HK-FortySeven

Thaumaturgy With Anon [7/?] [In Progress]

Jul 2nd, 2019 (edited)
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  2. - Stumble upon this part out of order?
  3. - You can read the last part here:
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  7.  
  8. >(You, Red, and Orange scale the stone steps as quietly as you possibly can.)
  9. >(This is it.)
  10. >(Today was the day you three were finally getting out of this hellhole.)
  11. >(Away from the fucking monkey demons for good.)
  12. >(The stairwell ends, and greeting you is a pitch black chamber.)
  13. >("Just a moment," Red mutters, keeping the candle in his grasp from spluttering out.)
  14. ("It's gotta be here somewhere," you say as quietly as you can.)
  15. >Huh?
  16. >(Poor Orange is such a mess, so desperate for a way out.)
  17. >(Well, you don't aim to disappoint him.)
  18. >(You promised him and Red that you'd get out of here, and by God, you're going to do it.)
  19. >What's going on...?
  20. >(Red doesn't take very long to find something, but...)
  21. ("What the hell is that?")
  22. >("If I had to guess, I would say it was a door of some description.")
  23. >(That's a door?)
  24. >(It's a fucking wall of creepy black oil, with a stone tablet in the middle!)
  25. >The door from the temple...?
  26. >Wh-what the hell?
  27. >(That's like some SCP shit right there!)
  28. >("Green, I may need your help with this.")
  29. ("My help? Jesus, where the fuck do we even start?")
  30. >("I need you to pull me back, should anything happen.")
  31. ("Pull you back? What are you--?")
  32. >(It dawns on you what Red is thinking.)
  33. ("Ohh no, you're not serious, are you?")
  34. >(Red turns to you, his hardened expression even more pronounced under the faint, flickering candlelight.)
  35. >Wait a minute.
  36. >That's...!
  37. >("We don't have any choice, Green. If we don't take this risk, none of us will get out of here alive.")
  38. >Incognito?!
  39. >("Orange, I need you to hold the candle for me. Keep your hand around the flame like this, make sure it doesn't go out, understood?")
  40. >(Orange, bless his heart, stumbles his way over and takes the candle.)
  41. >("Green, get ready.")
  42. ("Right...")
  43. >No, not right!
  44. >Don't listen to this fucker, dude!
  45.  
  46. >(Red clasps his hands in a quick, silent prayer, before his hand reaches towards the oily surface of whatever the hell was on the wall.)
  47. >(His hand makes contact, having a reaction you weren't quite expecting.)
  48. >(The oil was repelled away from his hand, sizzling slightly wherever it made contact with his skin.)
  49. >(Taking a breath, he--)
  50. >(Faceplants into the fucking oil?!)
  51. ("What are you doing?!" you whisper-shout.")
  52. >(His head comes back out just as quickly.)
  53. >("There's an opening on the other side!")
  54. >(He walks straight through the oil, and his face pops out of the other side a few moments later.)
  55. >("It's safe! Come quickly, before our captors realize what is going on!")
  56. >(No way.)
  57. >(You're going to get out of here.)
  58. >No Anon, stop!
  59. >Don't trust this motherfucker!
  60. >(Swallowing dry, your hand presses against the oil.)
  61. >(It's cold, freezing in fact, but it gets repelled from your hands so quickly that all you feel is the chill from the air between it and your hand.)
  62. >(You look back to the still-shivering Orange, and extend your hand.)
  63. ("Come on, buddy. We're getting out of here.")
  64. >(The poor guy's almost in tears, but doesn't go for your hand, instead choosing to rush through the oil barrier.)
  65. >(You follow suit, a shiver running through you as your body passes through the oil, going to the other side.)
  66. >(Weird, dark purple flames shooting out of some nearby torches light up the surrounding area.)
  67. >(What greets you is the sight of your party of three being sat right on top of some kind of creepy Aztec-looking temple, the steep stone steps just a little bit away from where you were all standing now.)
  68. >(Nothing but pitch fucking blackness all the way, the air almost as thick as the darkness itself.)
  69. >(But it sure beats the hell out of getting tortured by those fucking four-armed hellspawn!)
  70.  
  71. >(Poor Orange is a trembling mess, barely able to believe his eyes.)
  72. >("All right," Red intones, "Let's get going.")
  73. >(No argument here, even if he is super calm about it all!)
  74. ("You heard the guy Orange, let's go!")
  75. >("Go where, may I ask?")
  76. >Your blood turns to ice.
  77. >(Your blood turns to ice.)
  78. >(The unmistakable voice of Maar makes itself known from behind you.)
  79. >("How very, very disappointing...")
  80. >(Orange screams, and tears off down the temple.)
  81. >(Without even looking back, you bolt towards the stair--)
  82. >(THUMP)
  83. >(Something hits you in the back of the head, sending your whole world into a tailspin.)
  84. >(Before you even knew what was happening, you were laid on your stomach, a foot pressed against your back.)
  85. >(The screams of Orange bring you back into reality.)
  86. >(You thrash to try and--)
  87. >("Oh give it a rest already, Green.")
  88. >(R-Red?)
  89. >(There he is, off to the side, calm as can be with his arms folded.)
  90. >(SCHLICK-CRASH)
  91. >(Orange's screaming was cut off by the loud noise, coming from down the temple walls.)
  92. ("Orange!")
  93. >(H-he's...!)
  94. >("It's insulting, honestly. Insulting that you can't see the great opportunity before us right now, Green.")
  95. >("Good show, human," Maar intones, resting his lower hand on Red's shoulder. "And wisely said.")
  96. >(No.)
  97. >(No, no, no.)
  98. >(This can't be happening.)
  99. >That fucking snake.
  100. >("Ohh, I am so very disappointed in you, human," Maar smirks your way. "All that potential, still wasted on such pointless hopes.")
  101. >(Red rolls his eyes, walking into the temple with a confident stride.)
  102. >("Let us see how long those hopes last now, hmm?")
  103. >(You're pulled up by your arms.)
  104. >(It's then that you start to thrash and scream.)
  105. >(Maar, with a sickly sweet smile, approaches.)
  106. >("You really let that useless orange human down, almost as much as you've let me down.")
  107. >(His upper hand grasps your neck.)
  108. >("But unlike him, I can at least make something of you yet.")
  109. >(His other upper hand winds back to punch you.)
  110. >(THUMP)
  111. <...
  112.  
  113. >"Aaaaaaagh!"
  114. >Alert: friend Anon heard screaming, investigating immediately.
  115. >Entering tent: observation of surrounding area reveals no enemy forces.
  116. >Now focusing on condition of friend Anon; subject appears to be in a state of fear, 87.7% probability of the source being a nightmare, based on previous precedent.
  117. >Friend Anon attempts to get his breathing back under control, intervening to further assist in calming him.
  118. "I am glad to see you are awake."
  119. >Friend Anon focuses on you, immediate reduction in visible stress notable on his expression.
  120. >"E-Exact...?"
  121. >Possible concern: facial features of friend Anon contort in pain, also begins to clutch his chest; likely feeling pain due to his ribs not being fully healed.
  122. "Please try to calm down. You still need to heal."
  123. >Personal: relieved to see friend Anon is doing so well, began to fear in spite of the available data after he slept for 31 consecutive hours.
  124. >"H-heal? Wh-what happened...?"
  125. >Considering delivering an explanation of the events of the last two days.
  126. >Development: friend Anon's features change again, reflecting a recollection of events; explanation likely no longer necessary.
  127. >"Jesus, a-are you okay?!"
  128. >Unrelated: must obtain clarification on friend Anon's constant reference to "Jesus", still uncertain if reference is to an individual, deity, and/or concept.
  129. "I am well."
  130. >Physical condition has recovered to 98.2% of maximum thanks to a combination of rest and Zebrican alchemy; magical condition has also recovered to 100.8% of maximum due to the same factors.
  131. >"What happened? D-did we win?"
  132. >Altering details to reduce inducement of negative feelings.
  133. "There were no fatalities among us and the zebra leadership, and the enemy was forced to retreat."
  134.  
  135. >Note: must obtain debriefing from zebra leader Heerser on what transpired during unknown zebra warrior's escape attempt with enemy Athalia; have not been able to establish contact with him since the battle.
  136. >"R-retreat? You mean, I didn't even...?!"
  137. "You were rendered unconscious by an unforseen enemy encounter before you could induce a lethal amount of magnetic damage. However, it is highly unlikely that our enemies will be in any condition to fight for the forseeable future."
  138. >Precedent already set for magnetic damage recovery with zebra warrior Vegter, but zebra physiology has much less magic within it than changeling physiology does; uncertain as to the duration and extent of her injuries.
  139. >"She got away."
  140. >Development, unwanted: friend Anon expressing regrets, negativity; attempt to mitigate such feelings has failed.
  141. >"No..."
  142. >Friend Anon grips the sheets of his cot tightly, eyes closing in likely display of regret.
  143. >"No, God damn it, no!"
  144. "Please do not dwell on it. The appearance of the unforseen enemy could not have been predicted."
  145. >"But I had her! I-I could have fucking ended--!"
  146. >Friend Anon becomes highly agitated, mannerisms bordering on panic.
  147. >"Razor! Where's Razor?!"
  148. "He was brought in with you, and is recovering separately."
  149. >"Where?!"
  150. "I have not been made aware of--"
  151. >"I-I have to see him! H-he needs me to-- Agh!"
  152. >Development: friend Anon attempting to leave his cot; only manages to sit up before clutching his ribcage.
  153. "Please calm down."
  154. >Personal: friend Anon's reaction not unreasonable.
  155. >"Calm down?! No way! Not until I see him!"
  156. >Friend Anon continues to try and leave his cot; injuries likely to be further agitated if he continues.
  157. "You need to rest. I will see him when I am able, and will inform you of his condition as soon as possible."
  158.  
  159. >Development: tent flap heard opening behind you, observation reveals source to be that masked zebra alchemist from before.
  160. >"What is going on--?" (masked zebra alchemist, concerned)
  161. >Both friend Anon and masked zebra alchemist become quiet for 1.2 seconds upon seeing one another; masked zebra alchemist is the first to break the silence.
  162. >"Anon, my good friend, you're finally awake! I never once doubted that you would not break!" (masked zebra alchemist, elated)
  163. >Friend Anon appears to be remembering something, likely related to the masked zebra alchemist.
  164. >"You're alive...?" (Anon)
  165. >"Both I and yourself, and no worse for wear! We drove those vile fiends back into their lair!"
  166. >"I..."
  167. >Friend Anon appears to have calmed, but panic has been replaced with sadness.
  168. >"Wh-what about Razor? I-is he--?" (Anon, sad)
  169. >"He lives." (masked zebra alchemist, curt)
  170. >Concern: masked zebra alchemist does not deviate from traditional Zebrican rhyme speech unless urgent circumstances have arisen; now questioning what friend Razor Wind's condition is.
  171. >"H-he's...?"
  172. >"He has not awakened yet, but he lives. I and Zaalma have been seeing to his health."
  173. >"I-I have to--!"
  174. >"I promise you this, my friend. His life is safe, and it shall remain that way. But I am not prepared to discuss the details, nor has Zaalma allowed anyzebra but myself to see him."
  175. >"A-at least let me see him!"
  176. >"I cannot. But know this: when you are permitted to see him, I shall lead you to his tent myself."
  177. >Note: masked zebra alchemist possesses greater persuasive skill than previously anticipated; friend Anon is calming down in response to her answers.
  178. >"A-are you sure I can't see him?"
  179. >"Not for now, I am sorry. It is beyond my control."
  180.  
  181. >Friend Anon stops speaking, now clutching chest and exhibiting signs of pain.
  182. >Masked zebra alchemist notices development, quickly makes her way towards a small table in the tent containing alchemical equipment and ingredients, begins to create a potion.
  183. >"And regardless, you still have not healed. I doubt you could see him right now, even if you had Zaalma's permission."
  184. >Masked zebra alchemist creates potion incredibly quickly, taking 7.2s; 300% faster than the average rate given a standard set of ingredients and controlled equipment.
  185. >"You are very fortunate to be alive, my friend. Here, this will help you heal, and ease your pain."
  186. >Masked zebra alchemist offers friend Anon the potion, friend Anon takes it after a pause of 1.7s, imbibes it immediately.
  187. >"C-can I... ask you something?"
  188. >"Of course."
  189. >"I... I feel like I've... I've heard your voice before..."
  190. >Note: friend Anon becoming very tired, effects consistent with sleep inducement; likely caused by potion contents.
  191. >"F-from... way back at... at..."
  192. >Friend Anon loses consciousness, falls back onto bed; masked zebra alchemist adjusts his position and covering for comfort.
  193. >"I missed you too, my friend."
  194. >Masked zebra alchemist lingers over friend Anon for 2s, leaves his bedside afterwards and faces you.
  195. >"Come with me, agent of Celestia."
  196. >Friend Anon appears safe, tent is well guarded; no reason to decline masked zebra alchemist's request.
  197. >Masked zebra alchemist is followed for 9.2m before she stops to speak, without looking towards you.
  198.  
  199. >"Just so that we are clear, agent of Celestia, I still do not trust you, your intentions, or your organization."
  200. >Masked zebra alchemist now looks back towards you.
  201. >"But I do trust in your friendship with Otherworldly Anonymous, and you helped us save both his life and the life of your companion."
  202. >Masked zebra alchemist turns around to face you.
  203. >"I pray you do not squander that trust."
  204. "Giving you my word is not going to convince you. I will cite only my actions taken here to date."
  205. >Masked zebra alchemist looks at you for 3s before turning back; appeared to be searching for something.
  206. >"Strangely put, yet well said. Now come."
  207. >Continuing to follow masked zebra alchemist for another 62.7m; destination identified as zebra leader Heerser's command tent.
  208. >Zebra leader Heerser seen inside of tent, looking over parchment on a tabletop; looks over towards you and masked zebra mare 0.3s after tent is entered.
  209. >"I'm glad to see you are well, agent of Celestia. And you as well."
  210. >Note: facial expression of zebra leader Heerser lightened noticeably during his acknowledgement of masked zebra alchemist.
  211. >Both zebras exchanging words in native Zebrikaans language; translation spell usage would be visible, likely to be considered a faux pas, deciding against it.
  212. >Conversation lasts for 9.3s; expression of zebra leader Heerser lightens throughout, returns to a more serious expression after the conversation ends and his focus shifts towards you.
  213. >"I apologize for my lack of communication with you these last few days, agent of Celestia. My presence was, and still is needed around all of Vesting, repairing and fortifying what we can."
  214.  
  215. "I understand. I made an attempt to contact you previously with the item you provided, but it appeared to possess insufficient energy."
  216. >"Ah yes, the echo gem is unfortunately only a temporary construction of our alchemy. Regardless, it served it's purpose well. You were of indispensable aid to us during the defence."
  217. >Zebra leader Heerser adopts a new expression; nearest approximate description is 'melancholy'.
  218. >"I only wish that we had not lost so many zebras. And..."
  219. >Expression of zebra leader Heerser adopts more pronounced features associated with sadness.
  220. >"I can only offer my condolences for your fellow Equestrian companion."
  221. >Alarm: implications of his statement are of friend Razor Wind being in critical condition.
  222. "I have not been made aware of his condition."
  223. >"Ah, I see. Would you mind if...?"
  224. >Zebra leader Heerser shifts focus to masked zebra alchemist, indicates for her to proceed.
  225. >"Your friend lives, agent of Celestia, but only by a thread. Me and Zaalma toil day and night to keep the faint flame of his life burning."
  226. >Significant concern: prognosis of friend Razor Wind was bad, but could be stabilized if treated immediately; statement of masked zebra alchemist implies Zebrican treatment for dark magic poisoning inferior to Equestrian treatments.
  227. >Masked zebra alchemist shakes her head.
  228. >"Whatever was done to him, it impedes our efforts at every turn. The vile, poisonous power infecting his body is of great enough intensity that it weakens our alchemic craft to the point of near uselessness. It is almost as if his affliction is determined to see him dead, and blocks our efforts at every turn."
  229.  
  230. >Symptoms match that of severe dark magic poisoning with additional void flux presence; without proper antioneiric medication, the void flux causes the dark magic poisoning to become sentient, and actively acts to hasten the death of the victim.
  231. >Personal: you must take whatever measures possible to ensure he lives.
  232. >Personal, vow: you will not allow him to die.
  233. "He is suffering from severe dark magic poisoning. He requires non-magical, non-alchemic antioneiric medicine, followed by an emergency dialysis procedure to eliminate the presence of sentient void flux within his system."
  234. >"Excuse me, did you say 'sentient'?" (Heerser, alarmed)
  235. "External dark magic poisoning of sufficient severity will act to fight treatment to the best of it's ability. The mechanism by which it achieves sentience is by subverting the dreams of the victim, placing them in a perpetual nightmare."
  236. >Omission: actual source of sentience and nightmares is not void flux itself, but remote manipulation of void flux by Void Lord entities attempting to claim the soul of the victim; unnecessary to explain concept of Void Lord entities now.
  237. >"Blessed ancestors...!"
  238. >"No," (masked zebra alchemist, muttering) "The Ideal Masters vie for his soul...?!"
  239. >Note: phrase 'Ideal Masters' is an 89.9% match for Zebrican dark alchemist term for Void Lord entities, additional mention of 'claiming his soul' implies knowledge of dark magic and/or intentions of Void Lord entities; questions raised as to masked zebra alchemist's knowledge of respective subjects.
  240. >"Do we have the means by which to heal him?" (Heerser, asking of masked zebra alchemist)
  241.  
  242. >"I-I do not believe so. Alchemy to block dreams is simple enough to brew, but I-I do not know how to craft such a medicine without alchemy!"
  243. "It is necessary for the antioneiric medication to be exclusively chemical in operation; magical attempts to stop dreaming by any means are seen as an attack upon the sentient poison, and it will prioritize repelling such attempts with a 98.9% success rate."
  244. >"Agent of Celestia, do you know how to create such a medicine?" (Heerser)
  245. "No, but even with that knowledge, synthesizing the medication requires highly controlled conditions and 4-9 days of time. Untreated severe dark magic poisoning has a mortality rate of 99% after only four days."
  246. >Concern: is it possible to save the life of friend Razor Wind?
  247. >Saving his life would require immediate transportation to the Canterlot medical facility, but transporting him there is not a tenable option.
  248. >"Damn it, is there nothing we can do for him?"
  249. >Determination: friend Anon does not give up so easily; you must follow his example.
  250. >Subject of friend Anon causing recollection of various instances of lateral thinking on his part, attempting analysis of various options.
  251. >"There must be something we can do, agent of Celestia! Anything!" (masked zebra alchemist)
  252. >Recalling items in friend Anon's possession during transit from Canterlot to Zebrica, possibility of solution in--
  253. >Realization: solution exists for rapid transportation to Canterlot!
  254. >Solution tenable, complications acceptable; divulging solution.
  255. "Are you still keeping track of the items confiscated from Anon?"
  256. >"His items? Yes, why? Is there something there that can aid us?"
  257.  
  258. "One of the items confiscated was an unactivated magical construct of his creation. It is a magical portal device that enables instantaneous transport between two distant points. He brought it with him to remove the need to travel back across the Zebrican expanses."
  259. >"A magical gateway?" (Heerser, suspicious) "Where does this gateway lead to, agent of Celestia?"
  260. "A secure exit point located within Canterlot castle."
  261. >Masked zebra alchemist appears to relax at the mention of the exit point; zebra leader Heerser tenses in response.
  262. >"You would have me open a gateway through which the Solar Keeper herself could simply walk through?" (Heerser, confrontational)
  263. >Expected resistance to the proposal, attempting to ameliorate.
  264. "I am aware of the implications of my request. However, the facilities available at Canterlot are the only tenable method through which we can save the life of the lieutenant."
  265. >Zebra leader Heerser attempts to interject, interrupted by masked zebra alchemist in native language; continuing to abstain from invoking translation spell, conversation lasts for 18.7s with 40.1% of the time spent in silence on the part of zebra leader Heerser due to contemplation.
  266. >"If... I am to accept this, agent of Celestia, I must make some requests of you."
  267. >Expected bargaining as a resolution path, evaluating.
  268. >"Only you and your companion may use the gateway. You will take him through it yourself, alone. None but yourself may return from the portal. I do not believe I need to elaborate on what should happen if this is reneged upon."
  269. >An affirmative nod is given; terms considered acceptable.
  270.  
  271. >"I do not know how the treatment of Anonymous will progress, or how long it will take for him to recover. However, I will allow him to use his gateway, provided he speaks to me first."
  272. >Second affirmative nod given; terms considered acceptable.
  273. >"I would have one of you inform him of this, when he next awakens."
  274. >Masked zebra alchemist offers affirmative nod in response, zebra leader Heerser looks off to side 1.2s after acknowledgement.
  275. >"If you must spend time to... report on your activities here, then so be it. And while I do not expect complete transparency from you in a matter like this, I would also ask that you inform me of anypony who wishes to use the gateway to come here."
  276. >Third affirmative nod given; terms accepted, noting defensive tendencies of zebra leader Heerser in regards to foreign visitors, consistent with Zebrican distrust of outsiders.
  277. >"Is Uncouth Razor Wind able to be moved safely?" (Heerser, asking of masked zebra alchemist)
  278. >"I will make sure of it." (Masked zebra alchemist)
  279. >"Then it is decided. Agent of Celestia, what does this device of Anonymous's creation look like?"
  280. >Discrepancy: this is the second noted instance of zebra leader Heerser omitting the 'Otherworldly' title from friend Anon's name, likely cause is friend Anon attaining sufficient levels of trust with zebra leader Heerser.
  281. >Commencing description of 'Slipgate Keystone' device; the metal container it resides in, and the method of activation.
  282. >Activating the device is possible with your own power, as demonstrated to you by friend Anon during the train portion of your journey into Zebrica.
  283.  
  284. >"I will bring it to a secure location, and ensure it is secured to my satisfaction prior to its activation. Alchemist, take the agent of Celestia to his companion, and bring the two of them to the location I speak of."
  285. >"Very well."
  286. >"Now make haste! Every second we delay makes all the difference to his survival!"
  287. >Action taken immediately; zebra leader Heerser rushes out of command tent, while you are escorted by the masked zebra alchemist towards the presumed location of friend Razor Wind.
  288. >Feelings of apprehension emerging: foreknowledge of severe dark magic poisoning victims implies 97.9% likehihood of the condition of friend Razor Wind being highly degraded.
  289. >Apprehension will not stop your determination to see him recover.
  290. >A distance of 72.2m is travelled before you are led to a tent guarded by alchemists; a brief conversation with the guarding alchemists causes them to stand down and allow you passage.
  291. >Interior of tent contains head alchemist Zaalma, and a cot containing--
  292. >C-control.
  293. >Friend Razor Wind lying within cot, extremely poor physical condition consistent with severe dark magic poisoning.
  294. >Eyes sunken with dark rings underneath, rapid loss of weight as well as shallow breathing and shivering observed, consistent with symptoms.
  295. >Blood seen staining a bandage covering his spinal injury, colour of blood a small shade darker than normal; evidence of difficulty stopping bleeding at the wound site visible in the form of bloodied bandages and clothes in a nearby basket.
  296. >Discarded bottles and messy alchemy tables nearby indicate multiple attempts to administer alchemy to friend Razor Wind; unusual mechanical foreleg of head alchemist Zaalma currently deployed as a portable alchemy station, in the process of creating another potion.
  297.  
  298. >Head alchemist Zaalma ceases activity upon noting your entry, begins questioning masked zebra alchemist; your observation remains on friend Razor Wind, checking for any additional complications and symptoms.
  299. >Tone of head alchemist Zaalma changes, reflecting understanding; both alchemists call outside of the tent, quickly receive a mobile cot in the style of a wheelbarrow.
  300. >Instructed to attach cot to self to facilitate transport, compliance immediate; observing status of friend Razor Wind during transfer.
  301. >Both alchemists suspend friend Razor Wind within his current sheets, lowering both them and him into mobile cot; transfer finishes in 9.2s with very minimal disturbance of your friend.
  302. >Instructed by masked zebra alchemist to follow, compliance immediate; head alchemist Zaalma heard offering a farewell as you depart.
  303. >Regulating transportation speed and route carefully to ensure minimal disturbance of friend Razor Wind, travel distance of 103.1m takes 33.2% longer as a direct result.
  304. >Arrived at alluded secured area: zebra warriors and alchemists taking cover behind ring of hastily built barricade structures.
  305. >Zebra leader Heerser seen at center of barricade ring, inactive 'Slipgate Keystone' of friend Anon already placed within the centre.
  306. >Unexpected development: zebra warrior Vegter also within centre of ring, currently arguing with zebra leader Heerser; activating translation spell.
  307. >`--erstand your concerns, but I will absolutely not permit it!` (Heerser)
  308. >`I was there with Uncouth Razor Wind! Should be there for him here too!` (Vegter)
  309. >`You will not accompany the agent of Celestia, Vegter, and that is all there is to it!`
  310. >`Then I will go with Anonymous! He will want to see him!`
  311. >`Enough! Now is not the time to discuss a matter such as this!`
  312.  
  313. >Both zebras made aware of your presence; zebra warrior Vegter attempts to touch mobile cot, batted away by masked zebra mare.
  314. >`Everyzebra, back away and be ready!` (Heerser)
  315. >Masked zebra mare and zebra warrior Vegter leave centre, join other warriors and alchemists behind cover of barricades.
  316. >"Now, do what you must, agent of Celestia." (Heerser, said during departure)
  317. >Modified activation spell utilized once zebra leader Heerser is behind cover of barricade: activation element of 'Slipgate Keystone' targeted with spell.
  318. >Activation appears successful; discrepancy noted in establishment of actual portal, taking 487% longer to open than observed 'Slipgate Keystone' activations, possible result of dramatically increased distance between points.
  319. >Travel through portal begins immediately after full formation of gateway; preparing for shakedown by heavy guard detail upon other side of portal.
  320. >Discrepancy: entry into portal has led you into a short tunnel of magical energy instead of an immediate exit into the predetermined location, exit seen on other end of tunnel: assuming to be an effect of very long distance transportation, proceeding.
  321. >Portal successfully exited into predetermined location deep within Canterlot Crystal Caverns, consistent with heavily fortified 'kill zone' as per established protocols.
  322. >Fellow Sol Invictus soldiers come out from behind cover positions to inspect and scan your person, medics called immediately upon seeing friend Razor Wind.
  323. >Informing fellow Sol Invictus soldiers of passage through the portal being forbidden on penalty of open warfare and the survival of friend Anon being placed into jeopardy; acknowledgement received, guards heightening alert and standing down from standard investigative formation.
  324.  
  325. >Medics arrived in 6.3s, take possession of mobile cot.
  326. >Relief: friend Razor Wind is going to survive.
  327. >Escorted by fellow Sol Invictus guards into the cavern tunnels, subsequently transported by elevator to Sol Invictus compound within Canterlot castle.
  328. >Lieutenant Light is not present within the compound currently, and cannot debrief you or receive your report; nature of current situation implies the involvement of Princess Celestia with or without the presence of lieutenant Light.
  329. >Escort paused while Princess Celestia is informed of your arrival, as per standard operating procedure.
  330. >Apprehension developing as to the condition of friend Razor Wind, in spite of available data on efficacy of medical personnel.
  331. >Concerns developing as to the condition of friend Anon; his mental condition in particular occupies 83.3% of present concerns.
  332. >Temporarily dismissing present concerns as side effect of silent waiting conditions, will explore more fully at later time.
  333. >Expected development: Princess Celestia enters, concern visible on facial expression.
  334. >"Sergeant Measure, please come with me immediately."
  335. >Complying with order: led by Princess Celestia into war room.
  336. >Princess Luna noted as only additional occupant, bears appearance of significantly greater outward concern.
  337. >"What has happened, sergeant?" (Princess Luna, agitated) "Where is Anon?!"
  338. >"Please be seated." (Princess Celestia)
  339. >Complying with order: Princess Celestia makes nonverbal attempt to calm Princess Luna, attempt is not successful.
  340. >"Let us hear your report, sergeant."
  341.  
  342. @@@@@@@@
  343.  
  344. >Commencing brief summary report on events within Zebrica.
  345. >Events covered by report include initial vehicular transportation and combat, incapacitation and capture by Wyse Kunstenaar forces, attempts by friend Anon to curry favour that have not resulted in success, events of patrol with zebra leader Heerser, discovery of stealth construct utilized by enemy Incognito, attack by 15 runic constructs of enemy Incognito, attack made on city of Vesting by 20 upgraded runic constructs and both unknown enemy zebra and enemy Athalia, and the conditions of both friend Anon and friend Razor Wind.
  346. >Total time taken to complete report, 11m53s; omitted details such as mechanics of stealth construct, interpersonal disputes, and other details unnecessary for an initial report.
  347. >Gauging reactions observed during report revealed Princess Luna to be shocked for 32.1% of the report and angry for 48.9% of report, remainder filled by other expected reactions; Princess Celestia retained a calm demeanour for 89% of report, but was observed reacting strongly to certain events, including the runic constructs, enemy Athalia, and the conditions of your friends.
  348. >"Is dearest Anon all right?!" (Princess Luna, agitated)
  349. "His physical recovery was proceeding well when I saw him 31 minutes ago. I expect him to recover fully within the next 36 hours."
  350. >"And the lieutenant?"
  351. >Trepidation returns.
  352. "I would need to wait for the medical report."
  353. >"Sister, is he...?!"
  354. >"I ensured he was transported to emergency care the moment I received word of his return. I am confident he will survive."
  355.  
  356. >"Then all that leaves is Anon! I must see him, now!"
  357. "The tribal leader has issued a warning that anypony beside myself who enters the gateway to his territory would be treated as hostile, and the act itself considered a declaration of war."
  358. >"I feared that would be the case." (Princess Celestia)
  359. >"What?! For what possible reason?" (Princess Luna, angered)
  360. "He has advised me to inform him of the identities of anypony who wishes to pass through the gateway. Should I tell him you seek passage, your majesty?"
  361. >"Of course you shall! Both me and Twilight!"
  362. >"Luna, please. I do not believe this to be a sound--"
  363. >"I will not hear it, sister! He needs our aid, and I will be damned if he does not receive it! Sergeant, you will tell this leader of theirs that I and princess Twilight demand to see Anon this instant!"
  364. >Princess Celestia does not attempt dissuasion, likely recognizes attempt to be futile.
  365. "I will."
  366. >"It is unfortunate that zebrakind is still so unwilling to trust us." (Princess Celestia)
  367. "The tribal leader cited significant mistrust of both yourself and our organization as the main contributing factors of his hostility, princess."
  368. >"I feared as much."
  369. >"Mistrust of...? Sister, what have you done with the zebras?"
  370. >"Only what I told you I formed the order of Sol Invictus for: removing any and all traces of the dark arts from the world."
  371. >"Without their participation, I take it? Much less their consent?"
  372. >"Enough. I'm not going to discuss this at the moment. Sergeant, I must ask you to return to Zebrica to keep an eye on Anonymous. While you do this, please write a full report on the events that have occurred, and submit it through the gateway at your earliest convenience."
  373. "Yes, Princess Celestia."
  374.  
  375. >Princess Luna snorts, remaining angry; pushes herself away from the table.
  376. >"I, meanwhile, will get dearest Twilight up to speed on these events! One way or another, we will see him!"
  377. >Princess Luna storms out of war room.
  378. >"You are dismissed for the time being, sergeant. I am authorizing you to use any restricted equipment within the Sol Invictus compound; equip yourself as you see fit, and ensure Anonymous comes to no further harm."
  379. "I must first inform you of another important factor, your majesty."
  380. >"What is it?"
  381. "During the engagement with enemy Athalia, she was heavily utilizing dark magic. I measured an estimated dark magic poisoning level of 18.4 duskmael within her system, with a variance of 2.2 duskmael."
  382. >Princess Celestia adopts expression of shock.
  383. >"E-eighteen and a half?! You're certain?"
  384. "That was at it's peak, yet even at lower, still lethal levels, she retained full consciousness and suffered none of the adverse effects associated with dark magic poisoning. In fact, she only appeared to gain strength the more severe the poisoning became."
  385. >"That can't be right. She should have died from that!"
  386. "My observations have revealed nothing indicating such a fate. I do not have an explanation for this discrepancy."
  387. >"Did you notice any evidence of a soul removal being performed upon her beforehoof?"
  388. "No, I observed no evidence of spiritual tampering."
  389. >"That makes no sense...!" (Princess Celestia, muttering) "It does for those two, but her...?"
  390. >Princess Celestia takes a moment to shake her head rapidly for 0.7 seconds at 6.5Hz.
  391. >"Th-thank you for the information, sergeant Measure. I know I need not worry about details with you, but please note anything you believe is important in your full report. You are dismissed."
  392. "Yes, Princess Celestia."
  393.  
  394. >Bow offered, excusing self from war room.
  395. >Returning to Canterlot Sol Invictus compound, equipment area; personal armour and equipment removed during engagement with enemy Athalia was never recovered, caused significant personal discomfort post-engagement.
  396. >Heavier armament deemed necessary due to observed extent of enemy power; equipping self as necessary.
  397. >Heavy SI-6-2 personal armour selected and equipped: weight increase of 287% over previously issued SI-6-7 armour due to durium-gold composite construction and high-intensity semi-sentient reactive shielding enchantments, weight differential deemed acceptable due to strength of opposition, no present long-distance travel requirements, and easy procurement of alchemic supplementation to offset speed impact.
  398. >SI-6-2 sets very difficult to forge, only 5 exist presently due to material and craftsmareship constraints; present circumstances allow for SI-6-2 suit to be used.
  399. >SI-6-2 mana transfusion injectors tested for functionality; functionality verified, equipping armour with extended transfusion cartridges.
  400. >Personal: SI-6-5 suit would have been preferred during initial travel to Zebrica due to inclusion of mana transfusion injectors that SI-6-7 suit lacks; extranational operational procedure prohibits such equipment from being used during contact with unknown/unverified forces due to capture and reverse engineering concerns.
  401. >Additional standard equipment secured, current complement deemed satisfactory; equipping helmet and departing for gateway.
  402.  
  403. >Gateway reached without incident, entering; exit occurs without incident, mild alarm noted in surrounding zebra guards.
  404. >Masked zebra mare first to approach and initiate conversation.
  405. >"Did it go well? Is he safe?"
  406. "The lieutenant was reached in time, and is expected to survive. However, I will have to wait for a medical report to estimate the length of his recovery time."
  407. >Prognosis not positive: full recovery highly unlikely, recovery to walking state without spinal injury as a factor has possibility to take years, awakening from sleep state would take a minimum of 8 weeks; 93% probability of friend Razor Wind being subject to honourable discharge after his awakening.
  408. >Concern: friend Anon will not take the news well.
  409. >"It is enough that he will live. Others in his place seldom do. Now return to your friend's side, I will inform the others of your return."
  410. >Nod exchanged, returning to tent of friend Anon.
  411. >Tent entered, head alchemist Zaalma seen inside, spreading an unidentified alchemic gel over exposed chest of friend Anon.
  412. >Head alchemist Zaalma sees you, quickly finishes task and proceeds towards tent exit.
  413. >"Call for me when he wakes, agent of Celestia."
  414. >Head alchemist Zaalma leaves tent, questions raised as to her intentions.
  415. >Dismissing concerns for the moment, examining friend Anon.
  416. >Friend Anon still asleep, alchemic gel substance appears to be slowly healing the heavy bruising on chest of friend Anon.
  417. >Condition deemed acceptable, proceeding to seat self and initiate creation of written report.
  418.  
  419. >Tent flap heard opening at 11.9% of report completion, ceasing report creation to observe visitor: zebra leader Heerser seen entering tent.
  420. >"You've returned sooner than I thought," (Heerser, curious) "And it seems you've decided to bring heavier armaments."
  421. "I deemed it necessary given recent events."
  422. >"Perfectly reasonable. I take it that there were parties on the other side interested in seeing your friend?"
  423. "Princess Luna demanded to see Anon along with Princess Twilight."
  424. >"His mates?" (Heerser, surprised)
  425. >Discrepancy: neither Princess Luna or Princess Twilight are friend Anon's mates, zebra leader Heerser may instead be referring to unverified possibility of an amorous connection between them.
  426. >"Agent of Celestia, what connections do they share to your organization?"
  427. "They are not connected. For what reason are you asking?"
  428. >Zebra leader Heerser appears to be considering something, remains silent for 8.8s; calls out to zebras guarding tent and issues orders, then turns to you.
  429. >"Agent of Celestia, I would like for you to inform those two that I would be more than happy to have them as my guests."
  430. >Surprise: was not expecting a decision like this from him, given established history of mistrust with Equestria.
  431. "You want them to visit?"
  432. >Not able to completely remove surprise from voice.
  433. >"Well, I do intend on keeping the visitation more private, but I see no reason to freeze them out on Celestia's account, let alone deny them access to their mate."
  434. "They are not mates."
  435. >"Yes, your friend said something much to the same effect." (Heerser, amused)
  436. >Confusion: you were serious, why does he consider your response humorous?
  437.  
  438. >Zebra alchemist enters tent, converses briefly with zebra leader Heerser; alchemist appears concerned, while he appears pleased, and gives a presumed reassurance to the alchemist, who promptly leaves.
  439. >"I am having a second tent erected just outside of this one to greet those two within. Anonymous's curious portal will be moved there shortly. From there, you can return and inform them of my desire to meet with them."
  440. "Princess Celestia will not simply permit them to come here on a whim."
  441. >"Of course she wouldn't, and I would be very concerned about her judgment if she thought any different. You may offer your oversight and protection for the duration of our meeting, if it pleases your ruler."
  442. >Zebra leader Heerser adopts more serious tone and expression.
  443. >"Naturally, my conditions on other visitors besides them and yourself still applies. And the Solar Keeper joining us is simply out of the question."
  444. "I do not understand this move. I was under the impression that you distrusted Equestria."
  445. >"I distrust your order, and the princess that holds dominion over it, both for good reason. But neither her sister nor her protégé have done me any wrong. I see no reason to disavow them, unless they invite it upon themselves."
  446. "I do not believe that is your entire motivation."
  447. >"Of course it isn't. Your friend is in pain, and needs their presence like a flower needs sunlight. It would be cruel of me to deny them this, given the chance to make it a reality."
  448. >Same zebra alchemist emerges from exit, communicates briefly with zebra leader Heerser; he appears very pleased, sends alchemist off.
  449.  
  450. >"Everything is ready. Would you do me the honour of bringing them here, agent of Celestia?"
  451. >Intentions of zebra leader Heerser not in doubt, but unexpected nature of his move still raises concerns.
  452. "I will see if it is possible."
  453. >"You have my thanks."
  454. >Leaving tent, exterior of tent no longer outdoor environment, but replaced with a tent hallway; entering through other tent flap reveals new tent interior.
  455. >New tent interior much larger than previous tent, a quickly built and lit hearth lies in the centre, surrounded by padded benches; portal seen emitting light from behind a set of privacy screens.
  456. >Entering portal occurs without incident, emerging from other side reveals presence of Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and Princess Twilight.
  457. >"Luna, please! Think about what you're doing!" (Princess Celestia, concerned)
  458. >"I will not stand idly by for this, sister! Nor will you keep me from seeing dearest Anon!" (Princess Luna, incensed)
  459. >Princess Luna equipped with armour and glaive, likely expecting battle.
  460. >Princess Celestia notices your presence, changes focus accordingly.
  461. >"Sergeant, you've returned already?"
  462. "The leader of the Wyse Kunstenaars wishes to meet with both Princess Luna and Princess Twilight."
  463. >Development, expected: all three princesses adopt looks of surprise at the news.
  464. >"He does?! Why?" (Princess Celestia)
  465. >"Does he now? Well, that simplifies matters greatly!" (Princess Luna, challenging) "I will give that savage a piece of my mind!"
  466. "He believes their presence will be of benefit to Anon. Additionally, he cites their lack of connection to our organization as a positive aspect."
  467.  
  468. >Princess Luna becomes more surprised by the information, Princess Celestia remains concerned.
  469. "He has allowed me to oversee the meeting as a conciliatory gesture towards you, Princess Celestia."
  470. >"I... I see. And you agree to this, sergeant?"
  471. "Yes. Their leader is trustworthy in my view, though the sudden nature of the move does leave me concerned."
  472. >"W-well, what are we waiting for?" (Princess Twilight, nervous) "N-not like there's any other choice..."
  473. >Princess Twilight appears upset, saddened; not unexpected given close personal connection to friend Anon in combination with recent news of his condition.
  474. >"Indeed, there is not. Dearest Twilight, let us proceed. Remain close to me. Sergeant, you may proceed first." (Princess Luna, protective)
  475. >Princess Luna and Princess Twilight move close to one another; you nod acknowledgement and--
  476. >"Wait!" (Princess Celestia, worried)
  477. >"Sister, you know you cannot stop me."
  478. >"I'm not trying to stop you. Just... please be careful. Sergeant, you will keep them safe, yes?"
  479. "To the best of my ability, your majesty."
  480. >Reply appears to cause small reduction in concern on expression of Princess Celestia; proceeding to return through portal.
  481. >Zebra leader Heerser seen on opposite side of portal, preparing a large pot of tea on top of the hearth; he remains equipped with his standard armour set, strange concealed chained weapon likely still equipped as well.
  482. "They will arrive shortly."
  483. >"Marvellous, marvellous! You have my gratitude, agent of Celestia. Please, be seated."
  484. "I would prefer to stand."
  485. >"Suit yourself."
  486.  
  487. >Taking position in viewing distance of portal: Princess Luna and Princess Twilight emerge from portal 10.1s after conversation with zebra leader Heerser ceases.
  488. >Princess Luna enters angrily, appears to be seeking a confrontation.
  489. >"Listen well, knave! You dare to--?!"
  490. >Speech stops upon seeing zebra leader Heerser in such a non-confrontational position.
  491. >"Aah, how lovely it is to finally meet you, princess! And just in time for the tea, too!"
  492. >Princess Luna appears to be surprised to the point of silence, Princess Twilight seen taking position beside her.
  493. >"And my warmest greetings to you as well, young majesty."
  494. >"Wh-what is the meaning of this?!" (Princess Luna, flustered)
  495. >"Whatever do you mean? I simply wish to speak with the two of you."
  496. >Princess Twilight extends a foreleg towards Princess Luna in a nonverbal request to calm down; attempt appears to succeed.
  497. >"Who are you?" (Princess Twilight)
  498. >"I am Heerser, young majesty. Leader of the Wyse Kunstenaars, steward of the lost and fractured tribes. And who might you two be?"
  499. >"T-Twilight Sparkle."
  500. >"Hm? Forgive me, but is that all, miss Sparkle? I was expecting, well, a title."
  501. >"I-I don't really like titles. A-and just Twilight is fine."
  502. >"Well, if you insist, miss Twilight."
  503. >"I am princess Luna, keeper of the night. You shall address me as princess, zebra!" (Princess Luna, confrontational)
  504. >"I'd be happy to, princess. But as the keeper of my tribe, I must insist that you put that weapon away first, before we can proceed."
  505. >"Do you take me for a fool, zebra?"
  506.  
  507. >"Of course not, princess. However, I am only asking for a simple show of reciprocity. I am not armed, and neither is the young majesty. Levelling the field is quite important for our people to hold peaceful talks, you see."
  508. >Princess Luna attempts to speak again, attempt stopped by outstretched foreleg of Princess Twilight in nonverbal gesture to calm down and comply; attempt succeeds, withers of Princess Luna seen slumping as weapon is put away, though suspicious expression remains on her face.
  509. >"This is your only chance, zebra."
  510. >"And one chance is all I will need, princess."
  511. >"And just where is this confidence of yours coming from, zebra?"
  512. >"Well, I have made alliances on shakier grounds before. Perhaps you would like to hear the tale of how I was beaten within an inch of my life, just to secure an alliance with one of our neighbour tribes?"
  513. >Small gasp heard from Princess Twilight, Princess Luna remains suspicious.
  514. >"Oh, but listen to me ramble on! Now please, have a seat, both of you! There is so much for us to discuss!" (Heerser, jovial)
  515.  
  516. @@@@@@@@
  517.  
  518. >"Not yet," (Princess Twilight)
  519. >"Not yet? Why, miss Twilight? Is something amiss?"
  520. >"I need to see him first, Mr. Heerser. I need to make sure he's okay."
  521. >Princess Twilight becoming increasingly emotional, zebra leader Heerser adopts understanding expression.
  522. >"Ah, of course, I understand. Forgive my insensitivity, young majesty."
  523. >"D-do you know where he is?"
  524. >"Just beyond that point, miss Twilight," (Heerser, gesturing to tent flap) "He is sleeping at the moment, however. I must ask that you not wake him."
  525. >Princess Twilight immediately runs towards exit, Princess Luna fails attempt to stop her, pursues her instead.
  526. >Pursuing princesses, both followed into friend Anon's tent; Princess Twilight seen holding hand of friend Anon with both hooves in clear state of distress, Princess Luna seen placing hoof upon withers of Princess Twilight while adopting a sombre expression.
  527. >Zebra leader Heerser seen walking past your position towards the princesses.
  528. >"He's a strong one, you know. He single-hoovedly saved my entire tribe from certain destruction. We owe him quite a bit."
  529. >Princess Luna looks back towards zebra leader Heerser for a brief moment.
  530. >"I-is he going t-to be okay?" (Princess Twilight, sniffling)
  531. >"Without a doubt, miss Twilight. The alchemists caring for him number among the best."
  532. >Zebra leader Heerser approaches Princess Twilight, procures hoofkerchief for her; hoofkerchief promptly taken and used.
  533. >"Come, dearest Twilight. There is nothing to do but wait for him to awaken." (Princess Luna)
  534. >Princess Luna escorts Princess Twilight from side of friend Anon, expression of Princess Luna still indicates distrust of zebra leader Heerser.
  535. >Everypony returned to first tent, seats themselves around hearth; Princess Luna and Princess Twilight share the same bench.
  536. >Zebra leader Heerser proceeds to distribute tea; olfactory profile both herbal and fruity, though exact kind of tea used is unknown.
  537.  
  538. >"So," (Heerser, mischievous) "How long have the two of you been in love with him?"
  539. >Princess Luna and Princess Twilight were sipping tea when zebra leader Heerser made remark; both spit their tea out within 0.08s of one another.
  540. >Princess Twilight highly embarrassed, stammering constantly while failing to form coherent sentences in likely attempt to deny claim of zebra leader Heerser; Princess Luna becomes aggravated with clear signs of embarrassment.
  541. >"S-savage! Knave! Y-you dare?!"
  542. >"Oh dear, please forgive me," (Heerser, laughing) "Even your Anonymous did not react this strongly!"
  543. >Now questioning judgment of zebra leader Heerser.
  544. >"B-blackguard! Perisher! I should strike you down this instant!"
  545. >"Perhaps you should," (Heerser, chuckling) "Though you should know my tribe won't take very kindly to that, to say nothing of my alchemists being more powerful than you can possibly imagine."
  546. >Princess Luna grumbles something inaudible, Princess Twilight regains small measure of composure.
  547. >"Wh-why would you s-say s-something like that?!" (Princess Twilight, flustered)
  548. >"Well, it's the truth, isn't it?"
  549. >Princess Twilight flushes, her ears folding; proceeds to hide her face with a wing while avoiding eyes of zebra leader Heerser.
  550. >"He missed the two of you dearly during his time here, you know."
  551. >Zebra leader Heerser takes moment to sip tea of his own; Princess Twilight resumes eye contact, ears straightening.
  552. >"He did?" (Princess Twilight, whispering)
  553. >"Very much so, miss Twilight. He'll be beyond happy to see you here," (Heerser, changing focus to Princess Luna) "And you as well, princess. I take it you are the head mare of this lovely herd of yours?"
  554. >"No!" (Princess Luna, exclaiming)
  555. >"No!" (Princess Twilight, exclaiming)
  556.  
  557. >"No? I'm afraid I'm rather confused now. Do you have some other arrangement with him, then?"
  558. >"Enough! Speak no further of this matter, zebra!" (Princess Luna, flustered)
  559. >"I-it's... complicated." (Princess Twilight, nervous)
  560. >"Hmm. He said much the same thing when I pressed him for details. Are you certain things are as complicated as you make it out to be--?"
  561. >"We don't want to talk about it!" (Princess Twilight)
  562. >"We don't want to talk about it!" (Princess Luna)
  563. >"Dear oh dear, what is this all about? You can't expect a healthy romance to bloom if you do not communicate with one another!"
  564. >"Just drop it!" (Princess Twilight)
  565. >"Just drop it!" (Princess Luna)
  566. >"Very well, very well," (Heerser, disappointed, becoming coy) "Now, I trust you both are more at ease now?"
  567. >Princesses share glance towards one another, appear to have come to a realization.
  568. >"A-a bit..." (Princess Twilight)
  569. >"B-blackguard..." (Princess Luna)
  570. >"Wonderful, wonderful! Please, do continue to indulge in the tea! I'm afraid it gets rather unpalatable when cool."
  571. >Confusion: topic chosen by zebra leader Heerser should have escalated tensions, why has it instead lessened tensions?
  572. >Making note to research subject later.
  573. >Princess Twilight and zebra leader Heerser continue to consume tea, while Princess Luna does not.
  574. >"We did not come here to indulge in your officious queries, zebra."
  575. >"No, I imagine you did not. You came here to tend to your mate, and to ask questions of me."
  576. >"We are not--!"
  577. >"H-how did this all happen? I-I thought he came here with all kinds of weapons, didn't he?" (Princess Twilight)
  578.  
  579. >"Indeed he did. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding during his first encounter with one of my warbands, and his items were confiscated."
  580. >"What?! Why?"
  581. >"An oversight in my orders, I'm afraid. My warbands were on the lookout for the Destroyer, but not knowing more than one human existed here, I did not think to have them search for only the red one."
  582. >"H-how do you mix the two up?!"
  583. >"Destroyer? You are referring to that damnable Incognito, are you not?" (Princess Luna)
  584. >"The same. I am told he assaulted your kingdom on two occasions."
  585. >"I take it he has wrought unimaginable destruction in these lands, too?"
  586. >"The tribes roaming the Zebrican expanses numbered in the hundreds, spread all across the land. Now, they are reduced to only a hooffull, and the tribe in his employ rules two-thirds of the land." (Heerser, saddened) "A cruel irony, that our tribes would become more unified only in the face of such evil."
  587. >"Even so, he should have been able to be of better aid! He came here just for such a purpose!"
  588. >"And I would have been happy to accept the full measure of his aid, had he not chosen to act like a petulant foal robbed of his toys, to say nothing of lying on numerous occasions about critical information." (Heerser, annoyed)
  589. >"Wh-- you dare?!" (Princess Luna, angered)
  590. >"There is nothing daring about relaying the truth, princess. Our people value trust above all else, and he saw fit to abuse it in his first few days with us."
  591. >"No, h-he wouldn't do that! He's not like that!" (Princess Twilight, agitated)
  592. >"Perhaps not now. But that does not alter what happened. He is fortunate his companions were there to chastise him for his... impulsive behaviour."
  593.  
  594. >Zebra leader Heerser refills his cup.
  595. >"It matters little at this juncture. He's proven himself beyond a reasonable doubt to all of my people, and his items will be returned in full once he awakens."
  596. >"This could have all been avoided, had you not--!" (Princess Luna, angered)
  597. >"I have already explained my reasoning, and like I have said, it matters little at this juncture. I do not expect you to agree, princess, only to understand."
  598. >"The fate of the world hangs in the balance, and you would jeopardize it for your traditions?!"
  599. >Zebra leader Heerser does not respond for 5.2s, continues drinking tea before setting the cup down and meeting the glare of Princess Luna with an even look and tone.
  600. >"Princess, I understand your frustrations. But I must ask you to control yourself."
  601. >Both parties continue glaring in silence for 8.7s.
  602. >"Enough! Luna, please, this isn't getting us anywhere!" (Princess Twilight)
  603. >Interjection of Princess Twilight calms and distracts Princess Luna, but fails to cause her anger to cease.
  604. >"In the end, he saved all of us from certain destruction despite his limited arsenal. I expect no further troubles from both the Destroyer and the Bloedige Plaag for quite some time."
  605. >"Wh-what do you mean?"
  606. >"They brought an entire army with them, miss Twilight. They intended to destroy us to the last, and had they attacked as they no doubt had initially planned, we would not be having this conversation."
  607. >"An army?!"
  608. >"An army...? You mean to tell me he stopped an entire army?!" (Princess Luna)
  609.  
  610. >"Not directly, but yes. He still had access to his curious 'magnet' during his time in our custody, and I suspect they were quite fearful that he would turn it against them. A good thing then, that they did not realize he had been wounded too grievously to use it."
  611. >"Wait, he what?! He brought one of those things with him?!" (Princess Twilight)
  612. >"He didn't tell you?"
  613. >"No!"
  614. >"Hmm. Perhaps his trust issues run deeper than I thought..."
  615. >"Anon, why didn't you...?! Why do you always do this?!"
  616. >"I-I do not understand, Heerser. Why would he have halted his assault?" (Princess Luna)
  617. >"The Destroyer is a very careful individual, a trait not shared by his subordinates. Were I to speculate, he no doubt came to realize that Anonymous possessed a weapon of great and terrible power when he saw how easily it slew his numerous cursed abominations."
  618. >"Abominations? Those damned, rune-clad abominations?"
  619. >"Yes, the very same. The speed at which they all died to his device was nothing short of terrifying, nor will I ever forget the sensation it creates. The Destroyer must have noticed this, and played far more conservatively as a result. No doubt it was the sight of his bloodied, defeated champion that prompted him to begin a full retreat."
  620. >"Champion?"
  621. >"Yes, she couldn't be anything but that."
  622. >"She? Wait...! You refer to that accursed changeling...?!"
  623. >"Daemoniacal Athalia, yes."
  624. >Zebra leader Heerser pauses for 3.1s to drink tea.
  625. >"So that creature has indeed returned to his service!"
  626.  
  627. >"Creature, princess?"
  628. >Zebra leader Heerser pauses for 3.6s to drink tea.
  629. >"'Creature' is not the word I would choose to describe her. 'Daemon' would be more appropriate."
  630. >"Wh-what do you mean? Wh-what did she do?" (Princess Twilight, apprehensive)
  631. >"She came here the night of the army's assembly. Well, her and another... enemy of mine," (Heerser, restraining anger)
  632. >Zebra leader Heerser pauses for 1.1s to attempt drinking tea, realizes his cup his empty; moves to refill it for 2.9s and takes 3.4s to drink from it.
  633. >"I did battle with her, as did the agent of Celestia. You can confirm this, yes?"
  634. "You are correct."
  635. >"I have also done battle with that damnable insect. She was more proficient with the dark arts than I ever expected, in spite of her imprisonment!" (Princess Luna)
  636. >"It took all I had to simply immobilize Daemoniacal Athalia. Her thin form and near-mesmerizing beauty belie her ferocious strength and frightening power. But I don't believe I will ever forget her words, or her gaze."
  637. >Zebra leader Heerser sets tea cup down, appears uncomfortable discussing subject of enemy Athalia.
  638. >"She spoke only of butchering your Anonymous. She slaughtered numerous zebras and destroyed many Ancients in service to that singular task, calling my people mere obstacles in the path of her pursuit. She laughed during my interrogation. And those eyes..."
  639. >Zebra leader Heerser appears more uncomfortable with subject.
  640. >"There was such a madness in those eyes..."
  641. >Expression of Princess Twilight consistent with horror, covering mouth with hooves; expression of Princess Luna consistent with significant personal disturbance.
  642.  
  643. >"She... laughed, you say?" (Princess Luna)
  644. >Single chain extends from foreleg armour of zebra leader Heerser, consistent with previously observed chain weapon but with a notable lack of blades.
  645. >"My weapon is powerful, princess. It's electric sting has reduced maulwurfs to tears before, on more than one occasion. I poured all of it's power into a single strike, and only then did she so much as scream."
  646. >Chain ignites with previously observed unidentified magical lightning: both princesses recoil at the display, likely sensing the power of the magic instinctively in accordance with reports of alicorn magical sensitivity.
  647. >"She laughed the rest of the pain off."
  648. >"A-are we referring to the same Athalia, Heerser?"
  649. >"I'm afraid it does not end there. The agent of Celestia and my alchemists did their best to contain her, but ultimately failed. I do not know the details of their battle; for that, you will have to ask the good agent yourself."
  650. >Princess Luna looks towards you, implicit order to speak of events received and obeyed.
  651. >Personal: you have no desire to recall the events of the battle.
  652. "He is correct. She broke her containment, but Anon and lieutenant Razor Wind arrived in time, and we engaged Athalia. She employed dark magic attacks, and at one point used a strange teleportation spell that circumvented my detection magic. I was rendered unconscious by her surprise attack.
  653. "I awakened in time to aid in stopping her. She had destroyed a large portion of the landscape with a dark magic attack, and was suffering more than three times the lethal level of dark magic poisoning with no ill effect. She..."
  654. >C-composure.
  655.  
  656. "She appears to be directly responsible for the harm inflicted on Anon and lieutenant Razor Wind. I found her stood over Anon, striking and berating him. Her tone and mannerisms matched that of Heerser's descriptions."
  657. >Zebra leader Heerser adopts sombre expression; Princess Twilight was heard gasping during your mention of striking and berating Anon, currently covering mouth with hooves with a horrified expression; Princess Luna shocked initially, but becomes very angry soon afterwards.
  658. "You will have to ask Anon about what happened during their battle."
  659. >Personal: friend Anon will not want to recall the details of the event; you cannot fault him for his expected reluctance.
  660. >"Th-that... that fiend!" (Princess Luna, furious) "She will suffer immeasurably for what she has done! Where is she, zebra? Where did she go?!"
  661. >"Princess, you've every right in the world to be angry. Believe me, I know all too well what you are feeling," (Heerser, conciliatory) "But I must ask you to please calm yourself."
  662. >"Calm myself?! Th-that monster nearly killed dearest Anon--!"
  663. >"And if you chase after them, you will share his fate. Is that something you wish to put your herdmates through, princess?"
  664. >"You will tell me where--!"
  665. >"Enough! Please!" (Princess Twilight)
  666. >Princess Luna once again restrains outburst at the behest of Princess Twilight.
  667. >"M-Mr. Heerser?"
  668. >"Yes, miss Twilight?"
  669. >"I-isn't there something I can do to help?"
  670. >"Excuse me? Help?" (Heerser, surprised)
  671. >"What? D-did I say something wrong?" (Princess Twilight, nervous)
  672. >"No, not at all. I just can't say I expected an offer of help from a pony, is all."
  673.  
  674. >"Wh-- huh?"
  675. >"And what is that supposed to mean?" (Princess Luna, confrontational)
  676. >"It's been my experience that ponies have helped none but themselves. Not even their Saddle Arabian or thestral cousins get much in the way of aid from them."
  677. >Princess Luna makes motions to speak, but stops herself: appears to be in thought, both confused and perturbed.
  678. >"Well I'm not most ponies, Mr. Heerser. And besides, you don't look like you're going to turn me down."
  679. >Zebra leader Heerser pauses for 2.8s, proceeds to start laughing to himself.
  680. >"So you're saying I'm not like most zebras then?"
  681. >"Yeah, so you--" (Princess Twilight, becoming panicked) "W-waitnothat'snotwhatImeantohgosh--!"
  682. >"Hah! Touché, miss Twilight. I can see why they call you the princess of friendship!"
  683. >Zebra leader Heerser stands up, walks towards Princess Twilight.
  684. >"I won't stop you, that's true. In fact, I'd be more than happy to have you! But you will have an uphill battle on your hooves, you know. My zebras don't trust ponies, especially not my alchemists!"
  685. >"I-I know that. A-and I'd like to, well, p-prove them wrong."
  686. >"And keep an eye on your beloved, no doubt?"
  687. >Princess Twilight recoils, looking surprised.
  688. >"H-howthehaydoyou--?!"
  689. >"Miss Twilight," (Heerser, laughing) "You're not the only one here who's been in love! Even if that were your only reason, it would be reason enough for me to allow you to stay!"
  690. >"T-Twilight, you aren't seriously going to remain here, are you?!" (Princess Luna, flustered)
  691. >"I-I have to do something, Luna! I-I can't just sit around and wait for Anon to wake up!"
  692. >"I-I realize that, truly I do, but this?"
  693.  
  694. >"It's not like I'm gonna be alone or anything! I-I mean, it is your job to keep me safe, r-right?"
  695. >Realization of Princess Twilight querying you took 0.8s.
  696. "That is in line with my duties."
  697. >"Right! S-so there's no problem!"
  698. >"But Twilight--!"
  699. >"I'm staying. And you can't talk me out of it." (Princess Twilight, becoming angry) "A-and when he wakes up, I'm going to slap him."
  700. >"Hah!" (Heerser, jovial, looking towards Princess Luna) "Well then, if miss Twilight is set on this, all that is left is for you to approve it all, princess!"
  701. >Princess Luna at a loss for words.
  702. >"I can assure you that I have no intention of mistreating her. And should anyzebra think differently, well, I'll set them aside for you to visit your wrath upon! Would that make you happy?"
  703. >Princess Luna takes 9.4s to begin speaking.
  704. >"If... if anything happens to them, it is you I will hold to account, zebra. Not your subordinates."
  705. >"Ahh, so that is your stipulation? Very well, then! I accept!"
  706. >"B-but she could stay, too! You'd be fine with that, r-right?" (Princess Twilight)
  707. >"Oh, without a doubt. But alas, I suspect that circumstances beyond her control prevent such an arrangement, no?"
  708. >"You speak truly, zebra." (Princess Luna, resigned) "My thestrals would have half a mind to charge in after me should I be gone too long, to say nothing of what my sister would do."
  709. >Zebra leader Heerser adopts contemplative expression at mention of thestrals by Princess Luna.
  710. >"Princess, when your beloved awakens, there is another matter I would like to discuss with you."
  711.  
  712. >"Another matter? What other matter?"
  713. >"Oh, I won't say what just yet. It's still quite tentative, you see. And goodness knows you've enough on your mind already."
  714. >"That does not fill me with confidence."
  715. >"Then let's just say that it's... a potential step towards the fall of the Destroyer."
  716. >Expression of Princess Luna consistent with curiosity, appears to be calming down.
  717. >"I believe it is my turn to be surprised, Heerser. You distrust my kind, do you not?"
  718. >"Oh, my people distrust ponykind, true enough. I for one only distrust Celestia and her organization. No offence of course, agent of Celestia."
  719. "You have not offended me."
  720. >"I-I see. I... I feel I must apologize for her--"
  721. >"You will do no such thing. Apologize only for that which you have done, princess."
  722. >Zebra leader Heerser appears to be genuinely happy.
  723. >"Now then, do you have anything else to ask of me, you two?"
  724. >Princess Luna takes 2.6s to respond.
  725. >"Not of you, Heerser. Dearest Twilight, you are not staying in Zebrica."
  726. >"Luna, I already--!" (Princess Twilight, frustrated)
  727. >"Not without proper equipment. You are absolutely not remaining with warriors without the armaments of warriors."
  728. >"W-wait, what?"
  729. >"Ahh, a wise play, princess." (Heerser, pleased) "Miss Twilight, I would suggest taking her up on that."
  730. >"B-but I can't fight! I-I don't even know--!"
  731. >"Then I'll take it upon myself to teach you a thing or two, then! It's only fair, don't you think?"
  732. >"N-now hold on just a--!"
  733. >"It is decided then!" (Princess Luna, forceful) "Come, dearest Twilight!"
  734.  
  735. >Princess Luna telekinetically lifts Princess Twilight against her will, proceeds towards gateway.
  736. >"H-hey! Put me down!"
  737. >"Excuse us for a moment, Heerser!"
  738. >"Take your time," (Heerser, suppressing laughter)
  739. >Princesses not followed as they pass through the gateway.
  740. >Zebra leader Heerser breaks into laughter 1.1s after princesses were no longer audible.
  741. >"Oh ancestors above, what characters! They really are good for one another, aren't they?"
  742. >Realization of zebra leader Heerser querying you took 1.2s.
  743. "I have no opinion on the subject."
  744. >"Oh, I doubt that very much."
  745. "I am unwilling to opine about my princesses."
  746. >"Fine, fine, retain your sense of propriety," (Heerser, disappointed, becoming happy) "Really though, the three of them really do make such a lovely herd. I can't help but wonder what exactly is holding the three back from just embracing it. Still, all that aside, the two of them... far exceeded my expectations.
  747. >"Decorous Luna is certainly an imposing one, befitting of her crown. She most certainly is not one you want to cross. And I have never seen a pony with the disposition of Amicable Twilight before. It was like... like witnessing the times change, like seeing a vision of things to come for Equestria as a whole."
  748. >Zebra leader Heerser appears contented.
  749. >"Perhaps I've spent too many years removed from ponykind to notice such a change. I suppose I will have to gauge the true measure of that change for myself when she returns."
  750. >Personal: relived that things appear to be progressing in a favourable direction.
  751. >2m33s elapse after end of conversation before Princess Twilight emerges through the gateway: Princess Twilight wearing standardized EUP pegasus armour with standardized EUP unicorn helmet and standardized EUP spear, noticeably uncomfortable with equipment.
  752.  
  753. >Princess Luna emerges temporarily, glaring at zebra leader Heerser.
  754. >"Remember, Heerser. It will not be Incognito you will come to fear, should anything happen to her!"
  755. >"Oh, we won't have any problems, princess. I always keep my word!"
  756. >"See to it that you do."
  757. >"Now now, have a little faith in me!"
  758. >Unsure of how zebra leader Heerser can remain so composed during his talks with Princess Luna.
  759. >Princess Luna lingers for 5.1s before returning through gateway; Princess Twilight becoming increasingly nervous, zebra leader Heerser approaches her.
  760. >"You look well, Amicable Twilight!"
  761. >"C-can I just take this--? Wait, 'amicable'?"
  762. >Princess Twilight interrupted by zebra leader Heerser throwing a foreleg around her withers; Princess Twilight heard making a sound consistent with a squeak, while zebra leader Heerser begins laughing.
  763. >"Come, Amicable Twilight!" (Heerser, jovial) "Let's not waste any time introducing you to everyzebra!"
  764. >"W-wait a minute! Can't we--?"
  765. >"Introductions wait for nozebra, let alone anypony!"
  766. >"But--"
  767. >"Just follow my lead and you'll do just fine!"
  768. >"Listen to--!"
  769. >"And after the introductions are taken care of, I'll get you up to speed on how to move in all that armour!"
  770. >Concerns about judgment of zebra leader Heerser reemerging.
  771. >"A-Anon, I swear, when you wake up, I'll...!" (Princess Twilight, muttering)
  772. <...
  773.  
  774. @@@@@@@@
  775.  
  776. >(`Your nation was glorious once, the envy of all societies.`)
  777. >(`Your nation was glorious once, the envy of all societies.`)
  778. (`Your nation was glorious once, the envy of all societies.`)
  779. >(`It even had the potential, the might, to rival Equestria itself.`)
  780. >(`It even had the potential, the might, to rival Equestria itself.`)
  781. (`It even had the potential, the might, to rival Equestria itself.`)
  782. >(`Now, it is a shadow of it's former self.`)
  783. >(`Now, it is a shadow of its former self.`)
  784. (`Now, it is a shadow of it's former self.`)
  785. >(`Nothing but squabbling tribes, fighting over pockets of sand.`)
  786. >(`Nothing but scrabbling tribes, fighting over patches of sand.`)
  787. (`Nothing but squabbling tribes, fighting over pockets of sand.`)
  788. >(`You could be so much more than this, zebra.`)
  789. >(`You could be much more than this, zebra.`)
  790. (`You could be so much more than this, zebra.`)
  791. >(`Join me, and your tribe will be restored to it's former glory.`)
  792. >(`Join me, and your tribe will be returned to its former glory.`)
  793. (`Join me, and your tribe will be restored to it's former glory.`)
  794. >(CRACK)
  795. >("Agh!")
  796. >("This tongue is not difficult, human!")
  797. >("You speak it too--")
  798. >(CRACK)
  799. >("Gaah!")
  800. >(`Speak only this tongue!`)
  801. (`Speak only this tongue.`)
  802. >(`I-I cannot--`)
  803. >(CRACK)
  804. >("Aagh!")
  805. >(`Repeat only after me!`)
  806. (`Repeat only after me.`)
  807. >(CRACK)
  808. >(`I will master this language if I wish to lead!`)
  809. (`I will master this language if I wish to lead.`)
  810. >(`I-I will master this l-language if I w-wish to--`)
  811. >(CRACK)
  812. >(`I will not stutter!`)
  813. (`I will not stutter.`)
  814. >(`I will n-no--`)
  815. >(CRACK)
  816. >(`Pathetic!`)
  817. (`Pathetic.`)
  818. >(CRACK)
  819. >(`Worthless!`)
  820. (`Worthless.`)
  821. >(CRACK)
  822. <...
  823.  
  824. >"Wake up!"
  825. `Huwhat?!`
  826. >The world all around you jolts forward in a rush of panic.
  827. >The first thing you do is close your eyes to the entirely too bright world around you.
  828. >That all too familiar cold sweat is the first thing to greet your senses, followed by the shivering, then the realization of just how fast your breathing was.
  829. >The sheets were so rough, but you pulled them tight around yourself all the same, trying to absorb whatever leftover warmth they'd soaked up from before.
  830. >Another dream.
  831. >Just focus on your breathing.
  832. >Get it together.
  833. >Come on, Anon.
  834. >Breathe.
  835. >Through the nose, out the mouth.
  836. >Through the nose, out the mouth.
  837. >"Calm yourself. It was but a nightmare."
  838. >Wait, that voice...
  839. >Your eyes crack open, taking in your still entirely too well lit surroundings.
  840. >You're in a cot, in some kind of tent.
  841. >Yeah, the same tent that...
  842. >You woke up in before.
  843. >With Exact.
  844. >And the alchemist.
  845. >Who told you about...
  846. >About...
  847. >Razor.
  848. >Your grip on your sheets grows tighter for an entirely different reason.
  849. >Razor.
  850. >("Hello, Anonymous," she says with a smile.)
  851. >Razor!
  852. >("It's been a while, hasn't it?")
  853. >You push yourself up from--
  854. >Aagh, your fucking chest...!
  855. >("And it's been even longer since I've seen your good friend here, too!")
  856. >Teeth gritted tight, you soldier through the pain and sit up--
  857. >Oww holy shit there's a fucking metal hoof pushing you back onto the bed and it fucking hurts so badly--
  858. >"I believe my words were to calm yourself, Anonymous!"
  859. >The voice!
  860. >It takes less than a second to follow the hoof towards it's very aged owner.
  861. `Zaalma...?`
  862. >Your voice was way slower and more drawn-out than normal, just shy of full-on slurring.
  863. >"Yes, it is just me. Now lie still."
  864. >Something's different here.
  865. >No, she's different.
  866. >Nevermind that right now...!
  867. `Wh-where's Razor?`
  868. >"Back in Equestria, being treated by his people."
  869. >Huh?
  870. >Back in Equestria?
  871. >How?
  872.  
  873. >The hoof on your chest changes over to her real one, where she starts feeling around and drawing a wince from you.
  874. >"Your bones are still sensitive where they were broken. They will hold firm, but moving will cause you pain until they become whole again."
  875. `My bones...?`
  876. >For some reason, she looks confused.
  877. >"Why do you...?"
  878. >Her eyes harden slightly, like she's studying you.
  879. >`Yes, from blows dealt by that monstrous changeling. You have been healing here, kept asleep for three days now.`
  880. >Jesus, you forgot how she never pulls her punches when--
  881. >Wait, what?!
  882. `Th-three days?!`
  883. >`Yes. Bones are a simple affair to heal, but require you to remain still--`
  884. `I was in bed for three fucking days?!`
  885. >Your voice is coming back.
  886. >`Yes, and I am responsible for keeping you asleep during that time.`
  887. `Wh--`
  888. >What?
  889. `You kept me here?!`
  890. >`And I would again. Colts like yourself never think to sit still and heal. If you were listening, healing bones requires you to do just that. And you would have tossed and fidgeted all the way through.`
  891. >Your mouth opens, but no objection forms.
  892. >`You and Vegter alike just don't know when to fight and when to rest. Your mates would no doubt have also preferred to see you heal faster.`
  893. `Don't go over my head like that again.`
  894. >`I will do what is necessary, Anonymous. Comfort is secondary to one's needs. Never forget that.`
  895. >God damn it.
  896. >Whatever, not like you're going to get anywhere arguing with this bag.
  897. >Even if she is being uncharacteristically nice.
  898. >But... wait a minute.
  899. >You need more answers.
  900. >Answers about...
  901. `Razor.`
  902. >`What about him?`
  903. `Is he...?`
  904. >`Faring well? No.`
  905. >Sh-she didn't even try to soften that one...
  906. >`In fact, your friend has been the most difficult colt to keep alive that I have tended to in my long years of healing. He is beyond fortunate that I and the exile are the very best at our craft.`
  907. `What did she...?`
  908.  
  909. >`Daemoniacal Athalia poisoned him with whatever unspeakable magic she wielded. As your other companion told it, the poison was very much alive, and battled with us at every turn. I only hope he was correct about his people knowing the cure for such a terrible disease.`
  910. >("What did you stop for?" she taunts in the most sugar-sweet customer service voice. "Weren't you about to--")
  911. >SLAP
  912. "Ow, what the--?!"
  913. >Right after that slap across the face, thankfully with her real hoof, she cups it under your chin and forces you to look her way.
  914. >`Don't.`
  915. "The fuck did--?!"
  916. >`That monster has done enough, Anonymous.`
  917. >There's some kind of quality to her gaze, like ice, that keeps you from responding.
  918. >`She nearly claimed the life of your friend. Do not do her the courtesy of claiming your thoughts, as well.`
  919. >Your mouth opens, but words don't come out.
  920. >`You can stand, can you not?`
  921. >She lets you go, and it's only when shit starts to hurt that it dawns on you that you're trying to stand up.
  922. >Slowly, you rise to your full height, gritting your way through all the aching and even stabbing pain.
  923. >Zaalma has a long pole between her teeth, which she offers to you.
  924. >It's just long enough to make a good walking stick.
  925. >Already things feel better with this in your hands.
  926. >`You see? After what you did, there is no way she could do even this much.`
  927. >(She screams as the magnet activates, the force slamming into her like a brick wall.)
  928. >`Nor will she for some time. The likes of the Bloedige Plaag, the likes of that Destroyer, will never restore her like we can.`
  929. >(She flails and convulses, flinging sand everywhere, screaming her lungs out.)
  930. "I..."
  931. >(Gurgling is audible within her hoarse voice as blood begins leaking from her mouth and nose.)
  932.  
  933. "I guess so."
  934. >`If nothing else, there is solace to be found there. Now--`
  935. >(A massive hit from the side sends your world into a tailspin.)
  936. "Wait."
  937. >(You only register hitting the ground before everything goes dark.)
  938. "Something hit me, stopped me from finishing her. What was it?"
  939. >Zaalma's expression darkens, and for the first time, she looks legitimately upset.
  940. >`That is for Heerser to say, not I.`
  941. >Then you know exactly who you need to talk to next.
  942. >You take a few painful steps towards the tent's exit--
  943. >`Be still. If it is Heerser you seek, simply say so.`
  944. >Oh, she's one of those fucking nurses, right.
  945. "You brought him up first."
  946. >She snorts, then calls out for an alchemist.
  947. >And man alive, one comes in literally half a second later.
  948. >`Summon Heerser for us. Anonymous wishes to see him.`
  949. >That alchemist looks super stoked to see you kicking. And sure enough, she nods and takes off.
  950. >`I suggest that you seat yourself, Anonymous.`
  951. >Y'know, something about the way she's been talking to you just feels... off.
  952. >Wait.
  953. "What're you speaking zebrikaans for?"
  954. >Now she looks kinda suspicious about, uh, something or another.
  955. >"To test if you are fully awake."
  956. "Wha...?"
  957. >"Now be seated."
  958. >Whatever, she must be going senile or some shit.
  959. "I'm not gonna just sit around here doing nothing!"
  960. >"Healing is hardly 'doing nothing', Anonymous. Now sit before you break something and undo our work."
  961. "Look, I need to--"
  962. >"Sit. Now."
  963. >Jeez, nobody stands up to this old bag, do they?
  964. >No, Anon, that's not your cue to do as she says and--
  965. >You sit back down onto the bed.
  966. >God damn it.
  967.  
  968. >The outside of the tent is eerily quiet, but soon enough, you can hear the galloping of hooves.
  969. >Or two sets of hooves?
  970. >Probably Vegter tagging along with the guy, if you had to guess--
  971. >"Slow down, Amicable Tw--!"
  972. >Heerser's distant call is cut off by the tent flaps glowing purple and getting flung aside.
  973. >Twilight gallops inside and slides to a stop.
  974. >All right, now when is Heerser going to...
  975. >Uhh.
  976. >"Anon?"
  977. >What?
  978. >No, obviously that can't be right.
  979. >All right, the tried and true head shake will resolve this little...
  980. >Uhh, nope. She's still there.
  981. >And in guard armour, funnily enough.
  982. >Well, uh--
  983. >"Anon!"
  984. >Okay, so the illusion of Twilight just called out and jumped towards--
  985. "Whoa!"
  986. >The scent hits you before the bed does.
  987. >The warmth hits you before the pain does.
  988. >"You're okay!"
  989. >Things kind of stop computing for a moment there.
  990. >Your brain hangs completely, stuck processing the obviously impossible situation that is currently squeezing and nuzzling you.
  991. >Obviously impossible, of course.
  992. >Clearly, Twilight can't be here, giving you the mother of all hugs.
  993. >Twilight can be here, giving you the mother of all hugs.
  994. >Twilight is here, giving you the mother of all hugs.
  995. >Twilight's here.
  996. >"You don't seem to believe your eyes, Anonymous."
  997. >Oh, there's Heerser.
  998. >Yeah, just standing there next to a stone-faced Zaalma, looking as smug as can be.
  999. >Smug about the dumb fucking look on your face because of Twilight hugging you and holy fucking shit Twilight is fucking hugging you what the fuck--
  1000. >SLAP
  1001. "Ow, what--?!"
  1002. >"You IDIOT!"
  1003. >SLAP
  1004. >"What's wrong with you?!"
  1005. >She looked about ready to burst into tears, despite the angry glare she was fixing you with.
  1006. >"How many times are you going to do this to me, Anon?! To us?"
  1007.  
  1008. >`Leave them be for now Heerser,` Zaalma mutters. `Something strange has occurred with him...`
  1009. >"You could have been...!"
  1010. >The two zebras filter out of the tent.
  1011. >Twilight's glare slowly weakens, tears starting to well up in it's place.
  1012. >"You could've...!"
  1013. >Her face buries into your chest right as the tears start falling, and you don't even make a sound from the wave of pain that ricochets through you.
  1014. >It's really her.
  1015. >And she's...
  1016. >An entire tidal wave of emotions decide to hit you at that moment, and hell if you're in any state to put names to even half of them at this point.
  1017. >But you're definitely in a state to say that it's a healthy three-fifths good emotions.
  1018. >And by the time you figure that much out, you soon find yourself in the middle of giving this amazing and wonderful purple pony a huge, massive hug.
  1019. >One that she soon retuuuuurns--!
  1020. >Okay okay you just remembered that your chest is several kinds of fucked up and in pain and holy shit you might have just wheezed there a little
  1021. >Yeah you're both gonna need to tap the brakes there a bit and ease up on the hug intensity
  1022. >"You..."
  1023. >She pulls her head back with a little sniffle, and somehow manages to give you a big, teary-eyed smile.
  1024. >"You're all right."
  1025. >You're all right.
  1026. >When did your hand move up to her cheek?
  1027. >The wet streak down her face is wiped off to the side by your thumb, as if still testing that she's actually still there.
  1028. >There's no mistaking it.
  1029. >Huh.
  1030. >Funny, w-were things always this blurry before?
  1031. >A-and what the hell are you smiling about, you dumbshit?
  1032. >You must look like the biggest idiot on the face of the planet--
  1033.  
  1034. >THWACK-CRASH
  1035. >"Aah!"
  1036. "Whoa!"
  1037. >Both of your heads whip toward the tent's entrance, where you catch sight of a stool clattering along the ground--
  1038. >`Anonymous!`
  1039. >Oh fuck it's Vegter.
  1040. >What does this fucking guy want wait holy shit Vegter?!
  1041. `Vegter?!`
  1042. >`Hahahah! You pretty tough for something so squishy!`
  1043. `But-- Are you okay?!`
  1044. >`Hahahah! That is my line!`
  1045. `B-but you were fighting her!`
  1046. >`Her? Which her? You mean your mate?`
  1047. `No, not-- Hey! We're not--`
  1048. >Wait wait wait wait wait WAIT.
  1049. >The situation finally dawns upon you once your head darts back and forth between Vegter and Twilight, who is still clinging on to you from the jumpscare.
  1050. `Hold that thought.`
  1051. "Twilight, what the hell are you doing here?! Why the hell are you doing here? How the hell are you doing here?!"
  1052. >Uhh, she just flipped over to looking mighty done with your shit--
  1053. >SLAP
  1054. "Aah! Stop hitting me!"
  1055. >"I'm here," she starts, just barely containing her anger, "Because YOU nearly got yourself killed again!"
  1056. "But--"
  1057. >"Even thought I kept telling you over and over and over again to take better care of yourself and to not do this to me again!"
  1058. "You know I--"
  1059. >"Never listen to me?! Yes, I do know you never listen! You could even say that you don't listen to me on a daily basis!"
  1060. >You know, Vegter can't even understand this exchange, and even he's cringing back over there.
  1061. >"And it isn't just me! Or Luna! No, then there Mr. Heerser!"
  1062. >Aw, shit.
  1063. >You know that sinking feeling in your gut when you know you're about to get exposed?
  1064. >"He's been nothing but nice and understanding and helpful, and then you decided it would be a great idea to just...!"
  1065. >You're feeling real exposed right about now.
  1066. >She groaned a very, very frustrated groan, while you tried in vain to shrink on back.
  1067.  
  1068. >"Aaaaaagh, what the hay were you thinking?! I get being nervous after they first jumped you, but why?! Why did you treat Mr. Heerser so horribly?! He didn't do anything to you!"
  1069. >A quiet, eyeball only plead of 'help me' is fired towards the zebra who first jumped you.
  1070. >"He was trying to make things better for you! He even threw you a big party, tried to make up for that bad start! But no!"
  1071. >It only occurs to you that your plea might have been a bad idea when you see Vegter sprouting one of his fucking grins.
  1072. >"No seriously, I want to know! I want to know what the hay was going through your mind when you decided to lie to him so much!"
  1073. >`Your mate really cares about you!`
  1074. >Okay he's being loud on purpose.
  1075. >Loud enough that Twilight stopped for a moment and looked back to see what the deal was.
  1076. >`Kind of jealous! She is very nice! Flies! Does magic! Great mare!`
  1077. >Okay what is he getting at--?
  1078. >`And her flank is just amazing!`
  1079. >Motherfucker.
  1080. >`Seriously! Looks great even in armour!`
  1081. >Amusement levels at an all time low.
  1082. `I suggest you shut your fucking mouth.`
  1083. >`Hey! Not my fault you messed up! Probably will be days before you can enjoy it again!`
  1084. >Your limited tolerance for this shit exhausted itself the moment his eyebrows started waggling at the word 'enjoy'.
  1085. `Get out of my tent this fucking instant.`
  1086. >Okay, maybe you're sitting up after all.
  1087. >`Hahahah! See? I am right!`
  1088. `She's right here, you asshole!`
  1089. >`Hahahah! Do not know what that means!`
  1090. `When I get out of this bed, I've got a knuckle sandwich with your name on it.`
  1091. >What's he laughing about? You're serious!
  1092. >"Uhh, do you know this zebra, Anon?"
  1093. "Kinda wishing I didn't right about now."
  1094.  
  1095. >Another Heerser shaped zebra decides to walk into the tent, his face the picture of not amused.
  1096. >Oh, Heerser!
  1097. >Right, he was here a minute ago, and you needed to--!
  1098. >`Ahem.`
  1099. >`Oh! Here to see Anonymous?`
  1100. >`No, just wondering if you've had your fill.`
  1101. >`Hahahah! Think so!`
  1102. >`Good.`
  1103. >CRACK
  1104. >`Yaaagh!`
  1105. >Whoooahkay, he just casually headbutts Vegter like a stone cold fucking animal!
  1106. >Had Twilight gasping a little and everything!
  1107. >`You will treat our guest with the dignity and respect owed to her, Vegter.`
  1108. >`Oww...`
  1109. >`If you've nothing else to say, go and wait at the gateway.`
  1110. >`F-fine... See you later Anonymous...`
  1111. >Sheesh, you had no idea Vegter of all zebras could pull off the 'sad puppy' look.
  1112. >But there he was, walk of shaming his way out of the tent, nursing his head trauma along the way.
  1113. >Then, quick as a whip, Heerser puts on a winning smile and looks over towards both you and Twilight.
  1114. >"Well, I for one am happy to see you doing well, Anonymous!"
  1115. "Uhh, th-thanks?"
  1116. >"What was that all about, Mr. Heerser?!"
  1117. >"Just some Zebrican discipline in play, Amicable Twilight. No need to concern yourself!"
  1118. >"No need? But you just--!"
  1119. "Just let it go, Twilight."
  1120. >He kind of deserved it.
  1121. >"But he--!"
  1122. "Just let it go."
  1123. >Even if he did kind of pull your ass out of the fire.
  1124. >She only relented when your hand made it's way to her ear, and began it's almost forgotten itching ritual.
  1125. >"We're not finished, mister..."
  1126. >Ooooor not.
  1127. >Fucking shit she was doing the scrunchy face thing.
  1128. >You're in trouble.
  1129. >God damn it.
  1130. >"You had us worried there, Anonymous!" Heerser booms. "How are you feeling?"
  1131. "Body or soul?"
  1132. >"Figuratively speaking?"
  1133. "Figuratively speaking."
  1134. >"Both, then! Let's start with body!"
  1135. "Like there's five hundred pounds of fatass on my chest, and the only thing making it better is zebra drugs and my little pony here."
  1136. >Twilight squeaked a little right as you realize what just came out of your pie hole.
  1137. "Uhh, that came out wrong--"
  1138.  
  1139. >"Good grief! You won't even watch your language for her sake?!"
  1140. "Hey, she--"
  1141. >"Like you're one to talk, Mr. Heerser!"
  1142. >"Oh?"
  1143. >"You don't have any problem making me and Luna super uncomfortable with all that 'mate' stuff, but a curse word is where you draw the line?"
  1144. >Yeah, she kinda has a point--
  1145. >Wait, Luna?!
  1146. >"Ah, but I'm telling the truth when I speak of your romance!"
  1147. >Synchronized splutter with Twilight, activate.
  1148. >"Foul language, on the other hoof? It's always unnecessary. And an indictment of one's upbringing!"
  1149. >This fucking zebra, holy fucking shit.
  1150. >She's literally right fucking here, and he just spouts off about this fucking 'mate' shit like it's no big deal!
  1151. >"Oh, don't give me that look! I don't see what the point of all this secrecy and repression is!"
  1152. >Vegter was an improvement.
  1153. "Enough!"
  1154. >"Enough!"
  1155. >"I mean really, it's clear to anyzebra with eyes that you're meant for one another, and here you are, the only ones in denial about the whole thing!"
  1156. "Shut up!"
  1157. >"Shut up!"
  1158. >"What is the issue, really? Nothing as silly as some cultural gap, I hope!"
  1159. >About a femtosecond later, Heerser starts glowing purple and gets flipped upside down, getting shaken a few times for good measure.
  1160. >"What part of 'shut up' did you not understand?!"
  1161. >And there he is, cool as a cucumber and as smug as a cartoon frog, even dangling upside down.
  1162. >"Ahh, I never tire of seeing young love," he chuckles, "I truly don't."
  1163. "Nothing fucking fazes you, huh?"
  1164. >"Only your horrid language, Anonymous. I've had plenty of maulwurf encounters to help put things into perspective."
  1165. >Okay, now he's just pulling shit out of his ass.
  1166. >"Swearing is worse than maulwurfs now?" Twilight deadpans oh-so-perfectly.
  1167. >"Maulwurfs never swear, now do they?"
  1168. >You can physically feel how done Twilight is.
  1169. >Twilight cuts off her magic, and he lightning reflexes the landing on one hoof before dropping to all fours, landing like a goddamn cat.
  1170.  
  1171. >Of fucking course he doesn't just land in a heap.
  1172. >Smug ass piece of shit.
  1173. >"And how is your soul faring?" he chirps.
  1174. "Screw you."
  1175. >"Well, I'm not sure Amicable Twilight would approve of that."
  1176. >Said pony splutters, while you just roll your eyes.
  1177. >Wait a minute, that fucking reminds you!
  1178. "Hold up, how is she even here? Twilight, how are you even here?"
  1179. >"Well, we used your portal."
  1180. >Your portal? As in, slipgate?
  1181. >"That she did! Perhaps we could discuss that and other matters elsewhere? Perhaps over some tea?"
  1182. >Tea sounds like a godsend right about now.
  1183. "Yeah, sure. Need my stick, though."
  1184. >Pretty sure you dropped it--
  1185. >Oh, there it is, courtesy of Twilight.
  1186. "Thanks."
  1187. >You get a little smile in response before she steps off the bed to make room for you.
  1188. >Getting up fucking hurts, and your muscles are protesting after so long doing nothing, but you manage.
  1189. >Doesn't stop Twilight from hanging close, like she's ready to catch you if you fall.
  1190. >"Take your time, Anonymous! A little walking ought to get the cobwebs out of your limbs!"
  1191. "Yeah, I know. Where to?"
  1192. >"Just this way!"
  1193. >And off you all go.
  1194. >Well, your slower pace notwithstanding.
  1195. >You follow him to a big, fancy tent pretty close by, but you do catch sight of some zebras on the way over.
  1196. >Man, they look really happy to see you.
  1197. >Once you enter the tent, well...
  1198. >Man, it's pretty loaded by zeeb standards.
  1199. >There's even a hearth crammed in here--
  1200. >`There you are!`
  1201. >Oh, Vegter's already here--
  1202. >Neeext to your very much activated slipgate in the back!
  1203. >And the other warriors and alchemists guarding it all offer hellos your way.
  1204. >`You may leave us,` Heerser commands.
  1205. >All but Vegter clears out in short order.
  1206. >"The agent of Celestia is beyond the gateway right now. Something about delivering a report."
  1207. >Exact?
  1208. >Shit, you just realized he wasn't here!
  1209. >Is he doing all right?
  1210. >"He should be returning shortly. Now please, seat yourselves. There is much to discuss."
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