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Breakbeak city was hardly what any pony would call regal. "Dirty by-product of Industrialism" was more like it. Fact was, most ponies or griffons who called it home didn't really love it enough to make it beautiful. In fact, most didn't care anything for beauty or looks in general. Which was what made Norton Breakbeak I such a contrast as he proceeded along the only wide boulevard in the place. He was dressed resplendently in red, blue, and gold, with regalia polished to a shine. Citizens saw him coming for a quarter mile. Most actually bowed, though more in sarcasm than in earnest. They all knew about "Emperor" Breakbeak, but were willing to tolerate his foibles, mostly because, at the end of the day, he really did care about them, and would often stop to help sweep off the doorstep, or clean the coal dust off the windows. He wanted a clean and shining city, and so would put his claws where his beak was, so to speak... ~ This city was surprisingly far away from the city of Baltimare, apparently stuck in the vicinity of a desert. If someone tried to fly such a cross country trip in a single day, their heart might explode from exhaustion! Luckily there was a pretty well known mountaintop city called Canterlot that travellers could rest at on their journies! And if you were a particularly inexperienced flier, you might get distracted and flounder about in some local lakes whenever you got tired of flying. Aquaria had heard a lot about Breakbeak City from one of her newest friends of late. Cydonia, her hippogriff friend, said her parents had met in this city, a loving mare and her griffon mate! Or was it a stallion and a griffoness? In fact, she couldn't quite remember if the pair had actually met in the city of Breakbeak, but enough information made vague enough sense to tingle the deeper parts of her brain. After spending such a long time flying, the odd looking lifeguard landed atop someone's metal roof, only to let out a few worried squawks at the shack nearly burned her sensitive talons and paws! The ducktiger griffon had dark colored feathers that held a long and pointy beak with a set of curious rose colored eyes! Her cat portion was white, stained with long jagged stripes that she often jokingly referred to as making her a zebra! The griffoness gasped as she blow on her now burning black talons, only to forget her injuries as she gasped in awe at the spectacle before her! "Ten, eleven, twelve..." she thought to herself, trying to add all the new griffons to her mind as they walked by! She had met so few in her life that Aquaria could actually assign them all numbers, but there appeared to be more here than she could keep track of. Before she could run over and introduce herself though, the young adult spotted the shiniest person she had ever met! "Wow, you are dressed up really nice! You must be like really important! Have you ever met Princess Celery? I hear she has tons of spies across the land," she excitedly asked, her tail shaking wildly while looking over the strangely dressed griffon before her. ~ The squawks and scrabbling drew the attention of the ponies and griffons in the streets below. As most of the citizens were of the rough and simple sort, they pointed at laughed at the ridiculous figure on the hot tin roof. A few called out remarks from below, "Smooth landin', 'ot claws!" And the like. One citizen was so careless as to do so while next to Norton, which earned him a freezing glare. "You will not speak to a fellow subject of the Empire like that in my presence!" He turned back, to suddenly find the newcomer all up in his beak. "Steady on there!" He called out, trying not to lose his royal dignity or personal space. "I have not, in fact, met this... Princess Celery that you speak of. But you have long since passed beyond the domain of any royal personage save my own." ~ Aquaria was almost excited to hear a few compliments come her way, the big striped goof not very good with sarcasm either before hearing a few laughs directed at her. The lifeguard quickly realized that the locals were mocking her, but that didn't matter, she had to meet this king before he ran off to do royal business! When he scolded a local, she gasped in awe, amazed that she was a subject in his empire. "Wow, what empire am I a part of? Are you like Princess Celery and Luna's boss? I thought that they ruled the world or something," she excitedly asked, sitting on her haunches while her tail wagged uncontrollably. Her mind tried to rationalize the existence of some super griffon she had never heard of! Unfortunately for him though, she did have a tendency to forget about personal space! "I passed what domain? How did you get such a shiny scepter. It must have been super valuable sunken treasure! All the best treasure in Equestria is hidden under the sea! My name is Aquaria, what's your name Mister? You look like a griff who is in charge of a lot of stuff. Emperor Dark Claw, ruler of the dark wastes! Surveyor of chaos itself. Ruler of all beings, both light and shadow! Is that who you are," she asked cutely, looking down to see if he actually had Dark Claws too. She had a tendency to make broad theories aloud without actually doing any amount of research before hand. Some rare times though, it all seemed to work out! ~ Norton smiled benignly upon Aquaria's naiveté. Of course, there were many poor fools of griffons who had to live under inferior governments due to lack of knowledge of their true Ruler. This would be corrected in time, and was not really their fault, anyway. The corrupt personages who aped his authority, on the other hand... "You, my dear, are part of the Great Griffon Empire, of which I, Emperor Norton Breakbeak the First, am the head." He waved a claw dismissively at the mention of pony princesses. "They are, shall we say, lesser royals. I have not let any monsters ravage my lands in all my reign." It was both true and impressive, though less impressive when you realized that his reign only started when he went completely off his head a few years ago, and his lands consisted mainly of this city. "Oh, this?" He lifted his scepter to catch the light. "A piece of the traditional regalia, thought lost to the centuries. It was, however, recovered and preserved by a loyal subject within this city, awaiting its true heir." In truth, he found it in a pawnshop, to which he promptly gave a Royal Seal to hang upon the door... which he had also just purchased from that establishment. It was probably not even real silver, just polished steel. But that only meant it was more of a real mace, which griffons could respect. ~ Aquaria was quite easy to classify as a fool, the lifeguard very eager to accept things that didn't make much sense to begin with. She wasn't particularly interested in uncovering the secrets of the world, but that didn't stop her from piecing together a universe of her own design based on her wild imagination and the lies of blusterous individuals. "Being a griffon makes me a member of the griffon empire? What about my friend Cydonia? She is a hippogriff, is she half part of the empire? And what if I like my home in Baltimare. I know that Princess Celery is an evil spy, but I really like swimming in the ocean. I don't think a lifeguard could get a job out here, there isn't very much water around," she mused aloud wondering what Norton was like in secret. "Well technically, my old school identification says I am actually a pegasus. Maybe that disqualifies me from being your subject," she excitedly remarked, reaching into her neck feathers to pull out a laminated school ID of a slightly younger her. The school identification had three holes for the three main pony species, and her identity card had the hole punced in the pegasus area, the school not expecting to have a griffon student! After seeing his mace glimmer in the sun though, she was even more enamored by him! "Emperor! That is like the second most precious treasure I have ever seen. The only thing more magnificent is..." she excitedly explained before going silent to watch who was spying on her. She knew that princess 'Celery' had spies everywhere and only the most trustworthy 'ponies' could know her secrets! The overeager hybrid leaned in uncomfortably close before whispering her secret to him. "My treasure horde in Baltimare! It has the dingiest antique coins, shiny rocks, corals, sunken treasure chests and an honest to goodness griffon pirate hat. Not to mention some pearls, gems and bits, but they aren't nearly as shiny as the rocks," she excitedly explained, clearly being almost as mad as the griffon before her. ~ Truth be told, there is a kind of obverse to gullibility, which Norton had in spades. He would give a whole philosophy of the universe to any pony, griffon, or whatever that took him seriously. But first, to get away from the staring and still not-quite-restful crowd. "The street is an inconvenient place for conversation. Let us go towards the plaza. If you would allow me to escort you there...?" And with a bow most regal, he extended a claw for the duck tiger to hold. This was probably the most serious anyone had ever taken her, come to think of it! On the way, he did his best to return the battery of questions with a barrage of answers. "If your friend wishes to claim her citizenship, she may do so. I do hope she will. And my empire, as you have no doubt figured out, rests in the hearts and minds of those who I call my people. All governments do, in fact; it's just that some employ hired bullies to police boundaries. When my true rights are recognized, that is one of the nonsenses I shall do away with." He listened with polite interest to her tale of a hoard, possibly filing it away for Imperial taxation. That was a nonsense he was not planning to do away with, though he could hardly implement it now. "I hardly consider the errors of ponies disqualifying you from anything. It is such errors I mean to correct. Ah, but here we are!" He spread his claws, as if to indicate something magnificent. And indeed, it was the most magnificent part of the city. A fountain of shining and clean marble, in the middle of a cobblestone square in front of the town hall. It looked like a real city, instead of a dirty hub. He had a right to be proud of this, for it was through his own cajoling that the citizens had bothered to create it. He believed in the city, and those who lived in it. That counted for a lot, in their estimations. "What do you think?" ~ She giggled excitedly, the dark lord of light and shadow offering his talon to her! He must have believed her and wanted to exchange stories with the young lifeguard. Most people laughed and just called her weird, but this ruler seemed to be a lot more nice than the ones she heard about. "Of course Emperor, please lead the way," she whispered cutely, following him over to the slightly less busy part of the town. Her tail wagged with anticipation, the wise ruler seeming to have a great answer to each of her questions! "Wow, so everypony can be in your empire you're pretty nice! I remember hearing about how princess Celery banished all of her enemies to the moon. Be careful, I heard that the moon is sorta cold, you might get sick if you get banished there. But you said that you never have any huge end of the world problems either? I remember one day it got super dark in the middle of the day. And one day all the ponies lost their magic. Apparently ponies need magic to swim or something. I had to rescue a lot of ponies that day! Did you like save the world each time that happened? You must be a superhero," she explained excitedly, gaspsing loudly while covering her beak with both of her talons. Aquaria was quick to believe almost anything, and this was definently in her realm of reason should he accept it as fact. "I actually met a superhero once. There was this griffoness named Ryx! She was like the size of a house and had super strength," she added excitedly while wondering if he was emperor of the superheroes as well! When he mentioned that her identification was a mistake, she giggled and nodded, hopping up onto the edge of the fountain while talking to him. "Yeah, my mom said that the school didn't make griffon identification until after I left my school. Oh well," she added with a giggle, sprawling out a bit as she spread her huge black wingspan out to sun herself like a beach tourist! When asked about the fountain, she giggled and squirmed excitedly. This fountain is amazing, it is so warm. I feel like I could fall asleep here," she explained before gasping loudly and staring in awe of her discovery. The faint glimmer of an underwater bit caught the corner of her vision, causing Aquaria to let out an excited chirp of her own. The professional lifeguard dove into the shallow fountain, splashing water on the emperor before she fished up two golden bits. "Wow, I even found sunken treasure in the desert. I must be a great expert diver," she giggled, offering her emperor one. The water seemed like it might be a bit cold for most, but it was quite clear that Aquaria swam for a living, her body expanding to absorb as much of it as possible while she looked completely unphased by the temperature. ~ "I have heard of such things, my dear, but I simply did not allow them to happen here." Norton had strayed from plausibility straight into delusion here, but the sequence of time had been scrambled. He hadn't completely lost his marbles before most of those happened anyway. "We tend not to encourage sleepers in the square; I like to see all my subjects have a house of their own-" He was taken off-guard by the sudden dive, the spots of water showing up dark upon his Imperial uniform. "Ahem, that is technically City property. Ponies throw bits into the fountain to help maintain it." Tourists, mostly; Breakbeak citizens wouldn't waste a bit ~ "Oh, you just sent Nightmare a sternly worded letter that said stay off my lawn. Wow, I always thought that sternly worded letters never worked. I guess I never really wrote anything sternly worded though," she mused aloud while floating near the surface of the relatively shallow water. Her dark feathers managed to look even darker in the water, the lifeguard seeming very at home in the water. She looked at her treasure, not sure of what he meant by it all being City property. The lifeguard slipped her bounty beneath the surface and swam a lazy lap around the neat fountain. "If you are a citizen of the empire, don't you technically own part of the city anyway," she was reasoned aloud, not exactly knowing how all of the rules for private and public property. Her paws idly played with one of the coins as he mentioned something about sleeping in the square. "Ponies sleep here? That's a little bit weird. I only sleep outside when I'm travelling across country! Although being in this nice cool fountain is making me a little bit sleepy. You should hop in, the water is nice," she offered with a yawn, starting to fluff up a bit as she absorbed more of his city water into her feathers and fur. ~ Norton chuckled at Aquaria's notions about property. Truth be told, she wasn't far off from a certain branch of Socialism, but the discussion on whether or not the notion was 'bird-brained' got political fast. "Not in this city, no. The Emperor, of course, holds its assets in trust, but I am pleased to note that the mayoral stewards has lately begun to use his granted resources much more wisely, as regards proper, city-centered use." The notion of joining her in the water, however, he treated with more asperity. "The Emperor cannot be seen cavorting around in a public fountain. Actually, you probably shouldn't be either, but I will grant you a pardon, as the swimming facilities are not yet completed." ~ "Wow, everypony must trust you a lot to let you control all the city money on your own. You must be like the nicest ruler of all if everyone trusts you," she commented excitedly, almost seeming to have a perpetual smile painted across her maw! While she was probably a bit crazy herself, the lifeguard was similarly well meaning like the crazed emperor, always on the lookout of ponies to help!. "Aww, I wouldn't want to be Emperor if it meant I couldn't cavort. That sounds boring, but that makes you an even better pony than me," she excitedly remarked, struggling to expand anymore, nearing her limit of possible excitement. When he mentioned that she shouldn't be in the fountain either, the awkward lifeguard hopped out of the water and balanced on the cool smooth marble. "You're building swimming facilities here? That sounds amazing. An olympic sized pool would be fun. I can't remember the last time I went to one. I can dive to the bottom of them and sit at the bottom for a minute. I'm really good at holding my breath," she added excitedly, about to hop off the ledge and hug the emperor if he didn't find a way to calm her back down. ~ By now, the pair were collecting quite the crowd of onlookers. Of course, the Emperor always had a following of "devoted subjects," but the juxtaposition of two fools was public theater of the first degree. And all staged for free! Can't beat that deal. "There are burdens to rule, it is true." He remarked in solemn tones as the duck-tiger emerged from the fountain. "And currently Our plans are less ambitious. After all, many of my subjects have yet to learn how to swim, so We shall begin with a suitable teaching site- Whoah!" For a second, his tone almost reached back to sanity as he was suddenly hugged by Aquaria. How unexpected! "Excuse, miss... ah, the Royal Personage is not to be lightly handled." ~ She quickly realized that in her excitement, the lifeguard had lifted the emperor himself off the ground! Aquaria giggled awkwardly before carefully placing the now wet lord of the universe back on the ground. "Sorry about that! I lose control when I get real excited! If you ever need an expert swim teacher, I would love to come out and do classes for everypony," she added with a grin, her hips wiggling with excitement. "But ya, it must be hard to get a good swimming spot built out in the middle of the desert. I could tell by your hot rooves that water probably doesn't like to be out in the sun too much. Might want to build it in the shade, maybe inside of a nice and cool building or something," she added with a smile, giving the emperor a thumbs up with her talon, proud of her idea as if it were some great scientific breakthrough. ~ Well, now his uniform was covered in dark water-marks. They would dry out in time, but it did rather cut into his dignity in the meantime. "I shall... keep your generous offer in mind. The Empire will need contributions from all its citizens, in whatever capacity, if it is to prosper." Norton was becoming less sure of how to handle Aquaria; it wasn't often that every word he said was believed. He was filling up conversational stopgaps with platitudes, saved only by the fact of his sincerity. For he was sincere; the insane always are. "We are... considering the matter of shading." In truth, the project only existed in his mind and the editorial columns of the local newspaper. "But tell me, little Aquaria... have you any concerns that you wish to bring before me?" ~ She was always eager to help, her wiggling hips clearly the most overt sign, even if she had no idea about what else she could do. "That's great that you are thinking of shading! You can save a lot of water if you don't let the hot sun steal it all for itself. Sometimes I wonder if Princess Celery purposefully makes certain days really hot just to be mean. Like, if somepony is hot and tired, she should lower the sun or something. Heat exhaustion is a real thing after all," the griffoness explained with a frown, looking a bit concerned as she spoke. "Well aside from building a lake or pool here, I dunno! Maybe you could like build a cool off station between here and the next town. Sometimes it is really hot outside and ponies need rest stops you know," she offered calmly while sitting on her haunches in front of him and looking up at the wet emperor like an expectant child! ~ Once again, the two fools were taking each other seriously, no doubt providing a subtle comedy for the masses, along with an education into rudimentary politics. "The difficulty is, of course, the size and extent of the matter. Dimming the sun of a hot pony might lead to another getting frostbite. I believe that is why weather is delegated to the locals. That is an arrangement that I think should be left intact; it is much easier to get a few clouds from a local weather pony than to dim the sun for everyone. Hm... perpetual cloud shading for the swimming place? I must bring that up with the mayoral steward. It would save on construction costs..." ~ Aquaria looked up to this emperor! Well, she looked up to anyone who plausibly could be an authority figure! She tried to understand the complexities of weather management, but luckily she never had to attend weather classes because she was a griffon. She was the only flyer in her whole school who never studied cloud dynamics and weather control, not that she minded, the lifeguard liking swim classes much more. "Yeah, I don't know anything about weather control, but then again, I don't have my cutie mark yet! My teacher says that griffons don't get cutie marks, but I think that she just thought that I didn't have any special talents. Little does she know that I am an open canvas who can do anything I want. I just probably wont get my cutie mark until I find the best sunken treasure in Equestria!" she explained with a smile, looking at her striped flank that would look sort of weird with a mark anyway. ~ Norton looked a bit miffed. "If we griffons got these... cutie marks," He pronounced the phrase as if it were a foreign language, "Then I should think that I would have gotten one by now for being emperor by now." It would certainly put paid to all his naysayers, for one thing.