The Dark Mirror Saga: Book 1: The Tale of the Last Caribou

by Violagameboy

First published

Twilight finds a black mirror in the basement of Canterlot High and listens to an old caribou's tale

During a visit to the human world, Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria, finds a black mirror in the basement of Canterlot High. Inspired and moved by curiosity, she crosses through the mirror to see what may lay beyond. She finds a wasteland of perversion, ruin, and death. But even in such a place, she comes across an old caribou whose story will shake her to the core of her being.

Disclaimer:
I do not own 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic' and Fall of Equestria belongs to NCN.
This story is entirely my own idea along with all the concepts, plot, and characterizations. The writing is only commissioned.

Cover art by Mix-up.

(Warning: The following fic contains extreme themes, including slavery, body modification, degradation, misogyny, and brainwashing. It does not reflect the author's views on the subject matter, is written as strict fantasy, and should be read as such.)

This Saga has been forged in my mind for a long time, and it is finally taking fourth. Hope all of you enjoy it.

This first book was inspired by The Lorax by dr Seuss

Chapter 1 - Through the Dark Mirror

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“Good morning, Twilight!” Said Rarity as she passed by carrying a bunch of sewing materials needed in her club.

“Morning, Rarity!” Twilight greeted back, waving a hand at her friend. She felt her cheeks redden but not because she was embarrassed or anything of the sort. Oh no, it was due to the best reason to blush over: she was happy.

Canterlot High had changed very little after their little incident with the Dazzlings. In truth, the three sirens were long gone, nowhere to be seen nor found. Not that she really minded their absence at all. They had been despicable in the way their manipulative music worked. To cause so much harm and negativity for their own sake? And it wasn’t even because they needed it to survive, just for the sake of power? No, she wouldn’t feel bad for their demise… although she did feel like she had failed them.

“There you go again, trying to fix other problems that aren’t your own. Who’s to say they could be redeemed? They rejected our aid and sealed their fates. There was nothing else I could’ve done,” she murmured to herself whilst walking around the school.

It was an odd arrangement, to say the least. She could spend her time going around the school as much as she desired and even go into classes. Of course, she wasn’t a student but Principal Celestia didn’t really mind it. Not after everything she had managed to do in favor of Canterlot High. After all, her primary motive was to spend time with her human friends and, to a lesser extent, learn more about the human world.

Twilight was, if anything, a true academic through and through.

“I wish I could spend more time here!” Twilight said to herself as she stretched out a bit, wriggling her fingers and popping a few joints in the process. “He he he~ Cute and weird,” she said with a small blush before a snicker cut her off. Turning to the side, she found Sunset Shimmer with a playful smirk. “Sunset!” She exclaimed, her blush intensifying and hiding her hands behind her back. “You didn’t happen to see me doing anything embarrassing, right?”

“Oh, you mean this?” Sunset wriggled her fingers as a response, chuckling. “Don’t worry, Twilight, I did the same thing when I arrived. You’ll get used to it sooner or later, but that was adorable.”

“R-Right,” Twilight coughed, trying to regain some of her composure. “Say, Sunset, has anything happened lately? Everyone seems to be on edge. Please tell me we don’t have to worry about magical incidents,” she pleaded.

“Ha, I wish! Finals are approaching. Sign me up for some new freaky Equestrian mishap over taking exams,” Sunset replied.

“But… exams are so fun! All you have to do is study hard!” Twilight replied rather eagerly.

“Yyyyeeeeahhh… No,” Sunset sighed and crossed her arms. “That aside, you’re here for a casual visit or something?”

“I had some free time and I said to myself ‘Hey, it’s been a few weeks since I traveled to the human world. I wonder how everyone’s doing. And here I am. Maybe I should’ve made sure you weren’t as constrained. But I couldn’t help myself!”

“Wow. Fluttershy wasn’t kidding. You are in a good mood. Any reason in particular?”

“That’s the best part. I don’t have any! I’m just happy and content,” Twilight replied with a friendly grin.

Sunset nodded and snapped her fingers. “Say, mind if we--”

“Sunset Shimmer!” The voice of Vice-Principal Luna shouted suddenly, causing the yellow-skinned girl to flinch. “Come here this instant!”

Sunset gulped before grabbing Twilight’s shoulders. “You haven’t seen me, okay? Cya!” And with that, she was off at a speed that Rainbow Dash would be proud of.

Twilight blinked, confused, a moment prior to the vice-principals arrival. “Darn it! She escaped, again!” Luna sighed, defeatedly. “I swear that girl would achieve so much more if she focused that energy on something productive rather than avoiding doing her chores.”

“Uhhh… hello, Prince-- Vice-Principal Luna. Is something wrong?” Twilight asked once the older woman took a breath.

“Oh, greetings, Twilight Sparkle. Or is it Princess? Whatever, it doesn’t matter,” Luna replied, waving a hand back and forth lazily. “Have you seen Sunset Shimmer?”

“...No?” She offered unconvincingly.

Luna merely raised an eyebrow. “Uh-huh. Well, my work never ends. Have a pleasant day,” she said as she turned to leave.

“Uhmm, Vice-Principal, may I ask what’s the matter? Perhaps I could help you,” Twilight offered.

Luna stopped and turned to face her again. “Your offer is appreciated, Twilight, but this is a task for Sunset Shimmer.”

“Which is?” Twilight insisted, tilting her head sideways.

“To retrieve an artifact I may or may not have misplaced in the school’s basement.” Silence set in between the two until Luna blushed slightly. “I don’t like going there myself.”

Twilight had to suppress a giggle at that. They may be counterparts, but she’s anything like the Luna I know! “If that is all y-you require,” she shook her head and cleared her throat, shaking off the humor from her voice, “then I believe I can easily do it. I’m not your student and, if anything, I’m part of the reason your school went through so much turmoil.”

Luna stood silent for several seconds as she mused her options and the offer intently. “Are you… certain? I wouldn’t wish to interrupt your activities; much less so order a Princess around.”

Twilight nodded. “It is no issue, Vice-Principal. As it happens, I am left without much to do. It seems I came to visit during an inopportune time. Please, I would be happy to aid you,” she said, smiling.

Luna nodded and reached inside her left pocket, pulling a photo and handing it to Twilight. “This is what I need. I… do not remember where it is. You may search for it as you see fit… just… try to not use magic? We have enough to deal with now that your friends have suddenly gained such abilities.”

“Of course,” Twilight took the photo and tucked it inside one of her pockets. “Do you need it in a hurry?”

“Not really. So, please, do not feel pressured to find it quickly,” Luna said, now turning to leave once more. “Thank you, Twilight. Now, if you excuse me, duty calls.”

“Have a good day,” Twilight said as she saw the woman bee-line towards Trixie. She turned around, not wanting to see or hear the chewing the magician was going to get for practicing her tricks inside the school. Instead, she made her way to the basement. Following the signs and directions proved easy enough and soon she was at the entrance of the stairway leading down the poorly illuminated place.

Without thinking too much about it and showing no fear nor hesitation, she began to descend. “Huh, now that I think about it, this is the only place in the school I hadn’t visited yet. Take that out of the checklist,” she murmured, doing just that in her mental list. It didn’t take her long to reach the bottom and after that, the double doors that sealed the basement properly. Turning on the lights, she found the small room housed a few boxes filled with cell phones, hand-held consoles, and other retrieved and lost items. “So that’s where they put them? Clever.”

Stifling a laugh, she opened the unlocked doors and was… instantly disappointed. “Honestly, is this what everyone is so afraid of?” She said while scanning the room brimming with old boxes, odd furniture, a grand piano, a harp, several half-finished paintings, and who knows what else covered with white, dusty sheets. “The Forbidden Section of the Royal Library is ten times scarier than this place. If they fear a lonely, dark, dank basement, they would hate visiting the Everfree Forest at night,” she finished with a chuckle before stepping into the room, the door closing behind her.

Pulling out the photo from her pocket, she inspected it but soon found out that the poor light above her barely provided any aid at all. With a sigh, she illuminated her hand with a faint magical glow. “Technically, I’m not using magic, just the light,” she muttered to herself. Now with proper illumination, she saw the object she had to find was some sort of cube. “Huh? That looks… weird? What even is it? A puzzle? A jigsaw?” Shrugging, she tucked the photo away. “At least it won’t be hard to find. I think.”

Thus, the search began. Back and forth she traveled, searching inside open boxes for the cube, inside the piano, on the ground, on top of the furniture pieces. But no luck. Ten minutes ticked by quickly, then twenty, forty, until an hour passed. Despite the lengthy search, she kept on searching in the same cheery, content mood she’d found herself in.

Suddenly, the telltale ringing of a magical device being activated froze her where she stood. “Hello?” She called out, looking around in search of anyone but found nothing but air. “Hmmmm, I know I heard something. Oh, Celestia, please don’t let it be another long-lost magical artifact trapped in this dimension.”

With a new resolve in mind, Twilight increased the light coming from her hand as she slowly moved around with her other hand outstretched, also glowing with magic but only acting as a detector. “Come on, where are you?” She passed her left hand over objects slowly, not wanting to miss the object by accident. She searched for several minutes without success and was about to stop when the aura around her hand turned blue for just a moment. She smirked. “There you are.”

Moving slowly towards where the blue glow guided her, she soon found herself in front of a large blanketed object. As she reached for it, however, the glow around her hand suddenly became incredibly cold, the color shifting to a sickly black. “Gaaahhh!” She gasped, pulling her hand back as it stopped glowing. She inspected her hand for a few seconds, but found it unharmed; the unpleasant sensation went away without a trace. “What was that?” She voiced out as she stared at whatever was lying underneath the blanket.

Frowning at it with defiance, she reached out for it again. She took a hold of the blanket and pulled it to the side; dust clouds blinded her for a few moments as she began to cough. When the dust settled down, she saw it and her eyes widened. She took an involuntary step back as she couldn’t believe what her eyes were seeing.

“What… but I thought… why is there another one here? Did Sunset know about it?” She muttered, unable to comprehend what was in front of her. But there was no denying it. It was another portal mirror.

It was similar in size and design to the one she used to travel to this dimension, but there were… ominous differences to consider. First of all, the color. It was almost entirely black with only a few silvery pieces adorning it. Second, there were plentiful small cracks running alongside the frame that didn’t appear to be caused due to aging or brute force. If anything, they appeared to be merely cosmetic in nature. Third, and that was the most alarming yet eye-catching difference, the top of the mirror had a sun and moon wrapped in chains.

A sun and a moon that looked eerily similar to the Princesses’ Cutie Marks blended together.

Twilight gulped, staring into the darkened reflection of herself. Even the mirror itself was dark, almost as if blackness wanted to pour out from it. “There’s no way Sunset wouldn’t have warned me about this mirror being here… which means she doesn’t know it exists,” Twilight reasoned, swallowing hard and feeling her palm sweat a little.

The appearance of the mirror was one thing, but the longer she looked at it, the more curious and repulsed she felt. Repulsed? No. Not repulsed. Something else, similar to revulsion but not quite as strong struck her.

Aversion. Yes. The longer she looked at it, the more aversion she felt toward it. Not enough to cull her equally growing curiosity, though.

“I have to tell the Principal and the girls about this. We can’t risk having this portal--,” she blinked and a chill ran down her spine. Without thinking about it, she reached into the mirror and gasped when her hand passed through the liquid-like surface of it. Pulling her hand a moment later, she shuddered. “This very active portal remains here where anyone or anything could use it.”

She stared at the mirror for several moments, perhaps minutes, maybe seconds. She didn’t know. As she stared at it, she almost felt as if something was staring back at her at times. Shaking her head, her doubts and fears vanished and she stood resolute. “What if it is dangerous? I should… I should see what lies behind it. For my human friends and for Equestria, I must know,” she gulped, taking a step forward. “I won’t take too long, though. I can’t let Sunset or the rest of my friends worry too much and wonder where I went off all of a sudden. Go in, make a few observations, return. Simple plan, easy to follow, no risk of failure.”

She took another step forth, then a second, and then a third; her right leg crossing the mirror without incident. The coldness and eerie feeling running up her leg made her courage falter for just a moment before she pushed herself to go through the mirror. No matter what, she’d discover what was beyond it.

“Let’s see what dimension lies beyond this mirror,” she said before taking a deep breath and, after closing her eyes, she crossed the threshold.

Chapter 2 - The Perverted Wasteland

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Twilight felt her body twist and turn as it traveled to whatever place the portal was connected to. The sensation wasn’t unpleasant, merely odd and strangely fascinating. It only lasted a few moments, seconds at most, until she stepped out the other side - unlike her first travel experiences that ended with her being spat out by the portal.

As the dizziness subsided and the light no longer blinded her, she looked around with an eager smile to see what wondrous world she had stumbled upon. Her smile faltered, however, when she found herself in a disheveled, dilapidated, crumbling basement with half-rotten boxes, dust and first covering the floor, and practically nothing else to be found except for the mirror and a few odd pieces of what looked to be armor.

She took a step forth and froze when the familiar clang of hooves echoed around the empty basement. Instinctively, she fluttered her left ear and was surprised when she felt her pony ear do just that. Raising her arms, she found them covered by a thin layer of lavender fur, but they were arms, nor forelegs, and ended in hands with fingers similar to that of a human. She then took a minute or two to inspect her new body and see what else she could find.

“Tail. Check. Mane. Check. Horn and magic. Double check. Huh… this is weird… I’m still wearing the same clothes I do in the human world… but now I’m some kind of pony/human hybrid? Just what in the name of Celestia is this world?” Looking around the empty basement, her ears perked up something rather disturbing.

Wind and silence. Nothing more.

“Right… I’m not going to solve anything by staying in this dreary basement… wherever I am,” taking a reassuring breath, she moved to the only exit route and found that, unlike the school’s basement, only a short staircase and a broken door was all that stood in her way. She climbed the stairs, her horn glowing softly and ready to strike at any surprise that might crawl out of the shadows. Her hoofsteps echoed in the empty silence that surrounded her.

She soon made it to what appeared to be a half-destroyed house or storage room of sorts. She looked up to the ceiling, hoping to see sunlight or the sky through the holes… but all she saw was a cover of gray, dull, empty clouds. What little light made it to the ground was only enough to illuminate her surroundings with that same gray, empty look.

“Sweet Celestia… What is this place? Is this… what is this Equestria?” Feeling her heart beat faster in her chest, she rushed out of the building to see where she was. She ran past the entrance and almost immediately froze on the spot, gasping loudly as her eyes went wide. “This… Canterlot?”

She muttered the name of the royal capital of Equestria, her home, with a raspy tone. Everywhere she looked she recognized a building or two. There it was, her old study tower half destroyed. Over there? Moondancer’s house, reduced to ashes. The plaza? Empty, lifeless. Everything showed signs of destruction in some shape or form… and everything was the same way: gray, dull, almost colorless… devoid of life.

The more she looked, the more the same scene met her. Her heart was now racing as only then she came to notice something that was oh so terribly wrong. Everywhere she looked was devoid of plants and flowers. The trees were only trunks with empty branches that barely moved thanks to the constant, cold wind blowing. There was no grass, no flowers, not even weed… no insects, no butterflies, not a single bird in the sky or the honking cries of the swans.

No music. No talking. No merchants selling their products. No ponies haggling prices. No nobles being their snobby selves. No Royal Guards patrolling the streets. No pegasi tending the clouds. No… nothing.

In desperation, she spread her wings and took to the skies. She stopped only when she was higher than the tallest still-standing tower of Canterlot’s Palace. Her eyes watered and a terrible lump formed in her throat, choking her. The Everfree Forest was gone. Ponyville -or what passed for Ponyville anyways- was nothing but ruins. The green fields were no more. Everything as far as her eyes could see was nothing more than a dull, empty, truly lifeless wasteland.

“No… NO!” She screamed, horrified at what she saw. She was hyperventilating, unable to cope with what she was seeing. Her eyes scanned everywhere for a single sign of life. Anything! Anyone! But all she found was emptiness and the howling wind mocking her.

That is… until something caught her attention. It was in the middle of the plaza. They were half rotted away, but she’d recognized them anywhere. Stocks. Several dozens of wooden stocks. Then, she noticed another worrying thing. It was difficult to be certain, but she knew a brothel when she saw one. And there were several scattered throughout Canterlot.

The more she looked, the more unsettling things she saw from a distance. Oddly phallic statues in what used to be the gardens, similar statues depicting mares in submissive positions, a house filled to the brim with chains, collars, and some sort of sheats. Whatever for? She didn’t know. Deciding to see things up close, she gasped when she read a promotional hanging from what used to be a tavern.

“Need a drink? Try out… harvested… mare milk?” She read the words that hadn’t been eroded by time, her mind connecting the dots for her and giving her a vivid picture of just what exactly that message entailed. She walked through the plaza only to find similar messages. “Thinking is forbidden… Obedience is happiness. Male supremacy is harmony.” She felt dizzy and averted her eyes from reading anything else.

Turning away, however, she found one last proof that cemented the fear forming in her stomach. It was a broken statue of… some creature, she didn’t know what it was. The right arm pointed skywards but was broken at the elbow. It was male, a nude one, but chunks around his chest, stomach, and legs were missing. His face was completely obscured behind vandalization marks of all sorts; paint, magic, fire, acid. And the messages planted across the statue were worse.

‘LIAR!’ ‘Death is Nigh’ ‘Tyrant’ ‘You are not a Hero!’

Finally, as if everything she had seen hadn’t been enough, the two forms kneeling at the legs were the representations of Celestia and Luna; collared, shackled, without horns, her wings sheathed, and prostrating themselves before the male figure… with the same symbol on top of the dark mirror at the base of the statue.

She fell to her knees… and began to cry.

Unknown to her, however, she wasn’t alone, for a lonely figure stared at her from within the empty, cold hallways of the crumbling castle.

The figure stared at the alicorn, unable to avert his gaze away from her. “Who… is that? No. It cannot be… she’s dead. She can’t be real. Am I finally falling into the depths of insanity?” The figure asked, but no answer came. He stared at her for long, silent minutes until she stood up, spread her wings, and flew off. A rumble escaped the figure’s throat, a sad, lonely rasp. “Whoever you are… you won’t like what you’ll find out there.”

Then, it turned away from the window and returned to the dark depths of the Castle.

Chapter 3 - Exploring The Wasteland

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Twilight didn’t stop flapping her wings as she flew toward Ponyville. She still couldn’t believe what her home, or rather a version of it, had been reduced to. It was all too terrible and horrible to comprehend without any further context or information. Then again, what more information did she require when the statues, the vandalism, and their terrible messages were proof of what had happened to this Equestria?

As she landed on what used to be Golden Oaks Library, the place she’d come to call home, she nearly fell to her knees. The pain of having lost it reared its ugly head once more, but she managed to contain it. But try as she might, when she looked around she couldn’t find her castle. “This is… strange. Where is it?” She questioned out loud, but no answer ever came. Pushing back against her sadness, she reminded herself that this was not her home. Not truly, anyway. “But it still hurts. To think that this could happen in my Equestria? No… Twilight. Do not dwell on such thoughts. Focus on finding out what happened here. Maybe that will help me prevent whatever horrible thing happened here.”

Feeling more at ease, she began to explore the village and found only devastation. Sweet Apple Acres was nothing but a collection of dead trees and lifeless soil. The Town Hall was crumbling ruins along with Sugarcube Corner, Fluttershy’s cottage, Carousel Boutique, and pretty much every other building still standing. One building, though, stood the test of time and was mostly intact. Frowning, she recognized it as a brothel. Upon entering, she found several collars scattered around the floor, whips, sex toys, and a plethora of those same sexualized, misogynistic messages etched on the walls.

With a nervous huff, she stepped out, gave Ponyville one final glance, and then spread her wings, taking off as fast as she could manage towards Cloudsdale, only to find nothing remaining of it. Without weather control, the once proud city of the Pegasi had simply crumbled and faded into nothing. “Then that means that Las Pegasus is also gone… Manehattan. I should go to Manehattan.”

The trip to the most prosperous city in Equestria took no more than twenty minutes of flight at near sound-breaking speeds, but the first thing she saw was not the statue of Mare Liberty, but rather an empty crater where the base should’ve been. Behind it? Crumbling buildings. As she came to a halt and descended on a random street, she felt something tugging at her heart when she saw the same vandalization and sexualization plastered all over the place. She didn’t read the messages, she couldn’t stomach any more of that. But the posters, those that were still hanging on walls anyways, showcased mares being submissive, raped, or punished for some perceived transgression.

And for the first time, she finally saw the responsible for such horror. “What are they? Deer? Not quite… I think I’ve read about them somewhere… they’re not deer, they’re too bulky and look a lot bigger,” squinting her eyes, she approached the statue of one such creature while a mare licked his hooves. “Hmmm… dew-claws. So they are some kind of deer. Cousin species like the hippogriffs and griffons?” Then, she inspected herself and her new form. “It seems this dimension is similar in body to that of a human but with heavily detailed aspects of my original dimension. I think Sunset showed me something akin to it. What did she call it? Anthropomorphic? Yes, that was it. What a strange, gloomy world.” She hummed deeply, racking her brain for an answer that never came. “What sort of horrible creature are you?”

She inspected the statue for any more clues she could find and found one at the base of it, a message inscribed in it. “Be not afraid, males of the world. We, the Caribou, are your Liberators from female oppression.” Twilight recoiled in disgust and stepped back, away from the ghastly statue. “Caribou… now I know what you are, beast. It is the first time I’ve heard of your kind. Perhaps you don’t exist in my world… I’ll triple-check all records once I return, just to make sure.”

She continued to walk around the streets of manehattan for several minutes in search of clues, but all she found was the same as before. But the sights were no less saddening. Carts were rotted away, abandoned on the streets, countless collars, those horrid wing sheaths, and pieces of armor and weapons were scattered everywhere. An abandoned dead park; not a single piece of life remained there.

Finally having had enough of Manehattan, she opened her wings and left. In short order, she arrived at Baltimare, the vibrant and ever-busy port city. “Why did I expect it to be different?” She murmured as she landed in front of a huge storage house that was half-collapsed. Inside it, she found a few posters with those same misogynistic messages but what caught her attention this time were the rows upon rows of kennels and pens that could only contain a mare at a time. There were huge storage tanks, broken and shattered, every dozen or so meters behind the pens, also lined up alongside them, and several tubes and other contraptions that ended in a pair of suckers.

Twilight felt her stomach churn as she connected the dots in her mind. “This is a milking farm,” her mouth moved on its own accord, most likely because she was tired of the crippling silence around her. Walking out of the storage house, she toured the city for a few minutes from the sky. She had no desire to see more posters or statues up close, but she could easily detect the latter from her point of view. There were dozens upon dozens of them, all of them either boasting the manhood of the stags or putting a mare in a humiliating, submissive role.

As she was about to leave, a perturbing thought entered her mind. Where is everyone? The thought and realization made her heart skip a beat or two. It was obvious that whatever happened had been apocalyptic, but she had not seen a single survivor, nor a single animal, bird, or insect. I haven’t even seen any bodily remains… what in the name of Celestia is going on!?

Driven by a new onset of panic, she traveled to Stalliongrad, Prance, Fillydelphia, Germane, Neighpan, Mexicolt… And finally Appleloosa. Everywhere was the same, everywhere told the same tragic story, and everywhere was utterly devoid of life. “Everyone’s gone… ponies, donkeys, cows, even the buffalo are gone…,” Twilight whispered to herself as she stared at the only remaining building in Appleloosa, the Salon. Half standing and dilapidated, but there it was, the only mark that proved that place had been a thriving town. With a long, emotionless sigh and a heavy heart, she spread her wings once more. “There’s no use searching across the rest of Equestria… I think… I think it’s time for me to return. Vice-Principal Luna and my friends must be worried sick.”

Her flight back to Canterlot was a silent one. She didn’t think about anything, she didn’t want to think about anything. All she wanted to do now was leave this horrible dark reflection of her home once and for all and never return. When she arrived at Canterlot, she was about to descend near the basement’s entrance when something caught her eye. She hadn’t seen them before either due to the angle or because she was too focused on other things at the time, but there were a series of signs planted in front of the castle’s gates.

“...I’m already late as it is… Maybe… I should explore the castle before I leave. I mean, what could be worse than everything I saw?” Nodding to herself, she flew towards the castle and landed in front of the gates and the many signs scattered about. “Go away. Leave. Not Welcome. Stay Out,” she read out, but her tone never grew excited. The signs were old, not quite rotting away, but it was clear they had been there for a long time already. She stared up at the castle and shook her head. “Let’s get this over with.”

From the shadows, the figure watched her with fixed, rapt attention.

Chapter 4: Inside the Castle there is only a Nightmare Throne

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“What in the name of Celestia did I expect to find?” Twilight questioned herself as she walked through the empty hallways of the Castle. Aside from the dust and the clacking of her hoofsteps echoing all around her, her only company were the paintings, murals, and statues depicting mares in highly sexual situations. But her disgust had turned into pure rage as she looked up at the, surprisingly, mostly intact stained glass windows that once depicted the history of Equestria.

She knew they were fake, replacements of what was truly meant to represent. The glorious glass showcasing Celestia raising the sun? It had been bastardized in the most abhorrent way possible as it depicted Celestia, in chains, bowing, the sun also in chains, all in front of a group of caribou. Then came a crumbling depiction of the caribou subjugating Nightmare Moon and ‘purifying’ her into becoming Luna. Then she saw herself and her friends, shackled and bowing before the shackled Cutie Marks of Luna and Celestia.

Twilight wanted to scream and punch something, anything at the sheer insult she was witnessing. The other stained glasses weren’t any better. Discord wasn’t bowing, he was kneeling in front of a bigger, strong-looking caribou wearing a crown. Cadance was shown being raped by her own guards while her brother, Shining Armor, handed over the Crystal Heart to the same caribou from before. After that, nothing made sense and only depicted sexual degradation, conquest, and the vainglory of the species she was really, really starting to hate. Even Chrysalis was shown bowing before the same caribou, obviously either the king or a prominent hero of his kind.

The last stained glass window was by far the worst. It only showed the caribou standing over the shackled Cutie Marks of the Princesses while she held the Crystal Heart, reshaped somehow into the shape of a penis - a Crystal Cock, she realized. Whilst in the other hand he held up a warhammer.

But above the caribou, a single word was depicted. His name. Dainn.

Dainn,” Twilight repeated the name, all but spitting it with poison in her lips. Looking down, she read the inscription below the glass’ frame. “Oh Glorious King Dainn, Savior of all Males. Glory be to You, Alpha Male, Bringer of the Enlightenment that is Male Superiority. Thanks be to You, Wise One beyond compare. You who brought true Harmony into our lands. Hail King Dainn. Hail Male Superiority. Hail True Harmony!” She whispered each word, afraid that it would somehow invoke the vile creature to her.

“...So Equestria truly was conquered and this so-called King Dainn defeated Celestia? How? She’s an Alicorn. She’s not invincible but no one can stand up against an alicorn and expect to win so easily. Besides that, how did the caribou conquer Equestria? Where were the Royal Guards? The Army? Surely, ponies would’ve fought against this darkness…,” her eyes shifted to the mural depicting her brother and frowned. “Shining Armor would’ve never betray Equestria or the Crystal Empire. He was not only a Captain of the Guard, but a Prince and a Commander. Every depiction of the caribou shows they don’t have wings. How were they able to defeat pegasi in combat? How was Dainn able to defeat Celestia if he couldn’t fly?”

She was now glaring up at the stained glass and more specifically, she was glaring at Dainn. Her horn lit up with magic and for a moment she thought about shattering it. But at the last moment she relented and looked away. “The savior of Equestria and the ‘Liberator’ of all males, eh? I wonder what other atrocities you and your wretched kind committed, Dainn.”

Turning away from the glass, she continued her travel, knowing that the throne room was at the end of the hallway. “I’ve seen enough… after I see the throne room I’ll leave and never return to this forsaken land,” she said to herself. It was strange and terrifying at the same time. She wanted to cry and also felt relieved that her home didn’t share the same horrible fate this Equestria had suffered through. She was incredibly angry at the caribou but was grateful that she had never heard of them until now. All she knew for sure was that she wanted to leave and never return.

Surprisingly, the gates leading to the throne room were mostly intact as only a few chunks of the wooden frames were missing. Using her magic, she opened them and let herself inside the throne room proper. Parts of the ceiling were missing, rubble was scattered all over the floor, the entire left wall had collapsed, and the stairway leading to the throne was cracked and dented. Puzzlingly, though, every last single stained window was shattered completely. Not even the border frames remained; only pieces of broken glass lying on the floor were all that remained, further shattered into a puzzle that couldn’t be solved.

Whoever shattered the windows had a particularly strong hatred towards them, she thought as she approached the throne… or what remained of it. Once she was close enough, her eyes widened and a whine of pain left her throat. “NO!” She cried out and rushed to the throne. In her desperation, she fell twice but she didn’t care. Not until she stood in front of the throne.

It wasn’t Celestia’s throne, that was certain. It had been replaced with a wooden one that, perhaps in the past, was fit for royalty. Now it was half rotted away, crumbling, and neglected to the point that even the paint and varnish had decayed. However, that wasn’t what watered her eyes and ignited pure rage inside her stomach. Atop the throne four distinct horns adorned it. White, dark blue, pink… and lavender.

She was staring at the horns of the four Princesses. “AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!” She cried out, enraged, her horn sparkling with uncontrolled energy as she stared through misty eyes at the horns that belonged to her and her fellow alicorns. Turning her head away for a moment, she shot a beam of pure magical energy through one of the many holes in the ceiling. When it ended, she punched the throne with barely contained might. “What is this monstrosity? This… this is a nightmare… a Nightmare Throne. What sort of monster would cut off the horns of an alicorn, let alone four!?” She hit it again. “Are these trophies!? Displayed in a sick, twisted sense of superiority!?” Again, she hit it and then… she fell to her knees, crying her heart out.

Twilight remained there, crying for what felt like hours, days… years. Sadness, grief, anger, and frustration mixed and collided in an ever-twisting storm raging inside her heart.

“They were trophies… once, a long, long time ago. Not anymore.”

Twilight shot up instantly, turning back and taking a defensive stance as the cold, lifeless, emotionless voice from behind her spoke up. She half expected to find nothing there, but instead, she found a shadowy figure covered entirely in ragged robes that only allowed a pair of hands to show. She shuddered despite the sudden fright after seeing those pale, almost translucent, boney hands. Looking up at the hood proved to be no less frightening as the only feature she could see in the ‘face’ of the creature were two glowing, icy blue eyes that blinked lazily every now and again.

“Who… what are you?” She asked softly. The figure moved and she took a step back, ready to either strike or flee if it did anything strange.

“Does it matter?” The figure replied, completely uninterested. “I am nobody.”

Twilight stared at the figure as it advanced towards the throne. Now that the initial spook had passed, she was able to notice the little details, such as the small protrusions on the figure’s hood, the off cane or walking stick it was using, and the voice. By Celestia, the voice! It was raspy, incredibly so, and devoid of emotion to the point that it was cold, devoid of any warmth or joy. Ghostly, almost ethereal, and coming less as something spoken and more as something fake trying to speak. It was similar to telepathy, but outside her mind.

Twilight shuddered again, perturbed. In spite of it, however, she frowned as she felt anger return to her. “Are you a caribou?”

The figure turned to her, its blue, icy, lifeless eyes expressed no emotion and yet… they weren’t entirely dead either. What she knew for sure was that it was old, very old. Much older than Granny Smith or at least as old she was. She waited for several seconds for the figure to reply while it inspected her.

“Yes,” it finally replied. “The last one. But you already know this.”

Twilight blinked in surprise a few times as she watched the figure sit down on the throne. She expected groans and bones creaking as it sat down, but despite the apparent age it had, it didn’t seem to truly affect his mobility. A sudden and sickly feeling crawled up her spine and she felt dizzy for a moment. Her horn glowed and gritted her teeth. “Are you… Are you Dainn?”

“Ha…,” the figure let out with just a tinge of humor, his voice echoing all around the throne room. “Dainn is dead.”

“Then who are you?”

“For a ghost, you are awfully stupid. I guess that rules out dementia. Hmmm. I was hoping that was the case. An escape from this madness,” the figure, most definitely a he, said.

Twilight snorted and pointed a finger at him. “Don’t play games with me! Answer my question! If Dainn is dead, then who are you!?”

“Dainn is dead,” he repeated. “Only I remain.”

Twilight took a step forth, then another, and finally a third before slapping him across the face. “So you are King Dainn!”

The figure, Dainn, slowly turned his head forth, his wide open staring at the furious Twilight Sparkle in front of him staring at him with all the hatred, disgust, and disdain she could muster.

“Gaahhh!” Twilight yelped as a hand suddenly grabbed her shirt’s collarbone and dragged her forth until she was mere inches away from Dainn’s face, her eyes staring deeply into his icy blue ones.

A sigh, a raspy rumble in his throat, and a smack of lips reached her ears followed by a deathly, hollow, whisper. “Who are you?”

Chapter 5: The Old Caribou

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Twilight gasped and reached for Dainn’s wrist in an effort to get away from him. She didn’t have to, as the caribou tossed her back with a strength that a being as frail-looking as he should possess. She landed on her rump at the base of the stairway, looking up at the now deathly, imposing form of the caribou king.

WHO ARE YOU!?” Dainn bellowed angrily. His eyes, so devoid of life mere seconds ago were now burning with anger and not a small amount of confusion.

Twilight found her courage again and spread her wings. With a flap, she was standing on her hooves and stood defiantly before the decrepit caribou in front of her. “I’m certain that you know who I am, King Dainn!” She paused for a moment, glaring into the blue eyes of the caribou. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria!”

Dainn pointed an accusatory finger at her; his boney finger and the translucent skin made her feel as if Death itself had come to take her away. “Lie! YOU LIE! You are not Twilight Sparkle. She’s dead, gone, and free from this nightmare! Who are you, demon!? Why have you come here to my prison of torment and regret!?”

Twilight felt a cold shiver run down her spine every time she heard his voice. It was old, craggy, and ethereal, but it was no longer devoid of emotion, no more whispers, only rage and pain echoed in his voice. She knew it was illogical, but seeing the sorry creature before her… a pang of pity struck her heart. She couldn’t help herself. Not caring for other creatures was anathema to her. Even if that creature was responsible for the untold suffering of so many others and likely the death of this Equestria.

“A ghost… you must be a ghost, and yet, you touched me. You slapped me! I felt it!” Dainn shouted at her as he began climbing down the stairs. “Go away! Leave from whence you came and never return to this empty, lifeless wasteland! Take your rage and knowledge with you and let me be, ghost! I do not wish for company… or perhaps you are blind on top of being an idiot for coming into this cursed, despoiled land?”

It was a rhetorical question, but one carrying venom and spite.

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “I am not a ghost and I came here of my own volition… although I didn’t know what to expect when I crossed,” she explained more calmly whilst staring right at the caribou for any suspicious movement he might do. “Certainly not this. Never this.”

Dainn reached the end of the stairs as she finished talking and stood in front of her for a moment. She was taller than him, not by much. No doubt aided by the many years of decay he had to endure. “...why are you here, Twilight Sparkle? Have you come to torment me at long last? Have you, in your infinite rage, managed to come back from the dead and make me pay for what I caused?” He let out a throaty, pained, lonely sigh. “Is this not enough to endure as it is?”

“I am Twilight Sparkle, Dainn. Not the one you know,” she pointed at her horn. “My horn is still attached to my head, unlike that ghastly trophy sitting on your throne. It is yours, isn’t it? Who else would have the hubris to torture and cut off the horns of alicorns and display them as mere trophies?”

Dainn went silent for a moment, his fingers tugging at the wooden stump he was holding firmly. “They are no longer trophies of conquest,” Dainn began, all but spitting the last word. “They are my penitence… my constant mocking reminder of everything that came to pass. The world may be dead, the evidence is everywhere, but the horns… they are my personal punishment.”

Twilight scoffed at that, glaring at the caribou. “I’ve seen a lot in the past few hours, Dainn. Nothing but the remnants and the crumbling pieces still standing. But enough for me to see through time and imagine the torture, pain, suffering, and agony ponies and other creatures experienced. All because of you and your people, caribou,” she all but hissed the word, afraid that uttering it would burn her tongue.

“Let me assure you, Not the Twilight I know, that your imagination is lacking,” Dainn replied in a way that felt mocking but was, in fact, cold and direct. “I better than anyone else knows it to be true.”

The alicorn relaxed for a moment, unable to sense any misleading or lie in his words. “Why are you here, Dainn? Why--How are you alive when everything else is dead?”

“I could ask the same thing about your presence here, Not Twilight. Did you not read the signs and warnings outside the castle? Why did you enter instead of leaving and never return?” He asked with a much calmer but still cold voice.

“What were the chances of me encountering anything at all? I searched through almost the entirety of Equestria and found nothing, nopony, no one. Why should I take heed of what rotting, old, dried-up signs tell me to not do?” Twilight replied without missing a heartbeat.

Dainn remained silent once more for several seconds as he stared into her face, analyzing her in detail. “You’re not a ghost?”

“I’m not.”

“Then… you are alive?”

“I am, yes. More than you look to be, at least.”

“Hhmmm… humor,” Dainn replied dryly, stretching a hand toward her. “Let me touch your face, Not Twilight. Let me… feel your warmth to be sure. I’ve forgotten what that feels like. I would like to remember, please” Dainn asked humbly. “I must be certain you are real.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes, glaring at him. She was about to tell him some witty insult, but the longing look in his icy, cold eyes stopped her. The amount of desperation and loneliness his eyes shared, the deep, gnawing pain she could see at the bottom of his no-doubt black soul made her feel pity for him. “...” she opened her mouth but said nothing, her mind was blank as to what she could say. With a defeated sigh, she leaned forth and turned her head to the side, offering him her right cheek.

Dainn stared at her for several seconds, unmoving, until he slowly reached out with a boney, withered hand. His fingers touched her skin and he recoiled, a throaty gasp escaped from his throat. Setting his walking cane aside, he reached with both hands and began to slowly feel Twilight’s cheeks, her jawline, and her mane; he dared not touch anything else while she eyed him with suspicion but still allowed him to explore at his leisure.

“You… you are alive. Truly… alive. I have not felt this warmth since…,” Dainn spoke, finally after minutes of awkward silence only to go silent again, memories flooding his mind. “But how? You're dead. I saw your lifeless corpse with my own eyes. Along with everyone else’s remains.”

Should I tell him I’m not from this dimension? Well, I doubt he’s stupid, he surely picked up on the way I’ve been speaking with him that I’m not from around here. In that case, I should probably not tell him anything about the mirror, Twilight thought to herself, deciding on her course of action. “I’m not from this Equestria. This isn’t even my real body shape.”

“Another Equestria?” Dainn murmured, sounding relieved. “That… is good to hear.”

“Now it’s your time to answer,” she said, grabbing his wrists and pulling them back, away from her face. The lingering chilly feeling of his touch tickled her skin. “What happened to this Equestria? Where is the harmony that nurtured and brought life to the land?”

Dainn stepped back and grabbed his cane once more for support. “Harmony…” he wheezed as if the word itself was enough to clutch at his heart.

Twilight waited for several moments for him to continue until she realized he had become lost in thought or trapped relieving a memory. “Hello? Dainn?” She asked but didn’t risk touching him.

Dainn blinked slowly, his focus returning. “I… apologize for that. That word, harmony, brings back many memories. Most of them are unpleasant. Regardless, I am happy to know you value harmony, or at least the true concept of it.”

“You haven’t answered my question, Dainn,” Twilight remarked.

Dainn blinked once, slowly, and let out a ghostly sigh. “Do you truly wish to know? Are you certain you wish to hear how your fellow ponies were corrupted, how harmony was twisted and shattered, and why everything around us is a dead, lifeless husk?” He narrowed his eyes with determination and the promise that only pain would be her answer. “Do you truly wish to know how you, your friends, your family, everyone you ever knew and everyone else died because of my actions?”

Twilight was silent for a second, but only for that one second, allowing doubt and fear to cloud her vision before she took a step forth, surprising Dainn. “Tell me. I need to know. I must know how your people doomed this Equestria.”

Dainn scoffed, sending a cold tingle up the alicorn’s spine. “My people? No… just me. The world is dead… because of me,” he corrected.

Twilight blinked, perplexed. “W-What? Not your entire people? Just you? That’s impossible!”

“IT WAS ME!” Dainn shouted, slamming the metallic end of his cane against the marble floor. His shout didn’t contain anger, only pain… and regret.

“You---You aren’t wrong either. The culture of my people, with me at their head, doomed Equestria. Our entire philosophy was based around what we called ‘The Natural Order’. We stand at the peak of all, we are the ones superior to everyone else, and we are always right, faultless. In truth, the culture of the caribou was nothing more than the purest, most depraved circus of misogyny and perversion.”

Twilight nodded and swallowed nervously. “I figured out that much myself. But that doesn’t explain your claims, Dainn. Speak, now,” she ordered with a firm, stern voice.

Dainn sighed. “Very well… I shall tell you, but let me warn you of something, Twilight Sparkle. No matter what you hear, no matter what I tell you, you must promise me that you will not try to kill me or run away. Don’t bother trying the first point, I can’t die. I don’t know how, but I can’t die. Trust me… I’ve tried and I gave up,” the distant howl of the wind was heard in the following seconds of silence until he continued. “As for the second point, if I’m going to tell you this story, you must listen to it from beginning to end. Maybe… maybe it will be of use to you, who knows?”

Twilight pondered her options for a few seconds until a nagging question formed in her mind. “If you don’t mind me asking… how are you still alive?” Dainn’s cold, pained gaze was answering enough. “...right… Anything else I should know before you start? Oh, and… I will need to leave from time to time, but I will come back. I must know everything that happened here. So, like it or not, I will hear everything you have to say, Dainn.”

Dainn nodded, pleased with her answer. “If that is your answer, let us begin from the very start. Oh, there is something else I forgot to mention. Almost all my memories are intact. My mind is functioning properly, to my dismay. Whatever is keeping me from dying also saw fit to keep my memories clean and fresh. Growing senile or developing dementia is not an option for me. But even so, there are gaps in my memories. For example, I remember corrupting the Crystal Heart but not how I did it, how long it took, or what it took to do it,” he chuckled. “You know, when I saw you crying, I really thought I had finally, blissfully gone insane.”

“W-Why would you want something so terrible to happen to you?” Twilight asked, taken aback. Dainn stared at her for a few moments before slowly turning his head from side to side and extending his arms. She sighed, rubbing her temples. “Right… right… I guess that would be a mercy compared to living in this world all alone.”

Dainn nodded in agreement, his arms returning to their original position while he stared at her deeply. “The tragedy that I’m about to tell you had its roots long ago in a far, far away place where--”

“Can you please skip to your involvement with Equestria?” She asked in an annoyed tone. “I really do not care about your people’s history.”

Dainn nodded sagely. “I understand your hatred, Twilight Sparkle. But if you wish to know the story, my motives, and the ways of my people and everything that transpired to the result you stand upon now, you will listen to what I have to say or you may leave now and never return.”

His warning came not as derision or scornful, but rather with the patience that she’d expect from an old, wise professor. Not the half-living thing in front of her. “Fine,” Twilight conceded, crossing her arms.

“Now, as I was saying. This story began a long, long time ago on a faraway island…”

Chapter 6: The Beginning

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Once more I stare across the tundra, seeing snow, ice, and hardly anything growing in the ground. Thermal water pockets provide much of the heat we use and wood is hard to come by thanks to the damn forest being so far away. But we couldn’t move far away from the coast. There’s a forest, a big one, sure, but nothing edible except bark, some roots, and birch grows there. The animals living there are worse. No. we couldn’t leave the damn coast unless we wanted to starve.

And yet, my eyes focus across the ocean, hoping to see beyond the icy mist to the shores of the land that was taken from us. “Hhhhmmm,” the hum resonated through my throat as I hugged my pelt just a little tighter in search of warmth.

“What are you searching for, Dainn?”

I hear the rough, powerful voice of my liege, the King of the Caribou, my master, and my tormentor. King Svarndagr. I turn to face him and lay my head low in front of him, avoiding his gaze. “Morning, my liege. I came as soon as I received your summoning. How may I serve you this day?”

“Start by answering my question, Dainn,” he said in the same tone, but I could hear the annoyance behind his mask.

I gulped quickly as I felt fear clog my throat, but I refused to tremble or show any weakness in front of him. It never ended well in the past. “I am… wondering about what lies across the sea, my liege.”

“There is nothing out there but sea and death,” he said without anger, but I knew he was glaring. “Rise, Dainn. Come with me. There is something I wish for you to see.”

I obeyed immediately and met his gaze. Oh, how I despised him. I truly hated him. But my respect, admiration, and loyalty lie with him. How could I do otherwise? As I stood in front of the wall of muscles and pride made flesh, I felt weak and powerless. A head taller than me, broader shoulders, majestic antlers adorned his head, and the crown sitting on his brow displayed his might. He even discarded the use of a coat and merely had a thick bear pelt hanging from his back, allowing his chest to be adorned by a piece of armor that covered his chest, but nothing more. His bulging muscles were always visible, but that was his excuse to showcase his many, many battle scars.

He turned around and I followed, never more than two steps away from him but also never closer than that; always behind him. We left the meeting room through the door that a slave fox opened for us. I snorted in disgust at the pathetic creature. Small, weak. But obedient and eager to perform their duties. It was only right and proper.

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“Wait, hold up. I have so many questions… you had slaves?” Twilight asked, eyes narrowed.

“Of course. Several species, in fact. Ursas, imagine bears but capable of speech, foxes, various felines, and rabbits. They were slowly subjugated over the years, but it wasn’t until Svarndagr that every tribe of those poor wretches was finally stamped out and enslaved,” Dainn explained, his ethereal voice tinged with anger.

“How can you talk about enslavement like that? It is disgusting!” Twilight protested.

“And it is. Now I know better. My old self? No. I was stupid, ignorant, deluded. ‘The weak are unfit to rule themselves. The weak are weak because they lack the strength to overcome their weaknesses. The strong have the right to rule over the weak. The weak must serve the strong. It is the natural order of things for the weak to serve under our hooves, for only the Caribou are strong.’ That’s one of the many, many lessons my mentor drilled into me.”

Twilight glared at him. “He sounds so wise,” she said with thick sarcasm smearing her words.

“He truly wasn’t more than a delusional fool. He was, however, strong. Probably the strongest caribou in our recorded history. Like it or not, Twilight, Might Makes Right is the one truth found across nature itself. The weak perish, the strong survive,” Dainn explained, raising a finger at her. “Are alicorns not stronger than even dragons? Do they not rule by the grace of willing subjects much weaker than they are?”

“...Fine. You’re right in that regard,” she sighed. “Moving on from that point. You said Svarndagr was your tormentor. How so?”

“How else?” Dainn replied, his voice turning even more lifeless and hollow than before. “Svarndagr broke me in every sense possible, both to ensure my loyalty and to test my mantle. I wasn’t the only one that he mentored. There were several others. Most didn’t survive the first year. Not with the training he put us through,” his hands gripped the cane harder. “I almost died several times. Believe it or not, I am… was weak by caribou standards - I was never a warrior.”

“Wait, what?” Twilight asked, doing a double take. “But… how did you become the king, then?”

“Patience is a virtue, Twilight Sparkle. However, I can tell you that I was always a scholar. Physical power is mighty indeed, but knowledge is far greater,” he explained. “As for your question… Svarndagr never treated me or any others with respect or pity. In my particular case, he never treated me as a male most of the time. He treated me as a female, talked to me as a female… used me as a female.”

Twilight truly felt bad for the wretched being in front of her before she remembered what he had caused. “The abused become the abuser,” she said with cold indifference.

Dainn nodded. “True. But it was our way. The only way we knew how to live and survive. I raped many females, dozens, hundreds. However… I never enjoyed it,” a rumbling groan escaped his throat. “Let us continue before I forget where I left.”

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I follow my liege through the cold corridors of the palace. Tapestries and statues commemorate his many, many conquests along the way. The most impressive of all is the final conquest and subjugation of all other caribou clans and tribes. Our people were always united, but we were never on the same side. Clans and tribes competed and warred between each other all the time and no King had ever managed to bring them all together until Svarndagr put them all under his hooves.

There are several slaves working and tending to the statues, cleaning floors that don’t need to be cleaned, and doing other menial jobs that serve to remind them of their place in the world. We entered his throne room and the scent of sex filled my nose. There were a few caribou warriors having their way with slave females to my right, a caribou cow serving her master’s cock to my left, and Svarndagr’s favored pets were, as always, chained and kneeling alongside his throne.

To my surprise, I didn’t see any of my fellow apprentices in the room. I saw my liege sit on his throne and I knelt before him not wishing to invoke his wrath.

“You are more of a female than a male, Dainn.” Of course. He loved to remind me of the way he looked at me and treated me. Not a single day was I spared from his cruel, remaining remarks. But I didn’t flinch, simply took it the same way I took his cock most nights or whenever he desired to make use of my body. “You can’t mount a warbeast. Your combat skills are subpar, at best. And your figure is closer to that of a breeding slut than that of a true caribou stag. You certainly know how to take it like a whore, don’t you?”

I hated him so much, but I feared him ten times more. I nodded. “I live to serve you, my liege. If you wish so, you can have me Switched and I shall serve you as the female you see in me,” I say. I knew he would never do it, his ego would never allow it. But I was pleased to hear it. Ah, there it is. His twisted, egotistical smile. Good. I thought I would be spared from his vice that night, at least.

“And you will serve me. Dainn. Out of all my idiotic, imbecile disciples, you are, and I am pained to admit this, the most capable one. You are the best of my failures, Dainn,” he sighed deeply, as if he was in pain. I knew it was just disappointment. “Will I ever find a proper heir? My sons are weak because their whore mothers are weak. My generals? Pathetic. They can’t do anything without my approval. The Council? Leeches and soft-spoken fools, all of them. And my disciples?” He scoffed at the mere notion. “Failures are failures, but some fail more than others. At least you have plenty of uses, Dainn,” he licked his lips, his eyes staring at me hungrily. Not with desire, but with the hunger of dominating those weaker than him.

I never protested, would never protest. It was the way of the world. I was weak, he was mighty. It was… as things were meant to be.

“How may I serve you, my liege?” I ask again, desperate to get away from him before he changes his mind and takes me to the middle of the throne room. Again.

He snapped his fingers and runic power flowed through his body and moved through the throne until a secret compartment opened at the base of the throne. One of his pet slaves retrieved whatever was inside it with her mouth and placed it on his lap. I saw him pick up a scroll only to toss it at me with complete disinterest. “Study that scroll. See what secrets you may find then report them to me, Dainn.”

“This scroll… it is ancient,” I muttered in disbelief as I stared at the seal of Yggdris on it.

“It is,” he said, still disinterested. “You may be a sorry excuse of a warrior, incapable of holding your own in combat. My other disciples won glory in conquests while you stuck your nose in old, dusty books and scrolls. Others conquered the last settlements of the weaker species while you wrote your useless findings. You struggled to capture three lowly females when the others dragged dozens into the farms and pens. By all means, Dainn, you fail as a caribou and as a male. But your insight and knowledge are useful to me.”

He spat each word with venom and mockery flair as always. It didn’t even hurt anymore. It was the same dribble every time. But I didn’t pay him any attention, my focus was set on the scroll now in my hands. What secrets would it contain? I rose to my hooves as he waved a hand at me. I was free to go and I took my chance to leave and return to my quarters.

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“Wait… I have some more questions,” Twilight said and waited for a few moments to see if Dainn would reply. The silence was her answer and a single tilt of his head. “What does Switching mean? And for that matter, why would you follow such a terrible, horrible asshole!? WILLINGLY NO LESS!” She shouted in outrage. Her human-learned lexicon came to use, proving to be a more satisfactory -albeit cruder- form of cursing.

“What option did I truly have? Everyone believed there was nothing beyond the sea. He ruled with absolute authority, none could challenge him. He knew it. We knew it. He was strong and mighty. He had the right to rule,” Dainn explained casually. “As for what Switching is? Quite simple, through runic magic and spell channeling, the gender of any living creature can be reversed. We used it mostly on males, mind you. Remember I mentioned we enslaved every other species in our region?” Twilight nodded.

Dainn sighed heavily, as if the memory of it alone caused him tremendous pain. “Nearly every male was Switched, turned into females to be used at our leisure. The few males that remained were either captured and forced to see what their defiance brought their people or those that groveled enough to be spared such a fate,” he paused for a moment, blinking. “When a caribou stag was turned into a cow, well, I guess you can connect the dots?” He chuckled. “In his own words: why should we accept an influx of unworthy males into our ranks? Traitors and weaklings that will happily put a dagger in our backs the moment they can? No. Have them serve in the role of a female or kill them all and be done with it. They simply cannot be trusted,” his eyes narrowed. “Do you see the sense in his words?”

“...I do. By Celestia, I do,” Twilight shook her head, and sighed. “What did you find in those scrolls, anyway? Because I really hope you’re going somewhere with your tale. All I’ve learned so far is that your previous king was awful and worthy of the darkest pit in Tartarus, that you had a horrible life, that the caribou are rotten to the core, and that’s about it.”

“Rotten to the core… you… your -Here You- knew… I said the same thing before I---,” Dainn cut himself short, shaking his head. “You’ll… understand soon enough. For now, let us continue?”

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I studied the scrolls as I was instructed. When I deciphered the runes, I wish I had not. My findings were not a message, but a warning. A dire one. Some pieces were missing, the warning was incomplete, but I pieced enough of it together to realize that something terrible was about to happen. I dared not share my findings with Svarndagr for fear of what he’d do with such information. He would either discard it or destroy it. The first I couldn’t contemplate, the latter I wouldn’t allow. In secret and under the cover of secrecy and the cold nights, I met with my only trusted friend: Gunne the Cursed and his twin sister, Ginna.

In secret, we began to spread rumors about a coming catastrophe and that the only option for survival was to leave across the sea. Few believed it but the signs… they were apparent to me after a few months of keen observation. Svarndagr grew more debauched and ruthless by the day, unhinged and losing control of himself. But he grew stronger at the same time. When I saw new rune carvings appear on his flesh one night after he raped me yet again, I knew time was running out. I pulled enough resources away to build ships in secret; the scrolls thankfully contained the secrets of shipbuilding beyond mere coast harvesting and fishing boats.

He also grew impatient with my lack of progress but I merely made up excuses. That’s when I discovered that for all his strength and prowess, my mentor was an abject idiot. He was a genius in combat and a master strategist, but he despised intelligence. It was easy to fool him and get away with retrieving more scrolls and books detailing runic power, runes, magic, and even seals. All in front of needing them to translate what the scrolls said. I fed him false information, made no mention of the Cycle for I knew he’d discard it or execute me for some perceived treason. Instead, I managed to forge new runes - weak things but useful, enough to satisfy his curiosity and agitate his thirst for more conquest.

With his rapid and now obvious change in habits and temperament, many more started to believe in the coming disaster. I honestly thought I had more time, that I could take all I could with me and leave Svarndagr once and for all.

Then… It happened. I was out in the secret shipyards when I felt everything grow silent. Even the air stopped blowing, the seas were calm, and no one talked. Silence had come first to announce our demise. I made it to the edges of the city overlooking the palace when I saw it explode outwards as expelled unhinged runic and wild magic consumed everything in its path.

I was seeing the death of my people and I knew I had failed.

Until Gunne and Ginna dragged me back and flung me down the secret chasm that served as our entrance to the secret shipyard. Cries of horror cut through the silence only to be silenced a moment later. I hit the back of my head and darkness took me.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Twilight could only stare at the old stag with pity. Even if he was a monster, even if his people were nothing but a bunch of conquering, misogynistic, rapists… no one deserved to go through that. Not even them. “I’m… sorry, Dainn,” was all she could mutter in a half-sincere tone.

Dainn nodded, his unfeeling, cold blue eyes reflecting for a moment a deep, gnawing pain of an old wound being opened. The story was difficult to revive even for a half-living decrepit thing such as he. “When I came into… everything was already over. It happened too fast, too swiftly. Nothing could be done. I ran out to see what had happened and I was stunned by what I saw. The entire land was lifeless or close to it. Only the palace was gone, the rest of the city was still there though burning with excess magic. The only survivors were those hidden in the shipyard at the time the Cycle erupted or those extremely lucky few I found scattered in the city.”

Silence fell between them for several seconds, Twilight gave the old stag the courtesy of holding her tongue in a respectful mourning for half a minute before speaking once more.

“What is the Cycle, Dainn?” She asked with some reservation and care. “Who are Gunne and Ginna? What caused such a terrible explosion?”

“Gunne and Ginna… my only true loyal and dear friends. How I miss them so terribly. How I wish to join them… yet here I remain,” Dainn exhaled, his breath blowing a dusty mist. “Do you want to know what that horrible thing is? What the Cycle is? You’ve experienced something similar if you and the Twilight I know are more similar than I suspect. Tell me, how did you become Celestia’s student?”

“My magic went haywire and I caused chaos to unfold,” Twilight answered, frowning. “But… for such a thing to happen… how?”

“The answer I discovered was frustratingly dull in explaining how or why it happened, only that it happened. You see, Twilight, unlike ponies and other naturally magic-wielding species, caribou magic is relatively weak. That’s why we rely on runes, glyphs, seals, and other means to harness such power. But not when it comes to the Cycle. According to the warnings left in the scrolls, the Cycle begins when a large number of caribou are alive. In other words, we grow too numerous. A leader rises and he becomes a mighty warlord, king, or some other prominent figure. The devastation that ravages the land is exponential in accordance to the might of the individual in question.”

Twilight gasped. “And Svarndagr was a mighty king!”

“Mighty is selling him short. As I already told you, Twilight, he was the most prominent of our race. The mightiest and strongest, the most feared and respected. His will was absolute, his reach and ambition far too grand for his own good. A conqueror. A warlord. A king. If there was a caribou stag deserving of the title Alpha Male, then he earned the right to carry such a title,” Dainn replied, tightening his cane.

The alicorn gaped at the caribou in abject horror. “Why… what… I-- I don’t understand! Why would such a thing happen!? What possible reason is behind it?”

“Something disgusting and disturbing. You see, Twilight, the scrolls dated back millennia. All the way to the times of Yggdras, our native homeland. It explains that the cycle happens only once every few centuries as a means to cull our numbers and maintain a balance,” a raspy chuckle left his throat. “And with good reason. What do you think happens to a civilization when it falls? What is the logical thing for the survivors to do?”

“History proves that survivors flee to other places and start anew. Other times they try to rebuild but with a change in their government and way of life,” said Twilight, now truly engrossed by the tale of Dainn.

“Not with the caribou. Every time the Cycle happens, the survivors move to a new location to start a new kingdom of slavery. Nothing is learned, Twilight. We go back to being slavers, rapists, conquerors… monsters. Why? I do not know. But that’s the truth. Then we expand and grow under the banner of a powerful, charismatic, and mighty leader. The Cycle then happens and ensures that the one leading such a force is expunged along with everyone and everything they touched,” he took a deep breath and blinked a few times before continuing. “I searched everywhere, in every city, every other settlement… the result was the same: the devastation had been near absolute. I took in those few that survived and brought them to the ships that were ready for departure.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. That’s… that’s insanity on the scale of an entire civilization? Did no king of your kind ever try to change your ways?” Twilight asked, appalled and feeling dizzy after everything she had seen and heard in just the span of a few hours.

“Some tried to do it. Their reigns ended swiftly and bloodily. The way of life of the caribou, my people, was so cemented into our way of thinking and doing things that we couldn’t escape it. The old and antiquated practices never died and were perpetuated by ignorant, stupid fools unable to change anything about it. Anyone who tried was executed; cut down by all those around them,” he grimaced. “That… is not normal and I don’t know WHY!” He shouted the last word to the heavens themselves but only the echo of his ethereal voice rang in the hollow walls of the now-empty castle.

Twilight gulped, trying and failing to place herself in the same position. So, she opted for her only available option. “What happened next?”

“The land was dead, utterly. What little food we could harvest and hunt was destroyed and reduced to ash and dust. Not even the horrible algae survived. All that we had were the stockpiles we carefully stole and packed away for the journey. We were short on time, short on supplies, and short on numbers. Those too injured, crippled, or old to be of use, we granted mercy. The rest of us left, never to return in search of a new land.”

Dainn’s eyes grew even colder and lifeless than they were already for a short moment and Twilight could feel the hate that each raspy, ethereal word escaped past his lips. “If I had known what I know now, I would’ve sunk every last ship in the middle of the ocean.”

Chapter 7: The Journey

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Everything I could see was nothing but open seas. For days, weeks nothing but the roiling ocean had met my gaze long after we left the coast of our devastated home. Just like the ancient caribou and the fall of Yggdras, we fled a land left defiled and dead by a curse that had no origins or explanation. I had spent almost every waking hour dividing my time between organizing and maintaining cohesion within the fleet and trying to discern any mention of what initially brought the Cycle to be a burden upon us.

“Dainn… we have a problem,” Gunne said while Ginna clung closely to him. I stare at them despite the tiredness I felt washing all over my body and eyelids. Ginna, as any cow and female, was completely naked and exposed, shivering slightly as the only piece on her was a red-tinted leather collar. Gunne the Cursed, my best friend and the only one I could really trust with my secrets and pain stepped forth with Ginna following closely. I offered a seat and he took it, his sister knelt next to him. “It’s the food. We’re starting to run out and we're running two-third rations already.”

“Fantastic. Just one more thing to worry about,” I say with sarcastic dishumor. “What about the fishermen? Are they doing their jobs?”

“They are, but the ocean is vast and they haven’t caught anything in three days,” Gunne replied.

My eyes shifted to Ginna and I smiled at her. I’ve always liked her. She’s gentle, obedient, and loyal. “Why don’t you give her something to cover herself? She’ll freeze at this rate, Gunne. We need to save as many females as we can,” he chuckled, shaking his head. “Isn’t it ironic? We treat females as slaves and fuck toys and yet we often forget that they are the ones that give birth to more caribou.”

“Svarndagr would’ve beheaded you if he heard you say those words, my friend… but you’re right,” Gunne turned to his sister and petted her head. “She deserves better than what I can give her.”

“Don’t say that, Gunne. You’re my Master and I happily obey you. I love you, Master. It’s my fault to be born at the same time as you… without my useless self then maybe you wouldn’t get those nasty glares and angry murmurs when you’re not looking,” Ginna said, leaning her head against Gunne’s thigh.

“And they can go fuck themselves. I would rather live as the “Cursed” than live without you, Ginna,” Gunne replied.

That made me smile. Their bond was something I understood but never felt for myself. I shook those thoughts away and returned to the topic at hand. “We’ll have to reduce the--” my words died in my throat as the clanging of bells echoed all around me. We jumped to our hooves and rushed out to see what had caused the alarm to go off this time.

Our fleet counted only a little over five hundred ships packed with everything we could scavenge and every survivor worthy of saving from the devastation. Over the course of weeks, a few had been sunk by attacking sea monsters, two more were destroyed by a passing storm, and twenty ships had been taken over through mutiny and set off on their own, their final destination unknown but I very much doubted they were still alive.

Despite the losses, those were fewer numbers than I had feared. Sheer survival has a funny way of bringing people together, I found out.

When we made it to the port side of the ship and we got our answer. A trio of sea monsters were attacking a ship, ganging up on it. No other ship was close to it; we were already as closely knit as possible without risking collisions. I could barely make out the brave warriors trying to fight off the sea monsters only to be picked off and devoured one by one. To my dismay, one of the monsters shattered the wooden exterior of the ships, flooding it. Caribou and those few members of our slave species that survived began jumping out, desperately swimming to the nearest ship.

Most of them were eaten by the monsters while the ship slowly sank beneath the waves, pulled down by the beasts. It was over a few moments later and I felt a great rage in my heart, but there was nothing else I could do. We couldn’t risk the few fishing boats available to us in rescue attempts until the monsters were done with their assault. “Signal to… start rescue attempts. It seems they are gone for now,” I ordered.

“You heard him,” Gunne said at the several stags that had come to join us to view the death of another ship.

“And… tell the other ships to reduce the rations to half,” I added, glaring at the ocean and then at the sky. “We… we can’t go on like this for long.”

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“Couldn’t you stay behind and try to rebuild?” Twilight asked after Dainn stopped for several seconds. “Fleeing to the ocean seemed foolish without a direction to follow. Maybe you could’ve healed the land or moved to other fertile lands untouched by the Cycle?”

“What other choice did we have? It was either stay and die for certain or leave and risk death and hope for survival,” Dainn replied in a sad tone. “As I stated before, had I known what our survival entailed, I would’ve let my entire corrupted species die off without a second thought.”

Twilight stared at the caribou she had come to despise in such a short amount of time with horror. Is this really the monster that enslaved Equestria, that set ruination across the land, who did who knows what terrible acts of debauchery and perversion? Has loneliness and regret truly changed him that much? It has to be, she thought as she desperately tried to find a logical answer… an answer that would only come with his retelling. “I… don’t know what to say, Dainn.”

“Save your words, Twilight. I do not deserve your sympathy nor your pity,” he sighed. “We -my people, that is- got exactly what we deserved. It is infuriating that the entire world suffered because of our curse.”

“Speaking of that, I have two questions related to it. Why, exactly, was Gunne known as “The Cursed”? She asked, trying her best to lighten Dainn’s mood, if only a little.

“Simple. In caribou culture, the birth of a female is often seen as… cattle reproducing at best and as a failure at worst. Males are, of course, lauded. So, whenever twins are born, the sentiment is magnified. Gunne and Ginna were an extremely rare case of twins of different sex. Gunne was always seen as tainted by weakness for having to share his mother’s womb with Ginna. ‘The taint of Female Worthlessness’ they called it. So, he was known as the Cursed because he was “Cursed”,” Dainn spat the word with cold, chilling poison, “to be born alongside Ginna.”

“...That is so fucking stupid I don’t even---,” Twilight shook her head and gritted her teeth. “It would be like saying Pound is cursed for having Pumpkin as his sister!” She exclaimed in outrage. She fumed for a few more moments before she felt Dainn’s icy stare on her. “W-What?”

“You cursed… again,” he chuckled. “You truly are unlike the Twilight I knew. Before… her subjugation, I was told she never once swore. You truly are different. Next thing you’re going to tell me you’ve had intimacy or sex toys.”

Twilight blushed and looked away. Dainn stared at her for several seconds until he broke into a fit of icy, oddly happy chuckles. “Don’t laugh…”

“I am not… It is merely amusing, Twilight Sparkle,” he sighed a few moments later. “And your second question?”

Sunset Shimmer and the human world had corrupted me! She thought, embarrassed. Clearing her throat, she continued. “W-What happened to the remains of everyone? I highly doubt you buried them all.”

Dainn spread his arms, his eyes returning to their original gloomy, emotionless glimmer. “You’re standing among them. Seeing them. Breathing them. The ash? That’s every animal, insect, plant, and living thing that once roamed across the planet.”

Twilight felt her stomach churning a second later and fell to all fours, vomiting pure bile onto the floor. “I…-” she wretched again. “I regret asking that.”

“The truth is hurtful and unpleasant most of the time. This I know more than anyone, Twilight. While you recover, I shall continue,” he said with cold resolve.

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“Truly?” I asked, not wishing to raise my hopes too high. “How many have confirmed it?”

“Several scouts have reported the same conclusion. Land, my Lord,” said the young fisherman.

I hummed deeply as I considered all of my options. Sea monsters had stopped attacking us over two weeks ago, starvation wasn’t a problem yet but it would be in a week if we didn’t get an influx of food and fast. Water was, thankfully, abundant thanks to light raining and magic runes conjuring condensation in isolated areas. I had already taken a huge risk sending a few of the smaller ships ahead of the main fleet to scout ahead, risking the safety of my people like that on a hopeful dream that wasn't sitting well with me, but there was no other choice.

And yet, I felt victorious over the now dead and gone Svarndagr. There was land beyond the ocean. I stood up. “You shouldn’t call me Lord. I’m not a noble and I never took on an official title except that of a disciple.”

“Regardless, it is thanks to you that we are alive, my Lord. You deserve to be talked to with respect, if at least that,” the fisherman said, smiling. “What should we do now?”

“I must discuss this issue with others. Wait on the ship until I return,” I ordered. Being respected and addressed with admiration was new to me and it made me uncomfortable, yet it was oddly heartwarming at the same time. I left my quarters and made my way to where Gunne was running his usual logistical matters. “Gunne, land has been spotted by the scouts. Several confirmed sights. Summon the captains and every still living noble, warrior, and caribou of renown. There are matters that only a unified front can discuss and agree upon if we wish to take any step forth.”

“At once!” Gunne replied, dashing to the warning bell. He tolled it three times in consecutive order to avoid causing panic. He waited a moment and rang it three more times. I watched as he dropped the hammer and picked up two small red-colored banners and rose them above his head. A series of distant bells broke through the now pleasing lullaby of water crashing against the hull of our ships. Then, he moved his arms in a fashion strange to me; a code used for long distances. He finished after a few seconds later, dropped the banners, hit the bell once, and returned to me breathing heavily. “M-Message sent. They should s-start arriving as soon as possible.”

“What would I do without you, Gunne?” I asked with sincerity. The thought of not having my best friend at my side sickened me. Same went for Ginna, whom I deeply cared for despite her being a female.

I left after hugging my friend and waited for the arrival of several dozen caribou. Some I knew well, some only in passing, and the rest only in name and reputation. The first to arrive was, unsurprisingly, Anvari, master of bloodlines. Then Sindri arrived followed by Vestri, Thror, Durnir, and Ivangri. More and more arrived until, twenty minutes after the summoning, the ever-pretentious Storm, master of Runecraft, stepped onto the ship. I guided them all below decks, the only proper place for us to hold a meeting with fifty-plus influential and important caribou - depressingly few educated nobles and respected traders, artists, merchants, and warriors or renown that were not snuffed away by the Cycle.

“Gentlemen, I greet you and thank you for answering my call. Some of you may already know what this is about so I’ll make it simple and go straight to the point: land has been spotted. If my calculations are correct, the scouts should reach it within the morrow and the rest of us in five days, if we are fortunate. The question is this: should we land in this new land and hope for the best or dispatch an expedition to make sure it is habitable? After all, landing on a land devoid of resources to gather and game to hunt will do us no good,” I explain, careful to point out the potential dangers of being careless, even if our situation is nearing the point of desperation.

“I say we land and claim the land for ourselves. We won’t last long if we don’t do anything,” Anvari said, blunt and to the point as always. For being the master of Bloodlines, he truly displayed a lacking degree of intellect.

“As much as I hate to agree with Anvari, he is correct. This is a dire time, Dainn. We must act decisively,” ah, the ever-cautious Vestri spoke with reason. For him to agree with Anvari was a testament of our struggle and difficult times. I didn’t need to hear any other opinions as the rest began murmuring amongst themselves, agreeing that that was the most sensible action. We were going to land and damn the consequences.

“Then it is decided. We shall make landfall with due haste. Let us hope the land is welcoming to us,” I sighed, ready to move to the next topic. “The next issue is one far more serious. I have previously stated what destroyed our home: the Cycle. We can’t allow this to happen again… at least, not so soon. But we cannot remain leaderless. I have thought of several types of temporary government until we stabilize. A similar group to our own Council is the best solution in my mind; avoid putting all the power in a single individual. That should prevent the Cycle from happening again.”

“And what if that only makes it worse? One Svarndagr was bad. Imagine several of them!” Thramm, master of Arts, said. Out of everyone, he was the most affected by the destruction. The eradication of his works and caribou artistic history hit him hard.

“The point is to not conjure a single caribou to a near-mythical degree. A council, a chamber of representatives, a ruling house, and even a triumvirate are good options, but no less than three leading figures. I dare not risk any number lower than that,” I replied, further cementing my decision and thoughts.

“And you’d be at the head of any such organization, wouldn’t you?” Storm asked. Of course. Greedy, pretentious, and cruel. He made Switching to an art form. His disdain for me was obvious, but he never openly displayed it except through snide remarks.

“Of course not. I have neither the strength nor the patience for rulership. I am a scholar, my place is with my scrolls, books, and words. I will assist as an advisor, at most, but never shall I sit on a place of prominence,” I said, truly believing such words at the time.

“By whose command? By whose decision? If anything, Dainn, you’re selling yourself short,” Ivangri spoke up. Damn him. Damn be his honeyed words. Damn me for listening to his rhetoric. “Every crew sees and looks up to you in reverence. This is no secret. You saved us… even I, who once saw you as the pet of that damned fool, cannot help but bow before your might.”

“Might!?” Oksho, a Grand Champion, spat. “Look at him! He is more female than stag! He is not mighty at all! I bet I could break him with an arm tied behind my back and while I’m blindfolded!”

“What is might, Oksho? Everyone saw what that sort of might brought us. You are strong, mighty in a physical sense. But, tell me, would you be capable of doing a tenth of what Dainn has achieved in secret, under Svarndagr’s nose, and saved so many of our people?” Vestri joined in. Another reason for contempt, another stupid choice.

“May I… offer another solution?” Hrathr, Beastmaster, spoke up. Who would’ve thought that from the dullest of minds would come the most logical-sounding solution? “Cycle bad, yes? Why not make Dainn King?” The sheer notion of that statement knocked the lights out of me when I heard it. The entire room was silent. “Yes, think about it. Cycle needs big, strong, mighty caribou, yes? I am strong, mighty, leader! Everyone else here is strong and big, bad choice for king. But Dainn? He is weakest, smallest stag in room. He almost like cow. He treated like one by idiot king. Cycle will not want him. He perfect, yes?”

“That… I… I never thought of that,” I replied. It is true. I never once considered that option. If the Cycle needs a strong caribou, a prominent leader, a great and mighty conqueror that represents everything our culture stands for. All of the things I wasn’t. “It might work… but it can’t be me.”

“Why not?” Ivangri replied. “You pretty much run the entire fleet and the rest of our people already, Dainn. Are we not gathered here at your request? You are our leader in all but title.”

“Outrageous!”

“He isn’t a noble!”

“I’ll take him over another Svarndagr!”

“He saved us! He deserves to be king!”

The objections flew back and forth for another two minutes, from insults to praises and accusations. Nothing was new to me except for the outpouring of support thrown my way. Meanwhile, I really considered the possibility of having a weak, pathetic stag as king. Even if the Cycle began to influence me, it would happen again in several hundred years. And as king, I thought, I would be able to keep in check my people’s worst impulses and focus on guiding us on a less wrathful path. Perhaps even abolish slavery altogether.

“THE KING IS DEAD!” Ivangri suddenly shouted before kneeling before me. “LONG LIVE THE KING!”

“LONG LIVE THE KING!” Vestri followed suit.

“LONG LIVE!” Hrathr joined in.

“LONG LIVE THE KING! LONG MAY HE REIGN! LONG LIVE THE KING! LONG MAY HE REIGN!”

The room echoed with a chorus of almost sixty throats clamoring my name and putting a crown I never wanted over my head.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Dainn stopped and looked up, tears falling down his blue, icy eyes. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just sealed the deaths of everyone that day. I made all the wrong choices that looked like the best ones… the gravest mistake I made was picking the wrong stags to form my council.”

For her part, Twilight had recovered from the uncomfortable voiding of her stomach and was now staring at Dainn with a look of true bewilderment. At first she thought he was tricking her, playing some sort of game… but now that she could all but feel the remorse, pain, sadness, and depression radiating from his very aura, she couldn’t see him as the monster she’d seen in the stained glasses or in the statues. All she could see was an old and broken caribou. No. An old and broken person.

She must’ve been staring at him far harder than she intended since he looked down at her, confused.

“Why are you looking at me like that? I don’t see any hatred in your eyes…,” he asked with a soft, emotionless tone. It was as if he couldn’t accept anything that wasn’t hatred or disgust directed at him.

“Because… it’s just that… If everything you’ve said is indeed true, then you were a kind and noble king, a caring king. Sure, that’s within your species' standards but you were looking for the well-being and survival of your people. You have noble intentions and nobler goals. I can’t… I can’t fathom what made you change so much. Was it the stags you mentioned? You referred to them with so much disdain…”

“They were my worst mistake, Twilight. I should’ve purged them and start anew. I should’ve tightened a leash around their necks and controlled their dark impulses. So, so many things I should’ve -could’ve done differently- but I didn’t. If there is something I can say for myself now, the only good thing that came with living alone in this nightmare is that my mind and my decisions are finally my own,” he sighed, shaking his head. “The worst and the start of the end was about to commence. All because of my weakness and stupidity.”

Chapter 8: The Arrival

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Land. I couldn’t believe it even as I was on my knees, touching the sand and soil and grass of a new land. It had escaped me that the everlasting cold I was so used to had died down several days prior to our arrival. The weather wasn’t warm, not entirely at least, but it wasn’t hellishly cold; chilly and gentle at worst and a blazing inferno compared to even the warmest days in our homeland.

It was the first time I saw plants, trees, and grass not covered in snow or frozen to the bone. The smell of the ocean was even different; salty, fresh, and full of life. Half the armada had disembarked by now and Gunne had selected a large grassland for us to stage a camp. Wood was being cut down for fire, a nearby river was visited for fresh water, fishing, and several scouts were scouring the forest for any edible fruits, roots, bark, and anything else they could get their hands on.

Most ships would be eventually destroyed and their materials salvaged for early construction. Everyone had silently decided that, until we knew more about this land, we would establish our initial base here until a certain hoofhold could be obtained. Preferably not through conquest in case this land was inhabited. At least, that’s what I thought at first.

“My King,” a young voice called. It was still jarring to be called as such. Me, a King shouldering the weight and responsibilities of the survival of my species? To forge a new path away from our outdated, perverse ways. It was so surreal to me yet I liked the feeling of actually being respected for once. I turned around only to find a young stag, a calf essentially, but a quick messenger and promising warrior. “Lord Storm requests your presence for a very important matter. He did not tell me what it was, just that it was urgent.”

I stood up and dropped the grass I was grasping so firmly. “Where is he?”

“Follow me, my King. This way,” I followed the young stag for several minutes, not stopping once as I advanced through ranks upon ranks of stags unloading ship after ship. Strong females were dragging carriages filled with goods while a stag cracked a whip, the sound of several cows moaning in pleasure as they were fucked also reached my ears.

Not even a day after our arrival and they’re celebrating already, I thought with tiredness. Still, as I advanced, everyone stopped their work to let me pass undisturbed, often giving thanks to me or calling me out by name or title. I arrived soon afterward to a large tent sitting atop a small hill that overlooked the beach we had landed upon, the growing camp, and the increasing area of bustling activity. “You may go,” I dismissed the young stag once we arrived. He vowed and left, leaving me to ponder what could the Master of Runecraft want with me so soon.

I entered the tent and found, to my surprise, all those that had elected me as King. “What is the meaning of this reunion, Storm? Why wasn’t I informed about this meeting?”

“Apologies, my King, this wasn’t an official reunion until this very instant. We agreed that we needed your attention before we could continue,” Vestri replied, bowing humbly. “What began as a simple discussion eroded into a full-blown debate, you see.”

“About?” I asked, walking to the middle of the group. Everyone moved back around me, creating a small circle and giving me the space I needed to walk, turn, and address anyone at any time easily.

“The formation of your council and those stags that will stand at your side to be your advisers, sword, shield, and armor,” Storm finished, robbing Vestri the honor of finishing his explanation. “That is why we need your opinion on the matter, my King. Who do you wish to stand next to you? Who among us, your faithful servants, do you wish to trust and elevate with authority to make your will a reality?”

“So soon?” I barked at them. “There are more important things to do, our survival still isn’t assured. We don’t even have a solid hold on this land; we don’t know what else walks upon it. There certainly are more crucial subjects to deal with over petty squabbles of power and position!” I half-shouted at them, scolding them for their stupid power play and thirst for power.

“But my King, the rest of our people need a stable pillar to rely upon! If we continue without a unified government, we could splinter or even suffer a civil war over conflicting ideas,” Ivangri said. His words rang so true at the time. Now I know those threats would never happen. Damn me. Damn me!

I hummed, mulling over those possibilities. After ten seconds of hard thinking, I finally replied. “I will not be as stupid as Svarndagr. I will not create a large, efficient council filled with ambitious, corrupt officials. My Council shall only contain eight core members and I will only have two advisors. My Left Hand, charged with civil duties and civil development that need my attention. And my Right Hand, charged with matters of economy and warfare that needs my direct attention.”

“The King has spoken and we obey,” everyone muttered at the same time.

I blinked in confusion. Why did they accept it so easily, without fighting for more? Was it because of the circumstances or were they trying to gain my favor? Of course, it was nothing of the sort. They cornered me right then and there into selecting my council from between their numbers. I never knew if they had planned this or if they agreed to shackle me with their manipulations early on.

“Right… For the members of my council. Master of Runecraft, Storm. The Beast Master, Hrathr. Master of Commerce, Thror. Master of Whispers, Fauber. Master of Arts, Thramm. Master of Steel, Durnir. Master of Bloodlines, Anvari. Finally, Warmaster, Svenn,” I could see several were displeased by my quick selection. But really, there were no stags more capable than them in those areas. And I certainly wasn’t going to let a brute like Oksho near any place of real influence.

What a fool I was.

“My right hand shall be… Vestri,” I looked at the tall, muscular but intelligent stag and nodded to him. Truly, what other choice did I have? Out of all the generals and military advisors at Svarndagr's side, only he survived. I had no concept of military tactics beyond small raids. A warrior fights in battles, a general leads those warriors to victory. And he made a good job keeping up clean records and expenses low.

“And my left hand shall be… Gunne,” not a moment passed after I uttered the name of my best friend before everyone exploded into a fit of demands against my choice. “SILENCE!” I shouted and they obeyed, though they still grumbled, displeased. “My decision is final!”

“With all due respect, my King… Gunne is unfit for such a role,” Ivangri said, speaking for all. “Setting aside his reputation and his… unfortunate circumstances, he isn’t a noble nor educated in the field of large-scale planning. Not to mention matters of judicial nature, civil unrest, and other such modalities. We… understand your relationship with him and I would welcome him into a pivotal role within your inner group, but to give him such an important title? The people would begin to think anyone could do the work us nobles do. There would be more petitioners demanding a chance to prove their skills only to fail miserably and bring ruination upon us. Please, my King, reconsider your decision, for the betterment and the survival of our species.”

Damn him. Damn him! DAMN HIM!

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“DAMN YOU, IVANGRI!” Dainn shouted with fury, his blue eyes blazing with hatred. “I should have never listened to him, Twilight… or Vestri, or any other of those parasites,” he said a moment later, his words still burning with hatred. “I always assumed Svarndagr was merely pissing on the members of his council. ‘Soft-spoken fools, little better than vermin’ he used to call them. But as much as he hated them, he couldn’t replace them. The nobility ensured that only they could fulfill the roles needed to run a nation. Education, wealth, status, titles… they hoarded everything to ensure their dominance. If they fell, our society would fall into a civil war or worse. And I fell for their trap from the very start.”

“I… know how you feel, Dainn,” Twilight gulped, feeling a strange sense of solidarity over that particular hurdle she had to face. “Nobles are often selfish bullies that like to stand above others and remind everyone how special they are. But more often than not, the roles they play are too important for anyone else to fill unless they do something truly stupid or reprehensible. I am, however, fortunate that most pony nobles I know are honorable and just,” of course, that included her family since they were, technically speaking, minor nobles before their ascension into roles of power.

“Hmmm, I wonder if you’ll still think that after I tell you which pony nobles of this world bent the knee to me in secret before the invasion began?” he asked, but then sighed. “Or perhaps that was my fault as well? Maybe your world is much different than this one. I don’t know. For your sake, I hope it is.”

“Putting those disturbing thoughts aside, you seem to really hate that Ivangri fellow. What did he do?” She asked, trying to help the stag clear his mind a little and let his emotions die down.

“The better question is what didn’t he do? Ivangri was your average stag in both strength and stature. He was, also, a lying, cheating, bastard with a silver tongue so sharp that it could rival Discord before he… that’s for later. Ivangri was also the lowest sort of scum alive. By the time I uncovered his perversions, it was far, far too late to do anything about it. Most stags only punished a female when it was needed. Not Ivangri. He was a sadist through and through. He couldn’t climax without inflicting pain and suffering. He marveled in it, desired to inflict as much as possible, and cared not if he broke his victims or not,” Dainn fell silent for a moment. “The number of females he broke, that I uncovered at least, numbered the four digits, Twilight. He was a fucking monster.”

Twilight wanted to throw up again, but there was nothing left in her stomach to evict. Hilst her hatred toward Dainn had diminished to the point she pitied the stag, her hatred for the caribou species as a whole only increased with every new horror that entered her ears. “Did he… kill them?”

“Sometimes, yes. He truly didn’t care if his victims lived or died. But he did his best to keep them alive… just for his sick sense of pleasure and to prolong their suffering that much more,” even Dainn, in his deathly state, managed to show so much repugnance that it almost made him look alive.

“Why… why would you surround-- no, I’m-... I’m sorry. You said they deceived you,” Twilight remarked, feeling nauseous.

“Deceived? Yes. But I was a weak fool, at least at the start. I was more afraid of causing a civil war or projecting weakness to what remained of my people to do anything more than nod at worst and achieve a slightly less horrible compromise,” he sighed, shaking his head tiredly.

“How long did it take before you discovered you weren’t alone in this land? Speaking of which, where did you land?” Twilight asked, trying to get the story to move along as her internal clock warned her it was getting uncomfortably late in the human world.

“Near Lindisbarne. Does it exist in your world?” He asked softly.

“No. Never heard of that place.”

“And the Crystal Empire? Princess Cadance?”

“Yes,” Twilight dryly, her disgust for the caribou only increased at the mention of the Crystal Empire and of her sister-in-law. Just imagining what happened to them in this dimension or what became of the prosperous empire boiled her blood.

“Then… I presume you are connecting the dots and have already deduced where Lindisbarne was closely adjacent to,” Dainn sighed, gripping his cane tightly before continuing with his tale.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The forest had served us well, providing timber, coal, and goods to help us build solid walls, watchtowers, handles, tools, and other materials. We were low on raw materials and there were no nearby deposits of iron or other precious metals other than bronze. We had to do with clay, marble, and a stunningly high quantity of high-quality granite. It wasn’t ideal and stags were unwilling to melt down their weapons or armor to be turned into nails or other essential tools.

Logistically speaking, we were in an impending disaster if we couldn’t get our hands on ores and iron. But other matters had been dealt with. Food was being grown steadily, the forest provided nicely as did the ocean with a rich harvest of algae, fish, and several types of roots, fruits, and grasses. Even the small game provided meat and leather.

But there were… other problems I wasn’t expecting to emerge so rapidly. After the formation of my council, the noble houses had claimed their own small territories and had reformed; reclaiming their authority and rights over the lowly serfs, surviving slaves, and labour-whores.

Was it a sign that the first buildings that were completed after the storage and blacksmith were a pair of brothels, a dairy farm, and rape stocks? I paid it no mind in the midst of so many other things that needed my attention. I was in the middle of planning out the location of latrines when Gunne came rushing into my tent. I couldn’t give him any important role in my council nor even in my inner group, but I was able to make him my personal messenger, at least for the moment. “Yes? I’m busy right now, Gunne. This better be--”

“Strangers! We’ve spotted strangers! Not caribou!” He stammers before falling to his knees.

The latrines could wait as I stood to my hooves and rushed out of my tent. The camp was in frantic activity as the rumors of new arrivals reached them. How was it that I learned about them so late? I asked myself, unable to grasp the answer then. I made it to the main gates where Ivangri, Vestri, Storm, and Svenn were waiting for me. They all bowed at my arrival and pointed at the distance where a small group of twenty or so individuals were walking towards the gates of our camp.

“What are they, my King? Do you have any idea?” Vestri asked, intrigued.

“I do not know, but they are bipedal like us… no antlers and… my stars, are those three flying!?” I asked, stunned, when I saw three of them spread their wings and take to the sky to hover over their compatriots. Now that they were within discernable visual range, I couldn’t help but gawk at them; my eyes examining them from head to hooves. Some figures were slightly bigger than the bulk of the group. They had long, bushy tails, disparate manes, and their coats were so colorful that my eyes hurt. Pink, blue, yellow, green, red, purple. It was like watching a parade of a rainbow made flesh.

My advisers were mumbling but I didn’t hear them. There was something within me that felt repulsed at the sight of such creatures. I couldn’t explain it, but it was there. And when they were close enough, I had to put a hand on Ivangri’s shoulder to prevent him from blowing a casket when most of our visitors were females. Fifteen females and five males in total.

One of the flying ones approached and landed, looking around while she was dressed in armor and looking stern yet friendly.

“Well, howdy there folks. It seems our reports were right about an unknown group causing a fuss all the way here,” she said with a gentle smile. “Mind telling me who and what you are, friends?”

Ivangri and Svenn were about to speak out but I beat them to it, my heart rushing like crazy for the first time in many, many years with something that wasn’t fear. “I greet you, stranger, to our encampment. Hornvik Encampment, to be precise. My species is called Caribou. What, pray tell, are you? My name is Dainn. King Dainn.”

“KING!?” The female signaled something to her fellows to drop to a knee, and they did. Despite our just meeting, they showed respect and openness. “My apologies, your Majesty. My name is Striding Star and I’m the Captain of the Guard of Lindisbarne. We’re happy to meet you on behalf of ponykind, Equestria, and in the name of Princess Celestia.”

“Captain!?” I heard Ivangri hissed in a muttered tone. The rest of my companions were equally disgusted, but at least waited for my orders to do or say anything.

“Please, all of you, raise. It is… good to meet you, ponies,” I said, eyeing the wings of Striding Star, the horns of some of her companions, and the lack of those features in others. “Excuse me for asking, but could you explain to me why you have wings, they have horns, and they have none?”

“Oh, of course, your Majesty,” Striding Star replied, smiling. “I’m a pegasus, a flying pony like my two companions here. The ones with horns are unicorns, magic casters. And the rest are earth ponies, strong and nature-tuned ponies. You said you were caribou? I’ve never heard of your species before. Have you come across the sea?”

“Unfortunately, yes. A calamity struck our homeland and we had to leave,” I replied, leaving out that we were mere survivors or that we had any other intentions in mind. At least, for now, diplomacy was my best option. “We didn’t know this land was inhabited.”

“Oh no, we ain’t implying you gotta leave or anything of the sort. Equestria is big and we welcome you with open arms! I’m sure that once the Princesses know about you and your people we will be able to help you out,” she bowed once more. “Now, I’m sorry to say but we can’t stay any longer. Our orders were to see if the reports about unknown arrivals were correct. They obviously are and we have to report back immediately. Your Majesty, gentlecolts,” with a curt nod, the group turned around and marched down the path they came.

We all waited in stunned silence until the group was long gone, far away from hearing any disturbance. Ivangri was the first to explode in anger.

“A FEMALE IN COMMAND!?” He raged, stomping the ground angrily. “T-The audacity! The nerve! The disrespect! She--- all of those females turned their backs on US!”

“Didn’t you hear her words!? The ones with horns can do magic! MAGIC! Females are in control of magic! HERESY! UNACCEPTABLE!” Storm joined in, almost foaming at the mouth.

“PRINCESSES! T-That means… oh great ancestors, are they a matriarchal society!?” Svenn said weakly, his legs almost giving out at the mere thought that such a horror story could be true.

“Fuck that! Did you see how many of them were in that group! All of them had armor. They were warriors! A mockery! A scandal! There must be more females than males in their wretched society!” Ivangri said.

“L-Let’s not jump to such conclusions… my king, what shall we do? This is a disaster waiting to happen!” Vestri finally gave his opinion, but I barely heard it.

The feeling I felt was stronger by the time Striding Star left; my mind was jumping with possibilities. Could I do it? Could I truly engage in diplomacy rather than the sword with a new species? One that stretched a hand in aid? One that didn’t even suspect we were an invasion force and took my explanation at face value?

“MY KING!”

Ivangri’s shout cut off my line of thought and I turned to him as he looked at me pleadingly. I glanced around me and every stag present was doing the same, begging for an answer from their king. I gathered my courage and spoke up. “We will pursue diplomatic relationships with these ponies,” I began, a hint of a smile on my lips. “This is a golden chance for our civilization to start anew, reforge ourselves and rid ourselves from the Cycle forevermore.”

“NO!” Svenn called out in a near panic attack. “My King, please! Do not do something so foolish! They will enslave us! Their males didn’t utter a single word! It is… IT IS UNNATURAL!” He growled. “A female should never be in such a position of power! Males rule, females obey and the balance of nature is kept!”

“Laws change and shift. Who’s to say they enslave their males?” I asked, trying to use logic to dissuade them. “We have only met and you are ready to go into war against a species that has offered us aid? Are you that blinded and stupid or are you just ignorant?” I sighed. “How many of them are there? How vast is their territory? Who are their leaders? Are there more species to worry about? How powerful is their magic? What can they do? Have any of you considered any of these questions?”

“It doesn’t matter, my King! They are FEMALES!” Ivangri spat with disgust. “Lowly, worthless, birthing cattle! That’s all they are! They can’t be allowed to rule or possess any power that we, as males, cannot control or possess! Male Superiority demands action!”

“And I demand patience!” I countered, turning to the irate stag. “Wasn’t I treated and seen as a female? I know many of you saw me as such and yet, here I am, a stag and a King by your decision!” I pointed a finger at Ivangri and then at me. “I am not siding with Striding Star or the ponies, but there is a reason I am King: to make the best decisions possible for the survival of our species! Attacking these ponies is not the best decision! We have to prevent the Cycle from happening again, at any cost! So what if we have to tolerate their strange ways for a few years?”

I took a deep breath, and pointed at the road the ponies had left. “And if their rulers, females, can rule such a land the same way a male that was seen as female, then so can they!”

“You cannot be serious, my King! They will be the ruination of us all if we don’t do anything!” Storm interjected. “Magic… such power cannot be left loose upon the unworthy hands of idiotic females. What if they have their stallions enslaved? What if they use their magic to do the same to us?” He snarled. “Our cows have never known the use of magic since birth and they don’t need it. They are proof that only males can handle such power. Any female wielding magic, no matter how small, is a disaster waiting to happen. And the worst… the worst was that these ponies are divided into castes. There are proud, captured, enslaved males without magic… I shudder at the thought of what horrible fates they must endure under the unjust rule of females.”

“What enslavement? I did not see shackles nor chains on the stallions that came with the group. They wore the same equipment, the same weapons, and showed the same disposition as the females. You, Svenn and Vestri, more than anyone should’ve been aware of what I saw in their display: honor, respect, and cordiality. They were dutiful, true soldiers of their nation. They should be respected as fellow warriors.”

“Let’s say we push for diplomacy, my King,” Ivangri began, his voice calm and calculative. “They will see how the power of Male Superiority is absolute. They will witness how our females are happy and submissive. Their females will treat us as monsters,” he scoffed the word, “merely for doing what a male is entitled to do: anything he pleases to a lowly female. Surely, their males will beg us to free them, to join us! Their females will not relent on their misguided ways, but we can teach them… or…”

“Or?” I replied. Why did I entertain the bastard? Why was I so damn gullible back then?

“Or they ‘liberate’ our females and put shackles around our necks. Are you willing to risk such an outcome, my King?

My blood turned to ice and I opened my mouth to retort. That was the best outcome in my mind! It would mean that our ways would be destroyed and a new caribou civilization would emerge, one free of the Cycle, even. I desperately wanted to say that… but I couldn’t. Something grasped my throat and prevented me from speaking. My head was filled with visions of Striding Star impaling me. I shook those thoughts aside, knowing they were born from untrue fears. Right?

“Send several scouting parties,” came the order from my mouth as my heart pounded against my chest. “Find this… Lindisbarne they mentioned. Spy how they live, gather information, and report to me in two weeks. I will make my final decision then,” I glared at all of them, “and Gunne shall lead them, personally. I trust no one else to not make a completely fake or biased report. If something happens to him, anything at all, I swear upon Yggdras itself that I will not be responsible for my next actions.”

Surprisingly, or rather unsurprisingly, Ivangri was the first to bow. “Of course, my King. That is all we ask: that you see their lies for what they are. Male Superiority cannot be denied.”

“We shall see,” I sighed.

“Hmmm… my King, may I prepare something just in case?” Storm asked.

“Depends. What is it?”

“It is a rune I was working on before the collapse. The magic is complicated to explain, but in short it allows a male to understand Male Superiority better and makes females more docile and receptive to their role. It is all theoretical, but with your permission, I shall resume my research.”

I wanted to say no. I wasn’t aware he was working on something so horrific. I truly, deeply wanted to say no… but I couldn’t. I merely nodded.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“And that doomed us all,” Dainn exhaled tiredly.

“What did you do?” Twilight asked, glaring at him. These ponies weren’t her people, but they were still living beings. She was starting to open the gates of something truly repugnant, and likely something she’d come to regret ever hearing at some point in her life. Not if it helps me prevent this from ever happening in my world or the human world, she thought, resolute to discover the whole truth.

“We attacked Lindisbarne,” Dainn replied as guilt reflected in his blue, icy eyes. “We--”

“Wait, I… I need to go. I will come back soon, but I have to go. My friends must be worried sick. I’ve been here for three, maybe four hours. They’ll think I’ve gone missing and I don’t want them finding--” she shut her mouth at the last moment, “--something they wouldn’t like. Will you be here when I return?”

“I don’t know. My schedule is full and I have so many things to do,” Dainn replied with dry sarcasm.

“.....right, sorry,” Twilight spread her wings, her cheeks blushing slightly. “I’ll be back, I promise!” And with a flap of her wings, she was gone.

“Please… be back soon,” Dainn muttered seconds after Twilight was gone. He looked around and shivered. “Loneliness is worse after cherishing companionship again after so, so long…,” he turned around and left through the darkest, most intact hallway for several minutes until he reached a mostly intact room. A fireplace was there, one that hadn’t been lit in ages, a pile of dusty cushions and a half-rotten away bed, a shattered mirror, and an old, cracked pedestal holding a bluish discolored bag. It was open, revealing a soft, golden glow from within it; emitting ethereally and illuminating slightly the otherwise featureless room. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the bag for what felt like ages until he found his voice again. “You were right… after all this time, you were right. You know? I regret so many things. But you? You’re my greatest regret. I should’ve fought more. I should’ve--- doesn’t matter now. What’s done is done, nothing can change that.”

Silence reigned for what felt like hours before Dainn found his voice again. “I’m truly happy that this new Twilight comes from another Equestria. That means that you’re alive or… another version of you. I guess… I guess that’s enough,” he chuckled. “You are the worst partner ever. You never talk back,” he chuckled again, louder. Then louder. And louder.

As he fell forward and onto his knees, his eyes watering with fresh tears, he tossed his cane aside; the remnants of his old warhammer, and covered his face with his withered hands, bawling and weeping openly. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry!” He cried for hours, days. He didn’t care. The tears would never stop flowing, he wouldn’t tire, he wouldn’t die no matter what he did, tried, or didn’t do.

And as he cried, through a blurred vision of tears, his gaze set upon on an old piece of wood resting at the base of a dusty, forgotten pedestal. The wood that had no signs of decay despite being splintered and old, but on it a single inscription could be read. A single word.

It read “UNLESS”.

Chapter 9: Return and Promise

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Twilight landed outside the building leading to the abandoned basement that held the mirror she had crossed through. With a shiver and a sigh, she felt weak, tired, and drained. The discoveries, the encounter with Dainn, his tale… her mind couldn’t take any more or else she’d surely suffer from an aneurysm at the sheer volume of information and conflicting emotions she was going through. She needed time to calm down, think objectively, and prepare herself for worse things.

She made her way down to the basement and fear gripped her heart. What if the mirror isn’t there anymore? She asked herself and came to a sudden halt. Wait a minute… how is it possible that Dainn doesn’t know about the mirror? Why was left there alone in the first place? J-Just how old is the mirror in the human world? Oh gosh, for how long has the human world been in contact with magic and other Equestrians!?

The alicorn felt as if she was about to hyperventilate. So many questions on top of all those she already had… existential dread was not something she needed right now. Instead, she took a moment to practice the breathing technique Cadance had taught her and repeated it until it worked. “Right… focus, Twilight. Principles and theoretical; one problem at a time, one solution at a time.”

With her resolve regained, she made it to the basement and found the mirror right where she last saw it. She didn’t want to spend another second in this dimension and simply walked through without precaution. Why should she worry? Only Dainn was alive and she was sure that either the rest of the world shared the same fate as Equestria or had died out on their own. Dainn had told her that, too. So the only living thing left in a lonely, dead world was the half-living thing the caribou had become.

The dizziness of crossing through dimensions was like a backdrop compared to how she was feeling as she stepped into the now dark, lonely basement back in Canterlot High. Using her magic, she concealed the mirror, just to be safe, and walked out of the basement not before grabbing the requested cube Vice-Principal Luna was searching for. When she made her way back to the hallways of the school, she found them illuminated with what appeared to be Sunset Shimmer looking around for something.

Ughhh, I really took too long. How long was I out there? It couldn’t have been more than three hours… I think, she thought a moment before the red and golden-haired woman turned to her and ran up to her, shouting her name.

“Twilight!” Sunset cried out, hugging her friend tightly as she picked her up. “Oh thank Celestia you’re okay!” She ended the hug and slapped her across the face. “WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU!? We were worried sick! Luna was about to call the police before I told her I would look for you! Did something happen!? Are the dazzlings back? Another creature from Equestria crossed over? Did you find another magical rift or something? Well? Come on, filly, talk!”

“Sunset…,” Twilight replied, swallowing hard, unbothered by the slap she had just received. “It’s… a long story. Something that Princess Celestia and everyone else in Equestria needs to hear. B-But, let me ask you something very important… do you know anyone, anyone at all by the name of Dainn?”

“Dainn? No, not really? I mean, I’ve heard it’s a pretty common name in Denmark and other surrounding countries. Also Iceland for some reason, but I don’t know anyone with that name. Why?” Sunset asked, her anger replaced by worry.

Twilight let out a long, relieved sigh. “Because there’s something I need to figure out first… and I need you to come with me back to Equestria for it. This may be your home now, but Equestria may need you in case my worries are true.”

“Twilight, you’re starting to freak me out,” Sunset gulped nervously. “But… if you need my help, I’ll go with you. You… you look pale. Here, eat this and have a drink,” she said, passing her a handful of her beef jerky snacks and a bottle of juice.

Twilight grabbed them and ate the jerky greedily and gulped it down with the juice in mere seconds. “G-Goodness, I didn’t realize I was so hungry or thirsty until now,” she licked her lips, finally feeling something in her stomach after emptying it completely back with Dainn. “Where are the rest of our friends?”

“Follow me,” Sunset said and guided Twilight to the Principal’s office. Principal Celestia was there, waiting for new information along with her sister. Twilight handed over the cube while Celestia called off the searching parties and summoned Twilight’s friends over. When they arrived, Twilight gave them a quick explanation of a magical mishap that, while not dangerous, she needed to see through. She never told them anything about the mirror, only that the basement would need to be off-limits for a time until she could fix it and prevent any accident from happening.

I hate lying to them… but I will not risk their lives with something like that, Twilight thought to herself while Celestia seemed confused. “Is something the matter, Principal?”

“I sent a search party to the basement after we thought you went missing. Nobody found anything there. Care to explain why that is?” Celestia asked.

“The anomaly only interacted with alicorn magic,” a half-truth if they saw the mirror but couldn’t interact with it. “I don’t know how to explain it, but this issue has more to do with my dimension than yours. Oh, that reminds me, I will need Sunset’s help in this regard, Principal Celestia. She’s a pony, as you may recall, and this matter concerns her directly.”

“I see. At least it won’t be a terrible accident. Superintendent Discord would be very, very happy to avoid putting more budget into our school to fix ‘Crazy-Ass random magical doohickey’. I’m still not done filing the paperwork relating to the crater your little episode caused,” Celestia said, eyeing Sunset drily. “Fine, I’ll approve it. What about the rest?”

“I’d rather they continue with their studies normally,” Twilight smiled at her human friends. “If I need your help, I’ll tell you all, okay?”

“You better, Princess,” Applejack was the first to speak and pull Twilight into a hug that soon turned into a hugging pile.

Half an hour later, the alicorn and unicorn stood in front of the statue portal, ready to cross it. “Was it that bad?” Sunset asked out of the blue without turning to face her friend. “Whatever you found?”

“It might be. I pray my suspicions are correct and that we are free of that danger… but I also plan to uncover the truth. The whole truth and maybe,” she shook her head. “Well, who knows?”

“Then let’s go,” Sunset said and the two crossed the mirror at the same time.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Twilight was feeling as if she was about to have a panic attack. She really hadn’t given much thought about how to convey the information she’d gathered, only that she had to tell her friends and closest allies as soon as possible. The second she arrived back in Equestria, she’d sent urgent messages and to her great relief and dismay, they all had arrived within the hour with the only exception being Discord himself.

Now she sat with Sunset at her side while all of her friends, Celestia, Luna, Cadance, Shining Armor, and Sunburst all sat around the large map table, waiting for her to speak up.

“Twilight… is everything okay? Are you feeling alright?” Cadance finally asked, breaking the silence.

“Cadance is right, darling. I didn’t want to mention anything since you looked awfully stressed out, but you look like you haven’t slept in days,” Rarity pointed out, worried for her friend’s health.

Spike, ever helpful, placed a claw on her hoof and squeezed it in support. Twilight smiled at her little brother and took a large, unsteady breath. “Thank you, everyone, for worrying about me. And to answer your questions, no. I am not alright. I am… mortified, horrified, terrified, and every other descriptor that could possibly describe apprehension, fear, anger, and dismay.”

“Geez, you’re making it sound as if Tartarus itself split open and every monster in it is now roaming free,” Rainbow boasted with fake bravery. Even she was left worried after hearing the most logical and skeptical mare she knew talk as if they were already defeated. “Come on, Twi, it can’t be that bad!”

“You’re right, Dash. It’s not that bad. It’s a thousand times worse,” Twilight replied, silencing the room once more. Not even the shuffling of feathers could be heard now. She looked up and her eyes searched for Luna and Celestia’s eyes, practically pleading for an answer. “Before I continue… I have a question I need to be answered. You two are, aside from Discord, the oldest living beings in Equestria. Nay, the entire planet. If anyone knows, it is you. Do you… do you know anything about a species called caribou?”

The two royal sisters exchanged confused looks and shook their heads a moment later. “Caribou? Never heard of them. I know of a kingdom of Deer in the far west, though. Fierce and fearless protectors of their forest and excellent allies,” Celestia answered. “Their current king, Aspen, is a good friend of mine.”

“Likewise,” Luna admitted. “Though I know of a legend about three mythical reindeer that live far up north, past beyond the cold lands of the Yak. Otherwise, nay, I have never heard of caribou in my life.”

“Are you sure? No mentions at all? Nothing written? No records? No passing comments made by your parents or other ancient beings?” Twilight asked in a constant string, her heart pounding hard against her chest, desperately wanting it to be true.

“Twilight, calm down! Breathe!” Applejack said, ready to leap from her seat and aid her friend if need be. Everyone else in the room was now visibly shaken and worried.

“Twilight, we assure you that before you mentioned them today, we have never heard of anything even remotely similar to that name,” Celestia replied, eyebrows furrowing and eyes narrowing as a cold, hard suspicion was building in her heart.

“Good! Gooood… th-that’s good, very good. The best kind of good. Goodarific,” Twilight breathed out incoherently as she felt a massive strain being lifted from her shoulders, back, flanks, and everywhere else in her body. Then, another worry struck her. “What about a town called Lindisbarne, up in the northern frontiers of Equestria near the coast?”

“See for yourself,” Luna said and her horn ignited. With a shot of magic, the table came to life to show the entirety of Equestria with little flags sprouting everywhere signaling where even the smallest hamlet was located.

Twilight immediately searched the general location where she presumed Lindisbarne was located in Dainn’s world. It took her only a few seconds to find a rough match to the coast, cliffs, and a fjord that seemed similar to the land described by Dainn. There was a forest near the coast, the ample hillside and the open plains after. Try as she may, there was not a single settlement anywhere close to that area except for a frontier outpost without a name.

Another massive weight was lifted from her very soul and she allowed herself a little moment of respite. Exhaustion washed over her for a moment, only now noticing how drained she truly was. The map died down as she sighed in utter relief.

“I’m officially freaked out,” Shining Armor interjected a moment later. “Twily, what’s going on? Is this something I should be aware of? Why are you suddenly that worried about creatures and some town that doesn’t even exist? I believe everyone in this room deserves to know what you’re talking about.”

Twilight looked at a frightened Sunset and found her courage. “You’re right, Shiny. Everypony, listen to me closely because what I’m about to tell you is something I wish wasn’t real,” she stated, fear once more creeping its way into her heart, but with the confirmation that there were no caribou in her dimension or the starting point of their assault made wonders for her confidence. At least at the moment. “I--”

“There you are!” A disembodied voice rang out from everywhere before a griffon claw pierced reality itself and pulled it aside as a shower curtain. Discord stepped out and closed the gap in reality with a whisk of his tail. “Do you have any idea how worried Fluttershy was, Twilight? What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?”

“Fluttershy?” Twilight’s attention shifted to her shy friend, who only blushed and nodded in confirmation. Confused, she turned to Discord. “W-What do you mean, Discord?”

“I meeeean that you ruined our tea party! There we were, talking and munching on some goodies when all of a sudden I felt you wink out of existence! Like you entered a null space or some other nonsense! Of course, I told everything to my wonderful and best friend Fluttershy about it and she grew worried, so I went out to investigate.” He huffed and crossed his arms while his tail formed a third hand and pressed a furry finger against her snout. “And then, boom! You appear back in that strange human dimension! I tried to figure out where you were, but no luck. What do you have to say for yourself, you little devil you?”

“Sorry?” Twilight offered, earning an unamused glare from the Lord of Chaos. “Unless you happen to know what caribou are?”

“WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT!?” Discord erupted suddenly, sprouting two more heads and shaking Twilight a few times. “Where did you go, Twilight!?”

“Discord?” Fluttershy spoke up, shaking. “W-What do you know about them? Is Twilight going to be alright?”

“Yeah… okay… give me a moment,” Discord’s heads merged together and he turned around, gathering his thoughts while Spike helped Twilight regain her senses. “Look, I don’t know much about these caribou freaks other than that they are bad, bad news. Other Discords got unlucky in their dimensions and got that plague. When I learned about them I checked here to see if there were any. Nope, zero, zilch, nada. We’re lucky. Most of the other dimensions that have them aren’t as lucky. Again, I don’t know much about them except ‘run to the hills, hide in your bunkers, and stay away from them’,” he explained, turning around again to face a not-so-surprised Twilight. Realization dawned on him. “Twilight… you silly, silly bookworm. Why, of all places, did you go to one of those places?”

“I didn’t know where the mirror was going to take me, okay!? I… I didn’t know,” Twilight exclaimed, looking down at the table.

Everyone else present was either confused, fearful, or a mix of the two as they looked at each other, unable to comprehend what was going on. Except for the two royal sisters. With a nod from Luna, Celestia stood up. “Twilight… what are you talking about? What mirror? Is it another portal?”

“Y-Yes,” Twilight exhaled. “It’s a portal mirror to another Equestria, one that seems to mix the traits of ponies and humans together.”

“The mirror, Twilight. Describe it!” Celestia said half-shouting, panic creeping into her voice.

“I-it was darker than the night. Looking into the mirror was like looking into nothingness itself, but worse. The frame was silver but it was… cracked, unkept, and falling apart. The symbol was--”

“That of a sun and a moon blended together, shackled!” Sunset finished the sentence for her. “That ghastly mirror? It’s a fucking portal!? What the fuck, Twilight!? You didn’t tell me!? Do you have any idea how many times I’ve handled that thing before!? Why? Why did it work with you and not with me?” Sunset asked, anger turning to relief as the questions went on.

“It was… the symbol… they were no mere sun and moon, Sunset,” Twilight looked up, tears swelled in her eyes. “They were the Cutie Marks of Celestia and Luna as they were… were… enslaved.”

Once again, silence reigned. But only for a moment as Celestia made her way to Twilight, gently placed her hooves on her shoulders, and calmly spoke up.

“YOU FOUND A DARK MIRROR!?” Celestia asked with all the calmness she could muster, pupils the size of pinpricks and body shaking in fear. “WHY!? What possessed you to walk THROUGH A DARK MIRROR, TWILIGHT SPARKLE!? Do you have any idea how dangerous those things are!? Do you… You were in terrible, terrible danger, you foolish mare!”

In a rare instance of anger, Twilight shoved Celestia away and glared at her. “How the fuck would I have known about that if YOU never told me about them in the first place! This is the same as when you refused to teach me dark magic and I had to learn it myself! You don’t get to protest about me making a mistake over something I didn’t know, Celestia!” She breathed out, letting her anger subside while Celestia recoiled in shock. After a few seconds, she stood up. “I-I’m so sorry, Princess Celestia! I shouldn’t have-”

“No... don’t apologize, Twilight… you are right. I… I cannot fault you for an honest mistake when the one at fault is I for not warning you earlier,” she sighed. “I never thought you’d come across a Dark Mirror, of all things, on your own… Forgive me, I spoke out of turn,” Celestia apologized, retaking her seat.

“See, sister? I warned you that keeping such secrets in an attempt to protect those around you was folly,” Luna remarked, not wasting a chance to humble her sister a little.

“As for what I found on the other side,” Twilight began, earning all eyes on her once more. “I wasn’t in any danger… there was nothing that could harm me there. It was… it was little more than a perverted wasteland,” she shook her head, chuckling darkly and emotionlessly. “No. That’s wrong. It was hardly a wasteland. Nothing was alive there. Nothing at all. It was more like a dead dimension, inhabited by a single half-dead, half-living thing,” she said, already shaking as she remembered her first encounter with Dainn. Shaking her head, she focused on Celestia. “But… you know what that mirror is? Are there more like it? What exactly is a Dark Mirror?”

“You kinda owe them an explanation at this point,” Discord muttered through a mouthful of popcorn.

Celestia shot him a glare but relented a moment later. “What we, Luna and I, know about Dark Mirrors we knew mainly through what our parents told us. We’ve always known that other dimensions exist. Some are nearly identical to our own, others are so different that they could hardly be considered counterparts or even familiar. The human dimension is a good example. Constants and anomalies are the rules all dimensions abide by. There is no ‘Original’ dimension; all exist at the same time.”

“Traveling to another dimension is a difficult process. In the past, there were numerous mirrors and other natural portals leading to other dimensions. Some were peaceful, others were not. In some we ruled, in others we did not. In some we existed, in others… well, you understand,” Luna lifted a hoof. “In some others, roles are reversed. Heroes are tyrants, villains are heroes, and so forth. But then there are… some dimensions in which things go bad. Really bad.”

“We call such dimensions Dark Dimensions simply for the fact that whatever outcome they reach, it is usually one filled with pain, hardship, misery, and cruelty,” she smiled apologetically at Twilight. “I believe you are familiar with that concept already, Twilight, Starlight.”

“Then… those Equestrias were not other timelines? They were other dimensions?” Twilight muttered, aghast while Starlight began to tremble.

“Glimpses,” Luna corrected. “But you are correct. Altering the past is impossible. If it is, then we do not know how to change it. Regardless, you are familiar with the concept of Dark Dimensions. Those lost in war, ruled by tyrants, or eradicated in the worst cases.”

“And a Dark Mirror is merely a reflection of a Dark Dimension. The more corrupted, broken, dark, and lifeless a mirror seems to be, the worse the dimension on the other side is. And you, Twilight, described one of the worst Dark Mirrors I have ever heard about.”

“It’s not the worst!?” Twilight shouted in disbelief. “Please tell me you don’t have more of those things locked up somewhere! What could possibly be worse than what I saw!?”

“Fret not, Twilight, for we’ve made sure to destroy every Dark Mirror we’ve found. We are not foolish enough to keep them unharmed,” Luna replied.

“As for what could be worse? I do not know what you saw, my dear Twilight. But I assure you, there are horrible, terrible, dark things that could break you just by gazing upon them,” Celestia answered, sighing. “However, to describe such a mirror and for you to retain your sanity… then I imagine that dimension went through exorbitant and senseless cruelty and depravity.”

“Emphasis on depravity, Princess,” Twilight shivered. With a strong exhale and sitting down once more, she gathered all the courage she could muster and finally spoke up. “It was… such a horrible place. Aside from that one thing I encountered, nothing else was alive. Everything was gray, dull, and dead… I only saw the glimpses of horrible, depraved things.”

“Such as?” Luna asked, eyes narrowing. “Nothing you may speak will surprise me, Twilight. I have seen many things in the depths of dreams,” she turned to the rest gathered. “You may wish to leave if you think you won’t be able to withstand what I fear Twilight is about to describe.”

“Not a chance, Princess,” Applejack answered. Everyone else nodded or muttered in agreement. “We’re not going anywhere. Whatever Twi saw got her shaken up more than a can of worms on a fishing trip.”

“In that case,” Twilight took a big breath and sighed. “In that case, here goes nothing. It all started when I volunteered to search for an object in the school’s basement…”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“...and that’s everything he told me before I decided it was time to return. I wanted to know more, but I couldn’t stay any longer until I, well, informed you all about it,” Twilight said, relieved and exhausted as she finished her retelling of events. At the request of Cadance, of all ponies, she didn’t omit nor downplayed any detail.

Of course, that had been a bad, bad idea at first.

Fluttershy had been the first one to cry when she reached the part about how that Equestria looked like. How everything was lifeless, abandoned, falling apart, and dead. When she started describing her findings, Rainbow Dash started to shake in anger at the loss of Cloudsdale. Applejack shared her fury when she described the ruin that Ponyville had become.

Then… the true horrors began. She told them about the decrepit cities, the lonely towns and villages. The milk farms, the pens, the kennels, the posters, the messages, the vandalism. Rarity was the first to break as her face turned green and used a bucket (provided by Discord) to hurl into. By that time, she was on a roll and she wouldn’t stop.

By the time she reached Canterlot again and described in detail the statue she found, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie, with her mane deflated, also vomited. She described in grizzly detail how the castle looked and what she found in it: paintings of male domination depicting caribou in roles of power over mares, relevant or important historical figures in pony history in bastardized, re-imagined depictions showing them as slaves, incompetent fools, or surrendering to the mighty caribou. The cherry on top of that cupcake of horror was, without a doubt, the stained glasses.

Cadance broke into a mix of hurling and ugly crying when she described the one depicting the Crystal Empire and how the Crystal Heart had been turned into a Crystal Cock. Shining Armor didn’t vomit, but he was crying and fuming at the same time; the mere thought that he would betray his nation and his wife made him furious, with due reason. Her friends were shaking, crying, or vomiting as she described the murals and stained glasses, but all their disgust shifted to hatred when she gave them two names they could direct it towards.

Caribou and Dainn.

Then she told them about her most horrific discovery, the throne. That horrible nightmare throne. This time not even Celestia and Luna remained impassive. They too hurled, shaking terribly at the notion that someone would be so cruel as to remove their horns. Everyone else looked as if they had been slapped into next week by a giant Tirek, and even Discord looked uncomfortable after hearing about it.

Finally, and against all odds, everyone listened silently as she recounted her encounter with the old, half-living caribou, their exchange of words, and his tale. She told them everything, except for the name of the old caribou. She wasn’t ready to deliver that bomb just yet, not until they heard the tale he told her.

“Twilight… now I understand your distress and fear,” Luna said, eyes narrowing. “I don’t know if I would’ve kept my word in your place.”

“Such… such a horrid world. How terrible,” Rarity shuddered. “Twilight, dear, I think you undersold just how ‘depraved’ this world truly is… or was, thank goodness.”

“S-Should I be happy that everyone there is dead or angry?” Rainbow Dash muttered to herself, wings stiff in rage.

“Twilight,” Celestia began, gaining everyone’s attention due to the seriousness in her voice, “who is this old caribou you spoke with? And how, pray tell, is he still alive? According to what you told us, he’s been alone for a few couple hundred years.”

Twilight shuddered. “I know who he is. I figured it out before I agreed to listen to his tale. But how he’s still alive… I actually don’t know. He didn’t explain it and I didn’t ask. I’ll have to ask him the next time I see him.”

Cadance snarled, actually snarled, baring her teeth and everything, and stomped a hoof on the table. “The old caribou… he’s Dainn, isn’t he?”

“Say WHAT!?” Applejack, Shining Armor, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie blurted out. The rest remained silent or narrowed their eyes.

“I had a feeling that was the case,” Sunset sighed, smacking her lips. “I could do with some mouthwash right about now. Vomit has a horrible aftertaste.”

Starlight ignited her horn, summoning a bottle of it from the bathroom. “Here… and pass it along. I think all of us need a swing,” she shuddered and turned to Twilight. “Twilight, if you knew that-- that monster was Dainn… why didn’t you attack him?”

“I would’ve beaten his sorry flank from here to the ends of Tartarus and back again!” Rainbow boasted.

Twilight frowned. “You all say that because you didn’t see what I saw… I know I described him but… but I simply don’t do it justice. Words fail me,” Spike hugged her from behind and kissed the back of her neck, comforting her as she started to shake. “He looked so… so frail, so old. His skin was almost transparent, I could see his bones for fucks sake! And his eyes! Oh sweet mother of Equestria, his EYES! Those sad, lonely, unfeeling, uncaring, empty doll’s eyes… I--I can’t unsee them. A pair of blue marbles that showed nothing but the deepest sadness, guilt, regret, and pain I’ve ever witnessed. I wanted to kill him,” gasps were heard across the room. “I swear to you all, I really wanted to kill him. But when I looked into his eyes… when I felt his hands touching my face, how that tiny spark of life shined through those two blue voids… I couldn’t lift a finger against such a sorry creature. I just couldn’t.”

“Th-That bad?” Fluttershy managed to squeak out.

“Worse,” Twilight continued. “His voice reflected his eyes. He even confessed to me that he had tried to end his existence many times, but he just couldn’t die.”

“Serves that two-bit vermin right after all he did!” Applejack said, spitting into her bucket.

“That’s the thing, Applejack,” Twilight raised a hoof. “From what he told me, from his confessions and his tale, I think… I think something was wrong with the caribou on a fundamental level. Think about it. Dainn was constantly raped by Svarndagr. He was shunned, denigrated, manipulated, and stepped on by those around him. He saved his people and he truly tried to turn things around. He never desired power for himself… I want to know what happened to him, why did he change and did the horrible things he did. The start of his journey doesn’t align with the horrors I saw across Equestria and it surely doesn’t add up to the pitiful caribou I talked with. Something is amiss and I intend to discover what went wrong.”

“Hold up, Twily, I have a question,” Shining Armor spoke up. “If Chrysalis and Discord showed up… where was Tirek? And Sombra?”

“I may offer up a plausible solution,” said Celestia. Clearing her throat, she continued. “Since the events in that dimension happened several hundred years ago by our reckoning, not to mention the bodily differences, then that surely means that not all was as we know it. A town that doesn’t exist here exists there, likewise for these caribou. Who is to say a Sombra existed in that dimension? Or a Tirek? We cannot take anything for granted based on our own assumptions, my friends.”

“But there are things we can deduce, auntie,” Cadance added. “Since they did that… corruption to the Crystal Heart, then that means the Crystal Empire froze. But why was there a Crystal Empire to begin with if Sombra was never mentioned?”

“Maybe the caribou invaded after Sombra was defeated? I left before Dainn could begin to tell me how their whole invasion started,” Twilight replied.

“I still don’t like that you’re being buddy-buddy with that asshole,” Rainbow protested. “You should at least kick him where the sun doesn't shine, ehhh, with your pardon, of course, Princess Celestia,” she finished with a nervous chuckle.

“I did slap him pretty hard, though,” Twilight admitted. “But I really can’t see myself doing anything more than make rude and snide comments.”

Sunset chuckled. “First Twilight and now Rainbow. Is human swearing contagious?” She chuckled again, turning to Twilight. “Twilight… I’ll help you in everything I can, but are you sure you want to return? We could find a way to destroy the mirror and be done with this nonsense.”

“I’m too deep inside the rabbit hole now, no pun intended, Fluttershy. I have to know what happened next. Who knows? It might help us prevent something like that from happening to us or the human world in the long run,” Twilight replied.

“There’s something that I still don’t understand… why did their Shining Armor commit treason for a bunch of rapists and slavers?” Pinkie Pie asked with a hint of anger in her voice, her bubbly personality all but gone at least for now.

“And why on Equestria’s good green soil did Dainn change so much? His personality sounds like something shifted dramatically over the course of his reign. Not to mention his capacity for reflection and his own opinions on the matter. It doesn’t make any sense,” Cadance added. “I find it baffling that a stallion, or bull in this case, capable of showing such an intense brotherly love for this Gunne fellow and showing compassion and pity for his sister, Ginna, would become this horrible monster capable of cutting the horns of four alicorns.”

“Speaking of which, HOW!?” Shining Armor blurted out. “The caribou obviously didn’t have wings and their magical abilities were lackluster. How, just HOW were they able to launch an invasion across Equestria when they were absurdly outnumbered, outmatched, and outclassed?” Then, he blinked as he realized something. “Wait… if that other me betrayed Equestria, I bet it wasn’t willingly. Brainwashing. Mind-control. Those are the only answers I can think about. Being under the thrall of a mind-control spell isn’t fun. Remember our wedding, Caddy?” The pink alicorn nodded. “I remember everything and how I was screaming behind that false persona acting like it was me. Maybe something similar happened on a wider scale?” He asked and sighed tiredly. “I’ll need to work on reinforcing my mind. I’ll ask Thorax if he can help me with it somehow.”

Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Rarity turned to Starlight with deadpanned expressions.

The lilac mare blushed and took on a defensive posture. “D-Don’t look at me! I know charm and mind control spells, but you saw -and felt- the results! You were like automatons!”

“Wait, what the fu--” Sunset began but was cut off by a sudden eureka moment. “The Dazzlings! The sirens! They were able to manipulate people’s emotions and their thoughts however they wanted! Twilight, we have to go back and search for them. Get them to tell us how their powers worked. All of this keeps sounding more and more like a case of Wide Arcana.”

“That… would certainly even the playing field for them,” Twilight admitted.

“Has anyone else noticed the high number of foes with mind control or brainwashing capabilities we have faced so far? No? Just me?” Discord pointed out. “The Nightmare tricked and corrupted Luna into becoming Nightmare Moon. Yours truly is, of course, the greatest one of all. Chrysalis and the changelings do their emotion and brainwashing schtick. Starlight is Starlight. Sombra’s mind-controlling helmets. Honestly, some originality would be welcome.”

“If something isn’t broken, why fix it?” Sunset countered. “The Dazzling did something similar and of course, I nearly turned a whole city into mindless minions to invade Equestria that one time we never talk about again,” she coughed nervously.

“What is it with villains using mind control and brainwashing over and over again?” Applejack questioned, genuinely baffled and surprised by the number of times it’s happened. “Oh, and Twi? I know this is obvious now, but I think Dainn was corrupted by his so-called council. Bunch of prissy, shadowy puppeteers, good-fer-nothin’ coward vermins. Two-faced backstabbing snakes! Especially that Ivangri guy! I want him to meet Kicks McGee and Bucky McBillygutty. Personally.” Said the apple farmer before stretching her back legs, popping her joints.

“Dainn sounds like he hated him a lot,” Fluttershy said, finding her voice and frowning heavily. “I-I’ve only heard a little about Ivangri and the other council members, but they make me... make me… so fucking angry!” She hissed, slamming a hoof down on the table.

“Great, now even Fluttershy is shouting humanity's harshest swear,” Sunset sighed. “Though I have to agree with Dainn regarding his council. He picked the wrong men for the job. And honestly? I don’t think they would’ve let him pick anyone else but them.”

“It is a shame. Perhaps things would’ve been different if Dainn had a true left hand he could rely upon and trust, such as Gunne,” Celestia said with a hint of sadness in her voice. “And that stag, Gunne, was also unlike most other caribou. No wonder he and Dainn got along the way they did.”

“Big Mac would be glad to know Gunne was a good big brother… as far as he could be, anyhow,” Applejack pointed out.

“But we all agree that this Skarvanwhatshisname was a total bastard, right?” Rainbow Dash asked, earning several nods of agreement. Her eyes narrowed, refusing to mention the name of the late caribou king. “Sounds to me he was a colt cuddler and didn’t want to admit it.”

“Unlikely. Rape usually isn’t about the sex, but rather the power behind it. ‘I own you’ is the most basic meaning of rape and, well, Dainn admitted Svarndagr owned him. Literally,” Luna explained.

“It hurts my head to think such crimes happen in our home,” Rarity said, ready to faint.

“They are rare, but crimes such as murder, kidnapping, and rape do happen. No society is perfect, after all,” Celestia admitted. “What about the human world, Sunset? Are such crimes more common in your dimension?”

“Technically, this is my home dimension,” Sunset chuckled as she rubbed the back of her head. “Aaaand yeah. They are common. Like, a lot. But there are so many, many, many more humans than ponies so it sorta evens out? Plus, if there is anything I’ve learned from humans, is that they will quite literally fuck anything given the chance. You have no idea how big their porn access is.”

“I can confirm that,” Twilight said with a blush across her face.

“Moving on from that topic!” Cadance interjected, also beating red across her face. “Twilight… what are you planning to do now?”

“First, I’m going to rest up, scream at my pillow, take a long, long shower, scream at my pillow again, probably release all this pent-up aggression on some unlucky rocks, and then go back to Dainn. I promised him I will come back soon… and I need to hear the rest of his story, for my sake and that of everyone who died in that dimension. It’s all I can do for them and honor them in some way.”

“Then rest, Twilight,” Celestia stood up and moved to give Twilight a tight wing hug. “If there’s anything you need from us, please, just tell us.”

Twilight blinked, confused. “Y-You’re not gonna try to stop me?”

Celestia giggled. “Dearest Twilight, I would be insulting your resolve and drive! Besides, you’re as stubborn as our dear Applejack once you set your mind on something,” she said, causing the orange mare to puff out her chest in pride. “Now, go to sleep and rest. We will see ourselves out. Oh, and Spike?”

“Yes, mo--Princess Celestia?” Spike replied.

“Take good care of Twilight and make sure nothing disturbs her, okay? Don’t leave her side if you can.”

Spike saluted. “At once!”

Everyone stood up except for Shining Armor, who had a pondering expression as if he was lost in his thoughts.

“Shiny? Is something wrong?” Twilight asked while Cadance caressed her husband’s face.

“Hmm? Oh… no… I mean yes. Possibly. It’s just something that Storm guy? You know, the Runecrafter? He mentioned something about working on a rune to make females more docile and enlighten males at the same time. I think… I think that’s what they used on that other me…” he turned to his wife, his gaze piercing past her soul. “...and you.”

“Me?” Cadance asked, taken aback.

“Think about it… in the stained glass you were kneeling in front of Dainn, right? Why? You would never do that. And the statue outside with Celestia and Luna? Maybe… maybe he didn’t have to fight the alicorns because there was no need to fight them at all. Maybe everyone fell victim to it, including Twilight and, of course, myself. I know it doesn’t make much sense… but I can’t think of another possibility.”

Silence reigned in the room for several moments until a zipper sound made everyone turn to where Discord was.

“I don’t like this one bit. Just to be sure, I’ll go see if I can find other Discords and ask them about that. Fluttershy, my dear, call me if you need anything,” with that said, the God of Chaos left.

Spike climbed on Twilight’s back as she wordlessly walked off to her room. Answer one question, three more pop up, she thought to herself. She didn’t remember entering her room or belly-flopping on her bed. The last thing she remembered before darkness took her was embracing her little brother in a tight hug.

Chapter 10: Assault of Lindisbarne

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As per her request, Principal Celestia had made the basement a no-go zone for as long as she needed to work on the mirror and the other dimension. Sunset had decided to hunt the Dazzlings down for interrogation purposes. The rest of her human friends were afraid and worried for her, and had, of course, volunteered to help her, but she shot them down. Spike had also demanded to go, but she managed to talk him out of it saying she needed him to stay in Equestria and work as her seneschal.

Finally, there was the issue of how she was feeling about the whole ordeal. The night’s rest was exactly what she needed and, thanks to Luna, no nightmares assaulted her. She ate, drank, and packed plenty of supplies just in case she’d need them. But she was still nervous and fearful about everything Dainn had told her and the more she thought about it, the less sense it made.

Everything Shining Armor pointed out made sense, the worries of her friends and Luna were true, Cadance had, surprisingly, being the most empathic towards the monster that had ruined the life of another Cadance. Hate and pity, anger and sadness swam in her heart filling her with conflicting emotions. In the end, she decided on something simple as she entered the ruined castle for a second time.

“If an emotional response is inconclusive and dangerous to base opinions upon, then cold, hard, empirical logic shall dictate my verdict and let me judge the evidence for what it is,” she told herself, nodding and sighing at the same time in an effort to calm her racing heart.

Opening her wings, she quickly flew past the disgusting stained glasses, murals, paintings, and statues until she reached the throne room where, to her surprise, Dainn was already waiting for her and had even prepared a formal greeting.

Well, as formal as it can be, given the circumstances, she thought as she landed a few meters away from a large slab of debris that the caribou had moved, somehow, to serve as a table and two much smaller pieces of smooth marble to serve as their seats. “...I have returned,” she finally found her voice after a minute of staring into the cold, unblinking eyes of the caribou.

“You are welcome,” Dainn replied. “I thought… having a table and somewhere to sit would be beneficial instead of standing around. Unless this is undesired?”

“No, it’s fine. Thank you, Dainn,” Twilight replied before taking her ‘seat’. She placed her saddlebags on top of the table. “Are you ready to continue?”

“Before I answer, there is something I must also know about you,” Dainn replied.

“And that is?” Twilight’s eyes narrowed.

“Please, I mean you no harm. I do not know how you arrived. Honestly? I was half-hoping you’d never return. Though I will not lie and say I am not happy to see you return as promised. Which brings me to my question. Why do you care about my story at all? Have you confirmed the existence of caribou in your dimension?”

Oh, she was not going to let him know just how much she’d learn about that so soon. But she wouldn’t be depriving him of an answer either. “Lack Thereof, actually. In my home dimension, your people do not exist. The closest thing to a caribou are the deer led by King Aspen. They are noble and honorable warriors, unlike the caribou.”

Dainn visibly relaxed and almost seemed happy for a moment. “Good. That’s a relief, at least. Then, my question is even more important. Why do you care? We don’t exist in your dimension.”

“If I arrived here, then there is a possibility that caribou from other dimensions would invade mine. I’d like to be prepared in case that ever happens. I hope this story and your knowledge remain as such: a story, never to be needed in practicality,” Twilight replied. “In fact, I had to jump from another dimension to reach this one. That’s two dimensions I have to protect, Dainn. So, as you might’ve guessed, that’s why I care.”

“Hmmmm, another question unrelated to my original question. Is your home dimension… problematic? Used to dangers, war, and strife?” Dainn asked, curiously.

Twilight pursed her lips. “From what I’ve gathered, this dimension is more… chaotic than my own. Don’t get me wrong, I know what war, conflict, death, and crimes are and we do have them, but the brutality is certainly lesser.”

“Ah. Then I assume your top priorities revolve around singing childish songs, preparing for seasonal changes, solving friendship issues, and fending off the odd weekly problems?” Dainn said, clearly jesting but Twilight shrunk in her shoulders, blushing brightly. “Wait… really? I was spot on?”

“...not all dimensions need to be horrible, dystopian places, you know…” Twilight replied, still blushing.

“Oh, please, do not misunderstand. I dare not laugh. If anything, I envy you. To protect such a peaceful place I would do anything, too, in your place. I admire and applaud your tenacity, Not The Twilight I Knew,” he said, tilting his head slightly in respect. “You mentioned you had to cross another dimension to get to this one. What is that dimension like?”

“Extremely different from my own and this one. In fact, the only real similarity I’ve discovered is the bipedal form of walking and the hands,” she wriggled her fingers at him. “In my home dimension, I’m a quadruped.”

“Huh… that is rather interesting. What sort of creatures inhabit this strange intermittent dimension, if I may know?” Asked Dainn, his voice tickling with genuine curiosity.

“It’s filled with counterparts, but a lot of things are different. For example, there are no dragons, diamond dogs, griffons, ponies, or other sorts of sapient creatures. The only dominant species call themselves humans.”

Dainn recoiled instantly and shivered visibly. He blinked, confused, and brought his hands up only to see them shaking with nervous fear.

Twilight saw his reaction and asked. “A-Are you feeling alright, Dainn?”

The caribou blinked again. “This is… most p-peculiar. This is the first time I’ve heard of such creatures,” he stared at his hands again, trying and failing to stop his shaking, “and yet, I cannot control myself. I-I’m shaking in fear and I don’t know why. It is a most curious reaction.”

“Right,” with a polite cough, Twilight pulled out a small package from her saddlebags. Using her magic, she levitated it to Dainn. “Here… it’s a gift. I don’t know if you need it, but I think that after such a long time, you might enjoy it?”

Dainn eyed the package with suspicion before reaching out to it with shaky hands. He easily opened it and his eyes widened at the same time a pained, tortured gasp escaped from his throat. There, right in front of time, laid a simple sandwich, some hay fries, potato salad, a slice of pumpkin pie, a cupcake, and a container filled with apple juice. Looking up at Twilight, his shaking increased, his fear forgotten as tears rolled down his cheeks.

“I… I cannot… I do not deserve such kindness, Twilight,” he spoke through cracked, shaky whimpers.

Twilight smiled at him warmly. “If you can eat, please, eat it. I don’t know how far your immortality works, but if it is anything like alicorn immortality, then starving must’ve been a harrowing experience,” as if realizing something, she stood up in a panic. “Oh gosh! Why didn’t I think of that!? If you eat, your body will get used to food again and you’ll have to go through starvation again! Please, forgive me! I-I was thoughtless!”

Dainn shook his head and reached out for the sandwich. He lifted it to his veil and for the first time since their meeting, Twilight got a glimpse of his mouth.

His skin was furless, like his hands but unlike the transparent flesh covering his skeletal hands, his skin was gray, almost white; a sickly pale color that was crowned by dried-up lips. His nose was equally white, devoid of health while his mouth, despite the darkness that radiated from within it, still held some pinkish vitality, if only in a wicked sense of mockery to the rest of his body. His tongue was a shriveled appendage but still wet with saliva and, despite all odds, he still had teeth. Dark yellow, almost black ghastly things that refuse to rot but that served no other purpose.

The first bite was tentative, and fearful. Mustard and ketchup slid from the edges of the bread and smeared the cracked, busted lips of the caribou.

Twilight sat down, watching him chew slowly the first morsel he had eaten in decades, maybe centuries. When he was done chewing, he swallowed and she saw a thin, skeletal neck and throat bulge whatever was left of their muscles as the food was dragged down into a stomach that most likely didn’t even have acid in it. He took another bite, with a bit more force and confidence than the last, then a third and a fourth, and then a fifth. He continued to eat the sandwich until it was gone and then moved to the hay fries, the pie, drank the juice slowly, savoring the sweet taste of it, he ravaged the potato salad, but left the cupcake on the side. Ignored.

And through it all, he never stopped crying nor smiling.

“A meal fit for Kings,” Dainn said after a minute of silence. Licking his lips and fingers, his mouth was swallowed back inside the darkness of his hood, leaving only his blue eyes to be seen again. “I had… forgotten the taste of food, the texture, the… primal joy of eating. Thank you, Twilight. I do not deserve your kindness.”

Twilight didn’t reply immediately. Instead, he stared at the creature in front of her with a hole churning her insides. She was no Fluttershy or Rarity, nor was she Pinkie Pie, but she knew that any one of them would be more than devastated if they ever laid their eyes upon the pitiful state Dainn was in. She couldn’t look at him with anything other than pity at that moment.

Whatever he was… whatever he did… n-no one deserves what he’s going through. This is worse than Tartarus. He was a monster, but the caribou in front of me right now has a heart… he has a heart. Celestia dammit, I can’t help but feel bad for him, Twilight thought, barely able to contain her tears from cascading down her face. Then, she noticed the cupcake. “Why didn’t you eat it?”

Dainn eyed the cupcake, cleaned his tears, and moved it further away from him. “Far from it. I loved them. But they… bring back memories. Undeserving ones,” he confessed, then he shook his head. “Let us return to our main topic and the reason you’re here.”

Twilight nodded, using her magic to retrieve the cupcake and place it back into the saddlebags. “I believe you were about to tell me about the attack on Lindisbarne?”

“Indeed. The attack was proof of my incompetence and how easily I was manipulated at the start of my reign. I should’ve hanged Ivangri and Vestri instead of…,” he shook his head. “Well, you’ll know soon enough.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

I was sitting behind my desk as I read through the report Gunne had filed and completed over the course of his time spent spying on the town of Lindisbarne. Around the room stood Ivangri, Vestri, Storm, Anvari, Durnir, and Hrathr. My other councilors were tending to their own obligations at the moment, but they were unneeded. I would gather them all once my decision was set and we could decide what to do and how to approach the ponies.

“Is this report accurate, Gunne?” I finally asked after reading through it thoroughly twice, just to make sure I hadn’t omitted anything of importance. Still, I had to make sure my friend was coerced into lying or misled with misinformation. To my surprise, everything appeared to be completely honest. Gunne didn’t seem to be under pressure or held under force, his report wasn’t a forgery, and I could tell her was being truthful.

I could trust his report, which was even worse considering our culture. It wasn’t a horror story like Ivangri had imagined, but I knew my people would never accept the way of these ponies within one, two, or even three generations.

“Everything written there was witnessed with my own eyes, my King,” Gunne replied as he kneeled in front of me. I hated to see him in such a position. He should be standing at my side or at least on his hooves, not kneeling. I discarded those feelings and scanned the faces of my councilors.

Anvari was fuming, of course. Hrathr was extremely confused. Vestri showed nothing but cold indifference. Durnir was actually showing interest. Storm seemed to be deep in thought. And Ivangri… he was smirking.

“‘Afternoon - I spotted a stallion and a mare, that is how ponies call their males and females respectively, walking together as equals hand in hand. Followed them for a short while. The stallion led the mare to some sort of gathering ground, like a brothel but that only food was served. Many others were the same. No raping, sex, dancers, or anything of the sort was happening. Another stallion approaches, takes notes, and leaves. Minutes pass until the stallion dressed in what appears to be a uniform brings food to the tables. Stallion serves food to the mare first, then the stallion. This mare and every other mare present are eating whilst sitting at the table. End report. Following another trail-” I say with a monotone tone, trying my best to hide an annoying itch at the back of my mind that seemed to burn with every word I said.

“F-Females eating regular food served and reserved for males and on the table? Depravity. Have these pony stallions no shame or knowledge of Male Superiority?” Anvari said, glaring at the offending piece of paper I was holding. “A female’s place should always be on the floor, eating what their Masters design them to eat and ready to clean the leftovers, nothing more.”

“You will remain silent!” I protested. “Their culture is… odd, but they do not know our ways and we do not know theirs! If we are to establish diplomacy with the ponies, we need to know how they operate,” I said carefully, hiding my intentions of peaceful coexistence under a false veil of indifference. My weakness. My stupidity.

I cleared my throat and read another report. “‘Second day, Early Morning. The flying ones, pegasi, are in the sky molding clouds, shifting weather patterns, and arranging the very climate around them’-” A shiver ran down my spine. What sort of magic and power was that?

“HERESY!” Storm suddenly shouted. “T-To control such power! In the hands of mares!? Gunne, were these pegasi male or female!?”

“Male and Female,” I answered in his stead, continuing with the report, “‘Stallions and mares alike share the same power to mold the clouds to their will. They worked together for several minutes until they deemed their work done. End report. Noon. I have witnessed something terrifying. A unicorn stallion used magic to challenge a traveling unicorn mare of sorts. The mare, apparently called Trixie, claimed to be great and powerful and proceeded to showcase it by humiliating the stallion in a duel of magic. Then, she put up a show that delighted the onlookers. Gold pieces and other valuables were thrown at her as a reward for her efforts. No other stallion seemed to be bothered by their fellow’s humiliation. If anything, they seemed to enjoy it. Are mares more powerful than stallions? End report.” Oh Gunne. You honest, stupid, straightforward fool.

“I… I have no words!” Ivangri finally spoke up, chuckling to himself. “See, my King? These… mares are a threat! A danger! They have put a leash on worthy males and made them their playthings!”

“That is hardly the case,” I countered. “All I have seen in this report was cooperation, a strange ritual of courtship, perhaps? And a playful spar. If mares were indeed more powerful than stallions universally, where are the chains? Perhaps this traveling mare was, indeed, great and powerful. Much like a bard makes his wage with song, she earns her coin with displays of power and entertainment,” I shrugged. “Who knows? Perhaps the stallion was even holding back. All reports indicate that stallions are physically stronger than mares, except the earth pony ones, almost universally. Perhaps this is the case with their magic?”

“That’s even worse!” Vestri cried out, his face one of terror as if he had seen the ghost of Svarndagr in front of him. “That means the females don’t need leashes or chains anymore. They have domesticated their males into willing servitude!”

I swallowed hard. I could dispute that claim, but not with the next report on the line. It was the most damning of all reports by far. “Let’s continue,” I mouthed, feigning irritation. “‘Afternoon. I observed something rather curious and concerning. I had to make counts and observations for nearly two hours until I arrived at this final conclusion: the mares outnumber the stallions by a significant margin. By my estimates, the stallions are outnumbered by a total of four to one in the town of Lindisbarne. Perhaps this number is an anomaly, but that would explain why I’ve noted a few stallions doing strange things such as placing their lips on the lips of more than one mare, or cohabitating in a single homestead with two or more mares. I was about to end my report when something unthinkable happened. I had observed a large blanket covering what I suspected to be a statue in the middle of the town’s square. The blanket was lifted as a gathering crowd watched in awe at the unveiling of a statue. The statue of a mare with a horn, wings, and pointing a sword to the sky. Every pony fell to their knees and praised the statue in a sort of ritualistic fashion. My eyes do not deceive me. They were worshiping a female. Ancestors protect us. Equestria is a Matriarchy. End report.”

The silence was deafening.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Please tell me you didn’t approve an attack after that!” Twilight cried out, her wings flaring.

Dainn shook her head. “No. I didn’t. Everyone else, though, was on the warpath,” he admitted with great disillusion. “They demanded a meeting to discuss immediate action. I agreed, but what I desired was a peaceful solution. I never thought… I never… huh,” he blinked, stopping for a moment. “I… never considered that it was merely the ponies’ way. That worshiping their Princess was part of their culture. All I could see were misguided people in need of aid, but one that we could learn something from. Why didn’t I consider that in the past? The more I think about it, the emptier the answer becomes. It was… as if something blocked part of my rationale. Now I can think clearly and see even more mistakes. Hmmm. Or perhaps I’m older than I thought and less capable than I presumed?”

Twilight frowned. “That’s something I noticed about your tale. If you’re right, this is the second time some outside force clouded your mind,” she sighed. “Let me ask you something, Dainn. Why was a matriarchy so despicable to the caribou? Why did you fear it so much?”

“Fear is the correct word, Twilight. The answer itself compiles many factors that boils down to dogmatic, unchanging, unflinching, old-fashioned traditions and culture. Remember what I said about how the strong have the right to rule over the weak?” The alicorn nodded. “Well, apply that line of thinking to caribou culture and you'll get something I was too blind to see until everything came crashing down around me. Simply put, while we accepted that simple fact, we caribou couldn’t see any other being stronger than us. Without even knowing it, we saw ourselves as the pinnacle species; the only ones worthy enough to rule over everyone else and everything by divine right. Who could deny us? Our culture was perfect and true. Our way of life was unmatched, our government unparalleled, and we could never be in the wrong,” he chuckled darkly and Twilight could’ve sworn the whole room rumbled when he did. “Nothing more than pathetic fools we actually were. Unable to change, unable to coexist with others as equals, unworthy of life,” he sighed again, falling silent for several moments.

“Did you… share those fears and feelings, Dainn?” Twilight asked.

“Should I be wounded that you must ask that? No. I did not share them. If anything, I was envious yet ignorant at the time. Your way of life seemed to be better than our own. I was genuinely intrigued by it and I wished to learn from your mentor, to see if I could change ourselves for the better and be free from the Cycle once and for all,” he shook his head. “Now, may I ask you something?” She nodded. “In your dimension, do you have herds? How many times do mares outnumber stallions?”

“Yes, we have them. It’s as common as being monogamous, actually. In the past, herds were the norm but now a stallion mainly chooses a single wife and usually forms a herd with three or four pseudo-wives. Or a mare can simply request a mating and breeding contract,” she answered without shame and in the tone a teacher would use to describe a touchy subject. “We outnumber our stallions 6 to 1. We kinda have to ‘spread the love around’, if that makes sense.”

Dainn nodded. “Another similarity with this dimension, then. You see, that was another problem with us. We could not only NOT accept that any other species could be stronger than the caribou. We were unable to accept anything that was outside our grasp and couldn’t control it. And who was strongest among the caribou?”

“The stags,” Twilight answered bitterly.

“Correct. Male Superiority became not only a philosophy or our culture, it became our way of life. And to most caribou, the nightmare scenario was a Matriarchy. A society ruled by weak, stupid, unworthy females? Inconceivable. The very thought made most stags foam at the mouth. How could any of us accept a being more powerful than us? Worse if said being was a female?” Closing his eyes for several silent minutes, only his slow, shallow breathing was heard until he spoke with heavy, slimy sadness. “In that blasted meeting, I was weak and foolish…”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The council meeting was nothing short of a circus. To my surprise, not everyone sided with Ivangri and Vestri. There was a division of three opinions among them. Storm, Ivangri, Vestri, and Anvari clamored for an immediate invasion against Lindisbarne with the goal of liberating the stallions from female oppression and learning how pony magic worked. Hrathr, Thramm, Durnir and Fauber were of the opinion that we had to be wary and learn more about the ponies before doing anything. Thror and, surprisingly, Svenn, argued for a more friendly approach. At least until we could increase our numbers.

I was utterly disappointed with all of them, however. None of them even considered a peaceful resolution.

“Silence!” I shouted after hearing them argue and bark at each other for ten minutes without pause. My head was pulsating and I could feel myself grow dizzy as I heard their annoying screeches. “Arguing between ourselves solves nothing!”

“That is why, my King, an attack must be launched at once, before the ponies return in larger numbers!” Ivangri proposed.

“Are you mad or just stupid, Ivangri? Can you do simple mathematics, can you not? Our numbers are limited and we don’t know how vast Equestria really is!” Svenn countered.

“Who can stand against the might of the caribou? No creature! We are strong, they are weak! They worship a fucking cunt, Svenn! A CUNT! I’d rather die trying to reign them in into our proper, deserving rule than ever kneel before some lowly bitch!” Vestri replied, angrily.

I rolled my eyes at his argument. But he had a point. He shared the mentality the vast majority of stags held regarding females and their place of servitude under male rule. It made sense that a matriarchy was anathema to him, Ivangri, and almost the entirety of caribou civilization.

“Then go ahead and die, you idiot! We know next to nothing about Equestria and any other potential threats! We could be outnumbered a thousand to one; that’s my most optimistic view! Their power… their… their everything is beyond what we can achieve through rune crafting! So unless you have some great trick or strategy to play, I can only see defeat in our future.”

“You call yourself a male, a Warmaster at that, Svenn? Cowardice,” Anvari snarled. “All I see is cowardice before my eyes. You speak as if you fear these rowdy sluts in armor! Next, you’re going to tell me you believe dragons are real and not legends!”

“There was land across the sea, Anvari. Who is to say dragons are but legends? They could be real for all we know,” Thror replied. “I, for one, detest the idea of their matriarchy… but I support Svenn. Fighting them is out of the question. We must first establish our economy and then we can worry about everything else. I would even encourage trade with the ponies, if possible.”

“Oh really?” Ivangri scoffed. “Since all of you are too blinded to see it, I think I’ll have to spell the problem for all of you idiots,” he growled. Why did I hear his next words? Why was I convinced to act? Was it fear or duty? I don’t know anymore. “They are a matriarchy. Our worst enemy and a true nightmare given form. Now, think about it. Really, really think about it. They know where we are, or at least only those in Lindisbarne know. We have no idea if other settlements are aware of our existence. A new species appears and lands on your territory, you meet with them, and depart in peace. Tell me, Warmaster Svenn, what happens to important or urgent reports; taking into account these females have half a brain to maintain any level of organization whatsoever.”

“It goes up the chain of command, of course,” Svenn frowned. “And your point is?”

Ivangri lifted a finger. “My point is that such a report will eventually reach this… unicorn-pegasi hybrid slut they worship. This is a matriarchy,” he narrows his eyes, “we rule through the divine knowledge and mandate of Male Superiority. What do you think they’ll do when they learn how we treat our females? Because I assure you, they won’t fall to their knees and be enlightened by the truth. They won’t beg to be put in their proper place.”

The room went silent and I, reluctantly, imagined myself being beheaded by a mare for my crimes. Our people slaughtered, the survivors taken as cattle and slaves, as was only right and proper, and our people dying out under the servitude of ponies that had shown nothing but understanding to our struggle.

“Fortunately for us, I can help with that,” Storm said, pulling out a large black crystal with several blue-glowing runes carved on it. “This is what I’ve been working on and I’ve already done some minor testing on our surviving number of slaves. The results are promising, but I will need to test it on a wider scale for definite conclusions.”

“That’s why we must attack Lindisbarne, my King! Before they get a chance to mount an assault, we must show we are strong and that we won’t be subjugated,” Vestri pointed out.

I stood up from my seat, wishing I had acted upon my desire to strangle the Runecrafter right there and then. “You’re speaking of mind control! Svarndagr was many things, but now I understand why he saw you with such contempt, Storm. Using runecraft for such lowly objectives is not only dishonorable, but cowardly! How can you say the caribou are strong if we rely on such methods!?”

“We are few in numbers, my King. We must survive as a species. If we must take a blow to our honor, then so be it. I shall bear the burden so you may not,” Storm said, bowing respectfully. The rat. I swear he was smirking when I couldn’t see his fucking face.

“Svarndagr was a strong king. But he was a stupid king. Right now, and I hate to admit this, my King, but Storm is correct. I’m sure our people can overlook some minor foul play on our part against our enemies if we can ensure their survival and prosperity that way. Surely, honor and pride are less important than the lives of our younglings?” Ivangri asked with wide, innocent, pleading eyes.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“It’s curious,” Dainn exhaled with contempt. “With what I now know, I can see the blatant lies and manipulation at play. And yet… using the lives of children so callously? Only cowards do that. And I’m the biggest coward of all.”

“That convinced you to order the assault, didn’t it?” Twilight snarled. “Applejack was right. Your council was filled with backstabbing, manipulative, fucking assholes,” she hissed, barely containing her fuming rage.

“Ah, that makes sense now,” Dainn barked out an oddly lively laugh. “You told them about me, didn’t you?”

“I did,” Twilight admitted, sighing. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t keep this a secret.”

Dainn shook his head. “I’m not mad. I would be disappointed if you hadn’t, Twilight,” another chuckle left his throat. “So, how much do they want to kill me?”

“They hated you at the start. But that hate got shifted to your council, for the most part. Rainbow Dash would drag you to Tartarus on a rope at maximum speed if she could,” Twilight replied.

“That sounds like her,” Dainn replied somberly. “Could you do me a favor? Tell your Applejack that she hit the nail on the head regarding my ‘council’. With an emphasis on the backstabbing part.”

“I will… but, what made you suspect I told them?” Twilight asked and Dainn pointed at the discarded lunch box. “The food?”

“The juice,” Dainn corrected her. “Even after all this time, Sweet Apple Acres juice tastes the same, even if it comes from another dimension.”

“Of course. I should’ve known,” Twilight replied, imagining for a moment her spending decades without a morsel of food and always missing her favorite dishes. The sweet teas of Fluttershy, the cheesy pizzas of Rainbow Dash, the delicious pies of Pinkie, the apple products of Applejack, and the chocolates of Rarity. She shook her head, pushing those thoughts away.

“How could you? No one can foresee every little possibility or outcome. To do so is folly. Putting that aside alongside my gratitude, tell me, how are Shining Armor and Cadance doing? I hope they are happily married and undisturbed, unless they do not exist in your dimension or they are not together?”

“Oh! N-No, they are married. Happily so,” Twilight replied, smirking longingly. “Cadance… she told me that she doesn’t hate you. She feels pity for you, Dainn,” the pain in his eyes squeezed her heart after she spoke those words. She saw him tremble and stifle a scream of regret. That was enough to tell her that Cadance had either played a big role in his past, or he had done something terrible to her. Most likely both, she thought grimly.

“Sweet, kind Cadance. Oh, Twilight. Of all the things I regret, turning her force of love into pure, ravaging lust is my second highest one. Tell your Cadance that I’m sorry. I know it’s not the same, but I’m sorry. I… I wish I could’ve met her under better circumstances. Who knows? Maybe she would’ve fixed my--- It doesn’t matter,” he sighed. “If Shining Armor is the same sort of stallion, then is it safe to assume he suspected we mind-controlled him, his wife, and thousands upon thousands of ponies?”

Twilight nodded. “Yes, he… thought that’s what you did and your only viable option in your case. The caribou as a whole, I mean. Conventional warfare would’ve seen you defeated easily.”

“Your brother is a smart stallion and sensible, too. Under our mind-control spell, he was my biggest weapon against his people. All of their secrets, mine to plunder and exploit. Oh, Dainn, you fucking, stupid, blinded, spineless idiot. Spike, where are you? Burn that fool down!” He squeaked in pain, slamming a fist on the table in anger. Moments of silence passed until he regained his composure. “I thank you, Twilight.”

The alicorn blinked in confusion at the sudden gesture. “For what?”

“For not bringing Spike with you,” he shuddered. “I… developed an extreme phobia towards dragons. But Spike? Spike nearly killed me. Twice. I wish he had. Believe me, I wish it so.”

“You couldn’t control him?” Twilight asked, curious and surprised that her little brother could be so dangerous.

“Oh, he was absolutely under the power of the spell. I’ll explain that later, but what happened to him was of my own doing. A seamless innocent gift turned him into my worst nightmare,” Dainn shuddered again. “For now, let us continue. I’ll skip to the attack itself since the in-between was nothing more than preparing the troops, logistical issues, and supplies. You know, preparing for an assault. We had to move fast and quietly to avoid early detection. We wanted to assault Lindisbarne by surprise,” his eyes turned colder as he narrowed them. “It was a complete success.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

I stormed out of Lindisbarne library fuming in rage thirty minutes after our attack concluded. A Warbeast walked past me as it pulled a wagon filled with plunder. Amazingly, there were no casualties on either side, just some wounded. The attack had been a total surprise as we took advantage of the coming dusk. Still, the lackluster garrison put up a valiant fight and, to our surprise, even the civilians fought back. But they couldn’t compete against trained true warriors.

“AAARRGGHH!” I turned my attention to the source of the scream. An earth pony mare had tried to run from her captors but a shock rod hit her back, sending electricity across her body before she fell to the ground, shaking. I ignored her a moment later, my sense of pity dimmed as I made my way to the town square.

A few houses were on fire, a few more had signs of fighting, but almost the entire town was still intact. Lindisbarne had fallen, it was officially my first conquest, but the disgust I felt towards myself was crushed down under the weight of the rage I felt. The entire population of Lindisbarne, a little over 1500 individuals, were being held in the town’s square.

When I arrived, I saw huddled masses of ponies in chains or shackles. All of them set before the disgusting statue of the alicorn that, at that moment, I saw with nothing but hatred. I stopped in front of the statue and turned to my captives, the swollen, glaring eyes of Striding Star locked with mine, but a swift hit from Ivangri made her docile once more.

“Don’t you dare glare out your King again, slut,” he said with obvious superiority and smugness. Vestri was next to him, holding the chains of a yellow-coated mare with a blue mane who was kneeling at his side, crying and with a cheek swelling.

I spat my anger out and focused it on the gathered crowd. “Citizens of Lindisbarne, your so-called Princesses have failed you! They have failed you for centuries and yet you continue to toil in squalor under their rule! NO MORE! Today, I, King Dainn, liberate you from the incompetent rule of Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, Princess Cadance, and Princess Twilight! ESPECIALLY PRINCESS CELESTIA!” I turned around, pointing an accusing finger at the statue. No, you fool! Stop!

“You have failed your people, Celestia! I have spent time reading Equestria’s history. And what do I find? Failure after failure! Villains happily trot about the land scheming how to dethrone you! And what do you do? NOTHING! You are a coward and a weak-minded female! You are unworthy of leadership, unworthy of your positions, unworthy--”

“Shut up! Princess Celestia has been our ruler for over a thousand years, invader!” A pony shouted.

“The Princesses have always protected us! Equestria lives in peace!” Another one shouted.

“Live in peace? Protects you?” I asked angrily. Stupid fool, shut up! Stop, listen to them! I looked around mockingly. “I don’t see your Princesses here. Where are they? Living a lavishing lifestyle in their private mountain castle as they rule over their foolish slaves, too stupid to realize they have been indoctrinated into a false, corrupt way of thinking! And where is this peace you speak of!? Nightmare Moon returned, plunging your land into darkness. Where was Celestia then? Then, Discord devastated the land. Where was she then? Handing the task to another. The changeling Queen defeated in single combat!” I snarled. “WORTHLESS! USELESS! INCOMPETENT! That’s what your Celestia is! She is undeserving of her power and status.”

I couldn’t contain myself, hatred guided me. “Her sister is just as bad! A lying bitch that safeguards your dreams? HAH! Do not make me laugh! Then there is Cadance. Princess of Love? Only a female could find value in such stupidity! Another weak fool who was granted a new land to torment over with her tyranny and stupidity while you drool over her like pups! The only one I can find some worth is Twilight, for she at least tries to fulfill the duties your Princesses should fill! But even she is lacking and her title a mockery. Princess of Friendship,” I spat at the notion of it. FOOL! ARROGANT FOOL! STOP!

“I dared to hope Equestria was different. Enlightened. And yet, I find rampant sexism, discrimination, and incompetence. All of your Alicorns are females. Why? Are stallions. No. Are MALES not worthy of such a title? Who decides who can become such a powerful entity? Celestia. Celestia decides that. My brother stallions, fret not! For we, the caribou, bring you salvation under the rule of Male Superiority! You shall be truly enlightened and comprehend our ways! Mares, rejoice, for you shall soon forget your treacherous instincts and embrace your true calling in life.”

Screams. Oh, the screams. The ponies tried to fight back, but the rods came down. There would be no escape, no chance to resist our will.

I could feel my mentor’s words flow through my voice, his many lessons engraved into my memory surging forth. Don’t listen to them, stop! “You are unworthy to carry the powers you hold. A solution shall be implemented, but your magic cannot be allowed to be wasted in the hands of worthless, emotional females.”

“If their horns are the problem, we should chop them off,” Ivangri suggested as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I could see the horror forming in the stunned faces of unicorn mares that heard him. “Why would they even need it for? They’re unworthy of using magic. Better to cull it from the root. Heh, from the root, get it?” He joked, elbowing Vestri who looked down at the terrified mare covering her horn with her hands. As if that would save her horn.

“Yes,” NO! “You’re correct, Ivangri. But first, Storm, enlighten our new slaves. Show them the glory of the caribou and Male Superiority,” KILL HIM! KILL HIM! KILL HIM! Don’t let him do it, you spineless bastard!

Storm obeyed and pulled out several similar runes to the one he had shown me days prior. His acolytes took one each and formed a circle around the captives. He spoke ancient words of power, the runes glowed… and the screams came to a halt for a moment. Most ponies seemed dazed, confused. But not all of them. At least a sixth of them remained unaffected by the effects of the enchantment.

“It seems the prototype is a success, for the most part,” Storm said, pleased with himself and his work. “With your permission, my King, I’d like to take prisoners and further conduct experiments to improve my runes.”

NO! NO! NO! “You may have them, Storm. My warriors!” I reached out to Durnir, who was holding a beautifully crafted warhammer. The blacksmith handed it to me and I gripped it. I froze for a moment when I noticed how heavy it was… and how effortlessly I was holding it. But I was angry, adrenalin was pumping in my veins. I blamed my sudden surge of strength on that. With a swift swing, my warhammer struck the right leg of Celestia’s statue, cracking it into pieces. The rest of the statue fell a moment later, breaking and shattering against the ground. “My sword,” I commanded, returning the warhammer to Durnir and accepting a sharp blade instead.

I turned to the unicorn mare who was no longer cowering in fear, but rather looking around in confusion. “Mare. What is your name?” I asked. HELP HER! DON’T DO IT!

“My… name? S-Sunrise Splendor, my King,” it was apparent she was struggling to think straight, but there was no hostility in her voice, only uncertainty. “How may this slut serve you?”

“I see your rune enchantment is effective, Storm. I praise you.” IT IS AN ABOMINATION! STOP! “Sunrise Splendor, bow before me,” she did so without protest, though she was trembling, shaking. I lifted my sword-holding arm, I aimed the cut true and certain… and I sliced down.

“AAAAAAAAAAARRRGGGGGGG!” Sunrise Splendor shouted, in pain. She grabbed her stump while her horn rolled on the ground.

I leaned down to pick it up and handed it to Vestri. “I presume you’ll be taking her as your own? You seem to like her.”

“Ah, my King, you have good eyes,” Vestri admitted, licking his lips. “She shall be most entertaining. I do wonder how different pony cunt feels compared to cow cunt.”

I turned around, uninterested. STOP HIM! “Do whatever you-- Ivangri, what are you doing!?” I shouted, horrified when I saw Ivangri holding one of Striding Star’s wings with one hand and the other ready to strike down with his sword. Thankfully, he stopped and turned at me with a look of pure bewilderment.

“Getting rid of the nuisance?” He replied in the most nonchalant tone ever. At the time, I failed to see the masked veil of perversion and sadistic delight behind his eyes. “If the horns must go, then the wings should go too, right?”

“You bloody idiot! If you cut her wings, she’ll bleed to death! There are several arteries and blood vessels connected to her wings!” I replied, shoving him aside. “At least read about their anatomy before you try to do something so incredibly stupid again, Ivangri!” I reprimanded him… and it felt good. To hold authority and status over him. Still, he shrugged off and crossed his arms.

“So we just let the sluts fly off when we aren’t looking?” He countered.

“Tie their wings. Simple solution… I’ll figure out what to do with their wings later,” I say as screams of horns being chopped off reach my ears. Foals were crying, fillies were being dehorned and screaming for their parents who couldn’t do anything about it. And what I thought about it? How inefficient manual dehorning was. “I’ll have to find a way to make that a faster… less painful process,” I said to myself.

Kill yourself and rid the world of your stupidity, coward! Delusional idiot! Gullible fool!

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“...” Twilight stared at Dainn with wide-open eyes as her jaw threatened to hit the floor at any moment. “W-Why? WHY!? Why would you… oh sweet Celestia,” she exclaimed before rushing to a corner of the room before she began vomiting. The process lasted for several moments until she managed to get a hold of herself and return to the table. “Just why, Dainn? A-And the wings? What did you do with their wings?”

“For some time? Nothing. But the reasoning we used was that females should have neither wings nor magic; they were unworthy of such gifts. It eventually turned into the belief of seeing them as defects of nature, failures of birth, and even considered as abominations. But the horns? We did something about them. I invented a specialized guillotine to cut unicorn horns in the quickest, most painless way possible,” Dainn replied, his voice returning to his emotionless, ethereal chill. “I could tell you now who developed a way to deal with the wings… but I think you wouldn’t believe me until we reach that part of the story.”

“You’re probably right… but, Dainn, how could you reach such ludicrous conclusions after skimming through a history book!? I thought you were a scholar!” Twilight cried out in protest.

“A manipulated, culturally indoctrinated, bigoted, stupid scholar who knew no better. And I didn’t skim through it. I read it in detail… the relevant information, at least. I even had time to read about pony anatomy and verify all pony races were, in fact, all ponies. But at the time I wasn’t reading it through the eyes of a scholar, but through the eyes of a King. A King that saw Equestria as a corrupted place ruled over by ignorant tyrants. I was thinking about the safety of my people, Twilight… I… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he said, a few tears falling from his eyes.

“Dainn… I… I can’t forgive you. It is not within my right to hate or pardon you. I’m not from this dimension, this place… this place is not my home and I am here to listen to your story… for the sake of my people, friends, and family. I can’t forgive you, but I understand your motivations,” Twilight sighed. “Please, continue.”

“There’s nothing else to talk except… after I stopped Ivangri, I gave the command to my warriors to plunder and claim their prizes as is tradition. Twilight, I do not believe you wish to know what happened next, or do you wish to learn in detail how a town-wide gangrape orgy goes by?” He asked, disgust dripping in his voice.

“You’re right, I do not wish to know that. However, there is something else I do need to know. Why, in all that’s holy and pure, did you think chopping off horns would rob a mare of her magic?” She asked.

“Pardon?” Dainn blinked. “It doesn’t?”

“NO! Our horns are hollow and only help to conduct our magic into spells. Our brains do all the actual work, the horn focuses and canalizes it. In fact, you can craft wands using unicorn horns because of that same fact! My friend, Tempest Shadow, had her horn broken when she was a filly and she could still do magic, but never got training to use it efficiently. The loss of connection with the magic is what hurts.”

“I’m sorry, what?” He blinked a few times until realization dawned on him. “Hmmm, that would explain the rumors and reports about mares without horns producing bursts of magic… but who is this Tempest Shadow you speak of? I have never heard that name before.”

“No? How about the Storm King? Hippogriffons?”

“If they existed here, I didn’t know them,” Dainn replied. “Was the Storm King formidable?”

“Very. He was a raiding despot and a megalomaniac. He tricked Tempest into serving him in exchange to fix her horn. She defeated Celestia in combat and--”

“Wait, what? You’re telling me that a mare with a broken horn managed to defeat Celestia… just like that?” Dainn blinked, his voice showing his disbelief.

Twilight blushed in embarrassment. “Celestia, Luna, and Cadance. She, uhhh, had these artifacts that nullified magic and turned anyone they touched into stone. It was also a surprise attack - of sorts- and she almost defeated me, but another dear friend of mine, Derpy, saved me just in the nick of time.”

“...You should train more, Twilight. Honestly, why are all alicorns such poor fighters? Or are you just overconfident in your ascended abilities?” He sighed. “I was hoping my Celestia was a special case, but it seems like incompetence is an unchanging trait between them, huh?”

“How dare you! Princess Celestia has--!

“Tell me one time your Princess Celestia has saved the day or defended your nation against invading forces on her own,” Dainn countered.

“Ha! Easy! There was that one time… she… uhhh… mmmm… No… that was Luna… and no... that was technically Cadance… D-Does it count if she and Luna fought together? Oh… I think… I think she only defeated Nightmare Moon on her own…,” her stomach churned and she suddenly lost some color in her face. “Oh my feathers, I think something inside me just broke.”

“Something called blind idolatry, most likely,” Dainn said, unable to hide a hint of humor in his voice. “I’m not saying Celestia is a bad ruler, just a weak one. However, I later learned of her immaculate logistical and political acumen. Something needed to rule such a vast territory. That does bring up a good question that I never got properly answered. How does a pony become an alicorn? And please don’t say ‘it just happens’. I always got that answer from… you know.”

Twilight cleared her throat and used a hand to fan herself. “I should just not answer you after you thoroughly demolished my faith in Princess Celestia… but I don’t understand it myself, either. All I know is that a pony must do something extraordinary for the sake of ponykind. In my case, I created new magic. Although… my niece, Flurry Heart, was born an alicorn.”

“For the sake of your Equestria, train her as a warrior!” Dainn exclaimed, unsurprised by the mention of a fifth alicorn. “I know Celestia and Luna were also born alicorns, but what about Cadance? How did she become an alicorn? I heard it happened when she was pretty young, almost a filly.”

“I’m not too keen on the details, actually. All I know is that she discovered her powers and something incredible happened. So maybe she also created new magic? I’ll have to ask her once I return. Why do you ask?”

“Because I believe Shining Armor was more than worthy of becoming an alicorn. Or does Celestia only wish to keep the alicorn race as mares only? Perhaps only mares can become alicorns?” Dainn questioned, genuinely curious about the subject.

Twilight allowed herself to smile a little. There was the scholar he claimed to be. Full of questions and not a drop of hesitation when asking them. “Actually, Celestia doesn’t control the process. She’s the most powerful alicorn and the oldest, but she can only guide someone worthy when it happens. Hmmm, now that I remember, when they all gave me their power to fight against Tirek--”

“Who?”

“Big scary centaur that steals magic. Not important. But when they gave me their power, Celestia’s power was so much bigger than Luna’s and Cadance’s combined. It was so hard to keep all of it under control… so maybe Celestia holds back her powers on purpose?” Twilight pondered. Another worthy question for her once-mentor.

“Interesting hypothesis. Thank you for answering my questions, Twilight. Before I divulge what happened after I left Lindisbarne, can you ask Cadance something on my behalf?” With a nod, he continued. “If Shining Armor doesn’t ascend, what will you do when he dies? You’re immortal. He is not. Whatever her answer is, continue with this. If you don’t want him to leave your side, then guide him into alicorn hood. It should be easy for a pony of his talent and power. Unless, of course, he doesn’t want to.”

“That’s… rather morbid, don’t you think?” Twilight asked, feeling a bit squeamish at the thought.

“Why? Death is part of life. Alicorns are outside of that cycle in the natural sense. I crave for death, Twilight, but I am not blind either. Think about it. If Shining Armor eventually dies, what will Cadance do as the Princess of Love? Fade away? How will she cope with the pain? She will seek out a new lover, fall in love, marry, spend a life together, and see her second husband die. Pain follows, coping comes next, new love fills the gap, and tragedy awaits at the end. Thus, the cycle repeats and it’ll repeat again and again until the Princess of Love gets tired of love and eventually comes to resent it. Trust me, from one immortal to another, I know how lonely that path can be,” he chuckled. “Extremely lonely, on my part. An immortal is cursed with a solitary life if nothing is done to prevent such loneliness.”

Twilight nodded, understanding his words. She thought of her friends, of Spike, of her parents. She was an alicorn, an immortal. Would she remain while all of them faded away eventually? She shook her head, not wanting to delve into such thoughts. “...how did you become immortal, Dainn?”

“You’ll learn that, eventually. Just know this was a product of my incomprehensibly vast stupidity,” he said, extending his arms to encompass himself and everything around him. “Now, I promised what happened after Lindisbarne, did I not? Well… you may or not believe me, but what appeared before me was a gold-shining spirit in the form of a little ball. A flash of light later, it took the form of a mare I only saw a photo of. Imagine my surprise when a ten-inch tall crystallized Princess Twilight appeared right before my eyes staring at me with disappointment and pity.”

Twilight did a double-take after hearing that. “Wait, what!?”

Chapter 11: The Spirit of Harmony and the Crystal Empire

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“It is as you heard it. A tiny version of my Twilight, standing in front of me, floating, staring at me with such profound disappointment that I thought I had just insulted her on a fundamental level. And in a way, I had,” Dainn replied, gesturing with a ghastly hand how the tiny Princess Twilight floated.

“That’s the Spirit of Harmony! Why… how!? I’ve only spoken to it a few times and only once face-to-face! And it showed up before you?” Twilight asked, bewildered and skeptical.

“Trust me, I was as puzzled as you are now. The spirit didn’t say anything, though. I tried to grab it, but I phased right through it. I asked Ivangri if he could see it -of course, not describing what the spirit was to him- but he shook his head. The same thing happened when I asked Vestri, Gunne, and Storm. When I returned to our camp, I walked slowly through the crowd, hoping anyone would point at the spirit, but it was obvious after I entered my great lodge: only I could see it. It haunted me for hours on end, never moving away from in front of my face. That is… until I climbed onto my bed.”

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“Could you please go away or speak already? Or at least stop glowing? It is annoying, spirit,” I said to it, exhausted and annoyed at it, especially after the grim but necessary task that I had carried out. Even now I could hear faint cries and supplications from the captured slaves; stallions put to work -those that were not converted or surrendered- and mares being raped and traded as cattle.

“...”

I sighed again. “Of course. Why did I expect you to answer this time?” As I tried to block out the cries and prepared to sleep, I finally heard it speak. The voice was feminine, soft, filled with sorrow, and not a small amount of contempt.

“You have the power to stop. Why don’t you? Is it weakness that drives you on? Insecurity? Inferiority? Or is it love and devotion? Loyalty? Why do you try so hard to become something you’re not?” The spirit spoke clearly, its voice but a whisper that roared against my ears.

“So now you talk!? Wait… what did you say?” I asked, catching on its words. “You want me to stop? Why should I stop when that means the death of my people? What are you, even?”

“I am the Spirit of Harmony made manifest, Dainn. Yes, I know of you. From the moment you stepped into Equestria, I knew you,” its expression dropped, showing a deep sadness. “Poor, weak, blinded fool. Can you not see the strings of the puppet masters? Cut them off, become what you wish to be. Not the monster they want.”

I rolled my eyes. “Typical of spirits, you speak nonsense and in riddles.”

“Are my accusations riddles, feeble King? Pariah of Pariahs? You who is so weak to cover said weakness with more weakness? How dare you speak to me in such a tone? Me, who comes offering warning and advice. Hear me, Dainn, and you may find another path yet still. I know you,” the spirit replied.

I glared at the spirit and tried to swat it away to no effect. “Now you insult me?”

“You insulted me first. Is it not fair to treat others the same way you wish to be treated?” It asked.

That gave me pause. And I, like the idiot I was, ignored such advice. “Very well… spirit, what do you wish of me? You say you know? How can you? I am not of this land but it will soon become caribou land… though I wish not for that to be the case, there is no other option for my people and I.”

“There is always more than one cruel option. Cast off the shackles binding you. Do not feed the beast within, for the more you feed it, the hungrier it becomes until everything is consumed and nothing remains save for the beast,” the spirit replied. “Stop. You can do it. Stop. There’s no need for slaughter nor conquest. Stop, Dainn, do not try to become that which you are not. Stop the cruelty inflicted this day. Say no more.”

“...cruelty… yes, I agree with that. What had to be done was cruel. But I had to choose between inflicting cruelty or letting cruelty come to my people. I chose to inflict it. I had no choice. I had no choice.” You always have a choice, you pathetic moron! Coward! Spineless bastard!

“And thus you destroyed the lives of those who welcomed you into their lands? Horns cut off from innocent unicorns? All in, what, a vain attempt to remove the magic from the people you have betrayed, assaulted, and destroyed? When a forceful leash is set upon the necks of those around you, only sorrow barks back.”

I frowned at that. “The unicorns? The males are spared, their proud male magic retained and freed from the yoke of their unworthy female rulers. The females should never be allowed to wield power that does not befit them. For what gain when they are so weak, stupid, feeble, and subservient?” Not my words! Not now… not now. Yet I spoke to them with confidence, even though I never truly believed in Male Superiority. I didn’t question it nor noticed it in time. Something within me was changing, but I was too blind to see it take effect… until it was too late.

“The attack on Lidisbarne was for the greater good of my people and, eventually, everyone else. It has to be… it must be.”

“See what your greater good has done with your own eyes. Do not close your heart to their suffering. You can stop. Stop. Or feed the beast of ruination,” the spirit began to fade, but spoke one last time, staring at me with such pity that I almost threw up. Disgusting female weakness… or was it something else? You useless fool. “A path opens, but not always a good path. Keep walking on it and only damnation shall follow. For you? Something else.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Twilight stood up, her face flushed with red and seething with rage. Her wings were flared, her horn sparked with magic, and her fists were clenched so tightly that the cracking of her knuckles echoed inside the once-thriving throne room.

“I-” Dainn spoke, or tried to at least, before a mighty punch sent him flying back, crashing against the stairs leading up to his corrupted throne. His bones shattered, his body crumbled, and he rolled to the ground, unable to even utter a single gasp of pain. And yet, his eyes moved around.

Twilight, huffing and puffing in rage, stared at the broken caribou for several seconds before realizing what she had done. Her first instinct was to leave him there, broken and destroyed, leave that place and never return. But her heart won out in the end and she walked over to Dainn, watching as his body, impossibly, regenerated and put itself back together. There was no blood, organs, or even a single dismembered body part lying around him. Whatever Dainn was now, he was exactly the thing he claimed: an immortal half-living, half-dead thing whose punishment was to never die.

She watched in silence for several seconds until, half a minute later, Dainn stood up, never uttering as much as a moan or gasp for air. When he was fully regenerated, he cracked his neck, turned to Twilight, and lowered his head in humility and shame.

“I’m surprised you managed to hold out for so long before hitting me. And more impressed that you stopped after a single punch,” Dainn confessed, turning and heading to the table once more to take his seat.

“How dare you?” Twilight hissed, venom drenching her every word. “You had the fortune and honor to have the Spirit of Harmony itself present itself to you, warn you, advise you! And you didn’t listen!? NO! FUCK YOU! I---I was pitying you! I even felt sorry for you! You said you did what you did out of love for your people, yet you ignored the Spirit of bucking Harmony!? You and your entire species should go extinct everywhere, you loathsome piece of shit!” She raged at Dainn, walking slowly back to her seat. “How could you!?”

Dainn took every remark in silence, never speaking or interrupting until Twilight sat down and glared at him as if trying to erase him from existence. If only she could. With a sigh, he sat down. “How could I? Simple. I didn’t want to listen. I… couldn’t listen to it. Before the attack I could’ve listened, done something… but after Lindisbarne, it was already too late for me. Know this, Not My Princess Twilight, that you are talking to a sane, unwarped, free puppet whose strings were cut, not the blind, idealistic, naive, idiotic King Dainn I once was. Your rage I understand, your pain - I feel it, and whatever hatred you can conjure is nothing compared to the ocean I feel against myself,” Dainn chuckled. “Do you wish to continue? Because, trust me, it wasn’t the only time the spirit visited me… nor I believe you’ll want to stomach what I did to Shining Armor and Cadance.”

Twilight closed her eyes, still fuming with rage but feeling her composure returning slowly but surely. Her mind raced over the possibilities available to her, and decided to stay. No matter what she heard, she had to stay. “For-- For the sake of my home, I’ll stay. But do not expect…,” she looked at Dainn’s cold, icy, blue eyes for long moments, and sighed again, her anger extinguishing within moments. “I can’t not feel pity for you… the Dainn in front of me is but a sorry thing… but I won’t apologize for what I said nor for punching you.”

“Don’t be. I deserve that and ten thousand worse things,” said Dainn, showing the hint of a smile. “Though, I must admit, that didn’t even hurt. You punched me way too hard. I couldn't even feel it until I was reforming. Although… Do you really wish for my kind to go extinct in every possible dimension?”

“Yes! I mean… no! I mean… y-you can’t all be bad, right? That friend you mentioned, Gunne, was it? He was a reasonable and gentle caribou, was he not?”

“On the first subject, I know not. But I hope there is a Dainn out there that fights against Male Superiority or where there is no corruption at all. As for the second subject, yes, you are correct. My greatest folly was to not include him as one of my advisors, as you know. But he wasn’t the only one.”

“I’m sure this is taking into account caribou standards, right?” Twilight asked with a wary frown. Dainn offered a hand wave. She sighed. “Of course.”

“Oksho, a great warrior and my favorite champion after… we’ll get to that,” Dainn shook his head. “And Thungrox. He was a female handler. Mute, big, strong, but with a heart of gold. He detested hurting females and never once raped them. He was… Fluttershy’s handler and the only caribou Discord truly entrusted her with.”

“That is… oh gosh, I don’t want to think about it yet,” shaking her head, Twilight continued. “Oksho… didn’t you mention he was a brute and a simpleton?”

“Oh, he was. I thought he was cruel and sadistic as Ivangri or Vestri, but I was wrong. He hated and loathed Ivangri, though. He always called Ivangri a cheater, a coward, and a liar. And it was true. Ivangri never fought fairly, ran away, or used others as shields, and always lied to get his way. Despite being a muscle-head, he could read Storm like an open book; often mocking him for his runic experiments' tendency to backfire in one way or another. Now, do not be mistaken, he hated the concept of a Matriarchy with a passion unmatched by most caribou, but he was a true follower of The Way of The Warrior. Basically, a set of rules that dictate how to live a life of honor, duty, and respect,” Dainn chuckled to himself, pain and regret audible in his somber voice. “Oh, how he hated dishonor and cowardice above all. So you can imagine how much he hated Ivangri, who was the living embodiment of dishonor and cowardice.”

“And let me guess, Oksho was also a raping maniac on the side?” Twilight inquired sarcastically.

“On the contrary. He hated the idea of females having power and ruling and was a firm believer of Male Superiority, seeing females as weak, but never as mere objects or creatures to be hated and held in contempt. Oksho was a caring owner. He never cut the horns of his unicorn pets nor did anything barbaric to his pegasi ones. He pampered them, letting them eat real food, their favorite fruits and snacks, and only demanded obedience, loyalty, and warmth in return. To him, females were not even pets, but his prizes, and as a warrior, a prize must be kept safe and be appreciated; taken care of kindly and lovingly.”

“...I… I am conflicted,” Twilight shook her head again, feeling dizzy. “There clearly are layers to the caribou… but all of them revolve around depravity, rape, subjugation, slavery, and domination. If I were to see it from an inside perspective and in the role of a powerless victim, I believe I would cling to those few that step aside the norm just to escape the usual horrors of a life lived under caribou rule.”

“Many did just that. Some threw themselves into compliance just to make the pain and punishments stop… yet another folly of our glorious civilization,” Dainn spat with poison.

Twilight coughed, not wanting to show how much she agreed with his sentiment. At least not yet. “So, Dainn, what happened after you stupidly ignored the Spirit of Harmony?”

“What else? A victory was achieved but much more had to be done. With the fall of Lindisbarne, we spent the following three weeks torturing prisoners for information. That’s how we came to know about the alicorn princesses, the vastness of Equestria, its weakness, the wonderful and terrifying reaches of magic, the overwhelming acceptance of a matriarchal society, and so much more. However, the most prevalent information was that regarding the Crystal Empire and the Crystal Heart,” Dainn stopped for a moment, his eyes shimmering with ethereal sadness. “You may wish to strike me again soon. Please, measure your strength, Twilight. For if you strike me, I wish to feel much-earned pain and suffering.”

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“Yet another matriarchal rump state. Do these ponies know no shame? Are the stallions proud of their servitude?” Said Ivangri to the rest of my council, all of them nodding in various grades of agreement.

I sighed, tired after five days of little sleep trying to come up with a plan of action. My council was also hard at work… when they were not enjoying the spoils of victory, that is. “Focus, everyone. Equestria and Canterlot -and with it the Princesses- are far away from us. The attack on Lindisbarne will reach them eventually if we don’t act quickly. However, the pressing issue is this: the Crystal Empire is close by and yet another so-called alicorn. We must find a way to take her down first and take possession of that strange artifact called the Crystal Heart. Storm,” I turn my attention to the runemaster, “are the warding runes working properly?”

Storm, pompous and eager as ever, stood up and smiled while a unicorn mare suckled on his cock. I averted my sight from the mare; bruises, lashes, and whip marks adorning her body along with rune burns. Barbaric. She had been tamed, though. “The intrusive… thing scouring through the dreamscape won’t find us, my King. They work as intended and even better than I hoped. It's almost as if these ponies know nothing about rune magic.”

“Why would they?” Fauber countered. “Their natural magic is clearly superior - shut your fucking mouth, Vestri,” he said, glaring at the angered stag. “You know it is true. Everyone knows that’s true. Like it or not, our natural magic is poor and weak so we had to develop rune-crafting to compensate. However, this works to our advantage. We have a weapon and the means to use it that are unknown to these uncivilized female-lovers.”

“Leaving that aside,” I continued, desperate to end the meeting. “This is my plan for what we are to do regarding the Crystal Empire. We will send a small expedition led by Gunne and other… weak-minded individuals to get as much information regarding the city. How many soldiers they seem to have, population ratio, food reserves, measures set against an attack, who commands the armed forces, and, most importantly, if there are disgruntled stallions seeking to free themselves from the yoke of female oppression,” I said, pointing out with as much simplicity as I could every point that needed to be achieved. Cursed be my academic mind. Curse it! A simpleton would have simply attacked blindly and… it doesn’t matter now.

Most members of the council agreed with me, pleased by my thinking and, more importantly, understanding the objectives needed to be met.

“I’m surprised you aren’t shouting ‘that’s cowardly!’ Oksho. Doesn’t that precious code of yours say something about underhanded moves?” Ivangri antagonized because of course he would.

Oksho merely stared at him as if he wasn’t even there. “There’s a difference between cowardice - a topic in which you are a master at, Ivangri- and intelligence gathering. Our enemies outnumber us and we know little about them. A warrior must seek an honorable death, not a pointless suicidal battle,” he retorted coldly, but couldn’t hide his bemused smirk.

“Enough!” I shouted, not wanting to see my council devolve into a shouting match yet again. “We will proceed unless anyone has a point to add?” I heard Oksho groan and grunt, almost missing the disappointing glare he gave me. I waited a few seconds before continuing. “Dismissed, in that case. Vestri, search for Gunne and send him to me.”

“Excuse me, my King? May I ask you a question before leaving?” Anvari asked, gaining everyone’s attention. I nodded, desiring nothing more than to end the blasted meeting as soon as possible. “After we win against the Crystal Empire; for victory is more than assured when facing a weak, incompetent nation led by an equally weak and incompetent female cunt; what shall we do next?”

“Rebuild, reestablish, survive, and End this blasted Cycle once and for all so that our people may no longer know despair, suffering, nor fear coming from an ancient, invisible force we cannot comprehend fully,” I replied in earnest, the first question in a long while I answered happily and as myself. He seemed satisfied, as was everyone else, with my answer and left the room.

Once alone, I sat back in my seat and felt the stress of weeks of work finally about to snap my neck. Still, I reached for another stack of papers filled with demands to do something about the wretched wings of the pegasi. “Only fourteen escape attempts today? That’s a relief… I have to come up with a way to neutralize their wings but also avoid chopping them off… what to do, what to do?” I muttered to myself as that dilemma had been haunting me since the end of the attack. Minutes passed until Gunne, followed closely by Ginna, stepped into the room.

Gunne immediately bowed while Ginna sprang into a run the moment the door was closed. With a jump, she threw herself at me and hugged me tightly, snuggling closely. Her warmth was most welcome and her affection was a reminder that she was gentle and caring toward me. “It is good to see you, Ginna. Gunne.”

“Likewise. Vestri told me about your plan, Dainn. I’m ready to depart whenever you order me to go,” Gunne said, not a hint of hesitation nor contempt in his voice.

“And Ginna will make company!” Ginna proclaimed, snuggling against me before freezing when her hands touched my shoulders and neck. Without uttering a sound, she moved with frightening speed behind me, her hands and fingers quickly working on my stressed-out muscles. “Feel good?”

“Veeeery,” I moan, smiling. “Hmmmmm, I should ask you to give me a massage every other day, Ginna. Gods know I need this.”

“Dainn?” Gunne asked suddenly, gaining my attention. “Are you sure there’s no other way? Maybe we can still reach an accord or peace with the ponies. I… I would rather avoid seeing any further needless bloodshed.”

“As do I, my friend… but we can’t do anything about it. Their society is anathema to ours and ours to theirs. That is clear to me now. They must see the wisdom of Male Superiority. Besides, Storm’s enchantment works perfectly. Many stallions and even mares understand the folly of their ways and have joined us--”

“LISTEN TO YOURSELF!” Gunne shouted, slamming a fist against the table. “Dainn… you were never a true believer of Male Superiority. What happened to you!? I will follow your every command and I will be loyal to you, always! But you… you’re talking like Vestri, Anvari, or that bastard Ivangri do! There has to be another way! We… we must be better, all of us. What good is rebuilding our civilization if all we care about is perpetuating all of this needless debauchery!?”

Listen to him, you fucking idiot! Damnable fool! See your strings and cut them! “I… wanted for that to be the case, Gunne. I truly did. But the council has spoken and the ponies will never see the righteousness of our philosophy. The strong dominate, the weak serve. It is as simple as that. We must remain strong, for the sake of our people, for you, for Ginna, we must remain strong.

“...if you say so, Dainn… I will believe you and follow you,” turning around, he smiled at his sister. “Serve Dainn as you would serve me, Ginna.”

“Of course, Master!” Ginna replied, smiling eagerly.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“You truly have an outstanding ability to baffle me, Dainn. Bravo. You couldn’t even listen to the one friend who made any sense. I don’t know if I should be impressed at your ineptitude or sorry for Gunne and his sister for having such a stupid friend as you,” Twilight remarked, glaring and wishing to fulminate the caribou where he sat. The anger she felt returned but only for a moment. “Then again… you weren’t entirely yourself, were you?”

Dainn nodded slowly. “A puppet that can’t see the strings doesn’t know it's a puppet. A blinded idiot doesn’t know when he’s about to fall off a cliff until the wind begins to rush against him. The same was with me. I didn’t know my views were warped just enough to alter my decisions, but that wasn’t enough. Ivangri and Vestri… they guided my hands, manipulated me into pleasing their seemingly innocent demands; showed me only what they wanted me to see. And my own weakness, my desire to save my people, to end the Cycle, and to be seen as a worthy King… it made me weaker than I ever was, for it turned me into a servile buffoon that rarely did anything for himself,” he lifted his cane and then slammed it against the floor once, raising a cloud of dust and bitterness with it. “At least, in the beginning. But that was enough to damn me and everyone else. I should’ve kept Gunne at my side… how different things would've been?”

“I don’t know, but I’m certain whatever the result, it would be better than this,” Twilight said, glancing around the destroyed palace as the hollowing wind sang a dead melody. “Dainn… after everything that happened to you with Svarndagr, did you have romantic feelings for Ginna or any other female?”

“...Not really, no. Ginna was a great friend and I certainly had a soft spot for her. My experiences and life turned me into an asexual -if you know what I’m referring to-, though I certainly enjoyed her warmth and that of Gunne,” Dainn confessed.

“Wait, what?” Twilight blinked, confused. “I thought all caribou bulls and stags hated homosexuality and saw, ehem, intercourse with another male as a show of dominance?”

“That is true, yes. But in truth, and this is something I discovered through observation of others: caribou, both bulls and cows, have a high tendency and orientation for both genders. Ergo, most caribou are actually bisexual. The ‘show of dominance’, barring Svarndagr, was just an excuse to lay with another male. As for females, must I really explain that particular nicety?”

“So in a sense, it is similar to how we ponies regard sexuality. That’s… not terrible to hear, actually,” Twilight breathed out. “Unless the ponies from this dimension were different from mine, that is. Mares are almost exclusively bisexual while stallions are mostly heterosexual since herds are common.”

“It was similar here, yes. Although stallions were more… liberal about their sexuality before we butchered their minds and forced them into blind servitude. The things I saw…,” Dainn stopped, shaking his head in disapproval. “But enough about sexuality, let me resume my tale.”

“Right… the Crystal Empire, Cadance, and my brother… what happened next?” Twilight asked, dreading the answer but knowing she needed to hear it.

“Two months passed. We did everything in our power to prevent anyone from finding out what had happened to Lindisbarne while Gunne and his chosen team worked in the shadows gathering information about the Crystal Empire and establishing friendly contact with Cadance. Hmmmm,” Dainn suddenly stopped and his eyes gleamed with a ghostly, eerie, dreadful light. “Twilight, tell me, do you by chance know a Commander of the Crystal Guard by the name of Orestes?”

“Orestes? No, I’ve never heard of him or a pony with that name in my life. Why?”

Dainn’s expression grew somber and a raspy cry emerged from his throat. “Remember what I said when Svarndagr warned me about relying on traitors?”

“Yes, I do. But what does that have to--” Twilight’s eyes grew wide as the implication made itself clear.

“Ah, you figured it out. Yes, it is just as you fear. Orestes betrayed his Princess, his Captain, and everyone in the Crystal Empire because he hated mares. He hated Cadance, Celestia, Luna, and you. He hated living in a matriarchy and he thought that every little grievance, imaginary and otherwise that we conjured upon ponies, was factual, real, and observable truth,” he snorted angrily. “And I, like the outstanding fool I was, felt vindicated that there were stallions who saw the truth of Male Superiority naturally. I dismissed Svarndagr’s wise words regarding traitors and welcomed him with open arms.”

“WHY!?” Twilight shouted, insulted, and disgusted at the thought that a pony, no matter how petty or disgruntled, could ever betray his people and nation so easily.

“Why not? Orestes was the first but not the last. Stallions like him made our subsequent invasion of Equestria all too easy. They handed us Equestria on a silver platter tainted with a slow-acting poison I was too stupid to see,” Dainn shook his head. “But I’m getting ahead of myself. Gunne contacted Orestes and through Gunne, to me and the Council. Ivangri, Vestri, Anvari, and Storm took a liking to Orestes quickly, so much so that they thought of him more of a caribou than a pony in essence.”

“Fitting, is it not? The rest of my Council accepted him and his plans on a marginal level, except for Oksho. He would become my champion after the fall of the Crystal Empire… but he was the only one who never trusted Orestes. Well, he and Gunne. So, a plan was formulated and weaved with his aid. Thanks to Orestes, we knew exactly the number of soldiers active, supplies, maps of the city and castle, names and ranks of officers… We had everything. But what caught Storm’s attention the most was the Crystal Heart and the seemingly symbiotic connection it shared with Cadance.”

“What did you do?” Twilight asked, already expecting the worst.

“We set up a trap… No. That’s not right. I prepared an ambush, a betrayal, and trap all at once under the flag of truce and friendship…”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“There they are, my King. The weak, stupid cunt that dares think herself a ruler,” Ivangri said with contempt as the group of ponies led by Princess Cadance and her husband arrived to welcome us into their vibrant, lush, beautiful city.

“Shut your mouth, Ivangri. Remember the plan and stay your tongues, everyone,” I ordered as my advisors, chosen warriors, and entourage waited at the entrance of the Crystal Empire’s city proper. I waited for seconds that stretched into years as the stunningly beautiful alicorn approached dressed in her silk dress. Despite my aversion to sexual interaction, I could feel my cock throb as an aura of femininity and tranquility washed over me. For the first time in a long, long while, I felt at peace but Vestri, Ivangri and others stiffened, as if her aura disgusted them.

I took two steps forth and bowed my head lightly. “Greetings, Princess Cadance. I am Dainn, King of the Caribou,” I introduced myself with curtsy and suddenly felt nervous when I saw Shining Armor, her husband, inspect me with an icy stare that quickly faded into friendliness. Cadance giggled, reaching for me with a hand.

“It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person, King Dainn. Your messenger, Gunne, has praised you significantly. I am sorry to hear that your homeland was destroyed and ravaged by a volcanic eruption. Know that you can find friends here in the Crystal Empire.”

I accepted her hand and her honey-tasting words. How could I ever think of betraying such a magnificent mare? Alas, a plan had been forged and I had to carry it. Feeling the eyes of Vestri and Ivangri at the back of my head didn’t help. They were judging me, analyzing me. I was King by necessity, not by merit. If I was replaced then the Cataclysm and the Cycle would happen again. I would not allow that to happen, no matter what.

You fucking idiot.

“Thank you, Princess Cadance. Your empire truly is a sight to behold,” I praised with genuine words. The Crystal Empire truly was beautiful and pure.

After a few more pleasantries, she invited us on a tour that culminated with the palace itself. There it was, the Crystal Heart. And as promised, guarded by Orestes personally. A duty only fitting for a loyal guard and Shining Armor’s second-in-command. FOOLS! FOOLS! FOOLS!

We exchanged looks and a nod before Storm approached the Crystal Heart, marveled by the stunning light it emitted.

“Beautiful… I can feel the power coursing through it! So similar to rune-crafting yet so different. Like a primordial force or energy,” Storm commented, turning to a smiling Cadance. “Princess Cu-Cadance… may I see the artifact closer? I have never seen anything like it. I promise I won’t touch, just inspect closely?”

“You may. Do be mindful, though, the Crystal Heart is our most precious artifact and the very heart, pun intended, of the Crystal Empire,” said Cadance with a welcoming giggle.

As Storm walked past me, I stopped him by grabbing his arm and whispering to his ear. “Storm, I am second-guessing my decision… if this artifact truly is so vital, then altering it would not be in our interest. Abort, now.”

“Nonsense, my King. Don’t be the coward Svarndagr saw in you. I can handle this easily. Besides, we cannot allow that fucking slut the chance to use it against us. Better to cripple it than be a burden to us, yes?” Without waiting for my reply, he moved in closer to the Heart, flanked by Orestes.

“What was that about?” Shining Armor asked, intrigued.

Do it! Stop now! You can end this madness before it truly begins! But no… of course not. As a coward, I faked a smile and waved a hand. “Nothing more than a warning to my Runemaster. He can be overzealous when dealing with his craft, you see. We are guests here… and must act accordingly,” I said the last words softly, regretfully.

“Amazing!” Storm suddenly shouted, grinning from ear to ear. “It’s so amazing! Even my greatest runeworks are but jokes compared to this magnificent beauty! Oh, how does it work!? What fuels it!? Incredible, simply incredible!” There it was… the signal to feign falling back in shock. Orestes caught him and in their brief exchange, Storm handed the pegasus a black rune. “T-Thank you, guard. I believe I must step back. The shock was too overwhelming.”

“Clearly,” Cadance commented, genuinely worried for Storm’s well-being. “Please, come inside. It is time for the banquet to begin. We can continue our talks tomorrow as it is getting late.”

I said nothing, only nodded and glanced back at Orestes… who sneakily placed the rune on the Crystal Heart. The light it emitted flashed for a moment, but only for a moment, before returning to normal. Now, all it took was to wait and see if Storm’s rune would work at all.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“You corrupted the Crystal Heart… this I know,” Twilight muttered, shaking in rage. “I--I saw the ‘Crystal Cock’. But how was that at all possible? Altering the Crystal Heart… such a foolish thing to do! How did you avoid freezing to death after transforming it?”

“...That didn’t happen. Trust me, the Crystal Empire died a frozen death, but not after… you will understand why, eventually. Altering it into the Crystal Cock still granted its protection but furthered our goal of ‘liberating’ Equestria. If I had known the consequences beforehand, I would have never allowed Storm to corrupt it. I really liked the Crystal Empire…,” Dainn confessed, sighing. “But Orestes did his part and so did Storm. The following three days were easy and filled with friendly, political talks. In those talks, I realized that my original plan would have worked, but it was far too late for that.”

Dainn snorted in rage, his hands shaking as anger and regret shook his frail body. “The corruption was working. Cadance showed signs of weakness every now and again, confirming Storm’s theory that the Crystal Heart was connected to her in some capacity. But it was I who dealt the final, invisible blow. Orestes made sure to arrange a private meeting between us without the eye of Shining Armor over us. I took my chance when she felt weak and nearly fell over. I caught her… and used one of Storm’s crystals on her, passing it as healing magic.”

“...you know… I already knew this thanks to all the posters, statues, the stained glasses… but hearing how my sister-in-law was corrupted by YOUR hand,” Twilight’s lips quivered, rage filling her eyes but refusing to strike the caribou again. “How long did it take?”

“Days, to my own shock. Five more days for her to get fully corrupted, but every day you could see the changes. She started by wearing more revealing clothes, then she began flirting with other guards, even touching or kissing them whenever Shining Armor wasn’t around,” Dainn stopped for a moment, looking at nothing while his blue eyes reflected pain and regret. “On the third day, Shining fucked her. But she didn’t put up a silencing spell on their bedroom and many heard them having sex. But she was animalistic, desperate for cock, and acting more and more like a fully subservient cow would.”

“By the fifth day, Shining Armor finally figured out that something was terribly wrong when his wife was now openly acting as a common whore rather than her true self, but it was too late. Ivangri and Vestri subdued Shining Armor before Cadance, the first alicorn to fall and the first pony completely corrupted by the Dark Taint… corrupted her husband.”

Twilight wanted to vomit, but somehow managed to contain herself, knowing the worst was yet to come.

“So, there he was. Pinned to the ground before his wife, now acting like a true cock-hungry slut, used her body to seduce and entice him; calling him several pet names, begging to be his pet, not his wife; demanding to be raped and fucked and paraded around like the whorish bitch she truly was. I can still see it, Twilight. How he cried, how he begged her to stop, to come back to him… and how she, in her last vestige of self, cried a single tear.”

“Shining Armor resisted far longer than any other stallion would… but, in the end, he broke, the Dark Taint flowing across the city weakened his mind, allowing it to get a grip of him. And when he fell, it was all over for them both. After that, Shining took his wife and fucked her against the ground with all his might and shoved a corrupting crystal up her ass to intensify the effect, laughing and moaning loudly right before my very eyes. Cadance's already alluring physique was further elevated: her breasts grew three sizes, her ass and hips widened, her thighs thickened, and her belly turned into a perfect hourglass shape. All whilst moaning and the sound of flesh impacting flesh echoed in the throne room.”

“Outside, Storm was finishing altering the Crystal Heart, reforming and reshaping it into the Crystal Cock now that Cadance had been fully corrupted, it was an easy task, or so he claimed.”

“The screams followed soon after as the corruption spread all over the city, carried by the once-gentle energy of the Heart; now twisted and reformed to serve a dark intent,” Dainn fell silent again. “Can you imagine an entire city falling into pure depravity and debauchery in less than half an hour?”

Twilight didn’t answer, only allowed tears to fall down her cheeks.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

I couldn’t believe it. It worked. My plan of deception and betrayal had worked. Of course, there were those ponies that couldn’t be corrupted but they were outmatched and outnumbered. Oksho and his warriors made short work of those few dozens, subduing them entirely. When Oksho returned to deliver the news that the city had fallen to our control… I could see the disapproval in his eyes, all of it directed at me.

I was sitting on the throne that belonged to Cadance while she prostrated herself before me, further humiliating herself. Next to her, Orestes and Shining Armor were kneeling, heads low and showing me respect. Intoxicating sensation, truly. To be looked upon with adoration, respect, and veneration, even if it is false.

“I, Princess Cadance, bow before his Majesty King Dainn, the Alpha Male, and the true Master of Equestria and the Crystal Empire. This lowly cunt vows to serve you, mind, holes, and soul to further your rightful and glorious conquest and to be forever your cocksucking slave, for I have seen the Light and the Truth of my life and my proper place: beneath you, always, my King. I forever swear loyalty to you as well as my subjects,” she said, without stuttering, second-guessing herself, nor leaving room for any doubt.

Orestes and Shining Armor gave me their loyalty, too, though in a less fervent way. “I accept your pledges. Orestes, as a reward for your services, you shall have a spot in my retinue and be granted the rights of any noble caribou.”

“Thank you, my King. I love only to serve the true Master of Equestria,” he said, the little worm.

“Shining Armor, take your cunt and wait until it is time to remove her horn… you shall have the honor of doing so,” I commanded as my stomach was tied into a knot.

“Of course, my King, thank you,” the unicorn replied, smirking.

“Everyone… leave me be. I have much to think about,” everyone obeyed, chatting and laughing among themselves whilst Shining Armor guided Cadance out on a leash. It took me several moments to notice that Oksho had not left and that we were alone in the room. “Didn’t you hear me, Oksho? I said--”

“What are you going to do about it?” He replied, challenging me.

“I am your King!”

“You are A King, but not my King,” he said, taking a step forward. “And it’s not because you are small, weak, and feeble, Dainn. Oh no. I respect your drive and your intellect, but you are lacking in everything else. Above all, you are weak-minded!”

“How dare you--!”

“THEN STRIKE ME!” Oksho challenged, again. “Come on, I am here! Strike me, weakling! Or do you need Ivangri and Vestri’s permission to do anything!?”

“Y-You dare imply--”

“When have you put your hoof down for anything important!? When have you stuck to any of your decisions without their meddlings!? When was the last time you, King Dainn, did anything with your own power and intent!? Let me answer you: never! This attack… this… this treachery was wrong. I saw it in your eyes, yet you even allowed Storm… STORM! To push your authority aside!”

“We had no choice!”

“There’s always more than one option, Dainn! We could’ve fought like warriors! This was a victory, I grant you that, but this is not the way it should be done! Not with magic or contraptions granting us a laughably easy victory! If we come to rely on these-,” he pulled a crystal before throwing it at the ground, shattering it. “-we’ll become complacent and weak! Svarndagr was many things, but a coward he wasn’t! Be strong for yourself, Dainn! Earn your title not because of necessity, but to show your strength and honor!”

I looked aside, ashamed. Svarndagr had thoroughly annihilated my conflicting side, always choosing to follow the path of least resistance unless I couldn’t. I heard Oksho spit in disgust, taking another step forth. I looked up at him.

“I… I will follow you, because I am honor-bound to serve the King, but know that to my eyes you are unworthy as long as you keep pleasing the wretches you call advisors. At least tell me you didn’t believe the pledges of those ponies? I swear I’ve heard more convincing lies coming from a child.”

I blinked, surprised and confused. Looking back at it, the cracks were obvious, but I didn’t see them. “What do you mean, Oksho?”

“Oh for the love of--- Did you see any true loyalty in there? I didn’t. Their pledges were as fake as a functioning matriarchy,” he scoffed. “Like this one. It fell within a single day. Pathetic. Dainn… don’t trust Orestes. Never trust a traitor, at least heed my warning. Cadance was less a female and more a cockhungry automaton while Shining Armor would say anything to get more cunts now.”

“You’re delusional, Oksho. I have their loyalty and that of many more to come. Besides, I think I finally figured out how to pacify the pegasi without mutilating their wings,” I reply, only to gain a nasty glare that turned into a soft, warm, almost gentle stare.

“Is it a safe method? One of my prizes is a pegasus and I promised not to hurt her wings too much,” he asked, surprising me.

“Relatively… once we’re back at the camp, I’ll put my theory to the test.”

“Hhmmm… Dainn, let me give you another piece of advice regarding Storm.”

“Such as?”

“Kick him out. Kill him. Exile him. I don’t care what, but you have to eliminate him. He may be useful now, but his experiments and creations always backfire horribly. I’ve seen it many times. These crystals will be no exception. Something terrible is going to happen if we keep using them to win our fights for us.”

With that said, he turned around and left, not waiting for my dismissal. Yet, I shared his feeling about a terrible, dark outcome. I felt it course through my spine when the Crystal Heart was completely corrupted. I didn’t know what would happen, but the sinking feeling in my heart told me I had just started a cascading effect that would lead to a horrible fate.

As if to confirm my dread, a flash of light appeared in front of me, revealing the Spirit of Harmony for a second time, still staring at me with pity and sadness.

Chapter 12: Corruption and the Attack on Canterlot

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Twilight barely, by the smallest of margins, managed to contain her fury and desire to do what she had done to Tirek onto the frail, defenseless caribou. Only her compassion and the reminder that, as much as it hurt, this wasn’t her home. It was a dark, awful reflection of it, but it wasn’t her home. Not really.

Closing her eyes, she focused on stopping her trembling hands, hoping to quell the rage within her. As seconds passed and her rage diminished, her logical mind came forth and noticed a few chinks in Dainn’s story so far. “Dainn… are you lying?” She asked, still unable to not glare at him.

“Ahhhh, I was wondering when you were going to pick on that,” Dainn replied, scratching his chin. “The answer is no. I am not lying. I warned you that my memory had… defects in certain aspects. Timeframes, for example, I remember them as one measurement now, but the next time it’s different. Each of them is as true to my senses and memories as those memories that are intact, non-morphing. This is, as you may imagine, incredibly confusing. So much so that I gave up on trying to figure out what the real version is,” he went silent for several seconds, his icy eyes focusing on nothing and everything at the same time.

“And yet… not everything is entirely forgotten either. There are true core memories there, fragments that speak truth. For example, I know the attack on Lindisbarne happened. How it made me feel and my decisions after… when exactly happened, how long it took to plan the assault, and the length of the raid, though? Utterly lost to me. Sometimes it's days, other times it's months or just weeks. The same goes for the Crystal Heart and the betrayal in the Crystal Empire,” he hummed deeply, a throaty, gurgled, pained, and angry growl rumbled in his chest. “I do not know what I did to the Heart… or if it was me directly. But I do know three things are true beyond measure: I tried to stop it, I felt more fear at that time than I have ever felt up to that point, and that regret soon followed.”

“I… see. I would hate to be in your position,” Twilight replied, her anger simmered to manageable levels, enough to let her speak calmly and analyze everything the caribou was telling her. “But why did you take the Crystal Heart? You said the Empire died a frozen death much longer after corrupting, right? Did you know that the main function of the Crystal Heart was to keep the blizzard away?”

“I’m sorry, what?” Dainn, for the first time since their exchange began, looked puzzled and surprised beyond his depressed stoicism. “But… the Empire froze over slowly but surely after months… that, I’m sure about. Maybe your Crystal Heart functions differently?”

“A likely hypothesis given our divergent dimensions, but the fact remains: the Empire froze, just like mine would freeze without the Heart. You, in your infinite stupidity and thirst for power, condemned an entire nation to death, Dainn. Congratulations, you are the biggest fucking idiot I’ve ever met, by a long shot. And to think the worst is yet to come!” Twilight exclaimed with dripping contempt, opening her wings and arms widely, as if to encompass the entire room, the castle, and Canterlot at the same time.

“The road to damnation is often forged by the acts born of compassion and well-meaning intentions,” Dainn replied, not bothering to rebuke her insults and taking them all in stride, knowing he deserved them. “First the horns, now this? And I dare to call myself a scholar? Something so basic and obvious missed my sight?” He chuckled, clenching his staff with shaky anger. “...and here I thought I couldn’t fall any lower. What’s next, I wonder?”

“Regardless of your feelings… you should’ve taken Oksho’s warning to heart, Dainn. I don’t like him… but he had sensible ideas and, dare I say, whatever passes for honor for your kind. Why didn’t you? Why did you ignore him?” Twilight asked, glaring at him.

“That’s… that wasn’t entirely my choice. I heard his warnings. I knew Storm and his experiments were dangerous. I know Ivangri and Vestri had their own agenda to fulfill and nearly everyone else in my Council,” he scoffed at the last word, a sour taste invading his mouth every time he had to remember them. “But there was nothing I could really do. If I didn’t try to balance my will to save our people from the Cycle with the ambitions and demands of my people, I may have been replaced and our destiny set ablaze once more.”

Twilight sighed, shaking her head. “Let’s… let’s just continue for now. So, the Spirit of Harmony showed up again. What did it say to you?”

“Painful words I was too ignorant to accept,” Dainn replied.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“You again, spirit? What is it that you want from me?” I asked the spirit, shoving the pitfall of emotions roiling inside my heart to the side.

“You can see your wrongs yet do nothing to stop? Foolish or stupid? Ignorance is not an excuse nor a reason. Why can’t you stop? You know your actions are wrong, yet you push on. There’s still time to prevent the cold grasp of death and solitude from grabbing your throat. Stop,” the spirit said to me, never in anger, just painful pity.

“Enough with your riddles! Speak plainly! Is it wrong to want to achieve the survival of my people even if other species have to pay the price for our survival? They are weak, we are strong. We command, they obey. Only the strong survive and I will make sure the caribou remain strong, it is only right… the only one I know,” I confessed, unable to look at the spirit in the eye.

“Pariah of Pariahs, you are truly a beast of burden, nothing more. A blind fool with strings. Cut the ties. Stop. There is no salvation through your actions, only assured destruction. Do not feed the beast within. You can stop, say no more, even now. Your punishment will be great, demise will follow, but life can thrive regardless. Your punishment will be great, but not unbearable. Stop and you shall find peace. Continue and only brimstone shall cloud your future,” the spirit warned. It was a warning, a heartfelt one, yet all I heard was a threat.

I frowned, stupidly, accepting the challenge. “Punishment… you speak of punishment even though I have conquered the Crystal Empire? I tamed one of the alicorn princesses, converted Shining Armor, a proud male, into our ranks, and liberated countless stallions from female tyranny. What could possibly be my punishment for spreading the Light of Male Superiority?” I remembered biting my tongue after the words left my mouth. Had I changed so much without me noticing it… no, I was just searching for an excuse, something to shift the blame to, something to give me purpose, no matter how much I actually hated the reason, for I knew no other.

“An empire built on the backs of slaves forever rests upon fragile foundations. Dainn, you will crumble. Stop. Surrender. Cut the strings and stop dancing to the tune of the beast within and those around you. Or else--”

“Or else what?”

“Or else your fate shall be one you will come to regret,” the spirit said with a deep, disapproving frown, touching my snout. “Release the Crystal Heart, uncorrupted. Release it. Return it. The Crystal Heart is a force of protection, not a weapon. It defends and grants life, not control. Do not pervert it. Let it grant love, not lust. Stop, Dainn. Have the strength to stand up and be submissive no longer. Rise above your trauma. Stop. Stop. Stop.”

With that said, the spirit faded away, leaving me alone once more. After that, I spent several days pondering those words as we returned to our encampment. Ultimately, I discarded those accusations and carried on with the desires of my council, masking their demands and actions as my own. Weak. Useless. Pathetic fool!

In the end, shortly after arriving, Storm requested my presence and that of the council to show us the product of his research and tampering with the Crystal Heart. The feeling of dread I felt increased but, like a coward, said nothing.

“This better not blow up in our faces, Storm,” Anvari teased, to which Storm merely unveiled the Crystal Heart surrounded by dozens of his prized and ‘perfected’ crystals alongside complex rune carvings all around the floor.

“When I’m done showing the results of my investigation, you’ll praise me, Anvari!” Storm replied.

“We first need to actually see results, Storm,” Ivangri countered, earning several chuckles. I remained silent, my heart beating hard against my chest.

“Then results you’ll see. My king,” the kiss ass turned to me, “I have more or less confirmed that the power of the Crystal Heart is one of control: specifically, to make males docile to female suggestions and making them weak with a side benefit of somewhat repelling the harsh weather conditions surrounding the now defunct Crystal Empire. The power source is both external and internal. This artifact holds immense power and yet it responds to external interaction to project such power and, as you suspected, it is linked to that pink alicorn bitch to some extent.”

“And all of that means?” I asked, preferring to get on with it instead of entertaining the thought of what Storm had done to achieve such conclusions.

“It means, my king, that I figured out a way to alter the controlling effects of the Crystal Heart and reform it, so we may use it as a tool to liberate worthy males from the enslavement of female rule!” He explained enthusiastically and even Ivangri and Vestri, who mocked the academic and magic-related fields, smiled in excitement.

Not me. I remembered the words of the spirit, the warning freely given and I recoiled in fear.

“Storm, are you truly certain that you can… force this artifact to serve our needs without harming it?” I asked, staring at the pulsating blue light of the Crystal Heart.

“Of course, my king! It is perfectly safe,” Storm replied as his eyes began to glow, the ritual was about to begin. STOP HIM!

But I didn’t. I sat there, watching as the runes crackled with energy and the crystals began to glow. For several seconds nothing happened until, with a crack of lightning, the crystals began shooting black beams with purple rippling waves surrounding it. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. I could feel the sheer wrongness of those beams and how my dread nearly took over my rational mind.

Everyone else was either fascinated by it or looked uncomfortable at worst. I was the only one in that room glued to my seat in piss-dripping terror. But the worst was yet to happen. When the beams pierced the Crystal Heart, I felt it scream in pain and horror directly in my soul. It was worse than the cries of females in training or the cries of pain of some traitor being tortured.

That’s when Oksho’s warning surfaced at the front of my mind and I stood up, legs trembling, hands shaking, heart beating so fast I thought I was going to have a heart attack. “Storm! I’m having second thoughts about this! Stop it! We cannot risk such an important artifact this way!”

“You may have second guessings, but not me, Dainn!” Storm cried out, laughing.

I gritted my teeth in fury. “STORM, I ORDER YOU TO--”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“A flash of pure darkness washed the room, a white noise knocked me out, and terrible nightmares swarmed me for three entire days. When I woke up, I discovered that Storm’s experiment had worked. He had… transformed the Heart, twisted its nature, and somehow it was reshaped into the Crystal Cock,” Dainn whispered, hands trembling and his regret more than palpable. “Do you wish to know what my nightmares were like? It was the same, replaying over and over again. A dark, powerful shadow standing over me, watching me with unblinking red eyes, a mocking smile, and… I don’t know how to describe it… contempt? Pride? It… it was horrible. I was utterly powerless and… and it made me realize something.”

“What did you realize, Dainn?” Twilight asked, whispering herself and slightly trembling. The sheer aura of dread and fear Dainn was giving was strong enough to affect her.

“That I, for all my troubles… I was still being seen, treated, judged, and played the role of a female. Submissive. Obedient. Docile. Svarndagr was long gone, but his training, and his chastisement stuck with me. I was a female in all but body… and my council knew it, abused it, and I was too weak to stop them or even question it.”

Silence reigned between the two for minutes on end, the howling wind being the only thing breaking the icy, monotonous quietness set between each other.

“What… What did Storm do to the Crystal Heart?” Twilight finally asked, somehow finding the strength to speak once more.

“I have no idea. The bastard was too impatient, his “thorough” research, as you may have guessed, was anything but. Can you see the mentality of those blinded by Male Superiority? The first thing Storm thought about the Crystal Heart was as a means of control and female enslavement. I should’ve… I should’ve studied it myself. I shouldn’t have let any of them dictate my actions. I should’ve listened! I SHOULD’VE DIED! FUCK ME! I…”

Dainn dropped to his knees and crawled to Twilight, his blue, icy eyes looking for her lavender ones in desperation. “Kill me, Twilight! Please, KILL ME! I don’t wish to live like this! I… I don’t want to keep suffering like this! The pain. The loss. The suffering… everything I unleashed upon the world, please, kill me… please… please, please, please, please…”

Twilight gulped hard, unable to look away from his pleading eyes. She could see it all oh so damnably clearly. The facade was broken and now she could see the real Dainn. A hurt, pitiful being so full of regret, self-hatred, and desperation to die that was heartbreaking. It was already hard to see him before with his mask of contempt, but without it… she couldn’t stop the tears from falling down her cheeks. She felt pity for the one being that deserved none. Life itself in this dimension had been eradicated by his actions. He, at every point in time, had the chance to stop, to be better.

But he chose the weakest path; either himself or pushed by others it didn’t matter. He was responsible for everything that surrounded her.

She placed a hand on his hooded head, and gently began to pet him. Dainn froze, but didn’t stop staring at her, pleading with his eyes for her to kill him. To end his miserable existence. But she couldn’t. “If… if I could grant you that mercy, I would. Believe me, I would. But you can’t die, Dainn. Whatever is keeping you alive… I’m sorry… so very sorry you have to live like this.”

Dainn said nothing. With a raspy howl of pain that echoed across Canterlot and froze the very air with melancholy, he rested his head on her lap, letting her pet him for as long as she wanted. His wish had been denied. His torment would continue. And that was the most horrific thing for him: to continue living among the ashes of his mistakes.

Days passed or maybe mere minutes, they didn’t know. Didn’t care. Not until Dainn pulled back and wordlessly returned to his seat.

“I… do not deserve death… not your kindness,” he remarked yet again. “Thank you, regardless. I… it’s been a long time since the last time I broke like that.”

“I can’t say I wouldn’t wish for the same thing in your position,” Twilight replied, softly and welcoming. “Dainn… before we continue, I wish to ask you something that doesn’t fit in the entire story.”

“That is?”

“You. As in, your physical appearance. You described yourself as average for a caribou and even slightly smaller in stature, yes? Then… why are your statues, murals, paintings, and other visual depictions so different from what I imagined you to be?”

“Ahhhh, yes,” Dainn cleared his throat. “Thramm… he was responsible for all of the redecorating. For a Master of Arts, he was incredibly bland and uninspired. He basically put my face on Svarndagr’s body and had that vision widespread to give the illusion of a mighty, invincible King. A true conqueror. Not a squalid scholar that couldn’t even lift a proper warhammer for more than a few swings. In fact, every piece of ‘art’ you’ve seen are the works of Thramm,” he chuckled. “Propaganda is a strong tool, wouldn’t you agree? Yet another sacrifice made on the altar of my stupidity. I allowed your vibrant, inspired, colorful art to be butchered in favor of Thramm’s dull, boring, repetitive, and bland works.”

“I can understand the dislike for such… art,” Twilight affirmed, gaining a nod from Dainn.

“I never cared for his art in particular. Here, let me show you something and forgive my atrocious skills,” with a boney finger, he began to draw on the dust-covered floor. After a minute or so, he pulled back.

With a gesture from his other hand, Twilight leaned forth and saw three figures. One was fairly similar to the ‘Dainn’ depicted on the statues and paintings. The second was smaller but still pretty buffed and strong-looking despite being rough sketches. The third was comparable to a stallion that worked out once a week. Certainly not out of shape but a twig compared to the other two. “Svarndagr,” she said, pointing at the biggest figure. “A warrior… Oksho?” Dainn nodded at her guess. “And that’s you?”

“Correct in all accounts,” Dainn said. “Even Gunne was better built than I ever was and he wasn’t precisely a warrior either. But Oksho? You do not achieve the rank of Champion and be seen as the greatest Warrior in caribou society without looking the part. And even Oksho was outclassed by Svarndagr. Easy to see why no one ever tried to defy him and was held as the Alpha Male of our species?” He said, mocking the titles of his once-mentor.

“Do you… miss anyone?” Twilight scoffed. “Forgive me, of course you do. That was tactless of me, I’m sorry.”

“No… don’t be. Those are some of the few happy memories I have. But yes, I miss those closest to me. Oksho and his warrior’s pride, culling what would’ve been blind obedience to Male Superiority. Gunne, my ever-loyal friend. Ginna, my dearest Ginna, a gentle soul if there ever was one. My Twilight, even after… falling, I enjoyed having long intellectual conversations with her. And… others.”

“I am not looking forward to that part,” Twilight breathed out. “Thank you, for answering my question, Dainn.”

“I have nothing to hide nor lose. Why should I ever lie to you?” Dainn relaxed his shoulders and gave out a long sigh before retaking a more serious posture. “Continuing with the story. After the Crystal Cock was reforged, I noticed the immediate change on Cadance. If she was acting like a whore before, she was completely unhinged after. No taboo was too far for her, no hedonistic desire off the table, no command issued by her ex-husband now Master went unanswered. But worst of all? Her smile. I can still see it. She never stopped smiling. Not ever. Not even when she was asleep. It was so hollow and full of perversion at the same time. I did everything within my power to interact with her as little as I possibly could,” he shuddered visibly.

Twilight also shuddered. Remembering Starlight’s village and their near-perpetual smiles was bad enough, but to imagine Cadance in such a position was a bit too much for her to comprehend. “W-What happened next?”

Dainn’s eyes faltered and shame filled his voice. “The planification of the coming Fall of Equestria.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“How many forces can we expect?” I asked inquisitively. Several days had passed since the final overthrow of the Crystal Empire and the acquisition of the Crystal Cock. Shining Armor warned me that Equestria would soon learn that something wrong had happened to the Empire and that he had to act quickly if we wished to have a chance to conquer Equestria in a single swoop.

“Around the main cities forces of the Royal Guard and militias can be found, no more than two thousand each. Canterlot, however, is staffed and protected exclusively by Royal Guards. Three thousand, maybe more,” Shining Armor scoffed while Cadance sucked his cock from under the table. “Won’t matter if we use the crystals first to show them the power of Male Superiority, my liege.”

“Hrrmmm,” I muttered, not voicing my distaste for Storm’s miracle weapons. Sure, they helped us immensely and we would need them to achieve victory. But it was exactly as Oksho had said: we were becoming too reliant on them for everything. “What about the nobles and civilians, will they fight?”

“Some will, I’m sure. The Wonderbolts will be a pain in the ass,” he hissed, thrusting his hips once to make Cadance choke on his cock. She only giggled in response. “The real issues will be Cuntlestia, Slutna, and my bitch of a sister. Not to mention Discord. If we want to win, we need to drag him out first.”

“Leave that to me,” I claimed. “And please call the Princesses by their actual names? I don’t wish to confuse any information,” in all honesty, I just wanted to stop hearing so much vulgarity.

“As you command, my king. Luna is a night owl, but I would rather not fight her at all. If we can contain her somehow, that’d be ideal. Twilight is the most powerful magic caster in the entire nation, but she’s also an insufferable bitch and won’t dare harm any innocent,” again, he scoffed, finding the idea funny. “As for Celestia? I’m not certain. She’s definitely the strongest by a long shot and yet I’ve never seen her go all out. But what I’ve seen infuriates me. How dare a lowly BITCH,” he said, reaching below the desk to force Cadance to gobble his cock, “stand above her male masters?”

“Calm yourself, Shining Armor. We need plans, not anger,” I replied, disturbed by Cadance’s happy mewling and soft gagging noises.

“I can take care of Luna,” Orestes spoke up, dragging a flag and planting it on Canterlot. “I have like-minded friends in the Night Guard that will be easy to sway or convert. With their help, we can make sure Luna is put out of the entire invasion for good. She loves drinking a certain brand of wine. Spice it up with the right stuff, and she’ll be taken care of.”

“Do so, you have my permission,” Ivangri said, smirking. Bastard.

“I am the king and my decision is the only one that matters, Ivangri,” I replied, reminding him of that little fact. He only shrugged and stared at me silently. Coward. Idiot. “But I approve. Go, see to it, Orestes. How do we deal with Celestia and Twilight?”

“Twilight will be tricky. My best bet is to launch a surprise attack, and take her out during the confusion before she can use her magic. Chop off her horn,” Shining Armor replied. “I could send her a letter and make sure she’s with my father and slut-mother when we invade Canterlot?”

“Brilliant idea,” I praised. I wish I could vomit. “Then… that leaves Celestia. If she truly is the strongest alicorn, then she must be some sort of warrior queen. How do we deal with her?”

“Overwhelming force, use the crystals on her and try to force her into her proper place. Failing that, subjugation. No matter how strong she is, she’s still a lowly, stupid cunt,” Vestri prattled, smiling as if victory was a foregone conclusion.

I nodded. “I believe this day should be the day of our assault. The Spring Festival. We will divide our forces across the major cities of Equestria and attack at the same time. There is much to do and plan for my subjects. Leave, organize your units and the troops. Shining Armor, I’ll put you in charge of the logistical efforts for the invasion. Ensure victory and you shall sit at my side,” the white stallion bowed before Cadance finally let go of his cock. I saw her crawl from below the table, her back adorned with a saddle.

Shining Armor mounted her and she began to crawl away with her ex-husband riding her back as if she was but an animal. Many laughed at the display. I could barely watch in silence. Turning around, I also left the room and entered my private studio. I had my own part of the plan to work on, and that involved tricking a literal God of Chaos.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Can you guess what the plan of attack was?” Dainn asked with a mirthless tone, a raspy chuckle meeting it.

Twilight closed her eyes for a moment, putting aside the anger and discomfort she felt for what she was about to hear, and set her mind on puzzling together an effective strategy where she was in Dainn's place. “Attacking during the Spring Festival was a good choice… I would’ve chosen Winter Wrap-Up, though. More commotion, fewer armed forces around the streets, and generally an element of surprise to consider. As for the Princesses, taking out Luna through deception and trickery was your best bet.”

“Indeed?” Dainn asked, intrigued. “Luna fell according to the plan set by Orestes, her capture was a trivial thing after that. Why, though? Luna never gave up, never submitted, ‘The Eternal Black Collar’ they called her. Was there something special about her that I didn’t know?”

Twilight sighed uncomfortably. “I know not about this dimension’s Luna, but judging by what you said… really? Not a single account of her exploits landed before your eyes?”

Dainn’s blue eyes shone with fury and regret for a moment. “My followers were… thorough during and right after the conquest. No book, parchment, scroll, or original statue or art piece survived the purge. Very few remained and that little I personally guarded jealously, though it wasn’t enough.”

“So no content with enslavement and mind controlling other species, your kind also enjoyed inflicting casual cultural genocide? Wonderful,” the alicorn said with dripping sarcasm. “But my point still stands. Taking her out was probably your best decision. Celestia is the strongest alicorn by far, and she’s a good fighter.”

“To that, I can agree… not very imaginative, though, as I’ve told you,” Dainn remarked. “Your remark about cultural genocide… I understood it too late in my life. How could have I known it before? The Strong rule, the Weak obey. Surely, the strong have the right to dictate everything about the weak, yes? My people… they saw the butchering and burning and raping and destruction of your culture as a means of curing you. Correcting your culture into the correct one. Ironic, is it not? My council manipulated me into believing our way of life would be destroyed if any diplomatic approach was to be had, and yet they happily eradicate any other culture in their wake.”

“I take it it wasn’t your idea, then? To rewrite our… this dimension’s history to your liking?” Twilight asked, narrowing her eyes.

“History is forged by the victors,” Dainn replied, but shook his head. “But no. Fauber, Master of Whispers, was in charge of that particular side of butchery. By far, he fitted his role to perfection. Maybe too much so. He thoroughly eradicated it and had it replaced and rewritten within the first few months after the invasion. Thramm and Thor aiding him was just the, what was your saying again? Ah, the cherry on top of the ice cream.”

A few seconds passed before he spoke again. “Their particular involvement comes later. For now, let us return to the topic at hand. So, am I to assume that Celestia was more focused on the intellectual side of power than her sister and not at all a true warrior?”

“More or less. Don’t misunderstand, though, Celestia, at least my Celestia, can fight.” Twilight nodded. “Luna, though? She’s the fiercest warrior in Equestria. I am not boasting about her nor am I blinded by admiration. Luna personally trains her Night Guards, she’s a master of over twenty forms of combat, she’s a brilliant tactician, and is the most savage of us all. She may have a liiiiiittle anger-management issue, but an enraged Luna is something to fear. She doesn’t go berserk. Oh no, she’s completely in control and uses her rage as a weapon. Had she been awake during Chrysalis’ invasion attempt, there would’ve been several hundreds of broken drones,” Twilight said with a shiver.

“...you must be joking, Twilight… but I sense no comedic angle in you. I always thought Celestia was the fiercest warrior in Equestria, a Warrior-Queen. How is it possible that Celestia, being the strongest alicorn by your own admission, was surpassed in martial prowess by her sister?” Dainn asked, awestruck and perturbed in equal measure.

“Power is just a word and there are many different types of ‘strength’, Dainn. My magic affinity, power, mind, and capabilities are my strongest assets, not to mention, in my humble opinion, my prodigal scientific mind. Cadance’s power was in empathy, understanding, diplomacy, and mind-weaving. But Celestia’s power came from her rather outlandish capabilities. In magic alone, she was second only to mine - and she knew how to control magic I did not. Her brilliance allowed her to be a master strategist, a manipulator, a chess-master, and her view of perfection was enough to soothe anyone looking at her. Don’t get me wrong, I have no idea what an irate, unleashed Celestia could achieve, but all I know is that she went to great lengths to limit herself every waking moment…,” comprehension landed on both their minds, as if finally speaking out-loud such inquiries had uncovered a secret hidden in plain sight.

“She could’ve ended me at any moment,” Dainn whispered, shaking his head. “But she didn’t… and we all paid the price of my stupidity. That… still doesn’t explain why she fought me on the ground. She had wings. She could’ve… it doesn’t matter now, does it?”

Twilight blushed a little. “Master strategist… not so much a tactician. Besides, Celestia always focused more on healing, defensive, and support magic…”

“Even so, if I could change the past, I would gladly die a warrior’s death - undeserved as it may be for the likes of me - and have Celestia spare those of my people that could be saved and spared than become… this,” he chuckled, his eyes set on empty space. “At least Oksho would’ve approved of such a death: no cowardice, only honor and pride. A death worthy of a true caribou stag. Unlike Anvari, Storm, Ivangri, Vestri… and so many, many more. Cowards. All of them. Then again, here I am. The greatest coward of them all. Gunne, Ginna, Oksho, can you see me? Mock me… mock me and be at peace wherever you are. I will never join you. I do not deserve to meet you again.”

“Dainn…” Twilight muttered, her heart aching at the sight of the broken caribou.

“Think nothing of it, Twilight. Ramblings and stupid ideas, nothing more. Nothing more,” Dainn breathed out, closing his eyes for a moment before turning his attention back to the lavender alicorn.

“...Dainn… since we are speaking about powerful beings. How were you able to tame Discord? The idea alone seems far-fetched. Tirek, the centaur I mentioned, tricked Discord into an alliance and he fell for his trap only because he understood friendship. Did you do something similar? Trick him using friendship?”

The caribou shook his head slowly, blue eyes shimmering and darting around in search of an answer that refused to show itself. “I… do not know, Twilight. My memory is a blank state regarding Discord. All I know is that we met, a deal was struck, and that we met a few times after, but nothing else. No words exchanged, no time spent alongside each other, no interactions, no nothing. I don’t even know what the deal was about or if it was a deal at all. The only thing I am certain about was his position regarding Fluttershy and how protective he was of her. Nothing more. I am sorry.”

“That is… it shouldn’t be possible. Then again, impossible is something Discord uses as a morning punch-line. Do you remember anything besides that? Anything at all? What did he do? Where he lived? Anything?” Dainn shook his head slowly, unable to provide any other answer. “I’m guessing that’s one secret I won’t be able to resolve, then.”

“But there is a secret that you will have in turn. When we attacked- Oh, give me a moment, please,” Dainn stood up and walked away into the darkness, leaving Twilight alone for several minutes until he returned carrying a rusty, worn-out, but still usable hunk of metal that was once a piece of armor. He set it on the table and pushed it to her. “As I was saying, when we attacked, we knew unicorn magic would be a problem. Luckily, or rather… unfortunately, we had this armor. The Nullifier, Storm called it.”

“Let me guess, it nullifies magic?” Twilight scoffed at the ugly piece of metal carved with several intricate-looking runes and symbols.

“It dispersed magic around it. It rendered all but high-level or more magic assaults utterly useless. Cheap to produce, fast to create, easy to maintain or replace. It was… marvelous. And do you see this rune right here?” He tapped on a semi-circle adorned with antlers. “Whenever the armor’s defenses activated, it would imbue the wearer with a spell called ‘Stag’s Heart’, giving them a boost in confidence, morale… and a rush of superiority, making anyone wearing it feel invincible for short periods of time.”

“Yes… yes, I can see it. I know next to nothing about rune crafting, but the basics are there… hmmm, it certainly looks like a perfect anti-magic armor, but I’m seeing a few flaws here and there. All it seems to target is offensive magic, right?” Twilight guessed, her tone mechanical and studious.

“Indeed! Indeed! Go on, try attacking it. The armor still works. Barely, but it works,” he encouraged and Twilight obeyed, shooting a beam of magic at it. As expected, the beam broke apart before it could touch the armor and whatever tendrils did touch it, flew into the armor for a split second, finishing the job and activating the rune he had tapped moments prior. “See?”

“I do. I’m not surprised as to why your invasion was a success as a surprise assault. You basically rendered all unicorn magic useless in one fell swoop,” said the alicorn, praising the hunk of metal for what it was and hating it for what it had been used for.

“And yet, the flaws made themselves known shortly after the invasion began. Defensive spells were still effective, so were illusions, and charming spells. Our armor didn’t react to them at all. Not to mention that we couldn’t mix it with our regular armor or the effects would be lost. Not that it mattered. When I fought Celestia, she shot me with a beam that I thought would do me no harm. It did. The armor weakened her strike, yes, but the ground around me had been reduced to ashes while my fur burned. Unicorns couldn’t use their magic to hit us? No problem, they used telekinesis to throw large boulders at my troops and enchanted puppets, or summon lighting, redirect fire, shoot pressure water… Anvari nearly died when a unicorn mare took the air from his lungs. No attack there.”

Twilight nodded in agreement before grabbing the armor and tossing it aside. She then used her magic to lift a pebble and, in the blink of an eye, shot it at the armor at ludicrous speeds. There was a clang of metal followed by a louder one once the armor hit the ground. Twilight levitated it back to the table only to reveal a small but deadly hole in it.

The caribou snorted. “So much for ‘invincible armor’. Useful, to be sure, but far from invincible. Indirect fire was something we were not used to nor expected to confront. Every caribou death during the invasion now brings me what little joy I can muster these days,” Dainn confessed. “Of course, Ivangri, the scoundrel rat, took the lessons in stride and capitalized them by throwing daggers at unruly ponies, using hostages or turned ponies to lure others out, or bargain for his safety. Fucking coward,” Dainn frowned, his eyes smoldering with bottled anger.

“All it takes is a little outside-the-box thinking to bring something once thought to be infallible down,” Twilight said, a sassy smirk playing on her lips.

“That is an expression my Twilight never made. Hmmm… if only my Celestia would’ve done something like that, instead of playing fair or holding back, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Nothing would make me happier… but here we are.”

Twilight sighed. “Celestia’s greatest weakness is her compassion. She always sees the best in others, believes in second and even third chances, and is motherly, welcoming, and joyful toward everyone. It wouldn’t… no. No, I’m certain she was holding back when she fought you, Dainn. Maybe she saw something in you or in the caribou. Maybe… I don’t know.”

“If she did, she never told me,” Dainn replied, his voice quivering. “Not when we battled, less so when she became a rage-infused beast, and never once the collar was placed around her neck,” he chuckled. “HOW GRAND OUR BATTLE WAS! An easy one-sided confrontation upon which I, King Dainn, had to do was swat away the Alabaster Cunt as easily as deflecting a mosquito. Lies, pure lies and propaganda uttered by Vestri and the rest of my council. I told you, did I not? Oh my, I didn’t! Celestia nearly killed me before I brought her down through trickery and deceit.”

Twilight felt her stomach void, her soul trying to leave her body, and all her senses heard nothing but white noise as she knew the worst part of the tale was about to start. “Tell me… Dainn. Tell me how the Fall of Equestria happened,” she murmured, afraid yet needing to hear his following words.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The sky could hardly be seen amidst the rising pyres of smoke, no birds nor the singing wind could be heard as they were choked behind the sound of battle, screams, and victorious laughter.

It was a day of conquest. It was a day of murder and rape and debauchery. It was the day I proved to be King.

It was the day I sentenced the world and everything in it to die without knowing it.

I was armored in the best suit that could be crafted and provided, fitted to my size perfectly. A warhammer held tightly in my hands, warding runes glowing against the strikes of a desperate, crying alicorn who was fitted with the greatest craftsmanship I’ve ever seen: an armor fit for a goddess, for she was no less than that. Her beauty was smeared by her tears and grief; a beauty so profound that not even Cadance’s could compare to hers. And yet, she attacked, I parried and I was flung to the side again, her massive bastard sword shining a bright light.

“Monster! Please, stop this!” Celestia cried out, begging me to stop. “You can still stop this madness! I’ve seen what you’ve done! What your people have done! Why!? Why did you do it!? What have we ever done to you!?” She asked, charging again and swinging her sword at me.

I dodged and jumped back. She was a million times the warrior I could ever hope to be. How fitting… She was taller than me, stronger, too, and a better warrior. However, she hesitated to strike me down. She showed mercy, compassion, and restraint. I did not. I tried my best to not show how terrified and awestruck I was at the same time before her. My face was a stoic one, barely showing my quickly mounting exhaustion. A little more time, I thought, I just have to buy a little more time.

“Why, you ask? Simple, Celestia. You are undeserving of standing at the top, of ruling the poor stallions that you’ve enslaved under the falsehood that is your matriarchy. I offer them freedom, I offer your mares another path, a proper path. No more suffering, no more doubts, just blissful servitude under the rightful rule of their Masters. I am Dainn, King of the Caribou, and you shall fall before me. You will kneel and bow and beg, you’ll become my pet, my slave, and my toy. Nothing more,” I said the words and the little speech I practiced so thoroughly, borrowing the lessons learned from my mentor and others around me.

“That’s it!? You conquer our land, you enslave my subjects just because you believe you have a divine right to rule!?” Another strike, another dodge. Her grief was making her sloppy, but her anger was mounting, I could see it in her eyes. “Don’t be foolish, Dainn! All you need to do is yield and we will help your kind! They need not suffer whatever drove you to commit such insanity!”

I wanted to surrender. I truly did. I would gladly pay the price, but I couldn’t. Every time I thought about surrendering, it was snuffed out by the thirst and hunger for conquest and subjugation. “The Strong rule, the Weak obey. Do you think not? Defeat me, prove me wrong. But you cannot. A mere cunt cannot defeat a mighty King,” I vomited each rehearsed word masterfully. By long tradition, the King had to face the ruler of every savage tribe we enslaved through combat. I honored that tradition, but only because I could do nothing else. If I died, I would be replaced. If I refused, I would be called a coward and replaced. Victory through battle was my only way to save my people.

Even if it meant dooming another. I would save my people, I would make things better after the conquest. How foolish of me for ever thinking so.

“Yield!” She shouted. “I don’t wish to kill you or your kind! I only wish for peace! We can help you if only you stop this madness, Dainn! Don’t force my hand, I beg you! Stop, surrender, and there may be space for us to--”

“AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” A sudden cry stopped our battle, cutting Celestia’s charge and forcing us to look at what had produced that noise.

I saw them. Ivangri, Storm, Anvari, Vestri, and many more warriors, but Oksho wasn’t there. I also saw many enchanted stallions, many still wearing the Royal Guard armor. And dozens of bound mares, many of them being raped right where they stood.

“Face your glory, Princess Celestia! HAHAHAHAHA!” Anvari cried out. “Our blood is strong, stronger than your pathetic pony blood!” Everyone, even the stallion, laughed in unison.

“They have seen the light of Male Superiority and even now, as we speak, droves of cuntish sluts are bowing before their new masters,” Storm declared, pulling out four large crystals from his pouches. “Come and join them, Princess of Cunts.”

I frowned and took a step forth, almost breaking my stoic facade. “You idiots, what do you think you’re doing? This is my fight, I am your King, it is my duty and honor to defeat her!” I shouted, fury blazing within me. Sure, I was waiting for the right moment to subdue Celestia with the ring I had with me, but I was trying to honor our traditions.

It never occurred to me that my own council would come and interfere, showing they had no faith in me whatsoever.

Ivangri, warhammer in hand, charged at the stunned Celestia, ready to claim her as his trophy. I moved to stop him when Celestia suddenly burst into flames. Her sword no longer irradiated light, now it was spewing flames hotter than magma. Her mane and tail became fire columns, her teeth became fangs, her eyes one magenta turned orange and shone with fiery rage. She even looked bigger, stronger, deadlier.

With a swing of her sword, she cut Ivangri’s warhammer in half alongside a deep, burning slice across his abdomen, chest, and right shoulder. He fell to the ground, crying in pain, as Storm threw the crystals at Celestia. The enraged alicorn swung her sword again, shattering the crystals but releasing their corrupting influence, hitting her in full.

I took my chance and charged at her, hoping to use her unease and distraction to my advantage. She turned to me, looking at me with the deepest, purest hatred I had ever seen to that day, and then opened her mouth to release a thick fiery beam of energy that engulfed me for a few moments. When the stream died out, I was still alive but she dropped to a knee, faltering. My armor saved my life, just barely. The ground around me was only ash and the leather on my armor was starting to burn.

I ignored the flames and jumped on Celestia. I burned my hands in the process, but I managed to ring her horn, cutting her from her magic. The fire stopped and she returned to her original form. I wasted no time and slapped a black collar around her neck, claiming her as my trophy even as she slumped to the ground, fighting against the enchantment, that vile corruption with all her strength.

I looked up to a stunned crowd, more had arrived to witness my victory, including Oksho and Gunne. The ponies that weren’t turned looked at their bested Princess with horror. My subjects were smiling, the turned were ecstatic, but Oksho and Gunne were neither. They were, in their own ways, disapproving of my actions.

“You… are defeated,” I breathed out, looking down at Celestia. Regret gripped my heart instantly, but it was soon replaced by the thrill of victory and the intoxicating sensation of superiority. I had won. I had conquered the Sun. And I liked it. I loved it.

“T-That may be so… but there are others who are not. They will fight… they will resist… and--and they will defeat you, monster,” she rasped her words. I could see in her eyes the enchantment at work, trying to make her docile, submissive, and obedient.

“Who else is there to fight? Discord joined us. Three of the Element Bearers have been captured and are in custody as we speak. Cadance and Shining Armor joined us willingly and your sister is in chains. Twilight Sparkle remains free, but she shall fall in due time. You have lost, Celestia. Equestria has fallen to the mighty Caribou,” I said, smiling, enjoying her terror and sorrow.

I then press my right dew-claw on her head, forcing her to the ground as I raise my warhammer to the sky in victory. I said nothing. I couldn’t say anything. I even lost my smile just to further impose the vision of a stoic King.

“All hail King Dainn, the true ruler of Equestria!” Vestri shouted.

Then the cheering and screaming began, mixing together. My name was called, chanted, praised. I had achieved victory for my people. Their survival assured.

And yet… their survival was the last thing on my mind as I heard Celestia whimpering. My victory was absolute.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Silence fell between them once more for what felt like an eternity until Dainn spoke up. “You… aren’t going to strike me again?”

“I can’t,” Twilight answered, her eyes free of tears. “It hurts… It hurts so much but I can’t cry. I’m… I’m more relieved that your kind doesn’t exist in my dimension. I’m not even angry at you anymore… I am so hollow right now,” she sighed, shaking her head. “I… I have to leave soon. I’ll come back tomorrow or the day after that but… before I leave, I have to ask, was that really Celestia?” She leaned forward. “I’ve seen her angry, annoyed, displeased, and disapproving plenty of times before, but never like… like that. Celestia actually trying to kill somepony, no matter how wretched they are? I can’t fathom it.”

“I can, for I have seen it. Pray, Twilight, that you never get to see Daybreaker in the flesh,” he said.

“Daybreaker? I don’t know who that-- wait, that’s what you called that form of hers!?” Twilight asked, insulted.

“No. Celestia named it herself. You didn’t know that?” Dainn asked softly, calmly.

Twilight shook her head and stared into the eyes of the caribou for a moment, piercing into him and her throat hitched. She could see a terrible anguish lingering behind his blue, icy eyes just waiting to be unleashed. She stood up in a hurry and Dainn followed suit.

A sudden clang caught their attention and they both looked down to see a beautiful almost transparent golden necklace, handcrafted to flawless intricate beauty adorned with seven different gems. A pearl, a peridot, a pink diamond, an aquamarine, a sapphire, and two very rare Sunstones. All of them perfectly aligned around the necklace, reflecting the colors of Celestia’s mane, her coat, and her nature as the Princess of the Sun.

“I was wondering when you’d show up,” Dainn whispered, shakily.

Twilight, jaw agape, reached for the necklace and took it without Dainn’s permission or refusal. “W-What is this? It’s… it’s beautiful, Dainn.”

“It’s something I’d rather forget about,” he replied, his voice barely above a whisper. “I… made that necklace for Celestia after she turned into a red collar; an obedient, willing, submissive slave. It was a gift for her being a good pet,” he stopped for a moment, flopping back to his seat, his eyes never leaving the necklace. “Every time I think strongly about Celestia it… it just shows up, as if it has a mind of its own. I’ve tried everything to dispose of it except outright destroying it. It always comes back to me.”

“B-But why did you--”

“Because I tried to take examples from others more worthy than I. Oksho often crafted gifts for his pets and I wanted to do the same. Fitting for someone as he. He was one of the few that never wore anti-magic armor, calling it a source of weakness and wishing to have a real fight, a challenge, rather than rely on underhanded advantages,” he sighed, again, echoing throughout the entire room. “I never got the chance to give it to her. Never got the chance to… it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Twilight gulped, clutching the necklace a little tighter. “Can I… take it home with me? I’d like to show it to my Celestia and see what she thinks of it.”

Dainn shrugged. “Take it. Maybe it wants to go with you? I don’t really care… not anymore,” he choked on air before whispering. “Just… promise me you’ll bring it back? I…”

“Of course. Don’t worry, I’ll return with the necklace. I must go now, Dainn,” spreading her wings, she took flight, leaving a motionless, silent Dainn behind. She flew out of the castle and into the basement where the portal mirror waited for her. Just as she was about to walk through it, she heard it.

A soul-crushing, hauntingly void howl of pure anguish, remorse, hatred, sadness, and sorrow resonated throughout the land, impossibly chilling her very soul to her core. The very wind seemed to simultaneously go silent and carry out the howl of despair everywhere at the same time. A howl that originated from the throne room of Canterlot’s castle and that, as Twilight stepped through the mirror, she could hear an equally haunting howl belonging to that dimension’s Celestia.

Sleep would not come easily to her that night. If at all.

Chapter 13: Truth Unfolded

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Twilight sat on her throne, surrounded by her friends, the Princesses, her brother, and even Sunset Shimmer, who knew the potential threat of these ‘caribou’ was something she couldn’t overlook for the sake of her new home. The lavender alicorn sighed deeply, heavily, unable to stop trembling gently as she gathered enough strength to speak once more.

As expected, the more sensible among her friends were crying wrecks, Pinkie’s mane and tail were deflated, Fluttershy was being hugged by Luna, softly crying into her coat, while the rest looked puzzled, disgusted, furious, and bewildered at the same time.

“T-That’s all I could endure. I’m sorry… I knew from the start I wouldn’t like what he had to tell me but I had to know… for our sake,” Twilight said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“What are you apologizing for, Twilight?” Said Sunset, eyes narrowed angrily. “If I were in your shoes, I would’ve pummeled that fucking asshole until my hands broke. Seriously, he admits fucking up so much and now cries about it? Fuck him and his kind. He doesn’t deserve our pity.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple, my dear Sunset,” Celestia replied. “I can’t see the actions of Dainn as anything less than those of a conquering despot, a slaver, and a mad stallion. He acted as a tyrant through and through, and yet… it is clear that he was being directed, manipulated, and his goals altered oh so subtly from the very start. Trust me, he is not blameless, and I believe his fate is well deserved, but I know corruption when I see it and he… was thoroughly corrupted. By what? I cannot say. But this Dainn Twilight met and talks with is not the same Dainn that conquered that Equestria.”

“It still isn’t right!” Sunset protested. “He got what was coming to him, he practically shat on the Spirit of Harmony, TWICE, and now he feels bad about it. Cry me a fucking river. He doesn’t deserve any pity or a chance of redemption.”

“Who says he wants either?” Starlight interjected. “I nearly doomed us all. His Equestria is eerily similar to…,” she glanced at Twilight, both sharing a quick shudder along with Spike, “to something I’d rather forget. I got a second chance even though I deserved none. He… Dainn doesn’t sound like he wants to redeem himself. He hates himself and hates what he’s done and hates what he has to endure. He embraces his sentence as much as he hates it… it’s hard not to feel pity for him.”

“Not to mention his corruption. His goal to save his people was noble and his initial outlook was, in my opinion, exactly what his people needed. A change from the lifestyle and traditions that doomed them in the first place. That collective mentality of “the Strong Rule, the Weak Obey” only worked to their detriment,” Cadance added, reaching a hoof that her husband took. A coy smile spread on her lips before continuing. “If anything, I was the one that failed.”

Shining Armor scoffed. “I could’ve sworn I was going to be the one getting corrupted first… I wish that was the case, Caddy.”

Cadance shook her head. “No. The fault is -or rather, was- that Cadance’s alone to burden. If we are so similar, or worse, weaker than those versions of us, then it is our responsibility to grow stronger and stop being so complacent. It seems I’ll need to focus on my mental fortitude, doesn’t it?”

“As we all, my love,” Shining Armor agreed, nuzzling his wife. “I still recoil at the thought of the time Chrysalis had me under her hoof. We need to get stronger, be better, and stop relying on my little sister to save the day,” he half-joked, but no one present was in the mood to laugh. “Serious time now, though. I am impressed by that caribou, Oksho--”

“You are impressed by a rapist that collects mares as trophies?” Asked Rainbow Dash, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m impressed by his warrior spirit and level-headedness. His culture was different than ours and abhorrent, no questions asked. But he clearly understood what honor was and his mind wasn’t filled with hatred, just… misguided concepts. Didn’t you hear his warnings and the way he carried himself? Few soldiers can boast to have such conviction.”

“On that, we agree, my dear nephew-in-law,” Luna added, nodding. “Some say honor is worthless, but honor and duty can mold someone into an extraordinary creature. This Oksho was one of those few: first scene as a brutish beast, then revealed to be an honorable warrior and, dare say I, a voice of reason that Dainn sorely lacked.”

“He sure as Tartarus would’ve made a better right-hand companion than that bastard, Ivangri, or the depraved Vestri. Such a shame Dainn lacked the conviction to sit him at his side,” Shining Armor added, frowning. “Besides, I must agree with you, Celestia. Dainn had every card stacked against him. Starting with his mentor, Svarndagr, molding him into a stag unable to stand up for himself or put his hoof down. His view of himself, that of being more female than male, according to his own views, was spot on. Doesn’t excuse him… but it makes it clear he didn’t have the spine to be a ruler or even to hold command of anything at all. The only thing his mentor was right about was his warning regarding traitors… and I feel we are going to be seeing plenty more examples in the future.”

“It doesn’t help that he had venomous snakes among his council,” Twilight spat, angrier at the council than at Dainn. Then, she blinked. “Shining, did you check what I asked for?”

“I did. I personally reviewed every guard in every branch, but couldn’t find anypony by the name of Orestes. That doesn’t even sound like a pony name. Not here, anyways,” he frowned, going deep into thought. “I’ll have to check, just in case, the mental stability of our officers…”

“Don’t you think we are being a bit too paranoid about a pony that probably doesn’t even exist in our world?” Rarity asked, cleaning her mascara. “I mean, the caribou thankfully do not exist here. Why should this Orestes pony do so?”

“Perhaps. But wouldn’t you feel better confirming that we’re safe from such a threat rather than being lax about it?” Shining countered and everyone was silent, knowing he was speaking the truth.

“I still don’t like it,” Sunset Shimmer protested, although less loudly than before. “But… at least that fuckward is taking responsibility for his actions despite wanting to die so badly,” she shuddered. “I fucked up pretty badly myself, I admit, but what I did was like a kindergarten prank compared to what he did.”

“Your vocabulary is certainly… expressive, Sunset,” Celestia commented, offering a nervous smile.

“Human vocabulary is quite expressive… and contagious. It feels so good to curse like they do when the situation merits it,” Twilight interjected.

Nodding, Sunset leaned back on her sofa and hummed. “ ‘A weak ruler is an easily controlled puppet’, or something like that. Human history is bloody, let me tell you, and they have a quote for everything. I think that one fits Dainn’s situation perfectly. He was a pathetic, weak, easily-manipulatable fool of a king. Reminds me a lot of Korean emperors, actually,” at the puzzled expressions of all but Twilight, she waved a hoof around. “Human thing, don’t worry about it.”

“I’m more concerned about his immortality,” Fluttershy finally spoke, sniffing. “The p-poor dear… I cannot imagine his suffering, having to live every day in a dead world with nothing to keep him company, unable to die, unable to leave…”

A sudden, somber shadow fell upon everyone and all eyes turned to the four present immortals in the room. Luna coughed after several seconds of icy silence. “Dainn… he speaks the truth. Immortality is both a blessing and a curse.”

“I must admit I… never considered the darker implications of immortality. I’ve always steeled myself even when my friends passed away, but the knowledge that they were in a better place, at peace, and content always soothed my heart. I’ve lived for over four thousand years, so has Luna, and not once have I ever considered if I would find myself in such a situation.”

“Nothing lasts forever, not even friendship as far as we know. But an immortal? Where is the line drawn for one such as us?” Luna muttered. “Will we die one day after untold ages pass in solitude and pain? Or shall we simply die as mortals do, still surrounded by those we cherish?”

“When mortals ask questions about their existence they ask us, but who do we turn to when we have such questions?” Twilight asked, sighing. “Dragons… dragons live forever… but they can be killed, they can die,” she looked at Spike, who in turn looked up to her, smiling. “What about us? Can we… can we give up our immortality once the pain of losing so many friends, family, and loved ones becomes overwhelming, do we become unfeeling, uncaring jaded beings just to cope with the pain, or do we end up like Dainn?”

“...Immortality sure as heck sounds less appealing when you put it like that,” Applejack commented. “I’d like to stick around for a long time, but to live forever? Nah, I don’t want that.”

“Live your life to the fullest! The time you enjoyed wasting ain’t no time wasted at all! That’s what my dad always says. I think… I think I really understand him now,” Rainbow said, smiling softly.

Cadance said nothing, only stared at Shining Armor for long moments, flashes of their life so far passing in front of her eyes and how their love took the form of their precious Flurry Heart. “Even… even if I live forever, I’d still have Flurry Heart with me. But I don’t want to lose you, Shining. I love you, with all my heart. I don’t want another husband.”

“Caddy… I… I don’t know what to say,” Shining replied before smooching his wife’s cheek lovingly.

“I do,” Cadance turned to face Celestia with a quizzical look in her eyes. “Auntie… no, Celestia. Mare to mare, alicorn to alicorn, tell me, are all alicorns truly meant to be only mares? Because if it is, then that’s incredibly sexist, don’t you think? Shining Armor would make an excellent alicorn prince! Even Dainn -this current Dainn- vouched for his capabilities, which, I might add, are plentiful and numerous!” She protested, not noticing she made her husband blush from all the praise he got.

Celestia and Luna stared at each other a few seconds, then turned to their niece. “We… don’t know, actually. It is as Twilight explained to Dainn. I don’t control the process, I just oversee that the transformation goes smoothly, such as was in your case, Cadance. There have been candidates, stallion candidates, that is, that we saw the potential to achieve ascension but none reached it. Not even Starswill the Bearded. I’m sorry, that is the best explanation I can grant you.”

“We have theorized that every pony has a spark of ascension within them, some shine more than others, but to set such a spark ablaze elude us. Before Nightmare Moon took over me, we failed to see any pony ascend. Not even ponies such as Amore, Sombra -although he found other ways to… achieve great powers-, our teacher, Starswill, and countless others. Celestia’s program of ‘Faithful Students’ was no more than a list of exceptionally talented young ponies who, hopefully, could ascend in the future. Sunset Shimmer was a worthy candidate, for example, but it wasn’t until you ascended, Cadance, that we saw the first ascension since our births. Then came Twilight Sparkle and then Flurry Heart,” Luna continued, filling in the blanks.

“Even now, we see that potential in Shining Armor, yes, and also in Starlight Glimmer. But out of thousands of candidates, only two have truly achieved it,” Celestia concluded, sighing at the end. “You can see how our knowledge on such a field is… incomplete, to say the least.”

“Then that does it,” Shining replied, grinning widely. “I’ll find a way to ascend. I’ll become an alicorn and I won’t leave my beautiful wife alone, not my darling daughter.”

“Uhmmm, question?” Pinkie Pie, her mood more or less restored, asked while Cadance blushed madly and nuzzled her husband as if her life depended on it. “Why you don’t have foals?” She asked, pointing at the royal sisters. “Come on, start making baby alicorns!”

Blushing, Luna looked away, ashamed, while Celestia covered her face behind her mane. “I… uhhh… I’ve tried. No luck so far.”

“...I’m too busy for romance, I can’t leave my little ponies defenseless. My job requires all of my time, and, ehem… t-that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried, mind you,” Celestia replied, blushing brighter than a shiny apple.

“Defenseless my flank!” Luna protested, scoffing. “What are you going to protect them against? A monster made out of cake? Because that’s the only foe I’ve seen you defeat at every meal! ‘I thought she was a warrior queen’ HA! I say, HA!” Turning to everyone else with a shit-eating grin, she continued. “Did you know she’s deadly afraid of chickens?”

“It can’t be worse than being scared by ladybugs and snakes,” Spike commented sarcastically, but Twilight didn’t react while the rest of the ponies present fought to not laugh at the expense of the two princesses.

“H-Have you seen their eyes!? There’s only murder behind those black marvels, I tell you!” Celestia protested, blushing in embarrassment. “And you know well enough that I don’t like fighting! I haven’t picked up my sword in over six centuries!”

“HA! It shows! Your flank has expanded at least three times its size before Nightmare Moon was banished! Do you even work out anymore, Celestia? Or are you too busy trying to see if you can choke on cake?” Flaunting her mane, she stood up to showcase her pristine figure. With a flex of her wings and haunches, her muscles were clear to see: perfectly shaped and molded over countless hours of routine and exercise. “Behold mine body, a temple of fitness and health! I battle with my axe and blades, mine sister battles with her knife and fork!”

Smirking, Shining turned his gaze toward his wife with a knowing look and wriggling eyebrows.

Cadance frowned and put a hoof over his lips. “Don’t you dare!”

“Daaaare what, my flabby, wobbly pudding pie?” Shining asked innocently while he flexed his sculpted, muscular frame. “You’re not feeling… self-conscious, right? Not after skipping your workout session for another cheat snack, riiiight?”

Cadance’s eyes grew wide in horror. “Y-You knew?”

“Baby, please, who do you think runs the logistics in the castle? I know it aaaaaaaall,” Shining teased, further embarrassing his wife.

“I don’t even need a workout routine! My day-to-day is filled with enough work to make up for it!” Celestia countered, slamming her forehooves on the table in indignation. “Unlike you, I’m not addicted to unnecessary training just to--”

“Unnecessary?” Twilight asked all of a sudden, the dryness of her voice cutting through the jovial atmosphere like a hot knife through butter. “Did you say unnecessary, Princess Celestia? Funny,” looking up, her eyes were filled with what could only be described as a shattered faith, “because I think you, of all ponies, could use plenty of training.”

“Twilight!” Rarity and Fluttershy gasped while Applejack whistled, Rainbow chuckled, and the rest looked at her with gawking expressions.

“Oh, you don’t believe me? Tell me, Celestia, when was the last time you actually defended Equestria on your own, hmm? When was the last fucking time you got off your fat ass and actually acted like the shining beacon of protection I always saw you as?” She scoffed again amidst the deafening silence around her. “At least Dainn was spot on in one thing: we alicorns are pathetic. What good use is our immortality, our powers, if we can be so easily defeated or taken out of the picture?”

“N-Now Twilight, I think that’s quite eno--” Luna tried to interject, but a magical flare from the irate alicorn silenced her.

“And YOU, Luna, what good is all that boasting when you can be so easily fooled and overpowered? Where is your prowess? Where is your power? I felt it. I wielded it. Why did you hold back, Celestia!? You could’ve ended Chrysalis if you wanted to! Was it all an act!? A part of your master plan to make me ascend!? Did you gamble with our lives and that of Equestria!?”

“Twilight, please, it’s not like th-”

“THEN EXPLAIN, DAMN YOU! Explain to me how the most powerful being on the fucking planet right under Discord can be so easily defeated!? Nightmare Moon I can understand, Discord, sure. But Chrysalis!? Trusting Discord instead of taking Tirek out yourself? Sombra!? You… You have been negligent at best and incompetent at worst, Celestia! For fucks sake, Tempest, a mere unicorn with a broken horn bested you! She almost bested all of us! And why!? Because we took our eyes off her! She taught me that lesson, to never take your eyes off your enemy, no matter who they may be.”

“Twilight--”

“NO! FUCK HER! We’ve been lucky all these years! She--- She should’ve done more! Shown she has the right to be a Princess! All of us! We don’t deserve our status or power! Friendship… friendship has saved us, yes, but we always relied on it… just like Dainn and the caribou relied on their enchantment to win every single fucking time! We should be better, we must do better! Become better! Always praise and live by the teachings of Harmony and Friendship, but stop relying on their power to always come up on top! What’s next? A sociopathic foal with a god complex eradicating all magic from Equestria? At this rate, I fear that’s exactly what’s going to happen!”

Panting heavily and glaring at her former teacher, who wore an expression of pure hurt and shame, she pointed an accusatory hoof at her. “Where. Were. You?”

“I… I have no excuse,” Celestia replied after a silence that seemed to extend for several hours sunk into the room. “It is only now, when facing our… no, MY shortcomings that I now realize I’ve failed as a Princess and as a protector of the realm. What good does power do if we don’t have the will to use it in the defense of those closest to us?” Closing her eyes for a moment, she continued. “I think… I think this is the reason why that Equestria fell. They were as complacent, inept, and weak as we are now. Was it any surprise that Dainn and his people, a strong and battle-hardened people with the will to fight for their ideals, twisted as they were, proved victorious over a weak-willed people?”

“The Strong Rule… the Weak Obey,” Cadance enunciated. “But in their case, who was truly strong? The caribou… or their damnable enchantment? The… Sickness, Dark Taint, or whatever other name Dainn gave it?”

“As we are complacent in the power of Friendship and Harmony, they were complacent in their enchantment,” Luna added, sighing deeply. “We’ve become weak and reliant on a power not rightfully our own. It is just as Oksho warned Dainn. Are we truly wiser than him? I believe we are not.”

Celestia opened her eyes, tears flowing down her cheeks. “I… I apologize, Twilight. I failed you, my ponies, my sister… everypony. I failed everypony. I… I should’ve--”

*Clang*

The echoing sound shut every other sound and all eyes moved to the source of the noise. Everypony present saw a beautifully crafted necklace bouncing mid-air, spinning as it did, before landing on the table once more only for it to slowly begin rolling, swaying from side to side; nearly toppling over several times but always turning to the side to continue rolling almost as if moved by an invisible hand.

Everyone watched it with wide-open eyes, unable to blink in fear of missing any detail of its trajectory. The necklace rolled slowly, simulating a wounded animal or creature desperately trying to crawl to safety. Then, it suddenly stopped when it finally hit a white wall. Celestia’s right forehoof. It shone and for just a fraction of a second, it glowed and shimmered intensely, tempting everyone watching it to pick it up.

Twilight was the first to blink, then, slow enough to hear her spine creak, she turned to her left and looked down to her saddle bag… her open saddle bag… the same saddle bag she clearly remembered closing and securing. The same saddle bag she had placed the necklace in for safekeeping. Returning her attention to the necklace, she finally found the strength to speak once more. “...h-he wasn’t kidding. It really seems to have a mind of its own. H-How did it…”

“It’s… it’s gorgeous,” Celestia muttered, her tears stopped as she admired the beautiful necklace. “Dear goodness, it’s the most beautiful necklace I’ve ever seen in my life. Is this… is this the necklace you mentioned, Twilight?”

“T-That’s the one. I was waiting for a better moment to show it myself but… I think it decided to show itself. But how? It’s not a magical artifact… it shouldn’t be possible and yet… it happened right in front of my eyes,” Twilight replied, her anger diminished and then forgotten. “P-Princess Celestia… I’m terribly sorry for what I--”

“No. Do not apologize for speaking the truth, Twilight. My most Faithful Student. It seems the student has taught the teacher a most valuable lesson. To all of us,” Celestia praised, struggling to take her eyes off the stunningly beautiful necklace. “It’s… breathtaking, Twilight.”

“May I see it closer?” Cadance asked, reaching for it with a hoof. With a nod from Celestia and Twilight, she grabbed it and examined it closely. A few seconds later, a gasp escaped her lips. “Oh my… Twilight, did you say that Dainn made it as a reward for his Celestia being a good, obedient pet?” The alicorn nodded. “That is the fattest and biggest pile of bullshit, excuse my language, I’ve ever heard in my entire life,” using her magic, she levitated it to the middle of the table, so that everyone could see it clearly.

“Twilight, I’m the Princess of Love and it only took me mere seconds to see through it. This heartfelt gift doesn’t whisper affection or praise. It screams I LOVE YOU to the four winds and beyond. Twilight,” she turned to her sister-in-law, blushing, in tears, and with a mix of pain, regret, and hurt reflected in her eyes, “Dainn… Dainn loved that dimension’s Celestia with all his heart and tried to express it in any way he could. He fell in love with her. Hard. Deeply. Sincerely. I… I don’t know what to say other than the truth.”

“You have got to be joking,” Sunset mumbled, unable to believe what she was hearing.

“Fantastic! Just what this already sad tale needed: a tragic love story!” Rarity cried out.

“Is it really? That Celestia was either corrupted or turned into a slave… I don’t know how love could be possible under their circumstances,” Applejack countered. “I say that ain’t nothing more than a big pile of manure… but if Cadance says its love, then its love. That’s the honest truth. Tartarus, I can see it on the dang thing myself.”

“Well, the tyrant Dainn certainly has his heart telling us otherwise. I can feel and see how much love he poured into it. It's like a weaponsmith pouring their heart and soul into their greatest weapon when crafting it. There’s no difference here. This was crafted with so much love that it outshines the gold and the gems it was crafted with,” Cadance said, praising the necklace. “Sweetness. So much sweetness and joy. I can only imagine what he went through or how many times he tried to achieve this goal. This isn’t the result you achieve easily.”

“I’ll ask him when I see him again,” Twilight promised as she noticed Celestia was unable to keep her eyes away from it. “Celestia?”

“...Twilight, this may be unbecoming of me but, do you think that, perhaps… may I try it?” Celestia asked softly, fearing to receive an answer. It wasn’t a command nor a veiled request, but a heartfelt soliciting permission.

“I… guess? But you can’t keep it. He implored me to take it back and I plan on delivering that promise,” Twilight replied as the aura around the necklace shifted from baby blue to golden. She watched with a sinking feeling of trepidation as Celestia removed her usual torc, revealing her pristine white neck. Then, slowly, she put on the ornate, shining necklace.

When the final clasp echoed in the silent room, Celestia gasped audibly and fresh tears fell from her eyes. The necklace itself fit her neck a bit awkwardly, since it was obviously not meant to be worn by pony physiognomy, but that didn’t take away from just how utterly perfect she looked with it. Which made it all that more confusing as to why she was crying.

Luna gasped, wings expanding, body trembling, and voice shaking with dread. “O-Oh no… sister… please tell me you aren’t--”

“N-No,” Celestia replied, further confusing everyone else. “I can feel it. By Harmony’s sake, I can feel it so clearly,” she said, wrapping her wings around herself at the same time. “I can hear it. The distant whispers and the cold touch of a long-lost spirit embracing me. Dainn… poured his heart and soul into this necklace. I can feel it oh so clearly. A sad, lonely, pained soul longing for acceptance, love, and companionship. I--” she tried to continue, but she couldn’t. Words rasped at her throat as an immense sadness enveloped her. The sadness of unrequited love, guilt, and redemption not meant to be achieved.

“That’s quite enough, I believe,” Luna said, reaching out for Celestia’s neck. The alabaster alicorn removed her wings, revealing the necklace in full. She wouldn’t fight to keep it, that much was obvious and Luna was thankful he sister remained herself. “I was afraid you developed romantic feelings towards Dainn, sister. Now, give me the--what the?” Luna blinked, confused when she tugged at the necklace and it gingerly slipped from her hoof, as if she hadn’t grasped it all. She reached for it again, this time putting more effort into it, but the same thing happened. “Celestia…”

“I-I’m not doing anything, I swear,” Celestia replied, also surprised by Luna’s inability to grab hold of the necklace.

“Let me try,” Twilight said and her horn began to glow. A lavender aura appeared around the collar… only for it to break apart a second later without explanation. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me. It’s not even anti-magical,” Twilight muttered, eyeing the necklace with increasing worry.

“It doesn’t want to let go,” Shining Armor quipped. “Would you let go of the thing you cherished more than anything easily? If you could have your library back, Twily, would you be willing to give it up without fighting back?” Silence returned for a moment before he chuckled. “You said it seemed like the necklace had a mind of its own? I believe that’s the case… like an artifact yet at the same time it isn’t. Curious. Quite curious is it not?”

“It really was meant to be for Celestia,” Rarity said, getting up and walking behind the white princess. Try as she may, she couldn’t undo the simple clasp holding it together. A sad yet loving smile spread across her lips as she stop trying to remove it only for Luna to keep trying to remove it by force; unable to even grasp it for more than a second before it magically slipped out of her hooves. “I’m afraid it won’t come off easily now that it is where it’s meant to be. Gems are beautiful yet capricious. And such a gift? Even more so.”

Cadance choked for a moment, unable to contain herself any longer. “I… I believe Dainn made that necklace and unknowingly put the last shreds of his uncorrupted soul into it,” she said, also in tears at the tragedy of the situation finally dawned upon the entire group. “Look at it. The necklace is shining so brightly, so warmly. It belongs to you, auntie.”

Celestia remained silent before pushing her sister away and considered her niece’s words for a few moments… then, gently and carefully, fearing that she would harm it in any way, she reached behind her neck with her hooves and with a simple metallic cling and a shift, the necklace’s hold was easily undone. Her horn came to life, surrounding the necklace before levitating it back to Twilight’s care. The alicorn nearly collapsed forward, worrying everyone. “I-I can feel it reaching to me still, a warm yet cold embrace longing to never let go; just like a child unwilling to let go of its mother’s warmth and loving care.”

Shaking her head, she remained resolute. “As beautiful as it is… as much as I want to keep it for myself… despite how much it hurts to give it back… t-t-this gift doesn’t belong to me. It was made not for me, but for that dimension’s Celestia. I’m so sorry, beautiful heartfelt gift, but I hold no claim over you, nor you should settle for another not your original rightful owner.”

As she placed the necklace on Twilight's outstretched hooves, it visibly dimmed, losing instantly the ethereal sheen it had been displaying since it touched Celestia. Even the gold and gems, always radiant and beautiful, reflected hurt and sadness. Celestia had to look away in pain while Cadance was barely able to form words as Twilight placed it into her saddlebag once more.

“I can hear it… it’s crying. Rejected. Lonely. Longing. And yet… understanding. It really does contain Dainn’s true feelings; the last pure fragments of his heart and soul,” unable to keep going, she launched herself at her husband’s embrace, crying bitterly against his chest.

After several long minutes of icy silence, Sunset broke it once the crying died down and everyone regained their composure. “Alright… that necklace just shat all over everything I thought about Dainn. Jesus Christ, what in the world did that guy have to go through?”

“Changed your mind about his fate and punishment?” Shining asked softly while caressing his wife’s mane.

“Hell no. He was a spineless bastard through and through and got what he very well deserved… but now I can’t say he was purely evil. No one capable of making something like that is entirely evil so… fuck, so why can’t things be more white and black? I suck at dealing with shades of gray…,” Sunset sighed, crossing her forelegs.

“L-Let’s focus on the biggest dilemma at hoof, shall we? Namely speaking, our own weakness and shortcomings,” Celestia began, leaning forth taking the initiative. “We have to grow stronger on our own merits. Sharpen our talents, and our strengths and make up for our weaknesses by getting better at them.”

“I have to agree, auntie,” Cadance followed suit, frowning and taking off her tiara. “Our subjects trust us with their safety and lives. Their praise and love us. We must do better and go beyond our own expectations,” setting her tiara down on the table, she looked everyone in the eye with absolute resolution. “We must be more than a symbol. We have to act the part and earn our status.”

“Now I feel like a complete fool for badmouthing Blueblood,” Luna sighed. “He may be pampered and stubborn, but he keeps the nobles in check and tends to his duties with exemplary diligence. I believe I owe him an apology.”

“He’s really a sweet stallion once you get to know him, Princess Luna. Trust me, I should know. After our little fiasco, we became great friends in no small part thanks to Fancy Pants,” Rarity chimed in.

“Does that mean that we have to become stronger, too? I-I don’t like hurting others,” Fluttershy asked with a crestfallen expression.

“Not all of us are fit for combat, but we can become stronger in our own ways, Fluttershy. Your kindness and steadfast nature are your strengths. I think that among us, you are the strongest even if you don’t accept it,” Rainbow said, hugging her foalhood friend close.

“Rainbow being humble and not taking the spotlight? When is Tirek coming back? Or are we getting invaded by Windigoes this time?” Applejack joked, earning a few chuckles from everyone, even the cyan pegasus.

“Then it is settled. We won’t change overnight, but we’ve taken the first step in the right direction. Is there anything more that you’d wish to share with us regarding your visit, Twilight?” Celestia asked, unable to let her eyes drift towards the saddlebag every now and again for a split second.

“...now that I think about it, yes. Before I share with you something I heard before returning, I want you to go through a mental exercise,” her horn glowed and several sheets of paper and pencils floated onto the table. “I want you to draw how you imagine Dainn looks like. No, not the young one but rather the Dainn I’m speaking with. The real one. When you’re done, return it to me face down.”

Everyone nodded, not understanding why Twilight wanted to go through her experiment but humoring her anyways. After five minutes of scribbling and drawing, one by one began to return their pieces until, in the end, Luna was the last to give it.

“Alright! Let’s see what we have here. First is Rainbow Dash,” turning over the drawing, the mess of scribbles was hardly a work of art but it sufficed enough for her to groan. “Rainbow, I told you to draw the real Dainn, not your vision of the young one. And this isn’t even him, this is his mentor, Svarndagr,” she said, showing a muscular, robbed, but creepy-looking caribou that would tower even above Celestia.

“Wait, really? Huh… I may have mixed them up?”

“Goes to show that most dimwits would easily confuse one for the other, huh?” Rarity deadpanned.

“...did you just call me stupid?” Rainbow asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Moi? No, no, no, darling. I’m just saying that you are a foremost example of those with lacking mental capabilities regarding the fields of memorization and differentiation,” Rarity replied with a grin.

“Oh! Cool! I guess? Huh… I kinda feel praised and insulted at the same time, though…”

Twilight sighed, shaking her head. “Next is Fluttershy’s. Oh? Hmmm, I think this is acceptable though he looks more like a ghost here,” Fluttershy only blushed in response and Twilight turned the next sheet over. “Shining, you are… how should put it? Close yet wrong. He still looks like a warrior. Something he never was.”

“Dang it.”

“Next one… Luna’s. Same problem as Shining’s depiction and you made him a lot taller. Rarity, you certainly gave him too much credit, he looks very alive. Pinkie Pie… you only draw a robe with eyes?” The pink mare shrugged. “Sunset--oh, what the hell is this?” She said, showing a drawing that belonged more to a nightmare than reality. Jagged, protruding fangs, giant, deformed antlers, mouths gaping within the robe, multiple arms grafted on his back, and lifeless eyes. Everyone shuddered and turned to stare at Sunset for long moments.

“...I’ve been playing a lot of horror games as of late,” was her only excuse as Twilight sighed.

Turning the next sheet over, Twilight stared at her sister-in-law unamused. “Cadance, I think you’re giving Dainn too much credit here,” she said, turning over the sheet to show an old-looking guy but one that could still be considered handsome. “Starlight, you’re actually… the closest so far but he just looks like a frail old stallion. Applejack’s is… uhmmm… why does he look like a scarecrow?” The apple farmer merely shrugged. “Spike, wow, that’s pretty good, actually, but still too big and way too thin, he looks like a twig, no offense. Finally… Celestia’s drawing,” flipping over the last sheet, her depiction of Dainn was similar to Starlight’s, but her drawing transmitted a sense of loneliness that the real Dainn always exuded. “Not bad but not quite there either. You captured some of the aura he gives out, though,” she praised before exhaling a long, tired breath.

“Wow… either I’ve been doing a bad job describing him or it’s harder to draw him than I thought,” a tug at her side made her turn to Spike, giving her a blank piece of paper and a pencil.

“Why don’t you show us what he looks like since you’re the only one that’s actually seen him, hmm?” Spike said in a sardonic tone.

She was about to take the utensils when she suddenly remembered something and groaned in frustration. “Uggghhh! Idiot! Of course! Why didn’t I think about it sooner?” Turning to her friends and family, she continued despite their puzzled expressions. “Remember when I said describing him hardly made him justice? Well, this is the same. You are all way off from the actual Dainn and I think I would be, too, if I draw him. So, as the human saying goes: seeing is believing, right? Let me show you what I’ve seen.”

Closing her eyes, she focused inwardly and peered into the depths of her mind. Her search was quick and soon her horn flickered before shooting a beam of light that expanded above her head until it formed a square showing a frozen static image of none other than Dainn staring at her.

“Sweet Celestia!”

“Oh my goodness!”

“By Harmony’s sake!”

“T-That’s can’t be real… right?”

Several expressions and exclamations of unbelief showered Twilight for over a minute as the gathered ponies got their first glance at the true Dainn. Twilight opened her eyes and looked up. Pity returned to her when she saw Dainn’s veiled face; only glimpsing his mouth but that was enough for her. She was projecting her own memory and that was all she needed. Everything was exactly as she remembered and more: it was an unbiased reality seen through her eyes, without downplaying or exaggerating anything. Only a cruel, sad reality is shown and made flesh.

The very glimpse of his void-like mouth and cracked lips; parched through centuries of not drinking anything. How the rest of his face was shadowed by his hood, revealing only his nearly unblinking blue, icy, devoid-of-life-spark eyes. How heavy those eyes were to her friends and family? Even though they were seeing reality, they were watching only a memory. A far cry from the real thing Dainn had become, but more than enough to let them understand why she both hated the stag and pitied him twice as much. They saw his skeletal hands, bones protruding as an ash-like translucent skin clung to them, giving him a grotesque undead-like appearance despite being alive yet dead inside.

They were all seeing the half-dead thing the caribou that had brought ruination to his dimension had become, and all they could feel was nothing more than profound pity. Even the most vociferous among them couldn’t hold on to their rightful hatred when they saw the state the caribou was in.

“...he really does speak wisdom when he warned us about the downsides of immortality. I would not wish to share such an outcome,” Luna said, breaking the palpable, eerie silence that formed once the cries of outrage, fear, horror, and skepticism died over, unable to deny the reality staring back at them with lifeless blue eyes.

“Believe it or not, it’s actually worse when you’re standing in front of him. Everything you’re feeling now multiply it by a hundred. That’s the best comparison I can come up with,” Twilight said, flinching slightly as she started to conjure another memory. A more recent one. “Now… when I left Dainn… I… heard something. I don’t exactly know why or how it was possible, but at this point, I’ve stopped trying to make sense of certain things. Here… listen for yourselves.”

Her horn glowed brighter only for a haunting howl of pure agony, misery, guilt, solitude, and sadness to echo all around the room, the castle, and even all over Ponyville. For as long as the howling continued, every creature in Ponyville stopped dead in their tracks, unable to comprehend what they were hearing as their blood threatened to freeze inside their veins if they so much as moved an inch.

“STOP IT! STOP IT STOP IT!” Celestia, of all ponies, cried out in supplication as the howl finished its unholy melody. Twilight obeyed, ending both spells, and watching her former teacher and once-beacon of faith slump on the table, trembling.

“Sister! What’s wrong!?” Luna asked, jumping to her hooves and sitting next to the taller alicorn. Using a wing to comfort her, she gently caressed her neck until Celestia was able to compose herself a minute later.

“S-Such a horrible thing to hear… to listen to my own voice mixed in with Dainn’s in that soul-crushing howl of pure pain… it was more than I could endure,” she explained, shaking in fear.

“So I wasn’t imagining it. Everyone else heard it?” Twilight replied, taken aback but not shocked at all by her teacher’s reaction. She knew it would end up badly from the start.

“It was faint… I wish that was my imagination playing tricks, but no… this raises so many questions I don’t want to ask myself nor at all,” Cadance said, shuddering. Everyone else agreed with her sentiment to some extent.

“Faint? I could hear my counterpart howling as loudly and as bone-chillingly as Dainn’s madness-inducing wretched cries,” the alabaster alicorn replied, shuddering violently for a few seconds before Luna helped her calm down a bit.

“Cadance said it herself: questions that don’t need to be asked nor answered,” Twilight said before standing up on wary, hazy hooves. “I’m… tired. Extremely tired. I’m going to sleep… if anypony needs me, I’ll be in my room. Feel free to take any room if you want to stay…”

Without saying anything else or waiting for an answer, she teleported away.

“...Hey, yah’ll? Call me a nutty squirrel with a loose nut, but I think none of us is gonna be able to get some shut-eye tonight after hearing that…” Applejack commented, shuddering. “I should give ol’ Buckeroo a day off, 'cause I’m gonna be singing tomorrow morning…”

“Yeeeeeaaaahhh… good luck getting some sleep tonight, everypony. I sure ain’t going to. Not after all of that,” Pinkie Pie added, agreeing with her friend/cousin.

Cadance turned to glance up at her husband. She would love him no matter what, even if he couldn’t ascend into alicornhood, she would always treasure and love him. ‘But what will you do once he’s frail, old, and on his deathbed? What good will love do then? You’ll watch him grow old, wither, decay, and die… only to see his remains turn to dust before your ageless gaze. Will you be able to withstand that kind of pain?’ Her subconscious warned her, and she knew at that moment that nightmares would plague her for weeks and months to come.

She wanted to curse Dainn’s name, but all she could do was thank him… for opening her eyes to an ugly truth she had not considered. For now, all they could do was to grow stronger and hope for the best; to forge their paths by their actions and give their all. She stood up, surprising her husband and the two other alicorns before she turned to them.

“An immortal life is a solitary life… his words ring true and they are present in my mind. I don’t know if Shining can ascend, but I will help him ascend into alicornhood no matter what it takes me. I am not going to abandon my husband nor do I wish to spend countless millennia without him; growing bitter and resenting the very thing that makes me who I am. I refuse to let the love of my life die before my eyes years from now. I’d rather soon give up my immortality than live without him. I cannot lose you, Shiny,” she said, smiling at her husband who, in turn, stood next to her.

Celestia nodded and Luna beamed with pride. “It is as we said earlier, my niece. Shining Armor has the potential to ascend. Please, do your best, both of you. If you require our aid, do not hesitate to ask for it.”

“We will be honored to welcome fair Shining Armor as the first stallion to ascend in Equestria, if that is possible,” Luna added.

“May your path shine upon you and all of us, Cadance, Shining Armor. We know our father would be proud of you if you were to achieve such a feat,” Celestia finished, giving the couple their blessings.

“Come, babe, we have much to do and work for,” Shining said, nuzzling his wife and gently ushering her out of the room.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Twilight appeared inside her room an instant later, sighing heavily. She flopped herself over her bed and all her muscles screamed bloody murder; exhaustion hit her harder than a punch from Tirek and she suddenly found herself unable to move or cast magic. Not that she cared much at the moment. Her eyes closed and she fell into slumber.

As expected, it was not a pleasant sleep.

Chapter 14: Haunting

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Twilight woke up only when she felt the familiar shoving of Spike pushing against her whenever she overslept. Her dreams were filled with screams, desolation, and terrible, unending nightmares. But worst of all, she couldn’t wake up. Not because she didn’t want to, but because she refused to wake up. So many horrible implications came to her. How many other dimensions were suffering? How was it just that they were so safe and sound when others suffered so deeply? How many of those dimensions had to deal with a caribou infestation?

Infestation.

“That’s what they are… an infestation,” she muttered as she opened her eyes and felt as exhausted as she had been before crawling to her bed the night prior. Her eyelids were heavy, her wings were made out of steel, and her fur was matted and messy was her mane. But she truly didn’t care much about how she looked. Not now, at least. Turning to the side, she saw Spike standing by the edge of her bed, smiling weakly at her.

“Morning,” he said, leaning forth. “I would ask how did you sleep, but your face tells me you hardly had any of it, huh?”

Twilight winced. “That bad?”

“Worse. You look as if somepony mistook you for a mop and washed the entirety of Canterlot with you. Seriously, Twi, are you… okay?”

“I’m sane and lucid if that’s what you are referring to, Spike. Emotionally, though? Not at all. Part of me doesn’t want to return, but I have to. I must know the rest of the story and… hopefully never use this cursed, tainted knowledge to protect us in the future,” she replied, moving the covers away and sitting on the edge before Spike jumped to sit next to her. Using a wing, she hugged him tightly. “Thanks for watching over me, Spike.”

“I’m your number one assistant for a reason, right?” He chuckled, then his expression turned somber. “Twilight… you’re not the only one that had a bad night. I think you should go see Cadance and Shining Armor first. I’ll go check on Luna and Celestia, okay?”

Twilight nodded. “What about the others?”

“They went home. Starlight is with Trixie. And Sunset is in the library,” he replied before jumping off the bed. “I’ll go make breakfast after everypony’s awake, okay?”

“I don’t know what I would do without you, Spike,” Twilight replied with a weak, coy smile. She watched the little dragon walk out of her room before she mustered the strength to stand on her hooves and face a new day. Shaking about for a few good seconds, she actually felt some stress and exhaustion wash down her body. Which reminded her that she needed to take a shower.

A quick shower later, she used a spell to dry herself before setting off to visit Cadance and Shining’s room. Flurry Heart was, thankfully, being overwatched by Sunburst back at the Crystal Empire. Knocking on the door instantly gained her a surprised yelp coming from Cadance. A few seconds later, the door opened to reveal a rather disheveled Cadance.

“Ah, Twilight. Please, come in. Sorry about the mess,” the pink alicorn apologized as she moved aside, allowing her sister-in-law entry.

Twilight entered the room, finding it was, indeed, messy. Bedsheets were scattered about, overturned furniture laid across the floor, Shining was snoring lightly over a pile of curtains, and everything looked as if a tornado had assaulted them during the night. “Judging by the bangs on your eyes, I take it you didn’t sleep that much either?”

Cadance shook her head. “I haven’t slept at all, Twilight. After everything you told us yesterday… Dainn’s message… I-I can’t take it out of my mind. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes. It’s a dreadful reality that I never wanted to see… or was simply too ignorant to see. He opened my eyes, Twilight. I wish he had not. I wish I could remain ignorant about my own immortality.”

Twilight nodded, moving alongside her fellow alicorn until they sat by the bed’s edge next to each other. “I understand how you feel, Cadance. Ignorance is bliss, some would say. Truth is often dark, terrible, and sad, but it will never lie to you…”

Cadance sighed heavily but her eyes didn’t water. She had no more tears to shed. At least, not at that moment. “Every time I close my eyes I see my husband, old, decrepit, on his deathbed… while I remain the same, unable to do anything to help him. I see myself alone, Twilight. And I’m… I’m so afraid. So, so afraid of that future coming to pass,” shivering, she continued. “What if I grow to become cold and unfeeling? Jaded to the one thing that defines me? What if I turn into a cold, heartless, uncaring husk of my former self? Am I weak for fearing such a thing? How have my aunts dealt with their immortality all these years? Why… why didn't they tell us about the dark side of immortality?”

“I think they wanted to protect us and… I think they didn’t want to break our psyches or deflate our outlook on life. Or maybe they have yet to experience such losses? I mean, they’ve never been married, they don’t have foals and… wait a second. Blueblood. Prince Blueblood is their nephew. How? I’ve checked the records, he wasn’t adopted. He’s blood-related to them in some way,” Twilight suddenly realized and sighed again, feeling a headache coming her way. “This just keeps getting better and better.” She said with dripping sarcasm.

“Maybe they had another sibling in the past? A non-alicorn? But if so… why haven’t they mentioned him or her at all?” Cadance sighed again, her wings faltering behind her. Her eyes wandered to the sleeping form of her husband, making her smile softly. “...I’m going to make sure he ascends, Twilight. I love Shining Armor more than anything and equally as much as I love Flurry. I will not lose him.”

She nodded. “And I’ll help you as much as I can, Cadance.”

“And so will we,” Celestia said as she entered the room with Luna at her side and Spike riding her back. “Sorry, we couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.”

“Your door was open,” Luna added, turning to Twilight. “Twilight, you raised a fair question regarding our nephew. You see…,” turning to Celestia, the two sisters stared at each other for long moments before nodding. “We lied yesterday.”

Cadance’s wings flared and her expression became inquisitive and angry. “So there is sexism regarding alicornhood? Do you truly decide who gets to ascend?”

“No. We spoke the truth on that subject,” Celestia quickly answered. “Truly, my dear niece, we cannot control the process; I can only guide those who reach the apotheosis of ascension, nothing more. We are baffled as to how is it possible that no stallion has ascended yet. The possibility is there, but so far unachievable.”

With her anger dying, Cadance looked around the room in quick succession while her brain worked overtime analyzing the information and any possible alternative she could conjure. After a few seconds of frenzied pondering, she spoke again. “Then… what did you lie over? I don’t understand.”

“We had a brother, long, long ago. An older brother. His name was Storm “Blueblood” Solaris. And he was an alicorn, just like us. Just like our father. But Blueblood was a free spirit who rejected the crown and wished to be expunged from all records, forgotten by history itself,” Luna answered, smiling gloomily. “There was a battle against Windigoes and he… he sacrificed himself in that battle, saving us. He made us promise to look over his family and to always remain a secret, a memory, and to forget him.”

“Ever the pessimist he was, but we honored his requests as much as we could. That is why our nephew, Blueblood, is related to us by blood. And yet, despite carrying our brother’s lineage, none have ascended in all these years,” Celestia added sharing her sister’s mood.

“Then how did I, a filly, ascend? I… I don’t even remember why I ascended. All you told me was that I ‘had a great future ahead of me’ and I believed you, auntie… or are you lying to us, to me? What if Dainn is right? What if you truly want a mare dominating alicorn sisterhood? You know how everypony loves us, adore us. Without any stallion alicorns to share or compete for power or influence… just a single-minded council without outside influence?” She swallowed. “A true Matriarchy?”

“Cadance, look into my eyes and search for deceit in my intentions,” Celestia said, gently and softly. “You are distressed, angry, confused, tired, and unable to think straight. Do you honestly believe that I -or any of us- wish for such a thing? To rule with an iron hoof as a shadowy organization controlling all the power to be had? What more power can I, any of us, desire? I control the Sun, Luna the Moon. Us two alone already hold the fates of every creature on the planet. If we wanted to become tyrants, what need would we have for more competition as you put it?”

Luna stepped forth. “We delegate responsibilities, civil duties, and work over to several organizations, councils, noble houses, and more. We’ve actively removed ourselves from ultimate power as much as possible. I could command the army to assault our neighbors, but I can be stopped by our laws and organizational structure. And you, my niece, can literally alter the emotions, perceptions, and souls of those around you. Where is the tyrant in you? And Twilight? A powerful mage, one who holds the very powers of Friendship and Harmony within her hooves. Not even she can do it alone and requires her friends to do so. Cadance, are we tyrants? Do you truly believe we seek that which we reject?”

“I… I don’t know! I DON’T KNOW! I don’t know anything anymore!” Cadance cried out, shaking her head rapidly. “T-Then why did you adopt me in the first place!? Was it because I ascended or was it because you just wanted a niece to aid you!?”

“I adopted you, Cadance, because I wanted nothing more than to guide you, teach you about your powers, your responsibilities, and so much more. Your parents, may they rest in peace, gave me their blessings after I found you, shivering, cowering, crying, and afraid of what had just happened. I saw a lonely alicorn mare, lost and fearful. Is that not enough reason for one to take care of another?”

“If I… if I hadn’t ascended… would you have adopted me anyways?” She asked hesitantly.

“My dear Cadance, your ascension was what brought me to you in the first place. Had you not ascended, we likely would have never met,” Celestia answered, honestly. “As for what you did to ascend, my dear. You did one of the most miraculous things I have ever witnessed,” tilting her head, she smiled a motherly, loving smile. “You granted your parents hope and strength enough for you to spend their last days in peace and in a loving embrace, allowing me the chance to ask for their blessings to adopt you. That was your great feat, Cadance. You can influence the hearts and the very souls of others with a mere thought because your heart is an infinite well of love and hope.”

Cadance closed the distance between the two older alicorns and hugged them tightly with open wings, spending several minutes softly crying against their coats. Twilight and Spike could only watch in silence until the moment ended a few moments later with a fading whimper and bright smiles.

“I-I’m sorry for what I said, aunties, I’m just… so tired and confused,” Cadance began, sighing and taking a step back. “I tried to put myself in the hooves of the caribou and I ended up seeing the dangers of the all-controlling matriarchy they feared. To us they are irredeemable monsters, because they were; their actions and culture show it clearly and yet it was done out of fear, terror, and a misguided belief of superiority.”

Luna nodded, frowning. “And yet, when you peer upon us, their fears are but justified. We could hold the world hostage whenever we so desire. Twilight could destroy cities in but an instant if pressed to do so or indoctrinate creatures using Friendship as an excuse or tool. And you, Cadance? You could easily achieve what Sombra desired: complete control over your subjects, turning them into blind devout followers.”

“We have tremendous power, we are not ignorant of such ugly truths,” Celestia continued, her voice saddened, almost quivering. “You two are young, my dears. We… made a mistake when we, especially I, neglected to tell you truths and dangers that you should’ve known from the start. But trust me, we did it thinking about your well-being.” Closing her eyes, the dark tendrils of dark magic emerged around her eyelids until she opened them to reveal a mix of purple and green colors swirling in her eyes. “You do not know the depths of darkness and solitude that a single mistake can reach.

Luna’s eyes went white, her teeth morphed into fangs, and her mane became wild, stars moving and streaking through it freely, chaotically. “Nor have you heard the temptations and dark whispers of seductive power; ever pushing you into the abyss a single step at a time.

Twilight felt weak to her knees and nearly collapsed upon seeing a small reflection of the very tangible evil that resided within the hearts of her mentor and the Princess of the Night. It was a sober reminder that no one was purely good nor purely evil; everyone could fall, but not all could be redeemed. Then, steeling her heart, a realization crossed her mind. “Sweet Harmony… you… you’ve been tempted before?”

“Mine fall is well known and is no secret,” Luna replied, returning to normal. “Jealousy and bitterness found a place in my heart, letting a Nightmare enter and… you know the consequences of the battle I lost. I was gone and Nightmare Moon was born, taking my place.”

“While my temptation was much more insidious. There was a time, believe it or not, when I was a despot. A warmongering brute, a conqueror… a megalomaniac. However, I was blessed by meeting a unicorn, wise in his own right, who taught me and Luna the most valuable lesson we could ever learn from him.”

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Absolute power… brings absolute destruction,” Cadance muttered, paraphrasing Dainn’s warning about the cycle. “But… then… why hide all this from us?”

“Because we were foolish. We thought about imparting such a lesson to you in the span of the next centuries, letting you grow in power slowly, letting you learn it, control it, mold it. Then, guide you on the correct path. That is another flaw of immortality that only now I can see clearly: a lack of urgency. That is a mistake that we will not commit again,” Celestia sighed once more, looking back at Spike who rubbed her neck and she leaned back to gently kiss his cheek. “It’s the little things that remind me why I convinced myself that wanting to protect you from your own nature was the right idea, my dearest Cadance, Twilight.”

“The truth is, the more your powers grow, the more your ambitions and inflated sense of ego shall grow as well. It may be subtle, it may be blatant, but it will be there. You must not allow that side to win. Blueblood once told us: within ourselves there are two beasts fighting, one who protects and one who destroys. The one that wins is the one you feed,” said the blue alicorn.

“Remember that fiery Celestia Dainn faced, Twilight?” Asked Celestia, gently.

“How can I not? He said their Celestia called it Daybreaker,” Twilight replied with a tremble traveling up her spine.

“Daybreaker is my dark side, Twilight. My Nightmare Moon, if you will. I have never given in to the temptation completely, nor do I plan or wish to do so, but I know that it is there, within me, lurking, waiting, and trying to escape. You two, and Flurry Heart, will develop a dark side, too, and you will know their name for they are you at the end of the day. Never forget that. Never reject your dark side. Embrace it. Own it. Control it. Only then you will stand a chance against it,” with a sad, tired chuckle, she continued. “What is better, pray tell? To be born good or to know your power, your dark, evil side… and actively reject it every single day through effort and actions?”

Horrified, Cadance turned to Shining’s sleeping form. “W-Will my husband develop a dark side if -no- when he ascends?”

“If he ascends, then yes. But do not be mistaken, Cadance. Every creature has a dark side. It’s just that… the more powerful the creature, the more present that side of us is,” Luna replied, using her magic to project a figure of Discord and the Element Bearers. “When Discord ‘flipped’ Twilight and her friends, all he did was bring their dark side to the surface. For example, Fluttershy is the kindest pony we know, and yet her dark side is the nastiest, most ferocious, and terrible among you all.”

“Greeeeeeat, so that means that Twilight’s dark side is apathy?” Spike commented, rolling his eyes. “Meh, not so bad! She’s way scarier when she obsesses over anything.”

“...I’m cutting your allowance in half, Spike,” Twilight threatened, blushing and narrowing her eyes.

“Whatever you say, Midnight Sparkle,” Spike said, chuckling at the end. “And you would beeeeee… Heartbreaker? Nah, too similar. Oh! Heart Snatcher. Hmmm, kinda sounds like something Chrysalis would do. Ideas, anyone?”

Cadance blinked, then smiled, and finally let out a series of snorting chuckles as she wiped a tear from her eyes. “T-Thanks, Spike. I needed that.”

“Happy to help!”

“Then, what are we to do now?” Twilight asked, narrowing her eyes. “We can’t just be ticking time bombs, we have to do something about it. Both to grow stronger, and to be able to protect our homes and loved ones, but also to keep ourselves from going over the edge. Huh… n-now I kinda see what Dainn had to go through. Good heavens, and he did it all on his own and with almost everyone around him set against him. No wonder why he failed so miserably.”

“I am more astonished by the fact he at least tried at the start to become more than what his species were,” Cadance lamented.

“I think I can pinpoint his greatest mistake,” all eyes turned to Celestia. “He began with a goal in mind, to be a leader and push his people out of this Cycle they suffered from. But when he became King, the only position that would grant him enough influence and power to do so, he focused more on his image, what his subjects would say about his actions, and what his damnable council would do against him if he didn’t uphold their traditions, and tried to please everyone, rather than project his power and authority.”

“Which, in turn, emboldened his council to make more demands, to dictate his actions, and the eventual total departure into depravity and hedonism,” Twilight finished, using a hoof to massage her forehead. “Why couldn't he be like Tirek? Then I wouldn’t feel bad about punching him or for saying such awful things to him.”

“Regardless, our course of action is clear and a long path lies before us. Let’s begin by filling our stomachs?” Luna proposed, to which everypony nodded in agreement. Cadance lifted her husband over her back, carrying him gently; allowing him just a few more moments of peaceful slumber.

Their breakfast went normally as they ate in silence, all of them tired and mentally exhausted. But after drinking some much-needed sugary goods, coffee, and pancakes, they were ready to move on with their days. Twilight was the first to get ready, gathering a packed saddle bag. As she was about to return to Dainn’s dimension, her bag opened on its own, releasing the necklace. She watched it land on the table as it rolled to her until it bumped against Celestias’ hoof again, coming to a final halt. “Oh you have got to be kidding me…” exclaimed the lavender alicorn in disbelief.

“Don’t be mad, Twilight. It only wishes to say goodbye,” Cadance said, looking at the necklace with sad, heavy eyes.

Celestia didn’t hesitate this time and picked it up with her hooves. She didn’t say anything whilst doing so, she merely stared at it with profound longing and tenderness. For long seconds that stretched into eons, she simply stared at it until, with a hint of regret on her part, she leaned forth and softly kissed the forged sunstones that matched her Cutie Mark. “I hope that you find rest someday,” she muttered softly before returning the necklace to Twilight’s saddle bag. There was no struggle, no visible change on it. Only cold acceptance.

“I… should get moving.”

Was all Twilight could muster to say before heading to her basement, ready to return the necklace to its creator.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Twilight made her way through the lonely hallways of the dilapidated castle, her eyes lingering on the several stained glasses and murals during her walk. To her surprise, Dainn wasn’t there waiting for her like last time. She looked around searching for him, but no luck. Sighing, she sat on her rock and decided to wait for him. Several minutes passed with only the howling wind for company, the eerie and nasty ambiance of the whole place (not to mention being alone with the wretched throne was something she did not enjoy at all) making her more uncomfortable by the second.

“Where is he? I was certain he had some sort of omniscient spell or something. Was it dumb luck or--” she froze when she heard a faint but agonizingly haunting howl of pure pain, making her jump to her hooves. Fiddling with her bag, she waited for a few seconds, silently hoping to not hear that noise again. As her heartbeat slowed down, she sighed in relief, but knew that there was only one possible source for that noise. “Dainn? Dainn? It’s me, Twilight Sparkle! A-Are you okay? I could come back another day if you’re not feeling… if you don’t want company right now!”

Silence was her answer.

Gulping down a lump of lead that clogged her throat, her nervousness fell into the pit of her stomach before taking a deep, calming breath of the stale, cold, dead air. It didn’t really work, but she had no other alternatives. “Dainn?” She called again, louder, almost shouting his name, but there was no response. Spreading her wings, she began hovering a meter or so above the ground and began moving in the direction of the pained howl she heard earlier. “Looks like I’m going to find you this time, huh? I’ll have to thank Dash when I return. Might be a bit lazy using my wings to move around, but I don’t want to spend more time than necessary alone in here. How does he manage it? I would’ve left this forsaken place within the first month if I was him.”

As she moved through the familiar hallways of the castle, perfectly mirroring that from her own dimension, she followed not a sound but a sensation of bitterness and coldness that made itself distinct. She had yet to see more of the castle, but everything was the same as the exterior and the forgotten chambers, hallways, and rooms she had already seen. “It’s sad… a place that once held so much life and activity reduced to this state…”

It didn’t take her more than a few minutes to reach the Grand Ballroom, used for the Grand Galloping Gala and other such important events, and beyond the destroyed ballroom, the lifeless gardens bearing only the long-since dried up, shriveled remains of trees and stone decorations scattered around the place.

Twilight gasped when she realized the stone decorations weren’t decorations at all, but rather crude tombstones. There were dozens of them, hundreds, most of them piled close together and left blank, but there were a few others set on the Eastern Wing of the gardens that looked to be properly spaced. Squinting her eyes, she saw an intact statue in the middle of the large garden section. At first, she mistook it for a guardian statue or a gargoyle overlooking and protecting the tombs, but the closer she got to it, the more familiar the statue became. It wasn’t until the wind picked up that the statue moved. No. Not the statue. The robes of the statue.

With her eyes widening instantly, Twilight felt her heart skip a beat when she realized that the statue was none other but an immobile Dainn. “DAINN!” She cried out his name as she rushed like a projectile toward him. She flew past him and only stopped with a strong flap of her wings as she dropped to the ground next to him. She froze in shock when she saw him clearly.

His eyes were wide open. Really, really wide open. Literally. They were just hollow marbles with no pupils, irises, or sclera. Just two round orbs, perpetually staring at the void and even more lifeless than his blue, cold eyes. His mouth was wide open, locked into an eternal scream that didn’t make a noise. His arms and fingers were more branches than appendages, with his fingers wriggled and twisted at odd, near-unnatural angles. He was kneeling, thankfully, but he was completely still. Like a statue or worse. It was as if a cockatrice had petrified him but left him unchanged.

Shaking her shock away, she grasped his shoulders and tried to shake him. Impossibly, he refused to move despite tapping into her alicorn strength, he didn’t budge a single inch. “D-Dainn! DAINN! Wake up! W-What happened!? Who did this to you?” She cried out, looking around for any possible assailant, but nothing happened. She couldn’t hear nor sense anyone else but Dainn.

“Come on, Twilight, think of something!” Twilight reprimanded herself while her mind was running through every possible solution she could think about. Nonono, using magic on him won’t work. I don’t know if this is the product of a spell or not. And if it is, I don’t know any spell that could do… this! At best I’ll just end up torturing him and at worst I could make whatever is happening to him a permanent thing. Moving him is impossible either. H-he’s not even breathing. Damn it, what do I do!?

Minutes passed that felt like days for the worried, panicked alicorn. Not knowing a viable solution to any given problem was something she wasn’t used to. She was at a loss and that made her more anxious, which in turn made her more desperate, only to start the process all over again, threatening to drive her into a spiral of impotence and madness if she didn’t stop.

She was nearing the edge of a mental breakdown when the encouraging words of Spike, Celestia, and everypony else close to her resonated within her. Her panic diminished and her mind cleared, slowly but surely calming down. “R-Remain focused… panicking serves no one… breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Theoreticals and practicals, theoreticals and practicals. Keep your mind open and calm, for a troubled mind never sails safely,” she muttered under her breath, repeating the mantras she had learned when growing up and the lessons given to her by Applejack, Cadance, and Fluttershy to keep calm and collected.

“Okay, Twilight. Think. This is obviously something you’ve never seen before and you have zero experience dealing with caribou, whatever is keeping Dainn alive, and if you try anything even remotely dangerous, it could end up really, really badly. No pressure whatsoever. Nope. Not here,” with a frustrated sigh, she reached for Dainn’s exposed hands, flinching at the coldness she felt for a moment but grabbing them more tightly a moment after.

That was when, before she could do anything about it, a sharp but insignificant jolt of magic attacked her hands. It was like taking a vaccine shot, enough to notice it but not enough for her to do more than frown at the sudden intrusion. Her mouth was agape, however, by that stab of magic. Very, very familiar magic.

Her own magic. Twisted, corrupted, vomit-inducing, but it was her magic. Or rather, this dimension’s Twilight Sparkle’s magic.

“Why does he have a trace of my -Twilight’s- magic?” Closing her eyes, she focused for a moment on that wayward magic until she felt it again. But it wasn’t her magic. It was Cadances'. “What in the world?” She exclaimed, confused. Opening her eyes, she let go of Dainn as she pondered silently why and how was it possible for Dainn to not only have a vestige of her power, but also Cadance’s. A creeping answer climbed up her chest, freezing her lungs as the picture of that nightmare throne appeared at the forefront of her mind. “...oh, sweet feathers, please let me be wrong.”

Grabbing his hands again, she forcefully injected some of her energy into him, nothing more than what a regular telekinetic bubble would require, but the effect was instantaneous. Four distinct waves of magical energy danced and sliced at her hands in an attempt to make her join Dainn’s current state.

Twilight snarled and let go of his hands. “...alicorn magic. There’s alicorn magic inside him. But how? D-Did he absorb this world’s alicorn magic for himself? No… that can’t be it. This is entirely different. Oh… oh Dainn. You stupid, stupid idiot. What the fuck were you thinking?” She asked herself before sitting on the ground, legs crossed and rubbing her temples furiously. “Alright… questions for later. And you better believe you’re going to answer, Dainn. But first… how am I going to break you out of that trance?”

As if to answer her question, a metallic cling from her saddlebag caught her attention. The strange part was that there was nothing her bag had bumped against to make that noise. With a sigh, she opened it to reveal the necklace. “Of course, it had to be you. Oh. OH! Of course! This might be me grasping at straws, but it’s better than nothing!”

Swiftly, Twilight placed the necklace back on Dainn’s right hand, letting it rest there for several seconds until a finger moved. Then another and another and soon his entire hand formed a fist clenching the necklace gently, lovingly. His white marble eyes began to return to their original state as his entire body began to creak, crack, and groan.

Then, suddenly, Dainn jerked forth nearly bumping heads with Twilight but stopping less than two inches in front of her. His eyes returned to their normal state; reflecting anguish, despair, terror, guilt, misery, and unfathomable sadness and regret while his mouth, still wide open, let out a screaming howl of everything his eyes reflected so loud and so intense that a non-immortal would’ve been deafened at that moment.

But Twilight heard it all, she could see it all. A howl of pain transformed into a guttural scream of pain so deep that for a moment she could’ve sworn she heard multiple voices laughing, taunting, mocking, and cursing Dainn at the same time.

It only lasted a few seconds at most, perhaps less than that. And it hurt. It had hurt so bad she couldn’t describe what those few seconds that stretched into lifetimes were like, but she could only compare it to if a yak had slapped her with all their strength only to then throw her at a bunch of dragons ready to use her as a punching bag. But extended for millennia.

A coughing fit ended the howl of despair and Dainn lurched back, coughing violently and feebly trying to get on his hooves without success. All around them, though, the howl could still be heard echoing endlessly through the ruins of the castle, Canterlot, and the rest of the dead, ravaged, desolate world.

When Dainn was done coughing and could breathe normally once more, he stood up, still clenching the necklace oh so delicately and began to speak.

“Thank you… I… it’s not a pleasant experience,” said the caribou, turning away from a bewildered Twilight.

The alicorn nodded slowly, but her focus was not on Dainn himself, but rather on his hands. Or more specifically, his bulging veins. She hadn’t noticed it before, mainly because those veins were definitely not bulging when she arrived, but now she could see it as plain as day, removing any doubt she could possibly have from her mind. They were quickly disappearing, but the glowing flow of yellow, purple, deep blue, and pink colors were more than evident. Undeniable proof of what he had done… and why she found him in the state he was in.

“Does it… happen often?” She asked, finding strength in her legs once more.

“No. But it is not rare either. I could be trapped in that state for hours, days, or weeks. One time, I was like for what I believe were three years. It is not a pleasant experience,” Dainn replied, his voice a blanket of emotions, hollow, and lifeless. “Again. Thank you, for helping me.”

“You can thank me by telling me what made you think stealing and absorbing the power of four alicorns was a good idea, Dainn,” she asked, frowning. “And why is that magic tormenting you? Yes, I could feel what it was doing, Dainn. Why--”

“Do you know what is like to relieve your worst memories over and over again as if they were the first time despite knowing they are just memories? Do you know what is like to be attacked and tormented by those who are not here anymore? To have your very being set against you, constantly and never-ending reminding you of your mistakes? Can you imagine that, Not-My-Twilight? Can you even fathom the punishment I carved for myself and so justly deserve?” There was no apathy, anger, or contempt in his voice. There was nothing there. Only a lifeless essence that refused and could not die out.

Dainn slightly, ever so slightly, turned around and with a single wave of his left hand, asked Twilight to move to the side. Twilight obeyed, not knowing how to answer his questions, and found that a gravestone was behind her. When she read the name on it, Celestia, she took an involuntary step back, giving Dainn the chance to gently caress the stone.

“I buried her remains here. Luna’s are over there. Shining Armor and Cadance share that one over there… Gunne, Ginna, Oksho… the Bearers… even your grave. They’re all here. The others? Corpses I could find and give a burial. Most of I didn’t know. Didn’t care. They deserved at least that,” he chuckled. “I stole their power, thinking that with it I could prevent the Cycle, that I could rule justly and how nature intended. The Strong rule, the Weak obey… foolish. H-How… foolish. My ‘glorious’ reign barely lasted a year, Twilight. One measly year and not even to full closure. Has there been anyone in your dimension capable of bringing such destruction in such a short amount of time? I doubt it.”

“Compared to what you achieved? No. I don’t believe so,” Twilight replied, glancing at the tombstones until she found hers, neatly surrounded by six other graves. “That’s why you have to tell me more. What happened after you defeated Celestia.”

“I will not,” Dainn replied, his eyes finally reflecting a vestige of emotion even if it was faint. “What more do you need to hear anyways? You could barely stand my retelling of how the Fall began… what happened next you’ve seen already. The debauchery, the corruption, the rampant hedonism. All of it. What more is there for me to tell?” He turned around, clutching the necklace close to his chest. “Leave and never return. Protect your home and grow to become worthy of your position as Princess. I have nothing more to tell you.”

“Like hell you don’t!” Twilight protested. “You may be right in your assumption that I can picture mentally the horrors that you and your people unleashed, but that’s not enough! I have to know how and why you stole the Princesses powers, how you became immortal, what the enchantment is exactly, what happened to me and my friends, and how THIS-” she shouted, spreading her arms and wings wide, “-came to be!”

“I… cannot tell you more. Please. I thought I was stronger, that my punishment had eroded every vestige of my self-pity and will to live… but I don’t want to revive those memories. Suffering in silence and alone I can handle. But to share my pain, my mistakes, and my regrets with another… it is worse than I could’ve ever imagined. Please, Twilight, do not make me talk.”

“Listen here, Dainn,” Twilight stormed right in front of him, pushing a finger against his nose while glaring at him with tears swelling in her eyes. “What you did… what happened here, I don’t know if you could ever be forgiven. But if you truly wish to atone, then you must tell me more. Finish your story and help me prevent this or anything close to this happen two at least two other dimensions. Cadance, my Cadance, that is, first judged you as an unforgivable monster, but after I gave her your warning she broke down and questioned everything she knew.”

“W-What?” Dainn asked, confusion shining through his cold, dead blue eyes. “What?”

“She pitties you, Dainn. Do you know why? Because she put herself in your place -in the place of the caribou as a whole- and she pointed out the very real dangers a matriarchy of powerful immortal alicorns could bring. What your people so idiotically imagined as a threat… she saw as a tangible danger if we ever gave into the temptations of power. After all-” she scoffed angrily, “-the Strong rule, the Weak obey, right?”

“...”

“Exactly. You have no right to stand here, feeling bad for yourself and wallowing in remorse when you were nothing but a stupid, blind, arrogant bastard that apparently fell in love with the mare you trained and tortured into becoming your pet. Even now, Dainn, you are exactly that same weak, stupid idiot you hate so much. Be strong for once and finish your damn tale.”

“...I… I didn’t train her…”

Twilight blinked, anger fizzling out slowly. “What? No. You trained her. She was your pet, wasn’t she?”

“She was my pet… Luna too. But I didn’t train them. I… I swear, I never laid a finger on them in private. Yes, I raped and fucked them and countless other females in public and during events, but never once in private. Why? Because I felt nothing. Oh, sure, the physicality felt good. But it was a hollow pleasure that left me more empty by the end of it. To me, sex was nothing more than an acting role I had to play.”

“Then… who trained them?” Twilight asked, confused yet intrigued.

“Hrathr trained them for me. I could never stomach the training methods at all. I didn’t have the spine nor the stomach for them. Celestia was turned into a red collar,” he chuckled. “‘I have a nascent empire to look over, administer, and protect. Not to mention coordinate our efforts against those fools that deny the glory of Male Superiority and the rightful rule of the Caribou. My focus must remain on that goal in mind and not on training a couple of whores even if it’d take me a few seconds to tame them. I’m far too busy to let such things distract me. I’ll allow Hrathr to train them in my stead. Let’s see how efficient he truly is.’”

A dark chuckle escaped his throat after letting a few seconds of silence fall between them. “That was my excuse, more or less, when I was asked why I didn’t train my prizes.”

“Since that’s the case, then how did you fell in love with Celestia?” Twilight asked, pressing on.

“Fall in love? Please, Twilight, I am incapable of love. I don’t even know what that feels like. I held great affection for her; Hrathr succeeded in making her an obedient pet. Luna? Not so much. Celestia was caring and attentive, good company and, as I mentioned, obedient to a fault. I took Oksho’s example to heart and decided to reward her with a nice gift. That necklace is the result of that.”

“A necklace that was made out of love. Cadance said so when she saw it. Tartarus, Celestia didn’t want to give it back at first, but after she tried it on, she came to the conclusion it wasn’t done for her.

“N-No… that can’t be true. It was just a gift. A simple… gift. To show my appreciation and to reward her,” Dainn said, visibly showing some distress.

“Oh, really? Well, how many tries did it take you to make that necklace just perfect?”

“How did you--?”

“Cadance saw it. The craftsmanship and the sheer dedication it has. How many hours did you spend making it? WHY did you make it in the first place? Aren’t you a scholar? Did you learn how to smith and become a jeweler just for a ‘reward’? I don’t believe that. And I think you know you don’t believe that either, Dainn. So, what was it? What made you fall in love with Celestia? Was that necklace an attempt to win her love or--

“I. DO. NOT. DESERVE. HER. LOVE!” Dainn hissed angrily, his eyes flickering with energy before dying down once more. “I… she… m-my Celestia… she was good to me, Twilight. I… I just wanted to… I just… she… I… I… I don’t…,” he sighed, unable to formulate any coherent answer - or excuse, Twilight thought. “Did… did your Celestia like it that much? Did it fit her? W-Were the proportions fitting? Was it comfortable?”

Twilight nodded. “She loved it. But… it didn’t fit her since our anatomies are very different. It was a bit awkward, but despite that, Celestia looked so right with that necklace on. She praised it constantly and even kissed it before I came back,” eyeing the necklace, she continued. “It truly does have a mind of its own.”

“...I see… that… that is good to hear. It brings some closure to my heart, at least,” Dainn then turned to the side and began to walk. “Come. There is something I wish to show you,” wordlessly, Twilight followed up to the edge of the gardens, leaving the graves behind them and reaching the overview leading to what once had been the grand maze. They didn’t need to peer over the edge in order to see a small mound of twisted, discarded pieces of gold long since forgotten and neglected, with fragments of gems scattered around the place.

“Whoa… there must be hundreds. Wait. Are those your failed attempts?” She asked, mildly surprised.

“I myself lost count… but I think there are at least a thousand failed attempts before I got this necklace, fit for a beautiful Princess,” Dainn stared at the pile with a mix of longing and disdain. “It doesn’t matter now. I should… I should throw it away.”

“But you’ve already tried that and it always comes back, does it not? You told me as much already. Do you even want to get rid of it?” Asked the lavender alicorn.

“...No. Not really. I… I should’ve done things differently. I should’ve… I should’ve…,” another sigh escaped his lips.

“Dainn… there’s something I wish to know. If you couldn’t give the necklace to Celestia, what was it that stopped you? Regret? Guilt? Remorse?”

“Not at all, Twilight. What prevented me from giving Celestia her necklace was the beginning of the end for my people, Equestria, and the world,” he shook his head. “Did you know I honestly thought Celestia and Luna were lying about controlling the sun and the moon? Why would I believe them when the two celestial bodies kept moving on their own even after I cut off their horns?” Gripping his cane tightly, he continued through shaking hands. “What was one more lie told by heretical females, right? But I learned too late that was not the case. The sun and moon have not moved ever since that faithful day. Discord wasn’t moving them, neither could I or you or Cadance. So who made sure to move them? The answer is so obvious now after what you told me regarding horns and magic.”

Twilight nodded. “Their connection to the sun and the moon is a fundamental one. It must’ve been taxing and difficult to do it with their horns cut, but they did it and secretly. Your incompetence astonishes me, Dainn.”

“You and me both,” he said, agreeing to the well-deserved insult. “It is easier to see your failings and accept them only in hindsight, I do suppose. And even then, you may uncover more than you thought you knew.”

“Then, Dainn, illuminate me. How was it possible for your reign to last a mere year? Was it an invading army? Did you drive your forces thin? Did the enchantment backfire on you all? Did someone try to kill you and take your place?” Twilight questioned even as the air around her grew colder.

“All of them, Twilight. All of them and more,” Dainn turned to face her with a tired, pained, distant expression on his face. “Three were the major reasons why my reign fell into ruination. The enchantment showed its irreparable flaws. My council bickered and squabbled as they tried to take the throne away from me; amongst other assassination attempts, including those made by Spike. But the biggest reason was simply known as the War of Food.”

“Wait, what? War of Food? Are you seriously saying that you had problems with starvation? Really?” Twilight asked, taken aback. “B-but that shouldn’t be possible. Equestria is a fertile land beyond comprehension. Throw seeds out of the window and by next month you’ll be able to harvest something. How in the name of Harmony did starvation became such a great problem?”

“Simply put? Gross incompetence. Take for example Ponyville. When we took over Ponyville, the mares owning land were discharged and proper stallions or caribou were put in place, with overseers and magistrates to keep everything running smoothly. What a joke. The arable lands were expanded ten times over, butchering resources, cutting down trees, and anxious to reap a plentiful harvest. Now, this could’ve worked were it not for two factors. The first was that many of the old crops were burned and discarded, replaced with our own crops. The--- the fucking idiots in charge never understood why cold and tundra-based crops couldn’t grow in a temperate climate and blamed the farm stallions for sabotage. Whatever food could be harvested and stored before our invasion was ransacked, wasted in banquets and celebrations. It didn’t take long before the logistical issues began to arise within the first month.”

Twilight listened carefully and agreed with Dainn’s observations. “And the second reason? W-What could be worse than a backlogged, inefficient and downright moronic logistical and farming system?”

“I wasn’t done with the first problem, Twilight… remember I had forbidden to touch the wings of females, pegasi mainly, until I figured out a way that wouldn’t kill them?”

She nodded then pondered. “Wait… but you said that you’d tell me who came up with the… solution to deal with pegasi wings.”

“Not just pegasi wings. Any female captured with wings would suffer that same fate. But who was the monster responsible for this brutality? None other than Princess Cadance herself.”

Twilight gasped and felt her stomach doing summersaults at the mere notion that Cadance would ever think something so horrible. Then again… she was in a Dark Universe and she had been corrupted beyond understanding. “H-How did she do it? Wh-Why would she… I don’t understand.”

“By plucking and sheathing her own wings in public, that’s how. She then did it to Celestia and Luna, in front of a great audience all as a show to humiliate them,” Dainn said with palpable poison in his words. “At that moment I should’ve realized something was wrong with the enchantment and the way my councilors flocked behind her idea. Male Superiority forbids taking action if said action is inspired or dictated by a female. They followed her idea and rejected my own solution vehemently. Only Oksho and his followers took in my decision. It was less effective but more merciful. By applying simple weight runes, their ability to fly was rendered useless but they got to keep their wings.”

“W-Why didn’t you enforce it!?” Twilight asked, horrified.

“I tried… I tried so very hard, but I was ignored. From a logical view, it makes sense why I should be ignored. The cost alone of the rune forging and the time needed to do it was a hundred times more expensive than Cadance’s way, not to mention only being able to deal with a few hundred females a week rather than get them all sheathed in that same timeframe. Not only that, but the feathers would be turned into tools for cleaning, jewelry, and trophies,” Dainn replied, shaking his head.

“Simple. Brutal. Cruel. Direct. That was her method. Have their wings plucked and to prevent them from growing back, use wing sheaths filled with rough, stoney material for black collars, comfortable fluffy cotton for red and white collars… another sick way to force compliance out of a few mares. Disgusting, I know,” another heavy sigh, another icy glare of regret.

“But that was only the prelude to a massive ailment. The greatest part of this problem was that pegasi were in charge of controlling, directing, and manipulating the weather. Cut their available workforce by over seventy percent plus the stallions that died during the invasion, were switched, or escaped?”

Horror struck Twilight’s features, her life nearly draining from her face. “Oh sweet mother of Celestia… the weather was completely haywire, wasn’t it?”

“And that was the manageable problem,” with a deep, guttural hum, his eyes narrowed. “The second problem was much more simple… and a thousand times more far-reaching. Tell me, Twilight, what do you think happens to a society that falls into hedonism, depravity, and rampant sexual excess? They stop working. They stop caring about tomorrow or even the present. They only wish to indulge in their perversions. Productivity slowed down to a crawl. This led to other unforeseen activities. Diamond Dog slaver gangs constantly kidnap mares only to hold them for ransom at high prices. Griffons raided the borders nearly unchallenged. Entire towns disappeared after changelings attacked.”

“Of course, we caribou couldn’t be blamed for such a turn of events! Of course not! It was the ponies who were the incompetent ones! Not us! Griffons are attacking? Show them gold and they suddenly embrace the natural order of things! The changelings are a problem? Sounds like excellent new pets to hunt down! Diamond dogs attacking and kidnapping mares for ransom? Use the enchantment to turn them to our side. Zebras being a problem? Throw the griffons at them. Diamond dogs being an issue? Hunt them down or pay them off and the problem is gone.”

“Just like Oksho predicted… you became over-reliant on it, didn’t you?”

“It made things too easy and the ugly side of the enchantment surfaced when ponies focused more and more on their own pleasure. It got to the point that even most caribou were disgusted and afraid of their sheer levels of depravity. The things I saw them do… Twilight, my mentor was many things, but he knew how to whip sex-craving idiots into doing their jobs. The ponies converted by the enchantment were… monsters. I shall spare you the details, but believe me when I tell you that you truly do not wish to know.”

“...Give me one example. Please… or I shall not stop until I get answers on my own,” Twilight replied. “I’m a scholar, too, remember?”

Dainn shook his head slowly. “Don't say I didn't warn you. You do know mares that enjoy piercings, right?” The alicorn nodded. “A mare with an inclination for piercings would take whatever sharp, pointy object she could find and stab herself repeatedly, over and over again in a display of gore, blood, and screams of pure pleasure. It was as if she couldn’t feel pain at all; each stab drove her to an orgasm that only climaxed when she finally died… with a wide, lustful smile on her face. An empty, soulless, endless smile of pure depravity and insanity.”

Twilight fell to her knees and vacated the contents of her stomach, her imagination providing a rather vivid series of images of what Dainn described. Worst of all, she could feel he had been tame in his description, and yet it brought her to her knees. “A-alright,” she coughed, “n-not going to ask for more details. Sweet feathers, how could you stand that?”

“Who says I did? I too hurled when I saw that and many, many worse things, Twilight. During the war, cannibalism was quite popular,” Dainn added with tangible contempt.

“But that sheer depravity came nearing the waning days of my reign… and the decision that would doom the entire world, and myself, to what you see before you. Before all of that, however, the celebration of my victory was to come first. Let us return inside, Twilight. Let us be comfortable… and continue with what came after Celestia’s defeat. My coronation as the new and true “King” of Equestria.”

Chapter 15: A Step Toward Damnation

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Twilight sat down, moved more by sheer determination than curiosity at this point. Despite everything, she had to know. It was her duty, her responsibility to know and help prevent such a disaster from happening to her home and elsewhere if she could help it.

“Now… steel yourself, Twilight, for what is to come next,” Dainn warned, taking a wheezing deep breath. “It was a public display of sorts. A parade. What a glorious parade it was. I never felt more alive even if I knew my victory was fake. Even so, I felt like a conquering hero! Be glad you didn’t get to see what I saw, Twilight. Shining Armor at the front, sitting on a golden chariot pulled by Cadance! How row after row of captured mares were paraded as trophies of conquest! How most of my Council gloated over the victory! And how I stood atop all, carried by warbeasts with my prize, Celestia, next to me, forced to see my conquest!”

Twilight heard his words and failed to detect any gloating or cheer in them. Dainn was mocking himself in a dead, icy tone filled with contempt. She watched him sit down and leaned forth on his staff.

“I took this castle as my own, too. Heh, ironic, is it not? I saw it as a grand prize, a castle that put even Svarndagr’s castle to shame… but I rarely left it after that day. It became my gilded cage and then, when it was all over, it became my self-made prison.”

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The parade had been a sickening but resounding success. None doubted my rightful place as King of the Caribou and Conqueror of Equestria. The feeling was intoxicating and yet, deep down, I knew it was undeserved… and wrong. But I put those thoughts aside as I approached the throne room. Behind me, Celestia crawled butt naked save for the wing sheaths and the black collar around her neck that connected to the leash one of my followers carried.

“Come, Celestia,” he said mockingly, spitting her name with venom. “Don’t you want to see the birth of a new order? A true and proper Kingdom under the rule of your Master, King Dainn?”

“...”

She said nothing, her eyes reflected little defiance and cold acceptance of her situation. She was weak. All females were weak. What a sordid fool I was. As I approached, two turned pony guards opened the doors to reveal a most spectacular scene. Influential pony nobles had gathered, the mares there were in the same position as Celestia: defeated and conquered.

Have I told you how to spot traitors from those turned by the enchantment? It’s quite easy. The eyes. Traitors have normal eyes. The turned have vacant eyes filled with hunger and malice, a thirst for lust and awful things. That room was filled with eyes of traitors more than turned. It was the first and only time outside meetings that this happened.

Why is this relevant? Because there were only a handful of turned pony nobles. The majority were traitors, like Orestes. Gleefully selling and betraying their rulers just for a spot in the new order. My reign. My rule.

“ALL HAIL HIS MAJESTY, CONQUEROR OF THE SUN! ALPHA MALE! THE BLESSED VESSEL OF MALE SUPERIORITY! KING DAINN!” Orestes announced, always quick to kiss my ass whenever possible. I never put in question his motives nor his true goals. Another folly, another mistake.

As if that wasn’t enough, when I sat on Celestia’s throne, Orestes and the traitors all but shoved a de-horned, sheathed, and bound Luna before my feet.

“Oh, mighty King Dainn,” the treacherous snake said to me. “As you can see, we, true Equestrian Nobles who have been shackled by the Whore Sisters for far too long, offer you as a show of our devotion and fielty the worthless cunt known as Princess Luna. She shall be yours to do as you please, my liege. Let this lowly gift mark our eternal loyalty to you and prove that we follow in the steps of Male Superiority guided by your invincible hands! All hail King Dainn!”

“ALL HAIL KING DAINN!”

Even then, with how twisted and blinded as I was, a single look into Luna’s fiery, unflinching eyes told me everything I needed to know about her: she wouldn’t submit, wouldn’t relent, and she wouldn’t be tamed. It was a hollow gift but one that I couldn’t refuse.

“The Nobles of Equestria swear our loyalty,” more traitors spoke up.

“As do the Wonderbolts,” Soarin, a corrupted version of him, said as he shoved Spitfire down to kneel before me.

“Is there a need for me to swear more loyalty towards you, my King?” Shining Armor asked while Cadance worshipped his cock and balls. He was grinning a cocky yet amused smile. I wish I could’ve seen the horrors that lay behind such a smile.

I stood up, raising a fist to the heavens. “I have heard your pledges and I give you my answer: Your King accepts your eternal vows of loyalty. From this day forth, you are now my loyal subjects and I am your King. I have freed you from the unjust rule of these the cunts who dared rule over worthy males. And now, I shall lead you to a time of prosperity and plenty, a true golden age for all those who follow me and serve me.I promise this as your King: OUR NEW KINGDOM SHALL NEVER PERISH!”

“All hail the new King!”

“For Male Superiority!”

“Down with the Matriarchy!”

“Fuck the cunt-sisters!”

“Rape! Fuck! Plunder!”

I saw them all. An entire room filled to the brim with fools, sycophants, and liars cheering me on. Only two remained true. Gunne at the back, silently sipping on some wine and Oksho, wearing the thickest, most disturbing mocking expression I’ve ever seen while he clapped with thunderous force celebrating my victory with slow, measured shaking of his head. His eyes shining like two firepits fueled by disappointment. It was only then that I realized that only Vestri was at my side among my followers.

“Vestri, where is Ivangri?” I asked in a low tone.

“I do not know, my liege. Perhaps he is occupied with something else?” His reply came dull, almost disinterested.

“Occupied with something more important than being at my side during my victorious moment?” I asked again but I only received a shrug. “No matter. I shall punish him later.”

Vestri didn’t reply. I was not even worthy of an answer in his eyes. I know this now. Back then, I was blinded by ego and power. I saw the spider web of lies and horrors spreading before my eyes but I was too arrogant to admit it. The ‘party’ continued for the better part of two hours. Drinking, fucking, humiliating the females present… none were concerned with forming ties, discussing treaties, forming alliances. Nothing of the sort. And I quickly grew tired of it even when someone praised my name every so often.

“Vestri, I shall leave now. There are… matters I must tend to,” I swear, when I said that, Vestri looked at Celestia and grinned. I knew too well what had crossed his twisted mind. He merely vowed and I left the throne room, followed closely by my followers and Celestia.

I couldn’t help but to admire her form as she crawled, giving her curious glances at every turn. The noise of the throne room became a distant echo and I could feel myself relax. Who would’ve thought that false praise and lying tongues could be so tiring to endure? In truth, I wanted to be alone and be able to think on what was needed to be done next.

That’s when the Spirit of Harmony appeared in front of me in a flash of light. I gasped and came to a sudden halt as I stared at her golden form and accusatory eyes.

“My liege? Is everything alright?” One of my followers asked.

I turned to him and stepped aside, letting him and the others, including Celestia, see the spirit by themselves. But none reacted to it. That confirmed it. Only I could see and hear it. I stared at Celestia for several long moments before finding my voice again. “Everything is alright. I simply remembered I have important private matters to attend to. Take my cunt and see to it that she is suitably prepared for my bedchambers.”

“What about the blue cunt, my liege?” Another follower asked as he held Luna in a tighter leash.

I sighed. Doing anything to her would be futile, but I couldn’t let her be either. “Take her and prepare her as well. Now, go. Let me be.”

“It shall be done, your majesty. Heave, cunts! Heave! Crawl like the pathetic bitches you are!”

I didn’t even have the stomach to watch my followers cattle away the alicorn sisters. Not at that moment when I had much more important matters to focus on. I walked through the unfamiliar hallways until I found an empty room without any prying ears near me. “Spirit,” I said with annoyance, the stupid fool that I was, “why have you come before me again? Are you ready to admit you were wrong and that I was right? The alicorns have faltered, the fourth one shall be located soon enough, and I shall guide this land into a new golden age for all to enjoy and prosper under my rightful rule. I shall do what my mentor and all those short-sighted Kings of the past couldn’t achieve: a perpetual Caribou Empire.”

The Spirit hovered and stopped in front of me, pointing at me with a single dinger and eyes full of sadness. “Nothing lasts forever but eternity itself, only a fool latches to dreams of mist and lies and vacant eyes. You seek betterment and riches for only a few to enjoy; on the backs of slaves does your Empire flow. No matter the day, no colder than night, you are lost within your own delusions to be grand. But stop this madness you can and you must, or all shall become grey and ash by fire and ice - and you alone shall taste the fruits of your demise.”

I frowned, insulted! I was enraged. The gall of this thing to speak such words! “And what are you doing to put a stop to me and my kind? You will achieve nothing with words and threats that are more hollow than the driest well. If you have the power to stop us, then use it. Otherwise, do not get in my way, Spirit. My reign shall be the beginning of something so magnificent that even the heavens shall tremble! We Caribou are the superior species of this world. We are meant to rule and conquer! The weak serve, the strong rule!”

“You claim my power must be used? To thee I say: that's not how it works. Harmony does not harm even if the letters are shared; violence beseeches destruction, the glory you seek is not set on the path you walk. Cut the strings, open your eyes, let the malice go and claim what is right. A forbidden drink you have tasted; glory and falsehood, a poison most vile. You say you will conquer and forge that which you want: a warning to give, and a promise to make - perversion and prosperity do not mix with cake.”

Then, before I could even reply or swat at the Spirit, it began to glow intensely. So much so that I had to cover my eyes yet I still could hear its departing words.

Tredge along this path and you will find a fiery end and a cold eternity. Sand castles crumble, old wood decays, your salvation is at an end. Blood and bones, can’t you hear the screams of those put down by your thumb? A leash and strings are playing a tune, but you’re a dancer without paragon. Know this as you see everything turn to ash: IT IS YOUR FAULT THAT THE WORLD DIES! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

I felt something punch me and I faltered to the floor, kneeling and heaving as cold sweat marred by brow. A second later, the Spirit was gone. The last words… that departing message made my blood freeze. I couldn’t even stand, I was petrified by fear and terror. I don’t know how long I remained there, but by the time I managed to regain my senses, I heard a dull, empty clapping coming from behind me.

I turned around only to find the massive pillar of muscles that was Oksho, his eyes still fiery red and a barely noticeable red glow surrounding him in the dim light of the room. “Oksho? What are you… did you follow me?”

“I did,” Oksho said, closing the door behind him. “Unlike Ivangri, who is so enwrapped in his sadistic, miserable tendencies to the point of forgoing and neglecting his duties, I am always watching and ready to fight,” he said, turning to face me. “This castle is quite something, huh? It is so big and spacious that you can easily get lost without proper knowledge of its layout. Another folly of female weakness, no doubt. I will… appreciate the architecture, like I do when I enjoy the sight of one of my trophies massaging my muscles. But everything else spells weakness. This castle, this… this joke of a conquest is without honor or meaning, Dainn.”

I frowned. Because of course I frowned. How dare a mere Champion speak to his king that way? “Careful how you emply your tone, Oksho. I am your King.”

“You are not even worth calling yourself caribou, Dainn,” Oksho spat, taking a step closer, his clapping coming to a halt replaced by the cracking of knuckles and shaky fists. “First, you accept the loyalty of traitors and wretches that so easily betrayed their rulers? Yes, they were females, but what does that say about their loyalty if that fucking enchantment wasn’t used on them!?”

“Are you questioning my decis--”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Oksho roared, his rage was palpable and I couldn’t do anything but obey. “See!? You cower and freeze at the merest provocation! Svarndagr broke you and do you expect me to believe that a coward that accepts an undeserved gift, the alicorn cunt, Luna, is to lead our people to a bright tomorrow?”

“Where is the honor? Where is the satisfaction of victory earned through struggle and turmoil!? I hated Svarndagr. I hated him with every muscle in my body. I hate him still. But at least he was able to forge a nation through glorious, deserved conquests starting from mere scraps! You? You rely on cursed magics, the adulation of the masses, the false promises of traitors, and the lies of your Council. I respected Svarndagr’s strength, nothing else. Thus, I followed him for I could not best him.”

“So, this is it? Are you here to kill me and take the throne? To usurp me because I lack strength? Do you so easily forget the ruination of the Cycle?” I asked, finding my voice and standing my ground even as Oksho took another step closer to me.

“I demand answers! That promise you spouted in the throne room. Are you actually planning on delivering it or was it just words for you to grow fat and lazy? Why did you allow your Council to follow the plans and lead of a lowly bitch!? Princess or not, alicorn or not, she’s a female! No plan given by the weak lips of a female should ever be considered, Dainn! And yet, you said nothing!” Another step. “You did nothing! Are you even able to do anything on your own? Do you want to know what I did to my winged whores? I followed YOUR plan! Cruelty for cruelty’s sake is the sign of a coward and a weakling!”

That honestly surprised me at the time. This you already know… but he did, he followed my plan to deal with pegasi and other winged females. Not because it was easy, but because doing otherwise would tarnish his honor. “Oksho…”

“And then there’s that blasted enchantment!” Another step. “Stop using it, Dainn. It will blow up in our faces before we know it. There are already signs that using it is wrong! Never mind the use of it in conquest, handing us a victory so easy and hollow that even my wine tastes like ash! And who handed us this so-called ‘victory’? Traitors and cowards, weaklings and backstabbers!”

“...Oksho… what do you mean by… signs?” This was news to me. Of course, I had seen the extremes in personality flips and the disturbing devotion enchanted mares displayed, but nothing more.

“Are you also blind!?” Oksho shouted, taking another step. “The enchantment is supposed to make females tame and grant males the guiding light of Male Superiority. And yet, everywhere I look, I don’t see submission or enlightenment. I see disturbing depravity! Not even our most devoted red collar sinks to the level I’ve seen mares throw themselves into. And the cruelty on display from males would make Ivangri proud,” he said, spitting venom at that name. Then again, so do I. “Think about it, Dainn. An enchantment that puts down virtually all resistance down? A victory handed by traitors? A conquest devoid of honor and merit? I would think that someone as intelligent as you, oh noble scholar, would find all these circumstances suspicious at the very least. And yet, you seem to be the most oblivious to it all!”

“...Oksho… I don’t have the luxury to doubt right now. If our people is to survive, sacrifices must be made… even if it means going against some of our beliefs and my personal honor. Of all the caribou I know, you should be the happiest at this turn of events! Your voice was one of the loudest to declare against approaching these savage ponies with diplomacy.”

“A mistake I rue to this day,” Oksho admitted. “Dainn… if you truly are a King, then act like one! I have not come here to kill you, but to open your eyes for I, unlike those snakes you keep next to you, unlike the scheming Orestes… I am no traitor. Traitors ALWAYS have a true goal in mind that’s hidden behind their plotting tongues. You are not my King. You are weak, docile, and a coward. But I shall fight for our people as long as you are our best solution to prevent the Cycle from happening ever again. Remember this, Dainn: the reason Svarndagr never accepted peace treaties was because conflict breeds prominent males. True males. Shining Armor… he is, or rather -was- one such male. With conquest and war unaided by the enchantment, you could’ve gained a true ally to your side after we dominated his land. Now? I don’t even know what he is besides the depraved King of the Crystal Empire.”

The Fire Within turned around and only then I noticed he was just a meter in front of me. He was so imposing. His back was huge, his muscles pulsated with energy, his arms were like tree trunks, his legs more so. There was no doubt in his posture. No weakness. Only a proud warrior.

“Remember this, Dainn,” he began. “I’m not only a Champion. I’m the Greatest Champion of our species. I will fight as honor and Male Superiority dictates, for I am no coward nor am I a traitor. But I will not hesitate to do what needs to be done if need be. Be it in conquest or in Ragnarok. I fight not for you. I fight for our people. Now go be a King we can follow, weakling.”

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“I nearly pissed myself when he left,” Dainn confessed. “He was right, though. But I was too blinded and stupid to see it, though I did try to be a better King… at the start. That fell off quickly. Too quickly.”

Twilight nodded, picturing all too well what he meant. “I can… understand his logic to a degree and I applaud his conviction, but he was still a conquering, misogynist, rapist piece of shit in my eyes. But compared to other caribou? He at least had a code to follow. Speaking of Oksho, what in tarnation is Ragnarok?” She said, almost slipping into her ‘Applejack voice’. Like it or not, some of the mannerisms and words her friends used stuck with her, alongside their accents for some mysterious reason.

“Ah, Ragnarok. We called that to the Final War, the End Times, the Twilight of the Gods. But at the same time… it is a title to be feared and a name given to a monster,” he replied bitterly, his voice filled with pain and loss. “You will understand what I’m speaking about.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Twilight replied. “Now that I’m more calm… what made Oksho so strong? Conviction and dedication is one thing, but you describe him as an invincible warrior and someone to be feared.”

“Because he was,” Dainn replied. “Only Svarndagr defeated him fair and square and it wasn’t a clean, one-sided victory. They fought for two entire days until Oksho finally fell. There was no outside influence or magic. Just raw power, skill, and endurance. And as much as Oksho detested and openly hated Svarndagr, my mentor earned his respect and his loyalty. How do I know this? I was there. My mentor dragged me and the rest of his ‘students’ to watch how true males fight. I was the only one who didn’t fall asleep or succumbed to the cold.”

“That,” Twilight breathed out, “that is beyond outlandish!”

“It is the way of Male Superiority and that of true warriors. Respect and loyalty are valued more than personal opinions and feelings. Strength determines everything,” he chuckled. “I must confess I found their fight to be nothing short of amazing. It has been, to this day, the most spectacular and breathtaking fight I’ve ever seen. It even inspired me to pick up a weapon and learn whatever little I could about fighting. How to improve my muscles and more,” he remained silent for several moments. “Svarndagr never believed me. How could he? I didn’t change much. As inspired as I was, I knew I was not fit for the way of the Warrior. So, I poured myself into my studies and became a proficient tactician, logistician, and strategist.”

“But Oksho? Oh, Oksho was welcomed and soon unleashed, alone, onto a tribe of caribou who had fallen into depravity and hedonism, indulging in nothing but carnal pleasure and excess. He slaughtered every stag wholesale, on his own. Five hundred stags against Oksho and he only got a single scar for his trouble. He was a one-caribou army. How he did it? I have no idea and no recollection of the event. Only that after that point on he was given the title The Fire Within,” he grimaced, “or as many came to nickname him as Surtr: The Bringer of Ragnarok. Over time his fur became black and his eyes took on a fiery red hue, like the embers on a fireplace.”

“W-What!?” Twilight exclaimed. “And he let you live!? I understand that he followed a code of honor, but he would’ve saved everyone so much trouble!”

“Oksho was, believe it or not, quite merciful. His followers? All warriors defeated by him at some point that he spared and in turn decided to follow his example. But to me? That was his last mercy. If I didn’t become the King he expected me to be, or at least half of it, I am sure he was going to kill me. For better or worse, I think… it is better that he didn’t kill me. I can’t speculate on what could’ve happened otherwise, but I believe this,” he said, referring to everything around them, “could’ve ended in a worse state.”

“Fair enough,” Twilight admitted, her head spinning at the unwanted scenarios playing in her mind. “Answer me this, though… why was Oksho your Greatest Champion?” She asked using her fingers to make quotation marks. “I’m guessing he was more than a strong brute, right?”

Dainn mused for a moment before answering. “How should I put it? Hmmm… ah, yes. Oksho was blessed with exceptional talent, focus, and drive. Warriors are many. But to walk upon the path as he did was insanity even for his instructors. Do you remember bragging about how Luna, in her millennia-old life had mastered over twenty styles of combat?” Twilight nodded. “Oksho had learned and mastered over thirty by the time Svarndagr challenged him to a fight. After the fight, he improved several of those styles, invented over ten more that he also mastered, mastered the use of every weapon available, became a master smith, forger, armorer, and hand-to-hand expert.”

“He would always be the first to enter battle and the last to leave. Retreat wasn’t in his vocabulary. Surrender didn’t exist. He’d rather die in a battle than be a coward and run away. Oh, Twilight, his chest was marred by countless scars, but his back was pristine; not a single scar marked his back! That is why every caribou and our slaves feared him second to Svarndagr. Not because he was cruel or petty, but because everyone knew that you do not get in his way. The Way of The Warrior was his life, he breathed it and embodied it.”

Twilight didn’t know what to say after hearing that. Such dedication and feats were beyond insane. Then, she found a single word that best described one such as Oksho. “Prodigy… he was a prodigy. A true savant!”

Dainn nodded. “Indeed he was… indeed he was. And yet, he is lost to the sands of time. Consumed by fire that ignorance ignited. Cry, oh cry, for the Fire Within, his battle lost,” he said, mourning silently the death of someone he admired.

Twilight sat, her mind focused on the information she gathered. The Cycle, the invasion, Dainn’s slow but evident mental and emotional decline, his lack of foresight, the way he was so easily manipulated or made excuses to justify a steady descent into cruelty and savagery, depravity and self-aggrandizing, the parallels with the story of her home and what she knew too well, the corruption of Cadance, the fall of the Crystal Empire, the defeat of Celestia, Daybreaker… everything. Finally, after what felt like days of silent contemplation, she finally spoke. “Oksho and Surtr… they’re not the same, right? Or rather, they are the same, but different. Like Luna and Nightmare Moon?”

“...Yes..,” came Dainn’s reply. “One is of cold and jealousy, the other of fire and rage. As with all those cursed with great power… another side of you manifests and grows. Surtr was to Oksho as Daybreaker was to Celestia. I asked him once why he had purged that tribe, why he had spared none… his reply was that he had not killed caribou. He had put down depraved, lust-crazed beasts. ‘Let them burn to ash’ he said… ‘Let Surtr’s wrath cleanse these beasts’,” he paused for a moment, letting his icy blue eyes reflect his grinding mind. “Nightmare Moon sought to bring eternal night, to bring cold, ice and death. Surtr was meant to bring forth Ragnarok, the Ending. The Final Battle. I wish… I wish I could’ve understood what that meant. A lone fire burning with rage, destined to bring such calamity,” he said, managing to shudder.

For but a moment, Twilight’s jaw threatened to strike the floor as realization dawned upon her. But to see Dainn actually tremble in fear? She didn’t know what was the full significance of this ‘Ragnarok’ battle he spoke about, but if it made him cower like that, then she could be at peace not seeking that particular knowledge. It took her several moments to collect herself and find her voice once more. “He was just like Luna, but he was alone… how did he manage to cope, to restrain himself for so long? How… no… it doesn’t matter. Thank you, Dainn. I… I am feeling rather tired.”

“Of course,” he nodded. “Go and come back tomorrow. Rest some more. I shall be here, waiting for your arrival. I promised to tell you everything and I shall--”

Twilight shook her head rapidly. “No. I don’t need to go. I just… need a break, if you understand?” She said, her cheeks blushing slightly.

Dainn coughed a few times, realizing what she meant. “Ah, of course. Take your time, Twilight.”

Twilight stood up, cheeks still blushing, and made her way in a hurry to a place she hoped was still intact.

She needed to pee really, really bad.

Chapter 16: Twilight Falls

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As it turned out, hoping for a proper bathroom was a fool’s errand. Still, she managed to get the job done, spend ten minutes staring into the desolate wasteland that the broken wall failed to conceal, and then made her way back to Dainn. The caribou was sitting, likely not moving an inch until he heard her approach. Even after everything that had happened, she felt a rush of unease, fear, hatred, and pity ran up her spine whenever his dead, cold blue eyes stared at her from a distance. She arrived at her spot and sat down, ready to continue.

“How does it feel like?”

“Pardon?” Twilight asked, taken aback by the sudden question. She even raised an eyebrow and tilted her head sideways.

“To pee. To defecate?” Dainn asked without much reservation. “I’ve… forgotten how that feels like, though I recall a certain whisper of relief?”

Blushing, Twilight replied. “You know, if you were anyone else, I would slap you for asking me something so impolite and gross,” she finished with a sigh. “Though, you’re right. It is a relieving sensation. Maybe you’ll get to experience it after what you ate.”

“Hhhmmm, probably. Though I wouldn’t really know about what will happen with real food,” he began, leaning back and smiling in a twisted sense of amusement. “I wouldn’t recommend trying to kill yourself by eating glass, rusted nails, pieces of wood, metal filaments, and stones. I didn’t, ahem, ‘squeeze it out’, but they did find a way out of my body. It is a harrowing experience.”

Twilight had the willpower to not vomit as her vivid imagination provided a very likely scene of what the outcome of that particular attempt would bring, but she did find her voice. “What in Tartarus is wrong with you?”

“Aside from the obvious?” Dainn countered. “I did tell you that I tried to end my suffering many, many times. I have been… creative with certain methods.”

Twilight shuddered and shook her head, driving the mental images as far away from her mind as possible. “I’m eager to change the subject now, please. W-What happened after Oksho left?”

“What else? I took some of his warning to heart and tried to take the reigns of my newly acquired kingdom. Of course, it wasn’t that easy… no. No. It was that easy. The damnable enchantment made it all so perfectly easy. Not two weeks passed and I got reports that city after city fell, region after region captured at an astonishing rate. Most were enchanted, a few tried to fight back, the rest went into hiding, for all the good it did to them,” Dainn shook his head, gripping his cane tightly. “Despite every warning sign, I ignored it all. So what if a few males raped females openly on the streets? So what if instead of focusing on doing their jobs, males preferred to force females into humiliating conditions to simulate the work? Oh, a weak stallion is unaffected by the enchantment as is trying to speak against Male Superiority? Switch him if he likes females that much.”

“I tried… I tried so fucking hard to implement my laws, my ideas, my programs of production. But no one listened! NO ONE! The only ones that made an attempt to follow them were Gunne, Oksho, and the few lower-end administrators that, like myself, could never become warriors…,” Dainn stopped for several moments, not breathing or moving. He was just there, frozen in contemptuous silence. “I will spare you the most disgusting horrors that began to erupt at the time. But there is something I must tell you about before we continue.”

Twilight nodded, feeling her throat catch a lump of lead in it and feel her entire being shudder in dread. She knew exactly what he was referring to… but she couldn’t stop her mouth from uttering those words. “Celestia’s training.”

It wasn’t a question or a guess, it wasn’t even a stray thought or something she gave deep thought to. It was an affirmation. Cold and simple, surgical and clean. Dainn’s nod sent a chill down her spine as she saw a flare of hatred flash in his otherwise blue, dead eyes. “How did it happen?”

“As I’ve already told you, I didn’t train her. How could I? I didn’t have the time though I did… check regularly. No. Hrathr, one of the best female trainers still alive, was the one that trained her for me. He tried to train Luna, but that quickly became torture sessions, in all but name. Though Luna went through the same process, her mind was and remained intact. Celestia… she was dancing on the edge the whole time. The enchantment worked on her but not completely.”

Twilight gripped her dress and bit on her lower lip until she bled and pain overrode the anger surging in her heart. “There’s nothing I can do now,” she said out loud, but her words were not directed at Dainn. “It already happened… despite everything, this isn’t my dimension. It didn’t happen to my Celestia.”

“It did not, Not My Twilight. And with any luck, it shall never be so,” Dainn commented, gritting his teeth for a moment in discomfort. “Hrathr acted with my blessing to do whatever was necessary to break her. First, Celestia was removed from her quarters and put inside a cage barely big enough to house her and was forbidden from walking upright again. She would only crawl on all fours or sit kneeling idly. He--I took her dignity as an individual first; making sure she would come to understand she was now a mere animal,” Dainn paused for a second as a familiar pain started to course throughout his body. It was like poison running through his veins, stabbing him from within with hatred and revenge. Still, he carried on.

He had to admit that Twilight was holding up nicely so far, but for how long? “Then, all her meals were replaced by a mixture of cum and aphrodisiacs. The cum would come from caribou, stallions, or animals if need be. It didn’t matter. That was everything she w-would eat after her taming began. Hrathr was cruel and methodical. He forced her to talk a ‘walk’ around the castle every day, so that others may see her: their Princess reduced to a captive and a slut,” he gripped his cane tightly as the pain intensified tenfold. He could hear the scratching of something at the back of his mind, wishing for nothing more than for him to suffer but not to die. His palms felt like acid raining on them, his knees felt like they were being dragged through gravel, and more torments started to appear all over his body, including his asshole, guts… and the intense burning on his flanks that had just started to manifest.

Twilight noticed that something was happening to Dainn, but didn’t ask him what was wrong. She couldn’t use her voice as she heard -and imagined- the tortures Celestia and Luna went through. But Celestia had obviously gotten the worst out of that punishment by an order of magnitude.

“But she refused to break… no. No, that’s not right. She wanted to break, to submit: the enchantment was strong within her. But her will, despite how twisted it was, was still standing. Despite everything I thought about her during our fight and prior that point, she was strong… stronger than I ever was, at least,” Dainn said, his hands starting to tremble. “Hrathr was a contemptuous asshole. When he saw her resistance, he forced her to wear blinders and a butt plug at almost all times. Not only that, he devised a machine that would show Celestia recordings of her many, many raping sessions. He s-showed her --arrrghh!- he showed her what other mares went through! The pain! The suffering! The humiliation! The depravity!”

Pain. His world was turning into pain. He could feel the pain Celestia felt in his own flesh as he retold the story. He knew this. He accepted the pain willingly. It wasn’t the first time it happened. Whenever he felt like suffering he spoke of her torment and in retaliation, the pain came to punish him. But he didn’t care. His mind would not fog due to pain. He could carry on. He could continue.

He had to continue now more than ever.

“AND FOR WHAT!? Not even my mentor was so cruel! There was never a need to train females to such extents! For all his faults, Svarndagr was never known to punish unjustly! He kept females in line, but nothing more than that! He despised the males that focused on satisfying their own perversions and hedonistic ways! He punished them! Yanked the collars! And made sure to keep everyone working not for pleasure or sadistic torment, but to a goal!” Despite the pain, he managed to chuckle. “Did you know that Svarndagr’s favorite method of discipline was to unleash a kick so powerful that would leave a male’s groin useless for weeks? Some even became sterile or worse. Ivangri was punished constantly and far more than any other offender.”

“But my regime knew no such restrictions nor limits. I was a weak king. I wasn’t even one, not really. I was just an excuse, a puppet… and those around me did as they pleased. Hrathr trained her harder, made Celestia suffer by making her see countless mares being raped before her eyes. He made her witness what her weakness had caused and the ‘proper’ place females deserved under the heel of Male Superiority. He taught her to retrieve her ‘toys’ using nothing but her nose. He whipped her, smacked her, forced her down, forced her to prostrate before me, clean her own juices whenever she came and so much, much more,” Dainn stopped for a moment, letting the pain take a hold of him as he felt the burning of the Sun itself in his veins. Looking at his arms, he could see his veins bulging out and slowly changing from an ash-like color to a golden one, moment by painful moment.

“During the reports Hrathr gave to me personally with a demonstration… he forced her onto me, to test her progress. I hated it. But I couldn’t deny it either. He was doing what I requested, after all. Each day brought a new nightmare, a new horror. He somehow managed produce a drug strong enough to work on alicorns, enlarging her breasts by triple their original size at the cost of making her horny and lustful all the damn time. I could see the c-cracks… the… nnnghhh! The downward… spiral!”

“D-Dainn?” Twilight asked, her focus split between the tale and whatever was happening to the caribou. He was now trembling and shaking, she could smell the faint scent of burning flesh and see how his veins turned from a dull, brown gold to a shinier, yellow sort quickly and violently. He didn’t hear her, he was too focused on his tale even as his eyes began to glow a faint golden light.

“What broke her were two things! Storm… Storm created a runecraft device so vile and evil that I forbade him from using it again, but Shining Armor and Discord… they convinced me it was necessary to instill discipline and order in the hearts of ‘unruly bitches’. Storm created something he simply called ‘The Blankening’. Horrible monstrosity. It turned anyone condemned to a mindless, brain dead thing,” he paused, somehow managing to open his mouth, cross his eyes, and gurgle an unintelligent, lifeless moan for a few moments. “Living beings… reduced to that,” he added even as the pain was now overwhelming, ready to finish the worst part.

“The second… thing that… b-broke her was… was the definitive. Making her w-witness the downfall of her p-people was one thing… but to rob her identity… w-was another thing,” he struggled to say and for a moment watched Twilight’s eyes widen in horror. “I could only watch… as Hrathr grabbed the burning hot iron--”

“NO!”

“--and walked up to--”

“SHUT UP!”

“--Celestia… he pressed it against her flanks--”

“STOP!”

“BURNING INTO HER CUTIE MARKS, MARKING HER WITH CHAINS!” Dainn shouted, letting go of his cane. In a second, he was lifted off the ground until he was hovering two meters atop the table. The pain was white hot, burning away at his senses. His flesh was burning even as the chained Cutie Marks of Celestia appeared on his withered flanks flashing through his cloak. “A PRINCESS REDUCED TO NOTHING BUT A LOYAL PET! I SAW HER SPARK LEAVE HER EYES! I DID NOTHING! NOTHING NOTHING NOTHINGNOTHINGNOTHING NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO----”

A sudden howl of pain that could only come from a banshee escaped his throat and past his lips. His body was smoking, his eyesockets were two pyres, an ashen cloud of smoke erupted from his mouth, and the heat in the room raised by several hundred degrees. A miniature sun exploded inside his body, destroying and burning his body as quickly as it regenerated; condemning him to suffer a never-ending cycle of pain so absolute that Twilight didn’t know how was it possible for him to still be conscious.

Worse of all was the howl. It froze her bones, chilled her blood, and nearly caused her to pass out as pure hatred, pain, and regret washed over her with an intensity so bright it was akin to teleporting with her eyes open. The entire castle shook from the howl’s intensity, she could hear marble and stone fall from various places, destroying more walls, floors, and ceilings.

Then, as it came, it ended. The howl still echoed throughout the empty Canterlot, plaguing it with a sound that no one but her would hear. The heat died down almost instantly and Dainn fell to the ground with a wet sackcloth.

“Dainn!” Twilight yelled and rushed over to him, kneeling next to him before covering her nose with a hand in an attempt to dilute the smell of burning flesh. She examined him and nearly vomited out of reflex when she saw the ruined, wrecked, burned carcass that was the caribou king. Joints and appendages were bent at odd angles, his entrails were… they weren’t there, flat out. Only his spine connected his lower and upper bodies, his chest was a wreck of charred bones but she could see a beating heart through his ribcage.

His face, though, was another thing entirely. His teeth were gone, melted by the sheer intensity of the fire that had erupted within him. His tongue was also gone, and his cheeks were somehow still somewhat intact, but his snout was black, charred flesh. His eyes were there, though. From flames and golden light of fury, back to blue, cold, dead eyes of ice and longing. Eyes that stared at nothing but were still, cruel as the world around her, alive in a twisted, horrific way she could hardly stomach.

“Damn you,” she whispered, eyes watering. “Y-You idiot. Why did you do it?”

She would have to wait for an answer.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Dainn woke up all of a sudden, consciousness returning to him after what felt like a second of blissful darkness. He coughed and gasped for air, lungs burning for a moment before he regained his composure. He sat up, head-turning around only to find he was in the throne room and that Twilight was patiently waiting seated on her spot. Slowly, he stood up and retook his seat. A twist of his neck followed by a crack and a sigh was all they exchanged between them for what felt like eons of time to pass.

“You know,” he began, breaking the icy silence, “Svarndagr often dragged me and other disciples to his ‘curtailment’ displays. He often made crude jokes. ‘See, Dainn? The greatest thing that most caribou value over any other treasure is also their greatest weakness. A simple kick and they curl on the ground like worms out of the soil’, he often said to me. He had a point though. You’re a mare, so you don’t know the terrible pain that a well-placed strike on a male’s genital area can cause. It was.. funny watching them squirm, often crying their hearts out, while clutching their groin with both hands, trembling like fish out of the water,” he chuckled with honest humor. “Two weeks before the Cycle claimed him, he threatened to castrate and then switch Ivangri for being the most incompetent and disgusting caribou ever to live. Personally, I would’ve tossed Vestri and Storm in there, too, knowing what I know now.”

Twilight giggled and barked out a genuine laugh. “I can imagine that being kicked by your ex-mentor provided a lot of reasons to actually do their jobs correctly?”

Dainn smiled, nodding. “You are correct! My… ex-mentor, as you say, usually shouted insults to those he found slacking or too focused on the matters of the flesh. Slackers! Even females can do a better job! Piss-poor warriors! Dick-for-brains! Sex-focused morons!” He said, trying to imitate Svarndagr’s voice and outrageous manly tone. “For all his shortcomings and sexual tendencies, he was a warrior through and through and knew how to whip our entire species into actually running a kingdom, a civilization, instead of focusing on hedonism,” Dainn’s smile faltered and he let out a low, rumbling grumble. “The truth was there in front of me from the very start, and yet I was too ignorant and blind to see it.”

“A kingdom that was set in an icy plane, who had conquered other species, enslaved them, and built a monument to your own egos and deplorable narcissism,” Twilight explained, thumbs fiddling. “Dainn… I don’t care how Svarndagr ran his kingdom. What does it matter? He was a tyrant, a dictator, possibly the only way to run such a destructive species,” she chuckled. “You know… I’ve been thinking about how to classify you as a whole. After all, you’ve said and shown, after all, I’ve seen and heard… and that display a few minutes ago, I think I can finally say without risk of being wrong that you, caribou, are parasites. Simple and easy to understand. You are parasites.”

Dainn merely nodded, agreeing with her conclusion. “Curiously? Svarndagr said something similar once. ‘For all our strength and power, our right to rule and conquer… what can be said of parasites that lack the drive to create something new?’. My mentor was a tyrant, yes, but he had to be to run our kingdom. He was many things. A despot or stupid, he was not. Perhaps he was more aware of the Cycle than even I thought possible. Who knows? It doesn’t even matter anymore. We caribou just take and take, we never create, never plan for the future without a strong guiding hand. What we take, is ours. What we claim, belongs to us. If we can’t have it, then no one else can. Such… such mindless, megalomaniacal way of thinking… as if I was any different.”

“Then why… why did you do it?” Twilight pressed on, frowning as her horn began to send sparks of magical energy as she tried to contain herself with all her might. “Why did you do it, Dainn? Was it ego? A need for power? Your inferiority complex? Or were you simply that fucking stupid?” She cursed at the same time her eyes turned into shining velvety orbs. “Why did you do it?”

Dainn didn’t lower his head, he didn’t try to avoid her gaze, and he felt nothing but emptiness swell inside him. “Truly? I simply wanted power. I guess… I guess I should’ve known you would figure it out sooner or later. However, I can assure you that I took your powers only after the starvation kicked in as a way to counter it, to solve it. Not knowing what folly I had unleashed until it was far too late.”

Twilight stared at him for several moments… and then let out a single beam of pure magic that went through the open ceiling in the throne room. When the energy dispelled, so did her rage. “It all makes sense now. I can see why you say you don’t deserve her love. But what about the others? Do they torment you, even beyond death, constantly or only when you touch a particular subject?”

Dainn sighed. “I can’t really tell. Only Celestia’s power is constant. The others? I cannot predict when or how they’ll attack. Especially my Twilight’s,” Dainn casted a glance back at his nightmare throne, glaring at it after a few seconds before returning his attention back to Twilight. “No use in hiding it anymore.”

“At least… you did for the same cause you became a king. Foolish as that decision was,” Twilight argued.

“Foolish indeed. No good deed goes unpunished, or so the saying goes,” Dainn hummed deeply. “Although, my deeds can hardly be considered ‘good’. I heard much the same coming from the mouths of Oksho and some of his followers one fateful morning.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

As luck would have it, I found out what some of my troops thought of my glorious rule during the same day I was to see Thror to discuss matters of commerce, as his charge dictated and how… stagnant I felt his work had become shortly after the conquest began. It was something rather normal for me to do, walk alone, without guards or escorts. Why should I bother with security within my own castle, right? A blessing and a curse at once. I could move on my own but that made me unnoticed, giving me access to things that Svarndagr would’ve never tolerated.

I was passing by the barracks and the meeting hall that Oksho and his followers had claimed for themselves when I heard it. A loud groan of frustration and irritation. Curiosity got the better of me and I approached, unseen and undetected.

“-fucks sake, what are we even doing anymore?” A bulky warrior complained loudly as he sat surrounded by five other caribou, including his fearless captain, Oksho. Behind him, a pegasus mare with runes on her wings stood obediently. There were more females standing or kneeling close to the stags, all without leashes. There was something in the eyes of the mares. They were willing with an odd fascination set upon the large, red-aura glowing Oksho.

“Why, didn’t you hear? We’re enjoying the fruits of the eternal kingdom of our great and invincible King, Dainn!” Another warrior mocked and laughs followed. Even the mares couldn’t contain a giggle.

“Invincible? More like incompetent!” A third warrior champion and this time everyone but Oksho burst into laughter.

“C-Can you believe Svarndagr never kicked him once!? I thought that meant he was intelligent and sensible. Now I doubt Dainn is even male at all, ahahahaha!”

“He was female enough for Svarndagr to rape and fuck! I bet switching him won’t do anything HAHAHAHA!”

I heard them laughing at me, so openly… it didn’t hurt. That surprised me more than anything else. It didn’t hurt because there was nothing they could say that could ever change the pathetic cowardly thing I’ve always been. But I kept listening, far too intrigued into their discussion, though I still don’t know if it was due to arrogance or morbid curiosity.

Enough,” the command was strong and definitive. The laughter stopped as Oksho let out a steamy sigh. “Mare, I see you wish to speak. You may do you. You may be a female but you are a prize. You have value as such. Speak your mind.”

An earth pony mare fidgeted for a moment before she pointed at a unicorn mare that had been blanked. “D-Do you know what happened to Smoky? Yesterday she was fine and then… then the guards came and she… looks like that.”

She asked, pointing at the dead-eyed, unthinking, simple-minded mare that had once been an individual. She hardly blinked, she never stopped smiling, and she was unmoving, uncaring, and unfeeling. Like a puppet that was alive and yet devoid of life at the same time. I saw the warriors, females, and even Oksho shake in revulsion, disgust, and some fear.

“It’s unsettling, that’s what it is.”

“I know an insatiable slut that doesn’t complain or cry is a stag’s wet dream, but those are dreams for a reason, for fuck’s sake.”

“I don’t even want to touch the damn thing. Fucking Storm and his magics, she was meant to be my prize and now look at her!”

Oksho raised a hand and silence followed once more. He grunted, steam escaping his mouth once more. “Listen closely, mares,” Oksho replied, “for I shall tell you this only once. What you are seeing here is the culmination of what I hate more than anything else: dishonor and cowardice. As much as I despise your false ideals of a matriarchy and the poison that is females being equal to males… there is no excuse for dishonor and cowardice. Ever.”

“This whole invasion has been nothing but dishonor and cowardice,” a red pegasus mare said, but not glaring at Oksho or the warriors. She seemed fit, probably a Royal Guard, and it seemed she understood to some extent the way of the warrior. To my surprise, Oksho nodded in agreement. Let it never be said that he did not respect the spirit of a warrior even if that warrior was a female.

“Hmmm, too bad Switching doesn’t work the other way. You would be a fitting warrior, mare,” he praised with a hint of a smile.

The mare bowed her head. “I deserve no such honors, my master.”

“But she’s right,” a warrior continued. “Even a dumb female can see the truth that’s right in front of our eyes and yet everyone, including that joke of a King we follow, is too blind to see it!”

“We are elite warriors, not common peasants waiting to till the soil! And yet, not even we are so self-indulgent as to neglect our duties like some other ‘warriors’ do. Pathetic.”

“Svarndagr wouldn’t have tolerated this. He would’ve killed Vestri, Ivangri, and that failure of Storm for merely suggesting the shit Dainn allowed them to pull. Cycle or no Cycle, honor demands a conquest fought in blood and righteous battle. Facing worthy opponents and earning the glory of the ancients… not… not whatever this is.”

“A hollow victory that feels like defeat and surely tastes like ash in my mouth,” another warrior exclaimed, gently caressing the back of his prized mare. “What are we to do? Grow fat and lazy like the rest? What kind of life is that for a warrior?”

“You talk as if we conquered Equestria, brother.”

“Didn’t we all through the machinations and cowardice of Storm?”

“Did we now? Because all I saw were mountains and hordes of traitors conquering the land, claiming and raping it before our eyes. One simple enchantment and poof! They see the glory of Male Superiority? Females understand their place under the heel of worthy males? No, I don’t buy it and I don’t trust the traitors. Who is to say they won’t turn on us after Equestria is fully enchanted? Or worse, the rest of the world?”

“The strong rule, the weak obey… but where do we stand in that balance?” Another asked with grim determination.

“Bah, Storm did nothing. It was that pony, Orestes? He’s the worst scum I’ve seen. Even greater than Ivangri. He is a pure traitor to his own species! What can we expect of someone like him?”

A yellow-colored unicorn female chuckled. “Perhaps he wants to make Prin--Shining Armor the King of Equestria?”

A low rumble escaped Oksho’s mouth followed by a plume of red, vivid fire. “Would you trust a traitor to guard your sleeping chambers at night?” He asked softly, almost whispering and I felt fear run down my spine. “Of course you wouldn’t. We know those traitors are planning something. We don’t know what their agenda is, but we know we cannot trust them.”

“Then, my Lord, what should we do?”

“Listen to these mares, for once,” he chuckled. “They, unlike the fool that is Vestri, they seem to be able to think and see the obvious.”

“Master?” The red pegasus asked. “You’ve told us of your exploits and deeds, your achievements and conquests. Why… do you tolerate them? Wouldn’t it be easier to remove those fools?”

Oksho remained silent for a few seconds, then replied. “Because I’m a warrior… I made the mistake of bowing and swearing loyalty to Dainn. I will not act without his input against my fellow caribou. I will serve as I served Svarndagr… but I fear that Surtr is coming.”

“The Bringer of Ragnarok!?” A mare asked in shock, I couldn’t tell who. “B-But how can that be, master?”

Oksho was visibly fuming now, trembling, and steam freely left his body. He was a furnace, but even with the intense heat I could feel from my hiding spot, his warriors and prized mares didn’t move away from him. They endured the heat without complaint; with honor and dignity. He drew his sword, the famed Surtalog: a large slab of black metal in the rough shape of a blade that was now glowing with red, intense heat at the tip. His first work as a swordsmith, his proudest creation and the ugliest, too. But it worked and was the only blade that had ever tasted the blood of Svarndagr.

He stood up and his followers did the same, stepping back to give him space. With a swing of his weapon, the air itself hissed with fury. Then, the blade turned black once more but Oksho remained livid. Controlled, but livid.

The first warrior coughed, clearing his throat. “What you must understand, mare, is that Surtr is not a ‘someone’. Surtr is a force of nature and prophecy, a monster… that you DO NOT wish to encounter. Surtr will come when the time is right to unleash Ragnarok. I saw Surtr once, long ago. When depravity claimed a caribou tribe much like what is happening right now. I saw Surtr and I was lucky to live to tell the tale.”

“A whole tribe, slaughtered in a single night. Burned and maimed, parasites and monsters of wanton lust that needed to be purged. A tumor, nothing more. Every stag and doe died that night,” another continued, having seen the aftermath of the carnage but not the monster itself. “Ragnarok unleashed is… not something I wish upon anyone but those deserving of it.”

“Good things don’t happen to heroes. Surtr is both a monster and a hero, a force of destruction and a shield against the ultimate evil,” the first warrior said, glancing briefly at Oksho. “I survived seeing Surtr… and so did our Lord.”

“My tribe, destroyed by Surtr’s blade, Ragnarok unleashed,” Oksho finally said, snorting angrily. “Such a fitting end to such a cursed place; a tribe of depraved lunatics that exiled their savior and hero. A fitting end,” as he turned to leave, he stared into the eyes of the red mare once more. “Yes?” He asked abruptly.

The pegasus took a step forth, ignoring the heat radiating from her Lord. “I am… confused, Master. I thought Ragnarok was the final battle? How can there be multiple Ragnaroks?”

“Ones that target sex-focused morons, no less,” another mare asked in a submissive tone. In her place, I would’ve done the same.

“Sex-focused morons, huh? Indeed apt descriptor, mare,” he chuckled heavily, his laugh sounding like the roaring furnace of a blacksmith. “That was Svarndagr’s favorite insult. Though, to answer your question, I believe there’s a small misconception. Ragnarok isn’t a final battle. Ragnarok,” he turned again and began to walk away, each step leaving ash behind him, “is unclear. Even to me. That is what I think.”

With that said, he began to walk out of the room. I was stunned after hearing the real thoughts of my warriors. So stunned, in fact, that I didn’t move when I saw him approaching my hiding spot. It was inevitable for our eyes to meet as he walk past me. Oksho only gave out a grunt of annoyance, shoved my shoulder, and left me there. He didn’t care that I had listened to him and his followers speaking.

I felt shame, not for what was said… but at my weakness for not confronting him. I only proved to be a spineless coward yet again. I moved only after the warriors and their prizes immersed themselves in other talks. I made my way to Thror, tired and my mood bitter.

When I entered his workshop, with Oksho’s words and that of his followers still ringing inside my head, I barely managed to contain a gasp when my eyes saw what was happening there. Hrathr was present, posing on a pedestal with Celestia kneeling in front of him with his cock rammed down her throat; a tight fit given the black collar adorning her neck. Behind him, Luna was bound and roped, gagged as she was forced to stick her ass up with a large dildo sticking out her ass while her asscheeks were beating red, no doubt caused by a brutal spanking. There were other mares present, black-collared ones looking away while red collars muttered how they wished to trade places with their former rulers.

“Ah! My King,” Thror’s voice was booming and arrogant as ever as he stood up from his workstation while his laborers and assistants continued on their cryptic work. “You’ve come just in time to see my latest masterpiece!”

“What I want to know at this moment is why are my prizes here and in such a pose!” I demanded, frowning. “I doubt this is part of their training, Hrathr!”

“You are welcome to train them yourself, my King. But your busy schedule and lacking… hand would leave them as poor pets,” Hrathr said, backhanding me with a polite insult.

“And the reason why your cock is inside my prized pet?” I asked, arching a brow. I looked past Thror to see something familiar resting on his desk, though I couldn’t make it out just yet.

“Thror needed a model. A strong, capable model,” the trainer once more commented, slapping me with yet another insult. I couldn’t react to it, at least I would draw unnecessary attention. Yet one word caused me to turn to Thror completely.

“You needed a model? For what purpose?” I asked and I swear I could hear his teeth chattering with how wide it went. He silently guided me to his workbench and there I saw first that the object I had recognized was Celestia’s necklace. Her regalia was there, resting on his desk… or what little remained still intact. I saw discarded golden coins resting inside a trash bin and a final coin, golden and beautiful, engraved with caribou runes on the edges, but the center was depicting Celestia sucking on Hrathr’s cock… no, it wasn’t Hrathr’s cock. Not really.

How could I not recognize my own genitals?

That only infuriated me further. Hrathr had merely acted as a base model. Why had Thror not said anything to me about his plans? Did he know I would reject him outright? The answer, I found out, was yes. “What in the pits of Hel itself is this!?” I blared in outrage.

“Our new currency, my King!” Thror exclaimed, overjoyed. He reached for the coin and flipped it, showing Luna’s ass. “I--”

I didn’t hear him. I only saw red and felt genuine rage burn within me. I had backhanded Thror as hard as I could, which made him spit a tooth and blood to splatter on the ground. Everything froze. “M-My King?”

“YOU DARE USE MY CUNTS WITHOUT MY PERMISSION!?” I barked, enraged, ignoring my pulsating fist. “Have you no shame!? And to do this… this thing!?” I picked up the coin and stored it in my bag. I didn’t know what drove me to do it, but I picked the rejected coins and the surviving regalia and stored them. “I forbid the use of this coin, Thror! Ponies already have a functioning coin that we can use! Featureless golden coins! Millions of them! This… this is an unnecessary extreme!”

“My King, please, understand me!” Thror said, spitting a glob of blood but actually pleading before me. “We need to display your power and the submission of these two alicorn cunts! Cadance has already accepted her rightful place and soon you shall deal with the remaining alicorn, Twilight Sparkle!”

“And that is why you decided to go behind my back trying to achieve, what? My favor? To please me!? For your transgressions, Thror, Svarndagr would’ve flayed you alive!” I countered, unwilling to accept his lip service.

“But you aren’t Svarndagr!” Thror countered. “You are Dainn! You must be greater!”

“Then put MY FACE in the coinage, not my cock and the furtherment of unnecessary cruelty!” I pointed out. “You will NOT do this, understood? Now I understand why you wished to show me this sickening project with such vehemency. Did you honestly think I would approve?” Then, I turned to Hrathr. “And you, Hrathr, resume their training! If they are required for another… experiment, I shall be consulted first and only I shall decide if they are allowed to be used or not! Understood!?”

Heads bowed but no word was spoken. I could feel something bubbling in my core, though I didn’t know what it was. As I turned to see Luna and Celestia, released from their bondage but made to crawl as they retreated, I saw nothing but resentment in Luna’s eyes. But I saw a flash of… I don’t know what was it. Gratitude, maybe? A flash in Celestia’s eyes. I watched them until they were gone and I was about to leave when several guards entered the room with Ivangri, Storm, Orestes and Vestri rushing forth towards me.

“My King!” Ivangri said, smiling widely. The bastard. “We found her! The purple bitch is hiding in Ponyville!”

“Ponyville?” I muttered, confused. “Wasn’t that town taken during our assault? How is it possible that she hides there?”

“I made a mistake,” Orestes exclaimed, bowing his head. “I thought the coward would run to the Saddle Arabians or to the Griffons, but to hide right under our noses? A bold if almost intelligent move made by a worthless cunt.”

“How did you find her, then?” I asked and I saw reality itself tear open in front of me to give way to Discord. Even now, my memory is fuzzy when he’s around. I saw Fluttershy, wearing a red collar and happily crawling to his side, acting as if she was but a mere animal, the same she loved so dearly. “Good to see you again, Discord. I presume it was you who found Twilight Sparkle?”

“It wasn’t hard to find Sparkle Warkle. Your incompetent advisors and goons just don’t know how to do their jobs!” He mocked with a toothy grin. He had no idea how right he was. “Besides, I was around and decided to give you a hand, Dainn my boy. Now, I gotta dip! I promise my little Fluttershy to visit lots of forests to see how many creatures rape her holes!”

“Woof! Woof!” Fluttershy replied.

And before I could say anything else, they were gone, vanished as a twister filled with fish and cotton candy replaced them. Then, reality returned to normality. I saw the four bastards staring at me, waiting for something. “Prepare to move. I shall lead the assault on Ponyville myself and deal with the last alicorn once and for all.”

The next two hours passed as a blur to me. I only came to my senses when I was already on my way to Ponyville with a full contingent of caribou warriors, Oksho and his followers nowhere to be found. Not because he refused or I didn’t want him near me. But rather, I sent him to face off against the buffalo tribes that had beaten two full assaults already. I had no time to deal with such a distant annoyance, so I sent Oksho to a place where he could find at least some glory in battle.

Yet another stupid mistake of my making.

The trip to Ponyville was filled with jeering and cheering, enchanted were eager to put Twilight in her proper place and enjoy even more spoils, while caribou warriors were not that far behind. We had just landed far, far down the road that linked Ponyville to Canterlot; the small town barely visible even to my elevated position, when I saw three pegasi flying at full speed toward my contingent.

I recognized Soarin and expected bad news. I had sent Vestri and Ivangri to form a perimeter around the town and put it under siege until my arrival. What had gone wrong? “Report,” I ordered as the stallion, flanked by two more, hovered in front of me just a few meters apart.

“I bring joyous news, my King! Lord Vestri has launched a successful joint assault supported by Lords Ivangri and Storm! The few remaining defenders have surrendered or seen the light of Male Superiority, including the dragon the alicorn kept as her closest confidant.”

“Dr-Dragon?” One soldier muttered. I have heard reports of dragons, actual dragons, being sighted across the frontiers and even some found in dwellings and caves. But I had not believed the rumors. Not until that moment. But my rational thinking was supplanted by disbelief and anger.

“DAMN THEM!” I shouted. “I told them to wait! What of the alicorn!? Where is Twilight Sparkle!?”

“She was surrendering when I was ordered to carry out this message, my King,” Soarin replied and smirked evilly, darkly. “Now nothing can stop us!”

“I shall be the judge of that,” I remarked, feeling betrayed and tired. I wanted to at least prove to myself that I could be a good commander, a good leader. A king that doesn’t hide behind his generals and only reaps the rewards for something he didn’t do. I wanted to feel a fraction of the pride and honor Oksho felt as a warrior. Even if just for once in my life. A genuine feeling, not merely tasteless ashes.

That’s when I heard it. A roar. By the heavens, that roar of rage and fury. And then I saw him. A blob of pure muscle the color of purple and green, rushing towards me. How? Why? Who was that? Why was he making his way to me?

“MY CUNT!” The monstrosity roared. Two and a half meters tall, bulked in muscles and fury and lust and rage that just barely escaped being a deformed thing. Arms too thick, wide torso, small, thin stomach, and thin legs and tail. The dragon roared, his body bulked more, and changed again; muscles reformed with each step until a dragon with a muscular physique remained, now only a few meters in front of me and my command platform. “MY TWILIGHT! BELONGS TO SPIKE! SPIKE. WANTS. RULE!”

“I am your King, dragon!” I commanded, standing up. “Cease and---ohh…” That was all I could say before the dragon lept at me. With a powerful tackle, he sent us to the floor where sharp claws pierced my back, my chest, and my left thigh. “GAAAHHH!” I cried out in pain and horror. My armor proved to be next to useless and panic gripped my heart. I tried to reach for my hammer, only to find empty air. It was still on the platform! The beast roared, laughing and claiming he would rule after I was gone. He picked me up only to slam me against the ground, breaking my right arm. I screamed, again, and he tossed me to the side until I crashed against a tree. Four ribs cracked and a lung was punctured.

For a moment there, I felt nothing and realized I was about to die at the hands of a dragon. But then, he stopped as the flapping of lavender wings landed next to him. “Master! Master, don’t harm our King!”

“Spike want! Spike rule! Weak! King weak! I make better King!” Spike said and I vomited blood as ai gasped for air, the pain returning to me in a flash.

I watched as Twilight, smiling dumbly and obediently, kissed the bare chest of the dragon and that seemed to calm him down enough for her to turn to my broken form and prostrate herself as low as she could manage. Then, she spoke the words that I wish I had never heard.

“My King, this lowly bitch vows before your greatness. I, as the last remaining alicorn whore, surrender myself to you, my King. Please, do with me as you desire~”

I passed out a second later.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“I---My other me, this world’s me, fell to the enchantment, just like that!?” Twilight protested, outraged. “That’s… actually plausible. My connection to magic is a strong one. Ugghh, I feel like I need a bath after hearing you say that,” she exhaled, grossed out. “I am… more concerned about Spike. He was too affected by the enchantment and he immediately went after you?”

“Vestri and Ivangri never stopped boasting, I came to learn. He knew who I was, and where I was coming from, and their comments ensured to plant a weakling in his mind. As for his… transformation. Storm panicked and used ten crystals on him at the same time. I am more surprised he actually survived the process,” Dain commented, frowning. “Although, I must praise you, Twilight. I always thought that my Twilight surrendered out of her own volition, whatever the reason was. That she gave up her horn and wings maybe because she lost the will to fight or understood that she had already lost. If that was the case, why try to start a rebellion or hold out? No. The Twilight I see in front of me is the real Twilight: strong, determined, with an unshakable will, and one that does not falter, no matter the odds. My Twilight… it seems my Twilight was greatly affected by the cure, that damned enchantment, as I feared. Or perhaps I’ve always known… I just didn’t want to see the truth.”

Twilight nodded. “This… enchantment was the main reason everything went so horribly, right?”

Dainn stared at her for several long, dead silent seconds that felt like ages before his voice found the strength to leave his mouth. “I’m the reason everything went so horribly, Twilight. The enchantment just… accelerated the process and turned everything that much, much worse.”

“I know,” she agreed, “but, ultimately, this enchantment was the fire that burned Equestria in the end, was it not? Or at least the source. But there’s something I don’t understand. You mentioned blanking before and a general description of it, but I can’t quite picture it in my mind. What is that process?”

Dainn let out a low rumble of disgust. “Imagine making a living thing in a doll. The process is difficult and complex, I certainly don’t understand it. But, essentially, the process takes away all individuality, personality, and drive of a pony may have and replaces it with a sole desire to obey. They obeyed, without question… without enthusiasm, without ever uttering a single complain or sound. Just silent, indifferent, cold obedience,” he growled again, eyes flashing with hatred.

“Blanking was and remains the greatest sin of my people. It only worked on ponies, the same as the enchantment. The free will of the ponies pushed into those horrid machines was destroyed, their Cutie Marks erased, their destinies forever lost. In its place, a blank shell remains, one that could be molded into whatever we desired. It was used as punishment in the early days after Storm Perfected the process, but as time went on, food began to dwindle, depravity erupted, and blanking became more and more widespread. Thankfully, it ended with the cycle… at least one good thing came out of it. Blanking should've never existed.”

“Imagine this: having to lose your Cutie Mark, replaced by a mockery of a caribou cock with bulging balls trickling down cum onto a pool of feminine lips. Not even a real replacement, just a sick drawing or even a branding with hot iron. You lose your mind, your very soul and purpose. You are reduced to a husk of a living being. If for nothing else, we Caribou deserve the worst just for this silent genocide called Blanking alone.”

Twilight was shocked, but her shock quickly turned into understanding and then realization. “The blanking effects sound eerily similar to what a villain-turned-friend did. Her name is Starlight and she basically kept an entire village under her hoof by removing their Cutie Marks, but they could still live a normal life, though diminished. My friends and I experienced what that feels like. It is not a feeling I’d wish upon anyone. Yet this blanking sounds worse,” she scoffed, her voice turning sinister. “What if the ponies that were blanked were still there? Trapped inside their own bodies and minds; forever screaming with no one to hear them as they watched on?”

Dainn closed his eyes, shaking his head. “Thank you, Twilight. As if I didn’t have enough things to regret already. I honestly wish the souls of those ponies left their still living bodies behind; flesh with empty dolls-eyes. They were the wet dream of many a caribou, but the horror of having a thing that didn’t tire, didn’t complain or uttered a sound always waiting to fulfill the next order given soon turned into living nightmares.”

“I can’t imagine why,” she replied with acidic sarcasm. “Although… speaking about horrible fates, what did that warrior mean by “good things don't happen to heroes?”. I’m a hero. My friends are heroes. And good things happen to us all the time. We stopped Nightmare Moon, we helped Shining Armor and Cadance push Chrysalis out of Canterlot, we defeated Discord, and we defeated Tirek, The Storm King, and solved countless other problems. I’ll admit some of those were close calls… but good things happen to us!” She exclaimed, spreading her wings out of reflex when remembering all the adventures she had experienced with her friends. The many times they had saved the day, the perils, the dangers, and the rewards, too.

“That’s because you are a hero that the people desire. But what is a hero, really? A hero is someone that pushes back against the darkness, not caring for personal harm or the price to pay as long as said evil is vanquished. In simpler terms, a hero is someone that aids the innocent regardless of circumstance or danger, correct?” Dainn commented.

“You’re correct. That’s the basic premise and definition of what a hero is,” Twilight agreed, not knowing what Dainn had in mind.

“Then, tell me, what happens when a hero acts without the people asking for help? What happens when a hero has to destroy evil… and that evil comes from the ‘innocent’? What happens when the people plead for help and yet only show scorn in return?” Dainn questioned and sighed tiredly. “Oksho… his tribe was under the assault of a beast simply known as Garm. A forsaken monster once thought unkillable. They cried out for help, but they were too unimportant to catch Svarndagr’s attention. Oksho stood up to the challenge and battled the damnable beast for days on end until he finally ripped out its heart and burned the corpse to ashes.”

“I don’t mean to sound cruel, but since Oksho was a caribou, no matter what he did he could never be a hero,” Twilight said, frowning. “I’ve come to despise your species, Dainn. Am I… am I being unfair and evil for that? He saved them all, he was a hero… and yet knowing he survived I hoped to hear he died during the encounter.”

“I don’t blame you, Twilight. My species has done nothing to earn nothing but hatred, scorn, and disgust. You said it best yourself. We are parasites and I agree with that conclusion,” Dainn agreed, humming deeply. “And you’re right. He was a hero. And how was he treated? What was his reward? Fear and ostracizing grew day by day. Paranoia got to them. If Oksho was able to kill the beast that had eaten so many of them and their food storage, then who could stop him?”

“Wait, what!?” Twilight sprung from her seat in a fit of outrage. “B-But he saved them! They asked for help and he stepped up! As much as I hate Caribou, he was a hero! And all he got in return was contempt and disdain!?”

“What he got, Twilight was to be exiled from his tribe because they feared him. With him gone, they celebrated, thinking they were finally secure and free to live as they pleased. The celebration sparked depravity and hedonism in them while Oksho met my mentor during his exile. And the rest, as you say, is history. Oksho told me his story after he culled his village for their transgressions. Despite the unfair treatment he got, he was proud of his victory. A battle that spurred him into following the path of the warrior.”

“He almost sounds noble. Almost,” Twilight remarked, sighing and retaking her seat. “I… I need a moment to process all of this. But I have to ask you… after Spike--”

“Nearly killed me? Beat me within an inch of my life? Made me fear dragons to the point I developed a phobia?” Dainn asked, raising an eyebrow.

“--yes… that. After that, what happened? I mean, many of your warriors and subjects saw what happened and it looked like none tried to help you,” she pointed out, crossing her arms.

“You would be correct on that observation. None helped me because they thought I would be able to handle Spike myself. As for what happened after my thorough beating? The incident was silenced, of course, and I was quickly brought to our medical facilities in order to heal.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

I lay naked on my royal bed with medical equipment meant to continue my treatment while I rested. Healing magic is amazing but it can’t fix everything. I had spent a full week already in my quarters and I would be there for at least three more days. As I looked down at my previously broken body, I found it was more muscular than I remembered, I was also slightly taller, perhaps two or three inches at most.

My penis, however, was the appendage that had seen the most change ever since I became King. I knew these changes were the effect of the Cycle, but I never expected such a drastic change on my genitals. My shaft was erect, revealing the light brown coloration that covered it alongside white splotches scattered across my length. It was also girthy and paired with a heavy set of testicles; each hefty orb the size of a small melon. I grimaced at the sight of my once less-than-stellar penis. Now it looked more like the monster Svarndagr carried. I didn’t like it, at all.

At my side rested Ginna. She was peppering my chest and neck with sweet, hot kisses while her dainty hand stroked my shaft slowly. She would sometimes move around just to kiss my cock and balls, giving me a full view of her nethers in the process. Despite everything Svarndagr did to me, the punishments and the conditioning, I couldn’t resist the charming, sweet treatment of Ginna. There was nothing sexual with her treatment aside from our physical contact. I rarely climaxed during our sessions since sex was not the goal.

I needed her sweetness, her noble and caring aura, her tenderness and genuine devotion and gentle nature to relax me. I petted her head, rubbed the stumps of her antlers, caressed her back, and kissed her forehead from time to time, each time with less pain for my efforts.

“Your dick has gotten big, Dainn,” she said, calling me by my name during this time. “It was lovely before and now is so strong. You’re a male, Dainn,” she whispered, smiling and placing a kiss on my neck.

“I don’t like it,” I confessed. “I’d rather have my cock as it was before.”

“You are our King, Dainn. Malehoods grow, you’ve grown. Don’t hate yourself,” Ginna whispered sweetly, kissing my cheek afterward.

“You’ve always known how to ease away my frustrations,” I declared, pulling her just a little bit closer so I could enjoy her warmth, the softness of her flesh and fur, and her large breasts pressing against my tired, bruised body.

“I’m still at a loss how that happened, Dainn,” Gunne commented while his eyes were focused on the reports I had received earlier that morning. “Ugggh, Ivangri is proposing one of his underlings to take control of Ponyville. Vestri is no better and the rest of the council is quiet about it, no doubt because their ambitions are focused elsewhere.”

“If that coward thinks he’ll get Ponyville as a reward, he will be sorely mistaken,” I replied softly. “What of the buffalo?”

“As Storm speculated, the enchantment doesn’t work on them. Oksho reports that the buffalo are worthy warriors and should be respected as such. Scouts say that a small town named Appleloosa is near their territory, the ponies seem to know about the enchantment and are avoiding a direct confrontation.”

“I’ll… have to deal with that personally, it seems,” I hummed as Ginna moved herself on top of me, her weight next to meaningless even in my bruised condition. Her vaginal lips trapped my cock’s length as she moved back and forth slowly, stimulating me without aiming for me to reach an orgasm. “How about the rest of Equestria?”

“It has nearly fallen under your command, Dainn. Only Neighpan, the elusive Cloudsdale, and Germane still resist, but they shall fall within the week, according to the commanders in charge,” Gunne sighed tiredly. “As for the neighboring countries? Turns out dragons are real but they don’t really care about what’s happening. The griffons, on the other hand, are fortifying their borders for the upcoming conquest.”

“Upcoming conquest? We have Equestria. What more could we need?” I asked before I could shudder in fear at the prospect of who-knows-how-many dragons living right next to us.

“Are you so naive as to believe the warmongers that so easily convinced you of this folly to stop now? The gates to an entire world have been opened. They won’t stop.”

I frowned. “I will stop them.”

“You won’t.”

“I wil.”

“...I want to believe you, Dainn. But either you’ll cave in or they’ll do it on their own. I’m sure of it,” he complained before letting out a dark, knowing chuckle. “That is, if we even survive these coming years.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, concerned.

“There are several reports indicating a drop in productivity across all sectors, mainly agricultural ones. At this rate, we may face a famine within two, maybe three years,” he estimated. Oh, my sweet friend, you were always too optimistic.

And, of course, as the fool I was, I brushed the problem aside. “Conquests have a price to be paid. This drop shall stabilize quickly and things shall return to normal. Our people will be saved and the Cycle will end. This is the foundation of what I promised: a golden empire forged by caribou hands. An immortal empire,” I groaned, grabbing Ginna’s hips tenderly. “But since you are so worried about production, I shall make you Magistrate of Ponyville, my friend. The food that rural village produces shall grow strong under your care and be an example for all to follow!”

“M-Magistrate? Me? I… I don’t know what to say, Dainn… are you sure you wish to grant me such power? Aren’t there others more qualified?”

“I was robbed of having you by my side since the start. I shall make amends now and put you in charge of Ponyville, a seat of power next to my own,” I explained, smiling. “Though I will miss you and Ginna dearly, I shall visit as often as I can.”

“In that case, I shall obey and do my best, my King,” Gunne said while Ginna focused on her task, happily.

I would not see them again for a long time.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“You have got to be kidding me,” Twilight breathed out, frustrated and tired. “You seriously treated Ginna as a therapy pet?”

“Male. Caribou. Female. What’s not to understand?” Dainn drolled with mild amusement. “But Ginna was happy to aid me. She was a female but, as odd as this sounds, she was rarely fucked and raped. Many stags feared that having her close to them would taint them with the imaginary ‘curse’ the birth of the twins brought. Instead, she trained to be a therapy doe. It fit her personality and Gunne was happy his sister was mostly ignored by other stags. I never treated her like a pet, though the comparisons are obvious and mudded from an outsider’s perspective, I must admit.”

“Did she ever felt, you know… lesser for being pushed aside by other stags?” Twilight asked, gagging a moment later. “Bleeergh, asking that just feels wrong!”

“Not really. She accepted her role and did her best to be useful. She… sweet Ginna deserved better than what this accursed world gave her. Though she tended to cry whenever she failed to seduce a stag since being sexually active and sought after was a mark of pride between the does. As you can imagine, she was at the bottom of the barrel, but not even that broke her spirit. If there’s one person I could’ve chosen to save and sent to another place to live a happy life away from all of this… I would’ve chosen her.”

“I know you said you didn’t love her romantically, but I’m having a hard time believing that,” Twilight commented with a raised brow.

“Is love and affection the same as sexual attraction? Admiration? Platonic love? No, of course not. My love for Ginna was always platonic and one I believe would be shared between siblings. Or was it sexual desire and romantic love that made you rescue your brother from Chrysalis’ manipulation?” Dainn asked, cooking his head slightly to the side in intrigue.

Twilight coughed, embarrassed, and nodded. “Touché. And now that you mention it, I see more or less what you mean. You had sexual interaction with her but there was no real desire there.”

Dainn shrugged. “Sexual desire was destroyed within me. Even with Ginna, there was no satisfaction, just relief. I cannot say the same regarding Celestia,” said the king softly. “Not the same.”

“After you were healed, what happened?” Twilight asked after five minutes of awkward, uncomfortable silence.

“What else?” With uncanny agility and flare, Dainn stood up lifting a small cloud of dirt and ash around him, raising his cane to the sky as if it was a sword. “Ragnarok happened.”

Chapter 17: Surtr’s Wrath

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“Of course it does,” Twilight breathed out with mild annoyance. “And your sudden flare for theatrics explains this dark moment in your reign?”

“Why shouldn’t it? Even if he isn’t here to see it and knowing he would likely wring my neck for saying this, but it is a small honor I can still do that Oksho deserves. As much as he ended up hating and everything that passed between us, he was… remains an example that I could never follow or reach. Ironic, is it not? I have all the time in the world to at least try to increase my martial prowess but I’m stuck unable to change my situation.”

“Is that why you’ve never tried to spy on me whenever I leave or why I haven’t found any evidence of you searching a way out?” Twilight asked.

Dainn chuckled. “Oh, how I wish my Twilight had never been corrupted by the enchantment. I wonder now if she possessed that same fire you display, Not My Twilight. However, I made it clear already, have I not? As much as I despise this place, I shall not leave. Period. If I leave, what will happen? Worst case scenario, I’ll end up repeating this devastation. Best case, I’ll be free from this torment and whatever held partial control of my mind and I’ll die in peace. I am not stupid enough to believe the latter will ever come to happen.”

Twilight chuckled darkly, shaking her head slowly. “Funny, I can almost feel the need to applaud your conviction,” she estated, then sighed. “How did it happen? Ragnarok.”

“How indeed, Twilight. You see, remember the Buffalo? Propaganda built it up as a great, courageous victory that saw these rebellious savages broken and scattered. The truth couldn’t be further from the truth. While I was still recovering and preparing to head to the front lines, Ivangri moved on his own.”

“How so?”

“Why, by being the cowardly, backstabbing bastard that he was, of course,” Dainn had slowly returned to his seat and now he slumped on it, letting out a growl of frustration. “Oksho and his warriors were managing to hold against the Buffalo who, according to the reports I read, were fierce, magnificent warriors. I honestly thought Oksho would appreciate such a gesture… and I believe he would’ve were it not for Ivangri’s intervention.”

“Let me guess… Appleloosa?” Twilight muttered, eyes already narrowed in anger for what was about to assault her ears.

“As I mentioned, Appleloosa had been untouched and the Buffalo were protecting the town, preventing anything from reaching it through conventional means. So, Ivangri, summoning his vermin ancestry, sent four pegasi under the cover of night to see what they could find. What they found was a certain girl by the name of Little Strongheart, the Chief’s daughter. She was there for her own safety. What a cruel joke, don’t you think so?”

“Oh no… did they--”

“Rape her? Of course. But only after they took her to Ivangri. Poor… poor girl. All buffalo are remarkably stubborn and loyal to a fault, but she was beated, tortured, raped, and abused so much and for days on end that little by little she cracked. She slipped pieces of information here and there, until, after six days of this torment, Ivangri had everything he needed to counter the buffalo. He had their strategies, their doctrines, supply routes, where their hidden camps were, everything.”

“T-That’s just awful. Don’t you know that torture never works as an interrogating system!? At the end, the prisoner will say anything just to make the pain stop,” Twilight remarked, suddenly feeling the need to void her stomach again.

“I did. Ivangri? He didn’t care. Or rather, he knew and did it on purpose. The sadistic monster that he was, I’m willing to bet whatever I have of value left that he never truly cared about what Little Strongheart had to say as long as he could have an excuse to torture someone and make his cock stiff. Depraved lunatic,” Dainn said in a fit of fury. “But he had the information, and with it, used it against her tribe with devastating effect.”

“Meanwhile, I was finishing my healing treatment. My Twilight came to me, crawling, and offering her horn and wings willingly to me. I tried to apply the weight runes on her feathers, but she insisted to be sheathed ‘as a proper dumb slut should be’. I cut off her horn and sheathed her wings with as much care as I possibly could spare and then… I took her feathers, ordering a slave to fill a pillow with them. Her horn I took and placed it on my throne, finally making it full; a complete set of the four alicorn whores that fell against my might. Pathetic lies and propaganda.”

“If you hate it so much, allow me to destroy it. That nightmarish thing shouldn’t be allowed to exist,” Twilight offered, eyeing the throne that was simultaneously foreboding and infuriating to look at.

“Perhaps at another time. I require it as a testament to my actions. It is penance if that makes sense,” Dainn replied.

“You are frustratingly contradictory, Dainn. You wish to end your torment yet seek to perpetuate it, you hate yourself and your wretched species yet pity them for what they were. I would call you a hypocrite were it not for your earnest desire to at least do some good out of everything that’s happened,” said the lavender alicorn, offering Dainn a genuine smile.

“You are… far too good for your own sake you know that, Twilight Sparkle,” Dainn said, then hummed deeply. “Where was I? Ah, yes… the completion of my nightmarish throne and the rupturing of Ragnarok,” he stopped for a moment, his icy eyes finding a longing warmth that was almost unnatural to see reflected in those dead, cold eyes. “I was preparing to depart and oversee the battle against the buffalo when I first got the reports detailing what Ivangri had done… followed minutes later by a shout of anger cursing my name.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

DAAAAAINNNNN!” The shout penetrated and reverberated throughout the castle with fury, threatening to bring it down. I could hear it from my secure position around the large garden areas next to the pegasi chariot carts.

My attendants froze in fear and the turned ponies showed a disturbing amount of interest in what was about to happen. I didn’t let any partake in what was about to happen. “Everyone, leave. Now! I shall face my kingdom’s Champion alone.” Either loyalty or cowardice moved them as they left without hesitation. Seconds felt like hours until I could hear the heavy, angry steps that belonged to Oksho as he approached. How did he know where I was, I never figured that one out. When the ornamental doors leading to the landing and take-off areas of the chariots burst open via a powerful kick, a wave of heat washed over me. Oksho’s fury was intense as the raging fury of a volcano, yet contained still. He was holding his fiery sword while his cohort of chosen warriors marched behind their leader, mentor, and hero.

“Oksho--” I started, but I was not given the chance to continue.

“SHUT IT!” Oksho demanded, closing the distance between us with a singular leap that put him two meters in front of me. Oh, how magnificent he was. Taller than me by two full heads, bulging muscles with fire-red veins pulsating under his ashen skin and fur. His eyes were red like lava and his aura of heat was like the fires of a forge. “Do you know what that putrid coward has done? What he has cost my warriors and I!?”

“I do,” I replied, frowning. “I share your dissatisfaction, Oksho! I learned about his deeds mere moments ago! In fact, I was preparing to chastise him myself.”

“AND YOU STILL STAY YOUR HAND!?” Oksho said, fuming. I couldn’t blame him. “He has shamed me and my warriors! He had shamed our species! He robbed us of a glorious and true conquest! The buffalo were cunning and strong, loyal and tenacious yet warriors to their cores. Four of my warriors died a glorious death! IT WAS BEAUTIFUL!” He took a step forth, sword still in hand. I could see his warriors behind him. Silent. Watching.

He narrowed his eyes and I felt like I was about to soil my armor.

“And Ivangri ruined it. He snuck like a snake and tortured the Chief’s daughter for information. Then, he used it against them not as a strategy, but as poison to decimate them… the buffalo… they would’ve made excellent warrior slaves, Dainn. Now, they are gone… reduced to such a degree that they will never recover,” for a moment there, I saw just how much it hurt him. Not the deaths of the buffalo, but how they met their end was what made him pity a warrior tribe that he had come to respect. “This… this mockery of a victory is no victory at all. All Ivangri proved to all our future foes is that we have no honor: that we are cowards who would rather poison their drink and food before fighting as warriors must.”

“Not all are warriors,” I said bitterly, clenching my fists. “A victory comes in many shapes and forms. If underhanded tactics are required to win a conflict, then why protest against such measures? I agree that Ivangri’s actions were honorless, but he acted without my consent. That is why I must chastise him. I’m sorry, Oksho, but since the enchantment doesn’t work on non-ponies I--!”

“To Hel with your blasted enchantment!” He cried out, his aura increasing in intensity. “I knew you couldn’t be the King we needed, Dainn! Did Svarndagr ever tell you the truth about our species? What we are? By the Gods, I hated him. I hated him with an intensity that I cannot describe, but I respected him ten times that. And he had my admiration, too. For he whipped an entire species of raping, hedonistic, deranged, depraved, sex-obsessed, inherently perverted maniacs into one that could be loosely described as honorable and controlled.”

“...Yes… he told me,” I confessed. Fearing that saying otherwise would simply enrage him. My ex-mentor told me about the pitfalls of our species and how they were meant to be corrected and destroyed from within.

He spat, his fizzling saliva burning a spot of grass. “And yet we have to deal with the incompetence of a female replacing an even more incompetent female.”

“You dare insult me such, Oksho?” I asked softly. Not a threat or a warning. What would be the point?

“Oh please. Did you for a moment thought I would swallow the lie that you defeated a rampaging dragon in single combat and gained the submission of the last alicorn? I am not stupid nor incompetent. A female submitted herself to a beaten, bloody, humiliated male. What a shameful display, Dainn,” he said with disdain and repulsion. “Why do you try so hard to be something that you are not? Have you forgotten my own fate? Did you learn nothing? What am I asking… of course you didn’t,” he spat angrily, yet his voice was calm, collected… disappointed. “Good things never happen to heroes, Dainn. You never tried to save our kind because you cared or because you were power-hungry. Oh no. You did it because you wanted to be a hero, didn’t you?”

He was right. Spot on. My desire to save my species wasn’t purely out of disinterest. My own selection and closemindedness prevented me from pushing another more suitable weakling into the seat of power. But when I was cheered and selected, named and chanted… how could I say no to be seen not as the king, but as a hero?

“You disgust me,” Oksho kept going with his barrage of harsh reality. “My tribe used me as a weapon… one that they discarded once they had no use for it and feared to be cut by it,” he chuckled.

“...how did you learn the truth?” I asked, not bothering to hide my weakness in front of such a mighty, true warrior.

“You’d be amazed what some intuition and a swift use of ‘old school’ diplomacy can achieve,” he chuckled once more. “One kick was more than enough.”

I couldn’t help it. I chuckled, too. “Our greatest pride is our greatest weakness,” I commented.

“If I could get such information easily, how long before your Council filled with traitors and weaklings let your subjects know the truth?” Oksho replied, eyes glowing intently. “Not only that but bought loyalty is no loyalty at all. The Crystal Empire and Shining Armor are loyal because they gain what they need from Equestria. Once that stops being the case, what do you think will happen next?”

“Equestria is bountiful and fertile. We shall never face such calamity,” spoken like a true fool. “My Empire shall stand eternal.”

“Really? Then why does it dance around illusions? Parties are thrown every day, pointless celebrations and stupid contests spring like fleas on a malnourished rat. Where are all these resources coming from? How long can that last?”

“For as long as they are necessary so that everyone understands the glory of Male Superiority!” My voice was not my own. I had never believed in that to such an extreme, yet those words left my mouth with the fervor of a fanatic. “The pride of our species depends on it.”

“You speak of pride yet have none to give, sacrifice, or wound,” Oksho said, raising his sword until he was pointing it at me. “My pride, however, has been hurt. You are like a tiny pup barking at a warbeast because it can but that hides whenever danger is close. I am neither the pup nor the warbeast, Dainn. I am Oksho, Warrior. Simple as simply be.”

“My pride was hurt when I saw the depravity that overtook Appleloosa after the buffalo were defeated. I saw the enchantment work, how it twisted the ponies, how the mares begged and enjoyed being treated as garbage: the whippings, the beatings, the brandings, the bondage… things that a red collar doe spends years learning to enjoy and master, they did it not only with the same proficiency but with a genuine thirst for more. In those ponies and the turned that joined in… I saw something I cannot describe. Then, when I thought it couldn’t get worse,” he paused for a moment, gripping the hilt of his sword so tightly I couldn’t understand why it didn’t shatter.

“Stags fell into the same sway of indulgence and perversion. The captured female buffalo and the few mares that resisted the enchantment were raped without reprieve,” he gritted his teeth. “Many of those females lost their minds, Dainn. The turned and those scumbags I refuse to call caribou kept them as toys for pleasure, not even as slaves just… reduced to objects. They did things I dare not speak about… and stags joined them. Willingly. The buffalo males were all switched. All of them. To the last one, and raped, too. The depravity was such that they were seen as nothing more than holes to fuck and ruin. It was like seeing the depths of mindless, savage, lust-driven beasts my tribe devolved into all over again, but worse.”

I was speechless, not knowing that such a thing had happened. And yet… I didn’t doubt him. Oksho would never lie even if it cost him his life, he’d never lie.

“So, Dainn… I’ve come to tell you two things… the first, is that this is the final straw for me… not only have you proven to be unfit for the crown in all senses, but you are unfit to even be a male,” with a snarl, he smiled wickedly and a pulse of fire and heat radiated from his body. “And the second, a warning. The enchantment is only working on ponies. You know this. You’ve seen it. Why is that? How can something so flawed be relied on? Even a massive dickless fool like you should know better than use something so untrustworthy,” with a hum and a chuckle, he continued. “Actually… it seems I lied. I have one more thing I want to tell you, Dainn.”

I took a step back, thinking he was about to strike me. Then I realized that wasn’t the case. Why would he warn me and then strike me down? I wish he had done so.

“My final lesson to you. If you are so desperate to be a hero-” with a swift movement of his hand, his sword, his prized Surtalog, was now pointing its fiery edge against his chest right above his heart. “-THEN DIE LIKE ONE!

The shout nearly deafened me and even pushed me back a little, but my eyes were wide open when Oksho plunged Surtalog into his own chest, piercing his heart and spluttering the ground not with blood… but with molten iron. Oksho’s smile vanished as his expression turned into pure rage. His armor and clothes burned, his fur became like volcanic ash, his feet cracked to reveal red embers glowing where muscles and bones should be. He withdrew his sword from his chest, clean and untouched by either blood or fire, and bellowed a single furious cry.

“Jeg er Surtr. Bringeren av Ragnarok.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“That’s… I have no words…,” Twilight muttered as her mind reeled from hearing such a retelling. “What do those words mean? I’ve never heard such a language before in my home dimension.”

“I honestly don’t even know the name of our native tongue. We simply knew it is ‘The Rune-speak’, I always hated it. It sounded so… wrong to speak it for some reason. Once I started to learn Ponish, I dedicated myself to it fully. Much simpler and with a wider range of expressions,” Dainn chuckled. “But I digress. What he said roughly translates as ‘I am Surtr. The Bringer of Ragnarok’. And bring it he did.”

“H-How did he survive piercing his own heart? I can’t wrap my heart around it. He wasn’t an immortal, was he?” Twilight asked but instead of an immediate answer, she got Dainn tilting his head to the side, his icy eyes peering into her curiously. “Is something wrong?”

“Perhaps?” Came his reply. “You have not shown much emotion or reacted too intensely to the suffering and torment of your fellow ponies and allies, Twilight. I find that lack of reaction… warning?”

Twilight’s eyes darkened as she offered the stag a smile. “What’s the point of me commenting on that anymore? Isn’t it better to continue your story and let me absorb whatever lessons I can glimpse from it? What would call you out bring me anymore?”

“I am relieved,” Dainn sighed, “for I was starting to fear you have grown dejected to such suffering, but now I see you have merely fortified your mind as much as you could. Commendable! Perhaps there is hope yet for you to grow strong and face evils such as what my species wrought?” He didn’t wait for the alicorn to reply and instead allowed himself a simple chuckle. “As for your question, Oksho wasn’t the kind of stag to die by merely stabbing his heart. Svarndagr did so during their duel and so did Oksho stab his heart. They were simply too stubborn to die from such flesh wounds. And no, they were not immortals. Powerful mortals, indeed, but not immortals. Svarndagr’s search for a successor wasn’t enough proof of it?”

“Too stubborn to die? Oh, gosh, that sounds like something Sunset tends to say,” she grimaced, suddenly finding what her friend told her about that particular phrase applying perfectly to Oksho and Dainn’s old mentor like a glove. “And here I thought Luna had anger management issues. After hearing about Oksho, I think Luna is just a grumpy cat in comparison. Although, that brings up an excellent point. For as terrible as Nightmare Moon was, she never killed anypony. Scared and injured several ponies? Sure. but never truly harmed anyone, much less so killed. All she wanted was love and recognition.”

“Oh, please,” Dainn resisted the urge to roll his eyes, “she didn’t kill anyone because you stopped her. Nightmare Moon wanted to cause an eternal night over Equestria, stopping the cycle of the moon and sun. Watch outside to see the consequences of seeing half the world under a perpetual scorching sun and the other half shoved into a perpetual, cold night. If the weather didn’t kill them, then surely famine would,” he said, pointing out such results as if they were obvious.

Twilight merely nodded. “I know. I’m not as innocent as I appear to be, Dainn. That’s why she was stopped. I once visited another dimension -completely by accident, mind you- where Nightmare Moon ruled. I didn’t see much, but things were certainly… starting to look bad, very bad,” shaking her head, she pointed a finger at him. “But even so, that only makes Oksho’s actions worse in the end.”

“Why and how?” Dainn retorted. “Oksho unleashed Surtr, but Surtr isn’t Oksho. Rather, Surtr is a product of Oksho’s tarnished pride and warrior’s honor. His very spirit and soul were wounded, thus, he retaliated in the hope of ending the perversions he had seen once in his own tribe. If anyone’s at fault for that, it is me. Yet Surtr isn’t a mindless beast that sees only objectives to destroy.”

“Hmmmm, you do have a point there. But how could any innocent escape his wrath, then? How the hay did you survive?” Twilight conceded, then asked with a raised brow.

“When he burst, the energy and heatwave pushed me away. I thought I was going to die, but then Surtr simply turned to his right and began walking away, leaving a trail of fire behind him,” Dainn raised his left arm to reveal the singular permanent burn scar left on his withered palm. “This is all Surtr did to me and what saved my left eye when he was unleashed. I got up and followed him from a distance. The alarms went off and guards began to appear left and right, even the garrison was mobilized as Surtr tore through their files without mercy.”

“He bellowed in fury, rage, hatred, and anger, chanting curses and repeating that he was the bringer of Ragnarok. I didn’t notice it at first, but Surtr had slowly grown from Oksho’s already considerable bulk and size to become a veritable giant four meters tall. Slightly over a meter taller than Oksho,” Dainn said, showing both awe and fear through his dead voice. “Magic bounced right off against his body, each swing of his sword cleaved right through guards, soldiers, and warriors with ease. The turned died with a smile on their faces and those that didn’t die immediately merely cried out in pain and ecstasy. The caribou that dared step in his way were also cut down, but not everyone met that fate.”

Twilight hummed, rubbing her chin. “Did he, by any chance, manage to tell those who were innocent from the guilty ones?”

“Indeed. The stallions that were declared incurable had simply knelt for one reason or another he shoved away. He also never hurt a single black collar female and was even able to detect which red collar females were merely pretending for their own safety and also spared them. The rest? They were slaughtered,” he chuckled again, his haunting noise echoing in the chamber.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The cries of those dying could be heard across the castle and those that chose to run only prolonged their life for a few moments. Surtr was a whirlpool of death and righteous fury, shouting in rune-speak all manner of profanities and damning the caribou as weaklings and fools. His objective was clear, though. When Ivangri showed up to face Surtr, the coward tried using a bow and arrow. ‘Ansikt meg feig’, he bellowed. Face me, coward!

“Why should I face a monster!?” Ivangri declared as several caribou and ponies also prepare to fire at Surtr from an elevated position. I was watching from afar, unnoticed by anyone except two black collar maids who clung to me for protection, for some reason. The fact that I was the king of the species that brought their nation to the ground and put it under our hooves was lost to them when seeing Surtr in the flesh. “LOOSE!”

A storm of arrows landed on Surtr, or would’ve if most arrows hadn’t burned to ash and molten metal before striking his black, red-hot pulsating flesh. “Brenne,” Surtr said, and with a swing of his sword a torrent of fire washed over the archers that had dared attack him. Most of them burned and were reduced to ashes in under a second, they couldn’t even scream. Of course, Ivangri, the rat that he was, ran away as he fired two more arrows at the enraged monster.

“I always knew you were weak, Oksho! That’s right! I know what you really are! I’ve always known! Svarndagr wasn’t as intelligent or brilliant as he thought he was! He could never see the glory of true Male Superiority! Just like you!” The bastard gloated even as he shoved past warriors in the hope of getting away.

Surtr didn’t respond to his insults and threats. Why would he care about the words spoken by a walking corpse? He simply carved his way through guilty fools and spared those deserving of his mercy. “Falle,” Surtr said before driving his sword into the ground, creating a short-lived earthquake that made almost everyone stumble and fall as he had commanded. I nearly fell by was aided by an unlikely source: one of Oksho’s warriors.

“Watch, unworthy king. Watch as the festivities unfold!” He said, only then noticing he was Oksho’s first warrior and his most fervent follower. “I will not allow you to avert your eyes from this glorious display!”

I wanted to protest but a cry of anguish and terror that could’ve only come from a female caught my attention. I wasn’t surprised to see Ivangri on the ground after falling from higher ground; the origin of the shout, no doubt. The warriors laughed at his cowardly display, tears brimming out their eyes when they saw Ivangri crawl back in fear, demanding turned and other caribou soldiers to die in his stead. None approached.

“Wait! Wait! Oksho, listen to me! I can give you anything you want! Females, coins, anything you want! I’ll even give you my position!” The coward pleaded until his back was against a wall. As if that would spare him.

Surtr raised his blade but then stopped for some reason. I thought he was considering his offer but then he kicked a warhammer at him. Surtr was silent as he glared at Ivangri. The snake stared at the weapon in disbelief, only to then grin and throw a concealed dagger right at Surtr’s face. The dagger pierced his right eye, but nothing came out of his mouth. Ivangri thought that would buy him the element of surprise as he lunged for the hammer and in a swirl, he struck Surtr’s right knee.

The smile on his face died when he saw his attacks had done nothing to Surtr except enrage him further. He had wanted to give Ivangri the decency of at least showing some honor in a duel. Instead, he had backstabbed him the moment he saw an opening. “Aere!” He yelled and swung his sword down in a flash of movement.

Before I knew it, his right arm was flying through the air and his shoulder was burning, cauterizing his wound instantly.

“GAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH! YOU MOTHERFUCKER!” Ivangri cried out, tears falling from his eyes as he rolled on the ground, yelling in pain. The laughter of the warriors was almost contagious even though I couldn’t understand why they were laughing at first. But when Surtr caught Ivangri’s arm and then reduced it to ash with a single squeeze, I understood. To them, seeing Surtr was both a tragedy and a glorious celebration. They would watch their leader and mentor do what he needed to do without interference. They would watch and laugh as justice and retribution came down on those deserving of it.

“Bwahahahahahaha! Look at that worm squirm!”

“Ivangri the Great? More like Ivangri the Spineless!”

“A coward shall always be a coward!”

His warriors jeered even as Surtr removed the dagger from his eye, revealing it had done no damage before it melted to slag. He was about to strike Ivangri down but thought better of it and instead simply opened his mouth and unleashed a torrent of fiery embers and ash on him.

The screams of Ivangri were monumental and guttural. The embers were like sparks of molted metal that dug into his flesh and burned him terribly, sometimes furing leather with skin and fur given how hot those flames were. Either satisfied or because something else caught his attention, Surtr snarled before running off to the side. The reason became clear as a warbeast entered the room only to be decapitated by Surtr alongside its rider. He then ran down the hallway, bellowing with fury while I was shoved out of the way by the first warrior.

They didn’t give me any credit or further consideration. They only laughed, following the wreckage their transformed leader left in his wake.

I could only sit there, unmoving, hearing the cries of battle getting further and further away from me. I turned to Ivangri, who was still screaming in pure agony and I admired the carnage that had been unleashed and it was only then that the smell of burning flesh, whatever was not reduced to ash, that is, hit me and I vomited. It was a horrid smell I had never smelt before. The smell of death was no new to me, but that had been something worse. If only I knew I would come to know worse things, I would’ve stopped right there and then.

Regardless, I ran away to my chambers, worried that the commotion had somehow reached my pets. My travel was a blur, I do not recall anything. When I arrived, they were there, waiting for me, though they didn’t have a choice on the matter.

“What’s happening out there?” Luna asked, eyes glaring but doing nothing else.

“M-Master? Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Celestia mouthed, still not quite broken but no longer defiant.

“It does not concern you but… it is a problem I’ll have to deal with later. And I’m-... I’m fine, Celestia. You don’t need to worry about me,” I replied, trying hard to not let my eyes stay too long on her. Despite my shock, her body and figure were most appealing, but I had self-control and focus. I also allowed my act to drop for just a moment. I was too shaken by what had happened. “Your concern is not needed nor desired, females. I need to retrieve my weapon and stop Oksho… after I form a proper strategy to face him.”

“Sounds to me like you’re hiding,” Luna pointed out with a cocky, mocking grin. “Let me guess, too much for the mighty Dainn to handle without treachery and deception?”

“Do you wish to spend a week under the caring hands of Hrarth with my complete approval?” I threatened, glaring back at the insulting alicorn. Despite her defiance, that shut her up nice and quickly. Though I wouldn’t be so cruel to her even if she kept taunting me. “His training is quite effective, yet restrained. Surely, you do not plan to offend me again, do you?”

“N-No… my Master,” Luna replied, sinking in defeat.

“Master is so generous and forgiving!” Celestia called out, smiling widely. “Thank you for being gentle with my sister, my King and Master.”

“She is fortunate I have actual important things to concern myself with,” I replied, grabbing my warhammer. I left my room quickly, my guards weren’t even present there anymore. They were either dead or had fled once the rampage started. I never knew what happened to them. I had only made it to the end of the hallway when the Spirit appeared in front of me again. “What do you want this time, Spirit!? Can you not see I am in a hurry? I have no time to dwindle with your enigmatic gibberish.”

“You see my form yet avoid my words. Deaf and blinded or just ignorant and decadent? Paths are many yet you seek but one, ash and blood with a dead world in sight. And end not to be and yet formed with steps. Avoid! Avoid! You can still walk away, let not the dark voices win, cold and heartless are the whispers in your ears,” it said, pointing a finger at me.

“You were right, I’ll grant you that! My actions have brought Surtr to seek destruction and set my empire in a blaze of fire. But I can stop him… I must stop him… there… there has to be a way to stop him,” I countered. How I wish those words had never left my mouth. How I wish I had died or submitted to the will of the Spirit. But like a fool, I only cared about my personal glory and so-called duties. “I don’t have the strength to stop such a beast… unless… unless I take what its mine. It should be okay… it’s only magic, after all.”

Desist,” the Spirit ordered with a booming voice that it had only used a few times before. Remembering it chills my bones to this day. Why was I so arrogant? “You not know what you speak nor care not for the consequences it may bring. Power taken is not power gained; what belongs to the soul is for that soul alone; poison, demise, falsehood, and pain. You bring down the hammer but strike at air. Take and steal, rob and plunder; smite and punishment you shall receive. Seek not what belongs to others, attain your own or you shall find that horns are but tips, not a source.”

“ENOUGH WITH YOUR CRYPTIC BULLSHIT!” I shouted in fury, swinging my hammer at the Spirit, doing nothing. “My palace is under siege, Surtr has been unleashed, and my subjects are in danger! I am King Dainn, and I shall take what I want, for I am the Alpha Male now! Not Svarndagr, not my Council, not Oksho. ME! ME! ME! If I can take it, it belongs to me! Conquest is our right; the strong dominate and rule, the weak serve and obey!”

“Blind and stupid or merely ignorant? The puppet doesn’t know the strings that make it move. Sad. Sad. Sad. Do as you will, oh great fool. Turn and desist, stop and wither or see damnation is unleashed.”

“Confound that damnable Spirit,” I said after the Spirit vanished. I did not listen, I didn’t want to. In the end, my choice was made. If I wanted any chance to beat Surtr, I had to get stronger, but how? The answer was in front of me the whole time. “Of course… it’s so obvious… hmmm, but how will I do it?”

I spent the next day waiting to see the outcome of Surtr’s rampage, but to my surprise, Surtr didn’t lay waste to Canterlot. He simply fled. Where or why? I wouldn’t know for a long time. Yet he had caused serious damage in various places and had killed over two thousand creatures as he fled. When I finally declared my intention to wait and find a way to stop Surtr, Vestri was outraged that I took such a cowardly decision, but I merely invited him to face Surtr himself and see what would happen. That shut him up quite readily. When the meeting was adjourned, I saw Ivangri once more aided by two soldiers… with a casket covering his groin.

I raised an eyebrow. “Ivangri? Are your wounds healed?” I asked innocently, not letting him know I saw his ‘duel’ with Surtr. I’ve seen it all, so why was he wearing a casket there?

“My wounds have been… mitigated to some extent, although, my back and hips took a greater toll from my fall when that beast made the earth shake,” he replied with a glare. “Maybe my body isn’t completely healed, but my mind is. I wish to aid you, my king, in the capture and execution of that honorless traitor and monster. It is a wonder why Svarndagr kept him for so long. Perhaps he needed a vicious pet,” he mocked in anger.

“Despite everything, Ivangri, Oksho has always shown to be the greatest of our warriors. Insult him again, and I shall see to it myself that you’ll lose your other arm,” I threatened, genuinely pissed. I think he actually caught the message and honesty in my words and took a step back.

“But… he’s a traitor, my liege.”

“How can he be a traitor when he never swore allegiance to me? As for Surtr, well, there’s little we can do against him. We still don’t know where he is running to or what his intentions are,” I sighed, then I looked around, confused. “Speaking of vicious pets, where is your crowning pet, Ivangri? You never go anywhere without her.”

He scoffed and I saw a glint of fear in his eyes. “I got bored of her. Bitch only knew how to scream and curse at me. I sent her to her brother, the magnificent Macintosh. I’ll let him handle his rowdy slut of a sister in my stead.”

Bullshit. However, I knew not at the time the truth, but I would soon. “I am surprised to hear such a decision coming from your mouth, Ivangri. But I shall respect that decision since she was your possession. Now, go and heal. I will need you for what’s to come. Do not allow him to wander until after he can walk on his own again,” I ordered his soldiers, who only nodded in response.

I heard him grumble but obeyed. He didn’t want to risk his chances after the threat I issued against him. I made my way to my room, ready to relax and sleep for the day. When I arrived at the hallways leading to my chambers, I saw two new guards and a red-colored pegasus mare. I instantly recognized her as one of the prizes that belonged to Oksho. I walked up to her as she knelt silently. “Brave and foolish of you to remain here after what your master has done.”

“I hold no love for Oksho, nor for the caribou. I volunteered to deliver this message to you, king, as a testament to Oksho’s honor. For as much I despise your race, I admire his code and honor. Now, am I free to go or am I to die here?” She stated holding no respect towards me or even cared if she lived or died. She only had a stretched-out hand holding a simple envelope. I took it and then smacked her as hard as I could, sending her tumbling to the floor.

“That is for what your master did. However, you are a mere cunt. Leave, now. And never show your face again or you shall suffer greatly,” I declared. The mare spat some blood, stood up, and walked away without muttering a single cry or word. “Escort her out and do not allow anyone to take her. She is free to go. Do it.”

“My King!” The guards said, then left. Honestly, both of them? I only needed one to go. But I didn’t really care that much.

I entered my room, sat down on my desk, and read the letter.

My laughter echoed inside my room for hours.

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“Okay… that’s a lot to take in. But did you seriously have to hit that poor mare, Dainn?” Twilight asked, glaring. “I mean, you were never exactly a knight in shining armor, no pun intended, but at least you weren’t as cruel. You were downright forgiving and gentle and treated females right. Ginna, for example, comes to mind right away. What changed? Playing roles? The pressure of running a kingdom? Power getting to your head?”

“Honestly? All of them and then some,” Dainn confessed with great remorse. “Acting uncaringly or being cruel to females had always been just that… an act on my part before that point. That was the first time in my life I actually struck a female because I wanted to and less because I had a cover to play. I guess… trying to be the King my people and subjects could accept as the unshakable foundation of my empire got into my head, winning over without me realizing it,” confessed the caribou king, his emotionless tone giving way to apathy. “I was such an arrogant, blind, stupid fool. Still am, in some regards. Nopony saw the real me. Especially not Celestia and Luna, but at that point, I think the real me was long gone; replaced by a lackluster pawn.”

“I can tell. Oh, trust me, I can tell!” Twilight yelled, shaking her head and pinching her bridge. “Although I must admit, I am intrigued by what that mare gave you. I don’t suppose you recall the entire context of the letter?”

“I could give you a rundown version,” Dainn admitted. “Or, I could give you this and let you read it yourself,” as he said that, he extended his left arm. A small black tear appeared above his open palm and a moment later a pristine, magically bound letter came out of it. While it wasn’t new, since it showed a few tears and wrinkles, it was otherwise in excellent condition. “It was one of the few things I managed to save, alongside Celestia’s… gift. Please, take it, and read it.”

Twilight snatched it with her magic and brought it to her hands. Unfolding the three perfectly stacked pages, she cleared her throat as she began reading the first page.

“To Dainn, so-called weakling King and honorless doe

From: Ashukath, First Warrior of Okho’s Warrior Host.

Greetings and goodbye, Dainn. I shall not call you our King for we no longer have one. Much less you. However, honoring Oksho’s actions and following in the steps of Surtr, we renounce you and your authority. We are now in open rebellion and act upon the Way of the Warrior, as it is intended for true caribou to follow. We took our belongings and prizes with us. Do not seek us out unless you are willing to die in glorious combat.

With pleasantries shared, I am here to inform you of an event that you may have been ignorant of. If you see Ivangri, the scoundrel and the rat, before receiving this letter, do not believe his claims on his rather lamentable condition. Lamentable in the sense that nothing worse happened to him. We, however, know the truth. Regardless, this is what lead to his condition. Before he was rescued and healed, his slave and trophy, Applejack, came wandering to see what the commotion was about. At first, we thought she was there to aid her master, but when she saw him, in pain and demanding for aid, she approached him.

I do not boast nor approve of a mare acting against her betters, us males. But Ivangri is no male. He is a beast, an animal. Loathe as I am, I applaud what Applejack did. When Ivangri saw her, he damned her aid. I am sure that you are aware of the game Ivangri loves to play, yes? A one-sided struggle against an opponent that can hardly fight back, all in the name of feeling superior and to humiliate his opponent further. It was always an odd display, to see a female and a dickless male struggle in such a futile, fixed game with no honor to be gained.

Then again, Ivangri never had any honor to speak off. No amount of Svarndagr’s punishments ever fixed that.

But now that she was unbound and he was at the mercy of others? She had none to give to the stag that had raped, humiliated, and abused her so many times. His trick was a simple one, you see: a well-timed kick to the back of a mare’s hindleg, directly at her joint, would force any pony mare to bend her leg and lose balance, giving him the upper hand. To anyone with no combat experience, the kick was nothing more than a gentle tap to show the weakness of a mare. To those versed in the way of combat and that of the Warrior? We saw the truth. A most dishonorable and cowardly trick that befits a poisonous snake that eats the shit it spills.

Ivangri was never brave, he could never be. Honor is like poison to him. And that was his downfall.

I ask a simple question: what is the most honorable job to be done? The answer is agriculture. To tend the earth, to cultivate, to nurture life-granting food. Unusual, isn’t it? Oksho always put such a high value in his lessons and discipline on mere farmhands. He had been one himself, after all. His lessons always revolved around the contempt towards cowardice, to seek honorable fights, to do honorable deeds, to seek a beautiful death, finding worthy opponents, and how to dictate your life with self-control and rigorous training, and his countless advises on how to enjoy life itself outside combat.

You may ask yourself, but why a farmhand? Why is so honorable for a warrior that claimed so many lives to talk about such a simple, contradicting life? Simple yet again: being a farmhand is tough. It builds character, the body, the mind, and the soul. Anyone can gain much from such a life. Take that away and what remains? Fat and lazy idiots that delegate such crucial and honorable work to unqualified mares and some stallions to rein them in. Oksho said that Svarndagr would’ve never allowed such a thing to happen.

We agree with that view, for we have seen such effects appearing and spreading. We wish not to be a part of that. However, what does this have to do with Applejack and Ivangri? The answer comes.

Applejack, you see, was a farmhand. An outstanding one at that. Did you know that she literally kicked trees filled with fruits called apples to make them fall? She kicked trees, Dainn. She kicked trees for a living, like her brother, Macintosh.

Now, imagine this. You see Applejack standing ten or so meters from Ivangri. She says nothing, not even a curse while the coward cries out, demanding aid. You see Applejack tense her long, muscular, toned legs that put to shame most warriors and that could match mine. Muscles ripple and you can almost hear her skin nearly tearing as she prepares for something.

Then, like a projectile, she lunged forth; heavy steps marked by hooves clang against the ground leaving miniature craters with each step. Her thighs clench, her buttocks tighten, and she comes to a single stop, balancing on her right leg. Her left hoof connects with Ivangri’s stomach, making vomit but instead of launching away, the quick lifts him up, getting him back on his hooves for a moment, but that moment is all she needs.

With a twirl and a masterful roundhouse maneuver, she puts her left leg down and pulls back her right leg as back as she can, nearly creating a perfect standing split. Her muscles clenched even further, and then it happens.

In a flash, Applejack deliver a kick so strong that Svarndagr himself would’ve approved and applauded. Ivangri let out a silent scream as his cock and balls were kicked with an intensity that made him remember the many chastisements that he had received in the past by the one deserving of the title of King. I feel no shame as I admit I and my brothers compliment her wonderfully delivered kick. The first mare to ever achieve such a thing.

Of course, as you know, Ivangri was no stranger to finding legs hitting his groin. While his eyes rolled to the back of his head and he whimpered on the ground like the weak, honorless coward that he is, he didn’t pass out despite the pain he was experiencing. Sadly, before Applejack could unleash more kicks, medics and soldiers arrived and we left as she assumed a submissive position with a wide smile on her face.

We left that place laughing boisterously, many of us couldn’t contain our tears and we even allowed our prizes to laugh to their heart’s content. Who would not enjoy such a show?

It is with this that I end this retelling, for brother Bromir has arrived and he is shaken. I laughingly told him that he missed quite the party. He replied that he had been at a party, one he wished he had not attended.

This section is written against the wishes of my brothers. This shame is one I shall carry but I believe that Oksho would want you to know, honorless king. Bromir had a great black coat on his back, when he returned, it was pale white. His eyes were wide, unseeing yet witnessing. He didn’t tell us what he saw. He was sane, coherent, yet traumatized to a point that I do not know how to describe. He was traumatized by something he saw happen in a secret meeting he stumbled upon at that party.

He spoke of horrible things that no one should ever see. Never gave specifics, never shared more than ‘YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW’ over and over. The most puzzling thing happened when he saw his two prizes. He lunged at them… and hugged them gently while he was trembling like a scared calf. He kept crying, saying he was sorry, begging them to forgive him, and swearing he would never engage in anything even remotely related to sexual activity ever again.

I know you are ignorant of our ways, but such a thing would’ve caused Oksho to kill him on the spot. To show such weakness. But to us? It terrified us. What had he seen to cause such a reaction in a warrior of our order? What had been so terrible? Well, one of his prizes asked him to tell her. He whispered something to her, no more than one, maybe two short phrases. She went on her knees and vomited. She would not tell us what Bromir told her. Saying we were better not knowing. She then knelt and pulled Bromir down with her, setting his head on her lap while she comforted him. She was also terrified but had handled her shock by going into full therapy mode, doing her best to help and tend to her Master as much as she could, for what he had lived through had been much, much worse than what he told her.

Sympathy. Such a strange thing to see be given so willingly by a female made a prize. But, then again, who are we to judge when Bromir lost everything but his sanity? By the Gods, I wish he had lost his sanity too because seeing him tears our hearts apart. We want our brother’s soul back.

We could not reject him, our brother. Not after seeing his condition. How could we? We are warriors, not monsters.

And now, I end this letter. A warning has been given out of my own fear and implore you to investigate this issue. Bromir said nothing, except for a single name. You can start there. The name he mentioned and the only piece of information I can give… is that of Cadance.

Goodbye, Dainn. May your reign perish in flames, for the alternative is something we do not wish upon you.

Swallow a cock.”

“...I can see Applejack doing that alright,” Twilight chuckled and set the third paper down, giving them back to Dainn who then returned them to wherever he had taken them from. “How hard was her kick? I’m genuinely curious.”

“About as a fifth the strength of Svarndagr. When he hit Ivangri with just enough restraint to not kill him outright, he was in the infirmary for a whole month. After the kick Applejack delivered onto him, he was in it for a week. This is not me trash-talking or undermining Applejack’s strength. Quite the contrary, in fact. To come to simulate Svarndagr’s strength, even if it was just a fraction is already commendable. What she did was extraordinary… and fun. I laughed so hard that day.”

“I can’t say I blame you. Fuck your council,” she chuckled darkly before shaking her head slowly. Her throat felt dry, not because she hadn’t drunk anything in quite some time, but because of what she was about to say. “Did you… learn what Bromir saw at some point?”

“Yes. That and more. So much more. Tell me, Twilight, what do you think he saw? As an erudite, what do you think is the most likely answer?” Dainn asked, narrowing his gaze.

She sighed, nausea forming in her stomach. “Given that Cadance was involved, correlating the things you dropped here and there regarding the depravity that was reached, and the evidence I’ve found upon my arrival to this horrid dimension… I can say with confidence that he saw acts of sexual intercourse and excess so great and disturbing that it put him through a flash trauma and… at the center of it was Cadance, either guiding everything or as a centerpiece.”

Dainn blinked, surprised. “Excellent guess, Twilight. Not quite… the same, but close enough. And that word you used. Excess. Curious. Curious. Quite curious you used it to describe something you’ve only theorized on,” Dainn nodded and sighed tiredly. “Let me tell you a little fable. There once was a bunny who loved to eat carrots, they were its favorite food. The bunny wanted to eat them every time he could get them, but there was a problem, carrots were rare and thus, a luxury. Not to mention he had countless brothers, sisters, and other bunnies to fight with just to get a bite. One day, the bunny came across an old hag and the bunny helped the hag by picking some flowers she needed. In exchange, the hag would grant the bunny one wish. The bunny wished to eat carrots every day and so, the hag granted him that wish. The next morning, every plant, root, and bush around its home was now replaced by carrot orchards. It was a dream come true! At first, the bunny and everyone else was happy because they could eat juicy carrots.”

“But then,” his voice turned somber and icy, a finger raised in warning, “the bunnies became thin and weak. No matter how much carrots they ate, they were getting weaker and weaker. One by one the bunnies perished until only the bunny that made the wish remained. With his last strength, the bunny blamed the hag, thinking she had tricked them. The hag simply replied: ‘I granted your wish, is it not what you wanted?’”

Twilight shuddered heavily. “Be careful with what you wish for, huh? That’s what was happening to your people, wasn’t it?”

“There’s a concept I never quite understood until it was too late. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. In our case, the advent of the purple collars were our wolves in sheep’s clothing. But who would suspect them? They were the wet dream of every caribou stag: obedient, eager to please, knew their place, and always willing to do anything to please their masters. Anything. Absolutely anything,” Dainn mutter the last words with trembling rage.

“I know you’ll tell me when the time comes, but how could you not notice the signs that something was terribly wrong with them?” Twilight asked, still feeling dizzy.

“I was too arrogant and blinded to accept something was wrong despite the facts were slapping me across the face. I ignored the Spirit of Harmony, remember? Is it really that far-fetched that I would ignore reality itself thanks to my cowardice and stupidity?” Dainn chuckled. “But the first warning came not truly from the letter, because, why should I assume they were telling me the truth? No. The first sign came from Shining Armor.”

“My brother?” Twilight asked, astonished.

“It was what he said a few days later. He bragged that Cadance was insatiable and that he often had to tie her wrists to her ankles and make sure she couldn’t move just to get a good night’s rest. But that when she let her go loose, she’d sleep so tenderly,” he went silent for a moment, letting the howling wind echo all around the lifeless land outside the castle. “I felt something tremble within me when he mentioned ‘insatiable’. Fitting descriptor to label the purple collars that began to emerge shortly after that incident.”

“Did any of my friends become a purple collar?” Twilight asked in a hurry. “Moondancer? Lyra? Bon Bon? Pinkie? Zecora?”

“Fortunately, none. Pinkie Pie was close, but she became more servile than… insatiable. Hmmm, this may not be a good piece of information, but I often took her in to prepare some of my meals. Her treats were the only things I could actually taste. But I digress. Most of your friends were either black collars or reds. Sadly, Zecora found another trainer, Hirthir, an abusive trainer. He painted her ceremonial rings red and he forced her to stop speaking in rhymes. It was cruelty for cruelty’s sake just because the bastard thought her rhyming was annoying. Even Svarndagr allowed all females to speak the way they always have as long as they were respectful and submissive toward him; he would’ve dealt with her speech as it was. Pointless barbarity, pointless cruelty.”

“You say as if that’s something preferable,” Twilight spat angrily.

“Is it not?” Dainn replied. “If you had no choice but to be a slave, wouldn’t you choose the kinder, more reasonable master?”

Twilight facepalmed. “Could you stop making sense out of horrible situations, please!?”

“It is an example, Twilight. I know now that slavery, abuse, and a domineering attitude are disgusting things. But I am also objective and frank. What other choice did most of the incurables have? Zecora, for example, chose to submit willingly for her own protection. And the males would end up following the laws just to avoid being switched as the depravity grew over the coming months.”

“I know! I KNOW! They were outmatched, outnumbered, outplayed, and outpowered! The enchantment won Equestria for you and the scattered survivors had to splinter off! I know that they could only fight and suffer the consequences or submit and pray for the best, but you make it sound so casual and disturbing!” She complained. “I… I don’t like looking for alternatives that only offer a lesser evil alternative. Be it lesser or greater, evil is still evil! I rather choose neither.”

“Then you are already a million times the better leader than I ever was, Not My Twilight,” Dainn replied, smiling genuinely at her. “Now, tell me, Twilight. How would you define ‘insatiable’?”

“By word alone? Something that does not tire of experiencing the same thing, be it an action or inaction. A hunger or thirst, an obsession or fixation, impossible to satisfy. But in the case of what happened to Cadance and the purple collars? I can only guess,” then, she smirked, “Though I’m sure a lot of caribou were smiling from ear to ear, huh? Right before seeing they were growing weaker and started dying, right? Shame it didn’t happen before that,” turning her gaze up, she glared at him. “Then again, what can I expect from a species of animals that don’t even know what love is?”

Unlike previous times, Dainn didn’t agree with her rebuke. Instead, he stood up and in a flash of movement his frail, old, half-dead body shouldn’t be able to perform, Twilight found herself in the air, held aloft by an icy hand gently coiling fingers around her neck.

“LOVE!?” Dainn shouted in anger, his blue eyes glowing with fury. “Don’t you dare lecture me about love!” In another flash of movement, Twilight felt her back slam against the doors, opening them. “WAS I WRONG, TWILIGHT!? WAS I WRONG IN TRUSTING YOU!? I can take every insult under this pale, cold sun and much more, but I will not be insulted on matters of love! I have reflected too long on that to know myself in that regard!”

“I-I didn’t… want to… offend you!” Twilight rebuked, refusing to fight back.

Dainn let her go and shoved her away with his cane. “I am a caribou! You have insulted me, but not only me, you have insulted those caribou that knew love, those who you said couldn’t understand what love is. Gunne. Ginna. Oksho. And so many others out there who I never met but were shackled by the brutality my own people created eons ago! I… understand your rage, I accept it, but not regarding this. Never this. Go, leave, and return tomorrow if you truly hate my species to see this tale through… otherwise, prove to me that it was a mistake trusting you and leave me be with my suffering in solitude.”

“I’m… sorry, Dainn. I spoke--”

“Tomorrow. Reflect and think. Your apology, if there is one, will be honest then. Now, leave me be,” with a flick of his wrist, the doors closed. He made his way to a broken part of the wall next to his throne and waited until he saw Twilight slowly flying away to the place she came through. When she was out of sight, he sighed and moved to sit on his throne, slumping on it and tossing his cane away. “Although... maybe you do understand my people more than I ever did. Maybe, just maybe, you do.”

Out of nowhere, something fell on top of him and he put his hands together, forming a soft landing pad with his palms in time to catch the necklace he had forged for Celestia. It was as beautiful and detailed as ever. He sighed, again, this time letting it echo all across Canterlot with eerie, cold sadness. “Did I truly fell in love with you, Celestia? Was I a fool? Am I just that blind even after all these years? If I wasn’t, why did I created you?” He asked the necklace itself, expecting an answer that would never come. “And if I was… why did I never act on my feelings?” He chuckled darkly.

“What even is love?”

He asked no one as his veins started to glow with a golden light once more. Unlike the pain he was expecting to receive, he felt… a soothing embrace all over his body.

He clutched the necklace tightly, thankful for receiving such a small but significant mercy.

Chapter 18: Of Cakes and Talks and Strife

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Twilight ran like she had never run before in her life. Her heart was pounding hard against her chest and she felt as if an invisible, cold, gnarly hand would wrap itself around her neck again if she stopped but for a moment. After leaving the castle, a panic attack sent her over the edge the second she landed near the statue that she hated. She broke into a run and didn’t look back, not even to wonder if Dainn was watching her leave. She had done something incredibly stupid and emotionally driven, but what was done was done and she had no option but to adhere to Dainn’s wishes. Not that she wished to stay for long in the nightmare world that this Equestria had become.

Turning around a corner, she tripped over a broken piece of masonry and was sent to the floor, rolling a few meters until a series of vases stopped her advance. Being an alicorn, only her clothes were torn and slashed, leaving her without marks. She didn’t stand up as she lay on the ground, resting on her back and breathing the stale, cold, lifeless air for what felt like an eternity. The howling, distant wind only perpetuated the darkness this world had gone through and the eternal vigilance of the one being who was responsible for it, willing or not.

As her chest stopped heaving and rational thinking returned to her, Twilight stirred once more and stood up with some difficulty as her muscles, sore and burning, threatened to cramp up with each movement she made. “I… should do more exercise from now on, too,” she said, silently promising to herself that she would in order to become stronger and truly earn her title as a Princess of Equestria.

A rattling noise caught her attention and only then noticed that the vases contained several discarded items. Most had been rotted and eroded by time, but there were a few that survived. Mostly pieces of metal. Rings. Shackles. Chains. Collars. But among them was one that stuck out from the rest. She couldn’t make out what it was except that it was small and rounded, covered in dust, ash, and a thick plate of dried mold. Picking it up, she summoned her magic to cast a quick cleaning spell. It took several seconds but when it was done, a golden coin laid on her open palm.

A golden coin depicting Celestia, dehorned, with wing sheats, and collared sucking a caribou cock.

Twilight didn’t jerk back nor was she surprised by it. Repulsed? Certainly, but no more than that. Almost casually, she turned the coin around only to see a strange legend engraved on it that she couldn’t read next to Luna’s marked, exposed posterior while another caribou cock fucked her asshole. The thought of using her magic to destroy, melt, or simply toss the coin away crossed her mind, but then she sighed and stored the coin. “They need to see this,” she muttered with resolve and then continued on her way towards the mirror leading away from this dark dimension… and for a moment she wondered if there was something, anything she could do against such monsters if they ever came to her home dimension.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Twilight walked out of the school slowly, her mind still in a haze. Her human friends had tried to follow and Sunset Shimmer had informed her of what was happening as best she could. Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna were now even more adamant about making sure that no one would even get close to the basement and the sole reason they didn’t try to destroy the mirror were the warnings of the two ponies in human form.

“Twilight!” Sunset called out, following her. “Wait, I’m coming with you!”

“Thanks,” she said, not having the energy to refute her. As they approached the mirror leading to their home, she chuckled as she spread her arms and checked out her clothes. “Isn’t it weird that whenever we pass we always get a fresh set of clothes? I mean, how does that even work?”

“You’re the expert here, not me… though it does sound kinda silly. Hey, think that if I get naked and leave my clothes here, jump through the mirror and back again, would a new set of clothes magically cover me again?” The amber woman chuckled. “I could make a killing selling these clothes!”

Twilight chuckled. “Thanks, Sunset, I needed that.”

“Hey, what are friends for, right?” Sunset remarked before the two stepped through the portal. Back in Equestria a second later, she continued. “The girls are worried about you, Twilight. Including Twilight. You sure you don’t want to rope them in closer?”

“The least involved the humans from your dimension… their dimension… whatever is to this problem, the better. At least, for now. If things go south, then… who knows?” Twilight replied. “I wasn’t even gone that long and I feel like I was there for a month,” she sighed weakly. It was sudden, but she felt the familiar body of Spike tackling her and nearly toppling her to the ground while he squeezed her neck tightly. “Hey there, Spike.”

“Thank Celestia you’re okay,” he said, breathing easy. Letting go, he stared up at her and winced. “Dang, Twi, you ain’t looking too good.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to end up looking worse in the coming days,” she revealed. “The things I’ve learned… the things he told me. Oh, Sunset, I cannot allow that to ever happen to my home and yours. No matter what.”

“That bad, huh?” Sunset shivered. “Spike, where’s everyone?”

“Doing their own thing. The Princesses told me to contact them when you returned, Twi. S-Should I send them a message?” He asked, unsure. With a nod from the lavender alicorn, he dashed out of the basement followed slowly by the two ponies.

While they waited, Twilight relaxed with Sunset and Starlight’s help in the map room. Twenty minutes later a portal opened in the room before the alicorn princesses and Shining Armor stepped through it. A somber nod was shared between the ponies present and everyone took a place to be comfortable. Then… she started retelling them about her evening with Dainn and what new information she’d learned. Everyone listened closely, not speaking at all for what felt like hours until, at long last, she reached their abrupt departure.

“That’s when he lifted me by the throat… oh by the Gods! His touch was like that of death itself. H-He was right to be angry at me! I just… couldn’t contain my disdain and hatred! How is it possible for monsters like the caribou to exist at all!?” She ranted, stomping on the map with her forehooves and Spike reaching to caress her back, calming her down if only a little. “I was so f-fucking terrified… not by him, no… what I saw in his blue, cold, dead eyes. Hurt, pain, misery, anger, hatred, guilt, and a thousand other vile emotions swirling like a maelstrom of poison!”

“I am yet again impressed and saddened by his resilience. Even for an immortal, to endure such things? A curse. Plain and simple. He is living a curse without end,” Luna admitted. “But he is also correct. His fear and… whatever was twisting his mind blinded him to the truth. His weakness and frailty shackled his decision. And his reputation gained no love nor fealty.”

“As twisted as this may sound,” Shining added, “I am impressed by Oksho’s actions and conviction. His path and beliefs clashed with the nature and culture of the caribou, and yet he stood strong on his own. And to be the instrument of destruction, a trump card? Magnificent. Simply magnificent. As a warrior myself, I cannot help but admire him, despite everything.”

“His torment was great and it exploded in fiery inferno,” Luna carried on. “I wish I could meet such a warrior. Now that I am reviving my skills and sharpening my weapons, I shall need a capable companion and warrior to spar and share the battlefield with. The tale is not yet over and I know by pure nature of how things are that he failed in his mission, but I wish to hear it nevertheless.”

Celestia, who had remained stoic and speechless, finally let a sound louder than her gentle breathing. Her horn ignited and a large tray of sweets, cakes, and more appeared next to her. Wordlessly, she picked an entire funnel chocolate cake and took a giant bite, eating half of it in a single go. She munched on it a few times before swallowing, eating the other half easily; uncaring of the mess her muzzle turned into.

The rest of the ponies only watched as Celestia ate three cakes, several donuts, a dozen cupcakes, and other sweets with the tranquility of a royal Princess that beguiled the appetite of a true glutton. Her voracious maw continued to eat and no one said anything until tears formed in her eyes and began to fall down her cheeks. That’s when they understood she was coping with an immense pain that not even her favorite food could stave back.

Finally, with a large gulp, she set the tray aside and her mane turned into pure fire, her eyes glowed golden, and her tears into molten plasma. She smiled through glazed lips - wide and terrible, mocking and cruel, her teeth turned to fangs and she spoke with a parody of her true voice.

You caused that~” the voice mocked with unparalleled sadism.

“I didn’t,” Celestia replied immediately.

Awwww, is the hypocrite ready to cry?

“His actions are not my fault. He’s not even from this dimension… I couldn’t have done anything.”

So? You caused this. Let go. Let go. It’s so easy to let--

Silence,” Celestia cut off. “Remain where you belong, demon,” with that said, she returned to normal and sighed tiredly. A moment later, she turned to the tray and resumed her eating, but not in silence. “His torment… that horrible, terrible… unjust torment. Why would that Celestia curse him to suffer so? Such a display… I would not wish that upon anyone,” she said before digging into a strawberry cake.

“...Okay, what the fuck was that!?” Starlight said in a panic. “W-Was the Princess having a chat with… herself or what!?”

“Daybreaker,” Luna confessed while her sister resumed her ritualistic slaughter of baked goods. “To have her come out, even for a moment… sister, it cannot be your fault that Dainn was… punished in such a way.”

“While I agree with you, Luna,” Twilight said, surprising everyone with her unexpected neutrality about the whole situation. If anything, she was disappointed with her mentor if her judging gaze was anything to go by. “I think I am seeing the ‘Great and Noble’ protector of Equestria for what she truly is. An irresponsible, nagging, master manipulator wannabe man-child that doesn’t deserve an ounce of respect,” she said without much care, each stinging word punctuated by Celestia eating another sweet. “And I admired this negligent phony? Dainn was right. Right now you are the living proof that females shouldn’t be allowed to lead anything.”

Celestia accepted the rebuke without protest while everyone else had their mouths hanging open. “I was trained by Starswirl to be a statespony. A ruler. A bureaucrat. A politician. A magician. Not… not… I don’t even know,” she devoured the last of her sweets and turned to Twilight. “But at least I knew what I was doing and I had to do it alone… despite the fact that was also my fault. But Dainn? No. He was trying to rule by simply, as humans say, winging it. Svarndagr forged an Empire through sheer strength and competence. Dainn inherited ruins and ash and tried to form a new kingdom, only to end up stealing one instead,” she said, tears coming to a halt. “I did my best.”

“Bullshit,” Twilight said, glaring at her former teacher. “You did the bare minimum. What great achievements are on your list? What have you done that you can look back on with pride and accomplishment? That you kept a nation basically isolated and weak for over a thousand years? Defeating Discord was a fluke and you know it. Nightmare Moon was your fault. The Crystal Empire vanishing and the rise of Sombra? Your fault. You think you are a politician, and yet, aside from Saddle Arabia, who else can you call upon?”

“The dragons see us as fools and weaklings led by ‘namby pamby princesses!’, and they aren’t wrong. The griffons laugh at us. Diamond Dogs kidnap ponies at their leisure. Tirek almost was the end of us! And your solution was to dump it all on my shoulders -- AGAIN!” Twilight roared with indignity. “You know what Svarndagr would’ve done? Get off his lazy ass and bitch-slap Tirek into next Tuesday! Even Dainn, for all his faults, would’ve tried to do something! An idiotic, weak, frail, stupid, easily manipulated, and incompetent coward would’ve done BETTER than what you’ve done so far to protect your people, Celestia.”

“At least I know my faults! I now know of my own weaknesses and shortcomings and I plan to do something about it. So are you, thank the GODS! But out of all of us, you are a shameful example of what an alicorn should be… while my friends and I were forced to become heroes for your sake,” she sat back down and scoffed. “I… I don’t want to be a hero anymore. At least, not like what Dainn described: a fool that will get betrayed and discarded sooner or later. I want to be a true Princess. For I have seen what incompetence and laziness look like - what their male dominance warned about - and I do not want to follow in your hoofsteps,” her eyes, cold and resentful narrowed. “No wonder the Celestia fell so easily, why their Equestria was raped and broken and violated so thoroughly… when weak rulers led it, all of us included starting from our unshakable pillar,” she finished, glaring at Celestia with all the contempt she could muster. “No wonder why the caribou could never see females as equals.”

There was no rebuke, no cry of anger or anguish. There was only the cold acceptance of her words and the defeated nod of who was once the shining beacon of Equestria.

“You’re right,” Celestia said without a trace of shame or guilt in her words. “Until recently, I thought myself as successful, not seeing I was only deluding myself into compliance. Another pitfall of immortality. Compared to Svarndagr, what am I if not a weak-minded, incompetent leader? Much like Dainn, I received a kingdom forged by others and asked to lead it. We parallel each other in contradicting ways that could’ve easily ended in tragedy and failure if not for luck and circumstances. The ponies of the past united, guided by our parents against the Windigo threat and many more. Blueblood died in sacrifice that allowed the ancient Equestria to rise. We looked after it, nurtured it, protected it… but we never forged it ourselves.”

“For all his faults and cruelty, for all his deplorable acts, Svarndagr forged a civilization out of his own hands and led it the best way he could despite facing much, much worse conditions than us. Compared to his achievements, even if only known and heard through stories, ours are pathetic,” Celestia finished, sighing silently. “Now that my eyes are open, I can see all my faults, shortcomings, and negligent choices. I’ve know victory a few times compared to my defeats and, with my current streak of loses, if Dainn were to come here and see me how We are now, he would not trust me with my protection and safety. Let alone that of my little ponies.”

“A tyrant he was, but a tyrant without other options,” Luna added. The room went silent for several moments until Shining Armor spoke up.

“Wait… there’s something I am not understanding. If all of you, alicorns, must contend internally with a dark version of yourselves akin to demons… then why didn’t they show up in that other dimension unless it works differently there?” He asked.

Cadance perked up at that and shuddered. “As much I hate the idea, my husband is right. Those… things can’t be just bound by magic or any conventional means, right? Why weren’t they unleashed or sought freedom?”

Luna sighed. “Because, dear niece and nephew, these Nightmares… these dark versions of ourselves do not only lie within us, but they seek corruption and pure evil… if evil is happening around us already, there is no need for them to come out. If anything, they fight against us more strongly to prevent our victories. They bring us down, fill our hearts with doubt… and then, in time, they gain a name and a viscous purpose: to consume and destroy us as much as they wish to corrupt all around us. A curse we must always contend with.”

Cadance’s face went pale a moment later. “I’ve… I’ve heard it… sensed it in the past. W-When I was holding the barrier against Sombra’s assault… the voice inside me said I couldn’t hold on forever. That I should just give up… and let it happen. I thought… I thought I was delirious! Was that the dark thing inside me speaking and making me weaker!?” She asked in a panic.

“Most likely, yes,” Celestia confirmed. “You are still too young for your dark side to fully manifest, but now that we have agreed to train and tell you everything, we will make sure you remain strong against it and conquer it.”

“Greeeeeat, so we have enemies on all sides, even from within,” Spike let out a groan. “What’s next? A multidimensional invasion?”

“Spike?” Sunset said weakly, eyes wandering around fearfully. “You--uhh-- you may want to watch what you say. I, for one, would not want to make Murphy angry.”

“Murphy?” Everyone questioned except for Twilight.

“Murphy, or Murphy’s Law. A human belief that states that ‘Anything that can go will go wrong eventually’ and they believe that saying phrases like ‘This can’t get worse’, ‘I’m sure the worse it over’ or similar invoke it to ruin your day,” Twilight answered, shuddering. “I’ve never given it much weight… but now? Let’s… just avoid jinxing it, okay?”

“So… what are we to do now?” Starlight asked. “You won’t be back to Dainn until tomorrow, Twilight. Any ideas?”

“Actually, yes. Two, in fact,” Sunset said, leaning forth. “Ragnarok. In the human myths regarding the Nordic Gods, Ragnarok is the Final Battle that will reforge the world. And it is implied that it had happened multiple times. Not quite like Oksho describes when he transformed into Surtr. Rather, I think the cycle Dainn mentioned is like the Ragnarok the myths describe,” hitting the map with a hoof, she continued. “Remember what he said? A cycle that repeats itself without cause or reason, bringing down their civilization to start over, and preventing them from spreading widely. How many times have ponies lost their civilization only to start from scraps again? We all know there were at least two civilizations prior to the Old Tribes. The only difference between those catastrophes is that the caribou cycle was far more direct. Even human civilizations go through it a lot. And I do mean a lot.”

“Then we must find a way to stop that from happening… or at the very least diminish the results and continue onward,” Luna agreed. “And the second idea, Sunset?”

“Weeeeell… that’s a bit more, uhhmm, touchy,” she said with a faint blush. “Dainn mentioned that Switching was a punishment, right? Transforming a male into a female, right? Can we do something similar?”

“Actually, yes,” Starlight answered. “It’s a very difficult level of magic that even I have trouble grasping. But it can be done. The caribou could only advance so far and, due to their culture, would never achieve in ever turning a female into a male, so they were limited in various aspects, not to mention how stagnant they were. Your point?”

“Why don’t we run a few experiments with volunteers? If we are more advanced and knowledgeable in the fields of magic in that particular regard, then why don’t we turn mares into stallions and stallions into mares for a brief period of time? A day or a week? And each side will try to carry on with their lives as normal and write down the differences they notice?”

“F-For what purpose?” Twilight asked, flabbergasted. “I don’t think-”

“Hate to break it to you, but we’ve already tried it,” Shining Armor said with a faint blush and a nervous tremor in his voice. “Out of curiosity, before this all happened, we went around for a day with our genders swapped. The experience was… disturbingly comfortable? It’s hard to express it. I, for one, felt weaker as a mare and I could not control myself from flirting. I don’t know if it was the hormones or the suddenness of it all, but I at least got the long end of the stick.”

“I wish I could’ve taken a picture of ‘Gleaming Shield’--” Cadance snickered.

“CADDY!” Shining Armor protested, blushing madly.

“You would not believe how many stallions fell over hooves for her!” Cadance snickered again at her husband’s expense, though her humor turned sour quickly. “Not that I have much to say either. I… didn’t know my maids and guard mares could be so flirtatious.”

“Wait wait wait, you said you got the long end of the stick?” Spike pointed at his big brother. “Then how did you get the short end, Cadance?”

“While I was ‘Prince Bolero’, I… uhhh… I decided to spar with a few guards. Seriously, how do you stallions deal with so much pent-up energy? I was going crazy within three hours! I had to do something. As an alicorn, I really didn’t notice a change in strength, only that it was much, much harder keeping it under control. The sparring matches went well until…” her face went pale, forehooves going to her crotch to softly caress genitals that were no longer there.

“...No…” Sunset murmured, her smile widening. “You… you got kicked in the nuts!?”

“Kicked?” Cadance blurted out, soulless. “I got bucked in my temporary testicles! I heard pure white noise and I saw the face of the GODS for a second there! I’ve never cried so badly in my life before! I-I don’t know what was worse, that or giving birth! It hurt so fucking bad!”

“My bits are on giving birth is worse. A kick there is extremely painful, but it doesn’t last long unless something ‘pops’,” Shining declared, shuddering alongside his wife. “Giving birth is a constant pain that can last for hours.”

“WHY!?” Cadance suddenly cried out. “W-Why is it that pain-nullifying spells don’t work on that?” She grumbled as she remembered that awful experience.

“Ohhhhhh!” Luna laughed. “Now I understand why Svarndagr aimed for the groins of males so much! Quite a terrible punishment!”

Twilight giggled, unable to contain herself. “D-Dainn was right! I-It can be pretty funny! And a great motivator to make males do their actual work instead of distracting themselves with other activities, hahaha!”

“...it’s not funny…” Cadance pouted, while her smiling husband hugged her close.

“A-As not hilarious as that is,” Celestia said, winking at her niece playfully, “perhaps we should oversee the experiment on more volunteers without painful outcomes?”

“To defeat your enemy you must first know them,” Sunset quoted. “Hey, if it helps, I’ll volunteer first. Equestria is my homeland, after all, and anything I can do to help I will.”

“Thank you, Sunset Shimmer. If anything, I am starting to think that our dimensions should work together in the possible event of an invasion from outside sources or just for preparedness's sake,” Celestia said, only then starting to wipe her mouth and neck from the frosting, crumbs, and sprinkles her feasting covered.

“I… wouldn’t jump into that wagon right away, though,” Sunset countered. “There’s next to zero magic in the human world and whatever it is seems to be leaking from here. But that Dark Mirror only points out that my home must be connected to other dimensions, at least in passing. Besides, humans can be… difficult to treat with. They are millions of times less united than we ponies, griffons, dragons, yaks and more are. But when they are threatened or can unite against a common foe? They can raise hell. Literally. They have nuclear bombs which are like pocket Solar Strikes but worse,” she shuddered for a moment, letting her warning sink in.

“Not to mention,” she continued, “that their cultures spread like wildfire. I don’t know why, but they are so diverse and appealing to at least someone that they’ll worm their way into our lives without knowing it. I mean, all of us pretty much swear using their words now and most of you have only known about them for a month at most. Only Twilight here has an excuse for it and I am infected to the core. There’s no way I am giving up fanfiction, internet, video games, and tacos now that I’ve come to adore them.”

“She’s not wrong or exaggerating,” Twilight added. “Human history makes our history look like the most peaceful utopia ever to exist. By the way, fuck you, Sunset, for introducing me to Vlad bloody Tepes. I had nightmares for weeks,” she shuddered again. “And yet… in his own right, he was a hero of his time. Go figure, right?”

“Are we sure we want to associate with the humans, then?” Cadance asked, unsure.

“We will initiate contact, formal contact, if the situation demands it,” Celestia offered and all agreed with a nod. “Now, what shall we do next?”

“Before we do anything else,” Shining began, “I am curious as to what that caribou, Bromir, I believe was his name, saw. What was the true face of the Enchantment? Was it the unbound depravity? The reckless, consuming hedonism, or was something worse?”

“I… don’t know. I only gave a theory and Dainn replied I was mostly correct. I believe not even he knows what Bromir saw. Not in full, not in truth, but he understands it more than I could. I’m not in my field of expertise here. All I know is that it had to be something truly horrible and disgusting to cause Bromir to become a whimpering vegetable…”

Silence followed for several moments until Cadance gasped, eyes filling with tears. “Oh by the Gods… I think I know what he saw…” all eyes turned to her. “He saw me.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Superintendent Discord was humming to a catchy tune while polishing a golden golf club when suddenly a tear, in reality, appeared before him, only to reveal a mismatched being that would make a platypus green with envy. He stood up and smiled. “Ah, Discord! I don’t get too many visitors, you know?”

“Ugggh, I could never understand you ‘organized chaos’ types,” Discord replied, closing the tearing. “Education? Such a dreary thing.”

“Pfftt, oh please, what is more chaotic than running a system that doesn’t even know what it's doing?” The human Discord replied with a sassy grin before setting his club aside. “So, what can I do to help a fellow agent of chaos?”

“Actually, I am the one doing the helping. I’m sure you know about Canterlot High?” Discord offered, snapping his fingers and summoning a table, tea, snacks, and two floating chairs. His counterpart floated in the air before sitting on his chair. Doing the same, he continued. “Well, trouble is brewing up there.”

“Of course, I know about it. Magic in this dimension is extremely weak to the point it is worthless. But things have happened that put extra juice into it. I am assuming you come from that same dimension?” Discord nodded. “Figures. So, who’s your best friend?”

“Why, my dear and caring Fluttershy, of course,” Discord replied and the human chuckled as he conjured a board with the names of the Element Bearers and a few others he didn’t know. All were marked with at least one chalk stalk but the names Pinkie Pie, Spike, and Flutterhy had the most marks. The human Discord added a mark on Fluttershy and the board vanished. “What was that about?”

“Oh, just a fun hobby of mine. I don’t get out much nor do I get many visitors. I find it funny to see which of them,” referring to the names on the board, “was befriended the most times! I’m currently winning the bet I made with Spider Discord! He said Pinkie was the most common, I said it was Fluttershy!”

“Yhhou are ddddespicabble!” Discord retorted with a duck’s head. The two laughed and he returned to normal. Then, the two sipped on their teas and ate a few snacks before Discord lost his silly air and adopted a serious expression. “Are you aware that this dimension is connected to many others?”

“I am aware,” the human replied. “Most are harmless, some are just annoying, and then there are those… ‘Untamed’ ones. Lovey-dovey types, ugghh. But yours? Yours is the most active, though. Must be a fun place to be,” he added, smirking.

“Well… that’s the thing. My Twilight found a Dark Mirror,” he revealed at the same time he conjured an umbrella just before the human spat his tea.

“A WHAT!?” The human tossed away the cup and jumped to the floor. “Oh nonononononononononononono! This world isn’t prepared to deal with that sort of bullshit! I have to destroy it immediately!”

“You know the rules… we can’t… not directly at least and without manipulation,” Discord grumbled. “Stupid rules.”

“Then what are we to do!? What sort of Dark Mirror is it!? Please tell me it isn’t a caribou one!” Discord made a face. “FUCK! FUCK! Okay… okay… calm down… how bad is it?”

“It is as Dark Universe as it can be… and they are all dead. Only their Dainn remained. But there’s something that worries me. You see… I found it, but I can’t enter it. Something is keeping me, and I bet every Discord out there, out of it. Not uncommon among Dark Dimensions, but this one was particularly nasty.”

Human Discord sighed in relief. “Well, at least I don’t have to fear an invasion. Now I understand why Celestia’s request was so vague. By the way, have you been to any of those zebra domination ones? I took a peak and I was so confused. It was so… stupid. But at least they are not Dark Dimension… most of them, at least.”

“A few,” Discord admitted. “Most are stupid and just make no sense. Every female in those are either sluts or size queens,” he said with disdain. “But back to our little problem. What should we do?”

We?” Human Discord asked, curiously. “What about the rules?”

“I think I can bend them a little since my dimension is also affected by it. So, any plans?” He asked, sipping on his tea.

“For now? Wait and watch… wait and watch. I might have to go there personally to check the mirror myself,” his eyes narrowed. “But just to be prepared, I’ll try to form a team made up of magically gifted humans and stranded individuals from other dimensions if I can find them. The Dazzlings, for one, would be an easy bet.”

“Let’s keep that idea in the back of our minds for now,” Discord said as he opened the back of his head and put a picture of that precise moment inside it. After closing the latch, he continued. “Meanwhile, my Twilight is going back and forth talking with that Dainn. I’ve been keeping an eye on the recaps of their little meetings and, oh boy, I haven’t been so entertained in ages! I told Starswirl that he shouldn’t dote on Celestia that much, but noooooo, I’m just a near-omnipotent Chaos Lord and Spirit of Disharmony! Even the Spirit of Harmony facepalmed at his stubborn idiocy,” he groaned. “Anyway, I gotta go now. I’ll be back if something else happens, okay?”

“Keep me informed, Discord. I think we may have a huge problem on our hands if we don’t handle it correctly,” human Discord said. Discord nodded and with a static effect, he was gone. Once alone, he turned to the window as he watched the sunset. “Or… perhaps a solution?” He muttered and dismissed the thought entirely. “There’s no way to fix Dark Dimensions…”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“So that’s how things went,” Twilight finished her recap now that the rest of her friends were present. “Applejack, could you stop laughing, please?”

Applejack snorted, biting on her hat in a desperate attempt to stop, but it failed. Her eyes were full of tears and her smile just couldn’t die down. “A-Ah’m trying, Ah swear! B-But darn tootin! If that ain’t the best and funniest rib-tickler thing Ah heard in years!” Another bark of laughter caused the rest of the ponies present to suppress a few chuckles and giggles. “Ah wanted at least one of them bastard to meet Kicks McGee and Bucky McBillygutty, and one of them did! Best of all, it was the biggest vermin of them all! HAHAHAHAHA! GAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” She screamed in feigned pain, hooves clutching her crotch. Even Cadance couldn’t help but laugh at her acting. “MAH FOAL MAKERS! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

After another minute of laughter, the cowmare composed herself to finally stop laughing and get a hold of herself. “D-Dang diggity, what Ah wouldn’t give to see Ivangri’s face when that Applejack kicked his balls,” another chuckle escaped her throat. “But Ah guess I must be thankful to receive the praise for mah skills, even if that wasn’t me! Seems like Svarndagr had the right head on his shoulders when it came to using a convincin’ technique.”

“Crude, but accurate,” Rarity chimed in. “The best way to get sex-addicted barbarians to do their jobs is to punish and threaten their, ehem, equipment. Wise, crude, but resourceful.”

“He was a meanie and a bully,” Fluttershy said, frowning. “But at least he wanted the best for his people… I can’t agree with him, but he was the lesser evil, I think. Without him, someone as strong as him, everything got bad so quickly,” she said with a dark shiver, her eyes turning to Cadance. “P-Princess… why would you think that you were what Bromir saw?”

“Yeah, that doesn’t make sense. According to Dainn,” Rainbow began, “you were there so… why you and nopony else?”

“It’s the only logical solution I can think of and the only one that makes sense. Every time things get worse, I’m at the center of it. Or rather, that Cadance was. She was the one who gave the Crystal Empire on a silver platter. She was the one who created the purple collars. And she was the one who… who… sank into complete depravity and wanton excess. To be described as insatiable? Not even Chrysalis would reach such depths.”

“But that Cadance didn’t do it,” Luna interjected. “That traitor, Orestes, was the one who gave that Cadance to the caribou and the Crystal Empire alongside her. Opening the gates to the rest of Equestria. I am the Mistress of the Night, a shepherd of Dreams, and I’ve seen them all. The enchantment they used provided them with a living wet dream made real unlike any other wet dream I’ve seen come true over the centuries,” she frowned. “I will not deny that that Cadance had a hand in turning the wheel, but she was not the cause. Oksho’s warning rings true: traitors always have a hidden goal. They shouldn’t be trusted and must be eliminated immediately. I think… I think Orestes wanted things to become the way they were to serve his intentions.”

“A megalomaniacal manipulator, a coward, a backstabber, a liar,” Celestia said, cursing Orestes’ name with every title given.

“How much do you want to bet that Orestes wanted to be the King of Equestria or worse, the King of All? In his delusion, he was to be at the top even if he had to rule over ashes. Not even Sombra was that… crazy,” he scoffed. “But then, why would he try to make me--that Shining Armor King if his true goal was to be seated on the throne himself?”

“I wouldn’t really know, but I suspect that after you were on the throne, he’d eventually depose you, he’d take the mantle and rule. Dainn will surely confirm it or deny it at some point,” Twilight replied with disgust. “A traitor to his core.”

“Almost as bad as being a hero, huh?” Pinkie Pie said, rubbing her chin. “But that doesn’t make any sense!”

“How can it not? Dainn and Oksho were right. A hero is just a fool that will get used, betrayed, and then killed for trying to do good,” Shining replied, crestfallen.

“Duh! Because those are silly heroes! True heroes don’t do silly things like that! I mean, we are heroes and good things happen to us and ponies all over thank us, right?” Pinkie replied.

Now that got Twilight thinking. “Celestia… is what Oksho said true or was he merely blinded by his own experiences? Is that our fate, to be despised and thrown aside once our usefulness runs out? Are heroes doomed to have no good things happen to them?”

“He was certainly correct. And most heroes share that fate,” Celestia agreed. Everypony gasped in shock after hearing such a cruel yet forward affirmation. “And yet, Pinkie Pie is also correct.”

Jaws opened and rigid, eyes of shock turned confused, and then mouths closed as they shared glances.

“Let me clarify. Most heroes are naive, stupid, and rise through perils. Oksho saved his people from Garm and Dainn became King to save his people from the cycle and forge a new kingdom. We know how that ended. But that’s because they were naive. Well-intentioned, but naive. Oksho displayed his power but didn’t know how to counter the thirsts of his own people, not their fears. Dainn started with good intentions and was slowly countered and corrupted into being complacent and servile to his corrupt, vile council. Being separated from Gunne and Ginna were his greatest mistakes and that set him off his intended path quickly.”

“A hero. A true hero, I mean, is more than a savior with good intentions, power, and abilities. A true hero is much like all six of you: regular ponies who don’t allow their achievements to blind them or derail your daily lives. You have goals, personal lives, and have risen to the occasion not because you were all-powerful, but because no one else would and you barely achieved your victories,” Celestia pointed out.

“Great humility begets contempt, great power creates fear, great idealism forms opportunists, and great purposes begets traitors. A true hero must be humble but not enough to blindly go into danger, have power but not relish in it, have profound idealism without the need to preach it, and have a purpose outside of being a hero. Those who don’t understand this are the ones who suffer. Which, sadly, are the vast majority,” Luna finished for her sister. “Do you understand?”

“That… makes so much sense,” Shining Armor said, the first to recover. Then, he slapped his forehead. “No wonder Spike is so beloved in the Crystal Empire. Ponies there wish to please and serve him. Spike accepts it, so he isn’t humble enough to deny it, but still doesn’t allow that to change him. He knows his place is next to my sister. He is a dragon and yet doesn't push his natural strengths as often. He’s a true hero… and thus, good things happen to him as a hero. Life is still life and not everything will be good, but that doesn’t have to do anything with being a hero… I feel so damn stupid now.”

“Spike? Humble? Please, he’s a peacock,” Rainbow teased, but wrapped a wing around Shining’s back. “But you’re right. I also feel dumb now. Heh, good to know we’re not like the other poor heroes!”

“So, in short: heroes suffer bad consequences for their actions. True heroes earn good consequences,” Twilight said and the royal sisters nodded in agreement. “... I still don’t want my friends and me to save the day ourselves all the time by our lonesome, though,” igniting her horn, she took the coin from within her satchel and dropped it on the map with a metallic cling clang. “And speaking of consequences, how about this? Dainn’s council was a consequence of his naivety and it eventually led to the creation of this thing.”

All eyes fell on the golden coin and almost instantly everyone winced, recoiled, or made a disgusted noise when they saw the side depicting Celestia.

“What the hay is that?”

“I think I’m going to be sick!”

“Just how cruel, gnarly, and perverted can they be!?”

Opinions flew about, not one of them good, as they all gave tentative stares at the offending coin.

“I’m curious about why this was the first coin I’ve seen ever since my arrival there. But I want you all to see it, inspect it, and tell me what can you deduce from it,” Twilight said, passing the coin to Celestia first.

“It is… repulsive and humiliating,” she replied after inspecting both sides of the coin. “The legend on the back, what does it mean?”

“I do not know. I don’t recognize the language,” Twilight replied as Celestia passed the coin to Luna.

“Disgusting. A display of false superiority,” Luna said before passing the coin to Shining Armor.

“Pure pervertedness, simple and cruel,” he said, passing the coin to Cadance.

“Vomiting and something that shouldn’t be allowed to exist.”

“A crude, perverted work that mocks art.”

“Shit.”

“Uhhmmm, a d-disgusting thing made by depraved minds.”

“A bad, bad, bad thing.”

“Clearly the product of an unhinged mind that relishes in sadism.”

“It’s something made by someone asking for an ass beating!”

“A perversion of all things good and nice.”

The answers came from Cadance as she gave the coin to Rarity, then to Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie, Starlight, Rainbow Dash, and Spike before he gave the coin to the last member present: Sunset Shimmer.

“You know,” she began, “I’ve seen a lot of human hentai with similar gimmicks, going from consensual to erotic fantasies. But this? This is pure cruelty for the sake of cruelty and the need to stroke their dicks to feel superior,” she said with hatred. “What the… is that… is that Latin?”

Twilight did a double take. “Wait, Sunset, you can read it!?”

“I took a course on dead languages. I… wasn’t the best but I learned a thing or two. Let me see if I can translate it… Nosce… Locum… Tuum… No, that doesn’t make sense… but if I re-arrange it… nope… I think… I think it means ‘Know Your Place’,” she gave the coin to Twilight and gagged. “Why did I expect anything other than a depraved message?”

“They… were clearly blunt and unimaginative,” Celestia commented, disgusted.

“You can thank Thramm for that. Master of the Arts? What a joke. Everything was invaded by similar displays of humiliation and propaganda. Caribou raping mares, subjugating ponies, and mares being subservient. Everything was horrible to see… but everything was also the same. Unimaginative, needlessly cruel, and with no other goal besides showcasing how superior males, and the caribou, were,” Twilight said with bitter, burning hatred.”

Sunset frowned and clicked her tongue. “Speaking of that. Twilight… if the Spirit of Harmony warned Dainn so many times about what was coming, trying to guide him on a different direction… why didn’t it just, I don’t know, stopped him? Or the caribou? The Spirit of Harmony is as powerful or more so than Discord himself. And he got, what? A rebuke that basically said ‘That’s not how it works’,” she scoffed, crossing her forelegs. “Lazy ass spirit.”

Everypony winced but Twilight, as she sighed. “Well… that’s not entirely wrong. It may sound like an excuse, but that’s how many spirits work. Discord is an exception because he is not a Spirit. He’s more akin to a God. But spirits are bound to severe strict rules and conditions on how and when they can act. The more powerful they are, the more conditional those rules get. The Elements of Harmony are, basically, catalysts to focus the power of the Spirit of Harmony and the energy that fuels it is Friendship. It may sound contradictory, but as much as they appear to be some sort of one-shot super weapon, they aren’t. What is Harmony? Simply put, balance. That’s what the Elements of Harmony do, they bring balance back against corruption, destructive chaos, and evils. And without the Elements Bearers… how could it act aside from whatever limited contact it could maintain with the one being that could’ve done a difference if he had just listened to it and not the poison spewing from those around him?”

Silence reigned for what felt like hours after her explanation and realization until, at long last, she continued.

“I think… I think I owe Dainn an apology. I let my feelings get the better of me in the worst way possible. I lumped all caribou into the same group and just… I don’t know, I just wanted to make him suffer. How does that make me better than the caribou?” Twilight sighed and shook her head. “Right. So. back to the coin. All of your answers are correct, but everyone overlooked the most simple mistake. A coin is meant to represent a nation and great individuals, right?” Everyone nodded. “So… where’s Dainn’s face in it?”

“...they shunned him…,” Cadance answered, crestfallen. “They gave him no respect whatsoever. He was never a King. He was a King of Nothing. Dainn did everything he thought was necessary to save them… and they couldn’t even repay him with the smallest sliver of loyalty.”

“He may have been wrong and his council was never on his side… but to be a mere puppet? Worse, to be tossed to the side and ignored? To have your efforts not recognized at all? What more proof do we need that nothing good ever happens to heroes?” Shining added, hugging his wife close.

“And to think that things are still going to get worse!” Rarity exclaimed. “I’m sorry, but I would rather not hear the gruesome details that a thing like that detestable example of finding pleasure when you’re being cut, sliced, and chopped… or doing that to others is just… NO!”

“I believe you are correct, Twilight. You owe Dainn an apology. I believe we all do,” Celestia said, no one dared contradict her.

Starlight shuddered. “If that’s what brainwashing does in the long run… I am SO glad you girls put an end to my delusions and stupidity. If you haven’t and I had gotten my way? I’m sure everyone in the village would’ve happily flayed my flank and cut my horn while the pegasi would cut their wings just to make us all equal,” another shudder overtook her as she realized how close she’d been from walking a similar path.

“But this is different. By his own admission, he is the one responsible for the state of his Equestria. He is guilty. He is a monster… and yet… he is unlike the rest of his people. I feel anger and pity at the same time. Remember how I thought about all changeling before Thorax and Spike opened my eyes? If things had been different… I wonder if Dainn could’ve been an actual good King?”

Storing the coin, Twilight rose to her hooves and sighed. “I’m… tired. I’ll go and rest now. Maybe I’ll eat later. I don’t know. But you’re right, Starlight. Mind control and brainwashing are… tricky. You have to be very specific on what goes when making the spell and your orders, or else it can go bad and unhinged quickly. That’s why it is a forbidden branch of magic. Unethical? Yes. But it is incredibly dangerous and extremely unpredictable and can get out of hoof faster than it can be retained.”

Spike nodded, climbing on her back. “Brainwashing is like a monkey’s paw. You get what you want, but the consequences are on you.”

Luna chuckled darkly. “The wet dream of the caribou is one that should NOT come true no matter what.”

With that said, the lavender alicorn left the room and quickly made her way to her room. It was dark, with only a lamp illuminating her nightstand. Spike hopped off her back and she jumped on her bed, exhausted.

“I’ll see to it that everyone is escorted out, okay, Twi?” Spike offered.

“You are a lifesaver, Spike,” Spike smiled and then left, leaving her alone. “Great… now how do I apologize to Dainn? Maybe… I should bring him a gift. He did like the cupcake a lot, though. Should I bring him a tray next time?”

“Nah, bring him something new, something fresh! Something not even the readers know he likes! Like cake! Everyone likes cake! Moka, funnel, vanilla, or just strawberry!” Pinkie Pie said, popping her head from beneath the bed’s frame.

“Hmmm, cake? Good idea. Thanks, Pinkie,” Twilight said tiredly.

“You’re welcome!” The pink pony exclaimed, and then she was gone.

A few seconds later, Twilight shuffled on her bed and stared down the edge to where Pinkie’s head had been a moment ago. “Pinkie!?” Not finding her chaotic friend, Twilight returned to her previous posture and just laid on her bed.

It didn’t take more than ten seconds before she was asleep, snoring quietly while her dreams ran rampant.

Chapter 19: Heartstroke

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When morning came, Twilight woke up from a rather restful sleep. No nightmares plagued her mind, only gentle, calm dreams that eased her onward. A hot, relaxing bath made her muscles relax as she enjoyed a moment of respite while her mind worked on what she was going to do now.

“I have to go back to Dainn now… back to that dreadful wasteland of nothing. To know that such a thing could happen here, caribou or not… Dark Mirrors, Dark Dimensions, Dark Entities. How can we even fight against all of that?” She questioned herself, but a second later shook her head and her eyes shone with determination. “No. I won’t take the first step and admit defeat when there’s not even a battle fought yet! We’ve overcome great perils and we will overcome more! This is nothing more than an eye-opener to our own naivete. We will be prepared… and I will thank Dainn for this gift, intentional or not as it may be.”

High in spirits, she finished her bath in peace and then used a spell to dry herself off and comb her mane and tail. Grabbing her saddlebags, she stormed out of her room in time to find Spike talking with Starlight as they walked down the corridor. “Good morning,” she said to her friends.

“Morning, Twi!”

“Morning. Feeling better?”

Came the replies from Spike and Starlight respectively. “You two look chirpy. Did something happen?”

“Ehhh, yes and no,” Spike replied. “We’ve been talking about telling some of our other friends about, you know, the dangers lurking outside our Dimension and such. Pretty normal stuff for us to deal with. For them? Not so much.”

“We decided that, since the Princesses, the rest of our friends, and we are going to start training and preparing to face dastardly abominations, as Rarity put it, we might as well warn the others,” Starlight remarked. “Sunburst could be of great help. Not to mention Capper and Caelano would be able to rally support and spread the message around.”

“We’ll talk with the others and see what they think about it. And, of course, you’ll end up deciding what we’ll do, Twi,” Spike added with a winning smirk.

“Me?” Twilight tilted her head, confused. “Why me? Shouldn’t all of us agree on something that important?”

“We will, but you’ll have the final word. After everything that’s happened, the Princesses are, well, unwilling to take a leadership position they feel you should take. Since you are directly involved in this more than any of us,” Starlight replied with a friendly smile.

“I see… heh, it's funny, you know?” Twilight began as she walked up to them and the trio resumed their travel. “Before all of this, I would’ve begged everyone to choose Celestia over any of us. With everything that’s happened, I lost almost all the false respect and blind adoration I had for her. She’s… not a bad ruler. None of us are. We just let the fever of our victories get to our heads and, in the end, we grew complacent. That’s the poison that weakened us.”

“Indeed it is,” Sunset suddenly added as she joined them with a pop of magic. Her mane was messy and she was obviously sleep-deprived. “I forgot how much ponies sleep compared to humans. And how stiff some of our beds can be. Me want my fluffy bed now.”

“Stop complaining and get ready to eat. I didn’t break my back making breakfast for nothing,” Spike replied, smirking. Then, he jumped on Twilight’s back. “So, Twi, what are you going to do?”

“Eat first. Then prepare to leave,” she replied and used her magic to open the door leading to the living room. To her surprise, Celestia and Luna were there already. “Princesses? I thought you were back in Canterlot.”

“We arrived half an hour ago,” Luna replied. “I believe Spike and Starlight have informed you about our plan?”

“They have… but are you sure? I don’t want to be seen as overstepping my authority even if we are technically equals,” Twilight replied as she and her friends sat while Spike quickly moved to serve them all a tray of pancakes and freshly sliced fruits.

“...I’m so going to eat a whole package of bacon once I’m back. I need meeeeeeeat,” Sunset complained but dug into her food regardless.

“Great, you gave me the munchies now,” Twilight shook her head while trying to focus on her breakfast. Thankfully for her, Spike’s culinary talent was as sharp as ever.

“To answer your question, Twilight, would any of you trust me with leadership at this point?” Celestia asked after swallowing a mouthful. None answered her question. “Do not feel ashamed. I wouldn’t trust me either if I were in your horseshoes. In fact, I do not trust myself at all. My victories are few and my failings many. I will defer to your wisdom, Twilight.”

“Thanks… and I’m… I’m sorry for exploding on you like that, Celestia. I was so angry, so overwhelmed. I wasn’t thinking straight… I’m sorry,” Twilight apologized.

Celestia shook her head in turn. “No need to apologize. Despite your unfiltered speech, every word was true. As I stand now, I am unfit to rule Equestria. I am unfit to call myself an Alicorn,” she closed her eyes and a longing smile crossed her features. “By the Gods, I used to be so strong. When was it that I became like this? Each loss weakened and complacency ruined me. No more. I will be the Princess Equestria needs and prove to Dainn that Male Superiority is wrong.”

“Nein, sister. It is already wrong, for Twilight stands among us. I shall, too, rekindle my warrior spirit and follow Oksho’s conviction without his misguided view and path. You will be the hammer, I shall be the spear, Twilight shall be the sword, Cadance the dagger, if… WHEN Shining ascends, he shall be the shield and our niece, Flurry Heart, shall be the wielder of all,” Luna remarked.

“It was that dimension’s Celestia’s doing that ruined it. Her losing streak and her lackluster response invigorated the caribou’s view of Male Superiority and, in the end, brought damnation upon them,” Twilight remarked. “Not to mention the apparent sexism regarding alicorns. Now that I know the truth and that there’s a possibility for my brother, and maybe others, to ascend, we will be prepared to face a malign foe such as the caribou and the Enchantment they used,” another mouthful of pancakes later, she asked. “Where’s Cadance?”

“She’s still sleeping. Had a bad night. Nightmares,” Luna replied. “She’s been the most affected out of us all… poor dear. Were she in your place, Twilight, I believe she would’ve broken. Her heart is too kind to withstand such horrors head-on.”

“Must especially suck knowing that an alternate you fucked up things even more and was basically responsible for at least half of that torment,” Sunset said, not with humor but with dejected understanding. “I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes either.”

“Then it is decided,” Twilight said. “Spike… you’ll decide who tells who, where, and how. You’ve always been there for me and I trust no one more than I trust you.”

“Aye aye,” Spike replied, smiling brightly.

“Then… after I’m done here, I’ll return to Dainn. I’ll bring a few things with me. Oh, that reminds me, Celestia, can you give me one of your cakes? You know, the ones in your private reserve?”

Celestia blinked, surprised. “Of course, Twilight,” with a flicker of magic, a portal opened next to her and then a luxurious and delectable-looking chocolate cake floated out. “May I ask what you intend to use it for?”

“Do you remember I told you he said that he liked cupcakes?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah, but didn’t he reject the one you gave him?” Starlight questioned.

“He did,” Twilight answered, nodding, “but I think he really wanted to eat it. He punished himself by not eating it. I have an inkling suspicion that he has a sweet tooth… or had, at the very least. If I’m correct, then he won’t be able to resist a cake with the quality to be hoarded by our local cake devourer.”

“I take great pride in that title, young lady,” Celestia replied, completely unashamed to admit her love for all things sweet.

“I swear, if he turns out to have a sweet tooth like yours, I’m going to go crazy… but it’s a good apology gift, right?” Twilight said, casting a spell to preserve the cake in a stasis field. The rest of the breakfast went without hassle until it was time for Twilight to leave.

“Twilight? A moment, before you go,” Celestia spoke up.

“Yes?” Twilight replied, turning to face her old mentor.

“It may be hypocritical of me to say this, but do not see Dainn as a monster any longer. He is both victim and villain, prisoner and warden, tormented and tormentor. Most of his actions were driven by his ignorance and fear, yet he only meant well in the end. He is not a hero but neither is he a villain. He is something in between. Something I have only encountered once previously: a type of hero that earns as much scorn as he gains admiration.”

“An anti-hero,” Luna added, sighing deeply, “poor… misguided but well-meaning Stygian.”

“Stygian…,” Twilight muttered and as she recounted his story, plight, and decisions, she couldn’t help but see the dark, tragic comparisons between him and Dainn. “Anti-hero… an unconventional hero capable of rising and falling at the same time. I believe you are right to call Dainn an anti-hero. Bound by conviction and duty, his need to save his people blinded him. He put on the mask of a King… and the more he wore it, the more his true self was eroded. Without those close to him to guide and support him, Gunne and Ginna, the further he was subsumed by it. Without a righteous path to follow, like Oksho’s, the deeper the hole he dug became. And without the strength to wield it, he failed to mold it to become like Svarndagr. The mask of his mentor and abuser… he failed to become a beacon of unity for his people…”

“And in turn brought damnation upon them and his world,” finished Starlight, shuddering. “Makes one think about how close some of us came to royally screwing things over, huh?”

“At any rate, I have to go now… and I promise I won’t let my anger get the best of me again. Dainn… may deserve all the hatred, given and self-inflicted, he gets, but at the same time he deserves a chance at redemption, even if it doesn’t exist,” Twilight said, stood up, gave Spike a final hug, and then left once more to meet a living corpse tormented by his actions in a dead world.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

After arriving at the ruined castle, the first thing Twilight did was to give the horrid stained glass a glare, not because of what it represented, but what led to it and what caused it. When she arrived at the throne room, she found Dainn already sitting not at the other side of the stone table, but on his throne, standing still like a statue.

She sat down and waited for him to speak first. While she waited, she stared at him intently. He was hunched over, unable to see his eyes while he held the golden necklace with care, almost as if he was caressing it despite not moving an inch. After five minutes of silence, the crackling of joints caught her attention. His head lifted up, slowly, cracking his vertebrae with each glacial movement until his blue, cold eyes were visible once more and finally, he spoke.

“...leave…” his voice rasped. “Unless you are ready to apologize and know why you have to… leave and never return. It will be better if you do.”

“I won’t apologize for hating the caribou,” Twilight replied, unfettered. “But I will apologize for lumping all of you into the same box. I was ignorant to say that you didn’t know love or friendship or companionship. I’m sorry I insulted the memories of those who cared and were unlike the rest of your species. Those I didn’t know included. No matter if there were only a hundred or ten or a thousand among your people… they don’t deserve my harsh condemnation. For who am I to judge them so?” Dainn said nothing, only stared at her and listened.

“You were right about many things. How Celestia’s streak of defeats and her neglect cause Equestria so many problems. How it caused you -and your damnable Council- to see her as unfit and weak. How the absence of a male Alicorn made you believe you were facing a Matriarchy. And… how it made it seem as if our stallions were lesser than females. The fearmongering of Male Superiority worked because I and everyone else, those in this dimension I mean, were weak and complacent and blind.”

She chuckled. “Perhaps if this… your Celestia was the Warrior Queen you imagined her as, something she never was as not even Luna could claim that title, then maybe you would’ve rejoiced and joined her side, reached an accord, and struck a bargain? You were seen as a female by your peers and treated as such by Svarndagr. I wish to believe that’s what you would’ve done, because you are neither a hero nor a villain in the end… you, my dear Dainn, are what can be called an anti-hero,” she said somberly. “And a rather tragic one at that in all the sense of the word. For that… I am sorry. It is all I can say.”

Dainn remained silent for another minute, then stood up. “I do not understand you, Not My Twilight. Your words cut deep but they ring true. Honestly? I prefer the knife over the pity you waste on me. But… for all it is worth, I accept your apology and your words,” he chuckled, his raspy voice colder than the lifeless air rummaging outside. “Anti-Hero? I don’t know what that is… I never heard of it, but the phrasing implies a failed hero, which I argue is unlikely, or a hero who is not a hero. Hmmm, an interesting view on things,” stepping down to the table, he sat on his seat and sighed. “Do you have anything more to say, Twilight?”

“Only that I brought you a few things. As an apology gift,” Twilight said, offering a sincere smile. From her saddlebags appeared a few plates of food, drink, a book, and, finally, the cake she had been hiding under an invisibility spell. “Tadaaaa~?”

“I shall accept them as a sign of good… is that… is that a cake?” Dainn’s voice cracked when he saw the chocolate, heart-attack-inducing pastry. He gulped loudly. “I… I can’t accept that one, Twilight. I don’t deserve it…”

“Probably not,” Twilight shrugged. “But if I’m coming to terms with you, the caribou, and myself, then it is only fair if you do the same. At least, a little. Think of it as a… small reward and a step closer to redemption?”

“Redemption,” Dainn muttered. “I am beyond redemption… but… I-I-I will accept that cake… f-for your sake, of course,” he said, gulping once more.

Twilight nodded, doing her best to not giggle. “Of course.”

“Then… I think I shall start with it. Did you, perchance, bring any silverware?” Dainn asked.

Twilight wordlessly levitated a large cutting knife and a fork to him and placed them on the plate set before him. Slowly, painfully so, she watched as Dainn cut the cake into eight slices. He set the knife aside and leaned in to sniff it. He sighed in pleasure, as if the sugary scent of the cake awakened old memories within him.

Then, she closed her eyes, smiling and happy that her gamble paid off. Not even a second later, she opened her eyes to find an impossible scene. Dainn was munching happily, holding the fork in one hand while only a single slice of cake remained on the plate.

Twilight felt a twitch pulsate on her forehead a moment later. “HOW!? T-That was… HOW!? How did you do that!? Not even Celestia eats a cake that fast! Did you even chew it!?”

“It ish delishioush,” Dainn replied, shining with true joy before gulping down his mouthful. “It’s been so long since I tasted a cake~,” he said before discarding his fork in favor of picking the cake with his hand. He lifted the slice up and he turned to the side, taking a moment to admire the cake as if it was a long-lost lover. Then, he opened his mouth wide, ready to scarf it down in a single bite.

Twilight’s surprise and confusion passed as the memory of a certain newspaper came back to her full force. It was an identical pose and situation, just with Dainn instead of Celestia caught red-handed. “Oh sweet Gods no, they’re both sweet lovers,” she muttered softly before he ate the last slice, munching on it slowly and drinking in the flavor.

“This… if by far… the best cake I’ve ever eaten,” Dainn said as he thoroughly enjoyed his meal.

Twilight wanted to groan but then noticed something odd was happening. Dainn’s right eye started to change color. It was subtle at first, more like a decoloration or a flickering afterimage, but with each munch, it changed a bit more until, right before he gulped it down, his right eye was as violet as Celestia’s eye.

“Wha--” she began to ask, flabbergasted at what she was seeing, but when he turned to face her again, his eye swirled in color and was back to the icy blue a second later. “Did you… notice what happened?”

“That I smiled and was content for once in a long time?” He asked rhetorically and with mild amusement in his voice.

“No… your right eye, it changed color… you know what? Nevermind. I probably imagined it. Though… I can’t believe you and Celestia share an uncanny sweet tooth. Under other circumstances, you two would’ve been friends. Maybe more,” Twilight said, smiling fondly.

“...I do not understand you, Twilight,” Dainn leaned back, his voice back to its normal icy, cold tone. “If you hate me and my species, with just reason, why are you treating me this way now? I have accepted your apology and yet… are you mocking me in secret!? IF YOU HATE ME, THEN WHY ARE YOU TREATING ME LIKE A FRIEND!?”

Twilight’s jaw dropped after his outburst, but only for a moment. It was her turn to be level-headed and teach a lesson of her own. “Because that is what friends do, Dainn. Friends forgive each other for the faults we make,” she stopped for a moment, blinked, and then chuckled. “I just realized that at some point I started seeing you as a friend of sorts, Dainn. I guess that’s my nature as the Princess of Friendship.”

“Friends? We are not friends! I am a speaker, the last of a species of idiots, a deluded fool, an ignorant buffon, and a puppet that didn’t know the strings that controlled him! Why treat me like a friend when you hate my species so much!?” He proclaimed. “I hate myself and them and those stupid idiots that sought naught but their hedonistic pleasure and satisfaction more than you could ever hate us! And yet… and yet… I can’t hate everyone… I wasted our potential for chance… our one chance to be something more than the despotic, conquering monsters we always were. Friendship? I don’t deserve friendship.”

“Well, too fucking bad, Dainn. Because you’re taking my friendship whether you like it or not,” Twilight replied, crossing her arms. “I cannot even begin to fathom your hatred, that guilt and shame and anger and sadness that plagues you. But I, as the dual Princess of Magic and Friendship, understand that you need a friend. I will be that friend… now that you’ve taught me so many valuable lessons that I was too ignorant to see.”

“...then why are you treating me like a male?” He asked, puzzled yet a flicker of hope flashed in his eyes. “The way you’ve exploded… your fury, your anger… it was akin to how Svarndagr and others treated females: with derision and absolute dominance. It is not the same as what the Enchantment my council so foolishly unleashed… and that I permitted to use. A female is just an inferior being. Unfit to rule. Unfit to do anything except obey orders, please males, and produce offspring. Sluts? Sluts and females are not the same. They all wanted sluts, not females… and I, who was seen as a female by many, escaped that fate by sheer virtue of wearing a crown,” he said with disdain.

Several seconds passed in silence until he spoke again.

“You are everything I ever wanted to be as a female. Something that I failed at from the start. Not enough to be a male despite the dick hanging between my legs. Not enough to be a female either. Did I ever tell you that my mentor constantly made fun of how often I had to sit down and why, lack of muscle mass and strength aside, I could never be a warrior?” Twilight shook her head, her attention focused on him. “It’s because I was born with a mild disability that made my knees weak. I could stand, run, walk, carry heavy objects like a normal caribou, but I would tire much, much quicker. I was unfit for physical activities, thus, I turned my focus to academics and I was very, very adept at them. Worthless in the end once that damnable crown saw on my head. Has any caribou ever failed as much as I?” He asked no one. “You… remind me so much of Ginna, Twilight. It's not the same, of course. She lacked your intelligence and power, but her heart was as pure and sincere as yours is.”

“Then let me be your friend, you stubborn old fool,” Twilight replied, smiling.

“In that case… let’s be friends, Twilight Sparkle,” Dainn said, offering a tiny, sincere smile. “You know… after I became King, I rarely indulged myself in sweets. Before that, back in our homeland, every time after Svarndagr ‘used me’, I went to the kitchens to take in some sweets. Sugar and honey were rare treats, but common enough for those in the castle to enjoy. I stole two or three batches of sweets, sometimes a cake. The sweets took the pain away, for some time, at least, and I really enjoyed them,” waving his hand around, he chuckled.

“I always stole so much because I brought some to Gunne and Ginna, mostly Ginna, mind you. Gunne was never a fan of sweet things. But Ginna? She loved them. Seeing her smile eased the pain and her therapeutic sessions did wonders for my sanity back then. See the difference? She was a female, but a therapy female. Useful in her own right. Kind, gentle, friendly, lovable, loyal… she wasn’t a therapy pet or a common slut. I couldn’t save her… I couldn’t save Gunne, either. The closest thing I had to siblings, because I was weak,” he gritted his teeth until they cracked, nearly shattering.

“I failed them… now, all I can do is share what I have learned through pain, blood, suffering, and failure with anyone who will listen,” suddenly, he lifted a finger. “Be that as it may, Not My Twilight. I shall issue a single warning moving forth. I will allow you to ask questions regarding my retellings, but I will tolerate no more outbursts or unjustified interruptions. If you truly have learned your lesson, then you shall contain your ire and hold back your tongue. For if you explode once more, I shall ensure that you will never be able to return and any lessons you may and grasp from me shall be forever lost. Do you understand this, Twilight?”

“I do,” Twilight replied and nodded curtly. “Dainn… I meant every word I said. Truly. Equally so, I am sincere when I say this: somepony other than me deserves to see and speak to the real you.”

“I rebuke that notion. Your arrival came from chance and, were I to still believe in it, fate itself. Perhaps, in another time, in another era. Then again, that Dainn wouldn’t be the one sitting before you, now would I?” He chuckled darkly. “No. You are more than enough. Let your voice spread what you learn from my tale and mistakes.”

“But we aren’t so different in the end. Not culturally, ideologically, or morally speaking, but rather as how we came to fail ourselves and our people. Without even noticing, we’ve been relying on the Elements of Harmony to solve our problems as much as your people used the Enchantment to bring them easy victories and quick conquests. Not the same, but similar,” she then reached into her saddlebags and took out the coin she’d found. With a flick of her thumb, the coin flew for a couple of seconds until Dainn caught it midair before it landed on the stone table.

“One was bound to appear eventually,” Dainn said with hatred. “After I buried my friends and all those that were worthy of remembrance, I spent fifty years going around Equestria destroying several monuments that my people erected until I grew tired of the futile effort and I enclosed myself here. But right before the last volcano died, I poured every last single single of these coins I could find, right before I jumped into it,” he chuckled darkly. “I highly recommend you never try to kill yourself by diving into a pool of molten lava and gold. It took me three years to break the mold from within.”

Twilight winced at that as her imagination provided her with a comparison. Being petrified by a cockatrice was not one of her proudest moments, truth be told. Then, she watched him do something that his frail body shouldn’t have been able to do. With just with index finger and thumb, he pressed on the coin hard enough that it snapped in half, then he compressed the shattered pieces until the gold coin was reduced to hundreds of scattered pieces in his palm. Then, he tossed the fragments up by several dozen meters to be taken away by the howling winds, never to be seen again.

“Thank you, for bringing me that piece of garbage that I failed to collect and destroyed. One wrong put right, so to speak,” Dainn said with a tired shrug. “If Svarndagr ever saw one of these coins being in public use, he would’ve switched every stag involved in using and producing it. Thramm firstmost among them. That is, if he felt particularly generous to even consider switching anyone,” he shuddered, suppressing an unwanted memory. “Let’s just say that Svarndagr had creative methods of punishment that would make ANYSTAG go on their knees and BEG being switched instead.”

“There are fates worse than death,” Twilight muttered, quoting one of Dainn’s first lessons.

“Getting a kick to the ground is one thing, a disciplinary action. A punishment? Trust me, you do not wish to know how disgustingly creative he could be,” Dainn replied, tilting his head to the side for a moment. “Though, I am pleased that you’ve been taking my lessons to heart. Tell me, for I am curious, has Shining Armor chosen to try and become an alicorn?”

“He has. He is going to try and achieve it now that… the price and dangers of immortality are known to him and Cadance. I also learned something that I think you may not know, Dainn. Celestia and Luna told me that there have been male alicorns in the past, but they are rare. They had a brother named Blueblood who sacrificed himself for their sake. They also told me that there have been many stallions showing the potential to ascend, but never did. It just so happens to be a simple problem of statistics and numbers set against probability, I came to realize.”

Dainn blinked. “That is… certainly new to me. I never uncovered evidence of a long-lost brother, though I never searched too deeply, if I’m being honest. Perhaps that’s another difference between our dimensions,” he paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “However, that second part you mentioned… what do you mean by it?”

Twilight shrugged coyly. “Short version? It makes sense why having a stallion ascend is harder than a mare. In my dimension, and I guess in this one, too, there are eight to ten mares for every stallion. Simple statistics say that a mare ascending to alicornhood is ten times as likely than a stallion. The fact that my brother shows so much potential is rare but promising. I will do my best to see him ascend.”

Dainn nodded in approval. “Had my Shining Armor ascended and had Svarndagr lived to meet him, I’m certain that he would’ve made him his heir. I knew little of him before his corruption, but everything he was… I wished I was,” he sighed tiredly. “No point in longing for that which can’t be fixed.”

“About that,” Twilight pressed on. “My friends and I agree that while Svarndagr wasn’t a good guy; he was a tyrannical ruler, a despot, and a conqueror, after all. He was also an excellent ruler who kept the worst aspects of his people in check and was able to run his kingdom effectively. Threats and all. I may not like him, at all, but I can respect his skills.”

“In that aspect, Twilight, our opinions align perfectly. Had all of what happened had occurred under his reign, he would’ve carved a bloody path across the lands until he eliminated all the ‘deranged idiots’. I was no warrior, as you may know, but I had seen him unleash his wrath and fury many times. Had he been in my place, he would’ve carved the greatest groin-destroying and testicle-cracking rampage in caribou history,” he finished with a short chuckle of amusement.

“Despite everything he did to you, you still find such thoughts amusing?” Twilight asked, then immediately shook her head. “Forget I said anything. I almost forgot what your people believed in. The Strong rule over the Weak. The Strong Rule, the Weak Obey,” she said, shuddering with visible discomfort. “Such an ideology is… anathema to me, yet true simultaneously. It all depends on how it is employed.”

“Taken to a toxic view, it can do much harm, no matter the intent,” he replied, warning silently. Twilight nodded, understanding his message and he continued. “Take me, for instance. It was a minor incident of little relevance at the end of the day, but important at the moment it happened. After the Enchantment was unleashed and used to win battle after battle, converted stallions were desperate to find evidence of the might of Male Superiority,” he spat with disdain as he recalled his memories. “A certain archaeologist by the name of Arcane Writ, curse him to Tartarus and beyond, took advantage of the situation to further his selfish ambitions. He wasn’t corrupted like so many others. Darkness already existed in his heart. Envy, greed, lust, and pride all mixed within him. But he was opportunistic and, worst of all, resourceful. Not particularly bright or creative, but resourceful,” Dainn warned, raising a finger.

“He and his partner were authorities in their respective fields and, combined, he presented fake findings that were so convincing that they were legitimized. These artifacts painted an ancient male-dominated Equestria that was eventually destroyed and replaced by the pervasive and unjust matriarchy led by female alicorns who wished to enslave males for their own sick and twisted amusement. He climbed up the social ranking quickly to the point that Fauber and Thramm, equally rotten to the core, came to see him as a collaborator and an associate,” Dainn paused as he shook his head slowly.

“I was so easily fooled. Their ‘proof’ and their ‘artifacts’ were far from irrefutable, but at that time I was a self-centered moron playing to unheard tunes. And like a fool, I accepted those findings as gospel. Svarndagr would’ve seen right through their ruse, destroyed the artifacts, and executed that damnable Arcane Writ where he stood for his insolence. The gal needed to try and trick the King was both unforgivable and an act of treason. And after he was done with him, he would’ve hunted down the artist that created those convincing forgeries,” Dainn sighed bitterly. “I should’ve done that… I should’ve listened and seen the obvious sweet poison fed to me, but I turned a blind eye. I should’ve done what Svarndagr would’ve done.”

“That’s brutal… but justified,” she replied, then smiled and stifled a chuckle. “I can only imagine what those ‘ancient artifacts’ looked like.”

Dainn offered a tiny smirk. “There’s a reason why he got along so well with Fauber and Thramm. Between the three of them, they made up a single neuron dedicated to creativity and talent,” his expression dimmed and returned to one of neutral stoicism. “Are you ready to continue listening?” Twilight nodded. “Remember my warning, Twilight. Keep it at the forefront of your mind. You may ask your questions… until I’m finished with my retelling.”

“I understand,” she replied.

“Then, prepare yourself, for it is from this point on, that the true nightmares begin.”

Chapter 20: Run-Run-Run

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“My King, there are several outbursts of violence happening in Manehattan. The reports… are disconcerting. Bloodshed seems to be on the rise,” an aide said. “Magistrates all across the region are requesting reinforcements.”

“Those pleas can wait,” Svenn interjected, kneeling before me and my throne. “My King, there are reports of probing assaults all across the borders! Gryphons, Zebras, Saddle Arabians, and other stray creatures are trying to sink their unworthy fingers in what is rightfully ours! We need to dispatch and train more regiments of Loyalists and Turned!”

My head hurt after hearing his booming voice. Complaint after complaint followed. Two hours without stopping. Fifteen days after Oksho unleashed Surtr without fail. I turned to Storm, the contemptible bastard. “Storm, why have you not deployed the Enchantment against our new foes? Vestri, what do these vermin want with us?”

Storm was the first to reply. Something was… off about him. More than usual. He didn’t look like himself, but rather as something wearing his flesh. However, I pushed those thoughts aside. “My Liege… I regret to inform you that… the Enchantment does not work on them for reasons I cannot fathom. I’ve been trying to modify the enchantment, but it seems my greatest work is too efficient and… I’ve been unable to undo what I’ve done to create it in the first. Luckily, Turned stallions and Guard-Mares are eager to defend their master and you, my King.”

“About that,” I frowned, ignoring the Spirit hovering next to me. “Why is it that the Enchantment works more on stallions than mares? Ponies should be affected equally, according to your overbloated ego.”

All through paths of darkness and vile, yet you see not the answer yourself? Pestering I will be until you see, that your death and torment will not cease without disbelief,” the Spirit of Harmony whispered.

“Ahhhh… Yes… Mares are, of course, females and inferior beings, thus they can’t understand the glorious message of our creed. Only those few who know the truth within themselves, that females are but animals and unworthy of anything besides serving us, can see the Light of Male Superiority. The males are much more enlightened, as their tragic past is uncovered and the deceit of their corrupt sexist and female-led alicorn sluts. But some are as blind as the heretical females. They will be re-educated or Switched in order to serve us--You, mighty one.”

Lies, deception, ruse, and strings. A puppet you are not, so why do you latch to be?

“Find a solution, then, Storm. We must spread the glory of our message and bring forth an undying Caribou Empire, forevermore,” not even I believed my words back then. Such idiocy. “Vestri?”

“These are but scavengers and riffraff, my King. opportunistic vermin that wish to gnaw at the bones of our riches thinking Equestria was rendered weak by our rightful and just conquest. In truth, they are not as dangerous as one may think. Gryphons are content with gold. A few coins are nothing to us and we can use them as mercenaries. The Saddle Arabians are, in truth, an annoyance to maritime commerce. They shall be dealt with swiftly. The zebras are… an oddity. Some wish to join willingly, others cry out our actions as crimes and fight on with an unmatched ferocity. There are other species involved, but of little value.”

“And… what about dragons?” I asked, shaken as the memories of Spike came to the forefront of my mind.

“None have been seen… to think they were real? They are content to stay where they are except for our local beast,” Ivangri replied, partially recovered from his wounds. I smiled, chuckling as I remembered his shame and screams of pain. “There are, sadly, other problems.”

“Such as?” I asked, eyes narrowing.

“My King, the unworthy fields of the ponies are being repurposed to cultivate our seeds and tend to our needs. Initial reports indicate that the soil is rich and fertile. We will impregnate the very soil itself and enjoy the fruits of our labor soon!” Another aide boasted. “Heretical tools are being destroyed, history is being rewritten to show our truth, re-education camps and efforts are prospering, and the alteration to the strange pony technology is underway.”

“However, I must point out, my Liege, that the disruption of agricultural tending will lower our stockpiles. Not to worry, for the warehouses are full and will be many, many months before we even begin to see an issue. By that time, our crops shall grow and we shall thrive, as per your wishes,” Hrathr added.

I could feel my headache becoming worse already. “Explain to me why those tools are labeled as ‘heretical’. Those tools have been developed and created specifically to tend to crops, irrigation, agriculture, and cattle. I’ve seen a few in action and they seem to be more effective than our own. Why destroy them when we can use them?”

Ivangri spat angrily, not bothering to hide his disdain. “Those tools were developed by females, my King! Heretical by nature. Nothing is superior than what the male mind has conjured. Besides,” he grinned darkly, “how are the mares tending the fields to know their worthlessness without humiliation and suffering?”

Behold thine Voice, cruel in nature and cruel in soul. A fool greater there is none, except for the one who sees with closed eyes.

I frowned, ignoring the Spirit yet again. “Again with that stupid, pointless reason?” I countered angrily. “Females may be inferior and worth no consideration, but to shove aside perfectly usable tools and equipment for such a foolish reason? And why is it that females are to be tasked with farm labor? Do you idiots have forgotten what happened to the caribou that tried to force females to toil with cruelty and humiliation as the main goals?” I asked and everyone tensed for a moment. The howls of pain of those farmers were so loud that the entire capital heard them after Svarndagr was done punishing them.

“But, my King, we are few in numbers. We, males, must focus on breeding more worthy males! It is our duty to repopulate our magnificent race with strong males while the females toil for our benefit, as it should be,” Hrathr retorted.

I raised a finger and pointed it at my backstabbing council members. “From now on, you are forbidden from destroying those tools based on such stupid motivations. Svarndagr always complained that our equipment was too backward and primitive. He would’ve liked these tools, regardless of their origin and so do I. We have a nation to build and maintain. Forget those stupid squabbles and focus on what needs to be done!”

The aides, scribes, and councilors bowed their heads, unable to argue against me so openly. “What’s next?” I sat there, hearing report after report. Hardly any good news, plenty of problems. Infrastructure was being repurposed without permission by Turned to host breeding schools, rape tournaments, and more. More land was taken from former mare-controlled hands and handed to incompetent or unprepared males. The weather was starting to create havoc as it went uncontrolled and unattended. Changeling incursions and kidnappings were happening constantly. Not to mention the issues of logistical nature, the burning of countless books, the destruction of monuments that would be replaced by my own mockeries, natality reports, population reports, and so much damn paperwork.

I was working understaffed and beyond my limits, and yet, that wasn’t the worst of all. I couldn’t see it then, but there were cracks everywhere spreading and appearing one after the other. Yet, not even I could hide my fury and disbelief when the last report of that day reached my ears.

“What did you just say?” I asked, my voice cold and my eyes wide with disbelief.

Hrathr, that repugnant maniac and coin pincher, stood proudly, mistaking my reaction for one of pride and bemusement. “Precisely what you heard, my King! Several hectares of forest have been cut and burned and all the fields surrounding Trottingham and Coltdelphia have been repurposed for the exclusive growth of Rape Vines. The podlings are already growing nicely and are expected to start producing Hardshaft, our prized stimulant, within a month! Thousands of females are being selected for the process.”

“YOU INCREDIBLE IMBECILE!” I shouted with unbound fury as I jumped to my hooves. “You absolute lecherous moron! Do you have any idea what the words that left your unworthy mouth mean!?” I raged, wishing nothing more than to kill Hrathr at that very moment.

“M-My King?” The moron asked as every set of eyes looked at me with confusion and fear at my outburst. “If you’re displeased with the amount seeded, I can see to it to expand it immediately!”

I clenched my fists and I slowly, so slowly I thought I would fall with every step I took, I descended from my throne to face Hrathr. “Burn it all! Burn it immediately!”

A fickle fly, a fickle lie. A stab to the wound, a salve for the mind. What is it that you wish to prevent when the die is already in the air? Too late, too foul, your play has been set.

“B-But my King! With the surplus of whores and sluts at our disposal, proud males will need Hardshaft by the bucketload!” Hrathr replied, confused.

“One single Rape Vine consumes incredible amounts of resources and water. It grows fast. It propagates fast. And if the number is too great, it shall spread without control! It drains the soil from nutrients and nothing except that damnable drug is produced in return!” I barked angrily. “Do you not remember the laws set by Svarndagr!? A SINGLE rape vine is a reward for outstanding farmers and herders who do their work to enjoy and have extra profit. One. Singular. Vine!”

“That is precisely why a field--”

I shut him up by delivering a backhand to him. I was stronger somehow. Even then I could feel the difference. Something within me was changing, but I was too blind to give it my attention. I stood over a bleeding Hrathr as he coughed a few teeth, staring at me in disbelief. “Do you remember what the consequences of unchecked Rape Vine growth can cause?”

“B-But he was a fool! A simpleton farmer!” Hrathr tried to argue, but I continued.

“A farmer so idiotic that he thought nothing wrong could ever happen if he planted a second vine. Then a third. Then ten. And when he only had twenty to deal with, they spread like frostbite in a blizzard! He nearly caused a famine outbreak with his idiocy! All because he was greedy and his cock made the thinking for him!” I remarked angrily.

“M-My King--”

“THE KING IS SPEAKING!” I snapped, kicking his stomach. “Hrathr, your stupidity and greed have cost us dearly! You are the Beastmaster. Have you consulted with Thror about this at all!? WHERE IS MY MASTER OF COMMERCE!?”

“He---He is overseeing trading dilemmas across the north, your Majesty,” Vestri replied.

“Then, surely, he has not agreed to this debacle of stupidity!” I glared at the cowering stag with repugnance. “The food shortage I projected has gotten worse thanks to you, Hrathr. Fertile fields are now unusable and who knows how many seeds and podlings are spreading out already, unchecked, across the land. You are an excellent trainer, but you had no right to call for such an ignorant move… more so without consulting me about it first.”

“B-But, my King… there are… there are so many females now! The ugliest and oldest ones can serve as stock for Rape Pods! A never-ending supply of Hardshaft would be at our disposal, and, with it, we can make more drugs to help break the stubborn black collars easily!”

I snapped at him again. “Do stags only ever think with their dicks!? Tell me, you ignorant, uncultured, uneducated moron, what good is an endless supply of Hardshaft going to do when we are STARVING BECAUSE OF YOU!?” I covered my face with my shaking, terrified hands in exasperation. My headache was getting worse as I thought about the logistical nightmare unfolding in my mind. “Ivangri, Vestri. Cordon the area, burn the entire fields and burn every square inch in a two-hectare diameter from the fields immediately! We have to contain the spread of the vines NOW!”

Ivangri made a noise with his throat before speaking. “Is it… that too extreme, my King? Your response could be perceived as… worry for the bitches that--”

“Am I surrounded by idiots!?” I snapped at him, almost foaming with anger. “Have any of you incompetent fools ever heard of malnutrition!? Lean produce!? Scurry!? Anything at all regarding our health!?” I raised a finger at him. “And that brings me to question a topic I wished to discuss in private with you, Ivangri. What is this stupid order about feeding females nothing but water and kibble!?”

“My King… they are females. Eating that much is already more than they deserve,” he replied with disdain. “If anything, they should be feeding on our waste as a show of how lowly they truly are,” she said and many gave silent nods of agreement.

“...Ha… hahaha…. AHAHAHAHAHAHA!” I laughed, but it wasn’t a laugh of mirth. It was a laugh of despair and pain. “Now… Now I understand why my mentor never trusted any of you. Why he maintained such a tight leash on everything? You are… you aren’t just stupid, you are actively self-destructive and take pride in your stupidity!”

“Think… use your fucking brains for once… and think long and deep about what I am about to tell you. If you eat one thing and one thing only, you will grow weak, you will grow sick, because your body needs all sorts of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in order to survive.”

Vestri scoffed. “My King, we are not calves.”

“Since you refuse to hear reason, I shall speak to you as I damn well please!” I retorted. “What do you think will happen to females if they eat nothing but kibble?”

“...why should we even care? They are females. Unworthy of our attention or care,” Ivangri replied, unable to see reason or refusing to understand logic.

“Because, you mulling pack of imbeciles, if the females grow weak and suffer from malnutrition, they will be unable to get pregnant! Then what? How are we supposed to reproduce without females to give birth?” I asked the most basic, simple question I could come up with.

At long last, I saw fear and some understanding fall across the faces of all those in front of me. From my guards to my aides and my Councilors. “Destroy those fields and make sure to feed females a balanced diet from now on. Not ‘wastes’, I glared at Ivangri with disgust at the sheer stupidity of even suggesting that, “no rotten food, no uncooked meals. Svarndagr understood that a healthy female is better than a hundred starving ones who can’t give birth to more males. In his own way, he cared more about the well-being of females than all of you combined.”

Oh, Lord of Fools, now you see glint and gold. Oh, Negligent Lord, are your eyes closed when seeing forth? Too little, too sparse. Unquenchable is the thirst of the maw. Your actions: abhorrent. Your will: irrelevant. Burn and burn and burn it goes and in a circle… the Cycle you fear shall end… when only ashes remain.

For the first time since the Spirit appeared to me… I saw it smile.

A smile of pure hatred, obscured within a friendly mask. Mocking eyes pierce me. And I felt terror grip my heart.

What had I done wrong?

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Dainn stopped, closing his eyes while his hands shook. Long minutes of silence passed until he once again regained his composure. “That there was the moment I realized I had failed to see the truth about our nature. How… our secular culture and way of life was wrong and invited nothing but destruction and pain for us and those around us. The caribou species, is so self-righteous and so hilariously stubborn that it fails to see itself as anything less than the pinnacle of creation itself. We can do no wrong because we are the greatest and smartest creatures to ever exist. If nature itself goes against us, then, surely, nature is wrong. We are right. We are always right… because we are the strongest and everything else is there to serve us and our needs,” he sighed deeply.

“Svarndagr… I think Svarndagr understood this and was repulsed by it. He tried, in his own brutal, self-centered way to steer our species from that. He was a hard stag. A harsh master. And an iron-fisted tyrant. He whipped the caribou into an actual semi-civilized society. Despite everything, we were thriving, but that is the trap of the Cycle. Something he didn’t come to realize until he was made undone.”

“My mentor… he trusted no one. He confided a few secrets to me, but nothing more than that except when using me as a female. He never had true aides, only pupils like myself. He never trusted his council. He didn’t even trust his own cooks. He prepared his own meals, crafted his own weapons. His was the belief that if you want something done right, do it yourself. He was a monster, a deplorable teacher, and a cruel master… but a brilliant leader, a great warrior, and someone actually capable of reining in the worst aspects of caribou culture.”

Dainn pointed at the throne and glared at it. “That throne… that… filthy thing. He would’ve never used it. He never cared for his throne. ‘A throne? I don’t need a throne. That throne isn’t the nation. I AM the nation. A chair or a stool is the same to me as that throne because it is just a fancy chair. Without me, there is no nation. A throne only gathers up dust and empty air’. He used to say that.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask… no. I am afraid to ask but I must. W-What is a Rape Vine?” Twilight asked softly.

“I’m sure you were able to see a few long-torn posters or something akin to them at some point. The giant plant t-tentacle things?” He answered, flinching for just a moment.

“Those are Rape Vines?” Twilight asked, shuddering with disgust. “Given the name I can only imagine what they do to earn it. Were they really such a big problem?”

“Imagine the unholy mix between weed and creeper vines. Rape Vines were almost self-aware in a sense. As I said, they grow fast, draining the land from nutrients and eroding the earth. The juices that females produce are their favorite ‘meal’, though they also enjoy male juices… they are still plants at the end of the day,” he said, pausing for a moment. “They are a plague, in all essence. They can fling their seeds far and wide and other animals can carry them too. Once an outbreak happens, it is hard to control.”

“And the sole reason those plants were kept around was because of the stimulant they produced?” She asked.

Dainn nodded. “It was a prized commodity, giving the stag that drank it endless stamina for some hours. The sexual kind. It was produced naturally, but when ‘feeding’ off female juices, the production rate multiplied tenfold. In some cases, the vine would encapsulate its prey, keeping it inside the pod, hence Rape Pods, and continue to violate the female captured inside… using its willing, multiple tentacles just to extract as much of her juices as she’d left drained. Some mares would… be left in a catatonic state. Others were left broken by the experience. You tell me which are the lucky ones.”

“I rather not,” Twilight replied, suppressing the urge to vomit. “So… did they do it? Did they follow your orders?”

Dainn scoffed. “They tried, I’ll grant them that much. But from the start, they weren’t going to do exactly as I said. The females would end up getting an improved kibble with more feed to them, so, make that whatever you want from it. The Rape Vines were burned down but, as I feared, it was too late for containment. Wild, unsupervised vines started to pop up everywhere. Plenty of other stupid idiots like Hrathr thought the same as him and… it was a nightmare to deal with, Twilight.”

Twilight frowned. “I hope that you punished him accordingly. He doomed so many,” he said, shaking her head slowly. “I am floored that none of your advisors, councilors, or aides had any sort of logical, critical thinking.”

“And did I before that point? Oksho’s actions and words rang within me, snapping me out of the stupor I had been in since the start. But it was too little too late. Even though I was changing, No one really respected me. I was just a puppet King. Under the table, Vestri and Ivangri profited immensely and did whatever they desired. Ivangri, especially, made sure to have a collection of over thirty females all to himself. Thirty. Svarndagr set a limit that no stag would ever have more than thirteen females as his own. Mainly because, while there have always been more cows than stags, it was a control of the gene pool and it escalated with social status and ranking,” he shook his head tiredly.

“A sudden influx of females, vastly outnumbering males, made things even worse, didn’t it?” Twilight guessed, gaining a nod from the decrepit, mummy-like stag. “Did you… never try to take assistants or secretaries?”

“And who would I turn to? Stags under my command had two brains and the biggest one was attached to their groins. I would lose all respect if I kept females at my side for support and aid. Turned stallions were even worse. And the precious few capable of fulfilling that role were eaten away by my bureaucracy. No, I was alone. Left to control and manage a realm a thousand times bigger than our homeland, with a fraction of our original strength, and with a King that was a mere shadow of what Svarndagr ever was.”

“Was there a Raven Inkwell in this dimension? Celestia’s secretary?” Twilight asked.

Dainn nodded. “Yes. She was one of my ‘females’. Celestia and Luna were just bedroom decorations. Trophies. My females were… pets? I do not know how to describe it. Sadly, Raven’s mind was ravaged by the Enchantment. Not quite a red-collar but her brilliant mind was excluded. I made her my maid. I liked her. Her company was enjoyable and in those rare moments in which her mind was returned to her, her advice saved me many headaches.”

Twilight smiled. “That’s Raven Inkwell alright,” she chuckled. “Celestia is fortunate to have many assistants and she knows how to delegate her duties. I should take a few more lessons in that regard. I also tend to be a control freak like Svarndagr, but, you know, not because I don’t trust anyone. I have Spike by my side and now I can rely on Starlight,” she paused for a moment, then leaned in curiously. “Say, Dainn, how many mares did you have in your harem?”

Dainn made a rasping noise. Itchy, dry, and unpleasant. “Harem? Hardly. Sex was meaningless to me, as I already told you. But I was forced to have some females as a sign of status. In total, I had ten, excluding Celestia and Luna. But I was only fond of Raven Inkwell and an ex-guardsmare by the name of Nightingale. Thestral. Such curious ponies. She was Luna’s aide.”

Twilight smiled warmly at him. “You try to deny it… and it was hard for me to see it beneath every atrocity that happened, Dainn, but you were, in truth, a kind and noble king. It surfaced now and again. I wish… I wish you could’ve been given a real chance to be yourself, not the thing you were carved out to be. Your side of the story is so much different than what the canvas offers.”

“There are always three sides to any story. The one you hear, the one that’s blemished, and the one left by history. Which one is the true one?” He shook his head tiredly. Offering a small smirk, he raised a finger. “That aside, you’ll be pleased to hear that I, indeed, punished Hrathr for his incompetence and stupidity. I followed Svarndagr’s example and did to him something far worse than death for a stag.”

“I castrated him over the course of three days in such a way that he never stopped screaming. Fire, pliers, acid, and several poisons were involved in the process. I added a touch of creativity using red-hot nails. Then, only after the process finished, I ordered that he was to be healed enough for him to survive and undo everything I did to him. He’d recover, but the pain would never leave him for several months at the very least. Lenient? Perhaps. But it sent a message. Besides… as much as I loathed him and the others, they were irreplaceable. I had tied a rope around my own neck. I couldn’t do away with any of them without suffering setbacks and other complications.”

“And they positioned themselves in such a way that doing so would only weaken your already fragile position,” Twilight reasoned. “Whatever real power you had was only valid as long as your Council remained strong, leaving you with little to no room to do anything yourself. I do not envy that position at all, Dainn. If the closest subjects, advisors, and aides of a ruler are untrustworthy, then who can you rely upon?”

“Have I told you how much I regret not getting to know my Twilight more? That everything turned so… it doesn’t matter,” Dainn sighed. “Sparring with someone with a sharp mind as yours would’ve been something for me to enjoy greatly. For me to learn and understand… something I did so very little in the past. Especially in regards to the Spirit.”

“Speaking of which…I never would’ve imagined that the Spirit of Harmony could ever have a scary side. Just hearing about it was enough to send shivers down my spine,” Twilight said, shuddering.

“Something I came to understand is that Harmony, as I said before, is a force of equilibrium. It’s neither good nor bad, it will try to get its point across, and if it fails? If Harmony is broken? Nasty things can happen… they did happen,” Dainn explained, his voice soft, icy, and wary.

“So… what happened after that?” Twilight asked. “I mean, after you punished Hrathr.”

“The following month was inconsequential, not worth going into full detail, but what do you think happened? Work and problems began to pile up one after the other. More and greater acts of depravity were taking place all the while Surtr roamed the land, destroying facilities and entire villages without us being able to do much against him. His followers perished one by one… I made sure they would be buried with honor. Even their trophies,” he sighed in defeat, his tired eyes flashing anew with regret and pain.

“Overpopulation was still a distant problem, but one looming closer and closer. Have you any idea how hard it is to keep track of such huge numbers of impregnated mares? Even with the deaths brought by battle and during the conquest, the population was about to explode. I had to oversee this issue myself because my people, in their infinite greed, gorged themselves on the number of available females. The Turned were even worse,” he paused for a moment to draw a line across the dust on the stone table. “Drawing up laws that kept stallions and stags from just raping or ‘stealing’ a female that belonged to another went through rather easily,” he drew another line. “Returning mares to their rightful owners was trickier, but it worked,” another line. “Finally, establishing a Switching as punishment for whoever broke that law. It was effective on the stags since being a female was worse than death itself. To become that which you loathe and see as inferior? Unthinkable.”

“But the stallions didn’t fear it?” Twilight asked, concerned.

Dainn swept his hand over the three lines, destroying them. “Oh, they feared it alright… but as time went on, that fear diminished, and soon more and more Turned were switched. That was another red flag I should’ve taken notice of. It was as if they stopped caring about any consequence whatsoever. It was a gradual decay… but one I should’ve paid more attention to. The incurable rebels were also Switched, though, without exception as punishment.” Dainn let out a hollow chuckle. “But in the case of the stags and stallions that broke the law, a first warning was issued because I didn’t want to lose males constantly. I implemented Svarndagr’s favorite method for imparting discipline: a summary kick to the groin. Even with my changed body I… was not strong enough to even begin to shadow his strength. My strongest kicks only put down a stallion for a day at most. But it got the point across somewhat.”

“I can’t say I don’t exactly approve of such… measures,” Twilight replied, wincing slightly. “You really were left without options, were you?”

“We had no Harmony because I was a stupid fool. We had no Unity because I was too weak to enforce it. Without any of those… there was no loyalty, no love, no drive other than to let loose to our worst desires and impulses,” Dainn replied somberly.

“My last desperate attempt to unite my people and my new subjects and force Harmony to come back was an utter failure. I tried to do what Svarndagr did… I tried to follow in his hoofsteps despite how much I loathed his brutal ways, but I saw no other possible option.”

“W-What happened? What made you fail?” Twilight asked, not sure if she wanted to hear the answer.

“Spike happened.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Ahhhhh, that’s too bad! Olaf the Mallet has been defeated! Yet another candidate that has proven to be too weak to be the new champion of our great King, Dainn!” The announcer shouted as the public cheered, demanding more entertainment for their enjoyment.

Drink and bread flowed like rivers and I winced at the sheer consumption rate of it all. It was a strain on our diminishing resources, but one I could afford in the name of drawing a loyal champion to my side. I simply waved at the sixth participant as he walked off the stage, unable to defeat the challenge placed upon him: two angry manticores. “He made it further than I thought he would,” I commented to myself, or rather, to my sole invisible companion.

Dance macabre, dance of empty. You try too late to bring that which was deemed before the ruination set in. Warriors of what? I wonder. Look around and you’ll see the truth; one’s new liege comes after which has mouth,” the Spirit said in a mocking tone.

The spirit was right as I saw Olaf walk away. He was the same as the other participants I’ve seen so far. His muscles and strength were still there, but their movements were sluggish. Their gut was also larger, more so in some cases, and they tired too quickly. “Oksho would’ve beaten those manticores whilst blindfolded and with an arm tied behind his back. Any of his warriors would’ve achieved victory easily, too. Why have my people grown so weak?” I asked myself, though the answer escaped me at the time, now it is all so clear.

Complacency is a slow, silent killer. To grow lazy and fat in the indulgence of overabundance was the unforeseen trap I had failed to see.

“Send in the next one!” I announced as the manticores were dragged back to their cages and the field was reset to start anew. “Finding a new champion is going to be… tiresome.”

He comes! He comes! He comes! He who was the purest of them all! He who fell deepest in the name of love! A dark and tainted soul beckons with glee! Of Crystals and Hearts, of Light and Shine! Tremble, tremble, he comes… and brings damnation to us all!

“What?” I asked, turning to the Spirit only to find it smiling an empty, hollow smile. The announcer then said something that froze my heart with fear.

“Coming from Ponyville to try his hand comes Spike the Dragon! You know this slave trader and trainer! You know of the quality of his whores! Truly, will he be able to become the champion our glorious King deserves!?”

I wanted to run away as the memories of Spike beating me half to death returned to me. He had been a crazed brute but with a purpose and a focus. Now… now he was worse. So much worse. Taller than any caribou, he walked as a veritable mountain of muscles, strength, and power. His blazing green eyes promised nothing but suffering and sadistic glee. He was naked, but he needed no armor, for his scales were sturdier than any piece of metal could provide. His claws and fangs were weapons that could sunder anything.

And his heart filled with cruelty and malice. “N-No…” I muttered, feeling my legs shake but unable to move. I was too damned scared to move an inch.

“Hail Dainn!” Spike bellowed with mockery as he stepped into the arena. The crowd cheered him, not knowing what his goal was. “I’ve come to take my rightful place!”

I was frozen in place, terrified of the monster locking eyes with me. “D-Do your best, Spike the Dragon! Earn the right to be my Champion!” I said as firmly as I could, but my legs were shaking and my heart was beating so fast and hard I could hardly believe I was still alive.

“Champion?” Spike repeated the word as if it was poison… beneath him. “Why would I be the Champion of a weakling?” The cheering stopped and murmurs began. He pointed a finger at me filled with malice and ambition. “I’ve learned the lessons of caribou well! The strong rule, the weak obey! I’m stronger than Dainn! I will rule! I will become King!”

“Nonsense!”

“King Dainn is the Alpha Male!”

“Insolent fool!”

The crowd cried out, but not to defend me. In truth, the caribou would never accept any member from another species as their King. It would mean that someone was mightier than us and that line of thinking was anathema. By that idiotic logic, they shouted my doom.

“King Dainn shall kill this fool!”

“None can stand before King Dainn, not even the alicorn whores!”

“Teach the dragon a lesson, King Dainn.”

Fools! Fools, all of them! I had no chance against that monster. I couldn’t even stare at his eyes without feeling my guts clenching in terror. I wanted to run out of there, yet I couldn’t move. But now that my image as King was in jeopardy, I couldn’t deny the challenge. By sheer force of will, I stood up to face the deranged dragon. “Begone! You are no caribou! Insolent wretch, leave before I unleash my warriors up--”

My words died in my throat when I saw him leap at me from the arena. I was more than ten meters above the arena and yet he closed the distance in the blink of an eye. He grabbed me by the throat and pushed me back into my palace, away from prying eyes.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“What he did to me, Twilight… I cannot describe for even as years have passed, I still recoil at the memory. He nearly killed me once again and I only survived due to the timely interjection of several warriors and guards. Spike truly aimed to kill me and take the crown for himself. He had taken our core philosophy and turned it against us. Against me… that’s when I knew that I was in the wrong for adhering to such an ideology. But it was far too late to change or do anything about it,” Dainn confessed, his voice tired and wary.

“I can’t… begin to imagine Spike doing or saying things like that… but this is the truth. What happened to him after that?” Twilight asked, then leaned forth. “What’s more, what happened to you?”

“The former? He went into hiding. I never saw him again,” he went silent for a moment, his cold eyes lingering on nothing and everything at the same time. “Nothing survived after the Cycle struck. Nothing except me. Of that, I’m sure. As for the latter? I spent weeks recovering, always outside the public eye and doing very little to guide my nation. Had I known what my Council would do in turn, I would’ve chosen death instead.”

“I remember,” Twilight whispered, afraid that her words would somehow summon a dark spirit or a demon. “They lied, didn’t they? They embellished the fight and then took advantage of the situation to do whatever they damned pleased, didn’t they?”

Dainn nodded. “While I recovered, they spread lies across the populace. How the fight was fierce but I managed to drive off the crazed dragon. Of how I stood firm and proud in victory, emulating the old glory of Svarndagr -never mind that Surtr was still rampaging across the land- and statues in my ‘honor’ were erected. Of course, they looked nothing like me.”

“The coins entered circulation. What little good I brought upon mares and females alike was rendered null and void. Crop production tanked to abysmal levels. Lavish parties and banquets were organized despite our dwindling stockpiles. And so much… much worse things,” Dainn shuddered with discomfort. “I took on jewel crafting and… and spent a lot of time with Celestia and the rest of my trophies. I know I had no right… but the more time I spent with Celestia, the happier I felt. Food had taste again, my migraines lessened, and the pain melted away along with my worries. I was… am, such a pathetic stag.”

Twilight wanted to reach out to Dainn, but refrained from doing so. Gone was the King, replaced by an old stag that only knew pain, regret, shame, hatred, sadness, and loneliness. Was his pain justified and deserved? Yes. None could argue that. Yet, her heart went out to him. Several long moments passed in icy silence until she found her voice once more.

“Is this… is this the part where cutting yourself with a knife is pure ecstasy?” She asked, her stomach making knots at the graphic description that felt so distant now.

“Not quite… but we are not far off, Not My Twilight,” Dainn estated with disgust and pure resentment. “Before the nightmare truly began with the Grand Galoping Gala, I saw things that Svarndagr would’ve never approved. Things I could not fathom how degenerated to such an extent. Rapes were rampant, historical revisionism was outlandish and outrageous. The founding myth of Equestria? Bastardized to fit the caribou norm.”

“Of course they did,” Twilight sighed in exasperation. “Do I even want to know what changes they made?”

“Revisionism,” Dainn replied. “It made any mare involved incompetent, exalted the stallions, and presented evidence of impersonation and ‘mare manipulation’ to overshadow other historical figures,” he scoffed at that. “Tell me, Twilight. Do you know any pegasus of renown by the name Commander Drizzle?”

Twilight shook her head. “Not that I’m aware of. Are you, perchance, referring to Commander Hurricane?”

“Indeed. Fauber, in all his idiocy, rewrote the founding mythos of the Three Tribes. I didn’t stop him from doing so,” he replied with a cruel smirk. “You see, Fauber claimed to have found the grave of Commander Drizzle, the one he replaced Commander Hurricane with, but it was a lie. Stallions were quick to catch on to it and they were outraged. Especially the pegasi. This ‘Commander Drizzle’ was Fauber’s idealized version of himself in pony form, which is bad enough. But he ousted Commander Hurricane as a mare impostor. There were riots because of this and he lost stallion supporters left and right,” a chuckle escaped his throat. “His downfall was exquisite.”

Twilight nodded. “I concur. Commander Hurricane and the rest of the founders are historic figures of great importance even to this day. To tamper with such a core piece of our history just to fit his agenda? I hope the worst came to him,” she said, peeved beyond measure.

“It doesn’t end there, I’m afraid. You never got to see it, but with so many females, especially black-collar ones, they were put to work. Careless crop control, stupid, nonsensical cleaning duties, and most were put into physical labor. Pulling carts with their teeth or via plugs. They would be made to work on treadmills in the open while chained to each other. What was their work? To run and keep running to generate power. To add insult to injury, a red-collar mare would supervise them and smack their rear ends with a heavy, spiked paddle to keep them motivated.”

Twilight felt faint. “Running on a treadmill--H-how!? WHY!? Were they willfully incompetent!? Why would anyone rely on muscle power when we have generators, both electrical and magical?”

“My thoughts exactly. I complained… but I was ignored. Svarndager would’ve never allowed such cruel and wasteful measures. The idea alone of smearing the good name of a prominent male in history would have been punished with an immediate Switching at the very least. My mentor was a cruel monster… but he wasn’t a senseless monster,” Dainn sighed tiredly.

“When I recovered enough, I was able to travel again. My first point of interest was Appaloosa. There had been some problems there and was, thank the Spirit, one of the few places that was still producing food regularly. I was not ready for what waited for me.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“What… what is this?” I asked as I sat in my private booth and I stared at the hole left on the mare’s seat.

“Ah, this must be your first time traveling in our train system, your Majesty,” the stallion that guided me said with a pleasant smile, but I could sense something was off about him. His eyes were shining with a sinister hunger and I felt like I was talking not to a pony, but something else using his body as a suit. How I wish I had paid more attention to my instincts. “Regretfully, you travel alone and your escort is waiting on other sections. You will be unable to enjoy the brilliance of watching a stupid whore being raped while in transit! Ingenious modifications and a worthy purpose, don’t you agree?”

“...are you telling me that this whole hides a dildo or something akin to it for the sole purpose of penetrating a female while the train is in motion?” The stallion nodded eagerly. “What sort of mechanism is implemented to allow such a… wasteful action?”

“The engine and the tracks were modified to take advantage of the train’s locomotion! It cost virtually nothing and now mares and other bitches will always remember their place beneath our strong, proud hooves, my King,” the stallion said, bowed, and then left.

I turned my focus to the Spirit floating aimlessly at my right. “You’re not going to say anything this time?”

A tyrant speaks, a fool with no ears. See dark purples and blue quills, a torment you know but not one yet seen’ it said and nothing more as the train began to move.

Truth be told, I was eager to ride a train. I read about them and I was impressed by their efficiency and power as a means of quick, cheap, and easy transportation. It didn’t take long for me to see the dildo pop out from the hole, only to then return down and rise again. I heard the wheezing of the engines, the crack of metal cogs and axles, and the whine of the motor in the distance. Slowly but surely, the images outside my window began to move and I half expected the trees and houses and hills to become mere blurs of motion.

I waited for several minutes but nothing happened. A peak speed had been reached. Fast but… underwhelming. “This can’t be it… nothing I read about trains correlates with this lacking speed,” I said and stood up, opening my window to peer outside. The wind hit my face but not enough to make my eyes squint. With nothing else to do, I closed the window and sat down, trying to ignore the faint noises of moans for the better part of three hours.

But my patience was at an end by then. I summoned the driver, a tall and hearty stallion. “What is the meaning of this speed? I demand that you go faster! According to my calculations, I should be arriving at Appaloosa by now. And yet, we have not entered the desert!”

“We are going at maximum speed, my King!” The driver said.

“Then what is the matter!? Are the engines failing? Are the tracks damaged? What is the reason for this delay?” I demanded to know.

“I do not know, my Liege. Everything is working properly and in top conditions; from the engines to the whore-impalers,” he replied and I winced in disgust.

“Whore-impalers… are you referring to the dildos?” I asked, pointing at the dildo going up and down through that lonesome hole. “Wait… no… y-you can’t be that stupid… are these modifications drawing engine power from the train itself!?”

“Of course, my King! They put a strain on the wheels and the pistons, but the results are well worth it,” the driver replied, proud of himself. “It reduced our speed by sixty percent, but that is no issue.”

“Sixty percent…,” I muttered in disbelief. “My mentor, Svarndagr, would detest these useless, detrimental modifications on such a wondrous machine! This speed is barely above my running limit! The logistical issues and delays… now I understand! How can I expect a smooth, fluid transport of resources when-- no… I will not bother with this stupidity. Disable the whore-impalers. NOW.”

“M-My Liege, we can’t! They are affixed to the pistons and the locomotive itself. For us to disable them, we would require days to dismount them,” the driver replied, then paused for a moment only to then offer me a wicked smile. “Besides, what does it matter? These sluts get what they deserve and that is all that truly matters.”

I was furious at such a response. “Leave. Now,” I said with venom in my words. The driver left in a hurry and I sat down again. “My mentor… you were impatient for such frivolities. I wonder, would you have run instead of waiting? Who am I kidding, of course you would.”

I seemed to have invoked misfortune, for no long after that a wheel broke and needed repairs, further delaying my arrival at Appaloosa. Two more delays followed with overstrained pistons breaking.

“THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!” I cried out, my voice hoarse with rage. “I demand that the one responsible for this incompetent design and alterations made to a perfectly working machine is switched!” I shouted at the driver, my frustrations getting the better out of me.

“M-My King, please, you must understand the glory and perfect purpose that--”

“I am TIRED of hearing your single-minded excuses! Do you know no other justifications that do not revolve around the violation of females!? How many accidents have these modifications caused? How many derailments!?”

“None, my Liege! The sacrifice in power was accounted for and managed accordingly! No fatal accidents have been reported; no worthy males lives lost or the loss of merchandise mounted,” the driver replied.

“I am… both amazed and flabbergasted at the same time. To think that such foresight was implemented into the most stupid and ridiculous-- leave my sight and fix this wretched machine immediately. If further delays occur, you will be Switched, driver.”

I did not give the driver the time to say anything and merely shoved him out of my cabin. Sitting down once more, my gaze shifted to my invisible companion. “Well? Aren’t you going to say anything?” The Spirit did not reply to me for the rest of our journey.

Long overdue, my arrival at Appaloosa was both underwhelming and shocking. The former because it was a large town, rural in nature, but with a certain charm to it. My arrival wasn’t met with parades or cheers, but that set me just fine after that dreadful train travel.

The latter, however, was another story altogether. Propaganda posters, statues, and criers were everywhere. Naked mares under the blistering sun worked and toiled on the land, serving as carriage pullers, or being raped and abused on the town square on public stocks. The sight alone revolted me. Canterlot was one thing, I knew of horrors but I was trapped in my gilded cage so I never saw them directly. Now? It was my first taste of what the caribou had done and what had happened to the ponies.

Buffalo cows were no better. They were taller, stockier, and clearly strong, but they too were forced into those same conditions. The black-collared females were raped without end, always made to suffer and serve their Masters. The laughter… good Gods, the laughter of the ponies haunts me to this day. They tormented them in ways I wish not to remember nor describe. There were no buffalo males anymore either. All of them were switched for their transgressions and defiance.

“So this is what enraged Oksho so much. To defile a worthy enemy like so?” I muttered to myself as I saw a line of buffalo being taken to the fields by a twig of a male. Every groan they made or yank at the chains caused the male to yelp or freeze in fright. It was… a rather pathetic sight.

I turned my gaze to the Spirit only to find it staring with an expression that I knew matched my own: drained bemusement and stunned to stupidity. I could only watch the sorry sight while my escorts chuckled darkly, mocking the weakling but finding the situation funny in their own sick sense of humor.

The Spirit’s eyes were half-closed, with a glare that showed just how unamused it was. Dry, humorless, and empty. Reflected on its eyes, my expression showed those same sentiments, but I was simply too stunned to process the sheer idiocy before me. My eyes were wide open and I stood stiff as a board, unable to move.

“Okay that… that is just… what? What am I even looking at? It is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” I muttered so weakly that only the spirit could hear me.

Of tragedy and moonlight gleam, many sorrows and roads they meet. A track lost in insipid grime, the loss of mind does our hearts cheat,’ it said and for the first time, I completely understood the meaning of the cryptic message, for I felt the same way.

But despite the deluge of incompetence and the ridiculousness happening all around me, there was something I noticed. Something… odd. The enchantment didn’t work on non-ponies, so why were the buffalo being so obedient? My answer came when a familiar voice called to me.

“My King! You’ve arrived at last! I was waiting for your arrival hours ago!” Storm, of all stags, announced his presence as he approached me followed closely by two near identical lanky, yellow-coated stallions.

“I would’ve arrived on time were it not for the idiotic changes made to the trains,” I replied, finally tearing my attention from the buffalo line. “Who are they?”

“My King, may I present you the genius inventors Flim and Flam. I scouted their talents and I believe they are the answer to the disobedience problem we are facing,” Storm presented them with great enthusiasm causing me to immediately distrust the stallions.

“Please tell me these are not the ones responsible for the alterations made to the trains,” I said, utterly uninterested in whatever the Rune Master had to say.

“Sadly, no, my King. Our field of expertise lies elsewhere,” Flam replied, saving Storm a scolding gaze.

“We noticed that you were looking at the buffalo merchandise not too long ago! Would you be interested in what our minds have produced to take advantage of their strength?” Flim asked and I, like an idiot, agreed. I was tired, annoyed, and drained from… everything. I wanted to check on the crop production and then go to sleep and at least forget my worries for some hours.

As luck would have it, they guided me to the orchards and the farms of the town. It was a beautiful sight. No Rape Vines afoot, the crops were all local growth and thriving, and even the apples looked tasty. Such a shame the sight was tarnished by mares toiling the soil in the most humiliating and counter-intuitive way possible. But the worst was when we reached the grain mill.

“What. Is. That?” I asked when my eyes saw the monument to the depravity that was the power source of the mill. A large circle of mares chained together, with dark bracelets around their wrists and ankles. They were huffing and puffing, jogging slowly as their efforts churned the mill onward.

“Magnificent, is it not?” Storm asked, oh so proud of himself. “The mares work, constantly turning grains into useful flour and powering the rest of the mill’s uses right here.”

“Storm… are you proud of what these stallions have created here?” I asked, ready to send the two worthless backstabbing opportunists away. What Storm said next only boiled my veins.

“You seem to be mistaken, my King. This,” spreading his arms to the mares forced to never stop moving, “is my own design. The bracelets they are wearing are what Flim and Flam have developed with a minor usage of rune commands,” he replied with a wide, pleased grin.

“...” I was too angry to say anything, but I was curious about what he’d said. The bracelets were new to me, so what did they do? My silence was mistaken for interest and the brothers carried their own.

“Black-collared mares are such a bore! A handful to deal with!”

“Well, not anymore with the Flimtastic Flamtabulous Obedience Bracelets!”

“These bracelets will teach the rebellious mare her place!”

“No more revolts or silly independent thoughts!”

“A simple command and BOOM! The bracelets hook together, stopping the mare immediately!”

“Rape her! Beat her! Whip her! Do whatever you want to your stupid property!”

“The best part? No matter how hard they try, the bracelets won’t give up until another command is given!”

“...” Again, I was too stunned to say anything. At least, for a few seconds. Then, I turned to Storm. “Storm… you do realize that using such bracelets would break our traditions?” I asked with an icy, cold tone of righteous fury.

“Only useless traditions, my Liege,” he replied, failing to note my displeasure. “Why should we give females any consideration when they dare to defy our rule?”

“At the cost of us forgetting the glory of our civilization? What makes us great? Females are not animals, Storm!” I cried out in defiance.

But the bastard nodded eagerly. “You are correct, my Liege! Animals stand higher than worthless females. At least now, thanks to Flim and Flam -and my knowledge- these bracelets shall enter commercial production soon at a very affordable price. The income will boost our coffers and everyone shall benefit. Perhaps I should be in charge of commerce?” He said trying to jest, but I don’t think he was.

“Storm… my answer is this. Two words: The Worst,” I said, staring deep into his eyes.

“Huh?” Storm countered, confused. “My King?”

“What you have done here… is wasteful and cruel without measure. Why use these mares instead of a generator? We have access to such technologies! This… this is needless cruelty! The bracelets? Control at best and excess at worst!” I pointed a finger at him in anger. “Svarndagr would’ve never allowed this to happen! He was a dictator and a tyrant, but he always upheld our traditions, and our ways, and was never needlessly cruel nor vindictive! For this, he would deem you worthy of using The Worst upon you three imbeciles on the spot!”

I declared, but instead of fear in his eyes, I saw amusement. Fucking. Amusement.

“Well… Svarndagr is dead, isn’t he? The King is Dead, Long live the King and all that? Besides, who is going to do The Worst now?” He scoffed. “Svarndagr was a mighty King, but flawed. Now we can truly make the caribou greater without his restrictions and limitations in place.”

I screamed in rage. The Spirit laughed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“I would like to say I beat the crap out of Storm and those two stallions, but I was so exhausted -physically and mentally- that I simply stormed out of that mill,” said Dainn tiredly. “Then again… there was nothing I could do by then. Storm had already implemented the production of the bracelets and his ‘Marepower’ generator was embraced everywhere.”

“I am both enraged at what they are doing to mares and at their monumental incompetence. H-How can anyone be so damn stupid?” Twilight asked, astonished at every detail she’d heard so far.

“That was the work of the Enchantment. A subtle poison that corrupted the minds of all, inkling those affected to seek out more and more outrageous limits, to break with taboos, and always seek greater heights of excess in all things,” he replied, disgusted. “I must ask, were Flim and Flam always like that?”

“Yup. They didn’t change all that much. Always seeking quick money-grab ploys and get-rich-quick schemes. But that was low, even for them,” she sighed. “I’ll… make sure to keep an eye on mine after I return to my dimension.”

“Smart move.”

“Dainn. May I ask what The Worst is?”

“You do not wish to know. Trust me. I saw my mentor do it once and I wish I could unsee what I witnessed that day. Rest assured, it is a method of torture so gruesome, painful, and cruel that the victim starts begging to be Switched just to make it stop because it is a better alternative than to go suffer another second of that torture,” Dainn confessed, eyes narrowed and, impossibly, looking even more lifeless than they already were.

“In that case, I won’t inquire further on that,” she agreed. “If stags already consider Switching to be a fate worse than death, then I do not wish to know what could possibly drive anyone to beg for that instead. I’m, however, surprised to hear that Svarndagr was a traditionalist at heart. Heh, Applejack really has a few things in common with him. Next, you’re going to tell me that ‘Nothing beats tradition’ was something he said often.”

“Actually, yes. He did. Constantly,” Dainn chuckled. “I’m sure your Applejack won’t be all too pleased?”

Twilight giggled. “No, she won’t! Although, she enjoyed the crotch-shot punishment approach, so maybe?”

“My mentor wouldn’t be happy to share those ideals with a female, but I think he would be amused at least,” Dainn confessed. “In his case, though, those restrictions and limitations were there for a GOOD reason. That being keeping the worst impulses of our species in check.”

“I will never like him… but I can respect his conviction, if nothing else,” Twilight said.

“Sometimes respect is better than liking someone,” Dainn agreed. “See, this is why I was so devastated that my Twilight’s brain rotted. You have a brain in your head and can see things for what they are, not just what guides your own views. Just like Oksho, you respect his strength. Just like me, you respect his conviction and leadership skills. And just like those few caribou with a functioning brain, you respect his influence and control,” he chuckled.

“Hmmm, that reminds me… the buffalo line? That wasn’t the only time I saw something like that happening. Another time, I saw a multicolored mare being led in by two large caribou, both holding on tightly to a pair of poles attached to metal yokes that had entrapped her neck and hands. Her legs had been likewise bound, shackles encircling her ankles with a chain barely half a foot long. She was a black-collar. Vicious and unbroken even after all she endured. Every time she pulled at the chains or strained against the yoke, it caused the two tall, strong stags to tremble or freeze up in fear.”

Dainn chuckled again. “Svarndagr would’ve sentenced those two guards to be Switched right away for being afraid of a mere female. ‘Dainn, did you see that? Caribou warriors, afraid of a weak female! Funniest shit I’ve seen in my life!’” Dainn said doing his best interpretation of Svarndagr’s voice.

“That was Rainbow Dash, wasn’t she?” Dainn nodded slowly. “That’s the Element of Loyalty and single-minded stubbornness for you.”

The howling winds raged outside the castle walls for what felt like an eternity as silence consumed the time between the caribou and the alicorn. After what felt like an age’s passing, Dainn found his voice.

“Problems continued to mount and I was unable to stem the tide. I could see a coming catastrophe barreling upon us, but I was blind to the true horror… until… until she presented herself to us during the Gala. I was talking with Hrathr, chewing him out for his stupidity, while Vestri and Ivangri flanked me, Storm was also with me as the Gala started in full swing when… when she arrived in all her perverse glory and I finally saw what the consequences of relying on the Enchantment were.”

Twilight already knew the answer. She already knew what she was going to hear… but she had to ask regardless. “What… no… w-w-who did you see, Dainn?”

Dainn slowly stared into her eyes, her very soul, and all his regret, sorrow, and guilt was laid before in full display.

“Cadance had come.”

Chapter 21: Thus The Curtains Fall

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“The Grand Galloping Gala… we should’ve renamed it to something worthier,” Ivangri complained as he swirled around a cup of fine wine in his hand.

“There was neither time nor need to do so. It is a gala, it is grand, and galloping refers to the mingling of high-status males and what can be gained from such an event, not the running act itself,” Vestri replied next to his damnable, incompetent brother.

“Ponies are so… lame. They make good pets and slaves, though,” Hrathr said, careful to measure his words in my presence.

“True. It is bad enough that we have to… include lesser males,” Ivangri said, glaring at Fancy Pants and Hoity Toity talking avidly about their respective mares as they crawled next to them obediently.

I rolled my eyes, already having had enough of their idiotic dick-measuring contest. As I looked around the room, I saw that almost every caribou present was a shadow of their former selves. They were still strong and stood tall, but their bellies were now protruding; heavy with meat, bread, and wine. Even the guards were no better. I could no longer see the proud warrior spirit within them. They were all there just because it was their duty, nothing more.

In contrast, the stallions present were muscular, strong, lean, and ready for battle. They had not stopped training and becoming better. If anything, the Enchantment and their rediscovered ‘history’ urged them to be the best males they could be.

“Now now, Ivangri, don’t judge these lowly fucking animals so harshly. It isn’t fair to compare them to us, the mighty caribou,” Storm chuckled to himself as he sat on the back of a mare. “Hey, bitch, refill my drink.”

My eyes barely followed his arm extending to the side only to see a unicorn mare with her arms bound behind her back. She picked a jar with her mouth and refilled his mug. I only let out a disgusted sound as I reclined on my throne watching the atmosphere of the Gala. The rest of my councilors were mingling with powerful Warlords, Magistrates, and more from across my Kingdom. Prominent figures all… for what was a dying empire at best.

Most peculiar of all the guests was the delegation of zebras that came at the last minute. We’d have some conflicts with the zebras but nothing major. At least, nothing that I was informed about. They were hear to further relations, but their purpose was another.

‘Rank and dank and clank and spank, little eyes and little lies with little ties and little size. You cast not your wisdom into forth, dumbfounded ego set afoot. Beware those that seek red and stain, for all you’ll see will be murk and rain,’ the Spirit sang next to me, cryptic as always. But by this point, I simply stopped listening and took the verbal abuse much the same as when my mentor berated me.

I should’ve paid attention… not that it mattered at that point in time.

My attention shifted once more when two trumpeters announced the arrival of the one stallion I came to respect and that I had not seen for months now.

“Announcing the arrival of King-General Shining Armor of the Crystal Kingdom!” The two half-shouted at the same time. The gates opened… and my eyes grew to the size of diner plates.

There he was, Shining Armor. Tall, strong, proud, and wearing battle-ready armor, greaves, and a cape. His chest was marred with several wounds and scars, some looked fresh, others months old from what his armor allowed him to see. A few cuts were present across his face, too, and his cocky smile showcased nothing but pure strength and dominance. A grey circlet adorned his head, seemingly featureless but exquisite in artistry. Each step he took was marked with the grace of a King.

I should’ve seen it. Or rather, I saw it. His visage was not of a friend, but rather of a predator inspecting his next meal. The armor was heavy and masterfully crafted, fitting and elegant by the best artisans, blacksmiths, and armorers the Crystal Empire had to offer their All-But-In-Name Emperor. The arrogance in his eyes, the armor, and the way he strolled so sure of himself was like I was seeing an inferior version of Svarndagr come again; corrupted, tarnished, and lesser than he was… but mightier than I ever was, even with the changes my body had gone through.

A few guards, his escort, followed suit quietly and obediently, always ready to protect their King-General.

The mares, all of them red-collared, were crawling dutifully next to their Masters. Some of them were being used as mounts; a novel practice implemented by Shining Armor himself. But all of them were… I wouldn’t say mutilated, but it was a close comparison. There were even more cut marks and scars across their naked bodies than those of the stallions. Piercings could be seen across their nipples, clits, docks, and all over their bodies, almost as if placed there at random for no other reason than just because it could be done.

There were bruises and patches of seared-off and burnt fur and skin; the markings of branding irons and the old scars of whips cracking against their flesh. But above all else, their faces were the picture of pure ecstasy. There was no pain, longing, fear, or sadness in those eyes. Only joy. Only… desire.

And as if things couldn’t get worse, she arrived at the back of the group. She was stepping on two mares, broung, shackled, and blindfolded like two disobedient dogs. Her heels dug deep into their backs, causing them immense pain but they were moaning in pleasure.

Cadance had arrived, wearing nothing but a see-through loincloth that covered nothing. Her eyes were deep, hungry, and alluring. Her smile was profound, her cracked lips and the countless scars that should’ve deformed her beautiful face only enhanced that lustful, elegant radiance I saw on her once. Her nipples were linked together via a chain and piercings. And finally, she had a tattoo on her scarred belly, right above her crotch, over where her womb would be located. It was of her Cutie Mark, only inverted, a mockery of what she once represented.

Shining Armor pulled at the chain tightly gripped in his right hand and Cadance advanced after delivering a cruel, sadistic lashing to her servants’ rears, causing them to moan and climax in gratitude to their mistress.

“...Eeehhhhhh?” Hrathr mumbled, out of words for the first time in his life.

“Stooooorm?” Vestri asked, eyes half-closed in disgust while losing all appetite. He then turned to the Runemaster, who was in turn smiling widely at the arrived ex-Princess.

“...What in the--- Storm, should we be concerned?” I finally asked, stunned stupid, and disgusted as I stood up, unable to process what I was seeing.

“My Liege?” Storm replied, confused, while Ivangri looked as if he’d seen the best thing in his damned, cowardly life. “I… do not understand. Is there anything to be concerned about?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I replied with all the sarcasm I could manage before pointing at the approaching Shining Armor and Cadance. “How about you start with that!? You’ve been in constant and regular contact with Shining Armor and Cad--his cunt! Why did you not inform me of… whatever happened to them!?”

“I don’t see what’s the problem here, my King,” Ivangri said, chuckling. His eyes were wide and longing. “As inferior as ponies are, Shining Armor is living my wet dream. To have such control over that beautiful slut? I am jealous, I must admit!”

“Jealous of… that?” Vestri, still disgusted, asked with incredulity. I must admit, I shared his sentiment. Despite being brothers, it was clear that Vestri had a limit to what he could accept and stomach, depraved as he was. Ivangri… not so much.

“Eeeeeehhhhh…,” Hrathr mumbled again, his brain unable to process what he was seeing or how Shining achieved that level of obedience from his pet.

“Magnificent, is it not?” Storm finally replied, smiling. “The glory of the Enchantment knows no bounds nor limits! Imagine, my King, if all stallions can achieve a level of commitment and visionary devotion to Male Superiority?”

“What I wish to know is what-” I angrily remarked as I pointed a shaky finger at Cadance, “-happened to her!? What’s wrong with Cadance!?”

Storm took a moment to process the question, then answered a single word in return. “Wrong?”

When a tower falls and a castle tumbles only dust is settled. Oh, King of Ignorance, are your goals yet rattled?’ The Spirit mocked.

Whatever I was going to say got caught in my throat when I heard Shining Armor calling my name. I turned to face him as he approached. I don’t know what drove me to climb down my throne in order to greet him, but I did. I clasped his hand and instantly felt that something was terribly wrong with him.

“King-General Shining Armor. I welcome you to the Gala,” I said, noticing that several guests had taken a keen interest in my personal greeting.

“King Dainn, my Liege,” he said, though his tone was almost mocking, “I have responded to your invitation and graced this event with my presence. I’m sure that you already know my bitch?” He said, yanking at the chain again causing Cadance to moan from the pain it caused her. “Greet our King, slut.”

It was… it was like watching a living nightmare. Or perhaps this is one of those parts in which my memory is foggy, but that is how I always remember it. Cadance moved with grace, elegance, and devotion… but in a way that twisted her movements with unending dark desire. I could see it in her eyes, the need to cause pain, harm, and pleasure all at the same time. She was not only a predator, but a devourer stalking onto whatever was unlucky enough to catch her attention.

She was seduction and allure, terror and desperation… and I couldn’t look away until she bowed deeply at my hooves. She kissed them, greeting me wholeheartedly. And in that instant, the monster was gone and only the grotesque thing she’d become; without a horn, with sheathed wings, and degraded to a point that I would not wish upon anyone, remained.

“My King,” she began, her voice like a twisted melody, “this lowly cunt greets you and hopes you are in fine health to lead your glorious Kingdom,” a simple greeting, a kind one too, but it was anything but.

“She is well trained, I see,” I replied, somehow managing to keep a straight face. “You seem… overly armored for a Gala event, Shining Armor. One could even think that you’re expecting to fight? Go to battle, perhaps?” I asked, trying to see if his choice in wardrobe was due to the desire for conquest… or something else.

“One would be wise to expect a battle everywhere, my King. Let us enjoy this outstanding event and see that our bonds remain as strong as ever?” He ended with a chuckle.

“In that case, we can start the Gala in full. Please, feel at home,” I said.

“Not quite,” Shining replied in a tone that he thought I couldn’t hear. “Hooks, stocks, and knives are missing~”

“Excuse me, what?” I asked, feigning that I didn’t hear him.

“Oh, nothing you should worry about, my King,” Shining replied.

I should’ve done something. Confronted him. Anything at all. And yet I did the same thing I only knew how to do: I kept quiet. So, instead of that, I moved to my throne and used a bell to get everyone’s attention. The groups remained the same, the zebras along with their own female zebra mare pets, and the rest of my guests turned to me, giving me their attention. Shining was now with Ivangri and Storm, talking among each other with Ivangri all but worshipping the stallion.

“My fellow males,” I began, my voice booming thanks to the enchantment of a rune, “I welcome you to the first Galloping Gala of my rule. Gentlemen, warriors, scholars, and equestrian guards, I extend to you my gratitude for your tireless efforts in building and maintaining our new Kingdom. A true society of equality where all males can enjoy the benefits that our birthright gives us. A dream that started when the survivors of our homeland arrived at the shores of Equestria and we saw the cruelty of a mare-dominated society!”

“We sought to correct this evil, this crime against the natural order, and we did. Together with fine stallions who saw the light and were liberated from the oppressive clutches of a matriarchal yoke, we brought down the false rulers, the tyrannical alicorns that kept worthy males from achieving their rightful place in the world.”

Every word was a lie crafted by the need to maintain order. And the more I spoke, the more I saw the error of my ways. The altruistic reign of Celestia had been turned into a twisted, horrid tyrannical tale of a mare that wished ill upon all males. The fierceness of Luna was stained as cowardice and stupidity. The loving, caring guide of Cadance was now the ideal path to follow for all females who knew their place beneath the hooves of males. And the intelligence and unrelenting spirit of Twilight Sparkle reduced to mockery and vile propaganda.

Their only fault was their weakness… nothing more.

“Before, the so-called heroes of Equestria used weapons called Elements of Harmony to defeat those that threatened their rule. But such things were naught but pieces of rock, painted and used to further bring the worthy stallions down to stupidity and ignorance. Relying on an all-mare team that supposedly saved their homeland? Pathetic! Lies! Where were they when we brought liberation? Cowering and fleeing. Now, they are nothing. Scattered across the land as trophies,” I said, my eyes drifting to Ivangri and the way he grabbed his crotch, still remembering the pain Applejack gave him before her escape.

When I remembered her, the others came to mind. Rarity was submerged in debauchery, taken by Cadance and I knew nothing more. Pinkie Pie… her mind almost lost, but still shined through from time to time, baking whenever she could. Rainbow Dash, fierce as always, never broken. Twilight Sparkle, along with my other pets, waiting for my return. And Fluttershy, safely kept by Discord who, I noticed, was not present.

“History was uncovered. The truth was finally open for all to see. Rejoice! For together we shall create a true Maletopia! A never-ending paradise for all males to enjoy in true equality! Eat, drink, and enjoy the festivities! For Male Superiority!”

“For Male Superiority!” Came the reply as cheers finally erupted in full force and the applause drummed against my ears.

After that moronic speech, I went around to meet and greet my guests personally. I barely touched any food there. I had already lost my sense of taste except for the treats Pinkie Pie made in her moments of sanity. I ignored the moans and cries of sexual pleasure coming from all around me and came to a halt near the balcony where no one would disturb me for at least a few minutes. Unfortunately, I was not far away enough to not hear two caribou soldiers spit-roasting a mare.

“I’m telling you, blanked mares are the best. They no longer have a single thought in their useless brains. They only obey! She sucks cock so good. Dumb bitch must think it’s a sprinkler!” The first one said as he drove his hips against the face of the lobotomized mare.

“Hear hear!” The one fucking her cunt agreed. “They’re always tight and wet. They’re way better than some noisy-ass black collar.”

Three more caribou were with them, watching and talking with the two guards. I leaned in closer to hear them better. “And now you’re just talking shit. Blanked cunts are good, yeah, but they are so damn boring! I like my sluts to scream when I beat or whip them! Nothing quite comes close to hearing a pony bitch crying her eyes out while begging me to stop hurting her!”

“Or when they shout stupid nonsense like ‘You’ll pay for this! I’ll cut off your cock! Have mercy, please, no more!’. Stupid cunts. It’s funny how much they think they have any value other than worshipping our cocks,” another one added.

“Red collars and blanked cunts are fine and all, but there’s something so… primal about breaking a black collar that just doesn’t happen with the other cunts. Griffon cunts are feisty, changeling whores are tricky, and these new zebra mares are just red collars. No challenge at all and no fun. But pony black collars? Wish there was a way to make more,” the third one added, smiling wickedly. “Nothing gets me harder than raping them while they beg me to stop~ Their tears and cries of pain are the fucking best.”

I had heard enough. My stomach lurched, my legs wobbled, and my anger intensified. But before I left, I heard one of them speak one last time.

“Hey, what if we come up with some sort of black-collar breeding program? I’m sure the King will love it!” He chuckled. “Or we could convince Lord Ivangri first?”

I left them after that, not wanting to hear any more of their perverted antics. I reached my throne once more and I sat down… and grimaced. At my side, the Spirit only smiled, empty and vacant, as if everything it was seeing was nothing more than a theatre play or a bad joke waiting for the punchline.

It was the latter.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Dainn stopped and covered his eyes with his frail hands. “How can someone be as blind as I was? As useless and as cowardly and yet as destructive? I would give anything for a chance to rectify all of my mistakes, starting with the desire to save my kind. Perhaps… that was our destiny, but my compassion condemned my dimension…”

“Compassion is never something to be ashamed about, Dainn. Not many would do as you did, take the lengths you took to do what you initially thought to be the right thing,” Twilight said softly. “I can’t really judge you for your intentions, just your actions… and lack of actions. But, at least, I believe there is good in you.”

“Guilt and pain can be confused for goodness… but maybe you’re right. Not that it matters anyway,” Dainn replied, sighing. “Take those guards for example. If I had any strength like Svarndagr’s, I would’ve unleashed The Worst right on the spot for uttering such words. Useless… such needless violence. Unjust. Malicious. Vile… and yet I did nothing.”

“What could you do? Even if you went against your species, you’d lose whatever credibility you had and, at worst, would’ve got you killed in the end,” Twilight replied. “But those guards were disgusting. I understand sadism, but that? That was just cruelty because they felt like they had the right to do it. The Elements of Harmony would’ve turned them into stone, they were so vile,” she replied with a huff.

“So I understand now. But I never quite understood one thing. What are the Elements exactly? I always thought they were artifacts of great power,” asked Dainn.

“Not exactly. They are artifacts but not in the sense you know them to be. They aren’t physical, but they can be. In essence, the Elements of Harmony are the representation of, well, an element that, combined, create Harmony. Or an aspect of it at the very least. Magic, Laughter, Loyalty, Honesty, Generosity, Kindness. Things that to a caribou were anathema,” Twilight replied.

“Then what of the bearers? What is your purpose?” Dainn asked curiously.

“The Bearers can be whoever the Elements, or the Spirit, chose to embody a trait of said Element. We are not the masters of the Elements, we are simply a conduit. And we know not to abuse its power. Rather, we use it as a last line of defense or as punishment against villains that disrupted that Harmony. Alone, they are powerless,” Twilight sighed. “And in my dimension, we’ve used them quite a bit. Hopefully, that will change soon.”

“I share your sentiment. Mayhaps your new lack of reliance on the Elements will mark the beginning of a new era?” Dainn asked, intrigued.

“Perhaps, but for now, let’s continue. I want to hear how my brother and Cadance changed so much. Simply imagining that was… a gut punch. What did you create with that Enchantment? Not even Discord’s personality-altering magic or mind control spells work like… like that poison.”

“Poison… a curious choice of word to describe the Enchantment. Yes. It was a poison. A vile one. What little I can describe does nothing to convey the horror of what I saw in their expressions, those ugly, bleak eyes. And even now, I still don’t understand why it only worked on ponies. It wasn’t tailored-made to affect only ponies, yet it did. A blessing in disguise, perhaps? Unwittingly, we turned ponies into a new version of us caribou,” he ended with a chuckle, uncovering his eyes at last.

Twilight tilted her head. “What’s so funny?”

“Now that I say it out loud, it’s like a twisted joke only I now understand. We tried so hard to indoctrinate the ponies into accepting our ideals with countless lies, propaganda, fake history, and constant comparison to us that, in the end, it worked. We removed everything that made ponies, well, ponies, and instead reprogrammed their very essence into becoming Caribou 2.0. A more heartless, cruel joke I have never heard and it was entirely done in our pursuit of making them in our image. It worked a little too well!” Dainn declared with a single, mirthless laugh.

Twilight chuckled darkly. “I have to admit that it is kinda funny… in a dark, morbid kind of way. Be careful with what you wish for, eh? I hate that dark humor makes so many good points,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “Dark humor aside, I do have a few questions about the Gala. May I?” Dainn nodded. “Why were the zebras there? They’re friendly and mystical. We don’t see many of them in my dimension, but I wouldn’t expect the ones from your dimension to be much different.”

“The zebras present at the Gala were there for diplomatic reasons,” Dainn replied in a sarcastic tone. “It couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, Twilight, after our initial conquest, several Warlords and Generals tried to keep the conquest train rolling. They attacked in every direction available with little to no success in most cases. But none was more devastating than against the zebras.”

“What? Why? Their mystical magic is strong, but they’re not hostile. At least, not the ones I know,” the lavender alicorn asked.

“Simply put? The weather,” he replied.

“The weather? But how could that-- ohhhhh, you’re made for colder and temperate climates, but Zebrica is a hot savannah. You caribou would have a hard time just living there, let alone conquering,” she realized.

Dainn nodded. “That’s it precisely. The Warlords in charge were forced to rely on pony guards. They failed miserably. Without any caribou to keep them in check and give them orders, they did whatever they wanted. The zebras weren’t unscathed, though. Several villages were razed and their mares were taken as prisoners and raped by the pony guards. But they were nevertheless pushed back and out of Zebrica,” he scoffed, smiling. “The zebras were cunning. They pretended to send a delegation of diplomats to establish relations and they even sent several shipments of ‘gifts’ in the form of gold and tributes of obedient mares for us to enjoy.”

Twilight was taken aback. “W-Why would they do something like that? It sounds to me like they could defend themselves easily from further caribou attacks.”

“And I thought the same, but at the time I didn’t care much for that. One less enemy and a potential ally or subject was far more enticing than having to deal with them in battle. But as I said, the zebras were clever. The mares they sent were volunteers, knowing exactly what would happen to them but they didn’t care,” he hummed deeply, smirking coldly. “Their mission was one of infiltration and espionage. After all, who would ever think that a female could do anything remotely intelligent?”

“That… is certainly something the zebras would do. They rarely do things straightforward and prefer to deal with problems outside direct conflict if they can help it,” Twilight replied. “Did you, I mean, the caribou as a whole, not you directly, try to invade them again without using stallions? Why not wear heat-insulating enchanter armor? I think that even for someone as depraved and self-centered as Storm could figure that one out, no?”

“Oh, he did. He created armor that could allow any caribou to survive in the scorching, suffocating heat of Zebrica. But no further attempts were made,” Dainn replied, eyes narrowing. “The zebras promised to be subservient and their many tributes and gifts were more than enough to convince my councilors of their sincerity. They thought the zebras feared our might and buckled under our control rather than risk direct battle. The fools,” Dainn shook his head, chuckling darkly. “Tell me, Twilight, isn’t there something missing within these tributes?”

Twilight thought about it for a few moments, then her eyes widened. “They never offered you food.”

“Precisely,” Dainn replied, growing silent for several seconds. “Perhaps… I noticed their ploy and did nothing, hoping subconsciously that the sand castle I made finally collapsed… perhaps I didn’t, showing how truly ignorant I was,” he shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. They showered us with gold, trinkets, and females, but never gave us a crumb of bread.”

“And you bought food from other places when the stockpiles began to run out,” Twilight concluded. “Why didn’t you demand food as tribute?”

“Because of the same reason the armor Storm developed failed. Pride and ego. The armor on itself worked wonders but had a fatal flaw. It couldn’t be used alongside the anti-magic armor we have grown so accustomed to wearing. They canceled each other out, leaving us vulnerable. We either had to pick to be vulnerable to magic or the heat. The latter was picked,” Dainn puffed his chest, which wasn’t much there to puff.

“No self-respecting caribou would admit any sort of weakness! The perfect species, the greatest of all, defeated by mere weather? Nonsense!” Dainn returned to his normal posture and sighed. “We made a thousand and one excuses for every shortcoming of our species, all to always present ourselves as invincible. Powerful. Strong. Stronger than everyone else. What a joke. We had adopted the anti-magic armor like a second skin and refused to advance further. Stagnation and complacency are the preferred states of my kind, it seems,” he finished with a spitless spit.

“Not all of you,” Twilight replied, “I’m sure Oksho, his warriors, and Svarndagr would’ve used that armor instead of making excuses.”

“And you’d be correct, Twilight,” said the caribou King. “Svarndagr hated making excuses without fundament. It was either possible or not, and if it wasn’t, why? There was no time to preen feathers to make someone look better.”

“For all his faults, he was not one to tolerate bullshit,” Twilight said, chuckling. “What was the main goal of the zebras? Cause instability? Strike you from within?”

“I… don’t remember,” Dainn replied, closing his eyes and massaging his temples. “I remember them preparing to invade and replace us. Another memory says they were going to liberate Equestria. Another yet suggests they only wanted us to fall into a civil war… it’s one of those memories I can’t recall precisely no matter how hard I try.”

Twilight nodded. “I understand. What happened after the Gala?”

“The beginning of the end, what else?” Dainn replied grimly.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

After the Gala ended, I retired for the night. I couldn’t withstand being near my idiotic council and I wanted to be as far away from Shining Armor and Cadance as I could be. Once I was alone in my quarters, my pets already asleep, I walked out to the balcony only to find the Spirit sitting by the railing already.

“Could you please not!?” I remarked angrily, almost begging. “I had a terrible night… you were there! Can’t just have a moment of peace?”

Peace, piece, pies, peas! Doom and cloak come crackling down, your eyes open and yet you don’t see! Warnings ignored, the path taken to set aside,’ the Spirit began, then turned to me, giving me a completely empty look. ‘So, how are things?

“Look… if you have a problem with me and what I have done to ensure the survival of my species, why don’t you use your so-called powers to stop me? Surtr is still out there, causing havoc and I’m unable to stop him. He should be an easy thing for you to deal with, no?”

Culture dead, land poisoned, strength absorbed, power stolen. Why should one stop the death of a once beautiful land to deny the punishment deserved? Alicorns tamed, you believe this to be so. History broken. Traditions burned. Lies eclipsing truth. Broken and marred Celestia is. Weak and resentful Luna remains. Cadance tarnished. Twilight consumed,’ it smiled at me, from cheek to cheek. Unnatural and horrid. ‘Are you happy, Dainn? A goal accomplished. Lies believed and now there's no escape from the hole that was dug by hands dirty and stained. Innocent? Joke. Guilty? Joke. Let the final curtain fall.’

“Stop talking in fucking riddles and say what you came to say! I have had it with your crippling words! So what if I burnt and raped this land!? The ponies were weak! WEAK! I am stronger! I AM KING! I am Svarndagr’s only heir! I will save my people! I… I have done too much to stop now, Spirit. If I wasn’t in the wrong, then why didn’t you stop me? I know you have the power to do that and more… why let me continue?”

Aid was offered. Advise given. Implored. Begged. A thirsty Warlord - insecure child, nothing more- seeking to be greater. Respected. Not so. Your desire was fulfilled. A perverted land of defilement and waste, yours to claim. Ignorant fool, oh King of arrogance. To not understand my intent and my ways; my power is not mine to wield, only to lend prosper. You seek simple ways, can’t comprehend the nature of what is not in your mind.’

“I am not some ignorant fool!” I retorted, each word stabbing a dagger in my heart, for I knew the Spirit spoke the truth. “We are sinking in desperation! We wasted our riches! Destroyed machines and tools that did not fit our ways! Lavish banquets and feasts have drained our storages and little is produced! I know the catastrophe that is to come, Spirit! Stop us! Save your precious ponies!”

‘Precious? My form is not mine. Borrowed. Greatest of the alicorns. You snubbed her. You snubbed them all. Those that gallop and tread mark the path forth. Yours has been chosen, I can only watch. Observe. Laugh. Wait. My warnings you ignored, tossed aside. Now, your hearth is gone, the barren land strikes. Nothing done by my hand. Why must I strike you down when your actions do it alone?’ The Spirit giggled. ‘No need to act. Empty shall stop your tracks. Divided a house now stands. And in the ashes of the dead, you will forever step.

I exploded in anger. “THAT’S IT!” I shouted, throwing a punch that went through the Spirit. As I vented my frustrations on the Spirit, I continued to punch it, but the Spirit never moved, didn’t budge. My efforts were worthless. “I’ve had it with you! You are just a DUMB FEMALE, SPIRIT! I am King! KING! I am always on the right! My will is absolute! What have I done wrong!?” I shouted, even though I knew the answers and how false my proclaims were.

“My people are safe in a new land! They are pleased! The Cycle has been ended by my hand! MINE! Not Svarndagr’s, not Ivangri’s, not Vestri’s, not Storm’s, not Oksho’s! MY HANDS ENDED IT!” I snarled in fury, my punches waning. “The ponies were weak and wicked! I saved them from the clutches of a matriarchy! They now serve me! For I AM STRONG and they are WEAK! The strong rule, the weak obey! THE STRONG RULE, THE WEAK OBEY!”

“My kingdom shall thrive forever! Nothing will fall! I shall be remembered for all time as the one who brought order to this land! The one who saved my species from extinction! And this is only the start!” A fire burned in my chest, odd and new. Strange. Powerful.

Dangerous.

“Equestria was just the first step. Soon, my legions shall spread across the world and conquer it! I shall place the natural order of things as they should be! Male Supremacy shall reign supreme and with it, the caribou shall forever stand at the top of the pyramid! All weaklings shall be enslaved, every female shall know her place beneath our hooves! WE ARE STRONG! STRONG! STRONG! STRONG!” I threw a final punch and I glared at the Spirit.

“And nothing will stop me! Discord is on my side! Other nations shall bend before my might! Nothing has the power to stop me! Or you would’ve done so already, you damnable Spirit! COME ON! I dare you to stop me! STOP ME, DAMN YOU!” My last shout caused me to cough and I fell on my knees, breathing harshly.

I remained there, kneeling in front of the Spirit for what felt like an eternity until a messenger tapped my shoulder. I turned to him and his expression drained the blood from my face. There was fear in his eyes, his hands were shaking, and his lips quivered.

“What do you want? Why are you here? Who let you in?” I asked as I stood up.

“M-My King… I knocked on your door… I… I’m terribly sorry but you didn’t answer in over an hour so… so I invited myself in. My King… you have to see this,” the young caribou, no older than fifteen, a page in all essence, said as he shakily offered me a piece of paper.

I took it and I lazily read it. I froze when I reached the point of greatest concern. I read it over and over again, not wanting to believe what I was reading. But it was true. I looked up at the messenger with as much collected calm as I could manage. “Leave. I need… to think.”

“My King,” he said, his worry diminishing thanks to my deceitful stoicism.

When he was gone, I read the paper one last time and despaired. “The… the last of our stockpiles are in the red and only a paltry amount is being harvested. Entire fields had been invaded by Rape Vines… others burned and destroyed by Surtr… and what little is produced is not even worth mentioning…,” I muttered to myself, shaking. I was a fool in many aspects, but not regarding this.

“Every report I received… was false before this one. Who sent this?” My eyes razed across the document to read a single name at the bottom. “Gunne… oh Gunne… What have I done?”

A starless sky greets you with a mocking smile. The last of your food is gone; no more crumbs to fill your bellies, no more wine to slake your thirst. Maybe that will be enough to stop your reign?’ The Spirit chanted without mockery or anger. That hurt the most, what made me hate it at that moment. There was only pity, sadness, and disappointment in those golden eyes and that melodious sing-song voice. A gripping sadness that made it clear a line had been crossed that shouldn’t have been.

“You… you knew! You caused this!” I countered, glaring at the Spirit, but it just shrugged.

Blind is not enough, deafness afflicts this fool. My prattle and battle are not the same. Nothing of my doing, only the consequence of your undoing. Of cause and pain, of terror and sadistic gain; you stand alone amongst the crows, watch yourself, for chaos comes in droves.

With that said… the Spirit vanished from my sight. There was no gloating, no laughter, no cruel remark… only sadness and pity in those golden eyes. At least for that night, it would leave me alone. But I knew better.

The War of Food was about to begin.

Chapter 22: Hunger and War

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“Things can’t possibly worsen,” I said to myself, as if someone would care about my opinion as I read through reports that had been forgotten or intentionally embellished in the name of hiding the truth from my eyes. I knew that the situation was bad, but after reading thirty damnable pieces of paper, I was made aware of just how lacking my imagination was.

“I’m afraid, Master, that there is another pile…,” Raven said, dumbly pointing at another stack of scrolls to my right, as if I hadn’t noticed it already. Internally, I smiled. She was well-intentioned, and I liked her, as I mentioned before. Sadly, her sharp mind was gone and only a dull but good-hearted and servile mare remained. Her maid uniform was a mockery, too. A miniskirt that covered nothing with her nipples pierced by a short chain that united them, and a large buttplug with a tiny bell stuck to its end. A funny detail left in there by Ivangri as a lasting memento to his cruelty.

“Thank you, Raven,” I said, reaching a hand to pet her mane to which she leaned happily. The rest of my pets were sleeping, with the exception of Nightingale, the thestral, acting as my personal guard mare. Her mind reduced to that of a dog, in essence, but her loyalty was inspiring… or would be under other circumstances. My eyes moved to Celestia, and her beautiful, serene face. It pained me to see her, knowing that she was there because of me… because she’d been weak.

By this point, I had been working on the gift, slowly but surely mastering the craft. It wasn’t quite ready yet, but it would be soon. Alas, whatever peace I could gain in my chambers was ruined when my gaze returned to the stacks of papers informing me just how bad things truly were.

“Entire stockpiles and storages empty. What little was left was ransacked. Our fields produce nothing but wilting weeds thanks to the fucking idiots in charge insisting to grow plants meant for a different climate. Trottingham, Philadelphia, and Las Pegasus are basically on fire. Riots and protests are spreading like wildfire across my kingdom. Bandits and other scumbags are assaulting the borders. And what little food remains is being wasted by my own people!” I snarled in anger, tossing away the scroll I was reading into the roaring bonfire warming my chambers.

I sighed heavily. “Is this your doing, Spirit?” I asked, but for once, received no answer for there was no Spirit there to mock me. But I knew it was there, somewhere, watching… and laughing at my misery.

“What Spirit, Master?” Raven asked.

“Forget I said anything,” I replied, reaching for yet another paper giving me nothing but bad news. As I read through the paper, my scowl deepened. “The Crystal Empire is… refusing to send aid?” I muttered, baffled. I read the scroll in detail, only to grit my teeth in fury once I was done. “No! NO! T-The Crystal Empire was a crucial breadbasket! Whatever happened to their food production!?” In a panic, I searched for any other scroll that clarified what had happened.

For months I had believed Orestes’ claims that the Empire was standing strong and capable of self-sustinance as they expanded their reach. So what had happened? My search ended with a series of reports months old. Purposefully hidden and masked for me to find at a later date.

“Oksho was right…,” I muttered weakly as the whole picture became clear. My subjects and my people were not only wasteful, but needlessly so. They turned every existing holiday into an event similar to the Gala in the sense of scale. The amount of food and drink used on each event was next to appalling. And that was without adding the new holidays and events that put mares under their hooves; festivals of debauchery and reckless hedonism in which they showed how a female was meant to be.

Rape was the order of the day, humiliation the blood keeping it running, and gratification of the flesh the reward. Everyone had become addicted to it and it blinded them from everything else until it was too late. No. Not even that curved them. What little remained was being used to indulge for an extra day. “So… this is what Svarndagr knew what would happen if he laxed on his iron-fisted control.”

The image before my eyes was clear and for the first time… I didn’t delude myself with an alternative or positive outcome. There was no plan that could turn around the disaster that was happening all around me. “We’re doomed. A civil war is inevitable... A war for scraps… a war of starvation…”

“M-Master, w-what does that mean? I-I’m scared, Master,” Raven muttered, unable to understand what was going on but fearing it on a primal level.

“You’re right to be scared,” I murmured. “By the Gods… what have I allowed to happen?” I asked myself, but then shook my head. “No. This can’t be the end. I won’t allow it… we are doomed without help, but we are not alone,” I stood up and went to bed, my mind drifting into a sleepless slumber.

When I woke up the next day, tired and with a pulsating headache, I demanded the zebra ambassador to present himself before me. He obeyed and soon he was in my presence but something was off about him. I could no longer sense submission in his actions.

“Thank you for heeding my call, ambassador,” I said to the tall, muscular zebra stallion. “As you may know, we are facing a crisis at the moment. One that we cannot resolve ourselves without countless casualties. Rejoice, for you can prove your fealty to the Caribou Empire and me in full. Zebrica shall supply us with food, goods, and soldiers to re-establish order across the Empire. Do this, and your rewards shall be immeasurable,” I said in my best diplomatic tone, but the zebra only tilted his head and smiled condescendingly at me.

“Zebrica replies: No.”

My guards froze, I froze, the air itself froze. But the ambassador continued. “To clarify, Idiot King, Zebrica refuses to aid you in any way,” he chuckled. “We were surprised at how incompetent you caribou really are. Infiltrating your Empire was an almost laughable thing to achieve.”

“W-What is the meaning of this?” I asked, too confused to understand what was going on.

“Playing along and pretending to share your beliefs… our best soldiers and shamans offered themselves up to infiltrate your ranks. I honestly thought it would be harder, that we would face a genius. What we found were dull simpletons that think they are invincible when they, in fact, are nothing more than morons,” he chuckled. “We know every little secret of yours. We didn’t need to plant dissent among your populace because you are so divided it's laughable.”

“Y-You dare!” I exclaimed, raising to my hooves.

“Dare? We already did everything we planned to do. And now… now our plan can continue and you-” the ambassador pointed a finger at me, “-will know the full might of Zebrica. You shall pay for everything you did to our beloved friends, the ponies, and to the Sun and Moon Goddesses. You shall pay for the monsters they became, the debauchery they now seep themselves in, the malevolence in their actions and the rampant hedonism that shouldn’t exist in Equestria. Prepare yourself, Arrogant Fool, for now your petty, stupid, crumbling Empire and Zebrica are at total war and if we can’t save the ponies… we will avenge them. Your tricks do not work on us. Your magic is useless against us. We’ve sabotaged your industries even further, the ‘whores’ bought by high officials are now dead, never knowing they let assassins and powerful shamans under their roofs.”

I couldn’t contain my rage. Everything was crumbling around me and there was nothing that I could do. For the first time in my life… I allowed rage to consume in full. “GET OUT!” I shouted in fury. I wanted to kill him, to choke the life out of him, but I couldn’t move an inch. Despite my rage, I knew killing him would be futile. With a mocking bow, the ambassador was consumed by living shadows and then he was there no more.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Twilight winced slightly. “H-How could you be so stupid?” It wasn’t derision that drove her words, but rather confusion. “Zebras are fiercely independent but loyal friends… how could you believe that they would surrender to you so easily?” She shook her head. “Never mind that, how, in the name of all that is sacred, did you allow such a waste to happen in the first place? I know you told me about the farms, the working conditions, the stubbornness of the new owners… but Dainn, please, you couldn’t be so stupid. W-Why didn’t you at least rationed your food when the storages started to dwindle?”

“Because, my dear Twilight, I simply couldn’t. The entire motive of our conquest was to show that rule under the caribou was better than the false, oppressive rule of the lying alicorns,” he said with disdain and derision. “We had to show everyone that a life of luxury, plenty, wealth, and prosperity was what awaited under the caribou rule… my rule. We had to prove that the stupid equality spewed by a tyrannic matriarchy was folly and that Male Superiority was the only true form of government. The strong rule, the weak obey… and none is stronger than the caribou.”

“And that mentality only drove you further and further into a grave,” Twilight reasoned. “What did you do in response to their declaration?”

“What else could I do? I tried to fight them, but that fell off the rails faster than a burning train,” Dainn replied. “There was chaos everywhere, Discord refused to help… I think… it’s as if I have a thousand different version running in my head everytime he shows up. All real. All fake. I can’t say what the real one is but I can draw a reasonable conclusion given everything else. At any rate, a civil war was now inevitable. People started fighting for scraps of food, water, and resources; only to waste them in hedonistic parties.”

“That bad?” Twilight asked, wincing.

“Worse. Remember I said that caribou stags were getting out of shape because they were lazy?” Twilight nodded. “Well, that also reflected on just… how useless they became. Have a problem? Send the ponies at it. Need something to do? Make the mares work in it. They became lazy, fat, and only cared about enjoying the fruits of… my mistakes. Before, even a simple farmer would know how to hold a sword at the very least. They became weaklings. Svarndagr would’ve first eaten his war hammer and spit it out the nails before allowing that to happen. Yet, it was my reality. Unlike ponies, no offense, every stag was more than ready to fight any foe or threat ourselves without overlying on a group of heroes to save our homes.”

“...it’s worked for us so far, but we’re changing that now!” Twilight replied, embarrassed.

“Even before my arrival ponies were threatened by beasts that could swallow you whole, you allowed dragons to traverse your territories, gave way to a large, untamed land where a single Zebra could live in peace but that housed thousands of monsters,” he sighed. “And even then, in that regard, Equestria was a safe heaven compared to our homeland. We had to deal with actual monsters that not only swallowed caribou whole, but destroyed entire villages in a day. Monsters of renown and might; terrible and cruel. Garm is but one example of far too many. Svarndagr had no other choice but to turn us all into warriors.”

“Not everyone was cut for that. I am an example of that. But I could at least fight if need be. Compared to us, your military power was so damn pathetic that if this Storm King you speak of, with an actual military might, had come instead of me, you wouldn’t have fared any better. At least, the ponies in this dimension wouldn’t. Nor did yours, apparently,” Dainn said with a mild touch of well-intentioned humor in his voice.

“To be fair… he attacked us out of nowhere… and we were having a festival… and we were not ready for--” Twilight sighed heavily. “Why do I even try? Yes. We were defeated easily and were it not for mere chance and luck, we would’ve been utterly fucked.”

“More like headless chickens running around without a sense of direction or purpose. Do you even have a structured chain of command?” Dainn asked, raising an eyebrow when Twilight’s blush intensified. “Oh for the love of all that is holy, I WAS JOKING!” He cried out in exasperation. “Please tell me I am wrong!”

“...The moment the Storm King showed up, ponies started running around like headless chickens, yeah… and the Guard has a very… VERY loose chain of command… no one knew what they were doing nor who to obey,” Twilight confessed. “If not for a brave friend of mine, Derpy Hooves, I would’ve been captured there and then.”

“I wish to bash my head against a wall, but I believe that is weaker than the skull of you ponies. Naivety and innocence are a… terrible combination for survival,” Dainn countered.

“...Fuck you…” Twilight said, still blushing and crossing her arms in indignation. “At least we were not like the caribou. Better to be peace-loving than hedonistic conquerors.”

“On that regard, I agree. But peace-loving doesn’t have to be defenseless, weak, and incomprehensibly naive!” Dainn countered. “Even during festivals, every stag had to be armed. Danger could come at any moment, from any source, at any time. Never forget that.”

“I assume that means that if the Storm King had come to you before the War of Food began, you would’ve fought him off easily?” She questioned.

“But of course. Having warriors is good. Having an army is better. Having an armed and ready population ready to draw a sword in the defense of their nation is outstanding,” Dainn said, ending with a chuckle. “That is why seeing my people reduced to slobs… hurt so much. At a glance, I knew we were done for. We were no longer strong, not even in our delusional minds. It was only a matter of time. If not the zebras, then the griffons would come knocking. Or the minotaurs. Or, much to my horror, the dragons.”

“Speaking of the zebras… what were their goals, exactly? I know they infiltrated your ranks to get all the information they could get their hands on and to kill several high-ranking caribou… but what were their long-term plans. Maybe the zebras here are different from the ones I know,” Twilight asked, intrigued.

“At first, I thought the ambassador was lying. But he was earnest The zebra’s goal was going to be liberation and, failing that, ending the corruption the ponies were suffering. Attacking them was out of the question. Forget logistical issues. Without food to even feed out home populace, launching an attack was impossible. Then there was the heat of Zebrica and you know the dilemma regarding our armors. Add to that… the fact that I had only seen scattered tribes and a few small towns in the reports from the Zebrica front prior to the Gala. They have cities and great towns of their own. We were only fighting the very weakest and most scattered members of the zebras and we were losing already,” Dainn sighed.

“When they arrived and started to attack, it only got worse. They were tactical, strategical, and never took anything for granted. They targeted weak caribou first and then moved into villages and towns, slaughtering the now fat and lazy caribou to the last. They were hungry and starving, most likely already reduced in numbers after fighting for scraps of food with others…,” Dainn paused for a moment. “And without pony support? The defeats were even worse. Pathetic doesn’t even begin to describe the performance of my people against the invading zebras.”

Twilight shuddered violently. “The ponies… they left them to die, didn’t they? B-But why? If they were corrupted, Enchanted, then… shouldn’t they fight for their masters?”

“That was the biggest ruse of all,” Dainn began. “The Enchantment was never designed to make them subservient to us. Storm didn’t know what the fuck he had created,” he spat out in anger. “It worked. It seemed to do what he wanted. So he never questioned it. When Neighpan fell, Shining Armor crowned himself as the new Emperor of Equestria and many flocked to him. That had been Orestes’ gamble and plan all along. To create a worthy pony king, not a caribou one, but still retaining the values and ideologies of Male Superiority.”

“With stallions at the top instead of stags,” Twilight muttered in understanding, shivering.

“Exactly. The rest of the Enchanted ponies… didn’t care. They left the caribou and moved back from the zebras not because they were scared. Heavens no. They just wanted to drink in their debauchery for as long as possible, always seeking new heights all directed by their Goddess of Pleasure herself, Cadance,” Dainn said, shivering. “I saw her, Twilight… I saw her and what the corrupted ponies did. I dare not speak of it in detail, but know that every act of senseless brutality and lust-seeking dementia was reached, surpassed, and then expanded ten times over. Think of the grossest, most brutal, cruelest thing you can imagine… and it was most certainly done in the search for pleasure.”


“Excess,” Twilight whispered, frightened and almost voiding her stomach. “Unspeakable excess.”

“Precisely,” Dainn confirmed.

“How were you able to fight against that? C-Could you even fight against such depravity?” Twilight asked, concerned, but already knew the answer ever since her first arrival.

“At first, I tried. Martial law proved to be ineffective when most of the guards and soldiers joined in instead of doing their jobs. Public lashings and punishments didn’t work. How can that work when the prisoners began to line up to be punished because they enjoyed it?” Dainn shuddered with disgust. “Forced labor did nothing either. Prison and dungeon penalties? It was like inviting them to a private party. Finally, my only option was executions… I avoided resorting to that measure when I suspected that would only, somehow, encourage them further,” he said, his voice low and icy; frail like the day they met. “What would you have done?”

“I… I… I don’t know…,” Twilight admitted. “We’ve never faced anything even remotely close to civil unrest. You couldn’t use the Elements of Harmony… and I don’t know it they would’ve worked. Everything sounds so… corrupted,” Twilight admitted and she looked around the throne room, the howling winds reminding her of the emptiness outside and what had led it to its downfall. “Cadance… my sister in all but blood… being called the Goddess of Pleasure… I don’t want to imagine her like that.”

“I wish I could burn away those memories… I wish I could forget… that I could die and leave this world as an empty, dead husk at long last. But… I can’t,” Dainn continued. “After that… after everything failed and mounting reports of Surt’s rampage, a civil war breaking out, starvation hitting across Equestria, Appaloosa being raped and pillaged for what little they had left, the zebra invasion… and so much worse happening across my Kingdom… I finally gave up and secluded myself.”

With icy, blue, almost ethereal eyes but full of sincerity, Dainn chuckled. “I crafted my gift for Celestia two days prior to rebel groups assaulting Canterlot, hoping to kill me and free Equestria themselves. But they were too late. It was already over. I could feel it… deep inside me that I had made my most terrible mistake in a fit of greed and power lust,” Dainn smiled and chuckled heartedly.

“What’s so funny?” Twilight asked, concerned. Dainn had begun to show emotions slowly with every of her visits, but seeing him like that made her uneasy. It was as if he found the end of all things to be amusing somehow. In truth, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to know, but her curiosity won over.

“That Karma is a fickle bitch,” Dainn said weakly. “Do you want to know how some of my… councilors and advisers met their ends? For most of them, I have no idea, but I hope their ends were brutal and gruesome,” Twilight nodded weakly. “Ivangri was the first to die. The depraved, abusive, brainrotted simpleton only saught pleasure and dominance over his females. He kept consuming Hardshaft recklessly and when he couldn’t take anymore and was empty, his sex-crazed mares kept feeding him more. Forcing him to go on and on.”

“It is a terrifying sight, I must admit. The mares and stallions, all those touched by the Enchantment were now well and truly insatiable. They didn’t sleep, they didn’t eat. They only craved sex, pleasure, and excess,” Dainn said, his eyes trembling with distress.

“They… they f-fucked him to death?” Twilight asked, gulping hard. As much as she came to detest Ivangri and almost every other caribou she’d heard about, she couldn’t imagine such a death to be anything but unpleasant.

“He had nothing left to give but they demanded more. Seeing someone climax at the same time they’re having a heart attack is something you won’t forget, ever,” Dainn replied with a bemused sigh. “Bastard deserved more suffering… but a more perfect punishment there was none. His slaves left him there, to rot, alone, unmourned, forgotten and moved to find a new cock to fill their holes with.”

“W-What about Vestri?” Twilight asked.

“Captured by zebra infiltrators. Neutered. And then beheaded as far as I know,” Dainn answered.

“Storm?”

“I… don’t remember what really happened. Either he was ‘blessed’ by Cadance, he died trying to modify one of his spells, or was torn to pieces by freed slaves. It is confusing. However, what I do know for certain was that the last words I heard from his repugnant mouth were ‘N-No… this isn’t right! This is not part of--’ and then, no other word left his putrid tongue,” Dainn replied. “Hrathr died at my hands. He claimed that since ‘I tamed Celestia, not you! I should be King, weakling female!’,” he said, putting his best Hrathr interpretation, “he deserved the crown, not me. I was far too strong, far too empowered by that point to be considered weak anymore and I killed him with repugnant ease.”

“W-What about Oksho’s followers?”

“Died at some point or another. Never saw them again. Only Surtr remained when the end came,” Dainn replied softly.

“And… Gunne and Ginna?”

“I will forever hate myself for it. Rather than live to see the inevitable become a reality, they took their own lives in a peaceful slumber with poison. Quick. Painless,” Dainn said, clutching his chest. “They weren’t the only ones. Some were cowards, yes. But most of them were like them: caribou trying to be better and change our weak, authoritarian ideologies.”

“I’m… so, so sorry to hear that, Dainn,” Twilight replied.

“I welcome your sincere words, though nothing changes the fact of what has been done,” Dainn remarked with profound sadness. “The zebras advanced with almost no opposition, the civil war erupted in full, Shining Armor and his Empire crumbled within weeks; consumed from within by hedonism, excess, and sheer, pure depravity,” he chuckled darkly. “At least, as far as I know, Orestes’ demise was especially gruesome. I hope it was.”

“I see…,” Twilight sighed softly. “Then… how did everything come to an end?”

“By performing my cruelest, vilest, most despicable act of all,” Dainn replied. “I thought myself as weak, despite my physical changes, I was still weak. I still desired to save my people and fix my mistake. To guide them properly and give them the King they truly deserved. But I needed more. I needed power. I had already taken some of their power… now I needed all of it.”

Twilight closed her eyes for a moment. She already knew he had stolen the powers of the alicorns. Now the question was how. He was right. His actions were more than despicable. But this wasn’t her world… and she needed to see how his story ended. “H-How did you do it? How did you trick or capture Cadance to steal her powers?”

Dainn pointed behind him and at the Nightmare Throne. “I didn’t. I had already everything I needed. I figured that… if a horn can be used to cast magic, then it can serve as a funnel or a receiver of sorts. I wish I had known what you’ve told me regarding your horns and magic…,” he said bitterly. “I wish I had allowed my species to burn… I wish I hadn’t done anything of what I did… not just because of this,” he said, spreading his arms. “But because of all the suffering I caused… if only I had listened… if only those dark whispers had stopped… if only… if only…”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Dainn, don’t do this, I beg you!” Luna cried out from her bounded prison. At her side, Celestia and Twilight waited dumbly.

He was alone in his throne room. Outside, battle raged. “My Kingdom is burning, my species is once again nearing extinction, and there are invaders at our doorstep! I will not allow my Kingdom to perish! No matter how twisted it has become, I can save it! I can make it better!” I argued in vain and my eyes landed on Celestia. She didn’t know what was happening, but she was happy, blushing. I planned on giving her my gift after everything was over. Maybe… maybe even revert the damage she had sustained.

Celestia. Gorgeous, beautiful, kind Celestia deserved so much better. “It won’t be long… I’ll just take it and solve the problem. Then, I’ll give some of it back. I’ll be immortal, just like you alicorns… and I’ll guide the caribou forevermore with a sage hand! You’ll see! Everything will be better!” I lied to myself in pure desperation.

“You know not what you’re doing!” Luna insisted, sounding fearful.

“QUIET!” I shouted back in anger and frustration. I was so delusional at that point. Blinded by paranoia, disgust, guilt, shame… weakness. Frustration and rage fueled me. The same kind that drove Svarndagr to rule with an iron fist. “I will become immortal and the Cycle will end with me! NO MORE! I shall become the God this world needs!”

“DAINN!” Luna pleaded in desperation.

The ritual was simple, yet dangerous. One mistake, and it would end me. But I had taken my precautions. Dark magic was foreign to me, but there were plentiful books and scrolls left behind for me to study. I found my answer. The Ritual of Absorbtion. To take what belongs to others and make it yours.

I sat on my throne and summoned my magic to start the ritual. The horns lit up and it began.

The screams were not something I expected. Twilight, Luna, and Celestia started to scream in pure agony as a lifeline formed between their bodies and their severed horns. A fourth line appeared, connecting Cadance to me from wherever she was. Upon hearing Celestia’s screams, I wanted to stop the ritual, but I couldn’t move anymore as their power flooded my very soul with their unimaginable power.

“YES! YEEEEESSS! It’s working! I can feel it! I CAN FEEL THE POWER!” I shouted in victory as more and more power entered my body, making me stronger, making me bigger. Whatever changes I had experienced before were but droplets compared to the vast ocean I was drinking now.

“YES! With this power I can defeat the zebra invaders and anyone that may dare stand in my--my way!” The power continued to grow inside me, more and more without an end in sight. I could feel it. The surge in power… and the moment I changed. I don’t know how to explain it, but in an instant I knew I was immortal. I took the immortality and power of the alicorns and made it my own truly at last.

But something was terribly wrong. The power… the power was draining them. Celestia was now devoid of color, her Cutie Mark gone, and her mane and tail a dull grey. Luna and Twilight were the same. But there was still more power to absorb. Too much. Too much. Too much.

“N-No! Wait, t-this is not what the ritual described! It s-should only steal their powers, not their life essence!” I protested as I grew stronger and stronger. Stronger than Surtr. Stonger than Svarndagr. Whatever was happening to me, I was now getting the power of a God and becoming one. I was crossed between worry and elation when a terrible, bone-breaking pain exploded in my chest.

“AAARRGGGHHH! W-What is happening!?” It was at that moment that I realized my terrible mistake. I had delved into unknown magics too recklessly and I was now paying the price. The pain was growing and growing within me in tandem with the power that was flowing into me: an endless ocean crammed into a tincan. And it just kept coming. “M-MAKE IT STOP!”

I screamed, but no one came.

Everything turned to white noise and all I could see was blurry images within seconds as the pain grew and a multicolored light emerged from my chest.

The last thing I saw was a deathly glare of disappointment, hatred, and damnation coming from Celestia.

Then, there was a bright light and the world went dark. I remained unconscious for what felt like mere seconds, but when I breathed, I inhaled a mouthful of ash. I coughed violently and tried to stand up, only to find that my body was covered in dirt and ash; my visage was… dreadful, skeletal. What little muscles I had shouldn’t be able to lift my now diminished weight, but they did.

Then I felt it. The thirst. The hunger. Gods, such unspeakable pain. I could feel the atrophy of my body. I could feel my weakness. I could feel my power, faded and weak, but still swirling within me. But most of all… I could still feel alive. So very alive. I was immortal. My chest was splintered, but it was healing slowly.

“C-Celestia? R-Raven! Twilight! Luna… anyone?” I cried out, standing up and finding I was still on the throne room. “Celes--” my words died in my aching throat when I saw the bodies. Or rather, the charred bones that once belonged to the alicorn princesses. “W-What… what happened… how… why?” As I looked around, I found there were more bodies and bones scattered around the room that definitely were not there when I started the ritual. Some bodies were hugging each other, dried-up husks and nothing more.

Tears swelled up in my ice, but they were made of pure magic, ice, and ethereal cold. I looked down at my hands as the horror started to consume my senses. “What have I become?”

Suddenly, the Spirit of Harmony manifested itself in front of me with the saddest, most pitiful expression I had ever seen. But something was wrong with it. I could see it. It was… weak. Almost lifeless.

Oh, King of Fools. You found the key and turned the knob; now you find that your actions have the worth of a cob? A worthless schemes for a worthless mind. Pray tell, did you not hear the dead in the wind?

“Th-The dead… no…NO! T-This can’t be real! This is an illusion!” I protested in vain.

Cry and moan; beg and sow. Staleness is your reward. Are you so blind that the reason for this demise eludes your regard?” It asked weakly. “A land alive I tried to maintain after fire and ash came. All is dead, nothing lives. Not but you, King of Fools.

My eyes widened as I stumbled back in horror. “This… this is my fault? B-But how?”

The reason you know… Coward without a crown… The reason you know… Speak the words, this you owe!” The spirit cried out as golden tears fell down its cheeks.

I didn’t want to. I knew the answer and everything was better than accepting the truth… but I couldn’t deny the Spirit. Despite the pain. Despite the fear and horror and guilt… my mind was my own and it was blissfully, horribly clear for the first time in my life. “The Cycle… is an explosion of pure, raw power that comes from He Who is King; a caribou with too much power… much… much more… power than what… then… can… hold…” I replied in a whisper. “N-No… wait…,” I looked around the corpses, breathing the stale, ash-filled air before my eyes landed on Celestia’s charred, darkened bones. “I… I cause the Cycle? B-But how? I was the weakest… I… I didn't want this to happen! I…”

You never saw the truth, blinded by greed and ambition. The Alicorns are divine beings wearing flesh; Gods in all but name - yet the same you thought you were, without understanding what it entails,” the Spirit interjected, falling to its knees. “Enjoy your reward: this is what you yearned, delight in the spoils of war.

“I NEVER WANTED THIS!” I cried out in pure desperation. “T-This was an accident! Why!? If these alicorns were divine, then why did the Cycle not come for them!? Each was stronger than Svarndagr! Why… why didn’t they explode if they were so strong? Why were we cursed and they were not?”

The Spirit let out a dry chuckle. “You’re Evil given form. What more reason is there to understand?” It asked cryptically as its body began to crack. “Look into your past… and you’ll see nothing but demise. That which… that which can’t create… can only take… and corrupt that… which… exists…

“I didn’t mean to!” I creid out. “It was… it was an accident. I only wanted to save my people!”

You were… different… King of Fools… your chance was taken… from you… unfair and terrible… your failure steep,” it said closing its eyes. “Your toture starts… your reward… for allowing… Darkness to win… your battles for you… victories cheap,” it rasped. “Never did you comprehend… the power of this land… never could see… beyond your idiocy… never accepting that a female… could be stronger than a male… and that a rule it wasn’t… and so you weep.”

Outnumbered a thousand to one… no hope of victory lied… a hand of friendship… was needed but you… chose a strike from the deep. Now you see? Compassion was a folly… restrain… a damnation… for who could be so callous… as to use a power… whose pierce is reap?”

Understanding downed on me. With the kind of power I absorbed from even just one of the alicorns, they would’ve been able to wipe us out easily. “But why didn’t they? They could’ve stopped me the second I invaded Canterlot.”

You won nothing… but hollow victories… relying on Darkness… to spread your seed… and twist those around you… like a creeping weed. Rewriting history… to make yourself stand proud… masculinity so frail… that it needed a crutch… to avoid being so meep,” it joked darkly, pieces of its body shattering into dust little by little but it began to scribble something of the plank of wood it was resting on. “Gone will I be… alone you’ll remain… mayhaps in your solitude… you will find solace… and a lesson most sweet. Know that despite… your foolish antics, never… did I despise you… oh, Dainn… many times you’ve failed… in other times… in other places… the result makes one weep.”

“W-What do you mean… I can’t… I don’t… w-why do I still live?” I asked, not out of ignorance, but out of desperation. My sanity returned, my thoughts unclouded. The reality of what I had done was too much to bear. And it was there that I understood my greatest mistake.

In my desperation to save something, anything of my people. To fix my mistakes and build something good, something better from what had been done, I had condemned myself and everyone else to a fiery end. By consuming the power and divinity of four alicorns, making it mine… I had all but become the most potent bomb the Cycle had ever created. Such excess of power, so bloated I had become, that the process that takes decades, even centuries to form… was completed within moments.

In my quest to end the Cycle, thinking I had outsmarted it, I brought the worst one yet. It was a cruel joke and I had no one to blame… but myself. “W-What did I do wrong?” I asked, choking in my own guilt and remorse.

“You already know… and thus, no victor… was left standing… the prize unclaimed; except for you… hollow and empty… that for a year slumbered… only to wake and find not what you seek,” it said softly, weakly, as more and more of itself shattered. “Alone you will remain… and no pleasure this brings me… despite your conquest and beliefs… I never wished to harm… not even as you destroyed the Harmony of this land. So now… I go… I leave… a lone immortal stands… in a dead land that belongs… to emptiness most dire… never finding solace… never finding peace… always asking questions… with answers easy to reach. Goodbye… Dainn the Fool… I will forever lament… what you could’ve become… but for me?” It chuckled sadly as a single, golden tear ran down its right cheek. “Now I sleep.”

The Spirit of Harmony said in a howling echo as its body suddenly broke apart and turned to a golden dust. I rushed to it, grabbing the golden dust before storing all of it inside a makeshift leather bag. When I was done, I saw the plank of wood it had been resting on and the single word carved in it. I read it aloud.

“Unless,” my voice a mere whisper.

And then, I cried in anguish for I was… well and truly alone.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Twilight stared at Dainn for several minutes of silence, imagining just how dreadful his situation really was. Imagining the pain of the howl of anguish he had unleashed as the weight of his sins and actions came crashing down on him all at once. To know there was nothing more he could do. That he would remain alive with nothing else in the world to keep him company. Her jaw dangled openly, refusing to move as she comprehended the anguish, sorrow, guilt, regret, hatred, and a hundred other emotions swirling inside of Dainn for the very first time.

And for the very first time, she felt nothing but pity for him. There was no hidden anger or contempt or a veiled satisfaction that a vile villain was getting what they deserved. Before her was a pitiful old man who knew his mistakes and wished nothing more but a chance to make things right or to suffer rightfully for his sins.

“So it really was your fault in the end. Your horrid culture and your ideologies… caused all of this,” she said without anger, only sadness. “You couldn’t accept that someone could be stronger than the mighty caribou, less so females, so in your quest to unite the world… you ended it,” she paused briefly, closing her eyes. “You thought your way was the only and correct way to spread peace and harmony… when it was the last thing your culture and dominion was capable of spreading.”

“I knew nothing else. I saw Svarndagr. I knew it worked. But only after I was alone and all was dead did I realize that order and control are different from peace and harmony. It is no excuse… but I knew nothing better, despite how much I wanted to do good, I only brought suffering,” Dainn remarked. “After I finished crying, I returned to my now worthless throne… my Nightmare Throne and sat there, crying, lamenting, and hugging the piece of wood for dear life.”

“I tried to kill myself so many times… the pain, by the Gods, the first ten years were the worst as I traveled the land. Of those travels, you already know, and when I returned here, I realized that Dainn… the Dainn that killed the world died with it and only I remained. The caribou and everyone else died with HIM, just like the Cycle ended all other previous great caribou kings. Only I brought an end to it once and for all… in the worst way possible. The caribou is dead, only this immortal mockery of a lich remains,” Dainn said and raised a hand.

Twilight watched as Dainn grabbed the edge of his hood and pull it back, revealing his face in full for the first time. Had she seen his face upon their meeting, she would’ve screamed in terror. Now? Now she cried. “You’re right… Dainn died with his Cycle… and who are you?” She asked softly as she inspected every inch of his face.

His skin was dry and closer to being parchment than flesh. Deep, sunken cheeks marred his face, his lips were died up, exposing the gums of his teeth. His nose had deteriorated, leaving only a bony protrusion. His eye sockets were sunken, giving space to his eyes. His ears were little more than slightly pointy withered, dried twigs, he lacked any fur across his features, and she could see every little gruesome detail of his bone structure pressing against his wrinkled, bald, ash-like skin. The protrusions that his hood covered were revealed to be what once was were antlers. Now they were like dried, dead branches of a burnt-out husk of a tree; lifeless, grey, and decidedly eerie to look at - like thinned bones covered in a thin sheen of etheric ice.

“I’m what remains: Sorrow. Guilt. Remorse. Anger. Regret. Sadness. Call me by any name, for I am Dainn… but Dainn no longer,” Dainn replied without truly moving his mouth to do so.

Twilight wondered how was he able to speak when she couldn’t see him move the tube of flesh and bones that he called his neck. A shudder crossed her body as a terrible remainder to what immortality could truly look like when all the bad choices were taken. “I’m truly sorry, Dainn… truly, I am. However… may I ask, what does ‘Unless’ mean?”

“Ever since the Spirit died and I was left alone in this dead world, sitting on this worthless throne, admiring worthless trophies, with worthless victories… I’ve pondered the same thing every single day, and no answer has been satisfactory,” he waited for a moment, then, he stood up. “Now that you know my story, I have a question for you, Not My Twilight.”

“And that is?” Twilight asked.

“Would you like to see the vault?”

Chapter 23: The Vault and A Wish

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Twilight followed Dainn through the ruined hallways of the castle, wondering when was the last time any source of light had shone upon them. As they delved into the depths where the treasury layed, a terrible coldness struck her senses, threatening her with despair but also promising a sweet delight. It was merely a whisper, a touch of something distant yet familiar that only grew more present the deeper they went.

“What is this place?” She muttered as they reached what used to be the treasury, but now it was empty with only dull inscriptions reflecting on an entrance she had never seen before on the far end of the chamber.

“Can you feel it?” Dainn asked softly, his voice carrying the cold of death. “I can. The whispers… the temptation without power. Echoes of what was and what will never be, thankfully. Fear it not, for there is no more power beholden - ghosts of the past, forever asleep.”

“I still don’t like it… it feels twisted, corrupted,” Twilight replied.

“That’s the Vault… brace yourself for what you will see there,” Dainn warned as they approached the door.

Twilight nodded and the two advanced until they were close to the door leading to the so-called Vault. The first thing she noticed was the exquisite and marvelous craftsmanship of the marbled door. Sadly, such beauty and talent was wasted on a tasteless display of caribou might: showcasing a muscular Dainn being worshipped by females while holding a warhammer and a burning flag of Equestria. The door was adorned with several magnificent gemstones, plaques of gold, silver, and even platinum. The value of that door alone was worth the annual income of Ponyville ten times over, at the very least she quickly calculated.

“Ugggghh,” she grimaced at the sight, especially with how Dainn was seemingly stepping on a mare’s head. Her head, if she was correct. “I doubt you had a hand in this?”

“Of course not,” Dainn confirmed. “This was a secret project made by Thramm and Fauber. I gave my permission, but I was never informed of… this nor the extent of their ‘Secret Vault’. It made sense. A highly defended and protected room where the greatest and irreplaceable treasures could be safely stored and protected. But this?” He said, glaring at the door. “I was never informed of this. Though, I cannot deny that they delivered on their promise. This was perhaps Storm’s only true successful work.”

“I can tell,” Twilight said as she inspected the door. She traced her fingers over the countless runes carved into the stone itself. “Hmmmm, such a complex matrix and defense after defense, all of them linked together, reinforcing each other. I can see the hand of my brother in this.”

Dainn nodded. “Keen eye. Yes. Shining Armor helped in the development of the defensive network.”

“I’m an alicorn and I have always been more magically gifted then him,” Twilight said as she studied the door in detail. “But when it came to defense magic? He was by far the superior. He could cast a shield that defended Canterlot for weeks on end with every possible countermeasure imaginable -except for shapeshifting magic detection at the time-, while I could barely summon a similar spell around my first home,” she said, trailing off. “This level of security… I doubt I could crack it without meticulous study.”

“And it was a protection I did not enjoy,” Dainn chuckled darkly. “This vault was more protected than my chambers. Figures, eh?”

“With the way your council treated you? I’m surprised you had guards to begin with,” Twilight replied. “Hmmm, no locks, hinges, opening mechanisms… trying to open it with concentrated magic would be useless… perhaps delicate, precise magic bursts? No, that won’t work either… maybe brute force? But I don’t see any moving parts and there’s not a spatial seal in place either? Uggghh, this is totally the design of my brother. How are we suppose to open it?”

“It’s rather easy, actually. Come on. Give it a try. Show me your genius, Twilight,” Dainn said with a knowing smirk. “How else do you think I know what’s inside?”

“If conventional means won’t work… and unconventional means are counterproductive… oh for the love of…,” she said and sighed. “Please tell me it doesn’t require a failsafe password?” Dainn shook his head. “Figured as much. Then that only leaves one option,” she said and with precision used her magic to carve a small change into one of the central runes. When it was done, the rune began to crack, deform, and soon it spread across the entire matrix until the door split in the middle and slid open.

“...How?” Dainn asked, surprised and confused at the same time.

Twilight pointed a finger at herself. “Princess of Magic. No matter the magic, it is like an open book for me. But I tend to overanalyze everything and seek the most convoluted answers first. A chip in the armor is the last thing many would think about,” she explained with a shrug. “Caribou rune magic is strange, but not that dissimilar to zebra shamanic magic, dragonfire magic, or even dark magic. How does rune magic work, though? I only understand that it captures the essence of the power imbued into it.”

“Well, that’s pretty much it. The rune holds power and can channel power. The more complex the rune or string of runes, the stronger the magic and with the correct order of runes, the magic can be shifted, shaped, and forced to do the bidding of the one making the runes. Once it is understood, you can visualize runes within your mind and have the same effect,” Dainn explained, shrugging. “I wouldn’t know, though. I was a scholar, not a runecrafter.”

“Fascinating! So it IS similar to methamorphologic magic and the subset of triclorochromatic theorem! I will have to study this further! I bet I can refine it!” Twilight said giddily before turning to the open door. “I… didn’t break it, right?”

“It will fix itself after a few minutes. It can be opened from within. I learned that lesson after being trapped inside the Vault for eight months once,” Dainn explained. “Not my brightest point. Come, the Vault awaits.”

Twilight said nothing and followed Dainn’s lead once more through a long, dark hallway that was only illuminated by her summoned sphere of light. When they reached the Vault proper, she had to try very, very, very hard to not facepalm at the sight that greeted her. “Really? Really!? T-This is what was saved!?”

Dainn shrugged. “It’s not all bad… but yes. This is what was considered the greatest treasures in caribou society,” he extended his arms and bellowed with fake enthusias. “Behold! My “people's” history!”

And behold Twilight did. Murals, statues, vases, regalia, armor, weapons… and not a single scroll, book, or piece of knowledge to be seen. The objects, priceless indeed, were nothing more than twisted parodies of what should otherwise be art. Statues of naked stags with massive virile cocks in various poses. Murals depicting caribou subjugating other species, raping females on the street, crushing down dissidents, tearing apart the culture of ponies, zebras, changelings, griffons and more.

“B-But you said they didn’t… oh for fucks sake,” Twilight facepalmed. Hard. “All of this is propaganda, isn’t it?”

“Keep looking,” Dainn answered. “Not only propaganda and things that never happened… but what they ‘knew’ would happen.”

Twilight obeyed and continued to analyze the murals, especially the biggest one. In all of them, females were little more than objects and animals, treated as disposable things while the males reaped the rewards of labor and ‘united’ maledom into a perfect society without wants or needs, without wars or discussions. In sharp contrast, Celestia and Luna were portrayed in a demonizing light; as if they were mere parodies -bad ones at that- of themselves governing over a ruined land where males were enslaved and they ruled from their thrones like tyrants.

The stallions were weak, frail, chained, and wearing what Rarity would generously describe as potato sacks, all the while mares laughed at them and reveled in their suffering while they bowed to their female overlords with fear and dismay. The entire invasion was depicted as an act of purest good, with the caribou arriving to save the stallions from their female oppressors and cast down the alicorn rulers that enslaved them. Now free, the stallions vowed before Dainn and named him their King as a perfect society ruled by males and where females were put in their place was forged.

“This is the most idiotic, stupid, self-centered, motherfu-- oh gosh, REALLY!?” She shouted, staring at a much, much taller Dainn -if it even was him- being venerated as a god; his entire body was made out of the purest gold, his eyes were precious emeralds the likes Rarity would do anything to get her hooves on, and wings of platinum spread across his back. Finally, she noticed a punch had been imprinted on its stomach, cracking the otherwise magnificent piece that she knew must’ve taken weeks to craft.

“I feel violated just by looking at it,” Twilight commented with a disgusted expression. At the feet of the godlike figure, she saw Chrysalis, the Empress of Saddle Arabia, Celestia, Cadance, Luna, herself, and many more other prominent females bowing before the golden stag. “Is that really what your people thought what mares were like? No. Don’t answer that. How could it be otherwise?” She growled in frustration. “Cadance was right. Everything your people did was out of fear. Fear that they were not the strongest, fear that they were irrelevant… and fear that they might be wrong about everything they believed in. Celestia, Luna…. Cadance, myself, and every other mare… we were not what your people saw in us: their fears manifested and thus, we had to be exterminated…”

“Can you believe that they thought was not only justifiable but morally righteous?” The living corpse said, his tone icy and devoid of sentiment. “That’s what my “people” envisioned. Their perfect world,” Dainn replied, staring at the cracked stomach of the figure. “That’s meant to be me… with Svarndagr’s physique and exaggerated for reasons I can’t even fathom,” he chuckled. “Had he seen this, he would’ve broken his jaw and nose from the force of the facepalm he’d deliver upon himself. Thramm and Fauber would’ve received the Worst at least twice… and perhaps Svarndagr would’ve come up with something even worse just to punish them both for such disrespect.”

“I’m relieved to hear that this isn’t how you saw yourself as,” Twilight said, still disgusted. “Is it wrong to say that I am happy they ended up failing and that this never happened?”

“No. For I feel the same. This is an abomination,” Dainn agreed. “I used the last of my strength to punch that thing… after that, I couldn’t do more. Heh. Such a godlike being… compared to the alicorns capable of flying freely through the skies, with physical feats very few could match, and able to conjure magics that could spell destruction untold… a flightless, weak caribou pales in comparison against such beings.”

“But they were brought down regardless of our many advantages… because they were weak, arrogant, stupid, and complacent…,” Twilight added. “We won’t be. Not anymore.”

“And I am glad to hear that,” Dainn said. “Come… the real treasures are deeper still. Those that are… worth sealing away.”

Twilight nodded and followed the stag once more. After a couple of minutes of walking, they reached a secondary door which was, puzzlingly, utterly unprotected. Dainn pushed it open and the two entered it. “Please tell me I don’t have to see more caribou dicks and ballsacks. I won’t be able to read -let alone look at porn for months after we’re done here.”

“After everything said, seen, and done, you still harbor sexual desires?” Dainn asked curiously.

“A mare has her needs, you know,” Twilight replied.

“I don’t know if I do,” Dainn countered. “As I said before… sexual gratification was never important to me. Sex never felt good… no, that’s the wrong word. It felt good. But there was no satisfaction. Never was and thus, I never longed for it,” he sighed. “And after seeing Cadance and the other enchanted, whatever remained withered and died. Which is why that thing is here, sealed away in darkness.”

Twilight stopped when Dainn came to a halt and pointed at a pedestal with something resting atop it. She stepped closer and found… dust. Small pieces of a lifeless crystal and dust. Nothing more. “What is this?”

“What was it is the correct question. And what it was… is no more. I destroyed it. Barely managed to do it. But I destroyed it. The anchor to “my power”, the symbol of caribou conquest, the tool used to spread the Enchantment… the Crystal Heart, deformed, corrupted, and transformed into the Crystal Cock. That was all that remained of it,” Dainn replied.

Twilight looked at it with dread… and sinking suspicion. “Dainn… I need to do something. May I?”

“Do whatever you want. I can’t stop you,” Dainn countered.

Twilight closed her eyes, focused for a second, and then opened her eyes as dark magic exploded outwards. She shot a beam at the fragments and sustained it for several seconds. It ended soon and the lavender alicorn sighed deeply in relief. “Thank goodness! Those fragments are truly devoid of energy and dead as the ground,” she said with a smile as she turned to a puzzled Dainn. “Curses, dark magic objects, and corrupted artifacts often leave traces of it behind when destroyed or they latch onto something else to preserve themselves. There was no residual energy there at all. We’re safe from whatever this Enchantment really was.”

Dainn smiled. “Then let that be a victory for us… and my one true achievement. Now… for what I truly wanted to show you. First, this,” he said and pointed at a preserved but old sealed bag sitting on another pedestal resting beneath a plank of wood. He walked up to it slowly and put a hand on it solemnly. After a few seconds and a silent prayer given past crusted, cold lips he undid the seal and revealed the shimmering, glowing golden dust resting inside the bag.

“Is that… the Spirit of Harmony?” Twilight asked softly, almost reverently. Approaching with weak steps, she stared at the golden dust as tears formed in her eyes. “Even the Spirit of Harmony died…”

“And this is what remains,” Dainn sadly, voice filled with pain and remorse. “Are you angry? Mad at me? Does hatred consume you as I am the one responsible for the death of this Spirit?”

“Surprisingly… no. I am sad. But… this isn’t my dimension. I see a reflection of what could be… and I am saddened by it. Though you are to blame, I don’t hold you responsible. This dimension… this Dark Dimension was doomed from the start,” Twilight replied. “Rest, Spirit. Rest… and know there are those in other places through other times that won’t fall.”

“Touching,” Dainn replied softly. “I wonder… had I remained a simple scholar, what would’ve happened? I sometimes come to retrieve the remains of the Spirit that tried to set me on another path. I can’t go mad. But even I like to believe it can hear me as I talk to it. Foolish… but what else is there for me?” He shook his head and raised a hand, a bony finger pointing at the plank of wood above them. “What do you read on it, Twilight?”

Twilight touched the golden dust, not sensing anything from it. It was truly and utterly lifeless. With a mournful sigh, she looked up at the piece of wood with a single word crudely carved into it; puzzingly well preserved despite the passage of time. “Unless. What does it mean?” She asked softly.

“That, Not My Twilight, is what I would wish to know. I’ve spent countless hours, weeks, months staring at it. Pondering. Wondering. Revisiting my memories and judging my actions over and over again. Searching for any solution, any clue, anything at all. But no answer is to be found. I’ve spent entire years in silent meditation, trying to figure out the riddle left behind by the Spirit I so stupidly ignored. And despite the centuries… I am left without an answer, not a single step closer to what it wanted to tell me.”

“Is it a mocking insult? Is it a veiled message? Is it a warning? A promise? Something to torture me with? The last laugh? One final lesson? Who’s to say? I… certainly do not know,” Dainn finished, eyes narrowing for a moment. Then, he turned to Twilight. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight said, staring at the final message left behind by the Spirit of Harmony itself. “Unless… such a cryptic message. If you, with years upon years of study and philosophical insight haven’t found an answer, I doubt I’ll fare much better.”

“I imagined it so,” Dainn replied. Then, he smiled weakly. “My tale is done. My secrets revealed. My torment known. My regret eternal. And my last piece of knowledge given. Nothing ties you here any longer… and now I ask, how can you come to this dead, ash-ridden dimension of mine?”

“I found a mirror… a Dark Mirror in a basement set in the human dimension I mentioned… which is further connected to my home dimension. I found it on accident. Only time will tell if finding it was fortunate or not,” Twilight turned to Dainn and bowed her head slightly. “Thank you… for everything, Dainn. If there’s nothing more for me here, then I shall go now… and hope that you may find redemption one day,” she said and turned to leave.

“Wait…,” came the weak plead from the lich-like caribou.

Twilight stopped and turned back to see a submissive, weak, anxious Dainn. And for a moment, just for a moment, she was able to see the caribou he once was, before madness and tragedy ruled him. “What is it?” She asked softly.

“I… I have a wish… a wish to ask for and that you may grant it,” Dainn began. “After everything you’ve done for me… and after having someone to talk to since… since so long ago… I--I don’t want this to end like this,” he paused for a moment, then continued. “Twilight… may I… may I see your reality? Your home? I implore you, please, take me with you if only for a short visit.”

“Why… why would you torture yourself like that?” Twilight asked, heart throbbing madly. “To see a world so vibrant with life… and then return here? Why would you wish to endure such pain?”

“Because, Twilight… what more can I lose?” Dainn replied lifelessly. “I’m already a corpse that’s still alive. I no longer have the will to live… what’s more pain to endure at this point? I just wish… I wish to see a Equestria untouched by caribou, where life thrives and none of this happened. Please, I need to see it. I need to see a world not marred by my sins,” he paused. “Beside that… I wish to know if there are other dangers out there. There is always something much more powerful than you or I out there. Maybe… maybe such a being can grant me true death, maybe not. But it may be a final lesson to you. For if ‘The Magic of Friendship’ can be overpowered by other forces, then you must also accept it and adapt… or my reality shall become yours.”

“I understand that, Dainn… I know the Magic of Friendship is incredibly powerful, but not the strongest. Not by a long shot. Who knows what else can be found out there in the infinite possibilities of realities? It is the strongest magic in Equestria and one of the strongest in my world. But is not omnipotent. Nothing truly is,” Twilight replied sagely and extended her left arm to him. “Take my hand. I’ll take you with me, Dainn.”

Tears formed on Dainn’s eyes and he nodded once. “Thank you… Twilight. Thank you,” saying that, he took her hand and shook it. They walked out of the Vault and then out of the castle proper, quietly traversing the streets of the dead Canterlot until Twilight led him to the basement where the Mirror waited for them both. Upon seeing it, he froze.

“Are you having second doubts?” Twilight asked, concerned.

“Not… I just… never imagined it would look so bleak. It is as if darkness itself birthed that monstrosity,” Dainn said, staring at the Mirror. “It’s like looking into the Enchantment if it had a physical form… hmmm… The Enchantment. Curious, is it not?”

“What is?” Twilight asked, tilting her head slightly.

“The caribou did little to conquer Equestria… in truth, the Enchantment conquered it. In a sense, we were nothing but puppets to it, much like the Turned were to it. And I? I became a king that tried to please everyone and avoid insulting anyone unless absolutely necessary. I caved in constantly and gave my people everything they requested of me… like a servile female trying to please her masters,” he chuckled. “Even as king, I never stopped being a ‘female’... a slave to her betters according to the stupid, cruel, tyrannical culture and ideology that my people borderline worshiped as the only truth,” he spat angrily and frowned. “They were nothing but spoiled children and I a weak, spineless mother that granted their every wish just to make them shut up for five minutes.”

“You were… a terrible leader,” Twilight said diplomatically.

“That is certainly one way to describe my idiotic actions,” Dainn exhaled deeply, strongly. “Fitting, now that I think about it. My name’s meaning.”

“Your name’s meaning?” Twilight asked. “Pony names rarely have any meaning behind them. I assumed that yours was similar, but now that you mention it, I suppose that a culture as tribalistic and viscous as yours would make more sense. What does your ‘Dainn’ mean?”

“Dainn quite literally means ‘Dead One’. Fitting and ironic, is it not? Given what I am today and what led me to become the… half-dead, half-living thing standing before you,” he sighed deeply. “I’m ready… whenever you are, Twilight.”

“Take my hand, then,” she said, once more extending an inviting hand to the lich-like caribou.

“Just promise me one thing?” Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Please don’t let Shining Armor and Cadance and Luna… and pretty much everyone try to kill me? I won’t die but I’d rather not endure the pain,” he swallowed. “E-Especially Spike? Please, keep your dragon away from me?”

“I promise, they won’t hurt you… as for Spike, he’s tiny and won’t harm a fly. I think you’ll be able to withstand him. But I will try to keep him at a distance if you feel uncomfortable around him,” Twilight promised. “Oh… speaking of phobias. We first need to pass through the human dimension. Will that be alright?”

“If we can leave that place quickly, I won’t argue. I am quaking in fear at the mere thought of humans… but my desire to see your home is stronger than my fears,” Dainn replied.

“In that case… let’s go,” Twilight said and stepped through the mirror, pulling Dainn through it behind her.

“Let’s,” he said quietly, sending one last glance behind him before passing through the mirror.

End of Book 1

To be continued in Book 2