” Cadence asked, before turning back to Rarity. “Don’t mind her; keep going.”
Rarity still watched Shiva carefully before continuing.

“I just have to… admit,” Rarity said with a breathless chuckle. “That the diamond dogs are incredible miners and diggers. I did spend a brief amount of time… with them…” she chuckled again. “And they were rather effective at coaxing gems and jewels from the earth. Would it be possible for some to aid me in finding gems?”

Shiva sat forward. “Would they be compensated and given benefits?” she asked.

“Of course,” Rarity said quickly, but the words were barely out of her mouth before Shiva continued.

“And the gems from Applejack won’t be sufficient?” Shiva asked.

“W-Well…” Rarity admitted. “Applejack and I are rather close. It doesn’t seem quite as fair to charge her full price for anything…”

“If my diamond dogs are going into pony territory,” Shiva said firmly. “I want assurance that they’re not going to be treated badly because of their race.”

That deal took far longer to haggle out. By the time a deal had been reached for the dogs to be carefully watched by Scorpia’s changelings, and compensated generously for their efforts, Rarity had all but bolted for the door.

Cadence turned to Shiva like a disappointed mother, but Shiva stood straight up in response.

“That mare has always looked on my dogs with suspicion,” she growled. “And now she’s only acting nice so she can…”
“That’s no excuse to treat her like that,” Cadence countered. “You said yourself that this was about equality. And that was not equal treatment.”

“It was fair treatment,” Luke growled. “How she treated us…”

“All of you,” Scorpia said firmly. “Enough.” She got between them. “This is a learning curve; it’s all about learning to deal with each other.”

“But Shiva did so well with Applejack,” Cadence said sadly.

“Because Applejack doesn’t look on me and just see a filthy diamond dog,” Shiva said firmly.

Cadence opened her mouth to argue, but decided against it at the last minute.

“Can you… just promise me you’ll hide your feelings a little better with the next case?” Cadence asked, walking to her throne. “A princess shouldn’t look biased.”

“I’m not a princess,” Shiva noted. “But I’ll try.”

Cadence sighed. “Thank you,” she said, before turning to Shining Armor. “Next,” she called.

Shining nodded, and he and Luke let in… Shiva groaned as Twilight walked in.

“So, since diamond dogs are aligned with ponies,” Twilight said, a pad of parchment and quill floating alongside her. “Could I ask Shiva some questions about her magic?”

Scorpia pursed her lips, while Cadence gave a small chuckle. Shiva, however, stared at Twilight. Not even with anger or suspicion; just… staring. Though she let no idea of her emotions get through, Twilight’s imagination went into overdrive, and it wasn’t long before her ears were flattened, and she was backing up with a tucked tail.

“Sparkle,” Shiva said slowly. “You are from Ponyville. This is the Crystal Empire’s first day.” She glanced at Skippy. “How many crystal ponies and diamond dogs are out there right now?”

Skippy peeked out. “The line’s stretching all the way to the border,” he said.

“So,” Shiva said firmly. “Do I really sound like I’m at a good place to be interrogated?”

“I wasn’t…” Twilight caught herself. “No,” she admitted. “No, Princess…”

“Alpha,” Luke corrected with a growl.

“A-Alpha Shiva…” Twilight mumbled.

Cadence glared at Shiva before offering a sympathetic look to Twilight.

“How about you come back at a later time?” Cadence offered. “We’re going to try and get the ponies and diamond dogs settled here, so now’s probably not a good time.”

Twilight moped like a child denied candy. “Okay,” she mumbled, turning tail and walking out.

Before Cadence could say anything, Shiva glared at Skippy.

“Now, is the next case out there actually someone from the Crystal Empire?”

“Eh…” Shining Armor started to say, before Pinkie Pie burst through.

“Congratulations, you three!” Pinkie cheered with delight. “This calls for a…”

“PINKIE, WE ARE TRYING TO WORK!” Scorpia, Cadence and Shiva barked as one.

Pinkie froze in mid-air. “Oh,” she mumbled, dropping to the ground. “Well…”

Their voices were more than enough incentive for the others, and before Pinkie could get over her shock, a crystal pony barged through, followed by an equally angry diamond dog.

“I can’t wait any longer,” the pony said. “Princesses…”

“And Alpha,” Shiva growled, though she couldn’t keep the grin off her face. Finally, someone from her new home. Someone that likely had something real to talk about aside from…

“This diamond dog is stealing gems right off my home,” the crystal pony said firmly.

“I was not!” the diamond dog barked petulantly.

Shiva’s smile dropped off her face. “What?”

“This diamond dog,” the crystal pony said. “Has been stealing gems off my house, and tried to pay for them with glass beads.”

“They sparkle like gems!” the diamond dog barked. “It’s fair!”

Shiva blinked at them. “Are you...?” she didn’t even finish the sentence. Standing up, she let her pack link flare to life, twining around the diamond dog and the pony, before sending a link to Scorpia and Cadence. Narrowing her eyes, she looked into their memories and saw…

The diamond dog – Duke, she recognized - yanking gems off of one of the gem studded houses, followed by the crystal pony – Check Mate, was his name – yelling at him.

When Shiva lowered the pack link, her eyes were heavy with disappointment.

“Duke,” she said softly. “When we made this alliance, did you really think that gave you the right to do whatever you wanted?”

Duke’s ears flattened at her disappointed tone. “Well…” he mumbled. “I paid with glass beads.”

“These ponies,” Shiva said slowly. “Are not. Cave-ponies! They had a working society and are more than capable of being bartered with, but not with worthless items. That’s what this is all about; getting along, not taking advantage of them.”

Duke looked down with a whimper. “But… they put us in cages,” he said weakly.

“These ponies didn’t,” Shiva said firmly. “They were in cages themselves.” She sighed. “Now, I want you to give Check Mate back his gems, and I want you to spread the word around; just because the ponies have to live with us now does not give us the right to take advantage of them! Then, if you still want the gems, you ask him what he’ll accept.” She turned to Check Mate. “And it better be reasonable, Check Mate. If Duke comes back telling me you told him to get gems from dragons, I’m going to be very unhappy with you. And you can ask Chrysalis and Sombra what happens when you make me unhappy!”

Check Mate and Duke both winced, backing up before bowing their heads.

“Okay,” they both said.

“Okay?” Shiva clarified.

“Okay.”

She sighed. “Alright,” she said, motioning to the door.

When she glanced over, she noticed Cadence hiding a smile. “What?” she asked.

“I suppose I thought Duke was going to get it easier,” Cadence noted, looking down with a sigh. “Shows how much I still have to learn.”

“I expect the same from both of you,” Shiva said firmly. “These guys are all our subjects, and we need to make sure they’re treating each other fairly.”

“Not to worry, Shiva,” Cadence said, Shining avoiding a grimace. “I didn’t spend my juvenile years as a foal sitter for nothing.” She nodded to Skippy. “Bring in the next one.”

The next one was a much more confident looking pony dragging another dog behind him.

“This dog refused to accept perfectly acceptable dog food for a pile of sapphires,” he insisted.

Shining opened his mouth to respond… only for a THUD of a skull colliding with a wall cutting him off. Everyone turned to Shiva, who resisted banging her head against a wall a second time to assume a more regal posture.

“Cadence?” she growled.

“Already on it,” Cadence replied, giving the crystal pony her best ‘disappointed mother’ glare. “Did you really think that was going to work?” Cadence demanded.

The crystal pony’s confident expression fell like an anvil, and in seconds, he was on the floor, pleading for them to forgive him. Cadence rolled her eyes before motioning for him to stop.

“This is about equality, my little pony,” Cadence said firmly. “Get up, and apologize to Liz. Then see what she'd accept as proper payment. But,” she added, giving a glare to the diamond dog. "It better be reasonable."

The diamond dog quickly nodded. The pony got up with another sniffle, apologized to the dog, and they both left, Shining shaking his head with a sigh.

#

And on it went; case after case, usually of diamond dogs and ponies getting into trouble with each other. Shiva was half-sure Scorpia was hiding a smug look; not a single changeling came to them with any problems, a fact that seemed to irritate Shining when the only case that came forward was a couple of Equestrians harassing a changeling for apparently... being a changeling.

“I’m starting to wonder if we should employ some of my changelings to keep the peace,” Scorpia noted, after the fiftieth case of diamond dogs and ponies accusing each other of either not accepting blatantly bad items or just being ‘jerks.’

“I don’t know about that,” Shining said. “Many Equestrians don’t trust changelings. And we've got plenty of former royal guards in the CEF.”

Cadence hummed. “What if we put a few of these guards in with these changeling peace keepers. To make sure they behave themselves.”

“If you’re making a peace keeping force,” Shiva said. “Then add some of my Spear Dogs into it. My dogs won’t accept ponies telling them what to do unless it’s with my consent.”

Thankfully, they also got a few Equestrians that wanted to discuss trade and barter, a few ponies curious about new taxes, and plenty of diamond dogs worried about land distribution. Annoyingly, Twilight kept showing up hopefully, until even Cadence got tired of her trying to sneak in.

By the time they finally got to adjourn the court, Shiva felt dead on her paws, and raced away before Twilight could try to catch her. Thankfully, Luke headed the purple mare off, and as an argument blew up between Luke, Shining and Twilight, Shiva was able to slip away into the castle.

“Is it always going to be like that?” Shiva asked with a sigh.

“That? No,” Cadence teased, sidling up next to her. “Sometimes, there will be bad days.” She put a wing around Shiva when the dog groaned. “I’m just teasing. Once everyone gets settled, we’ll only really have to worry about trading.” She grinned. “You’ll have plenty of time to look after your new pups.”

Shiva turned to her, ears flared in shock, but Cadence just smiled and winked.

“You’re going to be a wonderful mother,” Cadence assured her. “I just know it.”

Shiva glanced down at her stomach, running a claw over it and feeling for the squirms of life within her womb.

Part of her wasn’t happy she had to deal with Twilight and the ponies and everything. But as she looked down, she found her resolve strengthening.

If dealing with the ponies is the best way to ensure a good life for my puppies, Shiva thought. Then I’ll have to make it work.

Besides, I’ve made things work so far. It’s not like there’s some way I can go back to before I got dumped into this magic land.

#

Meanwhile, in Equestria, Celestia paced before a giant purple mirror. Luna watched her with worry.

“Is it nearly time, my sister?” she asked.

Celestia gave the mirror a sad look. “I do not know if she will come back,” Celestia admitted. “In all honestly… I do not know if her seeing me will only make the wounds between us fester further.” She looked down morosely. “Perhaps it is better if she is given the chance to rejoin her home… without me hovering over her.”

Luna put a wing over her. “You did the best you could with Sunset Shimmer,” she insisted. “Never forget that.”

Despite her sister’s comforting words, Celestia still looked at the mirror like Shiva herself was going to come through and punish her for her mistakes.

“Ask Cadence to look over it at the crystal empire,” Celestia said, walking away. “I thought I was ready for Sunset's anger... but I do not think I am anymore."

Luna winced. “Sister,” she said. “Shiva is there. Do you not suppose Sunset will find an ally in her, and..."

Celestia sighed. “I wish neither of them detested us," she admitted. “But Shiva still holds distrust in her heart for us. Sunset will have a hard time convincing her of anything." Then she teleported away with a flash of golden light.

Chapter 6: The Mirror

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Shiva wasn’t sure why she noticed the mirror. Maybe it was because it was something different from the many appointments and questions that blurred one day into another.

Either way, the mirror still stuck out in Shiva’s mind that day; a beautiful, perfect oval of glass, framed by a magenta, horse-shoe shaped rim lined with pink gems and topped with a small window depicting a prancing pony.

“Auntie Celestia’s Crystal Mirror?” Cadence asked.

“With all due respect,” the delivery pony said with a genuine bow. “Princess Celestia has asked if the Crystal Mirror may be kept in the Empire for safe-keeping?”

“Any particular reason?” Shiva asked, eyeing the strange crystal like sheen on the glass with intrigue.

The delivery pony glanced at Cadence, but after a suspicious look from Luke, Cadence quickly nodded consent for him to explain.

“The Crystal Mirror was an artifact left over from the days of Star Swirl the Bearded,” the pony explained. “His latest in a string of experiments regarding travel to different worlds.” He gave Shiva a cautious look. “Considering your… mm, ‘history’ in the subject, the Princess thought you might be willing to watch over it for her.”

Shiva’s ears completely perked at that. Other worlds? As in…?

No. She tried to push the thought aside. I’m happy with what I’ve got here in Equestria. It didn’t start off that well, but I’ve made something for myself!

Haven't I?

Shiva steeled herself to reject the mirror. But a glance from Cadence stayed her words.

“We’d be honored to look after it for Auntie Celestia,” Cadence replied. She nodded to Shining Armor. “Shiny, please direct them to one of our storage rooms.”

Shiva and even Scorpia gave her an intrigued look, but Cadence didn’t dare speak until the ponies had dragged the mirror from the room.

“Well,” Scorpia commented. “That mirror certainly got a reaction from the two of you.” She turned first to Cadence. “What else is so special about that mirror?”

Cadence sighed. “A former student of Auntie Celestia’s went in it,” she said. “I don’t know all the details, but she’s been gone for a while, and she… didn’t exactly leave Princess Celestia on a high note.”

“So, she wants us to do… what with it?” Shiva asked. “Guard against her return?” She gave where the mirror had gone a sour look. "What does she think we are? Glorified guard dogs?"

“Hardly,” Cadence replied quickly. “Auntie Luna told me the mirror can’t open for thirty moons.”

“When was the last time thirty moons passed for it?” Luke replied.

Cadence pursed her lips. “The same time her student vanished,” Cadence replied. “I think that was…" She paled. "Twenty nine moons ago.”

"Coming on thirty!" Shiva glanced at the mirror. “So, she could come back any day!"

“Look, it’s nothing to worry about,” Shining Armor insisted. “Whatever problems Sunset Shimmer has, they’re with Celestia, not us.” He gave Shiva a particular look. "You shouldn't have anything to worry about."

"She won't know about our... alliance with you," Luke pointed out.

"Which is why I put it where the diamond dogs don't roam," Shining Armor growled back. "As long as you both keep your noses out of it..."

"Shining!" Cadence said sharply, giving Shiva an apologetic look. "Look, you don't have to worry, Shiva. This is going to be our problem. And we'll take care of it."

But Shiva still glared at where the mirror had been taken. Concerns about a vengeful unicorn busting through wasn’t the only thing on her mind.

It was what world she had gone to that was on the other side.

The appointments went by in a flurry after that. Despite an offer by Cadence to meet up with Twilight and finally answer her questions (Seriously, Shiva thought. Doesn’t that purple mare have other things to do besides pester me?) Shiva brushed her off with an excuse about being tired and followed the scent the delivery ponies had left. And all too soon, she found it.

The mirror had been set up in an out of the way storage room. Small framed pictures adorned the wall, and a few trinkets decorated a nearby table. But the mirror was the main trinket that dominated the storage room.

Cautiously, Shiva crept up to the crystal-like glass. Stretching out her claws, she rested them on the smooth surface.

Nothing happened. Her reflection just gazed at her, looking so much like another diamond dog. It was hard for Shiva to not question if there was another dog on the other side of the glass.

The opening door jarred her out of her thoughts, and she found Luke watching her.

“Anything?” he asked.

Shiva glanced at the mirror again. “You mean signs of this unicorn who hates Celestia?” she asked. “No.”

Luke gave the mirror a suspicious look. “They said it takes you to other worlds,” he said. “Think it might take you… to wherever you were before?”

He barely got to finish the question before guilt flooded Shiva’s heart, and she yanked her claw away.

“No,” she said. “How I got here wasn’t exactly glamorous. But I’m happy with what I’ve gained.” She strode over to him. “If I had stayed on the world I came from,” she said softly. “We’d have never met.”

Luke chuckled, his jealousy fading. “We… didn’t exactly meet under the best of circumstances,” he admitted.

Shiva rested his claws on her stomach. “That doesn’t matter,” she said. “What matters is what we have now. And what we’re going to have soon.”

Luke’s tail wagged, and he rested his head against hers. Shiva briefly started to twine a pack link around his wrist, before thinking better. The pack link meant her thoughts would be right out in the open. And despite her trying to repeat her spoken words in her head… they just didn’t seem to be sticking.

If that mirror really does lead somewhere… where would it go?

It doesn’t matter, she tried to insist, as she let Luke lead her back to the diamond dog section of the castle. The stupid thing doesn’t even work.

Yet, just as she thought she had buried her wandering thoughts…

But what if it did?

#

Despite Shiva trying to throw herself into ruling, her pregnancy had its own time limit. And try as she might, her body still had needs.

“Shiva, you don’t have to keep attending,” Cadence insisted one day, after a bout of morning sickness led to a very unpleasant ending to a changeling and pony asking if they could date. “Just send Luke in your place.”

“I promised to lead this Empire,” Shiva said, despite her skin growing so pale, her fur looked gray in comparison. “I can’t shirk my duty.”

“And you can’t deny your body,” Scorpia said. “You’re not a changeling, Shiva. There’s no shame in resting.”

“Besides,” Cadence said. “I got word from Celestia that Twilight’s going to be promoted to Princess.”

Shiva stared up at her. “Sparkle’s… going to be a Princess?” she asked. “As in… I’ll be obligated to spend more time with her?” The next bout of morning sickness came a lot easier after that revelation.

“I know you two have a… unique relationship,” Cadence said.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Scorpia commented.

“Which is why I’m encouraging her to take some time off,” Cadence said to Scorpia, before turning back to Shiva. “We agreed to celebrate Twilight’s coronation with a Princess Summit, here in the Crystal Empire.”

“We did?” Shiva moaned.

“That was meeting 47 yesterday,” Skippy replied, poking his head around the corner and waving a note pad. Shiva sighed; she hadn’t been paying attention to the meetings; spending more time daydreaming about the strangest combinations of dog food and vegetables.

Cadence pat her side as she sighed. “Take some time off, Shiva,” she encouraged. “We can cover for you.”

Their intentions were good, but without anything to do, Shiva was only able to nap. And when night came, and Luke was passed out next to her, she was left wide awake and with no idea what to do.

Part of her considered raiding the food storage, though that would’ve meant bartering more with Applejack and the others for early re-stocking. Part of her wanted to wake Luke, but from the way he was sprawled out on their bed, she didn’t think it was a good idea to wake him after whatever the ponies had put him through.

Which left…

The mirror.

Against her better judgement, Shiva crept out of her room, avoided the patrolling guards, and made it back to the mirror.

Something was different this time; Shiva could tell before she walked in. There was a strange scent coming from it; pony-like, but with another scent behind it. Something Shiva couldn’t quite place, but was sure she had smelled before. Following it to the mirror, she noticed a strange glow to the glass. The pink gems looked a little bit shinier; the magenta rim more radiant. And when Shiva crept up to the mirror, she swore it shimmered like glass. Her reflection was also... different.

Curiosity, fear and a faint, yet powerful, longing in her heart urged her claw forward. She stretched it out towards the surface, expecting it to once again rest on the smooth glass.

Instead… it sunk through like water. Magic glowed around Shiva’s claws, like she had torn open a portal to another dimension.

Before Shiva could rip her arm back, a shout echoed down the hallway.

“STOP!”

Shiva flinched, made a split second choice, and jumped forward. Right into the mirror.

Gale force winds yanked at Shiva from every direction. Lights of every color blinked and danced before her eyes. Everything lost meaning; Shiva felt like she was falling through space and time itself. Her pups squrimed in her womb, probably feeling the turbulence of the trip, which seemed to take forever, and yet no time at all.

Before Shiva understood what was happening, the lights faded away with a final flash. She hit solid concrete on all fours, struggling to keep from pitching to her side.

Yet, as she blinked the globs of light from her eyes, she became aware of something odd. Her claws felt like they had shrunk. She couldn’t bring herself up from all fours.

She looked around… and gasped in shock. There was a mirror in front of her. And a disturbingly familiar white dog was standing before her. Her brown eyes. Her white fur. Yet… there was no diamond dog to the mix. It was just an ordinary husky. When she moved, the husky in the mirror moved. She…

She…

She looked down.

She was a regular dog again! Her claws were gone; her humanoid visage was completely missing. She was back to being a regular dog!

As if to drive the point home, a voice drew Shiva’s attention.

“Oh, my goodness! Where did you come from?”

Shiva turned, to find a pair of azure eyes – familiar and yet unfamiliar – gazing down at her with adoration. Shiva’s ears perked, and her jaw dropped in amazement.

It was a human! One that oddly looked like Fluttershy, with pale yellow skin and a long pink hair, but her expression.

It was exactly like Shiva’s own master.

“It’s okay,” human Fluttershy whispered, holding her hand out with a treat. “I just want to be your friend.”

The treat smelled amazing – it smelled of home, Shiva couldn’t help but think – and before she knew it, she had scarfed the offering down. Fluttershy drew closer, rubbing her hands along Shiva’s ears. The dog found herself tapping her back paw in glee; it had been so long since she had gotten to enjoy luxuries like this.

“Oh, what I would give to know what you’re really thinking…” Fluttershy whispered. “Where’s your home?”

Shiva glanced as much around as she couldn’t without interrupting Fluttershy’s scratching. She was in some kind of courtyard; with a large building looming in the background. Other humans were wandering around, and just above the mirror she had spotted, Shiva noticed an odd statue with a mirror like surface behind her.

Suddenly, the mirror shimmered. Shiva blinked in alarm, before a clink drew her gaze.

“Oh!” Human Fluttershy gasped, picking up some sort of crown that had fallen around Shiva’s paws. She gave the item a strange look before turning her attention back to Shiva.

“Sorry,” Fluttershy said. “L-Let me take this inside.” She lifted her hands as she rose. “I’ll be right back, I promise. Just stay, okay?” She made a motion that Shiva recognized, causing her to sit. “Good girl. Just stay there. I’ll be right back.”

Familiar with the command, Shiva sat and waited as the girl raced inside. For a moment, Shiva just watched the strange humans. A few noticed her and smiled. A few whispered at each other. A strange girl seemed to appear from around the mirror, searching around the grass and glaring at Shiva before storming off.

Shiva could only watch the whole thing in shock; this was her home! This was where she had been; with humans!

And to make matters even weirder, Fluttershy – a pony that still gave Shiva a sense of doubt – had some sort of counterpart here. And Shiva was getting off on a far better paw with her than her pony half could ever have hoped for.

The second Human Fluttershy showed back up, Shiva stood up, her tail wagging and her tongue lolling in a pant. Other humans pointed and chuckled as Fluttershy went right back to pampering Shiva, but the dog didn’t care.

“Sorry about that,” Fluttershy said. “So, do you have a home? Or… do you need my help?” She rubbed a hand over her swollen stomach. "Are you... are you having puppies?"

Shiva wasn’t sure if she could still talk or not, but she also didn’t know if these humans would find such a thing strange or scary. So, she settled for a glance back in the mirror’s direction.

“Over there, somewhere?” Fluttershy asked. “Can you show me? I can’t just leave you out here alone.” She grinned sheepishly. "A-Again."

Shiva gave a small bark to show she understood, and when Fluttershy made a familiar motion to stay at her heel, Shiva obeyed. The motions felt amazing; like settling back into an old routine after a long vacation away.

Memories poked at Shiva’s mind, however: Luke. Her diamond dogs. Outer Haven. And Shiva began to look back at the mirror-like surface on the statue.

“What’s the matter?” Fluttershy asked, her voice so kind and worried.

Shiva’s ears flattened. She couldn’t just leave this kind human. She was too much like Master. But how was she supposed to convey that her home might just be in a mirror?!

“Fluttershy!” an angry voice barked.

Fluttershy winced, and Shiva felt her fangs baring in a snarl. I definitely can’t leave her now, she decided.

Another human was marching towards her; the same one that had appeared right next to the mirror. Darker yellow skin, with fiery red and gold hair.

“What did you do with the crown?” the girl demanded, as Fluttershy tried to back away.

“I-I didn’t…” Fluttershy started to whimper, before Shiva jumped between them, growling maliciously at the girl.

The girl backed up, surprise streaking her features as Shiva snarled at her.

“Call off that dog,” the girl demanded. “Call it off!”

“I…” Fluttershy whimpered.

“Call it off, before I call Animal Control!” the girl snarled, whipping out a phone.

“No!” Fluttershy shrieked, before bending down. “Here, girl,” she whispered. “It’s okay.”

Shiva looked back at her, while the girl chuckled darkly.

“How is it that such a pathetic...?”

Shiva spun back around and snarled again.

“No, don’t!” Fluttershy yelped, pulling Shiva away from the girl. “Don’t,” she said in a softer voice. “I-It’s okay, she didn’t mean any of it.”

But judging from how the girl rolled her eyes, Shiva got the impression she meant every word of it.

“Look, I don’t have time for your weird love for strays,” the girl said. “Where is the crown?”

Fluttershy almost buried her face in Shiva’s back. “I just gave it to the Principal,” she whimpered. “I didn’t want anything to happen to it.”

“The only thing that was going to happen to it was me taking it,” the girl said harshly. “You shouldn’t pick up things that don’t belong to you.”

Fluttershy looked away, a mumble reaching Shiva’s ears.

“It doesn’t really belong to you either,” she mumbled.

“Excuse me?!” the girl tried to demand, but Shiva barked at her. The girl glared down at Shiva again, but didn't dare approach. “You really are pathetic,” the girl growled. “It’s no wonder your best friends are all stray animals.”

Before Shiva or Fluttershy could find a reply for that, a new voice spoke up. Much more familiar, even if it brought a surge of irritation to Shiva's mind.

“How dare you speak to her that way!”

Shiva and Fluttershy looked up as a new girl suddenly appeared next to the mirror. Purple skin, and magenta hair just like the mane of a certain new princess back in Equestria. And right behind her…

"What did you… say?” the girl’s demand turned into a squeak as what had to be a human version of Luke lumbered up on her. Briefly, Shiva wondered why he had turned human, but his voice quickly silenced any thoughts.

“I don’t care what she said,” Luke growled, bearing down on the girl. “What I care about is why you’re going after my…” He faltered, glancing at Shiva, who shook her head at him. It was probably going to be beyond weird if he referred to her as his mate, considering the species difference.

However, his falter was to the girl’s advantage, and her grin came back.

“You two must be new here,” she declared, brushing past them. “I can speak to anyone any way I want!”

She stormed off, shooting a death glare at another kid, who shot out of her way. Human Luke and what had to be a human Twilight glared at her, before Luke turned to Shiva, kneeling down and stroking her fur.

“You alright, Shiva?” he asked. “It’s me.”

Shiva blinked at him in shock. He… knew her? As in… she looked back at the mirror, and understanding crept onto her face. Luke glanced up at Fluttershy, who was cautiously petting her as well, but with another look at Shiva, his suspicious look faltered.

“Thank you for watching over her,” he said to the human Fluttershy. “It’s bad enough she was pregnant; I almost thought I was going to lose her forever.”

"No kidding," Twilight deadpanned behind him.

“Pregnant?! Oh, my,” Fluttershy said, before gazing up at Twilight with awe. “I just… can’t believe you stood up to Sunset Shimmer like that.”

“Sunset Shimmer?” Twilight asked.

Luke huffed. “I don’t care who she is,” he declared. “No one hurts my Shiva.” He stroked her again, before glancing up at Twilight. “You got things from here?”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah.” She helped Fluttershy up. “Can you help me around?”

“Oh, I… yes, I suppose,” she said, looking back as Luke led Shiva off. “Take care of her.”

“Without a doubt,” Luke replied.

As Twilight led Fluttershy – still watching Shiva with a wave goodbye – away, Luke led Shiva back to the portal.

“C’mon,” he said.

Shiva gave a reluctant look around – she wanted to protest. To say this had been her home. Fluttershy had been just like her old master.

But then she felt the shudder of life in her gut. And as much as she wanted to stay, she knew she couldn't.

Your pups need to be born in a proper home, a voice in her head reminded her. A place where they can grow and learn and play in peace. A place where you decide when they leave the nest… and not someone else.

Shiva wasn’t sure where the voice was coming from, but it made its point more than clear. With a nod to Luke, the two checked for any observers, and when the route was clear, Luke pulled her into the mirror-like surface of the statue.

Once again, bright colors flashed before her, but with Luke tightly gripping onto her, Shiva was able to cling to him and endure the strange trip through time and space. Even as her pups squirmed again, clearly not used to the strange travel.

Finally, her paws hit solid crystal, and when she opened her eyes, her diamond dog form was back, and she was back in the Crystal Empire. Celestia stood before her, as did…

“Luna,” Shiva muttered, her tone cold as ice.

Luna winced, before Celestia wisely covered her with a wing.

“Are you well, Shiva?” she asked.

Shiva lifted her claws, clenching them to ensure they were real. However, her gut was squirming like it was full of worms. Or something else…

Something that wanted out.

Shiva clutched at her gut. “I need to get back to my den,” she said.

“But… don’t you think Twilight could use her help?” Shining Armor asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Celestia refuted. “Who knows what the magic might have done to her pups.”

Shiva’s ears flattened. “Might have done?” she squeaked.

“Please,” Celestia insisted. “Twilight can handle things here. Let me call some of our doctors to help you.”

“I’ve helped a couple of animals give birth before,” Fluttershy said, stepping up. “Please, I can help with this.”

Shiva wanted to protest, but as the area around her gut chilled and throbbed, her protests died in her throat.

“Easy, Shiva,” Luke said, lifting her up. “It’s going to be okay. Let’s get back to the den.”

Shiva nodded, letting him carry her from the room. Yet, as her mind struggled to deal with the impending birth of her pups, she couldn’t help but give the mirror another look, as well as a more searching look at Fluttershy, who gave the mirror one more anxious look of her own before turning to Luke and Shiva with a far more comfortable look in her eyes. Applejack had a muttered conversation with Rainbow Dash before reluctantly staying at the rest of the mares’ sides. Pinkie was watching Shiva with a very intrigued expression.

Shiva knew she shouldn’t dwell on her old life. Her human master was long gone, and she had built a better life for herself in Equestria, despite the rough start. A life that was going to get far more interesting, as the wriggling in her womb proved.

And yet… she couldn’t help but think about the world of humans just a mere gateway away. And a version of Fluttershy – kind and loving – that Shiva actually got off on a good paw with.

Don’t worry about it, that voice said, deep and powerful. You’ll be happier here. At the very least your puppies will be.

Yes, things will be far better for your puppies if they are born here. Heirs to my Crystal Empire.

Chapter 7: The Son of Shiva

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If Shiva had known about the pain that came from giving birth, she would never have let Luke anywhere near her. As the first strains of labor wracked her body, she cursed the alicorns, the diamond dog gods, the changeling queens and even the great Faust herself for not telling her to bite at every male who even looked at her in a flirtatious light. For if she had just closed her mind to the more primal side of herself, she wouldn’t have to be going through this agony right now!

Her lightning flickered out of control. Even as bolts of pure white energy smashed into the walls of her den and threatened to cave the place down on them, Fluttershy and Luke did not leave her side. Not even when the lightning condensed into pack links. As every drop of strength was yanked from them to the pregnant Howlite Howler, they were given a very clear indication of what kind of pain she was going through.

“Oh, dear Celestia,” Fluttershy whimpered as a contraction shot right through Shiva’s stomach and through Fluttershy’s as well. “I don’t think I want to have foals for a long time after this.”

“You’re telling me!” Luke whispered, gasping as one of Shiva’s contractions hit him like a truck. “Is this what labor is like?! It feels like she’s passing a bowling ball!”

“How did dogs do this before?!” Shiva wailed.

“It’s okay, Shiva,” Fluttershy tried to comfort through the pain. “Just breathe. Breathe.”

Shiva grit her teeth, biting back every furious, agonized retort that she wanted to hurl at the yellow mare, and breathed. And breathed. And breathed some more.

“Okay,” Fluttershy said. “Now push!”

Shiva shrieked, another lightning bolt smashing a hole clean through her den to the sky. And so, it repeated. After an hour that felt like an eternity, during which she smashed her den to pieces, they finally made progress.

“Okay,” Fluttershy said nervously. “I can see it! I can see the head! Just push.”

Shiva howled, her lightning flashed, trying to destroy more of the den. Yet as thunder threatened to deafen all three of them, blessed relief flooded through all of them as the tiny, high-pitched cry of a newborn emanated.

Gently, Fluttershy moved the pup to Shiva’s arms; black as shadows, with a strange green tint under his closed eyelids. But to Shiva, they were perfect; black like the fur on her mate. The eyes like emeralds buried deep into the earth. As she held him, she took a long, shuddering breath. She had not been told about the agony of birth, but then again, she had not been told about how it would all be worth it.

And as she gazed down at the little bundle of joy, Shiva found herself wanting to take back every curse and regret she had.

For the most part. Despite the relief she had, Shiva could still feel that squirming feeling in her gut. There was another pup. And it was ready to come as well.

“Shiva?” Luke asked.

“Shiva, let me see the pup,” Fluttershy said, reaching for the puppy. “If your pack link goes haywire like it did, it could really hurt him…”

But a new emotion seized Shiva, and she tugged the pup away from Fluttershy’s hooves. Rolling towards Luke, she tugged the pup away from him as well.

Touch him and I’ll rip your tongues out!” Shiva snarled in a voice that wasn’t her own.

Luke and Fluttershy backed up from her. But before they could go too far, the fire faded from Shiva’s eyes, and she clutched at her head.

“Oh, by everything sacred,” she muttered. “I’m…”

But then the pup still inside her squirmed for the exit.

Shiva wanted to say that the second pup’s birth was slightly easier than the first. At the very least, it took less time. Shiva wasn’t sure, but she also felt stronger than before. Maybe Fluttershy had been onto something about the pack link. But, when Shiva hurriedly checked her first born for injuries, he had none. Just a bit of a cranky undertone in his cries, as if the whole thing was a detriment to his sleep schedule.

Soon enough, he was joined by his sister; a wonderful golden beauty whose light fur contrasted nicely with her brother’s dark fur. Her eyes didn’t glimmer like her brother’s, but that didn’t matter.

No, it doesn’t matter at all, Shiva decided.

They were perfect. They were the most perfect pups she could have ever asked for. And as she curled herself around them, licking and cleaning them gently, she felt herself making a silent prayer. Not to any gods or goddesses, but to them.

My little ones, she prayed. My handsome warrior. My sweet princess. Let me be your shield. Your guardian. Your teacher. Let me show you the world and how to survive it. Let me give you the love that I wasn’t shown when I came to this land. Let your lives be happy and carefree. And may danger and discord never darken your homes, as long as I can stop it. I vow to you, my children, with every ounce of strength in my body… I will protect you. I will love you. I will be your mother.

As if fate was testing her, a sudden outburst of noise nearly shot Shiva to her paws in protective rage. However, Luke and Fluttershy were way ahead of her.

“I wanna see the new baby puppies!” Pinkie’s voice sounded from where the two had run. “I wanna see! I wanna see!”

“No!” Luke boomed at her.

“Pinkie, trust me on this,” Fluttershy’s calmer voice replied. “Mother wolves get very-very protective of their puppies. Not even the fathers are safe.”

“But I was just…!”

“NO!”

“Luke, please!” Fluttershy insisted. Luke fumed, but stepped back a touch. Shiva felt a growl bubble up in her throat at his subtle approach, but tried to stamp it down. He wasn’t an enemy. At least, she thought. Despite her history with him, her body conjured up paranoia-stricken thoughts of him turning on her; destroying the pups he had helped bring into the world.

Trying to keep them from overwhelming her, Shiva held her pups close, and listened to Fluttershy’s soothing voice.

“This is just like how normal dogs work,” she was saying to Pinkie. “When mothers just have their babies, they become incredibly protective of them until they're ready to go out into the world. The best thing we can do is just leave her be.”

"For how long?" Pinkie protested.

"A, uh..." Shiva could hear the nervousness in Fluttershy's voice. "A few weeks, at least."

"A few weeks?!" Pinkie exclaimed. "But they were just born today; we need to celebrate!”

Suddenly, Pinkie poked her head right between Luke and Fluttershy, her blue eyes focused on Shiva and her children.

“Come on, Shiva,” Pinkie insisted. “Can’t you…?”

GET OUT!” Shiva boomed, a shockwave of lightning blasting not just Pinkie, but also Luke and Fluttershy out of the den. Briefly, guilt shot through Shiva’s heart, but when her pups whimpered, awoken and scared by the noise, it was replaced with fear for them. Shiva curled tighter around them, shushing them and soothing them with her tongue.

“It’s okay, my little ones,” she insisted, fawning over her dark son. “My handsome warrior…” she nosed her daughter. “My sweet princess.”

Slowly but surely, she felt them relax against her. She was the mother; the one who protected and nurtured. And without even knowing what any of that meant, her children loved her with everything they had.

“Don’t fear them, my little ones,” Shiva whispered softly, nuzzling them with her cold nose, and soothing their whimpering bodies with her tongue. “You’re going to live the best lives I can provide you.” Her gaze turned fierce as she glared back at the entrance to the den. “And all the monsters and evil things out there will never have you.”

“Shiva?” another voice asked. A guttural snarl bubbled from Shiva’s throat, but Fluttershy kept herself at a reasonable distance, and did not try to approach. Eventually, Shiva’s growl petered out and died.

“Sorry,” Shiva mumbled. “But…”

“I know,” Fluttershy assured her. “Don’t go near the pups. But… Twilight wanted to ask… she said she could sense…” she glanced out and had a whispered conversation before poking her head back in, “A second source of magic?” She glanced worriedly at her pups. “Are you sure your puppies are all healthy?”

Nothing’s wrong with them,” Shiva barked, struggling to fight against the protective instinct raging in her core. “They’re fine!”

“Okay-okay,” Fluttershy said, wisely backing out. “I’m sure they’re perfect in every way. Just… be careful with them.”

“Yeah,” Shiva said, her voice leveling out at Fluttershy’s empathy. “Yeah, I will. They are perfect.” She gazed down at her pups, and nosed at the darkest one. “Though… can’t be…”

She smelled them softly, sensing more to them. She sensed power. Power that was… strangely familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

For a moment, panic entered her head. Is something wrong with them? she wondered. Did my pack link do something to them? Should I ask the ponies…

No!A sudden wave of even greater panic washed over her. Not just of the magic hurting her pups, but of the ponies. Stealing them away from her to study what had been done. Never letting her see them again. Maybe pretending they died so she’d be none the wiser. Or worse… actually killing them due to being a threat to the crown.

Shiva had always held suspicion in her hearts for the ponies. But the idea of them harming even a hair on her new pups filled Shiva with more rage and hatred than she knew what to do with. She shook her head.

“I don’t care what magic you have,” Shiva said, more to herself than her pups. “We’ll figure it out together. And no matter what; I’ll love both of you anyway. And I will always love you, no matter what. I will love you regardless.”

She nudged her dark son. “My brave warrior…” she mumbled, remembering an ancient human word for ‘warrior.’ What was it… Koba? Kodak? Kodo?

She smiled contently. “Kodo,” she referred to her son, before turning to her daughter. “My sweet princess…”

Celestia, she almost wanted to say, before logic stopped her. Why name her after her, of all mares? Why name her after any princess. Cell… how about Celine?

She nodded. “Celine,” she decided. “Kodo and Celine.”

The two twitched, curling tighter into their mother as she decided their names. And as she let herself fall to sleep, lulled by Luke's presence outside and the relief of getting through labor, she failed to notice Kodo’s claws entwine, and a small smile lift the sides of his mouth, as his green eyes glittered with a strange purple magic.

#

Several weeks later…

Kodo knew he was special. His mother certainly knew it too, so the test just felt like a way to show his greatness to everyone else.

Twenty diamond dog pups were lined up outside the Outer Haven palace, situated in the caverns below the Crystal Empire that morning. Their light and dark fur was unmarred and clean due to having yet to delve into the mines for the magic gems. All of them had turned eight weeks old within the last few days. The crystals above sparkled like the sun, making Kodo feel prickly. Diamond Dogs usually spent most of their time underground, but Kodo felt a strange yearning for the surface above. And the Empire that sat on top of that surface. Kodo didn’t know why a bunch of buildings mattered so much to him, but something about them stirred a deep feeling of entitlement in his gut. Maybe some of the Hungarian Commodore instincts had come with his resemblance to the dog breed; the need to defend any and every part of his territory.

With a clatter of stones, several pebbles pattered across his tail.

Especially if I’ve got to rely on these lunk heads for help, Kodo thought, as he snarled out loud, “Stop it.”

“Who? Me?” the Labrador faced, light-furred pup next to him asked. “What did I do? Nothing, that’s what. You’re being noisy. I’m being a model daughter.” She lifted her chin and put on an angelic expression.

“Then quit talking,” Kodo growled.

“Practice what you preach.” Her voice was light as feathers, stirring the air.

Kodo tried to, but the pup sent another scattering of pebbles bouncing across his paws.

“Celine!” Kodo snapped, but of course, right at that moment, their father Luke materialized in front of them, rising from the ground like a diamond dog undead. Kodo whimpered as the dark diamond dog stalked slowly up towards them, his silver eyes glaring between Kodo and his trouble-making sister.

“Are you two taking this seriously?” he growled.

“Yes, sir,” they both said quickly.

Luke still narrowed his eyes at them, before a voice gave him pause.

“Easy, Luke; they’re still just children.”

Kodo’s breathing eased as his mother dropped from the surface above and joined them.

Kodo had heard it said that some females aged like fine wine; others like milk. In Shiva’s case, time had done marvels for her. Her body was decked in bleached white armor, studded with pearls and rubies to give her the gleam of a goddess having just returned from battle. Yet her brown eyes shined with kindness and love as she gazed with pride at her children. Kodo got the impression that, even if he didn’t have magic, she would’ve still loved him. He got the impression she even loved the other diamond dog pups, ordinary and insignificant as they were. He could see it in her eyes, the way she drank in the appearance of each and every one as she paced before them.

“Some of you may have heard of the magic that has blessed our pack,” she noted. “The power that fuels the crystals that give light, fuel and energy to Outer Haven and the Crystal Empire.”

The pups nodded eagerly.

“Well,” Shiva said. “Such power does not come from thin air. And it certainly does not come from the ponies above.”

For the briefest moment, rage and frustration flickered across Shiva’s snout. Kodo felt a strange, leaping sensation Shiva’s reaction to the mere mention of the equines. Then again, Kodo wasn’t sure why, but even thinking of the equines sent a bit of rage through him as well. Either way, she calmed herself rather quickly, and produced lightning in her claws.

“It comes from me,” Shiva continued. “And today, we’re going to see if it comes from any of you.” She stopped. “Please note,” she said in a gentle voice. “If you do not have this power, it does not make you any less special than those that do. It will simply alter how you will serve the pack when you are strong enough.”

Kodo grinned. He didn’t need to worry about what role he would have in the pack. Though he didn’t fully understand it – what with only being a few weeks old – but he knew he had something in his soul. Something that destined him for greatness. All he had to do was show it off.

Shiva crossed to the end of the line of pups.

“Rise,” she ordered.

The pups rose to their hind legs. For a brief moment, panic flashed across Kodo’s mind.

What if I can’t do it, he suddenly thought. What if I make a mistake? What if…?

Calm yourself,” a stronger voice in his head assured him. “You are going to rise above your siblings. You are going to topple the ponies.

Kodo paused, his ears flicking as he glanced around. Shiva’s words quickly forced him back into focus.

“Focus,” Shiva told them. “Lift your claws.”

They did so. Kodo trembled, but the panic faded as he felt the magic building in him. Ready to serve. Dark wisps of magic mixed with Kodo’s already shadow-black fur. He was ready.

“Good,” Shiva said, almost as if she could see Kodo’s impending victory. “Now… envision a bolt of lightning in your claws. Send it forward to defend your pack! FIRE!”

Kodo barked as a bolt of black lightning shot from his claws, crashing into the crystals above, and sending them crashing down.

Kodo grinned… only for another bolt of lightning to carve out and smash into the crystals next to him. A cascade of gems fell before them, landing in a pile and glowing with the magic they had just sent out.

Kodo turned, his silver eyes wide. Right next to him, Celine looked back. Elation fought against terror in her soft brown eyes. Terror, likely, because she caught the brief flash of anger and envy in Kodo’s eyes.

It truly had been too much to hope that Kodo would be the only one to inherit Shiva’s magic. However, he didn’t get long to ponder this new development. Shiva had practically teleported in front of them, her eyes wide with mixed emotions: Awe, fear, intrigue, anger. But all of it was quickly stamped down with that motherly love. Her eyes quickly darted from side to side, but Celine and Kodo were the only ones that had managed to summon the lightning.

“Both of you,” Shiva said. “With me.”

As they followed their mother, Kodo glanced back at Celine. She tried to give him a hopeful smile, but her smile was forced, and fear still flashed in her eyes.

If she gets in the way of our conquest, that dark voice warned. She will suffer.

No! Kodo snapped back in his mind. Celine is my sister. She’s family. I don’t know what impact this will have in the future. But I refuse to hurt my family. He smiled softly at his sister. I hope you understand that, little sister. No matter what happens, you have nothing to fear from me. I promise.

Chapter 8: A Bad Influence

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Kodo didn’t know why he felt so… happy seeing the Crystal Empire. Yet, as he, his mother and his sister stood on the balcony overlooking the city of gems and jewels, he felt that strange leaping sensation of joy. Like a past life had really loved this place.

Then again, the Empire was something to be proud of: sparkling with every building made from gems. Diamond dogs, changelings and ponies pattered about, trading with each other, or walking together into mines, or simply just moving to and from the many crystal buildings spread out before them.

“Look, Kodo and Celine,” Shiva said. “Gaze upon the greatest trade depot of Outer Haven. Everything we have, we have pulled from the ground, and made better by trading with the ponies and changelings. Usually, diamond dogs rely on nothing but their own paws.” She lifted her own claws, and let lightning spark across them. “My power changed that. The power that you have both inherited. The power that has allowed us to enjoy the luxuries ponies take for granted every day.”

Kodo and Celine looked down at their claws, and lifted them. Black lightning once again sparked across Kodo's claws, while white lightning merely sparked briefly across Celine’s. Celine gave Kodo a worried look, before Shiva drew both their attention.

“But even the most powerful lights eventually flicker and die,” she said sadly, touching their claws and dissipating their light. Her eyes grew sad. “I won’t lie to you two. My time on this world is limited, as are my own strength and abilities.” She gazed at them with sad eyes. “I will need both of you to help keep this kingdom going. To provide the light that the diamond dogs need, and to lead our people.”

Kodo looked out across the kingdom.

“And this will all be mine?” he asked.

Celine cleared her throat. “He means ours,” she growled.

“Neither,” Shiva said sharply. “You may lead the pack, but that does not make you their masters.” Her voice softened when the pups winced before her. “A pack without their Alpha is lost, but an Alpha without their pack is nothing.” Her gaze hardened by a fraction. “Before either of you have a chance to hold the title of Alpha, I will see to it that you understand that.”

“Bah,” that dark voice in Kodo’s head spat. “A people’s duty is solely to serve their King. She is a soft-hearted fool not to realize this.”

“Hey!” Kodo growled to himself. “That’s my mother you're talking about!”

“Are you alright, my son?” Shiva asked. With a wince, Kodo realized he had grimaced during his brief argument with his own thoughts.

“Yeah, just…” he mumbled, still rubbing his head. “Isn’t it the people’s duty to serve the Alpha? What's the point of being Alpha if you have to do everything for the people.”

Shiva’s gaze became melancholy.

“An Alpha who doesn't share in the work, and rules only through fear inspires nothing but hatred in their subjects,” she warned. “And hate leads to suffering, my children; for everyone involved.” Her gaze grew almost desperate. “You must learn balance, my son; how to be fierce and commanding when the situation calls for it, yet also capable of kindness and empathy when it is offered in turn. Help others, rather than throw your weight around. Give guidance when you are asked. And defend those you love with everything you have if they are threatened.”

Kodo looked down, while Celine hummed. “Sounds like we have a lot to learn,” she admitted.

“Perhaps,” Shiva said. The pups turned to see her smiling. “But that is the point of pup hood; to grow and learn of the new world you’ve joined.” She brushed their fur. “Don’t be scared, my children,” she assured them. “I still have some time left on this world; if fate is kind, it will be a very long time. And before that time is up, I will make sure you are ready to take the rank of Alpha, and lead alongside the changelings and ponies.” She pressed her head to theirs. “I’ll be cursed if I let you be forced into a role you are not ready to play yet.”

Kodo hugged his mother tightly, wishing that her time was limitless. The idea of her not being there for him… it was terrifying.

Made him wonder just how safe it was for her to be around these ‘changelings’ and ‘ponies.’

All questions for him to ruminate on, as Shiva was drawn by another voice.

“Alpha Shiva,” Skippy called, racing to her side. “Cadence requested your aid. Something is approaching the Crystal Empire’s borders. Something big and not friendly-looking.”

Shiva growled, before turning to her children. “Apologies,” she said. “But like I said, when a pack is threatened, the Alpha needs to be there to help defend."

“Can we come with?” Kodo asked.

“No,” Shiva said. “Stay back, and stay safe.” She gave them a brief smile. “Don’t worry; I’ll be back soon.” Then she left at a full sprint, leaving Kodo and Celine to their own devices.

Kodo sighed, glancing at Celine. What Shiva had said still echoed in his mind.

My time is limited. Did that mean she was going to die? Could she die right now, with whatever this thing was that was approaching?

Why take the chance?” he found himself thinking. “You have magic, yes? Why should anything that threatens her be allowed to do so?”

“Kodo?” Celine asked.

Kodo turned to her. “We can’t let Mother get hurt,” he said, already moving after her. “We have to help.”

“But Mom told us to stay back,” Celine insisted.

“But what if she needs help?” Kodo demanded. “We have her power. We could really make things better for her.”

Celine flinched. “But we barely know how to use it,” she pointed out.

“We won’t go right into the battle,” Kodo promised her. “We’ll stay on the side, and use what we can to at least distract. A little help’s gotta be better than nothing, right?”

The female sighed, but as she gazed over the Empire, and noticed a strange disturbance on the border, Kodo saw the same fear creep onto her face. The young female joined the male, and together, they headed up for the caverns.

“No risky maneuvers,” she whispered, more to herself than anything else.

“Of course not,” Kodo said. “We just follow at a distance, and if Mom starts to lose, we give her some help.”

#

Celine quickly changed her tune when they saw who Shiva was meeting with.

They weren’t ponies, changelings or diamond dogs. One of them admittedly had the lower half of an equine, with hooves and an equine body. But where his neck and head should’ve been, the upper torso of a simian body grew instead; dark red skin, with what looked like a sleeveless black shirt collared in silver. Horns grew from either side of his head, and his black and yellow eyes watched the ponies with a hungry light.

His companion, though, was an odder sort. He looked like a mismatch of odd creatures; the limbs of bears, chickens, dragons and goats, all mashed together into a serpentine mix. His head was that of a goat, and his red and yellow eyes watched everyone with a far more mischievous light.

Celine instantly backed up, but Kodo climbed to the top of one of the diamond houses, watching as ponies and even changelings cowered and shivered behind the diamond dogs.

“Who is this?” Shiva demanded, her voice reaching Kodo. With a grin, he saw Luke right next to her.

“A dead centaur if he doesn’t know what’s good for him,” Luke growled.

The centaur, however, grinned ominously at the dogs before him. The serpentine creature tsked as he gazed upon the dogs.

“My-my,” he said. “Who let the dogs out?” He brought his chicken-leg like fingers up. “Shall I put them back on the leash?”

“No,” Tirek growled, his gaze barely flicking from Shiva’s. “Not yet.”

The serpent creature slumped with a petulant moan, as the centaur bore down on Shiva. Luke bristled, snarling angrily, though it was only when Shiva bared her own fangs that the centaur stopped.

“Who are you?” Shiva demanded. “And what do you want?”

The centaur hummed, glaring at Cadence and Shining, who were situated behind the diamond dogs.

“Your pony friends didn’t tell you of me?” the centaur asked. “How rude of them. Then again, I suppose there are certain things you keep from pets.”

Cadence grit her teeth, but Shiva’s eyes only narrowed.

“Answer the question,” she said bluntly.

The serpentine creature gasped. “Well,” he said. “This dog has teeth.” He floated down before her. “Well, my little pearl, I am Discord. Spirit of Chaos.”

For emphasis, he made the ground grow… Kodo’s ears flicked. Was that popcorn flying out of corn on the cob?

“And this…” Discord jabbed a thumb at the centaur. “Is…”

“Lord Tirek!” the centaur boomed, causing the ponies to shiver. He grinned with all his teeth at Shiva. “And you… are the Howlite Howler.”

“Fluttershy and Celestia had so much to say about you,” Discord commented.

“Great,” Shiva deadpanned. “We know each other, and we’re all friends of the same people. Now, if you’d be so inclined to ship your sorry red tail outta here… you happen to be scaring two thirds of my subjects.”

Tirek glanced vacantly at the ponies.

“You think they’re your subjects?” Tirek asked in disbelief. “You think that Celestia is your friend?” He chuckled. “Come now, Shiva. I thought you were smarter than that.”

“She’s not my friend; it was a general expression!” Shiva snapped, Luke jumping forward with a snarl.

“Ah-ah-ah,” Discord warned, summoning a water sprayer with a flash of light, and spritzing Luke. “Bad Dog. Sit!”

Shiva and Luke only snarled louder, causing Tirek to roll his eyes.

“Discord, why don’t you… have some fun with the ponies?” Tirek demanded, grinning down at Shiva. "This won't take long."

Discord perked up with a grin, and immediately appeared right behind the ponies, scaring them with a pumpkin head. Shining cursed and took off after Discord, Cadence right behind him. Scorpia was nowhere to be seen. Kodo and Celine shared a nervous glance as the ponies flew into a panic, though their attention remained focused on Tirek and Shiva.

“You probably don’t know much about me,” Tirek admitted to the Howlite Howler. “But you must know my story. Imprisoned. Chained. Beaten. All because I was different from ponies. For having a magic very similar to the one you yourself possess.”

Shiva’s ears perked up. She subconsciously glanced at the lightning that was currently linking her and the diamond dogs together.

“And what’s worse,” Tirek growled. “They corrupted my brother. Turned him against me. Poisoned his mind with the same prison that held Discord.” He narrowed his eyes. “Perhaps, the same prison that holds you.”

Luke snarled, held back only by Shiva. “What prison?” Shiva demanded.

“’Friendship.’” Tirek spat the word like it tasted foul. “I do not know how much you know of Discord. But he used to be a legend of chaos. Look at him now.”

The diamond dogs watched as he turned the diamonds into snow, and turned Shining Armor’s shields into soapy bubbles.

“This is what the ponies would repress,” Tirek said. “They’d have him be a slave to his 'friends.' Oh, they’ll say he was happier with them. They’ll say he’s free to make his own choices. But tell me this: have you ever wondered what happens when you refuse their friendship?”

Shiva’s gaze hardened. “You get put down,” she said. “And put down hard. Chrysalis and Sombra both learned that lesson the hard way. I won’t let it happen to me.”

“How?” Tirek demanded. “By bowing down? Becoming their slave? The very weapon that ALLOWED them to win against those two?”

“I am NO ONE’S slave!” Shiva snarled.

“You still help them,” Tirek pointed out.

“And what’s your solution?” Shiva argued. “Attack them? Try to overthrow them? All that does is justify whatever you went through. I join you, it justifies everything they did to me. And to the ones I love.”

“Only if you lose,” Tirek countered. “We are the same, Howlite Howler. We both hold the ability to take what belongs to us. And we both have been imprisoned like slaves for it.” His eyes darted up, and found Kodo. The dark pup froze, his green eyes widening as they held the black and yellow gaze of Tirek.

Shiva followed his gaze. Her posture grew ramrod straight. Luke gasped before covering his snout. Signs that Tirek picked up on.

“Your child?” Tirek commented, moving closer to the dark pup. “How quaint.”

Get away from him,” Shiva snarled, her voice taking on that tone that Kodo remembered hearing. Back when he was first born, and a pink mare had tried to get too close.

But Tirek still gazed at Kodo with intrigue.

“Has your mother told you what happened to her, child?” Tirek asked the young pup. “How she was abused by ponies? Treated like dirt by the very things that now infest your kingdom?”

Leave him alone!” Shiva barked, racing for the building. Tirek just laughed, a flash of red light deflecting Luke when he lunged at the centaur.

“So much fire,” Tirek noted. “But would you act this aggressive if I was Celestia, perhaps?” His eyes gleamed as he returned his gaze to Kodo. “The ponies used to fear your mother because she had power. Power they’ve beaten her into not using against them. If you hold that same power, child… be careful they don’t beat you into submission too.”

Shiva climbed up, and pulled Kodo to her chest. Kodo’s eyes still didn’t leave Tirek’s.

“Where’s your sister?” Shiva whispered to the pup. “Where’s Celine?!”

Before Kodo could respond…

“MAMA!” Celine cried.

Tirek’s face paled as Shiva whirled towards Discord. The draconequus was staring at a perfect diamond carving of Celine. A pony was scrambling away, staring at the statue with shock.

“Discord!” Tirek boomed. “What have you done?”

“What?” Discord replied, indicating Celine. “She wanted to get in the way. Now she’s a literal ‘diamond dog.’"

Discord howled with laughter, but Shiva’s eyes went black with fury. Pressing Kodo to her side, Shiva leaped up and hurled a tendril of light, seizing the draconequus by the neck.

“Ow!” Discord yelped, straining against the tendril. “A simple cricket would’ve sufficed!” he complained, as Shiva began yanking at the tendril, trying to pull him down.

“Dogs!” she barked, and the pack sprang to her aid. Seizing upon her links, the dogs hurled tendrils of their own around the draconequus, even as he fought against them.

“W-What do you think I am?” Discord demanded. “One of you dogs? Ha!” He lifted his hand and snapped his fingers. At first, the tendrils started to shiver into spider webs. But then, the magic got sucked into Shiva, and distributed around her diamond dogs.

“Oh… kay, that’s not normal,” Discord mumbled, actual fear entering his eyes as she started to struggle harder. “Um… Tirek?” he asked. “A little help?”

But when Shiva growled at Tirek, the centaur walked right by her.

“You threatened her children,” Tirek replied. “You can take the fall.”

“W-What?!” Discord stammered. “But I… It was only a…”

He began to actually fight, the dogs straining to hold him down and continue draining his magic. On impulse, Shiva threw a tendril around her daughter, and the diamond faded back into fur as the magic was sucked from around her. Celine gave a great gasp of life, powering Shiva on.

But as Tirek bore down on the ponies, all battered and scared from Discord’s magic, several of the diamond dogs’ eyes flashed green. As Tirek picked up the beaten Shining Armor, and inhaled to absorb his magic, Scorpia burst out from the diamond dog pack, a tendril glowing around her hoof.

“Ponies!” she roared, throwing the tendril to them.

The link quickly got distributed through the pony herd. And as Cadence yanked Shining Armor away, she threw a tendril around Tirek.

Tirek gasped.

“What?!” he barked, as the ponies began to pull back against him. “But you…” He stared down at his arms, gasping in disbelief as they began to lose their muscles. The bright red turned into dead maroon. He turned desperately to Shiva. “Shiva! Howlite Howler! Please, I…!”

But Shiva was deaf to his cries. Discord’s struggle was forcing her to focus solely on the draconequus. Though Discord put up a good fight, with the combined might of the diamond dogs of Outer Haven and the changelings of Vespin Hive, he was slowly pulled from the air. And though he was a spirit of chaos, he was no match for the combined willpower of two small nations. Landing hard on the ground, Discord began to take on a wrinkled complexion as his magic was torn from his body.

At the same time, the changelings pulled double duty, pulling magic from both Discord and Tirek. With their aid, the ponies were able to pull back against the centaur. And in seconds, both centaur and draconequus were on the ground, too weak to rise.

Cadence withdrew the tendril from Tirek’s neck, staring down at his weakened form with anger. However, her anger turned to shock as Discord continued to cry out.

“E-Enough,” he whimpered, as Shiva continued to tug at her link, even though his body was resembling a limp, moldy noodle. “Uncle! You win! I give up! Please!”

But Shiva’s eyes were pure black orbs of rage. She and her dogs continued to pull. Kodo struggled against his mother’s chest; from the maniac look in her eyes, it almost looked like Shiva was sucking the soul out of the chaos spirit. Kodo saw Celine whimper and hide from the sight. He felt assured that any moment, Discord would be nothing but a skeleton with a feeble paper-like covering of skin.

“Please…” Discord breathed out, his eyes starting to roll up in his head.

“SHIVA, STOP!”

Shiva paused, and glared up at whoever dared to interrupt her. Princess Scorpia raced up next to her, followed shortly by Princess Cadence.

“It’s done,” Cadence said, indicating Tirek and the serpentine creature. “Tirek and Discord can’t fight anymore.”

“He still has his life,” Shiva snarled, looking towards Celine. “A life that he used to threaten my daughter.”

“It… was a joke…” Discord gasped out, only for Shiva to plant her foot onto the back of his neck.

Cadence paled, backing up, but Scorpia remained firm.

“And he’ll pay for it,” Scorpia insisted. “But murdering him… and murdering him in this way?” She indicated his anorexic form.

“It’s just like what Celestia told me happened with Beast Breaker,” Cadence said.

Shiva’s jaw tightened. Her grip on the pack link trembled.

“She tells a lot of ponies about me, doesn’t she?” Shiva growled.

“That was a long time ago,” Cadence insisted. “You’re not the monster that Beast Breaker wanted to turn you into. You’re a good diamond dog.”

She tried to go on, but Scorpia stopped her, watching Shiva carefully.

Shiva at first glared at Tirek and Discord, hate burning in her eyes. Discord stared up at her pleadingly. Tirek with careful caution. Finally, though, she looked over at Celine and Kodo. And Kodo felt himself relax by a fraction as he saw the love in her eyes.

She sighed, and wrapped her link around her wrist, before giving a final pull. The link faded from Discord’s neck. He struggled to all fours. Breathing. Alive.

Tirek huffed. “Just as I thought,” he muttered. “The ponies order, and you obey...”

Shining Armor kicked Tirek in the head, silencing him with a knock-out. But Kodo still shivered in his fur, looking up at Shiva as she regarded the draconequus with disgust.

Discord briefly tried to pull himself up, thudding to his chest.

“S-Something’s wrong,” Discord mumbled. He snapped his fingers, but nothing happened. “W-Where’s my magic?!”

In response, Shiva held up a ball of energy; dark with small flashes of neon through it.

Cadence backed up in alarm. “You… took his magic?” she whispered.

Tirek’s eyes fluttered open, and he grinned ominously as he saw the magic; proof that he and Shiva truly did share the same power.

“He won’t ever get to use it to hurt others again,” Shiva said darkly, crushing the magic ball in her claws. She gave one final, pondering look to Tirek, before turning to Celine. With quick steps, she picked her pup up, checking her for any sign of diamonds still in her fur. After a quick inspection, Shiva held them both to her chest with a sigh.

“Alpha Shiva,” Luke asked, stepping next to Discord’s beaten form. “What do we do with them?”

Shiva barely glanced back at the duo.

“Get those piles of filth out of this kingdom,” Shiva growled. “If they’re not out of here when I’m done talking to my children, I will murder them.”

Yet, as she walked off, Tirek chuckled.

“Careful, Howlite Howler,” Tirek called, as the ponies converged around him. “Push their authority too far… and you’ll end up in Tartarus with me.”

“Shut up!” Shining Armor growled, delivering another kick.

Yet, as the ponies hid the centaur from view, Kodo still found himself watching the centaur lord. He smiled at the pup, his words echoing in Kodo's mind.

You hold that same power, child… be careful they don’t beat you into submission too.”

“T-They wouldn’t though, would they?” Kodo thought fearfully. “Mother will stop them.”

Yet, as he looked up into his mother’s face – and remembered the fury that had been in her eyes before Cadence made her stand down – that dark part of him rose up.

“What if she can’t stop them?” It asked.

Kodo clung to his mother’s chest, yet he couldn’t stop a thought from rising in response.

“Then I’ll have to stop them for her,” he decided.

Chapter 9: Grinning Schemes

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Shiva took the pups back to their den. For a moment, she just sat against the wall, holding both of them so tightly, Kodo feared she’d break their ribs.

When she finally spoke, Kodo’s heart jumped at the fear, worry and – worst of all - anger in her voice.

“What did I tell you two?” she asked.

Celine winced. “I’m sorry…” she tried to say, but Shiva continued before Kodo could hope to speak.

“You both could’ve died!” Shiva looked up at them, her eyes desperate and almost scared. “What did I tell you!”

“S-Stay …?” Kodo asked.

Stay back and be safe,” Shiva repeated. “Is this because of your magic?” Her grip on them tightened. “How much did that help you against that monster?!”

Celine crouched behind Kodo. Despite every instinct begging him to curl into a ball and beg his mother’s forgiveness, Kodo kept himself steady. Even though his voice cracked when he spoke.

“I-It’s my fault,” he insisted. “I-I just wanted to make sure you wouldn’t get hurt.” He put himself between Shiva and Celine. “I’m the one that made Celine come along. Please don’t blame her; it’s all on me.”

Shiva’s ears flattened, and she sighed, tired. In that moment, Kodo noticed that age had not been perfect for his mother; he could see lines etched into her face. Scars that her armor attempted to hide.

“But she still chose to go with you,” she whispered.

Celine looked down with a whimper. Shiva breathed, and Kodo noticed that she was holding back tears.

“My son,” she said. “Getting hurt is a risk we can’t avoid.”

“And if I’m going to risk my life, I want to risk it for you,” Kodo insisted. “The way you risked yourself for us. Taking on that monster.” His tail wagged. “You were… amazing! Fearless! I want to be like that.”

Shiva sighed. “Oh, Kodo…” she whispered. “We only beat Discord because we had the numbers. And even then… there was a chance Tirek could have helped him beat us.” She closed her eyes. “You can say I didn’t seem scared. But the truth was… I was more afraid than I have ever been before.”

The pups blinked up at her. “You were?”

Her voice was hollow and ragged. “I thought I would lose you both.”

Celine’s lower lip quivered, and she launched into Shiva’s arms. As Shiva embraced her, Kodo noticed she was shivering. Doing everything she could to hold back the sobs that echoed freely from her daughter.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” she quivered. “I’m so sorry…”

Kodo lowered his head as mother and daughter comforted each other. He stepped back, shame overwhelming his heart, before Shiva grabbed his attention again.

“Kodo,” she whispered.

Kodo looked up, and she silently offered a claw. Taking the invitation, Kodo nuzzled up to her, and for a short moment, the small family sat there, cuddled together.

“A mother without her children is nothing,” Shiva whispered.

Kodo closed his eyes. “But a child without their mother is lost,” he whispered. His ears flared up. “Child… pack.” He looked up. “That’s what you wanted us to understand. Pack and Alpha… are like children and parents.”

Shiva smiled softly, keeping him close.

“Exactly, my son,” she whispered. “Exactly.”

Kodo nuzzled into her, the worry and heartache fading in the relief and joy of his revelation. Their moment, however, was cut off abruptly, when a knock emanated outside their den.

“Um… Alpha?” Skippy’s voice emanated. “Princess Twilight Sparkle’s here. She… has something to ask. Regarding Tirek and Discord.”

Shiva’s gaze hardened. “She’s not the only one,” she growled as she stood.

But just as she started to leave, she gazed back down at her pups, as if they were standing before two paths stretched out before her. She focused on Kodo, her brown eyes seemingly staring right into his soul. She sighed.

“I can’t do it,” she decided, more to herself than them. “I won’t leave you two alone.” She motioned for them to follow her. “Come on,” she said. “It’s time we had a talk with our ‘allies.’”

#

The throne room was charged with tension when they walked in. While Shiva situated herself on her throne - Celine and Kodo taking spots right next to her - Kodo noticed the other rulers watching them. Scorpia with concern... and Cadence and Shining Armor with nervousness. Kodo almost dared to say fear.

“Normally,” Cadence said, her voice quiet. “I’d have asked you about this case myself.”

“Maybe given us a heads up that they were coming?” Shiva added darkly.

Cadence went silent as even Scorpia gave the alicorn an injured look.

“We agreed to work together,” Scorpia added. “That means letting us know of threats to all of us. Equestria, the Hives and Outer Haven.”

“I know-I know,” Cadence said, waving Shining off when he moved to protest. “We put way too much stock in Discord, and it burned us. And I really hate to add more on you, but… Celestia insisted that Twilight handle this next part herself.”

Shiva tilted her head at her, before the purple mare herself made her appearance. Twilight’s eyes darted briefly between Kodo and Celine, before she focused on Shiva.

“Princess Sparkle,” Shiva greeted, glancing behind her. “No Elements?” Her eyes narrowed. “No Princess Celestia?”

Twilight chuckled breathlessly. “I know you… probably prefer Applejack,” she admitted. “Or Spike.” She sighed. “But this is something I have to do. Personally.”

Shiva narrowed her eyes as Twilight gave her a determined look.

“You beat Tirek and Discord,” she said. She waved a hoof before Shiva could flatten her ears. “How you did it is…”

“Because we weren’t told about them,” Shiva growled.

Twilight winced. “I mean…” she said.

“Why did we only find out about this when he was knocking on our borders?” Scorpia demanded.

“Princess Celestia… was hoping Discord would stop Tirek before it became an issue,” Twilight mumbled.

Shiva resisted baring her teeth. “And where is Princess Celestia?” she asked. “Doesn’t consider us important enough to visit herself and explain herself? She had to send you? Like we’re just another problem you can handle for her?”

“No!” Twilight insisted. “No, this…” she sighed. “It was a mistake not to tell you, and I’m sorry. On behalf of Princess Celestia, I apologize that you had to find out about Discord and Tirek that way.”

Shiva and Kodo looked at each other worriedly, as Shiva unconsciously slid Celine closer to her. Twilight’s eyes darted between them, and she sighed.

“And it pains me to add more,” Twilight continued. “But…”

But Shiva rose, and moved towards Twilight, one pup under each arm. She and the other queens watched her go.

“S-Alpha?” Twilight asked. Shiva stopped in front of her.

“I’ve watched you, Rainbow Dash and Rarity stand mutely by while Applejack, Pinkie and Fluttershy apologized on your behalf. Too many times,” Shiva growled. “I refuse to hear the words of others forced into the mouths of those who refuse to speak.”

With that, she seized Twilight’s horn, and a pack link shot between them.

“Shiva, wait!” Cadence yelped. But before she could make a move, Shiva’s magic was shrouded in a purple light… and she vanished with a pop.

“Oh, no,” Cadence whimpered. She quickly flared her own horn, and vanished with a pop of her own.

Scorpia and Shining Armor were left on their own.

“Well…” Scorpia noted. “This is cozy.”

Shining Armor groaned.

#

In the throne room of Canterlot, Celestia adjourned her court, and prepared to retire for the day. But she had barely risen off her throne before a flash of purple light flared in front of her.

“Twilight?” Celestia started to ask… only for Shiva, Twilight, Kodo and Celine to drop down in front of her. “Oh! Alpha Shiva…”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Shiva growled.

Celestia’s wings flared. “E-Excuse me?” she asked.

“Tirek and Discord,” Shiva said, struggling not to sound impatient. “They were on the loose and you didn’t tell us!”

Celestia winced just as Cadence appeared.

“Shiva, please," Cadence begged. "Try to remain calm…”
“Stay out of this, Cadence,” Shiva snapped, turning back to Celestia. “Tirek said I’m nothing but a tool to you. A toy." Her eyes narrowed. "Is he telling the truth?”

“No!” Celestia insisted. “Shiva… you are technically part of a foreign nation. I didn’t want to trouble you with an Equestrian matter.”

“It becomes my concern,” Shiva barely was able to avoid screaming. “When that Equestrian matter goes onto my borders and attacks my children!”

Celestia’s eyes darted to the two pups clinging to Shiva’s legs.

“Your…” Celestia put a hoof to her mouth in horror. “Shiva… I had no idea…”

“It’s my fault!” Twilight yelped.

Shiva, Cadence and Celestia turned to her.

“What?” they all asked.

“It’s my fault,” she insisted, tears poking at her eyes. She looked down. “Princess Celestia… you trusted Discord to take down Tirek… because you trusted me to be a good friend to Discord. To be kind and accepting; to encourage friendship and harmony.” Her head drew lower and lower as Shiva and Celestia listened. “Instead… I pushed him away. Barely tolerated his presence. Left Fluttershy to be the only one that could pull him back instead of trying to teach him about friendship myself.” She looked up at Shiva. “Discord attacked your daughter… because he felt that we didn’t care about him.” She looked down. “Because I couldn’t show him the very thing I’m supposed to be princess of.”

Celestia’s gaze became fractured. Disappointed. “Twilight…” she whispered.

Shiva sunk down herself, holding her children close. Her gaze hardened, when she glared at Twilight.

“No matter what excuse you give,” she said. “He turned my child into a diamond statue. He could have killed her.”

Celestia opened her mouth to protest, before deciding against it, and shutting her mouth. As it was, before Shiva could continue… someone else cut her off.

“I’m fine,” Celine said softly.

Kodo, Shiva, Twilight and Celestia all looked with shock at Celine. She flinched under the added attention, but forced herself away from Shiva’s side.

“I’m alive,” she said. “Whatever Discord wanted to do, he failed.” She stepped closer. “But… if something like him… or that ‘Tirek’ person comes around again…” She stepped up to Celestia. “Please tell my mom. We don’t want to get hurt by them anymore than you do.”

Shiva reached out to pull Celine back, but the little diamond dog turned to her mother.

“Wouldn’t we help, Mother?” she insisted. “Can’t we be… friends with them?”

Shiva’s ears flattened, while Celestia and Twilight’s ears fully perked. When Celestia looked at Shiva, she had the soft doe eyes on.

“Can’t we, Shiva?” Celestia asked.

Shiva sighed.

“I’m not returning Discord’s magic,” she said. “I don’t care what his reasons were; I don’t trust him with it.”

Twilight winced, but with a stern look from Celestia, she didn’t respond. Shiva pulled Celine back to her.

“As one of the three rulers of the Crystal Empire,” Shiva said. “I’m as dedicated to Equestria’s protection as Princess Cadence or Princess Scorpia.” She lifted her head. “If there’s a threat to our security… you need to tell me.”

Celestia nodded. “From now on,” she said. “You’ll be fully informed.” She turned to Cadence. “Princess Cadence; see to it that Alpha Shiva and Princess Scorpia are warned about any and all threats. Not just to Outer Haven, but to Equestria as a whole.”

Cadence bowed. “Yes, Princess,” she said.

Shiva nodded. “Thank you.” She turned back to Twilight, and reached for her. Twilight backed up.

“I can take you home myself,” she said quickly, flaring up her horn.

As the diamond dogs were whisked away, Celestia tapped her hooves together, Celine’s last words to her echoing in her mind.

Can’t we be friends?

“Can’t we, indeed, my little diamond dog,” Celestia whispered.

#

As Twilight returned the dogs to the Crystal Empire, she gave Shiva a nervous look, before looking down at Celine.

“Um… Celine, was it?” Twilight asked.

Shiva and Kodo tensed up, but Celine gave Twilight a curious look.

“I-If it’s not too much trouble,” Twilight said. “Tirek took the magic from several unicorns. Good ponies. I was wondering…”

Instantly, Shiva put herself between Twilight and Celine.

“You can talk with me,” she said firmly.

Twilight quickly backed up. “But…” she said. “Aren’t you just going to say no?”

Shiva chuckled. “I’m going to say, ‘bring the unicorns to me.’” She turned away from Twilight. “Princess Scorpia, Princess Cadence and I will decide whether they deserve their magic back or not.”

Twilight looked down, but reluctantly nodded. “O-Okay,” she said.

Celine glanced between her mother and Twilight, before offering a small gem to the unicorn.

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” she said. “We’re all on the same side now, right?”

Twilight took the gem with a smile, though Shiva still gave Twilight a cautious look.

“I certainly hope so,” Shiva muttered.

As they left, Shiva watched as Twilight glanced down at the gem Celine gave her. An odd little shimmer flowed along it, causing Twilight’s eyes to light up. Before Shiva could ask her what she had seen, the purple unicorn vanished in a flash of light.

#

As the diamond dogs returned home, they found Luke waiting for them. Despite him giving them a warm welcome back, Kodo could sense something… off… in his greetings. As they told him what had happened, he kept stealing glances back to Kodo, like he was the only sane one of their family.

Yet, he kept his mouth shut until the sun set and sleep beckoned to them all. And in the middle of the night, when Shiva and Celine were fast asleep, Luke made his move. Nudging Kodo awake, the diamond dog pulled his son from his mother’s side, ensuring they wouldn’t be overheard.

“Did you see it, son?” he asked.

Kodo’s ears twitched. “See what?”

“First this alliance with the Crystal Empire,” he growled. “Now Celine?” He pinched the bridge of his snout. “Tirek was right. We aren’t the ponies’ guard dogs. We’re diamond dogs. We shouldn’t have to answer to them.” Luke glared back at the thrones. “Shiva should’ve ground that ‘Discord’ into dust.”

“So… why didn’t she?” Kodo asked.

“Because the ponies didn’t want us to?” Luke growled. “And that’s what worries me.” He pulled Kodo closer, watching the sleeping Shiva conspiratorially. “Most of the other diamond dogs don’t dare say it. A lot of them don’t even think it; they don’t want to upset your mother. But the ponies are getting way too comfortable with us around.” His gaze fractured with sadness. “I love your mother, but she’s getting won over.” He glanced sadly at Celine. “Celine’s only a few months old, and she’s already getting won over too. If we don’t put a lid on this, it won’t be long before we go back to being the ponies’ slaves.”

Kodo’s ears flattened, but his dark thoughts answered.

They won’t get the chance,” Kodo felt himself promise. “And if anyone’s going to become slaves… it’s the Equestrians.”

Luke shut his eyes in relief, and released Kodo’s head.

“I’m glad you see it, at least,” he said.

#

Kodo watched Luke carefully for the next few days. Heck, he watched most of the diamond dogs for the rest of the day. Though Shiva was gone, a lot of them were still able to get by with the crystals she had powered. Most of Celine and Kodo’s day was spent learning how to empower the gems with their magic. And regularly pack-linking with the dogs in the mines to ensure everything was running smoothly.

Yet, while Kodo was supposed to note diamond dogs with thoughts that leaned towards rebellion or at the very least lashing out at the ponies, he instead noted them on a separate list. And for every stray thought worrying about the ponies taking over, he sent a thought forward.

“Lousy equines. They used to be our work horses.”

If they try anything, that’s all they will become.”

“Alpha’s getting too soft. The ponies will take her, and then us.”

“They will take neither. They will suffer if they try.”

Kodo had to be careful about it; his sister was working right alongside him, and even though she was up in the castle dealing with politics, he was sure his mother would be trying to listen in from time to time. But with each head that turned his way, hope that they weren't alone glittering in their eyes, Kodo made sure to wink and press his claw to his lips, letting them know he was on their side. That they had someone else to believe in.

“Do not fear,” he assured them. “The Iron Paws have kept us safe from changelings. The Iron Wolves will keep us safe from ponies.”

#

Celestia sighed softly, sipping a cup of tea while staring out to the North, where the Crystal Empire resided.

Cautiously, Luna poked her head onto the balcony. “Sister?” she asked. “I… heard about Shiva’s… visit.”

Celestia set her tea cup into its saucer. “Her daughter shows potential, Luna,” she admitted. “Potential that we will need, considering Discord is not getting his power back any time soon.”

“Power that he used to aid in the theft of those unicorn’s magic,” Luna pointed out.

Celestia winced. “Maybe,” she admitted, standing up. “I had truly hoped that he could be reformed. For once, my faith in Twilight was… misplaced.” She shuddered. “It hurts to merely say that fact. Though, I can hope the time it will take his chaos magic to recharge will have to be enough to teach him humility.” She walked back inside, resisting the urge to stamp in frustration. “But that day is still far off. And if something worse than Tirek comes back, who are we going to send to defend our kingdom in the mean?”

Luna tilted her head. “Twilight and her friends?” Luna answered. “Is that not your first response to any crisis?” she added teasingly.

Celestia winced. “Yes,” she admitted. “But what if she fails again. She’s failed with Discord; who knows how she would have fared with Chrysalis and Sombra? She wasn’t even allowed to handle Tirek.” She shook her head. “I thought I was prepared for what would happen, sister. I thought that Twilight was the answer. Instead, this diamond dog has interfered in Equestrian matters, and made me doubt whether Twilight is ready for the roles I expected her to play in my visions of the future…” she bowed her head. “And the one that has taken her place as our savior… is not someone I am sure we can trust with the nation’s life.” She chuckled humorlessly, looking away from the balcony. “Her child Celine would make a much more suitable ally, but even then, I must wait until she inherits the throne.” She winced, remembering the silent dark pup that had been at Shiva’s other hip. “If she inherits the throne,” she added darkly.

Luna hummed. “Well,” she said. “Why not try to earn her favor? At the very least the favor of her other heirs?”

Celestia’s laugh remained bitter, but slightly bemused. “You know Shiva better than that, Luna,” she insisted. “After what she did to Discord? She’s more liable to spear me than let me speak to her children.” She shook her head. “No. If Shiva or her children are truly going to take Twilight’s place as the saviors of Equestria, we must be far more subtle than that. We must ensure that when the day comes where we must call upon their aid, they will charge forth with passion. Not for duty or for reward… but for love. Genuine loyalty and commitment to the harmony and peace that I wish the world could just accept!”

Celestia’s ears flicked as a small humming echoed through the halls. Intrigued, Celestia set off after the hum, Luna in hot pursuit.

The two sisters reached Celestia’s bedroom, where one of the books on her shelves was vibrating and glowing softly. Celestia took the book out… and a smile creased her face as she beheld the cover.

“Luna,” Celestia mumbled, an idea forming in her mind. “You saw Shiva’s face when she came out from that mirror portal?”

“Yes,” Luna said. “She seemed… torn. As if she had known the world beyond.”

Celestia carefully opened the book, her grin widening.

“How much would you wager,” Celestia started. “That she’d want to go back?”

Chapter 10: Ponyville Ho!

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Shiva shouldn’t have cared. She should have just brushed the event off.

She had already been in such a good mood; getting to watch unicorn after unicorn come to her throne and beg her for their magic back. Though, most of them got their magic back through pity alone, Shiva had a blast when Jet Set – a unicorn she remembered all too well from Blueblood’s posse – squeaked like a mouse when she refused him. Along with a merchant unicorn that had initially dismissed Shiva with a scoff before Cadence reminded him that she was the key to getting his magic back. Needless to say, the show of groveling and sniveling he put up after such a cold first impression got Kodo and even Celine to start snickering. Shiva couldn’t bring herself to hush them; she herself had nearly risked dying of suppressed laughter.

But, as the last unicorn just barely managed to convince her to get his magic back, he was exchanged for Twilight Sparkle. And when the purple mare made her request… Shiva did not expect her good mood to get so suddenly evaporated by the flood of repressed emotions that hit her.

“We need the mirror to the Human world,” Twilight requested. “The humans are in trouble, and they need my help.”

Shiva’s claws tensed on her throne. Celine and Scorpia both glanced at her, though she quickly shook her head at them before Cadence could notice.

“But…,” Cadence had said, before noticing Shiva’s expression. “The mirror isn’t supposed to reopen for another thirty moons.”

No, it’s not, Shiva thought morosely. Remembering how she found out. A time, way after midnight, when Shiva was certain everyone was asleep, she had dug her way back up to the mirror. But when she tried to push through – tried to see that world again – her claws had tapped against nothing but solid glass.

“We… have a way around that,” Twilight admitted, watching Shiva warily. For even she sensed the turmoil from the diamond dog’s expression.

Shiva forced herself to breath and stay calm. “What’s the trouble?” she asked. “Is there a risk to our country?”

“None,” Twilight said quickly.

“None like Tirek?” Shiva growled.

Twilight winced. “Okay,” she admitted. “There may be Sirens in the Human world. Beasts that can entrance…”

“I know what they are,” Shiva assured her. “And you’re going to take care of them? Preferably not joining their side?”

Twilight chuckled humorlessly. “My magic will protect me from their spells. But I need to get the mirror working and fast. Otherwise, they might spill out into Equestria another way… or just corrupt the human world.”

Shiva’s ears flicked back and forth. She glanced at Cadence and Scorpia before leaning forward.

“If this situation risks becoming a threat to all of Equestria, we all need to contribute in any way we can,” Shiva said.

“Agreed,” Scorpia said. “These humans may be in another dimension, but who knows the potential they carry as allies and friends.”

“So… you’re all in agreement,” Cadence asked, sharing a look of relief with Shining.

Scorpia nodded, before turning to Shiva. However, her grin faltered as the white diamond dog rose and made her way down to Twilight.

“Scorpia speaks the truth,” she said. “Which is why I have an… additional request.”

“A-A request?” Twilight asked. “But Shiva… I’m probably going to be very busy with the…”

“It’s not going to be difficult,” Shiva insisted. “While you’re in the human world, I merely want you to do some research.” She grinned as Twilight’s eyes lit up.

“R-Research?” she squeaked in glee.

“I want to know what exactly the human world offers,” Shiva said. “How it’s humans interact. What their leadership might be.” She clasped her paws together, and added in a softer voice, “And what other locations might be out there…”

Briefly, Shiva considered adding the truth; find out if I really came from this human world or not. But Shiva noticed Twilight's look of concern, and snapped out of her hesitation.

“Do this for me,” she said. “And I’ll answer twenty questions about myself and my species. Anything you want to know, I’ll try to provide.”

This time, Twilight couldn’t stop the grin from forming on her face. She saluted the diamond dog. “Consider it done,” she said.

Shiva nodded, before turning to her fellow princesses.

“I’ll bring a section of diamond dogs and defend the mirror while Twilight goes through,” Shiva said.

Scorpia nodded. “I’ll have Skippy accompany you,” she said.

“Flash Sentry too,” Shining said, glancing at his wife. “We can’t leave the diamond dogs and changelings to do everything, right?

Shiva grinned before turning back to Twilight. “If the Sirens pull the same thing with Tirek and Discord, I want to provide extra security in case they make a move into Equestria.”

Twilight’s grin faded. “Shiva, I’m not going to…”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Shiva said. “It’s that I’m not willing to run the risk of my home being threatened again.”

Celine winced. “So… would it be bad to ask if we could come?”

Shiva winced as her daughter crept forward from the side of the throne.

“Absolutely not,” Luke said. “You both were threatened already, and you still need to hone your powers.”

“But Mom’s the only one who has that power,” Celine insisted. “Maybe we can learn while we’re waiting for Twilight.” She turned to her mother. “Mom, you keep showing us memories of what the ponies did, but… what about Twilight and her friends? They weren’t there. They could be different.” She glanced between the other dogs. “The others may be willing to see them all as bad, but I want to know what they’re really like.”

Luke shook his head at Shiva, but Shiva pursed her lips in thought.

“Ponyville’s quite safe,” Twilight assured Shiva. “As long as you don’t expect me to bring your children into the Human world…”

“Beyond out of the question,” Shiva replied.

“Then… yeah, they have nothing to worry about,” Twilight said. “They’d be able to explore my home and see that the ponies of Equestria are really not that bad.”

Shiva sighed. “We still need one of them to know about the politics,” Shiva said. She turned away, her emotions battling like armies on an ancient battlefield.

If this place really is where I came from, Shiva thought. Then I need to know sooner rather than later.

But can I really trust Twilight’s town with the safety of my children? Celine really seems to want to know them… despite what I’ve told both her and her brother.

“Let’s try this:” she finally offered. “Celine will come with me, and I’ll try to teach her about her powers while we guard. Luke, I want you to keep Kodo here, and help him with the cases that get delivered to the princesses.”

Luke grimaced, but Kodo brightened up and hefted himself onto her throne.

“I’ll do an awesome job, Mom,” he assured her. “You can count on Prince Kodo!”

The ladies shared a laugh at his ambition, before Twilight bowed to Shiva again.

“Thank you, Alpha Shiva,” she said. “I’ll be outside when you’re ready.” And with another respectful bow, she raced outside.

Shiva turned to follow her, before she felt Luke’s hand on her shoulder.

“Shiva, I thought you said you didn’t care about that world,” Luke insisted.

“I don’t,” Shiva said, but she still gave Twilight a curious look. “But if it’s the place I came from…”

“This shouldn’t be for your own temptations,” Scorpia noted. “You could lose sight of what you already have. Focus on keeping Equestria, and by extension our homes, safe.”

Shiva nodded. Yet, as she walked after Twilight, she didn’t catch the others watching her with worry.

#

Nor did she catch Kodo and Luke sharing a small pack link.

“You don’t think there’s something else going on with Mom and Celine, do you?” Kodo asked Luke.

“Whatever it is,”Luke muttered, keeping his eye on the princesses as they glanced at each other with concern. “We make sure we get something out of it. After this meeting, let’s round up the Iron Wolves. If Shiva’s going to be with her pony overlords for a bit, we need to come up with a way to help her if she gets stuck down there.”

Kodo nodded. “On it,” he growled.

#

Ponyville wasn’t what Shiva expected. After the fancy nature of Canterlot and the gem-studded nature of the Crystal Empire, Shiva was half-convinced that the ponies of Ponyville would be set up in more lavish households meant to show off their wealth and power. But Ponyville had none of that. If anything, it resembled more of a classic farming villa, with quaint little cottage houses made of straw and wood and… in the case of one odd looking house – what looked like gingerbread.

But, all too soon, Shiva found something much closer to what she had envisioned; a towering castle of purple quartz crystals, glittering among the simpler homes like a needle in a haystack.

Twilight noticed Shiva staring, and chuckled. “I, uh…” she mumbled. “I guess the Tree of Harmony didn’t like the idea of a Princess just hanging out in a library.”

Shiva blinked at her in surprise. “Your castle… was a library once?” she asked. “As in… just the library. None of this crystal and gems and jewels?”

Twilight sighed wistfully. “Yeah,” she said. “A nice little oak tree, hollowed out to hold all sorts of books. Then, I used that last key…” She glanced at Celine with a smile. “Thanks, by the way,” she added. “And the Elements just… gave me a new castle.” She gave the castle a once over. “It’s a bit of an eyesore, but it’s my home now, so…”

Shiva hummed at that, lugging the mirror through the castle’s crystalline gates. A modest princess wasn’t something she expected to see; least of all from Twilight. Maybe there was more to the mare than she first thought.

Celine certainly seemed to think so. As she hopped along, pack linking to aid her strength to Shiva and the two diamond dog guards, she couldn’t stop staring around the quaint little town with eager awe in her eyes. Unlike her fellow Crystal Empire representatives, the little pup didn’t seem interested in the gems of Twilight’s castle, more the ponies.

They certainly seemed to share in that; every pony Shiva and her crew passed stopped what they were doing and stared at them in shock. A few waved at the disguised Skippy – Shiva assumed he made regular visits here – but Shiva mostly tried to ignore them.

But then, there was someone that couldn’t be ignored.

“YOU FINALLY CAME!” Pinkie screamed with absolute joy, nearly causing Shiva to drop the mirror. As Shiva spun around, she found the Elements of Harmony – and most importantly, Spike – waiting for her at the Castle. Shiva let a soft grin grace her snout at the sight of Spike and Applejack, who quickly raced Pinkie out of the castle to see her.
“Well, tarnation,” Applejack declared, immediately helping them with the mirror. “I was hoping you’d come visit one day, Shiva, but I didn’t think…"

“How has it been at the Crystal Empire?” Spike asked before noticing Celine. “Is that one of your pups? She’s really grown fast.”

“I know it’s probably rich coming from me,” Twilight said. “But can you not bombard her with questions while she’s got the mirror?”

“You’re hysterical, Sparkle,” Shiva deadpanned. Though, she couldn’t help but smile as Applejack and Rainbow Dash helped her, Skippy and Flash with the mirror. With their aid, they soon had the mirror set in a small library-like room in Twilight’s castle.

“So,” Rainbow Dash said, as the mirror was set down. “How’s this going to work?”

“Well, it’s really quite simple,” Twilight said. “And at the same time, rather complicated.”

As she launched into a scientific explanation for what she was about to do, Applejack glanced at the others. Especially Skippy and Flash Sentry, who were watching Twilight babble with the same look a deer might give head lights.

“Why don’t you fellers head down to Sweet Apple Acres,” she invited Flash and Skippy. “Granny Smith should have some cider ‘n pies to spare fer ya.”

“Cider? Pies?!” The only reason the duo didn’t rush out the door was due to Shiva snatching them with her pack link.

“Remember what you’re here for,” she reminded them, before singling Skippy out. “Go on and get them those pies and cider,” she said with a smile.

“Can I go with him?” Celine asked hopefully.

Shiva grimaced, before Flash stepped forward.

“I can hold down the fort, or look after her,” he offered. “Whatever you think is best.”

Shiva pondered it, before glancing at a still babbling Twilight. “Hold the fort down here,” she said. “We’ll be right back.”

Flash saluted her, and she saluted him back, walking out with Applejack in tow.

“Can I assume my dogs have been helping you on the farm?” she asked as they left the castle.

“E-yep,” Applejack replied. “Them doggies ‘r fine workers. Once we got em to stop hogging the shiny stuff.”

Indeed, Ponyville did seem like a much friendlier place than Canterlot, even if it wasn’t as shiny as the Crystal Empire. Though the ponies did jolt when they saw Shiva, they never stuck their noses into the air or demanded she be banished to the sun. They just gave nervous waves before going about their business.

And, of course, Celine was beside herself with optimistic curiosity.

“Oh, what’s that?” she asked.

“That there’s Sugarcube Corner,” Applejack said. “We’ll stop by there later; get ya some sugary treats.”

“Eh-he, easy on the sugar,” Shiva chastised. “It’s not good for her.”

“Oh, what’s that?” Celine asked.

“That there’s Quills and Sofas,” Applejack replied. “I bet you can guess what they sell.”

“Oh, what’s that?!”

“That,” Applejack practically glowed with pride. “Would be Sweet Apple Acres.”

Shiva’s ears perked. A literal forest of apple trees awaited them, all carefully planted and organized so that they stood like an army. And their leaves were bursting with bright red and yellow apples.

“These acres ‘ve been in my family for ages,” Applejack said proudly. “We harvest the finest apples ya ever tasted.”

“So, this is where all the apples we buy come from,” Shiva noted, impressed.

“It don’t come without a lot of hard work,” Applejack said. “But I’d say the reward’s worth it.”

Sure enough, Skippy appeared from the forest, weighed down with bags of pies and jugs of cider. Chuckling, Shiva extended out her pack link, catching the pies and pulling them from his already put-upon body.

“I got those for you, Beta,” she said warmly.

“Appreciate it, Alpha,” Skippy replied, though his grin didn’t fade. “Shiva?” he asked as they turned back for the Castle of Friendship. “Are you sure it was a good idea to leave Kodo and Luke?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Shiva asked. “They’ve got Scorpia and Cadence with them.”

“Yes, but… something’s been bothering me,” Skippy admitted. “They keep converging with a bunch of other diamond dogs. Diamond dogs who have a record of trouble with the ponies.”

Shiva paused, glancing towards him. “This… hasn’t been coming up in my pack link,” she noted worriedly. “You don’t think we have some kind of… coup in the making, do you?”

“I don’t think anything right now,” Skippy said. “But you should probably talk to Luke soon. Otherwise…”

Before he could continue, Pinkie appeared with a burst of confetti.

“You’ll figure it out somehow,” she replied happily. “But right now, there’s something that I’ve been waiting to do for a long-long-long time.”

“Oh, no…” Shiva whimpered.

Applejack rolled her eyes as Pinkie darted away. “Brace yer self,” she said.

Before Celine could ask what she meant, a strange sort of wagon with various instruments and – an oven? Shiva thought – rolled out from nowhere, bursting into song the moment Pinkie reappeared.

Welcome-welcome-welcome

A fine welcome to you

Welcome-welcome-welcome!

I say how do you do?

“Uh… well…” Celine tried to say, before Pinkie continued.

Welcome-welcome-welcome,

I say hip-hip-hooray!

Welcome-welcome-welcome,

To Ponyville today!

Celine and Skippy blinked at each other, while Shiva sighed.

“Um…” Skippy tried to add.

“Wait for it…” Pinkie said.

“NO, STOP!”

Before Celine knew what was happening, Fluttershy dove in front of Celine and Shiva, protecting them as… a burst of confetti blew from the top of the wagon, while the oven opened, depositing a white and red cake before them.

“Fluttershy,” Pinkie chastised. “I get being eager to welcome new creatures…”

“S-Sorry,” Fluttershy whispered, her yellow face now red as an apple. “I-I just remembered Twilight talking about how you put confetti in the oven and dough in the....”

“Oh, Fluttershy,” Pinkie said, patting her friend on the head. “That was the Mark 3 Welcome Wagon. This is the Mark 4; plays smoother, bakes faster, and it even has a hidden balloon stash.” She yanked a lever on the wagon, and sure enough, several balloons floated out.

Celine watched the whole thing with a neutral expression, though sparks were flaring around her ears, and she barely noticed Fluttershy looking over her with concern.

“Is she okay?” Fluttershy whispered to Shiva.

“You’re breaking her mind,” Shiva growled. “And Pinkie, while I appreciate the passion, I really need to…” She froze.

“Really need to what?” Pinkie asked. “Go to the bathroom? I’m sure Applejack has one. Or, if you’re a lot like a doggie…”

“Pinkie!” Applejack chastised. “That ain’t the problem.”

Then Pinkie turned… and immediately understood. Right behind her welcome wagon, Discord stood. His form had an odd pale sheen to him, and he was uniquely standing instead of floating. His arms crossed over each other, and his feet shuffled backward. Despite his passive behavior, Shiva’s eyes were locked on him like a guiding missile, and she had shoved her daughter and Skippy behind her.

Discord sighed. “Let me guess; you’re still sore about that whole thing with Tirek, aren’t you?”

Shiva flared her lightning in response…

#

…Just as Kodo knocked a diamond dog across the cavern with his own lightning.

“Anyone else got any bright ideas involving my mother?!” Kodo demanded.

“No-no-no-no!” the iron wolves barked and whimpered. Kodo just barely calmed down.

“Good,” he growled, withdrawing his lightning. “I don’t agree with Mother’s choices either, but she’s still my mother and our Alpha. And if anyone wants to hurt her, they’ll have me to contend with!”

“No one is going to hurt your mother,” Luke agreed. “But we need to protect ourselves from the threat that she can’t fight.”

The diamond dogs quickly agreed – not a hard thing to do when they’re biggest member had been blasted across the room – watching as Kodo paced with a snarl.

“So,” one dog finally ventured. “How are we supposed to stay with Shiva, and yet get out from the ponies?”

Luke glanced over at Kodo, who pondered it for a moment.

“Simple,” the young wolf decided. “We prove that the ponies are hiding their true selves.” He spotted several scars on the diamond dogs. “You all know where ponies really belong, right?”

“As our work horses,” they replied.

“When we gave them mercy, they gave us the cage and the whip,” one of the bigger dogs argued, which got a response from several of the scarred wolves.

“So, we find these ponies,” Kodo continued. “We find the arrogant, stuffy nobles that the Princesses are trying so hard to hide from Shiva. We get them to make trouble… and Shiva will see our side. And give them what they deserve.”

Luke’s ears flattened. “But how are we going to find these snooty ponies?” he asked. “Celestia has thrown the nobility who caged us in the dungeons. No pony dares act bad around us.”

Kodo hummed, pondering the problem. How can we find a pony willing to act like a spoiled brat?

#

Meanwhile in Ponyville, the stallion merchant Filthy Rich sighed as he spotted a familiar invitation perched on his desk.

“Oh, no…” he mumbled, drawing his secretary’s attention.

“What is it, Mr. Rich?” she asked.

“Some new pony’s gone into town, and it’s put Pinkie Pie into another frenzy,” he said. “She’s asking for everyone to gather together for another ‘Welcome’ party, and I don’t have the time to indulge her right now.”

“Well, we shouldn’t just ignore it,” the secretary replied. “That mare takes her parties far too seriously.”

“Eh,” Filthy Rich agreed. “Fax this to my home and address it to my daughter. All the young ‘uns love Pinkie Pie’s parties.”

“Right away, sir.”

Tossing the invitation to his secretary, Filthy Rich settled back into his seat and pored over his paper.

“Now…” he muttered. “How do I get in on the trade with this… ‘Outer Haven?’”

Chapter 11: Cute Cub? Beware its Mama!

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Just before Shiva could blast Discord halfway across Ponyville, Fluttershy jumped between them.

“Wait, Shiva, don’t!” she yelped.

Shiva’s gaze turned to her, as did her magic tendrils. But the yellow mare stood her ground between the diamond dog and the draconequus. A Stare hadn't developed on her face yet, but everyone could feel the build up to one.

“Fluttershy…” Discord started to say.

“Don’t worry, Discord,” Fluttershy said. “She’s not going to hurt you.”

Shiva chuckled darkly. “Don’t count on that,” she growled.

"Shiva..." Applejack tried to interject.

“Why is he here?” she demanded to the other mares.

“Well, since you took my powers,” Discord replied bitterly, snapping his fingers for emphasis. “I can’t access my home dimension. Where else am I supposed to go?”

“Tartarus?” Shiva suggested.

Discord chuckled. “Oh, good; you took some of my sense of humor along with my power.”

“Both of you, enough!” Fluttershy insisted. “Shiva, I know Discord scared you. But he’s really not as bad as you think!”

“He joined Tirek,” Shiva growled. “Threatened your nation, and tried to kill my daughter.”

“Kill?!” Discord stared at her aghast. “I don’t kill; where’s the fun in death?”

“You turned her into a statue!” Shiva insisted.

“I spent two thousand years as a statue!” Discord argued back.

“You’re an immortal being!” Rainbow Dash refuted, before pointing at Celine. “That pup’s just a kid.”

Discord huffed, and turned away, while Shiva and Rainbow Dash gave each other surprised looks.

“Huh, something we agree on,” Shiva noted.

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I never trusted him,” she admitted.

“And yet you wonder why he sided with Tirek?” Fluttershy asked passive-aggressively.

“And I’ve paid for it,” Discord insisted. “A thousand times over.” He snapped his fingers again, but aside from a small spark, nothing happened. “But I’ve changed. I’ve learned just how valuable friendship really is.” He glanced away. “Considering it’s all I got now.” He gave Shiva a small grin. “Unless you’d like to change…?”

“No,” Shiva said instantly, brushing by him. Discord deflated, before trying to follow her.

“It’s not easy living like this,” he insisted. “Not having the power of chaos? It’s like… hunger. But worse! A thousand times worse!” He pointed at her. “What if you lost your own magic!”

Shiva didn’t look at him, but the thought of losing her magic – being turned back into a normal diamond dog – did send a shiver down her spine. Would the other diamond dogs listen to her? How would she maintain order and contribute to the Empire?

“Shiva,” Fluttershy insisted, going to her side. “We’re all on the same side here. Discord won’t hurt you or your pack again.”

“No, he won’t,” Shiva agreed. “Because I’m not giving him his magic back.”

“Would it help if I said… ‘pretty please?’” Discord asked, before snapping his fingers again. He groaned. “I’d have summoned some beauty makeup with that…” he mumbled morosely.

Fluttershy nudged him. “You know what would help,” she said knowingly.

Discord winced, but slumped again. “Alright,” he declared. “Alpha Shiva… I’m s…” he ended up hissing like a snake.

Shiva perked an ear in deadpan irritation.

“I a…polo-EYEIEEE!” Discord gagged, clutching at his throat, before chuckling. “Okay-okay, Shiva I'm sorry. So truly, utterly, sorrowfully...”

Shiva rolled her eyes and turned away. “I do not have time for this,” she muttered… only to groan as she ran into Pinkie Pie.

“How about time for…” Pinkie covered her mouth, but her eyes glinted. “Something fun!”

Shiva grimaced, but Flash popped up. “Like a party?” he asked eagerly.

“Party?” Celine asked. “What’re those?”

Pinkie gaped at her, before glaring at Shiva. “You never told her about parties?” she demanded, before turning away from her. “I can’t even look at you right now.”

Shiva glared at her. “Look, you might be sitting pretty in paradise here,” Shiva growled. “But my pack has work! I need to make sure the Sirens don’t get into Equestria, my kids need to learn how to harness their powers, we have to make sure there’s gems to harvest from the ground back at the Crystal Empire, and there’s relations to keep at ease between the changelings and ponies. Not exactly a lot of time to be celebrating every single thing there is to be happy about.”

“Well, parties could definitely solve… one of your problems,” Pinkie insisted with a hesitant grin.

Shiva tilted her head, blinking. “Which one?” she asked curiously.

“Bringing folks together,” Applejack said, striding up next to Shiva. “C’mon; we can have the welcome party in Twilight’s castle, so ya’ll can keep an eye on the portal, and we’ll keep the list down to just a few ponies. Just enough to show you how parties can really keep relations at ease between folks.”

Shiva still grimaced with reluctance, but when she looked to Celine, the diamond dog pup’s eyes were alight with awe.

“Can we try it, Mother?” she asked. “Can we?”

"Please?" Flash asked, trying his own version of puppy dog eyes.

Shiva sighed. “Alright,” she said. “Let’s see how well this ‘party’ of yours works.”

Pinkie squealed in glee, and shot away to prepare. Shiva slumped.

“I still really don’t know about this,” she admitted.

“I know Pinkie’s a tad eccentric,” Applejack said. “But who knows. Ya may like what we have to offer.”

“I know I like what Pinkie has to offer,” Discord noted. But Shiva didn’t even look at him. “Are you really going to force me to beg?” he demanded. "I already said sorry."

“I don’t care what you do,” Shiva replied. “I’m not giving you your magic back.”

“Ugh!” Discord collapsed in a heap.

#

Most ponies leaped at the chance to enjoy one of Pinkie Pie’s parties. The pink mare had earned quite the reputation for making any celebration fun and memorable.

But no one was quite prepared for the surprise party Pinkie had planned for Shiva and her group.

First off, the surprise. For every surprise party, Pinkie always demanded that every pony hide themselves in order to burst out and surprise whoever the special occasion was for. But when a minute went by and the dog of the hour didn’t walk through the door, ponies started to get antsy.

“Where is she?” Apple Bloom whispered.

“Maybe she got distracted by a stick,” Scootaloo deadpanned. "She is a dog."

“Sh!” Pinkie insisted. “We can’t spoil the surprise.”

“Technically, you already spoiled it,” another voice noted coyly.

The ponies yelped and jumped away from the sound. Sitting patiently next to Pinkie was Skippy. His diamond dog form was on display, but he still sent two stallions scurrying for the exits, and half the ponies ended up accidentally backing out of their hiding spaces while trying to hide themselves better.

The diamond dog just chuckled before glancing to the entrance. “C’mon in, Shiva,” he called.

With the ponies still disoriented, the doors opened, and Shiva trotted in, Celine, Applejack and Rainbow Dash on her heels. Fluttershy and Discord followed close behind, but with the meandering walk of people who knew they weren’t invited.

“Oh, uh… surprise!” Pinkie said half-heartedly, as the others reluctantly followed her lead. Shiva, however, just turned to Flash and Skippy.

“Alright, everyone,” she said. “Figure out what this ‘party’ business is all about. I’m going to check on the mirror, just in case anything changes.”

Flash eagerly nodded and raced into the crowd.

Skippy walked up next to her. “I can take over in a half-hour,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to miss out on this stuff, Alpha.” He sniffed the air. “There’s… potential positivity. Just ripe for the taking.”

Shiva gave the decorations and food a nervous glance. “We’ll see,” she replied neutrally, before retreating to the library.

However, the minute she opened the door, she found Pinkie, her hooves crossed like a bouncer.

“Shiva!” she chastised. “This is your welcome party!”

“And I’ll enjoy it the way I want to,” Shiva replied, her tendrils yanking Pinkie up and setting her on the other side. “By ensuring no Sirens try to crash it,” she added with a grin, before shutting the door on her.

With a sigh, Shiva turned back to the mirror. Her ears flattened as she noticed a shimmer along the glass. When she stepped up to the mirror, her claws couldn’t help but brush the surface.

Her heart leaped in her chest. Her claws sunk through. She could go through.

No! Remember Celine! Her thoughts reminded her.

Yet… it still took all her willpower to pull her claws away.

My home… she thought morosely. My original home… what if this is really the way back? What if I’m just a mirror away from going back to where I came from?

#

Celine meandered through the crowd, sensing the odd tension in the air. Pinkie tried her best to encourage interaction, but many of the ponies kept to themselves, eying Celine and Skippy with nervous whispers. Flash had no such issues, and was soon invested in a very intimate conversation with two female pegasi. Two fillies, however, walked right up to Celine, fixing her with disapproving gazes.

Celine tilted her head, but approached them with a cautious smile.

“Hello,” Celine said as they stopped within six feet of her. “Are you two… alright?”

“We want to know, like, what Pinkie Pie is doing throwing a party for a couple of mutts,” the gray one said.

Celine blinked. “Excuse me?” she asked. “I’m a diamond dog.”

“Yeah,” the pink one replied. “Those dirty, nasty, gem-hoarding brutes that attacked Rarity. What? Are you here to apologize for that? Because you should do a lot more than just apologize for that.”

Celine blinked, backing up in shock. “M-Me apologize?” she asked. “But… that's what Discord was supposed to be doing!”

The yellow mare spotted her, and instantly raced over. Discord similarly started to follow, but Fluttershy waved him off.

“Celine, are you okay?” she asked worriedly.

“Hey, why are you asking her?” the pink filly demanded. “She’s evil.”

“Yeah,” the gray one added. “And I bet she has, like, ticks or other nasty bugs!”

“Do not,” Celine growled, though she couldn’t help giving a self-conscious look at her fur.

“You can’t even tell?” the pink one asked with a laugh. “You’re just as stupid as the rest of them, aren’t you?”

Fluttershy bristled. “Don’t be cruel,” she said.

But the fillies laughed twice as hard. “Of course,” the pink one said. “Covering for an animal. What else should we expect from Fluttershy? After all, she adopted that crazy chaos creature.”

Discord bristled, looking more than ready to charge in even without magic. A stare from Fluttershy forced him to back down.

Celine gaped at them. “She’s your senior,” Celine stammered in shock. “How dare you?”

“Why don’t you mind your own business, dirt dog,” the filly replied. “No pony wants you here.”

“I do…” Fluttershy mumbled, though she looked like she was struggling to keep herself calm. Celine looked around for Applejack or Pinkie, but both of them had gotten into some sort of argument with Rainbow Dash. Discord was watching Fluttershy nervously, but when he noticed Skippy immediately noticed Celine’s fearful look, and race to grab Shiva, he curled his talons together with an ominous grin. The other groups were watching as well, but whispering among each other, as if unsure of what to do. Several seemed to be watching the pink filly as though she provided regular entertainment.

However, a familiar cream-colored filly near Applejack spotted them, and hurried over with backup. Celine wagged her tail as the three fillies converged on her.

“Hey, why don’t you leave her alone, Diamond Tiara?” a cream-colored filly demanded, standing next to Celine. “She ain’t hurting no pony.”

But the ‘Diamond Tiara’ filly rolled her eyes. “I expected you to cover for her, Apple Bloom,” she snarked. “Considering that mangy mutt you have.”

Apple Bloom turned as red as her bow. “Winona’s a border collie,” she corrected.

“And she makes far better company than either of you do,” the orange filly on her right added, Fluttershy nodding in agreement, and giving a reassuring smile to Discord.

“Like, what is it with you guys?” Diamond Tiara’s crony demanded. “She’s not a pony. She doesn’t deserve any of this.”

Celine blinked. “Excuse me?” she asked.

“Parties? Friends?” Diamond Tiara demanded. “Get it through your thick head, dirt dog. No pony wants you here.”

“I want her here,” Fluttershy growled.

“And so, do we,” Apple Bloom declared.

“So, you’re saying you’d rather be friends with a filthy,” Diamond Tiara jabbed a hoof at Celine. “Pony-snatching, gem-stealing, uneducated…”

“Say that… to me,” a voice growled.

Every pony froze as Shiva materialized in front of Celine. Diamond Tiara backed up, her eyes shrinking as she found herself snout to snout with Shiva, her hackles halfway bared and an expression of pure fury on her face.

"Oh~!" Discord shivered in glee, the potential chaos brimming in the air.

“Go on,” Shiva growled, her voice like rolling thunder and a crazy grin forming on her face. “Say that to me. See what happens.”

“No, Shiva,” Applejack begged, racing to her side.

“Shiva, please,” Fluttershy begged. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“Don’t make me defend that little jerk,” Rainbow Dash growled behind him.

But while their words had no effect on the diamond dog, the pink filly glanced at them, before trying to mold her expression into one of defiance.

“You listen here, d-dirt-diamond dog,” she said, even as the mares stared at her in horror. “You lay a single claw on me, and my daddy will…”

“I DON’T GIVE A FURRY FEATHER WHAT YOUR DADDY WILL DO!” Shiva boomed, lightning flashing from the sound wave her howl almost generated.

What little courage Diamond Tiara melted away, and she scrambled out the back, shrieking her head off. Followed by her crony and around half of the assembled ponies.

For a moment, silence reigned as the others stared at the partially empty room. Pinkie forced out a giggle.

“Well, that was fun,” she said, turning to Shiva. “Oh, hey, Shiva; I was hoping you’d come back.” She pulled out some cake. “How about some cake?”

Despite her cheery look, she couldn’t hide the sweat on her brow, or the darting eyes as the others glared at her. Shiva, however, was the last to turn to her, her expression like a hurricane that had yet to arrive.

“Thank you, Pinkamena,” Shiva said slowly, causing the grin to melt from the pink mare’s face. “Thank you… for showing me exactly how useless parties are.” She picked up Celine, cradling her to her chest, and turned back for the library.

Skippy winced and raced after her, while Flash tried to look like part of the background.

Yet, as Celine hung limply in her mother’s grip, she glanced back at the others.

“Thanks,” she whispered.

Apple Bloom and her friends waved sadly back at her, while Fluttershy’s eyes were hidden by her mane. Pinkie, however, slowly deflated, her mane turning straight like a curtain, and her eyes brimming with tears.

Applejack glanced around, before racing for the library. She found Shiva watching the mirror. Celine glanced back at Applejack, but the pack link bound around her kept her from approaching.

“Shiva…” Applejack started.

“The world beyond this mirror could be the world I came from,” Shiva said morosely, her claw reaching out for the glass again. “All I’d have to do is… walk through. And I could be home again.”

Applejack paused, her heart tearing at the longing in Shiva’s tone. The way she was reaching out for the mirror… Applejack wouldn’t have been surprised if there was a human on the other side reaching back.

But then, Skippy’s voice cut in.

“And what about your people here?” he asked.

Shiva flinched, her claws clenching as the disguised changeling drew her gaze.

“What about your mate?” Skippy insisted, looking down at Celine. “What about your children?”

Shiva’s arm lowered, as did her head. Skippy’s cautious look faltered, replaced by pity.

“Shiva…” he whispered. “You told me your master was dead. A side effect of them bringing you here.” He looked at the mirror. “There’s nothing for you back there.”

“Maybe not…” Shiva pondered.

“No, certainly not,” Skippy insisted. “And even if there was… you’ve built something beautiful here. Something worth protecting.” He touched her arm. “Don’t throw it away for ghosts.”

“Mom?” Celine added. “You wouldn’t leave Kodo and Dad for some… other dimension, would you?”

Shiva sighed, finally lowering her arm completely. She pulled Celine closer, gazing on her with love.

Then… the door burst open behind Applejack. She spun around, finding herself face to face with a very familiar – and very angry looking – stallion.

“Ms. Applejack?” Filthy Rich declared. “I need to speak with Alpha Shiva.”

Chapter 12: So Close, and Yet So Far

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For a moment, Applejack and Skippy looked between Shiva and Filthy Rich like they were about to do battle. Celine wrenched herself from Shiva’s side and took refuge behind Skippy.

“Alpha Shiva?” Filthy Rich began. “I know we haven’t properly met, but I know you through our mutual friends at Sweet Apple Acres.”

“Applejack,” Shiva replied. He blinked in confusion. “Who is right there, by the way.”

Applejack chuckled and waved at them. Filthy Rich, sensing the tension in the air, gave her a terse nod.

“Mm, well… yes,” he said. “I’m Filthy Rich, a business associate of Ms. Applejack, though it should be said that I’m not just here on business.”

Shiva stiffened, glancing at Celine, whom stayed behind Skippy while the disguised changeling nodded in assurance to her. Applejack glanced between the two with a worried look.

“Okay,” Shiva said, rising up and turning to Rich. The business stallion faltered as she towered over him. “What are you here for, then?”

Rich cleared his throat, and tried not to look like he wanted to bolt from the room. “Well…” He cleared his throat again, and recomposed his face into a firm glare. “Did you… or one of your children… threaten my daughter?”

Shiva frowned, but a glance from Skippy and Celine caused her to sigh.

“Your daughter was pushing my daughter around,” Shiva growled. “My daughter was simply trying to see what Ponyville had to offer. And your daughter felt the need to remind my daughter of the days when diamond dogs and ponies were enemies.” Her eyes narrowed as she finally looked at him. “A time I was led to believe Princess Celestia was interested in putting behind us.”

Filthy Rich’s eyes widened in a panic, but another glance at the changeling and earth pony beside him gave him some measure of strength. He straightened his business suit, and cleared his throat.

“I see,” he said. “Well… my daughter certainly… ‘failed’ to mention that part.”

“She lied to you?” Shiva asked.

Filthy Rich swallowed. “I’m… afraid my business doesn’t… give me much time to tend to her. I-I trust my wife to take care of her, though, and, well…”

Shiva’s brow furrowed. “And where is this wife of yours?” Shiva asked.

“She… felt it better that she tend to her daughter,” Filthy Rich said. “She was quite traumatized, after all.”

Shiva huffed. “A good parent,” she noted with a touch of sarcasm. “Well, I can at least commend her for caring about your daughter’s well-being. Though I’d recommend you teach them both about lying.”

“Well, that’s why I’m here,” Filthy Rich said quickly. “To get both sides of the story. Spoiled Rich wanted to call the Royal Guard immediately. But, well… I’ve gotten some colorful stories about my daughter.” He chuckled nervously. “Especially in regards to Ms. Applejack’s family.”

Applejack chuckled herself when Shiva glanced at her. “Just fillies being fillies,” she said. “They’ll grow out of it eventually.”

“I’d still recommend you check on your sister,” Shiva said. “If what Diamond Tiara does with her is anything like how she treated my daughter, I’d be rather worried.”

“E-Exactly,” Filthy Rich said quickly. “So, I just wanted to know your side. See if we could come to an understanding and… find a way past things.”

Shiva’s ears flattened. “What kind of understanding?” she asked suspiciously.

Filthy and Applejack shared a glance. Despite Shiva’s neutral expression, there was still a spark to her body language. Like the wrong word would set a fire that Filthy Rich couldn’t possibly hope to contain.

“Well…” Filthy Rich cautiously ventured forth. “First off… I do apologize for anything my daughter put your daughter through. I do assure you we all want what those awful ponies did to be permanently in the past.”

Shiva’s expression softened by a fraction. “Yes?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said quickly. “A-And as we’re both creatures… er, ponies… um…”

“Animals?” Shiva asked, a bemused tone entering her voice.

“Persons of business,” Filthy Rich clarified with a nervous laugh, bringing out a slip of parchment. “You’ve built quite an impressive trade route through the Crystal Empire, and I own Barnyard Bargains, a rather impressive – if I may say so – chain of convenience stores in Ponyville. I’m curious if I may be able to compensate you for the pain our daughters went through.”

“Oh?”

“What would seem fair?” Filthy Rich insisted, rolling the parchment out. “Perhaps… 20% off all purchases? Maybe a free supply of Zap Apple Jam? Make me a bargain, and I’m sure we can work something out.”

Shiva peered at the parchment, tapping her claw against her chin. After a moment of contemplation, she peered up at Filthy Rich.

“I want you to try and keep a closer eye on your daughter,” she said.

Filthy Rich blinked in confusion.

“I know that it will be difficult,” Shiva admitted. “I more than relate – I have to make sure the diamond dog voice is heard alongside the changelings and ponies in the Crystal Empire. Just… try to find some time for your daughter. Okay?” Shiva gave Celine another look. “Our children are at such an early stage in their lives. They need guidance to become the best they can be.”

Filthy Rich licked his lips nervously, but stood straighter. “I will… certainly try to put more effort into that,” he said.

Shiva grinned. “Good,” she said. She peered down at the parchment. “And just to make sure you’re doing that, I’ll need some way to keep an eye on you. Let’s say… putting a Barnyard Bargains in the Crystal Empire so we can keep in touch.”

“Oh… really?” Filthy Rich asked, starting to grin.

“But considering diamond dogs will be building it,” she added. “Let’s throw in a 50% discount for diamond dogs while we’re at it.”

As Shiva and Filthy Rich started working out the details, Celine and Skippy gave each other assured grins. Skippy could feel Shiva’s anger fading. While it wasn’t gone entirely, it had cooled to a marvelous degree, like a raging fire had gotten water thrown onto it rather than gasoline.

With her mother calmed, Celine ventured back out to the party, where she saw Pinkie morosely hanging up her decorations.

“M-Ms. Pie?” Celine asked.

Pinkie jolted, spinning back around to Celine.

“Is it too late to keep the party going?” she asked.

Pinkie’s grin would’ve lit up the dark side of the moon.

#

Back in the Crystal Empire, Kodo paced angrily before the throne. Scorpia and Cadence watched him with worry, while Luke was silently ensuring Shining Armor didn’t try to confront the pup.

“When is she coming back?” Kodo asked. “The ponies should’ve handled those Sirens by now.”

“If something happened, I’m sure Skippy would let us know,” Luke said. But even he looked nervous.

Kodo turned back towards the South. “W-What if it was a trick?” he wondered. “What if…?”

“Twilight’s not going to hurt your family,” Cadence tried to assure him. “Your mother and sister are going to be just fine.”

But none of them could hear the dark voice in Kodo’s head. Whispering where Cadence’s words couldn’t reach.

“That’s just what they want you to think,” The voice purred like a lion. “Even now, Twilight’s probably dissecting them! Peeling their brains open, and forcing them to divulge their secrets. Oh, you should be scared, little pup. There’s no telling what tortures your family is being put through right now…”

#

“So Kodo’s laying there,” Celine recited to Apple Bloom. “And Mom’s freaking out, thinking that my magic display just broke his back.”

“No way!” Scootaloo whispered.

“Yes way,” Celine said. “But out of nowhere, Kodo just pops up and yells, ‘THAT WAS TOTALLY WICKED!’”

Apple Bloom burst into laughter. “Oh, that’s just like the time Scootaloo had us try hang-gliding fer our cutie marks!”

“Oh, don’t remind me,” Sweetie Belle laughed. “I still can’t get on a hot-air balloon without getting dizzy.”

“Tell me all about it,” Celine begged.

As the pup and fillies tittered with each other, Shiva and Applejack watched them with wistful gazes.

“Is this how we could have met?” Shiva pondered. “Had I run into you instead of Beast Breaker?”

“Well,” Applejack chuckled. “I know Twilight would-a been over the moon ‘bout yer powers either way. She’s always so full ‘o questions. Did ya know that she had me ‘n Rarity put on a sleepover party just so she could research sleepovers?”

Shiva chuckled. “I… don’t think I’ve ever done a sleepover either, if I’m being honest,” she noted.

“Huh,” Applejack’s grin faded. “Even back… where ya used to be?”

Shiva shrugged. “My master probably had her own life,” she admitted. “But my life constantly revolved around her. Whenever she’d leave… I’d just feel… empty inside. And then, when she came back… it was the best part of my day. Because there was always that small, tiny part of me that worried… what if the next time she left was for real. Like, never came back.” Shiva shuddered. “It scared me worse than anything else…”

Applejack winced as Shiva lifted her arm. Though the scar had long since healed over, the war paint Shiva had painted across her body ensured she remembered where it had been.

“Then I found out there were far worse things to be afraid of,” Shiva admitted, gazing at her scar sadly.

Applejack turned her gaze back to Celine, as she started to show off her pack link to the crusaders.

“I don’t know if it’ll help,” Applejack said. “But… yer daughter ain’t gonna have to deal with that. We made a mistake, but we’ll be consigned to Tartarus if we make it again.”

Shiva smiled softly. “Thanks, Applejack,” she said. She turned her gaze to the north. “You know… there are still so many diamond dogs that told me to be careful with you guys. But… I’m starting to wonder if they’re worrying way too much. At least in regards to you.”

Shiva froze, waiting for fate to prove her wrong. Her eyes fixed on Celine, wondering if something was about to happen to her. Her eyes snapped to Discord, who was watching the sun set with Fluttershy, both of them looking very oddly relaxed around each other.

Rainbow Dash was napping in the clouds. Pinkie Pie was off at Sugarcube Corner. Rarity was at her boutique, and Twilight and Spike…

Right at that moment, Skippy rushed through the door. “Twilight’s back,” he reported.

Instantly, Applejack, Shiva and the rest of the Mane Six – almost as if Twilight’s returning summoned them - converged around the mirror, as Twilight came through the portal, a satisfied smile on her face.

“Well?” Applejack asked.

Twilight stretched, clearly not used to suddenly being back on all fours.

“Sirens are dealt with, and friendship has been spread,” Twilight replied. Her sights set on Shiva. “Speaking of which…”

Shiva’s tail wagged and she stepped forward. “What’d you find out?” she asked.

“A lot,” Twilight replied, withdrawing a book from her saddle bag. “It wasn’t easy, but I managed to set some time aside to research the land. I found out a lot about their history and their culture and…”

But as Twilight was talking, Shiva flared up a pack link and touched it to Twilight’s horn. Instantly, Twilight’s eyes glowed and her jaw went slack as images flashed between her and Shiva.

Images of humans, signing parchments, founding lands, and arguing in a senate.

Shiva narrowed her eyes, focusing in particular on an image of a newspaper. 'Mysterious Vanishing' was written across the top, and sent a shiver of hope through Shiva's entire being. But before Twilight could try to comment on Shiva's reaction, new images shot acros Twilight’s vision: Four diamond dogs linked together blasting their way through mines. Kodo sending forth lightning bolts that charged crystals with energy. A diamond dog and a unicorn engaging in a beam-of-war. And above all of them, Shiva’s link twining around her family, charging them with what could only be described as the magic of friendship.

Rainbow Dash nearly lunged in to separate the two, before Pinkie and Fluttershy held her back. After a solid minute of Twilight and Shiva being linked, Shiva withdrew her tendril, and Twilight faltered on her hooves. Her book slipped out of her magic grip, and she knelt in a couchant position, panting and rubbing her head.

“Twilight!” Rainbow yelped, flying to her side. “You alright?” She turned to Shiva. “What was that?”

“It… was a pack link,” Twilight murmured.

The ponies turned to her, while Shiva just grinned and walked away.

“Pack link?” Applejack asked.

“Yes…” Twilight said, lifting herself up. “It… she can transfer memories. Almost like a hive mind! It…” Twilight’s eyes began to sparkle. “I can see it all!” she exclaimed. “How her pack link works! How she manages to do magic. I-It’s just like the Elements of Harmony! She bonds with those closest to her, or those forged under…”

Suddenly, Twilight paused. Her face grew pale; her eyes shrunk to pinpricks.

“Twilight?” Applejack asked.

“Twilight, look at us!” Spike yelped, pulling her to his level.

“The… Beast Breaker…” she whispered. “W-What he did to her, I…” Twilight gasped and her wings flared, trying to rub at her back. “She can still feel his whip. I can feel his whip?” She clutched her head. “Oh, Celestia… how could we have let that happen to her?”

And as the mares tried to tend to the suddenly sobbing Twilight, Spike looked for Shiva… only to find her gone.

Racing outside, he caught Shiva with Celine. Celine was waving goodbye to the Crusaders. Despite the pain Twilight had seen in her memories, Shiva still looked so… content. At peace. Especially when she shared a smile with Celine.

“Shiva!” Spike called, racing down to her.

Shiva turned to him, that smile not faltering. “Hello, Spike,” she said. “You helped Twilight take down the Sirens?”

“I… yeah,” Spike admitted. “Yeah, they won’t be bothering anyone again.”

Shiva nodded. “That’s good,” she said. “I wish I could stay…” She turned her gaze to the north. “But I need to see my son.” Her expression turned pained – almost like the pained expression Twilight had. “I need to know he’s okay.”

Spike looked down. “Well… maybe you can visit again?” he asked. “I missed getting to see you.”

“Can we, mother?” Celine asked.

Shiva chuckled at the puppy dog eyes they both gave her. “I’ll think about it,” she promised.

And with that, she took off for the north, Skippy, Celine and Flash behind her.

#

With Kodo mere seconds from a breakdown, Cadence and Scorpia worried that Shiva was going to come back with a sour look; angered by some scheme the ponies had done. Thus, it warmed both their hearts to see Shiva come back with a warm smile and Celine practically bounding in glee.

“Did you have a good trip?” Cadence asked.

“The Sirens are dealt with,” Shiva declared. “And we’re getting a ‘Barnyard Bargain’ for more trade and convenience.”

“And the ponies are… AMAZING!” Celine cried, bounding to Kodo. “You won’t believe how nice they can actually be!”

“Well…” Shiva glanced away with a grimace… which Luke and Kodo locked on.

“Well?” Kodo asked.

“Why ‘well?’” Luke demanded.

Shiva sighed. “We had one run-in with some spoiled brat that needed a serious catch up on history.”

“Wait… what?” Kodo demanded. “A… spoiled brat?”

“B-But it turned out okay,” Celine insisted. “Shiva talked to her parents, worked things out… and it was fine from there.”

Kodo still almost backed away before looking her over.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “Are you okay? What did they do? Did they hurt you?”

“Kodo, I’m fine!” Celine insisted.

But Kodo’s inner voice was going into overdrive. Some pony hurt her! She must be hiding it because they forced her too! They did something to them! Brainwashed them! Tortured them! Do! NOT! TRUST!

As he held onto Kodo, he was barely aware of Shiva still speaking.

“Believe me,” she was saying to the others. “I’m not going to let some schoolyard bully get in the way of what we’ve built.”

“Of course, Shiva,” Cadence assured her. “We’ve made a good thing with the Dog and Pony Alliance.” She indicated Scorpia. “It’s thanks to our trade and barter that we’ve managed to help another Hive pull themselves from complete poverty.”

“Another Hive?” Celine asked.

“Caritatin Hive,” Scorpia explained. “They lost their queens a few centuries ago, but we’ve been helping them get back on their hooves.” She smiled at Shiva. “And it’s thanks to the alliance we have with you. If some schoolyard bully was capable of tearing down all the work we’ve put into this place, Sombra shouldn’t have been able to hold the Empire for as long as he did.”

Shiva nodded, unaware of Kodo grimacing.

Careful what you say, Princess, he found himself thinking as he and Celine followed their mother back to Diamond Dog territory. If a schoolyard bully holds the key to taking back to my throne, I’ll take it in a heartbeat.

And I think I know just how to make it work for me.

#

Stupid ponies,” the diamond dog couldn’t help but think, watching the pony he had just traded with make off with a crate of sapphires. “Taking nice, shiny gems.”

He glanced semi-sated at the medicine those sapphires had bought, and started to drag it back, before a dark pack link wrapped around his head.

“Did you hear the news?” Kodo’s voice asked.

“Huh?” the diamond dog asked.

Some pony brat got away with bullying Beta Celine,”Kodo reported. “A ‘Diamond Tiara’ thinks ponies are still better than diamond dogs.”

The diamond dog started to growl, before Kodo spoke over him.

Ah, but be careful Shiva doesn’t let you hear,” he cautioned. “The princesses’ brainwashed her. Made her accept the whole thing with a smile.”

“What?”The diamond dog turned back towards the departing pony with a growl. “Should kill them now!”

Soon,” Kodo promised. “Be patient.”He grinned as he spoke. “The Iron Paws have protected the diamond dogs since Shiva’s rule. Now, it’s time for the Iron Wolves to do their part.”

#

Meanwhile, in Canterlot, Celestia got a letter from – surprisingly – not Twilight. But Cadence. As she gazed in shock at the pink seal with Cadence’s cutie mark rather than Twilight’s, Celestia eagerly opened the letter, her eyes sparkling as she read what Cadence had to report.

“Sister?” Luna asked, wandering into the banquet hall.

Celestia turned to her with a smile that could’ve replaced the sun.

“She did it, Luna,” she whispered. “Celine saw easily the best side of Ponyville!”

Luna blinked, before taking the letter. Her eyes narrowed.

“It… says she ran into a ‘minor inconvenience,” she noted.

Celestia’s grin faded, as she looked at the letter.

“Yes,” she admitted. “But the fact that Shiva didn’t overreact, and overall said the experience was still positive is a start.” She folded the letter. “I’ll ask Twilight to find out who this bully was. To… ‘encourage’ them to not risk driving those diamond dogs away.”

Luna winced. “Encourage?” she asked.

“We are closer than ever to winning Shiva or her daughter over,” Celestia said, gazing to the north. “If I must protect my little ponies from themselves, then so be it. We cannot let anything ruin this.”

#

As night fell on Ponyville, no one was aware of the worm signs creeping into town. The trails of something burrowing its way into town.

The Mane Six had left on another adventure. And everyone still in town was too tired to greet these newcomers.

But they weren’t there for welcome parties. As the first of the diamond dogs popped out of their holes, they set their sights on Filthy Rich’s Barnyard Bargains.

“Claw Pack, you focus on the store,” Kodo growled. “Fang Pack, with me.” He inhaled the various scents, his head slowly turning as he picked out the scent of the Alpha, and began to follow it. “This ‘bully’ is going to regret messing with my sister.”

They’re all going to pay, the dark voice whispered, chuckling ominously in Kodo’s head.

Chapter 13: Escalation

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The smell of smoke was the first thing off. As Filthy Rich pulled himself from sleep, he then noticed the odd warmth. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he left his bed – his wife mumbling in her sleep – and crossed over to the door, noticing an odd orange glow underneath the hinges.

“Diamond Tiara?” Filthy Rich asked, opening the door. “Sweetie?”

Then he glanced down the hallway… and his heart stopped in his chest.

Just down the staircase was a flickering orange glow, as if the sun was rising out of the first floor. A few wisps of dark black smoke were curling up the staircase like the tentacles of some ghostly animal.

“Celestia’s mercy…” Filthy Rich whimpered, before bursting into his daughter’s room. “Diamond!” he cried. “There’s a fire!”

“Mm…” Diamond Tiara moaned. “’M sleeping…”

Rolling his eyes in irritation, Filthy Rich seized his daughter in his teeth, galloping back to his room and rousing his wife.

“Spoiled,” he claimed. “We have to go! Now!”

“Ugh…” his wife moaned. “What time is it, Filthy?”

Grimacing at the similar reactions his family members had to offer, Filthy resisted screaming in outrage and focused on crossing to the window. Wrenching the glass pane open, he stuck his head out, and nearly took in a lungful of smoke. The orange glow was brighter down below. It looked like his entire first floor had been set aflame!

“Mm, Filthy?” Spoiled Rich moaned, stumbling out of bed. “Why’d you turn on the heater? It’s the middle of…”

Filthy Rich gave a small bit of thanks to the alicorn princesses as his wife finally focused, and saw the smoke billowing up around them. Her eyes widened in horror.

“Filthy?!” she screamed. “Fire! It’s a fire!”

“I’m well aware,” Filthy declared, his eyes scanning the skies for… his heart leaped.

“Hey!” he called, waving at a familiar gray pegasus. “Hey! Hello! We need help!”

Though he winced at the sight of Ditzy Doo – Or Derpy Hooves, he couldn’t remember – her wall-eyes still managed to focus on the flames like they weren’t supposed to happen.

“What happened?” Derpy asked.

“Some pony set fire to our home!” Filthy Rich claimed. “You have to get us out!”

“Okie-dokie,” Derpy said with a grin. Flapping steadily over the blaze, she seized Diamond Tiara, placing her on her back. Spoiled Rich lunged for the pegasus, but Filthy held her back.

“One at a time,” he ordered.

“But the fire…!” Spoiled tried to insist.

“One at a time!” Filthy barked.

Spoiled gaped at him in indignation, but the gray pegasus was fast. Gliding down a safe distance from the blaze, she set Diamond Tiara on the ground, before flapping up to the others… and promptly bashing into the window. The glass pane was knocked from its perch, and fell into the smoke with a tinkle of shattering glass.

“Oops,” Derpy mumbled. “I just don’t know what went wrong…”

“I’ll bet I do,” Filthy grumbled, as Spoiled leaped into Derpy’s arms. As Derpy drifted down, another pegasus zoomed over to help.

“Mr. Rich!” Clear Skies yelled, pulling him to safety. “So, sorry about this; with Rainbow Dash gone with Princess Twilight, we weren’t sure whether to focus on your home or your work place…”

Filthy Rich’s heart tore in his chest. “My what?!”

#

A few seconds later, Filthy Rich was staring in horror as Barnyard Bargains crumbled to the ground before him, alight with flames. He fell to his haunches, tears brimming in his eyes.

“W-Why?” he stammered, even as the pegasi desperately moved to put out the blaze with storm clouds. “W-Who would do such a thing…?”

Diamond Tiara’s eyes widened as she looked towards the North. “That dirt dog…” she whispered.

“What?!” her mother demanded.

“That diamond dog,” Diamond Tiara insisted. “C-Celine? Her mother yelled at me, and then…”

Spoiled Rich gasped. “It makes so much sense!” she insisted, turning to Filthy. “Filthy,” she insisted. “Get up and wipe those tears away. We know exactly who’s going to pay for all of this!”

#

Despite her insistence, when the time for confrontation finally came, Spoiled Rich and Diamond Tiara quickly found themselves cowering behind Filthy as an equally furious Shiva bore down on them.

“How… DARE YOU!?” Shiva bellowed, her lightning flaring like wings behind her. “You harass and belittle my daughter, and now you seek to blame me when karma hits you?!”

“A-Alpha Shiva, please be reasonable!” Filthy Rich insisted. “After our… er, disagreement, you can’t blame us for being a little…”

“My dogs would never stoop to that level!” Shiva insisted. “I would never allow it!”

“Then who burned down our home?” Spoiled Rich demanded. “Who burned down Filthy’s place of business?!"

Before Shiva could snap back, Scorpia separated them with magic.

“Alright, enough of that!” Scorpia said, as Cadence got between them.

“Mr. Rich,” Cadence began. “I am sorry for the tragedy that befell you. But unless a resident of the Crystal Empire was responsible for it…”

“Which they aren’t,” Shiva growled, still sparking.

“Shiva,” Scorpia hissed.

“… there is not much we can do,” Cadence finished.

“Then find out who did do it,” Spoiled Rich insisted. “Princess Twilight is still off on some journey to the mountains, and she left only that insignificant dragon in charge! Who’s going to investigate it if not the prime suspects?”

“One more word out of you…” Shiva snapped, before Scorpia separated them.

“I can have one of our peace keepers investigate,” Scorpia insisted. “We’ll sort it out with whoever Princess Twilight left in her stead, and figure out what happened from there.”

Shiva huffed. “And when we prove that no diamond dogs were involved,” she added as Filthy Rich ushered his family out. “I expect a full apology.”

#

“Sorry,” Spike admitted as Skippy walked with him to the ruins of Barnyard Bargains. “But Twilight hasn’t exactly gotten around to making a police force yet.” Spike glanced around. “I don’t know if you noticed back when Chrysalis invaded, but the guards… weren’t really that effective.”

Skippy grimaced. “Just because Celestia let the times of peace soften her troops doesn’t mean Twilight should fall into the same trap,” he commented. “I’d be more than happy to give Twilight some recommendations for her own military.”

“I’ll send her the recommendation,” Spike said, his eyes turning to the ruined warehouse. “After we figure out what happened here.”

Skippy strode fearlessly into the smoldering ruins. Glaring around, he shapeshifted into his diamond dog form, carefully sniffing around at the ruins. Slowly, he backed out, before glancing down at the road beneath.

Skippy’s heart fell, however, as he noticed small worm signs in the ground.

“Burrows,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Alpha Shiva was wrong for once… diamond dogs did this.”

#

Shiva took the news… about as well as Skippy expected.

As he knelt before them and laid out what he had discovered, Shiva’s ears had gone completely flat. She slumped in her seat, her claws gripping the sides of her head.

“How did I let this happen?” she mumbled.

“We have been getting a few signs that some of the diamond dogs weren’t happy with your rule,” Scorpia admitted. “Didn’t you try to address them?”

“I did!” Shiva insisted, standing up. “Of course, I did! Unless…” She gasped. “Kodo! He and Luke were in charge while I left Ponyville…”

Skippy brushed his chin. “And I’m pretty sure one of our changelings mentioned him heading out last night. Though I suppose we were fools to think he was just going out hunting.”

“Well, he could technically say he was hunting something,” Cadence noted with a grin, before the collective glares of the others caused her to swallow nervously. “Sorry,” she admitted. “Trying to keep the mood light.”

But Shiva’s mood was dark as night. She slumped back in her seat. “How am I supposed to confront him about this?” she whispered.

“It’s got to be done somehow,” Shining noted. “He destroyed Equestrian property.”

“Shining Armor, he is our son!” Luke snapped. “You don't know what it's like...”

"But you will soon enough," Shiva noted.

Shining Armor paused, exchanging a look with Cadence. The bulge in her stomach resembled how Shiva looked mere weeks before Kodo and Celine joined their Empire.

“However,” Shiva said. “Kodo did do wrong by the ponies… and we have to hold him accountable. Just as we held the ponies accountable for what they did.”

Luke looked down with a glower, but Cadence nodded in relief. “Thank you, Shiva,” she said, before glancing around. “So… who wants to break the news to him?”

#

When the summons came, Kodo didn’t know why he felt so… nervous.

I did the right thing, he insisted to himself as Skippy led him to the throne room. I protected my family.

You forget, pup, the dark voice whispered in his head. You’re in pony territory. If they think you did wrong, then your mother will be forced to think you did wrong as well. It’s a sad day when you can’t trust your own family, but I fear that day is close.

“You’re wrong,” Kodo insisted, almost out loud. “My mother is… well, she’s my mother! She brought me into this world; she’s the only one I can truly trust. Her and my sister and my father. If we can’t trust each other… who can we trust?”

You can trust me,the voice offered. I’ve been with you since the day you left your mother’s womb. I’m closer to you than she or the rest of your family could ever be.

Maybe,Kodo admitted. But you don’t have to be the only one I can trust.

Right as Kodo said that, he was led into the throne room. And the Rich family was standing there waiting for him.

Kodo froze at the sight of them. Spoiled Rich had her nose turned up, and was regarding him like he was garbage. Filthy Rich was watching him with a more neutral, if suspicious look, and Diamond Tiara was safely behind the legs of her parents. Up on the three thrones, Shiva could barely bring herself to look at her son, while Cadence and Shining were engaged in some sort of silent discussion. Scorpia, on the other hand, watched Kodo, her eyes almost seeming to analyze his very soul.

“Thank you, Skippy,” she said, as the changeling escort bowed and left the room. Spoiled Rich watched him go with a haughty look that made Kodo want to slap her.

“What’s this about?” Kodo asked, trying to appear casual.

“A few days ago,” Scorpia said. “This family’s house and place of business were burned down.”

Kodo’s eyes briefly widened, even though he knew none of the three Alphas were fooled.

“Well,” he noted, glaring smugly at Spoiled. “Must’ve been a real shock.”

Spoiled seethed at his look before turning to her husband. “Well, Rich? Are you going to let this…?”

“Please, Princess,” Filthy Rich hissed through gritted teeth. “Continue.”

“This assault on their home,” Cadence continued. “Occurred shortly after their daughter, Diamond Tiara, got into a verbal altercation with your sister and mother.”

“Hmph,” Kodo sneered. “Then it sounds like they deserved what they got.”

“Kodo, stop playing coy,” Shiva snapped. She stood up and fixed him with a gaze that chased his smugness away and caused him to shift to his haunches. “Did you attack them?”

Kodo looked into his mother’s eyes… and he couldn’t find it in her to lie.

“Yes,” he admitted. “But you said it already; they attacked you first. They attacked Celine.”

“It was a ‘verbal altercation,’” Cadence corrected. “No physical harm was done.”

“And beside that,” Filthy Rich added. “We worked everything out! Didn’t we?” He looked to Shiva, but before she could reply.

“This is exactly why Diamond Dogs should never have been allowed here,” Spoiled Rich cried out. “You give them an inch, and they take a…”

“YOU WILL BE SILENT WHILE WE DEAL WITH THIS!”

What cowed Spoiled into submission was that it was Cadence that had spoken; Scorpia busy making sure Shiva didn’t leap off her throne and carve Spoiled Rich’s throat out. Diamond Tiara, however, recognized the look of rage seething across Shiva’s face, and wisely backed up towards the door, all but ready to bolt.

“Needless to say,” Cadence continued, fixing her glare on Kodo. “What you did, Beta Kodo, was way out of line. Not behavior befitting one of your status.”

Kodo blinked at her in shock. “So, it’s out of line to defend my family?” he demanded.

“It wasn’t defending, it was attacking.”

Kodo stared in horror as Shiva spoke the words.

“You escalated a conflict that I had already handled, and in doing so, you are encouraging the belief that diamond dogs and ponies can be nothing but enemies.”

Kodo’s ears flattened at her words. He almost didn’t even acknowledge Spoiled Rich’s smug look. And though her eyes did soften in pity, Shiva did not back down.

“Kodo,” she said. “You are my son. And it’s not wrong to want to defend your sister… but I cannot condone the actions you have taken towards that protection.”

“Mother…” Kodo whispered, as the voice tsked in sympathy.

My poor boy, he said. I’m so sorry.

Yet, as he spoke the words, he was almost drowned out by Spoiled Rich’s haughty ‘Ha!’ of triumph.

“Well,” she said happily. “I’m glad to see at least one of these dogs knows their place.”

Kodo’s ears flattened, and a growl bubbled up from his throat as she turned to the others, only for Shiva to flare with light.

“Do not test me,” Shiva snarled at the mare.

“Or what?” Spoiled taunted. “You said it yourself; your little Tartarus spawn did wrong, and now it’s time for him to pay.” She turned to Cadence. “Princess Cadence, I demand that he be arrested and imprisoned.”

“Excuse me?!” Shiva demanded, right as Kodo snarled, “Are you kidding me?!” Both of them turned to Cadence, only for Shining to run in front of her, flaring his horn.

“That is not how this is going to work,” Cadence insisted, motioning for Shining to calm down.

“Then how is it supposed to work?” Spoiled insisted. “With Celestia adding this mutt to her royal harem?” She turned to Filthy Rich. “Filthy, tell them to imprison them before we go…”

“To who?” Filthy insisted. “Celestia locked up everyone who was involved in Alpha Shiva’s first imprisonment! Who do you think she’ll listen to first?”

Spoiled turned beet red. “It isn’t fair!” she screamed, whirling on Shiva. “Your kind enslaved and tortured ponies long before you ever got to know what it was like behind a cage.”

“Oh, and were you one of those ponies that suffered?” Shiva snarled, before turning to Filthy. “Mr. Rich, you have five seconds to get your wife out of this throne room so we can discuss this like civilized beings.”

“You dare to call yourself ‘civilized,’” Spoiled screamed, pointing at a seething Kodo. “This little devil burned down my home, and I will have…”

CRACKLE-BOOM!

Lightning flashed. Oddly dark yet blindingly bright at the same time.

“AAAAAAAUUUUUUGGHGHHHHHHHHHH!!”

Heads whipped back and forth. Trying to clear their eyes, Scorpia and Cadence focused on Shiva, but she was clearing her eyes as well.

Then Spoiled Rich let out another wail, and all eyes flew to her.

The pompous mare was crumpled against the side of the wall, a cracked indentation in the crystal showing where she had been thrown against the wall. Soot and ash covered her limp form, and while her body was as still as if she was dead, her head wrenched itself up to give another wail of agony.

“Mommy?!” Diamond Tiara whimpered.

“Spoiled!” Filthy Rich screamed, racing to her side.

“HE KILLED ME!” Spoiled Rich wailed. “THAT FILTHY ANIMAL KILLED ME!”

The Alphas turned back to Kodo… but the young diamond dog was gone.

Spoiled Rich’s wailing had drowned out the slammed door.

#

As Spoiled Rich’s wailings echoed up from the castle, Kodo stormed through the Crystal Empire, racing for… where?

I-I don’t know where to go, he realized. I can’t go home! Mom will take me right back!

Do not fear, my young friend, the voice suddenly said in his mind. You have friends here. The Iron Wolves. And me.

Even as he spoke, one of the Iron Wolves poked her head out from a store, blinking at the screams cutting through the air. As Kodo glanced back, his heart chilled as he saw tendrils snaking out, followed by buzzing changelings.

Pack links, Kodo thought. And changelings to catch me.

Yet, even as his spoke, the voice pulled Kodo’s own pack link. It swam like a black eel to the Iron Wolf nearby, sinking into her temple.

Grimm, the voice said, pulling her name from her memories. We have been betrayed. The ponies want Kodo to be jailed for the crime of defending his pack.

What?!Grimm stammered.

Let the word be spread through the link, the voice commanded. Alpha Shiva has fallen to Celestia’s spells. If the Diamond Dogs want any hope for salvation, it is only in the freedom of the Young Beta Kodo.

Kodo and Grimm shared a look. And seconds before Shiva’s pack link could seize either of them, Grimm yanked Kodo into the store.

Even as they raced behind the counter, Kodo could hear Shiva’s voice through the link.

“Beta Kodo!” echoed through the Empire. “Turn yourself in, or the consequences will be far more severe!”

Grimm growled before yanking open a trap door behind a counter, leading down into a mine shaft-like tunnel.

“I use this to get back home to Outer Haven,” Grim explained. “Send the link out; I’m pretty sure most of my neighbors are with you.”

Kodo pressed his head to hers. “I owe you my life,” he whispered. “I will pay you back one day.”

“Start by making this count for something,” she asked, before the door banged open.

“I saw him in here!” a pony cried. “I swear he went down here!”

Sharing a mutual look, Kodo hopped into the tunnel, and Grimm slammed it shut behind him. Kodo raced on into the darkness, sending his links out.

Iron Wolves, he cried into his link. Abandon me, and you abandon Outer Haven to the ponies!

At first, the only response was, Beta Kodo?! Alpha Shiva needs you back! Come back!Then Kodo had to cut the links, and take the paths in the tunnel that led away from those searching for him.

But just as he feared he was about to be surrounded… one of his links tugged him forward.

This way… Alpha Kodo.

Picking up on the use of ‘Alpha,’ Kodo followed the link. It led to… Kodo’s heart leaped at the sight of Luke.

“Father?” he asked.

“I’ll be consigned to Tartarus before I let that sow punish my own flesh and fur,” Luke growled, pulling Kodo along.

However, they only made it five feet before another iron wolf raced to Luke.

“Luke, we’ve been infiltrated,” he whispered. “Changelings got through. I’m sorry; we’re completely surrounded.”

However, Luke glanced over at the tunnel.

“Not completely,” he said, before punching a hole through the wall. Working fast, they made a small tunnel. Big enough for Kodo to squeeze into.

“Just keep tunneling forward,” Luke told Kodo. “We’ll make an alternate pathway to lead them off course, then tell them we lost you.”

“And Mom?” Kodo asked.

Luke chuckled. “You know your mom. She won’t hurt me or the diamond dogs. For now, just head further North and worry about keeping yourself out of pony hooves. We’ll figure out what to do from there.”

“Thank you, Father,” he whispered. Before he turned to leave, he added. “Please… don’t hurt Mother or Celine for this.”

Luke gripped his son’s shoulder. “We’ll try,” he said, before nudging him and several of the dogs forward. “Now go. Hurry!”

Burying the pathway back, Kodo and his Iron Wolves turned and began making their way through the earth. With the aid of his fellow pack mates, they made quick progress away from Outer Haven and deep into the Frozen North.

I’m truly sorry about this, the voice in his head said. But know that we will free your mother and sister.

And the Crystal Empire will be m-mm… ‘yours.’

Chapter 14: A Mother's Hunt

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When Luke returned with the news, he didn’t expect to feel conflict for what he had done. Yet, the heartbroken expression on his mate’s face almost made him reconsider his lie; a fact Scorpia more than picked up on.

“You say he… collapsed the tunnel,” she pointed out. “You couldn’t dig your way through?”

Luke swallowed, but shook his head. “He had some of our dogs with him,” he said. “The best. They knew what they were doing.”

“So now what?” Filthy Rich demanded. Tears were in his eyes, and his cow of a wife was nowhere to be seen. “First, that… he… burns down my home and my place of business, and now he nearly kills my wife… and he gets to get away with all of it?” He indicated the hospital in the distance. “I don’t know if she’ll ever walk again, after what he did to her!” He looked to Shiva. “Shiva… how can you condone this?”

“I don’t,” Shiva said, rising up. “That’s why I personally, am going to get him back.”

Everyone stared at her; the other Alphas. Luke. Even Celine, who was watching through a crack in the door.

“M-Mother…?” she asked.

“Celine,” Shiva said quietly, pulling her from her hiding spot. “You’re going to need to be in charge while I’m gone. Use your powers; do your part to protect Outer Haven and the Crystal Empire.” She turned to Luke. “Luke. Keep her safe. As her father, I hope you can do that…”

Shiva didn't say the last of her sentence, but Luke could feel the words in his heart; like you protected our son. Luke briefly glanced at the changeling princess, but Shiva kept her eyes solely on him. He didn’t meet her gaze.

She turned to the princesses. “Help my daughter with ruling,” she said. “Answer any questions she has.”

Cadence nodded. “Of course, Shiva,” she said.

Shiva finally turned to Filthy Rich, as if she wanted to say something else to him. But as the two locked eyes, words seemed to fail the diamond dog mage. She shut her eyes with a sigh, before walking out.

Exchanging a mutual look, Shining Armor and Luke raced after her. By the time they caught up to her, she had already made it to the border to the Frozen North, diamond dogs watching her with fear in their eyes.

“Shiva,” Shining Armor protested. “Don’t you want help on this? Changelings? Ponies?”

But the minute he said ‘ponies,’ Shiva turned to him, and her eyes were dark as shadows. The captain wisely backed up at the anger in her eyes.

“I don’t want to even see a pony near my son until I’ve gotten the chance to talk to him,” she growled.

“Wait,” Luke stammered. “You’re going alone?”

Shiva glared at him as well. “I thought I could trust my own pack to uphold justice,” she said. She turned away from him. “I was wrong.”

And with both males holding their heads in shame and fear, the Howlite Howler trekked into the snow, and was lost to the swirling wind.

#

Meanwhile, in Canterlot, Celestia lowered Cadence’s latest message with a sigh. Luna peeked her head into Celestia’s room.

“Tia?” she asked. “More bad news of the Howlite Howler?”

Celestia levitated the message over to Luna. “She’s gone after her son,” Celestia said. “A son who nearly murdered one of my little ponies. A son lost to the Frozen North. Until she returns, her daughter speaks for the Diamond Dogs in the Crystal Empire.”

Luna glanced over the message before looking up at her sister. “Is this… not good?” she asked. “You were hoping for Celine to take the throne. And she holds our ponies in high regard.”

“But at what cost, Luna?” Celestia asked, her face creased with pain. “Shiva now has to hunt down her own son like he’s a common criminal! And the pony who provoked him stands on death’s door. What kind of princess would I be to punish Spoiled Rich further when Kodo has already passed judgement?”

“As I recall,” Luna noted. “Kodo is not the ruler of Equestria. You are.” She turned away. “Shall I have some Royal Guard ponies join Shiva? Perhaps a bounty for the young dog’s arrest?”

“You shall do none of those things,” Celestia said firmly.

“Should Twilight do them instead?” Luna asked, a wry grin briefly flashing across her face, before Celestia’s glare chased it away.

“Twilight has enough to deal with,” Celestia said. “Her reports speak of a ‘Starlight Glimmer’ who attempted to steal her cutie mark.” She turned to her desk and picked up her pen. “I will have her dedicate her time to finding this Starlight Glimmer and bringing her to justice. And I will leave Kodo’s judgement to his mother.”

Luna blinked. “Do you truly trust Shiva to be fair to our ponies when it comes to her family.”

Celestia sighed. “I have to,” she said. “Otherwise, we may truly end up losing her for good.”

#

However, several months passed, and Shiva did not return. Neither did Kodo.

Celine ruled as best she could, but the diamond dogs still fretted. They constantly came, asking when Shiva was going to be back.

Cases of diamond dogs fighting ponies began to crop up more and more. Despite Celine’s attempt to be fair and just, the diamond dogs always saw her looking to Scorpia and Cadence for advice. After five cases, one of the dogs snarled and barked at her the second she turned to Cadence.

“Your mother would’ve understood,” the dog growled as she stormed away. “She would’ve remembered she was a diamond dog first, and not a pony.”

“Remember her rank,” Luke snapped at them.

But the words still took an effect on Celine. As the months went by, Celine began to lose weight. Her head was constantly lowered and throbbed with pain. She suffered from nightmares, to the point where Luke reluctantly allowed Cadence to contact Luna.

“She needs her mother back,” Luna reported the next morning. “Her dreams are constantly filled with fear that her mother has died out in the Frozen North.”

Shining shook his head. “She’s been out there for too long,” he admitted. “If she isn’t dead, she’s probably found Kodo and is hiding him.”

“Have care how you speak,” Luke growled.

“Be honest, Luke,” Cadence said. “Wouldn’t you do the very same?”

Luke grimaced, but was unable to refute them. Cadence turned to Scorpia.

“We need to go after them,” she said. “We need to make sure they’re alright. For Celine’s sake.”

“She made her thoughts on ponies clear,” Scorpia said. She smiled before Cadence could protest. “But she never said anything about changelings.”

The ponies blinked, slowly understanding what she was saying.

“I should go with,” Shining Armor insisted. When Cadence glared at him, he raised his hoof. “It’s not that I don’t trust them; they could use all the help they can get.”

“You need to be with your wife, Captain,” she insisted. “Now more than ever.”

Cadence ran a hoof under her stomach, and Shining got the message, sticking to her side. Scorpia turned before Luke could add his opinion.

“You let your son go once before, Alpha Luke,” she said. “While I understand why, it doesn’t mean I’m willing to trust you with him a second time. And besides that… your daughter is definitely going to need you.”

Luke glanced in the direction of his daughter’s room, and sighed in resignation.

Scorpia grinned at her fellows. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I think you’ll like the changeling I have in mind for this search.”

#

Skippy forged deep into the Frozen North, a few changelings behind him his only backup.

“Are you sure this is the right path?” one of them asked.

“Being around the diamond dogs had more than a few advantages,” Skippy replied. “I managed to combine their tracking skills as canines with our own love-seeking abilities. Rather than tracking Shiva by scent, I can track her by love.”

“It can’t be just love that’s around her,” another one of the changelings noted. “Certainly, wasn’t any love between those two Rich ponies.”

“Well, there was some love with the male,” another changeling noted. “But I got nothing from the female.” He smirked. “I wonder if Shiva’s glad her son blasted that mare.”

“Don’t be crude,” Skippy chastised. “Alpha Shiva’s not like that.”

“No, Alpha Shiva not,” a voice admitted.

The changelings froze. Figures were appearing out of the snow. But… they weren’t diamond dogs.

They looked almost like ponies, but were covered in dense, shaggy fur. A large hump protruded over their back, and smooth horns swept out from either side of their heads.

“Yaks,” Skippy whispered.

“Alpha Kodo tell Yaks much about Alpha Shiva,” the largest of the Yaks bellowed. “And even more about ponies who enslave Alpha Shiva!”

Skippy stepped back, before paws wrapped around his hind legs. Before he could turn around, he and his fellow changelings were pulled down into the snow… and soon found themselves surrounded by spears.

“Changelings,” one of the diamond dogs spat, even though Skippy felt an odd aura from him. “Ponies still keep sending others to do their work for them?”

“Wait!” a voice barked. From the group of diamond dogs, yaks... and perhaps other changelings, a familiar shadow-black wolf stepped forward. “Skippy?”

Skippy leaned forward in relief. “Kodo,” he said. He glanced up. “Um… care to explain the yaks and changelings?"

The disguised changeling jumped back with a surprised bark, but Skippy glared at him.

"Don't think you can fool your own kind," he said. "I could see your illusion spell the minute your friends pulled us down here."

Kodo glanced at him with a chuckle. “I guess the yaks are more intimidating, aren’t they?” he noted, nodding for his dogs – and a few yaks - to back off. “We found the changelings living with the yaks, just like the tactic you were pulling. Took us a while to earn their trust, but a lot of them are quite curious to see Equestria.”

“And to smash it,” an Iron Wolf added gleefully.

“SMASH!” A yak boomed, kicking into a wall and making the whole room shudder. Though Skippy didn’t need a possible earthquake to already be shivering.

“Look, Kodo,” He said, struggling to keep his voice calm. “I know you’re scared, but Shiva went looking for you. She told all ponies to stay back, but she’s been missing for months now. Have you seen her?”

Kodo’s face fell. He made a series of barks to his fellow dogs and yaks, and they singled Skippy out from his pod. Nudging him after Kodo, Skippy followed the young iron wolf through a long winding tunnel.

At the far end was a room bathed in the soft orange glow of firelight. Wrapped in furs and placed close to the fire was Shiva. Her eyes were shut, and though her chest rose and fell with life, she didn’t show any other signs of living.

“We found her like this,” Kodo said. “Half-frozen in the snow, but still trekking forward. Then she saw me…” he shook his head. “And passed out from pure relief.” He lifted his claws, watching dark lightning flash across them. “I’ve tried to heal her with the pack link… but nothing I’ve done has worked.”

Skippy, however, peered at his dark lightning. Something about it sent his senses on high alert.

“Something’s wrong with your pack link,” he said, his horn flaring up. “It’s been compromised.”

Kodo blinked at him in shock. “Compromised?” he stammered. “But… can’t be. I got away from the ponies. And the yaks can’t use magic!” He gasped, glancing back at the changelings. "You don't think..."

"No," Skippy admitted. "The magic's wrong. Darker. But it's there." To prove it, his own horn flared with light. He shot a healing spell to Shiva… and instantly, she awoke.

Kodo gasped, clutching his head. But before Skippy could turn to him, Shiva’s eyes focused on Kodo.

“Kodo,” she whispered happily, reaching out for him. “I found you.”

Kodo released his throbbing head, his tail wagging as he took his mother’s claw. “Mother…” he whispered. “I’m sorry. For everything, I’m so sorry…”

Shiva’s face fell, but she said nothing for a short moment. At least… until she noticed Skippy.

“Skippy?” she asked. “What are you… doing here?”

“You’ve been missing for months,” he explained. “I think something in your son’s pack link was keeping you unconscious. We need to let the ponies examine him.”

Shiva blinked, staring up at Kodo, even as he shook his head.

“I wouldn’t,” he insisted. “Mother, I don’t know what was happening, but…” He whimpered as she rose. “Please, don’t hand me back over to the ponies. You can figure out what went wrong; you always know what to do.”

“I…” Shiva paused, looking down at the fire in realization. “I don’t… want to hand you over to them,” she admitted. “But if something’s influencing you…”

“You will,” Kodo noted, his voice becoming resigned. “Won’t you?” The fire glinted off his scared eyes. They briefly darted away, as if he was listening to something. “It’s like Tirek said; you do what they say…”

“Kodo, calm down,” Skippy insisted. “If we tried to attack them like Tirek or Chrysalis did, we would have suffered more than we would’ve gained.”

“How do you know?!” Kodo insisted, turning back to Shiva. “You’ve shown me your memories. I’ve seen what happened. They needed you to stop Chrysalis. They needed you to stop Sombra. They needed you to stop Tirek…”

“And even if I didn’t stop them, they’d have figured something out,” Shiva barked back, pulling herself from the pile of furs. “That’s what these ponies are. For some reason beyond either of us, this universe decided that this was their world. I was lucky enough to forge a place for us in their world. But trying to take it over is foolish. We would have been beaten, and you would’ve been raised in a cage.”

Kodo glared down at the fire. “And what if you were wrong,” he noted solemnly. “What if you could’ve beaten them?”

“Kodo, enough,” Skippy insisted.

“What if you had taken over Equestria,” Kodo insisted. “What if you hadn’t been afraid?!”

#

Twenty years ago…

Eight-year-old Rainbow Dash was in awe. A short while ago, she had been eager to race these no-good bullies Dumb-Bell and Hoops that had been harassing poor Fluttershy.

But before they could start, they noticed what looked like a unicorn and a dragon riding an alicorn exchanging magical blasts with each other. Back and forth they went, beams of light flashing through the air like fireworks.

Eagerly, Rainbow Dash, Dumb-Bell and Hoops gathered, along with other pegasi. One pegasus even started passing out popcorn.

Just as the purple mare managed a blast that knocked the pink mare out of the sky, the purple mare turned, and noticed the foals. Her eyes widened at the sight of Rainbow Dash.

“What are you doing?!” the purple mare cried to her. “You have to finish your race!”

Rainbow Dash and Dumb-Bell glanced at each other.

“Uh, no way,” Dumb-Bell said.

“Yeah, this is way more exciting,” Rainbow Dash agreed.

The purple mare’s face fell, as the pink unicorn rose behind her.

“See?” the pink unicorn mocked. “You can’t stop me no matter what you do.”

The purple mare whirled on her, and Rainbow Dash leaned forward, eagerly hoping the purple mare made the pink unicorn pay for being smug.

But suddenly, a strange blue portal opened up over the purple mare… and the dragon, alicorn and unicorn were gone.

The foals slumped. “Aw, man!” Rainbow Dash bemoaned. As she and Dumb-Bell flapped away, an odd tingle went through her gut. Rainbow Dash wasn’t sure at the time, but she couldn’t help but feel for a moment that something had gone very-very wrong.

Then the feeling was gone.

Chapter 15: The Reign of Queen Shiva

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The first thing Shiva felt was an odd surge in her gut, like someone had dropped her off a cliff. Skippy and Kodo felt it too, looking around in confusion.

“W-What’s happening?” Kodo asked.

“I don’t know,” Shiva admitted, her ears tilting and perking in confusion. “There’s… some kind of disturbance…”

Suddenly, Shiva felt her mind almost… lift away. Memories cascaded into her mind, filling her head like she was having a vision, and taking her away from the cave like she was falling unconscious.

The visions were familiar, yet different all at the same time.

Her memory of landing in Equestria. Her confusion.

Her capture by Beast Breaker. Her escape. Both from him and from Canterlot.

Meeting the Diamond Dogs. Meeting Chrysalis.

Except… Shiva tried to blink. “I didn’t shake hands with her,” she tried to insist. I didn’t agree to help!

And yet the visions disagreed. They showed her storming Ponyville, changelings and diamond dogs together. But… Twilight and her friends… Twilight was gone! Her five friends were scattered. Uncoordinated. They fell so easily to her horde.

Then they reached Canterlot. Finally, Twilight appeared. But she didn’t have her wings. And she was weak! Too weak. Shiva batted her aside with barely a thought.

Luna? Celestia! They all fell as well. In seconds, Shiva and Chrysalis stood facing each other, Celestia’s throne between them.

Chrysalis’ smug grin was fading into shock, as a ball of magic built up in Shiva’s hand. Shiva watched herself hurl it, unable to believe she had been capable of such feats.

She saw… Shiva gulped. She saw Celestia and Luna. Broken. Bowing to her. She saw herself seated on the Alicorn’s throne. More people flashed before her eyes: unfamiliar dragons, diamond dogs, minotaurs… briefly, Shiva’s heart slowed as she saw Princess Scorpio among them…

Then Shiva opened her eyes. She was… She had to blink twice to fully comprehend it. She was seated on Celestia’s throne. Murals depicted Celestia and Chrysalis falling to diamond dogs. All the different creatures uniting in harmony.

And Shiva felt power. More power than she had ever known what to do with before. She looked down at herself.

“By everything sacred…” she mumbled in disbelief.

Her armor was overlaid with royal robes! Her pearls and rubies glittered like stars in the night sky. Her fur pulsated with magic, tendrils of her pack link disappearing through the murals. And when Shiva lifted herself off her throne… she gasped as she felt actual, feather and bone wings extending from her shoulder blades.

She was no alicorn. But she had certainly taken the place of one.

Queen Shiva,” a voice suddenly called. Not from the front of the throne room. But from the pack link.

Almost on instinct, Shiva let her mind slip towards the voice. In an instant, she found herself in a familiar forest. Nestled next to her was…

Shiva resisted sobbing in relief. It was Kodo. Grown up. With powerful looking arms and armor black as obsidian. His paw was on a purple alicorn that reminded Shiva of Twilight. Rainbow Dash stood in front of him, glaring at a purple dragon that was waving his hands, looking like he was begging something.

Don’t I… know that dragon? Shiva thought, searching her memories. Isn't that alicorn... Twilight? Before she could put a claw on who they were…

We caught us an alicorn.” With another jolt, Shiva realized that Rainbow Dash was the one speaking. Her rainbow mane was somehow more ruffled and wild, like she had been spending time in the forest. Sapphires studded a sky-blue vest strapped around the pegasus.

“What do you want us to do?” Kodo’s voice asked, pulling Shiva from her thoughts. “The dragon’s just a kid, but the alicorn could pose a problem. She’s keeps acting like she and Rainbow Dash know each other.”

“A-And I don’t!” Rainbow Dash insisted. “I’m loyal to you above all else!”

Shiva blinked at the panic in Rainbow Dash’s voice, but forced herself to stay as calm as she was about to urge Rainbow Dash to be.

“It’s fine,” She said. “Bring them to me; I will question them personally.”

Rainbow Dash nodded. “Understood.” She turned to the purple alicorn, and Shiva felt an odd shudder at the suspicion in the normally loyal pegasus’ eyes. “Looks like it’s your lucky day, kid. The Alpha herself wants to see you.”

“Rainbow Dash, please, listen to me!” Twilight tried to insist, but Kodo yanked her up roughly and shoved her forward.

“Less talk, more walk,” he growled, prodding her forward with his axe.

Shivering, Twilight and her oddly familiar dragon friend started walking. And as Shiva watched them, she inched her consciousness out, trying to figure out where she was.

Her heart jumped into her throat; she was in Canterlot! But… it had changed. Thankfully, it wasn’t ruined or abandoned. But every kind of species walked through its walls. Dragons. Changelings. Diamond Dogs. Minotaurs. Griffons. And plenty of other animals she couldn’t even name!

“How… could this happen?” Shiva thought.

But she barely even had to ask before the memories returned.

The various animals bowing to her… they had been ambassadors of these species. They had come to her, eager to form alliances or eager to test the new ruler of Equestria. And she had passed their tests. Earned their respect! And more… she had extended the offer of friendship to them. In a way Celestia never had.

She quickly started sorted through her pack links, chuckling a bit as she realized they were all sorted by name. And better yet, many of them were names that she was familiar with.

So… Her ears perked. How is everyone doing in this new world?

Quickly finding Celine, Shiva looked into her daughter’s link … and breathed a sigh of relief as she found her working a soup kitchen, handing out bowls of hot broth to hungry workers of every species.

“Don’t crowd!” Celine barked, her pack link tendrils separating a group of dragons that were shoving a familiar white mare away. “There’s plenty for everyone.” Ignoring the dragons, she sent forth a tendril that lifted Rarity up and ahead of them. “Doing okay?” she asked.

“It’s always armor these days,” Rarity complained, accepting a bowl from the diamond dog. “No one wants dresses or even formal attire. Any more requests for armor, and I fear my hooves will be permanently callused.”

“Oh, quit whining about it, pony,” one of the dragons grumbled. “You should consider yourself lucky; at least you know how to work gems.”

Rarity huffed, while Celine just snickered.

“Well,” Celine offered. “I have been thinking about getting a robe for formal occasions.” She winked at Rarity. “Think you can help a pack sister out?”

Rarity eyes’ glittered, and she kissed Celine on both sides of her face.

“Princess… or… Beta…?” Rarity stammered.

Celine waved it aside. “Just Celine, to you,” she said.

“You are truly a life saver,” Rarity giggled, before practically skipping away.

#

Shiva chuckled softly at their antics. It seemed that Celine’s love for ponies crossed dimensions well enough. Turning to the pack link labeled ‘Luke,’ she found her lover gathered in what had to be a war council room. Shining Armor and Skippy, along with a cyan blue dragoness, a darker blue minotaur, a wrinkled old griffon and a couple of other warrior-looking folks, stood glaring down at a map of Equestria.

“Our scouts reported a village of pony separatists out in these canyons,” Skippy was saying, pointing at a section of mountains. “I sent one of my men out there; he talked about them being some sort of ‘equality’ cult.”

Luke chuckled. “Queen Shiva’s going to love that,” he muttered.

“I wouldn’t get too comfortable,” the dragoness noted. “Whoever’s leader down there is probably not going to be eager to bend the knee to someone else.”

The minotaur laughed. “If ponies have a problem,” he declared. “They’ll get a taste of Iron Will and the Iron Paws!”

“Definitely have that as a backup plan,” Luke agreed. “Ember, can you spare a few torchers in case we need to go all out.”

Ember nodded grimly. “If they have one of those stupid pony rebels that want to tear down what we’ve got,” she promised. “You can have the whole flame brigade.”

“Just two should work for this operation,” Luke replied, turning back to Shining and Skippy. “Shining; send one of your men as the negotiator. Shiva would want us to give them a fair shot.”

You know me well, my love,” Shiva noted coyly. The others jumped, before turning to the link shining above him.

“Queen Shiva!” they greeted, giving quick nods of respect.

“No need for formalities,” Shiva said. “Just stick with everything Luke said. If they work with us, good. If not… you know what to do.”

Ember grinned. “You gave us access to the treasures hidden beneath Canterlot,” she said. “We’re more than happy to make sure that doesn’t change.”

Shiva nodded, noticing Shining wince before she pulled back to her throne. With Skippy already accounted for, Shiva curiously checked the link for Scorpia. She found the changeling princess watching happily as a swarm of changelings slowly built a hive, not far from the Crystal Empire. Cadence stood alongside her, her belly swollen with a slowly developing baby.

“And you’re certain they’ll take to a pony?” Cadence asked.

“A pony that’s given them a steady stream of love,” Scorpia corrected with a grin. “Caritatin Hive will accept you. And I’m quite certain your child, when raised alongside them, will be seen as practially family by the time she's ready to inherit.”

Cadence rubbed her stomach subconsciously. “Sometimes, it feels weird, knowing how we used to be royalty,” Cadence admitted.

“Don’t consider it a demotion,” Scorpia replied. “You don’t see Celestia or Luna in dungeons, do you?”

Cadence pondered it. “Last time I heard from them, they were in Somnambula,” she admitted. “Celestia mentioned she was almost happy Shiva beat her. Took a massive weight off her shoulders.” She smiled. "Though, that's probably just because Shiva beat Chrysalis after the changeling tried to betray her."

Scopria shook her head with a huff. "That changeling was always a power-hungry idiot," she said. "But there's nothing to worry about; she's dead, and Shiva is in charge."

Nothing to worry about… Shiva pondered, slipping out of Scorpia’s pack link. Yet, when she delved back into her son’s link, she immediately saw the nervous looks on the faces of Twilight and her dragon – what was his name? Shiva thought furiously - as they watched the bigger and stronger species striding around through Canterlot.

Rainbow Dash didn’t seem nearly as nervous. She walked alongside Kodo as if she had known him for years (and, as the memories reminded Shiva, she actually had).

“Hey, check it,” Rainbow Dash noted, pointing out Rarity as she bounced into a shop happily. “How long do you think it’ll be before your sister proposes marriage.”

Kodo chuckled. “Aw, be nice, Dash,” he said. “She’s like that to all the ponies.”

Rainbow Dash grimaced as she saw one diamond dog back-hand a peddling unicorn out of his way.

“I don’t know,” Rainbow Dash admitted. “Being nice to them… when they haven’t earned their keep…”

“Like Blueblood over there?” Kodo asked, giving the peddler a disgusted look. “Agreed on that. But, Rarity does an okay job with armor.”

“Like I need armor,” Rainbow Dash boasted.

“Our last two sparring sessions say otherwise,” Kodo pointed out.

Rainbow Dash scoffed. “You know you cheated,” she pointed out.

“Well,” he replied. “You gonna play fair at nine tonight?”

Rainbow Dash grinned. “You’re on.”

Spitting into each other’s hoof and paw respectively, they shook on it, prompting another moan from Twilight.

“You used to do that with Applejack,” she moaned (whom, Shiva discovered with a quick look into her links, was still at her farm. Apparently, there were some things that shifting dimensions would never change).

Shiva smiled at her son’s banter and friend, though, she couldn’t help but notice the somber expressions on the ponies. While plenty of pegasi and even a few earth ponies looked happy, or at the very least determined, there were plenty of unicorns that looked utterly miserable. And it wasn’t hard to see why; every other species towered over the ponies. If it wasn’t for Rainbow Dash’s ten feet of attitude, even Kodo would’ve had her on height.

But, as much as Shiva’s gut throbbed in pity for the ponies, she couldn’t help but notice the good things as well. Her diamond dogs looked so healthy. So, did the changelings. The dragons didn’t look so cranky or irritated. The griffons were actually smiling. Even the minotaurs looked like they were having fun.

And… it hit her just as Kodo and Rainbow Dash entered the palace – Kodo didn’t have to pay for what he did to Filthy Rich! Quickly checking through her pack links, she discovered Filthy Rich’s business up and running, and providing jobs and benefits for minotaurs and diamond dogs.

Meaning Kodo had never set fire to that warehouse. Celine had never been bullied. Best of all… maybe whatever had compromised Kodo’s pack link had never happened! Things were going to be okay! She didn’t have to confront him on any of that!

Things are really okay, she thought happily. We're all gonna be okay!

But then, the doors to her throne opened. And Kodo and Rainbow Dash nudged Twilight and – was it Spike? Shiva wondered - inside.

Twilight’s eyes widened… before she had to avert them due to Shiva’s magic glow.

“S-Alpha Shiva…” Spike whispered. “Did you… how did…?”

Kodo nudged him with his axe. “When talking to the Queen,” he growled. “You kneel.”

“Easy, son,” Shiva said, rising from her throne.

Briefly, she searched through her pack links one last time. But, to her displeasure, Spike was still missing. She could’ve sworn she knew him.

Unless…Shiva’s ears flattened as she gazed down at him. Did something happen in my conquest that hurt him?

But as she searched through her memories, she couldn’t find any record of him. Even her time in the pits… the baby dragon they tortured wasn’t him! In this timeline… it seemed he simply never existed.

Shiva knelt before him. “Where have you come from?” she asked. “Why are you two not linked like the rest of the ponies?”

Spike pulled his way forward. “A-Queen Shiva, it’s me,” he insisted. “Spike! I was the only Equestrian you trusted at first!”

Shiva shook her head. “In another life, perhaps,” she admitted. “But I cannot find my memories of you from that time.”

Spike backed up, covering his mouth in horror, before Twilight stepped forward.

“Of course, you can’t,” she said. “Because this is the wrong timeline.”

Kodo and Rainbow Dash growled, but looked to Shiva for guidance. She motioned for them to wait, settling herself before Twilight.

“Explain,” she said firmly.

Twilight’s gaze didn’t falter. “A pony from my time used a spell to travel back and change the past.” She gave Spike a sad look. “That’s probably why Spike isn’t… with you in this timeline. Among other things… that pony stopped his birth.”

Shiva’s ears flared, and she stared down at Spike with horror and a bit of pity. Spike himself clutched at his heart, looking at his body as if fearing it would turn to steam.

“But…” Spike realized. “You still remember me. How?”

Kodo laughed. “My mother’s pack link cannot be deceived,” he boasted. “She knows all and remembers all.”

But Shiva was deaf to his words. She glanced down, curling her claws.

“The memories are faint,” she admitted. “Like trying to remember a previous life.” She looked up. “But this pony is responsible for… this as well?”

Twilight followed her gaze. “Yes,” she agreed. “Which is why she has to be stopped.”

Shiva paused. “Stopped?” she asked.

Spike paled, giving Twilight a sign to stop, but Twilight stepped forward insistently.

“You see,” Twilight insisted. “In my timeline, Rainbow Dash, myself and four other ponies found the Elements of Harmony, and used them to protect the world. I don't know how much of that you remember, but you need to let me and Spike go back in time and bring that world back.”

Shiva closed her eyes, feeling the memories of that world coming back to her.

“Yes,” she muttered. “The world where Celestia rules. Where…”

“Where you still rule as an Alpha of the Crystal Empire,” Twilight insisted. “Where your children…”

Shiva’s eyes shot open. “My children,” she gasped, standing up. Twilight and Spike backed up.

“Queen Shiva?” Spike asked.

Shiva let a slow breath out, regarding him with pity before turning to Twilight.

“Twilight,” Shiva insisted. “If I go back to that world… everything here will be erased. I don’t know if Celestia would try to find peace with the other species as I did…” She gazed at Kodo with fear. “And my child’s fate is not something I can allow.”

“Your child?” Spike looked back and forth between them before he gasped in realization. “Because he burned Filthy Rich’s home?”

Kodo tilted his head. “I did what?” he asked.

“It’s nothing you need to worry about, Kodo,” Shiva assured him. “It’s a problem from another life.”

“Another life?” Twilight stammered. “Shiva, the ponies are miserable in this world! You may have harmony with the other races, but it’s not harmony for everyone.”

“What do you know about it?” Rainbow Dash demanded. “Harmony works, but only if you got the strength to back it up. Some ponies have that strength. Not all of them, but enough of them.”

“Strong or not,” Twilight vowed forcefully. “No pony should have to suffer for the good of everyone else.”

“An admirable thought,” Shiva admitted. “But one that is ultimately impossible to maintain.” She settled herself back on her throne. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, Twilight Sparkle, but your old timeline is gone.” Her gaze softened. “But it doesn’t mean you have to suffer.”

Spike and Twilight glanced at each other. “What do you mean?” Spike asked.

“Join us.” Shiva extended two pack tendrils, floating like hands before the two. “Aid us in maintaining this new Equestria. We need all the help we can get keeping the peace between the different species. You could even reignite the friendships you had in the old timeline.”

Twilight gazed at Rainbow Dash, who tilted her head back with a scoff. Spike inched his hand out, reaching for the link. However, Twilight sighed.

“I’m sorry, Shiva,” she said, backing away. “But I can’t leave my own world behind. I have to get back to the Cutie Map.”

She turned to the exit… only for Rainbow Dash and Kodo to step in front of her.

“Rainbow, what are you…?!” Twilight stammered, only for Spike to notice the tendril aimed at her turn into a spear.

“Twilight!” he screamed, knocking her out of the way just as the spear jammed into the ground she was on. Both of them turned to Shiva as she rose, her wings spreading and her glow brightening like the sun.

“I was worried you’d say that,” she admitted, before turning to her links. “Ember,” she commanded, remembering a meeting she had yet to go through with the dragon.

Aye?”Ember asked.

Somewhere in Ponyville,” Shiva ordered. “There is something called a Cutie Map. Might have appeared out of nowhere. Find it… and destroy it.”

“On it,” Ember replied, as Shiva turned back to Twilight.

“Shiva…?” Spike begged, tears poking at his eyes as she bore down on them.

“I didn’t want to do this to you,” Shiva admitted. “Especially you, Spike.” She sighed. “But if you won’t join us…” Lightning crackled to life in her claws. “Then you must die.”

Chapter 16: New Perspectives

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As Twilight was sent out the window, Shiva realized this wasn’t the first time this had happened. As her wings propelled her after the young alicorn, other memories invaded her mind: times where dragon lords had come seeking Equestria for themselves. Griffons, changelings, minotaurs and other creatures that thought Shiva was weaker than Celestia. All of whom were quickly proven wrong when Shiva had torn them apart. And as she noticed the crowd already gathered, watching with glee as Twilight struggled to balance herself in the air, Twilight was likely about to join all those challengers in regretting their choices.

“Please…” Twilight whimpered as Shiva glided down before her. “Please don’t…”

“You should have joined me, Twilight,” Shiva said. “I gave you a choice.”

“B-But can’t you just put us in jail or something?” Twilight insisted.

Shiva’s glower deepened. “In a cage?” she asked. “The same thing I suffered in; the same place I was tortured?” She shook her head. “Not even you deserve that kind of torture. Your death will be swift, and painless, as long as you accept it.”

But Twilight refused to accept it, and as she tried to dodge another blast of lightning, she was sent careening down the streets of Canterlot. With a cry of agony, Twilight hit the street, bouncing twice before coming to a halt.

Behind her, Shiva sensed Spike jumping out of the building as well. Briefly, he sucked in a breath, preparing to roast her tail. But Kodo shot out as well. And Shiva winced as his claws slashed through Spike’s scales, throwing him into the streets of Canterlot as well.

“The alicorn is mine!” Shiva announced to the others. “I will show her why I rule Canterlot!”

No one questioned it. The minotaurs, griffons and minotaurs even chuckled darkly as they watched Twilight struggle to her hooves. Shiva could feel their emotions through her links. They expected her to kill Twilight. She needed to, if she wanted to maintain their respect. There was no other option.

Shiva tried to force herself to focus on things about Twilight that had made her angry; her defense of the ponies that had hurt her. Her insistence that Equestria could do no wrong! The way she had tried to force Shiva to go to Canterlot…

No. The new memories washed those ones away. Twilight didn’t force me, Shiva realized. I forced her!

She could see it so clearly. The changelings and diamond dogs storming Canterlot. Changelings and Diamond Dogs ripping through any defense. Twilight herself trying to defend Celestia… only to be batted aside.

Shaking herself out of her memories, she saw Twilight rise back into the air. She looked around at the crowd, watching her with eagerness.

“You can’t want this!” she exclaimed. “This isn’t the way Harmony is supposed to be maintained!”

“And how is it supposed to be?” a griffon snapped. “With Celestia on the throne and ponies ruling over everything?”

“While everything else has to forge for scraps?” a dragon asked.

"I..." Twilight started to say, before pausing. "S-Scraps?"

“Queen Shiva offered us more!” a minotaur replied. “More than Celestia ever did.”

“But…” Twilight insisted. “I’m… I…”

Slowly, she fluttered back to the ground. Her gaze became broken. Horrified. “What am I doing?” she mumbled. “I’m fighting against the very thing I’ve always strove to study and protect.” She looked up at Shiva, tears brimming in her eyes. “How? How did you do it?”

Shiva lifted her tendrils. “Do you think it was easy?” she asked. “I know it’s hard to see, Princess, but no matter how scary the other creatures look to ponies... we're all living creatures.” Her face fell. “But you aren't wrong to be intimidated. Dragons, griffons and minotaurs and all the others have led harsher lives. They are used to taking what they want; fighting every day. I have to show that I am worthy of respect. I can't be kind and generous the way Celestia wants everyone to think she is.”

“And it… worked?” Twilight asked. "They listened?"

“It wasn't perfect,” Shiva admitted. “It didn't come without pain and sacrifice. But they listen to me. The species get along with each other. The world is united.”

Twilight stared around at the different creatures. “It… really is. Isn’t it?” she admitted.

Shiva’s look softened. In all the different creatures that had rejected her, none had actually considered her points like Twilight seemed to be doing. They had remained wrapped up in their own heads. Completely assured that they were right until the bitter end.

She extended a tendril again. “It’s not too late,” she whispered. “Join us. I don’t want to kill you.”

Twilight started to reach out for her tendril again. Shiva’s eyes filled with hope.

But she stopped. A wince went through her body, even though Shiva hadn’t struck her yet. Then she turned her head to Ponyville.

She turned to Shiva with betrayal in her eyes. “You sent someone to destroy the Cutie Map,” she whispered.

Shiva sighed.

“I’ve made my home in this place,” Shiva insisted. “This is my world!” She charged up a spear of light, but kept her claw open to Twilight. “Please. This is what you always wanted, isn’t it? Harmony? A world run by friendship and mutual respect? Join me and help me maintain it. I don’t want to kill you, but I refuse to put you into the same cages I suffered in, and I can’t just let you go if you say no.”

Twilight gazed at her claw, and actually started to reach out and take it. Shiva’s ears perked up.

But Twilight’s hoof hesitated, inches from Shiva’s claw.

“I’m sorry, Shiva,” she whispered. “But even if I accepted… I wouldn’t belong.”

Shiva’s ears flattened. She let out a low sigh.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” she replied.

She threw her spear, but Twilight just barely managed to dodge. Diving low, Twilight shot towards Spike, who was currently being engaged in combat with Rainbow Dash. Kodo slunk along the sides, ready to jump in if Spike got the upper hand. Which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“Don't do this?!” Spike pleaded as Rainbow Dash battered him with blows. “We were friends, Rainbow Dash.”

“I have friends,” Rainbow Dash growled. “I’ve worked my way to the top, and I’m not losing all that for someone I don’t know!”

She moved to flatten Spike into a pancake, but Twilight shot into their fight. Seizing Spike away from their former friend, she deposited her dragon on her back. Banking her wings, she took back into the air. Rainbow Dash moved to follow her, before a tug on the links from Shiva halted her.

“No,” Shiva growled, her eyes glowing with power. “She’s… MINE!”

Twin bolts of lightning fired from her eyes like heat vision. Twilight spun in the air, her horn flaring as a shield spiraled into being. No sooner had it formed before Shiva’s bolts hit. An explosion rattled the windows of the city. But Shiva’s eyes narrowed; No ashy remains dropped out of the sky. No final scream of pain.

Her ears flicked as she picked up the beating of wings. Turning, Shiva growled as she saw Twilight desperately flapping for Ponyville, her horn flashing as she teleported closer and closer with every beat of her wings.

“No, you don’t…” Shiva snarled, pumping her own massive wings and taking off after her. The land-faring creatures could only groan as she left them behind, but plenty of winged creatures like the griffons, pegasi and dragons took flight after her, eagerly watching as she sent bolt after bolt towards the rapidly teleporting Twilight.

“Ember,” Shiva barked through the link. “Did you find the Cutie Map?

“Yeah,” Ember confirmed. “Some weird hunk of crystal. I’ve been charbroiling it, but it won’t melt. I’m gonna see if I can just smash it after I get it hot enough.”

“Well, whatever you’re going to do,” Shiva said, focusing on Ember while summoning the power of every unicorn she was linked to, “It’s probably going to get interrupted.”

Ember paused. Shiva got ready to try and teleport to her location.

Then, just as the teleportation spell took effect, Ember commented. “Is that why a purple alicorn is coming my way.”

Rather than respond, Shiva focused on her magic. And with a flash of light, she found herself next to her dragon ally… and Twilight and Spike screaming as they hurtled towards her.

Yelping in shock herself, Shiva flared out a lightning bolt in defense… and winced as Twilight squealed in utter agony.

Despite her shot, Shiva still felt Twilight careen in her chest, throwing her off the Cutie Map from where she had teleported. Flaring her wings, Shiva forced herself to a stop, throwing Twilight down onto the burned but still standing Cutie Map.

Twilight shivered, clutching at a charred mark in her stomach. A similar exit wound suggested that Shiva’s beam had punched right through her. Scrabbling out from under her, Spike threw himself between Shiva and Twilight, his hands out as thought he was hoping he could shield her.

Shiva’s ears flattened in pity, but she still raised her claw, ready to deliver the finishing blow.

“Shiva…” Spike pleaded, tears brimming in his eyes. “Please don’t. We won’t hurt Kodo if you let us go back to the old time. We’ll make things just like they are here. Even better.”

Shiva grit her teeth. “Stop talking, Spike,” she whispered, the lightning charging in her claws.

“You don’t have to do this,” Spike pleaded. “You’re better than this! This isn’t who you’re supposed to be!”

“STOP TALKING!” Shiva barked, even as her claw shook, and the spear of light flickered and glitched.

“I… swear…” Twilight whispered.

Shiva and Spike paused. Even Ember leaned forward to listen as Twilight lifted her head up.

“I swear… on Celestia’s life…” Twilight whispered, even as she struggled to breath. “We… won’t… let this… be…” She took a rattling breath. “Just a dream.”

Then her head slumped against the Cutie Map. Shiva blinked, the energy in her claw fading. Did... Twilight just die?

“Twilight?” Spike whispered, shaking at her. “Twilight?!”

Shiva's claws trembled. She took a step back. This wasn’t right. This felt so… evil! Twilight had been irritable and annoying, but she was nothing like the other dragon lords and griffons and other beasts Shiva had killed. She had been just been trying to get back to her own timeline! Seeing Spike sobbing over her… it made Shiva feel like…

Like a villain,Shiva thought.

“Alpha?” Ember asked.

Shiva’s heart dropped into her stomach. And now I have to do it again, she realized, aiming her claw reluctantly at Spike. I have to kill him too.

To maintain peace. To keep my son safe.

To maintain… harmony.

Shiva shut her eyes. She couldn’t do it. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to put down a crying baby dragon.

Then, as she opened her eyes… she noticed Twilight’s horn flickering with light. She noticed the Cutie Map glowing with something other than heat.

Ember and Shiva jumped back as a portal suddenly opened over the map. Spike looked up in alarm, before he gazed down at Twilight. Shiva blinked as she realized… Twilight was smiling.

“I promise,” she assured Shiva. “This won’t be just a dream.”

Even with a lightning spell through her gut, she had just enough energy to re-activate the spell. And as Shiva sent a panicked lightning bolt at her, the shot went wide as Twilight and Spike were sucked into the portal, and it vanished with a pop.

#

Twilight plummeted out of the portal. It took all her will power to flare her wings and keep from falling through the clouds. Starlight was already ahead of her, floating above her in a cloud of magic.

“Made it back, eh? Well, I… uh, huh?”

Starlight’s look of vindictiveness changed to concern as she took in Twilight’s battered body. She gasped as she saw what the lightning spell had done to her.

“You… What happened?” Starlight asked.

“Seriously?” a pegasus demanded, flying towards Twilight. “Are you alright, ma’am?”

Twilight struggled to step forward.

“Doesn’t… matter…” she muttered, flaring her horn. “Can’t… let you…”

But Shiva’s spell had done too much damage. And as Twilight slipped into unconsciousness, her last image was of Starlight, staring at her in horror.

#

When Twilight woke back up, she found herself in a hospital bed. The damage Shiva had done to her was mostly, if not completely, healed. A unicorn doctor tended to her, and Spike a group of other pegasi were grouped around her.

“W-Where am I?” Twilight asked.

“Shiva did a lot more damage to you than I thought,” Spike said. “We had to get you to a hospital.” He bowed his head. “I’m sorry, Twilight, I couldn’t stop her…”

“Stop… Starlight?” Twilight asked. But then she noticed one filly among the pegasi that had likely carried her. A cyan furred pegasus filly with rainbow hair.

“You alright, miss?” Young Rainbow Dash asked. “They told me I didn’t have to help, but… this pink unicorn insisted that we all pitch in.”

Twilight let out a frightened squeak, sensing the energy of the portal already building above her. With a tired sigh, she looked up as the portal formed above her, sucking her and Spike into another timeline.

“Sorry, Shiva,” Twilight whispered as she was pulled through space and time. “But my promise is going to have to wait a bit.”

#

Shiva almost found herself feeling gratitude for the sudden feeling of time altering.

As her mind flashed back to when she first dropped into Equestria, relief that she wouldn’t have to face the subjects she failed shot through her heart. However, it was quickly replaced by dread as she quickly found herself back in Beast Breaker’s pits.

Things flew by in a blur; her escape from Canterlot; Celestia looking oddly tired and weak. Luna even more oddly absent.

Then Chrysalis made her offer. Shiva accepted it, once again throwing off the timeline. But when Celestia fell, and Chrysalis and Shiva faced each other for the throne…

Shiva shrieked as Chrysalis got the first hit in. Her laughter echoed in Shiva’s ears as she was encased in emerald green resin.

“Thank you,” Chrysalis said mockingly. “For making this all too easy.”

With a final laugh, she blasted Shiva in the face.

When the white diamond dog recovered, she found herself strung up in a cocoon. Faintly, she made out other cocooned forms. A scared whimper escaped her as she recognized Luke and her diamond dogs. Celestia hung there as well, as did Shining Armor and Cadence. And Skippy…

By everything sacred, where’s Skippy? Shiva thought with horror.

But her view was quickly blocked, as she felt her pack link flare out against her will. Shiva tried and failed to scream as she felt her energy being pulled from her body. Coming into her view was Queen Chrysalis, a pack link wrapped around her hoof, turning a sickening green as she almost nuzzled up to Shiva’s cocoon.

“You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this,” Chrysalis admitted. “Your magic… powered by love?” She stroked Shiva’s face through the resin. “Oh, my darling; I may just keep you forever.”

And as she pulled Shiva forward into a disgusting kiss, Shiva began to fear that she would be kept there forever. With this loathsome queen leeching off her power and doing who knew what else to her and her pack.

Twilight,” Shiva thought with all her heart, focusing on the fading memory of the purple alicorn. “Please… fix this!

#

It felt like an eternity before Shiva felt the pull of new memories again. But this time, when she was returned to a cell in Canterlot… something was different.

The dungeon had a different layout from the cells in Canterlot. It was made of what seemed to be obsidian or very dark bricks. And for some reason, even though a part of Shiva knew she had been in Equestria for several days, not once had she seen the sun.

Then Luna came to interrogate her. But it was far worse than the Luna Shiva remembered:

This Luna’s fur was a pitch black rather than a midnight blue. Midnight blue armor and regalia covered her figure, and her eyes, bluish-green and slit pupiled like a dragon, regarded her with the same intrigue a spider would show a slightly deformed fly.

“So,” the demonic version of Luna mused. “A diamond dog has managed to steal magic from ponies?”

“I-I don’t understand,” Shiva stammered. “I didn’t…”

“No creature in my kingdom should possess magic!” Luna boomed. “No one but the ponies!”

Shiva shivered as her horn cast a harsh black glow. Shiva felt the magic envelop her like an anaconda squeezing her prey.

“P-Princess Luna…” Shiva squeaked as she felt what seemed to be her very soul being sucked out of her body.

“Princess Luna died a long time ago,” the alicorn snarled. “You, dog of dirt, have the honor of gazing with your last breath upon Nightmare Moon!”

And that was the last Shiva heard before her consciousness was swept away in a vortex of magic.

#

When Shiva awoke, it was with another reset of her memories. Once again, she found herself back in Beast Breaker’s cage. Once again, she broke out.

But this time, she rejected Chrysalis offer. She beat Chrysalis with a tired Celestia by her side.

But when the time came for Tirek to arrive… it was horribly different. This time, a giant Tirek stomped into the Crystal Empire. And when Shiva moved to strike at him, he matched her with a beam of magic. Both of them found themselves tugging at each other, trying to drain the magic from their very beings. But he was stronger. Stronger than he should have been. Even with all her diamond dogs at her side, Shiva still felt herself losing ground.
“The Howlite Howler,” he boomed with amusement. “Did you think you were the only one with power like this?” He sneered as the space between his horns lit up with more magic. “Unfortunately, you place far too much trust in those you call ‘friend.’”
Shiva shook her head in disbelief, before Tirek unleashed his magic. Shiva was unable to stop him in time. Her magic faltered as she saw Luke and half of her diamond dogs vanish in a blinding flash of light.
In her despair, her magic failed. And she felt her magic pulled from her, disappearing down Tirek’s gullet. Collapsing to the ground, Shiva was barely able to lift her head as Tirek’s bellowed with laughter, her magic sparkling across his hands.

Come on, Twilight, she pleaded as Tirek's laughter deafened her. Reset this! Reset!

#

But the next two resets brought no hope. Again and again, Shiva had to endure the altered timeline.

First, she found herself in a world of chaos. The grass was like tentacles, and the trees grew cobs of popcorn. Beast Breaker didn't capture her; he was captured by Discord. And as Discord's eyes fell on Shiva, she found out first-hand how it felt to be turned into a diamond statue. Honestly, being trapped in ice was a better alternative.

And when even that timeline was erased, it was replaced with one where Beast Breaker instead brought Shiva to two strange stallions, who set her and the other diamond dogs to work in factories.

And even when Shiva attempted to break out with her magic, the stallions seamlessly transferred her to some sort of power plant. Strapped down and electrocuted on an hourly basis, Shiva’s life became one where her magic was used to power these strange stallions machines.

“Twilight, please…” Shiva found herself begging. “What are you doing?!”

Yet, even when the time finally came, and Shiva was blessed with the reset… she found herself in a wasteland.

No Beast Breaker. No Tirek. No Canterlot. Just… nothing.

The memories showed Shiva making her way through the wasteland. Finding a few diamond dogs who managed a small community. Managing to find diamond and gems in the ruins of an old town - Ponyville, she vaguely remembered. Her magic didn't show itself from some desperate attempt to escape. It came instead from saving another diamond dog's life. Luke. Celine and Kodo joined them not long after that.

Shiva sighed. At least these memories don't involve me dying or getting enslaved, she thought with relief.

But one day, as Shiva felt herself start to settle with this new timeline, she heard voices. With Luke, Kodo and Celine by her side, she found herself peeking out at two familiar ponies as they argued before a familiar crystal surface.

“Every world I come back to is worse than the last,” Twilight was saying. “I don’t know why my friends and I are so important to Equestria, but we are.”

“I don’t believe you!” the pink unicorn – Starlight, Shiva remembered with a burst of anger – declared.

“Come on, Starlight, look around!” Spike demanded.

“Like I said,” Twilight insisted. “Everything in the past affects the future. Even the tiniest act. And what you’re doing leads here! And for what?”

As she indicated the wasteland, Starlight glared around it, hesitation and doubt struggling to break free from her being.

That witch is the reason I had to go through all those timelines, Shiva realized. She started to pull herself out of the ground. The reason…

“Shiva?” Luke asked.

Shiva found herself pausing. The reason I got to rule Equestria. Suddenly, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with the pink unicorn.

“I was happy with what I had,” Starlight insisted. “Before you and your friends ruined what I built!”

Twilight narrowed her eyes.

“And what exactly did you build?” she demanded. “A ‘perfect society’ built on lies? You built a town where every pony was just your mindless puppets! Their lives and fates were strung to your hooves!”

“They were free!” she insisted. “Free of cutie marks that brought nothing but pain and misery!”

“Then why’d you keep your own?” Twilight argued. “If all cutie marks are nothing but a symbol of evil, what did that make you?”

“A victim!” Starlight insisted, jumping onto the map. “I’ll show you!”

"Hey-Hey!" Spike yelled.

Twilight and Spike jumped after her, and in seconds, the unicorns and dragon were gone.

“That was… weird,” Kodo commented.

“I’ll say,” Luke replied. “Ponies haven’t been around here in ages.”

Shiva sighed as she felt time start to ripple again. “I think… that’s about to change.”

#

Meanwhile, unknown to Shiva, Twilight watched, irritated, as Starlight’s past played out before her. She tried to be empathetic. She tried to give others the benefit of the doubt. But what she saw before her… was downright pathetic.

“Is this it?” Twilight asked.

“What?!” Starlight demanded.

“You were angry because your friend got his cutie mark first?” Twilight demanded. “Applejack’s little sister handled this better than you did.”

“But…” Starlight stammered. “I wanted…”

“What did you want?” Twilight demanded. “A world where YOU were the only important pony alive? Where words like ‘special’ and ‘talented’ and ‘amazing’ could only describe you?” She shook her head. “Now it’s my turn to show you something!”

Activating the time spell, Twilight brought Starlight to a familiar road. A carriage trekked along it, holding a cage with a familiar white diamond dog inside it.

“You see that?” Twilight demanded, pointing at the past version of Shiva. “That diamond dog had to suffer through actual pain. Actual agony. While you complained and whined about your friend getting his mark before you, she was caged and beaten and tormented by us. By ponies.”

“You’re bluffing,” Starlight insisted. “No pony would…”

But Twilight hit her with a new spell. One that she had learned from Shiva. And it filled Starlight’s head with the memories Shiva had shared with Twilight. The pain. The suffering. It sent Starlight to her haunches in horror.

“What…?” she stammered. “We… did that?”

“Yes,” Twilight said. “No pony should have blamed her for hating us. For letting us rot. Heck, thanks to your meddling, I found out that if she had let us fall to Chrysalis, she would’ve united the world. Actual equality; not your ‘excuse’ of a town.”

Starlight glowered at her. “Oh yeah?” she snapped. “Then what did she actually do, if you were still in charge?”

Twilight hit the time spell again, and displayed… Shiva standing triumphantly over Chrysalis’ changelings, the ponies standing in awe behind her. Almost… protected by her.

“She pushed past her grudge,” Twilight said. “She found something good in this world, held fast to it, and even found a way to help us. US, when she would have been more than justified to let us become changeling food. So, tell me, Starlight,” she said, before sending them back to the filly version of Starlight, fuming in her home like the pouting child she was. No cage. No whip. “Who’s the real victim here?”

Starlight tried to reply, but her retort died in her throat as she gazed at her younger self, now looking so much safer when compared to Shiva. Twilight sighed, her face relaxing by a margin.

“For too long,” Twilight admitted. “I’ve tried to make Shiva give more. I never considered the pain she was going through.” She looked up, her eyes narrowing and her horn glowing. “It’s a mistake I intend to correct!”

#

Beast Breaker’s cage.

The Cell in Canterlot.

Escaping to Diamond Dog Territory.

Chrysalis’ Offer…

They all flashed by in a blur, but Shiva felt her heart settle as the events played out the way she remembered them first.

Rejecting Chrysalis.

Meeting Celestia.

Rejecting Luna.

Fighting Luna.

Forgiving Fluttershy.

Fighting Chrysalis.

Outer Haven.

But as the memories drew closer and closer to Kodo’s burning of Filthy Rich’s home, Shiva felt her heart rate start to speed up. How was she supposed to stop all of that? How was she supposed to protect her son?

Maybe I can just set him up in Yakyakistan, part of her thought. Or just set up with him! We can leave and make a new home there.

But fate had other plans in mind for them both. For right when the time came for Spoiled Rich to confront them and lead to Kodo attacking her… something new happened.

The door burst open right in the middle of Spoiled Rich’s rant. Before Kodo could attack, Twilight Sparkle came in, Starlight and Spike on her heels.

“Stop!” she screamed. “Every pony stop!” She skidded to a stop, panting for breath.

“Twilight?” Cadence asked, rising in concern. “Is something wrong?”

Twilight gazed up at Shiva with a determined look in her eyes. “Yes,” she said. “And I intend to fix it.”

Chapter 17: The End... Or is It?

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For a moment, Twilight caught her breath. Scorpia, Shiva and Cadence all glanced at each other nervously. Kodo spared a glance with his sister, who was between Shiva and Luke. Though both shot a dark look at Spoiled, who was regarding Twilight like she was either pyrite or solid gold.

“Princess Twilight?” she noted. “It’s about time you got here to handle this…”

“Show some respect to your Alpha!” Shiva snapped at the mare.

Spoiled moved to argue, before noticing Cadence’s horn glowing in warning. Wisely, Spoiled shut her mouth.

Catching her breath, Twilight cleared her throat. “Apologies for the delay,” she said, managing a small curtsy to the princesses and alpha. “But, as Princess of Ponyville, I should be entitled to an opinion on the destruction of property in my place of residence.”

“Of course,” Cadence said. “What did you… have in mind?”

Cadence gave a worried glance to Shiva. The diamond dog herself was watching Twilight with anxiety riddled across her soul. The memories of her time in the alternate world were fading fast, but she could still recall what she had done to Twilight. She wouldn’t have blamed the alicorn for having a grudge.

Yet, when Twilight gazed up at her, there was only sympathy in her purple eyes. She turned her eyes to Kodo, who was regarding her with suspicion.

“Kodo burned down Filthy Rich’s Barnyard Bargains, yes?” she asked.

Kodo nodded. “Because they think they can get away with harassing my sister,” he growled.

“Now, you listen here…” Spoiled started to snap.

“We’ve already discussed this…” Filthy tried to interject.

“Enough!” Scorpia boomed, silencing both of them. Twilight, however, maintained her composure.

“Right,” she said, nodding to Kodo. “Well, Kodo, as Princess of Ponyville…” she lowered her head. “I apologize that your sister had to go through such harassment in the first place.”

Spoiled blinked at her. “WHAT?!” she stammered. However, Twilight turned to her with a glower.

“Your daughter harassed a representative from another nation,” she growled. “You should be thankful that I haven't made arrangements to take her away from you for incompetent parenting.”

Filthy Rich gaped. “P-Princess Twilight, there’s no need for that!” he insisted.

“Then I recommend you get a better handle on her,” Twilight replied. “Because no matter what species they are, Shiva and her family are representatives of the Crystal Empire, and deserve to be treated with the same respect and decency you would show Princess Cadence or my brother.”

As she spoke, Kodo and Shiva exchanged a glance, Shiva’s tail starting to wag. Twilight turned to her, and shared a small smile.

“The crown will cover the expenses,” Twilight said. “And measures will be taken to ensure that Ponyville is nothing like what Beast Breaker or Blueblood tried to turn Canterlot into.”

Shiva smiled softly at Twilight’s offer. “You are very kind, Princess Twilight,” she said. “Which is why I’d like to extend an offer.”

The room went quiet.

“My son still caused the damage,” she said. “His intentions were pure, but his actions were unneeded. I’d like for him to aid you in repairing the damage done.”

“Mother!” Kodo stammered, but Shiva shut him down with a glare.

“I told you before, Kodo,” she said firmly. “You are my son and I will always hold you in high regard. But I will not condone what you did to these ponies. You have to settle your debts, and make it right.”

“Besides,” Celine added in. “Ponyville’s really not that bad a place. Even if it’s got a few rotten apples in the bunch,” she added with a glare at Spoiled.

Twilight smiled. “Don’t worry, Kodo,” she replied, turning to Kodo. “I’ll show you that Ponyville isn’t something you need to fear.”

Kodo crossed his arms, but didn’t argue. Spoiled and Filthy shared a mutual look and nodded.

“I think we can work with that,” Filthy said.

“It sounds like we have a consensus,” Cadence declared. “Beta Kodo will take a short trip to Ponyville, and repair the damage done.”

Kodo looked down with a sigh. Shiva rose, her eyes darting between her son and Twilight.

“When will you take him?” she asked.

Twilight pursued her lips. “Um… would now work?” she asked.

Shiva winced, but Spoiled tossed her mane with a huff.

“I say right now should be perfect,” she said. “The sooner he gets started on repairs, the better.”

“I… must agree,” Filthy Rich added. “We can’t take up residence with business partners and family friends forever.”

“And…” Kodo muttered, almost to himself. “The sooner I get the repairs done… the sooner I can come back home.”

Twilight chuckled. “Try not to think of this as a prison sentence,” she said. “More of an… extended field trip.”

“Just give Ponyville a chance, brother. Please?” Celine asked, crossing to his side. “You may like what you see.”

Kodo sighed, before embracing his sister. “Just don’t get into any more trouble,” he said. “I’ll still try to protect you, but it may take me longer to get back to you.”

Celine laughed. “Don’t worry about me, brother,” she said.

As Kodo said goodbye to the rest of his family, Shiva crossed over to Twilight, lowering her head so their voices wouldn’t be heard. Getting her hint, Twilight cast a silence spell over them, keeping them from being heard.

“I…” Shiva cleared her throat. “I appreciate this, Twilight. You didn’t have to be this kind.”

Twilight’s grin faltered. “You’ve been dealing with too many ponies that turn to cruelty or manipulation,” she said softly. “You should be able to see our friendly side more often.”

“I agree,” Shiva admitted. “Which is why I should probably warn you…”

Twilight’s ears perked and she leaned in closer.

“I’m not sure how much you remember from the alterations in time,” she said. “But… before everything changed… Skippy told me of something with Kodo’s magic. He said it was compromised.”

“Compromised?” Twilight looked to Kodo, who was in a deep conversation with Luke. “As in… possessed?”

“I don’t know,” Shiva admitted. “And that’s what scares me. If this dark force is what convinced him to burn down the store… what if it tries to make him do something worse?” She turned back. “I should probably go with you. Make sure he doesn’t do anything crazy. And, if there is something in him… maybe we can figure out how to purify him together.”

Twilight furrowed her brow, before nodding. “I’d appreciate the aid,” she said. “And you have my word as a princess; whatever we do to cure him, it won’t hurt him.”

Shiva smiled and rested her head against the princess’ head.

“You know,” she mused. “When we first met, I was never sure if I would ever be able to trust you.” Her tail gave a small wag. “You may just be able to prove me wrong yet.”

Twilight chuckled, before dissipating the silence spell. Just in time for Kodo to dart over to Shiva and give her a massive hug.

“I’ll be back soon,” he promised. “I won’t leave you alone forever.”

“Who said you were leaving me, my love?” she asked, squeezing him tight. “I’m coming with you.”

Kodo blinked up at her. “W-Wait, really?”

Twilight nodded. “There’s an idea I wanted to run by her,” she said. “Involving a School of Friendship where other species can share their ideas and thoughts on the subject of friendship with each other, and maybe work towards more cooperation between our fellow species.”

Shiva gave Twilight a look of surprise, but Twilight just grinned at her.

“There was an alternate timeline where you united the world,” she reminded the wolves. “And I promised we'd try and make that world a reality.” She shrugged. "The School seemed like a good first step."

Shiva’s tail started wagging so hard, it would’ve knocked out everyone behind them. She turned back to Celine and Luke.

“You guys can handle things while we’re gone?” she asked.

Celine saluted her mother. “I’d be proud to,” she responded.

Nodding, Shiva turned back to Twilight. “Then let’s go,” she declared.

And so, joining Starlight, Spike, Twilight and the Rich family, Shiva and Kodo left the Crystal Palace behind. Diamond Dogs – Iron Wolves among them – gathered to watch as he left. And just as they left the empire grounds, Kodo turned back and regarded his fellow Iron Wolves.

A flurry of wolf howls followed him out. Howls that translated out to, “Long live the Alpha.”

“Long live the Alpha indeed,” The voice mused. “You should be careful pup,” the voice whispered. “Your mother and sister have fallen for their spells. You must take care not to let them beguile you as well.”

“Don’t worry,” Kodo assured him. “If they try their spells, we’ll know. Right?”

Oh, yes,” The voice assured him. “In time, you will see the leash your mother and sister are trapped on.”

Then we’ll figure out how it works,” Kodo resolved. “We’ll break Mother out. And then Celine.”

And then the Empire,” Sombra chuckled with glee. “I can hardly wait.”He gazed through Kodo’s eyes at Shiva and Twilight, walking together despite their differences. “They think this is over,” Sombra laughed. “But it hasn’t even begun.”