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What I Am

by Knight Breeze

First published

Somewhat confused at the recent turn of events, Alex desperately tries to find his place in this strange, yet familiar land. However, dark powers loom on the horizon, threatening to destroy not only his new home, but his old one as well...

This is the third book in The Humanity Within Trilogy. If you haven't read the other two books first, go back and do that now. Don't worry, this will still be here when you get back...

I don't know what to believe anymore. I was sure they were all monsters, all demons bent on destroying any peace I and my new friends might find in this life.

I was wrong.

Instead of burning this world down around me, their weapons are pointed away from the planet, not towards it.

As if that conundrum wasn't perplexing enough, I also have to deal with finding my own place in this odd, yet familiar society. But how does one simply go back to being normal? Especially knowing that the real monsters that caused this mess in the first place could be just around the corner?

After all, it's not like I'll ever see my home planet again. They may not be here to hurt me or my friends, but I still don't trust these 'friendly' aliens to get me a ride home...

Chapter I

Chapter I

Distilled Joy eyed the minotaur carefully. He had served their kind before, and they were usually quite amicable, not to mention that they were fantastic tippers.

Unless things weren’t going their way. And by the way this guy was acting, it was likely that nothing had ever gone his way.

“Macky, get me another,” the minotaur said with a small burp.

“Right away, sir,” he said, ignoring what the minotaur had called him. He didn’t know who this ‘Macky’ was, but it didn’t really matter, as long as his bar remained intact, the minotaur could call him anything he wanted to.

“Tell me, Macky, you’ve ever lost everything?” the minotaur asked, his hand waving about in erratic circles.

Joy gave him a look, then continued to clean his bar with his magic. “Can’t say that I have.”

“It’s *hic* freaking terrible…” the minotaur said, then took a deep chug. “One minute, you’re at the top of the world… the next? Some *urp* upstart comes and ruins… ruins everything.

Joy nodded, but never took his eyes off the unstable customer. “I can see how that can become a problem.”

“Then… then he goes and cheats. Uses shards. You aren’t supposed to be able to use shards! It’s against the rules!” The minotaur said, banging one of his mighty fists against the bar. The wood creaked, and Joy could hear the glasses he kept there click ominously, but luckily the bar held firm.

“Of course it is,” Joy said, attempting to mollify the customer.

“Darn right… *hic* You’re… you’re supposed to use your own knowledge… not cheat by… what were we talking about?” the minotaur asked. Before Joy could answer, the minotaur tilted back his tankard and downed the entire thing in one gulp. “Well, whatever it is, he’s going to get what’s coming… yes he is. Just you wait, he’ll know he picked the… the wrong family to mess…”

Before the minotaur could finish his threat, though, his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he collapsed off the edge of his stool, causing the entire tavern to shake with his fall.

Distilled Joy let out a sigh of relief. At least this drunk hadn’t destroyed his bar like the last one did. Without much more thought on the matter, the bartender picked up his rag again and got back to cleaning the bar. He’d call the guard later to clear out the drunk. For now, he was going to enjoy the relative peace and quiet that the Minotaur’s collapse had left behind.

“Excuse me,” a female voice said, bringing the bartender back to the present. “I hope my friend here wasn’t a problem.”

Joy looked up, noticing for the first time the gray mare and her compatriots. “Nah, he wasn’t a problem. Pretty peaceful, all things considered.”

She nodded, her eyes drifting downward to the bull that was splayed out in front of the bar. “That’s good. He didn't run a huge tab, did he?”

Joy shook his head again. “For a minotaur? Nah, just sixty-five. Kind of surprised, really. When his kind get this way, they usually run a tab that's at least three digits.”

The mare grinned at this, and Joy couldn't help but feel… unsettled. He didn’t quite like the way she eyed him, almost as if he were prey. “Thank you for your patience,” she said. Her horn then started to glow, and a pretty large bag of coins levitated into view. “This should probably cover it. I was sort of expecting him to drink more, so think of the rest as a tip. Let’s get him home, guys.”

Joy hefted the bag in his magic as the stallions started dragging the comatose Minotaur out, his eyes going wide at the weight. “Holy… Uh, miss? You sure you don’t want your change? There’s got to be at least a hundred and fifty bits in here!”

The mare didn’t even look back. “I’m sure. Think of it as a thank you for helping us make our friend feel at home.”

And without another word, the odd group walked out, leaving behind an uncertain-looking Joy, a bag held in his magic, and a bad feeling resting in his gut.

* * *

Twilight Sparkle’s hooves made a hollow clip-clop sound as she made her way through the castle corridors. The purple unicorn had an appointment today, one that she had been looking forward to for a very long time, but always had to put it on hold for some reason or another.

Maybe it was because of the impending doom that had hung over the castle ever since the arrival; that could certainly put a dampener on any plan or machination at work. The discovery that the world wasn’t about to get invaded opened up so many possibilities, though; They not only had time to build the Omniscope correctly, but also to overcome that nasty language barrier that had stalled so much of their progress.

It was like a weight had been lifted. Twilight was so excited, in fact, that she didn’t even bother knocking when she reached the door, choosing to instead burst inside without even a second thought.

Inside the rather spacious room were all the comforts of a normal bedroom, along with a few other things thrown in for good measure: It had a minotaur-style writing desk, which was covered in paper and quills; a chair made for minotaurs; a bed that was clearly not sized for ponies; a bedside table; and a medical monitoring station set into the wall.

Sitting in the obviously too large chair was ~Alex~, not even noticing Twilight and her less than subtle entrance. Despite the origin of many of the things in this room, as well as a few very specific aspects of his physiology, ~Alex~ wasn’t a minotaur. In fact , he was about as far removed from the species as one could get.

~Alex~ was an odd sort, looking like something out of a horror movie or ghost story, though that description didn’t really do him justice. He was tall and gangling, standing probably around six feet, with arms and legs that appeared to be way too thin and emaciated for the rest of his body. On his head he had a thinning shock of red hair, and his eyes were as black as the deepest night.

This did not mean that the irises were black; rather, it appeared that he didn’t have any irises. Instead, his eyes were simply pools of black, no whites to speak of, though this didn’t seem to hamper his vision in the slightest.

The creature wore a white lab coat that was several sizes too big for him, which was opened in the front to reveal a white shirt and blue slacks. The combination looked rather odd, seeing as how the shirt and pants looked expertly made, while the lab coat decidedly less so. If he minded at all, though, he didn’t show it in the slightest. In fact, the only emotion he was showing right now was irritation.

Whatever he was irritated about, though, wasn’t something that Twilight understood. ~Alex~ was an alien; a strange visitor from another world, and as such, he couldn’t really speak the local language. Sure, the Equestrians had the ability to use translation magic, but that had its limitations, and more complex ideas tended to fail whenever he tried to explain them. At the moment, the spell was inactive, meaning that his conversation with the metal cat on the table was complete gibberish to the young schooler. It was interesting gibberish, but gibberish none the less.

“Um… I’m sorry to interrupt…” Twilight said after she had cast the translation spell on herself and ~Alex~.

The ~human~ looked up, a little surprised to see her, but shrugged it off. “It okay. Lose track time, forgot learn today.”

“What were you talking with ~Robert~ about?” Twilight asked curiously.

~Alex~ shook his head. “No Bright Fame, Bright Fame here,” he said, picking up a small arcanite rod from off his desk. There were a few more there as well, presumably the rest of his friends that he had managed to forge into Golem Cores. He then put down the rod and rested his hand on the metal cat, who batted the hand away in annoyance. “This Announcing Peace. He get impatient. Ask why not make other body yet, other calculation device. I trying to explain not exactly sure how in first place.”

Twilight gave the ~human~ a patient smile. “Well, we’ve pored over your notes, and we’re pretty sure you do know how you did it. You just weren’t in control of the actual construction part.”

The ~human~ looked a little confused. “I sure not am knowing.”

Twilight took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “I know you think that, but hopefully after a few of these lessons we’ll be able to change that.”

The ~human~ perked up at that, his strange face alight with anticipation. “Learn some pony tongue today?”

Twilight nodded, pleased at his enthusiasm. “With any luck, we’ll be able to teach you Equestrian in no time. We’re really just waiting on Written Script, and we can get started!”

At the mention of the stallion’s name, though, the ~human~ grew nervous, almost as if he remembered something. “Uh… how is Pink One? She still mad?”

She had hoped that the ~human~ hadn’t heard about what happened, but secretly, she knew it was a dream. “Pinkie… takes her parties very seriously. She’s not mad at you, it’s just…” Twilight paused, not really sure how she should word this. “Well, let’s say that you really shouldn’t miss her next party, okay?”

~Alex~ smiled apologetically. “Will do. Sorry about not show…” he let out a sigh, his face clouded with worry. “It that… when met bug, remind home some reason. Make wonder how left behind do. If they happy, if they well…”

Twilight smiled, at that. “I’m sure they’re fine. They probably miss you, too.”

He didn’t respond immediately, choosing to instead lean back, letting his arms fall to the armrests at his sides. “I know. It… I been gone so long, wonder if hurt, if succeed. Wonder if safe right now…”

* * *

Dr. Valerie Jordan stared listlessly at the rain outside. She knew that she should be getting back to work, but her heart wasn’t in it.

“Val, moping isn’t going to get these samples processed any faster,” Jill said next to her.

Valerie took a second to regard her friend, her grey eyes boring into Jill’s thin face. She had red hair, which was tied back into a tight bun. Her deep, sea green eyes peered out of a set of thin, silver-rimmed glasses, giving her a somewhat wide-eyed expression, and her face was currently turned down into a worried frown.

She was a tall woman, probably about a foot taller than Valerie herself, though that wasn’t much of an accomplishment, since Valerie’s own height only reached four foot seven. Valerie pushed a lock of her black hair out of her face, her expression downcast. “I’m sorry, Jill, I don’t know what’s with me today.”

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong: The same thing that’s been wrong for a year now,” Jill said as she placed a comforting hand on her friend’s shoulder. “You gotta face facts, he’s never coming back. He’s probably ran off with some floozy, or something. You gotta move on with your life!”

Valerie let her head fall flat onto the table. “I know that, but I can’t help but feel like there’s something else going on. I mean, why would he up and leave like that? He didn’t even take his car with him!”

Jill shrugged a bit. “You heard what the police said. No forced entry, no sign of a struggle. He just disappeared. Sounds to me like he got fed up with ‘normal’ life and decided to live like a hippy.”

Valerie gave a small snort of laughter. “Jill, if you knew anything about him, you’d know he hates that kind of stuff. He only knows as much as he does because that crazy uncle of his keeps forcing him on camping trips.”

“I know, but I got you to smile,” Jill said with a grin. “Come on, girl’s night out this saturday. Let’s see if we can get you to forget about him.”

Valerie looked at her friend again, then shrugged a bit. “I guess I could use a little break…”

“That’s the spirit!”

“Just... nothing too crazy,” Valerie said, curbing her friend’s enthusiasm. “I’ve got work that next morning, and I really…”

Before Valerie could finish her sentence, though, she trailed off as she saw a flicker of movement in the window.

“Hey, Val, you okay?”

“Y-yeah, I’m fine,” she said, shaking off the eerie feeling she had. “Anyway, let’s get back to work. We’ve still got a lot to do before the end of the day, and you know how picky Detective Callister can be about deadlines.”

However, despite the calm that had settled, Valerie couldn’t help but feel that she had seen something that she shouldn’t have, prowling around outside the police station.

With a bit of a shake, she got back to what she was doing, unaware of the many malicious eyes that were watching the building...

Author's Notes:

So, full disclosure, when I made the last blogpost, it had been on my phone, and I had been feeling pretty confident about what I had written.

Except, when I went back to this chapter, large chunks of what I had spent the past hour writing had disappeared.

I frantically tried to rewrite everything I had lost before you guys saw it, but I'm afraid some of you may have seen the crappy, unfinished version. For that, I'm sorry, and I hope you'll forgive me.

With all of that off my chest, I hope you'll enjoy my newest addition to what I'm now calling The Humanity Within trilogy. I may even make a fimfic group for this story. See you guys later!

Tip Jar!

Chapter II

Chapter II

I sat motionless, staring at the chalkboard in front of me. On the board was a picture of a familiar fruit, while in front of the board was Scroll, the gray pony I had met in the woods with Carrot. “Khahu,” I said, trying to replicate the weird noises coming out of his mouth.

Scroll babbled something, to which Evening nodded in agreement. “He say you get main right, you not get last right. Has minor upturn voice, tone very important.”

“Khahu?” I said, hopefully making the necessary correction.

Scroll beamed at me, letting me know that I had gotten it right. “Good working!” Evening said, further reinforcing the feeling of a job well done.

Before we were able to go any further, I heard a light tap on the door. I looked up to see one of the doctors poke her head into the room, an expression that I couldn’t quite place on her face. She asked something that I didn’t understand, but she was quickly waved off by Evening. “Knowing, knowing. Not good overload, little by little.”

The doctor, apparently satisfied that the two ponies weren’t about to work me to death, gave a satisfied nod, then shut the door. Evening turned to me and gave an apologetic smile. “As much want keep move, already done hour now.”

“Ah… Are you sure we can’t keep going?” I asked. Their language, while complex, was quite beautiful. It relied as much upon the pitch and tone of the words, as the words themselves, to convey meaning. For example, the word ‘Ulralnad’ meant ‘defense,’ ‘defender,’ or ‘Stay where you are,’ depending on how it was said. I also found out that it was the word they used when referring to me when they weren’t trying to say my name. Why that was, I wasn’t sure, though it probably had to do with how my name was first translated, and why some of them called me Defender instead of Alex.

Evening just giggled a little, then shook her head. “Not think is time. Need time for lesson sink, stop for now. Though, if want, maybe review what learned?” she asked, tilting her head a little to the side.

I shrugged a bit, then nodded my head. “I don’t see why not. It wouldn’t hurt, and might help me remember a few things”

She smiled, then clapped her front hooves together. “Good! Then, tell what remember. Do not worry if not get right first, language take time learn, take years master. Go slow, as much can remember.”

I took a deep, steadying breath, then began to repeat all the words that I could remember, and their meanings. I tried my best to copy Scroll’s weird tilt when he had said some of them, but I’m pretty sure I got some of them wrong.

As I went on, though, I faltered a bit when I realized that Evening’s smile was becoming a little bit… strained, almost as if she was trying to put on a happy face when she knew that something was wrong. “Kala… a… sorry, is something the matter?” I asked, unsure at why she was making such a face.

She swallowed uncomfortably, then looked at Scroll for a second. “You not memory repeating, right? Those hurt long memory run.”

Scroll looked confused. He said something quick, probably in the negative, to which Evening gave him a really, really hard look.

“Look, I’m sorry if I butchered your language too badly, but please, don’t fight over that.” I said, holding up my hands in a placating gesture.

Evening looked back at me, then back at Scroll, then gave a heavy sigh. “No, not your fault, it… well, it not you carve up, but you get right. Too right. You… you copy Writing Words exactly. Not that only, but… so far, repeat every word, in order that taught.”

I stared at her for a couple of seconds before a light suddenly went on in my head.

I started to laugh. Tears came to my eyes, and I could see the worried looks on the ponies’ faces, but that made me laugh even harder. “Oh, if only Mrs. Morris could see me now… she would have a fit that this was happening,” I said as I got my breathing under control, the memory of my eighth grade french teacher making me smile even more.

This just seemed to cause Evening’s confusion to grow, though. “Excusing is me?”

I smiled at her, reached up, and lightly touched the metal hole on the back of my head. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I think I’ll be able to learn your language really quickly. Far quicker than I should be able to, in fact.”

The two ponies looked at me oddly at that, but that didn’t worry me in the slightest. After all, I’ve had these things in my head for over six months now. Might as well make them work for me, I thought to myself. I took a deep, steadying breath, then gave the two ponies a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about it. It’s a… a beneficial side effect from what happened to us,” I said as I draped a hand onto Kazimir.

Kazimir, or, rather, the cat that Kazimir was currently controlling, batted my hand away again in irritation. “Stop that, Alex. You know how I feel about being touched.”

I grinned at him. “Why do you think I do it?” I asked him. He turned his head to the side, clearly confused, but I ignored him, choosing to instead concentrate on Evening. “Let’s continue the lesson. Unless, of course, you want to stop for now. But just so you know, I can keep going. And if my theory is correct, I think I’ll be able to remember all of it.”

Evening thought about that for a second, but shook her head no. “Though you learn quick, we only have time small portion. Need teach more, need see more. Not that only, but we prepare only so much,” she said, then sighed as she rubbed her forehead with her hoof. “Beside, Sun Goddess want talk, want tell thing, want hear thing. We end lesson, go see Sun Goddess, yes?”

I smiled at her, got up, and removed my lab coat. “Yeah, I kind of forgot about that. If it’s not too much trouble, I also wanted to go and see The Pink One. I know she kind of had her heart set on a party, and I wanted to apologize.”

Evening looked uneasy, but she eventually relented. “Okay, but important: If I say ‘running,’ you running, no question asking?”

This caused me to burst out into a fit of giggles. “Yeah, I got it. You don’t need to tell me twice,” I said as I pulled on the really nice jacket that Wonder had made me. Before I left, though, I turned back towards the desk and the small metal cat that sat on it. “Hey, Kazimir, their ruler needs to see me for a second. Do you want to stay active? Or…”

“I am fine as I am, comrade. Though, to be honest, I may unplug myself later,” the cat said as he settled himself into a lying position. “Though the ‘sleep’ can be a bit annoying, what with us not being able to act or experience the world around ourselves, being disconnected from a body is still quite relaxing. Almost like an extended, lucid dream. We will be fine until you return.”

I smiled at him, then turned to leave. I was grateful for a familiar voice from home, but that didn’t make me feel any better about what Kazimir and the others actually were. Nor did it make me feel any better about what I did to them.

* * *

“Do you really think this is a good idea, Pinkie?”

The pink pony looked at Fluttershy, a flat expression on her face. “Of course I think it’s a good idea. He obviously hasn’t been to a party for so long, that he’s completely forgotten party etiquette! So there’s only one, possible solution.”

Fluttershy looked at the hot-air balloon, as well as all the party gear loaded onto it. “But… This doesn’t seem very safe. And how will you know everypony will be in this exact spot?” Fluttershy asked, worry clear in her voice. “If… If you don’t mind me asking, that is…”

“My ears and knees told me. Now, let me climb in, and when I give the word, you untie the rope. Got it?”

“Okay…” Fluttershy said. Even though the party pony had reassured her, all the nervous pegasus could feel was a faint sense of impending doom.

“Okay, Fluttershy! I’m ready! Let’er rip!” Pinkie shouted at the top of her lungs.

Fluttershy gulped softly, took the rope in her mouth, closed her eyes, and pulled. Even as the manic pink pony’s giggling laughter floated away into the sky, Fluttershy couldn’t bring herself to look.

All she could really do was pray that things didn’t go horribly, horribly wrong.

* * *

Akitesh was in a foul mood. There was no excuse for this kind of oversight. By all rights, these ‘humans’ should have been taken under the wing of the Quzin a long time ago, and hailed as brothers and sisters across the void. Yet this is the first time I’ve heard about them? She thought as she played a quick percussion on her desk with her fingers. We were on a scientific mission to Gel. GEL! And only because they found a species that bore a passing resemblance to the sky drakes of home!

At the moment, she could think of two separate worlds that deserved their attention far more than that pathetic rock.

Akitesh was pulled from her musings by a hesitant knock on the door, quickly reminding her why she was in her office in the first place. “Come in,” she snapped, irritation clear in her voice.

The door opened, revealing a nervous-looking Lokar and Kivalt. Despite the look on Akitesh’s face, Lokar took the initiative and entered first. “You wanted to see us, Priestess?”

“Yes, I do,” Akitesh said. Then, with a flick of her power, she activated the holoprojector on the table. The image of the human homeworld, with the examples of their species, instantly appeared next to her. “You mind telling me why I’ve never heard of these people before?”

The effect was instantaneous. But rather than look ashamed, both looked even more nervous than before. “Um… I’m sorry to ask this, but why do you bring this up?” Kivalt asked as she followed her brother into the room.

“Why? Do you remember our mission a week ago? The one to the planet’s surface? Do you remember why we went there?” Akitesh asked, her voice deadly calm.

Lokar glanced at the hologram, then back at Akitesh, comprehension dawning in his eyes. “Wait.... you don’t mean…”

“What?” Kivalt asked, not quite catching on as fast as her brother.

“Ki, the victim is one of them,” Lokar said, gently putting a single claw on his sister’s shoulder.

Her eyes went wide, and she started to shake uncontrollably. “But… how? We… we were so careful.”

“Careful how? Explain yourself,” Akitesh said, her eyeridges furrowing together in anger.

Both twins looked at each other for a second, then back at the Priestess. “Well, to be honest, the discovery of these people was a… recent development,” Lokar said, twiddling his thumbs together. “In light of the events that surrounded the discovery, it was deemed too dangerous to bring these people to light.”

Akitesh scoffed, her ire raised even further. “What possible danger could just knowing about these people prove to us?”

“You misunderstand, priestess,” Kivalt said, bowing her head a little. “We were not implying that they would be a danger to us, but that we would be a danger to them, even if it were indirectly.”

Akitesh’s fury came to a screeching halt. “...Go on.”

Lokar rubbed his forehead a bit, inhaled deeply, then exhaled. “The exact year that the Magi sent out an expedition to that planet was thirty-three, seventy-four.”

The two didn’t have to say anything else at that point. Akitesh already knew precisely why this had been kept so quiet. “The year before war broke out with the Krin,” she half-whispered to herself.

Even though it was muttered to herself, the twins still heard her. “Yes. Had we gone public with this discovery, the Krin who had been monitoring our communications would have picked up on it immediately,” Kivalt said, clasping her hands on her top-most coil. “Neither of us were part of the original team to discover that world, but we were part of one of the relief teams sent to help pack up our operation. It was deemed too dangerous to keep a presence more substantial than a cloaked probe, since anything more than that could spell trouble for our developing brothers and sisters.”

“...nothing is as simple as you want it to be…” Akitesh said as she slammed her head on the desk in front of her.

Lokar looked hesitant at his priestess’s less-than-pleased pose, but plowed onward regardless. “Uh… that being said, what with us being unsure about the whereabouts of certain Krin war criminals, namely the former Emperor, the Speaker had decided to restrict this information to a need-to-know basis. Aliz obviously felt you needed to know.”

“Yes, I guessed as much,” Akitesh said, rubbing her forehead with a single claw. “Well, that probably means that the ‘Emperor’ has his sights set on the victim’s homeworld. I’ll send a missive to the council immediately. Hopefully they’ll have a few ships out that way in a few weeks.”

Kivalt gulped uncomfortably. “Do you really think they have a couple of weeks?”

Akitesh stood up, and slithered over towards the door. “By the Creator, I hope they do.” She quickly opened the door and made her way out, motioning for the twins to follow her. “Come, I will need your help.”

“With what, exactly?” The twins asked in unison as they both got to their coils.

“We still have a lot of ground to cover, a wounded brother in need of assistance, and a society of exceptionally gifted equines to deal with,” Akitesh said as she led the way to the lift. “At this moment, you two are the closest thing to experts that I have at my command. I need insight into the mind of our brother, as well as more information about these equines. Until this mission is complete, I want you two at my beck and call.”

The two gulped uncomfortably as Akitesh pressed a button to call the lift, then turned to the twins. “Go to your rooms, and collect your things. Report to my second voice for your new quarters assignments. As of this moment, you’re part of my senior staff,” she said, sealing the two scientists’ fate.

“I knew I should have gone into chemistry…” Lokar muttered to himself.

* * *

Tusk Breaker groggily opened his eyes, then immediately regretted this decision. Not only was his head killing him, but there was a blinding white light directly above him. He raised his hands to his face to ward off the light, only to realize that the only parts of his arms he could move were his fingers. “What… where am I?” he asked. He tried to move his head about, but he quickly found out that that, too, was restrained.

“Ah… our friend with the loud mouth is awake…” a quiet voice whispered from the shadows. “I apologize for the restraints, but we have too much respect for the mighty Minotaur, and would rather he listen, and speak, before acting.”

“Who are you?” Tusk Breaker shouted, pulling at his bonds experimentally. They didn’t feel like any material he was used to; they had a slight give, and felt soft and malleable, but when he exerted any force against them, they became as tough as steel. Tougher, in fact. “What is this stuff? Why am I-”

Before he was able to finish his thought, he heard a sound very similar to sometaur hawking a loogie, followed by his mouth being covered by something warm and sticky. “Yeesh, with the questions… it’s always with the questions. ‘Where am I? Who are you? Why do you have a bucket of scorpions?’ On and on and on. It gets really annoying sometimes,” the voice said, his tone somewhat irate. “Fortunately for you, certain parties want you to remain alive.”

Tusk heard a fluttering, buzzing sound, and briefly felt something pass by his left side, but his restraints prevented him from seeing what it was. Terror poured into his brain as he felt a warm breath near his ear, and he couldn’t help but pray to The Old Ones that they would show him mercy. “You have a very noisy mouth. Noisy mouths are good for my profession. They allow me to hear things that others would not have me hear.” There was a pause, and Tusk felt the tip of something hard and sharp press against his temple. “And right now, what I want to hear is more about this ‘upstart’ that took everything away from you.”

Tusk rolled his eyes to try to see what was happening, but he couldn’t quite get a good angle. Before he could even think about what horrors were about to happen to him, he saw a bright flash of green light, felt a sharp, piercing pain in his head, and he remembered no more.

Author's Notes:

Well, here's the next chapter. I knew I was missing something, and hopefully those of you who were proofreading earlier spotted what I added.:raritywink:

Anyway, I've been having a really hard time with writing lately, mainly because of my job, and how monotonous it's gotten. But do not worry, I took an extra day off this week, got my head on straight, and was able to bring you this little beutie. Enjoy!

Tip Jar!

Chapter III

Chapter III

Celestia rubbed her temples with her hooves, trying to relieve the headache that had built there. There was so much to do, and so little time to do it. Tomorrow she had to meet with the griffon ambassador, explain to the press why a spacecraft pulverized a residential area of Canterlot, and meet with the aliens that had caused the disaster in the first place.

Today was no less busy. On top of everything else she had done today, she still had a mountain of paperwork to fill out, a couple of nobles to meet with, and to top it all off, she still had to write letters to the families of the victims from the crashed ship. As much as she felt for them, and as much as she pained over the senseless loss of life, it was still something that she was extraordinarily reluctant to do.

It wouldn’t have been the first time she had drafted such a letter, and it wouldn’t be the last; but even after a thousand plus years of practice, it was still a task that she felt completely inadequate at.

She was just glad that Luna was back to lighten the load.

With a sigh, she levitated her quill in front of her and put it back to the paper. Before she had finished the first word, though, there was a sharp rap on her office door. “Come in,” Celestia said, grateful for the momentary diversion.

The door creaked open a little to allow the sergeant at her door to peek in. “Your Highness, Miss Sparkle and our new ‘friend’ are here to see you.”

With a start, Celestia glanced up at her clock. She had completely forgotten that she had set up a meeting with the lost ~human~ today. “Send them in,” she said as she cast the Translation Spell on herself.

The sergeant nodded as he opened the door wider to allow entrance. Without any fanfare, ~Alex~ walked in, the shoes that Rarity made for him clicking softly against the marble floor. “Hello, Sun. You wanted see?”

“Hello, ~Alex~, Twilight. How was the first language lesson?” Celestia asked curiously.

“I actually want to talk to you about that later, Your Highness,” Twilight piped up before ~Alex~ could answer. “We should really deal with the matter at hoof first, though.”

Twilight looked a little worried about something, but Celestia let it slide for now. “You are quite right, my faithful student,” she said as she stood up from her desk. “We have a demonstration for our friend, and only a half-hour before we can show it. If time has taught me anything, it is that Luna is already there waiting for us, wondering why we are so late.”

~Alex~ looked incredibly confused at this little speech, but did not say anything about it as he fell in line behind the Solar Princess. “How do you think he will react?” Twilight asked as she kept pace with her teacher.

“I imagine a similar reaction that the first Diamond Dog ambassador had when he saw this for the first time,” Celestia said, her grin becoming more impish. “If memory serves, he didn’t actually believe me, and instead thought that my charge was some kind of glorious god, and I was taking credit for his work.” Celestia then leaned in, and dropped her voice to a whisper. “I only hope that ~Alex~ doesn’t fall to his knees and start worshiping me like Boss Lucky did.”

Twilight let out a small giggle. “He didn’t really do that, did he?”

Celestia’s smile grew even more impish. “The Diamond Dogs are a superstitious lot, and were even more so several centuries ago. Yes, he really did do that. It took me forever to get him to stop groveling.”

~Alex~ looked more and more confused with every passing moment, but he didn’t comment on it. Celestia was sure that he was filing away everything that was said, until such a time that he could properly ask about what they were talking about. She was even more sure that the number of questions he was going to have was about to triple.

The rest of the journey went by in relative silence, which, to be honest, was somewhat nice. Before her sister’s return, before the rediscovery of the Elements, Celestia had found herself growing increasingly bored. The endless line of nobles and dignitaries who would all lie through their teeth to curry favor, the dull parties where petty people would flaunt their wealth, the aching loneliness that could only be felt in an unfeeling crowd, it all weighed on her far more than she would let show.

It was ironic, then, that now that her wish had been granted, that she desperately wished for those days back.

The odd procession stopped at a rather small, unassuming door, which Celestia opened without ceremony. Beyond it was a large balcony, over which could be seen the city of Canterlot, the neighboring countryside, and beyond. True to Celestia's previous prediction, her sister had beaten them here. “I was starting to think I would have to send a search party.” Luna teased.

“Oh, hush,” Celestia said as she joined her sister at the balcony. She then turned towards the wayward alien and straightened her posture significantly. “Now, ~Alex~, what we’re about to show you will fly in the face of most of what you believe to be true. Know that what you bear witness changes nothing about me and my sister. We are mortal, flesh and blood like you. We are not gods.”

This seemed to confuse the ~human~ further. “Not think gods. Even if name translate Moon Goddess Sun Goddess, not think gods. Why say?”

This caused Celestia to almost burst out laughing. “I’m sorry, I did not know that our titles translated that way to you,” she said as she brought herself under control. “I truly have no idea why the spell does some of the things it does, but our titles do not mean 'Goddesses.’ Rather, they mean 'Daughters of Power.’”

The ~human’s~ incredibly expressive face scrunched up at this. “Daughter of High Being… “ He muttered to himself. Before either princess could correct him, however, he suddenly looked up at them, understanding written on his face. “Princess?”

“Correct, though I am sure your word for it is less accurate than ours,” Luna said with a smile.

~Alex~ gave the two alicorns a rueful smile. “No matter. Now know important thing. Know won't think you gods. Not that superstitious.”

The two sisters glanced at each other, then back at ~Alex~. “Then stay, and witness as we lay to rest the day, and bring forth the night.” Celestia said, almost as if part of a chant.

The ~human~ looked at her oddly, but stayed quiet, apparently waiting for the demonstration that had been so overly hyped, yet never completely explained.

Luna looked at her sister, a question in her eye. “Do you really think a simple setting will be enough?”

Celestia sighed a little, then shook her head. “I do not. If he has not noticed it yet, then it is probable that our sunset looks identical to the ones he has seen on his home planet. I believe we must do 'the dance’ in order to get him to understand.”

The ~human~ put his hand under his chin, clearly trying to work out what the two were talking about. The purple pony next to him, though, looked like she was about to explode with excitement. “The Solar Requiem? I've only read about this! I’ve never thought I would actually get to see it!”

The two sisters did not pay either of them any attention, though. They were too busy concentrating on maintaining harmony with each other.

“I fear I may be a little rusty, dear sister,” Luna confided in Celestia.

“Do not worry, Lulu. I haven't done this since you left, either,” Celestia whispered back as the two began to glow. “Hopefully, we’ll catch each other when we fall.”

Luna smiled gratefully, then closed her eyes as the energies of the moon flowed into her. It felt… odd, to do this again after so long, but at the same time, it felt so right.

It almost felt like coming home.

* * *

“...His race does bow to others, just not all of his race. Based on this fact, the value he places on his own freedom, and the samples of his language that you collected, I would hazard a guess that he comes from this nation here,” Kivalt said, highlighting the area in question on the hologram.

“That... is an incredibly broken up country. Why hasn’t this nation here,” Akitesh said, pointing out the area north of the mainland. “Annexed this portion here?” she asked, pointing towards the huge area to the west.

“There are several reasons; the two countries in question are allies for start, and are actually quite friendly with each other. On top of that, while this is still firmly a type four civilization, they already have a few pieces of tech that belong to a type five people: They’ve already split the atom.”

Akitesh gave a low whistle. “They’re nuclear capable already? I would think they would be wary of a power that can rot life away.”

Kivalt winced a little. “They… are, just not to the level that we would be.”

Before Akitesh could ask her to elaborate, Lokar replaced the view of the planet with a model of a human with a press of a button. “Their bodies, and genetic structure, are incredibly resilient. For all carbon-based lifeforms, ionizing radiation breaks down the genetic code, causing mutations and eventual death. They are no exception to this rule, but they are able to take a ridiculous amount before suffering any side effects, and even then, it isn’t always immediate.”

Akitesh gave the xenobiologist a skeptical look. “That seems a little far fetched for a people without a spiritual field on their planet.”

“Off the top of your head, do you know how many rads an unshielded Quzin can take before death?” Lokar asked, his tone similar to that of a serpent setting someone else up for something.

“Easy, two hundred rads, though it can be more if treatment is quick.”

“They have had people who have taken double that, and have shown little or no symptoms for several days. They still show all the classic symptoms, but at a much slower rate. Not only that, but their mortality rate for radiation is much lower than ours, at about thirty-five percent without treatment for that level of exposure, rather than our comparatively pitiful one hundred percent.”

“...And you’re sure that this planet doesn't have a spiritual field?” Akitesh asked, her tone clearly impressed.

“We are certain, My Priestess,” Kivalt said, changing the display back to the planet. “However, as interesting as that is, it is a little off topic. The point is, is that they are wary of the effects of ionizing radiation, but not at the same level as most other races. According to their records, the mage who pioneered much of what they know about radiation and radioactive material used to carry radium on her body at all times. She still died from radiation poisoning, but it was a long time before she noticed any ill effects.”

Akitesh closed her eyes, a pained expression on her face, then opened them again. “Okay, fine. Let's get back to trying not to bite our own tails. What can you tell me about his culture? What does he consider ‘polite’?” she asked, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration.

“According to our studies, none of our customary motions, greetings, or anything of the sort would be considered impolite,” Kivalt continued. “They have taboos about wandering around naked; they consider certain words impolite in general conversation, though most ignore this taboo; and they seem to have a fondness for projectile weaponry,” Kivalt sighed, then rubbed her forehead as she tried to think of something else important to add. “To be honest, the country is kind of like a crucible. So many people have immigrated, or are still immigrating from all over the planet to live there, that trying to describe them is like trying to describe an entire ocean’s worth of fish: A task that would take longer than we have time for.”

Rather than put the priestess on edge, though, this seemed to relieve some of her stress. “That is good. If he is used to strange and fantastic cultures, then it should be easier to avoid offending-” she started to say, but stopped when her communicator buzzed to life.

“Priestess! You’re required on the bridge!” She heard Jedon’s panicked voice over the device.

“Stay here, we’ll finish this when I get back,” Akitesh said as she closed her eyes. She then drew upon the artificial spiritual field of the ship, located her command chair, and willed herself there.

She took a second to reorient reself, then snapped her eyes to the view screen in front of her. “What is… Jedon, what in the name of the Divines is that?!”

* * *

“Uh… captain?” Lieutenant Talian asked with terror in her voice.

“Don't touch a thing, don’t move a muscle,” Captain Hazalk said, his eyes wide and his antenna standing upright. “I don’t know what the Priestess is doing, but she wouldn’t throw it at us. She'd be killing her own people, and the people of the planet.”

“Sir, the moon is moving erratically as well. I don’t know what is going on, but it almost looks like a… dance, of sorts.”

Hazalk squinted at the monitor, and noticed that while the two heavenly bodies were moving far faster than they should, it was still in a predictable pattern. Up here, down there, a figure eight there. To the Krin ship, and how close they were to the action, it didn’t really look like much, just a sun and a moon doing circles and figure eights against the backdrop of eternity.

But he was certain that, down on the planet, what was happening in the sky was the show of a lifetime.

* * *

He was right.

All across the land of Equestria and beyond, people of all shapes and sizes were staring up at the sky in wonder. Some were taking pictures, some rushed into their homes or places of business to tell those inside of the beauty that graced the skies above, while a select few started running around, screaming about how it was the end of the world, and how they should all head for the bunkers that no one had.

To the northeast, on a tiny island nation, the people of Minos looked up into the sky in fright, while far south, the Queen of the Changelings only felt envy at the immense power on display.

Even further south than that, on the Zebrican Mount of Eyes, the Seer of Time gazed up at the dance, her sightless eyes seeing far more than any of her attendants. “Get me a scribe. We need to send word to the Sun and Moon immediately,” she said, her voice distant.

Far to the east, further than even the isle of Minos, the Griffon Emperor sat on his balcony, gently swirling a glass of Chardonnay in his claw as he stared up at the spectacle in delight. Behind him, he could hear the worried murmurings of his council, but he paid them no mind.

Even as they theorized and argued over what it could possibly mean, and whether or not Discord was behind this, all the King of the Skies did was slowly bring his drink to his beak, and sip with an almost indecent casualness.

“Your Eminence, what do we do?” one of his councilors asked him directly, bringing his attention to the worried councilor. “If this is the work of Discord, we need to prepare for when that demon comes to our lands.”

The Emperor turned his gaze back to the skies above, looked down at his glass, then gave a contented sigh.

“We do nothing,” he said, then downed the rest of his drink in one gulp.

“But sir! If-”

“It isn’t Discord,” the Emperor said, a note of finality in his voice.

“Then… what does it mean?” The councilor asked, his voice calming slightly, but his confusion only growing.

“Only good things,” the Emperor said cryptically. “And all I have to say, is, that it’s about time those two did something fun together.”

This only raised his council’s confusion, but he didn't care. They would learn of this dance’s meaning soon enough.

* * *

I stared at the sight before me, unable to move, unable to think. The sun was moving so fast that it left glowing streaks on my retina, while the moon was right beside it, its glow bright enough to be seen even in mid-day, following its partner’s demented dance across the sky. They would loop around each other, often crossing paths to create a brief eclipse, only for the light to return seconds later.

Slowly, my eyes panned downward until they centered on the two sisters on the raised dais. Sun was glowing a bright gold, her eyes a brilliant white as her mane rippled with power untold. Her sister, Moon, had a deep blue glow, while her eyes and mane seemed to look like nothing more than holes in the fabric of reality, through which I could see an eternity of stars and galaxies swirling in a never-ending void.

Quickly, my eyes shot back up into the sky above, then back to the two princesses, then back again. Slowly, as the sun returned to its original position and sank below the horizon, one fact bubbled to the top of my incapacitated brain.

They can control the freaking sun and moon.

I stood there, just staring at the sky long after the night had come. Voices tried to get my attention, but I couldn't understand them. I felt a hoof gently touch my shoulder, but still I did not move. Something waved in front of my face, but I couldn’t comprehend its meaning.

Finally, with a strangled squeal, I slowly tilted sideways and collapsed.

“Well, he took better than expected, thing being considering…” I heard someone say nearby as I tried to make sense of the world around me. I was failing, but if I could talk, I would have to agree with whomever said that. All things considered, flipping my lid would have been a completely appropriate response...

Author's Notes:

Well, here's the next chapter! And it's the long awaited 'Celestia and Luna can control the sun and moon' reveal!

Sorry that it took so long, though. I had a really tough writer's block, but I seemed to have worked through the worst of it. Thanks for sticking with me for so long, though! I'll definitely be adding to this story, and the rest of my stories, a lot more frequently, now!

Anyway, see you guys next time!

Tip Jar!

Chapter IV

Chapter IV

“Is… Is he going to be alright?” Twilight asked, poking the comatose ~human’s~ shoulder a little bit. The only reaction this seemed to have, though, was to cause the strange creature to roll over slightly.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine... eventually,” Luna said, shaking her head a little. “He’s just had one of the fundamental cornerstones of his existence turned on its head. He just needs a little time to cope.”

“‘Just’ a cornerstone? Sister, you make it sound as if he found out his pet dog died instead of ‘running away,’” Celestia said, raising her eyebrow in disbelief.

Luna sighed in resignation. “I know, I was trying to stay positive… Best case scenario, he comes to with a LOT of questions, but is otherwise alright.”

“And the worst case scenario?” Twilight asked uncertainly.

“Insanity is curable, but it is especially difficult with those who have Aeon level powers,” Luna said, her eyes never leaving the quietly twitching alien. “At the moment, all we can do is wait, and hope that his mind doesn’t shatter under the strain.”

“That could happen!?” Twilight asked, her voice rising by several octaves. “Can’t you-”

“What… living hot torment… was that?” a familiar voice grunted, bringing Twilight’s attention back to the human as he slowly got back to his feet.

Celestia quickly looked him over, then gave him a comforting smile. “Oh, good. You're still with us. I thought for a se-”

“Don’t change subject!” The ~human~interjected, pointing his finger towards the night sky. “How you control moon? Control sun!? Sun huge! Lots pull influence! How not pull planet out orbit!? For matter, how make go faster than light!? Nothing go faster light! Even if star close and small, still mean go many, many time faster! Yet light reach here as if sun only lightning bug in sky! How!?

“Calm down, take a deep breath,” Luna said, holding her hoof out in a placating gesture. “We-”

“No! Crazy! You all crazy! I crazy! Must be pad room, doctor look at like crazy, trying see what medicine work heal!” ~Alex~ started to babble, pacing back and forth, waving his hands around as if he were swatting flies.

“~Alex,~ you have to-” Twilight started to say, but whatever she was trying to convey was drowned out as the ~human's~ words became more and more frantic.

“Valiant Lady! I still here! Doctor, use better medicine! Still hope bring out!” ~Alex~ shouted towards the night sky.

“What do we do?” Twilight asked, her worry mounting as she watched the alien grow more and more demented.

Before either princess could respond, one of the guards, a Sergeant Fair Weather if Luna remembered correctly, stepped forward from his post with a salute. “Your Highnesses, if I may?”

“Sergeant, I did not realize you had a translation spell,” Luna said, raising her eyebrow ever so slightly.

“I do not. But I’ve seen this before, and I think I know what to do,” the Sergeant said, never dropping his salute.

“If you think you know how best to handle this, then please.” Princess Celestia moved to the side as she cast the translation spell on the Sergeant. “I implore you, employ your expertise.”

Sergeant Weather gave her a nod, then took off to fly next to the incoherently shouting ~human.~

“What if I dead!? I dead, none this happen, just hallucination as mind slow falls out existence! Or this eternal torment! Or Waiting Torment! Not heaven, not make enough sense. Clear if-”

Suddenly, the ~human’s~ ramblings came to a screeching halt as the soldier next to him put his hoof behind ~Alex’s~ head, and calmly, but firmly, struck him with an upwards motion, making an audible thump as the soldier’s hoof made contact with the ~human's~ skull.

The action was so unexpected that it left everyone there completely speechless.

Including the ~human.~

“Get your head in the game, colt! We have lives to save!” The Sergeant bellowed in ~Alex’s~ ear.

Instead of setting off the ~human,~ or causing him to curl up in terror as Celestia had initially thought, the human slowly straightened up, reached behind his head, and rubbed the probably sore spot, all while looking at the guard with a confused glare. “You not related Bright Hostage, are you?”

“You got your head on straight, then?” Sergeant Fair Weather asked, giving the human a flat look.

“Y-Yes, sorry. Thank for that, by way. I need that,” ~Alex~ said as he gave an apologetic smile. “Sorry that… you little… 'show,’ caught off guard.”

“It is quite alright. We understand if you feel a little overwhelmed, and would like to continue this at another time,” Celestia said, quickly recovering from her shock.

“No… no, It okay, I need know this... If this really happening, I need understand before explode,” Alex said as he slowly sunk to his rump, his back to the tower wall. He then looked up at the two Alicorns, pure wonder in his eyes. “How were you do that? You certain you not Gods? Or at least draconequus?”

Celestia gave a double take at this. “How… how do you know of Discord?”

The human just looked even more confused. “What 'Chaos Note?’”

Before this could go any further, Twilight stepped forward, her hoof held up in a 'wait’ gesture. “Wait a minute. He probably means a creature in his mythology that is similar to Discord, instead of an actual draconequus.”

Luna smiled and nodded. “You’re probably right, Twilight Sparkle.” She then turned back to the human, a curious expression on her face. “While I would like to hear of this myth, we will have to do so later, once you have learned our language. For now, let us concentrate on the matter at hoof.”

~Alex~ nodded his head in agreement. “Yes... please, let deal with thing can’t understand. Are you gods?”

“We are not, of that we are certain,” Luna said as she settled down next to him. “We are older than most, heartier than most, and more powerful than most, but we can hardly claim the mantle of godhood. We are not immortal, we are not all knowing, and we are certainly not infallible.”

“Then… how you able do that?” ~Alex~ asked, pointing again towards the night sky.

“It is complicated, though I feel you will not let us go until you get a thorough answer,” Celestia said with a smile. “Know that during your little episode, many of the facts that you listed were correct: Nothing can travel faster than light.”

* * *

“Sir, I've finished running my scans on the star and moon; I’ve found something.” Lieutenant Talian said with a salute.

Hazalk leaned forward, his antenna twitching with interest. “What is it, Lieutenant?”

“It… well, there are still a lot of things I can’t even begin to explain, but at least we know one thing: The star wasn’t moving.”

Hazalk twitched one of his antenna upwards, a clear sign of curious disbelief. “Explain, lieutenant.”

“Well, sir, since this is the first time a Krin ship has seen this and not had to devote all attention to evasive maneuvers, we really had no idea what frequencies to scan, what sensors to use, or even what to look for. On a hunch, though, I ran a gravitic scan, and found that not only does the Star and Moon not exhibit any gravitational pull, but there are also holes in the fabric of spacetime where they should be.”

Hazalk leaned forward, his interest growing with every second. “So… they’re surrounded by warp fields?”

“It would certainly explain the strange gravitational distortions in the area,” Yvtil interjected as she typed a few things on her console with her uninjured hand. Technically, the commander shouldn't have been back on duty, but she refused to stay down while so many were tirelessly working to get the ship back online.

“It would. The partitioned space would twist and distort the space around it as it passed, like a fish moving through water,” Hazalk agreed.

“True, but… it’s still not quite a warp field,” Lieutenant Talian said as she adjusted a few more things at her station. “While it has many of the same properties, it is still a bit different. For instance, it only registers on the gravitic sensors. I’m not detecting any of the other obvious signs of a warp field, such as energy signatures, or a power source.”

Hazalk gave the lieutenant a flat stare, then pointed towards the star. “You’re telling me that you can’t find the red, glowing, obvious power source, no matter how hard or long you’ve been staring at it.”

Talian looked at her captain, back at the star, then back again. “...Sorry, yes I can find the… power source,” she said sheepishly. She coughed, then straightened herself as she tried to regain some composure. “What I meant to say is that I can’t find where the field is coming from. There’s no satellite orbiting the star to create it, and there is nothing our sensors can detect being transmitted to or from the star. It’s like the star itself is generating the field.”

Hazalk thought about this for a second as he rubbed his mandibles. “While that answers the question of how this, and other stars, are able to travel faster than light. It still raises more questions…” he said to himself. “Wendalaz, change course so that we run parallel to the star. I want that thing in sensor range thirty-three/eight.”

“Right away, sir,” Wendalaz said as he changed course.

“Sir, is that wise? If it comes at us-” Talian started to say, but was interrupted by her captain.

“If it comes at us, there’s no way we’d know until we were dead. It moves faster than the light it emits, so we can hardly watch as it barrels into us,” Captain Hazalk said with a dismissive wave. “I want to get as much data off of that thing as possible, and we can only do that if we keep it in range.”

“Pardon me for speaking out of turn, sir, but this still seems incredibly foolish.”

The captain's antenna didn’t twitch, betraying nothing of what he was thinking about. “Soldier, please... trust me, I know what I’m doing. Now, open a channel to the Quzin ship,” Hazalk said, straightening his uniform a little bit.

* * *

“But…” I said as I looked up into the sky. “If all you do is create a warp field and move the space around the star, how is it that the light still reaches us at roughly the same time that you move it? You’re still moving the light source faster than the light it’s producing; shouldn't it take at least a few minutes to reach us? And shouldn't it be more of a huge, flaming line it the sky that only lasts a couple of seconds?”

Evening Twinkle looked at me, a confused expression on her face. “What Twisted Scope?”

“Later, once I know the language,” I said, waving her off. “Please… just answer my question.”

Sun pursed her lips in thought, then looked up into the night sky. “Magic… change, how light work. How we perceive thing. How thing perceive us. Sun know light not reach in time, to see show right. Show not look nice, show last much shorter. So, Sun use magic, change how light travel, how we perceive light, how it reach, so it look better. Sun can be vain sometime…”

I raised an eyebrow at her, looked up at the sky, then back at her. “Wait… Assuming you mean the star and that you haven’t started talking like Elmo, you’re telling me that the sun literally has a mind of its own?

“Alex, you forget. We say everything with soul have magic,” Luna said, gently reminding me of a previous conversation. “Same go in reverse. Everything with magic, have soul. But… Well, when say sun, moon, planet have mind its own, that… true, but at same time… really not. They have mind, dream, wish, but they different from ours… Alien, slow, ageless, but at same time so, so young.”

I thought about this for a few seconds, trying to work out what she meant. “So… if the star tried to hold a conversation with me, it would act like…?”

“Best analog be small, six year old child with huge ego,” Celestia said with a barely restrained laugh. “It be quite wise when wants be, but at same time it no concept simple thing, like sleep, or time. It get petulant sometime when I say time move, but still obeys because it thing. Have soul, but no real will.”

I giggled a little, the concept somewhat funny to me. “You’re saying it whines at you when you tell it to go down sometimes?”

She thought about this, her stare a thousand miles away. “Not… exact. Hard describe, since sun no actual speak. Just emotion, passion. Like very large dog.”

“So... “ I said, as I stood up and brushed myself off. “That’s the plan, then? Use the sun as a demented tether-ball, knocking any invading bugs out of the sky? And if they’re too close for that, we smack them with the moon?”

“Exactly,” Sun said with a smile.

I gave a low whistle. “Boy, you weren’t kidding when you said that we’d have bigger problems if they destroyed your weapon…” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.

* * *

“What do you mean you didn’t cause it?” Hazalk asked, both antenna raised in alarm.

Akitesh sighed in frustration. “What I mean is that the technology and ability to control the movements of a star is not unique to my people alone,” the priestess said, the slow, patient cadence of her voice showing just how close she was to losing her cool. “What I also mean is that we have to be very, very careful in how we interact with the natives and their ally below.”

This seemed to have the desired effect on the Krin captain. “Well… that actually confirms my original suspicions about them…” he grumbled to himself. “Can you…?”

Akitesh sighed a little. “No, we can’t wrestle control away from them,” she said, answering his implied question. “And even if we could, we wouldn’t. Their planet doesn’t naturally rotate, nor does it orbit the star; since it’s inside its own little pocket of space, the transitions of their days and seasons is completely manual. If we were to take control, what do you think would happen to their planet?”

The Krin nodded in understanding. “They would be wiped out in less than a week.”

Akitesh licked her lips nervously. “While it makes the situation a lot more tenuous, it still does not change our overall mission. If your former comrades attack, and manage to slip past the defensive barrier of the star, we’ll need to be ready to catch them before they can make planetfall. How are repairs coming along on your ship?”

“We managed to find and clear the virus that Ilisk's left in the satellite array, and we have enough parts to do a halfway decent patch job on the engines, but our power will still be too pitiful to provide anything meaningful, even with your strange carving tech aiding us.” His tone had a distinctly bitter quality to it. “Assuming that they don’t arrive in the next week or so, we’ll be able to provide limited support at best. Has your Speaker responded to your message, yet?”

Akitesh shook her head. “No, but that is hardly surprising. It would take a couple of days for the message to reach Vithol, and then it would take a few more days after that for the council to make its decision.”

“So, we’re looking at a few more days at least before any hope of reinforcements from your end?” Hazalk asked, his antennae drooping in disappointment.

“I’m afraid so. Even then, it will take them some time to send reinforcements to either world,” Akitesh said with a grimace. “Just… keep working on your repairs, and keep me informed.”

“Yes, Priestess,” Hazalk said, right before he cut the transmission.

Akitesh stood up from her chair, taking a second to straighten her clova, the long, sinuous tube of cloth that she wore on her serpentine lower half.

“Why didn’t you tell him about the perception anomaly?” her second voice asked as he looked up at her.

Akitesh shook her head. “That borders far too much into the spiritual, which would go against our current mandate to restrict the Krin from learning of that power,” she answered him without even looking.

“...You know they’re going to figure it out on their own eventually.”

“Yes, but hopefully we’ll be able to catch their ex-emperor and his sycophants before that happens,” Akitesh said as she slithered towards the lift. “I leave the bridge to you, Jedon. I must continue learning of our charges before our meeting in the morning.”

“As you wish, My Priestess,” the Second Voice said as his priestess left the room.

* * *

Tusk Breaker cracked a bleary, bloodshot eye. His head hurt, his tongue felt like it was two sizes too big, and his stomach was making a determined effort to turn itself inside out.

“You okay, mister?” a worried voice asked from somewhere nearby.

Tusk turned his head towards the voice, his eyes squinting against the glare of the sun above him. “What... happened last night…?

In front of him was a grey mare with blond hair and pegasus wings. She was wearing a brown coat and hat, and at her side was a mailbag, clearly marking her as a mailpony. Her eyes were a bit askew, but this fact paled in comparison to the raging hangover Tusk was experiencing.

To be honest, just the fact that she existed seemed to tick him off.

“Shove off,” he said as he unsteadily got to his hooves.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t until you move,” She said, her eyes wide as she stared up into his face.

“Why not!?” Tusk asked, thrusting his chin out belligerently.

To her credit, the gray mare didn’t even flinch. All she did was raise her hoof, pointing somewhere behind Tusk. “Because you’re blocking the mailbox.”

Tusk quickly turned around, causing his head to swim even more. He ignored it, though, in favor of staring dumbfounded at the offending mailbox, until the fact that he was in the wrong finally crossed his mind. “Oh… uh, sorry about that…” he said as he stumbled out of the way.

“Don’t worry about it,” the mare said, smiling happily as she opened the box and shoved a large envelope into the void inside. “Just make sure to get home and drink plenty of liquids! Those late nights can take a lot out of you!”

“Yeah, yeah…” Tusk said as he stumbled off in a random direction, completely unaware of the pair of glowing green eyes watching his every move from a nearby alleyway...

Author's Notes:

Hey, gang! Sorry for taking so long, but I've been doing stuff, preparing for something that I'm not going into right here. If you want to know what's happening, go check out my blog! It's not a bad thing, in fact, it's something that I couldn't be happier about! It's just going to eat a lot of my free time.

Not that I'm complaining. She can take as much of my free time that she wants!

Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to get things squared away, and bring you more awesome chapters. See you guys next chapter!

EDIT: I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the cameo by everypony's favorite mailmare! You guys make Derpy sad...

Chapter V

Chapter V

Twilight Sparkle smiled as the ~human~ let out a relieved sigh. “Now, that problem out way, we need talk. Say need calculation device, but wonder, what is being about seeing thing? Need input… to…” ~Alex~ started to say, but trailed off as he noticed the looks in the eyes of the four ponies around him, and how none of them were focused on him.

“What are… you…” he started to say, but trailed off again as he turned around to see the large, pink balloon that had somehow managed to sneak up on all of them.

In the basket beneath the balloon, Twilight could see a pink, poofy head peek out from the basket, the grin on the crazed mare's face somehow more manic than Twilight had ever seen it. Peeking over the edge alongside her was a very familiar cannon barrel, one that Twilight felt very uneasy standing in front of.

Before anyone could say anything, the cannon suddenly went off, showering the whole balcony in party hats and streamers. But even more ear-shattering than the firing of the artillery was the shout that accompanied it.

It was happy, cheerful, but at the same time filled with a terrible purpose - a purpose that had been frustrated time and time again, but she had decided that this was the moment. The ~human~ would not escape this time, she would make sure of that.

“WELCOME TO EQUESTRIA!!” Pinkie Pie shouted into the night, shattering the seriousness of the conversation that had preceded the announcement.

* * *

It’s actually pretty easy to sneak up on someone in Canterlot with a balloon when the Captain of the Royal Guard is in on your scheme.

“Thanks again, Shiny!” Pinkie said as the Prince made his way up to the snack table.

“Don't mention it, Pinkie. The boys needed something to take their minds off of everything that’s been going on lately,” Shining Armor said as he served himself up some punch.

Pinkie cocked her head to the side, a little confused. “Why is that? Is it because of the frosting explosion in the kitchens earlier?”

Shining had to put some real effort to keep a straight face. “No, it's because we've been spending the past six months preparing for war.”

This instantly brought down the mood between them. “Oh, yeah…” Pinkie said, her ears drooping.

“Don't worry about it, Pinkie. The news that we’ve actually got allies up in space has been a huge balm on the nerves of the troops.” He looked out over the crowd, noticing all the discreet, suspicious looks that some of the younger, off-duty guards were throwing towards the guest of honor, then clicked his tongue disapprovingly. “Even if a few of them are a bit suspicious of our first contact, the majority of the troops see him as a good omen. Speaking of which, I gotta go. Need to talk to Dark Seeker about a few things.”

Pinkie smiled sadly as she watched Shining join, then disappear into the crowd of ponies. Her eyes then swept over the crowd, noting how many had accepted her invitations, and how many had refused. The vast majority who had showed were off-duty guards, though a few scientists had decided to show up as well. She wasn't stupid; she already knew what many of their opinions were about the aliens in general, and ~Alex~ specifically. She also knew that they were being incredibly silly.

But at least they had put aside their silliness for the night. Or in some cases, they were still being silly, but at least they participated. As the night wore on, she noticed a shift in the mood of the crowd, where even the most untrusting of the guards were starting to actually have fun.

She personally chalked that up to the fact that the Princesses had really thrown themselves into the party. Rainbow had even managed to convince Princess Celestia to join in and play pin the tail on the pony. She was really bad at it, but to be honest, everypony was bad at pin the tail on the pony. That was rather the point of the game: Everypony was equally bad, and hopefully, everypony would laugh equally as hard when it was their turn.

However, one person wasn't quite as engaged in the festivities as everypony else. Oh, he played, he drank, he laughed, and he smiled. But Pinkie instantly recognized it for what it was: a forced smile. It wasn't a mean forced smile, though; Not one of those smiles that screamed, 'I’m not having fun, but it would be impolite to show it.’

Instead, it was a smile that whispered, 'I’m having more fun than I really should, and I feel guilty for it.’

“Hey, ~Alex!~” Pinkie shouted as she pronked up to him, a bowl of goodies balanced precariously on her head. “Why don't you hit the dance floor? Show off some of those sweet ~human~ dance moves!?”

If anything, this invitation just seemed to make him nervous. “Oh, I could not. Only know dancing is one, really. But wrong music, not right beat,” he said, his face quickly turning an odd shade of red.

“What kind of beat?” Pinkie asked, her curiosity piqued.

~Alex~ looked even more flustered at that. “Oh, don't think have kind music. Is faster, louder, more deep notes,” he said wistfully. “Sound kind of… well, like this:” he then put one of his hands to his mouth and made a series of deep-throated sounds that kind of sounded like untz untz untz.

“Not that only, but need more space, too,” he said, stopping the noise and removing his hand. “Need space move arms. Could not do in crowd. Might hurt someone.” His voice had a note of finality to it, clearly wanting that to be the last of that.

Pinkie Pie, on the other hoof, had other ideas.

“Wait right here! Don't move a muscle!” She shouted, then dashed over to where her turntables and speakers were.

If it were up to her, she would have had Vinyl Scratch here to operate the turntables. Unfortunately, her favorite DJ couldn't be here, on account of how she wasn't a part of the super-secret Equis Defense Force thing. Since seeing ~Alex~ would kind of force her to join, having her here would have been a big no-no at the moment.

Fortunately, Pinkie Pie could do the job herself. Not only that, but she had quite a few of Vinyl's greatest hits on hoof, and she knew in her mane and knees that some of those would be exactly what ~Alex~ was talking about.

With a mischievous grin, she queued up one of her favorites, then dashed back to the snack table, where the human looked like he was trying to figure out if a bowl of daisies was edible.

“~Alex!~ you got thirty seconds!” Pinkie said, grabbing his hand with both her hooves. She then began dragging him towards the center of the dance floor, all while ignoring his sputtering protests.

“What are doing you, Pink? What going on!?”

She suddenly stopped, let go, and returned to her previous, four-hoofed posture. “Clear the dance floor! ~Alex~ is going to show us some ~human~ dance moves!”

“What!?” ~Alex~ said, acutely aware of all the eyes staring at him, and the growing circle that was forming around him. “Pink One, not want this! Have not dance in long time! This bad idea! You not have right music, I rust, please not make me make-”

Before ~Alex~ could finish the thought, or someone could come and rescue the freaked-out alien, the music changed, as did ~Alex’s~ expression. In fact, ~Alex~ had completely frozen in place, his expression an odd mix of horror, confusion, and recognition.

“Pinkie Pie, let him go, he’s not ready for something like this,” Luna said, stepping forward a little, looking at the Element of Laughter disapprovingly.

Then the ~human~ began to move.

* * *

I froze. No. Freaking. Way.

It wasn't any song that I had ever listened to before, the tones of the instruments were a lot different than anything I had heard, and the strange, random lyrics were in a language I couldn't understand, but the style...

I doubt these ponies had ever heard of a synthesizer, but it was still techno.

Well, kind of.

It was still very much its own style and sound, but no one on Earth would have batted an eye had this started playing in a club. In fact, several people probably would have started screaming, “I LOVE THIS SONG!” without ever having heard it before. It was one of those songs that got into your head, rooted itself into your spine, and started pulling your strings like some kind of demented puppet.

Without even realizing when it had happened, I started to dance. My movements were methodical, structured, and a bit jerky, but that’s what they’re supposed to do when you dance the Robot.

However, I quickly noticed something… strange, about how I moved. Ever since I had seen So You Think You Can Dance, and the brilliant performance by Bryan Gaynor, I had been obsessed with the Robot. Now, I do not pretend to be able to dance with even the slightest amount of skill that that mad genius was capable of, but I had been able to get the stillness down, as well as some of the easier, precise movements of the dance.

But something was wrong. I could still hold my body still, but my limbs were another matter altogether. My arms and legs felt long, gangly and awkward, and they wouldn't stop when I wanted them to. It was almost as if I’d never danced with them before...

I tried to power through the whole song, but every mistake I made just seemed to magnify in my mind, until finally I stopped, staring down at my uncompliant hands in disbelief. As I stared at my gray flesh, a realization suddenly popped into my head as I closed my two hands into fists.

As I stood there, staring at my less than helpful arms, I felt something hard touch my shoulder. I looked up with a start, having completely forgotten that anyone else was nearby at all.

“Alex, you doing good?” Moon asked me, a worried expression on her face.

I quickly looked around, noticing that the music had stopped, and everyone was staring at me. Some looked worried, while others looked scared. “Y-Yeah, I'm fine, I just realized that I can't dance. It's cool, though, you don't have to stop the party for me.”

There was a sudden gasp down near my waist, and I looked down to see The Pink One look at me with horror. “You not dance!? Did evil space alien reach in head and take dance power!?”

I couldn't help but laugh a little at her horrified expression. “No, nothing like that. Well, sort of. It’s... kind of complicated, but I don't want to bring down the party, so I’ll explain later.” I smiled as I looked around at the crowd of ponies. “Come on, this is supposed to be a party! Shouldn't we be having fun?”

The party awkwardly started up again after that, but I couldn't help but notice the worried stares and the mutterings that would accompany them. I quickly made my way over to the snack table, determined to stuff my face with as much candy as I possibly could.

Great, Alex. That’s just great. They throw you a party, then you make it awkward by dancing terribly, then not following through and finishing what you started. Even on other planets, you’re the freaking life of the party.

I was so busy stuffing my face that I didn't notice someone sidle up next to me. I did notice the obvious, throat-clearing cough, though.

“So, why stop cold jerky dance?”

I looked to my left and saw Rainbow hovering next to me, her hooves crossed in front of her, and a look that I couldn't quite place on her face.

I finished swallowing first, then gave her an apologetic smile. “Because I wasn't doing it right.”

She cocked her eyebrow at that, her expression unamused. “Look cold to me. You do fine!”

I smiled at her again, then looked back down at the snack table. “Rainbow, you're an athlete, right?”

“How know that?”

I smiled at her, then popped another candy in my mouth. “I came to the edge of the forest every day to watch the town, remember? I saw you practice. You're quite good.”

She puffed out her chest. “Not just good. Best!”

I smiled again, then looked out over the crowd. My sharp eyes picked out the 'casual’ glances in our direction, but I ignored them, keeping my eyes locked on The Pink One as she danced crazily across the floor. “Why do you train every day?”

She made a dismissive snort. “To be best, course.”

I looked at her, then shook my head. “No, that's why you train at all. Why do you train every day?

She looked confused. “What mean? To become best!”

I shook my head again. “No, you train to teach your muscles, to make them remember each trick, each flap of your wings, and each turn you need to make. Until you can do everything without even thinking about it.” I turned around and picked up another candy, carefully examining it from every angle before popping it into my mouth. “Back home, we called this 'muscle memory.’”

Rainbow looked bored. “So? Everyone know that. What this has do with no dance?”

I looked at her, unbuttoned the top four buttons of my shirt, then pulled it open until the spiderweb of fading grey could be seen, as well as the ragged line where the artificial arm had been surgically attached to my torso. “So, I've never danced with these arms and legs,” I said, my smile never leaving my face, even as she recoiled in horror as she realized what those marks meant. “I used to dance, and I still remember how to do it, and I was fairly decent, too. But I can't anymore. I might know how, but my muscles sure don't.”

She continued to stare at me for a while, but I ignored it as I turned back towards the table and buttoned my shirt up again. “Thanks for worrying, but it’s not that important. Dancing's never really been a part of me, just something I picked up because I thought it looked cool. It's no big deal, really.”

She looked like she wanted to say something, but seemed to think better of it. Instead, she turned around and flew off, presumably to look for someone to tell what I told her.

I looked back down, intent on getting more treats, but stopped when I spotted some wet spots on my shirt. Before I could work out the puzzle before me, the answer came when I felt something leave my chin, quickly followed by the sight of two large drops of liquid falling to the ground from my face.

“Huh…” I said intelligently, my voice catching in a way that made me feel pathetic. “I guess that got to me more than I thought it would…”

After I took some time to make myself presentable again, I tried to rejoin the party. I really did. My heart just wasn’t into it, though. Eventually, I just gave up, thanked The Pink One for a wonderful time, feigned the need for sleep, then retreated to the relative safety of my room in the castle.

* * *

Beaker watched the ~human~ retreat in silence. Once the human was completely out of sight, he leaned over and tapped his brother Bunsen on the withers. “Ugh.”

“Huh? Oh, good, I thought it’d never leave,” Bunsen Burner said as he turned around. “I tell you, Beaker, that 'dance’ it displayed had me worried. I almost thought the thing was having a seizure.

“Ugh,” Lab Beaker said, his tone filled with exasperation.

“Don't you start that again! We already went over this, and I will not change my mind on it!” Bunsen said as he made his way over to the snack table. With the horror from beyond the stars gone, he was now free to scoop up as many goodies as he wanted. He decided to start with a rather large piece of cake, and work his way up from there.

Lab Beaker rolled his eyes, tapped his front hoof, and gave his brother an unamused stare. “Ugh.”

“No, it is dangerous. You saw what it did to the lab! And that was without even trying! Why the Princesses would ever allow it to roam around free is beyond me,” Bunsen said with a huff.

“Ugh,”

Bunsen snorted, trying to not laugh. “A chance? I don’t need to give it a chance. The thing is useful, but as soon as it stops being useful, I hope that Celestia sees reason and locks that thing up in stone. It’s a ticking time bomb!”

Beaker gave his brother a disappointed stare, looked down at the cake that he was levitating between them, lifted his hoof, and casually flipped the edge of the plate.

The cake hit the ground with a dull squish, but only Bunsen seemed to notice.

“What the hay was that for!?” He said, glaring at Beaker.

Beaker didn’t say anything. Instead, he turned, gave a little flick of his short, frizzy tail, and cantered off, leaving his brother sputtering impotently next to the ruined confection.

* * *

I stared at the ceiling of my room, just thinking about everything that had led me up to this point. It had actually been a really long time since I took a few seconds to just sit and meditate. The last time I did this was when I was soaking in my personal hot spring, if I remembered correctly.

It was kind of nice, to be honest. Sure, I still had a targeting computer to make, but the revelation that not all the bugs were trying to kill us made that a little less of a priority.

At the very least, it meant I had time to think, something that I had honestly been avoiding up to this point.

Lazily, I turned my head over and fixed my gaze towards the metal cat sitting on my desk. It was unpowered at the moment, Kazimir's storage rod lying next to it where the impatient Russian had ejected it, allowing him some sleep. I had left it where he had dropped it, wishing to be alone for a few moments to collect my scattered thoughts. I knew it wouldn’t last, but for these precious seconds I had a chance to breathe.

I found my mind wandering, jumping to the recent party, the meeting with Hazalk, and the changes that I had gone through recently. My mind jumped from idea to idea, never staying in one place for long.

The room around me was filled with moonlight, its glow a bit brighter than the light from the moon back on Earth, casting shadows across the wall from the wind billowing past the curtains at my window. My mind started playing games with those shadows, seeing things that weren’t really there, revealing friends long gone or forgotten, imagining half-seen shapes traipsing through the woods…

Revealing a huge, eight-limbed shape, holding a needle that edged closer and closer to my eye…

With a start, I shook off the half-sleep that I had been pulled into, my heart thumping wildly in my chest as I tried to get my breathing under control. I couldn't stay here in this enclosed space; I had to get out, feel the wind in my hair, smell the autumn leaves on the breeze.

I stood up and made my way to the window, fully intent on doing just that.

* * *

Sergeant Fair Weather yawned widely as he looked out over his cloud. He had been at this post ever since the ~human~ had returned to his room, and the long night was starting to get to him. True, he was nocturnal by nature, but he had already pulled half a shift, covering for a friend of his whose wife was in labor.

He was happy for the stallion, but at the moment he was just a little less favorably disposed towards him.

The Sergeant was just about to do another round around the tower when a flicker of movement caught his eye. He focused on it, his large, dragon-like eyes easily piercing the soft light of the night, to spot something that he wasn't sure he believed at first.

“Private, tell me, do you see that?” Fair Weather said, nudging the stallion on his left.

Private Heart looked over curiously, only for the look to be replaced by one of complete shock. “Is this monster descended from a freaking spider!?”

As soon as the words had left his mouth, though, he received a hearty thwack up the back of his head.

“S-Sorry, Sergeant…”

“Private, I’m going to keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn't fall and kill himself. You go and get the Princess. I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing, but I’m sure that she’ll want to know about this,” Fair Weather said as he watched the ~human~ clamber up the side of the tower.

* * *

The ponies made an amazing castle, I won't deny that. However, because of certain traits shared by the majority of the species of this planet, namely hooves, certain… aspects of the castle just wouldn't have held up on Earth.

For starters, while we had made walls and buildings with flat, flush surfaces, to discourage activities such as the one I was currently engaged in, the Ponies had made no such improvements. Yes, the walls looked sheer from a distance, but once you were up against it, little abnormalities revealed themselves to you. A crevice here, a crack there, a gap in the masonry over there. You know, little things that the ponies had probably seen and said, “Ah… it’ll do.”

Any human engineer worth his salt, though, would have taken one look at it and ordered the thing spackled up properly so that no dimwit would try and climb the darn thing.

That, of course, worked in my favor. Unlike a lot of people I knew, I had no fear of heights. Yeah, I was too high up to even think about surviving this kind of fall, but I wasn't really concerned about that. The wall was strong, I wasn't a novice climber, and I had been augmented by an alien super soldier program. True, I was a dip for even thinking that this was a good idea, but being cooped up in that room for so long had made me a little bit reckless.

Red splashed across my vision, followed by the sweet, nauseating feeling of my victim’s flesh in my maw.

I shivered involuntarily as I ignored the memory, speeding up my climb, determined to keep the demons at bay through physical exertion alone. Before I knew it, I was at the top of my tower, overlooking the city below. I could see from where I was that the castle itself had been the one I could see from the forest I had made my home in. You know, the one that had jutted out the side of the mountain that seemed to defy the laws of physics.

Not that that was news to me. It's just that this was the first time I had been outside since I had been brought here. It felt kind of good to confirm with my eyes what I already knew in my mind.

A flash of green in the darkness, burning the wall behind me as I ducked and rolled, trying to make myself a smaller target. There was a flash of white as I lunged forward, my claws sinking into the bug’s carapace to find the squishy flesh beneath.

I curled up into a ball, bracing myself against the chill of the wind. Yeah, that was why I was shivering, and definitely not for any other reason.

I don't know how long I sat up there before I was found. Surprisingly enough, it was one of those bat soldiers from earlier instead of Moon. His eyes were filled with a strange mix of empathy and amusement as he came closer. He didn’t say anything; he just landed on the roof next to me and wrapped a single wing around my shoulder, a gesture I was becoming increasingly familiar with.

A comfortable silence fell over us, the whistling of the wind and our own breathing as our only companions. It was okay, though. It was the kind of silence that said far more than any language could ever put to words. It was full of sorrow for the fallen, anger at the wrongs of the past, but more importantly, it carried hope for the future.

I’m not sure when sleep finally claimed me, but I remembered thinking that it would have been rude of me to pass out right there on the roof like that.

I don't think he minded, though.

Author's Notes:

Well, here's the next chapter! Sorry that it took so long, and that I don't really have much to say, but I have stuff to go buy, and I wanted to post this before I got sidetracked.

Again, thank you so much for following, supporting, and helping me. You guys rock!

Tip jar!

Chapter VI

Chapter VI

Private Qu’zzil rubbed one of his legs against the metal deck plating, his eyes darting back and forth as the shuttle rumbled ominously.

“Relax, kid, it’s just a simple grab-and-bag. We’ll be out before the primitives even know we’re there,” Sergeant Callousi said, clapping one of his hands against the nervous newbie’s back.

The private twitched his antenna nervously. “I… don’t know, sergeant. We weren't really given much briefing on this… And the things we do know makes me very nervous. Aren’t these things supposed to have nukes already? Makes me wonder what else a species as crazy as that has at their disposal…”

The corporal on his right shrugged, one of his antenna raising in a cocky fashion. “Qu, you worry too much. At most, we’ll probably encounter some primitive, chemical-based projectile weapons, maybe a primitive explosive. To be honest, though, this is a civilian, so you shouldn't even expect that much.”

“Kal, ballistic weapons can still kill.

“Relax, Qu, their weapons are not going to be nearly as effective as ours. They're going to be inaccurate, bulky, awkward, and unimpressive. Not only that, but at most they’ll be able to fire one shot at a time, and they’ll take a bit of time to reload,” the corporal said, waving off the private’s fears with a flippant twitch of his hand. “Besides, we've got a huge advantage over these primitives, the likes of which they’ve never even dreamed of.”

Qu’zzil looked at his friend curiously, his antenna raised. “What’s that?” He asked as the shuttle came to a complete stop.

“Active Camouflage,” the corporal said as he disappeared from view.

“Quit yapping, you two. We’re here,” the sergeant said as he turned on his own stealth system. The private heard some shuffling, then watched with a steadily increasing pulse as the door to the shuttle slowly lowered, revealing the lush, green trees of the alien planet.

“Well, here we go…” the private said as he turned on his own Active Camouflage.

Despite how much of an advantage it gave him, though, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling of impending doom that followed him out the shuttle.

* * *

Jill Spivak hummed to herself as she put on her blouse. Forecast tonight is clear, John is already at the bar, everything is in place to get Val to forget about that louse that abandoned her, she thought to herself.

As she checked herself in the mirror, making sure that her seams were straight, the sound of something glass breaking downstairs pulled her from her thoughts. Without missing a beat, the former resident of Montana bent down, reached under her bed, and pulled out her twelve-gauge shotgun.

Whoever had broken into her house was about to learn why that was a mistake.

* * *

“What were you thinking, Corporal? Do you want to alert the target?” Sergeant Callousi silently shouted at his subordinate, the implants they all shared easily transmitting his mental scolding.

“I’m sorry, sir. The entryway was a lot more narrow than I was expecting,” the flustered soldier said, gently prodding one of the shards of pottery with the tip of his leg. The piece skittered away a little, hitting other shards, and filling the air with the faint tinkling of glass.

The glass stopped moving, quickly plunging the three soldiers into an eerie quiet. They couldn’t even hear the sounds of the distant vehicles, but that wasn’t too surprising. After all, they wanted this op to go off without attracting any unwanted attention, so they had set up a sonic dampening field around the house; the only thing anyone outside would hear would have been a faint, faint hum.

“For a second there, I thought you might have-” Private Qu’zzil started to say, but was interrupted when a sound ripped through the otherwise quiet building.

It was unlike anything any of them had heard before. It was loud, obvious, and mechanical in nature, but it was hard to describe what could have caused it. The closest any of them could think to describe it would have been the loud cha-chunk sound of a personal missile system loading itself, but even then, it wasn’t quite right.

Right or not, it still set off something primeval in all of their brains. Something that told them all that if they didn’t get out of the way right now, they’d be dead.

All three soldiers immediately turned towards the sound, but they were all just a little too slow. There was a loud, ear-shattering bang, and instantly Corporal Kal flickered back into view. Slowly, he looked down, then keeled over backwards as the pain and shock of whatever hit him finally registered in his brain.

“Shul of all Battleborn!” Private Qu’zzil shouted into the night, dropping his rifle out of pure shock.

His sergeant, however, kept his head, pointed his plasma rifle up into the stairwell, and fired a quick burst of stun blasts up at the shadowy figure in the stairwell. The first one struck the wooden railing running next to the stairs, but the other four were on target, dropping the shadow before it was able to fire another one of those devastating shots.

Private Qu’zzil’s back hit the wall, and with a whimper, his legs curled up underneath him, his gasps sounding noisy in his ears. Before he could catch his breath though, a pair of rough hands grabbed him, pulled him to his feet, and shoved something into his arms.

“Listen, private, and listen good,” the sergeant said, his voice deadly quiet and his eyes two burning embers of contempt. Private Qu'zzil faintly realized that the sergeant must have dropped his camouflage to berate him properly, but that was a secondary thought to the terror he was currently feeling.. “You drop your gun in the heat of battle again, and I will personally shoot you myself. Are we clear?”

“C-Crystal, Sir!” Qu’zzil said, though inside he only felt sick to his stomach.

“I’d shoot you now, you worthless piece of trash, but I can’t finish this mission alone,” The sergeant said as he moved over to Corporal Kal. “Now, get your trash-hole over here and help me. We don’t have much time.”

The private moved to follow his superior, his antenna turned down in shame as he looked down at his comrade. As he stared, though, he couldn’t help but feel as if something were off. That… shouldn’t have dropped the corporal… he thought as he studied the body.

The entry wound was small, hardly worth noting. In fact, the more he studied it, the more he couldn’t believe that something so small could hurt anyone. Sure, if whatever had hit the corporal passed all the way through, it might have come close to the spinal structure in the corporal’s back. But even if it had nicked it, it wouldn’t have dropped the corporal so quickly.

“Is he…?”

“He’s stone dead, private. Go secure the package, I’ll take care of the corporal,” the sergeant said gruffly.

Private Qu’zzil nodded, his heart still hammering in his chest. He awkwardly mounted the steps, acutely aware that they were far too small for his bulky frame, and took his first look at one of the natives in the flesh.

It was… smaller, than he expected. It was probably female, based on the reports, and was wearing some sort of weird, long, bottomless cloth around its lower torso and upper legs. Its upper body was wearing a colorful, flowing cloth that was somewhat marred by the ugly burn holes from the sergeant’s stun blasts.

The private sighed, holstered his weapon, knelt down, and picked up the creature. As he moved her limp form into his arms, he noticed the thing’s weapon off to the side, shrugged, and decided to take it with him. Perhaps the brighteyes at the ship will be able to do something with it… he thought as he stood up. He was about to turn around and head back downstairs, but froze as he heard the ominous banging sound from the building’s front door...

* * *

Valerie pulled the headphones out of her ears as she stepped up to the doorway, and quickly put them away, taking a second to check her phone. The glowing screen told her it was about seven in the evening, right on time for her and Jill’s ‘girl’s night out’ as she called it. She hoped Jill didn’t have anything crazy in mind; she still had that toxicology report to finish, and Detective Callister had been riding her hard to get it done quickly.

She quickly unplugged her headphones from her phone, and neatly wrapped them up before she put them and her phone back into her purse. She wasn’t certain why she kept insisting on doing that; it’s not like it made any difference, and if anything, the headphones always ended up more tangled than if she just shoved them in. She shrugged a bit at her own folly, then reached out to knock on the door in front of her.

Her relaxed, carefree attitude was immediately replaced by worry, though, when her knuckles pushed the door open. Her first thought was that Jill had forgotten to close the door all the way, but that was quickly dashed to pieces when she saw the puddles of some sort of gray liquid, and the broken vase in the entryway.

Without even thinking about it, she pulled her SIG and phone out of her bag and dropped into a readied stance, her bag left forgotten as her shoulder slammed into the outside mantle next to the open doorway. She wasn’t a cop by any means, but she did work for them. This wasn't her first rodeo; she had seen many crime scenes.

She knew that there was a very good chance that the perpetrator was still around somewhere. Using her peripheral vision, she quickly called 911 while keeping her focus on the dark hallway in front of her, her shoulder flush against the wall, using it as cover.

“This is Nine-One-One, what is the nature of your emergency?” a woman’s voice picked up on the other line.

“I’m at my friend’s house, 13 Tremont Street, and it looks like it was broken into. Her lights are off, the front door is open, there’s some broken things in the foyer, and she was supposed to be home at this time,” Valerie whispered into the receiver.

There was a slight pause. “Okay, we’re sending someone over right now,” the lady said in a cool, calm voice. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Valerie, I work in forensics with the police, and you better get down here now. This really doesn’t look good,” Valerie said, taking a second to glance around the neighborhood.

It was a pretty nice neighborhood. Very rural, plenty of trees, nice neighbors, safe. It was a place where you could raise your kids without fear.

The irony of the current situation was not lost on her.

“Whatever you do, don’t go inside. Wait until the police arrive,” Valerie heard over her phone’s speaker.

Valerie didn’t answer, her attention riveted on a dark shape lurking inside the building. She couldn’t quite make it out, but it must have been a piece of furniture, or something. It couldn’t have been something alive; nothing she knew of had that many limbs!

Except, of course, for the fact that it was moving.

She heard a low, ominous hum, and she only had a second to react before something bright, green, and angry flashed out of the darkness towards her. There was no possible way for her to dodge the angry green light, but luckily for her, she didn’t have to.

Valerie screamed as the wall she was hiding behind exploded, showering her in bits of flaming plaster and wood. She sunk to her butt, not sure what just happened, but determined to use as much of the remaining wall as she could as cover. She could hear the lady on the other end of the phone shout out, trying to get her attention from where Valerie had dropped the device, but she ignored it in favor of glancing over the wall, pointing her pistol, and squeezing the trigger. A round barked out from her gun, but she didn't wait long enough to see if she hit her mark. Instead, she dropped back behind the slightly burning wall, rolled to her left, got back up, and vaulted the railing around Jill’s front porch.

Adrenaline poured into her brain as more of those weird, green lights tore apart the ruined wall that she had vacated. Her lungs were burning as she started to hyperventilate, and she had an overwhelming desire to turn and run. One thing held her back, though.

Jill was still probably in there.

Valerie gulped uncomfortably as she peeked over the edge of the porch. All she could see was the burning hole where she had crouched moments ago. There was a slight warping of the air around the door, which she chalked up to the smoke from the fire. At least, that’s what she thought it was at first.

Before she could blink, the warped air in front of her straightened up. There was a flash of green light, and for a brief second, a nightmare appeared on the porch.

It was tall, probably seven feet, and covered in some sort of shimmering light.

Before she was fully able to examine the thing, it disappeared, leaving behind the shimmer on the porch, and an angry green bolt of light that sailed over her head and beyond faster than her eye could track. Valerie ignored it though, preferring to take aim at the shimmer and unload her weapon at it.

Her pistol barked again and again as the shimmer hiding the monster flickered, then vanished entirely, revealing it in all its horrifying glory.

It was massive. Standing at an impressive eight feet, its featureless helmet revealed nothing about its facial features or expression. It was completely covered in a dull, red suit, and in one of its four, four fingered hands it gripped something that looked a lot like a rifle, except sleeker, and more futuristic.

The gun wasn't pointed at her, though. Instead, it was pointed downward as the beast’s unoccupied hands reached up, and gently touched one of the many, many holes that covered its front. Its hand came away, covered in a grey viscous substance, and with a gurgling sigh, it collapsed, its four legs splayed out in all directions.

Quick as lightning, Valerie's back hit the side of the house, her eyes wide with fright as she tried to process what she had seen. What in the name of all that is holy is that!? She thought as she tried to get her breathing under control.

As she stood there, quietly gasping for breath, she slowly became aware of the headless, smoking body of Jill's next door neighbor that was lying on his porch, the acrid smell of burnt flesh coming off of it making her want to gag. Yet despite the sight in front of her, the area around her was oddly silent. Even though she could see the flashing lights of the distant sirens, the only thing she could hear was the sound of her own, laborious breathing.

Slowly, she sank to her rear, trying to make sense of the world around her. As she tried to puzzle out the conundrum in front of her, the sounds of the sirens suddenly came crashing in, their loud, obnoxious blare a welcome sound in her panicked state, despite the fact that their sudden appearance nearly made her jump out of her skin.

Given the circumstances, she felt she was quite within her rights to void the contents of her stomach.

* * *

Detective Callister slammed the door of his cruiser, his heart hammering in his chest as he approached the crowd that had gathered at the police line. Just over their heads, he could see the white, two story building that Doctor Spivak called home. The lights of the emergency vehicles were casting an eerie light across the once sleepy neighborhood, and he could barely make out the other officers policing the area, looking for clues, keeping back the crowd, and taking statements.

With a little bit of effort, and a whole lot of shouting, he finally was able to work his way through the crowd and see the havoc that had happened at Jill Spivak’s house.

The door to Jill’s house was completely gone, as was much of the wall next to it. In its place, Detective Callister could see smoldering wood and splinters, as if some sort of explosion had taken the whole thing out. Directly in front of the hole, the detective could see something large and misshapen, though whatever it was was hidden beneath a large, white sheet.

“What on earth happened here?” Callister asked as Officer Miles held up the ribbon for him to walk under.

“We… well, this is something you’re going to need to see for yourself, sir,” Miles said, motioning towards the sheet.

Callister followed Miles in silence. He had known the cop for years, and knew better than to ask questions before he was ready to give answers.

The two walked up to the white sheet in front of the door, Officer Miles stopping a little shy of the stairs, gesturing for Callister to continue without him.

The detective, unsure at what he was dealing with, but still apprehensive at what he might find, climbed the short set of stairs and crouched down in front of the sheet.

What he found underneath set off all the alarm bells in his head, as well as several that he didn’t know he had.

“Miles… what am I looking at here?” he asked as he attempted to make heads or tails of the strange corpse.

Officer Miles shook his head. “I don’t rightly know, sir. It looks like something my kid brother might shoot on his Xbox, but… well…”

“It’s real,” Callister finished for him.

“Yeah, that,” Miles said, scratching the back of his head nervously.

Detective Callister dropped the sheet, then stood back up. “Miles, what the heck is a dead alien doing on Doctor Spivak’s front porch?” His voice was oddly calm, but Miles could tell that the detective was about a hair's breath away from exploding.

So Officer Miles told him. If anything, this freaked the detective out even more.

“Nick, if Doctor Stone was visiting her friend, and she’s currently down at the station, then where’s Jill Spivak!?

* * *

Private Qu’zzil was hyperventilating, his arms ached, and his legs felt weak, but he didn't dare stop.

He'd seen what happened to his squad. He knew what would happen to him if he were caught.

More importantly, he knew what would happen if he didn't get his dangerous cargo back to the shuttle.

“You’re doing fine, private. A little further, and you’re home free,” his superior said in his ear.

“Weren’t these things supposed to be primitives? Not to mention civilians!?” he asked as he adjusted the load in his arms. “Why does not one, but two of these things have high accuracy, high powered kinetic weapons on them? Civilians are supposed to be non-combatants! Not only that, but that one savage’s weapon was semiautomatic! How the shul is there a semiautomatic ballistic weapon?”

“Calm yourself, private. You’ll be properly debriefed once you get back on board.

Still hyperventilating, Qu’zzil came to a break in the woods. It was a seemingly empty clearing, but one command from his implants changed that. The air in front of him warped and shimmered, finally resolving itself into his landing craft, its ramp quickly extending to allow him entrance.

With a relieved sigh, he came on board, put down his comatose load, picked up a nearby syringe, and injected the native with a sedative. “Okay, target is secure and sedated. Gali, get me out of here!”

“With pleasure,” the craft’s on-board A.I. said, revving up the shuttle’s engines. Qu’zzil sighed in relief as he sat down, glad for a chance to rest, and thankful that his task was complete.

As he leaned his head back, he gave a silent prayer to the Battlewatcher, a prayer for mercy, one which he was certain wouldn’t be answered.

“Gazuul above, please, whatever you do with me, please make it so that I do not have to fight one of those quick little monkeys again…” he whispered to himself.

Author's Notes:

Well, here's the next chapter! If you've been following my blog, then you should already know this. If not, then here's a little bit of info for you on why this one took me so long.

I just got married!

WOOT!

At any rate, I do NOT intend on just quitting on these stories. The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, and I fully intend to publish a LOT more content for you wonderful people now that the actual stupid marriage is over.

And yes, we're both in agreement. The whole marriage day was an exercise in stupidity.

As for this chapter, to be honest, I really, really hate it. But, I'm not really sure how else to convey the plot points necessary in this chapter, so for now, in the interest of continuing the story bits that I actually WANT to do, this will have to do. Feel free to tear this one apart, I really don't feel like I did it justice anyway, and I'm really not that emotionally invested in this one.

And yes, there are a LOT of hints here about something not quite being right with how the Krin see the world or how they developed as a race. If you see something that doesn't quite add up with the information that you've been given so far, remember:

You've just noticed a major hint about their history.

Cheers!

Chapter VII

Chapter VII

Doctor Level Head rubbed his temples as he looked down at all the paperwork he had to do. Sometimes he wondered if he should have become a garbage collector. Sure, he saved ponies’ lives as a doctor, but sometimes he wondered if it was worth all the stupidity he had to go through before and after that fact.

With a grunt of frustration, he threw his quill to the table, levitated a small, red ball in front of him, and began weaving magics around it. Very, very slowly, the ball began to change, its smooth sides melting away to reveal a tiny replica of the pony skeleton.

Transmutation magic was his specialty, and he always found the small, detailed work to be the most soothing when his mind was frazzled like this. It always made him feel like he was just on the edge of solving the Spirit/Physical DNA problem and all the issues that came with it.

True, what he was doing now had nothing to do with permanently fixing someone’s spina bifida, but he could at least pretend.

He could at least dream of a world where his brother could walk without his cart.

A sudden slam not only jolted him from his musings, but also broke the spell he was weaving. With what sounded like a small explosion in reverse, the small, articulate model of a pony skeleton snapped back into its original, ball-like shape.

With an upset huff, the doctor looked up at his office door, quite ready to tell whomever had disturbed him off for… well, disturbing him.

At the doorway hovered a blue pegasus with a wild, rainbow-colored mane. The doctor faintly remembered her being one of the Elements of Harmony, which is why he quickly pushed down the irritation that he was feeling at her interrupting him. “May I help you?”

The blue pegasus flew up to his desk in a flash, making him gulp uncomfortably as she slammed her hooves on the wooden surface and looked at him with a piercing, angry glare. “What in Tartarus happened to him?”

At this point, Doctor Level Head was both frightened, and confused. “I-I’m sorry, but what? Who?”

Defender! You operated on him, didn’t you? Shouldn’t you know what those freaks did to him!?” the mare almost shouted at him.

Suddenly, everything became clear for the doctor. She wasn’t angry at him, but heaven help those that she was angry at. “Ah… I see. Calm down, Miss…?”

“Dash, Rainbow Dash!” the mare said, though this time she spoke a little less forceful.

“Well, I regret to inform you that I’m not that kind of doctor. I didn’t do the operation myself, bu-”

Before the doctor could finish, Miss Dash threw her hooves up into the air, and made an inarticulate noise towards the ceiling. “Well, who did do the operation, then!?”

“Again, I must ask you to calm down!” the doctor said again. “I may not be the surgeon responsible, but I was there. Not only that, but I have been on this team since the beginning, and know as much as anyone about what happened to him.”

Miss Dash immediately perked up at that. “So, you can tell me what I want to know?” she asked, practically shoving her nose into his eye with how close she got to him.

“Gah! Yes, I can! But only if you sit down!” he said, trying in vain to regain his personal space through physical means.

Reluctantly, the blue pegasus left the doctor’s bubble and took a seat.

Finally,” the doctor grumbled as he straightened his lab coat. “You need a lesson in manners, Miss Dash.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever… Just tell me everything those overgrown ants did to ~Alex~ already,” Miss Dash said with a flippant wave of her hoof.

“I don’t know.”

There was a moment of quiet, during which the Element of Harmony in front of Level Head looked like she really wanted to take his head off.

“You have three seconds to explain,” she said with a growl.

“Calm yourself, Miss Dash. The only ones who know everything that happened to him are not in any position to tell us anything. After all, the dead do not talk without some serious repercussions for the living,” Level Head said, not intimidated in the slightest. “I do, however, know a little based on ‘Defender’s’ state when he was brought in.”

This, of course, deflated her anger again. “Oh… Well, what do you know, then?”

The doctor sighed, opened one of the many folders in front of him, then shook his head. “Less than I would like, but more than enough to make me fear the creatures responsible. The mechanical devices in his head alone are the stuff of nightmares…

“Wait, they shoved metal into his head!?” Miss Dash asked, looking completely disgusted at the thought.

Level Head looked at her sharply, his eyebrow raised suspiciously. “Didn’t the Princesses tell you anything when they brought you on board? It was the primary way they were controlling him!”

“I… may have zoned out during their more… boring discussions,” Miss Dash admitted sheepishly. She then straightened up, a determined look in her eye. “But that’s why I’m here now. I need to know what they did to him if I’m going to be able to help him!”

Doctor Level Head shrugged a little, accepting her explanation without comment. “Well, Miss Dash, you have your work cut out for you. The damage and modifications on him were quite extensive. Many of them we only know about because of how his body… reacted... to our regeneration magic.”

“Go ahead and lay it on me, doc. And stop calling me 'Miss Dash.’ Rainbow or Dash will do.”

“...Very well, Rainbow,” Level Head said, perusing his patient’s medical records for a second before continuing. “Let’s see… What did we pull out of you…”

* * *

“Why are you still afraid?”

I looked around frantically, my eyes wide as I tried to find the source of the noise. My back met the wood of a nearby tree as I tried to make myself less vulnerable to the fanged death that had been stalking me for the better part of an hour, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was nothing but a stalling gesture. All it meant was that death had to come at me from the front, and the amount of resistance I could put up would probably be akin to a fly attacking a bug zapper.

“Why do you continue to torment yourself?”

I heard a low growl, and the beast slowly approached me, its claws gleaming in the faint moonlight as its maw dripped with some sort of vile ichor. Unbidden, a new emotion began to rise in my chest, one that I was all too familiar with.

With a loud scream, I rushed forward, a rock somehow appearing in my hand as I sought to take down the beast, to push it back, to punish it for tormenting me. It seemed surprised at my sudden change of demeanor, even going so far as to raise its claws in defense, its whole posture changing from one of aggression, to that of timid fear.

I barely noticed, though. My mind was overflowing with rage and hatred, so much so that I had little room in my brain for anything else. With an enraged snarl, I hit the monster over and over again, its face becoming more mangled which each strike. The beast tried to get away, but I wasn't having any of that. With a growl, I grabbed it by the back of the neck and shoved it against the tree, its bones snapping in a sickening way as I slammed it against the hard, unyielding wood.

I went to town on it, my face twisting in anger, even as a quiet voice in my head recoiled in horror as it witnessed the brutality of my actions.

After what seemed like hours, the beast finally stopped moving, and I stepped back, feeling exhausted, but strangely light. I looked down in victory at the lump I had created, a victorious grin on my face, happy that the demon was finally dead.

My grin froze, though, when I noticed the bright orange fur beneath the blood and gore.

I dropped the rock and backed away, horror shooting through my brain as my eyes caught sight of my bloody, suddenly clawed hands. My heart rate quickened and my throat was dry as I looked around me. I wasn't in the forest anymore. Instead, I was in an all-too familiar place, homes around me burned, while on the ground around me were a myriad of bodies, each familiar, each a face I knew. Some were natives of this planet, others were human, while a small, select few were… others. The snake lady was there, as was Captain Hazalk, and the team he had sent to extract me.

All were lifeless and bloody.

“Ah… that’s why…”

Without any further warning, the scene around me began to crack, as if all the horror I could see was nothing more than a stained glass window. My emotions calmed, but I could still feel the guilt and horror bubble underneath, as if they were merely being suppressed, rather than fully fading.

By this point, I had already figured out what had happened, and I already knew what was going to happen. Not really seeing, or caring where I was going, I made my way over to where I knew that my favorite chair would appear, and sat down with a heavy thud before it had even fully appeared, or before the previous dream had fully shattered.

I heard the clip clop of her hooves before I saw her, but I didn’t bother looking up. I had a feeling that I already knew what she was going to say, something about fearing my own power, or some sort of rubbish like that.

“Alex, look at me.” Her voice was firm, but not unkind. I knew that tone of voice, my mother had used it on me countless times, usually after I had done something incredibly stupid. Dutifully, I let my eyes pan up, only to see something I hadn’t expected.

“You fear what you may yet do with your power. That you might one day lose control again.” It wasn’t a question, but neither was it an accusation. Instead, she talked as if she had seen this sort of thing before, her eyes filled with an almost haunted recognition.

I looked away again, regretfully rubbing my arm. “Yeah…”

She stared at me for a bit longer, her eyes searching for something. Whatever it was she was looking for, she seemed to find it, judging by the satisfied nod and slight smile. “Alex, please come with me. There is something I must show you.”

I suddenly noticed a door behind her. It was made of wooden planks and painted a deep blue, with Moon’s mark in the center. Otherwise, it was completely featureless, lacking even a basic handle or latch to open it. “Follow me,” she said as the door opened by itself.

I stood up and followed her. I wasn’t really expecting much when I passed through. Maybe I would find myself back in that little pony town, surrounded by groups of ponies telling me that I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was, or something else equally asinine.

Instead, I found myself in an opulent throne room. It bore some similarities to the throne room that Sun had taken me to when we met Hazalk and his snake friend, such as the general day/night theme, but there were some definite differences.

For example, this place had tapestries, instead of the gorgeous stained glass windows, as well as some sort of podium near the back. It only took me a single turn to take the whole place in, and I quickly noticed that Moon had somehow disappeared when I had.

“Hello? Moon?” I asked as I made my way to the only exit I could see, which were the huge double doors near the front of the hall.

“Not another step!” a familiar voice called out. I quickly turned around to see Moon, standing near the podium, anger written all over her face.

“Um… Moon? Did I do something wrong?” I asked, unsure at her sudden hostility.

“Did you really expect me to sit idly by, while they all basked in your precious light?

“Uh, light? They? What are you smoking, sister?” I asked, now thoroughly lost.

“It is a memory,” a voice next to me said, causing me to turn my head so fast that, if I had been awake, would surely have given me whiplash. Standing next to me was Moon, her gaze locked on the doppelganger of herself, an expression of pain written on her face.

“If this is a memory-” I started to say, but stopped as the Moon in the front of the room began speaking again.

“There can only be ONE Princess in Equestria! And that Princess will be ME!!” she shouted as she crushed the stone podium beneath her apparently mighty hooves. As the podium fell to pieces, a crack began to form in the wall behind her, eventually shattering the wall entirely, revealing a bright sunny day outside.

With a flap of her mighty wings, the memory of Moon took flight, raising her hooves in front of her as the moon behind her mimicked her actions. The second that the moon fully eclipsed the sun, a shadow surrounded the winged unicorn, until I could see nothing but a dark ball of pulsing energy.

“I was jealous of my sister,” Moon said as the sun, eclipsed by the moon, completely disappeared. I couldn’t even see the orange ring anymore. Instead, my view of the outside displayed nothing but the beautiful night sky.

However, since I knew that these two princesses controlled the sun and moon, I easily guessed that that was a bad thing.

“I felt unappreciated, so I sought power that was not my own, to receive the recognition that I felt I deserved,” she said sadly. “Unfortunately, the power I sought had its own agenda.”

There was a sound almost like an explosion, and the orb of darkness that covered the memory fell away. Moon wasn’t her usual blue self anymore; instead, her coat was as black as midnight, her teeth were razor sharp, and her eyes resembled a cat’s. She threw back her head and gave out a cackle in a voice that I did not recognize.

Suddenly, images and feelings flashed through my head. Rage, hate, fear, horror. There were flashes of light, a battle of some sort, high over a city, then a cacophony of colors, followed by an unnatural stillness.

Despite the rush and confusion of what I experienced, I suddenly knew what had happened. “You... You tried to kill everyone?” I asked, horrified.

“I did. But at the same time, I did not,” she said as the memory faded until there was nothing left but a deep darkness, except right where we were standing, as if we were in the middle of a spotlight. I turned to the princess, and realized there were tears in her eyes. “I… I only wanted them to love me, to love my night. But the power I gained, it… consumed me. I became a prisoner in my own body, unable to do anything but watch as I attacked my sister, my people, and my planet.”

Slowly, my right hand reached up, and gently touched the back of my neck. Though this was all a dream, I could still feel the small, metal hole located there. “You’re just like me…”

She shook her head sadly. “Not quite. While you were taken unwillingly, I chose to take the darkness into me. We had similar experiences, yes, but you were an unwilling pawn, while I was an unwitting dupe.”

The darkness faded away, revealing the throne room from before. Except, it was different. There was definitely signs of age, as if this place hadn’t been touched in centuries.

Yet, the memory of Moon was still here, only… younger. A lot younger.

Around her I could see six familiar ponies, all wearing pieces of jewelry that matched the marks on their flanks. Hugging the younger Moon, as if she hadn’t tried to destroy everything she had known and loved, was Sun.

My eyes, however, were on the actual Moon, who was walking among the six that I had already met, looking at them with unabashed gratitude. “Had it not been for these six, I would have remained a pawn. But still, that power, that strength, the ability to destroy this planet remains.”

She gave me a look that, while very familiar, I had not seen on anyone’s face but my own reflection. “It has been over two years since I was freed from my tormentor. I know your pain, because I have lived it myself. I know the terror of having the power to kill, but no desire to do so. I do not use it, because I never want to be that person again.”

“Why are you showing me this?” I asked her, feeling completely bewildered.

She walked towards me, tears still in her eyes, but a look of grim determination plastered on her muzzle. “Because, my friend, I wanted you to know. To know who I was, and what I’ve done. But more importantly, I wanted you to know that what you did doesn’t have to define you.”

She turned around and began walking away, her eyes locked on the rising sun that could be seen outside the ancient castle window. “It isn’t our pasts that define us, but rather, our choices in the here and now. And if someone as wicked as I, who willingly chose the darkness, can turn around and use her power to help others; then someone like you, who was forced into evil, can do far more good than I.”

I walked until I was next to her, my eyes locked on that beautiful sunrise. We stood there for quite some time, just staring as the sun climbed higher and higher into the sky. Finally, I looked over at her, to notice that she was still crying, even though she was smiling. “You should go back. It’s almost time to-”

Before she could finish, I wrapped my arms around her neck, and buried my face into her shoulder. “Thank you for telling me, Moon. I know that couldn’t have been easy for you,” I said as tears ran down my face as well. I briefly thought about how inappropriate it was for an alien like me to hug pony royalty, but I didn’t care. “For what it’s worth, I don’t blame you for what you did.”

“But I-”

“No,” I said, pulling away, yet leaving my hands on her shoulders. “If I’m to forgive myself, then you need to as well.”

“But-”

“No, listen! If my nightmares can get out and cause havoc and destruction, then imagine what yours could do if given the same opportunity,” I smiled at her, then gently reached up, and touched the tip of her nose. The unexpected movement caused her to stop crying, and scrunch her face in annoyance. “Listen to me. Your deal with that power may have been your fault, but everything it did in your body?” I took a deep breath. I knew that if I was to say it out loud to her, it was meant for me as well.

And standing here, in the memory of a place where someone else like me was freed from their imprisonment, the task of forgiveness that had once seemed so daunting now seemed so trivial.

“Everything it did was its fault. Not yours.”

She smiled sadly, and I pulled her back into a hug as tears ran freely from both our faces. I felt light. Far lighter than I had in months, and for the first time in a long time, I found that I couldn’t wait until the next time I found myself asleep.

“Alex, thank-” she started to say, but whatever she said was drowned out by a loud, obnoxious howling sound.

* * *

“GAH! I’M AWAKE!” I shouted as I sat bolt upright, my eyes darting about, trying to figure out what happened.

Hovering just outside of swatting range, but still well within death glare range, was Rainbow, a bright silver whistle in her lips, and a baseball cap on her head. How she got a baseball cap was beyond me, but the importance of that information was insignificant next to how incredibly irritated I felt towards the blue pegasus.

She started shouting at me in her language, waving her hooves for emphasis, and pointing towards me, the door, and the window in rapid succession. With my extremely limited vocabulary, I caught the words ‘teach,’ ‘exercise,’ and ‘muscles.’ Given how our last meeting went, it didn’t take me very long to figure out what she wanted.

I narrowed my eyes dangerously at her, reached behind myself, and calmly, but firmly, chucked my pillow at her head. I then promptly pulled my blanket over my head, and pretended that the rest of the world did not exist.

* * *

Valerie nervously fiddled with the corners of her jacket as she sat and waited, the plastic seat under her feeling cold and hard. As she picked at her coat, she noticed a large, dark burn along its side. A calm, distant voice in her head told her that it was probably from when the aliens shot at and missed her, but she barely even registered it.

She was too busy trying to think of nothing at all.

“Hey, I got you some coffee,” a familiar voice said. She glanced up to see Detective Daniel Callister, a steaming mug in each hand, and an unsure smile on his mustachioed face.

Callister wasn't a tall man, but what he lacked in height, he more than made up for in bulk. He wasn't fat by any stretch of the imagination, just wide and muscular. His brown hair had already started to turn grey, more from the stress of the job, than from any actual aging. He wasn’t wearing his coat at the moment, just his regulation pants and a white, button up shirt, which showed off his sidearm belted at his ribs.

She gratefully took the cup, her eyes glued on its violently rippling surface, and faintly wondered why it was still boiling.

“Eh… maybe I should hold onto that, for you,” the detective said, taking the mug back and setting it on the table next to her. She wondered briefly why it stopped boiling so suddenly, but figured it didn't matter as much as not thinking.

“You feeling any better?” the detective asked as he leaned back against the wall opposite from where she was sitting. He had a concerned look on his face, and she briefly wondered why. After a while of waiting for a response, he decided on another tactic. “So… you wanna tell me what-” he started to ask, but stopped when Valerie spoke for the first time since the boys had found her, huddled next to Jill’s porch, covered in her own vomit.

“Is she okay?”

Callister briefly considered lying to her, but immediately threw that thought out the window. He knew that comforting lies weren't a bandage, but dirt over an already infected wound. “I’m sorry, Val, but it looks like there was a third… thing. We think that after you got the second one, the third grabbed Jill and ran off into the night.”

Val froze at that. “Th… Third!? I only… I only shot…” she said as she began to hyperventilate.

“Val, calm down, It’s… Well... It looks like Jill got the first one. The third… we used dogs to follow its scent to a clearing, but… it kind of...”

“It disappeared, didn’t it?” Valerie asked, easily guessing where this was going.

The detective sighed, rubbing the back of his head with his hand. “...Yeah, it did. It didn’t leave without a trace, though. We found a huge, sunken depression in that clearing. We’re thinking it got away in its… its ship...”

There was a heavy silence that followed, as if openly stating where the monsters had come from somehow made the whole situation more real. “...What if they invade?” Valerie asked, her voice barely a whisper.

Callister sighed, then looked around, his eyes seemingly not wanting to meet hers. “I don’t know… We’ll have to take it as it comes, okay?”

Valerie gave another depressed sniffle, then folded her hands in her lap. “Dan… I-”

“Callister?” a voice interrupted them. The two looked up to see the police chief, his expression unreadable as he gestured towards a thin, severe-looking woman in a dark, plain suit. Her dark hair was tied up in a bun behind her head, and her dark complexion revealed little to no obvious makeup. “This is Agent Vale, of the F.B.I.; go ahead and give her everything she needs. She’ll be taking over the investigation from now on.”

“Gotcha, Chief,” Detective Callister said as he stood up. He then gave the agent a piercing stare, unsure of what to make of her. “So, what would you like to see first, Agent Vale?”

“I first need to see the bodies, to verify their origin,” she said as she adjusted her glasses. “Just a precautionary measure, I assure you. Your pictures were more than enough to convince my superiors of the validity of your claims. After we’re finished with that, we'll see where we go from there.”

The detective gave a worried look towards Valerie, but other than a discontent sniffle, she decided to remain quiet. “Sure. Follow me, I’ll take you to see Jacob, he’s in charge of cold storage and evidence lockup.”

Before he left, though, he gave Valerie one last look. “You going to be okay by yourself?”

She sniffled a little bit, but nodded her head.

“Good. If you need anything, don't hesitate to bother Perkins about it. He’d enjoy the company,” Callister said before leaving, taking the F.B.I. agent with him.

Valerie smiled a bit, but otherwise didn’t say anything. She was having too much trouble with her own thoughts anyway.

* * *

Agent Vale barely spent a minute looking at the corpses before pulling out her phone and hitting one of the numbers she had on speed dial. “Feral? It's Country Girl. Validity confirmed. Give Gamble the green light.”

“So, I take it you’ve seen one of these before?” Detective Callister asked, his tone clearly not amused.

“I’m sorry, but that’s classified.”

The detective lifted a single eyebrow in disbelief. “Classified? Unless you’re planning to kill me, I and my team already know far more than we should.”

She looked at him for a second, then back at the corpse on the workbench. “Let me make this very clear; this is not a cover-up. If it were, we wouldn't be standing here having this conversation. I am not at liberty to tell you anything, but let me remind you of something: you just killed two members of a malevolent alien species and took their equipment. If I were them, I’d already have an extraction team on its way.”

That immediately put the detective on edge. “Do you mean that-”

“I’m sorry, sir, but we do not have any more time to explain,” Agent Vale said as a number of men in hazmat suits entered the room and began to pack up all of the recovered alien artifacts, including the bodies. They worked fast and efficient, packing up everything relevant in a matter of minutes. “Our window of opportunity is closing, and we need to move before they send reinforcements. I suggest you get your men equipped to deal with the possible backlash, but do not fear; we’ve already called the cavalry. They should be here within the hour to reinforce you during the night. For now, though, I need you to take me to your primary witness, she needs to come with us for now.”

As the agent talked, Callister did not feel a sense of security or comfort from her words. All he felt was a mounting sense of dread. “We’re not going to make it, are we?” he asked as the agent turned to see her men out.

She looked back at him, and for a brief second, Callister thought he saw something there. Pity? Compassion? Whatever it was, it was gone before he could identify it. “I wouldn't give up just yet. We’re tougher than we know, and I… Well, let's just leave it at that, before I get us both in trouble. Now, if you’ll lead the way? We need to get your witness to safety as soon as possible,” she said, motioning for him to take her to Valerie, clearly unaware that the young lady they left in the hall was the very person she was looking for.

The detective gave her one last look, but this one wasn’t one of his sharp, searching glares. No, this was one that looked like he wanted reassurances that he knew the agent couldn’t give. With a weak little shrug, he stuck his hands in his pockets and left cold storage, the federal agent in tow.

It didn’t take them long to find Valerie, seeing as she hadn’t moved an inch from where they left her. “Val? Hey, we-”

“You need me to go with the agent, don’t you?” Valerie asked, interrupting the detective.

“We won’t force you to do anything, but if you want to avoid dying, I highly recommend it,” Agent Vale said, adjusting her glasses a little.

Valerie nodded sadly, then stood up. “I already figured something like this was going to happen, especially after all those men in hazmat suits came through here.”

“I’m really sorry about this, ma’am. If you’ll follow me out to the car? You can tell me about what happened on the way to the safe house.”

Valerie didn’t say anything, choosing to instead nod, keep her eyes on the tiles in front of her, and follow the F.B.I. agent as she made her way to the front of the station. Waiting at the front doors were two large, burly men in suits. One was talking to someone on his phone, while the other kept his eyes peeled on the room around them. As soon as the three came around the corner, the one without the phone gave his partner a nudge.

“They’re ready, sir. ETA is thirty minutes. Yes sir, I’ll tell her,” the man then turned off his phone with the press of a button and pocketed it as he looked up at Agent Vale. “Feral just got some blips, they are already on their way. We need to move now.

“Thank you, Agent Coal.” Agent Vale turned to Detective Callister and handed him a small business card. “If you find anything else, or hear about anything else, I suggest you call this number. It won’t answer, but someone will contact you within ten minutes of your call. Good luck, detective.”

Callister took the card, feeling as if it was some kind of cobra, rather than a lifeline. “Thank you, Agent Vale. I have a feeling that I’ll need all the luck I can get.”

Author's Notes:

Well, sorry for being silent for so long. I've been meaning to do this scene for a LONG time, and I really wanted to do it justice. I hope I've done that here, and not majorly disappointed you all.

Tip Jar!

Anyway, I'll be up all night, (I work nights, and today's my day off) so I'll be able to answer a LOT of your comments as they come in. You guys all have a wonderful night!

Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII

Princess Celestia looked at the golem prototype with interest. Now that it had been firmly established that the aliens were not here to kill them all, Celestia had devoted more of the Arcanum towards different pursuits, namely making sense of the new technology that had fallen into their saddles.

It had been decided that, since the technology that ~Alex~ was familiar with was closer to their own, and they even had an instructor to aid in understanding that technology, they would begin by trying to learn about the ~human’s~ 'calculation devices’ first.

Hence the intense study that was going towards the, admittedly incredibly crude, first attempt the ~human~ had made towards creating a golem from scratch. “And he made something this detailed with an Artist’s Matrix?” Celestia wondered to herself out loud.

Unfortunately, one of her mages took that as a non-rhetorical question. “Incredible, isn’t it? It seems that, if one were careful enough, an Artist's Matrix is capable of incredibly detailed work. What’s even more impressive is that the construct did not form in front of him, where the matrix was located, but several feet behind him,” the scientist said. Bunsen Burner was his name, if she remembered correctly. “It may have naturally sensed where Equis’s field was strongest in the room, and used that as its foundation.”

“Were you able to glean anything from his original manuscripts?” Celestia asked curiously.

Bunsen shook his head sadly. “Unfortunately, much of the work was covered in ink stains and alien blood. We were able to clean it off, but the language it was written in is the ~human’s.~ I could use a translation spell on it, but I believe that would do more harm than good. The diagrams and schematics have proven useful, but until the ~human~ has properly learned our language, I believe we have reached a standstill in our research.”

“May I see one of his schematics?” Celestia asked. She had no doubt that she wouldn’t have any more luck than her mages in deciphering the alien script, but she still felt a spark of curiosity at how ~Alex’s~ language looked like in written form.

“Of course, Your Highness.” Bunsen Burner went through several sheets of paper on his desk until he found the one he was looking for. “Here you go. This is probably our most legible sample of its writing.”

Celestia took the page with interest, her eyes scanning over the schematics, but bounced back near the top of the page, her smile turning into a disturbed frown. Slowly, her eyes panned to other portions of the page, her frown only becoming more pronounced as time wore on.

“Is there something wrong, Your Highness?” Bunsen Burner asked.

Celestia glanced up, seemingly surprised that the scientist was still there. “Oh! Uh, no… nothing’s wrong. Just… I need to consult with my sister. Do you still need this?” Celestia asked, holding the page a little higher in her magical grasp.

“No, Your Highness. As I said before, we won't be able to do anything with it until the ~human~ can speak at least passable Equestrian. Until then, we’re kind of stuck here.”

“Thank you, Bunsen. Until that time, I suggest you get back to work on the omniscope. Please, carry on with the good work,” Celestia said as she charged her horn. There was a familiar sensation of disorientation, and suddenly the research wing was replaced by her sister’s bedroom.

Unfortunately, it looked like Luna had yet to go to bed, and wasn’t even in her own room. Celestia pouted in frustration as she charged her horn again. She was still scheduled for a press conference in about an hour, and had a meeting with the alien representatives sometime later today, but she still felt she had enough time to check this suspicion.

She just didn't have time to hunt down her sister. She’d send a note as soon as she got to the library. Hopefully Luna would join her before the real headaches of the day began.

* * *

I grumbled a bit as I entered the training yard. All around us I could see soldiers exercise, perform drills, and generally work hard to make themselves the most deadly force on the planet. There was also a snack table nearby, loaded with large water coolers, and oddly enough, small candies. I made a mental note to ask about that later, but at the moment, I had other concerns.

Many of the soldiers stopped their training when they saw Rainbow, Evening and me enter, followed closely by my escort. “Why are we doing this again?” I asked, still not happy with the blue pegasus.

“We need get you better. All way better, and that involve get you in shape,” Rainbow answered.

“Not only being that, but also need information on you body, how it affect by heal magic, now that heal finally stop. Need know all difference, you only one know where strength lying,” Evening said as she readied her clipboard and quill.

I nodded, getting the general gist of what she meant. They wanted to know how different I was from a normal human’s limits. I immediately spotted a problem with that, though. “Um… well, I don't mean to be negative, but how will we be able to do that without shared units of measurements?”

This made Evening look confused for a little bit, but it was quickly replaced by understanding. “Oh… not think about weight difference… is gravity here different?” She asked curiously.

I shook my head. “No, at least not from what I can tell. Our two planets’ gravities are pretty much the same.” I actually felt pretty confident about this one; stronger muscles or no, you can actually feel it in your bones when you’re in higher or lower gravity.

“Then most lift same, if know weight of similar object.”

I shook my head again. “That’s really not going to cut it. I only lifted weights a couple of times before, so I really have no clue how heavy things are supposed to be.”

Evening deflated a little at that. “Well, still need knowledge about you body work, how strong, heaviest weight to carry, thing like that. So, if start over here? We start small, work way up.”

She led me to an area that consisted of mainly smaller weights, as well as a large collection of unicorn soldiers. Again, I was struck at how similar our two cultures had developed, despite them having hooves. Most of these weights would have gone into a gym back home without a second thought, though there were still a few that I had no clue what they were for.

Shrugging my shoulders a little, I went to what I guessed was the mid-ranged weights and picked up some dumbbells.

“Wow! Careful is being!” Rainbow shouted as I overcompensated and nearly beaned her in the face.

“Sorry! I kind of forgot my strength, there,” I said as I put the weights back. This was true; despite the fact that I had six months to test the limits of my enhanced body, it still never felt real to me. When I had picked up the weights, subconsciously I had judged them to be about twenty to twenty-five pounds, and had lifted with roughly that much force.

These felt more like twenty to twenty-five ounces. Not even remotely heavy.

With a resigned sigh, I moved up to heavier weights, and was just about to grab some before the sound of someone clearing their throat interrupted me.

Standing at my side was one of those 'normal’ Ponies, though another look changed that initial assumption. He had no horn or wings, but his teal eyes were slitted like a cat’s, and his friendly smile revealed a set of fangs, clearly marking him as one of those night-time Ponies. He wasn't wearing anything, though not a whole lot of Ponies out here in the yard were. His clothesless situation only revealed the multitude of scars that ran all over his dark blue coat, though, with the most noticeable one being the scar that ran across one of his eyes.

His messy mane and tail were both tri-colored, an unusual trait in the Ponies I’d seen so far, though his colors were much more muted than the other ponies I’ve seen with multi-colored hair, his being only alternating shades of grey. On his flanks was one of those strange marks that all adult Ponies seem to have; a blue kite shield with a crescent moon superimposed over it. Flanking that shield was a pair of wings, though why that was was anyone’s guess.

He said something to Evening, his tone polite--deferential, even--though it was clearly formed in a question.

“We run test, figure out his strength, how body works, what happen in stress, all thing. Sensing device active, find lots of things about him.”

“Yeah! But main we find limit, so I whip in shape!” Rainbow added, striking a proud-looking pose.

This only seemed to amuse the stallion. He said something, his grin wry, but his tone still respectful.

“Well, if you want, you help,” Evening said as she started making her horn glow.

“Thank you, Lady Twinkle. If follow me? These unicorn weight. We use these make sure War Wizards not fail fitness test. Good idea, work small to big, when exercising. Rule first about work and train new race: When look limits, start big, work down,” the normal pony said with a smile. He then turned around and began cantering towards the other end of the yard. It was the end that I had been deliberately avoiding looking at, since the weights it contained had more in common with local geography than with anything I’d find in Gold’s Gym.

“Pardon me, but what’s your name?” I asked as I nervously eyed a 'normal’ pony lifting a rock that had to have been as large as I was.

“I Warrior Wind. Now, no be nervous, I here help. But please, start by lift this rock here,” he said, as he put his hoof on the boulder next to him.

I blinked in disbelief. The thing was easily the size of my dad’s old toolshed. In fact, I had mistaken it for a decorative piece before Warrior had pointed it out to me. “Uh… I… don’t think that’s even possible…” I said as I made my way around the intimidating rock.

“Uh, yes Warrior, not think most Dirt Ponies lift this big,” Rainbow said next to me.

This immediately freaked me out. “Wait, what’s a Dirt Pony? Are you saying there's a kind of pony that could actually lift something like that!?”

Warrior Wind’s booming laughter could probably have been heard on the other side of the planet. “Defender, I Dirt Pony. We three basic kinds pony, with lower kinds, but basic is Pegasus, Unicorn, and Dirt Pony. Each have gift, but basic is sky, magic and earth,” he explained, clearing up something I had wondered about for a while. “We Dirt Ponies… better is show. Hey! Loudfeet!”

That last part wasn't shouted at me, but at one of the soldiers who was currently working with some of the smaller rocks. They were still huge, but compared to the boulder that I was being asked to lift, they were pretty puny.

The pony in question was the beefiest pony I had ever seen, including that weird white Pegasus with the tiny wings I had seen in the town back near my cave. He dropped the rocks he was carrying and stepped up, his expression questioning, but he didn't say anything. All he did was position himself next to Warrior and snap off a crisp, clean salute.

“Sergeant Loudfeet, minding give friend demonstrate of Dirt Pony strength?” Warrior said, his smile widening with every second.

The Sergeant shouted an affirmative, turned around, stood up on his hind hooves, and stretched his hooves as wide as they could go. He then placed them on the sides of the boulder, clenched his teeth, and grunted, but with no other apparent effort he lifted the rock off the ground.

If that was all he did, I would have still been struck speechless, but he wasn't even remotely finished. With another grunt, the Dirt Pony fell backwards, pulling the rock with him until he was lying on his back. He then positioned his hind hooves on the underside of the rock, got a different grip with his fore hooves, then pushed upwards.

For a brief moment, he looked like he was standing upside down, his feet on the boulder 'floor,’ while his back was holding up the dirt 'ceiling.’ He took a deep breath, bent his knees, then started to bench press what was probably well over four tons.

I stared, blinked, rubbed my eyes, then looked again. Finally, I threw my hands up in disgust. “Why am I even surprised!? I mean, it’s not like your rulers can control the freaking sun and moon or anything! Compared to that, this is practically tame!!”

“You being good?” Evening asked as the Sergeant in front of me righted himself, set down the boulder, and cut a sharp salute to Warrior.

“As you being,” Warrior Wind said with a negligent wave.

The soldier turned and went back to his routine as Warrior turned his attention back to me. “No feel bad if not lift, Thunderfeet work years before that strong. I not even close. That too, but also Dirt Pony. Very strong. But still try, need see if possible, know where maximum alien strength lie, if you is experiment weapon, you have maximum strength?” he asked, suddenly very serious.

They wanted to know what they were up against. I could understand that, but I also knew something that they didn’t; it was that a space-age civilizations wouldn’t be waging a war of troops against troops. Any ground combat would have been a formality, brought on only when they needed to take planetary defensive positions, or to pacify the remaining populus. “No, I wouldn't be a good measure for that. I got the feeling that I was made for stealth, not strength. Yes, I’m stronger than I should be, but you shouldn't assume I’m the strongest they can make. Besides,” I twisted my mouth ruefully, “they’ll only resort to hand-to-hand as a last resort.”

The pony in front of me smiled sadly at that. “You think not know that? They throw rocks from space, kill in instant,” he said quietly, probably to keep the other troops from hearing. “We already know. Huge boon, not being attacked. Huge help, they here defend against real threat. But what happen after? What happen when threat disappear?”

I smiled, nodded, but didn’t say anything. His men needed to believe that they had a leg up on the enemy, even if it was an extremely small one. With no more backtalk, I walked up to the boulder and cricked my neck. “Well, let’s see how much super strength I have left, then.”

With a grunt, I reached out, grabbed each side of the massive rock, and heaved. As I expected, I couldn’t even budge the thing.

“Well, that’s a bust,” I said, releasing my grip and stepping back. I didn’t want to throw my back out, so I hadn’t given it everything I had. I just knew that what I had wasn’t enough.

“Very good. Next!” Warrior said, immediately regaining his cheery demeanor and waving me towards a much, much smaller, yet still quite hefty, rock.

"This is going to be a long day…” I said as I bent down and wrapped my arms around its stony surface.

* * *

Rainbow Dash and Twilight watched the ~human~ try rock after progressively smaller rock until he found one that he could at least move.

“Good! That puts you at a little above average for Earth Ponies!” Twilight said, making a note of it on her clipboard.

“Jeez, if that’s what he’s like with enhancements, then how did his race hunt the other things on his planet?” Rainbow whispered to Twilight, disbelief in her voice. “I mean, he’s a carnivore, right? Doesn’t that mean he has to catch and kill things if he wants to eat? If he’s this weak, is everything on his planet weaker?

“Rainbow, he’s not just a carnivore. He’s an omnivore, like a Thestral, or Captain Knight Breeze over there,” Twilight reproved her.

Rainbow just shrugged a little. “Whatever, my question’s still there, though. If his race is nothing but weaklings, then how did they hunt? The claws aren’t natural, and we’ve seen how his teeth are supposed to look like, and they’re pretty stupid for that, if you ask me.”

“Rainbow, you’re forgetting his planet doesn’t have magic! Earth Ponies augment themselves with magic, so it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t need to be that strong!” Twilight pointed out. She stared at ~Alex~ thoughtfully for a bit, though, as he held the rock in different stances and positions according to the captain’s instructions. “But… you do have a point, there. Griffons use weapons to hunt now, but before that, they used their claws and talons. Night Tribe ponies primarily ate fish as their meat source... but ~Alex’s~ people don’t look like predators. He’s really more of a… scavenger, now that I think about it.”

“No, we hunters,” a voice called out, making them realize that the ~human’s~ hearing was better than they thought.

Both ponies looked up to see ~Alex~ put down a rock that was a bit bigger than his torso, a wry expression on his face.

“If you’re a hunter, then how did your people hunt when first starting out?” Twilight asked curiously.

“Yeah, you got to admit, you guys don’t look particularly impressive,” Rainbow added.

The ~human~ grinned, his unnaturally sharp teeth and black, soulless eyes making the friendly gesture a lot more unnerving than he probably intended. “You right, Evening, Rainbow. We bodies not built be predator. We bodies built scavenger, and compare most other creature, we look pitiful. We MINDS, though...” He trailed off, as if he were trying to figure out how to say what he was trying to say.

“Um… you aren’t really making a good case for yourself when you said you were a hunter there, pal,” Rainbow said, a little confused.

Suddenly, ~Alex’s~ face lit up, as if he had thought of something. “Tell me, how long you run?”

This seemed to confuse the ponies even further. However, this did not stop Rainbow from puffing out her chest and flying a little higher. “My wing power is 16.5! I’m able to break the speed of sound if I have to!” she said, her pride ringing through her voice.

The ~human~ looked impressed, but a little confused. “While that… cold, not what asked. How long can run? How long keep pace? How long till need food? Water? Sleep?”

This deflated Rainbow a bit. “I… I don’t know about food and sleep and stuff like that, but I can go for about fifteen minutes at full speed until I need rest, about a half an hour to an hour if I go a bit slower,” Rainbow said with a shrug.

Captain Breeze let out a low whistle. “That pretty impressive, Miss Dash. Most ponies are only capable of about thirty minutes tops before they’re wasted.”

“As for food, water and sleep, a pony can go about one and a half days without water, six without sleep, and two weeks without food,” Twilight rattled off.

The human nodded, his eyes twinkling with mischief, then got back up. “Tell me, if you were, say, pig, and I were walk up to you, what would do?”

“Depends on the pig,” Rainbow said with a shrug.

The human raised an eyebrow at this.

“If it were one of Fluttershy’s or Applejack’s pigs, he probably wouldn’t do anything. Just sit there and wonder what you were doing,” Rainbow said with a shrug.

Twilight frowned at her. “I think he meant out in the wild, Rainbow.”

“Oh.” Rainbow thought for a second. “I guess I’d run away.”

The human smiled again. “You right. On my planet, we have creature similar to you pig. Would do same thing, if human walk up. In fact, most creature we hunt do that. Run second see, run second smell. They fast, too. Faster than us.” He looked like he wanted to say something else, but shook his head and looked around. “Is there track nearby? Need show. Can’t just tell.”

Rainbow perked up at this. “Track? Like a race?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.

“Hm… Kind of. Special race, special rules. You want?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

“Heck yeah, I want to race!” she shouted, pumping her hooves into the air.

Twilight looked at her sheet of paper, then shrugged. “Well, we needed to test his endurance and speed next, anyway, so…”

“This way. The guard’s track is just through these doors,” Knight said, cantering towards a small door set into one of the walls of the training yard. He pulled it open, then made his way through. Several troops followed him, clearly in interested in seeing where this was going.

Rainbow, Twilight, and ~Alex~ followed them, and got their first look at the Royal Guard’s running track. It was a pretty good-sized one, obviously used to train soldiers to be able to march in heavy armor for long periods of time. Both Rainbow and ~Alex~ lined up at the start, with the soldiers taking the stands nearby.

“So, what are the rules?” Rainbow asked, her competitive spirit shining brightly in her eyes.

“Very simple. You not use wings, only run. No let me get ahead you,” the human said as he began to go through an odd series of stretches. “Go fast as want, slow as want. You may lap many times as want. But my position ever reaches yours, not include lapping, you lose.”

Rainbow looked confused. “How do I win?”

The human just gave her another one of those sharp-toothed, unnerving grins. “You win if I give up,” he said simply. “And for purpose of match, me collapse counts give up.”

“I’ll keep track of the laps,” Twilight said, holding up her clipboard and quill.

“It would probably be better if you used the chalkboard over there, Miss Sparkle,” Captain Breeze said, pointing to the other end of the field as he went to sit with his stallions. “That way, we and the competitors can see where they are.”

“Ah, good idea, Captain. Thank you,” Twilight said as she trotted over to the board.

Both the ~human~ and Rainbow continued stretching for a bit, until they finally signalled that they were ready. They both crouched down in front of the starting line, Rainbow’s face contorted into a look of fierce determination, while ~Alex~ had one of mild certainty.

“Oh, one thing more,” ~Alex~ said, only loud enough for Rainbow to hear. “Make sure you be careful, there. Don’t kill self, try get away, okay?”

Rainbow frowned at that. “Wait, what?”

“On your mark, get set, GO!” Twilight shouted.

In a multicolored flash, Rainbow had shot out of the gate, determined to put as much distance between herself and the human as possible. She wasn’t going as fast as she possibly could, though, simply because of the no wings rule, and because of the fact that there was no finish line to race to. However, she still was going pretty freaking fast, probably somewhere around sixty miles per hour.

She passed him in a little more than a minute, again in almost three, and a third before five. Even though he pumped his arms as fast as he could, his legs moving like pistons, and his breath was already a heavy panting, his speed really wasn’t that impressive. Even with her constant passing, he still had a look of grim certainty on his face, as if he already knew how this was going to play out.

“Come on, you slowpoke! Aren’t you going to catch me?” Rainbow taunted him as she trotted backwards for a few yards, easily keeping pace with him. “You’ll never get me at that rate!”

All the ~human~ did was grin, shrug, and keep running. Rainbow shook her head, turned herself around, and turned on the juice again.

She couldn’t keep up that pace for long, though, slowing down to a canter, a brisk trot, then to a fast walk. She had about twenty laps on him now, and since the track was about a mile long, he would have to travel a pretty hefty distance to reach her. She was tired, though. Her legs were aching, and she was short of breath. If she had been allowed to use her wings, she probably would have been at least three times as far, and not nearly as winded.

That being said, she still felt pretty confident about where she stood. She spotted ~Alex~ just ahead of her, his legs still pumping, but his speed was about a third of what Rainbow had been doing. “I can’t believe it. He’s never going to catch me like that!” she said.

* * *

“She’s fast, I think I’m in love,” Lieutenant Feather said, his eyes glued to the blue pony below.

“This isn’t even her top speed, you goof. If she’d been using her wings, she’d have been going so fast she would have made a Sonic Rainboom by now,” Sergeant Thunderhooves said, his eyes fixed on the strange alien below. “Cap, what did you say the rules of this shindig were, again?”

“She loses if he catches her, but he loses if he gives up. Collapsing counts,” Captain Breeze said, his eyes locked on the spectacle below. The ~human~ couldn’t match her speed; he was barely going twenty miles per hour. There was absolutely no way he’d beat her in a straight dash, but something about the way he moved set him on edge.

“That all? I betcha fifty bits he gives up after only forty minutes,” Thunderhooves said, waving his hoof in disdain.

“I dunno, he’s got a lot of gumption, I’d give him fifty, tops,” Lieutenant Feather said, his eyes never leaving the track.

More bets were made as Rainbow’s lead increased by a larger and larger margin. Eventually, she slowed down after the thirty minute mark, stacking an impressive thirty laps against his almost pitiful ten.

“Is that the fastest you can go?” she shouted loud enough for everyone to hear.

The human shouted something else back in his own tongue.

“What’d he say, Captain?” Sergeant Thunderhooves asked curiously.

“He said: ‘Yeah, pretty much.’” Captain Breeze said, his eyes narrowing in thought. Suddenly, his eyes widened as something occurred to him. “Boys, what’s the current betting pool?”

“Fifty bits each on when he gives up. The longest time is Soft Shoes here, who thinks he’s going to give up in about an hour.

Captain Breeze stared at the human for a few seconds longer before turning to the others. “Fifty bits says he catches her in roughly two hours.”

The others started laughing. “No way, Cap. If that’s the fastest he can go, he’ll have to kill himself to reach her!” Lieutenant Feather said dismissively. “There’s no way he’d catch up; the moment he takes a second to catch his breath, she’ll gain another thirty laps on him! There’s no way he’ll beat her!”

The captain didn’t say anything. Instead, he just settled down for the long haul. Officially, he wasn’t on duty. Unofficially, he and his stallions were standing guard, making sure that none of these tests were interrupted by outside interference. Compared to watching an empty room for six hours straight, watching a race like this was practically carnival-level entertainment.

“Fifty on him winning,” he said again.

The others just rolled their eyes and continued watching. If the captain wanted to blow half a day’s wages on something this trivial, they weren’t about to complain.

* * *

I wasn’t out of shape. At least, not exactly.

Every morning I did the usual suite of calisthenics: pushups, situps, and squats, as well as a few things of my own design. Not only that, but the alien tech in me was more than enough to keep me in shape as long as I was fed. After all, they kept us stored in a tank, only letting us out for missions. It stood to reason, then, that they had put in some form of built-in exercise to keep us in fighting shape.

That being said, I wasn’t really used to running this fast for this long. I could still do it, no doubt about it. It was just that my muscles were going to hate me for it later.

Yeah, I could move a lot faster than this, but only in short bursts. Moving like that would have tired me out instantly, and besides, moving like that was only for dodging plasma fire.

No, like the good old tortoise of old, slow and steady was going to win this one.

Thirty minutes passed, and Rainbow had already slowed down to a crawl. Huh, good to know they can’t keep something like that up forever, I thought when she failed to pass me. I knew it was a good idea to keep her from using her wings; otherwise we would have been here for days as I tried to catch up to her. My augmented ears could hear her labored breathing behind me, but that only fueled my determination.

I was going to win this; she just didn’t know it yet.

* * *

After an hour, the other soldiers were just staring in blank comprehension. “He’s breathing heavily, right? He’s about to pass out, right!?” Thunderhooves asked, worry bleeding into his voice. “Should we… Should we call a medic?”

“He’s breathing heavily, but if anything, he just hit his stride,” Soft Shoes said quietly. “What… What are these things made of? Steel!?

“Oh, dear Celestia, he just passed her again,” Lieutenant Feather said after rubbing his eyes a bit.

Fifteen more minutes passed, and he was still going at that same, steady, deceptive pace that just seemed to eat the track underneath him. Lap after lap disappeared behind him, and after another fifteen minutes, he was already up to thirty, while Rainbow had barely completed an additional ten.

Rainbow Dash seemed to have realized this, judging by the way she started picking up her pace again.

The thing was, though, that the pony body might have been capable of stupendous feats and magically augmented powers, but each one of those abilities burned calories faster than a dragon torched a town. They needed food, water, and lots of rest in order to perform any of them. It was the reason why candy, sweets, and other high-calorie foods were so popular among the Equestrians; magic was such a central part of their everyday lives that they needed all those extra calories just to get by.

But not ~humans,~ apparently.

Even though she was going much faster than before, it wasn’t nearly at the same breakneck pace as when she started. She was struggling, and it showed.

Fifteen more minutes and he was still gaining, even with her increased speed. He was only twelve laps down, now, and Rainbow looked like she was freaking out. With a sudden noise of panic, she took off as hard and as fast as she could, trying to get back the lost distance.

It was too bad, then, that she had nothing left in the tank.

She only made it another lap before she collapsed on the ground, panting as if she were trying to suck in all of Equis’s air as quickly as possible. Shaking like a leaf, she got back up to her hooves and tried to put a little more distance between them, but she fell again, and did not get back up.

The ponies present got up and rushed forward, just as the human passed her. He was only eleven laps down, now, and Captain Breeze knew that it wouldn’t take too long for him to catch up with her. Another half hour at most, especially if she wasn’t moving any. He seemed to realize this, and with victory in sight, he increased his speed. Not significantly, but just enough to be noticed.

“Rainbow, are you alright!?” Twilight said as she came up to her wheezing blue friend.

“I’m… I’m okay… I… I just need… a drink… of water…” she gasped as she lay there, cradling her front right hoof. Lieutenant Feather reached out to help her, but she just waved him off. “I’m okay, I still got to win this. He can’t keep running like that forever, right?”

With a rhythmic thumping sound, the ~human~ came around the bend again, and passed the ponies gathered there. “Ten more laps,” he said, as casually as you might tell someone that it was a fine day today.

“Get out of here, you guys! I have to win this!” Rainbow shouted, waving the crowd off. Once they backed away sufficiently to suit her tastes, she got back up to her hooves, and very slowly, began putting one hoof in front of the other.

She was able to complete an additional lap before he finally caught up to her. He was still breathing heavily, and sweat was pouring down his face, but otherwise he didn’t look any worse for wear. ~Alex~ said something as he came up to her and lightly touched her withers, but whatever it was, Captain Breeze was too far away to hear.

The ~human~ came to a halt just as Rainbow sat down heavily, her tongue hanging out like a dog as she tried to catch her breath. The other ponies all rushed over, eager to hear what the two were saying.

“How did you freaking do that?” Rainbow asked between gasps, completely perplexed.

~Alex~ said something, something that sounded more like a speech, than anything, but whatever it was made the ponies that could understand him pale.

“Sir, what did he say?” Thunderhooves asked, somewhat confused.

Knight Breeze gulped, shook his head, then looked at his subordinate. “He said; ‘Three days no water, no sleep for over week, a month no food. When prey bed down sleep, we never stop running. When prey run for lives, we follow, using tracks for guides for days. We need no claws, teeth or magic to make kill.’” Knight Breeze shook his head again, then looked up at the human with an odd mix of wonder and horror. “‘No, our natural weapon determination. We weaponized will to never give up.’”

Author's Notes:

Well, here's the next chapter! I hope you enjoyed it!

Also, for any of you who think that this isn't how this would go down, just remember: Rainbow is an athlete, but her specialty is flying. Applejack and Pinkie Pie are both able to keep up with her if she's bound to the ground. Pinkie even more so, because she's freaking Pinkie. Also, remember the time where Pinkie was hunting Dash, hoping that she'd be down for some pranks? Rainbow got winded and gave up pretty easily, all things considered.

Anyway, make of this what you will, and if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. After all, I'm not a horse specialist. I'm a computer programmer with a penchant for writing, so I am REALLY open to suggestion.

Tip Jar!

Chapter IX

Chapter IX

“Hey, how about we get something to eat?” I asked as my stomach started to growl. “I mean, we’ve been out here for a while, and while most of my species can go without food for a long time, we don’t really prefer it that way.”

Rainbow was still bone tired, though that was probably to be expected. We had gone a ridiculous distance, even for human standards. Not that a normal human couldn’t have gone that far, just that they probably couldn’t have made it in a little under three hours. That being said, she was still flat on her stomach, her tongue hanging out, with a tumbler of water cradled in her hooves. She perked up immediately, though, when I mentioned getting some food. “I am in vote food too, yes!”

Evening looked longingly at her list, then with a sigh, put it back into her bags. “Yes is being…”

Both Rainbow and I cheered at those words.

“But only because being late for language lessons!” she said, waving a hoof at me. “As soon eating is done, back to learn!”

Now, if you’ve never had a four-foot-tall pony wave her hoof at you while looking stern, I highly recommend it. Something about a disapproving, motherly look coupled with a pony face just looks flat-out hilarious. I know she was trying to impress upon me the seriousness of what she was saying, but it took all my willpower not to burst out laughing at her.

I put my hand over my mouth in an effort to hide my grin, but I think she might have noticed.. “O-Okay, I gotcha.”

She gave me a hard look at that, but didn’t pursue the issue. With another long-suffering sigh, she waved us all back towards the castle door where food and rest were waiting. My guards followed us back in, though I couldn’t help but notice a slight wariness about them. My little demonstration really must have freaked them out. “Come on, guys. I’m not going to bite.”

They looked at me funny, and Rainbow, who was hovering next to me, gave a dissatisfied snort. “Ignoring is them. They just surprised, all being.”

I gave them one last look, but shrugged my shoulders. “Okay, whatever you say.”

As we meandered through the halls, I noticed that I was starting to understand the layout of this place. At least, the layout of the small corner I was allowed to inhabit. Good skill to have, in case this place was ever attacked, or I needed to leave in a hurry.

We reached my room pretty quickly, and I wasn’t surprised in the least to find Scroll already there waiting for us. He had a very put-upon expression, but immediately brightened up when he saw us enter the room. He said something to the others, and I managed to pick out the words ‘work’ and ‘waiting’, but nothing else.

“We get food first, then start lesson. Yes is being?” Evening asked him.

I heard a few more words, one that sounded like 'later’, but the rest was way too fast for me to understand. Evening nodded and turned to me, her smile a little apologetic. “Food is already on way. Why not get started while wait?”

I thought about this for a second, then sat down on the edge of my bed. “Well, I don’t see why not.”

Rainbow didn’t seem to like the idea much, but that was okay. She wasn’t the one who needed to learn a new language, after all. That privilege was reserved solely for me.

“Let’s get started, then!” I said, clapping my hands together as I plopped down on the bed. This was shaping up to be a long day, but that really didn’t matter to me.

At this point, I was just happy to be safe and alive.

* * *

When sneaking through a hostile enemy fortress, there are several ways to avoid being seen: One can kill or incapacitate any who see them, stick to the shadows, create a distraction, or pretend as if one belonged in the first place.

For a Changeling, the fourth option was as natural as breathing. While the other three options had their benefits, pretending that you belonged in the first place carried the least amount of risk and had the highest chance of success in Skitter's humble opinion. This was why she was currently disguised as one of the castle’s wait staff, on her way up to the restricted wing with a platter of food that was somewhat suspect for the pony palate.

“Hey, Honey Dew; we still on for tonight?” A fairly burly Solar Guard Pegasus asked, his smile a bit dopey.

“You know it!” Skitter said in her stolen form’s best confident voice. Inwardly, however, she was berating herself for being so careless. Of course her coltfriend is in the Royal Guard. Why would I think this would be easy?

Usually, this would have been a perfect opportunity to feed. The love coming off of the stallion was overwhelming and would have easily kept her hive running for a month, if not several.

However, Skitter was not on a collection run. The guard's familiarity with Skitter's current form meant that her time was limited; eventually, she would make a mistake, and because of Queen Chrysalis’s failed attempt to take Canterlot, they would immediately jump to the conclusion that she was a changeling.

That mad queen had done so much harm to all the hives that even collecting wasn't a simple process anymore.

The pegasus’s partner, a Night Sentinel Earth Pony, moved forward and hooked the trolley’s other handle with his hoof. “I’ll take that off your hooves.” He pushed the trolley to a waiting private, who started wheeling it down the hall and towards its eventual destination.

Skitter gave the assembled guards a winning smile as she turned to leave. “Well, I better get going! Lots of work to-oof!” She rubbed her nose a little, and looked up at the person that had managed to sneak up on her. He was a rather large unicorn stallion, dressed like a Solar Guard, and bearing a Sergeant’s plume. The unicorn had a mild grin on his face that seemed to want to communicate friendliness and familiarity, but the emotions coming off of him were nothing but pure malice.

She gave him a nervous smile then moved out of the way of the guard, all while bowing her head. “I’m sorry about that, sir.”

The stallion’s smile became even wider, almost as if he thought it was the funniest thing in the world. “Hey, don’t worry about it! Everypony makes mistakes!” The stallion’s voice was just a little too chipper for the amount of killing intent coming off of him, which only made Skitter more nervous. “You should head back to the kitchens; I bet they’re positively a wreck without you!”

“Thank you, sir!” Skitter said as she quickly bowed a couple more times, before finally ducking around a corner. Once she was out of sight of the guards, she did a quick jog through the corridors until she found a suitable place to think. It was a closet, but when someone is freaking out in a place they aren’t supposed to be in, they usually have very little in the way of options.

“Okay, I found him. What do I do now?” she wondered aloud as she tried to get her heartbeat under control.

It took a lot longer than she would have cared to admit.

Once she was calm, she took a few deep, cleansing breaths and tried to think her way through this dilemma. Her options were limited, with each worse than the one before it. I could try and take another form to follow him, but that would raise suspicion if a guard didn’t report in. I could report back to the queen… but it would take days to get back. The beacon magic only works one way, and I don’t have time to set up another one... I could… No, that’d expose my whole hive, and we’d be destroyed in a day…

She must have spent a good thirty minutes wrestling with herself before she finally sighed and let her head thump into the wall in front of her. There just isn't a simple solution to this, is there? I either reveal my hive, or the Promethean dies...

With a deep, steadying breath, she turned back to the door and turned the handle. So far, the best course of action would be to go back to her post and keep her ear to the ground, in hopes that something would turn up.

Hopefully, that something would turn up before everything went to Tartarus.

* * *

Rainbow Dash was Bored.

This wasn’t any ordinary kind of boredom, either. This was Boredom with a capital B. She knew how important it was for Defender to learn Equestrian, but come on! This stuff wasn’t just boring, but it was something she had mastered when she was a filly! At least make it interesting, you two, she thought as Written Script started going over small, simple phrases that Defender could use when there wasn’t a pony who knew translation on hoof.

To the wayward ~human’s~ credit, he seemed to be picking everything up pretty fast; needing only to be told a word and its meaning once before memorizing it. He seemed to be struggling with pronunciation, though; particularly any of the whinny or tongue rolling sounds.

Rainbow rolled over onto her back, her legs splayed out in every direction as she waited. If food wasn’t coming immediately, then now seemed like a pretty good time for a nap. Just when she started to get comfortable, though, the door opened to reveal an Earth Pony guard pushing the food cart. “At last! I thought I was going to die!”

Twilight gave her a disapproving look. “Rainbow, that’s for ~Alex.~ If you were that hungry, you could have gone down to the kitchens at any time.”

Rainbow just shrugged, waving off Twilight’s comment with a negligent roll of her hoof. “Eh, food always tastes better if you bum it off someone else.”

If anything, Twilight’s scowl grew even more pronounced. Before she could say anything, though, Defender let out an amused chuckle as he pulled the cover off of his food. “That okay, you have some, but not eat fish.”

Rainbow Dash made a sour face as she got up and sat down next to Defender. “You can keep that part. I just want the cornbread and jelly.”

Defender gave her a brief look, looked at the food, back at her, then slid the named items towards her. “Here, eating is up!”

Rainbow scooped up the food and quickly began devouring it, despite the disapproving glare she was receiving from Twilight. “Geez, Twilight. Lighten up! It’s not like I’m stealing all his food!”

“That’s not the problem, Rainbow. We still don't know everything about his new body! Part of these tests were about how he metabolized various plant and animal based matter. This is really important, you know!”

Rainbow just shrugged a little, then went back to eating. “Yeah, whatever.” Once her mouth was half full of cornbread and Twilight was sufficiently ignored, she turned to the alien sitting next to her, a question on her mind that she’d been meaning to ask for a while now. “Say, Defender. What was it like living back on your home planet?”

Defender seemed taken back by this. “Oh… well, we… home very similar. In fact, our technology similar to you about… hundred? Hundred fifty years ago? Our days similar length, our cities big, and-”

Rainbow shook her head, then took a second to swallow before interrupting him. “No, big guy! I’m talking about you. What was it like growing up?”

The alien smiled, then looked away. “I knowing what you mean. Just… thinking home, make home sickness…”

Twilight immediately got a panicked look on her face--one that was marred by the look of pure joy she had been wearing just moments ago at hearing about an alien culture. “Rainbow! Don't-”

Defender waved her off, though, before she could build up any kind of steam. “No worry about. No shame asking, in fact, want remember home. Just… it hard, okay? Not easy, know never see again.”

The look in his eyes said 'sad,’ but his smile said 'please don't make me stop.’ Eventually, Twilight’s curiosity to hear of the ~human’s~ homeworld won out. “...If it’s not too much trouble, I’d love to hear about you, too.”

Defender smiled and put a hand on his chin in a thoughtful gesture. “I born in place called-” He said several words that didn't translate, as well as some that did, but all of them were mixed up together. If Rainbow were to hazard a guess, though, she would have said that he named his country first (Aamareikaa), his province next (Maain), then his city (which actually did translate, though its name came out as 'Land of Ship Ports’). “I youngest three, living with older brother and sister, Mom, Dad and Uncle. Use move around lot, before I born, but stop because Dad get back. No need move anymore. Only need take care.”

“What’s he saying?” Written Script asked Twilight quietly.

“Oh, sorry, here.” Without another word, Twilight’s horn flashed, allowing Written Script to understand the conversation.

“We good?” Defender asked.

Twilight nodded her head and gave the ~human~ a curious smile. “Yes, please continue. Tell me, why would your family stop moving when your father 'came back?’ Where was he, anyway?”

Defender shrugged a little before spooning another mouthful of food into his mouth. “Dad in military. He move around a lot because military move him. Family move with, until he discharge. Uncle move in to help after that.”

Rainbow Dash perked up at that. “Wait, why would your uncle need to move in to help? Wasn't your mom and your dad around? Why would they need another adult?”

Defender smiled at her before spearing another slice of fried fish on his fork and scooping it into his mouth. Once he was finished with the bite, he speared another morsel on his fork before answering. “Well, Dad not well, after home. Mom need take care him, and us. Her brother come, help out much can. Pretty much be second father. Many time Dad slap me up head with remaining hand when not listen to Uncle May God Exalt.”

Written Script looked like he was going to be sick. “Remaining hand? What happened to him? And why didn’t your doctors use regeneration magic to heal him!?”

Twilight gently put a single hoof on Written Script’s withers. “~Alex's~ world doesn't have magic.”

Written Script quickly turned to the young unicorn, then back to Defender, shock written on his face. “Wait, as in, none at all? How is that even possible!?

Defender smiled ruefully at the grey unicorn, his eyes showing that he didn’t quite believe it either. “I tell you, it quite real. Was real shock, come here and find fairy tale real. Magic is legend where come from. No one real magic. Only fake, make believe or hand-faster-than-eye trick.”

Really? Then how do you control your sun? Your moon? What about the weather?” Script asked, completely confused.

“We don’t. This stuff self control. Wild. World spin around sun, moon around planet. Gravity keep pull together, while momentum keep apart.”

Twilight already had her notebook out and was busy writing every word the alien spoke when Rainbow Dash decided to get them back on track. “Woah, woah, hold it right there. We can talk all about that egghead stuff later. Right now, I want to hear more about you. I mean, we barely know anything about you, big guy!”

Twilight looked down at the notepad, regret clear in her face, before putting it down again. “...Yes, sorry, you’re right, Rainbow. Please, Defender what were you saying about your father’s injuries?”

Defender looked like he wanted to say more about his world, but shrugged and continued his story. “Well, there… device. It used in war, to hurt people, machines. Cause explode, send tiny shard metal everywhere, high speed, when step on.”

The three Ponies present looked absolutely horrified at the thought of such a device. “And… and your father… stepped on…?”. Rainbow tried to ask.

Defender shook his head, his lips still turned up into a smile, oddly enough. “No, he no step on. Variant of device can do many thing, such as put on high speed machine he was go to drive, explode when sit down, or open door. Enemy want kill him and troop, but he heard it active before go off. Warn friends, stay away. They send in explosion disarm, but it go off before they arrive.”

Twilight looked confused at this. “If… If he heard it… then why did he-”

“He stay, because afraid if move, set off explosion immediate. Give explosive disarm chance to work. It go off first,” Defender said, his voice and expression still oddly chipper for someone who was talking about how their father almost died. “He armor save him, but still lose arm, leg immediate. Other leg mangle, had removed in hospital, but save him life.”

“How… how can you be so upbeat about this?” Written Script asked, his voice filled with two parts horror and one part nausea. “Your father almost died! He was basically turned into a cripple for life, and you… you sound almost proud that this happened to him!“

Defender gave him a cheeky grin, then winked at him, and Rainbow realize a little too late that none of the emotions the ~human~ had been putting out had been bravado. He genuinely was proud of his father’s actions. “But… But...” Rainbow couldn’t quite wrap her head around it. It wasn’t the pride that she had difficulty with, but the utter lack of sorrow, or pain.

It was a completely alien concept to her.

Defender noticed her confusion, and put a hand on her head, which she quickly batted away in annoyance. He chuckled at that. “Yes. He me hero. Of course I proud him! He stare death in face, and first thought is get him people safe. Almost die in hospital, say that only thing keep going, keep alive, was thought of children left behind, child on way, and mother he leave raise both. Refuse leave mother alone. Refuse leave family behind. Still have father, even if broken father.”

The ponies fell silent, as did Defender, who chose to take this opportunity to focus on his food. Before he was halfway done, the door creaked open to reveal a tall Unicorn Solar Guard that Rainbow was unfamiliar with. Rainbow’s eyes caught the quickest glimpse he made towards Defender, but that was his only break from the otherwise legendary taciturn mannerisms of the Equestrian Guard.

“Can I help you?” Twilight asked politely.

The guard didn’t answer at first. Instead, he approached Twilight as his horn began to glow, and without any sort of fanfare, he pulled out a rolled up scroll from under his armor. “Ma’am, one of your old teachers asked me to deliver this to you. He said it was urgent.”

Twilight looked confused and moderately worried. “Old teacher? Who was it!?” she asked as she unfurled the letter.

Before Rainbow could make a snarky comment, though, there was a sudden, blinding flash of light emanating from the letter, a loud, ear-shattering bark, and pain that seemed to attack her from every single one of her nerve endings.

As suddenly as it had began, it was over. Her muscles seemed to have locked up, and she was having trouble even caring. She barely managed to work up enough energy to look up, only to see a funny, black and teal, bug-like pony where the guard used to be. The creature looked familiar, but at the moment, she was unable to figure out where she had seen something like this before. Funny… guard ponies aren’t supposed to look like that… she thought right before darkness took her.

* * *

Celestia sighed with relief as she sat down in her waiting room. While she knew it was necessary, she still hated talking with the press; they always assumed the worst, and were so very easy to panic. Tell them that you’re changing a long-standing tax law, and they assumed that the Griffon Empire was about to invade.

They had just about had a conniption when she had told them that aliens had landed in Canterlot.

Princess Celestia! Is it true that the aliens are planning on turning us all into lunchmeat!?

Princess Celestia! Does the alien menace have anything to do with the meteor strike that occurred on Whitetail Peak about seven months ago?

Princess Celestia! What is the connection to this, and to the ‘White Yeti’ that was rumored to inhabit Whitetail Woods?

Princess Celestia! What about the rumors of you seeing a dashing Earth Pony stallion? Have you abandoned your alleged lover due to the increased stress that the alien incursion has put upon you?

Celestia groaned in frustration, ignited her horn, and summoned her favorite tea set from the kitchen downstairs. Her staff had apparently anticipated her needs, again, seeing as how it contained a few choice goodies that she normally did not allow herself. I really need to stop being so predictable, she thought as she examined the tray before her. It had been stocked with not only an especially strong brew of her favorite tea, but also with a large selection of chocolates, fudge, and cookies.

Celestia gently levitated a piece of fudge to her lips and bit down. The sugary chocolate flooded her tastebuds, calming her nerves, and temporarily making her forget about the stress from earlier. As if this was somehow a signal to the rest of the universe to spoil the moment, the door to her waiting room rang out with three, solid knocks.

“It just cannot last…” Celestia muttered to herself. What she said loud enough for the visitor to say, however, was: “Come in!”

The door creaked open, allowing a more pleasent surprise than what she was expecting to enter. “Did you survive your meeting with the media, my sister?” Princess Luna asked as she peeked her head around the door.

“Oh, thank the Spirits of Harmony it’s just you. Please, come in and sit down,” Celestia said, motioning towards the couch that was on the other side of her coffee table.

“I apologize for not coming when I received your earlier letter, but I had a somewhat… interesting conversation with ~Alex.~ I think I’ve made some real progress with him, and needed some time to meditate on what I learned,” Luna said a little evasively. “What did you want to talk about, though? Your letter made it sound important.”

“Ah, yes. I need you to look at something, and tell me what you think,” Celestia said as she levitated a piece of paper from a nearby desk.

Luna took the paper with interest and scanned a critical eye over what was written there. However, one look was all she needed to recognize what she was looking at. “It is a transcript from that book that Starswirl always carried with him. Still as unreadable as it has ever been, since that paranoid old coot wouldn’t even let us look at it until long after the aetheric imprint he had made had faded.

“Yes, and Starswirl's death before he could teach us the language in his book was equally as upsetting. However, you are wrong about the script’s origin.”

Luna looked at the paper again, her eye scanning every inch for details she might have missed. “You’re right… Some of the more important characters he used are different, and some are missing entirely. Where did you get this? Did someone unearth another volume by the old bat?”

Celestia shook her head. “No. The author of these writings is far more recent. We have him under our employ, actually.”

Luna scowled at that. “Has he been detained? Those writings are supposed to be on a need-to-know basis. There are many dark spells contained in that vault, and it-”

“Luna, the author has never seen the vault,” Celestia interrupted before Luna could pick up steam. “In fact, I doubt that the author of this work even knows that Starswirl had even existed.

“Oh… but… who... wrote this?” Luna asked, completely flabbergasted. “I... I thought that this tongue was an original creation, designed by Starswirl as a way of encoding his work.”

“As did I, but that now appears to have been a lie. Probably perpetuated to keep us from knowing where Starswirl got his hooves on that book. After all, knowing what we know now, it is rather apparent that he was not the original author of that book,” Celestia said as she poured herself and her sister a cup of tea.

Luna was thoroughly invested now. “What makes you say that? Who wrote this?”

Celestia smiled slyly before setting down her cup of tea. She then took back the transcript and looked at it before setting it back on the table. “~Alex~ wrote this.”

Luna looked up sharply, her mouth hanging open ever so slightly. “...Wait, what?”

Celestia’s horn ignited, and a swath of papers all bearing similar markings made their appearance out from underneath the table. Along with those papers was a book that, while very familiar, was still something that Luna hadn’t seen in over one thousand years. On its unusually bound cover were written words in a blocky, alien text: ‘Wægn hindema su cýðnes of Myrddin.’

“I think we have more in common with ~Alex~ than we first believed. And all the similarities between our peoples that he’s spotted? I think there might be an explanation…” Celestia said darkly.

Before the conversation could go any further, they were interrupted as a loud, official-sounding knock.

Celestia rolled her eyes in disgust. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another… Come in!”

The door open a crack to allow the sergeant at her door to peek his head in. “Your Highness, we’ve just received word that the alien’s vessel was spotted on route to the Canterlot Air Docks.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Celestia said as she got up. Her horn ignited briefly, and the things that had been on her desk were all swiftly teleported out of sight.

“I’ll go question-” Luna started to say, but was interrupted by her older sister.

“No, Lulu, I believe I will need you when we meet with the dignitaries. At the very least, I feel I need an ally for what I am sure will be a very awkward conversation,” Celestia said as she stood up.

Luna gave her a wry smile. “Of course, sister. We can question ~Alex~ later.”

With that, the two rulers left the past behind, and went to meet what was sure to be the future of Equestria.

Author's Notes:

Well, guys, you can't say that I never listen to my readers. After careful consideration, a bunch of rereading, and a LOT of sleep (and I mean a freaking metric TON of sleep), I figured out what I did wrong with this chapter.

I've now broken it up into two, seperate chapters, and have added in quite a bit more that I originally wanted in, but never put in because of my sleep deprivation. Hope you guys enjoy this more than how it was before!

Tip Jar!

Chapter X

Author's Notes:

STOP! Do NOT ignore this author's note!

If you're just now reading this, and you haven't gone back and reread the previous chapter in the past few minutes, go do that now. Otherwise, ignore this whole author's note. This isn't for you.

I've realized what I've done wrong in the past chapter, and I've made a stride to fix it. The previous chapter has now been broken into two, with this being the second half of that chapter. Both chapters have had a lot added to them, but the previous chapter way more than this one. Go back now, and reread, you'll thank me later.

At least I hope that you'll thank me later. I don't know, a bunch of you were really angry with my last chapter. I apologize for writing while tired, and I promise that from now on, I'll make sure that you get the quality that you deserve. Now, for all of those who've read the previous chapter, onward!

Chapter X

I saw the light and heard the bang, and the only thing I could think of as my senses were overloaded was: Since when did they have flash-bangs here?

It was disorienting, sure, but as the light and sound washed over me, I felt a pain in my head, and the words compensating for sensory overload flash briefly in front of my eyes in Krin. In an instant it was over, leaving me blinking like an owl in the aftermath and staring dumbly at what was before me.

The guard that had brought Evening that note was gone, and in his place stood something that vaguely resembled a pony. It was shorter than Evening, though it looked like it was far beefier and meaner. Its whole body was covered in shiny black chitin, except for its back, where the chitin formed some kind of shell that was a deep teal color. Its eyes were also teal and lacked any kind of iris or pupil, giving me a sick sense of déjà vu, since its eyes reminded me of my own. Its gossamer wings were covered in holes, as were its legs, giving it an alien, insectoid vibe that set off all the phobias percolating in my brain. Along its neck I could see a set of frills, and on the top of its head sat a short, curved horn. Its fangs were long and sharp, which only added to the menace that its current expression was trying to convey.

However, as menacing as it looked, it also looked confused. A quick glance around told me why that was.

Everyone else was out cold, their limp, four-legged bodies splayed out where they had once been standing or, in Rainbow’s case, sitting. They weren’t dead, thank goodness, since they were still breathing. However, whatever had happened seemed to have had a more pronounced effect on them, leaving me relatively unscathed. Probably some kind of stun spell, set to go off when that scroll was opened.

Never once had I ever thanked the crazy a-holes that kidnapped me and turned me into what I was. However, for a brief moment, I was tempted to do just that.

All of this I processed in a matter of nanoseconds as the supercomputer lodged in my brain accelerated my perception of time, allowing me to formulate a plan. It wasn’t clear whether or not this thing was powerful, but I wasn’t willing to take a gamble on it. Ever since I found out that magic was real here, I decided to take everything I saw at face value, and what I saw in this thing screamed danger. It was unlikely that it was here for the others, though. I had seen the look in its eye before, and I could see the look in its eye now, as well as the glow emanating from its horn. It wanted me, and I doubt that a little thing like me being conscious was going to change that.

I was at a severe disadvantage, however. I couldn’t talk to this thing or reason with this thing, I was tired, and on top of that my magical abilities more or less revolved around electronic beeping things. A quick extension of my consciousness revealed that, no, this thing had no computers in its head, which was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because it meant that it probably wasn’t a courtesy call from my ex-employers, but a curse because it meant that it was most likely a native to this planet and still plenty dangerous, seeing as how it was most likely quite versed in magic and its use in killing things.

My options were limited. I might have been able to take this thing out here and now, but that might put the others at risk. I didn’t know what this thing was capable of, and it was entirely possible that it would explode itself before letting itself get captured. I briefly considered killing it, but threw that out of the window before it had even finished forming. This wasn’t my planet, and I had already made a promise to myself about the people who lived here.

No, it was a far better option to run, call for help, and hope the guards got here quickly. With any luck, the creature would chase me, leaving the others relatively safe.

With my decision made, I allowed my perception of time to return to normal. As the creature’s horn began to charge, I quickly hooked my fingers underneath my tray and flipped it at the monster in front of me with all my strength. Without even looking to see if my move had connected, I sprang to my feet, and bolted for the door. It must have dodged, though, because as I crossed the threshold for the door, I heard a sound similar to a Star Trek phaser, and felt a pain shoot up my left arm. Whatever it was that hit me threw me with enough force to knock me to the floor, but I didn’t let that stop me for a second.

As I scrambled back to my feet and out of the way of another laser, I briefly noted the two guards outside my room. They both appeared to be sleeping, which explained why they hadn’t immediately burst into the room the moment the magical flash-bang had gone off. They were probably under a similar, yet quieter spell that my friends inside the room were under, and were going to be of no help in the near future.

Without another thought towards them, I righted myself and sprinted down the hall, clutching my bruised and possibly dislocated arm to keep it from moving. Before I had made it twenty feet, though, I heard the thing behind me charge and fire again. On pure instinct and adrenaline, I jumped. Not as high as I could go, which would have put my head straight through the ceiling, but high enough for me to lunge into a dive that had me pass right over the harmful green beam of energy. Those magic rays must move slower than light. Good to know, I thought as I watched the energy pass harmlessly underneath me and strike the wall down the corridor.

I reached out with my undamaged hand and, with a grunt, used it to turn my lunge into a roll, allowing me to dodge another shot that had been aimed at where the creature had thought my head would end up. As I got up, I reached out and grabbed hold of the corner at the end of the hall, chancing a glance right before I ducked down the right-hand passage. The creature had disappeared, or, rather, I figured out that it had changed shape again, because I wasn’t completely thick. It had retaken its old unicorn soldier guise, and it was currently charging me as it readied its horn for another attack.

“Okay, buddy. You want me? Come and get me,” I said as I charged down the corridor in front of me.

* * *

“Look, all I’m saying is that maybe you should give her some space,” Private Stout Heart told his friend.

Corporal High Wind rubbed the back of his head uncertainly. “I dunno, doesn't that sound like I’m giving up on us? Honey Dew means a lot to me, and I don't want her to feel like I’m giving her the cold shoulder or anything…”

Private Heart gave his friend a reassuring smile and put a hoof on his withers. “Wind, she’ll be more upset if you smother her. Let her make up her own mind. If she’s half the mare you say she is, she’ll be the one to close that distance.”

“Well… if you’re-” Corporal Wind started to say, but stopped when they heard what sounded like an explosion.

“What in the hay was that!?” Private Heart asked in alarm.

“I don't know, but it sounded like it came from this way. Private Foot, you stay here and keep the checkpoint. Heart and I will-”

Before the corporal could finish, their question was answered when the alien who inhabited this wing came barreling around the corner. One of its arms was hanging limply at its side, while the other held it still, so it wouldn't cause the monster to lose its balance as it ran. On its face wasn't an expression of pain, but of grim determination.

Before any of the soldiers at the checkpoint could even form coherent thought, an order cut through the fog of their confusion, and gave them the whole picture in as few sentences as possible.

“He’s having one of his flashbacks! Stop him before he hurts anyone else!!”

Private Heart felt his insides go cold at that. I knew something like this was going to happen! Without even fully processing what he was doing, the private leaped forward, intent on stopping the creature for good.

Private Heart heard a shout from somewhere behind him, but he ignored it. He had a duty to perform, and no one was going to stop him. Right before he reached the monster, he reared up on his hind legs and punched out with his right foreleg at the monster’s knee.

If things had gone according to plan, his strike would have punched right through the bone, shattering the creature’s leg and crippling it. A simple stomp afterwards while it was writhing in pain, and all of Equestria’s troubles would have been over.

Unfortunately, he had misjudged the alien’s reflexes.

Quicker than his eye could follow, the creature reached out, planted its still functioning arm on the top of Private Heart’s head, and cartwheeled straight over Private Heart’s punch.

Without anything to take the force of the blow, Private Heart overbalanced and fell to his stomach, aided along his way by the none-too-gentle shove from the alien as it dismounted. Private Heart heard shouts and hoofbeats as his fellow guards chased after the rampaging monster, but Heart couldn't get up to help. At first, he thought it was because he had been winded by the fall, but that assumption was quickly thrown away when he noticed his forelegs were glowing a eerie, sickly green.

“Sorry about this, soldier, but I need a new disguise,” a voice buzzed in his ear. Private Heart saw a flash of green, felt himself sinking, then everything went black.

Right before unconsciousness took him, he had just enough presence of mind to realize that he had been duped by a changeling.

* * *

Shapeshifters. Of COURSE they have shapeshifters. Why would I expect anything else from a planet with minotaurs, griffons, and unicorns that can control the freaking sun? Just throw in a vampire or a mummy, and we’ve got the whole mythological CAST!

What I said, though, was: “Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap.”

I didn't have a whole lot of options open to me at the moment. My lack of ability to speak the language was going to be the death of me. The shapeshifter had dashed my hopes for help in what sounded like two sentences, and I wasn’t confident enough in my fluency to tell them what happened. My only chance now was to find someplace to hole up until one of the Princesses found me, or to stumble upon someone I knew by complete accident.

Unfortunately, it looked like my wild escape attempt had carried me right out of the areas I recognized; I had no idea where I was.

That was bad. At any moment, I could turn down a dead end and get trapped, and while the soldiers probably wouldn't try to hurt me, the shapeshifter would have a clear opportunity to finish me while I was being corralled. It would probably get caught or killed in the process, but assassins only sometimes cared about that kind of thing. Usually, their priorities were kill the target first, with everything that didn’t involve the target a distant second.

That is, if it was an assassin. It had already shown that it wanted to capture me, but I was quite certain that it would gladly murder me rather than let me stay with the ponies. No, I needed to find someone I knew and fast.

While I was busy trying to figure a way out of this, I made a random left turn and nearly barreled right over someone. It was another stallion, though this one wasn't a soldier. His blond hair was extremely well groomed, and he seemed to have a taste in expensive clothing. I barely managed to register the compass rose on his flank, but that wasn’t nearly as important as the look of abject terror on his face. Before I could think of anything to say or do, the stallion let out what he must have thought was a manly shout, but in reality was more akin to the sound of a scared schoolgirl.

I didn't have time to deal with him, so I performed the same cartwheel trick I pulled with that Dirt Pony stallion a few minutes back, my feet running along the ceiling as I kept my momentum going.

I was running out of steam, though, and as I left the freaked out pony in the dust, I slowed down to a more manageable jog as I tried to think of what to do.

A shout from behind destroyed that thought, and as quick as I could, I dashed forward and turned a corner. My luck seemed to turn as I spotted a doorway. Doors meant rooms, which meant I could hole up for a time, which meant I could control whether or not the shapeshifter had direct access to me. As soon as they knew I had gone to ground, they’d call in the Princesses to get this thing sorted out.

As quick as a whip, I turned and shoved my way through. I briefly noted that these doors seemed to not have handles, and instead swung freely, but I didn't think to figure out why that was until I was already past them.

As soon as I entered, I noticed the cooking implements and the various Ponies dressed in chef toques and waiter outfits. Come on! Now it’s just blatant how much they developed like us! I thought as the ponies began to scream.

I ignored them, though, vaulting over counters and ducking under pots and pans as everyone in the room ran. Despite these people having such powerful potential, they’re surprisingly skittish, I thought as I pushed open the pantry door and shut myself inside.

I took a second to catch my breath, my right shoulder and forehead pressed up against the door as I rubbed my aching, dislocated left shoulder. I can wait this out, I thought as I heard voices and hoof sounds on the other side of the door. All I need to do is keep this door closed until Sun or Moon get here. They’ll sort this out, we can catch the assassin, then get the others the medical attention they need.

I silently prayed that the assassin hadn’t decided to go back and kill those that had seen its natural form. If anything, that would have been worse than if it had flat out killed me; I don’t think I could continue living with myself if it had gone back and hurt my friends.

My thinking was cut short, though, as my sharp ears picked up a sound that was not unlike the sound of a small mouse getting stepped on right behind me. I turned around quickly to see a rather petite yellow pegasus mare with purple hair. Her eyes wide with terror, and her body was shaking like a leaf. Aw… that’s just great… Now it looks like I’m holding a hostage.

I tried to shush her, to at least make it so that she didn’t start screaming in this confined space, but I didn’t have very high hopes for anything like that happening. Much to my surprise, and despite the fact that I was a scary space alien and we didn’t have a language in common, she actually quieted down and even laid down on her belly in a submissive fashion. She still looked like she was about to wet herself, but at least she wasn’t about to scream about how the monster was going to eat her.

With my worries about her satisfied, I kneeled down and pressed my face to the pantry keyhole. I needed to find out how far along they are in this situation, and I wasn’t going to learn anything by just listening to their incomprehensible gobbledygook that I only knew a handful of words in.

I was disappointed, though, because from my position, all I really could see was a whole lot of counters and the tops of a few foreheads. Not a lot of information, but at least it let me know that they weren’t about to break down the door S.W.A.T. team style. They might have been planning to teleport in, but seeing as how these were my allies, I rather doubted that.

Well, mostly my allies. One of them could have been a shapeshifter. In fact, quite a few could have been shapeshifters. But since this was the pony’s land, the chance of them all being shapeshifters was actually quite low. I mean, if this was shapeshifter land, they hardly need to disguise with me. I’m an alien. It’s already assumed that my standard of beauty is going to be different, so why hide that you’re a shapeshifter?

This was, of course, all still based on the assumption that I wasn’t clinically insane and busy chewing the walls of a padded room back home. Man, if it turned out that that was the case, I was going to be so freaking mad…

Well, technically that would mean you’re already mad, but that’s not the point, I thought to myself, completely missing the light humming sound that was coming from behind me.

As I continued to watch, I suddenly became aware that this pantry had grown uncomfortably hot. I leaned back a bit, only to discover that, near the ground, small tufts of purple fire had appeared around me in a semicircle.

Panic set into my brain, and I tried to turn around to figure out what was happening, but I was foiled in this attempt by the fact that my feet seemed to be stuck to the floor.

Not just stuck, I seemed to be sinking into the stone, all while the purple flames around me grew higher and higher.

“Help! No, I’m freaking serious, get in here guys! Some weird magic bullcrap is happening in here!” I was trying to draw the ponies outside to my predicament, but I had a terrible feeling that they weren’t going to make it in time, or at all. As I sunk lower and lower, I turned my head around to try and see how my roommate was reacting to this predicament, though, as it turned out, I shouldn’t have bothered.

She was the freaking cause of it.

The mare was gone. In her place was another shapeshifter, though this one’s natural look had a few distinct differences to the assassin's form. For instance, this one had luminescent pink eyes, and the shell on its back was a dark purple.

This one also had a look on its face that was more apologetic than contemptible.

Before I could say anything else, the floor completely swallowed the two of us up. Purple fire engulfed us, but it didn’t hurt like I thought it would. Instead, I felt the familiar feeling of disorientation, letting me know that I was being teleported, and not burned alive.

As soon as the world came back into focus, I found that I could move my legs again. Without even thinking about it, I rolled to the right to avoid the laser I was sure was going to be aimed at my head and brought my claws to bear. It didn’t come, but I was still ready for anything. “What… the... devil…” I started to say, but slowed down as I noticed what was in front of me, and that I really wasn’t as ready as I thought I was.

The shapeshifter was still there, and we had teleported like I thought we had, it’s just that we teleported somewhere where the shapeshifter had a serious homefield advantage.

Behind the shapeshifter were literally thousands of shapeshifters, each one could have easily have passed as a twin of the one in front of me. They were also freaking everywhere. On the walls, the ceiling, the floor, in the air. There were so many, in fact, that I couldn’t even figure out the general architecture or structure of the area we were in. What was worse, though, was that all of their luminescent pink eyes were focused on me, as if they were daring me to make a wrong move.

“Uh… Hi?” I said as intelligently as I could.

Given my current circumstances, that was probably the best I could come up with, to be honest.

Before I could voice another concern, a thousand beams of light came at me from all directions. So many, in fact, that the world around me looked like nothing short of a wall of bright, glowing purple. Time seemed to slow, and my eyes instantly picked out all the trajectories that every beam would follow. Contained in that second, I could see every conceivable move I could make, every dodge, roll and jump, and in that instant, I knew one thing.

I was royally boned.

* * *

Skitter winced as the Promethean fell, his strong, upright posture becoming limp and battered as spell after spell struck him, tossing him like a rag doll.

Stop!” a commanding voice called out over the sounds of horn charging and spell impacting stone and flesh. Instantly the sounds died down, and Skitter could feel the hooves of the thousands of changelings behind her move to make room for the Queen Mother.

Not looking, Skitter turned and went straight into a bow so low that her face was pressed into the floor. “Mother Titania, I am so sorry for-”

“Why is the Promethean here?” The Changeling Queen asked. Skitter couldn't see her face, but her voice was dripping with disappointment.

“I’m sorry, My Queen, but I felt that I had no other option. Chrysalis' assassin had already penetrated the ranks of the Ponies. Had I not acted, the Promethean would most likely be dead now.”

Skitter heard a sigh, then the sound of hooves as her Queen moved past her. “Very well… though this will only make life harder for us in the long run.” Skitter lifted her head, barely daring to believe that she had somehow made it through that mess without facing an execution or banishment.

Her Queen was moving towards the limp form of the Promethean. His skin had turned a nasty shade of purple, and his shoulder really looked like it needed medical attention, but he was still breathing. The Queen stared at him for the longest time, before finally muttering something under her breath, something so faint that only Skitter could hear. “So this is what you look like?”

She stared at him for a bit longer, before shivering and turning away. “Take him to the holding pods, and make certain he stays there. We cannot have him rampaging through the hive before he is returned to the Equestrians.” As if only waiting for her to give the word, four changelings leaped forwards and began to wrap up the Promethean in a cocoon produced from the secretions from their mouths. Once he was ready for transport, one of them hooked his limbs around the Promethean upper body, while another changeling grabbed the legs. Once they were sure that they weren’t about to drop him, they began to fly him up to where Skitter knew the holding pods were.

“Skitter!”

Skitter immediately sidled up to her Queen and bowed again. “Yes, Your Highness?”

“I want you to take a letter that I will draft to the Princesses of Equestria. When it is ready, I will give you further instructions, but until then, you should get something to eat and prepare yourself for the journey.”

“Yes, my Queen.” Without another word, Skitter took off to follow after where her fellows had taken the promethean.

As she left, though, her ears managed to pick up one more thing. Something she was pretty sure that the queen intended to keep to herself. “I only hope the Sun and Moon will be in a forgiving mood…”

Chapter XI

Chapter XI

“...If we’re going to take proper action against those traitors, I need to look into Alexander Cunningham’s memory. He would have seen the inside of their ship, heard them when they spoke. He even has one of their computers inside his head. He won’t recognize it, but he may have seen something that can lead us to them. We can bring those details back, however, and through them, we can hunt them down.”

The White Queen raised an eyebrow at this. “What make think he agree? Already have people inside head. Will not force him do thing.”

Aketesh bowed her head in understanding. “I know that, which is why I wanted you to talk to him. We need to catch these monsters before they’re allowed to continue. So please, I implore you, at least bring it up with him.”

While all of this was very important, Captain Hazalk still couldn’t help but feel as if his talents would be best suited elsewhere. They were talking about things that his people hadn’t even begun to fathom, and it didn’t help that it had been his race that had perpetrated this atrocity. That being said, he really felt like more of a hindrance than an asset in these conversations.

As the Krin Captain pondered over what to do, the communicator in his ear buzzed to life. “Sir, I have a report for you. Subject-38 has moved.”

Rather than speak out and disturb the negotiations, Hazalk took out his personal tablet with his lower arms and typed a message to his ship underneath the table. It would have been easier had he had any implants, but not only did he not trust anyone enough to muck about in his head to put one in, but just the thought of those things made his chitin crawl. I would expect him to move around quite a bit. He is a free agent, after all.

There was an exasperated huff from the other side. “Not like that, sir. I mean that his position suddenly changed from right on top of you, to about seventy klicks northeast in a matter of milliseconds.

Hazalk’s hand froze over his tablet’s screen for the briefest of seconds. He already knew what the rapid movement meant, the only question was why the equines felt the need to move him. Keep me informed of any other changes.

With that out of the way, Hazalk put his tablet back into his pocket and redirected his attention to the matter at hand. With any luck, the sudden movement wasn’t anything too serious.

However, when one of the equine guards entered the room, passed a whispered message to the two horned and winged equines, then quickly left with the dark blue one, Hazalk couldn’t help but feel a growing sense of dread crawl up his spinal ridge as he watched her leave.

* * *

Shining Armor was not happy.

Ten months of preparations, ten months of training, ten months of weaving spells into every entrance and exit in and out of Canterlot Castle, and somehow, the changelings had just managed to waltz right in and hurt his little sister! The fact that they had also managed to kidnap the alien visitor did not escape him. It was just that ~Alex~ happened to rank quite a bit lower in terms of importance in Shining’s eyes.

“I want the whole castle searched, top to bottom! Everypony is to be questioned, no stone is to be left unturned! I want to know how they avoided the checkpoints, and how they managed to slip through the ten thousand layers of defense we’ve put into place since the coup! Is that clear!?”

The stallions in front of Shining Armor muttered their assent with very little enthusiasm. It wasn't that they didn't want to fulfill this duty. In fact, they were absolutely livid that a changeling had managed to slip into their ranks. The reason for their less than vigorous attitude was a simple one: they were all still feeling the aftereffects of the only known method for routing out changelings.

To date, they haven’t been able to catch a single one to interrogate. They had no way of knowing if any of their detection spells or scanning spells had any effect, since the changes that a changeling underwent could be anything from a simple illusion, to an actual, physical change. If that was the case, then none of their spells, even their magic sealing ones, would have any effect to expose them for what they really were. True, a sealing gate like the ones at the Equestrian Games would have prevented any changeling from making any additional shape changes, but it would not have revealed them.

At this point, their only reliable method for routing out a changeling was the magic disruption spell, tested in the heat of battle by Twilight Sparkle herself. The spell disrupted the natural and artificial magical fields that surrounded all life forms and, while it wasn't lethal, it was extremely painful and disorienting, especially to magic-dependent races like ponies or changelings. Shining Armor was nursing a similar headache himself, and had only recently regained consciousness after having gone through the same experience that his troops had undergone.

Despite all that, though, he seemed to not show any discomfort whatsoever. In fact, he seemed to be using the headache to fuel the rage that was kindled when he found out that his baby sister had been attacked by the same monsters that crashed his wedding.

Before Shining Armor could say anything else, the leader of the Night Sentinels, Captain Dark Seeker, stood up and saluted. “Sir, I don’t think they’ve been here very long. We’ve had the survivor in our care for over a month now, and if they’ve been here since before then, they would have acted.”

Shining Armor frowned at him. “Soldier, they still walked into the castle without a care in the world. It’s clear that none of our measures are effective.”

Dark Seeker shook his head. “Sir, I don’t believe that. If that were true, they would have attempted another coup long before now. After all, there have been plenty of opportunities better than this one. I think that they haven’t because one or more of our countermeasures have been effective.”

Shining Armor rolled his eyes in frustration. “Then please, tell me how in the Spirit of Harmony’s sweet green earth did they get in!?”

“I think someone let them in.” Dark Seeker elaborated.

Dark Seeker’s counterpart, Star Blaze of the Solar Guard, gave a disbelieving snort. “That’s impossible. If the countermeasures work as you claim, then only the Princesses or one of the three ranking officers in this room could let them in. Even if one of us had been mind controlled, the cleanse ward would have removed it before it could get in, which means that we would have had to be willing traitors. I hope you’re not suggesting-”

“I would do nothing of the sort,” Dark Seeker said, somewhat insulted at what Star Blaze had been insinuating. He furrowed his eyebrows and stared at the officer intently. “However, there is another way into the castle. One that had been made fairly recently when another intruder broke in. One that we didn’t have eyes on until long after ~Alex~ had thrown its creator out of a window.”

There was a gasp of understanding from the rest of the assembled soldiers when they finally grasped what Dark Seeker had been talking about. Shining Armor started rubbing his head in frustration, clearly not happy about this. “Ugh… So, what, they were waiting outside this whole time for the perfect opportunity? That just makes my skin crawl...” He took a deep breath, then released it again. “That doesn’t change what we must do, though. They managed to get their prize right out from under our muzzles, but a single changeling couldn’t have done it on his own. He would have had help. That being said, we still need to conduct what amounts to a witch hunt.”

“I do not think that is necessary, Captain Armor.”

The assembled guards turned to see a very exhausted-looking Princess Luna enter the room, one of her hooves pressed against her temple in pain. On either side of her stood one of Shining's troops, saluting despite the headaches they themselves were feeling. “Sir, she checks out.”

Shining Armor waved them off, his attention glued to the Princess of the Night. “As you were. Why shouldn’t we make a sweep, Your Highness? The changelings-”

“-Already have what they came for, and would gain nothing by leaving their agents behind. They have, however, made a serious blunder in who they have kidnapped,” Luna interrupted. She made her way to the front of the room, her face grim as she looked out at Shining Armor’s senior staff. “What we have here is both a rare opportunity, and a delicate situation. Because of the beacon we have implanted underneath ~Alex’s~ skin, we finally know the location of the changeling hive.”

This immediately sent a wave of excited mutters throughout the assembled soldiers. Shining Armor looked like he was about to explode with glee. “Where is it?”

Princess Luna’s horn glowed briefly, causing the large map of Equestria that was on the wall behind her to unroll itself. She then highlighted a portion of the map. “They appear to have made their nest somewhere underneath Neighagra Falls. However, due to our star-bound 'friends’ watching from above, we cannot commit our full force to taking the hive without tipping our hooves that something has gone awry. Indeed, they may already be aware of his movements, but unsure as to how or why he got there.”

Shining Armor and many of his staff grumbled in disappointment at that. The ever-looming threat from the stars was starting to really irritate them. “What do you propose we do, then?” a Low Captain asked. Sun Scorch was his name, if Luna remembered correctly.

“I believe that a two step plan should be used here. Prince Shining Armor, I want you to personally pick out a strike team to infiltrate the hive. Their primary mission is to recover our ally if he is being held, or to aid his escape if he is not. Their secondary objective is to capture a changeling alive, if possible.”

Shining Armor raised an eyebrow at that. “Why do you seem to think he’s already escaped?”

Luna gave him a stern, knowing look. “Because the aliens who had taken him before were far worse than the changelings ever were. Goodness knows, he managed to give your own troops the slip, all while nursing an injury from his attacker, if your troop reports are accurate.”

Shining Armor grunted a grudging acknowledgement of the alien’s skill. He had managed to evade capture, and the only reason they had him in their custody in the first place was because of his former masters. By all rights, their first encounter with him had ended with him escaping. Only Princess Luna's Dreamwalk had allowed them to find where he had gotten off to. “You’re right. I haven't had the chance to talk to him myself, but from the reports I’ve read, and the ponies I’ve interviewed, he can be extremely resourceful when he sets his mind to it.”

Luna nodded, then looked back at the other ponies in the room. “Indeed, if he hasn't already escaped their direct custody, it is only a matter of time until he does, and our enemy might not want to keep him alive afterwards. We are on an extremely limited timetable here, and must act now.”

A large earth pony raised his hoof, a questioning look on his face. “Ma’am, you mentioned two steps to this plan. What is the second step?”

"I will go, with my personal honor guard, and attempt to reason with the queen. She will not be as powerful as she was after having fed on Prince Shining Armor, but I have no doubt that she will be cocky and insistent on her superior position.”

The assembled ponies grumbled about that, but did not raise any objections. One of them did have a question, though. “What of your sister?”

“My sister has opted to stay here and stall the alien delegates. After all, they are still a part of this, whether we like it or not, and need to be dealt with accordingly,” Luna reminded the soldier.

Shining Armor stepped forward again, his face stern, but a glint of anticipation could be seen there. “Are there any more questions? No? Then let’s get our assignments worked out. We leave for Neighagra Falls in one hour, and I don't want to be the one to tell the ‘ling's why we were late.”

The eager cheer that met him when he said that almost made him go deaf, but he didn’t mind. He was just as eager as his troops for a little payback...

* * *

Neural pathways repaired.

I took in a deep, shuddering breath as the message flashed briefly before my eyes. For a second, I felt like a part of my head was missing, that something was wrong with the world around me. Before I could contemplate what was happening, there was a feeling like molten steel flowing through my ears, my head seemed to want to expand past its limitations, and my nose felt like it was about to fall off.

As quickly as the feeling had come, however, it was gone. In its place, my head felt as good as new.

Now that my mind wasn’t clouded over with whatever had happened to it, I immediately noticed that I seemed to be upright, wrapped up in some sort of strong, sticky substance. I also seemed to remember being surrounded by a horde of shapeshifters, and if my movie experience was correct, I had probably been overwhelmed and stuffed into a cocoon. I tried to open my eyes, to see if I could confirm my suspicions, but whatever they had wrapped me up in also covered my face, preventing me from seeing even with my eyes open.

Capital F that, I thought as I started struggling against my bonds. With nothing but a muscle twitch, my foot long claws sprang from my fingertips, cutting through a small part of my bindings. It didn’t really do much, but it did create a tiny bit of wiggle room, along with a small tear that I could exploit.

Before I could start cutting my way out, though, I felt something warm and sticky splatter against my freed hands. The substance seemed to harden instantly, rendering my attempted escape ineffective.

Oh, good. They didn’t just hang me up and leave me. Not total idiots, then.

I stopped moving and took a deep, cleansing breath. So far, my options were limited; it was doubtful that I could sneak or fight my way out of this, and it was equally doubtful that my allies knew where I was.

Well, probably. Hazalk had tracked me down using my implants, so if the ponies went to him, they might be able to pinpoint my location. Problem was, though, that the ponies still didn’t exactly trust the captain of The Bastion. Neither did I, for that matter, but there was still the possibility of rescue.

There was still one more thing I could try, though. My mouth wasn’t covered, so I could still try the age old, yet often forsaken method of diplomacy. “Hey, you guys have a translation spell you could use?” I asked, letting out a nervous chuckle.

There was some rustling, some muttering in a language I couldn’t understand, then quiet.

“Come on, guys! I’m not a bad conversationalist! Well, at least I don’t think I’m a bad conversationalist.”

There was more muttering, and I couldn’t tell, but I think someone left the room.

“Okay, you guys asked for this. I didn’t want to have to do this to you, but you’ve forced my hand.”

There is a movie that I really like, a comedy, where one of the main characters gets abducted and dragged off before he’s able to save his place of business. The crooks have no intention of killing him; in fact, they have orders not to. Yet, despite the dire position he’s in, Stanley didn't give a crap. Well, to be honest, his character was too dumb to understand the predicament he was in, but that didn't make the annoyance tactic he used any less effective.

And since I’m a little bit smarter than Mr. Spedowski, I might actually escape during their lull in concentration.

“Oh, say can you see! By the dawn's early light!!” I started singing. Badly.

Now, I'm not normally a bad singer. I’m nothing to write home about, but I’m not tone deaf. It doesn't take a brilliant singer to sing out of key and loudly, though. And since annoying was what I was going for, that was what I was doing.

I only hoped things went as I planned.

* * *

“Do you think he’ll get out?” Galthax asked nervously.

Hol shook his head uncertainly. “That, I do not know. The last time anyling saw a promethean was over two thousand years ago, and we haven’t had access to the Mirror of Refuge since.”

"Right… If I remember correctly, didn’t Queen Titiana the Sixth-”

Before Galthax could complete the thought, the promethean let out a loud, obnoxious sound that, if the two changelings were being generous, might have been a song.

“What is he doing?” Hol asked, as he tried to cover his ears.

“Some kind of sonic attack? A magic spell to make our ears bleed!?” Galthax wondered as both his ears lay flat against his head in pain.

Before either of them could say another thing, their pod leader made a sound similar to a pony hocking a loogie, then spat at the offending promethean. His aim was spot on, covering the creature’s mouth and silencing him instantly. “There, that ought to keep him quiet until the queen gets here.”

This statement turned out to not be true in the slightest. While it did prevent him from singing, the promethean was still making plenty of noise, ensuring that those around him were well aware of what he thought of the current predicament.

“Uh… Sal? If anything, that’s even more annoying...” Hol said, one of his eyes closed in irritation.

“Don’t care. As long as my ears don’t bleed out before the queen gets here, it’ll do,” Pod Leader Sal said as he turned another page in the book he was reading. “A. K. Yearling’s stuff just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it.”

“It does indeed, though I don’t think this is the time to be reading it,” a disapproving, commanding voice echoed through the chamber. All three changelings immediately straightened up, acting like children who had been caught with their hooves in the storage chamber.

Floating up majestically through the entrance in the floor, the queen cast her disapproving gaze over her subjects, her hooves touching down on the warm, spongy ground with barely a whisper. Behind her, several more changelings entered and moved to the various cocoons that held the few ponies that her agents had replaced and began to take them down from where they were being stored.

“What is your command, Your Majesty?” the pod leader said as he and his mates fell into a bow.

“I have made a decision. When the Equestrians come, and they will come, we are to greet them as honored guests. Spread the word that we are to surrender to the Equestrians when they arrive. If time is allowed, I am to be alerted immediately. If not, then they are to be directed to my personal chambers.”

“...And the promethean?” Hol asked. He tried to keep calm, but he couldn’t stop the fear that bled into his voice.

“I would speak with him,” the queen said as her horn began to glow, causing her throat and ears to glow as well. Sal assumed that she had cast the same spell on the promethean, but because of the thick cocoon surrounding him, he couldn’t be certain. It was a pretty safe bet, though. “Now, leave us. You have much to do, and little time to do it.”

The three changelings bowed once more before practically sprinting out of the room. It didn’t take the others long to finish with their tasks, either, flying out of the room with the kidnapped ponies to wake them in a more controlled environment, to prepare them for their return to their families.

Once the queen was alone with the promethean, she cleared her throat nervously. “Please, stop your struggling. I will release you shortly; I would like you to listen, first.”

Almost immediately, the promethean quieted down, his breath coming out heavily through his nose, but Queen Titania could sense an almost…expectant quality from the otherworldly visitor. She took a deep breath, then let it out. “I, and my people, are not your enemy.”

Almost as soon as the words had left her mouth, the promethean started laughing. It was a dark, humorless chuckle, one that left no doubt about whether or not he believed her.

“I know you do not have any reason to believe me, but just listen for now. We have much to talk about, promethean.”

The alien froze at these words, or more accurately, at that word. The word she used to describe him. Good, I have his attention, she thought to herself. Now comes the hard part. Making him believe me.

“I do not expect you to believe me now, so I will not go into any great detail about how I know that word. Know this, however: There are two separate factions of my kind; those that want to rule over this land, and those who know this is folly. I and my people are in the latter camp. One of my agents intercepted you while you were being pursued by my rival’s assassin and brought you here. While I admit that my people were a bit…overzealous in greeting you, we have no malice towards you or your allies.”

This was met with another mirthless chuckle, but at least he was listening now.

“The Equestrians will already be on their way to rescue you. Knowing Celestia, she would have placed some spell on you to aid her should she lose track of you. However, due to an attempted coup by my rival, the Equestrians will see us as the enemy, and will attempt to destroy us. When they arrive, I intend to surrender you, and my whole hive, over to them. I only ask that you attempt to sway the princesses to show us mercy.” With those final words, Queen Titania’s horn briefly glowed, causing the cocoon binding the promethean to melt.

The outworlder fell from his imprisonment, but caught himself before he fell on his face. He took a second to clear the remaining goo from his eyes and mouth, before looking down at the now kneeling queen before him.

For the longest time the two stayed there, staring at one another. The promethean’s soulless gaze seemed to bore straight through Titania, filling her with an ever increasing sense of dread, until finally, he opened his mouth.

“Why you call me promethean?” he finally asked.

* * *

Jill Spivak opened her eyes, but was somewhat panicked when she realized that it wasn't her that made that happen. ...W-What…? Her thoughts were completely disorganized, yet at the same time, it felt like her mind was being forced into a mold; Organized in a way that was completely alien to her. She had no way of describing it, other than trying to force her body into pants that were several sizes too small. She could feel her whole body, but unfortunately, it seemed like it wasn’t obeying her orders.

All she could do was observe the bright, white light above her that blinded her to the rest of the room. How… How did I…? She thought briefly, before remembering her last conscious thought. Someone had broken into her house.

Someone that wasn’t human.

Her ears picked up some sort of metallic hissing sound, followed by the clatter of something with far too many legs coming towards her. She had seen the beast that she had dropped before its fellows had gotten her, and she had no delusions about where she was and what was happening. She had been abducted, and now, she was going to be experimented on.

It looked like her loudmouthed, alien obsessed brother had been right. Somehow, that surprised her less than she thought it would.

She was completely helpless, totally powerless, yet her panic and fear seemed like some far off thing. It only registered in the same way that she knew that the sun rose in the east, or that the stars twinkled at night. Deep down, she knew something was very, very wrong with her, that she was in the most dangerous spot that she had ever been in, but the most she could feel was mildly upset. She faintly knew that it probably had something to do with the fact that she was unable to move under her own power, but it didn’t really matter to her at this point.

It wasn’t like there was anything she could do about it.

As she lay there, musing over her current predicament, she heard the metallic hissing noise again, followed immediately by a voice. It spoke in a language that she knew she couldn’t possibly have understood, yet for some strange, unknowable reason, she could comprehend what was being said to her.

“How are the upgrades to the Neural Subjugator working so far, Doctor?”

There was a faint shuffling, as well as a clicking sound that Jill somehow knew meant deference and respect. “My Captain, so far, everything is working as expected, though the modifications we have made to avoid the same problem with the first test group has some unwanted side effects.”

“What side effects?” the captain asked.

There was another set of clicks that Jill somehow was able to understand meant frustration. “Creativity is down, as are neural reaction times. At this point, the subjects are little more than a brain dead husks, able to fulfill commands, but not fit as anything more than slaves. Not only that, but we still do not know if the fixes we have made will prevent the subjects from breaking free.”

“Keep trying, doctor. If the Empire is to rise again, we need a reliable way of turning the enemy’s witches against their fellows. If these primitives are capable of shaking off control, then the dreaded Void Knights should be able to do it far, far faster.”

“Sir…if I could just get a specimen, I’m sure that I-”

“You what? Could call the entire Holy Armada down on us!? Do you really think we haven’t tried that before, doctor? These witches…they are somehow able to alert their own kind of their distress. Any attempts to study live witches have all resulted in the entire base being destroyed! Even if they did not posses any sort of visible power!” There was a loud bang, followed by a startled clicking sound. “No, doctor. These primitives are a boon that we will not waste. We have a chance to bring the most powerful army ever known under our thrall, and we will take it.”

“I… I understand, Captain.”

“Good. Now, I’m headed back to the bridge. Keep me updated on your progress with the specimens. I will let you know once we have reached Elekor.”

There was another hissing sound, followed by the clatter of many legs leaving the room. Jill, in her current state, was unable to even care about that. Before she was able to wonder why this was a bad thing, she heard the voice of the doctor again. It seems as if he were talking to himself. "Hmm...maybe a small tweak to the Cortex Relay will do the trick?"

There was a faint humming sound, and Jill felt her thoughts slow down to a crawl. Her eyes shut again, and the welcome peace of unconsciousness took her soon afterwards.

Author's Notes:

Merry Christmas! And if you don't celebrate Christmas, Happy Hanukkah! Don't celebrate that? Happy Kwanzaa! Don't celebrate that? Happy Heart's Warming! (or whatever, I'm not picky)

Don't celebrate the holidays at all? Well, have a present anyway, Mr. Scrooge! And a Merry Humbug to you too!:pinkiecrazy:

Anyway, this got finished at christmas, but I decided to wait to let my prereaders look at it before publishing it. Enjoy it anyway, you wonderful people!

Chapter XII

Chapter XII

Yavaar grunted in frustration, the sound echoing in the areas of the base that still had working life support and intercom systems. It had been half a solar year on the local planet, and the long-distance communications array was no closer to being repaired, as was most of the base. The only things he really had at the moment was one of the backup electricity converter runes, the spare spirit cells, and the life support systems.

Oh, and the local communications runes were still active, but that was only because those were a part of The Core. How they had missed The Core was beyond him, but he was eternally grateful for it.

It meant that he could still contact the outside world, however limited that communication was.

He had hit a bit of a problem, though: there were no friendly ships within signaling range. Sure, the wizards at the University of the Lidless Eye would eventually figure out that something was wrong, but he was supposed to transmit his findings every year, according to the solar rotation of his host planet.

This was supposedly set in place to help him avoid notice by Krin forces, though the argument for that was feeling pretty flimsy at the moment, since they had found him anyway. At any rate, it would still be another half solar year (six months, according to the local calendar) before the wizards noticed anything was wrong.

Unless the Creator alerted the Speaker of his current predicament, there would be no help coming; no mages to rescue him, no ships to protect this planet, and no warriors to stop the horror that he knew had already befallen his hapless charges.

His only eyes, now, were the few remaining reconnaissance and recovery drones that hadn’t been destroyed in the attack, as well as the Humans’ own dataweb. The drones had been logged inside the auxiliary shuttle bay for repairs, with only two having been finished before the Krin Warcruiser dropped its cloak and opened fire. The auxiliary bay had been on the other side of the base, so thankfully it had been spared from the onslaught. Unfortunately, his fabrication bays had been destroyed in the attack, so even though the rock his base was embedded in had spirit stone, he couldn’t form any of it into the parts or runes he needed to make any repairs.

This had left Yavaar with a bit of a dilemma. The only beings within range to help him were the very charges he was tasked to watch over. Contacting them, though, would have been an extremely serious breach of the non-interference law set down by the Speaker herself-a decree that under absolutely no circumstances should the Quzin people ever break first.

His mission here was to protect these people at all costs, though, even if his part in that mission was merely to provide reconnaissance for the larger Quzin forces. Yavaar wasn’t some stupid machine; he was capable of seeing that his orders conflicted with the law.

He had been debating with himself for the past six months over what he should do. The fact that the Krin vessels seemed to have left had not escaped him, and the feed of his charges’ dataweb had yielded no significant change, meaning that even if the Krin had done something nefarious, they hadn’t alerted the local populace about it. That meant that the non-interference law had yet to be broken, and his claws were, figuratively, tied.

That was, at least, until the human dataweb just about exploded a little under an hour ago. Apparently, several local law enforcement individuals were seen escorting a young female away from a building that had suffered damages that looked exactly like plasma fire. On top of that, there were several videos on the site ‘Youtube’ showing law enforcement carrying out bodies under tarps that were far, far too large for a normal human.

Yavaar was not an idiot. The Krin must have done something, left, and come back. Either that, or they had been cloaked this whole time, doing unknown things to the local populace, and had only just been discovered. His lack of information, coupled with his inability to signal home, was really starting to frustrate him.

Now was the time to rectify this situation. With a simple datasearch, he found the location of the local law enforcement department that the bodies would have been taken to. He couldn’t alert his superiors... at least, not yet. But he would be able to get information and, hopefully, help. The Krin’s ineptitude had seen to that.

* * *

“So, Miss Jordan, what can you tell me about the aliens you fought?”

Valerie looked up from her hands, not really caring about the federal agent sitting in the seat across from her. The van they were riding in was an odd one, its rear seats set in such a way that they were facing each other. Valerie was sitting between two rather heavy set agents in the row whose back was to the driver, while Agent Vale was sitting in the row across from her, a laptop in her lap, and an inquisitive look on her face. How she could type while the car was moving was anyone’s guess, though.

Valerie let her hands fall into her lap as she listlessly stared at the agent in front of her. “They’ve got four arms, four legs, and-”

“No, no, no. I’ve already seen them, Miss Jordan,” Agent Vale interrupted her. “I wanted you to tell me a bit more. How did they move? What did you see of their technology? Tell me about the encounter.

Valerie nodded in understanding, but didn’t say anything. How could she? She was still struggling to believe that what she experienced had actually happened, and now they wanted a play-by-play? It was really too much. “I… I don’t think I can…” she said, rubbing one of her arms uncertainly. “I… it just kind of… My friend was kidnapped, and… and…”

Agent Vale closed the laptop gently and gave her an understanding look. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to push you that hard. If you want, we can hold off until-sonuva-!”

With a sudden lurch, the whole van pitched sideways, as if the driver had made a really, really sharp left turn. Valerie cried out in surprise, but luckily her seatbelt and the two large men she was sitting between kept her from moving.

Agent Vale looked towards the driver behind Valerie, worry filling her eyes. “Gamble! What’s going on out there!?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Cherry said he spotted something hovering over us, and told me to make a hard left. I- holy-"

There was a brilliant flash outside, the window’s tint being the only reason Valerie didn’t instantly go blind. Despite that, it was still pretty bright, and she instinctively closed her eyes and put up her hands to block it out.

Luckily for her, this put her hands right in the right position to stop something large and heavy from impacting her face. Or, at least, to stop it from hitting her face with its full force. Instead, it merely caused her own hands to smack her in the forehead as whatever it was fell into her lap, then slid off and hit the carpeted floor of the van with a dull thud.

“Ow! What in the…?” Valerie asked, rubbing her forehead in pain as she shook her other hand vigorously, trying desperately to get feeling to return to the abused appendage. While she was doing this, she looked down to see what had hit her, quickly spotting the laptop that Agent Vale had been typing in lying on the floor. “Jeez, what was that all about?”

She didn’t get an answer. She didn’t need one. All she needed was a quick look outside the window to know that something had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The lamp-lit streets of Portland that had been outside the car were gone; in their place was a dimly lit room, its metal walls absolutely covered in glowing green lines, giving it an eerie, unreal feel. Directly in front of them was a huge pair of metal, reinforced doors, its jagged, horizontal seam making it look like some kind of maw. To the right of the car was a large, car-sized silver egg, and to their left was what appeared to be a similar, yet much smaller version of the door she had noticed earlier.

Valerie felt like she was going to give herself whiplash with how quickly she was looking around, but she couldn’t help it; panic was rising in her chest with every passing moment, and it felt like the world around her was about to give way. “Where… where are we!?”

Without hesitation, Agent Vale unbuckled her seatbelt, pulled out her sidearm, and wrenched the van door open. The two agents flanking Valerie, as well as the driver, quickly followed suit. When Valerie tried to follow, though, one of the heavy-set agents held out a hand to stop her. “Please wait here, ma’am. It’s not safe.”

“And I’m safe in here!?” Valerie asked in disbelief.

“More than standing out in the open,” the agent said quickly. He then muttered something under his breath that Valerie barely caught. “Probably won’t protect against whatever they have in store, but…”

"What was that?” Valerie asked, panic rising in her voice.

Instead of answering her, the agent turned and started scanning the room for threats, leaving Valerie with nothing to do but stare out the car windows as the other three agents slowly began to spread out and investigate the new room. Without much to do, Valerie decided to do the same. She was hindered by the fact that she was stuck inside the car, but she didn’t let that stop her.

The ceiling seemed to be pretty high-enough to the point that she couldn’t see the top from inside the vehicle. The silver egg and their car weren’t the only things in here, either. Lining the walls was a number of crates, as well as a few odds and ends like cables, some oddly shaped tools, and some small, cylindrical objects. There were also a few other egg-things, which Valerie quickly realized were some kind of transports, based on how they had been disassembled to reveal a number of alien seats inside.

There was something… off about this place, though-apart from the obvious, anyway. The air had a musty kind of scent, and Valerie noticed little puffs of dust rise from the floor with each step the F.B.I. agents took, giving the whole place a crypt-like feel that only served to make her more nervous.

While all of this was truly weird and disturbing, it did not compare to the other weird fact about this room: Besides the agents and Valerie herself, there was no one else in the room.

“It looks like some kind of… shuttle bay.” Valerie heard the other heavyset agent say in amazement. “But… if this is an alien shuttle bay, where is the-”

“Welcoming committee?” Agent Vale finished for him. “No idea, but keep your wits about you. I really don't like this…”

The one called Gamble tapped Agent Vale on her shoulder to get her attention. “Maybe this is the start of some sort of twisted maze? Like some kind of behavior test, designed to figure out our weaknesses?”

“No, nothing like that, my friends.”

Despite the fact that the voice was fairly quiet, and spoken in a mild, almost friendly tone, it seemed to come from everywhere. Instantly, all the agents twisted and turned, pointing their weapons at where they thought the sound was coming from. They also started to group together, staying back to back as they searched for the unknown threat.

"Calm down, I mean you no harm. I merely require some information, and your group seemed the most likely to have the data I require.”

“Who are you? Why have you brought us here!?” Agent Vale shouted at the unseen entity.

“Ah, both of those are excellent questions. But despite their simplicity, they are not easily answered. First, I need information. If I find your answers satisfactory, I will be quite willing to answer yours.”

“Like hell we’ll-” Gamble started to say, but was interrupted as Agent Vale lightly placed a hand on his shoulder.

“What happens if you don’t find our answers ‘satisfactory’?” she asked. Valerie felt her heart leap in fear.

“You will be returned exactly where I found you,” the voice said candidly, “though I would ask that you keep this meeting to yourselves. I have no intention of harming you, so you needn’t worry about that. It is against my primary purpose to see any of your species brought to harm.”

While the words were meant to be comforting, Valerie didn’t relax in the slightest. This creature had still kidnapped them, and could kill them in any number of nasty ways if they angered it. The fact that there was no welcoming committee and they weren’t restrained upon arrival did little to ease this fear.

Agent Vale was apparently a bit more level headed, though. “...Fine, what are your questions?”

“Splendid! Thank you deeply for being such accommodating creatures.” The monster seemed to be… Valerie wasn’t quite sure how to put it. He sounded happy; excited, even. But at the same time his voice was… flat. Unemotional, like he had only heard about the concept of emotion from books. “I understand that it can be quite disorienting to be taken from your current activity without warning or apparent cause, and I want you to know that I find your compliance quite agreeable.”

The outpouring of gratitude took the agents by surprise. “Uh… don’t… mention it?” Gamble said as he slowly lowered his weapon.

Valerie could see Agent Vale’s eyes roll from here. It was practically a whole body gesture. “Just… what do you want to know?”

“Ah, yes, quite. About two hours ago, there was a crime committed in a home in the population center I extracted you from. I believe the female still in the van was involved, but more importantly, I would like to know the identity of the beings underneath the sheets that your local law enforcement removed from the scene, which you later moved into the other three transport vehicles for relocation.”

The three agents near the center of the room started whispering to each other, so quietly that Valerie found it impossible to overhear. Finally, they broke from their huddle and looked towards the walls again. “They were… creatures not from Earth. They had four legs and four arms, and carried-”

“Ah, thank you, that is quite enough,” the creature hummed over the intercom, apparently pleased with itself. “Yes, yes. They cannot become angry at me now, the law has already been broken. Anything else after this falls under damage control and fulfillment of my primary mission…”

“Excuse me, but just what are you? Why did you need to hear that, and what law?” Vale asked the mysterious voice.

The creature seemed surprised that they were still here. “Oh! My dear, I’m quite sorry about that, I was just… thinking? I think that’s the phrase your kind uses. I was thinking about my next action. Since you have confirmed for me that the law has, indeed, been broken, I need not hide from you or your species.” There was a whirring sound, followed by a faint hissing. Valerie looked around and quickly located some kind of small black ball attached to a black tube that slid up out of the floor near the far end of the room. It stopped extending once it reached about three feet in height, and with a faint hum, it began to glow.

Valerie had to commend the agents on their discipline. Had it been her, she probably would have already started firing.

After a few seconds of tense waiting, a white, glowing being seemed to materialize out of thin air. It was long and sinuous, its tail stretching about eight to nine feet behind it. It had no legs, instead supporting itself on its tail in a way that made Valerie feel uncomfortable just watching. It had four arms, each ending in a hand that had three spindly, claw-like fingers and one thumb. Its head had a faintly human look to it, though the four eyes were a bit disturbing, as was its scaly skin. All in all, it looked like some kind of snake-man, though it didn’t quite look real, seeing as how it was completely white, glowing, and transparent, as if it was made of light, rather than flesh and blood. “My name is Yavaar, and at this moment, I am your only hope in defending yourselves against the beings who have recently violated your home,” it said, holding its glowing arms outstretched to the stunned humans, a serene, peaceful look on its face.

That look was quickly replaced with confusion, however, when Gamble raised his weapon and opened fire on the glowing being.

* * *

As we moved through the hive-like structure, I marveled at the fluid nature of the whole thing. The whole place looked to be made of some kind of stone, but the passages would open and close seemingly at random, the very walls flowing as if made of water. On top of that, the whole place had a very vertical feel to it, with ledges and entrances far above us, out of my reach, but not out of reach of a shapechanger. The design choices of a flying, morphing race, I assume, I thought to myself as one of the passages closed behind us, nearly catching my rump.

The new room that she led me through seemed to be some kind of nursery; everywhere I looked I could see small larva-like shapeshifters, bits of eggshell, as well as eggs about the size of pumpkins. There were adult shapeshifters here, too. They were busy, though; collecting eggs, putting larvae into dark purple goo sacks on their backs, and generally looking like they were getting ready to move the whole adorable (if somewhat gross) collection somewhere else.

As we passed through this new room, though, I couldn't help but notice the stares of fear from the adults as we passed. Some looked at me with a slight amount of hope, but for the most part I saw resignation. As if they already knew what was going to happen to them. “What’s going on? Why is everyone so scared?”

“They expect worst,” she said simply as another passage opened for us. This one led up a flight of stairs, which I thought odd to have in a place like this. “Ponies don't like us, for good reason. Only real contact be attack by rival, who try to take their land, freedom and love.”

This frankly confused me. The land and freedom things I could understand, since they were the cause of about ninety-nine percent of the armed conflicts on my home planet. What I didn’t get was what love had to do with this. “Um… sorry, but how can you take love?”

The Queen didn’t even look back as she began mounting those stairs. “When pony love other pony, they give other magic. Small amount, not too much of natural magic, but still give each other. We… not strong. Our souls, not strong. In fact, our souls quite weak. We need this small bit of magic like you need water.”

This stopped me in my tracks. “Wait… you’re telling me you feed on ponies!?” I asked, completely disgusted with her.

She stopped as well to turn around and give me a level stare, unflinching and unapologetic. “We need this to survive. Our race die, if not feed on ponies. It make them weaker, yes, but if done right, if done proper, no one die, and pony not even know we there.”

“So, what? You take the place of ponies for a bit, feed on their love, then swap the real ones back in with no one the wiser?” I asked, somewhat horrified at the thought. “Couldn’t you, I don’t know, freaking ask!? If this is a thing you need in order to keep living, why don’t you find willing people!?

The Queen gave a short, negligent toss of her head. “You think we not try that? We have many legend, many history, of exact thing. Why you think my children there so afraid?” she asked, pointing towards the room we had just left.

I turned around and looked back at the room we left. Or at least, the wall where the opening once was. Even though I couldn’t see them anymore, I knew she was right; that wasn’t the fear of someone who was on the receiving end of a diplomatic misunderstanding.

No, that was the fear of someone who knew that the boogy man was coming to get them.

But I also knew that that fear was unfounded. My halfway normal face and the clothes on my back were ample evidence of that. “But… I know these people, if you just talk to them, you’d find that they aren’t the monsters that your people believe them to be! You’d-”

She held up her hoof as I turned back to her, a look of wary hope in her eyes. “I know… we actually were get ready to step out of shadows… take first step towards working with ponies, rather than parasite them. But…”

Like a light bulb flooded a room with light, understanding flooded my brain with certainty. “Your rival’s coup changed all that… You don’t go to them with a diplomat because you think they might kill him outright.” And with that, another thought occurred to me. “And you called your subjects your children… which would be like asking your baby to walk into the lion’s den…”

She nodded, then turned back towards the wall behind her. Almost as if it were expecting her, the wall opened to reveal a large, spacious room. Stalagmites and stalactites hung from the ceiling or grew from the ground, while in the center was a raised dais. On this pedestal was a stone throne, made of some sort of unknown purple material, and covered in gems. It was quite impressive, though the colors and gems felt kind of out of place with the general look of the room.

Instead of making her way towards the chair as I assumed, the shapeshifter queen instead led me around it, towards the back of the room. There was a flat, featureless wall there, but I figured this one would probably open for us as well. “Yes. And if go myself, may be killed. Don’t know what happen then. My children may die off, or be taken or conquered by hive that like or hate my hive,” she said as she turned back to look at me, her eyes burning with hope. “But not have to be like this. You, Promethean, know pony, friend with pony, can convince not their enemy. You can bridge gap, can help us not be hunted like animals in griffon chase.”

I scratched under my chin and thought carefully. Everything she just told me could have been a lie, but I didn’t think so. After all, she had let me walk without an armed escort, and had led me right through where she kept her babies. If I had wanted to take a hostage, there would have been very little she could have done to stop me. I’ve seen how fast these guys move, and they would have had no chance to stop me from wreaking some irreversible havoc.

That’s not to say I’d actually have done that. I’m not a monster... at least, not anymore. It had crossed my mind, but one look at those wide-eyed adorable faces made me throw out that decision immediately.

However, before I agreed to anything, I needed to know something first. “Before I even think about this, please, tell me: Why did you call me Promethean?”

The Queen didn't say anything. Instead, she just gave me a sorrowful look, then moved to the side as she gestured towards the blank wall behind her. As she did this, the blank wall behind her opened to reveal a long, narrow room. This place wasn't lit like the rest of the hive, but that changed as I took a hesitant step forward. Torches, honest-to-goodness torches, lit themselves two at a time, creating a path in between some ancient, yet well-kept pillars. The path eventually led to a raised dais, upon which lay a long, stone box. As I approached, I noticed little niches in the walls behind the pillars, each one with another stone sarcophagus hidden within. Underneath each of those coffins was a metal plaque, written in a language that was unknown, but oddly familiar.

My eyes were locked on the coffin at the end, though, and as I approached, I noticed another plaque underneath, written in that strange yet familiar script. Slowly, I mounted the stairs and looked down at the beautifully carved lid.

On it was something I never would have believed possible, yet had somehow expected ever since I had come here.

It was the image of a man, his arms crossed on his armored chest, with his sword nestled under his hands. He looked like he might have been sleeping, though I already knew that wasn't the case.

“Inscription reads: here lay Markos, Leader Fifty, Emissary of Oracle, and felled by Gelatin Sea,” the queen said behind me. “I call you Promethean because you not the first of your kind come to this world.”

Author's Notes:

While I did use the changeling hive design (I really liked that part of the season finale), I will not be using the "love giving" changeling design from the season finale. Giving love instead of eating it really doesn't fit with the lore I had already come up with these guys before seeing the season finale, so I apologize ahead of time to any of you that had fallen in love with said design.

That being said, these guys will be some of the more notable examples of how this Equestria is an alternate universe to the one you guys know and love.

Also, I apologize for my prolonged silence, I've really had a rough time at work lately, and it has been sapping away my creativity. I hope to change that, though.

At any rate, thank you so much for following along with my story and sticking with it for so long! You guys are the best!

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIII

“Gamble! Stand down!!” the female warrior shouted as she tried to get the much larger human to lower his weapon.

However, Yavaar could easily detect that she was incapable of stopping him. The body mass difference alone meant that she would have had to struggle just to shove him back a few inches, nevermind trying to disarm him alone.

However, she had some help in the form of her other subordinate, who quickly grabbed the projectile weapon and shoved the now disarmed Gamble to his buttocks.

“Are you freaking insane? They have us surrounded! Your little stunt could get us all killed!!” The yet unnamed subordinate yelled as he handed the weapon to his leader.

Gamble didn’t respond. In fact, Yavaar was about ninety-eight percent certain that he couldn’t.

While Yavaar’s primary mission was to watch over his cousins of Earth, his secondary mission had been to monitor their development, and look for any problems that might arise during first contact. And right now, with how Gamble was staring at Yavaar’s holographic avatar, and how Yavaar’s scanners were detecting a spike in the human’s adrenal production, he was fairly certain he had accidentally stumbled over one of humanity’s more common phobias.

“I’m terribly sorry,” Yavaar said as he shut down the holographic projector. “If I had been aware of one of your number having ophidiophobia, I wouldn’t have used my avatar so recklessly.”

The female warrior quickly turned towards where the hologram had been moments before, her weapon lowered and her other hand held out in what Yavaar could only assume was in a placating gesture. “He didn’t mean it! Please don’t… wait, what?”

“From my sensor readings, it’s clear that your companion has a deeply rooted fear of the common terrestrial organism known as the snake. My people share many physical characteristics with this reptile, so it is understandable that he would react in such a fashion,” Yavaar answered in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. “My compliments to your reaction speed, as well as your jump to fight, instead of flight. Had I been a real, physical threat, I would have been neutralized very quickly.”

Gamble didn’t answer. All he did was stare at the floor, his breathing ragged, and his whole frame shaking as his body’s vitals slowly returned to a more normal level.

The female warrior took a hesitant step forward, clearly unsure about something, though it was just a little bit beyond Yavaar’s capabilities to extrapolate why that was. “You’re… not mad?”

Yavaar hummed a little bit before responding. “I had calculated that there was roughly a seventy percent chance that you would have fired your weapons the moment I showed you my avatar. There was a further fifty percent chance that you would have fired the moment I started speaking, and a twenty percent chance that you would have fired the moment I ended. I am not ‘mad,’ merely relieved that I need not attempt to reason you out of further violence.”

“Are you… a machine?”

Though Yavaar had detected her movement before she said anything, he was still somewhat surprised that the unarmed human inside the van had spoken. He gave out another low hum before responding. “I am not. I am unsure if your people have an adequate word for what I am or not, but it would be incorrect to assume that I am some sort of robot.” He spent several cycles thinking about this before his central processor finally conceded the point. “However, because of your lack of understanding, you may think of me as a computer, or an artificial intelligence. It is not a perfect comparison, but it is an apt one, since that is the role I fulfill on this station.”

Yavaar observed patiently as the human standing guard over the van attempted to get the civilian back inside the relative safety of the automobile, before being waved off by the female warrior. “Let her out. She might be useful, and it’s apparent that we’re not about to be vaporized.”

With a small, rumbling sound, the large human standing guard moved out of the way, allowing the civilian to move towards the center of the room with small, hesitant steps. “Why did you bring us here? And why was it so important that you find out about the aliens who already came?”

“Oh! I apologize for that. I have a few reasons for bringing you here, but the most important one is that it is very illegal among my kind to interfere with the development of a pre-spacefaring species.” Yavaar hummed again, then cut off the interjection that the warrior closest to the van was about to make. “And no, while making it to your moon with your current level of technology is impressive, it does not count under our definition of spacefaring.”

The warrior slowly lowered his hand and closed his mouth, looking a bit crestfallen. The female warrior seemed to take this in stride, however. “So, what does this make you? Some kind of scientific outpost put here to study us?”

According to his records and studies, that sort of question could have been a very belligerent one. However, her tone was more curious than anything else. “That is merely my secondary objective. My primary purpose is to watch the space surrounding your planet and ensure that the Krin, the aliens that attacked you, do not attempt anything untoward against your people without our knowledge.”

This seemed to surprise the assembled humans. “You’re… protecting us?” the female leader asked.

“You’re doing a lousy job of it…” Yavaar heard the one called Gamble mutter under his breath. It seemed that the initial fear response he suffered had worn off, though he still seemed fairly agitated.

Yavaar chose to ignore him. “Yes, my primary purpose is to ensure that you are left unmolested, but I admit that I have failed. The Krin have developed a new generation of cloaking technology—one that I am quite incapable of detecting with my current suite of sensors. Not only that, but they have irreparably damaged my base, making it quite impossible for me to alert my superiors of their incursion.” This seemed to make the humans worry more, which only would make what he had to say next all the more difficult. “That is why I brought you here. I need your help to remove me from this base; once that task is complete, I promise to tell you everything I know of the intergalactic political landscape, as well as your best options for defending yourselves.”

The humans huddled into a group again, whispering among themselves before finally breaking apart. Yavaar could hear every word said, but he chose to pretend that he couldn’t. “We’ll see what we can do, but first we’ll need you to send at least some of us back to Earth. If what you say is true, we’ll need personnel and equipment to get to you,” the apparent leader said as she holstered her weapon.

“Splendid! Now, if I may be so bold, before I send you back, may I ask your names?” Yavaar asked politely.

“I’m Special Agent Vale, this is Special Agents Stone, Smith and Bartlett,” Agent Vale said, pointing to each of her subordinates in turn. Yavaar noticed that she introduced the one called Gamble as Bartlett, and made a note to ask about that in the future in his memory core. “The civilian is Valerie,” she finally finished as the rest of her team holstered their weapons in turn.

“Very well. I shall send you back the same way you came, but I must warn you: It seems that one of my probes was destroyed by your compatriots, so I will not be putting you exactly where I found you. Instead, I will place you a few hundred of your feet away, in an effort to preserve my last remaining probe. If it is destroyed, our link between this facility and your home planet would be effectively severed.”

Special Agent Vale nodded in understanding, her face turned up into a hesitant smile. “I’ll be sure to remember that. Now, if it's not too much trouble, I'd like you to send Bartlett, Valerie and myself home, while Stone and Smith stay behind. We’ll gather at the place you return us to once we’re ready.”

“As you have said it, so shall it be. But please, be quick; time is of the essence, and I do not know when the Krin will strike again. May the Creator watch over you in your efforts,” Yavaar said as he powered up the teleporter for the return trip.

“Wait, what-” Valerie started to ask, but her question was cut off as she vanished from the facility.

“May the Creator watch over us all…” Yavaar muttered as he started making preparations for his removal from the observatory.

* * *

“Aeropus! Aeropus!”

Aeropus looked up from the helmet he was polishing to see quite a few changeling pupa galloping into his shared pod. The sight of so many changeling pupa entering his pod both alarmed and put a smile on the older changeling's face. “Hey, guys… shouldn’t you be getting ready to head out with the caretakers?”

If the little ones heard him at all, they didn’t show it. “Aeropus! We saw it! We saw the Promethean!!”

“Is it true that it’s going to stop the ponies?”

“It looked different than I thought it would… Aren’t they supposed to have more hair?”

“I didn’t think its eyes would look so much like a changeling drone’s eyes…”

“Can they really create order from chaos?”

“Stop! Stop!!” Aeropus said, waving his hooves to get the younger one’s attention. By Themis, was I really that excitable when I was a pupa? he thought as he rubbed his head wearily. “The Promethean’s visit is amazing after all this time, but you need to be more concerned with getting out of here. We’re still not sure if he’ll even think about helping us, so you need to follow your caretakers. Go back to the egg rooms and wait for them there.”

The young changelings all groaned at that, but they turned around as the older changeling instructed, allowing him the precious time he needed to ready his equipment.

He was a pod leader, and as such, it was his job to ensure the safety of the hive. He still fully intended on following his Queen’s orders, but if it was determined that the Equestrians would not listen, it was his job to ensure the survival of the hive’s future.

Even if that meant bloodshed.

With a sigh, the changeling began putting on his gear, starting with the large, purple breastplate.

“Why is da Promefian so spethal?” a small voice asked, causing Aeropus to drop his plate armor in fright. He quickly turned, only to find little Shell, barely fresh from being a larva, sitting on his rump in the entrance, a hoof in his mouth and a question in his eyes.

“It’s not the Promethean that’s important—it’s his connection to the ponies,” Aeropus said, giving the young one a quick smile. He then sent the little rascal on his way with a light swat of his hoof. “Now, get out of here; I bet the caretakers are worried sick about you.”

The young one didn’t complain, though he did grumble a bit as he turned to follow his elder’s instructions. Aeropus just shook his head, then got back to putting on his armor, the joy he felt at seeing the younglings fleeing with every piece he donned.

* * *

“Well? What did he say!?” Malphis asked, nearly beside herself with excitement as little Shell came around the corner.

“He thaid that… uh…” Shell stopped for a second to stick his hoof in his mouth and think. His eyes suddenly lit up as he remembered what Aeropus had told him. “He thaid that the Promefian wathn’t important, but… but conneshion to the ponieth ith.”

Malphis perked up at this, an understanding grin on her face. “Oh! The Queen Mother must want it to tell the ponies we don’t want to fight! Then we’ll all be friends!!”

The other pupa all nodded sagely at the eldest’s words. It was just the sort of plan that Mother would come up with to save the hive. “You think they would feed us willingly after that?” one of them asked.

“I don’t know… but I bet the Promethean would be able to tell us if we asked nicely!” Malphis said as she turned towards the direction of the throne room. “Come on! I heard that Mother was taking it to the Hall of Gaea!”

A little voice interrupted them before they had even taken one step. “But… Aeroputh thaid we need to go to our pod…”

“Don’t worry, Shell, we’ll go there... right after we ask the Promethean about the ponies!” Malphis said, brushing off the youngest’s concerns. “In fact, Father probably made it on the way today! Come on!”

“But…” Shell started to say, but trailed off when he realized that the others had stopped listening, and already were making their way towards the throne room. “But… but guyth! Guyth!!

Feeling completely ignored, Shell chased after them, trying to get their attention, but failing spectacularly as the older pupa talked about how different the Promethean must be to all the stories the caretakers had told them when they were larva.

* * *

I was faintly aware of the shapechanger queen’s voice, probably expounding further upon the mystery in front of me, but I couldn’t hear her. All I could do was stare at the lettering on the plaque, its flowing, silvery script becoming more familiar by the second.

I couldn’t read it, of course, but I still recognized it. It was Greek, after all, one of the most influential languages to western culture. Being an American geek probably didn't hurt, either. Things like this tended to piqued my interests in ways I didn’t fully comprehend.

The armor was similarly recognizable. History honestly wasn’t my strong suite, but I had played plenty Dungeons and Dragons, and while they might have gotten many things wrong about ancient weapons and armor, they still got some things right. Just enough things to get my old friend Jacob talking about all the differences whenever we sat down to play.

That was beside the point, though. Both the script, and the armor, were clearly of Grecian make. That marked the man wearing it, and probably the people in the other coffins, as ancient Grecian soldiers.

Ignoring the queen, I quickly rushed over to another coffin, then another, then another. Each face was different, but they all wore the same human-made armor, carried some form of human-made weapon, and had the same plaques written in a human language. The facts were clear, and no matter how much I thought it impossible, I could not deny the evidence of my own eyes.

Somehow, a group of ancient Greeks had ended up a very long way from home. On top of that, it looked like they’d became stranded here.

“H...How?” I finally asked, surprised at just how shaky my voice was. “How is this even possible? Earth must be hundreds of light-years away… how did not one, but two groups of us arrive here!?

“I not know what draw you here, but I know why they came. They fail at reason, but we Changers of Hive Provide remember. We of Hive Provide always remember.”

I turned back to her, my eyes really seeing the shapechanger… no, the changer... No, that didn’t quite sound right… the Changeling Queen for the first time. She was taller than her children, her horn was longer and more crooked, and her eyes had irises, but otherwise she was pretty similar to her children.

More than that, though, I saw someone who had answers. Someone who was familiar with humans, and more importantly, might know a way to get me home.

“Please… why did they come here? And why couldn't they return home?” I asked, hope swelling in my chest.

She didn't answer at first. Instead, she moved closer to Markos' coffin, slowly circling it until it was between the two of us. She then cleared her throat, and ignited her horn in a blaze of purple.

“According to record of the Queens of Provide, in Age of Chaos, there was a demon,” she said, her voice taking on a more formal, theatrical tone. I guessed that this was some kind of oral tradition, passed down from Queen to Queen, so I didn't interrupt; especially since her magic started weaving pictures and illustrations to go along with her story. Instead, I sat on the ground and listened, watching intently as the Queen’s tale unfolded. “The demon, powerful and mischievous. By his will, rivers turned around, fish walk on land, and very bones of earth turned to wine. Many people try fight back, but all turn mad that try. Most run, flee, hide, but he find. Bring madness where order reign, and terror where peace should be.”

In response to her words, the magic above her twisted itself to look like some kind of monster. It was long and serpentine, with its various limbs looking like they were taken from completely unrelated animals. It had a lion’s paw and a eagle claw for its front limb, while its hind limbs were that of a goat and some kind of prehistoric dinosaur. Its tail was also reptilian, but not only did it not share colors with the demon's hind leg, but the tail also spiced things up by ending in some kind of feathery tuft. The demon's wings were mismatched as well, one being from something with feathers, while the other looked like it came from a bat. Its head looked vaguely equine, though the horns on top looked like an antler and… well, I wasn't really sure about the second one. Possibly a goat?

At any rate, its face was long, its eyebrows big and bushy, as was the goatee under its chin. Its mouth was twisted in a mischievous smile that only made it look completely out of its gourd, especially with the single fang sticking out of its mouth and the eyes that had pupils of different sizes.

The whole thing looked like Picasso had gone on a bender, and had decided to paint while he was sloshed.

As I watched, the magic also started to form other shapes. There were unicorns, dirt ponies and pegasi of each kind I had seen, as well as some of kinds that I hadn’t seen. There were even some changelings thrown in there too, but I quickly noticed something weird: the other races were nowhere to be found. No griffons, no minotaurs, not even a single dragon.

Heck, she even showed some kinds of equines that I hadn't seen before. I saw some zebra, buffalo, and even yaks. But… no other species were present.

Before I could fully comprehend this discrepancy, the magic started to move. The demon quickly flew over the assembled equines, turning rivers black, causing the skies to glow pink and rain a brown substance, changing fields into oceans, and generally causing more havoc than I thought possible, all while cackling like a maniac.

I wasn't entirely certain how much of this was fact, how much of it was a metaphor, and how much was exaggeration caused by repeated retelling, but I kept an open mind. After all, the rulers of the ponies were capable of moving the sun and moon. I wouldn't put it past the universe right now to have a being capable of causing the kind of chaos that the queen was depicting.

“How long was this thing's reign?” I asked, thoroughly absorbed into the tale at this point.

“We not know… could be centuries.” The demon twisted around until it appeared in front of a large clock, and with a snap of its claws, caused it to run in reverse. “Chaos cause clocks run back, change motion of sun and moon, destroy our records, even cause time itself to move back. For most ponies, history begins thousand years ago, when Sun and Moon finally stop madness. They have stories about earlier, stories that somehow carry over through Chaos, but they not remember whole truth. Neither we, for matter. But for us, history begin again lot earlier. It begin when they appeared.”

The demon disappeared, as did most of the ponies, leaving behind only the changelings. They all turned, expressions of wonder on their faces as a sheet of pure white appeared in the air, through which stepped a familiar figure. One who was a spitting image for the human carved into Markos’ coffin lid.

“They call themselves o ánthropos, but we know as Promethean, for story of their creation,” The Queen said as more and more humans came flooding through that mysterious archway. “They come to slay the demon.”

Author's Notes:

Well, here's the next chapter! Despite the positive reinforcement from my prereaders, I still hate this one. At any rate, I'm finally past this one, and I can move onto what I really wanted to write about next.

Onward!

Tip Jar!

Chapter XIV

Chapter XIV

“Why did they want to kill the Demon?”

Queen Titania’s gaze swept over the young changelings, their small eyes wide as they snuggled closer to the very confused-looking promethean. His reaction was understandable; he had been so enthralled by the Queen’s tale that he hadn’t even glanced towards the little ones when they had crept in to listen. He probably would have continued to not notice had little Shell kept quiet.

She smiled at them, the sight of her children bringing her joy despite the danger of their current circumstances. “They told us that a person they called the Oracle sent them.” The promethean’s eyes snapped back up at her words, just in time to see the Queen’s magic weave itself to show a tall promethean, wreathed in power and smoke, whose eyes seemed to blaze with a holy light. Behind her was another, wrapped in chains, clearly in agony. “They said that a spirit called Gaea had been crying out to the Oracle, seeking her help, as well as the help of her people. The Oracle told them that The Demon was stealing her, to what end, they did not know. Only that they needed to stop him before he finished.”

“Gaea…” the promethean muttered to himself, but did not otherwise interrupt.

“In her wisdom, the Oracle summoned the greatest of the Demigods to her side. Many were called, but so few heeded her words,” the queen said, shaking her head sadly. “Those that did come were given great gifts; weapons and armor, blessed by a spirit that the prometheans called the Titan Themis. But none of these gifts were as great, or as mighty, as the very Throne of Themis that they carried through that gate.” The magic changed again, showing the prometheans as they came through the portal. In the vanguard were four of their mightiest, bearing on their backs a huge throne.

The promethean and the little ones all gasped in recognition, as they should have, for the chair was none other than the one that sat in Titania’s throne room.

As soon as the magic showed the throne entering the hive, the chaos caused by the Demon calmed. The walls of the hive changed from pudding to stone again, and the hapless changelings under the Demon’s thrall fell to the ground in pain and confusion. One tried to get up, only to be stopped by a booted foot to its throat, and a sword at its side. “The Oracle had not informed her warriors of the Demon’s tyranny, only that an end must be brought to him. When they first stepped through that gate, they assumed us soldiers of the Enemy, not realizing until almost too late that that was not the case.”

Before the soldier created by the queen’s magic killed the small changeling under his boot, someone grabbed the sword, staying the promethean’s hand. The promethean that stopped the soldier stood head and shoulders above the rest, looking more like a bear than a promethean. In his hand was a mighty spear, and on his helmet was a large, colorful plume. With that one hand he not only stopped the killing blow, but forced the other soldier off the still confused changeling, his mouth giving out orders in a loud, barking voice.

Or at least, that’s the impression the magic was giving. The facsimile’s words were actually only quiet murmurs, echoey and indistinct, to give the impression that the speaker was very far away; or, rather, that the speaker lived a very long time ago.

“His name was Markos, and he led the Demigods who were sent to destroy the Demon,” Titania said as Markos began directing his troops. They ran every which way, setting up camp, securing the area, but more importantly, they began helping the changelings. “Though we did not share a language, nor did we possess the marvel that is the translation spell at the time, he instantly recognized us as innocent, and set his men to help us, rather than kill us.”

“What happen to them?” the promethean in front of her asked, his eyes never leaving the magic for an instant.

“Markos was very wise, and felt that to charge the Demon without knowing anything about it was folly.” The magic shifted again, showing the soldiers conversing with the changelings, helping them rebuild their hive, and even playing with them. “They stayed with us for a time, teaching us a portion of their language, so that they might have a better understanding of what they faced. But once we were able to communicate all that we knew of the enemy, they sallied forth from the hive, fully intent on ending the evil one.”

The promethean’s head cocked to the side, a question clearly written there. “If this creature have power like say, how they hope bring it down?”

Titania bowed her head, then turned away, the magic around her shifting to reveal the warriors charging into battle. “Their weapons were blessed by the Spirit of Themis. While I do not know who that is, or what god she was, her effects were palpable. Her gift… protected the warriors, kept them from insanity, and stopped the Demon’s magic from affecting them. To a much lesser extent, it had the same power as the throne, but with one major difference.”

“What wath that?” Little Shell asked, his face filled with equal parts wonder and horror as he removed the hoof from his mouth.

“It did not stop the Demon’s magic from affecting the world around them.” Titania’s magic collected in front of her, then split off to each of the coffins, forming a promethean over each one. One was drowning in a sea of gelatin, while another was shown sweating to death in a desert, while yet another was buried as custard rained from the sky. Each scene was different from the last, each horrifying in its own way. “The Demon was quick to notice this, and took advantage of it: some he buried under a mountain of custard until they suffocated. Others, he flooded out with pudding, while still more he trapped in mazes, forcing them to wander until they died of thirst. He did not seem to want to kill them at first. He would taunt them, tell them that all they needed to do to survive was to take off their armor, but none of them took the demon's offer. Fifty strong left this hive to fight the Demon, none returned to tell the tale.”

The promethean rose to his feet, then gestured towards the coffins. “Then how they get here? And how demon defeated? Also, why not take throne with, if so powerful? They could need that!”

Titania smiled sadly, then let her magic gather back in front of her, changing to show the changelings and the prometheans making preparations. “The prometheans did not take everything with them. They left spare weapons and armor, each an artifact blessed with the power of Themis. There were not many, but there were enough to arm a few of my people. When Markos’ soldiers left, Queen Titania the First armed her own soldiers with these weapons, to join the battle and bring the Demon to his knees.” The magic changed again to show the carnage, as well a small group of changelings overlooking it. “Her soldiers were quick to understand that even if they had brought the throne with them, it was a fool’s errand to try and stop the Demon. So they instead watched, and waited, and collected the bodies of the fallen as they each made their sacrifice.”

“Yes, but why leave throne behind?” the promethean asked, clearly frustrated. “Even if not do anything, they still He Who Knows. They still would get any edge that they can!”

Titania just smiled at that, then let her magic change to the next part of the story. It showed Markos again, and he seemed to be talking to the old changeling queen. “Before he left, Markos gave Queen Titania the First some important instructions. He told us to protect the throne, but more importantly, to protect the portal.” All the magic she had released gathered itself until it turned into a single object: a mirror. It was beautifully crafted, framed in purple in the shape of a horseshoe, and topped with a silhouette of a pony. “Markos thought he would fail, but he did not leave without a contingency. He told us that the portal would open itself every thirty moons, according to his moon. He promised that if the Oracle could summon more heroes, she would send them.”

The promethean looked around pointedly at the coffins, then back to the Queen. “I take it that never happen.”

She lowered her head in sorrow. “My people stood guard over the mirror for a very long time. We would venture forth out of our hive for food from time to time, but until the Demon’s reign was brought to an end, we were essentially prisoners inside our own home.” She frowned, her magic changing into more changelings standing in front of the portal, which they quickly entered. “Once, Queen Titania the Second sent forth an expedition through the mirror, intent on finding out what happened to her allies. Those that returned spoke of a place where the power of magic was rapidly waning. Where the very sun left horrible disfigurements on those who braved its light for too long. The survivors of the expedition... did not last long.”

The promethean’s face turned down into a frown as he watched the little mini changelings come back through the portal, then die from exposure. The children around him all gasped in terror, but the alien seemed more worried than terrified. “I… not think that right. Our sun should be normal…” he whispered to himself.

Queen Titania chose to ignore him in favor of not losing the momentum of her story. “As time went on, we fell into despair, until one day, the mirror disappeared entirely.”

The promethean looked like he was about to cry at those words. “You mean that the only way home is-”

“Do not misunderstand me,” Titania said with a wave of her hoof, instantly filling the alien with hope again. The magic changed, showing a shadowy figure approaching the mirror. “The portal wasn’t destroyed, but stolen, as were several pieces of armor left by the prometheans. We had grown lax in our vigil, and thought that no help would ever come from your world.”

Little Shell removed a hoof from his mouth for a little bit. “Who took the portal, Mommy?”

“We do not know who took the portal, sweetie,” Queen Titania said with a smile, both answering the question, and rephrasing it for the promethean in the room. “We do know what happened soon after, however. Once the portal was gone, we thought all was lost. We assumed that the Demon’s reign would continue uncontested for eternity.” Her magic twisted itself once again, showing the Demon on his rampage, laughing maniacally to the heavens as it created hell on earth. It stopped, however, when two glowing figures appeared in front of it, crowned in glory, and wielding the Elements of Harmony.

The Demon didn’t even seem perturbed. Instead, it was laughing at what seemed to it to be a foolhardy endeavor.

The two alicorns were not amused in the slightest, though, and as the energies of Harmony began to swirl around the two, their countenances only became more serious.

“We were not there when it happened, but Celestia and Luna were. Many cycles after the portal was stolen, they appeared, as if from nowhere, and cast down the Demon with naught but a flick of their horns.” A rainbow shot out of the two regal alicorns, striking the Demon and imprisoning it in stone, still laughing as if the universe had told the greatest joke of all time.

“...Just how old are Sun, Moon?” the promethean muttered under his breath.

“Far older than their mortal coils would indicate, but that is beside the point,” Queen Titania said as the magic shattered, turning the whole room to mist. The younglings around the Promethean ‘ooh’ed’ and ‘ahh’ed’ as they realized that their mother had reached a portion of the tale they had never heard before. “The new alicorn princesses brought peace and freedom to the land, allowing us changelings to leave our prison and walk among them once again. My story would end there, had it not been the appearance of a strange unicorn bearing the face of one who had died long before the Demon’s reign.”

Out of the mist stepped a unicorn wearing a hat and cloak covered in bells, while on his back rested a large set of saddlebags. He approached a group of changelings who also appeared from the mist, quickly taking off the pack and presenting it to them, their worried faces only becoming confused as they accepted his gift.

“He came asking for our forgiveness, saying that it was he who stole the promethean armor and the Mirror of Gaea. He came to return in part what he had took, but he was unable to return the mirror. It was-” Titania started to explain, but stopped short as one of her sons rushed in, out of breath and clearly distressed. “What is it, Aeropus?”

“My Queen,” he said, trying to gulp down air as he cut a ragged salute. “We have spotted a large group of thestral soldiers protecting a chariot headed this way.”

Fear suddenly gripped the Queen’s heart, her eyes darting to the confused looking Promethean. This is too soon! I haven't even begun to win him over to our side!

Regardless of how prepared she was, though, she was out of time. “I will go to meet them.” She turned back to the promethean, an apology in her eyes. “I am sorry, I cannot ask you to speak for us without having heard my full tale, Promethean. I would ask you to stay here while I try to speak with the Princess of the Moon.” She started to move past him and the younglings that surrounded him, her hooves feeling as heavy as her heart as she moved closer to her doom. “I will attempt to plead with her, and to get her to see that she has an assassin in her-”

“I will go.”

Titania stopped in her tracks, her eyes looking at the promethean in pure amazement. “You what?

“I will go. And don't call 'Promethean,’ please,” the alien said as he straightened his somewhat shredded shirt. “My name is Defender of People. At least, that what friends here call me.” The wounded promethean swept past the stunned-looking children and stood in front of the queen, his face an inscrutable mask. “I not quite believe you when say you not enemy of pony, but you at least not deserve death. At least, they do not deserve death,” he said as he waved towards the children behind him.

Little Shell pulled his hoof out of his mouth, hope in his small eyes as he looked up at the imposing promethean. “You mean that-”

“I mean that I talk, nothing more. I not have power over Moon, but I think she will listen,” Defender told the little one with a smile. He then looked back up, his eyes searching for the queen’s. “Besides, your mother not finish story. I love to hear end.”

Queen Titania started to bow to the promethean, but stopped when something occurred to her. Her eyes darted to Defender, then to Shell, then back to Defender again. Did he just…

The promethean raised an eyebrow curiously at her. “What?”

The Queen just shook her head, then finished her bow. “Nothing… just, thank you. Thank you so much.”

“No thank yet, we not out of forest still,” he said as he moved towards the doorway. “Besides, something tell this is only beginning…”

* * *

“Sir, we’ve found a second entrance.”

Shining Armor looked up at the unicorn lieutenant, her salute sharp as she and her partner slowly faded into view. “Good work, Shadowheart. Where is it?”

“It’s to the north, a small cabin sitting roughly right on top of the falls.”

Shining Armor smiled at that, then signaled the rest of his troops to form up around him. “Okay, colts, we got our way in. Remember that our objective is the ~human.~ Don’t get bogged down with any unnecessary fighting, and keep your eyes open for anypony else the 'lings might have ponynapped. Let's move!”

The small, elite force of fifteen quickly crept forward, Shadowheart’s horn glowing as she cast a muffling spell upon the party. Shining’s troops all had an almost… eager quality about them as they made their way towards the Changeling stronghold, but he could hardly blame them. After all, they were about to get a little payback for the disgrace that these dirty shapeshifters had given them.

This wasn't a full-scale assault, though. As much as Shining Armor wanted to pay them back for crashing his wedding in full, he was enough of a professional to know when to be discrete.

There was plenty of time for revenge later.

The troop stopped once they reached the hut, their sharp eyes studying every minute aspect, especially the ‘completely normal’ pony sitting on the porch, whittling at a block of wood with the knife in his magic. “Are you certain this is the place?” Shining whispered to Shadowheart.

“I’m certain, My Prince. That hut could barely accommodate a single pony, yet I saw twenty enter, and never leave.”

Shining nodded, but did not say anything; he was too busy thinking about how to go about this. They managed to get pretty close without the changeling at the door noticing. It would be a simple matter to send Shadowheart to incapacitate it, but something about this didn’t seem right. “This is too easy. Shadowheart, I want you to get behind the changeling, but don’t take him out. Be ready to if he tries to call out for help, but don’t do anything until then. I’ll give you twenty seconds to get into position.”

“What’s your plan, Armor?” Captain Breeze asked as the lieutenant disappeared from view.

Shining Armor gave the captain a wry smile and a wink. “I’m going to try and talk with it. At the very least, we’ll need a guide once we get inside. We have no idea what we’re dealing with.”

Captain Breeze gave his prince a grim nod, then waved the rest of the ponies down. “We’ll wait for your order then, Armor.”

Shining Armor quietly counted under his breath, giving Shadowheart enough time to get into place. Once he was certain she was ready, he took a bold step out of the bushes and towards the unsuspecting 'pony’.

At that exact moment, several things happened at once. Years later, after Shining Armor had had time to sit and think about everything, and had heard every side of the story imaginable, he would still claim that he had no clue what had happened.

The instant the Changeling on the porch saw the prince, he dropped his disguise. Shining Armor immediately noticed that this one was different from the ones that attacked Canterlot, but that didn't matter to him. At least, he didn't think it mattered until the Changeling, instead of attacking or calling out for help, fell into a low, low bow. “We surrender!” he called out as he groveled in front of Shining Armor.

If that was the only thing that had happened, the prince would have easily been able to cope. But sadly for him, it was not.

At the exact moment Shining Armor stepped out into the clearing, another troop of solar guards stepped out from the forest exactly opposite from where Shining Armor and his troops had been hiding. While this group looked just as surprised to see the prince as the prince was to see them, they were far more numerous than the little troop that Shining had brought with him. The apparent leader was a stallion that Shining recognized, though Shining Armor was positive that it wasn't him.

After all, Shining Armor was pretty certain that there was only one Shining Armor.

The two stallions just stood there for a long moment, staring at each other from across the way, all while the Changeling at the real Shining's hooves glanced back and forth between the two of them.

Finally, the phony scratched the back of his head with his hoof, a look of embarrassment on his face. “Well, this is awkward…”

Then all hell broke loose.

Author's Notes:

Hey, guys! It's here!

So, I figured I'd put this on top, because it's rather important to understanding some discrepancies between this story and the show. This is an AU, so the Equestria Girls' mirror works differently than the one in the show.

For starters, it doesn't turn you into a pony/human.

Second: humans on the other side are normally colored.

Third: No pony/human dopplegangers.

Fourth: Sunset Shimmer isn't a thing.

Anyway, there are a few other things that you've probably spotted by now, but those are the big ones in understanding how the mirror works. As for all the questions that Queen Titania's story raises, well, you'll have to keep reading to find out!

Chapter XV

Chapter XV

On the outside, Petros was nothing but a calm, country unicorn, idling away his life at the top of Neighagra Falls, singing songs, and practicing his woodcarving.

On the inside, he was a nervous wreck. The changeling had just received word that the Equestrians would be coming, and coming soon. He had his orders, and he could see a certain amount of sense in them, but he couldn’t help but feel as if he were being hunted.

After all, these were ponies they were dealing with. The race that, with only two members of the species, had thrown the largest changeling hive ever hatched out of Canterlot with such great velocity that Changelings had been found as far as Saddle Arabia and the Griffon Empire.

That kind of power wasn't something to take lightly.

Ever since the coup, Petros had been having the same, recurring nightmare where Shining Armor had somehow gotten inside Providence and had unleashed his spell. He had always woken up screaming right before being dashed to pieces against the stone walls of the hive. Just the thought of that horror caused him to shudder, nearly causing him to drop his knife in the process. He took a deep, cleansing breath, then set his knife back to the wood, fully intent on finishing his piece.

Before he was able to continue his work, he heard a rustle from some nearby bushes, causing him to glance up briefly.

What he saw nearly caused his heart to stop in his chest.

Standing not twenty paces from where he sat was none other than Prince Shining Armor himself, dressed in full battle armor, and wearing an expression that clearly showed that he knew exactly what Petros was.

Without even thinking about it, Petros released his form, changing back into his natural state. He then fell to his face, groveling before it had even fully registered in his head that that was what he was going to do. “We surrender!” he managed to choke out, barely remembering in time that that was what he was supposed to say.

A minute passed. Then two, then three. Finally, Petros looked up and noticed that the prince wasn’t looking at him at all. Instead, the pony’s attention was on the far side of the clearing, closer to where the river ran over the falls. Unbidden, Petros’ eyes looked to where the prince was staring, only see something that made his heart fall even further.

On the other side of the clearing was another Shining Armor, this one at the head of what looked like a decently-sized army. This one wasn’t angry looking, though. Instead, this one looked more embarrassed than anything else.

“Well, this is awkward…” the second Shining Armor said, rubbing the back of his head like a school foal caught cheating on a test.

In that instant, Petros felt like he knew what it was like to be a piece of iron struck between an anvil and a hammer.

“Kill them,” the second Shining Armor said, dropping the embarrassed air, his eyes narrowing dangerously as he stared at the first one. Petros had already guessed that the second one was the fake, but that look had only solidified that belief. He had only seen that look once before; it had been on the faces of Queen Chrysalis’ changelings that had fallen near the falls.

“Enemy changeling attack!” Petros shouted at the top of his lungs, springing to his hooves, ready to defend his hive and his people. Silently he said a prayer to the Spirits, asking for their blessing to rest on him and his hive, but it was without any real faith.

Deep down, he knew that he was already dead.

* * *

Princess Luna stepped off the carriage, her armor making a faint clanking sound as she looked to the falls. She closed her eyes briefly, allowing her senses to pick up the faint hum that Alex’s beacon was transmitting. It was still there, clear as day, though it seemed to be coming closer.

“Your Highness, maybe you should stay back and let me meet them first,” Dark Seeker cautioned. “We don’t fully know what the changeling queen is capable of, and she might-”

“I am aware of that, Captain. I also elect to respectfully ignore your advice,” she said as she briskly moved past the thestral. “I also don’t think we have to worry about that.”

“Why is that, Your Highness?”

“Because either ~Alex~ has already escaped, or they’re bringing him to meet us,” she said as her captain fell into line behind her.

Captain Dark Seeker’s face became stony and impassive as he heard that. He hadn’t been in Canterlot during the invasion; he, his stallions, and Princess Luna had been investigating a report of suspicious activity several miles south of Canterlot. The destruction they had come home to had made them realize just how thoroughly they had been duped.

None of the royal guard would forget that day, nor the ones who caused it.

“I just can't believe they’ve been living under our noses this whole time. I remember coming to these falls as a foal…” Dark Seeker said with a sigh.

“It certainly has a nostalgic feel to it, but that only serves to make this matter all the more intimidating,” Luna said, her voice sounding wistful. She straightened up as something caught her eye on the other side of the falling water, her body as tense as a bowstring. “Be ready, my little ponies; they're here.”

The guard around her formed up, their weapons held at the ready. When a faint pink aura appeared, creating a hole in the curtain of water, the tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife.

It was rather anticlimactic, then, that the only person to step out of the waterfall before it closed again was a rather bedraggled-looking ~Alex.~ His clothes were torn in several places, and there were some rather disgusting stains on them. His face, as well as any flesh that was exposed to the open air, was covered in nasty-looking bruises, and he seemed to be favoring his left arm a bit. He was also incredibly wet, even with the magical opening of the falls, due to the water in the air and the thigh deep water he was wading through.

However, as bad as his appearance was, it completely conflicted with just how calm he was as he walked through the water towards the bank that Luna and her soldiers stood on. He acted as if he hadn't just escaped from a Changeling prison, and was approaching them with an almost indecent casualness.

“Hello, Moon. We need talk,” he said in badly broken Equestrian.

Luna narrowed her eyes in suspicion. She didn't have a translation spell cast on her, not that she had heard the overlay from such a spell anyway. The ~human~ had used the Equestrian tongue himself. She could still feel the beacon on him, but something like that could be found and removed. “It is good to see you, ~Alex.~ I hope it’s not too much trouble if we find out if it is really you?”

The ~human~ raised his eyebrows a little, then gave a noncommittal shrug. “Fine, do whatever need do, just hurry. Have things to tell.”

The Princess of the Night gathered energy into her horn, molded it into the desired spell, then fired it as one continuous stream, disrupting any and all magic that might be binding him. If he was a Changeling, or was being mind controlled (as unlikely as that was), they would know instantly.

The moment the spell touched him, however, his face suddenly took on an incredibly weird expression. It seemed to tense up on one side, while going completely lax on the other. His right arm also twitched a couple times before he seemed to shake himself out of whatever had happened to him.

He looked at Luna, said something in his own language that Luna only half caught, then shook his head again. “What that is being?” he asked, clearly furious.

“I apologize for that, ~Alex;~ we had to be sure. It was a magical disruption spell, one designed to remove any and all magic that might be affecting you. It would have revealed if you were a Changeling, or if you were being controlled by one, but its drawbacks are-”

“Pain, and re-starting planted machinery,” the ~human~ interrupted, still looking incredibly grumpy. He shook his head a few more times, apparently in an effort to clear the effects, before sighing in frustration. “It… it not matter, wasn’t control. Wasn’t changeling. Need talk.”

Luna nodded at the alien, then waved a hoof at her guards. “Stand down, it is him.”

The Night Sentinels raised their spears reluctantly, all too aware that just a hoofful of feet away was a changeling stronghold filled to the brim with creatures that they, to a stallion, thought of as some of the lowest scum of the planet.

“I take it you’re here to speak on behalf of your captors, despite your less-than-pristine condition,” Princess Luna stated, her eyes sweeping over the obviously injured ~human~ with concern. “By the way, how is it that you are speaking our tongue?”

~Alex~ reached up and gently tapped the back of his skull. “Planted machinery finally get rough word collection together. Know still not speak right, but all words there.” he stopped and thought about that before shaking his head again. “Most words there. Have all words that you spoke me when talking. Should be enough to brain together.” He thought about this for a little bit more, before shaking his head again. “Communicate. Enough to communicate.”

Princess Luna smiled, then ignited her horn, casting the translation spell on both of them again. “Until you have it completely, I suggest using this. Your grammar and word usage is atrocious.”

~Alex~ stuck his tongue out at her, but his grin was good natured. The soldiers around them seemed uncomfortable with this obvious display of disrespectful familiarity, but did not say anything about it.

If the alien noticed their discomfort, he didn’t show it, taking a momentary glance behind him, before looking back at the princess. “I can see why that would be important,” the ~human~ responded, his magically translated speech far clearer and more concise than it had been previously. In fact, it was far more clear than any time it had been before, probably due to his greater understanding of the Equestrian tongue bridging the gap. “At any rate, you have to talk with the changeling queen. She has a few things to say that I’m pretty sure you’ll want to hear.”

Luna furrowed her eyebrows, giving the ~human~ a look that said it all. “~Alex,~ those things kidnapped Shining Armor’s wife, took her place, kidnapped Twilight Sparkle, wounded my sister, attacked Canterlot, attempted a coup, and tried to destroy our entire civilization.”

Luna expected outrage, disgust, or even horror. What she wasn’t expecting was a calm, steady gaze. “Really? And here I was thinking that they stole your sandwich or something.” This caused the Lunar Princess to stop in her tracks, her stare at the ~human~ one of pure disbelief. “Look, they told me about the coup. I might not know all the details, but they’ve been surprisingly upfront about everything. They also claim that they were in no way involved with that.”

Princess Luna’s eyes scanned every inch of the human’s face, searching for any hint of falsehood. “~Alex,~ they were probably telling you half-truths to make the lie that much more believable.”

“Luna, I’m not saying that you should trust her right off the club. I’m just saying that you should talk to her. If she’s lying, then fine. Do what you have to do. But if there’s any chance that she’s telling the truth, I think it’s worth it.” ~Alex~ sighed, then half turned towards the falls, pointing at it with his uninjured arm. “Right now, inside those falls, is a whole civilization. Males, females, and children, all quivering in fear because they think that the ponies are coming to end all their lives, without mercy or remorse.”

That instantly got Luna’s attention. “We would never-”

“I know, Luna. I know,” ~Alex~ said, turning back to her, a sad smile on his face. “The thing is, though, that they don’t know. They really think that the big bad ponies are coming to get them. I’m not saying that you have to believe her, or that you even have to like it. I’m only asking you to listen to her. Hear her out, and if you don’t like what she has to say, go ahead and do what you need to. I won’t stop you. Just…”

The ~human~ trailed off, looking like he wanted to say so much more. This, of course, piqued Luna’s curiosity. “Just what, ~Alex?~”

~Alex~ looked to her, back at the falls, then back at her, and gave a hard-to-describe shrug with his less-injured arm. “I don’t know. I can’t think of anything else to say to convince you to hold your horses and just listen, so I’m going to trust you to know what you’re doing.” Without another word, the ~human~ plopped down on the grass, picked a flower from the river bank, then began examining it with apparent interest.

“What’s wrong, Your Highness?” Dark Seeker whispered to his princess, clearly confused. “We have him. Why are we staying?”

Luna rubbed a hoof over her face as she stared at the obstinate ~human.~ “You do know that they kidnapped you, and beat you, by the looks of things…”

~Alex~ didn’t say anything, choosing to pluck a petal off the flower instead.

The Princess of the Night sighed, then sat down on the bank next to the ~human.~ “This is really important, isn’t it?”

“You could say that…” the ~human~ said cryptically, pulling off another petal, then letting it fall to the ground. “It’s really her story to tell. I could never do it the justice it deserves…”

Princess Luna watched him for a little while longer as he plucked petal after petal, until he finally ran out. Instead of picking up the conversation again, he chose to pick another flower, starting the process all over again. With a resigned sigh, Luna rose to her hooves and looked down at the stubborn ~human.~ “Alright. Go retrieve the queen, I would hear what she has to say. Guards!” The soldiers that surrounded them snapped to attention. “The queen is coming out to talk. I would not have any of you start an incident over this.”

~Alex~ jumped to his feet at this, a huge, open-mouth smile gracing his face. On anyone else, this might have looked like a welcoming gesture, but the ~human’s~ too-sharp teeth marred it a bit. “Thank you, Luna. You won’t regret this.” He turned and ran off, quickly covering the short distance through the water and to the falls with his long, lanky legs. He disappeared through the curtain of water, not even waiting long enough for the changelings inside to open it for him.

“Your Highness, I thought our intent was to talk to the Changeling Queen in the first place?” Dark Seeker asked, thoroughly confused.

“It was.”

Dark Seeker looked towards the falls, then back at the Princess. “But.. why did you resist the ~human~ so much? Why didn’t you just agree with him from the start?”

Princess Luna just shook her head as Neighagara Falls opened once again, much wider this time, presumably to allow a much larger party than just ~Alex~ through. “Not now, later.”

Captain Dark Seeker gulped, then straightened, his face impassive as he watched the shadows inside the falls move, then resolve themselves into several forms.

He nearly dropped his weapon when those forms stepped into the sunlight, their pink eyes and purple shells clashing heavily with the reports that he had read about these creatures. “Your Highness, they-”

“I know. I have seen the queen in both Princess Cadance’s and Shining Armor’s nightmares, and this queen looks nothing like them.” This was true; the changelings that had invaded Canterlot had light blue eyes and dark blue shells, with tattered wings that looked like they had come from a fly, or a beetle. The changelings that stepped out from the falls, on the other hand, were as different from the ones that invaded Canterlot as Day Tribe ponies were to Night Tribe ones. These changelings had pink luminescent eyes, and a dark purple shell covering their backs, with wings that more closely resembled those of a dragonfly.

As fascinating as the smaller ones were, Luna found her eyes inevitably drawn to the queen that led the changelings. Her bearing could only be described as regal, each movement a monument in refined dignity. She did not wear clothing, though she clearly had a sense of style, since she had tied her long, dark purple hair into a neat braid that cascaded over her right shoulder, with her tail following a similar scheme.

What really caught Luna’s attention about the queen was her eyes.

While the other changeling queen’s eyes had shown contempt on the surface, while just below lurked a deep, predatory hunger, these eyes were nothing like that. Inside that pink gaze wasn’t hunger or hatred, but concern and fear. She hid it well, but Luna had been a statesmare for a very long time, second only to her sister in terms of pure experience. She had a knack for picking up tells, and while the mare in front of her looked as calm as a spring morning, her eyes told another story entirely.

At least, that was probably what she wanted Luna to see. The Princess of the Night took a deep, cleansing breath, wrinkled her nose, then closed her eyes for a second. In response to her mental command, her long, ethereal mane and tail took on slightly larger and more imposing looks. “Stay on your guard. As different as they may be, these are still changelings, and they may be attempting a completely different deception.”

“Agreed.”

Princess Luna took a couple of steps forward as the Changeling Queen and her guards flew across the water and landed gently on the bank Luna was standing on. The queen had brought ~Alex~ with her, held in her magic as lightly as one would carry a foal, though by ~Alex’s~ expression he was probably not too happy with how he was being handled. “I can walk, you know,” he said, a little grumpily.

“You’re wet enough as it is, Defender,” the queen answered, her voice rich with barely suppressed humor.

~Alex~ just grumbled some more, something about someone being ‘no fun,’ but Luna ignored it in favor of fixing the queen with her best stare. It was a really good one, one that she had learned from her sister once she had returned from her banishment. “I take it that you are the Queen of the Changelings?” she asked carefully.

“I am Titania, queen of these changelings,” the queen gently corrected. “I would never presume to be mother to anyone other than my own children.”

Princess Luna raised an eyebrow at this, her expression never wavering. “Then you choose to persist in the story you told ~Alex?~ That you are blameless for the actions taken against Canterlot.”

The Queen gave Luna a nervous smile, cleared her throat, then began to recite something. “To the rulers of the great nation of Equestria, to the Princesses of the Sun and the Moon, I proclaim to you now that your lives, and the lives of your people, are in jeopardy. Before this month is through, the skies of Canterlot shall become black, and death shall rain upon her walls and streets. You have been warned.” The Queen then fell into a deep bow, as did her guards, before the shocked-looking Equestrians. “I ask you, what kind of enemy would announce to you, a week in advance, their attempt at a secret coup?”

Princess Luna just stared at the Queen, her mouth open, the look of stern disapproval having completely vanished from her face. Luna knew the words that the queen had recited well, as they had been inside the letter that had been left on Celestia’s throne. She and her sister had taken it as a threat, and had reacted accordingly. Were we wrong, then? Was it not a threat, but a warning? Luna thought to herself, looking at Queen Titania with newfound wonder.

“We are not your enemy, Princess of the Moon. We never have been. We took Defender not to harm, but to protect. Er...” she thought about that for a second, then let out a nervous chuckle. “At least, I did not intend for him to come to harm. My children were a little… overzealous, when they first met him. They did not-”

Whatever she said then was indecipherable, for at that precise moment a sound loud enough to drown out the thunderous roar of the falls echoed throughout the valley. Everyone present looked towards the source of the noise, only to see an ominous pink dome cover the ridge at the top of the falls, as well as several black shapes being violently thrown from its craggy precipice into the unforgiving valley below.

“Shining, what-”

“What the bloody-”

“Captain…”

“My children!”

In the space of a single heartbeat, Queen Titania took to the skies with enough speed to give Rainbow Dash a run for her money. Without even thinking about it, Luna took off after her, followed closely by both her and Titania’s guards. Her mind was rushing a mile a minute, trying to figure out what sort of scenario could have pushed Shining Armor to deploy his shield like that.

Before she could come to any sort of conclusion, the Changeling Queen caught up to the closest falling changeling and deftly caught it in her magic. Princess Luna was still quite a ways away from her, but she could still see the look of terror and worry on the queen’s face turn into one of complete disgust. The pink, gentle embrace that she held the smaller changeling in suddenly turned much harsher as the changeling was quickly bound tight.

“What are you doing?” Luna shouted, completely confused by the queen’s sudden change of attitude.

If the queen heard her, she didn’t show it, choosing to instead squeeze the changeling in her grip tighter while her expression became one of cold fury. “What are you doing anywhere near my hive?”

The changeling looked confused for a second, and as Luna got closer, she finally realized why the queen was so hostile towards this creature.

The changeling in her grip had green eyes, as opposed to Titania’s bright pink. It’s shell was a deep blue, and its wings were ragged and beetle-like, matching the description of the changelings that attacked Canterlot far closer than Titania and her changelings did.

If Titania was telling the truth, then this creature and its people had a lot to answer for.

The changeling chuckled a little as its wits came back to it, its grin one of complete insanity as it gazed at the furious queen. “Should you really be shaking me instead of doing something else? I hear that eggs are really quite fragile…”

The Queen’s expression didn’t change in the slightest as she magically bound the changeling’s wings and horn. She then roughly shoved the creature towards Luna’s surprised-looking guards. “You want one of Chrysalis’s people? Here he is. These are the changelings responsible for the damages against your city. If you still seek action against us, fine, we surrender our entire territory to you. You can lock me and my people in chains, and throw away the key later. Now, I must protect my children.”

Without another word, Queen Titania sped off towards the pink dome covering the top of Neighagra Falls, a determined expression on her face. She didn’t get very far before Luna, her guards, and the Queen’s guards caught up to her. “We shall assist you in this matter, though I expect you to explain in detail later.” Though her words sounded harsh, the smile on the Moon Princess’s face was as radiant as any dawn.

The Queen’s answer was a tentative, timid smile in return.

* * *

“There’s probably a lot more in the forest, and if I were them, I’d make my way to the second entrance. Sergeant Weather, take a couple of stallions to the falls below and alert the Princess,” Shining Armor barked at his troops.

“Sir, what about them?” a voice spoke up from behind the fuming captain.

Shining Armor glanced towards the sound, easily spotting Captain Breeze standing next to a group of fifteen pink and purple changelings. Most of them bore some kind of wound, many of them quite serious. All of them were looking at Shining Armor with naked fear.

“Oh, stop that,” Shining Armor snapped at them, the pressure from the shield he was projecting already making him irritable. “How many got through?” The wounded changelings just looked at each other, clearly outside of their element. “Hey! I’m talking here! I know you were doing your best to protect the entrance, but I also saw far more go inside that hut than come out! So tell me, how many got in?”

They looked at each other again, until one finally worked up the courage to step forwards. “Um… begging your pardon, Your Lordship, but it was probably forty or fifty.”

Shining Armor swore loudly, stomping a single hoof in frustration. “Okay, do you guys have some way of telling changelings apart from ponies? I want those monsters caught before they can hurt anypony else!”

The leader of the changelings gulped loudly, his eyes darting around nervously before finally answering. “Um, well, if you use a lie detector spell on us while disguised, we’ll glow a dark red, on account of-”

“Lie detector? Great. Breeze, you oversee out here. Buggy, Shadowheart, Steel Wing, you’re with me.”

Without another word, Captain Shining Armor swept past the changelings and into the small hut, the two guards and the completely confused, newly dubbed ‘Buggy’ in tow. The other changelings all looked to Captain Breeze, disbelief clear in their eyes. “I’m sorry, My Lord, but what just happened?”

Captain Breeze didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he got to work directing his remaining troops to see to the wounded; changeling and pony alike. There were only five of them that were in any sort of shape to be accepting such orders, Captain Breeze included, and if the changelings wanted to overpower them, now would have been the time.

Instead, the changelings found themselves swept up into the pony’s care, almost overpowered by the sheer niceness that was being displayed.

“Our captain is going to rout out the monsters that attacked your hive, that’s what’s happening,” Captain Breeze said as he applied a bandage to the changeling’s flank.

“No, sir, why are you helping us? We’re changelings! Yet you didn’t raise a single hoof against us, even during the chaos of that battle! Why?”

“Well, you surrendered for one. Our doctrine says that all surrendered troops of enemy nations should be treated with respect, and are exempt from violence of any kind. More importantly, though, do you see that?” Captain Breeze pointed towards the sky, where the glittering pink bubble that Shining Armor had conjured still sat, protecting the area against further attack.

The changeling nodded, his eyes focused on it with unabashed fear. “Yes, we saw you throw Chrysalis and her hive out of Canterlot with it. Truly it is a terrible weapon.”

This made Captain Breeze laugh, tears rolling down his face. “Oh, it’s cute that you think that…” he said, wiping a tear away with his pastern. He quickly straightened up and finished applying the bandage before he chose to continue, though he couldn’t quite make the smile disappear from his face. “A forcefield like that doesn’t just sweep everything and anything away; its only purpose is defense. To be specific, it defends against malice.”

The changeling looked confused at that. “Malice?”

Captain Breeze nodded as he started working on another changeling. “If you had any malice in your heart against us when that thing went up, you would have been sent flying just as fast as your look-a-likes. That’s why our Captain is helping you.”

The changeling looked up at the shield in wonder. “You can do something like that?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper.

“No, most ponies can’t. The captain is special, though. His talent is to protect other ponies, which is why his spell works the way it does. It’s not a weapon, but a shield.”

The gathered changelings looked up into the sky in wonder, the pink bubble around the secondary entrance not nearly as frightening as it once was. For the first time since Queen Chrysalis had attacked Canterlot, the changelings of the Hive of Providence felt hope rise in their chests. Not just hope for themselves, but hope for the future of their people.

Author's Notes:

Well, that chapter was a LOT easier for me to write, I can tell you that. The previous two chapters were practically torture to write. I was so anxious that I was going to screw something up with the lore and the storytelling scene that I was actually losing sleep over it.

At any rate, I hope you guys enjoyed reading this chapter as much as I loved writing it! Next chapter: INTO THE HIVE!

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVI

“Wait, those aren’t… Hey! I can’t fly, you know!” I shouted at the rapidly shrinking, horse-like aliens. It was no use, though. Even at my loudest, the group didn’t seem to notice in the slightest.

Not that I could blame them. Titania seemed pretty distraught over the flinging of those changelings, though she probably couldn’t tell at this distance that they weren’t hers. The princess, whom my newly completed lexicon had more accurately dubbed as either ‘Luna’ or ‘Selene’, had quickly chased after the distraught Changeling Queen, followed closely by both sets of guards.

I chose ‘Luna,’ even though her real name actually sounded like ‘Rei-Ah-Lah-Mas.’ It just rolled off the tongue a heck of a lot easier for me than her actual name, and I felt it had a better ring to it than ‘Selena.’ Funny thing, when I started using that name, a small script rolled in the lower right corner of my vision in Krin telling me that the ‘unknown language has been updated.’

Yeah, that was a bit of a surprise during Titania’s story. I was just sitting there, minding my own business, trying my best to follow along with her disjointed story, when suddenly everything she was saying was making a heck of a lot more sense. The words ‘Language partially translated’ were scrolling across the bottom of my vision, too, so that at least answered why it was happening. I had decided to mainly use their tongue while talking with Titania, just to get the feel of it, but some of those horse-noises are really hard to do...

At any rate, that was hardly the problem at the moment. If my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me, then the enemy changeling, this ‘Chrysalis’ if my translator was correct, was attacking Titania’s hive. I couldn’t let that happen.

I had no idea what that pink thing at the top of the falls was, but by the way it threw the enemy changelings, it must have been something good. Not only that, but the ponies seemed to think it was caused by one of their own, if how they reacted was anything to go by. That probably meant they were planning a two-pronged rescue operation, and had assumed that the Changelings wouldn't be nearly as cooperative as they actually were.

Why the enemy changelings attacked now was anyone’s guess. At least, that was if Titania was telling the truth about that. To be completely honest, I did trust her. The welcoming committee that I endured when I first arrived was a strike against her, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker. After all, if she was really as untrustworthy as all that, she wouldn’t have let me go first. That would have been the perfect time for me to escape, and she would have lost her only bargaining chip.

No, I trusted her, despite her race literally living off of deceit. What I didn’t trust was the second group of soldiers trying to get into the hive. They had no way of knowing that Titania’s hive wasn’t the bad guys here, and might try to exact vengeance on the changelings for crimes they hadn’t committed.

Which is why, after trying to get Titania’s and Luna’s attention and failing, I immediately turned and dashed towards the waterfall and the hidden hive beneath. If I hurry, I might be able to stop them before they do any real damage… I thought as I passed under the waterfall, getting myself even more wet. I had no real hope that I could make it before anyone died, but there was a very real possibility that I could stop them before things got out of hand.

“What is wrong being?” I heard a changeling ask as I re-entered the hive.

I waved at him to follow as I swept past. “Your hive under attack,” I said as he fell in step behind me. “Other hive here, and pony here. Not know enough, need stop. Take me to top falls?”

The changeling thought about this for a second, probably trying to work around my extremely terrible grammar, then gasped in horror. “Of course!” The next thing he said was way too fast for me to fully catch, but I managed to get the general gist of it. He wanted me to follow him, and he was going to lead me to the top.

I took off at a run, following closely behind the changeling. Every so often we would pass others, who would shout a question at us as we passed, to which the changeling leading me would give a short, clipped reply. I heard ‘attack’ and ‘get to the top.’

We barely went up two floors before the whole hive’s atmosphere seemed to change. Instead of tense, everyone seemed to be confused and panicky. I picked up a few words, but nothing that gave me a real clear picture on what was happening; they were just talking way too fast, and my software really wasn’t that complete.

“Seriously, guys. Calming down! Move out of way being, and I-” I started to say, but was cut off as something fast and black shot out of the crowd, covered in a bright green flame. The thing slowed down as it approached, but not due to anything it had done. Rather, it was my implants that changed my perception of the oncoming threat.

I calmly examined the creature, noting the pink and purple colors burning away to reveal light blue and dark blue. Its expression was one of triumph as it charged towards me, its hooves outstretched, and its voice a lagging cackle of glee.

I easily sidestepped it as calmly as one would dodge a charging child and, with one well-placed backhand, knocked it into a nearby wall and into unconsciousness.

The nearby changelings took a quick step back, all eyes on the stunned changeling. Some had looks of confusion, while others had ones of pure rage.

“Look!” I shouted, grabbing everybody’s attention. “Queen Chrysalis is attack! Pony maybe attack same time, not know difference! You know how tell difference changeling?”

The one I had been following raised his hoof uncertainly. “We know a way, but it may take time. The Ponies could-”

“I worry about ponies. They looking me, will listen. You look for fakes, all non-fakes go out to front of falls. Surrender to ponies there, they help.” I wasn’t sure that there would be friendly ponies that way, but it was in the direction of Titania and Luna. I trusted those two to come to an agreement and fast, especially in the face of a common enemy. Especially especially since Titania was never against Luna in the first place. “You.” I pointed at a changeling at random near the front. He was dressed in what looked like plate mail modeled after greek armor, and seemed rather surprised at being singled out. “You take me to top exit, to ponies. Now.”

Instead of complaining, he cut a quick salute, then turned and ran. “Right way, Promethean!”

I quickly followed him, and like an ocean, the crowd in front of us parted, allowing us forward. My sharp ears picked up the changeling behind me directing other changelings towards the exit, but that hardly mattered to me.

All that I cared about was getting to the top before something terrible happened.

We had barely made it up a floor before the universe chose to punish me for even making the thought. This floor seemed to be a lot less packed, probably because the changelings were all gathered at one of the two exits. That was probably why I was able to hear the scream come from up ahead in the first place. The changeling I was following almost tripped over himself, only to take off like a shot, his thin, dragonfly-like wings allowing him to double his speed, all while he shouted a word that wasn’t in my database.

Without even thinking about it, I kicked my speed into overdrive, and with good reason. I couldn’t understand the word that the changeling used, but I knew screams like those anywhere. The sounds were different from human children, but it still touched something primal in my psyche, nearly making my heart stop, and instantly caused a cold sweat to run down my back.

I wasn’t even aware of the fact that I passed my guard, nor would I have cared if I had been. All that mattered to me at the moment was the screaming, and how I could get to its source faster…

* * *

Malphis went flying as the magic ray collided with her skull, the power of the blast knocking her silly. It didn’t kill her, but that wasn’t because the changeling that hit her was holding back.

No, it didn’t kill her because one of her younger brothers had broken from his disguise as a rock to jump on the other changeling’s back. She couldn't tell who it was through the ringing in her ears, but that didn't matter to her. They weren't supposed to break disguise no matter what happened.

“Don’t you… dare… lay a hoof… on my thithter!” Malphis heard through her ringing headache.

“Hah! We found another rat hiding among the rocks!” one of the thugs said, which was closely followed by a charging horn, a blast, and a thud.

Malphis shook her head clear and looked up to see the first changeling looking at the second in disbelief.

Without changing expression, the first one reached out and slapped the second with his hoof. “You nearly took my head off with that!”

The second one looked positively offended at that. “It was just a stun, I wasn’t-”

“Is this really the time to be arguing? Just kill the sprogs and move on!” A third one said, stepping into Malphis’ field of view. They were still wearing their disguises, but it was obvious from how they were trying to kill Malphis and her brothers that they weren’t from the Hive of Providence. “We have more to do, and we can’t rely on the confusion of the Equestrians to protect us for long!”

“Yeah, yeah…” the first said, charging his horn again, pointing it directly at Malphis. “Just start scanning for others; the more we cripple this hive, the easier our queen’s victory shall be.”

“I will, I just-” the third started to say, but stopped when he turned and spotted something large, white and angry enter the room at a dead sprint. “Guys, look-”

Malphis saw the Promethean too, but couldn’t quite believe what was happening. It was like something out of legend, the Promethean coming to the aid of changelings, without reason or cause. She blinked her eyes, trying to rid her sight of the apparition and the false hope it brought.

Instead of the alien disappearing like she expected, only to be replaced by a certain death at the hooves of an enemy changeling, the Promethean instead seemed to grow much, much closer. He reached forward with one of his long, lanky hands, as if he were going to grab the changeling in front of him, and Malphis jumped in surprise as foot-long claws burst from his fingertips! With an audible sigh the Promethean's claws found their mark in the changeling in front of him, piercing through the rogue’s neck, and splashing all the nearby changelings in a deep crimson liquid. There was a green flash of fire, and the changeling impaled by the Promethean gave out a shuddering gasp as his disguise and life ebbed away.

All of this happened in the span of time it took for the other two changelings to turn and gasp in horror. One of them took a step back, while the other released the spell it had meant for Malphis. The ray of energy streaked towards the Promethean, but he wasn’t there to receive it. The beam hadn’t missed, and the Promethean hadn’t dodged or teleported, at least not that Malphis could see. It was just that, one moment the Promethean had been standing over an impaled changeling, and the next he was crouched low, his claws having already passed clean through the neck of a second changeling, with no movement on the Promethean's part that Malphis could detect. The energy beam had missed simply because it had been fired in a spot that the Promethean no longer occupied.

The last changeling took a couple of steps back as his second friend’s disguise and body fell, clearly terrified of the brutality on display. His horn started to glow, and Malphis felt herself being pulled in the thug’s direction. “Look here, I have a-”

He never got to finish his sentence. Before the young pupa had even traveled a single foot, the Promethean had moved again. This time she could spot him, but only just. He did move, but it was so fast that, if she had blinked, she would have missed it.

This time the Promethean flipped right over the changeling, putting himself behind both Chrysalis’ soldier, and Malphis. She tried to turn her head to see, but she wasn’t fast enough. All she knew was there was a sound of blades cleaving through chitin and flesh, a bright flash of green light, and a splash of blood painting the back of her neck.

When she finally turned around, all she saw was pieces, and a bloody figure looking like a demon pulled from the deepest depths of Tartarus. The beast slowly straightened up, looked down at Malphis with those dark, soulless eyes, opened a maw filled with razor-sharp teeth, and said something that completely belied its appearance.

“Are you good being?”

It crouched down to her level, holding out a hand that, while covered in blood, was notably claw-less. Malphis couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t even think. All she could do was stare at that fragile-looking hand.

The Promethean didn’t seem to notice, instead looking up in worry at something behind her. He stood up and made his way past her, each step a monument to the hidden power beneath his meager, lanky frame. Like some kind of creepy golem, Malphis felt her neck turn to follow his movements, her eyes glued to the blood-soaked biped. He stopped at a small black and purple form that had been thrown only seconds ago, bent down, and ever so gently, put a hand to its neck.

“Don’t worry, younglings! We’re-What in the name of Themis…”

Malphis turned to see another changeling enter the room, his eyes wide with shock as he took in the carnage.

“No worry, I stop them before hurt,” the Promethean said, standing up and turning towards the changeling. “These two doing good. Just scared. Shocking. Unconscious. They be good in while. Need move-” The Promethean stopped when he heard a sound, similar to that of a small mouse.

Malphis was shocked to realize that it had come from her.

“You doing good, little one?” he asked, turning towards the young changeling.

“That…”

“I sorry, scare you. I not-”

“...was awesome!

Malphis got to her hooves and charged at the suddenly surprised Promethean. In that instant, there were several flashes of purple as Malphis’ brothers broke from their hiding places, each of them shouting questions and praises at the alien hero as they crowded around him.

Malphis might have been imagining it, but for some reason, she thought he looked embarrassed at the attention. No, Promethean demigods don’t get embarrassed, she thought, shaking off the odd notion.

Promethean demigods were above such petty emotions. That’s what the elders had told her, it was what the legends said, and after experiencing one’s martial prowess up close, Malphis knew that those legends were absolutely true.

Prometheans were power itself. Powerful enough to face down demons with nothing but a laugh.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Malphis knew that this Promethean would save her hive.

* * *

Hieremias held out his hooves to the group of panicked changelings. He didn’t recognize any of them, but that was hardly strange. Only the Queen Mother and her consort were capable of knowing all of the children by name. It was why groups of changelings were organized into pods; to foster a sense of close-knit family within the hive. “Hold on, stop! What’s happening? We heard a shout, but-”

“It’s the Equestrians!” one of the changelings gasped, clearly out of breath. “They’re moving through the hive, mowing down any changeling they see like wheat in a field!”

The soldier changeling’s face went stony as he shared a look with his pod mate. They knew what they had to do. “If we hurry, we can stall them for a few minutes,” he said to Titos. He then turned to the small group in front of him and pointed deeper into the hive. “Get to the egg room and get as many younglings as you can out of the hive! We’ll hold them off!”

“Right away, Pod Leader!” they shouted, then charged deeper into the hive.

“Do you think we can stop them?” Titos asked, his voice just as dead as the feeling in Hieremias’ heart.

Hieremias looked around the stone corridor, its familiar shifting walls suddenly feeling very cramped. “If Father keeps the hallway as narrow as it is now, I think we should be able to hold for at least a few seconds.”

“Do you think that will buy us enough time?”

Hieremias’ only answer was to shake his head.

“I didn’t think so, either.”

The two changeling soldiers didn’t have to wait long before the enemy came around the bend. Both of them felt their hearts drop to their hooves when they recognized Prince Shining Armor. If he was leading this purge, then they were surely done for. Without even missing a beat, the two began charging their horns and fired at the stallion, intent on holding this location as long as possible.

The look on Shining Armor’s face was almost comical, as if he hadn’t been expecting such a negative response. As quick as lightning, the Equestrian prince brought up an energy shield, protecting himself from the spells that were sent his way. “Stand down! I’m an ally!!”

The two changelings stopped, but probably not for the reason that Shining Armor wanted them to. Both were staring at the energy shield the pony had made, naked terror in their eyes as they slowly backed away. Before they had taken even two steps back, however, something happened that neither changeling could believe.

A changeling, wounded by the looks of it, came around the corner behind Shining Armor. Instead of attacking the prince, or even running away at the mere sight of him, the changeling instead moved to stand beside the stallion, a look of disbelief written on his face. “The prince is telling the truth! The Equestrians aren't here to hurt us!”

“Wha-”

“I know it’s hard to believe, but the Equestrians are here to help,” the changeling said, taking a few steps forward as Shining Armor’s spell faded from view. “Chrysalis has attacked our hive, and some of her drones made it inside!”

“Hieremias…” Titos said, his voice filled with horror. “Those other changelings…”

“I know, Titos. They said that the Equestrians were mowing us down indiscriminately,” Hieremias said, rage building inside his gut. The changeling that stood before them could have been an Equestrian trick, but Hieremias doubted it. The Equestrians weren’t that adept in illusions and trickery magic, otherwise they would have been able to root out the changeling hives a long time ago. If the Equestrians really were mowing down every changeling they saw, then Shining Armor would have not only killed the changeling in front of them, but would also have killed Hieremias and Titos the second they had rounded the corner. Not only that, but the prince of the Equestrians was trying to talk to them, and he had more reason than most Equestrians for hating changelings.

Hieremias fell into a low bow as the pieces fell into place inside his head, his pod mate following closely behind. “Our apologies, M’lord, but we think we let a group of Chrysalis’ changelings through.”

The two guards heard a brief hum of Unicorn spellcraft, but nothing else seemed to happen. “Okay, you two check out. We need to hunt down the wedding crashers before they have a chance to hurt anypony else. You can either help us, or join your comrades topside. I don’t really care either way.”

Hieremias quickly got to his hooves, still not quite sure what was happening, but thankful that he wasn’t about to die. “We will go with you. Our hive is a thousand, five hundred strong. It will take you some time to sift through us all without our help.”

Shining Armor grumbled a little, but otherwise did not object. He instead swept past the two soldiers, his posture clearly showing that he was unhappy about something.

"Is something wrong, M’lord?” Hieremias asked nervously as he fell in line behind the stallion.

“Oh, don’t worry about him, he’s just having a bad day.”

Hieremias turned at the unfamiliar voice, quickly spotting two Equestrians that he had not seen before. Both were Solar Guard, one a unicorn mare, while the other was a pegasus stallion. The pegasus had the classic look of stern impartiality as he marched, while the unicorn had one of wry amusement. “I’m sorry, but have I offended him?”

“No, he’s just disappointed that you all didn’t turn out to be monsters. He’ll get over it,” the unicorn said with a negligent wave of her hoof. “At any rate, we’ll be relying on you to tell the other changelings that we’re here to help. Can we trust you with that?”

Hieremias gave a quick salute, then quick-marched to take up the lead. “I can do you one better. If Chrysalis has sent her changelings to attack, there are only a few places they would head to: The nursery, or Father’s room. Follow me.”

Before he managed to take one step, though, Shining Armor held out a single hoof, stopping the changelings in their tracks. “...Just like that?”

Hieremias looked at the stallion questioningly. “Just like what?”

“The ponies, who have been your mortal enemies, just show up one day and tell you that another group of changelings are attacking. Instead of being the slightest bit suspicious, you just lead us straight to your most vulnerable and important places?” Shining Armor asked, suspicion clear in his eyes.

“My apologies, Prince Armor, but I believe you have mistaken something,” Hieremias said as he fell into another low bow. “The changelings of the Hive of Providence have never been your enemies. We have used and deceived you, true. We have been hiding among you, and have been stealing love meant for others, certainly. But we have never wished you harm.”

“My son speaks the truth. We are your allies, and always have been,” a voice that Hieremias knew all too well echoed through the corridor. The assembled ponies and changelings quickly turned to see Queen Titania come around the corner, followed closely by Princess Luna.

“Now is not the time to be arguing about this, however. There is a clear and present threat, and until we deal with it, we must act,” Luna said, stomping her hoof. “Prince Armor, you will take the changelings and your troops and move to protect the nursery. Queen Titania and I will head to this... ‘Father’s room.’ Once the threat is past, we will hammer out the difficulties between our two peoples, is that clear?”

There was a brief flash from Shining Armor’s horn, but when nothing happened, he immediately cut a crisp, clean salute. “Right away, Your Highness!” he said, right before leading the charge deeper into the hive.

* * *

“Okay, now, who can tell me who this is?” Oberon asked as the walls of the room shifted and changed. A perfect image of the Princess of the Sun could be seen galloping through where his stomach would have been, while right above his head a representation of the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky.

Several of the young ones lifted their forehooves, each shouting to be heard over the rest. Celestia was the most common answer, though Oberon did catch a few ‘sparkly food’ thrown in there, as well as a single, wordless grunt from one of the little ones who tried to answer with his hoof still in his mouth.

“Belen, we can’t understand you with your hoof in your mouth like that, dear,” Oberon said with a smile.

Belen pulled his hoof out of his mouth and gave an answer, but Oberon completely missed it. Somewhere deep inside his form he felt a mild shock run through his body and enter his mind. It didn’t hurt; on the contrary, it was quite pleasurable, almost like a lover’s kiss. Oberon lifted the only hoof he had left to his lips, hushing his children into silence. “I’m sorry, loves, but Mother wishes to speak to me for a moment.

The little ones all ooh’d in understanding, while one of Oberon’s fully grown children moved forward to take care of the little ones for the time being. Once his children were being seen to, Oberon closed his eyes and concentrated on the source of his queen’s touch. He didn’t need any eyes there, only a mouth to speak with, an air bladder to take in air, a voice box, and an ear. The place where his queen was was some distance away from his head, so he sent a command along with the mouth, to speak to his love the moment that the mouth formed. “Hello, my love. How was your meeting with the Equestrians?”

He hummed a little to himself while he waited for an answer. He was certain that things had gone smoothly; after all, one of the legendary Prometheans had appeared. That had to be a good omen.

He nearly choked when he received his queen’s reply. “Oberon, seal the nursery and your chambers, now. Some of Chrysalis’ brood are inside you. Let none into those rooms but myself.”

Oberon sent the impulses, instantly sealing off his chamber. He knew that the nursery would take some time, but he put his trust in his sons that were still inside. He sent down a mouth with orders while he was at it, simply to ensure that they were sufficiently warned of what was happening.

“Father, what is wrong?” Oberon heard, bringing him back to his room and the children inside.

The little ones were already in tears, having felt that something was wrong, and not liking it one bit. Basil, the son that was taking care of the chamber, looked to his father in fear. Oberon opened his mouth to reassure his frightened children, but grimaced in pain when he felt something sharp impact the door to his chamber. “Basil, take the little ones to that corner,” Oberon said, waving towards the corner in question with his only hoof. “We have some unwelcome guests, and very little time before they cut through me. We need to ensure the little one's safety.”

Basil gasped in shock, then began ferrying larval changelings over to the corner as quickly as he could.

Oberon watched his son work, hushing the little ones, and promising them that they would be okay. This seemed to do very little to help, but it made Oberon feel better. Especially since he could see the tip of some kind of bladed weapon already.

It hurt. In fact, it was more painful than anything Oberon had ever felt. Every nerve in his body was screaming at him, telling him to open the door, withdraw his vulnerable flesh from that prying blade, but he held firm. His horn glowed briefly, and with the accumulated love of his hive, he created two new doorways: one in the corner where Basil was gathering the younglings, and one right in front of the entrance to his chambers. It would take him a little while to form these new appendages, but he felt confident that he could make it in time.

That is, he felt confident up until the point where the first blade was joined by another, then another, then another, each scraping, cutting, stabbing and slicing its way through the flesh that made up the door to his most private sanctum. As he felt the blades cut deeper and deeper into his flesh, Oberon silently sent up a prayer to Themis, begging the ancient goddess of the Prometheans that he would be able to hold out long enough for his beloved to reach him.

Deep in his heart, though, he knew that he had already failed. While a proper barrier took days to form, what he was making now would only stall the invading hive for a few moments.

He only hoped that those few precious moments would matter.

Author's Notes:

Hey, all! I'm alive and with a brand new chapter! Hope you guys enjoyed it!

This one gave me a little bit of trouble, but thanks to lordelliot I was able to figure it out. That's why this chapter is 4800+ words instead of 3100~ words.

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVII

“Hey, calm down! Calm down! Hive not safe! Need to go!” I shouted, trying to be heard above the swarming ankle-biters. It was no use, though; either they were too wound up at seeing me butcher their prospective killers, or they were too in awe of seeing one of the fabled ‘prometheans’ in battle. If I had to guess, I would have gone with a resounding ‘both.’

Luckily, I had backup that seemed far more capable in dealing with children. The soldier was shouting at them, trying to be heard above the bustle of the kids, and was speaking way too fast for me to keep up with. I caught ‘little ones,’ and ‘hide here,’ though.

The one I had saved earlier, a girl (if I was judging her voice correctly), looked at the changeling soldier and gave a firm, knowing nod and said something that I actually caught. “Okay, we’ll play hide and seek! You stop all the bad changelings, okay?”

“We will, you just-”

“No, I go ahead,” I said, stopping the soldier in his tracks.

“But-”

“No, listen, what about that one?” I asked, pointing at the young changeling that was still unconscious. The soldier stopped to consider the little one, before looking up at me with his pupiless eyes. “If we leave, who take care him? Enemy would kill moment they walk through door, and there nothing we do stop it!”

The soldier looked at me, clearly confused, and spoke again. This time he spoke a bit slower, probably so that I could catch it. “But… how will you be able to find your way to the top?”

I brushed off the question with a wave of my hand. “No worries there. I just have head up, right? Besides, I have ability at running into trouble, pretty good brain directions. I find ponies, one way or other.”

The changeling looked at the swarm of ankle-biters with some trepidation, and I could hardly blame him; it was a huge responsibility. Unfortunately, he was the only one present who could fulfill that role. I still had to get to the ponies at the top, regardless of whether or not I had a guide.

Not only that, but I trusted him to do this, too. The chances of him being an enemy changeling were less than zero, seeing as how the perfect opportunity to betray me would have been right after I had passed him on the way to rescue the kids. “No worry, I stop ponies. Just keep safe, and tell quick which direction to go. Find way from there,” I said, giving him a reassuring smile.

The changeling took one more look at the ankle-biters before taking a huge gulp and nodding in assent. He said something quickly, somewhat faster than I could fully catch. What I did understand filled me with hope, though. Apparently, the higher I got in the hive, the more all the paths funneled into the secondary exit. With any luck, I wouldn't even need a guide for the most part.

“Okay. Stay safe, I go,” I said as I turned and sprinted from the room. I could hear the children’s shouts of encouragement chase me out, which only served to harden my resolve. Despite the danger of the situation, I still felt hope rise in my chest. Somehow I felt like this would all turn out for the best.

Murphy and his freaking law, on the other hand, had other ideas.

It didn’t take me long to find a ramp leading upwards, so I quickly ran up it, remembering the soldier’s somewhat shaky directions. As soon as I reached the top, though, I came to a screeching halt, my eyes darting around nervously.

The landing of the ramp was a fairly large room, with three branching paths leading away from it. That wasn’t what made me stop, though. No, what made me stop was the group of five changelings standing near the center, quietly arguing with each other. Or, at least they were, up until the point where I had noisily charged up the ramp and into the room.

Before I could even think to wonder about whether or not these were friendlies, one of them got a devilish smile on his face, lowered his head towards me, and charged. Green flames quickly enveloped his form, and I could hear the air around him hum with excitement.

Luckily for me, I had not only already seen this trick, but had the wetware in my noggin needed to counter it. Time seemed to slow down right before he reached me, and I jumped over him without even fully thinking about it. I heard him go straight down the ramp and crash into something, and that was all the attention I paid to him as I ducked my head to avoid a laser from one of the others.

The changelings that remained seemed shocked that I had managed to avoid that, as they should have been, considering what I was. They took a few steps back, allowing me to stand at my full height and fix them with my best, soulless glare. “I not have time for you,” I growled as I unsheathed the claws on my uninjured hand, my eyes narrowing dangerously as I stared down the hostile, albeit extremely nervous-looking changelings. “If you not want die, I suggest run other way, leave hive, never come back.”

They took one look at each other, another at me, then began charging their horns while they hissed menacingly.

“Suit yourself,” I said as my perception of time slowed to a crawl. If they fired their magic into beams like I’d seen them do up until now, then it would be child’s play for my implants to determine where they were going to fire. Unless, of course, they had power on par with Luna or her sister; if that was the case, I was royally screwed.

I rather doubted that, though.

Even as that thought came to mind, I could see red lines extend from their horns, giving me the predicted pattern of where the enemy would fire. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and saw in my head where I wanted to go. On my exhale, I moved.

I leapt up into the air, twisting my body to avoid the ray that had been aimed at my head. The other three passed harmlessly under me, along with the changelings that had fired them in the first place. I then tucked and rolled, being careful not to land on my still-injured shoulder, got to my feet, and charged down the hallway behind them. I could hear them swearing as I got the heck out of dodge, but I paid them no mind. Instead, I shouted out a battle cry that would have made Doctor John A. Zoidberg proud.

Yeah, I probably could have taken them all down. Probably. But that’s the thing; I really didn't have the time to deal with this, or the element of surprise to back me up. Not only that, but they had magic. I still wasn't a hundred percent sure on how it worked, or its limitations, and with that kind of unknown, it was a much smarter move to avoid a fight where I could.

As I beat a hasty retreat, I could hear them shouting behind me, trying desperately to catch up with me. They probably could, there was no doubt about that, but they’d tire themselves out before I did. Of that, I was certain.

Now, all I need to do is find some friendly changelings, or the ponies, and I’m all set! I thought as I took a hard right, grabbing the edge of the door to help me make the turn.

That, of course, was far easier said than done. Especially when I made another turn, and ran straight back into the ramp room I had started in. The changeling that had charged me was still here, rubbing his head, looking for all the world like he had the worst hangover ever.

“Well, this could take a while…” I said as I kicked the poor sod in the head, knocking him out instantly. At random, I chose another hall and ran down it, hoping that this way would lead me up and out.

Knowing me, though, I was probably going to run straight into the hooves of the invading queen herself. At that point, I honestly kind of expected it.

At any rate, all I could do now was run, keep out of the enemy’s hooves, and follow the obvious yellow arrows on the sides of the walls.

Wait…

I slowed down a bit and looked at the arrows in confusion. I knew that there had been no arrows here before, but for some unfathomable reason they had appeared on the walls and floors, and I had started to follow them without even thinking. I was about to come to a full stop to examine them further, but the telltale hum of spellwork behind me quickly drove that thought from my head.

“Whatever! You’re the boss, arrow-guy!” I said as I charged down the hallway.

Hopefully I wasn’t being led to a trap...

* * *

"They’re breaking through! What do we do?”

Hephaestus looked towards the frightened pupa, let out a weary sigh, then stepped forward. “The grownups are going to take care of this, okay? Whatever you do, don't let anyone smaller than you near the doors, okay?”

The youngling looked like he was on the verge of tears, but he nodded bravely anyway. Hephaestus fell into line with the other caretakers and charged his horn. He wasn’t a soldier; in fact, he had never even performed this spell. He’d seen it done before, knew the theory behind it, sure, but to actually practice it…

There was no time for doubt, though. He knew what he had to do; what his brothers and sisters had to do. There were only six of them, hardly a force to be reckoned with, but they were going to hold this line no matter what.

He almost jumped when Athena, the changeling next to him, began to sing. It was slow and mournful, a song that spoke of death, and the life that lay beyond. It was a song that had been passed down to them by the Prometheans, along with the promise that the hive would sing it for them if they failed.

How fitting… Hephaestus thought as he took up the chant with her. Another soon followed, then another, and another. Finally, the whole room had taken up the chant, the children either following along if they could, or crying in fear as they felt the despair in the room.

With one final heave, the door ripped apart, flinging bits of Father around as the changeling in front tumbled inward. Hephaestus released the charge in his horn, striking the one in the front, but it hardly mattered as more changelings poured through the hole. He didn’t stop singing, though. None of them did as the wave of death poured through the breach.

They must have brought an army to exterminate us… Hephaestus thought as he readied his horn for another shot. He knew it wouldn’t matter; none of it would. They were all dead changelings. Chrysalis had seen to that.

Athena fell to the earth as a changeling tackled her, but Hephaestus paid her no mind, instead charging his horn for one more strike before charging at the horde in front of him, brandishing his hooves like clubs. He felt something hot pierce his shoulder, but he ignored it, despite the pain screaming in his head. All that he could hear were the screams of the fallen, and the cries of the children as they watched their keepers fall.

He kept fighting, though. Even as his hind legs were blown off, he kept moving, dragging himself forwards to take the monsters down. He felt something grab him and shove him into the wall, pinning him there. He could feel the blood drip from his legs, but he didn’t care.

All that mattered to him was the screaming larvae, and the monster that held him in its uncaring magic.

“You’ve fought marvelously,” the monster growled, its eyes flashing dangerously. Behind the monster, Hephaestus could see others like it gather up the younglings, harshly shoving and kicking until they were all together. Altogether, there were about thirty of them. Far too many for Hephaestus to take on his own, even if he had been in top condition.

None of the little ones had been killed yet; in fact, not a single egg had been broken. But as Hephaestus watched the monsters gather his charges together, he knew that that small mercy wouldn’t stay like that for long.

Once all the little ones were together in one group, the monsters stopped, turning towards their apparent leader, waiting for his word to begin the slaughter. It was almost peaceful, the calm that followed, broken only by the unending cries of the ones too young to understand what was happening.

The monster holding Hephaestus looked up at the wounded changeling, a malicious glint in his eye. “I find it fitting, that the last ‘ling standing should have the honor of seeing his hive’s future crumble around him,” the monster said as his horn grew brighter. Hephaestus didn’t close his eyes to the horror that was about to unfold. He couldn’t; the monster in front of him was holding his eyes open, ensuring that each brutal second would burn in Hephaestus’s mind for however long he was allowed to live.

Hephaestus let out a defeated sigh, then raised his voice once more in song.

“Stop that,” the monster said, sealing Hephaestus’ mouth closed. Hephaestus’ eyes sought out those of the little ones, and he tried to convey with his eyes alone that it would be okay. Tried to comfort them one last time before the end.

As Hephaestus stared, he felt something stir deep within his soul. He couldn’t put a name for the feeling that was twanging through him, but if he were to describe it, it was as if someone had plucked a deep, dark chord on the strings of his heart. Unbidden, he felt his eyes flicker towards the entrance, and his heart just about stopped at what he saw.

There, at the entrance, was an unbroken wall of pink, its light bright and angry as it rushed towards the gathered changelings. The changeling that was holding him must have sensed something amiss, because at that precise moment he turned, gasping in horror at the wall of death that quickly rushed towards him. He released his grip on Hephaestus, launching a quick spell at the barrier, attempting to prolong his life for a precious few seconds before that vengeful wall crushed him against the unyielding stone of the hive.

Hephaestus just closed his eyes, though. He knew he was already dead, and it was somewhat comforting that it would be quick and relatively painless compared to the horrors that Chrysalis’s brood would have inflicted.

The quick death never came, though. Instead of being picked up and hurled against the hard stone walls, he felt something warm and inviting wash over him. His wounds weren’t any less painful, but he felt a surge of hope rise in his chest, washing away the fear and despair. Hephaestus risked a peek, only to see something that he couldn’t believe.

Rushing into the nursery were Equestrians, standing shoulder to shoulder with changelings from the lineage of Providence. They quickly filled the room, checking the bodies, searching for the wounded, and trying desperately to calm down the still screaming children.

Hephaestus looked for the monsters, trying desperately to shake off this dream that had intruded upon reality. He found them, but they were only here in the physical sense. Their bodies had been carried up and away, missing the children, and plowing deeply into the stone walls of Oberon. They were little more then smears; a grisly reminder of the power that the Equestrians held in their hooves.

A shadow fell over Hephaestus, causing him to turn his head to look at its owner. Standing over him was a pony, his armor gleaming brightly in the pale pink light, his eyes sweeping over Hephaestus with an expression that the wounded changeling couldn’t quite place. After a few seconds of this, he stepped forward, his horn shining with a brilliant glow, and Hephaestus started to feel his consciousness slip away.

“Wait…” the changeling gasped, struggling against the spell that was trying to drag him into a deep, dreamless sleep. “...Why?”

Prince Shining Armor just stared at him, before sighing, and allowing the ghost of a smile to grace his muzzle. “Because it’s the right thing to do,” Hephaestus heard, right before darkness claimed him.

* * *

“Hey! What the heck do you think you’re-” the changeling’s shout was suddenly cut off by a shrill scream as an angry green beam of energy scythed through him, leaving a gaping hole where his chest should have been.

“Remind me again why we can’t just use magic to cut through the door?” Rhino asked as he charged up for another shot.

“Pay attention next time,” Flitter said as he chopped his blade deeper into the door. It was covered in deep gouges, and he could even see the room on the other side a little. It was also bleeding somewhat, but that was to be expected.

After all, they were cutting through the Lord Consort of the Hive.

“I was, I just- crap!” Rhino barely dodged a bright pink blast of energy, and sent an answer back towards the offending changeling, nearly taking off his head in the process. “I TALK WHEN I’M NERVOUS!” Rhino shouted.

Rhino knew exactly why they weren’t using magic; a father of a hive was a repository for all the love of the hive. He had no way of using that power directly, but he could defend himself. Specifically, he could denature and disperse magic attacks that were directed at him. A father had his limits, though. He had to be aware of the attack, to begin with. On top of that, If you threw more energy at him then he had stored, you could conceivably exhaust his supply, killing him in the process.

Rhino had no illusions on how much power he or any of his kin could produce. Just getting this far had taken quite a bit of power. Not so much that it would have been life threatening, but enough to make it a bad idea to continue if they still wanted to escape.

“You guys just worry about reinforcements. We’ll worry about the door,” Flitter said as he took another chop at the bleeding door in front of him. He could see through to the other side, but only barely. It looked like someone else was inside the room with the father, but Flitter couldn’t be certain. “Okay, we’re almost through! Cocoon, you chop right here, while I pry right here. It should snap the bone underneath!”

Flitter shoved the hooked back of his axe into the hole and pulled. With an ominous creak, the door opened a little, but still held firm. That changed the moment Cocoon swung his heavy, broad-bladed axe at the door, shattering the bone underneath with a sickening crack that was felt, more than heard.

“I heard that! It’s open, right? We can kill him and go home, right?” Rhino asked, his voice tinged with excitement.

“Um…” Cocoon said, rubbing the back of his head uncomfortably.

“Well…” Sylph chipped in, not really wanting to pop Rhino’s bubble.

“Queen Chrysalis take this whole stinking hive…” Flitter swore, stamping his hoof in frustration.

Rhino and the others watching the hall turned back for a moment, only to see something that made their hearts fall. Standing behind the tattered, broken remnants of the old door was a brand new one. This one was much thinner looking, though, so much so that Rhino could see light through its translucent folds, as well as the thick-looking bones that made up the supports.

“It’s a new one, so it shouldn’t take as long to pry apart,” Cocoon said as he picked up the axe he had stolen from the armory downstairs.

“Yeah, but do we have time to carve it up?” Flitter asked, eyeing the door critically.

Sylph didn’t even bother trying to answer that question. Instead, he hefted his stolen weapon and chopped at the door with one smooth motion. “For the Queen!” he shouted, working himself into a frenzy. The other two followed suit, working themselves up as they hacked at the offending growth, trying to pry this one open as well and get to the vulnerable father inside.

This one must have been far, far weaker than they thought, because it only took them a minute to cut it open. “Quickly! Inside!” Sylph shouted, motioning for the others to follow.

They all dove inside, quickly making a perimeter around the doorway once there, ensuring their privacy as Flitter delivered the Queen’s message and judgement.

Pod Leader Flitter stepped forward, examining the room with a critical eye. It was somewhat oblong, with a sloping floor with short steps that made the whole thing look like a small amphitheater, or some kind of classroom. This feeling was further reinforced by the small, soft toys that were scattered around in the center of the room. At the other end, Flitter could see a brand new wall, probably put into place to protect whomever had been inside the room with the Lord Consort when Chrysalis had begun this invasion.

The father of the hive himself was easy to find, however. He hadn’t even tried to create a barrier for himself, and was instead staring at Flitter with a surprisingly calculating expression. Flitter returned his gaze with one of his own: The Consort was… pretty average, as consorts go. He was merged with the wall to Flitter’s left, having been subsumed by the hive to such a large degree that only his head and a single hoof remained; sticking helplessly out from the hive that he was intimately a part of. Flitter could still tell which hive he had originally come from, though; Oberon’s eyes were still as yellow as the day he was hatched, their piercing glare conveying a deep disapproval for what Flitter was doing. The walls of the room Oberon was a part of had that homely, organic feel that made Flitter feel somewhat nostalgic, if he were being completely honest with himself. The whole effect together made Flitter feel somewhat ashamed of himself, a feeling that he quickly tried to cast aside as he approached the Lord Consort of Providence.

"Have you come to end me at the petty orders of your tyrant?” Oberon asked, shaking Flitter from his revere.

Flitter didn’t answer. Instead, he placed four beetle-like objects on the ground in front of Oberon before stepping away quickly. Oberon stared at the objects impassively, watching with little interest as they opened up and connected themselves to each other through beams of brilliant green light. The beetles then changed even further, weaving themselves into a web-like pattern before erupting with energy. A hole in the fabric of the world seemed to form in the air above the webbing, before resolving into the face of the Queen of Desolation.

“Glimmerwing! Long time no see…” the queen hissed in apparent delight.

Oberon, however, said nothing. In fact, he didn’t even seem to be paying attention.

“Oh, come now. You must have seen this coming… After all, you and your hive did side with those Providence traitors...”

“The name is Oberon, now. And all they did was to alert the Equestrians of your duplicity. Since you’re hardly our ally, I wouldn’t call that treason,” Oberon replied, his contempt barely hidden.

“No, they sided with food over their own kind!” Chrysalis shouted, her rage burning clear, even through the vision beetles. “For that infraction, you and your hives are sentenced to death.”

Oberon raised a single eye ridge, but otherwise didn’t change his expression in the slightest. “You should have brought more changelings, if your goal was our extinction. Tell me, were you planning on talking me to death?”

Crysalis gave a short huff. “Your death will come soon enough, I needed-”

“No, you wanted. You’re a talker, Chrysalis. Always have been,” Oberon said, his eyes seeing straight through the changeling queen and into her soul. “You live for the theatrics. You want someone there behind you, to see every move that you make, and gasp in horror at your planning. It makes you feel good to gloat.” Oberon’s face broke out into a smug smile at that. “If memory serves, isn’t that how you lost against ‘your food?’”

Chrysalis’s eyes narrowed menacingly at those words, clearly infuriated at what he said. Flitter couldn’t help but wonder why the consort was antagonizing the queen this much. Is he that eager to die? he thought to himself. He snapped out of his thoughts, though, when he realized that his queen was talking to him. “Kill him, but make it slow,” Chrysalis snapped, clapping her hooves together. “This is what happens when you oppose me, Oberon.”

“We already know what happens when someone gets on your bad side,” Oberon said, waving his only remaining hoof negligently as Flitter approached, brandishing a knife. “Everyone knows what happens when you get on the bad side of The Queen of Desolation. All anyone has to do is look at the blasted landscape that surrounds your hive. The remains of your once populous food source.”

“Be quiet if you know what’s good for you,” Flitter growled as he drew closer. “You’re just making this more painful for yourself.”

“Oh, I already knew that,” Oberon said, waving his hoof negligently at Flitter. He then turned back to the queen, his eyes narrowing just a little bit. “What I can’t figure out is why you thought this small, sorry excuse of a force was enough to destroy my hive. We are strong, and with the help of the Equestrians, we will recover, with or without me.”

“Oh, I know that. Which is why my changelings have set up this beacon,” Chrysalis said, easing herself back into her throne. “My armies are already readying themselves to come pouring into your hive. Wiping everything out in a flood of death. Soon, Equestria will be mine!”

Oberon looked around at the changelings that surrounded him, then down at the mass of webs that made up the beacon. “And yet, for all your planning, you’ve overlooked something.”

Chrysalis seemed amused by that. “Oh? And what is that?” she asked, raising an eye ridge at the Lord Consort.

“If you wanted to take this hive so badly, you really should have sent more changelings.”

Chrysalis just snorted at that. “Yes, yes… you’ve said that before. Weren’t you listening? My force there is sufficient, and soon you will have far too many there to even think about repelling them. You are-”

“Not for my children, not even for the Equestrians,” Oberon interrupted, taking the wind out of the queen’s sails just a little bit. She looked annoyed, but narrowed her eyes suspiciously as Oberon’s face broke out in a cruel smile. “No, you should have sent more to deal with the Promethean Demigod.”

Chrysalis looked confused at that. “I’m… sorry, but what in the name of the Spirits is a Promethean?”

There was a low, throaty growl that seemed to crawl up Flitter’s spine and earth itself in his brain. It then seemed to root around in his head, searching for every primal fear inside, before bringing them all to the forefront of his mind.

Flitter quickly turned to the source of the noise, and immediately noticed something wrong. The once brightly lit hallway beyond this room had been plunged into darkness, the magical stones leading to this room having been snuffed out. In fact, the stones inside Oberon’s chamber had also been extinguished, the only remaining light source being Chrysalis’s beacon.

That changed when Flitter noticed two pinpricks of red light stare out from the pitch-black hallway beyond. Flitter couldn’t be certain, but he thought he saw a faint outline around those baleful eyes.

The changelings closest to it took a nervous step back, before firing at the monster just beyond their sight. The flare from their horns briefly illuminated the hall, revealing absolutely nothing beyond this room.

“What’s going on?” Chrysalis asked, her voice slightly panicked. She then turned to someone in the same room as her, her face a mask of rage. “Go now! Do not let this slip through our hooves!”

“Oh, I’m sorry about that, but this victory has already slipped through your hooves,” Flitter heard Oberon cackle. Thinking quickly, Flitter turned, the knife in his magical grip slashing towards where he knew Oberon was. Even if this new monster takes us, I’ll still-

His thoughts were cut short as five long, sharp blades passed straight through his sternum and into his spine. Flitter was faintly aware of the merry jingle of metal on stone as the knife he held fell onto the stone floor, but that hardly mattered to him. All that he could think of was the tall, imposing form that had seemed to appear between himself and the Lord Consort. It looked down at him, its black eyes seemed positively demonic, especially with those glowing, red holes in their center. Flitter coughed, splattering the creature with his life essence, but it hardly seemed to care as it roughly pulled its long, sharp claws from Flitter’s chest. Flitter coughed once more, before stumbling, then falling into the icy black of eternity.

Author's Notes:

To answer some questions before you ask:

Yes, Chrysalis sent changelings after Alex.
No, Chrysalis has no idea about Providence's connection to Earth.

When Chrysalis was talking to Oberon, and Oberon mentioned the Promethean Demigod, she literally could not make the connection that he was talking about Alex. She honestly thought he was talking about some new threat, which she will quickly be corrected about once all the crap goes down in the next chapter.

Sorry for putting this out here now, but some of my prereaders were confused about that, and I wanted to put out a correction before the questions started to fly.

As for this one, I hoped you enjoyed it! I have really mixed feelings about this one, mainly because I felt like a total tool when writing these children in danger. Like, really bad, like I had personally put children in danger.

I honestly felt like scum while writing that part. Does that make me weird? I feel like that makes me weird.

At any rate, I hope you all enjoyed it! Onward to the next part, where there will be a revelation as to why Chrysalis wants to get her hooves on Alex!

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XVIII

“When do ya think she’ll wake up? Ah mean, Rainbow and Written Script were up and about lickity split, but…”

Twilight grumbled a little bit, but ignored the annoying, yet strangely familiar voice. Didn't they know she was trying to sleep?

“You heard the doctor, Applejack. She’ll awake when the spell has worn off, and no later!”

“I hope she’s alright… I mean, she did get attacked by one of those nasty changelings, and from what Rainbow said, she was the closest to the scroll…”

Before anyone said anything else, there was the sound of a door opening, causing Twilight to groan inwardly. That’s just great… someone else to keep me from sleeping…

“Hey, guys- Oh! Good! Twilight’s awake!”

“Uh… I beg yer pardon Spike, but Twilight ain’t awake.”

There was a tutting sound, one that Twilight had always dreaded hearing. It meant that her little dragon assistant was tired of seeing her sleep the day away. “Guys, if you’ve lived with Twilight as long as I have, you start to pick up on a few things.” There was a gentle shuffling sound, which Twilight had long ago associated with the end of her peaceful slumber. “You see, Twilight is in that weird spot between being awake and being asleep. She probably doesn’t even remember what happened earlier, and just wants us to go away. Luckily for you, I know the secret of getting her to get up.”

There were more of those odd, shuffling footsteps, followed by a weight on the bed right behind her head. It doesn’t matter what he offers this time, I’m not getting out of this bed… she thought to herself.

“Twilight… Celestia said that she found Starswirl’s lost work, and she wants you to decipher it…”

Instantly, Twilight was wide awake, upright, and holding Spike’s chubby cheeks between her hooves. “Really? Then we don’t have time to waste!”

She was then out of her bed in a flash, took two steps, then suddenly realized that this wasn’t her room. “Spike… Where…?”

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, everything came back to her. She had been in ~Alex’s~ room, the guard had given her that note, then…

She looked around, and noticed immediately the general hospital feel of the room. What also caught her attention was the fact that she and Spike weren’t the only ones in this room. Next to her bed were Applejack and Fluttershy, while Rarity was lounging in a chair a little closer to the door. Rarity had a book in her hooves, but she seemed to have closed it when she realized that Twilight was awake. “Twilight! You’re awake!”

Her friends all came together around her in a group hug, but that was hardly comforting to the young unicorn at the moment. “What… What happened?”

“You’ve been out cold since that changlin’ came and stole ~Alex~ away, sugarcube,” Applejack said as she took a couple of steps back.

“Wait, what?” Twilight shouted at the top of her voice.

“You better sit down for this one, Twilight. It’s a bit of a doozy…” Spike said, folding his claws in front of him.

“Wait… if there are changelings… then how can I be sure that-”

“I’m going to stop you right there, darling,” Rarity said as she walked back to her chair and picked up her book again. “Spike has already vouched for himself, seeing as how he knew exactly how to wake you. And if he’s not a changeling, than it’s quite likely that none of us are changelings. But we will submit to a magic disruption spell if you wish. It has already been cast on all four of us at least three times today alone…” At that, Rarity rubbed her head right behind her horn, as if she were still nursing a headache. “But if you really need proof, I see no reason why not…”

“No… No, it’s okay, I believe you…” Twilight said, rubbing her head uncertainly. “Just… what happened?”

Applejack shook her head a little. “Ta be honest, we don’t really know much. Just that ~Alex~ was taken, and Princess Luna took yer brother and a bunch ‘o soldiers ta go get him back.”

Twilight furrowed her eyebrows at that, then her eyes went wide. “The medical beacon!” she said, suddenly understanding how Luna would know where the hapless ~human~ had gotten to.

“Bingo,” Spike said. He then pointed behind himself at the door. “According to the doctors that were taking care of him, he’s not only still sending data, but we’ve apparently learned a ton of information about how his body works.; I dunno what half the stuff they were talking about means, but they apparently are going to have a lot of questions for him once he learns the language.”

“But more importantly than that, we now know where the changelings are hiding!” Twilight said as she moved towards the door. “If we have any luck in this, Luna will be able to capture one! Then we’ll be able to figure out how… to…”

Twilight trailed off when she heard a commotion from beyond her hospital room’s door. She gave her friends a questioning look, but they seemed just as confused as she was.

“That’s odd… I do hope nothing dreadful happened in town…” Rarity said as she closed her book again. “That attack by that… hideous beast earlier left a lot of ponies without their homes, or worse, their lives...”

Twilight shook her head at that. “When that happened, you could feel it from the castle. You guys didn't feel anything strange while I was out, did you?”

When the others all shook their heads in the negative, Twilight turned back to the door and, with a deep, cleansing breath, reached out with her magic and turned the knob.

The door swung inward, allowing Twilight and her friends to see a doctor and two nurses rush past, pushing a gurney and chatting with each other quite animatedly. Following close behind was a soldier, a look of grim determination on his face as he followed the medical professionals past the open door.

While Twilight was quite knowledgeable in a variety of fields, she was hardly a trained medical professional, and as such, most of what the doctor and his nurses said was complete gibberish to her. Not that she had paid much attention to what they said, anyway; no, her attention was solely on the black, bug-like creature that lay writhing in pain on the gurney that the nurses pushed between them...

* * *

“Tell me, please: after you have obtained from ~Alex~ the information you require, and after you have brought his tormentors to justice, what do you intend to do with him?” Celestia asked, her eyes boring into the snake-alien before her. She also wanted to ask ‘and after him, what do you intend to do to us?’ but felt that she might be pressing her luck with that. Celestia knew that the alien in front of her was supposedly friendly, but that did not mean that she had the planet of Equis’ best interests at heart.

Despite the subservient tone this ‘Akitesh’ had been taking with her, Celestia knew that the snake held all the cards. With only a word, she could unleash a firestorm from the heavens, burn away the atmosphere, and kill every last living thing on this planet. The aliens didn’t need to ask for anything. They had the power to take whatever they wanted, and there would be nothing that the Equestrians could do to stop them.

Which is why it was so confusing to Celestia that every single thing this Akitesh had wanted from the Equestrians had been asked for, not demanded.

“We have law, that young race, your race and his, not be contact. We not supposed to talk, you not know we here, until you grow up,” Akitesh said, an apology lingering in her eyes. “That law broken, so next law very clear. First, we catch responsible party.”

Celestia was a little bit offended by that, but she didn’t show it. After all, calling her and her people ‘young’ was a lot nicer than calling them ‘primitive.’ It showed that Akitesh at least saw the Equestrians as potential equals, rather than stupid savages. Still, it was somewhat galling to be called ‘young.’ She hadn’t been called young in over a thousand years. “And what is the next step?” she asked, pushing down her irritation for the moment.

“Next, if possible, remove disruption, and erase memory of existence,” Akitesh said with a bow. “At moment, not think possible. Too many see, too many know. Very hard to remove all, someone slip through hole, damage still done.”

Celestia didn’t know what this ‘erase memory of existence’ entailed, but she didn’t like the sound of it, not even a little bit. “And because it’s impossible now, what will you do?”

“Now, once things calm, and guilty caught, we leave teacher,” Akitesh said, inclining her head ever so slightly. “You young, and harm caused by knowing things before ready can harm. We leave teachers, to teach and guide. Up to you, listen. Up to you, learn. But we lessen damage as much as can. You people, done great disservice. Not allowed to grow at own pace, not allowed to become at own pace. We lessen damage as much can, teach at you pace if can, but know cannot fully give back what was lost. Not able to give back what you not know you had.”

Celestia was… honestly a bit shocked at that. It was the last thing she thought she was going to hear at these meetings. But still, deep in her gut, she felt that there was something that Akitesh wasn’t telling her. “And what will these ‘teachers’ require of us in return?”

“No want anything in return,” Akitesh said, shaking her head a little. “They there not work to be paid, but work to pay back. We in you debt, not other way around.” She let out a slight cough, then rubbed her lower hands together. “If possible, we-” the snake started to say, but stopped when she noticed the conference room door opening.

Celestia quickly turned toward the door, both dreading and hoping at what the widening portal would reveal. She quickly spotted one of her sister's captains enter the room, a serious look on his face as he approached the solar diarch. “Yes, Captain?”

“Your Highness, your sister and her guard have returned,” he said in a whisper only Celestia could hear. “She wishes to inform you that the mission was largely a success, though there were unforeseen complications. She wishes to speak with you at the earliest possible convenience, as what she has learned may affect any further decisions.”

Celestia didn't answer the soldier immediately. Instead, she turned back to her guests and gently inclined her head. “I apologize, but it seems that something has come up. We will have to continue this discussion at a later date, but in the meantime, I will speak with ~Alex~ about your request. For now, I would ask you to return to your vessel.”

The large insectoid, ‘Hazalk’ if Celestia was pronouncing it correctly, discreetly returned the small ‘calculation device’ to the pocket at the side of his trunk and leaned over to whisper something to Akitesh. Celestia was certain that she hadn't been meant to notice him pull that device out, or the many times he had returned it, so she had pretended not to. The princess guessed that the strange creature had been communicating with his ship, which made sense, since he seemed to not possess even the basic translating magic that his snake-like counterpart had at her disposal, making his presence ceremonial at best.

While Celestia appreciated the gesture, she would have rather had the strange creature not been there. If Celestia was being honest, both aliens were quite disturbing, their very appearance evoking a nameless dread of things that were beyond her understanding.

Akitesh nodded at what Hazalk had said, then turned back to Celestia and gave a low bow. “We return tomorrow. Hope continue build trust. Hope continue work together. Take care of ~Alexander Cunningham,~ let know what talk about today.”

“I will. My guard will see you to your craft.”

The two aliens respectfully inclined their heads, then moved to follow the soldiers back to their landing craft. Celestia waited until they had left the room completely before letting out a sigh of relief and turning to the captain at her side. “What news have you brought for me, Captain?”

The captain bowed to the princess, then straightened. “Before we begin, I would ask you to perform a magical disruption spell on me, to eliminate from your mind the possibility of a changeling trick.”

Celestia looked at the captain questioningly, but did as she had been asked. “I am sorry for this, Captain.” Her horn hummed ominously as she wove the spellform in her mind, and without a second thought, released the spell on the hapless dust pony.

The effects of the spell were instantaneous. The captain fell to his side like a felled tree, his limbs splayed out stiffly, while his eyes rolled into the back of his head. Celestia waited patiently for the poor stallion to regain his senses, well aware of the pain that that particular spell could inflict.

It took the stallion a good four to five minutes to regain his head, during which time Celestia’s guard had returned, informing her of the alien’s departure. “I apologize for the wait, My Princess,” the guard said as he got unsteadily back to his feet.

“It is fine. Now, tell me, what news do you bring from my sister?” Celestia asked, her eyebrows furrowed in concern.

The guard gave an uncertain bow, then returned to an at-ready posture. “The meeting with the changeling queen was both more productive, and more disastrous than we initially thought. As of now, The Queen has surrendered her entire hive and people to us, as well as the secret to unmasking her citizens.”

Celestia was floored by this news, with the guards that she had present muttering among themselves at this turn of events. No wonder the captain had requested a magical disruption spell; an announcement like that would have almost certainly been met with distrust. “Why? How? A little under a year ago, she and her ilk were attempting to conquer our whole nation!”

“I assure you, it is quite true. There is a catch to this news, however: She is not the only changeling queen, and her hive is not the only one out there. According to her, it was a completely different changeling queen that staged the attack on Canterlot. This ‘Queen Chrysalis,’ as she calls her, was also responsible for the attack on ~Alex~ and the two bearers in his company. All this queen did, as she claims, was intercept ~Alex~ and hold him for our arrival.”

Celestia looked at the captain skeptically. “How can you be so certain of her words, Captain? She is a changeling, and from the little that we know of their kind, they live on deceit.”

“It is quite simple, Your Highness. While we were there, this ‘Queen Chrysalis’ sent her minions to attack the surrendered hive. There were many casualties, and Canterlot General has been turned into a wartime relief hospital,” the captain said with a bow. “Even now, we are sending more troops to reinforce the hive, while the Queen, Princess Luna, and the ~human~ all await your presence in the throne room.”

Celestia stared at the captain for quite some time, trying to make sense of the information that had been dumped on her. It seemed completely fantastical, yet something in the captain’s eye told her that he wasn’t making any of this up.

This I must see for myself… Celestia thought as she swept past the bowing captain. “I take it you were there during the conflict?” Celestia asked as she opened the door to the council chamber.

“I was, Your Highness. I was part of the strike force that Shining Armor led to reacquire ~Alex.~”

“Good. You are to come with me, and tell me all you can along the way, Captain…?” Celestia asked, briefly turning back to the messenger.

“Knight Breeze, Your Highness.”

“Very well, Captain Breeze. Now, tell me more about these ‘friendly’ changelings. I wish to know all you know about them,” Celestia said as she left the room, Captain Breeze hot on her heels.

* * *

The guards that the two had left in the room looked at each other, hope rising in their eyes. “Do you think it’s true, sarge?” one of them asked.

“Only time will tell. From the sound of it, though, they’re going to need help down at the barracks and hospital. Get a move on, stallions!”

With a grunt of acknowledgement, the soldiers filed out of the room, firmly closing the door behind them.

The room was almost eerily quiet after that, the only sound being the faint sound of hooves in a distant hallway, and the only movement being a lone bird at the council room’s window. The bird looked into the room, its eye revealing far more intelligence than its simple frame would suggest as it pondered the information it managed to overhear. It didn’t twitter or sing, its expression never changing as it unfurled its wings and turned away from the window it had perched upon.

Without a second thought, the bird took off into the quickly darkening night sky, its wings taking it south, out of the castle grounds and into the city proper. It ducked low over a familiar building, before swooping into the open window and alighting on the bed frame it found there.

The owner of the bed, a nondescript beige pony with curly, green hair, looked up at the unannounced guest, then quickly made his way to the window before shutting it firmly and drawing the curtains closed. “What have you overheard, Glitterwing?”

The pony turned toward the bed, his eyes seeking out the creature that had once been perching on his bed. It was gone, and in its place stood a changeling, its expression that of complete panic. “They know how to rout us out! The Queen’s plan of destroying Providence has failed!” the changeling said, as he nervously bounced from hoof to hoof.

The nondescript pony’s face turned down in a frown. “We must leave Canterlot, then. We will only be discovered as the Equestrians rout out all of our kind and execute us. We must warn the Queen, and inform her that Providence has doomed us all.”

"Sir, what about Thorax?”

The nondescript pony just shook his head, before dropping his disguise. “We must leave him. If he manages to return, then good. If he is caught, he knows what his duty is.”

Glitterwing looked like he was about to argue, but thought better of it. They didn’t have the ‘lingpower to mount a rescue, and the tightening of the security of Canterlot Castle meant that it was now impossible to get a message through. With any luck, the poor changeling could manage a beacon teleport before Providence could reveal that magic’s weakness too.

As fire engulfed the two changelings, however, Glitterwing couldn’t help but feel as if he were abandoning Thorax to a fate worse than death.

* * *

Queen Chrysalis was not happy. Not happy at all. The weird alien weapon had slipped through her hooves again, Providence had escaped her grasp, and now all of Equestria knew how to sniff out her agents.

And the worst part was that she knew it was all her fault. All because she had underestimated this ‘weapon.’ This thing that, when she had first heard about it, had filled her with an overwhelming hope.

This weapon, she thought. Surely this weapon is what we need to conquer Equestria.

All she had to show for her efforts, however, was a dead or captured contingent of some of her finest forces, and an allied front against her. With a frustrated snarl, she swept past her drones, causing them to scatter as they desperately tried to stay out of the queen’s way. Eventually, her warpath led her to a closed, fleshy door, its quietly undulating folds carelessly preventing the fuming queen access to the room beyond.

A bit more forcefully than she intended, she touched the door with her horn. Open, she ordered, sending the command through the hive and to her consort. After a few seconds, the door dutifully opened, allowing her entrance to the room beyond.

This room was surprisingly bare, containing only a few stalactites and stalagmites, remnants of the cave that this hive used to be, and a single cocoon which dangled from the ceiling.

The cocoon was complete, so as to hide the majority of the creature it contained from view. It did, however, allow the creature’s face to be shown, and that alone was enough to give Chrysalis the shivers. Its dark grey chitin was cracked in several places, but it still spoke of something otherworldly, something far beyond her understanding. Its mandibles were slack, and its bright green eyes were staring out into space.

Chrysalis’s horn briefly glowed, causing the creature’s eyes to glow in response. It looked down at her, its eyes still staring unseeingly at the changeling queen, patiently awaiting her orders.

“Tell me more of this ‘weapon’ you were making,” Chrysalis said in the still somewhat unfamiliar tongue of the alien. “I thought you said you lobotomized it, that there should be nothing left of its old personality and ingenuity.”

The alien looked down at her blankly, its stare uncomprehending of what Chrysalis had asked of it. “We did…” it said, its monotone voice giving the impression that the creature had no idea what it was saying.

“I saw it with my own eyes. It wasn’t wearing the restraining band around its neck, yet it cut through my troops like paper. Explain.”

The alien took a deep, shuddering breath, before answering in the same, monotone voice. “The weapon should be incapable of more than basic thought and movement. A vegetable without any sort of controller. If it is capable of more… I must inform the emperor… He needs to know that the experiment was a failure…”

Chrysalis frowned at the alien, as the alien’s true personality started to show through the queen’s brainwashing. With a negligent charge of her horn, she reestablished total control, the alien’s face becoming slack once more. “Tell me, what was your experiment supposed to accomplish? What were you hoping to achieve with this… monstrosity?”

The alien’s eyes stared at the queen, his breath slowly echoing through the chamber, before he opened his mandibles and answered her. “The experiment was to see if control could ever be established against our enemies. The experiment’s race shares many unique qualities with our enemy, qualities we were hoping to exploit. We hoped to bring our enemies under our thrall. The weaponizing of the experiment’s body was merely a ruse, in case our work fell into their hands.”

Queen Chrysalis looked at the alien with interest, her eyebrows furrowed as she stepped closer to the cocooned creature. “These… others, these enemies of yours, they are powerful, yes?”

“They are.”

“Good… good…” Chrysalis said, a sinister smile appearing on her lips. “Now, tell me everything you know about these… enemies of yours…”

The alien pulled in another, shaky breath, before he started to talk, unfeeling, unthinking, and completely unaware of the role he was to play in the days to come.

Author's Notes:

Well, I finally worked up my nerve and broke through the writer's block. I know a lot of you will be upset over this twist, because it is a little cliche, but rest assured, it isn't something I just threw in because it tied everything together. Besides, cliches are cliches for a reason. Yeah, they can be a little tiring at times, but a few games I know would be a lot less fun without some exploding barrel cliches.

At any rate, cliches have to be done right in order to get them to work. I am trying my hardest to get this one right, so I hope I do not disappoint you guys.

In other news, I didn't get to go to Salt Lake City Comic Con. My wife was sick that whole week, preventing us from going. Yeah, it sucked, but on the bright side, it means you guys got a brand new chapter! Yay!

Anyway, now that I'm through the wall, expect more chapters soon.

Tip Jar!

Chapter XIX

Chapter XIX

I was tired. Bone tired. I honestly didn’t think I could ever get this tired, but here I was, probably dripping unknowable fluids and about to pass out in the swankiest room I had ever set foot in. And yet I hadn’t passed out, and was instead stubbornly clinging to the waking world, despite the concerned looks from the ponies around me.

They had done their best to get me to go get cleaned up and off to bed, too. Once we’d arrived at the castle, which I had quickly learned roughly translated as ‘Cantering Castle,’ Princess Luna had asked me to go take a bath and get into bed, assuring me that Titania and her changelings would be treated fairly in my absence.

I had refused.

To be honest, though, all I really wanted to do was sleep. You’d think I’d be somewhat wary of that, considering all the people I just killed, but to be honest, I really wasn’t. Every time I thought of the enemy changelings I had wasted, a tiny changeling face would appear in my mind, quickly followed by that face getting blasted by an enemy, which would make my blood boil like you wouldn't believe. After that, it became increasingly difficult to care about those that I personally put six feet under.

Especially when I found out that one of the groups of attacking changelings had gone straight for the nursery. That fact alone was probably going to ensure my peace of mind about what I had done to them.

That being said, I was stubbornly staying awake because I still needed to hear the rest of Titania’s story. I needed to know what had happened to the mirror that had allowed the ancient Greeks passage into this world, and Titania wasn’t talking until she had had a chance to speak with both of the princesses to ensure her hive’s survival, as well as the survival of the changeling hives allied with her.

So that was why I was sitting with my back against one of the pillars of the princesses’ throne room, probably dripping blood, and barely staying awake while Princess Luna and Queen Titania quietly talked to each other about events that I had little background information for. Most of it seemed to revolve around the invasion of Cantering Castle that Chrysalis had perpetrated, though it had quickly changed to Titania’s own activities, namely how many ponies she had taken, why she had taken them, and why she hadn’t just freaking asked for help, rather than take what she needed.

I tried to listen, I really did, but I found my attention drifting more than I would have liked. I still followed the basic gist of the conversation, a fact that I firmly attributed to my implants, but important details were lost as I slowly faded in and out of consciousness.

I snorted awake, my eyes wide as something hard poked me in the side. I looked around, quickly realizing that not only had ‘Celestia’ arrived, but everyone present was staring at me, most in an amused sort of way, though Celestia looked more worried than anything else. “Are you okay, ~Alex?~ You look-”

“I’m fine… I’m awake…” I interrupted her as I got back to my feet. “This is more important. I need to know what happened to the Greeks’ Mirror.”

Celestia and Luna both looked confused, but before they were able to ask me what I meant, Queen Titania stepped forward. “~Alex~ is getting ahead of himself. Luna and I have spoken at length about my hive’s misdeeds, as well as the misdeeds of the changeling race as a whole. We have fed upon you, taken your place, usurped your love, and kidnapped you for centuries, and yet for all of this, you have come to our aid when our enemies have attacked us. Before we speak of what ~Alex~ is alluding to, I must know: What do you see for the future of my people? What do you intend to do with your greatest predator, now that you have us in the frog of your hoof?”

Understandably, Celestia looked a little lost at this. I knew that she had probably been given a quick rundown by the guard that had been sent to fetch her, but she was probably still somewhat out of the loop. Especially since she had not been here for most of what Luna and Titania had spoken about.

To the white princess’s credit, she seemed to think well on her hooves. “...I will not pretend to be your people’s judge, much less their jury or executioner,” Celestia said as she stepped closer to the changeling queen. “Our peoples have their grievances between us, but I will take what I have heard at face value for now. I will need to speak with my sister over everything that has happened, and all she has learned. But for now, I believe we must begin by building bridges between our people, rather than trying to tear them down.”

Titania looked skeptical at Celestia, almost like she was trying to see the lie behind the words. “I don’t… Why? We have done horrible things to you. Why would-”

“Now, we understand that your people require our love to survive,” Celestia said, talking over the changeling queen’s protests as she moved to stand in front of one of the brilliant stained glass windows that adorned the throne room. By chance, or more likely, by purpose, it depicted a pair of ponies forming the shape of a heart, while a pink bubble repelled an army of black, snarling changelings. Coincidentally, my implants also scrolled a note across the bottom of my vision that let me know that Celestia was using a far more formal mode of speech. “Because of Chrysalis’s attack against our people, they will be slow to trust, and even slower to accept. Nevertheless, we feel like that is an obstacle that can be overcome. Sister? You know more of this. What do you think?”

Princess Luna moved to stand with her sister, yet continued to face the changeling queen. “You will return all those ponies that you have taken. You will also inform the hives allied with you what has transpired today. Tell them that we would speak with them, that if they openly meet with us, and return that which has been taken, they will find a sympathetic ear, and open hooves. Failure to do this will result in them being branded as allies of Chrysalis, and therefore enemies of the Crowns of Equestria. Are we understood?”

Queen Titania nodded her head in understanding. “Many will not believe me at first… But I believe that word will spread once their agents see how your people have helped mine. I will convene with them, and attempt to make them understand.”

I let out a sigh of relief. I didn’t think the road ahead for them was going to be easy, but at least it wasn’t about to end in genocide.

Not that I had thought these ponies capable of that, but still, the thought was there.

“Now, let us move onto this other issue, so that we might finally get ~Alex~ patched up and sent to bed,” Luna said, her eyes filled with disapproval as she stared at me. I met her gaze unflinchingly, though. This was too important to let go, especially for something as inconsequential as proper bed rest and medical attention.

Queen Titania bowed her head, then ignited her horn. “Very well. The story I am about to relate, the reason why ~Alex~ is so adamant about hearing the rest of this, dates back to the era of Chaos; the Reign of Discord.”

This immediately got both princesses’ attention, recognition and alarm clear on their faces as the changeling queen began to weave her illusions. Huh, that must bring back some memories, if they’re as old as Titania said they were… I thought to myself. My attention was pulled away from the story, though, when I noticed the soldiers in attendance look like they were about to take down the Changeling Queen. “No worry, this part of story,” I said in the pony tongue, guessing that the soldiers probably didn’t have a translation spell active to aid their understanding. “She is not casting anything us. Just picture, to help comprehend story.”

They must have gotten the gist of my explanation, because they all relatively stood down: they kept their weapons and horns at the ready, but it didn't look like they were about to bodily tackle the changeling queen. Not that I could blame them; they were being treated to a theater production by a member of what they had thought had been their most hated enemy, via unknown magic at that. Of course they were going to be suspicious of what was about to happen.

Little did they know that finding out that their enemy wasn’t their enemy was going to be the most normal thing that they were going to hear that day.

* * *

The lights disappeared, leaving Valerie feeling disoriented and a bit nauseous. “Are… are we back?” she asked as she took stock of her surroundings. They seemed to be on some kind of walkway between two larger buildings. Decorative trees sprung up from clearly well-maintained grates, while in front of them was a road completely clear of traffic. That was unsurprising, considering this time of night. The whole setup seemed abnormally… normal, despite the fact that the small group had just been inside an alien hangar, talking with something that Valerie couldn't even begin to comprehend.

The only proof she had that any of what had just happened had been real was the somewhat large metal sphere that hovered about five feet above them.

The sphere seemed to be made of some kind of steel, but did not have any method of propulsion that Valerie could identify. Its only obvious marks seemed to be a large crystal eye near the front, as well as a small collection of holes near the bottom that looked like a speaker.

Agent Vale immediately whipped out her phone, unlocked it, then tapped the touch screen. “We are, though this isn't a part of town that I recognize…”

Valerie took a couple of steps towards the end of the walkway, then took a quick glance out. “...We’re a couple of blocks from the Pacific Northwest College, not really that far from the police station, either.”

Agent Vale didn't seem to hear her. Instead, she seemed more absorbed with her phone. “Good, it's ringing… Yes? Hello, this is Valley Girl, Verification Alpha-Three-Zero-Zero-Seven-Gamma-Nine-Three-Seven. Yes, we were worried too. No, nothing like that, it… just got a whole lot more complicated. Yes, I understand the procedure, just send someone to pick us up ASAP. We need to be debriefed the second we make it back. Yes, yes, I know. I know. We’re…” Agent Vale looked at Valerie, a question in her eyes.

“The junction of Tenth Avenue and Irving Street,” Valerie quickly informed her.

“Tenth Ave and Irving, still in Portland. Yes, yes. I’ll tell you everything when we get there. No, we… well, it’s hard to explain before submitting to protocol. Yes, I understand. Thank you, sir. Bye.” Without another word, Agent Vale hung up her phone, then turned to look up at the alien probe that still hung over the alleyway. “If you can hear me from here, I suggest you move your probe now. Our men will be here to pick us up soon, and they probably won't allow us to explain properly before firing at you. We’ll come back here this time tomorrow night. Understand?”

The probe hovered there for a second, before letting out a pleasant-sounding beep. “I understand. My probe will be here when you return,” the strange alien probe said, before quickly disappearing into the night sky.

“Do you think it was wise to leave the other two with that… thing?” Gamble asked, repressing a shiver.

Agent Vale gave her subordinate a piercing stare, before shaking her head. “I honestly don't know. What I do know is that it was a whole lot wiser than opening fire on something that probably could have killed us without a thought.”

Gamble looked somewhat ashamed at that. “I’m sorry boss… the thing… it just…”

“You’re not coming with me when we go back,” she cut him off. “You’re just lucky that that thing really was as friendly as it said it was. Otherwise, we easily could have been vaporized! Or vented into space! Or-”

Valerie stopped listening at that point. Instead, she put her back to the wall, slid down until her rear touched the pavement, and put her face into her hands. Somehow, within the last twenty-four hours, she had not only lost her best friend, but had also managed to survive not one, but two encounters with aliens.

At the moment, she felt like she desperately needed a drink.

“Are you okay?”

Valerie looked up, immediately noticing a concerned-looking Gamble looking down at her. “No… I need a drink, a week locked in my room, and my best friend back.”

Gamble didn't respond at first, choosing to instead look out of the alley at the large black vans that were quickly approaching. “Well, I don't mean to add to your stress, but…”

Valerie just groaned as she heard the cars pull up and open, the once quiet streets quickly filling with the nervous noises of heavily armed men expecting the worst. “When will this terrible day end? I just want to go to bed…”

* * *

Jeffrey Stibbons wasn't a very trusting man. As director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, it was in the job description to be, as he would put it, a ‘suspicious bastard.’

So, when he received the phone call from the team that had been missing for around thirty minutes, he had been understandably untrusting of the group, especially since they seemed to have lost a few men during the time they had gone dark.

When the medical reports had come back in, and had revealed nothing wrong with any of the three individuals they had recovered, he had become even more paranoid. As he approached the interrogation room where Agent Fiona Vale was waiting, he couldn't help but think about all the unknown things that the aliens could have done to his people. Things impossible to track, or find, simply because the tech difference was so wide between Earth and… whatever they were dealing with.

But there’s the rub, isn’t it? He thought, his hand resting on the doorknob. I really don’t know what these creatures are capable of. Acting without any real knowledge is a surefire way to get yourself killed. And everyone around you...

He sighed, then straightened his shoulders, readying himself for whatever Fate had decided to throw at him. Hopefully, it was something that he could at least understand.

With a twist of the doorknob, he opened the door, his face carefully arranged to show very little of what he was thinking. “Okay, Vale, barring anything we can't find, you and Bartlett check out, as does Ms. Jordan. Spill the beans, and tell me exactly what happened after that other metal orb took you; where’s the van, and where are Stone and Smith?”

“Well, sir, have you had a chance to examine the alien bodies yet?” she began.

The director looked at her suspiciously, his hands quickly opening the folder in front of him. “And I suppose that the aliens that abducted you wanted you to get them back?”

Agent Vale shook her head. “No, sir. The alien that took us didn't seem to be allied with the first batch at all. It looks like we somehow got caught in the middle of some kind of interstellar conflict.”

The director looked at her like she had grown another head. “Wait, what?

“I hope you’re ready for a doozy, sir. I went through it, and I still don’t believe it.”

Director Stibbons settled in for the long haul, fully expecting this whole thing to not only get weirder, but to be way outside of his expertise and jurisdiction. He fully expected to have to make a few calls before the night was over, one of which was probably going to spark some international hullabaloo that he wanted no part of.

He had no idea just how right he was.

* * *

Agent Smith looked up at the ceiling, clearly offended at what he had just heard. “Scientifically inaccurate? Come on, I know that space travel wouldn’t be nearly as quick as it is depicted in the show, but from what we’ve been able to gather, warp fields are theoretically possible! And-”

“There is no ‘theoretical.’ Warp fields are indeed possible, albeit one of the slowest and most energy inefficient ways of traversing interstellar distances at a rate faster than light. That wasn’t what I was referring to,” Yavaar interrupted him. “I was referring to the artificial intelligence depicted in the program in question. Data, as he is depicted, is a complete impossibility.”

“How can you say that? You’re a computer! You-”

“I have already stated that I am not an artificial intelligence,” Yavaar said, a slightly offended tone bleeding into its voice. “The interface that I use to think with may, indeed, be artificial, but I am not. Nor am I an emotionless automaton, as emotional responses, and even the ability to forget, are key components to all known sapient processes. Data, as a sapient artificial intelligence with none of the previously listed traits, is a physical impossibility.

Agent Stone rolled his eyes as he listened to the two of them argue. Despite the fact that Yavaar was an alien computer from another planet, it seemed to have the personality of a particularly detail-oriented fanboy.

He found that fact both strangely comforting, and downright terrifying.

According to his watch, the two agents had spent almost an entire day in the care of the eccentric AI and, strangely enough, Agent Stone had found himself really starting to like the thing. It had a stiff way of talking, and tended to be extremely technical, to the point of incomprehensibility, yet it had this earnest, eager quality. It almost reminded him of a dog, in a way.

Except, instead of wanting to play fetch, it wanted knowledge.

It had spent quite a bit of time asking them questions, though surprisingly few of them were about the two agents’ work. It seemed incredibly interested in things that Agent Stone found mundane. What was their favorite art form had been a surprise, as had been the somewhat probing questions about their personal lives. The only question it seemed to have about their work had been about the significance of their call signs.

All in all, it had been an extremely gracious host, all things considered. It even teleported them in some pizza, though it had been a bit evasive about how it had gotten the food.

“So, how did you get the delivery boy to give you this?” Agent Stone had asked. “I can't imagine he would have reacted very well to a hovering drone…”

“Yeah, and where did you get the money to pay for it?” Agent Smith chimed in.

“My superiors had set up a… station, if you will, on your planet. It allowed us to receive a few needed materials through your online shipping services, and giving us the ability to obtain many items with which to better learn about you and your society, without drawing any undue attention. As for the money, I… really do not feel comfortable revealing that information at this time. Perhaps after I have been rescued, we will discuss this further.”

And that had been that. Any other questions on the subject, or about his mysterious superiors or why they had been observing the planet, had been deflected or outright ignored.

“Not until after I have been retrieved. I will reveal more once my main processors, as well as a few key technologies, are safely on your planet,” it would keep saying. That made the F.B.I. agent suspicious, though not overly so.

If the AI had wanted to do anything to him or his planet, it would have done it by now. After all, it was part of a highly advanced alien species; they could have easily taken over and enslaved the earth a long time ago, if they wanted. The fact that they had known about Earth for quite some time, and hadn’t invaded, had done a lot to ease Agent Stone’s worries about the machine.

It had also gone a long way into explaining, in part, the actions of the other alien species. They hadn’t invaded—only stolen some people. Reason why? There was something much bigger and scarier around to keep them from misbehaving.

Clearly, the planet Earth and its people weren’t the real targets of these ‘Krin.’ They were probably just pieces in a much larger game.

“Oh! What is…” Yavaar exclaimed, interrupting Agent Stone’s musings.

The F.B.I. agent looked up in interest. “Is the boss back?”

Yavaar hummed a little, an action that Stone had quickly linked with the weird computer trying to work out how best to say something. “She… is, but she has brought some associates with her. From their garb, and the weapons they’re carrying, they seem to be military personnel. There is a high probability that they belong to the United States Marine Corp, though some of them do not seem to be equipped for combat.”

Agent Stone felt his heart began to pound. He wasn't sure why he felt so tense, though it probably had to do with how Yavaar had said that he only had the one probe left.

If the powers that be decided to destroy it, Stone and Smith would be trapped here for a very long time. That thought did not sit well with him.

“What you thinking, Stone?” Smith asked, fiddling with his suit sleeve a little.

Stone let out a weary sigh. “I think we’re either about to start something amazing, or you and I are royally screwed...”

Author's Notes:

For any of you that doesn't know:

That is the frog of a horse's hoof.

Other than that, I don't really have a whole lot to say about this chapter. It's really more of a connecting one, not to mention it gives us a bit more information on what's happening back on Earth, as well as a few insights on the Quzin and their 'AIs'. I'm a bit tired at the moment, and I have to get up for work in the evening, so I'm just going to post this and go off to bed. You guys have fun reading this!

Chapter XX

Chapter XX

Princess Mi Amore Cadenza sighed as she listened to the pony in front of her prattle on his proposal for his ‘new’ tax code. The Crystal Empire was, unfortunately, a bit behind on the times—an unfortunate side effect from being essentially thrown a thousand years into the future. Because of this, the new laws and regulations that Princess Cadenza and her husband had brought to the ancient city had been met with… resistance.

They had been more than happy to put the new alicorn and her husband on the throne, especially since they had been the ones to remove its previous ruler. In general, the new freedoms and privileges enjoyed by all were almost loved by all.

That, in and of itself, was the problem. Before the rule of King Sombra, the Crystal Empire had had a very strict caste system. Many ponies had expected the empire to quickly revert back to said system, and for everypony to quickly know their place.

It had come to quite a few nobles’ shock, then, when they found out that they were noble in title alone.

Many still had authority to help govern, but they found that they had no real weight to order around the ‘lesser’ ponies, as these ponies now found that they had rights that were equal to even the highest born duke. Essentially, the old guard felt like glorified scribes, especially after the crown had dismissed several of them and stripped them of their titles when they had tried to swing their weight around.

There was very little they could do but petition for things to return to how they had always been. The only obstacle to that, of course, was the royal couple, and they had the support of thousands of crystal pony commoners and common soldiers, so they didn’t even have the voice of the people or the army to back them.

Oh, and of course there were the two demigods that Princess Cadenza called kin living in Canterlot. That alone made things far more complicated than any of the Crystal Empire’s old nobility wanted to even think about.

All in all, the only thing they could really do was waste the princess’s time, and hope that she signed something just to get them to go away.

Princess Cadenza’s counter-strategy was quite simple: she refused to sign anything that they gave her.

Yes, she did sign a few things, but each and every thing that she did sign had been drafted or triple-checked by Cadenza’s chamberlain: a shrewd old bat pony by the name of Balanced Ledger, whom the royal couple had brought up with them to the Crystal Empire to help bring the old place into the fifteenth century, kicking and screaming if they had to.

This didn’t stop the old guard from trying, though. Especially since Prince Shining Armor had been summoned to Canterlot to help with the looming invasion.

Unbidden, Princess Cadenza, or rather, Cadence, glanced to her left.

She felt a stab of longing in her heart when she had to remind herself why Shining Armor wasn't there, sitting in his throne at her left. She knew that what he was doing was important, but that didn’t set her heart at ease in the slightest.

Something bad was going to happen, and soon. She was absolutely certain of that.

“Your Highness? Is there something wrong?”

Princess Cadence looked up in surprise, having temporarily forgotten what she had been doing at the time. “I’m sorry, I have been feeling a little under the weather lately. If you could please continue?”

The stuffy old noble cleared his throat a little, somewhat put out that he did not have the princess’s full attention. “Very well, Your Highness. It is very important that we… What is-?”

Before the pony could finish his question, a cloud of ash materialized in front of the Princess of Love, which quickly condensed in a flash of orange flame, forming a rolled up scroll in front of the now worried-looking princess. Before the parchment could fall, she deftly caught it in her magic and unrolled it.

“I apologize, Silver Sword, but it is from Princess Celestia. Our meeting will have to wait until another date,” Princess Cadence said, her eyes quickly scanning over the letter.

Silver Sword seemed annoyed that his presentation had been brought to a halt, but he hid it well. “Very well, Your Highness. Perhaps some other time, then…” He then gave an overly polite bow, then quickly retreated from the throne room, muttering darkly to himself as he left.

Princess Cadence ignored him, her attention riveted to the letter as she quickly devoured the information contained there. Once she had finished, she rose to her hooves, levitated another piece of paper, a quill, and an inkwell towards herself, and penned an answer to her aunt. She then rolled it up and incinerated it. The moment she was certain that it was on its way, she turned to the guards that lined the throne room. “Flash Sentry!”

A light orange pegasus in Solar Guard armor stepped forward, his hoof making a slight ding as he cut a crisp salute. “Your Highness?”

“I am leaving for Canterlot soon. Have one of your soldiers ready the train, while you and Battlement follow me. We have something… extremely sensitive to retrieve.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” the pegasus said, falling into line behind his princess as she quickly swept out of the room. Solid Battlement was close behind, the crystal pony’s face an inscrutable mask as he followed the two out of the throne room, and up higher into the Crystal Palace.

It didn’t take them long to reach the room they were searching for, and Battlement felt his composure crack ever so slightly when he recognized the door that Cadence had led them to. “This is Master Starswirl’s room…”

Cadence looked back at the crystal earth pony, a single eyebrow raised. “Did you know Starswirl?”

Battlement gave a slight nod. “Not as well as I would have liked. During the Age of Chaos, when this place was the only remaining haven of Order against Discord, the noble wizard stumbled into the shield, bearing two foals on his back.” The crystal pony looked down at the floor, apparently ashamed of himself. “I admit that I was one of the ponies who had originally wanted to turn him away. Our empire was small, and the Crystal Heart could only protect so many from the mad Draconequus’s reign. We had many laws at the time that would have been seen as barbaric today, simply to protect our sovereignty from Discord’s influence.”

Princess Cadence nodded in understanding, then turned and pushed the door open. “Who was it that allowed him to stay?” she asked, somewhat curious.

“Back then, the fate of all was decided by the King,” Battlement said, as he almost reverently followed the princess into the hallowed, if somewhat musty, room.

The room looked like it hadn’t seen the touch of a single pony in ages, which, if the three ponies were being honest with themselves, was the absolute truth. The walls themselves seemed to have been nothing more than large bookcases, upon which rested thousands of books. To the right, there was a small alcove which contained a lone bed, while to the left was another, similar alcove, though this one contained two beds, one a white, sun-themed affair, while the other had dark, night-time themed sheets.

Near the back of the room was a large dais, upon which sat a writing desk, a basket which contained a select few very old and worn toys, and a waste basket. In one corner, seemingly as if put there by accident and forgotten about, was a large, beautiful mirror. It was framed by a purple horseshoe of unknown material, with purple gems inlaid into its frame, while along the outside was a weave of curly flairs that were made of the same material. On the very top was another horseshoe, inside which was the image of a stylized, rearing earth pony.

Battlement shook his head, trying to get back on track, despite the awe he felt towards the one-time occupants of this room. “King Noche was strict, could even be called cruel at times, but his rule saw to our continued survival. He was not cruel because he wanted to be, but because he had to be. However, he seemed to see wisdom in the old one’s eyes, since he let Starswirl and his two young charges in the castle for a time.”

“He didn’t stay?” Flash asked, somewhat shocked by that.

“No, he did stay. For quite some time, I might add. I was not privy to all the conversations between him and the king, so I could not say why he stayed with us for so long.” The stallion rubbed the back of his neck somewhat wistfully as his gaze swept over the long-abandoned room. “I do know that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna practically grew up in this room.”

Princess Cadence and Flash Sentry quickly turned towards the guard, shock on their faces. “Wait, those two foals were-”

Battlement nodded his head. “Yes, they were the Princesses of the Sun and Moon.” Battlement’s face then grew dark, as if an unpleasant memory had surfaced. “The then-Prince Sombra was quite upset to see Princess Luna go. He had become quite infatuated with her; feelings that the alicorn did not reciprocate.”

Flash Sentry scrunched his muzzle in confusion. “I thought you had to ascend to Alicornhood. Were they-?”

Battlement shook his head. “They were but unicorns when they first arrived here. They became alicorns during Starswirl’s tutelage and left the empire with the odd one soon afterwards.”

Cadence looked at Battlement, a question in her eyes. “Why do you call Starswirl odd?”

Battlement shrugged, then waved his hoof a little. “The stallion hid from the Chaos of Discord, yet seemed to be immune to the madness the draconequus caused. He also spent much of his time muttering to himself while locked away in his study, and there were a few times when his eyes would glow, and he would speak in a deep voice in an unknown tongue. Calling the great wizard odd is a kindness, considering these facets of his character.”

“I suppose you would call that odd…” Princess Cadence said as she approached the mirror in the corner. Her hoof slowly traced the frame, before she let it fall. “I am taking Starswirl’s mirror with me to Canterlot. Apparently something has come up.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Captain Sentry said with a bow. “I shall have some unicorns bring it down right away. Is there anything else you need from here before we go?”

Cadence shook her head. “No. And I want you to stay here, in case the matter from eight months ago comes here. I need you to plan our defenses; am I clear?”

Both guards knew instantly what she was alluding to, and cut crisp salutes. “As you wish, Your Highness.”

Princess Cadence took one last look at the mirror before turning away and making her way to her room. She had a lot to prepare before she left and not a whole lot of time left in the day. She had to hurry if she was going to make it in time.

* * *

Celestia nodded to herself as a cloud of ash floated into the throne room, which resolved itself into a scroll. She quickly unrolled and read it before turning back to Queen Titania. “It is on its way. It will take a couple of days for Cadence to arrive with the mirror; in the meantime- Oh!” At that precise moment, the door to the throne room opened, revealing Star Blaze. In his magic he carried a very particular book; one that Celestia had sent him to get in the middle of Queen Titania’s story. She waved at the stallion, and he quickly brought the book to her. “There are a few things I need to ask ~Alex,~ and I’m sure you have some questions for him as well.”

“I could not agree more,” Queen Titania said with a bow. “There are many things I wish to hear from him, not the least being what happened to the ancient Prometheans who came to our aid.”

“However, I believe that both our questions, and yours, will have to wait,” Princess Luna said, pointing to the wounded ~human.~ At some point during the queen’s tale, the exhausted ~human~ had fallen into a deep, deep sleep.

Celestia pouted in frustration. “When did he fall asleep? Did he at least hear what happened to the mirror?”

Luna nodded. “He did indeed. His dreams are full of hopes of returning home, though there is a dark undercurrent of what the reaction from his friends and family might be.” Luna shook her head as her horn began to glow. Instantly, ~Alex’s~ sleep seemed to deepen, and the ~human~ soon wore a peaceful smile on his lips. “I suggest we let him sleep for now, and to take this time to treat his wounds, as well as the wounds of Titania’s people. There is much we have to do still, before this day is done.”

“I… I still do not believe that this is truly happening…” Titania said, rubbing her forehead right underneath her horn. “It feels like a dream, that any moment I will wake up, and things will return to how they were before…”

Celestia shook her head. “While I can understand the sentiment, let me assure you, this is very real. We will work out the issues between our peoples, but for now, it would be best if you return to your hive and contact the others. We will send an escort with you, to ensure that Chrysalis does not try anything in the meantime.”

Titania gave a small smile at that. “Thank you, but I will not need one. We have a spell that uses beacons for quick travel, and it would be quite impossible for Chrysalis to attack me during transit.” She bowed her head towards the two princesses. “I would share with you a beacon of your own, as well as the secrets of this magic, but I am afraid that you have caught me quite unprepared.”

“It is fine, we will have plenty of time for that sort of thing later.” Celestia’s radiant smile swiftly turned to a worried frown. “After all, we have plenty of problems to worry about in the months to come. Any ally is a welcome one.”

Titania gave the solar princess a thankful smile before igniting her horn one last time. She was immediately surrounded by purple fire and seemed to sink into the ground before disappearing entirely.

“Sister, do you think she was telling the truth?” Luna asked as the purple flames disappeared from the throne room. “About how our master wasn't the real Starswirl?”

“She had no reason to lie to us,” Celestia said calmly as she watched her troops collect ~Alex~ and remove him from the throne room for treatment. “Despite her calling Starswirl an imposter, it was quite clear that she held that pony in high regard, whoever he was. Besides, it was he who set us on the path to discovering the Tree of Harmony in the first place. Whoever he was, it was clear that he was a friend of Equestria, regardless of his deception. I find it harder to believe that we have had a gateway to ~Alex’s~ home world right under our noses all this time.”

“We saw Starswirl use it several times. He always said it was his secret study,” Luna pointed out.

“True, but that does not explain why ~Alex’s~ people came here in the first place,” Celestia countered.

“That it does not. Just who was this 'Gaea' that the ~humans~ were so bent on saving?” Luna said, her gaze locked on the door that ~Alex~ had just disappeared through. “I will attempt to question him as he sleeps. It was over a thousand years ago, but myths have a tendancy to endure. perhaps he knows something that might provide a clue.”

“And I will-” Celestia started to say, holding up ‘Starswirl’s’ last journal, but was interrupted as her prized student charged into the room, Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy and Spike close behind.

“Princess Celestia!! There are changelings in Canterlot!!” Twilight shouted, clearly upset.

“And I will leave you with this,” Luna said, an impish grin on her face. “After all, she is your student.”

Without another word, the Princess of the Night disappeared in a flash of light, leaving Celestia to deal with a hysterical Twilight Sparkle and her friends.

“Good grief…” Celestia said, a wistful smile on her face. Sometimes you can be quite the hoof-ful, sister, she thought as she turned to deal with her student and her friends.

* * *

The black van pulled up to the sleepy Portland street, its engine humming as several others quickly followed suit. It was unnerving how silent the streets were, the only noises coming from the engines of the three vehicles, as well as the sound of two cats (probably) fighting a few streets down from the current one.

Franky, the whole thing was making Sergeant Moore uncomfortable.

“Okay, and you’re sure about this, right?” the sergeant asked as he checked his M4 one last time.

Agent Vale gave a weary sigh. “To be honest, I really don’t know what to believe about this thing. All I know is that it could have killed us at any moment, and it didn’t. Not only that, but it let us go. My gut says to trust it, but there really are too many things we don’t know about this.”

“Cool your heels, Sarge. The lady told you everything she knows, no sense getting cold feet now,” Colonel Conners said, nodding to the soldier closest to the door. The corporal gave a short nod in reply, and pulled open the door to the van.

With practiced ease, the soldiers poured out of the vehicle, the other two vans quickly following suit, causing the sleepy Portland street to suddenly come alive with the presence of armed troops. However, despite the sudden influx of troops, they were all surprisingly quiet, the only real sounds being the engines of their transports.

“Alright, Vale, where is this thing?” Colonel Conners asked as he swept the streets for any signs of movement.

“It’s probably hiding,” Vale said, taking a few steps away from the soldiers and holding her empty hands up. “I told you that it told me that it only had the one probe left. It’s probably trying its best to not become stranded.”

“That is correct,” a mild voice echoed through the alleyway. The soldiers immediately brought their weapons up, ready for whatever horrors were about to come barreling down towards them.

“Please, put your weapons away. I mean you no harm.”

The colonel waved his hand to his troops, signaling them to do as the voice asked. “I’m Colonel Sam Conners of the United States Army. I understand that you require assistance?” Colonel Conners asked, a bit wary of the alien.

“I do indeed. Am I to assume that you have been given authority to speak for your nation?” the voice asked, its voice sounding strangely puzzled.

The colonel straightened up a bit. “I have, though I cannot agree to anything until you’ve returned our people.”

“Of course. I have not been holding them prisoner, though, by any stretch of the imagination.”

From the far alley, there was a flash of light from just around the corner, followed almost immediately by the sounds of two men swearing. “Come on, Yavaar! Give us a little more warning when you do that!” There was some sounds of scuffling, then without any warning, the two missing agents appeared from around the corner, holding their hands up in a clear sign that they were not dangerous.

“I would like to point out that, up to this point, I have done nothing to harm you or your people. I would request that you refrain from discharging your weapons,” the voice said as the two agents drew closer. “If it makes you feel any better, you may take my remaining, functioning probe back with you for study, provided that you do not destroy it. It is my only remaining link to the world outside my damaged base, after all.”

The colonel turned to his men, then nodded, signaling that they should keep their weapons lowered. He then turned back to the location of the voice, a slight frown on his face. “That would probably be best. I’m sure there is much we can learn from each other.”

There was an odd humming sound, before the probe finally came around the corner. It was basically exactly as Agent Vale had described:; small, silvery, and having very little distinguishing markings other than the ‘eye’ on the front. “While that may be true, there is much, much more that I can, and should, teach you. And quickly; the Krin could be back at any moment, and we really do not have much time to delay.”

The probe slowly approached them, before stopping a few feet in front of the soldiers. “As you have already introduced yourself, Colonel, allow me to do the same. I am Yavaar, and I have been assigned the honor of watching your species develop.”

Colonel Conners felt the corners of his lips turn up into a smile. While obviously alien, there was something extremely earnest and trusting about the strange computer. Odd. I always figured that artificial intelligence would turn out something like the Terminator… he thought to himself. What he said, though, was, “If what you’ve told us about you and these... ‘Krin’ is true, and you really did have nothing to do with the abductions, then allow me to be the first to welcome you to Earth, though I wish the circumstances were different.”

“As do I. As far as first contact with your species goes, this is hardly ideal. Nevertheless, we must work with what the Creator has given us,” the orb said, before giving a quick, three-sixty spin, almost as if it were nervously checking to see if someone was coming. “Now, if you would be so kind? We have much to discuss, and time is not on our side.”

“Of course. If you could please join us in the van, we can get out from the open and you can let us know just how deep we are in alien crap,” Colonel Conners said, gesturing towards the van. His soldiers looked a bit nervous about this, but they kept their cool.

“To borrow a phrase from your popular culture, ‘I thought you would never ask...’” the small silver probe said as it swooped into the open door of the van.

Sergeant Moore looked at his commanding officer, worry in his gaze. "Sir, do you think this is wise?"

"By all that is good and holy, I hope so..." the colonel said right before he followed the odd machine into the van, shaking his head in disbelief.

Author's Notes:

Well, here's the next chapter! That one took me some time to complete, but I finally got through it. Personally, the bit between Yavaar and the soldiers was the hardest part, and I still do not think I did that scene justice.

Well, whatever. As long as it's on paper, I can move on and come back here later when I know what I did wrong, am I right?

Edit: Upon talking with a few people that know a LOT more about military units and the who's who of the united states armed forces, I've decided to change the Marines here into Rangers, since they'd be the most likely called in in an unknown situation like this.

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXI

“I guess we should probably start with the most basic of questions. What are those things that took our people, and what do they want?”

The odd silver probe gave another one of those weird hums before answering. “Their species name is Krin, being derived from one of their more ancient tongues. They are a militaristic species that previously attempted to conquer the known galaxy.” The machine tilted to the side, as if thinking about something. “As for what they want, I can only guess. I am not Krin, and am not privy to their thoughts or plans.”

Ambassador Garcia paused as an endless stream of questions poured through his head. Finally, he settled on one. “Why were you studying us?”

“That, I can tell you. My race is called the Quzin, and physically, we are somewhat dissimilar to your kind.” There was a faint whirring sound, and a small, reptile-like creature appeared on the table between Ambassador Garcia and the strange, floating probe. Garcia instinctively pulled back, only to stop when he realized that he wasn't about to be vaporized. “Do not be afraid, it is merely a miniaturized projection of an average member of my species.”

“Uh… I, uh… gathered that,” Garcia said, scooting forward a little bit and giving the robot a sheepish smile. He then looked to the projection with interest; if he was going to be talking to more of these things in the future, he ought to become a bit more familiar with how they looked.

The miniature Quzin was very reptilian in nature; it had a long, snake-like tail that it supported itself on, four arms, scaly skin, and four eyes on… a surprisingly human-like head. The head was so human, in fact, that Garcia was pretty certain he had seen this kind of thing in a movie before. It was still obviously alien, what with the scaly skin and all, but the general dimensions and symmetry were still very human-like.

“You say we’re different from each other, but I’m already noticing some similarities,” Garcia said as he leaned further in.

“As you should. The facial structure alone was enough to draw our attention, but that is not, ultimately, the reason why we study you.” The projection disappeared, and was quickly replaced by a projection that was all too familiar to the ambassador.

“You’re here for our brains?” Garcia asked, fear shooting into his voice.

The robot gave out a soft, jolly-sounding chuckle at that. “No, ambassador. This is not a human brain. This is a Quzin brain.”

This revelation stunned the ambassador, so much so that he found himself unable to form coherent sentences. “How…” he started to say but trailed off as he studied the image from every angle. He was hardly a neurosurgeon, so he couldn't be too certain that it was an identical match. The resemblance was still very uncanny however.

“How... is this possible? Only the Creator knows why he made us cousins," the probe said, finishing the human's unfinished thought "This is why we study you. Why my superiors left me behind and, if my guess is correct, also why the Krin have come for you.”

Ambassador Garcia looked up at the silver probe as a lump forming in his throat. He didn't need the alien to finish; he already could guess what Yavaar was implying. Despite this, though, the alien still finished his explenation. “We went to war with the Krin to prevent their conquest of the know galaxy. While the war was costly on both sides, we still defeated them quite handily; so much so that they were never able to… successfully capture any of my kind for study. It is only a guess, but I would assume that they are here to study you, in hopes of finding a weakness in my kind.” The probe looked like it was thinking for a moment, its focus on the scared-looking diplomat. For the first time since the interview had began, it seemed to consider the state he had put the ambassador in. “For being drawn into a conflict in which you have no stake or reason, I am truly sorry.”

* * *

“Well? What do you think, Colonel?”

Colonel Conners scratched the back of his head, his gaze locked on the silver probe in the live feed. “In all honesty, sir? I think we’re in some deep crap, regardless of whether or not that thing is telling the truth. The only thing that this thing's story changes here is if we have allies or not.”

General Burton nodded sagely, his eyes never leaving the alien probe. “Never thought I'd see the day we’d meet other life out there… and it turns out that it's been watching us for a while. Wonder what it thinks of us so far…”

“I used to think that any aliens watching us must think we’re crazy,” Colonel Conners chipped in, drawing the general from his musings. The general looked at Conners, the question in his eye prompting Conners to continue. “I always figured that we probably looked like savages, sir. Fighting our petty, meaningless wars, worshiping our meaningless gods, and dying our meaningless deaths. In all honesty, I figured that if anyone was up there, then they’d definitely gotten past all of that before getting into space.”

“And now, Colonel?”

Conners took a deep, cleansing breath before continuing. “Sir, the first things we hear from an alien outside our solar system is ‘We’re at war.’ That, coupled with the fact that we apparently have a religious AI on our hands, and I’m starting to think that maybe we aren't as savage as I thought.”

The general gave the Colonel an appraising look. “I take it you don't go to church very often.”

“I stopped going to church the second I was out of my old man’s house,” the colonel said stiffly. “He and I… didn't get along. I always thought God was a scam used on fools who didn't know any better…” The colonel looked back at the screen, took a shuddering breath, then continued. “The aliens believing in God, or gods, presents two problems in my opinion. First one is that we don't want to be branded as infidels by a species infinitely superior to us.”

The general nodded, looked toward the screen, then back at the colonel. “And the second?”

“The second is how am I going to explain to my dad and pastor why I suddenly decided to come back to church and try the whole praying thing again…”

General Burton snorted at that, desperately trying to keep a straight face. “Well, let me tell you this: I'm sure your father will just be happy to have his boy talking to him again.”

The colonel looked a little sour at that, but did not otherwise respond. That was fine, though, since the general wasn't exactly looking to continue the conversation either. Leaning forward, he pressed the intercom button on the console in front of him. “Andrew, I’ve made my decision. Tell our new friend that we're bringing engineers in to help him now.”

The ambassador on the other end of the screen gave a slight nod, then began to relay the information to the alien creature. To say the creature was happy about this development was an understatement. Colonel Conners listened to the alien gush for a few seconds before giving his general a questioning look. “What pushed you over the edge?”

The general shrugged, before straightening out his shirt. “Well, it's like you said earlier. We’re screwed regardless of whether or not this thing is telling the truth. The only thing this changes is whether or not we have some friends out there.” The general took one last look at the screen before turning towards the door. “Besides, even if we are dealing with a race of religious nuts, it wouldn't hurt to do them a favor or two to get on their good side.”

Without another word, the general turned and left the room. Colonel Conners took one more look at the console before shivering to himself and following his general out the door.

* * *

“Hey, Mom! I’m home!” I shouted as I closed the door behind me.

My mom turned to me, a smile on her lips as she pulled a casserole out of the oven. “Hey, Alex, I didn't know you were stopping over today! You should have called!”

I shrugged a little as I hung up my jacket. “I’m not staying for long, just had a bit of trouble with the module I’m writing. Thought I’d swing by and see how Dad’s managing with his new prothstetics.”

Mom just rolled her eyes, and nodded her head towards the living room. “Your father’s still as stubborn as always. He’s already fallen five times this morning alone. See if you can talk some sense into him, get him to rest if you can.”

“Will do,” I said as I made my way to the living room. As expected, there was Dad, face down on the carpet with his new and old limbs splayed out in all directions. None of them were moving, and he seemed to be trying his best to catch his breath. I noticed that Uncle Jerry was here, and currently sitting on the couch with his feet propped up on the coffee table. “You know, Ryan, if you push yourself any harder, I think you’ll set a speed record for fastest person to do ‘the worm.’” Jerry said blandly as he looked down at his sister’s husband.

Dad didn't say anything. Apparently he had tuckered himself out to the point where he couldn't even talk. With a bit of a sigh, I bent down and reached out for my father. “Hey Dad. You sho-”

What I was about to say died instantly in my throat as my claws passed straight through my father’s back and into his lungs. He gave a strangled gasp that was barely heard above the horrified bellow coming from my uncle.

Before I could even register what had happened, though, the world around me seemed to fracture like glass, and a reassuring calm swept through me, drowning out the horror of the scene that I had just witnessed. I took a shuddering breath and plopped down on the floor right before the world around me shattered into a million pieces. Luckily for me, or more likely by design, whatever was underneath me decided to remain solid. “It’s just a dream… Only a dream…” I muttered as I wrapped my arms around myself, shaking violently, trying desperately to rid myself of those images plaguing my mind.

“I will be with you shortly, Alex,” Luna’s voice echoed through the black void, catching my attention. “There is something I must attend to first.”

I just nodded, not really trusting myself to say anything at that point. I was still messed up pretty badly, despite the calming influence that Luna was trying to engender through my mind. I could feel her, like a thick blanket, trying her best to soothe what was probably a roiling sea underneath.

After a few minutes, or hours, or days of this, my breathing finally calmed, and my shivering stopped. I took a deep, cleansing breath, right as I felt something feathery drape over my shoulders.

“Would you like to talk about it?” Luna asked, her voice slightly echoey in the empty dreamspace.

I took one more breath before shaking my head. “N-no, not now… We’ve got too many things that are more important to talk about.”

I couldn't see Luna from my position, but I felt her as she shook her head. “It can wait, we do not need to-”

“Yes, we do,” I said as I stood up and wrapped my arms around myself again, though I didn't turn to look at her. I didn't trust myself enough for that yet. “Look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do for me, and everything you've already done for me. Far more than you know, but…” I let out my breath in a ragged sigh, my arms falling to my sides as I looked down at the endless dreamscape below us. “I’m broken, and a few therapy sessions, even ones as good as these, isn't going to change that. It’ll take time. Time that, unfortunately, has better uses right now than helping me work through my personal issues.”

Feeling less likely to break down completely after saying that, I turned to look at her, and noticed that she had a look in her eye that said that she didn't quite want to let this go. Luckily, she didn't press the issue. “Okay. Whenever you’re ready,” she said, giving me one last searching look before asking her first question. “I suppose we should start something you are more familiar with. Who were the Prometheans that came before you? You seemed to know them...”

I sighed, and shook my head. “The Prometheans… they were a civilization that lived almost… well…” I stopped for a bit, then looked around at the blank world around us. “How does this place translate time measurements? Is my year the same as yours?”

“The Aether tries to match our closest concepts to each other. I know the amount of time you are referring to, and it is a little bit longer than what my people measure as a year,” Luna said as she gave me a curious look.

“Well, the Prometheans, or Greeks, were a civilization that existed over two thousand years ago,” I said wryly.

The shocked look on her face was priceless. “If… If they existed two thousand years ago, just how long was Discord’s reign…?” She asked herself.

I looked down at the endless abyss, a lump forming in my throat as my mind worked furiously. I didn't even want to speculate about that. I was far too busy thinking about the things that I at least had partial answers to give to even know where to begin guessing about the length of the reign on a long dead god. “I don't know... I can at least give a guess as to why they came, and why this… Discord, was after Gaea, though," I said as I gave the princess a rueful smile. This theory had been percolating in my brain ever since Titania had first mentioned the name 'Gaea', and now was the time to see if it held up. I needed a few more pieces of the puzzle first, though. “My guess is a bit out there, and it all hinges on how magic works.”

“What is it that your are unsure about?” Luna asked, curiosity burning in her eyes.

I took a deep breath, then let it out before continuing. “Is it possible to… well, overuse a magical field? To deplete it?”

Luna nodded at this, an amused look on her face. “Of course it is. You’ve almost done this to yourself on multiple occasions. Luckily, a magical field eventually replenishes itself over time, otherwise you would have killed yourself several times over by now.” She tilted her head to the side, though, obviously confused at the turn of the conversation. “But… I do not see what that has to do with the matter at hoof.”

I felt both emboldened and terrified at that. Emboldened because it was another fact in favor of my growing hypothesis, and terrified that I had been so close to death by accident so many times. I took a couple of deep breaths to calm myself before continuing. “Yes… well, good to know. Anyway, I was kind of wondering about that; about the limits of magic, and how far someone could push it. Especially if what Titania said about Discord was true.”

Luna nodded in understanding. “Magic can be unpredictable and dangerous at times, but the only real limits to what it can accomplish is the power available, the field of the wielder, and the imagination and knowledge of the wielder. However, just because someone can do something with magic, doesn’t mean that they should. There can be any number of unfortunate side effects from even the smallest change, since our universe and the forces that hold it together are very closely knit.” Her face suddenly became incredibly serious. "And as for Discord, I can personally attest that everything Titania has said about that monster is true and more. The draconequus could bend the very fabric of reality to his whims, and he is not a subject that I or my sister take lightly.”

I waved her off at that. “Yeah I… wasn't doubting, just confirming. And I wasn't intending to toy with this stuff until I knew more anyway; that’s not where I was going with this.”

She looked even more confused by this. “Could you please elaborate, then? You said earlier that you had an idea as to why the Prometheans came to our world.”

I nodded, then looked down towards the void below us. Almost as if in response to my thoughts, though on retrospect that was probably exactly what it was, the scenery changed to show us a beautiful green meadow. “Yeah, and it all rests on who the Greeks believed Gaea to be.”

Luna looked around at the changed landscape, obviously intrigued. “Tell me, who was this Gaea to them, then?”

“You must understand, my people weren’t always in the habit of figuring out how things worked. We would often make up gods and goddesses for every natural disaster or phenomenon, and the Grecian people were no different. They had gods for the lightning, gods for the wind, gods for fire. They had gods for concepts, such as justice, or mercy.” I crouched down at that, reached out with my hand, and pulled out a handful of grass. It looked so real that I even pulled a bit of dirt up with it. “None of those are that important at the moment, though they might be if my theory holds any water.”

“I take it that Gaea was one of these gods, then?” Luna asked. “The way they worshiped sounds similar to how the Diamond Dogs view divinity.”

“Well, I don’t know what a Diamond Dog is, but you’re right. She was a god that the ancient Greeks worshiped. And the Greek civilization was so influential to our modern culture that many of my people still use her name when referring to the thing that she was said to embody.” I stood up, brushed the imaginary dirt off my imaginary pants, then stomped on the imaginary ground to drive home my point. “Gaea was the Grecian name for Mother Earth.”

Luna eyes widened as all the puzzle pieces fell into place for her. “Then… you mean to imply that Discord stole your world’s magic… because he was exhausting Equis’s?”

I shrugged, shook my head, and sighed. “It's just a theory, but it fits the information we currently have.” I thought about all of this for a bit, then let out a short laugh at how little we truly knew; even though I was standing in front of someone who was old enough to have stopped the person we were talking about, she knew just about as much as I did about any of this. “It’s not like there’s anyone left alive who knew the whole truth…”

Luna suddenly looked incredibly thoughtful. “Do you remember what Titania said about the stallion who stole the portal to your world?”

I nodded. It was kind of hard to forget.

“Well, that stallion was a friend of mine and my sister. Our mentor, in fact. He left a record that he wrote in code, which no one has been able to crack for a thousand years, and it is possible that the answers we seek lie within.”

This sparked my interest. “What makes you say that?”

Luna’s horn glowed briefly, and a grey pony that was nearly identical to the one that Titania showed appeared between us. There were a few differences, of course, though most of them seemed to be in the pony''s clothing, specifically the bells, their placement, and their number. “Starswirl the Bearded had made it his life's work to overthrow Discord. He was unable to do it himself, but he set me and my sister on the path. When you awake, I would have you look at his last record. Perhaps you may glean some answers from it.”

I laughed heartily at this. “Lady, thanks for the vote of confidence, but I highly doubt that. I just barely started being able to speak your language, much less read it.”

“All I ask is that you try. You may be surprised at what you find within…” she said mysteriously as she began to fade from view. “For now, however, I must leave you. There is much I need to attend to, and I also need to share what I have learned with my sister. On top of all of this, you seem to be waking rather earlier than expected. I hope to continue this conversation soon.”

I smiled and waved, and opened my eyes to find that I was waving to the ceiling of my room.

Surprisingly, I felt like I had gotten very little, if any rest the whole time I had been out. My throat was absolutely parched, though, which was probably why I had woken up at all. When I got up to get myself some water, I was somewhat hampered by the bandages that covered my left arm and shoulder that I could not for the life of me remember getting. Before I was able to fully examine this minor mystery, though, an urgent need in my lower body made the bandages a moot point at best.

Once I had taken care of my needs, I settled back into bed, being careful not to lay on my left side. I was asleep before my head had even hit the pillow.

* * *

Captain Kalizar of the ship The Hidden Pursuit was not in a good mood. While the scientists under her command had assured her that the latest changes to the test subjects would keep them under their thrall, she couldn't really put that claim to the test. Both Quzin and Krin space were on high alert for any suspicious activity, and the blasted Quzin had the foresight to alert all of their allies of The Emperor’s recent activities. Attempting to find a suitable location to test the new units was nearly suicide in and of itself.

As she went through the new list of possible testing locations, her bad mood only seemed to intensify. So much so, that she nearly broke the touchpad on her desk when the intercom rang for her attention. “This better be important, Lieutenant.”

“Ma’am, we’ve received an encoded message from Emperor Histali. It’s marked as priority one.”

She gave out a weary sigh. She did not question the emperor’s rule, but sometimes his demand for perfection really set her on edge. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Send it to my personal terminal.”

It took her computer a few minutes to load and decode the video message, during which she took the time to have a nice, soothing cup of shara tea. Once she felt her nerves were calmed, she pressed the play button, ready to hear the emperor’s will.

“Greetings, Captain, I hope this finds you in good health. I would like to start by saying I am extremely pleased with the work you are doing. Your latest report about the new batch of test subjects is extremely promising.”

Captain Kalizar felt her confidence pick up from that; it wasn’t often that the emperor gave out praise. What he said next, though, completely deflated her. “That being said, I have new orders for you. Stop all attempts to find a place to test the new subjects and rejoin the fleet at Carathos.”

Kalizar let out a groan of frustration when she heard that. We just got these, and the project is already scrapped!?

The emperor was only a recording, though, and therefore unable to respond to her displeasure or her thoughts. Instead, he pressed a few things on his desk, and a diagram of the world that The Destiny Ascension had crashed on appeared to his right. “After reviewing all the data that Ilisk sent to you, we have decided that the world that the original project crash-landed on has shown far more promise in helping us achieve our goals. Word has it that The Aurora will arrive at the planet within the week, while most of the Holy Armada is moving towards the human homeworld to secure it from further incursion. We have no word of any further reinforcements being sent by the Quzin to this world, which is an opportunity that we cannot let pass. Known tactical data and a battle plan drawn up by my best admirals are both attached to this video; take time to study both as you travel to meet the fleet. As for your project, keep the subjects on ice. We still do not know if they will go rogue like the original project did, and we cannot take that chance during this engagement.”

That makes sense. And from what I remember from Ilisk’s report, The Bastion was heavily damaged, and there is only one Quzin exploratory vessel orbiting the planet, Captain Kalizar thought as she rubbed her mandibles. The new fleet shouldn’t have any problems flying in and taking what we want.

The more she thought about it, the more the coming offensive appealed to her. She had seen the data that Ilisk had sent, and she knew full well that that planet held creatures that had the same tech that those snake-witches possessed. As she studied the battle plan, her role in it, and listened to the rest of the emperor’s orders, she couldn’t stop her antenna from wiggling in excitement.

This had all the promise of bringing back the glory of the old empire.

“Lieutenant! Set a course for Carathos,” she said, pressing the shipwide intercom button on her touchpad. “All hands, this is the captain. Prepare yourselves for the glory of battle. The emperor calls us to war!”

Though her door was shut, she still could hear the distant echoes of her crew shouting throughout the ship, all calling for the glory of battle and the blood of their enemies.

Our moment has finally come… she thought as she went back to reviewing her orders; she had a lot of work to do to ensure victory for the empire.

If the Battlewatcher willed it, they were finally going to gain the edge they needed to win this long, bloody war with the Quzin.

Author's Notes:

Hey, guys! Not dead, just busy. Been packing and getting ready to move to Washington (state) soon. Between that, my job, and my wife''s pregnancy, I've had very little time to write. Still found enough time to hammer this out, though, and things look like they'll be calming down soon, so hopefully I'll be able to get you guys some more chapters soon.

Cheers!

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXII

My eyes snapped open at the unknown sound, my heart racing until I was able to identify the gentle tones of someone singing softly to themselves. Probably the nurse coming to check on me, I thought as my heart slowed down to a more manageable level.

With a bit of a grunt, I pushed myself upright with my un-bandaged arm and took a look around my room. Very little had changed since the last time I was here, which was to be expected. After all, I was only gone for a day; it's not like I had expected an earthquake to have caused the whole place to slide off the face of the mountain or anything.

I quickly spotted the nurse next to my bed. It looked like she had been checking up on the medical thingy on my bedside table, as well as bringing in a fresh batch of towels. She looked a bit surprised at my sudden alertness, quickly putting the towels she had been levitating onto the end of the bed. “Oh, good, you’re awake,” she said, holding her hoof up in an obvious ‘wait’ motion. “Please wait here, I’ll get Doctor Level Head. He’ll want-”

“No need,” I replied, the pony words coming easily to my lips, and causing the nurse’s eyes to widen with surprise. It seemed like a good, solid nap further cemented my understanding of their language, a point that I certainly wasn't complaining about. “I've got far too much do today for a… checking up?” I asked, a little perplexed. I seemed to have the grammar down a lot better, but it looked like I still had trouble with certain words and usages. Whatever, I was okay with calling things thingamabobs until I could be better understood. “Anyway, I'm going to need a… guide? A guide down to Celestia’s… leader room. Chair room? Whatever, I need to see the princesses.”

I quickly threw my blankets off of me, swung my legs off of the bed and, with a short grunt, stood up and stretched. I was in my skivvies, something I hadn’t noticed last night when I had gone to the bathroom, but that was hardly an issue. Wonder had made me plenty to wear, and I was going to take full advantage of my new wardrobe.

Ignoring the sputtering, confused nurse, I made my way to the dresser that had been placed in my room, opened it, then began rummaging through it for what I needed. “Please, Defender, the doctor has a lot of questions for you, and-” I heard the poor nurse finally manage, but unfortunately for her, I was in a bit of a hurry.

“I’m sure he does, but that’s going to have to wait, sorry,” I said as I tossed a pair of slacks and a shirt onto the bed. It was going to be a little tough to put them on one-handed, but if my old man could manage, then so could I. “Luna had something to show me, and the… state? I arrived in sort of put a dampener on that. I also had a few questions for her, such as why you guys put a… following device? into me without telling me about it, but that’s not as important as everything else.”

She gave out a weary, long suffering sigh. “Where should I tell the doctor to meet you after your meeting?” she asked, clearly not happy.

“I’ll probably be down on the… science room?” I thought a little bit as I pulled a green shirt on over my head. I didn't even try to get my bandaged arm through the other sleeve, since that would involve taking it out of the sling it was in. Instead I just let it rest under my shirt as I put my other arm through one of the sleeves. “You know about the thing I'm supposed to help you make, right?”

She nodded as she helped me put on my pants. It was a little awkward since she was a girl, but the species divide and the time spent under these ponies’ care did a lot to banish any sort of uncomfortable feelings about receiving help with basic clothing. “Yes, though I don't know about the specifics. You’ll be down at the kajivatt, then?” she asked, using a word that apparently wasn't in my head yet.

“What does kajivatt mean?” I asked, though I already had a suspicion as to its meaning.

“Kajivatt?” She looked a little surprised that I didn't know. “It’s a place for figuring things out, experimentation, and learning.”

New word added to lexicon… scrolled at the bottom of my vision as what she said clicked in my head. “Ah, a laboratory,” I said, letting the new word rest on my tongue for a little bit as I quickly threw on my lab coat. “I’m sorry, I was unsure what your word for it was. Yes, I’ll be down in the laboratory. Now that I've finally got most of your language down, it's about time that I got working on that device you guys need to defend your planet. If your doctor really needs me, he can find me there.”

She nodded again as she quickly buttoned up my coat. I was about as ready as I was ever going to be, so I started to make my way to the door. I stopped about halfway there, though, when a silvery glint of something on my desk caught my eye.

Sitting as if forgotten were the six, small, metal rods that I had stored the fragments of my friends’ consciousnesses, as was that metal cat I had repurposed. I quickly scooped up the rods and deposited them into my coat, before turning back to the nurse. “If it isn't too much trouble, could I get you to get someone to take the cat and my notes down to the laboratory? I would be very grateful.”

She glanced at the things I had pointed out, then nodded her head. “Fine, but I hope you know that, as your nurse, I do not approve of you leaving without even getting breakfast first.”

As if to further argue the point, my stomach let out a loud, ominous rumble, but I ignored it. “I’ll eat later, saving the world comes first,” I said as I bent down and grabbed the handle of the door. Right before I turned it, though, I stopped and turned, looking at the nurse behind me. “Look, I know I said this before, but let me say it again in your tongue: Thank you. Thank you so much for… everything, really.”

She almost looked embarrassed at that. “Well, you’re certainly the most polite monster I’ve ever met,” she said, inclining her head ever so slightly, her eyes carrying a slightly mischievous glint to them. “Just promise me not to hurt yourself anymore. We’re getting pretty tired of putting you back together.”

I just gave her an apologetic smirk. “Ah… don't make me… Swear? Promise! I make no promises,” I said, figuring out rather quickly what I wanted to say.

With that, I twisted the handle and opened the door, glancing around until I located the guard next to it. “Hey, friend, I need to see the princesses. They told me to meet with them first thing in the… early day?”

“Maktu?” the guard asked uncertainly.

“Does maktu mean the beginning of the day?” I asked the nurse, turning to look at her.

“Sometimes, usually depending on how it's used. He was asking if you meant morning, though,” she said as the increasingly familiar Krin words scrolled along the bottom of my vision again.

“Then yes, they told me to meet them first thing in the morning,” I said, looking down at the soldier with a closed lip smile. “If you could lead me to them, I’d be… thanking? I think?”

“How… how can you speak our language without a spell? Last I heard you just began lessons!” the soldier asked incredulously.

I didn’t answer at first. Instead, I reached up and tapped the back of my head while giving him a knowing look. “You can thank my former masters for that; it certainly wasn’t through any skill on my part. Now, if you’ll be so kind, we have much to do,” I said, gesturing with my hand down the hallway.

He continued to stare at me for a few more seconds before turning and leading the way, all while muttering darkly to himself.

I was a polite alien guest, so I decided not to let him know I could hear his every word. After all, I was honestly the least of his worries. No need to bump myself higher on that list.

* * *

“Auntie, I demand answers! First these strange visitors, then a monster escapes from your forbidden wing of the castle and uses me as a pommel mount before disappearing, then I hear that changelings are finding refuge inside our very city walls!” Prince Blueblood said, stomping a single forehoof for emphasis. “Have you taken leave of your senses? And do not feed me that senseless dribble you fed the masses about visitors from the stars. What is really happening?”

Celestia gave the petulant prince a flat look. “What I told the people was the absolute truth. Our nation, no, our world, is traveling through dangerous waters right now. We have attracted the attention of beings from beyond our world and our understanding, and it is still unknown whether or not they are friendly.” Celestia’s flat expression quickly gave way to a disappointed one. “And as for the changelings, they are unrelated. Suffice to say they are our allies, and not the same changelings who attacked us during the assault on Canterlot. They are here because they need our help, and we may need theirs before all of this is over.”

Prince Blueblood scoffed at that. “Auntie, I think that perhaps your age has gotten the best of you. Do you honestly expect me, or anypony, really, to believe that aliens are real, or that changelings are anything but deceitful monsters seeking to devour us all?”

Celestia opened her mouth to respond, anger burning in her chest over the arrogant prince’s remark, but stopped when the throne room doors swung open, revealing one of her Solar Guards, as well as a somewhat amused-looking ~Alex.~ The look on his face was all she needed to know that he had not only heard everything, but had understood as well. Luna had told Celestia before going to bed that the ~human~ already learned Equestrian far faster than he should have, thanks in no small part to the atrocities that had been performed on him during his captivity.

As ~Alex~ approached, she felt no small amount of guilty pleasure when Blueblood became far paler than his normal white as he watched the ~human~ draw closer. With a frightened squeal, the prince dashed towards Celestia’s throne and hid himself behind it. “A-Auntie! Why is your pet monster still free?”

“I'm sorry, I didn't quite hear you through my old mare ears,” Celestia said, venom dripping from her voice. ~Alex~ seemed to find this immensely amusing, and was apparently having difficulty keeping a straight face.

The cowardly prince didn't say anything, choosing instead to whimper a little, his voice muffled slightly from behind Celestia’s throne.

While his cowardice was appalling, it wasn’t completely uncalled for. Regardless of the ~human’s~ intentions or personality, the alien still cut an imposing figure. His bald, gaunt head coupled with his all-black eyes made his face seem pitiless and unfathomable, and every time he opened his mouth or smiled you would catch a glimpse of his too-sharp teeth. The ~human~ had opted to wear his minotaur-made lab coat today, an odd choice for coming down to the throne room, but she was hardly going to argue with him over what he decided to wear. The coat looked… odd, though, and it took the solar princess a few seconds to pin down exactly why that was: his left arm wasn’t in its sleeve. Instead, it seemed to be underneath the coat, probably still where it had been bound into a sling.

The doctors had told the princess that they wouldn’t be using regeneration magic on him for the foreseeable future; not at least until they understood his biology better, and were certain that they wouldn’t accidentally revert him even further into his previous, far more monstrous, form. Because of this, the bruises on his face and one visible hand were still quite prominent, bearing mute testament to the abuse he had endured, and still continued to endure.

Celestia was honestly impressed that ~Alex~ was even standing, much less coming to see her under his own power.

“Your Highness, ~Alex~ requests an audience. He claims that he was summoned to speak with you the first thing in the morning,” the sergeant said, saluting smartly.

“He was, though I did not expect him so soon. How are you feeling this morning, ~Alex?~” Celestia asked the ~human~ while completely ignoring the sniveling coming from behind her chair.

“I’m doing fine. My kind are fast healers,” he said, slowly approaching the throne. At the same time, the guard behind him gave a sharp salute before exiting the throne room and shutting the door behind him.

“It can talk!?” Blueblood gasped from behind Celestia throne.

Celestia just rolled her eyes, then stomped a single hoof on the front of her throne. “Blueblood, you are dismissed. We will continue this discussion later.”

“You're not going to-” the prince started to say, but his argument died in his throat when Celestia turned to look at him, steel in her eyes. “Um… yes, well…” he stammered, right before he beat a hasty retreat out of one of the throne room’s side doors.

“Why do I put up with you, Blueblood?” Celestia asked herself wearily.

“I dunno, but I’ll give him credit where credit is due. He’s got some serious-” At that point, ~Alex~ said something in his native tongue. It was an odd word that almost sounded taurish: Caahonees. It was very close to the minotaur word Cahon, meaning a sphere, or ball. “-to call a lady such as yourself old. Or maybe he's just stupid, I don’t know.”

Celestia smiled at that. She might not have understood the word he used, but she understood the meaning and intent behind it. “I am afraid that Blueblood’s petulant demeanor is a product of his upbringing, and though I had very little to do with that, I am still somewhat at fault, if only because of my inaction.”

~Alex~ gave a short nod, a small frown gracing his lips. “Well, that can wait. Luna said you had something for me to look at. By the way, where is she? I thought she'd be here for this.”

“I'm afraid that my sister is asleep at the moment,” Celestia said ruefully. “As strong as she is, she is still mortal, and only able to go for so long without sleep. I am honestly surprised she managed to go this long while still being awake most of the day.”

You could actually see the moment of realization on the ~human’s~ face. “Ah. You really go all in on the whole day/night… theme? You got going on.”

“It is the basis of our entire culture since the defeat of Discord,” Celestia said with a slight nod. “Before we begin with what Luna wished to show you, however, I would speak with you of something else first. First, I would like to talk to you about the Prometheans, Starswirl the Bearded, and the link between our two worlds in greater detail.”

~Alex~ looked distinctly uncomfortable at hearing this. “I do not know how much help I'd be, I was… not good, student of history at best. There isn't a whole lot I could tell you about the-” he then used that word he used before when referring to the prometheans: Greeks. It was an odd word that Celestia found difficult to say. “-That would be accurate. They were important to the development of what my people would call ‘western culture,’ but-”

“I do not need specific details. What I would like to hear is why they did not send more people to aid Titania,” Celestia interrupted. The ~human~ looked even more worried at that, but Celestia quickly clarified her statement. “I know you would hardly know of what happened two thousand years ago, but that is not what I am asking. You keep speaking of the prometheans as if they were ancient history, as if there is nothing remaining of them. I would surmise that whatever destroyed them also prevented them from sending aid; that is what I would like to know.”

This seemed to relieve the ~human.~ “The Greeks… still exist. Just not as nation Titania knew. They were conquered by another, bigger nation.”

Celestia was no stranger to warfare. As much as the historians would like to paint post-Discord history as peaceful, that was only by comparison to the hell that the draconequus wrecked upon the world. “I take it you know who conquered them, then?”

“It was the Romans,” ~Alex~ said, using another unfamiliar word. Celestia opened her mouth to ask another question, but was interrupted before she could even finish forming it in her mind. “And before you ask, the Romans don't exist as a nation anymore, either. They fell apart, and their empire’s pieces were conquered. As far as I know, there is no nation from that time that has survived until now, though their descendants and records survived.”

“Your people sound… fractured,” Celestia remarked dryly.

~Alex~ let out a barking, humorless laugh. “Lady, you don't know the half of it. Human history can be summed up by humans conquering other humans, who in turn get conquered. To be honest, we can be kind of crazy, but… that can be a good thing.”

It took Celestia a couple of seconds to realize that he was referring to his species name. She had always thought that it was pronounced ‘hoo-mana,’ but hearing it alongside her native tongue quickly made her realize her mispronunciation. “Hu-man…” she said, letting the word roll around on her lips. She had a feeling that, now that it was known that they had a portal to ~Alex’s~ homeworld, she was going to have to become much more acquainted with the human’s original language.

“What?” ~Alex~ asked, somewhat confused.

Celestia shook her head. “It’s nothing. Just… thought your species name was pronounced differently. You were saying that the… disunity, of your people was a good thing?”

“I didn’t,” ~Alex~ said, grinning a little bit. “I said that us being crazy can be a good thing. I didn’t say anything about our lack of unity being one.”

If anything, this just confused Celestia even more. “Alex, I hardly think that a race or society as insane as the one you describe could form an individual as compassionate as yourself,” Celestia rebuked him. “You have put your life on the line for the lives of my little ponies and the lives of Titania’s changelings alike, without any thought of reward or recompense. The fact that you exist as you do now, despite the evil inflicted on you, should reveal a lot about the goodness of your people.“

The human seemed taken aback by this. “You… flatter me, Your Highness, but I wasn’t calling my people evil. I wasn’t calling them ‘good,’ either. I called them crazy.

At this point, Celestia was at a complete loss as to what ~Alex~ was getting at. “Please explain.”

Before answering, ~Alex~ walked over to one of the stained glass windows and took a good, long look at it. It was the one that depicted her sister and her defeat against the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony. “About sixty… Revolutions?” He thought about it for a few seconds before snapping his fingers together in a way that was very reminiscent of how Discord would warp reality. “Years. About sixty years ago, my people went to our moon, despite the fact that most of the… science? Not existing yet.”

Celestia looked at the human in wonder. “You mean that your people can also travel the stars?”

~Alex~ giggled a little, then shook his head. “I wish. No, the furthest we’ve gotten by our own power is our moon. We did it to one-up another nation that was trying to beat us in space. After that, we basically forgot about going anywhere else because we already did what we wanted to do.”

Celestia thought about that for a few seconds. “That… doesn’t make any sense.”

The human made that curious snapping sound again, and pointed at Celestia with his one, uninjured hand. “Bingo,” he said, using another word in his native tongue.

“I… see what you mean. But how is this a good thing?” Celestia asked, somewhat worried by this point.

“Humans are complicated, greedy, spiteful and evil,” ~Alex~ said, giving out a weary sigh. He then turned to Celestia, a smile as bright as the rising sun on his face. “They are also kind, gentle, heroic and good. We are what we choose to be, and I will not try and disguise their true nature from you, not after all that you’ve done for me. It will be hard to get all of humanity to unite, but we don’t need to do that. We just need to ensure that when they do unite, that they see ponies as friends, not enemies. And let me tell you, Princess. We humans, we do not forget our friends.”

Celestia looked uncertain at this. “You just said that your people were fractured. What makes you so sure that they will unite?”

If anything, this only caused the human’s grin to become wider. “Because if I know anything about my people, it’s this: They always unite against a perceived greater, outside threat. And believe me,” he said, reaching up and tapping on the back of his head where Celestia knew the alien machinery was located. “There is no greater threat to my planet, or my people, or yours, for that matter, than the Krin Empire.”

Celestia thought about this for a second, before conceding the point. “This is true… But do you think that they will believe the evidence that your body so eloquently provides?”

~Alex~ shook his head again. “Some will, some won’t, thinking it to be just a… deception? Yes, deception. But I honestly don’t think I’ll have to. I don’t trust the Krin in the slightest, but I do trust them to be complete and utter-” ~Alex~ then said something else in his native tongue, something that Celestia couldn’t even begin to try to pronounce, but still caught its meaning clearly from the human’s tone. “Though to be honest, I really don’t want them anywhere near my home or yours.”

Celestia frowned a little at that. “I believe you are right. We must be ready, then, to administer aid to your world should they need it, or to request aid from them should the… Krin, come here.”

~Alex~ inclined his head somewhat gratefully. “Thank you, Princess. But as important as this is, it’s not why Luna called me. She said something about a book you wanted me to look at? Still don't know why, I only just became competent in speaking your language. I haven't even begun trying to learn to read it, yet.”

Celestia smiled knowingly. “I believe you may find your expectations dashed after looking at this,” she said, beckoning him closer with her hoof.

The human looked thoroughly intrigued as he got closer, his face turning to watch the book that Celestia levitated from a nearby table. It was hard to tell where his eyes were looking at, simply because of their current coloration. However, if Celestia looked really closely, she could still see the slightly raised bump that denoted the human’s pupils, both of which were currently locked onto the book floating between them with interest. “Well, if you think I should, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot…” he said uncertainly.

“That is all I ask,” Celestia said as she carefully held the front of the book up for ~Alex’s~ inspection, mindful that the injured human probably couldn't hold up the heavy, oddly-bound book comfortably with one hand.

The human took one look at the cover, before completely seizing up in shock. His mouth hung open, and a barely perceptible squeaking sound could be heard as he stared at the cover of Starswirl’s last work.

“We once thought that Starswirl disguised his work behind a code, one whose key he took with him to the grave. Now, after seeing your writing and designs, and learning the true purpose of the mirror he kept in his study, I believe it is not a code, but a language,” Celestia explained, watching the human’s expression carefully. “I do not know how Starswirl learned this tongue, for you are truly the first living human I have ever laid eyes on. I do know now, however, based solely on your reaction, that this language is not from this planet. Perhaps you can tell us what Starswirl’s last words were?” Celestia asked hopefully.

~Alex~ looked up at Celestia, then back down at the book, before swallowing loudly. “I… I can't read it,” he said, gently pushing it away.

Celestia gave the human a worried look. “I know there are a few differences, but your two languages are close enough to be brothers! Please, tell me you can read a little of this?” she asked, pushing the book towards him once more.

“Celestia Princess, you misunderstand me. I recognize this language, very much so. I just can't read it,” he explained, pushing it back. “What I speak and read is English. This is also English, but not what I speak. This is old. Really old. So old that you can still smell the Anglo-Saxons. It's another language entirely, one that no one speaks anymore; it is only remembered by scholars of the past.”

Celestia felt a pang of sadness at hearing this, but felt a surge of hope that quickly overwhelmed that feeling. “You mean-”

“I mean that yes, this is a human language. One that, once we get the portal between our worlds going, we’ll be able to read,” ~Alex~ said, giving the sun princess a rueful smile. This smile quickly turned into a frown, though. “This does tell us why Starswirl stole the mirror: he was using it to get help from the other side. Though how he knew about it isn't something I could even guess at.”

“Perhaps he left an explanation inside, then,” Celestia said wistfully as she set the book down on the table. “Only time will tell, I suppose…”

* * *

“Captain, we’ll be returning to real space in a few moments.”

Captain Kalizar started from her sleep, her eyes looking for her clock. “Twenty-five, sixty-three?” she grumbled to herself. “Why can't we ever enter real space while I'm awake…”

“Did you say something, Captain?”

“I said I'm on my way, let me get dressed first…” she said a little louder. “We’ll probably get some of our orders the moment we’re back in real space.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the lieutenant said before the intercom shut off with a beep.

It took her a little while before she was awake and ready, and by that time they had already received their orders: they were to move to sector Gamma Three with The Indomitable and The Emperor’s Will and wait for further word from the generals. Apparently there had been some new information about the enemy movements that needed to be accounted for.

This gave Kalizar plenty of time to wake up, brew herself some tea, and get herself a bite to eat before her lieutenant got back to her with anything.

“Captain, incoming transmission, it's the high general.”

“Put him through in my ready room,” Kalizar said, setting her tea down on the desk in front of her.

“Ah, Captain, good to see you,” High General Inos said as his face appeared on Kalizar’s monitor. The old war crustacean was really showing his years. It looked like he was getting into his final shed; his antenna barely moved, and his left eye had a milky white film over it, a mute testament to Inos’s stubborn refusal to use the rejuvenation vats.

“It's good to see you too, sir. I heard there was going to be some changes to the plan?” Kalizar said, bringing her tea up to her mandibles.

“Some new information from our spy has us worried. Apparently one of the Holy Armada’s witches had one of their infamous visions.”

Kalizar groaned at this. “Do we even know how those things work? It should be impossible to see the future!” she said, her frustration palpable.

“We’re still in the dark about that, but regardless of how it works, it does,” the general said smoothly. “At any rate, they’ll be splitting their forces once they reach system zero-zero-eight-three-two. We need to keep them there to ensure our invasion and extraction operation goes as planned.”

“And that means splitting our forces…” Kalizar said, her voice falling. Whomever they were going to send to that system was basically going on a suicide mission.

“Not… quite. We’ll be activating the sleeper ships for this, so we’ll only need one or two actual loyalist vessels to serve as relay points for the attack. Once everything is said and done, the few loyalist ships will retreat,” the general said, typing a few things on his keypad.

Captain Kalizar gave the general a questioning look. “Are we certain that that is wise, sir? We can only use those once before the traitors catch on…”

“It’s important enough that the emperor himself has given the order,” the general said, banishing her doubts. “Since you’re the only ship and crew that has actually been in that system, we want you to lead this operation.”

Kalizar gave a sharp salute, but inwardly she groaned. “But sir, what about our cargo?”

“Your experiments, all the data you have up to this point, and the scientists working on them, are all to be transferred to my ship before you leave,” the general said, dismissing Kalizar’s only excuse for not leading this mission. “Review your updated battle plan carefully, and be sure to make any changes you deem necessary due to the system’s layout. Remember: your primary objective is to cause enough damage to the savage’s homeworld to keep the holy fleet there, but not so much that they deem saving the planet’s people a lost cause, am I clear?”

Kalizar’s eyes briefly flickered to the corner of the screen, noting the icon letting her know she had received a data package from the general’s ship. “Crystal, sir!”

“I’ll let you go, then. I expect to see your updated plan in four hours, and news of your departure in five. The sleeper ships are already on their way, under the assumption that they’ve been summoned by a Quzin inspection committee, meaning you have a very small window to get over there and override their computer systems. Time is of the essence, Captain.”

“I am aware of that, sir. I won’t let you down,” Kalizar said as the general’s face disappeared from her monitor. Without another word or thought, she opened the attachment that she had been sent and got down to business.

She had a lot of work to do if this was going to go off without a hitch.

Author's Notes:

Whoops, forgot to add this part.

NEXT CHAPTER IS UP! HOPE YOU ENJOY IT!

Yeah, I'm all moved in, but I'm kinda bummed. Turned out my new job is part-time (for now), something they PROBABLY should have told me when they said "Yes, please! COME WORK FOR US!"

That being said, I'll have a bunch of free time for a while until I switch to full time again. Which, of course, means more chapters for you guys... so yay?

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIII

Haephestus groggily opened his eyes, then immediately closed them, instantly regretting his decision. His eyes had not revealed the inside of his pod, but rather a white panel ceiling. Alarm bells were going off in his head, and he was having trouble remembering how he got here. I’m… I'm not even a collector! I'm a caretaker! How did they catch me?

He opened his eyes again, trying to make sense of his surroundings. He didn't have much experience outside the hive, but he had read plenty of the books that the collectors would bring home with them after their missions. From the descriptions in those books, he quickly guessed that he was in some kind of hospital.

I have to get out… he thought as he pushed the warm blanket off of him. He froze at the sight that that action revealed. He wasn’t currently restrained, but that hardly mattered as he gazed down at the bandaged, pitiful stumps of his once strong hind legs.

“What… what happened to me?” he asked, his voice raspy and pitiful. “I… wasn't I in the nursery? Protecting… protecting…”

Haephestus trailed off as the memory of what happened came crashing down on him. His breathing became rapid and shallow, his eyes darting around the room. He could remember Chrysalis’s changelings entering the room, them killing his fellow caretakers, but… after that, nothing. Haephestus tried to push himself into a sitting position, but found his fore-hooves quite unfit for the task.

After a few attempts at this, he let himself fall back onto the pillows, completely exhausted. The comfort of the bed only served to heighten his worry, however. “Why did the equestrians capture me?” he asked out loud. “We’re… we’re enemies to them. They should have killed me… and what happened to Chrysalis’s warriors?”

As he sat there, trying to make sense of this senseless situation, he slowly became aware of love being directed at him. He had only absorbed love from the hive’s stores, before, making this sensation quite strange, though not uncomfortable. As nice as it felt, though, he knew that something was very, very wrong about this. The love was far stronger than anything he had ever tasted, for starters. Honestly, it felt like a blast furnace was right next to him.

The quality of love was different than what he was used to, too. Haephestus usually preferred the love between family members, but this… this was more like the love between friends, but a lot stronger. If all the love between friends that his hive collected was this strong, he’d have had a lot more of it whenever he went to feed.

As comforting as the feeling was, it only served to make him more nervous. The changeling slowly turned his head towards the source of the love, silently dreading what he might see.

Next to the bed was an incredibly pink mare. Her mane was a deep magenta, and her eyes were the purest blue he had ever seen. They seemed to sparkle with some sort of inner mischief, and on her muzzle was plastered the largest grin he had ever seen.

Before he could say anything, before he could even think to ask the manic-looking pony a question, she opened her mouth and pulled a large three-tier cake from nowhere. “Hi new friend! My name is Pinkie Pie! What’s yours?”

Upon retrospect, screaming was probably the wrong way to handle the situation. But given the circumstances, Haephestus felt justified in his actions.

* * *

“With no more news since the president’s shocking announcement, we’re all left to wonder-” kshh.

“President Xi Jinping has demanded that the United States turn over all information and technology recovered from the recent attack over to the United Nations, and-” kshh.

“What I want to know is how many of the disappearances in recent years were alien abductions? How many in the last decade? How long have they known we were even here? For all we know-” kshh.

“Next up on CNN, should aliens from outer space be allowed to vote on-” kshh.

Doctor Valerie Jordan turned off the television, quite bored of listening to the media explode over President Darris’s announcement of hostile extraterrestrial life. It’s not that she couldn’t understand their feelings. They were scared… she was scared… but it had been all she had listened to for the past three days since going into witness protection.

That’s not to say that she had nothing to do. She had been provided with reading material, a television, a computer, and plenty to eat. She had not been provided with an internet connection, though; nor had she been given back her phone. She completely understood why, though; she knew too much.

Not about the ‘Krin’ aliens; much of what she knew about them had been in the president’s speech. No, it was the other meeting with extraterrestrial life that was being kept secret. For national (and global) security, she had basically been put under arrest until such a time that the president felt that what she knew could be revealed to the rest of the public. She had been told that it was only temporary, probably in some attempt at mollifying her, but they needn’t have bothered. In fact, she had agreed to it, in hopes that she might be able to help in some, small way.

All she had to show for that hope, though, was boredom on the public dime. Not that she was surprised, though. She may have been a doctor, but her doctorate was in forensic science. Not even remotely helpful in the field of alien biology or technology.

With a sigh, she got up out of her chair and made her way over to the fridge. Her guard, a large man by the name of Roger, looked up briefly from the book he had been reading, then let out a sigh himself. “Don’t worry, Doctor. I’m sure they’ll find something for you to do. At the very least, I’m sure they’ll let you go home soon.”

Valerie let out a short laugh as she pulled a sprite from the fridge. “And what? Go back to sifting through DNA evidence, trying to catch the bad guy, all while we could be flattened by an alien armada at any second?” Valerie asked, taking a sip of the soda. “No… everything I’ve worked for… everything Jill’s worked for just seems so… so pointless.

Roger closed his book and set it down, rubbing his eyes as if exhausted. “I… I know what you mean. All our failures, all our accomplishments, all our petty squabbles… they seem pretty insignificant compared to what’s out there.” He took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. “I… I have a kid brother out there… Smart guy, wants to be a pilot. Will he even live to see his fifteenth birthday? I… I don’t really want to think about that, to be honest…”

Valerie gave him a sympathetic look. “Yeah, I-” she started to say, but stopped when the door to her room opened, causing both her and her guard to look up in surprise.

Standing at the door was one of the many soldiers that worked at the base. She knew the man, but only knew the name that was written on the front of his uniform: Sanders. “Doctor Jordan?” he asked, his brown eyes quickly finding Valerie’s grey ones.

“Yes?” she asked, before quickly finishing her soda.

“I’m going to need you to come with me. Colonel Conners said he would like a word with you.”

Valerie quickly exchanged a worried look with Roger. “Did he say why?”

“I wasn’t told the specifics, ma’am, just that I needed to bring you to see the colonel as fast as I could manage,” the soldier said stiffly.

Valerie gave out a little sigh, then crumpled and tossed her can into the garbage. “Well, it beats staying here. See you later, Roger.”

The guard gave her a short wave before standing up himself. If his charge was leaving, there wasn’t much need for him to guard an empty room. “Don’t let the colonel give you a hard time; he can be a real joker at times.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Valerie said, giving the guard one last smile before closing the door behind her.

* * *

Colonel Conners grumbled a little as he looked through the reports on his desk. There was a lot of new information he had to keep abreast of, especially since their new ally was incredibly forthcoming with… well, everything.

The only problem was understanding any of it.

For example; the metal used in the construction of the alien base was steel. Not steel mixed with some unknown alien material, not steel that had been treated in some unknowable fashion. Just plain, boring, high-carbon steel. However, through some kind of scientific mumbo jumbo, the aliens were able to strengthen the molecular bonds of the steel to the point where the human’s best cutting tools could only barely scratch the surface.

That’s not to say that the material became indestructible. Apparently the process was more akin to a shield, one that could be turned on and off, and that drained an immense amount of power from the station’s power core when active. Moreso when it took any sort of damage.

How did this work? Well, according to Yavaar, the instructions for this was written into the wall, then the wall was charged with the ‘essence of spirits.’

Colonel Conners’ eyes focused on this phrase again, remembering the 'more accurate' word that Yavaar had used right after, and how much the conversation had made his head hurt. Apparently this essence of spirits was a form of energy that just didn’t exist on Earth. It couldn’t be generated here, either, and was apparently the keystone of all of their technology. It’s function was a part of some fifth force in the universe, a statement that, in and of itself, was going to turn the entire scientific community on its head.

There was a loud knock on the door, breaking Conners from his thoughts. “Come in!” he shouted, putting down the papers.

The door opened, revealing Doctor Jordan and the corporal that Conners had sent to fetch her. “You wanted to see me, Colonel?”

“Ah, yes, right on time, come on in,” Conners said, dismissing Jordan’s escort with a wave.

The corporal gave a short salute as Doctor Jordan entered the office, then closed the door behind her. Colonel Conners got up as the doctor approached his desk, then held out his hand to her. “I’m Colonel Conners, I understand you’ve offered to help our little project?” he asked, cutting straight to the point.

Doctor Jordan looked a little surprised. “Yes, sir, though I’m not sure how much help I would be… I’m just a forensics expert.”

“I'm not sure, either, but apparently our ‘mutual friend’ disagrees with me,” he said bluntly. “To be honest, Doctor, I would have sent you home yesterday with an oath not to say anything, but the computer at the station has asked for your time.”

Doctor Jordan froze, and Conners could hardly blame her. She’d just lost her best friend to aliens, and had gone through an abduction herself, albeit a friendly one. If he were her, he’d be home already, a pillow over his head, trying desperately to forget all of this.

He kinda wanted to do that anyway, but the paperwork alone ensured that no such dream could happen.

Doctor Jordan slowly swallowed, then shuffled her feet a little awkwardly. “Did he say why?”

“He did, ma’am, but before I tell you I feel I must warn you,” Conners said, his brow furrowing seriously. “If you agree, you won’t be going home for some time. If you don’t, then we can sign the paperwork now, and have you home in time for the midnight showing of the new Star Wars that just came out.”

Doctor Jordan gave out a hollow laugh. “...Do you really expect me to watch a movie about aliens, after knowing what I know?” she asked, a profound sadness lurking in her eyes. “Not after… Not after Jill.”

“No, but I thought you could use a little bit of a laugh,” Conners said. “Don’t… don’t worry about that. From what I’ve heard, Yavaar’s people are extremely powerful. If we can get them on our side, I’m sure that we’ll be able to get your friend back.”

“Just… tell me what I have to do,” Jordan said, straightening ever so slightly.

Conners sat back down, and motioned Doctor Jordan to take the seat opposite to him. “The alien’s been very forthcoming, but some… well, most of what it’s told us is far beyond us. However, it told me something interesting the other day. Apparently, it has been scanning everyone it’s brought aboard its base, including you.”

“What, did it find some kind of ancient, unknown gene that allows me to use their tech?” Doctor Jordan asked a bit dubiously as she sat down. “Somehow I doubt we even have a single chromosome between our two species that’s the same.”

The colonel gave her a hard, long look, before letting out a weary sigh. “No, nothing like that. Not exactly, anyway. Apparently any of us could learn to use their tech, given time; you just seem to have an aptitude for their tech that he was somehow able to scan for, though.”

Doctor Jordan reached up and self consciously ran a hand through her hair. “How would he be able to tell something like my aptitude?” she asked incredulously. “Does he know that much about the human mind, that he’s able to scan our brains like that?”

“I don’t really understand it, but apparently it has very little to do with our brains, despite some… rather disturbing intel," Conners said, folding his hands on the table in front of him. "He won’t even fully explain it in detail without a practical demonstration, and apparently your aptitude allows you to give one for him.”

“Me? Why does he need anyone! It’s his tech, why does he need me to show you guys how to use it?” Doctor Jordan asked, folding her arms in disbelief.

“He’s damaged, remember?” Conners pointed out. “He listed a couple of parts that I can’t really pronounce, and flat out refused to translate them back, stating that he didn’t have a full enough command of the English language to even think about doing it properly. Without those parts, he’s apparently incapable of giving us a demonstration of this ‘key power’ of his.”

Doctor Jordan looked at Colonel Conners, her expression clear that she didn’t buy it. “And I’m supposed to believe that I can ‘give a demonstration’, without these parts that he needs?” she asked flatly.

“According to him, the only reason he needs the parts at all is because he’s a machine. I don’t know what that has to do with anything, and he refuses to explain until his demonstration.” Conners leaned back, and rubbed a hand over his face, before giving Valerie a level stare. “Look, Doc, I’m going to be honest, here. We’re toying with things that we don’t understand, and dealing with an alien entity that may or may not want us all dead. If you want to back out now, I wouldn’t blame you.”

Doctor Jordan thought about this for quite some time, before finally giving the colonel a short shake of her head. “What choice do we have? We’re living on borrowed time, until either the bugs or snakes come and wipe us out,” she said, letting her arms fall dejectedly into her lap. “This will help us understand how their technology works, right?”

“It will, but you still don’t-”

Doctor Jordan shook her head again, then looked him in the eye. “Yes, I do. If I have this ‘aptitude,’ then we should use it, rather than waste time waiting for someone else to figure it out. Time that, unfortunately, we really don’t have.”

Colonel Conners was impressed. This woman was clearly made of some strong stuff. “Well, let’s go then. We’ll be going back up to the station for this, so prepare yourself,” he said, before getting up, circling his desk, and opening the door.

Doctor Jordan got up to follow him, and quickly found herself being led through the heart of the base. They passed by quite a few soldiers and scientists on their way, most of which only gave a short hello, or a quick salute, before passing the two. After a few minutes of this, the two finally stopped at a black, metal door with a hand scanner, which was currently flanked by two rangers. The two gave a short salute to the colonel, but otherwise did not acknowledge their existence as the colonel placed his hand on the scanner.

After a few short seconds, the machine beeped, opening the door and revealing a fully functional laboratory behind. There was a large number of people in white coats, poring over a number of alien objects, using a variety of human tools to examine said objects, or just taking notes on whatever writing tools they had available. Conners recognized a few of the objects, having been working on reports this whole time, but he didn’t stop to examine any of them. Instead, his eyes were locked on the small white probe in the center, which was sitting patiently on a metal table while a number of scientists examined it with a variety of instruments.

The probe began hovering the second that the two of them entered the room, startling the scientists working around it. “Colonel Conners! And Doctor Jordan! I am quite… enthralled? Yes! Enthralled that you’ve come! Are you here for the demonstration?”

“Yes, Yavaar, we’re here for that,” Conners said, giving the probe a guarded smile, which quickly faded. “Now, if you could just-”

Before he had even finished, there was a blinding flash of white light, and the two humans disappeared from the room.

One of the scientists looked at the probe, a disproving look on his face. “You know, you should really start letting people finish their sentences before teleporting them like that.”

“I should, but then I would not be able to see the look of shock on their faces once they appear in my base,” Yavaar explained, before landing the probe back onto the table. “Now, you may continue with your examination, Doctor Nilson. I will be quite busy for a time, and hope that you will be able to continue your research without my presence.”

“We should be fine, here,” Doctor Nilson said, shaking his head at the mischievous robot. It was unlikely that Yavaar had heard him, though, since the probe had already gone into sleep mode before the scientist had finished speaking.

Doctor Nilson shook his head again, before turning to one of his colleagues. “Any readings with that one?”

The other man gave the doctor a frustrated frown in response. “Whatever it’s using to teleport, it doesn’t show up on any of our instruments. Well, except for the audio and visual ones, but our eyes and ears are enough to pick those up.”

John grunted before picking up his notepad and pencil. “Well, keep trying. We’ll get something eventually.”

* * *

Valerie took several steps back in surprise, and promptly tripped over something hard. Luckily for her, whatever the object was, it was sitting in front of something about knee high, so all that happened was her falling on her rear into a somewhat comfortable sitting position.

A quick look around was all she needed to figure out that she had tripped over a pipe, and had planted her butt on a tool chest. Colonel Conners looked at her, somewhat annoyed, before turning to the room at large. “Okay, who’s the one that left their junk near the entry point?”

"That was me, sir. I'll move it right away!" came a voice somewhere behind Valerie. She ignored it, though, in favore of looking around the room she had been teleported into. The alien hangar had changed a whole lot since the last time she had been here. There were a lot of human-made tools her now, for starters, ranging from sledgehammers and hacksaws, to acetylene torches and full-blown explosives. There were quite a few humans here too. They all wore protective gear, such as hard hats, orange vests, and gloves, but a few were dressed in some rather unorthodox things, like hazmat suits and radiation gear.

She even saw a couple of workers suiting up in full astronaut gear, which only served to confuse her. “Are we in danger of decompression?” she asked the colonel, pointing to the two men.

“You are not, Doctor Jordan,” Yavaar’s voice said, sounding like it was right next to her. She jumped a bit, looking for the source of the voice, but found nothing.

“Yeah, he got me the first couple of times he did that to me, too,” Conners told her, holding out his hand to help her up.

Valerie took the offered hand gratefully, then looked up at the ceiling. “You were saying we didn’t have to worry? Why is that?”

“Because the sections of the base that are currently suffering decompression are sealed off,” Yavaar explained. “They are merely preparing to travel through those areas, since they need to pass through them before reaching my core. Do not worry, however. There are quite a few functioning safety shields remaining in this hangar, as well as inside the landing crafts. They will set them up at the doors, to ensure that no atmosphere leaks into the surrounding space.”

Valerie was still quite nervous about this. “But… what if those fail?”

“If they fail, I will seal off as many as I can, to ensure your safety,” Yavaar patiently answered. “Anyone left outside I will attempt to return to the planet’s surface, so do not worry. Every precaution is being taken, to ensure the safety of your people.”

“He’s actually pretty good about that. Jenson over there almost killed himself once, because he wasn’t paying attention,” Conners said loudly, earning a sheepish look from one particularly large guy. “Yavaar teleported him out before he had the chance to even realize he had been in danger.”

“Yes, yes, that’s all well and interesting, but we’re burning daylight and I really want to see this demonstration today, if you don’t mind,” a brisk, balding man in a labcoat said as he approached the two of them. He had a narrow pair of half-moon glasses on, and was currently looking at Valerie as if she were something that he had found stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

Yavaar hummed a little, before responding. “You are quite right, Doctor Phillips, though you cannot rush these things. Memory indicates that any of my people who tried to rush their gifts would often find themselves ‘biting off more than they can chew,’ to use a human expression.”

Doctor Phillips rolled his eyes at that, then looked up towards the ceiling. “Yes, yes, but we are still on an unknown timetable, so if you could please hurry?”

Valerie took a few steps forward. “Yeah, I’m kind of anxious to get this going too. I don’t even know what I’m doing, though…”

Yavaar gave out another hum at this. “Not surprising, considering how little I told them. I need a broader vocabulary to fully explain, and the closest word I have access to has irritated Phillips and his team to no end.”

Valerie looked at Doctor Phillips, then at Colonel Conners, somewhat worried. “What word is that?”

“Now now, I do not want your first time to be spoiled,” Yavaar rebuked her gently. “I have been very specific to your friends that they were not to mention the word to you, to prevent your actions from being tainted.”

If anything, this just confused Valerie more. “Okay… What is it you want me to do? I heard that this is the basis of all of your tech, so do you want me to try to use something? Where is it?” Valerie looked around, wondering if Yavaar wanted her to get into one of the shuttles or something, fervently praying that that wasn’t the case.

“Nothing like that, Doctor Jordan. First, I would ask you to step right here.”

Valerie turned to where the voice had shifted, and noticed a shaft of light from the ceiling illuminating a particular patch of floor. The area he had designated was a good deal distant from the workers and their equipment. In fact, it was somewhat isolated, the only things nearby being a few cameras positioned around it, a laptop, and a few instruments that she had no name for, as well as a few she did.

She easily recognized the Geiger counter, which immediately set her on edge. “What’s that for?” she asked, pointing towards the device.

“Frankly, I do not know. I have already explained to Doctor Phillips that this does not produce any ionizing radiation, but he has refused to believe me,” Yavaar explained.

Doctor Phillips scoffed at that, then sat down at the laptop. “I am merely covering all contingencies. Doctor Jordan, if you would, please?”

Valerie moved to the spot of floor, still quite nervous at the unknown of all of this. This was further increased when Doctor Phillips began turning on all the equipment. “This is alien energies test forty-five. Subject is Doctor Valerie Jordan, designated by alien entity Yavaar as having aptitude. Begin when ready, Doctor Jordan, Yavaar,” Doctor Phillips said, typing several things on the open laptop in front of him.

This only served to heighten Valerie’s fear. Something that Yavaar apparently picked up on. “There is no need to be afraid, Doctor Jordan. This is quite safe.”

“Just… tell me what you want me to do,” Valerie said nervously.

Yavaar gave out a hum, then another strange sound, like the sound of a page of a book turning. “Very well, then. Please, close your eyes, and hold your hand out, palm up, and level with your chin.”

Valerie did as instructed, feeling like the eyes of everyone in the room was on her. This feeling was only reinforced by the fact that it had gotten a lot quieter. The only things she could hear was a faint whispering.

“Now, if you will, I would like you to imagine fire,” Yavaar said, his voice completely monotone. “It doesn’t have to be very big. A candle will do.”

Valerie peeked open one of her eyes. “Wait, what? Why?” She asked, noticing that most of the work crew had stopped to watch her.

Colonel Conners noticed where she was looking, and quickly waved at them. "What, haven't you lugs ever seen a lady before? Get back to work!"

They grumbled a little, but otherwise did as they were told.

Yavaar was less than pleased by this interruption, but kept his voice calm. “Please, do not question, just do as I ask. Questions may come after. Now, close your eyes again, and imagine fire.”

Valerie took in a deep breath, then slowly let it out as she did as instructed.

“Are you imagining fire?” Yavaar asked quietly. “Can you see in your mind a chemical combustion? Two elements burning and combining to make a new molecule?”

“I can,” Valerie said, feeling somewhat silly.

“Good. Now, if you will, I would like you to imagine a lake around you, while you are a tiny cup of water, floating in this lake,” Yavaar said, his voice still completely calm. “You are a special kind of cup, though. You have arms. Can you see in your mind your arms?”

Valerie furrowed her eyes somewhat, confused at the turn this was taking. “I… can, but why-”

“Questions come after,” Yavaar reminded her.

“Yes, sorry. I’m a cup in a lake, filled with water,” she rattled off quickly.

“Now, if you would please, in your mind, use your cup arm to scoop some water into your cup.”

Valerie did as instructed, but was surprised when she felt a warmth grow in her chest. “Yavaar, I… What is this?”

“Good, good. Now, you can feel the water in your cup, right? Feel it mix with your water, but it is wild. Unpredictable. So unlike the calm water already inside you,” Yavaar said, his voice barely containing his excitement.

“Yeah… but, I can… Why am I suddenly… This feels weird,” Valerie said. She was tempted to open her eyes, but refused to give in. It was like she had just become aware of something just below her skin, something that had lurked there for so long, that she couldn’t even describe how it felt. Only now, with this burning sensation coursing through her, did she become aware of this other sense within her. Even now she found it impossible to describe. It would be like trying to describe the color blue, or how sweet tastes.

But she found that whatever feeling inside of her moved with her imagination. When she prodded the warmth with the ‘cup arms’ that Yavaar had told her to imagine, the warmth moved as if responding to it.

“Now, I want you to keep the lake water inside of you, while we bring your mind back to fire,” Yavaar suddenly cut in, reminding Valerie that she wasn’t alone. “In your mind’s eye, I want you to imagine a candle flame in your upturned hand. Now, once you have that image, I want you to take the lake water inside of yourself, and push it into your hand.”

Valerie swallowed, then did what she was asked. It was a lot harder than she thought, since she couldn’t seem to separate the warmth from that weird feeling inside of herself. “It… it’s sticking to me. I can’t tell which is the lake water and which is my water now.”

“Don’t,” Yavaar said, his voice carrying a note of command. “You aren’t trying to separate yourself. You’re trying to push the new water into the image of fire. It’s okay if some of your water goes into the fire, too.”

Valerie felt her whole body warm up as she did as instructed. Sweat started pouring down her face, when suddenly, unexpectedly, she felt a warmth not inside herself, but outside. Cautiously, she peeked open a single eye, only to see something she refused to believe.

There, hovering just above the palm of her hand, was a small flicker of flame. It went out almost the second after she opened her eyes, leaving her feeling drained and empty. Just beyond that she could see both Colonel Conners and Doctor Phillips, as well as the entire construction crew, all staring at her with open mouths, their eyes wide with wonder.

“Congratulations, Doctor Jordan. You are the first human to ever use magic,” Yavaar said, his voice echoing in the silence that followed.

Author's Notes:

Well, sorry that took so long, but here is the next chapter! Now, I know what you're thinking, "Knight Breeze has a baby, now. He's lost all interest in his stories!"

Wrong.

In fact, the only reason this chapter took so long is because I've been working on my published version of What I've Become. And by published version, I mean a version that's been scrubbed of MLP, and is completely copyright friendly!

That being said, I don't really have a publisher, yet. I hope to get one, but if that doesn't pan out, I'll be publishing it on Amazon. Right now, I'm about half way done. Getting close to the part where the Krin show up for the first time, plus I'll be adding a lot more content, to make sure the whole thing makes more sense, since I'll be using an original world, rather than the already established world of My Little Pony.

That being said, in the event that I do self publish, how much would you guys be willing to pay for the book? I don't want to overcharge you, but I also kinda want to make this into a career, and in order to do that, I'll need money.

Well, whatever. Hope you guys enjoyed this chapter. I've taken a few weeks off vacation to spend with my new boy, so I'll probably have time to work on this. He's an incredibly sleepy boy. Working on this right now, with him fast asleep on my chest.

...Still doesn't feel real, though. I'm actually a father.

Anyway, you guys enjoy!

Edit: FYI, my book is ready! You can buy it here: What I've Become

Chapter XXIV

Author's Notes:

Hey! it's finished! Hope you guys enjoy this next chapter! I'll say this, this one was a bit of a doozy, and I'm still not sure I got it right.

Anyway, I bet you guys are wondering "Why is the author's note's up here?' Well, it's because I have exciting, huge freaking news!


=>MY BOOK IS FINISHED! THIS IS THE LINK!<=

Some of you are already aware of this, but a lot of you are not. I have finished a full fledged, completely sellable, O.C. story based on What I've Become!

At the moment it is only available in digital, kindle format, but yes, there is an app you can download for computers, tablets and phones that allow you to read things without kindle. The book also only costs three dollars, so it's really not that expesive!

I'll also have physical copies soon, but not until my artist friend has finished the cover. Once that's done, the rather generic spacy cover of the digital version will be replaced, so look forward to it!

On a related note, if you guys don't want to buy my book, but still want to read it, or if you're more into audio books, I'll be slowly trickling out a series on youtube where I read it chapter by chapter. At the moment, I only have the first one up, but you can find it here:

What I've Become: Prologue

Yes, I know it's rather quiet, I was recording with a baby on my chest, so I kinda had to be.

Anyway, I'll be avidly awaiting your feedback. Also, if you do choose to buy my book and support me, please leave a review, it really helps me out!

And with that out of the way, I now present you guys with the next installment of What I Am. Enjoy!

Chapter XXIV

“Excuse me, Miss Sparkle?”

Twilight looked up from the huge pile of notes that she had in front of her, feeling both relieved to have an excuse to stop trying to make sense of ~Alex’s~ blocky language and diagrams, and annoyed at the interruption. She felt like she was on the edge of some sort of huge breakthrough, which was only being stalled by the ~human’s~ poor understanding of the Equestrian language.

She could understand the basic idea behind the design: Break the instructions down into smaller and smaller chunks, so much so that a machine could understand it. How the instructions were broken down, however, was a completely different matter. She wasn’t certain, but she had the distinct feeling that arithmetic played a huge role in all of this, based on the limited information she had managed to glean from ~Alex~ about how all of this worked. Why ones and zeros of all things were so important to all of this, though, she really couldn’t understand.

Shaking off her frustration, she looked to the stallion that had pulled her from her work. “I’m sorry, sergeant. What was it you wanted?”

“I have a delivery here for you, as well as a message,” the Solar Guard said, levitating a rather large box over to her. “I’m to tell you that the alien has woken up, and he’ll be down here shortly to help.”

Twilight looked a little worried as she took the box. A single glance inside was all it took to realize that ~Alex~ had sent the metallic cat he had repurposed, though without any of the golem cores he had created. “Are you certain? From what I could tell when he was brought in, he was in pretty rough shape. Should he even be up?”

The sergeant let out a sigh, his stern, commanding expression falling away to reveal a somewhat worried looking one. “Try telling him that, ma’am. I saw him myself before coming down here, and I have to say that most soldiers I know, me included, would probably still be in bed if they looked as bad as he does. And from what I could tell, he acted more annoyed at the coddling from our nurses than anything else.”

“Well, he was… changed… It’s entirely possible that his energy and health isn’t natural,” Twilight said, before remembering what happened out in the training yard. “Though, if what he’s told us about his people is true, then we may have to accept that his people are just like that.”

The guard visibly shivered at this. “Well, it’s a good thing he’s on our side, then. I saw what happened between him and Miss Dash, and I can tell you right now that I would rather take on an enraged hydra than have him or his people hunting me.” The guard then cut a clean salute before turning back to the door. “If that is all, ma’am, I really should be going. Your brother wasn’t too happy about the breach in security, and he’s been issuing several general orders and changes throughout the entire guard as a result.”

“Shiny can be like that, especially where the changelings are concerned. It’s actually quite the relief that not all of them are monsters out to get us,” Twilight said, her muzzle turned up in a smile, before it turned back down in a worried frown. “After all, we’ve got enough enemies coming from above to be worried about our own troops turning on us.”

The sergeant briefly glanced upwards, only to shiver again at what Twilight had said. “I wholeheartedly agree, ma’am,” he said, right before leaving the room.

Twilight thoughtfully watched the guard leave before placing the box on the desk, and turning to the rest of the laboratory. It was still pretty early in the day, so most of the research staff wasn’t here yet. To be specific, only two other ponies were here: Doctor Burner and his brother Beaker. At the moment they were working on some of the alien artifacts that had been recovered from the crash, though Twilight couldn’t help but pick up on a somewhat strained atmosphere between the two.

Whatever was going on between them, though, would have to wait. If the so-called ‘remnants of the Krin Empire’ came here, they had to be ready, and Twilight was not about to let a brotherly spat be the reason behind the fall of Equestria. “Burner, Beaker, ~Alex~ will be arriving soon, and judging by what he sent ahead of himself, we’ll probably be working on the Omniscope. Go put away the recovered artifacts and get what we need from storage.”

Burner muttered something that Twilight didn’t quite catch, right before receiving a hoof to the back of his head from his brother, much to Twilight’s shock. Instead of turning and snapping at Lab Beaker, though, the usually vocal Bunsen Burner just rubbed the back of his head, before inclining his head in apology. “...I mean, we’ll get right on that, Miss Sparkle.”

“Ugh,” Beaker said, seemingly pleased with himself.

“...Are you two okay?” Twilight asked, confused and somewhat worried at the two brothers' actions.

“We are perfectly fine, Miss Sparkle. Just a little misunderstanding yesterday, completely my fault,” Bunsen Burner said, before inclining his head politely. “Now, let’s get ready. I have a feeling that we have a lot of work to do.”

It took the three awhile to get everything ready. The pieces of the Omniscope were all still out, but the actual tools and materials they would need for the construction of a golem were not. Instead, they had been concentrating on unlocking the secrets of the alien’s tech while ~Alex~ worked on overcoming the language barrier. It was going to take some time before ~Alex~ was ready, but it was something that the entire team agreed needed to happen before they were to make any progress on the scope

It was a bit strange that he was headed down here with his meager skill in the Equestrian tongue, especially considering how much of a beating he had taken the day before, but Twilight just shrugged it off, thinking that it was probably just the human being unable to lie down and rest while others worked. Applejack is like that, stubborn to a fault. Considering how similar he is mentally to ponies, I wouldn't be surprised if he shares some of our failings as well... she thought as she scooped up several alien metallic spheres and dumped them into a box.

As the three worked, they were slowly joined by more and more of the research team. It didn’t take Twilight long to explain what they were doing, but she was a little annoyed when she had to explain it multiple times. In fact, she was in the middle of explaining the situation to Razorback, the remaining minotaur on the team, when the door opened behind her, letting her know someone else had arrived. “Oh, for pony’s sake, why don’t-” she started to say, but stopped short when she realized that it was ~Alex~ who had arrived, with Celestia in tow.

Twilight had to agree with the sergeant’s previous statement. ~Alex~ really didn’t look like he should be up, or even conscious. His whole face and the one hand that she could see looked like they were completely bruised. In fact, they both looked like they were part of the same bruise. His other arm was nowhere to be seen, but there was an odd lump in the front of his lab coat, hinting that his arm was probably still in a sling. “My goodness, ~Alex~, you look absolutely terrible! You should-wait, I don’t have the translation spell on me, let me-” Twilight started to say, but was cut off by a single wave of ~Alex’s~ hand.

“No, it’s fine. I don’t need the spell anymore,” he said, shocking everyone present into silence. “The things in my head finally figured out your language. We can finally get to work, now.”

There was the sound of glass breaking, followed by a somewhat nervous cough. “Um… sorry about that…” Burner said as Twilight turned to the nervous, flustered stallion. He had dropped an empty beaker, and while the mess was concerning, that was next to nothing compared to the look of fear he was desperately trying to hide.

“Are you okay, Burner?” someone asked, somewhat concerned. “You look kind of pale…”

“No, no, I’m fine, just probably something I ate this morning that didn’t agree with me…” he said, before moving towards one of the adjoining rooms. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to have a little bit of a lie-down…”

The others watched him leave, before attention was pulled from him by an awkward cough from ~Alex.~ “Well, while my… things don’t have a perfect word thing yet, I’m able to pick up new words pretty fast, so it shouldn’t take long to explain everything, both to you with what I’ve been trying to make, and to me with what you’ve been trying to make. With everyone’s help, I’m pretty sure we can have something together to stop those… Strange people… People that don’t come from here…”

“Aliens?” Razorback asked helpfully.

“Does aliens mean people from other planets?”

“It does indeed, ~Alex,~” Razorback said, giving the ~human~ a helpful smile.

“Then yes, we have to stop the aliens,” ~Alex~ said, before taking a couple of steps forward. “Also, I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s not Alis.”

Razorback looked a little confused at this. “What?”

“My name. Though I can understand if you cannot pronounce it correctly, but my name is Alex. I look forward to working with you, and hope we’ll be able to make something that will kick the crap out of those alien-” Alex then said something in his own tongue that, while everyone there couldn’t understand, could still pick up on what he meant based purely on the venom he put into those syllables. He then turned to Twilight, his black eyes somewhat unnerving, despite the warmth in his expression. “Now, I think it’s about time we sat down and had a real speech on what we’re making. As far as I know, we’re making a looking device… something to find alien ships... You know, a finding device. What I’m making is the thing’s-” Alex then said another word. A word that, while Twilight had heard before, she had only heard it when Alex was under the effects of the translation spell. The word was originally translated as calculation device, but this time she could hear it clearly.

Computer.

It was a strange word, one that spoke of alien culture and science just beyond her understanding, and it was a word that she dearly wanted to understand. “Yes! We want you to make a… computer. Something to guide and tell the Omniscope what to do!”

Alex put a hand to one side of his head, and pushed until an unpleasant crack could be heard throughout the room. He then pulled it and got a few more cracks, before he straightened up, his focus on the golem head in the center of the room. “Well, let’s get working, then. Give those monsters a surprise that they’ll never forget.”

As the alien survivor swept passed her, Twilight Sparkle couldn’t help but feel her heart leap with hope.

Maybe we will get out of this alive… she thought to herself as she moved to follow the strange alien visitor.

* * *

“Anything different for this one?”

“No. Just be careful in the room beyond. It was one of my fabrication bays. Initial damage reports say that this area was destroyed, but since I have no power in this area, I really do not know how badly. However, since the other areas are impassible, this may be your only way to the core without relying upon heavy machinery to dig me out,” Yavaar said through the intercom inside the three astronauts suits.

At the moment, they were each outfitted with one of they alien’s communication devices in their left ears. They had decided to go with those, simply because the walls of the alien structure would block the human’s radios, and none of them were too keen at setting up radio relays everytime they moved to a new room. As a bonus, according to Yavaar, the alien comms also acted as teleportation beacons, allowing Yavaar to get the humans out of there should something terrible happen.

The humans were still incredibly fuzzy on how the laws of physics were being broken so casually here, but the display from Miss Jordan back in the bay went a long way in at least strengthening their faith in this so-called ‘magic.’ It was probably some science bull that the Yavaar felt was too complicated to explain, but the fact that humans could use it too went a long way in normalizing the whole thing for the rescue team.

At the moment, ‘normal’ was really in short supply. Especially with some of the wonders that Yavaar had shown the humans since they had gotten on board the station.

“Okay… got it…” Captain Campbell said before shoving his crowbar into the panel next to the door. He had already clamped his suit to the bulkhead next to the panel, making it impossible for him to be pushed back by the opposing forces in the extremely low gravity environment. That had come as a little bit of a surprise to the captain. The powered sections of the station had a gravity close to earth, but out in the damaged portions, it was significantly reduced, so much so that it was almost unnoticeable. Almost.

This meant that the rock the station was in was just large enough to start exerting noticeable pull, but not so much that it made all that much of a difference. Campbell had asked what rock they were on, but Yavaar had refused to tell them. “I may have reduced emotions, but I would very much like to hear your reactions when you figure it out for yourselves. Call me selfish, but that surprise is something that I cherish above all else,” he had said.

It wasn’t that important that they know, so Campbell had let the A.I. keep his secrets. Besides, it wasn’t like the knowledge would help them dig out Yavaar any faster.

Campbell shook his head, and got his mind back to the matter at hand: opening the door. The panel gave after only a single push of his crowbar, revealing the mass of alien symbols, lines and circuitry, as well as the single, metal wheel in the center of the whole affair. “Barrett,” Captain Campbell said as he handed the crowbar back to his subordinate without looking. He then reached out and grabbed the wheel in front of him and gave it a hard, right turn.

The wheel only turned a little, before coming to a stop, creating a thunk of sound that would have been completely unheard in the vacuum if it weren't for the fact that Captain Campbell was currently gripping the wheel of the door. Without skipping a beat, the captain immediately turned the wheel in the other direction. It moved easily, causing even more sound to propagate into his suit, letting him know that the mechanism was doing its job.

“Sir! Stop! Close it!” Lieutenant Barrett said, ripping the captain’s attention away from his task.

He did as he was told, before turning to his lieutenant. “Something wrong, Barrett?”

Lieutenant Barrett just pointed his flashlight back the way they had come, its steady beam illuminating several pieces of debris that had hit the back wall that weren’t there before. “Sir… I think this area might not be as damaged as we thought. There’s still air in there.”

“One of my fabrication bays still has atmosphere?” Yavaar asked, his voice oddly registering only mild surprise. “Then it is entirely possible that the whole bay beyond is in good repair! That is a grand blessing indeed!”

“What do we do, then?” Captain Campbell asked as he leaned against the steel bulkhead.

“It would be preferable if you kept the atmosphere inside, for when we power up the bay and put it to work later. For now, I would suggest you use the field generators you’ve been carrying to create a seal around the door.”

Lieutenant Barrett gave a short nod before he began setting up the field generators that he had been carrying up to this point. He had no idea how these things worked, but a few tests back in the shuttle bay had been enough to let him and his team know that they did work. They were good enough to stop a bullet, and could conform to their surrounding area to create an airtight seal. At the very least it would allow the three humans to enter the area beyond without the need of heavy equipment, or worrying about any explosive decompression from the other side. He was very careful, though, checking at least three times that everything was in place before activating the field.

“You do not need to be that careful, Lieutenant Barrett. Those fields are far safer than the suit you are wearing,” the alien A.I. said through his earpiece.

“Forgive me for being thorough, I'd rather not find myself hurtling through the void,” Barrett said sarcastically before pressing the button. There was a noiseless, yet pretty display of light, and a blue shimmering field came into existence around the lieutenant, his team, and the door they was going to try and open. “I'd also rather trust equipment that my boys have tested inside and out, thank you very much.”

“Don't antagonize the snake, Barrett, we're still very much in uncharted waters here,” Captain Campbell said before grabbing the wheel once again. “Best to stay on his good side, seeing as how he knows this place’s layout better than us.

“I am not offended, Captain. The lieutenant is merely expressing distrust of the unfamiliar, a logical reaction to a strange and dangerous situation,” Yavaar said as the captain turned the wheel ever so slightly to open a small crack in the door. As expected, the door only opened a little, causing a number of dust particles, metal shavings, and what looked like small bits of paper to rush through as the air inside rushed to fill the vacuum of the astronauts’ small bubble. There was a dull, thunderclap of sound that was partially muted by the three soldiers’ suits, and just like that, the three found themselves in a pressurized environment again.

Once the captain was sure that the fields were holding, and that nothing was going to come flying at them out of nowhere, he began turning the wheel again while his lieutenant and sergeant pointed their lights into the room to get a better look. “Wowwee…” Sergeant Powers said, his voice filled with wonder. “The place looks pretty untouched… Don't know what any of it does, but if ‘fabrication bay’ means what I think it means, then we've hit the jackpot!”

“It does. That we did. And no, we can't stick around and play with any of it, especially since it's unpowered,” Captain Campbell said as he let go of the wheel and followed his men into the room. The sergeant grumbled a little in disappointment, but the captain ignored it in favor of taking a look around the new room.

It was quite spacious in here, and just as alien as everything else they'd seen so far. Along the left hand wall Campbell could see three pads that looked for all the world like teleporter pads from Star Trek, complete with a standing console to control the whole affair. However, as similar as they were to an earthy creation, there were a few differences. There was only one, large circle, instead of five or six smaller ones, for starters. The circle also was surrounded by a number of small, alien symbols, making it look more like some kind of magic circle than anything one would see in Star Trek. There was also a number of large, mechanical arms suspended above the pad, further differentiating them from something from the old T.V. show. To the right of the team was a large, heavy set of double doors that looked like it would take heavy equipment just to move an inch, as well as a number of small, circular disks set into the wall next to the door.

There were also a few desk-like structures here and there, seemingly bolted to the floor. A smart move, to be sure, but it looked like that thinking did not extend to the stuff that had been on those desks, since the room had little bits of paper, dust, metal shavings, and other debris floating in the otherwise empty space.

While all of that was interesting, it was the smaller set of doors directly across from where the team had entered that caught his eye. They were identical to the ones that the team had entered, making them more likely to be an exit than the large doors to the right. “The doors directly opposite to the ones you came in leads to an elevator. If you head down the shaft, and there is no damage further down, it should lead directly to me.” Yavarr said, confirming Campbell's initial assumption.

“Gotcha. Lieutenant Barrett, you close the door, while we start working on making this easier to cross in the future,” Campbell said as he took back his crowbar from the lieutenant. The captain then reached for Sergeant Powers’ back and pulled off the length of rope that was attached there. “Sergeant, let’s make a bridge.”

In very short order, Captain Campbell tied a simple slip knot to the sergeant with one end of the rope, then began tying off the other end to the nearby desk. The sergeant then used the desk as leverage to get his feet against the wall, and pushed off into the empty void in the middle of the room.

It wasn’t a perfect flight across the room. There was actual air in here, as well as a very, very low gravity, and Powers had plenty of surface area and mass to provide resistance. However, he still managed to make it across without having to rely on his suit’s propulsion, or even touching the floor. “Okay captain, we’re good to go!” the sergeant said the second he had tied off the rope on the other side.

Campbell gave a short nod, then turned back to Barrett. “You all set here?”

“Yes sir,” Barrett said, before gesturing towards the makeshift bridge. “After you, sir.”

It did not take them long to cross, and before they knew it, they were prying off the panel for this door, too. The only problem with that, though, was that it seemed like this room was the only one that still had an atmosphere.

“Sergeant, stop! Stop!” Campbell said, causing the sergeant to quickly close the door again.

“What’s wrong, captain?” Yavaar asked curiously.

“We're losing atmosphere, and I'm pretty sure I don't need to tell you why that's a bad thing,” Campbell said as the lieutenant began setting up another force field. “I think I have an idea why this area was reported destroyed…”

“Very well, captain. Please be careful, though, it may be dangerous. You never know what sort of debris could be floating out there,” Yavaar said, a mild note of worry bleeding into his voice. “I’ll stand by with the teleport, but remember that the beacons do not give me a bearing on your lifesigns. You will need to tell me if there is a problem.”

“We heard you the first time,” Campbell said as his lieutenant activated the field. “Okay, go ahead.

It was quite unnerving to have the muffled sounds just outside their suits suddenly sucked away, but it was an experience that the three astronauts were used to. Once the air was evacuated from the confined space, the sergeant quickly finished opening up the door, allowing the three to finally get a good look at what kind of damage was on the other side.

It was as if they were standing on the side of a large, melty, metal crater. Above them was nothing but empty space, a small amount of floating, melted metal, and a rather large red planet off in the distance. The planet itself was what caused the captain to stop in his tracks, though, as he suddenly realized where they were. “It’s Mars…” he said, pure wonder in his voice.

“So you can see the planet from there?” Yavaar said, cutting through the astronaut’s wonder. “I was hoping it wasn’t that damaged, but this may change things… Ignoring that for now, please, tell me, how does the view look to you? I hear wonder, but I would like an accurate description of how you feel knowing that you’re standing on the moon of Deimos.”

“We’re on freaking Deimos!” Barrett said, looking up at the red planet in abject wonder. “But… we have telescopes pointed out here all the time! How could you build something like this out here without us noticing!”

“For that matter, why hasn’t the moon slammed into the planet, yet?” Sergeant Powers asked as he looked down into the darkness of the crater below, then back up into the abyss above. “You said it was attacked… If the Krin weapons created a crater this deep, shouldn’t it have also caused problems for the moon’s orbit?”

There was a slight hum from Yavaar, a tone that the humans had quickly associated with the A.I. thinking up a response. “We are capable of rendering our ships invisible to your instruments. It was also extremely useful that Mars and Earth were on opposite sides of your star at the time. Once the station was finished, we concealed it inside the moon, using some of the leftover material, as well as some very advanced modeling techniques, to make it look as if nothing had changed about the moon’s surface, effectively making it invisible to your planet.” There was a pause after this, and when Yavaar began speaking again, his voice sounded a lot less sure of itself. “As for the moon’s orbit… the weapons the Krin use do not carry much kinetic force. They are primarily plasma based, and while plasma does have mass, it isn’t nearly as much as you would think.”

“Wait… if this was hit by plasma, then shouldn’t this all have been turned into liquids or gasses?” Captain Campbell asked, the lights of his helmet illuminating the melted crater. “That still would have created an explosion. Possibly enough to move this rock…”

There was another hum from Yavaar, before the odd alien A.I. chose to respond. “You are correct. However, you are also forgetting something. The Krin did not want to be discovered. I can confidently say that the fact that Miss Spivak managed to kill a few of them was certainly not in their plans, nor were they planning on leaving some of their soldiers behind. They are a prideful race, true, and tend to think of non-space faring species as primitive savages, but that does not mean that they would do something as noteworthy as remove a celestial body from its orbit. Your people are capable of deploying nuclear weapons, and that always puts other races on edge. I would surmise that a moon disappearing from the night sky would cause some concern on your planet, and they did not want to put your people on alert.”

“So they probably stopped it from falling…” Campbell said, before looking back down the crater. “Well, wherever we are, we should probably get moving. We have-” Before he could finish, there was a bright flash of light from somewhere above him, illuminating the entire crater, and causing his subordinates to swear in fear and surprise. Campbell quickly looked up and felt the pit of his stomach drop in abject fear.

Above them was a sleek, yet enormous ship. Its profile looked surprisingly similar to a fighter jet, though the wings were much smaller, and far further along the back of the ship then Campbell would have expected from such a craft. The nose had a distinctly reptilian look about it, especially with the twisting, open mouthed snake painted on the side, it’s jaws stopping right before the nose cone. Campbell could also see letters painted on the ship, but what they said was far beyond his understanding.

“What is it? What do you see?” Yavaar asked, worry clear in his voice.

“Where the hell did that come from!?” Campbell said, pointing towards the alien craft while ignoring Yavaar’s question.

“I don’t know, sir. It wasn’t there a second ago. Then, I saw this weird, flash of light, and it was suddenly there!”

Before Campbell could say anything else, or indeed think of any orders to give, there was a sudden burst of noise from the comms in each of the human’s ears. They were clearly words, the syllables very distinct, and the tone one of unmistakable authority. The language itself, however, was completely beyond the three humans. It had an odd note of familiarity, and Campbell briefly thought it sounded almost like German, though this language was harsher, and with more drawn out lisping sounds.

“Yavaar, what was-” Campbell started to ask, but before he could finish the thought, the universe around him seemed to explode in a flash of light and sound. Campbell instantly recognized it as that weird, alien teleportation thing that Yavaar had used when getting the humans to his station, and briefly wondered if Yavaar was using it again to get them out of danger. He was quickly disabused of that notion, though, when the world came back into focus.

He was standing in a large, open area, not unlike the shuttle bay that the humans had set up their rescue operation in. There were a few obvious differences, with the most important one being the light blue energy field directly in front of him. A quick glance around was all it took to realize that it completely surrounded him and his team, as well as the entire human rescue team that had been on the alien station.

Most of the people there began voicing their concern and confusion at being whisked away in such a disorienting fashion, which quickly turned to cries of fear and alarm when the doors to the bay opened, and in rushed several well armed, and heavily armored snake aliens. The armor they wore seemed to be completely enclosed, not allowing the humans to see their faces, or even a hint of the scale or skin that lurked underneath. However, this did not make them look like storm-troopers, or anything of the sort. In fact, while all of the suits shared a common color; a deep, dark, blood red, that was the only thing they shared in common with one another. Each and every single one was unique, each having been painted with symbols, animals, or even skulls.

The leading one in particular caught Campbell's eye, his suit comparatively light on the decoration, but no less intimidating, since the most notable thing on his suit were a large number of tally marks running along the arms and tail, their meaning obviously clear to Captain Campbell. At the moment, none of the four-armed snake people were pointing their weapons at the humans, though Campbell knew that they really didn’t need to.

After all, the humans were all behind an alien forcefield, most likely completely disarmed, and on an alien spaceship full of space magic. The humans could probably be killed at any time, in any number of nasty ways, and any resistance they could put up would probably be about as much as a newborn kitten to a pack of wolves.

“Calm down, people. Calm down,” Campbell heard Colonel Conners’ voice, still loud and clear despite the suit Campbell was currently wearing. He didn’t turn to look, choosing to instead keep his eyes on the unfriendlies, but he kept his ears open, not wanting to miss any of the colonel’s orders. “Just… sit down, and wait. These guys are supposed to be the cavalry, remember?”

“Uh, sir, begging your pardon, but-”

“Did I stutter, Jenkins?” Conners said, his voice brooking no argument. “They probably thought ‘What the hell are all those un-evolved monkeys doing on our station?’ and removed and contained us as a matter of course. We weren’t doing anything wrong, and were just trying to help them, so just sit down and wait for them to figure it out.”

There was some more muffled muttering at that, but Campbell ignored it in favor of following the colonel’s orders, trusting in the colonel’s judgement, as well as Yavaar’s ability to talk them all out of this horrible mess. After all, they were just trying to help, and Campbell was pretty sure he knew who had been talking earlier through the alien intercom.

After about thirty minutes of nerve-wracking waiting, during which the snake-soldiers never seemed to drop their guard, even for a second, there was a sudden burst of alien speech that seemed to come from somewhere above them, most likely from the ship’s intercom. The effects of those words were quite clear on the soldiers, and they all visibly relaxed, some even making barking, laughing sounds at the orders they had received.

The door then opened, revealing a much smaller snake alien who wasn’t armed in any way that Campbell could tell. It was wearing a full body suit that was colored a light, airy blue trimmed in gold, while the scales that Campbell could see were a dull gray. It quickly slithered closer, before going into a deep bow before the gathered humans.

“We are apologizing for inconvenience… more better talker on way, not one here. Please wait, we not harm, we not enemies. Yavaar told why on place, no hurt,” the snake said in broken English, its voice sounding somewhat masculine, despite Campbell not really having a reference for the creature. The alien then straightened up as the force field around the humans disappeared, his four eyes locked on someone behind Campbell as his mouth turned up into a smile. “I am Second Voice Hilva, and I am welcoming you friends to our ship. Please, be at ease, while we figuring out problems in talking.”

Campbell heard someone making their way through the crowd, before seeing Colonel Conners come into view. The colonel walked up to the alien, his expression guarded as he held out a hand to the creature. “I am Colonel Conners, and let me be the first to welcome you to Earth.”

There was a slight pause, most likely because the alien was trying to figure out what the colonel had said, before he gingerly took the colonel’s hand with one of his own (on the same side as the colonel was offering, funnily enough). “Good meetings Colonel Conners. And am being welcoming you to our ship. We are here to helping, hoping that good friends for all.”

Campbell let out a breath that he didn’t even know he had been holding, as did a number of people around him. “And here I was thinking the next alien ship we’d see would be those freaking bugs…” he muttered, forgetting that his intercom was still on.

“Same here. Looks like I owe Stephens ten bucks,” Lieutenant Barrett said.

This drew out a chuckle from Campbell, but he didn’t say anything else. He was too busy marveling at the incredible good fortune that had just landed in their laps.

Though he was still pretty sure that most people back on Earth were still going to freak out about all of this.

Chapter XXV

Chapter XXV

Detective Callister stepped out of the McDonald's, a coffee and bag held in one hand, while his phone was in the other. He frowned slightly as he perused his news feed—nothing there but speculation and panic over what had happened over the last few weeks. Despite Agent Vale’s warning, the police station had not been attacked. In fact, ever since the abduction, people had been reporting all sorts of nonsense, but no actual, verifiable alien activity.

At least, none that was being reported to the public.

Callister sighed at the lack of information, and briefly wondered how Valerie was holding up. He hadn’t heard from her since the incident, but he trusted that she had been put into witness protection, simply because he hadn’t heard anything to the contrary. He was worried though. Not just about Valerie, but about everyone. The human race was in uncharted waters now. At any point they could be crushed by an alien armada bent on turning them all into slaves, snack-packs or just flat out exterminating them.

Well, all of that could’ve happened before the abduction, but now we know that it could, and probably is, going to happen, Callister thought as he skimmed through another alleged alien sighting, before sighing to himself and pocketing his phone. I guess it’s really true what they say: Ignorance is bliss…

Some of the other officers guessed that maybe it was only a one time thing. In fact, many people were either saying that, or that the whole thing was just a hoax; that this was nothing more than people messing around, or that the government was trying something sinister.

But that’s what you get when you have a planet of seven billion crazies who thought up until now that they were alone in the universe, Callister thought as he began popping french fries into his mouth. Some are going to deny it, some are going to start stockpiling arms, while others are going to go straight to the loony bin, telling everyone that the world is coming to an end.

Callister stopped for a minute as he stared up at the sky. At the moment, it was midday, which meant that the cloudy, overcast skies of Portland were nothing but a white wall. A white wall that seemed vaguely sinister, now that the detective knew that it could be hiding an alien armada bent on total global destruction.

With a sigh of frustration, Callister opened his burger and chowed down, letting his feet take him onto the familiar route back to the police station. It wasn’t that far, and Callister was confident enough that he could do it blindfolded, provided that there was no one out that day. There was, so he still had to use his eyes somewhat as he navigated the way back to his workplace. He got a few friendly smiles, and some worried frowns, but for the most part everyone was going about their days as if nothing happened.

Maybe that’s how it should be… Callister thought as he paused at the police station door. His eyes swept the busy streets one more time, his thoughts a tangled mess. Jill’s gone, so things are never going to be the same, but maybe that’s all there is to it. A weird occurrence, then everyone getting on with their lives. A few years later, this place will be a tourist trap, and everyone will have all but forgotten that a forensic scientist used to work here. That her friends and family are still looking to the skies, hoping that she’ll come home. After a few decades, it’ll have become an urban legend, and the world will keep on turning, like it all never mattered to begin with…

Callister shook his head before pushing the door to the police station open. As much as the idea stung, he had the distinct feeling that this was all he was ever going to know about the matter. That he, and Jill for that matter, were nothing more than commas and periods in the march of history. That the world was never going to find out what happened to Jill Spivak, and that as riled up as everyone was, that was all that was going to come about from this whole incident.

Well, if that’s all there is to it, then here’s to you, Jill. No one here’s going to forget about you. I’ll make sure of it... Callister thought as he drank deeply from his cup.

Feeling strangely at peace, Callister made his way to the offices. He still had several cases to finish, and a few leads to follow. As much as he’d like to drop everything and search for his missing friend and colleague, there really wasn’t anything he could do. Life had to go on.

He was so lost in thought that he nearly ran into Lieutenant Jefferson, who for some strange reason was standing right behind the door of the offices. “Hey, lieutenant, watch where you’re standing. You could… get…”

Callister’s reprimand died in his throat when he realized what the lieutenant, as well as the rest of the police station, were all staring at.

In the far ceiling corner of the police department’s main offices was a small TV. The sound was usually muted, but at the moment someone had turned up the volume to max, the reason for this being all too clear.

On the screen was something that was distinctly not human. It had four eyes, a stub of a nose that was slitted, and when it opened its mouth, Callister could see that its teeth were far sharper than anything he knew that could talk. Its skin, or rather its scales, were a dull grey color, which only served to drive home just how alien the monster was.

“Well, crap…” Callister said, right before throwing his empty coffee cup into a nearby trash can with considerable force.

* * *

It was as if the Earth itself stood still. All the television channels were broadcasting it. Every internet query had been replaced with a video of the same creature, and above every major city of the world there could be seen a small metallic object, projecting the same image and message for all to hear, in nearly every language spoken by man. Some would later find that the message did not come through on devices on closed networks, but this was a minor discovery, one whose importance was quickly forgotten in the wake of what was happening the world over.

“Attention, people of Earth! By now, your radar and telescopes will have found a number of our ships in orbit around your planet, the sheer number and size of these vessels probably causing a great deal of stress and fear among your kind. Many of you are most likely rushing for your weapons, while others are gripping your families in fear of the unknown. Even as this recording is playing, your armed forces are mobilizing, while your nuclear weapons are being put on standby, your whole world covered in fear at what could only be an alien invasion,” the creature said, its face strangely sorrowful for something so alien. “Let me be the first to assure you that we have not come seeking your destruction: We have no need of the resources of your planet, it is against our highest laws to own slaves, and we do not need your planet for anything. Rest well this night, knowing that you and your families have not attracted the ire of The Holy Armada.”

It was as if a weight had been lifted from the entire world. Many wept openly, while others could do nothing but hug those closest to them. Others watched with skepticism, however, certain that this couldn’t be all there was to it.

Those people were proven right with the alien’s next words.

“That is not to say that we come in peace, however. War is coming to your home, whether you want it or not. We have not come to conquer, but to warn and protect you from the impending disaster. Ready your weapons, gird up your armor, and prepare your people, for war is at your doorstep,” the creature said, crushing any hope it had planted with only a few words. “We will be convening with your leaders in a day’s time, to plan and prepare for the coming darkness. At precisely eleven-thirty, Eastern Standard Time tomorrow morning, High Priest Yovakior and his aides will arrive at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York to plan a proper defense. We suggest you hurry and prepare. Send your best and your brightest, for we are unsure of the timetable of our enemy. That is all.”

And just like that, the message ended. Cable and satellite television resumed as if nothing had happened, the servers of the internet began returning their proper information, while the things hovering above every major city all disappeared in a flash of light, as if they had never been there in the first place.

The riots that followed in some places told a different story entirely.

* * *

“As expected, High Priest, several riots and protests have already broken out. Our cousins were clearly unprepared for our arrival," Archmage Veltori said, his disdain bleeding into his voice. "Really... what kind of hysterical mind does it take to riot at the first sign of trouble?"

“I imagine the kind that was quite comfortable with their position in life... but... protests? What could they possibly be protesting?” Yovakior asked with morbid curiosity. “Their governments did not invite us, so what exactly do they expect to come from that?"

“I honestly could not say. I do not speak any of their languages well enough to give you a reason, but regardless, the signs are there. Quite literally, in some cases, oddly enough. It matches all the details we have in our database on how this people throw protests, but what they intend to accomplish is something I can only guess," the archmage said, sounding both impressed and incredulous. “I will have a few of my apprentices to work on it. In the meantime, I suggest we go ahead with the battle plan and begin mining the system.”

“Agreed. Begin preparations at once, and get me-” Yovakior began, but stopped as his communications expert began speaking rapidly to someone on the other line, drawing the high priest’s attention.

“Yes… yes, I’ll tell him. No, we already broadcasted the message. Yes, I know that is going to be a problem. Please, just wait, I’ll convey it all.” Lilith turned from her console, her face a mask of worry. “High Priest? We may have a problem…”

“What is it?” Yovakior asked, somewhat amused. “I highly doubt it is worse than the trouble that is coming. Unless, of course, you are telling me that the Krin Empire remnants are already here.

“No, nothing like that, sir. However, it will still complicate things immensely." Lilith took a deep breath, before turning back to her console and pressing a few keys. "The Tempest on the Horizon came back into being near the planet Mars as expected and began extraction procedures of our outpost on the moon. However, while they were there, they found that it had sustained significant damages consistent with Krin plasma weapons. Computer Yavaar survived, but it seems like he took some… unorthodox measures in lieu of a chain of command.”

“How unorthodox?"

“...I’ll send you the long version to your terminal. Just know that, from what I’ve been able to gather, he hasn’t done anything illegal.”

That immediately sent up some red flags for the High Priest. “I have the distinct impression that whatever it is that Yavaar has done would have given him the death sentence without that qualifier.”

Lilith winced a little, before pressing a single button and sending the rest of the report to the High Priest’s tablet. “It is. At this moment, The Tempest on the Horizon is playing host to a group of human rescue workers. Yavaar had apparently enlisted them to help dig himself out as part of a multi-step plan in readying the planet for any Krin incursion.”

The silence on the bridge was deafening. “...Are you telling me that our cousins are already aware of our existence?”

“That could explain some of the protests. They probably believe we are overstepping our authority or something similar," Veltori pointed out helpfully.

Yovakior closed his eyes for a few seconds, before shaking his head, as if trying to shake out the thoughts lurking within. “I don’t think we want to jump to conclusions just yet. Tell The Tempest on the Horizon to extract Computer Yavaar as quickly as possible; I want his storage vessel installed into a personal assistant before the end of the day. As for the human workers, have them transferred to this ship. We’ll work out what we need to do from there after I’ve spoken with their leader.”

“Right away, sir!” Lilith said with a slight bow.

“Kelaran, I’ll leave preparations of the battlefield to you for now,” Yovakior said to his second voice, holding up his tablet as an explanation. “I’ll be reviewing Yavaar’s report and revising my speech for this... United Nations of theirs. We’ll need it done before the day is out, to allow our translators time to prepare it. Ingred?”

“Yes, High Priest?” the computer chimed.

“Let me know the second the humans are on board the ship. I want their people well taken care of, and their leader brought to me with an interpreter as soon as possible.”

“Yes, High Priest.”

Without another word, High Priest Yovakior, Aram of the Holy Armada, and Leader of the Earth Expedition, left the bridge, confident in his people’s ability to defend the system for the short time he was gone.

* * *

Twilight Sparkle stared at the diagram, not quite sure how the entirety of Equusian history could have missed this simple concept. The actual mechanisms were insanely complicated, but the idea of ‘machines only understanding two things’ was so simple that she couldn’t believe that nopony had realized it before. The idea itself could revolutionize golemmancy even without the human’s input.

The whole idea behind golemancy was an attempt to make the inanimate mimic the animate, to force that which had no life of its own to take on the semblance of the living.

Human computers weren’t anything of the sort.

They were, quite simply, the descendant of the simplest, most basic of arithmetic tools: The abacus. Everything it actually did, at the most basic of basic of levels, was math. Base two math, to be precise. At first, Twilight was somewhat confused how this could be of any use; base two was very limiting, and could only express so much. It was when Alex had pointed out that a single ant wasn’t capable of much, either, that Twilight finally started understanding just how powerful this technology was.

With this newfound perspective, Twilight had begun to reexamine every single one of the human’s designs. She still didn’t understand half of it, but she now knew why it had to be so complex.

She also knew that, even with the human’s help, there was just too much work to be done to ever get this design ready before Equus was attacked.

“Alex, tell me, just how were you intending on getting this all done? This… compiler would take years to complete, especially when it’s only you working on it!”

“I’ve got a few ideas…” Alex said, before turning and looking around the lab. “It comes down to a couple of things, actually, but it all starts with that cat I repurposed. I had someone send it down, but I’m not-”

“It’s right here, my friend,” Razorback said, holding up the box that had been delivered earlier that day. “I’ve been looking through the modifications, and I must say, it is truly an impressive feat that it functions at all.”

“Thanks for that,” Alex said, before taking the box from the minotaur. “We should get to work on this, to see if we can’t prove any of my ideas right. If I’m wrong, though, we still have a few options. And hey, maybe we could have some combination of my ideas work in tandem!”

“You still haven’t told us what any of these ideas are, though,” Princess Celestia said, before taking a couple of steps back as the human swept past her to an empty workbench.

The human didn’t seem to hear her, as he proceeded to dump the whole affair out on the counter, before he began looking around for something. “Lets see… screwdriver or… ah, this looks like it’ll do the trick!”

“Alex, could you please just-” Twilight said, before jumping slightly as the human pried off the side panel on the cat and began pulling out the plates that he had made.

“What are you doing!?” Razorback said, moving forward to stop the human.

“I’m… um, I don’t know your word for it. Humans call it cannibalism. I’m taking something, and using it for something else,” the human said, before he pulled out the other plates. “I need these to test my idea, if we’re going to be doing this at all within the next week.”

“But what is your idea?” Celestia asked, taking the plates from the human with her magic, forcing him to slow down for a few seconds.

Alex took a deep, cleansing breath, before letting it out in an explosive huff. “How are the remnants of my friends able to control this thing?” he asked, pointing towards the cat.

“...Because of these plates?” Celestia asked somewhat blankly as she held up the things that Alex had created.

Alex shook his head, then began talking really fast, using words in his own language in place of those that clearly did not exist in the Equestrian tongue. “Those only have the hardware. The components that actually do the thinking. I’ve looked through my notes, and when I was busy going all glowy, I didn’t write a single line of code. There’s nothing there to act as a compiler, no operating system, not a single program.

Celestia looked at them carefully. “I’m not sure what you mean…”

“Princess, I’ve looked through Alex’s notes, and from what he’s managed to explain, the physical form of these computers is only a piece of the puzzle. It’s a large piece, but it’s still useless without any of the other pieces,” Twilight said as she trotted forward, levitating some of the documents. “Without any actual instructions, they’re about as useful as the omniscope without the golem interface.”

“And what I mean, is that I didn’t write any instructions,” Alex said as he pulled a number of metallic rods from his pocket. “These don’t have a single line of code. Nothing to act as a compiler, and nothing to translate the thoughts of my friend’s remains into movement for the golem. The only thing I made was the boards themselves.”

Celestia stared at the human thoughtfully. “But… earlier, when I talked to Doctor Burner, he told me that you altered the original instructions for the golem. If that’s not the case, then how…?”

“Your sister said that anything with a soul also has a magical field, with the reverse being true. What about something that only has a part of a soul? What happens then?”

“It would still have a field, but it would be wildly unstable. It would slowly break down, before disintegrating entirely, as the soul shards passed through the veil,” Celestia said, almost automatically. “Honestly, it’s only because of your own field that they lasted this long…

Alex looked down at the shards, a thoughtful look on his face. “Well, since the field’s still there, just unstable, couldn’t these guys do some magic themselves? Couldn’t they act as the operating system, compiler, and programs?

“It is a possibility, but anything they do would be far more erratic than what you're proposing,” Razorback said, before taking a couple of steps forward. “We of the Isle of Minos have had a longstanding tradition when it comes to ghosts, that their essences need to be dispersed before we try anything with golemmancy, as they can disrupt some of the more delicate and refined processes. Whatever they produce, however, is quite random, and is not nearly as alive as the shards you hold in your hand.”

“Well, what if they had a little help?” Alex asked as he looked to all the assembled faces, as if seeking validation. “I may not look like it, but I’m actually quite the expert when it comes to my craft. You said they were relying on me to stay in this world. Well, what if they were doing more than that? What if they were tapping into my knowledge and experiences, to help me with this kind of stuff?”

The assembled ponies, griffons and one minotaur, all paused at that, all of them lost in thought. “To my knowledge, nothing like this has happened before…” Celestia said after some time.

“Ugh.”

“This is an unexplored field of magic, but there is a reason for it,” Twilight said, before taking one of the rods from Alex’s hand.

“She’s right. Shards are too dangerous for us to directly interfere with, mainly because of how they’re sliding into the veil,” Razorback said, before taking another rod from the human and giving it a once over. “There have been a few cases of people trying to commune with these remnants, or with the people beyond the veil. They’ve either gone completely insane, and committed suicide, or they’ve succumbed themselves, and have been siphoned away with the very souls they’re trying to talk to. You, as far as I can remember, are a unique case.”

“At least, I’m a unique case as far as we know,” Alex said, before taking back the golem cores and the plates. “There may be alien races out there that have already cracked the secrets of this veil. Besides, it’s not like we have time to argue about all of this. Even if we went back to Earth today, and I brought back a host of programmers, I don’t think we’d have what we need finished in time.”

The assembled people all looked nervously at one another, before Celestia gave a single nod towards the human. “Fine. Do whatever experiment you were planning. As for the rest of you, ready the omniscope. We may have it ready earlier than we anticipated. However, I would have one more word with you in private, Alex.”

The human looked a little surprised, but put down the things he was carrying to follow Celestia out of the room. Twilight briefly wondered what they were talking about, before shaking herself to get back to work.

* * *

“So, what did you want to talk about?” I asked as soon as I shut the door.

“Alex… before you were taken by Queen Titania, my sister and I were speaking with the alien delegates... Mainly, the snake one spoke, and we listened. I have the impression that she is quite powerful, as the bug did not speak the entire time. Her name was… Ack-e-teth,” Celestia said, chewing on the unfamiliar and alien word. It sounded oddly Egyptian, though I knew it was probably just a coincidence. “And she had something she wanted me to ask you. I don't trust her, so don't feel like you're being pressured into doing what she wants."

I took a deep breath, before letting it out. “It’ll probably be okay, whatever it is.” Celestia looked a little shocked at this, but I continued before she was able to interject. "I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to tell you much of what I know… I found out a lot about both of their people when I was looking in the bug’s computer. While I wouldn’t exactly trust either of them, I do know that the Quzin... the snakes, have had the opportunity to take over your world a hundred times over, and have done nothing. You can rest easy knowing they’re not your enemies.”

“What do you mean?” Celestia asked, her eyes filled with a mixture of curiosity and dread.

“Apparently there is this huge swath of… what is the word for the place beyond your world?” I asked, my lexicon coming up with blanks.

“Kashuta? It means everything above the sky, and past the moon and sun.”

“Ah… space… Yes, there is a huge swath of space that the snakes claim, protect and patrol. Your world happens to fall into that space,” I told her as I ignored the Krin text scrolling at the bottom corner of my vision.

Celestia looked like she had just heard something that she had already suspected. “You mean they claim ownership of our world already?”

“No, no… um…” I thought for a second, trying to figure out the right word. It wasn’t coming, so I decided to improvise. “It's like if you had a child, and you had something you want to give him, but you know he’s not old enough for it yet. That’s what they claim. They recognize this world, everything on it, as well as the surrounding area, as yours. However-”

“They do not feel we are ready for the responsibility…” Celestia said, letting out a humorless chuckle. “Then the feeling I was getting that she was talking to a child-”

“Was completely accurate. She views us both as children, and she’s treating us as such.” We were both quiet for some time after that. The thought of being treated like a child by an alien snake creature, while somewhat funny, was still a bit galling. I could only imagine that Celestia was thinking along the same lines, though it was probably more so for her, considering her age. “Ahem… well, what was it that she wanted you to ask me?” I asked, bringing us back to the original reason she had pulled me away from the others.

“...She wants to look inside your mind,” Celestia said, her voice leaving no doubt on how she felt about the matter. “She says it’s because you might remember something, something that would help them find where these ‘traitors’ are hiding. That you might have heard or seen something that you wouldn’t have recognized as a clue...”

The white pony in front of me trailed off, but I didn’t need her to finish what she was saying. I understood completely what this 'Ack-e-teth' wanted from me. I also knew that they could probably do things to my head that no one would know about until too late. But on the other hand… if these snakes are shooting straight with us… then it would mean catching those who are ultimately responsible… I thought as I silently agonized over the decision before me.

Celestia obviously could sense my discomfort, and set a hoof on my shoulder, trying to steady me. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to if-”

“No… no, this is important…” I muttered, interrupting her.

She looked at me closely, her brows furrowed in concentration. “You really don’t have to do this. You don’t even have to decide now. They’re not here, after all. In fact, put this out of your mind, and concentrate on what’s in front of you. We’ll decide this later.” Celestia let her hoof fall back to the floor and turned to leave. “I still have much to do today, and the aliens said they’d come tomorrow. For now, work on the Omniscope. You can give me your decision in the morning.”

She then opened the door to the little side room we were using and left me to my thoughts. A dangerous action to be sure, but I sort of needed to be alone right then.

After all, I had a difficult decision to make.

Author's Notes:

Well, here's the next chapter! Not much to say about this one, just that it was a little difficult for me to write. My mind's sort of been on the fritz, lately, but whatever.

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Seriously, just go have a look at it. I swear you'll probably enjoy it. After all, it would let me write as my job, then you guys would get a whole ton of new content, since I'd be free to write and write and write!

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Anyway, that'll be all for now. See you guys next time!

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVI

Valerie stared blankly at her hands, caring little about the hustle and bustle that was going on around her. Not that what was happening wasn't important, or interesting, for that matter. They were aboard an alien spaceship, after all, and the snakes, despite being somewhat haughty, if Valerie were being honest about first impressions, were still doing their utmost to ensure the human group’s comfort during their hopefully short stay.

The snake people themselves were beyond interesting. They stood on their tails in a way that made Valerie's back hurt just thinking about, and they moved with a fluid grace that seemed to defy logic or reason. The four arms of each of the attendees moved in perfect unison with each other as they helped the astronauts out of their suits, distributed odd-looking refreshments, and strangely enough, began playing a few odd wind instruments in the corner, all in an effort to please their human guests.

But no, as welcoming and as interesting as these people were, Valerie found that she could hardly pay attention. Instead, her focus was solely on the small, circular, stinging burn that was on her right hand.

The burn wasn't that severe, though. The flame hadn't lasted longer than a second, had been about the size of a candle, but it had still existed. The slight, most likely first degree burn, was evidence enough of that.

What this meant wasn't something that Valerie could even begin to comprehend. The implications alone towards science, and the human understanding of the universe and how it worked, was staggering. It could change the whole world, or destroy it. She could see nations tearing each other and themselves apart chasing this power, people willingly enslaved at the thought of real life magic at their fingertips.

It was everything the human mind had hoped for, and feared.

Skies would burn, lives would be lost, human civilization itself could be completely wiped out, all in pursuit of the power that lurked just beneath her skin. Even now she could feel it, those ‘arms of imagination’ that Yavaar had helped her use. They felt exhausted now, like they could barely move, but it was as if she had suddenly gained control of a new muscle, one that her mind was just itching to move.

She was so entranced with her inner examination that she was taken completely by surprise when Colonel Conners plopped down on the floor next to her. “You holding up okay?”

Valerie looked up at the colonel, noticing the worry on his face. She smiled at his concern, but she rather doubted that anything he could say or do would lift the weight that had seemed to settle on her heart. “I'm well enough, I suppose…”

“You sure?” Colonel Conners asked, his eyebrows furrowed as he stared her down. The look only lasted a second, however, before the soldier leaned back and sighed. “Well, not to call you a liar or anything, but our hosts are apparently worried about you. They said, and I quote: ‘that one's spirit is most trouble. Is something wrong we do?’”

Valerie snorted a little at Conners’ rather accurate impression of the snakes’ terrible English. She knew it was rude, but for some reason she found it quite funny. “It's nothing… I was just thinking about how much everything is going to change.”

Conners looked around, his gaze lingered on a nearby snake that held out a serving tray to his men, before coming back to the young lady in front of him. “Yeah, I feel you. It's like none of this is real, but-”

“I wasn't talking about them,” Valerie said, cutting off the colonel. “This power… magic… it changes everything. How we see the world, how we’ll interact with it… our entire civilization…”

Colonel Conners’ mouth went wide as he understood what really bothered her. His eyes seemed to wander about for a little while, before he hung his head a little low, while scratching behind one of his ears. “Well, it’ll probably be a bit crazy, but not nearly as terrible as you seem to think it is. At least, I don’t think it’ll be nearly as important in the near future as the aliens will be. After all, it's not like magic exists on Earth, after all.”

Valerie looked up at Conners sharply at this, not quite sure that she had heard him correctly. “Excuse me?”

“I don't pretend to understand everything that Yavaar told us, but apparently magic has a few properties that are similar to electromagnetism. Certain objects have a ‘field’ which allows people to… well, do magic. Earth apparently doesn't have this field, otherwise we’d all have been using this power a long time ago.” Colonel Conners gave her a wry smile. “After all, I was there. Yavaar's instructions were so simple that even a child could do it! If magic existed on Earth, don’t you think we would have discovered it by this point?”

This seemed to make sense to Valerie, though something still seemed to bother her. “While that is a relief, why was I the first one to accomplish this? From what I heard of the test, this wasn't the first time you tried…”

Conners leaned back, his expression a little annoyed. “You can blame Doctor Phillips for that. You're right that you weren't the first test subject, nor were you the first with… ‘aptitude,’ but you were the first that wasn't told beforehand what was going on.”

“But… shouldn't the blind test be the first thing he tried?”

“You'd think that, but Phillips is a stubborn SOB, and insisted that Yavaar’s whole talk on ‘faith’ was nothing more than superstitious nonsense,” Conners said, his disapproval clear in his voice. “Yavaar had to come to me directly to get the doctor to back off and try something different. Apparently, all of Doctor Phillips’ subjects were sabotaged simply after hearing the word ‘magic.’”

“Because they didn't believe it was possible…” Valerie said as she suddenly understood what Conners was getting at.

“Exactly. You see, we…” Conners started to say, but stopped as his eyes locked onto something behind Valerie. The forensic scientist turned to see what he was looking at, only to see one of those snake people quickly approaching them. In fact, she recognized him as the same one that had first greeted them when they had been brought aboard this ship.

“Am being sorry for interrupt, but urgent news from on high. Conners was name, correct?”

“That’s me, what can I do for you?” the colonel asked, his voice slow and even as he stood up to greet their host.

“Blessed High Priest, leader of Golden Armada, has sent me with orders. You and people to move to his ship, while you personal to go speak him. He wants talk before go speak with your leaders. Once he has talk, he return you all to home. Is in agreement?”

Valerie knew what Conners’ reply would be before he even opened his mouth. What did surprise her, however, was that the second he gave his reply, she felt that same, familiar disorientation that signaled that they were all about to be whisked from the room, regardless of whether they were ready or not.

When the room came back into focus, she found that she had not been brought to the same room as the others. In fact, this room was completely devoid of anything resembling earthly life.

That wasn’t to say that she was alone, however. She found herself sitting on a bench, in front of what looked like a small pyramid of beautiful, glowing crystals. There was some kind of mat off to her left, and directly in front of her, on the other side of those crystals, was what looked like an exceptionally old snake person. The lighting in this room was too dim to make anything else out, not that she had much attention to spare on anything but the snake person before her.

Where the others had brilliant green, and sometimes reddish hues to their scales, this one was a pale gray. Its skin looked dry and flaky, and it sat on its coiled-up tail in a rather hunched position, as if the weight of centuries were heaped upon its shoulders. It was clothed in a deep blue garb that seemed to shimmer ever so slightly whenever it moved, and its four, piercing eyes were locked on her own, almost as if it were daring Valerie to even think about making the wrong move.

Valerie shrank back slightly, unsure about why she was brought here separate from the others. She opened her mouth to ask where she was, and why she had been brought here, only to have that question die in her throat as the thing quickly got up and slithered towards her. She found that she could not move a muscle as the imposing figure quickly closed the distance, and with extraordinary care, laid a single thumb on her forehead.

Valerie than felt a presence touch her, as if a light feather was being dragged across her soul. Whatever it was lasted only a second, however, and the creature quickly retreated to its previous position, seemingly satisfied with what it found.

“Yavaar was right. You… great potential. Me… willing to teach. You people need gift like yours,” the snake said, his voice distinctly male, though Valerie still didn’t have a reference point for what a female was supposed to sound like to be one hundred percent sure in her assumption.

“I’m sorry, but what? Why did you bring me here? What was that all about?” Valerie asked as she rubbed where the snake had touched her.

“You people need power. Need expand on gifts. Will talk later, once speaking is better. Will send back to friends. Will prepare lesson, when time is right. Wanted to see for self, the power cousins hide. For now, go back. Tell what happened. Tell that we impressed, for power hidden in wasteland.”

There was another flash of light, and Valerie soon found herself surrounded by the other humans from the rescue team. They quickly surrounded her and bombarded her with questions about what had happened. Rather than help her clear her head, this only served to confuse her more.

This is getting far too weird… she thought to herself as she tried to catch her breath. That being said… this is probably only going to get weirder…

* * *

When Colonel Conners’ vision came back, he found himself in a small, clean, softly lit room, most likely a study of some kind. For some strange reason the colonel was alone, which allowed him plenty of time to examine his new surroundings.

To the colonel’s right there was what looked like a large, well illuminated terrarium built into the side of the wall. Inside was a single, bulbous-looking toad-thing that sat in the sand that covered the bottom of the tank. It was a dull brown color that closely mirrored the color of the sand it sat on, and Conners was a little surprised to see what looked like a third eye on the back of the toad’s head. There were a few other bits and bobs, like a small branch, and a dish of water, but otherwise the toad-thing was the tank's only occupant. It did not move, or even make a sound, so Conners ignored it for the time being and chose to instead examine the rest of the room.

There was a bookshelf on the colonel’s left, which displayed a large number of heavy-looking tomes in a variety of languages, most of which he didn't recognize with one, notable exception. He would have passed off the bookcase as just a random, alien fixture in the room, had it not been for the single copy of the King James version of the Holy Bible sitting on the top shelf. An odd choice, but it told Colonel Conners that the collection was most likely a random assortment of alien texts from a multitude of cultures, implying several things about the snakes that Conners really didn't have time to think about at the moment.

Behind the colonel was a door, next to which was a single side table with a small statue on it. It depicted a large snake coiling around a planet, with its mouth open up towards the ceiling. It was exquisitely made, and was crafted from a dark, silverish metal, most likely tungsten or something similar.

Directly in front of the colonel was a desk with a computer monitor on its surface, though no input device, oddly enough. There was a very nice, posh-looking chair upholstered in some kind of dark brown leather behind the desk, with an only slightly simpler-looking one in front. The chair was turned slightly to the left, as if to invite the colonel to sit, but he decided against it in favor of continuing his examination. Compared to the rest of the room, the desk was rather spartan, the only decoration Conners could see being the single picture frame off to one side of the desk.

The frame was currently facing away from the colonel, so, out of curiosity, he reached out to turn it his way. On the other side was a picture of a snake-alien, its four arms full of much smaller snake aliens, all of which looked towards the camera, smiles on their faces. They were all wearing fairly simple clothes, mainly dark green overcoats that complimented their eyes, along with white undershirts that looked like they had been pressed. Other than that, there wasn’t much else in the picture. In fact, the background was nothing more than a white backdrop, a convention that was eerily similar to that of certain human family portraits. Off to one corner of the photo was some kind of message scrawled by an alien hand. The characters looked flowy and smooth, almost like English cursive, though where cursive required there be at least one point of contact between the characters, this language seemed to require three. Colonel Conners wasn't a linguist, or indeed a specialist in other cultures, but even he could guess the general meaning of the words, as well as who was depicted in the photo.

“They are the High Priest’s wife and children,” a familiar voice suddenly said, breaking the colonel from his examination of the picture, causing him to look around in alarm as he returned it to the desk.

“Yavaar? Is that you? I take it they got you out, then?”

“It is. I am glad to see you well, Colonel Conners. However, I regret to say that I am not yet free from my station. I have merely been connected to this ship's systems to serve as the High Priest’s translator for this exchange,” the A.I. explained, his voice utterly calm. “Rest assured, the Holy Armada is working as we speak to excavate me, so it is only a matter of time before I am brought back into the full service of my people.”

Colonel Conners was confused at that, and briefly wondered why they didn't just download him to the ship’s computer, but put that thought away in favor of getting down to business. “Well, where is this High Priest, then?”

“High Priest Yovakior is late,” Yavaar stated bluntly, catching the colonel off guard. “He wanted me to convey his apology to you, as his subordinates worked a little faster than he was prepared for. He is only a few minutes late, however, and if my projections are correct, he should be arriving right-”

There was a low hum, followed by a brilliant flash of white light that briefly blinded the colonel, causing him to raise his hand and squint. When it dissipated, the colonel found himself face to face with another one of those snake-people. This one seemed dressed to impress, his tight-fitting suit a brilliant white color, trimmed in gold, but no medals or decorations that Conners could see. The absence of any decoration of valor seemed odd for someone who led an entire alien armada, and Conners had to actively remind himself that he wasn't exactly an expert in these people, their customs, or their mannerisms. They might not have the same ideas about commendations, or he may only wear those for specific events. Not that he needs them anyway to announce who he is... Conners thought to himself. That stare alone could burn holes through concrete.

It wasn't like the snake-person was even staring at him with malice, or even anger. There was just a quiet, penetrating strength behind that gaze that seemed to stare right through the colonel, and see everything he had ever said or done. Even when the thing wasn't looking at him, the the aura of command that seemed to rest around the snake was as palpable as the very air Conners breathed, and when he had the need to move, he moved with the confidence and poise of someone who had been fighting for a very, very long time. When he wasn’t moving, the snake was almost unnaturally still, as if he were waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Conners found himself almost gulping uncomfortably at the gaze that was being directed at him, but luckily his training came to the forefront. Instead of showing weakness, the colonel straightened up and came to a parade rest in front of the snake’s desk, his gaze not on the snake’s eyes exactly, but rather a few feet above him.

“-Now. Colonel Conners, it is my great honor to introduce High Priest Yovakior, Leader of the Holy Armada,” Yavaar stated, his voice taking on an almost ritualistic quality. “Yovakior has summoned you here because he has a great many questions for you, mainly in preparation for his upcoming meeting with your world’s leaders. However, because of the circumstances, and as a show of good faith on his part, he has decided that you may satisfy whatever questions you may be harboring first. You are free to speak.”

Colonel Conners was a little bit shocked when he heard that. The whole little speech sounded as pompous as hell, but the concession to allow him to start with the questions threw him completely off guard. He was fully expecting this to be an interrogation, albeit a nice one.

After a little bit of thought, he finally settled on the first, simple question he wanted to ask. “Why are you here?”

There was a short conversation between Yavaar and Yovakior, before the A.I. addressed Colonel Conners again. “The High Priest has said that: ‘We received some disturbing information that made us believe that the Krin were going to make a move on your homeworld. Yavaar’s destroyed base is evidence enough of that.’”

“But they didn’t know about your base, Yavaar. You yourself told me that you couldn’t send any messages, and that your next check in wasn’t for another couple of months,” Conners pointed out. “Your base being destroyed is evidence, yes, but it doesn’t explain why your armada is here.”

Yavaar supposedly relayed what Conners had said, but the being on the other side of the desk did not say anything at first. Instead, he let out a low hissing sound before he reached underneath his desk and pulled out what looked like a computer tablet. The snake pressed a few things on it, before he said a single sentence and held out the tablet for the colonel to take.

“We found one of your people, Colonel,” Yavaar translated as Conners took the hand-held computer.

Conners recoiled a little upon seeing the image on the screen. Whatever the thing was, it only bore a passing resemblance to the human race. It had the same general shape and symmetry as a human, in the fact that it had two arms, two legs, and a head. There were a few other similarities, such as the ears and the more private parts, but that was where the similarities ended.

It was thin and gangly, to the point of being severely malnourished. Its ribs and hip bones stuck out in a way that made Conners hurt just thinking about it, and its too-long arms and legs looked like they’d break if they held up anything larger than a pencil. Despite this, however, it had long, sharp, blade-like claws that burst from each of its fingers, which seemed to gleam in the flashlight of whatever being was taking the picture. Its toes had similar claws, but they were much shorter, most likely only there to provide traction, or to increase the generally terrifying air the thing exuded. Its skin was a pale gray color, and with the way the shot was taken, Conners could barely make out what looked like blade-like spikes bursting from the creature’s back along its spine.

However, as terrible as all of that was, it was the creature’s face that would truly ensure that Conners would never have a peaceful sleep again for the rest of his life. It was gaunt and skull-like, and was clearly missing several muscular structures that otherwise rounded out a human face, as well as any sort of hair that would otherwise soften the features of the thing. It was missing its lips and cheeks entirely, exposing its long, interlocking teeth for the world to see. It also didn’t seem to have a nose, though judging on the cartilage he could barely see, it was evident that whatever this thing was used to have one. And finally, as if to crown the terrifying image as the king of all nightmares, the thing’s eyes were nothing but ebony pools of pure black, lacking any sort of iris, pupil, or even eyelid that would otherwise humanize the terrifying gaze that was being directed towards whoever had been holding the camera.

The shot looked like it had been taken inside a cave somewhere, though anything else about the environment was obscured by the monstrosity that took center stage.

“Are… Are you telling me that they want to turn us into this… thing?” Conners asked, completely horrified.

There was another brief conversation between Yavaar and the high priest, during which Conners had a very difficult time trying to tear his eyes away from the demon on the screen. He even jumped a little when Yavaar began speaking again in English. “From what we’ve been able to ascertain, no. This was merely a byproduct of their real intention.”

Conners looked up to see Yovakior wave his hand in an odd way. There was a flicker of movement in the corner of Conners’ eye, drawing his attention back to the tablet, allowing him to see that the image had changed. In its place was two pictures, side by side. One was quite familiar, it being a side-view of an MRI of a human skull, revealing the human brain in all its glory. The other looked like a similar kind of picture, except for the fact that the features on the front of the skull was far more reptilian in nature. Conners only had a few seconds to examine the two photos, before they seemed to squish themselves to make room for a third photo on the bottom.

This one revealed what looked like a human neck, as well as part of the head. Right at the top of the spine, where the neck and head met, was a single, round, metal hole. The frightening thing about this was the fact that it did not look like it did not belong. In fact, Conners had a hard time figuring out exactly where the flesh ended, and the metal began.

“If you remember, I once told your people that our brains are very nearly identical. I postulated that they were here to try and figure out how we think, through you,” Yavaar said, causing the horror and revulsion in the colonel to increase even further. “It is now apparent that speculation was far too small in scope. They want a way to control us. And it is apparent that they do not care who they destroy before they get what they want.”

Conners didn’t know what to say. In fact, he found it extremely hard to make any sound at all. He brought up a single hand, and gently traced it around the hole on the picture in front of him, thoroughly disgusted, yet unable to look away.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Conners looked up, determination in his eyes. “Where is he? I would like to speak with him.”

There was a brief conversation, during which Conners caught what sounded like English words, but poorly spoken. “I’m sorry, but the victim is not here. Our armada wasn’t the ones who found him, nor were we dispatched to collect him. He is still on the world that he was discovered, though from what information we’ve been able to gather, he is in good hands.”

Conners took a deep, cleansing breath, before handing the tablet back to the snake in front of him. “I understand. Do you have a name for this guy?”

“Yes, in fact. The High Priest had trouble pronouncing his name, but he still did so in a way that allowed me to pick up on his errors and correct them. The victim’s name is Alexander Cunningham, and while he was the only survivor, he was by no means the only one taken and turned into this.”

“He’s not the last, either,” Conners said darkly, remembering the bodies of the bug people that Valerie had filled with holes.

“Indeed. That being said, while we cannot conceivably follow the abductors at this time, we can still secure your world from further incursion. However, we will need the cooperation of your people in order to see this objective fulfilled.”

Conners brought his gaze up, until he looked the High Priest in the eye. It was rather difficult, since the four eyes made it rather hard for the human to pick out exactly where he should be staring, but he found that the slight discomfort at not knowing where to look was a tiny, insignificant speck compared to the white hot rage that was boiling through his veins.

Ever so slowly, Colonel Samuel Conners moved from parade rest to a more attentive, respectful stance, though he did not salute. “What do you need from me?” he asked, his voice cold and calm as a winter morning.

“I have done my best to tell my brethren as much as I possibly could about your culture, your leaders, and the political landscape. However, my knowledge is incomplete, as my viewpoint is of that of an outsider,” Yavaar stated, his tone completely matter-of-fact. “High Priest Yovakior is to meet with your United Nations on the following day. Before he does that, he would like an insider’s perspective on the leaders of your world.”

Conners let out a weary sigh. “You sure about that? I owe my allegiance to one of those nations. My ‘perspective’ is going to be somewhat biased.”

“Your bias is known beforehand, and will be taken into account. We are not here to lift one nation above the others, or even to start a war between you. In fact, the High Priest’s primary purpose during this meeting will be to prevent such a war between the different factions.”

“I would assume so. It’d be rather hard to protect a planet while the people of that world are busy trying to kill each other, after all,” Conners said as a self-mocking smile graced his face, before his eyes dropped back to the tablet in Yovakior’s hands. “If you want a good place to start, however, I’d suggest that you show some of those pictures during your speech. You’ll be surprised in how much support you’ll get if you insinuate that the same fate might fall upon all of them if they don’t band together.”

There was another short conversation, after which Yavaar asked a simple, single word question: “Why?”

“Because while we might be at each other’s throat constantly, there is a way to make us forget all of that, and band together: a clearly evil, superior force.” Conners stated, before his lips turned up into a wicked smile. “After all, I only saw Alex there for a few seconds, and I’m ready to rip off some bug legs right now. Really shouldn’t be too hard to convince the others to fall into line. At the very least, you’ll get America, Canada and the United Kingdom behind you with that picture alone. Shouldn’t be too hard to convince most of the others after that. Though, to be fair, there may still be some that may not trust you, or may even actively fight you, claiming that all aliens are demons.”

There was another short conversation, before Conners was addressed again. “Please, any information you can provide about the different factions would be greatly appreciated, if only to decrease the number that would see us as demons.”

“I’m a soldier, and don’t know much, but I’ll tell you what I can...”

Author's Notes:

Hey, guys! Sorry for the long wait, work's been killer, and I've had my arms full with my new bundle of joy! That being said, those two things don't occupy my every waking moment, and in the moments between exhaustion, I've finally managed to crank out another chapter for you all.

FYI, one of you guys, (I'm looking at you, Gogofan), decided to commission a picture of what Alex looked like before he was partially changed back into a human. Just so you know, the only input I had on this thing was me describing what Alex looked like. Not to the artist, but to Gogofan:

xXmarkingXx made this, and I must say, for having received the description second hand, he made a 100% accurate rendition of Alexander Cunningham. Like, seriously, this is exactly what I saw in my head, with the sole exception of the obvious censorship. Thanks a ton, Gogofan! I am really quite shocked and overwhelmed that you would spend your money on something like this, and I am beyond grateful!

Also, in case you were in the dark about this, the artwork for my book has been finished, and you can buy physical versions of it RIGHT NOW!

What I've Become!

Yes, I know that Alex in this picture isn't nearly as accurate as the first one I showed you, but you'll have to give me some slack on this one. Finding the right artist is hard, especially when your first, second, and twelfth choices turned you down, or didn't even respond to your messages. That being said, I'm still quite glad with how this came out.

If you buy my book, you may notice a few odd spacing errors as well as a few other things odd with the actual text. I lay the blame of this squarely on Amazon's book creator, and how some of its requirements before it lets you publish are pure lunacy. "It can't have two or more page brakes back to back." "No multiple empty pages." "No summoning Cthulhu on page sixty-four." You know, stupid stuff like that.

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter, and I hope you all take the time to buy and read my new book! If you're short on cash, though, and would like a sample first, you can go on over to reddit, and follow me there. I'm slowly releasing the book chapter by chapter, and I would love it if you head on over and take a gander. It would help me a whole lot, and certainly would make my story more visible, if you went and liked the chapters I've put out so far. Just a suggestion, you really don't have to if you don't want to, but I would be quite grateful if you did.

Anyway, see you guys next time!

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVII

Princess Luna yawned as she picked up the note on her desk. As expected, it was from her sister, detailing all the important events that had transpired while the Lunar Princess had been asleep. It took her awhile to get through the whole thing, but what she found there was illuminating to say the least. So, it is as we expected. Starswirl, you old bat, just what were you up to? she thought to herself as she finished the note.

With a huff, Princess Luna slowly made her way to her sitting room where breakfast was already laid out on her coffee table, waiting for the Princess of the Night to awaken. Her mind was still on other matters, however, so she barely even tasted the food as she dug in, attempting to make as short a work of it as possible before beginning her labors for the night.

Before she could finish, however, a knock on the door pulled her from her thoughts. Now… who could that be? she wondered curiously. She quickly swallowed the mouthful of pastry, and washed it down before she answered. “Enter!”

The door opened to reveal Sergeant Whisper Wind, one of her personal guards. The sergeant cut a clean salute, his gaze locked onto the far side of the room. “Your Highness! The… creature is outside. It-”

He, Sergeant,” Princess Luna corrected, her voice dripping with disapproval. “He is not an it. He also has a name, and I would suggest you call him by it.”

The sergeant didn’t look too happy about being corrected, but let it slide in the face of his princess’s withering glare. “~Alex~ requests an audience with you, Your Highness. Says it’s a matter of great importance.”

“Very well, show him inside,” Princess Luna said, before wiping her mouth clean of any jelly that might still be there.

The soldier bowed a bit stiffly, before turning and leaving the room. Princess Luna ignored the guard’s grumpy attitude in favor of focusing on the alien that entered after the soldier had left. ~Alex…~ honestly looked like he shouldn’t have been up at all, but she had been around the wayward human long enough to know that a few injuries weren’t enough to keep him down for long.

She concentrated on weaving the necessary spell to better facilitate their conversation, but stopped when the ~human~ gave a short cutting gesture, while speaking in surprisingly good Equish. “You don’t have to do that. The translation in my implants is much better now. A little sleep was all that was needed to fix it.”

Luna relaxed, letting the spell dissipate as she gestured towards the couch opposite to her. “Very well. How are you doing this evening, ~Alex?~”

The human took the seat gratefully, groaning in apparent relief as he sat down. “Well enough, I suppose. And the name’s ‘Alex,’ actually, though I completely understand why you would have had trouble getting my name right. It is an alien word, after all. I mean, I have trouble pronouncing Twilight’s name, so I think we’re even.”

And he was right. Luna almost didn’t quite catch who he was talking about, due to how horribly he had mangled Twilight Sparkle’s name. “You apparently have some trouble with the half-nicker. It is not an uncommon problem among first time speakers of the equestrian language, especially the griffons. Despite this, though, your grammar is quite good, and you are understandable, which is saying a lot considering you just began speaking the language yesterday.”

Alex gave her a half smile, before leaning back into the couch. “Well, thank you. I'm glad for that, at least. It's almost hard to believe that there was a time when I thought that I would never have an intelligent conversation with anyone ever again.”

“Time does march ever onward, and we often find ourselves in positions we thought we'd never be in. But as interesting as that is, I rather doubt you came here to speak with me about your language troubles,” Luna said, before gently lifting her teacup to her lips.

“It's that obvious, is it?”

Luna giggled a little. “Though a few of your more… disturbing facial features make discerning your expression and disposition difficult, you still have a tendency to wear your emotions for everypony to see, regardless of how the gifts left behind by your former masters might mask them. It only takes a little practice to easily discern how you are feeling, though I do admit that being inside your mind does help a little in that regard.”

“That's kind of what I wanted to talk about…” Alex said, before self-consciously rubbing the back of his head. “Do you know what the alien… visitors? messengers?”

“Delegates,” Luna corrected him, easily guessing who he was talking about.

“Ah… delegates,” Alex said, both misspeaking the word, and acting as if he were rolling it around in his mouth and savoring it. “Yes... do you know what they asked for last time they were here?”

“I do, though I do not approve. I do not trust them,” Luna said, wrinkling her nose in distaste.

“I don't either, but I'm still going to let them do it.”

Luna was somewhat taken aback by both the ~human’s~ bluntness and his decision. “But Alex, they could-”

“Steal secrets from my head? Plant things there that might turn me into a puppet later? Strip me of the last of my humanity, and return me to the slave I was?” Alex asked, his voice sounding desperate, yet resigned. “I know. But I don't think the snake would do that. What I learned from the krin computer makes me believe they're better than that, but I still don't trust them. Not completely, anyway.”

“You should fear giving them more information than they need more than losing your mind again,” Luna said, before she took another sip from her teacup. “I do not believe she is capable of changing your mind in any way. As I have told you before, your will is unnaturally strong. It would be extremely difficult to turn your mind against you again.”

“You don't know that. She could be much stronger than me.”

“She could, but I doubt it. Her aura is strong, but not powerful. Many of mine and my sister's mages far outstrip her in pure power, ourselves included. In fact, your aura alone is more powerful, though you do not yet know how to control it.”

Alex looked taken aback by this, clearly unsure how to take this information. “I… thank you, but I still don't trust her. She could be hiding her power.”

“She could, which leads us back to the question of why you are even considering this,” Luna pointed out. “It is far too dangerous, and there is a very good chance she could learn of the omniscope, our plans of defense, or of the mirror that connects our two worlds.”

“She could… but I believe all of that does not outweigh the potential gains…” the ~human~ said as he rubbed his hand over his face. “Tell me Luna… what can you do to bring those responsible to justice? What can your sister do? What could any of us do, to make sure that they could never make another batch of victims like me?”

Luna was silent for a while as she mulled over what Alex was implying. “I… see. And you think that they could bring you the vengeance you crave?”

“This isn’t about vengeance,” Alex said, shaking his head. “We already got our vengeance. I personally… stabbed? Quite a few of those that were directly responsible, and I’m fairly certain that if any of the crew other than me survived, we would have heard something by now. This is about making sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“Which is a bait too tempting for you to pass up out of hoof, I understand. But there’s more at stake here. You know things about what we are doing, things that we’d much rather the aliens not know at all.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Alex said before he looked up at her, his pure black eyes staring right through her. “If there is even a possibility that we could catch these-” he then said a word that Luna had never heard before, but based on the pure venom in Alex’s voice, she knew that whatever it was wasn’t good. “-Then I want to take it. I just want to make sure that we don’t reveal our plans while catching them. Don’t want to release one bird in an effort to catch two, so to speak.”

“A ~human~ colloquialism, I take it?” Luna asked, somewhat amused.

“Something like that…”

Princess Luna thought for a time about all of this, all while she gently levitated the tray full of pastries towards Alex, offering them to the wayward alien. He took one gratefully and began to eat, which gave Luna plenty of time to mull over the ~human’s~ decision to let another alien near his mind. “Then what is it you want me to do? The information in your head is too valuable to both sides, so what is it you want me to do to keep us from losing the bird in our hoof, so to speak?”

Alex took a deep breath, before looking up to Luna again. His black eyes were filled with tears, and Luna could almost feel the terror radiating off of the ~human.~ “I think you already know what I want. They’ll be here tomorrow, and I intend to tell them that they can go ahead and mess around in my head. You’ve been in my head before, you know about this kind of stuff, so is there some way to hide away the information in my head? Some way to make me forget some things?”

Luna smiled, but shook her head. “I already told you before, the mind is a multilayered, complex thing. With your consent, I could bypass your defenses and erase something from your mind, but it could do far more damage than I think you are prepared for.”

The ~human~ looked depressed at that. “Oh… yeah, I forgot about that…”

“I thought you might have. However, there is something else I could do for you, to help protect you from her.”

Alex looked up, hope shining in his eyes. “Whatever it is, I’ll take it!”

“Fine then, here is what we’ll do…”

* * *

Priestess Akitesh slithered out of the landing pod, careful not to make any move that could be seen as aggressive. While it was true that they had come a long way since their first landing on this planet, her and her entourage were still treated with distrust and thinly veiled hostility.

Not that she could blame these people. They had had very few blessings come from space, and if she were in their position, she would have shot first, and asked questions from the corpses.

She wasn’t in their position, however. Rather, she had the unenviable task of attempting to make these people see reason and allow her to probe the survivor for information. As far as she was concerned, she’d done a pretty good job up until this point: she still wasn’t any closer to gaining the information she needed, but at the very least her landing craft wasn’t being blasted from the sky, and the survivors of the ensuing crash hunted for sport.

It was still somewhat galling to be surrounded like a horrifying monster every time she came planetside, though. It made everything ten times harder and more time consuming, especially since the two beings who ruled this land seemed to be quite busy most of the time, meaning that they were usually not on the landing pad to greet the priestess when she came to talk.

It will all be worth it, especially if we can finally get our hands on that emperor and his forces, Akitesh reassured herself as one of the equines motioned for her to follow. She did so, leaving most of her entourage behind with the sole exception of Captain Hazalk. While the captain wasn’t of any particular use in these meetings due to his inability to speak the language, she still prefered to keep him around as a symbolic gesture.

“How long are we going to continue with these?” Hazalk asked idly as he kept his pace even with Akitesh, his four arms held behind his back in what Akitesh easily recognized as the krin military’s sign of ‘at ease’.

“As long as it takes until we obtain the information we need,” Akitesh answered curtly. “Once we have what we came for, we can send a message to The Prophet and your hiarch, who have undoubtedly already sent reinforcements to protect the sector. After that, our respective governments should have new assignments for us. For now, however, we stay, we guard, and we attempt to sway the natives.”

Hazalk gave a short nod, but did not otherwise respond to her. His antenna were twitching in agitation, though. It was an outward sign of emotion that, if Akitesh had less experience with the krin species, she would have completely missed. “Is there something bothering you, Captain?”

“Just soldier’s itch, Priestess,” Captain Hazalk said, before bringing up a single hand and rubbing his forehead. “My crew have brought The Bastion back to combat readiness, and while we’re extremely understaffed at the moment, we’re still ‘straining against the leash,’ as it were. They desire vengeance, and I can hardly blame them.”

Akitesh nodded in understanding. While she personally had no love for combat, she had been around enough of the warrior caste to know what he was talking about. “You will get your chance, Captain. Just be patient.”

“Do not worry about me, Priestess. My crew and I will endure. Keep your focus on your job, and we will do ours,” Hazalk paused for a few seconds, as if remembering something. “On that note, it may be possible that the survivor has no useful information. If that is the case, I would ask you to try to obtain access to The Ascent’s crash site. The computer core may be salvageable, which means we may be able to pull what we need from there.”

Akitesh thought about this for a few seconds. “Agreed. However, if these traitors were even the slightest bit careful, they would not have left such evidence for us to find.”

“True, but there is still a chance we might find something to point us in the right direction,” Hazalk countered. “At the very least, we would be able to recover the experiment logs, which would give us greater understanding on the survivor’s condition, how to better treat him, but more importantly, what we may be dealing with when we finally engage the traitors. The amount of information we’ve been able to gather to this point suggest that his neural implants are, by far, more advanced than anything we’ve ever been able to construct, and that’s saying nothing about the other changes they’ve made to him.”

This did not sit well with Akitesh at all. She had avoided telling the captain about what she had guessed regarding those implants, and the course of this conversation had drifted uncomfortably close to information she was unwilling to share with any krin, regardless of what side he was on. However, she couldn’t just ignore him, for fear of raising his suspicions. “...You have a good point. I will see what I can do.”

“Thank you, Priestess.”

The rest of the journey passed in relative silence. Every so often they would spot a soldier or a servant, but no one stopped the small group before they reached the same meeting room they had met the White Queen in yesterday. The soldier that had been leading them up until this point turned, before giving a curt nod of his head and gesturing with a single hoof towards the door. “They wait beyond. Be polite, am watching you.”

“Thank you,” Akitesh said, right before the soldier pushed open the door, revealing the conference room beyond. When she saw who was waiting for her on the other side, though, she had to rub her eyes, just to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.

Sitting at the table was not only the White Queen, but her sister, as well as the survivor of the crash. The three seemed to have been talking with each other in hushed tones, though they all stopped the moment the door opened, their eyes all locking onto Akitesh and Hazalk the moment they came into view. The two queens eyed the two with what Akitesh assumed was distrust, while the survivor looked more angry than anything else.

At least, Akitesh thought it was anger. As similar as her and his species were, she couldn’t be certain of anything. This was especially true, since the survivor’s eyes were absolutely pitch black, hampering any attempt to read his emotion from facial expression alone. She was expecting anger, though. It was a completely normal reaction to what the survivor had been through, and Akitesh would have been worried if Alexander had reacted in any other way.

What she hadn’t been expecting was the radical changes to his appearance since the last time they had spoken.

Every bit of exposed skin on the human was discolored, either being a dark blue, or an ugly looking purple. One of his arms was missing as well, though there seemed to be an odd lump underneath the oversized white coat that he wore, suggesting that the arm wasn’t missing, so much as it was in some sort of sling, or brace.

Akitesh wasn’t a part of the Arcanum caste’s medical division, nor did she have any experience with injuries outside her own species, but even she could tell that the human was hurt, and hurt badly. “What happened to you, Alexander?” she blurted out in Krin.

“A little accident, followed by a misunderstanding. But that’s not really important,” he answered her, before he let out a sigh of frustration. “I… I believe you wanted to ask me something?”

Akitesh easily saw that she wasn’t going to be able to get much more out of him about his injuries, so she put her concerns away for now, in favor of addressing the matter at hand. “Well, yes,” Akitesh said as she and Hazalk took their seats at the table. “I would like to have a look inside your mind.”

The human clearly already knew this, based purely on how his expression hadn't changed in the slightest, which made Akitesh curious as to why he asked the question in the first place. Whatever his reasoning was was fated to remain a mystery, since instead of answering the unasked question, or indeed to even let Akitesh or Hazalk a chance to say anything else, the human simply leaned back, folded his arms, and fixed Akitesh with a look that could burn a hole through steel. “I have a couple of conditions before we go through this.”

Akitesh felt her heart leap at this. Whatever the human wanted would be a tiny pittance compared to the information she could obtain. “Whatever it is, if it is within my power, I will give it to you,” she said, maybe a little too quickly.

“First and foremost, she comes with,” Alexander said, pointing a single thumb towards the Dark Queen on his left. “Second, you change nothing you find there. Third, if you see something in there that doesn't directly relate to the krin traitors or their goals, you keep to yourself, and tell no one, understand?”

“I would never-” Akitesh started to say, both shocked and disgusted at what the human was implying she might do, but she was stopped when she felt a single hand light on her shoulder.

She quickly turned, her hurt and anger dying as she saw the clear, steady gaze that the krin captain was leveling at her. “Don't try and explain yourself. Just agree to his terms.”

“But it's against my highest oaths to-”

“And he doesn't know that, nor does he care. He doesn't trust you, OR your power, and frankly, neither do I,” Hazalk said, cutting through the explanation she was about to muster. “He's terrified about letting ANYONE into his head, and who can blame him? His only experience with people messing with his brain ended with him becoming a living weapon and killing who knows how many people. I honestly never expected him to give permission, given how much has already happened, so just take the win, and accept his conditions.”

Akitesh swallowed uncomfortably before she turned her attention back to the human. Alexander hadn't moved a muscle during the whole exchange, his eyes still boring into her with the fiery intensity of a thousand suns, silently judging her, despite any intention she might have or oath she might have taken. Finally, after a few seconds, she swallowed her pride, and lowered her head. “I fully accept your terms. Anything I see will stay with me until the day I die, and I will only look for that information that is relevant. Nothing will be changed, and you will be the same person as you were when we begin.”

“Then you have my permission to look inside,” he said, his expression unchanging. He then turned towards the blue-colored queen. He didn’t say anything, just nodded once, before looking back to Akitesh. “W… Whenever you’re ready…”

Akitesh stood up, before slowly maneuvering to where Alexander was sitting. She then lightly put a single thumb on his forehead, before looking him in the eye. “Just… relax. This won’t hurt, and it will be over before you-”

“I don’t care. Just… just get this over with,” Alexander said, before closing his eyes and clenching his teeth.

Akitesh nodded once, before closing her eyes, focusing her spirit, and delving into the human’s mind.

Author's Notes:

Hey, all! Been a little time, but I finished the next chapter! It's been a long time coming, but you all knew that the empire getting what they deserved would be way too tempting of a bait for Alex to resist. And as many of you easily guessed, yes, he went to Luna for help.

What you might not guess, though, is what will happen after their little mind-meld session.

If you want to support me, to hurry these chapters along, you could always check out my book:
What I've Become!

And for all of you who already purchased a copy, you are freaking amazing! I hope to have the next book out sometime this year.

That's the plan, anyway. Juggling this, work and a baby takes a lot out of me. I'm still chugging along, though!

Later, guys!

Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXVIII

Akitesh opened her eyes, and instantly knew something was wrong. Instead of being inside Alexander’s head, she found herself floating in the aether. It was a shifting blue nothingness with white fluctuations that seemed to stretch on for an eternity, broken by only a single door in front of her, floating through the otherwise empty representation of the spiritual field that covered the entire planet.

The door was oddly detailed for the usual thoughts and dreams that floated through this seemingly endless abyss. It was made of some kind of wood, and coated in something that gave it a glossy finish, with nothing more to note about it other than a single knot in the upper left hand corner. Roughly at waist height, on the right-hand side, Akitesh could see a small, perfectly spherical piece of metal. It was most likely brass, and was probably serving as the door’s handle. The handle was almost perfectly smooth, save for a number of deep claw marks that had been scratched into its surface.

Akitesh slithered forward and lightly placed a hand on the surface of the door. It felt wooden and real, almost unnaturally so. It also felt warm, and right as her scales made contact with the surface, she thought she could hear someone scream in the distance. “What… what is this? Where am I? Why am I not in Alexander’s memories?”

“You are in my domain,” a commanding voice echoed through the surrounding, shifting nothingness. Akitesh turned, gathering power to her as she moved to defend herself from whatever threat had appeared, but froze at the sight that greeted her.

Behind her, slowly walking through the void, was the Dark Queen of the equines, her ethereal mane shifting in perfect harmony with the ebb and flow of the roiling void. Her eyes were as hard as flint, and she looked at Akitesh as one would look at a bug on the side of the road. “You are not in his mind yet because you have not earned the trust to have unrestrained access to the mind of anyone on this planet. Thus, you will see his memories through the lens I provide, or you will leave now. This is non-negotiable.”

Akitesh had known about the translating qualities of the aether, but this was the first time she had experienced it for herself. It was quite the startling experience to say the least, the translation of ideas almost perfect through this ethereal space. It was an almost ideal place to hold conversations for those that did not share a language, though the dangers of roving nightmares were too great for it to ever serve as such a mediator for long. Most translation spells that didn’t rely upon a pre-constructed lexicon used this place for that purpose, though the passage back into the real world disrupted the message greatly, making them imperfect at best.

With especial care as to not startle the Dark Queen, Akitesh lowered her guard and released the energy she had gathered, well aware that the Dark Queen could erase her mind as easily as she could crush an insect. Akitesh then slowly bowed her head, and held one set of her arms out to her sides, while the other set was crossed in front of her, in a show of deference to the equine alien. “I am in your coils,” she said automatically, not even thinking about it before the old colloquialism slipped out of her mouth.

The Dark Queen continued to stare her down for a full thirty seconds, before she finally turned her head to the side and let out an annoyed huff. “Very well, then.” She swept past the genuflecting snake before she stopped at the door, her attitude not changing in the slightest as she turned back and looked down at her. “Beyond this door lies Alex’s psyche. If you are ready, we shall begin. But I must warn you that you may not like what you find inside. His memories are… not the happiest of places to visit.”

“I would be surprised if they were, considering what he has been through. I am prepared, however,” Akitesh said as she rose from her bow.

The queen looked doubtful at that. “I hope for your sake that you are,” she said. She then turned back towards the door, her horn glowing with arcane energies, causing the door to do the same. With an almost eerie creak, the door slowly swung open, revealing nothing but a dark abyss. Without another word, Akitesh’s equine guide disappeared into the portal.

The priestess felt a sliver of doubt worm its way into her heart, but she would not be dissuaded. She had come too far to back down now, and with a swallow to calm her nerves, she slithered after the equine ruler, determined to see this through to its end.

* * *

Princess Luna waited patiently at the door at the end of the hallway. It was only an illusion she had constructed in the aether, but it still served its purpose. It was a warning, one last chance for the clearly unprepared snake alien to back away, before she went in too deep. Much to Luna’s chagrin, however, it seemed like the creature would not be so easily scared off, and after only a few moments of waiting, she was joined by the snake alien, her face a mask of stern impartiality.

This was the Princess of the Night’s domain, however, and as much as the snake alien would have liked to hide it, she was far too inexperienced to effectively hide her nervousness. “Are you ready?” the princess asked, her gaze boring into the snake alien.

“I am, Dark Queen.”

“Good. My name is Luna, and you will address me as such while we are inside. You will not move unless I say so, you will not touch anything without my express permission, and you will not call upon any power you possess while inside, am I clear? Alex does not trust you, and any attempt to delve further may result in your expulsion from his mind, or quite possibly your death.” Princess Luna continued to eye the priestess for several seconds longer, before giving her a satisfied nod. “Now, let us begin in earnest.”

Without any ceremony, Princess Luna opened the door, revealing the best representation of the mind of Alexander Cunningham that the aether could put together.

They were standing at the open entryway to an old, damaged library. Directly in front of them was a short staircase leading down to the main desk, while directly behind it was a huge number of bookcases, all neatly lined up with strange alien texts denoting aisle numbers and rows, their meaning easily conveyed through the power of the aether. Many of the bookcases looked battered, however, while some clearly had suffered fire damage of some kind, though some were missing entirely. In their places stood things that were almost identical in size and dimension, though their appearance was far from the weathered, damaged, wooden bookcases nearby. Instead, they were ominous-looking obelisks of metal and blinking lights, with long ropes of wires and cables sprawling from their mass in every direction. There was a faint hum that could be heard from these towers, and if either Akitesh or Luna got near them, they would have been able to detect a faint metallic taste in the air.

As if to juxtapose the otherwise orderly lines of towers and bookcases, the two intruders could see papers and open books scattered everywhere. Some were even still in the air, thrown to the wind to hang there, eternally flapping in a wind that did not exist. There were a large number of strange, and sometimes conflicting art pieces scattered throughout the place as well, and running back and forth through the library, seemingly searching for something important, was a gangling-looking human.

The human had red unruly hair, and piercing grey eyes. He was dressed up in what appeared to have been a formal suit at one point, but it had definitely seen better days. The tie he wore was untied and fluttered behind him as he moved, The jacket was missing entirely, as were his shoes, and both his pants and shirt were patched and faded. The human would quickly move from one shelf to the next, sometimes pulling out books, or papers, before thumbing through them quickly, then tossing them haphazardly to the wind. He didn't even seem to notice the intruders at first, but when he did, he only spared them a passing glance before continuing on his frenzied hunt. Luna couldn’t help but think that he looked overworked, though he was far from alone in his labors.

On the floor, crawling on books, in the rafters and on the shelves, the two could see a multitude of small, metal, spider-like things. They were sharp, angular, and deadly-looking, and they moved with a terrifying skittering sound that seemed to echo throughout the library. As dangerous as these things appeared, however, they did not approach the two, or the human, with any obvious ill-intent. In fact, they completely ignored the two intruders, while being obsessively focused on the human. Sometimes, when the human would throw a book, or a page, one of the spiders would quickly dart forward to scoop it up, then scuttle away, and place the thrown away item exactly where the human had pulled it from in the first place. Other times, the human would grunt a short word at one of the spiders, who would dart off, before returning with a page, or a note, or something else that the human had asked for.

They were creepy, but seemingly they wanted to help. This was not so for the being that seemed to hover just directly behind the human at all times.

It appeared to be a gross, misshapen, exaggeration of Alex’s old, monstrous form. The talons seemed to be much longer, as were the teeth, and the eyes seemed to burn with a deadly malice. However, any other detail was lost, since the beast appeared to be formed completely of millions of short white lines and tiny white circles. It only moved when the human moved, hovering just over the creatures shoulder, but never in the way. It had a faint, guardian-like aspect to it, though Luna couldn't help but feel like it was waiting for something, or for someone.

Unlike everything else in the room, the monster’s eyes immediately locked onto the two intruders the moment they entered the library. It didn't make a move towards them, or otherwise show that it had seen them. In fact, it continued to dutifully follow the human, regardless of the fact that it should have been impossible for it to see where it was going. Yet it continued to stare at them, and Luna couldn't help but feel like it was daring them to make a wrong move.

None of this was new to the Princess of the Night. While this was the first time she had seen the human’s conscious mind, she was still familiar with every aspect represented here, and recognized each element for what it was. The only difference here was the physical representation the Aether was giving them.

Luna took a deep breath, before striding confidently towards the front desk. The papers and books seemed to move out of the way for her as she approached, and right before she reached the desk, the human suddenly took note of her, and quickly strode over to the desk, before sliding into the chair. “Hello, Luna, Akitesh. Are we ready to begin?” Alex asked, his voice echoing throughout every corner of this odd place.

“Yes, Alex. Everything you have. We’re ready,” Luna said, giving the human a slight bow.

There was a pause, before Alex let out a nervous chuckler. “I… I really don’t know how to control this place, though. I don’t know what spell or magic you used to create it, so-”

“We used no spell, Alex,” Luna gently interrupted him. “We are merely pulling you into the Aether with us, and allowing it to conform to your mind’s shape. My protection here is absolute, so you need not worry about others eavesdropping. Just think back to when you were first kidnapped, and this place will do the rest.”

“Well, okay then…” Alex said, before awkwardly scratching behind his head. “I guess the beginning is good enough. It all started when I came home from work…”

The instant that Alex started talking, one of the metallic spiders near him immediately scurried off to find something. While it was busy with its task, a large set of double doors seemed to materialize out of nowhere to the right of the help desk. The human leapt from his chair, his curiosity piqued as he opened the doors to take a look inside. He seemed satisfied with what he saw, and shoved both open right at the same time that the spider returned, holding up what looked like one of those new reels for one of those films that were so popular in modern Equestria. “Well, I guess this will do,” the human said, before taking the reel and motioning towards the open door.

The room inside seemed to be a large theater of some kind. Rows and rows of chairs were all lined up and bolted to the floor, while a rich red carpet covered the whole floor. The place was a lot cleaner than most theaters that Luna had visited, though it still had that old, damaged feel that the library had.

Akitesh first looked to Luna, remembering her promise to not move until she instructed. Once she had that permission, she quickly swept past Alex, though she first gave the human a single nod. “Thank you, Alex. I promise you, you will not regret this.”

“No… but you probably will,” Alex’s voice echoed through the mindscape as he watched her slither inside.

Luna slowly followed her in, but stopped for a second to also incline her head towards the human as she passed before continuing on. She had already seen much of what Alex was about to show them, and was in no hurry to see anymore. However, she was here not to observe Alex’s past, but to prevent the snake from seeing too much. As a byproduct of this, she was more or less obligated to see this thing in its entirety.

The dark theater had rows upon rows of empty seats, and on the back wall was a grainy, shaky view of someone with hands unlocking the door to a house. The snake was sitting in the front row, her attention riveted to the screen, and Luna could tell immediately that the snake was using more than just her eyes and ears to witness this memory.

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Princess Luna said, before taking the seat next to the snake.

“Of course. I am looking for clues, and even if he doesn't have an eidetic memory, there might be something that he felt, or smelled, that could lead me in the right direction.

“While I applaud your dedication, I must warn you…” Princess Luna said, just as the image on the screen suddenly seemed to explode in a flash of light and sound, and the snake alien pitched forward in sympathetic pain. “It will only get worse from here on out.”

“I don't care,” Akitesh said through gritted teeth as she returned to her seat. “This is more important than my own comfort. I am prepared for this trial.”

“Child, by the end of this, you may wish to take back your words,” Princess Luna said, as the nightmare began in earnest.

* * *

The nightmare dragged on, and on, and on. The memories stretched on for days, which turned into weeks, which turned into months. Six whole months passed in less than an hour, and as much as she would have liked to say that she kept the tactile link active the whole time, it would have been a lie. It would have been a lie to say that she kept it on for even half that time.

It would have been far more accurate to say that she kept it running up until she felt a running drill being pressed into the back of her head.

Even without the pain, the experience was still harrowing, and by the end of the hour, Akitesh found herself curled up on the floor of the theater, her eyes shut tight as monstrosity after monstrosity played through her mind. She tried to remember her training, tried to focus her spirit, to overcome this obstacle, but this torture was far greater than anything she could have possibly anticipated. Eventually, she put herself into a trance, letting her subconscious tell her when it was over, and her Guardian record the memory for future study.

Finally, after what felt like centuries, her subconscious let her know that the horror show seemed to be winding down. Alexander had regained control of his and his family's bodies, and they had set about taking the ship of the degenerate, heathen monsters that had inflicted such torment upon another being. Slowly, Akitesh took in a deep, shuddering breath as she left the trance she had put herself in, and slowly unwound her astral projection from around herself, before retaking her seat. The horrors, while diminished, weren't quite over yet. Even as Alexander ran his claws through one of the monsters aboard the ship, Akitesh could still hear the cries of the dying humans fill the theater, each one filled with anguish before they were snuffed out, one by one. The fighting seemed to continue for a short time afterwards, before the ship started shaking, throwing Alexander violently around in the air vent he was hiding in, before knocking him senseless.

The theater screen went dark, and Akitesh found herself looking up towards the ceiling as tears ran freely from her eyes. “Is that it? You escaped, and you alone remain?” she asked, her voice trembling. “Please… Please tell me that is all… That that is the end of the horror…”

Akitesh felt an ever so slight amount of hesitation from Alexander, and for a brief instant, Akitesh could have sworn she had seen a mechanical creature, faintly feline in appearance, show up on the screen. In that same instant, however, a dark shadow swarmed in front of the screen and blocked her view, preventing her from seeing any more.

Queen Luna appeared from that shadow, her stony gaze locked onto Akitesh as she stared her down. “I believe you have everything you need. Leave.”

Akitesh did not hear her, though. It had been for less than a second, less than a moment, but she had seen the feline. She had seen more than with just her eyes, and without any control of what was happening, she felt her back arch, and her astral form was pulled out of Alexander’s mind.

She found herself standing on the top of a tall tower. Above her the stars seemed to fall from the sky, and impact the ground below. There was screaming all around her, and all she could do was stare in horror as she watched her own ship, The Purpose, enter the atmosphere. It moved slowly, but its course was unmistakable. It would crash into the planet, killing all nearby, and possibly the whole world in the process.

“What is this?” a familiar voice demanded behind her. Akitesh whipped around to see Queen Luna step through a dark rift, her face a mask of anger and horror.

“Are you really here? Or are you part of the vision?” Akitesh asked, not quite believing that she had been followed into this place.

“Vision? What are you talking about?” Queen Luna demanded, before stepping forward, her eyes sweeping over the destruction before her. “What are you planning? Why would you destroy yourself, and us in the process?”

“I would never do this. I have no control over this, and nothing here has happened yet. You shouldn’t have come here, though. You should not have followed me,” Akitesh said, shaking her head sadly.

Luna looked at her with anger in her eyes, her power gathering as she prepared to defend herself. "Is that a threat?"

Akitesh did not say anything at first. Instead, she turned to watch her ship continue its crash course, before closing her eyes in pain. “It is not. I simply do not wish to inflict this torment upon you as well.” She then turned to Luna, her arms outstretched, her eyes opened, and her gaze locked onto Luna as the ship impacted the valley below them. Wind and fire ripped around the two as the ship struck with more force than any nuclear warhead, but neither were harmed, as none of this was truly happening.

Luna still flinched, however, taking a few steps back before realizing the illusory nature of this place. “What torment? What are you talking about?” she demanded, her voice rising above the destruction around them.

“See for yourself, Queen Luna,” Akitesh said, before motioning towards the valley below. “Watch the end with me, and pray that the Creator has given us a way out.”

* * *

Captain Hazalk eyed the scene in front of him carefully, trying desperately to figure out what trick there was behind the power he was witnessing. He knew his eyes alone wouldn't be enough, nor would the suite of scanners he had in the tablet in his pocket, but he would not be dissuaded. It was something that seemed to defy everything he thought he knew about the universe, something that he and his people had encountered more than once, and had developed a healthy fear of.

Priestess Akitesh’s eyes shown with a bright, brilliant orange color, while the dark blue equine’s horn had a ghostly, muted blue glow surrounding it. Every sensor he had, including his own eyes, couldn't detect a reason for that glow. There was no increase in heat, no spike in electromagnetic activity other than the visible one, no discernible radiation, and no ripples in the fabric of space-time. There was a slight, audible hum, as well as a faint, almost inaudible tinkling sound, but all his directional microphones could do was tell him that the sounds were coming from the priestess and the equine.

Hazalk continued to stare intently, however, hoping that, somehow, this mystery would unfold itself if he just concentrated hard enough. Finally, after a few more minutes of absolutely nothing, the captain of The Bastion leaned back into his chair, shut his eyes, and groaned in frustration. If it doesn't follow the natural laws, then how is this possible? Does she draw power from some alternate dimension? Some sort of manifestation of mental power? How?

Hazalk might have been a soldier since his birth, but conquest held no beauty to the jaded captain. He had already seen the terrors of war, experienced this power from the receiving end, and if he were truly being honest, he could have gone his entire life after the end of the war without seeing this power, or another battle, as long as he lived.

It wasn't that simple, however. The quzin were not an isolated case. There were more species than just them who could use this power, and Hazalk was willing to bet that not everyone would be as peaceful as the quzin. He needed this power, his people needed this power, if they were to stand on equal footing with these alien witches.

Just the memories of battles long past, of ship corridors filled with lightning, snakes moving faster than thought barreling down on him, and whole ships disintegrating as a star rammed into their hulls at relativistic speeds sent shivers down his spine.

Even a small understanding of that power would be enough… he thought as he opened his eyes, and stared down at his top left hand. Even a fraction of it… say, if I could reach out, and take a small amount of electrons from the air, and bend them to my will, that would be enough to- “Ow-” he gasped ever so slightly as a small, tiny, insignificant spark jumped between his fingers.

The second it had appeared, though, it was gone, leaving Hazalk feeling like he had run the most brutal, grueling obstacle course ever devised by krin… twice. He felt like keeling over right then and there, and only his years in the service kept him awake and alert.

A little alarmed, Hazalk looked around, trying to locate the source of whatever that phenomenon was. Unfortunately, with the sole exception of the white equine, everyone present seemed wholly enveloped in what they were doing to Alexander, including the survivor himself. Even the White Queen, though she was not directly involved, still seemed quite fixated in what was going on, but that did not ease Hazalk’s nerves in the slightest. She might have done something, though… Hazalk thought as he attempted to assess what the equine’s game might be.

However, as intently as he watched her, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, and he started having the sneaking suspicion that no one present was responsible for whatever had just drained him of his stamina.

Hazalk was just about to take a look underneath the table, to see if something there might be the culprit, but stopped when Akitesh’s eyes and the blue equine’s horn suddenly stopped glowing. Hazalk straightened up and opened his mouth to ask something, but the question died in his throat as Akitesh quickly slithered away from Alexander. Her movements were jittery and imprecise, and while Hazalk wasn’t an expert on quzin expressions, she honestly did not look like she felt well.

“Are you alright?” Hazalk asked, as he wearily got to his feet.

Akitesh did not answer. Instead, she laid one hand to where Hazalk presumed her stomach must be, while one was pressed firmly to her mouth.

“I take it you didn’t like what you saw?” Alexander asked in krin, his eyes boring into the priestess.

She backed away even further, before turning abruptly, and collapsing onto the stone floor. She took several deep breaths in a clear attempt to control what urge had possessed her, but it was all for naught. Without much more warning, Akitesh’s whole frame seemed to lock up, and what was left of the priestess’s breakfast became an intimate acquaintance of the castle floor.

Hazalk quickly got up and rushed to her side, before gently laying a hand on her back. “Priestess, what happened?”

“He was awake the whole time…” she finally managed to gasp.

Hazalk was a little confused at this, and he briefly looked back to the survivor for clarification. “I wouldn’t say the whole time…” he muttered under his breath.

Akitesh’s head whipped up at that, her eyes fixed onto Alexander’s face with a look of horror and pity. “No… you’re repressing it. I could feel it, like a bruise over the whole memory… but it’s still there. They kept you awake the whole time. They made sure you could feel it as they drilled into the back of your skull, when they removed your eyes, and installed new ones…”

At this, Hazalk looked towards the survivor, horror and rage mounting in his heart. “You’re telling me that those bastards…”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s worse though… so much… ulp-”

Akitesh then began heaving again, during which Alexander began to quietly, yet quickly, talk with the two equines next to him. The white one looked shocked and horrified, and began saying something quickly to the blue one.

The blue one looked like she had seen a ghost. She was shaking like a leaf, and the only response she seemed willing to give was a single, simple nod of her head.

Once Alexander had his confirmation, he stood up, strode over to where Akitesh was, and kneeled down next to her. “I hope you found what you were looking for… And I hope it was worth it.”

Without another word, Alexander stood up, and turned to leave. He was stopped, though, when one of Akitesh’s arms lashed out and caught him by the leg. “Please… Don’t go… I have something to tell you…”

Alexander looked down at her, his face completely unreadable. “I don’t think there’s anything you could say that would bring back those I’ve lost. I don’t want to hear any pleas of sympathy, from you, or any of your ilk. The only thing I want to hear from you is that you’ve managed to capture or kill the ones responsible. We’re done here.”

“No… it’s not that…” she said, not releasing the death grip she had on his ankle. “It’s the remnants… those remnants of your friends…”

Alexander looked down at her sharply, anger in his eyes. “You promised… I made you-”

“I don’t know what they’re for, or what you were planning on doing with them. I only saw the feline body, but I knew what was in it, what you’ve done to them. Please, you must listen. You’re running out of time…”

Alexander watched her for a few seconds more, before finally conceding the point. “Fine, I’m listening. What is it that’s so important?”

“They cannot survive on their own. You have to forge them together. Turn them into one soul, or you’ll lose them to the veil. I don’t know how long you have left, but please, you must hurry.” At this, Akitesh looked up into the human’s eyes, her face covered in tears. “You must forge them into one, or none of us will see the end of the week.”

Author's Notes:

Well, this was a bit of a doozy, but I'm pretty sure I finally got this one right. Special thanks to Alias_The_J and Cogsworth Wingthrop for their excellent criticism and suggestions. Really needed it for this one!

Anyway, shouldn't be too much longer before the next chapter. We're looking at a warcouncil one, and it's already halfway written (long story). No ETA, but as before, it will be ready approximentally whenever I have time to complete it.

If you'd like to hurry me along, maybe try my book?
=> What I've Become! <=

See you guys on the flip side!

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXIX

Shining Armor smiled as the now-familiar crystal engine pulled its cars into the station. It was truly a magnificent sight, its crystalline form giving the engine the appearance that it was frosted in the most exquisite and beautiful way, with even the smokestack above adding to the general appearance of grand, imperial majesty. On top of all of this, and despite the two day journey through the vast and otherwise dirty landscape, the whole thing was almost unnaturally clean. This was to be expected from the Crystal Empire’s engine, however. It was supposed to convey a sense of order and strength to whatever station it found itself in, the pomp alone warning those around that royalty had arrived, and it couldn’t very well do that covered in soot and dirt.

Shining Armor also knew his wife absolutely hated the garish thing. It was pretty, yes, but she felt it was also extremely stuck up. Sadly for her, and despite all the royal couple had changed around the empire, there was very little the two could do to dissuade the old guard from this sort of flashy show. They even had the support of the people in this, stating that their royal family, their saviors, deserved every bit of pomp and ceremony that they could muster.

Slowly, but surely, the train finally came to a complete stop, the royal car’s door coming to rest directly in front of the new prince. Shining Armor could hear his honor guard straighten to attention as the doors opened, and he found himself joining them, despite his newly elevated station. Old habits die hard… he thought to himself as the door opened, and the royal red carpet was rolled out. Even with the training his drill sergeant had rammed into his head, though, he couldn’t help himself as his stern expression broke into a goofy smile as his radiant wife exited from the train.

Cadence’s smile was like the rising of the sun, an absolute balm on the otherwise frazzled nerves of the Captain of the Guard. This was only further amplified when she rushed forward, and without a word, planted a kiss on his muzzle. “Shiny! Is it just you to see me in?” she asked as she pulled away.

“Yeah. Celestia and Luna are busy with the alien delegates, and it’s become almost impossible to pry Twily from her lab lately,” Shining Armor said, before he embraced his wife. “I missed you so much, though.”

“I missed you too,” she said, as she pulled away. “So, please tell me everything that's happened so far. Aunt Celestia’s letter was somewhat sparse on the details.”

Shining Armor’s smile fell somewhat, before he shook his head. “It's… complicated. I was there for most of it, and I'm still not sure about everything that happened.”

“Well, tell me as much as you can as we make our way to the castle. I'm sure Celestia or Luna can correct anything you may miss along the way,” Cadence said, before turning to one of the guards who had exited the train with her. “Bring the mirror up to the palace. My husband and I have some catching up to do.”

The guard saluted, then proceeded to bark out orders to his stallions that were still inside the car. They quickly filed out to head towards the back of the train to where the mirror was presumably kept, but Shining Armor ignored any of their other actions in favor of bowing ever so slightly to Cadence, then gesturing in the direction of the castle. “After you, Your Highness?”

“Oh, stop,” she said, lightly slapping him in the shoulder with a hoof. Despite her exasperation, the smile on her lips was quite prevalent. “I got enough of that back in the Empire. Now, fill me in on everything.”

Shining Armor smiled as he rose from his bow. “Okay, sweetie. I just hope you're ready for the unbelievable.”

And so Shining told her everything he knew, starting with the recovery of ~Alex,~ the visitors from the stars, and the attack of the traitor Ilisk. Most of this Cadence already knew, but some of the finer points had been omitted in the letters she had received for simplicity’s sake.

However, when Shining started to get into changeling involvement, Cadence had to stop him there. “Wait… are you telling me there are multiple hives scattered across Equestria?” she asked, completely dumbfounded.

“I'm afraid it’s- Hey!” Shining Armor was interrupted when Cadence took her husbands face between her hooves, being careful to check his eyes for anything that might be wrong there. “What are you-”

“What did I get you for your birthday last year?” she asked, her tone deadly serious.

An outside observer could actually pinpoint the exact moment when Shining realized what she was getting at. “Oh… I see. It was the first issue of Axe Head the Barbarian, and a… rather intimate encounter in our bedroom, involving-”

“That's enough,” Cadence said, putting her hoof over her husband’s mouth to quiet him, while shooting an embarrassed look at the surrounding honor guard. They looked completely unfazed at the exchange between the royal couple, but Cadence had been around soldiers long enough to pick up on the subtle hint of amusement from them.

She shook her head clear of any embarrassment, however, in favor of completing her makeshift examination of her husband’s questionable state. There was a brief glow from her horn, and a small, red heart seemingly formed from light appeared at the end of her horn. It slowly drifted over towards Shining Armor, where it popped into nothingness when it touched his forehead. “Now that I've seen to it that you are indeed Shiny, and that no one has their horn in your brain, could you please say that again?

“There is a group of changelings, completely separate to the ones that invaded our wedding,” he said, a self-mocking smile on his face. “And believe me when I say that they have just as much a reason to hate that evil hag as we do. They mean us no harm, and were actually the ones who sent that warning message a week before our wedding.”

Cadence still looked extremely skeptical at that. “And they don't want to feed off our love?” she asked pointedly.

“Oh, they still want to do that,” Shining Armor said dismissively.

“Ah-HAH!”

“-But from what I understand, they need our love to survive, nearly as much as we need water,” Shining calmly continued, ignoring his wife's triumphant cry. “They bear no actual malice, and do not want to conquer us. In fact, they are both weaker than us, and on an average, actually have far fewer numbers than us.”

Cadence’s once smug face slowly turned into one of thoughtfulness as Shining continued his explanation. “But… Chrysalis’ had-”

“So many that they seemed to blot out the sun? Yeah, I know. Apparently the changelings not in her group weren't too happy with it either,” Shining said as he began walking again.

As she fell in step beside him, Cadence found her curiosity piqued. “Why wouldn't they be happy? They're changelings, right? If Chrysalis’s force was so numerous, wouldn't it have been beneficial to them to join forces with her, and conquer us?”

“Short term? Absolutely. They would have crushed us and we'd all be either their puppets, or their food. With the coup, all of our heavy hitters, namely the Elements of Harmony and the princesses, would all be captured. Our top brass would have been gone, too, which would mean that our military would be thrown into confusion, making cleanup of the remaining forces relatively easy,” Shining explained, easily painting a scenario of total and complete defeat. He then looked at her, his expression one that Cadence had a hard time placing. “But… they didn’t. From what I’ve learned from the friendly bugs, this would have been the complete opposite of a victory in every sense of the word, and they apparently have proof to back that up.”

Cadence looked completely confused at that. “I'm not sure how conquering us would be a loss for them.”

“Apparently, it has to do with feeding,” Shining Armor explained, his nose wrinkling as he rubbed his forehead. “I don't understand the specifics, but it seems like they can't ‘normally feed’ while their subject is terrified, or brainwashed. In order to feed while the subject is in such a state, they have to suck out everything. As they do this, it rapidly increases their need to reproduce, hence the numbers they had when they attacked Canterlot. Once they start doing this, it's really hard to stop. Eventually, they run out of ponies, so they move on to animals, then plants, even the microscopic life in the earth, until-”

“You mean… until Equestria resembles the badlands?” Cadence asked with a shiver.

“Dear, that's exactly where Chrysalis’s hive is. They had those numbers not because they’re naturally that much more numerous than us, but because they’ve done this before. We were just the next on the list, so to speak. The changelings call it ‘Locust Warfare,’ and so far, every single one I've talked to speaks about it in the same hushed, terrified tones,” Shining said as he stopped and turned to face her. His expression was gravely serious, and Cadence couldn't help but note a subtle undertone of disgust in the stallion’s eyes. “The process doesn’t just kill the ponies, but it messes with the minds of the changelings as well. Turns them more and more into savages, and less and less into thinking, rational creatures. Eventually, they lose all power of independent thought, and have to rely on their Queen for everything. Problem is, is that while she's more resistant, she's not exactly immune herself. Did I get all of that right?”

This last bit Shining Armor had directed towards the stallion on the couple's right, whose only response was an ever so slight nod of his head.

Shining let out a relieved sigh, before rubbing his forehead with his fetlock. “Good. At any rate-”

“Wait, is he a…?” Cadence interrupted, her voice full of suspicion as she eyed the young soldier.

“A changeling? Yes,” Shining answered without hesitation. “I asked for him personally, and Queen Titania has seen fit to put him under my command. We don't have everything hammered out yet, but the general idea is to slowly integrate them into our country. We can't afford a divided front now, especially with the possibility of an alien invasion.”

This made sense to the Crystal Princess, though she couldn't help but eye the soldier with a fair bit of distrust. “And your name was…?”

“Hieremias, my lady. I am at your command,” he said, bowing respectfully to the princess.

Cadence eyed him closely, trying to detect any falsehood. When she couldn't find any, she cleared her throat, then took a single step towards him. “Well, Hieremias, if what my husband says is true, then I hope our people will grow to understand each other better. However, I can't help but wonder, if you needed our love so badly, why couldn't you have asked for our help? Why prey upon us?”

“We were afraid, Your Highness,” the disguised changeling replied without hesitation.

“Afraid?” Cadence asked, her eyes as hard as flint. “Chrysalis’s actions show that, if you prepared, you could easily conquer us, either through strength of arms or by subterfuge. What fear you might have had from us would be minimal at best, so I ask again, why did you not ask?”

“And I say again, for fear,” Hieremias said, not budging an inch. “We have the name Locust Warfare for a reason, as it has been practiced by ancient hives of the past. Every hive save for Chrysalis’s that have practiced this unholy evil has come to an end, either at the hooves of your ancestors, or from starvation as the land wilted and died. As for subterfuge, any that we might try would not hold for long, for though we may feed on emotion, and can take the shape of any pony, we cannot read minds. Any usurped power has never lasted long, and the one time in our history that anyling came forward with peace, King Platinum III organized an inquisition to stomp us out of existence.”

Cadence listened carefully, her face a stone mask, up until the point where Hieremias reached the part about King Platinum. “That tyrant… he… our records don’t…” she gulped, horror clear in her voice.

“As they say, history is written by the victors,” Hieremias said, rising from his bow. His eyes sought out hers, and for the briefest of moments they glowed a light, subtle pink color. It was gone before Cadence had even registered it, but it was still a clear enough sign for her that this stallion wasn’t exactly equestrian. “While your people have done much in uncovering the secrets of the past, some cannot be regained, simply because their records do not exist any longer. After all, Discord’s reign was between Platinum and the royal sisters’, and we all know how he felt towards something as orderly as records.”

“He would have destroyed them, of course. But you must have noticed that modern day Equestrians were nothing like our ancient ancestors, correct? We wouldn’t have treated you like that evil dictator.”

Hieremias looked downcast at that. “We couldn’t be sure. Ever since the Sisters took the throne, we’ve been watching carefully, and trying to figure out how the ponies would see us. Over time, we slowly began to see that things could change, that we could, maybe, live openly among you…”

“Chrysalis changed that…” Cadence said, finally catching on.

Hieremias nodded, his eyes still downcast. “That she did. If it wasn’t for the Promethean, we’d still be in hiding, fearing that your battlemages would begin sweeping across the nation, conducting an inquisition far bloodier than King Platinum ever dreamed of.”

Cadence nodded in understanding, but stopped when she registered the unfamiliar word that the changeling had used. “I’m sorry, the what?”

“He’s talking about ~Alex,~ honey. That’s something else I’ve been told to tell you about. We just hadn’t reached it yet,” Shining Armor said, a rueful smile on his face. He then pointed in the direction of Canterlot Castle with his hoof. “Though, we really should continue if we want to make it in time for our meeting with Celestia.”

“I’m not the one who stopped us in the street,” Cadence pointed out in a playful manner. “In all seriousness, though, we should hurry. I’ve been dying to meet this visitor from the stars ever since we received Celestia’s letter telling us about the situation.”

Shining Armor gave a short nod, before turning back towards the castle. “I must warn you, then, that Celestia’s letter did not do the creature’s appearance justice. The thing truly is a monster in almost every sense of the word except one: His disposition.”

“I gathered that from the letters, Shiny,” Cadence said, a little annoyed at her husband’s reiteration of what she already knew.

“You say that now, but just wait until you meet him…” the prince said, before he stopped to take a glance at the sky to confirm the time. “If we hurry, and with any luck, Celestia will be wrapping things up with the alien delegates by the time we arrive. I only hope that everything there has gone to plan.”

* * *

“She is a kalavara, though I do not know how powerful,” Luna said, her voice quivering in fright before she took another gulp of water from the glass between her hooves.

We had taken a short break, the two princesses requesting a moment to council together, to discuss what had just happened. The aliens had readily allowed it, they seemingly needed to speak among themselves as well, and most likely needed to contact their separate ships. This was both a good thing and a bad thing for obvious reasons, but there wasn’t exactly anything we could do to keep them from talking to their people.

At least, not anything that wouldn’t immediately raise suspicions.

At the moment, Princess Luna was sitting in one of those pony-made, exceptionally low couches that they seemed so fond of. She was currently shaking like a leaf, the glass in her hooves vibrating alarmingly as she attempted to calm her nerves. Her sister was sitting next to her, a hoof on her back, rubbing up and down in a soothing fashion. I was standing opposite to them, my arms crossed, and my nerves making it nearly impossible to sit down. I wasn't nearly as angry as I thought I would be, having just accidentally given more information to the enemy than I should have. Instead, I felt sort of… well, wistful.

“I’m sorry, but what does the word ‘kalavara’ mean?” I asked, my eyes locked onto Luna as she slowly calmed down. “And if you don’t mind me asking, what happened back there? One minute you both were in my mind, the next...”

“A kalavara is someone with the gift to see,” Celestia said, not really answering my question.

“Then doesn't that make ME a kalavara?” I asked pointedly, my eyebrow raising as I tried to make my point. “I mean, I can see just fine. I have eyes too, you-”

“Not see, see,” Celestia interrupted me, and this time I barely managed to pick up the slight difference she used with that word. It was barely a tonal shift, but it was still there, though its importance was lost on me. Luckily, Celestia was more than inclined to elaborate. “Being able to see means that the past, the present, and the future are all open to you. The possibilities that make up the uncertain become like an open book, and ones with this gift are given the information needed to change this future.”

It suddenly clicked with me what she was getting at. “Wait… wait, wait, wait, wait… wait. Are you telling me that miss snake lady out there is a freaking prophet?” I asked, not quite believing what I was saying.

Celestia looked at me curiously, obviously not familiar with the word, while Luna only nodded in mute approval.

“Well, that's a fine how-do-you-do…” I muttered under my breath. “No need to hide anything, if she can just see the future at will… and why need me at all? Shouldn't she be able to just see the bad guys?”

“It isn't that simple, Alex,” Celestia said, her voice still dreadfully calm.

“There are limitations to this gift… For one thing, the gift is extremely rare. As far as we know, there is only one person native to this planet with this gift, the Prophet of Time,” Luna said. I noticed that the word kalavara was now automatically being replaced with the word prophet by my implants, but I ignored this change, as well as the script scrolling across my vision, in favor of paying attention to what the dark blue pony had to say. “The Prophet is a zebra, and the head shaman of her people. As rare as this gift is, however, it is even rarer to find someone who has any degree of control over their gift. It usually requires some kind of trigger to cause a kalar, and those triggers are even more unpredictable to detect than prophets themselves.”

Kalar was another unfamiliar word, but based on context, she probably meant ‘vision’. I was about to ask to confirm as much, but was stopped before I could even form the question in my head when Celestia asked one of her own. “I apologize, Alex, but why does your language have a word for people with such abilities? I was under the assumption that your people had lost their magic long ago, and anything that remained would have been myths and legends.”

“You answered your own question there, Celestia. Our myths and legends are full of people doing the impossible, with the first and foremost among those powers being the ability to see the future. In fact, you've already heard of one of our great, ancient prophets, though you really weren't told as much at the time.” Both looked up at me in confusion at that, but one brush of my uninjured hand over my injured one was enough to clarify that.

“This ‘oracle’ in Titania’s story?” Luna asked with interest. “I assumed Oracle had some kind of power along those lines, though at the time I thought that that, as well as the arriving humans, conflicted with your earlier assertions that magic did not exist on your world.”

“Oracle wasn’t her name, it was her occupation,” I corrected her, before settling down on the couch opposite to them. “I don’t remember her real name, but that hardly matters. In ancient Greece, there was a place called Delphi, which was famous for the temple and the prophet inside. Many of the old records, stories, and legends we still have of greeks speak regularly about the ‘Oracle at Delphi,’ so much so that if you’re talking about any oracle on Earth, there is an incredibly high chance that you’re speaking about her. Most people nowadays thought that she probably took a lot of drugs and rambled crazy talk, while the people around her took notes and claimed they were prophecies. Knowing that we once had a magic field, though, that assumption’s probably not even close to the truth.”

Celestia nodded her understanding, before looking down towards the floor. “As interesting as that is, it is somewhat aside from the point. She is a prophet, and those should always be treated with caution.”

“Agreed, which leads us back to the original question,” I said, before looking back to Luna. “What happened? I assume, because of how shaken up you are, you followed her and saw what she saw. Otherwise, I’m not sure you’d be this… disturbed? Shaking up? Shook up.”

Luna ignored my stumbling attempt to speak her language properly, and instead focused on the water in her cup. “I… I do not think I have the words to do what I saw justice, but this much I do know. We need help, and we need it now. We have a few days at best, and I do not believe we have the time, or the expertise, to complete the Omniscope in time.”

“Which means that we need either the snake’s help, or we really need that portal, and now,” I said as I rubbed my chin thoughtfully.

“The portal should be arriving today,” Celestia said, causing my heart to leap into my throat without warning. “At the very least, it may give us a way to have some of our people escape the coming calamity. We could-”

“We could call in reinforcements,” I interrupted, before looking up at the two. “Think about it. Just on the other side is my world, a world that has the technology to complete the computer for the Omniscope. We’d just need a proper interface, and with the shards of my friends, I think we’ll be able to fill in that gap.”

“We will need to ‘forge them together’ though,” Luna said. I stared at her blankly for a few seconds before she chose to elaborate. “Akitesh was being quite serious. I saw exactly what you are talking about, and it fails. A room full of humans and ponies, all surrounding the omniscope, and the whole thing sputters, and dies, before the ceiling caves in as the castle is destroyed. A voice then proclaimed that ‘The die is cast. The fallen must be forged anew before the rising of the new moon, else all is lost.’”

We all fell into silence after that, and I let out a short cough. “I don’t suppose you could delay the new moon?” I asked, half-jokingly.

“You know full well that that will not delay the prophecy,” Luna said, her voice filled with a mix of disapproval and amusement.

“I do not believe we have the luxury to treat our guests with any more distrust,” Celestia said, before standing up. “We must call a council of war, and I feel we must include them in these discussions if we are to have any chance of success.”

“I don’t suppose there is a chance that she was somehow tricking you that she was seeing the future?” I asked, half-hoping, half-fearing the answer I was about to get.

“There is none,” Luna said, shaking her head. “At first I thought it might be a deception, but when I tried to leave, it was as if the very Telcar around us was forcing me to stay. It is my domain, yet it screamed at me as the vision twisted the dreamscape around us, begging me not to go, not to leave, before first seeing how this tragedy could be averted.”

“Well, if that’s the case, then we’ll need a few more people for this little council before we can really get our defenses in place,” I said as I stood up. “I think it’s about time I took a look at this mirror. See if we can’t get any rangers over here to help.”

“Alex, the mirror may not be active,” Luna gently rebuked me. “According to Titania, it only opens once every thirty moons.”

“According to my planet’s moon, not yours,” I said, putting careful emphasis on those words. “Tell me, why is that?”

This seemed to stump the two princesses, as they both just sat there, trying to figure out this conundrum. “I would assume that it has something to do with how the portal is powered…” Celestia finally said.

“I think so too. And if that’s the case, it’s most likely drawing power from the moon, because as we’ve already established, Earth doesn’t have any magic. Not any more, anyway,” I said, bringing the other two to where I was trying to get them. “I’m not an expert on this. Far from it, in fact. But if the mirror is here, and it still works, even after all this time, shouldn’t it be possible to open the portal on this side? To power it from this end?”

The silence that followed my guess was profound, and I could almost hear the wheels turning in the two ponies’ heads. Finally, Luna gave a single nod. “Your reasoning is sound, but in practice, it may be completely different. We will have to see.”

“Agreed, but first, I think it is time to extend a hoof of peace to the aliens in the next room,” Celestia said as she stood up. “They have been waiting long enough, and we do not have the time to continue to treat them as the enemy.”

I let out a small, defeated sigh, before massaging my eyes with my hand. “I guess you’re right. Let’s go ahead and get this over with…”

Author's Notes:

Hey, everyone! I know it's pretty soon after my last chapter, but I already had this half-written out as is, and I thought: "Why not finish it, and give them something more for being amazing readers?"

Well, here you go!

Obligatory book plug!
=> What I've Become! <=

By the way, for those of you who bought the book already, I just wanted to thank you so much for supporting me! I also wanted to ask you a tiny favor, that you could maybe take a couple of seconds to leave a review on Amazon. As it turns out, the more reviews a book has, the more attention it gains from the algorithms, so that would help me greatly if you could take a couple of seconds and hammer one out. Doesn't even need to be that long, just "7/10, would read again!" would be good enough. Don't feel like you have to, though...

I... I guess I just see myself out, now...

Chapter XXX

Chapter XXX

I laid my hand gently on the handle to the door, my breath sounding harsh and shallow in my ears. I took a second before opening the door to collect myself; I knew full well that what I was about to do went against every instinct I had, but it was for the greater good. I had no proof that what the snake alien had seen was true, but two things kept me from throwing her words out completely: The first was the fact that I really did not understand magic nearly as much as I wanted to. This opened up a nearly limitless number of possibilities, the least of which being that what she said she saw was one hundred percent true.

The second was the fact that I trusted the Princesses with my life and more.

If those two said that this was going to happen, my gut told me that they were probably right, and that voice was far louder than any instinct or misgivings I had about the two aliens on the other side of the room.

I felt a wing drape across my shoulders, causing me to look up to see Luna’s troubled, worried gaze. “Are you well? You do not have to do this if you feel you are not up to the challenge…”

I shook my head, before flashing her what I hoped was a confident smile. “We don’t have time for any misunderstandings. You need a translator, and I’m the best man to fill the job. Whatever my feelings are on this matter, they’ll have to wait until after the week is done.”

She smiled once, before giving me a steady nod. “Very well, then. After you.”

With one last, steadying breath, I turned the handle, and strode inside the conference room with a lot more confidence than I felt. Akitesh was still in her seat, doubled over as she tried to calm herself after what happened earlier, while Hazalk was currently standing near the opposite end of the room, typing something into his datapad. I briefly toyed with the idea of looking into what he was writing, but tossed the paranoid thought aside. We needed these two on our side, and I wouldn’t be helping matters by not respecting their privacy.

Trust, on the other hand, probably would never come. At least, not from me.

Both aliens looked up at me the second the door opened. Hazalk’s antennae were moving in a way that my implants told me was to convey a sense of expectancy. Akitesh’s expression, on the other hand, wasn’t something I needed the implants for. Her species had faces very similar to humans, and while I couldn’t be certain due to any possible cultural differences, her expressions were similar enough to humans to make it an extremely simple affair to figure out what she was thinking.

And at the moment, she looked both horrified, and relieved, that we were here.

“Hello again, Alexander, are you here to see us off?” Akitesh said, her voice lifting in hope. “I do not mean to be rude, but after witnessing what was inside your memory, I feel like I need a shower.”

“Believe me, I completely understand,” I said, forcing my lips into a smile. I then slowly made my way over to her, before pulling out a chair, and taking a seat next to her. “But I’m afraid that shower’s going to have to wait. Hazalk, if you would, we need you to be seated again.”

Hazalk’s antenna perked up curiously, but the captain did not object as he pocketed his tablet and moved to take his seat on the other side of Akitesh. As he made his way around the table, Luna moved in a similar fashion, until she was at the head. She then took her seat before she fixed both aliens with a steady gaze. “Alex, tell them that we will be ready in a moment. My sister has gone to retrieve the other delegates, and you will serve as our translator for what is about to take place.”

I did as I was told, repeating verbatim what she had said, or at least as close to verbatim as I could manage in Krin. Both aliens looked confused, though it was Hazalk, strangely enough, to speak first. “Translator? Other delegates? Ready for what?”

I didn’t need to relay that to Luna, because I was already quite aware of what was going to happen. “We’re going to hold a Council of War, and the other delegates are the ambassadors for the other nations of this planet. The princesses would like to formally request an alliance, though anything specific can be hashed out after we’re out of danger.”

Both aliens looked quite shocked at that. “You’re trusting us? Just like that?” Akitesh asked, apparently not quite believing what I had said.

I shook my head, before letting out a humorless chuckle. “Me? No. Not now, not ever. Trust is something that you earn, and neither of you have done anything to earn that trust. I do, however, trust them. She and her sister know all about… uh…” I stopped short as I read the Krin script running past my vision. “Um… apparently the Krin language doesn’t have a word for what Akitesh can do. See? Tell the future?”

“I understand what you mean,” Akitesh said, before shooting a careful glance at Hazalk.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the look she had given him, so I chose to ignore it in favor of getting to the point. “Yes, that. Well, they have quite a lot of experience with this sort of thing, and know far better than to ignore such a warning.”

“Well, I’m glad that-”

“Make no mistake, though,” I said, interrupting the krin captain. “If you even think of betraying their trust, you better run, and run fast, because I guarantee you will never have a safe place to hide. Mark my words, and remember them well, because if you betray us, I will hunt you down like the cockroach you are, and I will end you.”

Hazalk’s antennae perked up at this, surprisingly enough, and he extended a single hand towards me. “And you’re resourceful enough that I think you could do just that. If I dare to go back on my oaths, I swear that I’ll welcome the justice you’ll bring.”

“Good, so long as we’re clear,” I said, far more cheerfully as I took the captain’s hand and shook it.

There was an uncomfortable pause after that, during which Akitesh looked back and forth between us, almost like she wanted to ask something, but she seemed to be fighting with herself over it. Before she could come to a decision on whether or not to ask her question, however, the door opened, revealing Princess Celestia, as well as the ambassadors behind her. I quickly recognized several of the creatures she led into the room, as they were there when I first related my past to the princesses. The griffon with the scar over his eye was the first to enter the room, while the minotaur who had proudly stated that they’d take as many as they could with them was taking up the rear. The quiet zebra was here as well, but there were two delegates that I didn’t recognize.

The first was a seemingly random dirt pony. She had a light grey coat, with a soft, delicate mane that was a dark purple color. The symbol on her hindquarters looked like one of those Shakespeare comedy masks, and she seemed to be doing her level best to fade as much as possible into the background.

The second was another freaking pegasus/unicorn hybrid. Her coat was a light pink, while her mane and tail were tri-colored, being purple, pink and yellow. Unlike Celestia and Luna, her hair didn't ripple and billow in a wind that I couldn't feel; instead, it cascaded down her neck and off her shoulders and ended in springy little curls. Also unlike the two other winged unicorns, she wasn't nearly as tall, and the mark on her hindquarters wasn't a celestial body at all; instead, it was a crystal heart with some gold filigree flanking it. She still wore a tiara and necklace, though, which implied that she was still probably royalty.

The moment she entered the room, however, I immediately picked up a change in the two aliens sitting next to me. Hazalk, as ever, looked quite confused, though I could tell there was a heavy undercurrent of fear there. As for Akitesh, she was currently staring at the pink princess with a look of shock and disbelief.

The two aliens weren't the only ones staring, though. All the newcomers were busy getting a good look at us themselves. The three ambassadors I had met before spared me a cursory glance, with the griffon giving me a slight nod of acknowledgement, before they began to study the other two aliens in earnest. The minotaur had a look of open hostility, while the zebra looked more troubled and scared. The griffon had an odd, calculating look, though; one that, even though I had little experience with his species, was still something I immediately recognized.

It was a look of someone who knew he was in for something unpleasant.

As for the pink princess, she had her eye on me with a look somewhere between pity and disgust. I wasn’t surprised by that; in fact, I was expecting it. What I wasn’t expecting was the grey dirt pony to perk up the moment she saw me, and immediately canter over to where I was. She planted herself in the empty seat directly to my right, looking far more relieved than she had a right to, seeing as how she had just planted herself next to an alien monster.

I looked at her, completely confused, up until the point where she leaned closer to me, and I saw her eyes flash from steel grey to light pink for an instant. “It’s good to see a friendly face, promethean,” she whispered to me.

“T-Titania?” I asked, both stunned and relieved that the changeling queen was here.

“Yes, though I wished that our next meeting would have been a happier one. We will talk later, but first, we have more important things to take care of,” the disguised changeling queen whispered before she focused on the other delegates.

I gave a short nod, before doing the same. After all, it was my job to translate for the aliens who couldn’t understand the pony tongue, and I couldn’t very well do that if my attention was elsewhere.

Princess Celestia waited a few moments, clearly giving all parties enough time to get settled and have a good look at each other. It didn’t take long, and as soon as she felt the time was right, she cleared her throat. “Esteemed friends and guests, thank you so much for coming, I only wish that our meeting was for a less dire situation.”

“We have new information, then?” the griffon piped up. “I assume that’s why these… guests are at the table, instead of far away, where we could have this meeting in more private and controlled environment.”

“Yeah, aren’t they the enemy?” the minotaur piped up, his gaze never leaving the two aliens. “Shouldn’t we be interrogating them, rather than treating them like allies?”

“Due to recent information we have gained, it has become clear that they are not our enemies. Our true enemy may call the bug-one kin, but that is the extent of his relation with them. He has as much at stake here as any of us do,” Celestia said, her voice calm and in control.

“Well, where is this mysterious evidence? I’d like to see it for myself before I make a case to the King,” the minotaur said as he leaned forward.

“It isn’t something we can show you,” Luna said, her eyes fixed on the minotaur.

The minotaur let out a short, barking laugh at that. “Well, why not? Is the information shy?”

Luna simply shook her head, her eyes never leaving him, but they seemed to gain intensity. “No. It’s because it was in a vision I saw.”

Both the griffon, zebra and the changeling next to me looked to her in shock, but all the minotaur did was let out another huge, if somewhat nervous, laugh. “D-Don’t make me laugh, Luna! Since when were you an oracle?

“I’m not,” Princess Luna said, inclining her head towards the minotaur. “Nor do I claim to be. The future is not something I could be burdened with… However, she is. I happened to be in her mind at the time, so I also bore witness to the end of our world, and the way to change that end.”

That last sentence was accompanied by Princess Luna raising a single hoof, and pointing it towards the snake-alien next to me. This didn’t seem to mollify the minotaur, however, and If anything, made him more obstinate. “That makes the information even more suspect. How do you know that it isn’t making a fool of you? That it didn’t use its superior technology and magic to make you see something, to gain your trust?”

“I believe her story. If we do not ally, our future is quite gory,” the zebra said, before leaning forward, her eyes boring into the snake alien. “Though it is chance that brought her here, she is not the only one to see, I fear.”

The minotaur looked to the zebra sharply, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. “...Don’t tell me… did the old lady get another one of her visions?” he asked, and I could swear that the minotaur practically shrank with fear.

The zebra’s only answer was to reach into her saddlebags, pull out a scroll with her teeth, then gently place it on the table. She then pushed it towards the minotaur, before motioning for him to open it. He took it, his eyes locked on the zebra in an almost fearful manner. As his hand closed around the paper, the zebra finally began to speak, the weird rhyming cadence she used making her words seem all the more ominous. "Before Celestia summoned me for this session, the oracle contacted me during my lesson. She instructed me to write everything she said, as she had a vision that would not leave her head. She knew it was not meant for her, but proof was needed or we'll be stalled for sure.”

The minotaur grunted, before taking the scroll and unfurling it. He took one look at what was written at the top, before his eyes went wide, and he began muttering darkly. “She also apparently included something personal that happened between me and my wife this morning. Proof that she’s serious, I guess. One second, I need to erase part of this…”

“Hey, I might like to see that, Savach-Talor,” the griffon said, his tone clearly joking. “It might be important!”

The minotaur glared at the griffon sourly, before he pulled out a quill and inkwell. The tiny writing implement looked almost comical in the minotaur’s oversized fist, but he still dutifully began scratching lines out, all while muttering to himself about the prying nature of zebras.

While all of this was going on, I dutifully translated everything that was being said for the benefit of those that could not speak the language. The two aliens seemed to take the distrust from the minotaur in stride, though Akitesh froze up the moment I started talking about the Oracle of Time. “You mean to tell me that one of these people can sense the warnings of the future as well?” she asked, completely flabbergasted.

“Well, yeah. Like I said, they have experience with this kind of thing.”

“I did not think that that implied that they had a living seer now. It is a rare gift.”

“Yes, but don’t dwell on it for too long, looks like we’re about to get started for real, now,” I said as I watched the minotaur pass the scroll along, a troubled look on his face.

I was only partially right. It took the others a few moments to get through the scroll, but as soon as everyone had a chance to look at it, I could immediately tell a change had come over them. They were all taking this far more seriously, and were looking at the two aliens next to me with less anger and fear, and more hope. The griffon in particular inclined his head towards the two aliens respectfully, his attitude towards them far warmer than it had been initially. “I am Gustav Ther-Lavor. And as a representative of the Empire of the Skylord, let me be the first of my people to welcome you to this planet. We would be honored to have your aid in fending off what is to come.”

Akitesh murmured her acceptance of the griffon’s speech, though before she had even finished talking, the minotaur stood up, his thick, meaty hands pressed onto the table as he looked to the two princesses. “I don’t think we have time for chit-chat. This is war we’re talking about, and from the sound of things, we really do not have too much time for pleasantries, or for the art of double-speak. The people of Minos and her colonies stand with the Diarchy of Equestria in this, as the coming conflict will set the planet ablaze should we stand idle.”

“As do the Zebra Tribes, and our allies,” the zebra said, raising her hoof in solidarity.

“As does the Griffon Empire,” Gustav said, raising a claw.

“As does the Crystal Empire,” the pink unicorn/pegasus hybrid next to Celestia said, raising her hoof.

“As do we,” Titania said, holding up a hoof.

The other three ambassadors looked at the disguised changeling queen in confusion, though the three princesses only had knowing, almost resigned looks on their faces. The two aliens next to me didn’t have much of a change of expression at all, but this was mainly due to the fact that I was still translating for them, and was somewhere around the time where Savach-Talor was talking about the planet being set ablaze. I was still paying attention, though, and thanks to my implants, was able to keep up with the conversation.

The awkward silence following Titania’s statement couldn’t last forever, and was soon broken as Gustav cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, I mistook you for the Solar Diarch’s aid. Whom do you represent?”

“I apologize for the ruse, but my kind are still not welcome in many places,” Titania said, before bowing her head, and changing to her true form in a flash of purple fire. “I am Queen Titania, and I represent the Changeling Hives not allied with the mad queen Chrysalis.”

Four chairs hit the ground as those who were apparently unaware of Titania’s identity jumped back. Savach-Talor looked openly hostile as he reached for his back for a weapon that wasn’t there, while Gustav had a mixture of anger and fear on his face. Both aliens next to me looked equally shaken, though Akitesh looked more curious and surprised than scared. Hazalk, on the other hand, began muttering about something being ‘worse than he thought,’ but did not otherwise comment.

The zebra looked unsurprised, however, as did all three princesses. The pink one did look like she was trying her best not to strangle the changeling queen, but at the very least she looked unsurprised.

“And since when have changelings been interested in anything other than themselves?” Savach-Talor spat as he stared down Titania.

Titania, to her credit, looked as calm as a summer’s morning. “My kind are guilty of many wrongs, but now is not the time to be bringing up old wounds. It is our planet too, and we would not see it burned to ash.”

"Savach-Talor, Gustav, have you not been paying attention to recent events?" Princess Luna said as she looked towards the two ambassadors, clearly surprised. "We made a huge announcement. Canterlot Hospital is playing host to the queen's hive, as she was attacked by Chrysalis not long ago. They are our allies, as unbelievable as that might sound. She’s already taught us the way to reveal her people, and has promised a quick return of everyone they’ve ever stolen."

The minotaur continued to give the changeling the stink eye for several seconds longer, before he finally relented and picked his chair back up with a huff. "Well, if that's the case, I have no objections. We are watching you, however. Do not think we have forgotten the minotaurs you have replaced!" he nearly shouted as he plopped down on his seat.

"Full recompense will be given, but at a later date. For now, it is more important that we focus on the task at hoof, and begin this war council in earnest," Princess Celestia said, bringing all focus back to her. "For now, I believe it might be best to bring into focus our assets, possible reinforcements, as well as where our enemies may strike us first, so that we might better defend ourselves. Hashak, Ack-e-thesh, what advice do you have for us, on how we should proceed?"

It took me a little bit of time to catch up to where Celestia was in the conversation, but the moment I did, Akitesh looked to Hazalk, a question in her eye. "Captain? How would the former emperor attack this planet? What strategy would he employ?"

Hazalk took a couple of seconds to think about it before he leaned forward, one set of arms resting on the surface in front of him as he focused on the center of the oblong, stone table. "Alexander, this is directed towards the natives. Please translate verbatim," he said as he looked up towards me. Once I had given him a nod of understanding, he turned towards Celestia, cleared his throat, and began to talk. "This may come as a surprise to you all, but my people do not have an understanding of whatever mystical power you have at your disposal. It is mysterious and frightening to us, and frankly, the old emperor fears it more than anything in the universe. However, he also knows that he cannot wage his senseless war without it. It was standing orders before the fall of the old empire to capture anyone capable of wielding that power at any cost.”

It took me a while to relate what he had just said, but when I was finished, the effect his words had were profound. Everyone had looks of fear and understanding, while Luna just stared at me, and I knew that she was thinking that her people might share my fate far sooner than she thought. “They will seek to round us up, and capture us, then,” Princess Luna muttered darkly, the words far more profound now that someone had said them out loud.

“That they will,” Hazalk said, once I had translated for him. “The traitor Ilisk managed to get a transmission out before he died, and they will know of this planet’s irregular orbit. It won’t take that large of a leap for them to realize you control the sun, and while they fear that particular ability more than anything, it will be a prize too tempting for them to pass up.”

“Even if we use my sun against them, you are certain they will not flee?” Celestia asked, worry bleeding into her voice.

Hazalk thought about that for some time, his upper right hand massaging his mandibles as he thought of an answer. “I… truly cannot say. However, I can say this: When the emperor abandoned his people, he took a large portion of the fleet with him. It has been many years since then, and while we have heard nothing from the traitors, it is most likely that they have been biding their time, growing their forces, and waiting for the moment to strike. I have no way to gauge how much they’ve grown, but if they believe the rewards outweigh the risks, they will move the entire fleet against this world, and pray that enough of them make it past your formidable defense to strike at your people themselves.”

I translated the krin captain’s speech back to the others, and they only looked more worried. “Should we tell them about the Omniscope, sister?” Luna asked as she turned towards Celestia.

Celestia thought on this for a while, before giving a short nod. “Hashak, Ack-e-thesh, while we are indeed able to control the paths and speed of our sun and moon, there is a slight problem with using them as a defensive measure.”

I quickly related what she said back to them, only to receive blank, almost dumbfounded looks from the two aliens. “But… surely you should be able to use them to take out at least a few ships? Akitesh asked as she turned towards Celestia.

“It’s not that simple,” I stated, knowing full well what the princesses were going to tell her, and anticipating what she needed me to say. “They may be able to control the sun, may even be able to put it at speeds that would be nearly impossible to dodge, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that they have absolutely no way of figuring out where enemy ships might be in order to stop them.”

Hazalk looked to me, then back towards the others around the table. “Are… are you kidding me? From what I’ve been able to guess, you have people who can tell the future! Can’t you just use that!?”

Akitesh shook her head at that. “That ability has its limitations, the greatest of which is that it is almost completely uncontrollable. They happen when they happen, and there is no known way to make them happen reliably.”

Hazalk harrumphed at that, before tapping his mandibles thoughtfully. “Then… couldn’t we serve as your eyes and ears?”

“You could… the only problem would be the relay of information. You’d give us coordinates, we’d try to figure that out on a map, since we’re aiming with our minds, rather than a computer, and maybe, maybe we hit. If they haven’t already moved by then, that is,” I told him, causing his antenna to droop in a pathetic way. “We were actually working on something to take care of that, but we’ve run into a couple of hiccups that we’ll need your people to help with.”

That last part was directed towards Akitesh, who immediately picked up on what I was getting at. “That’s what the shards are for…” she said, almost in a whisper.

“Alex, are you relating the information about the Omniscope?” Celestia asked, curious at what was taking so long.

“I am. I just got to the part about the soul shards,” I related back to her.

“I see. Well, let us know when you have finished,” Celestia said with a nod.

Akitesh waited patiently for me to finish with Celestia, and seemed almost relieved when I turned back to her. “So, you are making some kind of detection and targeting device, then, well, we’ll be happy to help. After all, we have only two ships in orbit. Even if the Emperor brings his whole fleet to bear, we should still have a pretty good chance of repelling them if we have the sun on our side.”

“Better, in fact,” Hazalk said, drawing both mine and Akitesh’s gazes. “Do not forget, we are waiting on reinforcements. One of my people’s ships, The Aurora, should be arriving any day now. In fact, they should be arriving today, if nothing has gone wrong. That’s not even counting the fact that some of the Holy Armada should be on their way here, as well.”

“Though, they are much further out, and will not be here in time to make a difference. Any fighting will have been long over with by the time they arrive,” Akitesh cut in.

“You’ve got another ship headed this way?” I asked, both a little angry, and somewhat relieved at the same time.

“Well, yes. As soon as we realized that the emperor’s hand was in this, we sent a message home, requesting reinforcements. The request would have been ahead of Ilisk’s message, though to be honest, the confederacy only really had the one ship in range. She’s strong, though. One of our finest,” Hazalk said, a note of pride creeping into his voice.

I slowly swallowed the lump in my throat, before turning back to the others. “Um… simply put, they’re willing to help us finish the Omniscope, though there’s more. It’s good news, all things considered, but it may put a damper on things.”

Savach-Talor leaned forward, his eyebrows furrowed in suspicion. “What is it?”

“Well, both parties apparently have reinforcements on the way,” I said, eyeing the two aliens warily. “I mean, we kind of already guessed that, but now we know for certain. The only saving grace is that they won’t be here for us.

“It also means we only need to hold out long enough for reinforcements, which brings us to the question of ground deployment,” Gustav said, clicking a talon against the stone table. “They’ll be after all of us, and should any ships slip past our spatial defenses, this will turn into a ground war. If it does come to that, however, how will they attack us?”

I quickly related what the griffon asked back to the other two aliens, causing Hazalk to think for a moment. “If their mettle holds, and they slip past our defenses, they will most likely launch shuttles and drop pods. The pods will be aimed at major cities, and will be the kind that Ilisk used when he attacked your city, firebombing the area before eventually allowing troops to deploy.”

“They’ll be a diversionary tactic,” I said, guessing at what Hazalk was getting at.

“They will be, indeed. They’ll cause as much trouble as possible, before falling back towards the closest shuttle. The shuttles themselves will be placed in less populated, and less guarded, areas. Their job will be to round up anyone from smaller towns and farmlands, all while setting up fallback positions for the soldiers from the pods. Once they have enough subjects, and the rest of the soldiers have fallen back, they’ll leave… but…”

I stared the krin down, not liking how he trailed off like that. “But what?” I asked, my voice deadly calm.

“After they have what they came for, if there isn’t anyone in orbit to stop them, they’ll most likely bombard the planet,” Hazalk said, punctuating that last word with an angry, disgusted click of his mandibles.

“Kill any witnesses,” I muttered to myself.

“It wouldn’t be the first time the krin bombarded a civilian target to achieve victory, and it probably won’t be the last,” Akitesh said, before looking around the table, steel in her eyes. “The key will be to delay them. We’ll need to keep their forces occupied long enough for the Holy Armada to arrive. As we’ll be occupied with the battle in space, I am sorry to say that you and your people will have to repel and stall them alone.”

I ground my teeth together in anger, before I punched the stone table in front of me. “Don’t worry, if I have anything to say about it, we won’t be alone.

Akitesh looked confused at that, but I ignored her in favor of turning towards the others, and quickly relating what we had said.

“This is looking downright hopeless,” Gustav, said as he massaged his forehead. “My people will be too tied down to help anyone else. We’ll need troops to reinforce everywhere, and they’ll need to be able to move to hot-zones to reinforce the troops there at a moment’s notice, but where would we find such a force?”

Titania’s eyes narrowed as she looked at me, and I knew she was thinking along the same lines that I was. So were Celestia and Luna, for that matter, but it was Titania who spoke first. “I will be able to aid with the troop deployment. Our hives have many teleportation beacons placed all over the explored world. If we have the troops, it will be a simple matter to take them where they need to go.”

“But where would we find the bulls to fight?” Savach-Talor asked, his nostrils flaring in agitation. “We can draft many, but some of our people are non-combatants, and I believe the same goes for everyone else here.”

“You don’t need to worry about that,” I said, steepling my hands in front of me as a wicked grin began to form on my face. “If all goes according to plan, we’ll have plenty of troops at our disposal.”

The minotaur grunted in disbelief. “What, do you happen to have an army hidden in your coat, Defender?”

I quickly looked over towards Titania, and I could see a ghost of a smile form on her lips. I then turned back, emboldened by the changeling’s silent approval. “If things go right, that may very well be the case. It really all depends whether or not a certain mirror still works after all this time…”

* * *

Commander Yvtil moodily paced back and forth on the deck of The Bastion’s bridge, her eyes locked on the view screen that was currently showing her captain’s life-signs. She was always nervous when he left the ship to visit the potentially deadly natives below, but today her frazzled condition had reached new heights. A few moments ago, Captain Hazalk experienced a spike of adrenaline, followed immediately by his system showing all the signs of extreme fatigue. She had no answer for it, and all that the captain would comment at this time was ‘hold on, I’m trying to figure out what happened.’

Needless to say, she wasn’t happy in the slightest.

“Are you certain that none of our instruments picked up anything?” she asked for perhaps the thousandth time that day.

“Absolutely nothing that we can’t otherwise see or hear, Commander,” Talian reported, her voice filled with a mix of concern and exasperation. “Ma’am, I’m concerned too, but at this point, there’s no use in-”

Whatever Talian was about to say was fated to go unheard, for at that exact moment, the alarms at her console started going off. Yvtil quickly moved to her own station at Tactical, knowing already that whatever was about to happen was bad news. “Don’t tell me… the emperor’s goons have finally shown up in person?”

“I do not think so… The tear that’s forming near the edge of the system is too small for an attack force, though it is still quite large.” Talian continued to type away for a few more seconds, before she looked up to her commanding officer. “Ma’am, I believe it may be The Aurora, though nothing is certain at this stage of inter-dimensional travel.”

"Engage Tac-1 anyway, we are not going to be caught in the bantha nest again!"

Talian did as she was told and hammered the big grey button on her console. The second she did this, red emergency lights came on, and a loud klaxon blared twice throughout the entire ship before falling silent. While Lieutenant Talian made the announcement, Commander Yvtil's hands flew across her console, sending orders to the various tactical systems throughout the ship. Shields were raised, nuclear warheads were armed, and plasma banks were charged. In a matter of seconds, the whole ship was ready to fight.

She even unfolded The Bastion's wings, though she knew that any krin they faced would already know that they were only for show. They made her feel intimidating, and at the moment, that was exactly what she wanted, especially when she considered the fact that her ship was down to about a third of its crew.

"Ma'am, The Purpose has powered up its weapons and is currently taking a flanking position on the other side of the rift," Talian reported. "Just received a message… they think it's probably The Aurora too, but they say to be on guard anyway."

"Thank you, Lieutenant, and I see them," Yvtil said, before glancing up at the main view screen. The Purpose, while not specifically designed for war, was still a comforting sight. It was long and sleek, with an extremely short wing design along three of the ship's sides, giving it the appearance of some kind of primitive arrowhead. The various symbols etched along its hull were all ablaze with unknown power, and its main cannon ports were fully charged with whatever energies allowed it to break apart the bonds between molecules. It was a truly terrifying sight, and Yvtil found herself thanking the Battlewatcher that The Purpose was on her side.

Seconds stretched on for minutes, which in themselves seemed like hours. It seemed like they spent an eternity waiting, until finally something emerged from the tear in the fabric of space-time with all the grace of a belly-flopping walrus. The tear then neatly sealed itself, preventing the harmful effects of hyperspace from spilling out into real space, but Yvtil hardly noticed it. Her eyes were locked on the ship that had just entered the sector.

Or, rather, what was left of it.

The ship's wings were completely gone, the decks they were a part of now open to the cold vacuum of space. A huge, angry hole could be seen near the top where the command deck should have been, and many of her weapon ports looked like they had suffered catastrophic overloads. Any communications arrays she might have had were missing entirely, and her engines looked like they were just a hair shy of imploding on themselves.

As the wreck slowly puttered past the two waiting ships, barely moving by its own power, a glimmer of sunlight from the nearby star illuminated a set of krin symbols painted onto her hull.

It was The Aurora.

Author's Notes:

Well, took me a while, and a bit of a rewrite, but here it is! Quite proud of how this turned out, and I hope you guys enjoyed it!

OBLIGATORY BOOK PLUG!
=> What I've Become! <=

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Which means far more chapters here, since I use Fimfiction as my proving ground for ideas!

Chapter XXXI

Chapter XXXI

“Seventy percent of the ship is inoperable. It’s a wonder that she’s moving under her own power at all!” Talian reported.

Yvtil grunted her acknowledgement, but did not otherwise show that she had even heard the lieutenant. She was too busy, her fingers dancing across the panel in front of her as she reviewed information, ordered a boarding party, and generally did her level best to figure out what had happened.

Deep down, though, she had a feeling that she already knew what had happened.

“Any word from The Purpose?” Yvtil asked, not even bothering to look up.

“They say they’ve finished their own scans. There’s plenty of biomass still on board, just… no life,” Lieutenant Talian reported.

“Which falls in line with the minimal heat readings we’re picking up,” Yvtil said, before collapsing into her chair. “Sergeant Casianon! Do you have a team ready yet?”

There was a pause, presumably as the sergeant struggled with his newly expanded duties. “Almost ready, Ma’am. The armory’s still a bit of a mess.”

“Please hurry. The sooner we find out what happened, the sooner we can send a message back to high command.”

“Ma’am, I don’t think that’s necessary. The Purpose is already boarding as we speak, and-”

“And I will not be letting a quzin crew head the investigation of one of our ships alone!” Commander Yvtil interrupted, while shooting her lieutenant a dirty look. “Now, if you have nothing else to add, return to your post, and inform me if the Captain calls!”

“Yes Ma’am,” Talian said, suitably chastised.

It took several more minutes for the boarding party to be ready, and in that time they had already received several reports from the quzin team. Yvtil would not be dissuaded, however, and sent the troops over the second they reported that they were prepared.

Yvtil was so preoccupied with her work, then, that she nearly jumped out of her carapace when Lieutenant Talian’s console started beeping, signifying that they were receiving a communication. “Ma’am, it’s Captain Hazalk.”

“Put him through,” Yvtil said, before straightening ever so slightly. She knew that the captain wouldn’t be able to see her, but she still felt nervous about reporting this latest catastrophe.

“Yvtil, we’re on board the shuttle, and headed back. ETA is around half an hour,” Hazalk said, his voice sounding grim.

That doesn’t sound good… Yvtil thought to herself. “Did something disastrous happen with the natives, sir?”

“No. In fact, we’ve had a huge breakthrough. They’ve offered an alliance, and we’re no longer being treated as monsters.”

While the news was both surprising and welcome, Yvtil couldn’t help but note the distinct lack of excitement in the captain’s voice. “I take it that’s not all there is to it.”

“No, no. Found out a few things, but the most troubling one is that it’s apparently a Void Knight power to be able to tell the future.”

There was a slight pause as everyone on the bridge froze. “Excuse me, sir?” Yvtil asked, not quite believing what she had heard.

“You heard me, Yvtil. On a guess, it’s probably why the quzin were expecting the offensive of Galthor Prime. But that’s not as important as the fact that the priestess had a vision. We’re apparently expecting company, and soon, so we’ll need to be prepared before the rebels show up,” Captain Hazalk deadpanned. “Hopefully The Aurora will get here before they do, but it’s entirely possible that she’ll be too late.”

Yvtil felt like her heart was currently trying to work its way out of her chest cavity. “Uh… sir? About that…”

“...What?”

“Sir, about half of the The Aurora arrived a few moments ago,” Commander Yvtil said, her one remaining antenna falling flat against the back of her head in dismay. “We have people investigating as we speak, but from the look of her, she was probably ambushed right before entering hyperspace.”

There was a pause at this, and Yvtil could feel Captain Hazalk’s anger over this news. “Were there any survivors?” Hazalk asked, his voice deadly calm.

“As far as we know, no. There may be a soul or two stuffed into a stasis pod in medical, but from the initial look of the thing, all hands were either killed in battle, or starved during the trip through hyperspace.”

“Well, shul…” Captain Hazalk swore. “Well, that pretty much confirms Akitesh’s vision, then.”

“Sir? What are we going to do?” Yvtil asked as she slumped dejectedly into her seat. “They’ll be bringing a whole fleet to bear, and we won’t be able to call in reinforcements in time!”

“...It does seem pretty hopeless, but we’re not quite done yet,” Hazalk said, his voice firm and unyielding. “We’re still alive, and don’t forget, we have allies able to control the sun. I don’t think our ship will be able to take a whole fleet, but I do think that our allies will be able to make up the difference.”

“Are you certain about that, sir? You know that a single quzin ship can’t take three of our best, much less an entire fleet.

“I wasn’t talking about the quzin,” Hazalk said, his voice still remarkably calm.

“The natives? Sir, they might be able to control the sun, but if the fleet gets past its effective range, they’ll risk cooking themselves to use it!” Yvtil said as she rubbed the smooth chitin above her eyes. “We might not know how that particular power works, but from everything we know, that’s a stopgap measure at best!”

“And it is. We’re not fighting to repel the invaders. We’re fighting to stall them. Don’t worry, the sun is just one of the tricks these people have up their sleeves. Don’t count them out just yet.”

Yvtil swallowed hard, before taking in a deep breath to calm her nerves. "Very well sir, but I hope for all our sakes they've got something miraculous up their sleeves..."

* * *

“You look absolutely fabulous darling!”

“Thank you, but I really don’t think-”

“We must put our best hoof forward! And I will not be returning you to our new allies looking like a beggar!

“I appreciate the thought, but…”

“Ooh! Ooh! It’s your face, isn’t it! You’re afraid they’ll be scared just looking at your horrifying, disgusting visage!”

“Pinkie! You shouldn’t-”

“No… she’s pretty much spot on,” I said, bursting the white pony’s indignant anger on my behalf. “I mean, honestly, look at me! I mean, points for the revolutionary look, but that doesn’t stop the fact that I’m a freaking monster! Suit or not, I’m gonna cause somebody to scream!”

“You look fine darling!”

“You might think that, but…”

“Ooh! What if you wear this!” The Pink One said before slapping something onto my face.

I reached up with my still-working arm and pulled it off, before looking down at it, somewhat bemused. “A mask?”

“Ya-tha-li-na-la-sa!” The Pink One said, using a word that wasn’t in my lexicon. Based on her tone, though, it was probably some kind of agreement.

“Darling, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are! You are so much more than a monster!” Rarity said, taking the mask from me with her magic.

Before it could get too far away from me, though, I snatched it back, and cradled it to my chest. “...It might be worse… but I think I want to keep it. Thank you, Pinkie.” I then put it back on, then secured it awkwardly with my uninjured hand by the attached string.

As I did this, The Pink One could not keep still even slightly, and almost continually bounced around me until the mask was in place. "You’re welcome! Are we ready to go, then? I can’t wait to meet all those new friends waiting out there!”

“I know you’re excited, but it’ll just be me at first,” I said as I held out a calming hand. “We don't know where the mirror comes out, or even what will be waiting on the other side. For all we know, there could be a couple of cops on the other side, and I really don't want to find out how they'll react to alien ponies stepping out from an interplanetary gate."

Rainbow, who had been lazily lounging on my otherwise empty hospital bed, perked up at the unfamiliar word. "What's a khaap?"

"I… I don't know your word for it, but it's someone who… holds up law? Protects? Keeps people safe?" I tried a couple of times.

"A khal-na-mal?" Rainbow asked as she gestured towards one of the nearby soldiers.

"I thought those were 'soldiers'," I said, using the word I had been given earlier for the armored ponies.

"They are, but khal-na-mal is our word for someone who protects something or someone," Rarity quickly explained.

A guard, then, I thought as I shook my head, ignoring the krin text informing me that the new word had been added to my lexicon. "No… while a cop does do that, that's not their job. Their job is primarily to keep the peace, and to uphold the law."

"So a soldier, then?" Rainbow asked.

This caused me to shake my head again. "No, a soldier is expected to fight wars. A cop's only expected to enforce laws on the people."

This seemed to confuse all the assembled ponies. "You have separate people for that?" Rainbow asked.

I shrugged a little, scratched my head, then nodded. "Well, yeah. Our people are kind of fragmented, so we find it more useful to have those jobs separate. It's actually illegal in my country to use soldiers on normal people."

"Then who stops the bad gu- oh, it's the khaaps, isn't it?" Pinkie asked, her mouth running slightly faster than her brain, apparently.

"Yes. And if there are cops on the other side, it's entirely possible that they'll shoot before asking questions when several aliens step out of a seemingly random mirror. We need to be careful about this, and I'm by far the best choice to send. I know the language, and I can hopefully dodge bullets if needed."

Rarity did not like the sound of that, apparently. "You do not sound confident about your abilities, darling."

"That's because I'm not. I've dodged plasma fire, but I have no clue if that's faster or slower than bullets. My gut and the conventional wisdom I’ve learned says that bullets would be faster, but until I actually see them, I have no way of telling."

This seemed to worry the three ponies in front of me, but none nearly as much as Rarity, though not for the reason I first thought. "You must promise me not to ruin your suit, then, darling! It is one of a kind, and should you ruin it before your people see it, it shall be an absolute travesty!"

"...Yeah, Rarity, that's really what he should be worried about…" Rainbow muttered, laying the sarcasm so thick that I could cut it with my claws.

“It’ll be fine, I promise. Now, how do I look?”

The three ponies gave me a careful look, or, rather, Rarity gave me a careful look, while Rainbow looked bored, and The Pink One looked like she could hardly contain herself. Finally, the white, fussy dressmaker gave me a slow, approving nod. “I believe that just about does it. Wish we could do away with the sling, but there’s no helping it…”

“Yeah, me too. Nothing I can do about it though, so let’s go.”

Narrative law would have dictated that the trip to where the mirror was being kept was quick and quiet, but that was actually the opposite of the walk through the halls. It felt like it took forever to reach our destination, and Rainbow and Pinkie’s constant speculation on how my world, and my people, would look meant that I couldn’t even try to think of other things to keep my mind off of what was about to happen. It honestly made me dread what was to come, and each step seemed to announce my impending doom to any that might be listening. Minutes seemed to stretch on for hours as I subconsciously activated my implants, trying desperately to stretch this moment into eternity to keep me from having to face those that I had left behind.

As much as I would have liked to say that I managed to stop time, though, I was unsuccessful in that endeavor, and far earlier than I would have liked it to be, I found myself on the opposite side of a rather unassuming, yet at the same time ominous, door. A quick handle turn was all that was needed to reveal the other side, and I found myself somewhat shocked by just how few people were there. Twilight was there, looking over a mirror that was identical to the one that Titania had shown me, as was the changeling queen herself. The three princesses were also there, as was that one white soldier pony that I’d never gotten the name of, but other than that, that was it. No other soldiers, no other scientists, just this small group eagerly awaiting a connection to a world of potential allies.

And it was all up to me not to royally screw this up.

As soon as the door opened, everyone present turned to look at me, a variety of expressions on their faces. Mostly I saw a mixture of worry and anticipation, but one face seemed to be filled with nothing but pure joy as she bounded towards me. “Alex! I’m so glad you’re finally here! I’ve been looking over the portal, and you’re speculations are spot on! It’s drawing power from the other side, not here! What’s more, is that it’s still drawing power! I don’t know how your ancestors managed it, but for a spellform to remain this perfect after all this time is just-”

“Twilight, calm yourself,” Celestia gently reprimand the excited bundle of magic and science. “There will be plenty of time for speculation later. At the moment, however, we have work to do.”

“Right, sorry…” Twilight said sheepishly, before backing up somewhat. “It’s just that… It’s so exciting! A new world, completely free of magic, right on the other side of this mirror! How this works could easily fill twenty volumes, and unlock so many fields of study! And that’s not even touching on what the humanans could teach us!”

“It’s ‘humans’ actually,” I corrected her, before looking towards the mirror. “Is it ready, then? Can we power it from this side?”

“Well, yes! The spellform powering the artifact is actually pretty simple, and can easily be augmented to accept power from this side. We can establish contact at any time!” Twilight said, before rushing over to the mirror.

“All that remains is you, then,” Princess Luna said, before fixing me with a knowing stare. “Are you ready?”

“No, but I don’t think waiting is going to be doing us any favors. We’re out of time as it is,” I said as I squared my shoulders.

“After you, then,” Luna said, before gesturing towards the mirror.

“Hold up. Before we do this, there’s something you need to do first,” I said, as a thought suddenly occurred to me. “It may be entirely possible that my reception will be… unpleasant. Could we… I don’t really know the word for it, but put up some kind of barrier on this side?”

This immediately caught the attention of the soldier pony. “Why would you need that? You’re not suggesting that they’d attack us, are you?”

“No, but they might attack me,” I said, before taking up a stance with myself between the soldier and the mirror. “Now, it’s a pretty small chance, but if you, say, fired something at me, and it missed, where would it go?”

The soldier immediately caught on to what I was getting at, and gave me a pretty serious look. “I know your people have some powerful weapons, but what kind of fire are we expecting from there? Something like a crossbow?”

“Smaller,” I said. He seemed relieved, up until the point where I completely shattered his little bubble of security. “Guns fire these tiny pellets at incredible speeds. I don’t know how sturdy your magic makes your armor, but with non-enchanted armor, even the smallest firearm could punch through plate like yours without too much difficulty.” I might have been exaggerating a little, but not by much. Besides, I really needed to impress onto these people how dangerous our weapons could be.

The soldier, as well as just about every pony present, were both aghast and confused at the destructive power I was describing. “But… how? An object of that size couldn’t possibly have the mass to do what you're describing!” Twilight said, clearly disturbed.

“It doesn’t need the mass when it’s moving faster than the speed of sound,” I said, causing their eyes to widen in fear and understanding. “I know it’s pretty scary to think about, but trust me when I say we need that kind of killing power, and more. Especially when we consider what we’re fighting.”

“You are, of course, right. But I must wonder, what will your people do once both our worlds are safe?” Princess Celestia asked, her voice calm as a summer’s morning. “You said yourself that your history is nothing more than one nation conquering another. Can you promise me that your people will not turn on us once this is finished? That we will not become your slaves, once this is over?”

I shook my head sadly. “I’m afraid I can only speak for myself. However, there are a few things I can promise, depending on which nation the mirror is in right now. If it is in my nation, and I have a pretty good hunch it is, I can confidently guarantee your safety.”

“Why is that?” Princess Luna asked curiously.

“Because in my country, it is illegal for us to keep slaves. America has been one of, if not the most, powerful nation in the world for some time. I’d be lying if I said we’ve never abused that power, but more often than not we’ve been afraid of the power we possess. After all, we’ve stayed the same size for the past hundred years or so, so…”

The assembled ponies looked even more worried at that, with the sole exception of The Pink One. “It’s okay! I’m sure everything will turn out alright!”

“How can you be so certain, Pinkie? For all we know, we’re trading one enemy for another!” Rainbow yelled, clearly not happy with how the conversation was going.

“Because I trust him,” Pinkie said, pointing up at me. “Plus if we don’t get help soon, the real bad guys are gonna come get us!”

“She’s right,” Princess Luna said, with a nod. “We may very well be opening the door to our own destruction, but it is a possible destruction. The one coming from the stars is, by far, more certain, and far more imminent.”

There was a smattering of agreement after that, and I felt a lump form in my throat when all three princesses turned towards me. “Alex, we are ready. If you would, please go, and establish contact with your people. Our fate is in your hands,” Celestia said, before bowing her head ever so slightly towards me.

I nodded at that, not really trusting myself to say anything to her. Instead, I concentrated on the task at hand, as well as the suddenly ominous mirror directly in front of me.. “Okay, open the mirror, and put up the shield, then. Let’s see where we’ll end up, and how everyone is going to react to this…”

* * *

Jeffrey Stevens yawned as he kept his post. The museum was practically dead, the only patrons at this time being a mother and her rowdy boy. At the moment the small family was looking through the Medieval Europe section, and looked like they were going to be moving on soon.

The museum had been quite dead for the past several days, in fact. The appearance of aliens tended to have that effect on places like this, despite the wide range of responses from the general public. Many people were raiding shopping centers, stocking up on food, weapons and essentials as much as possible. Others were busy protesting, while still others were out partying, either celebrating the fact that humanity wasn't alone in the universe, or having one last bananza before the death rays started raining from the skies.

Everyone else just… continued as they were. The world hadn't ended yet, aliens weren't dropping from the skies and scooping people from their homes, and the police still kept the peace, so for these people, life continued as if nothing had happened, though you could bet that their eyes were glued to their television or computer screens the moment they got home.

Jeffrey fell into this camp, as he felt it was too much effort to freak out when he had no real information. He kept his ear to the ground, though, and if worse came to worse, he could always pile into his pal Benny's place. Benny always had been a bit of a nutter, though his need to set up a bunker looked increasingly sane when one considered that his claims of attacking extraterrestrial life had actually come true.

With everyone preoccupied with the looming alien menace, it came as no surprise then that the museums and libraries were basically empty. No one wanted to learn about ancient history when there were honest to God aliens hovering in the skies above.

"Excuse me, which way is the dinosaur exhibit?" a female voice piped up, pulling Jeffrey from his thoughts.

Well, almost no one, Jeffrey thought to himself. "Right this way, Ma'am."

"Oh, no, you don't have to take us there," the lady said with an awkward smile.

Jeffrey just brushed off her comment. "It's no trouble at all. The place isn't exactly busy, and it beats just standing here."

"Well, if you're sure that we won't be a bother…"

"Honestly, it's no trouble at all!" he said again, before he started leading the small family through the museum.

They barely made two steps before something odd caught the security guard’s eye, causing him to automatically put his hand on his pistol. The weirdness in question was in the exhibit right next to the one on medieval europe, where rows of ancient Roman armor and weapons could be seen, all surrounding a statue of a rearing horse. As he stared, he couldn’t help but feel like something was off, even though absolutely nothing was out of place.

“Is there something wrong, sir?” the mother asked behind him, her voice filled with worry as she noticed the guard’s readied stance.

The security guard looked back, his expression breaking into a reassuring, if somewhat nervous, grin. “Dunno, just got a hinky feeling… Used to be a Ranger, after all, and the… the training never really goes away…”

The woman opened her mouth, presumably to ask another question, but was interrupted by the small five-year-old tugging at her skirt. “Mommy? Why is the side of the statue made of water?”

“What?” she asked, somewhat confused.

Jeffrey, on the other hand, immediately turned around, only to see something that he refused to believe. The statue in the center of the exhibit stood on a rather large, squarish stone base, and the side of that base that was currently facing the small group was currently rippling, as if it were the surface of a river, or a pool of water. “What the devil?” Jeffrey asked, before taking a few cautious steps forward.

Before he could get close enough to examine the statue, however, the rippling grew in intensity, and seemingly without any ceremony, fuss or preamble, a figure fell out of the side of the statue.

It was so sudden, so completely without warning, that everyone present jumped back in surprise. The child screamed a little, and Jeffrey unholstered and leveled his pistol without a second thought. Whatever this thing was, it was clearly alien, and he wasn’t about to let anyone nearby become another Portland disappearing act.

"This is your only warning! Turn around, and go back to whatever cesspit of a planet that spawned you!" Jeffrey shouted as he took a bead on the thing's head.

Then the thing stood up, and panic set into Jeffrey's brain as he registered several things that were just wrong about the creature. It had the same general anatomy of a human, but everything about it was off. The arms and legs were far too long and spindly, and its fingers looked more like the legs of a spider than anything that belonged on a human.

Anything else about the creature’s form was hidden by the clothing it wore. It was dressed in a nice, fancy, black suit, though the make somehow screamed 'old-fashioned' and 'alien' at the same time. The jacket looked like it could be buttoned up in the front, but currently wasn’t, revealing a vest that almost went to the creature’s throat, but stopped short of a series of ruffles found there. The whole thing looked like it could almost pass for something that might have been made on Earth, albeit from the 17th century, if it weren’t for the other things about it that just screamed alien. The buttons, for example, were some kind of gemstone cut into the shape of buttons, and sewn on to serve that purpose. The fabric had a smooth-looking texture that seemed to almost change color slightly depending on how one looked at it, and the general cut and fit of the suit made the thing seem… off. Like the maker had only just recently started making clothes for someone with the general shape of a human.

One of its arms was in a sling, but this did nothing to hamper the aura of menace and alien cruelty that the thing exuded, and as it straightened to its full, frightening seven foot height, Jeffrey finally got a look at the thing's face, or rather, the mask it wore. It appeared to be wood, with a smiling, cheerful face painted on its front in a manner consistent with a child’s handpainting. Combined with the monster's dress and physique, this only further served to intensify the thing's terrifying appearance.

What happened next passed so quickly, that a less prepared individual would have completely missed it, especially with the young mother and her child screaming and running away somewhere behind the former Army Ranger. Fortunately for Jeffrey, he kept his wits about him and his focus on the monster, and was thus able to follow it when it started to move. Jeffrey unloaded his weapon on the monster the second the thing so much as twitched, but as fast as Jeffrey’s reaction was, the thing was much, much faster. It moved like freaking lightning, and though Jeffrey could keep his eyes on the thing at this distance, he still had trouble guessing at just how fast it could move at first. Because of this, he failed to properly anticipate where it was going to end up as it dodged left, which allowed the monster to barely avoid the first volley as it disappeared behind the wall.

Still, Jeffrey’s training wasn’t wasted, and though he might not have hit anything vital, he was still pretty sure he had winged the demon, though he honestly couldn’t be certain. What he was certain of, was the fact that he was woefully under-armed to be dealing with something as fast as the creepypasta reject that had materialized inside his museum.

The security guard quickly keyed his walkie, intent on getting backup, but stopped when the sound of someone yelling up ahead caught his attention. Whomever it was clearly wasn’t happy, but instead of some unknown alien tongue, the voice spoke freaking English! It even had an accent that he recognized, the voice sounding like it came from Maine of all places! Despite the accent, though, the voice was clearly not human; it sounded rough and gravelly, with a slight hint of something that Jeffrey couldn’t quite place, possibly metallic, though at the same time there was a hint of another, higher pitched voice mimicking the deeper one at the same time. Whatever it was, though, it was clearly trying to communicate, despite, or maybe because of, the fact that Jeffrey had just tried to blow its head off. ”Freaking trigger-happy piece of crap rent-a-cop… Don't shoot! I'm on your side! Friendly alien monster, I swear!”

At this point, Jeffrey felt confused, somewhat out of his depth, relieved and suspicious all rolled into one. "...I’m sorry, but what?

“If you’re having trouble believing me, please, call the cops, get the army over here, and drag me off to your secret government labs. I’ll seriously just sit here while you do all that! Just don’t shoot at me anymore! Seriously, I got enough of that from the krin…”

“Jeffrey? What happened? I heard gunshots and I got a hysterical woman here,” Jeffrey heard from his radio.

“...Call the police, Bill, we’ve got a situation,” Jeffrey said, before slowly creeping towards where he saw the alien disappear. “Some kind of alien showed up here, but it says it’s friendly.”

“Might want to get an ambulance over here while you’re at it,” the voice chipped in. “You winged me with your hand cannon, and now I’m having trouble not bleeding all over Ra-sa-fo’s nice, new clothes.”

Jeffrey turned the corner, his pistol aimed downward, as the alien finally came into view. It was every bit as terrifying as he initially saw, though at the moment it was curled up, attempting to make itself as small-looking as possible. It’s left arm was no longer in its sling, as it was currently busy trying to stem the red blood oozing from the creature’s upper arm. “Please, really, I don’t want to die. I didn’t come here to fight or kill, I came here to warn. Don’t shoot me again, please…”

After a few seconds of deliberation, Jeffrey finally holstered his gun, before kneeling down, and reaching out for the creature’s sleeve. With a quick pull, the guard ripped off the sleeve, and quickly began tying a tourniquet over the creature’s wound. The guard nearly jumped out of his skin then, having sworn that he could hear a distant scream of horror and rage in the distance.

As Jeffrey quickly surveyed the area, unable to find the source of the scream, the creature piped up again, its voice sounding tired and strained. “Hey, what’s your name?”

Jeffrey looked back down at the creature, its masked face cocked at an inquisitive angle, though Jeffrey couldn’t help but detect a note of sadness in the way the creature carried itself. “I’m Jeffrey Stevens. Sorry for… for shooting you, I-”

“It’s okay. Believe me, if I were in your spot, I would have done the same,” the creature said.

Before either of them could say anything else, the radio suddenly came back on. “Jeffrey, you still there?” Bill asked, clearly afraid that he might not receive an answer.

“I’m here, Bill. What’s the ETA on those police?” Jeffrey asked.

“They’re already here, and they want to know the situation. Your gunfire tripped the silent alarm, and there were already a few cars in the vicinity,” Bill said, clearly relieved.

Jeffrey looked down at the alien, a question in his eye, only to receive a wave. “Yeah, bring ‘em on in. Might as well get this over with, we really don’t have time to waste…”

“Tell them to come on down, they’ll want to talk with our visitor themselves.” Jeffrey said through the radio, before looking down at the monster inquisitively. “Hey… what’s your name?”

The alien almost seemed shocked at the question. He quickly recovered, though, and let out an awkward cough. “I’m sorry, my name is Alex.”

“Alex? That’s not an alien name, sonny,” Jeffrey said, both surprised and somewhat suspicious.

Alex looked up at Jeffrey, and though the mask covered his face, Jeffrey could still sense a sort of self-mocking look in the creature’s cold, black eyes. “That’s because it isn’t. I’d like to tell you more, but I really need to see someone in charge. A general, or even the president. This is gonna be hard to believe.”

“I hate to burst your bubble, Alex, but I kinda think that’ll be hard to do.”

Alex seemed confused at that, but before he could elaborate, the police finally arrived. They were cautious of the alien at first, but once he started talking, it immediately became clear that it was far above their pay grade.

* * *

“High Priest! We have a bit of a situation!”

Yovakior looked towards Colonel Conners, and murmured an apology, before he activated the intercom with but a thought. “What is it, Lilith?”

“A krin signature just appeared in one of the human’s places of knowledge. It’s a museum of some kind, but that’s not important. What is important is that the humans have apparently noticed as well, as there are several law enforcement vehicles enroute to that location,” the lieutenant reported, her voice sounding almost out of breath.

“Understood, Lieutenant. Have a strike team ready to move at a moment’s notice. If this turns bloody, I want to be able to contain this in an instant.” Yovakior then turned to Colonel Conners, before bowing slightly to the confused-looking human. “I’m sorry, but there seems to be a bit of a problem. A krin signal has appeared on your planet, and we must hurry to contain it.”

It took a few seconds for Yavaar to translate the High Priest’s message, but once he was finished, the colonel was already on his feet, his expression grave. “The colonel says that: Is there something he and his men can do to help?”

Yovakior opened his mouth to respond, but stopped when the lieutenant chimed in again. “Uh… sir? The problem might be larger than we first thought.”

“Why is that, Lieutenant?” Yovakior asked, not liking the trouble in his lieutenant’s voice.

“We just decoded the signal. I’m not sure how it happened, or how he got here-”

“Get to the point, Lieutenant,” Yovakior cut her off, not at all liking how Lilith was chasing the corvos by the tail.

“The information matches exactly to that of the recovered krin experiment,” Lilith said, clearly not believing what was coming out of her own mouth.

“...Excuse me, but what did you just say?”

“Sir, somehow, some way, Alexander Cunningham managed to return home all on his own.”

Those words seemed to echo throughout the High Priest’s chamber. Questions chased themselves around in the quzin leader’s head, until finally they were all brought to a stop as Colonel Conners cleared his throat again.

“Sir, the colonel still wishes to be of help,” Yavaar stated dutifully.

Yovakior studied the colonel intently before he leaned forward, one of his hands on his chin. “Yes, sorry for the delay, Colonel, but I do think there is something you can help us with…”

Author's Notes:

Well, here you go! Far earlier than I was intending, but there is a reason for that.

I was laid off last week.

Not fired, laid off. The company I worked for made refrigeration units, and frankly the orders weren't there. So, as a cost cutting measure, they began trimming employees, starting with the ones that had recently been hired. They're still willing to employ me, and if work picks up, I'll have a job again. In the mean time, I'm out of work.

It's fine, though. It's a worker's market where I live, and it won't be too long before I can get another job. Especially with the lamination plant opening nearby.

OBLIGATORY BOOK PLUG!!
=> What I've Become! <=

Seriously, though, every sale and comment on my book really helps me out. Especially now, since at the moment, it's my only source of income. Still looking for another job, but every tiny bit helps.

Edit: Due to a few of you asking, both in the comments and in pms, I've reactivated my Patreon. It's on a monthly basis now, and I really don't have all the kinks worked out at this point, but it's there in case you wanted to support me in more ways than just purchasing my book.

My patreon

Chapter XXXII

Chapter XXXII

Servaal slowly tapped the console in front of him, his eye ridge furrowed in concentration. “Let me see the code again, Aliz,” he said to the computer.

“Very well, Decedent,” Aliz said, before displaying the encoded message that the traitor Ilisk had sent before his death. Servaal slowly ran through it for the hundredth time, trying to glean some order from the random encoding, to break with a living mind what the ship's computer could not.

It was difficult, if not downright impossible, though. The message had been thoroughly encoded, and had passed through several machines before The Purpose had picked up on the transmission. This meant that they didn't even have an emotional imprint to 'cheat' with, and were forced to decode the message the old fashioned way.

Without the cypher, though, this was next to impossible.

Nevertheless, Servaal would not be dissuaded by something as trivial as 'impossible'. He saw it as a challenge, and since the scientific expedition had been cancelled, he had very little else to occupy his time and talents. True, code-breaking wasn't exactly his forte, but there wasn't anyone else on board that was even remotely competent.

The message had already been passed along to the quzin homeworld as well, so it wasn't like he was the only one working on it. If he were being completely honest, no one expected him to succeed, and it was more than likely that someone else would beat him to it. However, if he managed to decode it, honor and glory beyond measure would be his, and for a no-name soulsmith like him, that was an exceptionally huge matter.

"The krin number system uses base-sixteen, but it's entirely possible that they encoded using a different base. Begin running all known krin encryptions that use different bases, and see if that changes anything."

"I already ran that one before, Decendent," Aliz gently reminded him. "It was one of the first we tried."

"Oh, yeah… well-" Servaal began to say, but stopped when the intercom in front of him began to blink. Servaal quickly pressed the button, hoping that whatever it was was minor. "Servaal at your disposal."

His heart nearly leaped into his throat when, instead of the archmage of the expedition, it was the ship's second voice, Jedon. "Soulsmith, you are ordered to gather the tools of your trade, including your forge, and report to the Priestess's ready room in an hour. You will be briefed when you arrive."

Where once there had been nothing but a somewhat bored soulsmith and his equipment, there was now a flurry of activity as the now flustered member of the Arcanum rushed to answer the call of the ship's void knight. He quickly stuffed his tools, his personal tablet, and randomly a few half-eaten pieces of food and a few blank pieces of paper into the pack, before fixing the forge to the whole thing and slinging the heavy load onto his back. The forge in question looked like an oblong box with a number of knobs and buttons on one side, as well as a single door on the end. It was an older model, but it had been passed down through Servaal's family for at least seven generations.

And in Servaal's line of work, an ancient piece of equipment like that was more of a boon than a hindrance.

"Aliz, save my current project. I will return to it later," Servaal said before he slithered out of the room.

"Very well, Decedent. Be safe on your journeys," the computer said before it powered down the soulsmith's computer and shut off the lights. "Return safe…"

Servaal didn't hear him, though. He was too lost in thought, and was already several meters down the corridor when Aliz spoke, muttering to himself about what he possibly could have done to attract the priestess's ire. It took him about thirty minutes to reach his destination, and it had taken him fifteen to gather his gear, which meant he arrived at the priestess's office with time to spare. Servaal liked to be early; he liked the time to prepare mentally for whatever meeting or job he had to do.

Unfortunately for him, the priestess was also there, standing outside her office, impatiently flipping her tail from side to side as she waited for him.

"Uh…" Servaal said intelligently the moment he caught sight of the void knight. He was a little too slow on the uptake, however, as the priestess had spotted him as well, and was quickly slithering towards him.

“Good, you’re here. How quickly can you forge an artificial soul?” Priestess Akitesh asked, skipping any formalities that their differing ranks and castes would usually necessitate.

Servaal tried to gather his thoughts, but found it quite impossible, as his very being seemed to be pierced by the priestess’s strikingly clear grey eyes. “Uh… I… I could not, I do not have the necessary shards aboard this ship. There might be a few aboard The Bastion due to their recent struggle, but-”

Before Servaal could finish his protest, he was cut off by a single, cutting gesture from the priestess. “That is not what I asked you. I asked how long it would take for you to forge a new, artificial soul.”

“I-If I had the necessary shards, I could do it in a matter of days. One day, if I hurried,” Servaal stammered out. “But I must impress upon you that without those shards, I cannot do what you ask. Surely whatever you need an artificial soul for, could you not use Aliz?”

“We will need Aliz aboard our ship, and what we require the soul for is down on the planet,” Akitesh explained. “However, you could do it by the end of the day?”

“Certainly not. I said it would take a full day, and the day is already half-way gone,” Servaal said, not liking where this conversation was going. “I could have it finished by tomorrow morning, but I would need to work during the night…”

“Then the rest of your day, and night, has been planned. Come, we have work to do,” Akitesh said, before nodding once. “Jedon, link up with the beacon we left with the natives. Alert them of our arrival, and teleport us to the surface the moment they allow us access."

Servaal could feel his neurons fry as he tried to make sense of what the priestess had just said. "Wait, natives? Surface? Ma'am, forgive me for my insolence, but what precisely am I being pulled into? I'm just a soulsmith. What could possibly be so important that it requires an artificial soul now?"

"The preservation of all of our lives, Mage Servaal," Akitesh said simply, right before the world around them disappeared in a flash of white light.

* * *

One would think being cut off from experience would be absolutely torturous. No sensation, no vision, no hearing. Everything an empty void, with nothing but the half-remembered memories of hatred and vengeance to keep one company, and normally, that assumption would be correct. However, for the remains of the fragmented souls stored within the arcanite rods, it was actually an extremely peaceful experience.

Certainly a whole lot more pleasant than trying to pilot a small robotic cat with only part of a soul, and the borrowed knowledge of your host. Every movement, every attempt to speak, to feel, was like the jagged edges of two open wounds being scraped against each other. Compared to that, the void was a soothing release from experience, and wasn’t nearly as lonely as such an existence would first appear.

The only company that these fragmented, tortured souls had was the siren whispers echoing through the void. They were just out of hearing, barely perceived; but what they whispered was sweet relief, of an existence free of toil and suffering, of loved ones long gone, reunited at last, for an eternity of joy beyond the woes of the material world. The call was enticing, too, and each of the fragments could feel the temptation to slip away, to follow that call, and leave this world forever.

They did not, however. It would have been so easy, too; to leave, and never look back. To cross into the hereafter, and let go of the rage, the pain, and the horror.

But that was precisely the reason why those fragmented souls persisted. Vengeance is a powerful motivator, and unbeknownst to those fragmented souls, almost all soul shards remain on the wrong side of the veil for vengeance’s sake. They seethed against those that had turned them into monsters, screamed into the void for retribution, and would continue on, unheard and uncared for, if not for the one that had survived. He was the reason they did not slip into the veil. He was their vengeance made flesh, and if it meant helping him achieve that goal, they were willing to undergo any pain or horror, if only for a chance to drag their tormentors into hell with them.

And so, as these six sets of fragmented souls continued to seethe in a state meant to sooth, they were quite surprised when their souls were touched by an unknown entity. It spoke to them in a way that transcended language and intelligence, seeking for information that all six, without ever talking to each other, agreed as one to not share. It seemed to withdraw for a moment, and each one huddled inside the arcanite rods they called home, hoping that Alex would return, and repel this invader.

Then it returned, more insistent this time. It spoke of understanding for their desire of vengeance. It spoke of sorrow for the lives lost. Most importantly, it said that Alex was a friend, and that it was here to help them help him.

They were more suspicious at that, but those notions that this creature meant them harm was quickly washed away when she appeared. She was the first friendly voice that they and Alex had heard since the one survivor had crawled from the wreckage. Alex trusted her implicitly, and because of this, they also trusted her. She said that the new entity was here to grant their wish. To forge them into a tool, a weapon, that could finally bring justice to those that sorely deserved it.

She said it might hurt, as if pain were a problem to these tortured souls. She told them that they would lose their individuality, as if they had been capable of independent thought since their death. She warned them that the change would be permanent, and that it might be some time before they could finally answer the sweet, clarion call of the veil.

In the end, it really wasn’t a hard decision to make.

* * *

Servaal let out a sigh of relief as he set down his hammer. It was a lot of material to work, and the soul fragments inside had not been the most pleasant to work with, but it was finally finished.

The quzin sat down on one of the short, equine-made chairs, and took a few seconds to admire his handiwork. It wasn't the most beautiful piece he had ever made, at this point resembling nothing more than an oblong hunk of metal, which if one were being polite, could have been called a blade in the making. It was still covered in the black scale of the forge, as it hadn't even touched a grind wheel yet, and it had no bevels to speak of.

That was okay, though. Soulstone was a horrible material to make a blade out of, for as tough as the material was, it didn't keep an edge well, and was too rigid to serve as a sword for long. A knife might have been a better choice for the material, but that wasn't the point. The appearance of such a piece was purely aesthetic, as the real purpose of its construction was to forge together the soul shards within into something that was far more useful than a blade ever could be. The bladed aspect was merely a vanity thing for the soul within. Had Servaal just forge welded the whole thing together into a bar, that, in theory, would have been enough. The problem with that theory was that the soul was a fickle thing to work with, and more times than not a freshly-forged soul would reject its new container, simply because it was unhappy with how that container looked.

Luckily, this soul had not been as finicky. It had been fairly resolute in its demand to be a weapon of some kind, but it didn't seem to care if it was cleaned up, or even made functional. It had grasped the fact that they were short on time, and had chosen itself to forgo the beautification process that would usually make such an effort take a LOT longer to complete.

It had, however, forced a promise out of Servaal that, once the danger had passed, he would finish his work, a promise that Servaal readily agreed to.

"Second Voice Jedon, are you there?" Servaal asked as he activated his comlink.

"I apologize, noble soulsmith, but the second voice is unavailable," an unfamiliar female voice answered. "This is Steward Corval. What is your situation?"

Servaal took in a deep breath, before slowly letting it out. "The... priestess told me to alert her the moment I had finished my work, regardless of her state when it is finished. I understand if it is too late to wake her from her sleep cycle, but-"

"No, you are correct. She'll be overjoyed when she hears of this. Please wait; I will wake her now," the steward said, her voice sounding excited.

Servaal waited patiently as he stared at the piece. It might have been unfinished, but even in this state the rough metal had a strange beauty that nothing else could match. It spoke of things that could be, but weren't, a potential not quite realized, but still visible through the imperfections.

Servaal was so lost in his own thoughts that he nearly jumped out of his skin when Priestess Akitesh appeared next to him in a flash of light. She had a disheveled appearance, as if she had slept in her uniform, but Servaal wisely chose to ignore her appearance in favor of reaching out, taking the piece, and presenting it to her. "It is finished, my priestess."

Akitesh looked at the rough hunk of metal, her bloodshot eyes not pleased with what she saw. "Are you sure? I thought that such a work would look… more finished."

"As much as both of us would have liked that to happen, it isn’t necessary for the artificial soul to function,” Servaal said, inclining his head slightly. “That being said, Edmond has extracted from me my word that, once the danger is past, I will refine his container.”

“Edmond?” Akitesh asked curiously as she took up the rough, unfinished sword. It still felt warm in her hands, its surface rough and uneven despite it’s metallic composition.

“It was the name he chose for himself,” Servaal said with a deep bow. “I know not its meaning, only that it comes from one of the cultures of his home planet. He is ready for duty, my priestess, and quite anxious to begin.”

“Thank you, Servaal. You may return to the ship. I will deliver Edmond to the rulers of this nation. I only hope we were able to finish in time…”

Servaal nodded once more, before activating his comlink and notifying the ship of his desire to depart. Before the world disappeared in a flash of light, though, he couldn’t help but notice the look of hope on his priestess’s beautiful face.

I only hope that you may keep smiling like that…

* * *

“My princess! The snake alien has returned!”

Princess Luna looked up from the paperwork she had been signing. It was the dead of night, the sun wasn’t scheduled to rise for another five hours, and the only ones up were the princess herself, as well as her Night Sentinels. Having anyone come to see her was a joy, though knowing it was one of the aliens in orbit tainted it somewhat with worry and fear. “Show her in,” Princess Luna said as she sat up and put down her quill.

Sergeant Fair Weather bowed to his princess, before pushing the door further open, revealing the alien on the other side. She looked like she had been awoken during her sleep, which was understandable, as it was the middle of the night. In her lower arms she gripped what appeared to be an unfinished, unsharpened blade, its blackened, crusty surface an ugly sight to behold.

“What is that?” Princess Luna asked, hoping that the alien had her translation magic working.

She did, and her first answer was to give the Princess of the Night a tired smile. “It not look much. Not… finished, but done. Work. Is human soul, many forged one. Ready when you ready, ready to start.”

Luna stood up, excitement breaking through the mask she wore. “Are you sure? It’s ready!?”

“Am certain. Where Alexander? He disappeared. Need tell, show friends become, show new soul,” Akitesh asked, her expression remaining one of hopeful enthusiasm, which only served to make Luna’s heart plummet.

The truth was, they didn’t know what had happened to Alex. The wayward human had walked through the portal, with his disappearance immediately followed by the sounds of something small and fast impacting Shining Armor’s shield.

They had expected that, as it was the reason for the shield in the first place. What they hadn’t expected was an hour to pass with no word. This was followed by another, then the whole rest of the day, and no sign of the lone survivor.

No one wanted to say that their friend had met his untimely end and that help wasn’t coming; but with no evidence to the contrary, the defense of a world to plan, and no desire to enter a world without magic and get shot, the assembled diplomats had to unfortunately leave the mirror alone for the time being. There was still a pair of guards on watch in the mirror room, as were the Elements of Harmony, but until they received word to the contrary, they had to assume the worst.

However, Luna had been a statesmare for centuries, her experience overshadowed by none but her sister, and knew how to best avoid giving more information than was necessary. On top of that, a small part of her still held out hope that Alex was coming back, and wasn’t too keen on counting out the human just yet. “He is currently busy on something special that should turn the tides,” she said as she stood from her desk. She then walked to the door, before gesturing once towards the open entryway. “For now, let’s take the soul, and put it into the omniscope. The device has been completed for quite some time, all that was needed was a way to control it.”

If Akitesh suspected anything amiss with Alex, she did not show it. Instead, she merely nodded, and followed Luna out of the room. It was a fairly long walk from Luna’s study to the wing that held the omniscope, and during this time, Luna couldn’t help but feel her hopes rise with each step. She finally had a way to ensure her people’s safety, and while it really was a stopgap measure at best, she had a feeling that there would be few who were willing to take a star to the face in order to assault this world.

Before they knew it, they had reached their destination, and without much ceremony, Princess Luna pushed open the door to where the omniscope was being kept. “Here it is: the Omniscope. The last great work of one of the greatest minds Equestria has ever seen.”

The device in question hardly looked the part for something to carry that kind of lofty title. It looked more like a mishmash of wires, tubes, and random objects. There were metal dishes pointed towards the sky, globes of pure crystal which seemed to glow with an inner light, and in the center there was a stone basin with a pool of the clearest liquid ever created, with a carving of an alicorn overlooking it.

The most important part, though, was the small metallic frame near the bottom. The frame formed an oblong box, inside which could be seen the metal plates that Alex had created, along with the socket that used to house the golem cores that Alex had also made. “Insert the soul there,” Luna said, gesturing with a hoof towards the socket. “If it works as intended, the action should activate the Omniscope, and with it, allow us the chance to defend ourselves.”

Akitesh nodded once, before quickly slithering forward and inserting the tang of the blade into the indicated socket. The tang fit like a glove, though the blade itself stuck out awkwardly, and only served to further make the whole device look like somepony had piled a large assortment of junk in the center of the room.

Princess Luna briefly worried that the extra weight of the blade might break the socket and the plate it was attached to, but that worry was quickly banished when the unfinished sword began to glow a deep, beautiful gold color. Runes all over the omniscope began to glow as well, and soon, a low, ominous hum began to fill the entire room.

Then, a voice began speaking. The voice sounded metallic, but at the same time, it also sounded warm, like a father who had just seen his children enter a room. The language it used wasn’t Equestrian, but rather English, a language that Luna was only passingly familiar with, and a barrier that she knew she should have seen coming.

Fortunately for her, and her planet as a whole, it seemed like one of her scientists had foreseen this exact problem, because after a few seconds of the device babbling in English, it suddenly switched to Equestrian. “Start up translating… active. Greeting Princess Luna, Good see, Good know. Am Wealthy Protector, good see with own eyes. How are you being today?”

Before Luna could answer, one of the glowing globes began to glow brighter as a face suddenly flickered into existence within the depths of the crystal. It was a human face, though since Luna’s only experience with humans was with Alex, she had no way of telling if this was how humans were supposed to look. The face had a long, almost hooked nose, and big bushy eyebrows, though it had no hair on the top of its head. Instead, it wore a large, bushy beard, and all over its exposed skin she could see a maze of glowing, golden symbols.

Princess Luna briefly inclined her head towards the crystal, silently thanking her scientists for having the forethought to put a translation rune into the Omniscope. “I am quite well. Thank you, noble Wealthy Protector. Do you remember what your task was?”

“Do remember. Look in sky, look for enemy. Many thing here, much look, much see, give moment to get used to sensations. Please hold. Please wait.” Wealthy Protector’s face took on a troubled look, as if he were busy with a particularly difficult puzzle.

Akitesh leaned over towards Luna, a question in her eyes. “What he say? Translation through translation very bad.”

“He said he needed time to get used to the Omniscope,” Luna said quietly, not wanting to disturb Wealthy Protector from his task.

After a few seconds, Wealthy Protector’s eyes suddenly went very wide, and another one of the globes began to glow brighter. “Princess Luna! Danger! We need act now! Look!”

The globe began to swirl, before it slowly resolved itself into something that Luna could recognize. In the center, she could see Canterlot castle, its ivory towers gleaming faintly in the moonlight. This view quickly pulled back, giving Luna a sense of vertigo, until she recognized a beautiful green and blue sphere suspended in the darkness of space. This view pulled back even further, until she could see the moon as well, and while she might have had intimate knowledge of that particular celestial body, this was the first time she had ever seen her moon in such a way.

There were other objects in orbit around her planet as well. One looked like some kind of arrowhead, its whole body covered in a number of glowing runes, while another looked like some kind of metallic bird of prey, with its forward sweeping wings and beak-like nose. The third object looked… broken. It was clearly some kind of wreck, as most of the metal showing was all jagged edges and shredded metal. It was hard to get a feel of the size of the things, due to the scale on display, but if Luna had to guess, she would have said that each of the ships were around the size of Canterlot Castle, but smaller than Canterlot City.

“That my ship, The Purpose, and that friendly krin ship, The Bastion,” Akitesh clarified as she pointed towards each one. “Third is wreck of The Aurora. Still not know much about destruction.”

Princess Luna had heard about what had happened, but seeing it now made her blood run cold. “I am not an expert in the workings or designs of your vessels, but she truly looks destroyed…” she said sadly. Luna then turned back towards Wealthy Protector, a frown on her face. “Wealthy Protector, those are our allies. They aren’t here to hurt us.”

“Was worried, but thought that be case. Not real concern. This real concern,” Wealthy Protector said as the view started to pull back even further.

Now they could see the sun, with the planet Equuis only a tiny speck in the infinite cosmos. It was truly a humbling sight, one that she would have to worry about later as the view seemed to swing around, and close in on a seemingly empty patch of space. Luna looked at the view for a few seconds, before shaking her head sadly. “I’m sorry, Wealthy Protector, but we cannot see anything.”

“That because they hidden, and I forgot change view to hidden mode,” Wealthy Protector said, right before the image in the crystal began to warp and shift. After a few seconds of this, a large number of vessels resolved themselves. There were at least forty of the strange ships, most of them bearing a design similar to The Bastion, though there were a few exceptions. Some were much larger and more oblong in design, while others were smaller and sleeker looking. They did not appear to be arranged in any sort of discernible order, and were quickly moving away from each other, spreading out in a way that would make them harder to destroy at once should a celestial body strike them.

They were all still moving in the general direction of the princess’s home, though, which in and of itself filled Luna with a silent dread. This was only further compounded when Luna noticed how close they were to her world.

“Sergeant!” Luna shouted at the top of her lungs. “Go awaken my sister, alert the guard, and assemble our forces, we’re being attacked now!

The sergeant at the door took off like a bolt from a crossbow, not even taking the time to salute. Princess Luna then turned towards the snake alien, intent on relating what had happened, only to find her quickly muttering into a device in her own tongue. “I sorry, Luna, but must leave. They here now, now begins defense. I pray for all safety, will do our part, must leave now.”

“Then go. We will try not to hit you, but be aware that our aim might not be the best,” Princess Luna replied with a bow. “Go now, and know that your willingness to stand with us is appreciated.”

Akitesh responded with a short bow of her own before she disappeared in a flash of white light. Satisfied that she at least had allies in this new theater of war, Princess Luna turned back towards the crystal, and cleared her throat. “Wealthy Protector, can you show me the predicted paths of the sun and moon?”

“Knowing paths…? Oh, orbits. Yes, show now,” Wealthy Protector said, before two white circles appeared, showing Princess Luna exactly what she wanted to know.

She had to curse, then, when she noticed that the fleet was already too far in to make the sun much more than a nuisance. “Well, they’re already past the first hurdle, then,” Luna muttered to herself. “May the spirits smile on us this day, for I am sure that we will need it…”

Author's Notes:

Well, here we are! came a little sooner than I think some of you thought it would. I honestly went through at least four reworks for this chapter, each one from a different character's perspective, and for a different direction of narrative, until I finally settled on this, and how I wanted this to continue. I have a firm idea of how I want the following battle to go, so expect chapters to come a lot quicker now.

As for work, I've got a sorta part time job working as a caregiver now, but I'm still looking for work. If you want to help me, feel free to tell others about my book! The more I can sell that sucker, the more I'll be able to turn this into a career, and the more chapters I'll be able to make here. Since, you know, Fimfiction is my proving ground, and always will be.

=> What I've Become! <=

If you wanted to support me in a more immediate fashion though, and because I've recieved a number of pms and comments about it, my Patreon is up again. You can head over there if you'd like to support me directly.

=>My patreon!<=

Of course, it's just a pipe dream ATM for me to turn this into a career, but that's what all success stories have in common. Someone had a dream, an idea, an inspiration, whatever you want to call it. Yeah, a lot of dreams fail, but some succeed, and I'm willing to take the risk to fail.

Well, see you next time, guys!

Edit: Completely forgot, someone made a TV tropes page for my story!

TV tropes: Humanity Within.

At the moment, it's just a stub. I'd add to it myself, except I have very little experience editing TV tropes pages, and I'm somewhat busy writing the actual stories to spend time on this. I'm under the impression that anyone can add to it, so if you feel so inclined, please, have at it!

Chapter XXXIII

Chapter XXXIII

Princess Celestia rushed into the room, and stopped short as her eyes took in the Omniscope. She had never dreamed of seeing the thing actually running, and seeing the human face in the globe was somewhat disconcerting. “I… was told that the snakes finished the soul?” Celestia said as both her sister and the unknown human face turned to look at her.

“Yes, sister, and our friend Wealthy Protector has already detected the enemy. They are approaching fast, though not incredibly so,” Luna said, before gesturing towards the globe displaying the ships in question. “Wealthy Protector has judged that, given their current speed, they should arrive at our planet within the next two days.”

Celestia was puzzled by this information. “...Why do they move so slow? Given what we know, this cannot be the fastest they can move. If it is, then they would take eons to cross the distance between stars!”

“My excuse, but is most likely caution,” the luminescent human head chimed in. “They hiding. They using invisible. Is most likely that they slow moving to avoid detect. Probably not appear there either. Probably spend several days sneak, move slow, no detect.”

“Which means that they don’t know that we know they’re here. At last, some good news,” Celestia said as she moved closer to the orb. “Wealthy Protector, could you show me where they are in relation to my sun?”

“I’m sorry, dear sister, but they are already too far in,” Luna answered her sadly. “Our first line of defense is already broken, and should you use your sun as a battering ram, you may very well cook us in the process.”

While this was horrible news, it didn’t seem to bother Celestia in the slightest. “That is hardly an issue. Wealthy Protector, please do as I requested.”

Wealthy Protector did just that, showing both the sun, the planet, as well as several small, white arrows to designate the ships which would have otherwise been completely invisible due to the sheer scale of the theater of war. There was even a white ring showing the predicted path of the sun, which pleased Celestia greatly. “Here requested view, along with path sun. As see, sun cannot hit without come danger close.”

As he did this, both Celestia and Luna approached the globe, though while her sister’s eyes were locked onto the glowing sphere, Luna’s eyes never left Celestia’s face. “Sister, what are you planning? Surely you do not intend to bake us as well?”

“That is not what I was intending in the slightest, Lulu. In fact, I was planning on letting them pass at first,” Celestia said as she watched the enemy fleet grow closer.

“Wait, what?”

Celestia’s expression did not shift in the slightest, though Luna couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of satisfaction from the older alicorn. “Tell me, dear sister, how much do you know about stars?” Celestia asked.

“They are… well, they are large balls of fire, burning brightly in the sky,” Luna said after a few moments of thought.

“Close, but not quite accurate. A star is a place where elements are fused into other elements. Fusing elements creates a lot of power, and sometimes a star must vent that power in a display that would make even Discord blush,” Celestia stated as the corners of her lips turned upwards. “While I cannot speak for other stars, my star is particularly petulant. It releases its energy in fits of rage without warning, or it sometimes stews in its own anger, dormant and relatively cold for hours, days, or sometimes hundreds of years.”

“Ah, sun explode. And fluctuation mean sun red smallfolk,” Wealthy Protector said, his voice sounding intrigued. “But how is helping?”

“Because, for over a thousand years, I have grown quite close to my charge...” Celestia said cryptically. “And right now, my star... is… angry…"

“Celestia, what-” Luna started to say, but stopped short when, without warning, the sun princess’s tail and mane suddenly ignited, and her horn and eyes began to glow as brightly as the very star she controlled. The heat coming off of her felt like an oven, and for a moment, Luna worried that Celestia might lose control.

Then her sister began to speak, and her voice shook Luna to her very core. It sounded distorted and otherworldly, with a deep rage that lurked just beneath the surface. “When I grew angry, Celestia would soothe me, to calm my rage. When I grew sullen and petulant, Celestia would cheer me, to share my warmth with her precious ponies. Over the centuries, we have grown to know each other well. We know that our little ponies are in danger, and the wrath these invaders have enkindled in us is far greater than any we have ever felt. Show me thine adversaries, that we may smite them. Show us our enemies, that their ashes might be scattered across the stars. Show us these invaders, that their infestation might be cleansed in holy fire.”

Celestia, or whatever was currently in control of her, locked her eyes onto the globe that showed where the enemy fleet was, and if anything, her eyes grew even brighter. “There thou art. Enjoy these last few precious moments, for mine consort has her eye on thee. Thou shouldst flee while thou hast the chance, for all that awaits thee here is a fiery death.”

As Luna watched in fear and awe, she noticed the sun in the globe begin to accelerate along its orbit. Before she could register what that meant, a light at the edge of her vision caught her attention, causing her to look out the window, and watch in silent wonder as her sister’s sun quickly began to rise on the horizon…

* * *

High General Inos stepped out on the bridge of his ship, The Emperor’s Triumph, his antenna low, showing that he was deep in thought. "Lieutenant Cava, report."

"Everything is quiet, sir. The enemy is still investigating The Aurora. As our ambush team reported, she's basically destroyed. All her escape did was alert the two that we were coming."

Inos nodded in satisfaction as he made his way to his chair. "Has that blasted star made any deviation from its path?"

"No sir. Star is still on the same course and velocity ever since we dropped out of hyperspace," Lieutenant Cava said. "Besides, even if the quzin were to move it towards us, we're already well within the orbit of the star around the planet. If they wanted to use it on us, they'd cause irreparable damage to the planet they're trying to protect."

General Inos sat down without much ceremony, his antenna perking up with curiosity. "We're already inside the orbit? When did this happen?"

"About four hours into your sleep cycle, sir. It was… wait a minute…" Lieutenant Cava stopped as he typed a few things on his console. He then looked up to his general, alarm in his gaze. "Sir, the star has accelerated far beyond its projected speed! It has not deviated from its orbit even slightly, but it will be behind us within a minute!

"They've spotted us. Decloak, raise shields, power up armor and begin evasive maneuvers. Lieutenant Zveil, open a channel to the fleet."

General Inos counted to three while he waited for the com channel to open, then cleared his throat. "This is General Inos. The enemy has spotted us and has-"

"Sir, something is inbound on The Crucible from behind, moving fast!"

General Inos glanced briefly toward the lieutenant who said that, before his eyes went back to the main screen. "What? Is it reinforcements? Magnetic mines? Show me what's happening!"

The viewscreen flickered, then displayed an image that caused General Inos to stand up and stare in disbelief.

"By the Battlewatcher's domain…" the helmsman whispered in horror.

* * *

Princess Celestia looked out with eyes made of magic and thought at the broad expanse of space before her. The void was endless and pure, speckled with stars that shone like diamonds on a canvas of black velvet, its sheer beauty enough to take her breath away.

However, the princess was too focused on her task, and would not be dissuaded by such petty distractions. Her partner had its eyes on her target, and while she could not see through her own eyes anymore, she could feel where it was looking, know without a shadow of a doubt that her prey was there, lying in wait as they continued on their course to harm her little ponies.

They shall suffer for their insolence... her partner whispered in her ear.

She moved herself along her path, to close the distance between herself and her quarry. As if in response to her presence, the empty space seemed to distort, until a number of ships materialized where once there were none. Celestia could sense power welling up inside each of the vessels, could feel the barriers of energy they were desperately trying to erect to prevent her judgement.

All they did was make themselves larger targets.

She spread her wings, and took off in pursuit of her prey. She felt her form separate from the star, her wings and hooves made of fire and fury as she galloped across the vast expanse. Her eyes were set upon the closest ship, it being one of those crescent bird-of-prey-style ships, the ports on its back glowed brightly as it desperately attempted to flee from the death that chased it.

Without pause or remorse, she plowed into the fleeing vessel. She felt the defensive barrier push her back, its very purpose and design made specifically to protect its progenitor from fires such as her. However, it was not made with intelligent fury in mind, and as such, only managed to hold off the alicorn princess’s rage for a few seconds at best. The second the field failed, she was there, ramming through hull and engine, burning steel and wire as she exposed the fragile occupants to the cold, relentless terror of the void. As she crashed into the vessel, she briefly felt air flow around her fiery form, heard the screams of her victims, before all was made silent and cool again as she passed through to the other side, leaving nothing but a gaping hole and ionized metallic gases in her wake.

Her rage wouldn’t be sated with one ship, however, and without missing a beat, she immediately turned towards the next closest target. This one was larger, more cylindrical, and deep in her heart, she knew it would be a vessel whose sole purpose was to round up and kidnap her little ponies. Screaming in rage, she charged at the vessel, her hooves leaving fiery prints behind her as she galloped through the void. The ship increased its speed, clearly intent on either outrunning her, or dodging clear of her fiery rage. In fact, all of the ships were increasing their speed at a rate that made her seriously doubt her ability to destroy them all. Some would slip through her net, and draw close enough to her world that she could not follow.

She did not care, though. Her rage burned too brightly for her to care, and as she rammed horn first into the ship before her, she knew that her rampage had only just begun.

* * *

Captain Hazalk couldn’t believe his eyes. It was as if a fiery god had spawned from the star itself, and was doing its level best to destroy every ship it encountered. It was still quite a ways off, maybe two to three hours journey at the fastest his ship could do without tearing a rift into the fabric of spacetime, but it was getting closer, and Hazalk’s ship had some of the best sensors and telescopes that the krin had ever invented, allowing him and his crew to easily follow the carnage on display.

And by every god his ancestors had worshiped, the sight he beheld was truly a wondrous and terrible one. Silently, he offered a prayer to whatever god was watching over him, thanking him for convincing the equines below to not turn this terrible power upon his little ship.

“Sir… I’ve… I’ve finished my calculations,” Lieutenant Talian said, trying desperately to swallow her panic. “...and based on how fast the… the fire horse is moving, it’ll kill twelve ships before the front-most ship reaches the lunar orbit.”

Hazalk nodded slowly, not blinking as he watched the majestic, terrifying entity prance through eternity. “Yeah… that sounds about right…” he muttered quietly.

“Sir… do you think they’ll be able to clean up the rest with the moon?” Talian asked hopefully. “If it is anything as impressive as what they can do with the sun, it could knock them out of the sky before they even get here!”

Hazalk just shook his head sadly as he sunk lower into his seat. “From what I’ve been told, there are restrictions on this kind of thing, which if you ask me, is both a blessing and a curse. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I did get the chance to ask a few questions about what we could expect. While they can indeed accelerate the moon far beyond anything we thought possible, there will be too many entering the orbit at the same time. It’s more than likely that half or more that make it past that fiery god will make it past the moon, which will leave at least fourteen ships for us to handle. We’ll still have to fight, but expect to abandon ship at some point.”

“But sir, what’s to stop the natives from bringing the moon closer?” Yvtil asked curiously. “And what’s to stop the fire horse from coming closer, too?”

“For the fire horse? I don’t know,” Hazalk responded honestly. “However, the equines made it very clear that there were limits to what they could do with the moon and the actual sun. Some kind of safety measures implemented in whatever hocus-pocus they use to control all that, making it so they could only bring the two so close, or push them so far away. It’s most likely the same thing with whatever that thing is.”

Hazalk’s statement was punctuated with the fiery god-horse reaching another ship and plowing straight through it. It must have hit something critical this time, because this one exploded almost the moment the horse hit the ship.

“Well, at the very least, we can assume that the traitor’s fleet would have been significantly reduced…” Yvtil muttered, before letting out a nervous laugh.

“Yeah, at least there’s that…” Hazalk agreed. The krin captain continued to watch the spectacle for a few minutes, before shaking his head and turning away. “I’ll be in my office if you need me. Let me know the moment the first ship reaches the moon.”

“Aye aye, sir,” Yvtil said as the captain quickly left the bridge.

* * *

It has been stated by many individuals from many species and races that all wars are won in the mind. The morale of troops have made or broken campaigns, and many invading armies, far superior in numbers and technology, have been completely routed when primal fear overtook and destroyed their resolve.

This was a lesson that the krin imperial forces had learned time and time again, and it was a factor that the upper echelon of the empire had spent forty long years attempting to eliminate. At the height of their power during the war, their latest breakthrough in wetware technology had allowed them to completely override their subordinate's fear and self-preservation instincts, to force them to fulfill their duty to the absolute best of their abilities.

The downside of this technology, besides the obviously horrendous override of free will, is that the process to install it is time-consuming, expensive, and dangerous. There are only a small number of krin doctors capable of performing the surgery, and I would note that most of them did not side with the emperor after he fled. Automated medical facilities capable of installing such hardware are even harder to come by, and such resources are exceptionally difficult to obtain for an emperor cut off from his throne. The war was less than a decade ago, I would guess that such tech would be outside of his scope. If not, then why use The Destiny Ascension? A ship that was, at least on paper, a confederate ship? No, I do not think he has access to that technology. At least, he does not have unlimited access to it.

However, such technology does exist, and before his exile from the throne, the emperor had already begun rolling out the new upgrades to all of his officers. They had even come to me and my crew, hoping to install the new implants into us, as our ship had won him many victories on the field of battle. “It would make us unstoppable,” they said. “It would win us the war,” they said.

“At what cost?” was my only reply.

I didn’t know it at the time, had thought that my ship was supposed to be the prototype, but he apparently had rolled out the new upgrades to a large portion of his officers. It’s why so many of our ships followed him when he fled; they literally had no choice in the matter. He had planned to eventually pass along the new wetware to the rank and file soldiers, but he was ousted before he could even begin.

I surmise, then, that this is why they didn’t turn tail and run the moment that first ship was destroyed by that fiery god of war. If it hadn't been for their implants, then I’m certain that the entire invasion would have been broken right then and there.

But the emperor is a cruel and selfish master, and his generals are monsters in their own right. I know too many of them, and I know that they would stick to their plan regardless of losses or innocents. The krin under his command are merely pawns in the grand strategy, and if their lives could purchase the secret of magic, then it is a price he is willing to pay.

So come they did, like moths to the flame. I do not know if the rest of the crews on those vessels have those implants, or even know what is coming, but I would guess that they don’t. Their lives mean nothing to the emperor, and it would not surprise me in the slightest if the only warning those poor souls had before their lives were snuffed out was the smell of burning metal and the sound of explosive decompression. Even when the ships made it within the moon's orbit, and the deadly hunk of rock whipped itself around and smashed its warp field into ship after ship, tearing matter apart as the warped, twisted space encountered the stiff inflexible hulls of the imperial krin fleet, they still came, meat for the grinder in the emperor's mad war for power.

By the time they pushed through to the planet, the emperor's fleet had taken a mighty toll. Fifteen ships survived the righteous fury of the alien horse people. Fifteen, out of forty.

I would like to say that I was shocked and appalled at the senseless death on display, but I was not. I had been under the empire's employ before, even talked to him face-to-face. I knew full well what the mad, self-proclaimed Voice of God was capable of. My hesitation to the equines during the war council wasn’t because I thought they might flee, but because I knew they wouldn’t.

I didn’t want to break them. I could see it in their eyes, I knew how they had treated the lone survivor of the crash. They might think to save some of the monsters coming to kill them. I had to keep them in the dark, had to lie by omission, so that they might fight to their fullest.

I know what I did, and I do not excuse myself. The blood of the brainwashed is as much on my hands as it is on the emperor’s. However, I value our lives far more than those puppets, and for this, I do not regret what I did.

This isn’t a war for land, for power, for life or ideals, and hasn’t been for a long, long time. I had realized this the moment that Agent Covarlor had entered my office and had ordered my entire command staff to receive implants and upgrades. I had wavered somewhat in the past on this whole war, but my allegiance was set the moment I had pulled my pistol and gunned that evil gutless wretch down.

This war is a war for the mind, and even now, as I and my crew climb into our escape pods, and our once faithful ship burns around us, I still do not waver on that decision I made all those years ago.

Magic might frighten me. The quzin are unknowable, their actions unfathomable, but I would still choose them over the monster who would gut my brain and my will in a heartbeat. I place my trust in them, and as my pod falls through the atmosphere of this alien planet, I pray that I survive, if only for the chance to finally put that mad dog who calls himself emperor down myself.

-Captain Hazalk, personal log.

* * *

Captain Hazalk looked up from his tablet towards the monitor, the small pod he and his command crew had piled into shaking somewhat as they entered the planet’s atmosphere. It looked like they were going to land in a field south of the castle on the mountain. This was fairly good news, as it would allow him and his crew to reconnect with their native allies.

He just hoped that they would remember that not all the krin coming out of those pods were evil, kidnapping psychopaths.

“We’ll be landing in a matter of minutes. Remember, check your position, reconnect with your fellow crewmates, and assist the locals in any way possible,” Commander Yvtil ordered over the radio. “Good luck out there, and may the Battlewatcher smile on us today.”

“And if he doesn’t, give him a reason to as you take as many of the bastards as you can with you,” Hazalk chimed in. “Make him take notice when you reach his throne and tell him just how many of the soulless wretches you took down with you, make him know that you are a hardened warrior, and that the halls of Valja are your just reward for a life well spent, and a war hard fought. Know that I expect to see each and every one of you before we open those doors and announce our arrival, and that I’ll gladly vouch for all of you when we all stand in front of that throne. Good luck, and may all the gods grant us strength this day.”

We’re going to need it… Hazalk thought, right as the green field on the monitor rushed up to meet them.

Author's Notes:

Well, it's only been a few days, but as promised, now that we've reached the point I've been dying to write, they're coming a lot faster now. Preliminary hostilities have been taken, and there have already been losses on both sides. I hope I didn't disappoint you that there wasn't a huge ship-to-ship battle, but honestly with how many ships I was planning on making it through to equestria, even with a quzin ship, it wasn't going to be much of a contest.

As for those of you who thought that Celestia had been sidelined, I hope this chapter has made your day.

As always:
My book:
=> What I've Become! <=
My patreon
And that tvtropes page that Alias_The_J made.

The tropes page is still a stub, but if you'd like, I'm fairly certain that you can add and expand upon it.

Hopefully the next chapter will be as quick in its construction. Well, hope you enjoyed this one, and I'll see you guys next time!

Chapter XXXIV

Chapter XXXIV

I sat at the featureless metal table, in a rather nondescript interrogation room, waiting for either a death sentence followed by an autopsy, or for someone with the power to make a decision to listen to what I had to say. I was actually pretty hopeful, all things considered. I mean, I did manage to get through the initial arrival with only one additional hole, and they didn't immediately shoot me the second the real cops arrived, which was always a bonus. Honestly, by this point, if they were going to kill me, it would be after they sponge me for as much information as possible. By that point I would have been able to give my entire story, as well as my desperate pleas for aid, so at least my job would have been finished.

They were taking an awful long time to get to me, though. The trip between the museum, the wait at the police station, and the trip to whatever secret government facility I was in right now combined was probably shorter than how long they've made me wait in this tiny room.

I was probably exaggerating a bit, but not by much.

As I sat there, wondering what possibly could be keeping them so long, my enhanced hearing picked up the sounds of two sets of footsteps coming down the hallway. There was also this weird humming noise that I could have sworn I had heard before, but I honestly couldn’t remember where. Other than the footsteps and the humming though, they were quiet, which immediately put me on edge.

I strained my ears to pick up even a hint of what was going to happen, but as it turned out, I really didn’t need to. My hearing was extremely good, and when they did start talking, I was able to pick up on what they were saying with ease. “Colonel Conners, a thought suddenly occurred to me… what if he loses control? I mean, he has those… things in his head, what if the bugs’ programming reactivate? I mean…”

This immediately made me freeze up. They already know about the krin, about me, but how? I thought to myself as I slowed down my perception of time, trying desperately to figure out if I was going to have to fight my way out of this. They called them ‘bugs’ though, and the tone wasn’t exactly flattering, so at the very least they have a negative view on the aliens. But… what does that mean for me? I spent what seemed like hours combing my brain as I tried to figure out how this was going to go down, and whether or not I was going to have to treat my own people as the enemy. Finally, after getting nowhere, I decided to play it cool for now. No sense in causing a ruckus without an immediate reason. Best to play it dumb until I know more… I thought as I let time reassert itself.

“Extremely unlikely, Doctor,” a strange, almost metallic voice chimed in. “From The Purpose’s reports, Alexander Cunningham has developed a gift that allows him to control krin machinery on a whim. While he does not have access to a spiritual field on this planet, the changes he has made to his implants are quite permanent. It would require a full wipe and reinstall of his systems for him to do anything outside of his control. Even if they managed that, however, it would be rendered completely inoperable the moment he came into contact with a sufficiently strong spiritual field.”

Ah… That explains it… I thought to myself as I felt my entire body relax. I might not have recognized the voice, but I did recognize the name of the vessel that the metallic voice dropped. The snakes got here first. I’ll have to remember to thank Akitesh the next time I see her.

“Why is that?” the doctor asked curiously, completely ignorant of my internal monologue. “If the machines are in his brain, then shouldn’t he be unable to use this… power?”

“I've already explained this to you, doctor. Magic is not psychic power, as such a power simply does not exist. While it requires thought to use and fully realize, a brain is not, strictly speaking, necessary; a soul is.” There was a slight cough following this pronouncement, and I could practically feel the doctor’s disdain from the other side of the wall. “Scoff how you like, Doctor Phillips, but the soul is a very real phenomenon. If you still require proof, I am certain I can convince one of our wizards to demonstrate it for you.”

“...You don’t really use the word ‘wizard’ for them, do you?” Doctor Phillips asked in a disbelieving tone.

“No, the word is actually Ellikior. It translates to ‘master of the somewhat known.’ A shorter, less accurate translation would be a scientist of the theoretical, but members of our Alivarioa have a certain sense of propriety and humor. It is common practice among them to translate the title as ‘wizard’ in any language, and those that practice practical knowledge as ‘mages’. At least, that is how they decided to translate those titles into your English. There was actually a debate on whether to use the word ‘warlock’ or-”

“As interesting as this all is, we really don’t have time for a lecture on quzin traditions and language,” I shouted through the door, immediately silencing all of them. “If you would all be so kind and get in here already, we can begin. We really don’t have a whole lot of time, and we’ve wasted far too much already.”

The silence that followed this was pretty fantastic, and I would have paid good money to have been able to see the looks on their faces when I had said that, but sadly, no one can really have everything in this life. Without any further waffling, the door sprang open, revealing the people on the other side.

Leading the group was a soldier wearing fatigues, as well as a sour look on his face. He was a fairly tall individual, nearly reaching my ridiculous height, but missed the mark by a couple of inches. His short brown hair was partially covered by a cap that matched his fatigues, and had the word RANGER printed on the front in big, bold letters. Due to what the doctor said earlier, I really didn’t need to look at the patch to know that the man was a colonel. I did anyway, though, as there was something strangely reassuring about the silver eagle on his shoulder.

Right behind him was a stuffy looking man in a white lab coat and half-moon glasses. He looked to be in his mid-fifties, was in the process of losing his hair, but thankfully he wasn’t trying to hide it with a nasty comb-over. He was also currently giving me a look similar to someone inspecting a particularly fascinating specimen of mold under a microscope.

He wasn’t the one to draw my attention, though. The one to do that was the hovering silvery orb right behind the two. It was nearly featureless save for the holes along its side, most likely serving as speakers and microphone, as well as the single lens on the front. I kept my eye on it for a few seconds, before I stood up, took a few steps forward, and offered an outstretched hand to the ranger in front. “Hello, Colonel, I hope I'm not overstepping myself when I start by asking how long the snakes have been here?" I asked, my eyes flickering towards the orb before coming back to the colonel’s face.

"Not long… their fleet appeared in orbit a few days ago… was there something we needed to know about them?" The colonel asked pointedly as he shook my hand, his eyes asking far more than his tone or words were.

"No, nothing wrong. In fact, that just makes a few things easier: You already know who, and more importantly, what, I am,” I said before I retreated back to my seat. “While I don’t fully trust the snakes, let me tell you right now that they’re a far sight better to see on this planet than the krin. There might be a few issues later down the road, but for the most part, I’m pretty sure you can trust them when they say ‘we come in peace.’”

The colonel looked a little shocked at my bold statement right in front of one of the quzin’s representatives, and his eyes quickly darted back to the probe to gauge it’s reaction. He needn’t have bothered, as the machine gave the person on the other end an unbeatable poker face, but it was a natural reaction that I could sympathize with. After a few seconds, with no reaction from the snakes, his eyes eventually returned to my masked face. “Why is it that you don’t trust them?” The colonel asked carefully as he moved into the room and took the seat opposite to me.

I shook my head, a wry grin on my face as old, painful memories sprang up. “Just a natural reaction for someone in my shoes, Colonel. After what I’ve been through, it’s pretty hard for me to trust anyone, regardless of their actual guilt. If it means anything, as far as I know, they’re completely innocent of any wrongdoing towards us, and have pretty good intentions overall.”

“That’s a relief…” the colonel sighed, before rubbing the bridge of his nose between his finger and thumb as he took the seat opposite of me. “So then… I guess with the most obvious problem out of the way, let me be the first to officially welcome you back home, son.”

I couldn’t help but feel the tears well up in my eyes at that, but I forced down the sappy part of myself with a single deep breath. We weren’t out of the woods yet, and I still had a mission to complete. Plenty of time to get sappy later. “Thank you, Sir. Despite the less than warm reception, it’s kind of good to be back,” I said, before gesturing towards my bandaged arm.

“Were you ever in the military, Alex?” the colonel asked me curiously.

I shook my head. “No, sir. My dad was, though. He was a ranger, so I know how most of this goes.”

“Well, then don’t call me ‘sir,’ Sam will do. You aren’t under my command, so I don’t expect you to hold formalities with me,” the colonel told me.

“Yes, sir,” I said, unable to pass up the opportunity.

The colonel let out a tired sigh as he shook his head, but let my cheekiness slide. “Son, how are you here, and why? Not that I’m complaining, but last I heard, you were on an alien world. You were supposedly safe, but far, far from home; If you’re here to warn us, you’re a little too late, seeing as how the snakes beat you here. You seem fine with them, though, but strangely you still say we don’t have much time. Why?”

“Tell me, sir, how much have the snakes told you about the people that found me?”

“Just that you were in ‘good hands.’”

This made me let out a small chuckle, causing the two humans in the room to look at me in confusion. “That is… technically inaccurate,” I said, before reaching under my mask and wiping away a tear. “They’re not bad people, far from it, in fact. They’re some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, but I cannot honestly say I was in good ‘hands’ while I was over there.”

“Why is that?” Doctor Phillips asked, piping up for the first time since the door had opened.

I let out a few more giggles before I shook my head, held up a hand, and waggled my fingers at the doctor. “Because they don’t have hands. Nicest people you’ll ever meet, but not even remotely human-looking. Human-feeling and human-thinking, yes, but human-looking? Oh boy, no. But… I’m getting a little off track.” I turned back to the colonel, before I reached into my breast pocket and pulled out a small metal disk. It was something that Celestia had given me before I left, stating it was a ‘badge of office’ since I was sort of representing them to another nation. The disk was a little on the thick side, made of silver and gold, and was just a little bit smaller than a CD. On it it depicted stylized versions of Celestia and Luna, each pushing their respective charges around the outside of the disk, while the background was swirled in an artistic representation of the day and night. “I’ve been sent by the Alivaria of Eli-thali-mal-las to formally request an alliance between Earth and...you know, they never actually gave me the name of their world. Needless to say, they want to open relations, and to form an alliance as soon as possible.”

The colonel looked down at the disk curiously, though I couldn’t help but notice the distrust there. He also didn’t answer me directly, choosing to instead turn towards the silver probe behind him. “And what does your high priest have to say about all of this?”

The probe hummed in a manner that strongly reminded me of Guilty Spark, which caused a shiver to run down my spine for a few seconds. However, it did not immediately attempt to kill us, so I let it slide. “The high priest is busy. His meeting with the United Nations begins in six hours, and he needs to revise his speech and have it re-translated. However, our laws on the subject are quite strict; the alliances of other nations is not to be intruded upon, unless such alliances would prove detrimental to our sovereign territory. This is two steward spaces joining together, and as such, we have no say in this matter. We wish you the best in your new joint endeavor, however, and would encourage you to be mindful of your neighbors. A new power, no matter how primitive, always attracts those that would put such bonds to the test. It does not concern us, however, and we actually encourage such cooperation, as it makes for a more peaceful galaxy.”

Colonel Conners scoffed at the probe’s seemingly laid-back attitude. “Nothing about this worries you?”

“Oh, we are quite worried. Just not about the formation of your alliance. We are more concerned with how Alexander came to be here, and why the formation of such an alliance is necessary at this time,” the probe said, its lens parts moving in such a way as to make me think the thing was focusing more intently on me. “Surely such a formation should occur after initial peace talks. Alexander’s purpose should be to formally introduce the nation that took him in, and to serve as a translator for further talks. Trade agreements may follow, followed by joint cultural exchanges, possibly followed by an alliance if such events end positively. Instead, he is sent as the bearer of the alliance itself. It is a most unusual breach of any known protocol, and begs the question: Why?”

The colonel looked back at me, before pointing a single thumb towards the probe. “Yavaar’s right, you know. What’s so important that you’ve gotta start with the alliance?”

“Because the bugs are coming for them,” I said simply.

“...And there it is...” Conners stated, his whole body stating louder than words that he was sick of this crap.

I shook my head, the colonel's dry wit making me smile briefly as a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Nevertheless, I still had a job to do, and I knew that I didn't have the time to get all sentimental. “Yeah, I know. No one comes with good news. I’m here to request help. If no one comes with me, then fine, I’ll go back, and you’ll never hear from us again. However, if that happens, let me tell you right now that the bugs will become far, far more dangerous than they are now.” I then slowly took off my mask, revealing my face for the first time on earth. “And let me tell you, if they conquer them first, the rest of humanity will follow in my footsteps, the bugs will make sure of it.”

Doctor Phillips stood stock still for several seconds, just staring at my horrifying visage. After a few seconds of this, he started making a sound like a stepped-on mouse, which quickly grew into a terrified scream as he bolted from the room like a madman. I could hear a scuffle from behind the one way window as well, and I knew that if it weren’t for Conner’s hand raising in silent protest, I would have been filled with holes right then and there.

Conners, however, looked decidedly less impressed. He looked disgusted, that was for sure, but his reaction was significantly less than what I was expecting. “...You’re not surprised?” I asked him.

“No, I saw what you looked like before. Comparing the two, this is definitely an upgrade. You’re still absolutely haunting, but you’re not a nightmare, at least,” he said, his voice still completely level.

“...Thank you,” I said, before returning the mask to my face. “I know it’s not perfect, but the Yi-tha-nas did the best they could. At least now I can speak English again, and that alone is enough to saint them in my opinion.”

The second my mask returned to its place, Colonel Conners leaned forward, suddenly very buisness-like. “I’ll pass on the request for an alliance, since it’s not really my place to say either way. However, while we’re waiting, would you mind answering a few questions?”

“As many as you like, but please hurry, our time is short. I really wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve already started attacking while I was away,” I said as I leaned back into my chair.

Conners opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Yavaar beat him to it. “How did you come across this information? You speak as if the assault has yet to occur, yet you are certain of their intent. However, from our last communication with The Purpose, no such information was known.”

I looked at the probe, not really sure how to say what I knew without getting myself laughed out of existence by the human in the room, or ordered off to a madhouse by the ones behind the glass. Finally, I decided to start with the beginning, to see where they were at. “...Tell me, Colonel, how much have they told you about magic? Like, do you know what’s possible with it?”

Colonel Conners looked confused at the sudden change in subject, but thankfully, he decided to roll with it. “It’s… basically everything we imagined it would be, while at the same time nothing we’d expected. Fire, shields, teleportation-”

“Did you know that it’s possible to see the future?” I asked, interrupting him.

Conners looked at me funny, as if expecting me to suddenly say ‘psyche!’ and to start pointing out hidden cameras. When I made no move to do anything like that, he then half-turned towards the probe, a smile on his face. “You’re kidding… He’s kidding, right?”

The probe didn’t answer immediately. In fact, the thing stopped bobbing ever so slightly, and sat perfectly still in mid-air the moment I had said ‘future.’ Conners looked somewhat worried, even going so far as to snap his fingers a few times in front of the lens while calling for attention, but I already knew what was happening.

I knew that I had said something in front of the quzin drone that had touched a nerve, and he was off to get someone higher on the totem pole.

“High Priest Yovakior would like an immediate audience with the one known as Alexander Cunningham,” the robot suddenly said, his voice sounding far more formal as he turned towards the one-way window. “General, does the High Priest have permission to enter the base?”

There was a slight pause, followed by a tale-tell clicking of an intercom system coming online. The voice that came through from the other end sounded sure and commanding, the sort of voice you’d expect a general to have. “He does, but make sure he knows that I would like to speak with him as soon as he is finished.”

“The high priest has accepted your terms. I am proud to announce the arrival of his greatness, High Priest Yovakior, leader of the Holy Armada,” Yavaar said, before tilting forwards ever so slightly. There was a sudden flash of white, blinding light, and a quzin far larger and more regal-looking than Akitesh suddenly appeared in the small room. He was dressed to impress, his entire outfit a white and gold affair, and his stance screamed ‘in control.’

His face, however, looked like he had seen a ghost.

As soon as he arrived, though, I felt something change. A warmth that had been absent the moment I had arrived was suddenly present again, and deep down I knew that I was inside a magical field again. My mind seemed sharper, my body felt energized, and for a brief moment, I felt like I could take on the world.

It was somewhat distracting, to be honest, but not enough to pull my attention away from the searching, withering glare that the high priest was giving me. “Tell me, young human. What has Tra’cul the Creator revealed to you?” the quzin asked in perfect krin as he leaned forward over the desk, all four arms planted on the metal surface.

I gave a small smile, before shaking my head. “I wasn’t the one given the vision. It was Priestess Akitesh. And in her own words, ‘none of us are going to survive this if they aren’t stopped.’”

The snake eyed me for ten seconds straight, and for a brief second, I felt something lightly brush against my soul. As soon as I felt the sensation, though, it was gone, and Yovakior broke his gaze to turn towards his probe. He barked something in his native tongue, and the probe quickly materialized a chair in the small room, onto which the snake planted himself as he turned back to me, his gaze significantly less serious, and more fearful. "Please, tell me more."

I settled in, ready for the long haul. I figured it might take me some time to get them to understand, but at least I now had their attention. As I talked, though, the snake’s face became progressively more infuriated, and I could tell that he wasn’t happy with how things were going down. The other humans in the room were unfortunately left out of a good portion of the conversation, but thankfully Yavaar was there to translate for us.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the snake leaned back before he rubbed his forehead with a single hand and turned towards Colonel Conners. “We did not come with an infantry capable of repelling such a force, and as he has said, we are too far out to be of any help in space. We need to stall this enemy for time while the other fleet makes it towards Eutai.”

Conners looked confused for a second, but that was quickly erased as Yavaar translated for the high priest. Conners than shook his head, before he stood up and made his way to the glass. “You get all that, General?”

“I did, but it isn’t ultimately up to me. We’re going to have to go through the president for this one, and by the sounds of it, the rest of the U.N. as well,” the commanding voice stated, clearly not happy. “We could provide some support, but we’re hardly equipped to fight a war covering an entire planet.”

There was a short pause as Yavaar translated for the high priest, after which the snake-alien fixed me with a long, calculating stare. “I think if we’re going to get the nations of your world aligned in this, we have the perfect tool ready-made. Conners, didn’t you say something about showing those pictures? Well, I see someone in front of me far more compelling than some simple photographs.”

There was another pause at this as Yavaar related his master’s plans, and outwardly I was completely and utterly calm. Inwardly, however, I couldn't help but feel a growing pit in my stomach. You know, you knew something like this was going to happen, right? I thought to myself as I watched an unsettling expression appear on Colonel Conners’ face. Yeah… I just didn’t think it would be this soon.

Suddenly, I felt somewhat regretful that that security guard hadn’t put a bullet in my skull the moment he saw me.

* * *

"-while President Xi Jinping has been saying that this is nothing more than an American hoax, President Vladimir Putin has expressed hopefulness of a new age in cooperation with the alien visitors. For now, everyone present is eagerly awaiting the appearance of the aliens, and what more they can tell us about this mysterious threat."

Valerie let out a sigh of contentment as she planted her seat back onto a human-made sofa. The snakes had been more than hospitable during her stay with them, but most of their seats had been uncomfortable, to say the least. They all had these weird ridges running through them, and were obviously made so that their naga-like bodies could curl around the structures. Comfortable and practical for snake-people, considerably less-so for humans.

After a few seconds of staring at the ceiling, Valerie finally turned her attention from her seat to the t.v., though she wasn’t entirely paying attention as she had her mind on other things. Due to her work with the military, she was privy to a lot of the weirdness that had been going on, and because of this she already had a pretty good idea what the alien leader was going to say. She still watched, though. She wouldn’t miss this for the world, as every minute was history in the making, regardless of how dark the future might be.

There wasn’t much going on at the moment, but she knew that that wouldn’t stay the same for long. President Darris had just entered the room, and she instinctively knew that things were about to get interesting as he stepped up to the podium and cleared his throat. “Esteemed members of the United Nations, it is with great honor that I introduce the leader of the alien force, High Priest Yoh-va-kor. I only hope that our combined future is filled with peace and prosperity.”

The Iowa-born man turned slightly, a single hand outstretched as the snake creature entered the room from behind the curtain in the back, his long, sinuous tail lagging conspicuously behind him as he slithered his way to the front. He approached the podium, looked at the microphone curiously for a second, before he cleared his own throat. He then began to speak, his words completely unrecognizable, up until there was a weird surge of noise. An alien rune began to glow at the snake’s throat, and as sudden as a bolt of lightning, the snake alien’s words shifted into the more recognizable English tongue. It was still somewhat choppy, but at least it was understandable.

“Havalati-so-ca, thonas fo vor. Ithala-Brothers and Sisters of wonder blue gem you call Earth. It is great pride, honor, that I speak you today. I extend blessings and fellowship of his holiness, the Prophet of Tra’cul. His people, the Theocracy of Zerthal, bear you no ill will, and wish only happiness between us. I not come peace, though. We not come peace. We come for war, for evil has set sights on your blue gem.” There was muttering throughout the hall at this announcement, but no one interrupted the alien’s speech. They had already heard this part before, and were waiting for him to say something new. “Am understanding if not trust. If our place reversed, would be similar. Why trust strange being with no tail? Why trust this creature, not seen, not speak like us? Have proof. Have proof will show today, exactly what enemy want do to humans. If they win day, what in store for all humans. Alexander, please come forward.”

Valerie felt her heart leap into her throat at the mention of that name. It can’t be… No, Alex is a common name, there’s no way in hell it’s him… she thought as she quickly pushed down the sudden rush of emotion she felt welling up inside her. However, as the curtain moved, revealing Alexander in all his glory, she couldn’t quell the sense of unease that was rising in her. Whomever this person was, it was clear that he wasn’t quite human now. He had the same general shape and features of a human, but his limbs were too long, his flesh too pale, and he moved with an almost unnatural fluidity. He wore a black suit and tie, and over his face he wore a mask depicting an almost childish smiling expression, which if anything, only served to deepen the unease the monstrosity exuded. He walked with an even, purposeful stride towards the podium, and without any ceremony, the white-and-gold clad snake moved out of the way to allow the creature access to the microphone.

He tapped the microphone once, causing a ‘thump’ sound to be heard throughout the United Nations building, and through televisions the world over. When he spoke, his voice had a weird duality to it. It sounded low and harsh, but there was another, higher-pitched metallic voice interlacing the first one. “Hello, people of Earth, or rather, hello my fellow human beings. About one year ago, I was a human just like you-” he started to say, but stopped short when someone in the audience stood up.

“The floor recognizes the representative of Great Britain,” the master of ceremonies said, nodding to the lady in question.

“Excuse me, but why the mask?” Elane Pierce asked, a slight accusation in her voice. “If what you say is true, and you are from Earth, then why hide your identity?”

There was a mass of muttering followed by this near accusation, and Valerie could see the creature’s posture droop. “I do not show my face to hide my identity, but to spare you the horror of what the aliens did to me. If you are set on seeing it, though, I will show you. For those of you at home, please send your children away. You really don’t want to see this.”

“I rather think we do, Alexander,” the representative of Britain said, not backing down, or even bothering to return to her chair. “I would also like to know why you chose that… particular design for a mask.”

The creature let out another sigh, before he reached up and touched the mask. “The mask was a gift from a… rather eccentric friend. She felt it was probably better to hide my face behind a smile at first.”

“Regardless of the sentiment, we would really like to see the face of the man underneath,” Elane Pierce said, though her tone was somewhat softer now. “If only to fully realize what we’re dealing with.”

Alex’s shoulders slumped in defeat, and he finally pulled off the mask.

The effect of that one, simple action was instantaneous. Several present immediately let out startled cries, while others began shouting questions at the clearly inhuman individual on the stand. To Great Britain's credit, their representative did not move a muscle, but her expression clearly showed that she was spooked by the reveal.

Valerie was in shock. All she could do was stare in mute horror at the visage before her. The face was still somewhat human-looking, in the fact that all the major structures were there. Eyes, ears, mouth, and the general shape, all present. The details in that face, however, was where things descended into madness.

Alexander’s teeth were too sharp, to begin with. They looked like they would be far more at home in the mouth of a wolf, though as she examined them closer, a shark was probably a better comparison, as they were ever so slightly serrated. His nose looked stubbed and deformed, almost as if it had been slightly melted. His skin was a pallid grey, completely hairless, and seemed to cling to his skull, showing very little musculature underneath, with the whole effect bringing to mind thoughts of death and the grave.

The worst part, though, were his eyes. They were pitch black, devoid of pupil, iris, or any other distinguishing feature, and seemed to contain the very essence of the void. It was no wonder that people were panicking, and she couldn’t help but wonder what people the world over were thinking as they stared into that horrifying mug.

“There will be order!” The master of ceremonies shouted, trying desperately to regain some level of decorum. This seemed to work somewhat as people quickly realized that Alexander wasn’t about to leap out at them and gobble them up, but their fear was quickly replaced with anger, as several people all began to shout at once, demanding answers to a multitude of questions in a multitude of languages.

“Please, please, I will answer any questions you have in time, but first, I must finish,” Alex stated loudly through the microphone. This seemed to do very little, up until the master of ceremonies brought his gavel down several times, finally restoring order. Alexander gave him a greatful smile which, if anything, made him look even more deadly, before continuing his speech. “Thank you. Now, I know you all have many questions, the most important being how I can prove I am really from this planet. After all, I hardly have any credentials, and don’t even remotely resemble the person I once was. However, I can still prove it. I’ve already given my information to the authorities of the United States of America, and they have already verified my identity. However, some background information is needed to convince you of my story, so I will give it. My name is Alexander Brandon Cunningham, and I was born in northern Maine, on the seventeenth of March, nineteen-ninety-one. I went to M.I.T. and received my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and soon afterwards found a job working for Edwards and Edwards software firm in Portland, Maine. While I was there, I fell in love with a wonderful woman, and was planning on proposing to her. None of that mattered to the aliens that took me from my home.”

Valerie was in shock. She couldn’t move a muscle, couldn’t even begin to think of anything to say, other than to stare in abject horror at the inhuman monster her boyfriend had become. His words washed over her, unheard, unheeded, as she tried to comprehend the living hell that her life had become.

As dead to the world as she had become, though, Alex still continued to speak, his words echoing throughout the otherwise completely silent main hall of the United Nations. “I tell you this as background, to tell you that they could scoop literally anyone from their homes, and turn you into an unthinking, unfeeling murder machine. In fact, they have done exactly that. There were fifty of us, all taken from our homes, and forced to do unspeakable acts of violence, all because of the wires they stuck into our brains.”

“All I see is an American who was taken from bed,” someone shouted over the silence. The camera panned to the Chinese delegation, with President Xi Jinping front and center staring directly at the former human with hard, uncaring eyes. His translator stood next to him, though he didn't look nearly as imposing as he tried to stare Alex down. “If they took a Chinese citizen, they would not have found themselves so easy prey.”

Alex looked at the man for a full ten seconds, and for a brief moment, it looked like he had nothing to say, as his face gave away very little in the way of expression. He soon changed that impression, however, as he cleared his throat, and began to speak. “Wang Xiu Ying, Sichuan province, identification number seven-eight-three-three-four-six-seven-eight-three, birth date April fifth, nineteen-eighty-seven. He was married to Chenhua, and they had a beautiful baby girl by the name of Changying. He worked as a factory worker, and had a little bit of a drinking problem. He left his job to head home about eight p.m., September seventh, two-thousand-fifteen. He never made it home.”

Alex then turned his head, his eyes seeking out someone, before pointing towards a particular seat. “President Putin, there was one Kazimr Vasiliev, he lived in Volgograd, his identification number was three-three-eight-nine-four-one-seven-eight-three-zero-two, and was born on August twelfth, nineteen-seventy-two. He had three kids, his wife, Anastasia, died in childbirth, as did their fourth son. He worked hard to support his three remaining kids, and somehow made ends meet. He disappeared one night, though, taken after he stumbled home from a night at the bar with his friends."

On and on Alex went, naming person after person, describing a short snippet of those people's lives, giving intimate details that left no doubt in the minds of anyone watching that he knew each and every person he named. More importantly, he spoke in terms that made it absolutely certain what had happened to every single one of them.

Finally, he reached the end of his long, long list, his breathing ragged as he leaned into the podium, clearly drained at the ordeal. "Every single one of the people I've just named was taken, just like me. We were stolen from our beds, twisted into forms barely recognizable, and forced to do unspeakable things, all because of this." Alex then slowly turned, before pointing towards something on the back of his neck. The camera zoomed in, as did the view of the large monitor behind him, to reveal something that punched a hole through Valerie's stomach and filled it with ice water. There, on the back of his neck, right at the base of the skull, was a round, metallic hole, somehow, impossibly, joined perfectly and naturally with the flesh surrounding it.

Valerie could actually hear some of the less prepared representatives void their stomachs on international television. As bad as it was, however, it wasn't nearly as bad as what Alex said next. "We were nothing but weapons to them. They forced us to hunt down their enemies, to kill all that opposed us, even going as far as to force us to eat people. You don't have to believe me. You can walk away thinking whatever you want, that I'm just a trick of Hollywood, that the aliens created me to lie to you, whatever it is you want to make it easier for you to sleep at night. Go ahead home, and lie to yourselves, that everything is fine, and nothing is wrong. Just know that your warning has been given. They are coming. They have no morals, no decency, and no sense of propriety. Nothing is sacred to them, they don't care about your status or race or species. You are all just tools to them, a means to an end. If we don't band together and face this threat, our homes, our families, our very souls, will be nothing more than fuel to feed their war machine. Thank you for your time, that is all."

Alex then turned and walked away, completely ignoring the storms of questions and shouts of outrage that followed his statement. Valerie found that she couldn't keep her eyes off of him as he slowly made his way off the stage, only to disappear behind the curtain as if he had never existed.

The second he vanished, Valerie bolted from the sofa and dashed to her apartment's door, only pausing long enough to wretch it open. As expected, two servicemen stood guard next to her room, as she was still a civilian, and not technically authorized for too many areas around the base. The soldiers looked a little startled by her sudden appearance, and even more so by the angry look in her eyes. "Ma'am, is there something wrong?" one of them asked, concern in his voice.

"I need to see Colonel Conners now. If not him, someone that can point me in the right direction," Valerie said, her voice oddly calm considering the cocktail of emotions that were playing havoc inside her chest. "There's someone I need to talk to that involves the project I'm currently involved with, and the sooner I can speak with him, the better."

The soldiers didn't salute, but one of them did start relaying the request through his walkie. It didn't take long for her request to be approved, and before she knew it, she was being led through the base, and hopefully, towards answers and closure.

More importantly, she was off to finally hug, and berate, someone whom she had nearly given up hope of ever seeing again.

* * *

“How are they taking it?” Alex asked before Conners had even finished opening the door.

Colonel Conners glanced at the inhuman monster, before shaking his head a little. “About as well as you’d expect. That bit with your fellow captives really got them scared, and they’re all panicking, trying to fortify their own positions.”

“Expected that; the United Nations isn’t really a governing body. More like an exclusive clubhouse where everyone yells at each other. The point wasn’t to get their support, but to alert as many people as possible what was going to happen,” Alex said, before he reached under his mask and rubbed his eyes. “What about N.A.T.O.? Is there any help coming for Eutai?”

Conners let out a sigh, before he collapsed into the chair opposite of Alex. “Our generals are talking to them, but you gotta admit, it’s a hard sell. Not only do we have to convince them that our planet is connected by an alien gate to a world of alien horse people, but that these people can see the future, and that helping them is a far greater use of their time and resources than hunkering down and fortifying Earth.”

Alex sighed in frustration. “Well, if help isn’t coming, then I really have to go,” he said, before he stood up and smoothed out his clothes. “If they fall, then our world is next, and they’ll be bringing Eutai’s magic against us. No way we can fight against those two combined.”

Conners stood up and held out a single hand to stop him. “Woah, there. You can’t just go off by yourself. You may be a weapon, but you’re only one gun, and one that’s wounded at that. Anything you do will be like throwing a snowball into Hell.”

“I can’t abandon them,” Alex said, his glassy, black eyes completely unfathomable. “They helped me, fixed me up, gave me someone to talk to when I literally had no one. I can’t just let them die alone.”

Conners gave him a soul searching stare, before he shook his head and lowered his hand in defeat. “You know, for an alien monster, you’re pretty bad at acting like one.”

“...You just haven't seen me on a bad day," Alex said, a slight grin in his voice. "Now, will the military let me go, or are you going to force me to stay?”

“I wouldn’t dream of forcing you. You’ve committed no crime, and you aren’t military, so I could hardly order you around. However, I would ask you to stay just a little bit longer,” Conners said, before turning towards the door. “After all, someone would like to speak with you.”

Alex’s face was covered by a mask, and even if it weren’t, his augmented facial features made it hard to read his expression. He had been so calm, so collected, so in control of everything he did up to this point, that Conners had begun to think that the man was incapable of feeling anything. However, when that door opened and revealed the person on the other side, Conners could see the man wilt in abject terror, as he was suddenly faced with someone that he clearly didn’t expect.

“Alex...?” Valerie asked as she took a hesitant step into the room.

“No… No no no… I’m not ready for this, please why God, why?” the human turned alien weapon started muttering as he quickly backpedaled into a corner. “No, you shouldn’t be here, why are you here? You can’t be real, I didn’t want to meet you like this, I’m… I’m… oh please, I’m really not ready for this…”

“Alex… I’m real, I swear…” Valerie said as she slowly approached the inhuman bio-weapon. She reached out with a single hand and without fear, slowly turned his head to face her. Without skipping a beat, she then reached up with the other one and carefully removed the mask he wore, revealing him in all his twisted, alien glory. “Oh, Alex… what did they do to you?”

Unbelievably, this confident alien weapon, so far removed from the human race, started doing the most human thing possible as tears slowly began streaming down his face. She lightly placed a hand on his cheek, and without another word, used her other arm to pull him closer. Once they were close enough, she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tight, like he might disappear at any moment.

Alex didn’t return the hug at first, and instead looked up, as if seeking guidance from the only other person in the room. Conners refused to be of any help though, choosing to instead leave the poor soul to figure this out for himself. Before he closed the door, however, his last sight of the two was of Alex slowly, tentatively, reaching up to return the hug, almost as if he wasn't sure that this was really happening.

Though, on second thought, that was probably exactly what was going through the former human’s mind.

Conners nodded once to the two soldiers stationed outside, before he turned around and started making his way to lab four. He was confident that Valerie would be able to stall Alex long enough for him to get everything ready, but if that weren’t the case, the two guards were to take the most circuitous route possible. After all, the worst kind of surprise party was one where the recipient showed up a little too early, and the way Alex was acting back there, Conners was sure he was going to spoil everything, gallivant back to Eutai or wherever alone, and take all the fun for himself.

Such selfishness wasn’t something Conners could ever abide by. Parties were made to be crashed, after all, and Conners still had to make sure he had enough favors for everyone.

Author's Notes:

Just finished editing this one, my kid's awake and ready to play, so I don't have time to make a good ending author's note. Just let me know what you thought in the comments below!

The usual stuff, copy-pasted for time:
My book:
=> What I've Become! <=
My patreon
And that tvtropes page that Alias_The_J made.

No time, boy whining, need to dad. Enjoy the story!

Chapter XXXV

Chapter XXXV

I don't know how long we stood there, locked in each other's embrace, her body pressed into mine. It could have been years for all I cared, and because of my implants, it would have been so easy for me to make the moment last at least that long. I didn't want that, though. The last thing I needed right then was a reminder of how inhuman I had become; all I wanted was to enjoy the feel of her form pressed into mine, and the way her fingers trailed in little circles around the small of my back.

Sadly, nothing can last forever, and after far too short a time for my liking, Valerie pulled away, her eyes sweeping up and down my form. I couldn’t blame her; I was taller than I used to be, but I was also much, much ganglier.

I was also an unspeakably horrifying monster from beyond the stars, but at this point I was just splitting hairs.

As I stood there, just drinking in the sight of her, she gently reached up and rubbed her hand over my bald head as her lips turned down into a frown. “I liked your hair…” she half-muttered to herself.

“I did, too. Trust me, I wasn’t presented with the option to keep it,” I replied dryly. “I got it back for a few days, but… it didn’t keep.”

Valerie looked confused at this, as she should have. “You… got it back? I don’t understand. Alex, what happened to you? Really?”

“It’s a long, long story, one we really don’t have time for.” This didn’t seem to satisfy her, as I knew it wouldn’t, but it was the honest truth. “Look, you deserve answers, you deserve my full story, but that’s something that’s going to take days to tell properly. Right now, people I care about have hours at best.”

"Uh-uh, you're not getting away with a half-assed explanation like that," Valerie said, tapping her foot angrily. "You're going to sit down, get some snuggles, and you are going to tell me everything."

I tried to protest, tried to say anything to stop her, but anything I tried was ignored as she gently, but firmly, pushed me back into the couch and curled up in my lap like a kitten. "Now, tell me," she said, the look in her eyes slightly threatening. "What happened to you after you disappeared?"

I knew that we really didn’t have time for this, that people's lives were at stake, but the feeling of her warm body cuddled into mine was just too good. It brought to mind memories I had all but forgotten, of seeing her for the first time, the first time she smiled at me, our first date which, while admittedly started off pretty rocky, was nevertheless one of my fondest memories with her. She smelled slightly of flowers, which brought to mind rainy nights curled together, sipping cocoa and laughing at really bad movies.

It was no surprise, then, that when I opened my mouth, I began spilling my guts, just as she asked. I had the presence of mind to keep to the cliff notes version, but I still spent way too long talking to her about the horrors I had been through, about my miraculous escape, and about how me and my fellow experiments had fought tooth and nail for our freedom.

Valerie was a good listener, too. She didn't interrupt me even once while I went through the terrible things the krin did to me, and I couldn't see even an ounce of judgement when I told her about what they forced me to do. I did, however, notice that she became progressively more angry with each word that came out of my mouth, and something deep inside me told me that it wasn't just because of what I had gone through.

Something else was bugging her, of that I was certain.

I wanted to ask her about it, but something kept me from taking that step. Instead, I selfishly kept talking about myself, telling her about the wonderful alien ponies that had saved me, and about the danger that now threatened them. I knew I should have asked her, should have said something, but it was like a dam had burst, and I couldn't stop talking until I had gotten everything out.

I don't know how long we were there, as there were no clocks in this room and I still hadn't figured out how to make the implants in my head show such a feature, but it must have been at least a few hours. Finally, I drooped, having expended myself completely and utterly. “And… that’s why I can’t stay…” I said as I gently ran my hand through her hair. “I know it sounds crazy, but… they need me. Even if all I can do is stop a single shot with my body, I still have to go. They gave me my voice back, they gave me one last chance to see you again. I can’t repay them by turning my back on them, not now…”

“You don’t have to go alone,” Valerie said as she gently traced circles on my chest.

I looked down into her wonderful grey eyes, and I could see tears welling up in the corners of those beautiful orbs. “What choice do I have? NATO’s just going to spend it’s time arguing, and I rather doubt the U.S. is going to move without them.”

“I meant me, dingus,” she said, lightly punching me in the arm. I winced in pain, my inhibitors having been set to a lower level despite my injuries, as the higher levels could mess up my brain if left on for too long (that had been a terrifying text to see running across the bottom of my vision, believe me). Valerie was exceptionally observant, though, always had been. It was why she had done so well in college, and why she was a forensic scientist. Because of this, she picked up on my expression immediately, pulled away from me, and gave me a stern look. “Alex… what’s wrong with your arm?”

“It’s nothing,” I replied, trying to shy away from her ever so slightly. She wasn’t buying it, and immediately started pulling at my jacket, fully intent on getting it off of me. “Look, I was banged up a little… It’s nothing, I swear!”

She completely ignored me, and other than getting physical, I really had no way to stop her. Before long, the black jacket I was wearing had been removed, and the red stain on my shirt from where I had bled through my bandages could be clearly seen. “Alex… You’re hurt! You were thinking of going back to a warzone like this?

“Of course,” I said, not backing down despite the shame in my heart. “My nanites have been working overtime, so the gunshot isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be. The other arm is basically-”

“You were shot?

“Yes, remember this face?” I reminded her, using a finger from my other hand to gesture towards my ugly mug. “Well, when I first got here, the portal opened up in the Smithsonian. The guard there really didn’t take too kindly to my sudden appearance, or my face, despite the happy mask I was wearing to hide it. He was pretty fast on the draw, which is a good thing, all things considered, but he only managed to wing me."

This didn’t seem to make her any happier, judging by the look on her face. "And you were just going to run off with this and get yourself killed, then?"

"I was already dead when they found me," I answered her, my voice completely level as I stared into those beautiful, grey, accusing eyes. "Believe me, seeing you one last time is, by far, more than I could ever wish for… but I owe them more than just my life. I owe them my ability to speak, my sanity, but most importantly, I owe them for my return home, however brief."

Valerie turned away, anger in her eyes. It was clear that she wasn’t happy, and honestly, I knew her pain. It would have been so easy just to say ‘screw them’ and stay here, with her. To hide away, and pretend that the krin wouldn’t come, that the last year had been nothing more than a nightmare.

I couldn’t do that, though. Not only because I wouldn’t be able to face myself in the mirror if I did that, but because I wouldn’t be able to look her in the eye again, either. If I turned tail and ran like a coward, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.

She had been the only thing keeping me from hurling myself from that cliff while I had been alone. I rather doubted that I could keep myself from such a fate if I ever saw disappointment in those lovely grey eyes of hers.

“...I have to go.” I said, before I gently untangled myself from her, picked up my coat, and turned towards the door. I took a few steps forward, my mind made up, but stopped when I felt her arms gently encircle me.

"Alex…" she whispered, her voice filled with tears.

"I can't stay… there's too much at stake, and if I ran like a coward…" I trailed off, not wanting to finish what was on my mind.

"But why do you have to do this alone?" she asked, her voice sounding strained and tired. "Please, at least take me with you. Let me see these people who did so much for my fiance."

Her words stopped me in my tracks. It had been an offhand comment during my speech in front of the United Nations, but I had been quite serious when I had said I was thinking of asking her to marry me. I had even picked a ring out, and was planning the perfect proposal.

She had apparently taken me as completely serious, too. There was only one problem with that, and it was a really big one. "Valerie…" I said, before I turned and gently enfolded her in my arms. "You don't know how happy it makes me to hear you say that…"

"...I know there's a 'but' in there somewhere."

"There is, but-"

"No 'buts'! Do you love me, or not?" she asked, her eyes blazing with an inner fire.

"More than you could ever know."

"Then what's the problem?"

I sighed a little, before I looked away. "How many children do you want?" I asked, my voice catching ever so slightly. "Because frankly, I'm pretty sure I can’t give you any."

The silence that followed this was deafening, and I could feel her eyes boring into me. I couldn't meet her gaze, though. I couldn't let her see how weak and small I felt. "Listen, Valerie, you deserve happiness. You deserve the world. You deserve a white picket fence, a devoted husband, and a swarm of loving munchkins to bring joy and chaos in equal measures. I'm a broken, penniless alien bioweapon who was used in countless war crimes. What's more, my former masters are probably still looking for me. You don't deserve that kind of baggage, that kind of emptiness, that kind of life. You are, by far, the greatest thing to ever happen to me, which is why I want you to go. Go find someone who makes you happy, someone who makes you laugh at bad movies, someone who will keep you warm at night, and someone who will listen to you when you need an ear… and just forget about me. It would make me smile to see you heal, and move on. Just promise me you'll tell my parents what happened to me. They deserve to know." I tried to leave, tried to untangle myself from her warm, loving embrace, and leave her to her normal life, but I couldn’t. She held on to me too tightly, her nails dug into my back, and I could feel her tears on my shirt. “Valerie, please, just-”

“Shut up,” she said softly into my chest. And so I did.

We just stood there as she softly cried into my chest, her arms around me, while I fought with myself over what to do. I knew that it would be a stupid idea to comfort her, that it would make letting go of me all the harder, but I couldn’t help myself. As if they had a mind of their own, my arms slowly reached up, and encircled her in a soft, but firm, hug. My mind screamed at me, telling me that this was absolutely the wrong move, but my heart ignored what my head was saying, and instead called out to her. It called to her with every fearful moment, every lonely night, begging, pleading with her to stay with me.

Finally, she pulled away and looked up at me, her hand brushing my cheek as she stared into my dead, soulless eyes. “Alex, I don’t want someone else. I want you.

I tried to say something in response, tried to tell her that she wasn’t thinking clearly, that her emotions were getting the better of her. My heart, on the other hand, promptly told my brain to take the largest, sharpest, spikiest polearm and shove it where the sun didn’t shine.

Because of this inner war between my heart and my mind, I found myself utterly powerless as she stood up on her tippy-toes, took my face between both of her hands, and pulled me down so that she could press her wonderful ruby lips to mine.

An eternity passed, then another, as I tried desperately to process this impossibly amazing, yet incredibly simple gesture. Electricity seemed to travel from the point of contact and earth itself into my spinal column, and every sensor I had in my head seemed to be in overload, the krin wiring apparently ill prepared for such a human gesture. I don’t know how long I accidentally made this moment last, nor did I care. If I spent the literal rest of my life, stuck in this position, I would have absolutely nothing to complain about.

However, all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately, this moment ended far sooner than I would have liked. With a slight blush to her cheeks, she gently pulled away, then smiled up at me with all the beauty of a rising star. “Now, why don’t you take me to meet these wonderful people who returned my fiance?” she asked again.

This time, I found it rather hard to argue with her.

* * *

"So, anything new?" Conners asked as he and his command team entered the lab.

Doctor Phillips looked up from the statue he had been examining, before letting out a sigh. "Well, it's a beautifully constructed statue from ancient greece. The museum said that it was taken to Britain during the Roman occupation, and-"

"Doctor, you know full well what I meant," Conners said, before giving the scientist the evil eye.

"I don't know, okay!" the scientist shouted, suddenly becoming very irate. "I've pointed every tool I have at my disposal at this thing, and everything I've got says it's nothing more than a normal statue!" Phillips then quickly moved towards a nearby table before scooping up a pencil and throwing it underhanded towards the statue's square base.

The pencil traveled in a predictable fashion, right up to the point where it encountered the surface of the stone. Instead of bouncing off like it should have, the pencil instead passed straight through, causing the surface of the rock to ripple as if it were water for a few seconds before becoming still.

"Eyup. That's magic, all right. Gonna have to ask the aliens on the other side how they did it," Conners said in an off-hand manner.

If anything, this caused Phillips to become even more upset. "Conners, I cannot condone you or your men walking through that thing. We don't even know if it's safe, or what the long-term effects of… 'magic' on the human body are. For all we know, you'll grow another head in three years, or suddenly explode, or-"

"Or we could get superpowers. That could be pretty sweet," Conners said, his voice still completely level. "Though, to be honest, a second head could be pretty rad."

"You could eat two ice creams at the same time!" Lieutenant Blacks suddenly piped up, causing the other members of the team to nod in agreement.

"That would certainly make watching the kids easier," another muttered, his demeanor just as nonchalant.

Doctor Phillips eyed them all in disbelief. "How can you all be so flippant about this!? You're about to step through an unknown anomaly, on the word of a monster, all to help some alien horse people that might not even exist! This is clearly a trap, and you all are just going to… waltz right into it?"

Conners let out a sigh, before fondly letting his hand rest on the barrel of his FN SCAR-L. "Well, if it is a trap, we'll be packing a few surprises of our own. After all, it would be pretty rude of us to not spring such a trap, especially after they went through all that trouble to set it."

"Colonel, your weapons will mean very little if this is a trap," Doctor Phillips said, clearly not enjoying the colonel's sass.

"And if it isn’t a trap, and we don’t act, we will lose a valuable ally, and perhaps our entire world. Losing me and my team seems a small price to pay for those kinds of stakes."

Conners knew the doctor wanted to keep arguing the point, he could see it in the doctor’s eyes, but he also could see that the doctor knew it was pointless to argue, since the decision was ultimately out of his hands.

After a few seconds of this impromptu staredown, Doctor Phillips finally relented, throwing his hands up into the air in defeat. "Fine! Go then! Get yourselves killed! I don’t even know why I bother to talk to you meatheads!"

Conners just smiled in satisfaction. He was now forty-seven to ten in the staredown game, only having lost to his mother, the undisputed champ. "That’s always fun… But sadly, we can’t leave just yet, not until we have our translator."

"Where is the little horror meme, anyway, colonel?" Lieutenant Blacks asked as he scratched underneath his chin. "I half expected him to be waiting outside the room."

"He'll be here. I just gave him something to distract him for a while, though I am a bit surprised that we still managed to beat him. However, if my intuition is anything to go by, he should be showing up right… about… now!” Conners said, before pointing towards the entrance that he and his team had just entered through. Much to the colonel’s chagrin, the door remained closed, completely killing the anticipation that he had raised in his men.

"Your timing's off, Colonel," Blacks said in a disapproving tone. "I've come to expect so much more from-"

As luck would have it, that was precisely the moment that the guest of honor chose to show his face. He wasn't wearing his mask, which allowed all present to see his horrifying mug, as well as his flabbergasted expression as he caught sight of everything, and everyone, who was crammed into the relatively small laboratory. "What… what's all…?"

"So close…” Conners muttered as he snapped his fingers in mock fury. He then brightened up considerably as he quickly closed in on the alien bioweapon. “Alex! Just the man I was hoping to see! We're ready whenever you are, so if you'd like to lead the way, we can get this shindig on the road!"

Alex was understandably confused, though the lady next to him was significantly less so. Instead, Valerie had a smug smile on her lips, as if she had expected this to happen, despite the fact that Conners hadn’t even hinted to her about anything of the sort. “Thank you, Colonel. You don’t know how much this means to us.”

Alex, on the other hand, didn’t seem to want to let it pass, though. His eyes kept darting towards the colonel, to his men, to the relatively small amount of munitions and supplies that had already been moved into the room, and to the various Army soldiers that were inspecting and preparing everything for transport, before finally coming back to the colonel again. “But… but… NATO… you said… and we… no help… but… what?”

"NATO still said no. They're not coming, at least, not right now," Conners confirmed, while sadly shaking his head. His smile never left him, though, and only got wider as he reached up and tapped the side of his nose. "We don't answer to NATO."

"But… your general said you didn't have the manpower to fight this war…" Alex muttered, his voice barely heard as tears began to well up in the corners of his eyes.

"And we don't. It'll be difficult getting some of the bigger guns through the portal, too. By all accounts, the odds are stacked against us… but then, when has that ever stopped the United States before?" Conners said as he threw an arm over Alex's shoulder. "What, did you really think we'd let you run back and take all of that fun for yourself? My boys were insulted when they heard you were going to be that selfish."

"Your boys…?"

“Oh, didn't you hear? My entire brigade signed up for this mission. In fact, the entire U.S. is basically chomping at the bit after your little speech in front of the United Nations," Conners said as he gently led Alex towards the portal. Valerie stayed close behind, her smirk only growing with every step they took towards the stone statue. "Let me tell you, we've honestly got more volunteers for this than we know what to do with. They're all gunning to go, but we don't want to scare the locals. So, if you'd be so kind as to introduce us, we can convince the horses on the other side to get us a staging area. After that’s done, we can finally get some of this gear through, establish a basecamp, and start kicking some alien ass."

Alex kept looking around, his eyes wide as he tried to take in everything, before his face finally broke out into an ear-to-ear grin as tears freely streamed down his face. "Thank you, Sam. I… I really don't know what to say…"

"Best not to say anything at all, and just get moving…" Conners said, before giving the former human a shove towards the portal.

Alex clearly wasn’t expecting the sudden push, and quickly disappeared as he pitched face-first through the liquid-like stone surface. Conners gave Valerie a quick look, but one glance was all he needed to know that she was coming, too. "You're not staying long. Just a quick thank you, understand? We'll have enough to deal with without having to worry about another civvy."

"I'll be quick, in and out," she promised.

"You better, or I'm going to have you thrown back through," he said, right before she disappeared.

Conners then turned to his men, his eyes filled with mischief. “Alright, boys. I want you all on your best behavior, understood? And Blacks, no poker with the natives.”

This got a smattering of cheers from the colonel’s team, but Lieutenant Blacks seemed a bit put out by the colonel’s order. “Come on, colonel, why you gotta be a buzzkill like that?”

“Because he’s tired of having to cover for your sorry ass,” another one gufawed, before chuffing the other officer upside the head.

“You’re damn right. Move out!” Conners shouted, right before stepping through the apparently solid stone, and onto another world entirely.

A world that, while completely unprepared for the sudden invasion of humanity, desperately needed it.

Author's Notes:

So, here's my latest chapter! Understand, please, that I am not in the military, and any mistakes here are by complete accident. I've done a little research, and it said that Colonels command brigades, or groups of men in the 5000-9000 range, which sounded about right for what I wanted, so that's why he's a colonel. I've been questioned as to whether he commands the 75th, and all I got to say is I have absolutely no idea.

I've also had some conflicting information on what weapon he should be carrying, so if you'd like to correct me on that as well, please let me know in the comments.

Anyway, I'm just trying to do my best here, and a lot of the deeper stuff seems a little harder to access, or a lot more reading than I'm willing to go through for my bare bones, first draft, not published on amazon version. Trust me, though, when we reach this part in the published version, I'll be putting in a lot more research.

I'd still gladly take any input/correction you guys would like to give me, so for the moment, I'm publishing this as is so I can move on to the next chapter.

And let me tell you, that one's gonna be a doozy.

The normal links:

My book:
=> What I've Become! <=
My patreon
And that tvtropes page that Alias_The_J made.

On to the next chapter!!

Chapter XXXVI

Chapter XXXVI

“Okay, everypony! Today, we’ll be learning about the history of Canterlot!” Miss Cheerilee said as she quickly stuck a picture of the beautiful castle on the blackboard. “Now, Canterlot is the capital city, and is the very seat of our country, but does anyone know why Canterlot was founded?”

Several ponies lifted their hooves, though most kept them down. This was a fairly new subject for most of them, though they had been on a field trip to the city before. Cheerilee let her class wave their hooves for a few more seconds, before finally singling a pony out. “How about you, Twist?”

“Ith becauth after the Banethment, Printheth Thelethtia needed a new home?” the small earth pony asked.

She sounded confident in her answer, which made it all the harder for Cheerilee to shake her head. “I’m sorry, Twist. While that was when Canterlot became the capital, it is not why or when the city was founded. Canterlot is actually far older, dating back to the Founding of Equestria, and one of the few cities that wasn’t completely destroyed during Discord’s Reign. Now…”

Miss Cheerilee continued to talk about Canterlot, but Apple Bloom just wasn’t into the lesson at the moment. Her eyes were currently on the window, through which she could see the actual castle, and her mind was on what her sister could possibly be doing there.

It had been just about a month since Applejack had been called away on official, save-the-world business, and since then, she’d seen neither hide nor hair of her older sister. Applejack had sent them a few letters, but apparently whatever she was involved in was so important that she couldn't talk about it.

As much as Apple Bloom chafed against her sister being so closed lipped, she knew that whatever was happening was super important, especially with all the rumors that were flying around town. Apple Bloom might have been young, but that didn't mean she was stupid, nor did it mean she kept her head in the sand. She paid attention far more than some adults would give her credit, which was both a boon and a curse if she really thought about it.

Changelings in Canterlot… More guards everywhere… That weird monster in Whitetail… Something’s about to happen, and whatever it is, it sure as sugar ain’t gonna be good… Applebloom thought to herself.

She was so lost in thought that she didn't notice the sudden silence that had overtaken the class, nor did she notice the muttering all around her that followed. She did notice when Miss Cheerilee cleared her throat, though, the thinly veiled fear in her voice quickly snapping Applebloom from her musings.

At the front of the class, Miss Cheerilee was standing next to a very serious-looking unicorn guard in golden armor. A quick look around allowed Apple Bloom to spot two more standing at the doorway. "O-okay, class, the princesses have chosen our class for a very special field trip. If you could all gather in close, we can get going."

"Where are we going?" Sweetie Belle asked, her voice a barely heard, terrified squeak.

"We'll be going to Canterlot!" Cheerilee said, clearly trying to sound far more chipper than she looked. "If we could all gather together, we can-"

"Uh… I can't leave without Mom's permission," Button Mash chimed in, looking extremely uncomfortable. "She'll be super unhappy if she doesn't know where I am."

There was a scattering of murmurs that followed this, mostly from the rest of the class as they agreed with the normally-unpopular pony. Apple Bloom stayed silent, though, her eyes locked onto the guard. He was completely stony and implacable, but Applebloom couldn't help but feel like he was nervous about something.

Cheerilee seemed unsure how to proceed, but before the situation could deteriorate any further, the guard next to her cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, children, but we really don’t have time. Your families will be joining us, but we need to leave now." He then walked to the center of the class, then turned to face the front. "Everyone, please, gather close, and hurry-"

Before the pony could finish, there was the sound of distant thunder, but it was different than any thunder Apple Bloom had heard before. This one was bigger, deeper, and accompanied by the sound of an alien-sounding scream of pain.

Several foals jumped from their seats, their eyes nervously flicking towards the windows, while others sat frozen. Still more looked to Cheerilee, while a small few quickly moved to where the soldier was.

The soldier, to his credit, did not seem flustered, or even worried by the sound. All he did was clear his throat, and stamp a single hoof. "Everypony, gather close. We're leaving now."

The foals finally seemed to get the hint, especially when more screams suddenly sounded out in the distance. Apple Bloom quickly moved towards the stallion in the center, her mind strangely calm as she gathered in close with her fellow classmates. Something deep inside her told her she should be more worried about the situation, but for some reason, she was having trouble figuring out why that was. She looked up at the soldier, and noted faintly that his horn and eyes were glowing a light-pink color. "What are you doing to us?" Apple Bloom managed to ask through the haze covering her mind.

The unicorn looked down at her, and for the first time in her life, Apple Bloom saw the expression of one of the guards change. He looked so sad, yet at the same time, his smile seemed hopeful.

"I'm saving your life, little one," he said, before the entire class was encircled in purple flame.

Apple Bloom felt like she should be more worried about this than she was, but as the floor quickly crept up to meet her, she found it rather hard to care.

* * *

Private Qu’zzil checked his weapons one last time, his outward appearance that of a seasoned veteran, while inwardly he was a quivering wreck. It’s justice, I suppose… he thought to himself as he patiently waited for his pod to clear the outer atmosphere. Show cowardice once, sent to the front lines. It’s an execution any way you look at it…

The private briefly glanced up at the monitor, the feed showing the quickly-oncoming, garish planet. They were aimed at what looked like some kind of city center; the tall, alien buildings far too brightly colored for the krin’s taste. He knew he was headed to battle, knew he would be fighting creatures that, while primitive, had access to whatever power the quzin held, but somehow, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief at what was coming.

They were basically demons given physical form, but at least he was trained to fight them. He had a plan of attack, his armor would work at least partially against their weapons, and there wouldn’t be any quick, evgaroth-looking primates shooting at him.

Just the thought of his last, botched mission forced him to suppress a shiver. He wasn’t sure what it was, but just the way that those bipeds moved pulled out something primeval from his subconscious, a desire to run so strong that it honestly made him gag.

Well, look on the bright side, Qu’zzil thought as the pod’s landing thrusters engaged and the grey warning light began to flash. At least I got my wish.

The pod hit the street fairly softly, its landing thrusters doing their jobs marvelously. However, these pods had a secondary feature, a feature that was just as dangerous for the people inside as it was for the ones outside, and that was its built-in ‘Immolater’ warhead, an explosive designed to bathe the entire area in a thick, mucus-like flammable substance, while simultaneously igniting the whole payload. The chemical had its own oxidizer, and thus could burn even without oxygen or when doused in water, and the temperature it could reach could melt steel.

The pod was designed to protect those inside from this intense heat, while safely delivering its occupants to their destination, but they had a reputation of failing. Sometimes, the thrusters became damaged during re-entry, making the impact far more deadly for all involved. Other times, the warhead would detonate its payload directly into the pod, covering its inhabitants with unquenchable flames and destroying the mechanisms that allowed the doors to open. While the latter wasn’t immediately fatal due to the suits the soldiers wore, it was the former that caused the most deaths among the emperor’s droptroops. Luckily for Qu’zzil and his squad, this time the pod held firm, protecting them and giving the soldiers inside a pre-cleared landing zone to defend and strike from.

“Remember, boys, we’re only supposed to make a ruckus. Advance, shoot, fall back. Rinse and repeat until we get the all clear,” Sergeant Carthus barked at his troops. “We’re not kidnappers here, so no need to leave anything alive. No heroics, either. If things get crazy, don’t hesitate to pull out.”

The rest of the squad nodded, their resolve set. Qu’zzil, however, did not acknowledge his commanding officer, instead choosing to stand and take his place at the door. After all, it was time for him to regain the emperor’s trust, and anything the sergeant might say to the troops probably wouldn’t apply to him in a few minutes.

The sergeant didn’t open the door immediately, though. He was busy counting under his breath, giving the fires outside plenty of time to make their landing zone a secure one. After a few tense moments of this, the sergeant finally punched the release, popping open the door and revealing the inferno raging outside. “Alright, that’s long enough! Let’s move!”

Without missing a beat, Private Qu’zzil rushed out into the blaze, trusting his armor to do its job. Standard krin battle armor was designed to be airtight and fireproof, and when powered, was capable of redirecting and redistributing immense amounts of heat energy, and could do the same with a limited amount of electrical energy as well. It had a far better track record than the pods themselves, and while most soldiers did not trust the ‘coffins’ in the slightest, they all trusted their armor.

It was still extremely difficult, though. The armor might have shielded him from most of the heat, but it still felt like an oven. On top of that, he was effectively blind, since all his sensors and vision could make out was the flames and thick smoke around him, making this by far the most dangerous charge the private had ever made.

Strangely enough, as the private moved through the curtain of fire and smoke, he never tripped or stumbled over any bodies. All his crustacean-like legs encountered were the smooth cobblestones of the road, still untouched by the extreme heat of the Immolator.

They must’ve known we were coming, then. Evacuated all the civilians before- he thought to himself as he finally pushed his way out of the curtain of fire, only to stop short at the sight that greeted him.

The streets of this city were surprisingly clean for a major metropolitan city. There wasn’t a scrap of trash anywhere, or any alien in sight, for that matter. Between the buildings, Qu’zzil could see carts full of foodstuffs and other things to sell, as well as a few round bins, presumably for any trash the locals might create. All in all, it felt like a fairly standard city, even if the architecture and general feel were completely alien.

None of this, even the empty, people-less nature of the city around him, was what caused Qu’zzil to stop short. Instead, it was the large wall about twenty feet down the road. It stood about chest height on a krin, and seemed to be made from the street itself, having been lifted and formed from its resting place through unknown forces. Qu’zzil could see a number of helmeted, equine heads peeking just over the wall, the brush-like plumes of their helmets making them easy to spot. What was far more alarming, however, was the unknown energy that seemed to crackle from their horns.

Reacting on pure instinct, Qu'zzil dodged to the side, his four legs skittering on the cobblestones as he made a break for a nearby alleyway. The alley was short, and ended in a high wall, but it was deep enough to allow several krin a place to hide. His quick thinking saved his life, because the moment he broke from the smoke and fire, the natives released their held energies, firing beams of unknown powers at him. They barely missed him as the krin's implants allowed him much faster reflexes, but the soldiers behind him were not so lucky.

They had been warned, though. The krin's implants, while not necessarily the most up-to-date, were still some of the best in the galaxy. They were capable of feeding the drop troops real time battle information from their commanders, updating orders, and accelerating reaction and decision times.

However, such a warning system meant very little without a place to go, and with the fire filling the whole street, Qu'zzil had only really relayed a single point of safety: the alley he was currently hiding in. Because of this, many of the troops that poured out of the pod were hit by the barrage of magical force. Some of the krin soldier’s suits were punctured by the blasts, exposing them to the raging inferno, while others were shoved backwards with enough force to shatter chitin once their limp bodies hit something solid. Some krin signals disappeared entirely, only to briefly be replaced by simpler brain patterns, which quickly devolved and disappeared as the hosts to the implants burned alive in the inferno created by the crash. A later diagnosis of these signals would reveal that those poor unfortunate souls had been turned into animals of some kind, but had died seconds later when the fires of the drop zone consumed them.

Qu'zzil took in all this information in a matter of seconds, swallowed his fear, then turned the corner slightly and opened fire. He knew that with all the fire coming his way he wouldn't be able to focus enough to get a clear shot, but he knew enough about how his weapon worked to not care. The plasma from his weapon was exceptionally hot, and while it might not have been hot enough to change stone into gas, it was certainly enough to change it into a liquid.

A single bolt would only melt so much, though, and just from a glance, Qu'zzil knew that it wouldn't be enough to even make it through a few inches of the barricade before him. He did know, though, that such fire would have a cumulative effect, and make hiding in such a place far more dangerous than it would be otherwise.

So Qu'zzil opened up his rifle, and emptied his entire hydrogen cell in a stream of plasma that would have blinded anyone looking directly at it. In only a few seconds, the barricade exploded in a torrent of shrapnel and molten rock, piercing hide and armor and covering those that thought they were safe in a rain of fire and ash. Quzzil looked at the destruction he caused with a critical eye, noting those that survived seemed completely unharmed by the fire. Even those that fell looked like they had only died due to the shrapnel caused by the explosion.

The answer to this oddity was fairly easy to grasp, even with Qu’zzil’s fairly limited grasp on the native’s power. Every single suit of armor that the natives wore were covered in strange, glowing symbols, which caused the lava that splashed onto the equines to run off their bodies as if it was merely water, leaving no burned flesh or melted sinew, but fresh, uninjured fur.

"Shul…" Qu'zzil swore, before he reloaded, took aim, and fired at one of the retreating equines. As the bolts impacted the soldier, Qu'zzill noted that the runes covering his armor seemed to grow brighter and brighter, but then suddenly became a pitch-black color. In that moment, whatever protection the fleeing soldier had seemed to fail, and his body and armor were quickly consumed in the plasma enveloping him, melting gilded steel and vaporizing flesh in an explosion that would have caused the krin's nasal ducts to fill with a disgusting smell had his suit been open to the elements.

This whole exchange, of course, allowed those that were still inside the pod to escape their fiery prison and swarm out into the streets. Only ten of the original twenty inside the pod had survived the initial landing, but ten plasma rifles could do a lot of damage, which the krin proved as they opened fire on the fleeing equines. Most of the bolts glanced off or were absorbed by the native's armor as they scrambled for new cover, though a few without horns tried to charge, surprisingly enough.

As brave as they were, Qu'zzil had already proved that there was a limit to the punishment they could take. Seven more natives fell before they even reached the invaders, and before Qu'zzil knew it, they had cleared the initial landing site. Qu’zzil could still hear the native’s strange tongue, but they were clearly retreating, probably falling back to their next line of defense.

"Good job, private," Sergeant Carthus said as he waltzed up to the soldier, his rifle held at the ready. "Didn't think you had that in you. Now, we need to link up with the other squads and cause as much damage as we can. All of you grab more munitions from the pod. We'll be heading out in five minutes."

"Yes sir," Qu'zzil said, before he went and did as he was ordered. The fires directly around the pod had pretty much died out by this point, which made the task of restocking a fairly trivial one.

Once he was ready, Private Qu’zzil came back out, and immediately noticed the glazed look on his superior’s face. He knew that it meant that the sergeant was receiving new orders, and that it would most likely mean more fighting for the private. As the sergeant’s eyes refocused, though, the private found it rather hard to care. Even with the burnt bodies that littered the ground around him, even with the knowledge that at any moment, reality itself could unravel and hurl him and his comrades into the void, he found that he felt no fear. Instead, during the scramble of the initial fall, the private had come to a realization. A grim certainty filled his soul, now, and each step he took was with purpose.

Private Qu’zzil had found his center, and nothing on this planet could move him from it.

“Alright, troops, we got to move, and move now,” Sergeant Carthus said, gaining Qu’zzil’s attention, but not breaking him out of the almost peaceful state he had managed to reach. “The brass wants us to make our way to the center of the city. There’s apparently some kind of large building there, probably for administrative purposes, but that’s not important right now. What is important is that that building has started broadcasting some radio signals, and they want us to find out why.”

“Radio signals?” Corporal Spalz asked, somewhat confused. “Why should that matter?”

“Because, up until a few seconds ago, there weren’t any artificial radio signals on this planet to speak of,” Carthus chided him. “It’s something out of the ordinary, and the brass doesn’t like it. There’s people talking over the radio too, but whatever language they’re using isn’t anything we’ve got in our databases.”

“So we find them, and politely ask them to shut the hell up, then?”

“That’s the idea,” Carthus answered with a nod. “Be on the lookout, though, we’re still in deep. The natives clearly were waiting for us, and they’ve apparently had enough time to evacuate and prepare, so we really don’t know what to expect. Just keep your eyes peeled, and don’t let them sneak up on you. Qu’zzil, you’re on point, let’s move!”

Qu’zzil nodded as he took his position, his eyes darting back and forth as he slowly made his way through the deserted city. Inwardly, he wished he had some active camo for this part, but he already knew why that couldn’t be the case. Such luxuries couldn’t survive the flames of a drop pod’s initial fall, and generally weren’t worn with standard issue combat armor.

That’s not to say that it couldn’t be worn with combat armor, it’s just that the two combined were far too bulky to be useful, and the active camo systems could only really take a single hit before it became worthless.

While Qu’zzil could hear the sounds of combat in the distance, the streets he and his team walked were almost eerily quiet, the only immediate noises he could pick up being the sound of his own breathing, as well as the skittering sounds of his teammates behind him.

“I don’t like this…” Corporal Spalz whispered, his voice tinged with unease through the team’s implants.

“I don’t either, but-”

Whatever the sergeant was about to say was suddenly cut short as his presence completely disappeared from the team’s network. A few of Qu’zzil’s teammates gasped in horror, but before the private could turn and look, something like the sound of thunder in the distance suddenly shook the private to his core.

He didn’t need to turn to know what had happened, and without even realizing that that was what he was going to do, Qu’zzil immediately turned and sprinted down one of the alleyways, panic filling every fiber of his being. Behind him he could hear his fellows shout at him for his cowardice, but he didn’t care. The sound had been different, and quite a bit louder, but deep in his heart he knew of only one type of weapon that was capable of making a sound like that.

As if to confirm Qu’zzil’s growing fear, the street behind him suddenly came alive with loud, alien, yet all too familar pops and cracks, and one by one his team disappeared from his network. Qu’zzil didn’t care, though. He didn’t even care that he was being shouted at by his superiors through his implants.

The only thing running through the terrified private’s skull was how he could get as far away from the nightmares that had followed him to this world as possible. That is, up until one of those nightmares popped around the corner, the butt of its weapon perfectly level with Qu’zzil’s skull.

Qu’zzil tried to turn away, tried to duck and run, but his momentum was too great, even with his enhanced reflexes.

The last thing the krin heard before the street rose up to meet him was his superiors labeling him as a traitor through the network. Which, if Qu’zzil was being honest, were absolutely horrible words to die with. Strangely, though, Qu’zzil found that he could cope with this. The Battlewatcher may turn me away at the door… but at least there won’t be any of those damn monkeys there to meet me… he thought, right before the sweet embrace of unconsciousness claimed him.

* * *

“My Princess! More of those firebomb craft incoming!” Lieutenant Shadow Heart shouted in alarm.

Princess Luna looked up to the sky as she swore silently under her breath. Though she and her sister had had plenty of notice, the evacuation of their citizens was far from complete. Many of the larger cities, such as Baltimare, as well as Luna’s present location of Manehattan, were still only in the beginning stages of a full evacuation. As for the outlying towns and villages, she had basically turned over the task of evacuating to the local changelings and had prayed for the best.

That’s not to say that no work had been done. Their new changeling allies had been invaluable in moving and hiding vast swaths of her people, but there were still so many of her little ponies left in the crossfire.

And when one added to the fact that the aliens periodically sent more of those dreadful bug troops directly to her every few minutes, it was easy to see why she would be somewhat put out.

She knew what they were doing. She had already received word from her sister, and knew that she was having similar issues in Baltimare. The aliens had evidently learned that she and her sister were the most dangerous, and were doing their level best to tie them down. It was abundantly clear that was what they were doing, but with the princess’s forces stretched so thinly, there wasn’t all that much they could do about it.

The worst part was that some of her more powerful abilities were next to useless in this battle. There were still civilians in the city, after all, which immediately threw out any of the more… devastating spells she had picked up over the years. As for her dreamwalk abilities, while she could successfully force the aliens into a nightmare if they were within her sight, her most powerful spell, something she lovingly dubbed Sandmare, was next to useless. Something about their implants counteracted such a wide-ranged, unfocused sleep spell, and there were far too many to force into dreams one by one.

That didn’t make her useless, however. It just meant that she had to become more creative with how she used her powers. It also meant that she had to rely upon her military far more than she would have liked. Luna took a few seconds to watch the burning balls of fire, judging by eye where they would likely land, before she turned to the lieutenant by her side. “Lieutenant, order any pegasi you can find to gather some storm clouds over to the market district. We’ll need the water after the more unnatural fires burn themselves out. In the meantime, I will deal with as many as I can..”

“Yes, Your Highness,” the lieutenant said with a salute.

Luna didn’t hear her, though. The lunar princess had already launched herself into the sky, the sound of the wind as well as the chorus of battle playing out around her easily drowning out the lieutenant’s words, even with her superior alicorn senses. She didn’t need to hear the lieutenant’s affirmation, however. She was confident in her troops' ability to carry out her will, and to act in the best interests of her nation in her absence. Instead, her focus was solely upon her targets, her war scythe singing its deadly song as it spun in the air next to her, her form turning into little more than a streak against the evening sky.

The pods that dropped from the sky were heavily armored, but this was of little use to them as the princess wrapped herself in a cloak of stardust and moonshine and passed right through the hull of one of them into the interior without leaving so much as a scratch on the outer hull. The alien bugs inside were surprised to see the princess materialize in their midst, to say the least, but their confusion only bought the princess a few nanoseconds at best. Whatever machinery they had augmented themselves with allowed them to react with lightning speed, giving them the ability to turn, aim, and unload upon the princess in less time than it took her to blink.

While Luna wasn’t nearly as adept as her sister in commanding thermal energy, she still had a few tricks of her own that allowed her to survive the alien’s brutal weapons. Specifically, she had yet to remove her cloak, meaning that such physical energies were little more than a light summer’s breeze to the moon princess, causing them to pass harmlessly through her still shimmering form.

Her scythe, on the other hand, was all too real as it began its deadly dance, slicing through the occupants of the pod as the lunar princess channeled her magic through her horn. The screams of the aliens and the sounds of their terrible weapons created a dirge of death that nearly broke the princess’s concentration, but she would not be so easily swayed from her task. After a few seconds, all that remained of the pod’s occupants were the puddles of their foul-smelling grey blood, and a few scraps of their armor. With a single nod, Luna released the energies she had wove, causing the spellform and, by proxy, the now solidified air around her, to violently expand around her, tearing the ship apart from within.

Strictly speaking, the moon princess did not need to cut them up before casting such a spell, but as she once again took to the night skies and the terrified song of the city below rose to greet her, she couldn’t help but feel just ever so slightly better that she had.

As much as she would have liked to take a few more seconds to admire her work, she knew she had no time, and instead turned to another one of those ugly landing crafts, fully intent on making it join its brother. She had no illusions at whether or not she could get them all, but each one she did take down was one less for her troops to worry about.

As she charged towards the soon-to-be unlucky craft, her magically enhanced alicorn ears picked up an odd noise that she had never heard before. It sounded like somepony opening a bottle of fizzy pop, but much, much louder. It was quickly followed by other such sounds, and they all seemed to be accompanied by an odd hissing noise, one of which seemed to be getting louder.

Luna had been in more conflicts than she could count, and throughout all of those, it was her finely honed warrior instincts that had saved her more times than not. Without knowing what this new sound was, or indeed what it could possibly be heralding, the night princess quickly turned, fully intent on taking this new evil head on. Before she was even halfway through the turn, however, the loud hissing noise quickly passed her by, and she barely caught sight of something small and silvery with an orange tail wiz by her head. The smell it left wasn’t anything she had ever encountered before, but if she were forced to put a name to it, she would have said that it reminded her faintly of some of the lava pools that surrounded the dragon lands.

Princess Luna quickly turned again to watch the odd, glowing object as it hurtled upwards to meet the craft Luna had been intercepting, and for a brief second, she wondered what it could possibly be. All thought was quickly and violently pushed from her mind when the two connected, creating an explosion that, even in her wispy ethereal state, seemed to rattle her very bones.

When the smoke cleared, the craft’s once controlled descent was now a much quicker tumble through the air, and as it passed the lunar princess, she couldn’t help but notice that fully half of the craft was missing, its occupants either dead or dying as they flailed helplessly inside, or fell out as the craft continued its death spiral to the earth below.

Before Luna could comprehend what was happening, more explosions rocked the air around her, causing her to turn in alarm as more and more of those infernal pods either became too damaged to make the landing properly, or were destroyed altogether. She didn’t know what to make of this strange, yet welcomed miracle, but she was hardly one to turn up her nose at a gift from the gods. Without missing a beat, she turned back to the streets below, fully intent on aiding her people as they fought off the invaders already inside her city.

However, as she began her dive, she noticed a subtle change in the sounds of the city below. The oddly muted noises of the alien weapons were still there, as was the spellcraft of her unicorns, the strikes of her earth ponies, and the lightning from her pegasi. The screaming hadn’t changed in the slightest, either, nor had the crackle of burning civilization collapsing in on itself. Over all of this, though, a new sound had joined the cacophony of death and destruction that had almost constantly followed the lunar princess since the battle had begun.

Pops and cracks could now be heard, accompanied by the occasional explosion that sought to rattle Luna’s teeth, but also added a strange bass element to the rhythmic drumbeat that seemed to now underline the otherwise confusing song of battle. As she drew closer to the streets below, her sharp eyes spotted several new-yet-familiar forms mixed in with her little ponies, their deadly weapons spitting thunder at the invaders as they ducked and wove from cover, while her ears could now hear the harsh, alien barkings of their strange, yet familiar language as they shouted orders and answers to one another. She only had the most basic of understandings of their alien tongue, but she did not need to comprehend their language to know why they were here.

Humanity had answered Equestria’s call, and had brought her own instruments for the deadly symphony of war.

Author's Notes:

Well, here it is! The next chapter in What I Am! I know a lot of you were expecting a pony meets human chapter, but as I hammered into it over and over again, I just couldn't figure out a way that could make it work. So, I went with what my gut was telling me, and had the humans jump in feet first, guns blazing.

Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it!

The usual links:

My book:
=> What I've Become! <=
My patreon
And that tvtropes page that Alias_The_J made.

Chapter XXXVII

Chapter XXXVII

“Barrett! Samuels! Friendlies at five o’clock! Suppressing fire, now!” Sergeant Nakamura shouted as he pointed with quick and concise gestures, “Johnson, Rogers! Give those two covering fire!”

Nakaruma’s men rushed to follow his orders, while he himself quickly reloaded his own weapon. Thankfully, his men were good at their jobs, and before he was even finished with the process of reloading, Barrett and Samuels had already set up Barrett’s M240B and had started sending the machine gun’s munitions whizzing down the alien street. The M240B was an angry beast, but Corporal Barrett was a true master of his weapon, and could pick the fly off a horse without touching the animal’s flank, if necessary. Not that there was any need to be that accurate here, but just the knowledge of how good Barrett was with his instrument set Nakamura's mind slightly at ease concerning the civilians dashing up the street.

That trust didn’t stop the aforementioned civilians from whinny-screaming in terror as the world ahead of them seemed to come alive with the sounds of the human’s weapons, but through a combination of the encouraging shouts of the horse-soldiers inside the human’s fortifications, and a hefty dose of fear of the bugs behind them, they kept to the path, never wavering as they made a break towards the bastion of humanity. Several bugs tried to pick off some of the stragglers, but before they were able to even take aim, Barrett had already swept his weapon over their position, killing several of the slower ones and forcing everyone else back into cover.

In no time at all, the machine gun had overpowered, and replaced, the exotic sounds of alien weapons fire as all enemy fire from the ruined street ceased, allowing the twelve civilians and their three armored escorts to pull into the human’s fortifications without any further casualties. The civilians were out of breath, and quite a few of them sported a number of nasty gashes and burns, but due to a combination of the one unicorn soldier’s protective shield and Barrett’s suppressing fire, no one else had suffered a direct hit from the bugs’ weapons.

“Get those people back to the safehouse! We’ll hold the enemy here!” Nakamura shouted to the weird, disguised, bug-horse-shapeshifter that was currently serving as his team’s interpreter. The horse-thing quickly nodded in assent and began barking orders to his fellow equines, while pointing back towards the city hall-like building that the humans had arrived at.

Sergeant Nakamura barely paid him any attention, however, because at that exact moment, Private Johnson took a plasma bolt to his chest, vaporizing most of the private and bathing the entire area in an explosion of foul smelling steam. Corporal Rogers, who had been right next to the private, went very still as well. At first, the sergeant thought he was in shock, but as Romano ran up to check on the downed soldier, Nakamura suddenly knew that he hadn’t made it either.

Either the steam or the explosion got him… Nakamura thought to himself, before he swore under his breath as the medic confirmed what Nakamura already knew. The alien pegasi were already clearing out the steam, and fortunately for him, the bug who had killed his two boys hadn’t quite moved back into cover yet, allowing the angry sergeant to take aim and remove the bug’s head.

Nakamura had been a soldier for a long, long time, but he had never seen a weapon system quite as brutal as the bugs’ plasma rifles. Even a near-miss could inflict horrible wounds as it seared skin and boiled blood, and the power they could bring to bear meant that most forms of cover were significantly less useful than they would have been against more traditional arms. The exceptions to that were the shields that some of the horse people could erect, but also, oddly enough, sandbags. Sand wasn’t a permanent solution, as it still turned to glass and eventually melted away or exploded under sustained fire, but then again, it never really was even against normal weapons. Somewhere deep inside, Nakamura figured it had something to do with heat distribution and the granulated nature of sand, but he didn’t let it occupy his thoughts for long. He was just glad that it worked at all.

However, even with the death of the two men, the sergeant couldn’t help but feel hope rise in his chest. The aliens were obviously advanced and terrifyingly brutal, the horse-people’s powers were beyond incomprehensible, and the world was clearly alien, but despite all of this, the humans still, surprisingly, held their own.

That was the weird thing about this whole engagement. The aliens clearly held all the cards: They had the ability to call in orbital bombardment to glass the planet at any moment, the light, standard weapons they armed their infantry with easily rivaled the human’s heavier weapons through sheer power alone, they had reflexes far beyond any mere mortal, and if the monster that brought humanity here was to be believed, instant information dissemination.

Yet, even with all of these advantages, the humans not only held their ground, but bit by bit, were pushing the bugs back. To Sergeant Nakamura, this was a freaking miracle, but to an impartial observer, this was hardly surprising. Even with their brutality, their might, and their technological superiority, there were a few disadvantages that the krin species had that humanity simply didn’t.

The krin were slow, to begin with. Almost ridiculously so, if compared to an average human. Yes, their reflexes were on par with gods, but their foot speed was laughable, and their maneuverability was significantly inferior to that of an average human, much less a squad of highly trained, U.S. Army soldiers. When one added on the fact that they were about twice as bulky as a human, it became abundantly clear why humanity could so easily push back the alien invaders.

Of course, the krin weren’t stupid. They obviously knew how to use cover, and its applications were far more effective against the humans’ weapons than the bugs’, but this meant very little in the long run. Their larger frames and somewhat slower speed meant that they couldn’t quite use it as well as a human, nor could they pop into or out of cover as quickly either. On top of that, laying down was a bit of a chore for the krin, and even when they did, they could never get themselves quite low enough to the ground to use a ditch or crater as effectively as a human, either.

Essentially, every time they popped even slightly out of cover to fire, like the one down the street was doing right now, someone on the krin’s side inevitably got shot for their troubles. As if to accentuate this fact, Sergeant Nakamura took aim at the bug that was busy trying to chew through one of those shields that some of the unicorns had popped into existence for his boys. The first round was enough to take out the bug’s throat, but Nakamura’s training ensured that the sergeant put at least two rounds into the thing before switching to his next target.

That was something else the humans had quickly learned about their enemy. There armor looked impressive, all grey with green highlights, with a sleek design that seemed to scream "impenatrable." In practice, however, it seemed to do jack against good, old-fashioned bullets. He had seen some of his men throw back one of the bugs’ grenades, only for it to do nothing to the entrenched aliens, but “primitive” firearms? He didn’t know much about these things’ biology, but every single hit his boys had made was either lethal or debilitating. In short, the overwhelming power the aliens fielded in their common infantry wasn't nearly as gamebreaking as it should have been.

Just because we’re pushing them back doesn’t mean we can be cocky, though… Nakamura thought morosely as he watched one of those flying horses dive-bomb the enemy position with nothing but gumption and a spear. The horse looked like he was charged with lightning, and the sergeant knew that his armor was significantly better than human armor against the bugs, but it still looked like a suicide strike to the sergeant. He had seen quite a few of the horse-people vaporized as whatever magics kept them safe failed, and knew that while the horse might take a few with him, he wasn’t going to last long on his own.

That being said, the lightning-charged pony did do one important task: He made a whole squad of those bug things pop up from their hidy-hole as they tried to neutralize the pony with the spear. He had already taken out two with his speed alone, so it wasn’t like they could just ignore the threat he presented. Unfortunately for them, humanity was a species that liked to capitalize on any weakness.

“Over there! Give the flyer cover!” Sergeant Nakamura shouted as he set his sights on the now-exposed aliens.

However, as the sergeant began to empty his magazine into the loathsome bugs, one of his men swore before he shouted "Grenade!" at the top of his lungs.

Instinctively, the sergeant dove for whatever cover he could find, which at the moment was a small outcropping of uprooted pavement. He already knew that it was too late, though, and that neither he, nor any of the men immediately nearby were going to make it. He had seen one of those damn things take out a six story building, which meant that he, his men, and any natives in at least a thirty-foot radius were toast. Diving would do very little, as the tiny thing was quite capable of vaporizing not only him, but the cover he was making for. Despite knowing this, however, the sergeant just couldn’t help himself. His instincts were just too strong to ignore, and before he knew it, he was eating dirt, all the while praying fervently that God would spare him for a few moments longer.

As expected, there was an oddly muted ping sound, quickly followed by an explosion that rattled the sergeant’s bones. However, instead of a brief, overwhelming pain, followed by him making his final report to his heavenly commander, he instead felt only a minor tingling in his throat. The sergeant quickly looked up from where he was cowering, relief filling every fiber of his being when he saw a small, dark blue, transparent dome. Inside the dome, the sergeant could see only blackness, though the twisted, tortured nature of this darkness allowed him to guess that it was probably a ton of condensed, super-heated smoke. There was a bright flash of light, and the dome and its smoke disappeared entirely, leaving behind a perfectly round, cherry red divet in the ground.

"Are all being right?" a concerned, female voice asked somewhere behind the sergeant.

Sergeant Nakamura glanced upwards and behind him, before he quickly got to his feet again. Standing there was, by far, the largest horse alien he had seen since coming to this planet. She had dark blue fur, teal eyes, and was wearing black armor with silver trim. All of this was marred slightly by the grey blood that covered her, but nothing could have tainted her starfield-like mane and tail that seemed to flutter in some unfelt breeze.

Sergeant Nakamura instantly knew that this was someone of some importance, and as much as he would have liked to take a few moments to talk to her, maybe get a picture of that wonderful hair to show to his boy, he knew he was kind of in the middle of a war zone at the moment, and someone down the street still needed his help. “Thanks for the assist,” Nakamura muttered, before he quickly moved back to his cover and glanced down the street towards the enemy entrenchment.

They were still there, and sadly, while their grenade hadn’t killed the humans, it had still distracted enough of them to let the bugs finish off the foolhardy pegasus and return to their positions without too many losses.

Sergeant Nakamura swore angrily to himself before he started laying down covering fire for his men to get back into position. A quick glance was all he needed to know that his men were already up and back at it, though slightly angrier now, but it was the ponies that gave the sergeant a little pause. The soldiers were still in the fight, throwing up shields, blasting at the enemy, using clouds to fire actual lightning down the street at the offending aliens, or heaving rocks through the air like organic siege weapons, but something about them made him think that something was different. It took him a little while to grasp it, but after one of them shot a hopeful, almost worshipful glances towards the new arrival, it suddenly dawned on him what it was.

The horse-people were acting like human soldiers when the cavalry finally arrived.

The horse-noble cleared her throat again, her voice magically magnified so that Sergeant Nakamura could hear her even over the din of combat. “Where your leader? Need meet, better work together.”

“One second…” Nakamura muttered, before he started gesturing towards his men again. “Barrett! Reposition over here again and turn up the heat! I want you to keep those bug’s heads down! Don’t let them do something like that again!”