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Elderflower

Aftermath: A Salve for the Spirit - The Banquet Space

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The main hall of the Trillion Theatre has been separated into two main areas: the dance floor and the banquet area. The Theatre managed to make it through Sombra’s second invasion unscathed beyond the unfortunate bending of a rather lovely weathervane in the shape of a swan, and as such Lilac Briolette chose this location to host a party to salve the spirits of those who were in the Crystal Empire during the attack. Here in the gold-and-red halls of the ballet theatre it is easy to escape the pained memories of the invasion, for the low lighting and sparse decoration coupled with the soothing music coming from the band set up by the dance floor creates a feeling of comfort.

On the opposite side of the main hall from the dance floor there are long tables full of food and fountains. The food is far from gourmet or artistic on the strict orders of Trillion’s prima ballerina. This is a night for comfort and rejuvenation, and as such the spread of food includes comfort foods from Equestra, Aquellia, and The Crystal Empire. The chefs who volunteered for this event researched and practiced as best they could in their limited time, and their hard work as paid off. The aroma drifting from the tables is mouthwatering and irresistible. The Aquellian food gets its own table, of course, to keep the fish dishes separate from the herbivore dishes!

The drink fountains are made of ice to keep the liquids cool, though curiously the ice shows no signs of melting and holds an almost aetheric quality. Water, milk, wine, spirits, milkshakes, ale - there’s a fountain for everything a pony, gryphon, or create of any sort could think of!

The early arrivals for the party have gathered here for the most part, munching away and chatting comfortably.

Ylva struggled with the sights and smells laid before her. For a daughter of the Whitescar, the sheer amount of food that was spread out here tonight was overwhelming. Her entire life had been spent struggling, battling, and warring for survival. Food was precious and far from plentiful, and few caribou had ever seen such an excess of it, let alone had the opportunity to eat so much. Even the Askr Clan, which was blessed with a wealth of precious askr trees, never saw such bountiful food as this. The caribou’s steely expression revealed none of her discomfort, but the hostess of this party noticed the cow lingering away from the food wearing a sombre expression. Lilac Briolette seemed to wish to approach the Askr shaman, but Ylva merely waved her away. The crystal pony was very visibly harried, speaking with a hoof-ful of band members and then hurrying over to the table to rearrange plates and displays. The last thing she needed was to worry about one of her guests as well.

With a sigh, Ylva tugged on the collar of her dragonscale overcoat. She felt remarkably out of place in this lavish environment, especially with the suspicious glances being cast her way. Still, she felt compelled to be here. She and her sister, the Jarl Sigrun of Askr, had come to the Crystal Empire when they had gotten wind of what Clan Olin planned on doing. It infuriated them and on Ylva’s part, broke her heart. Such needless violence, and for what? The spectre of an old evil still desperately clutching for life and for power? The least that Clan Askr could do was help rebuild, and for Ylva’s part, help soothe. When she had heard of the ponies discussing a party here, she track down the hostess Lilac. There were ways the cow could contribute to the night’s plans for soothing, and she hoped that her offering would help those who had been wounded physically, mentally, and emotionally to begin to heal. Lilac had graciously accepted the offer, and though she was very way around the silver-eyed cow initially, she quickly warmed to her. For this, Ylva was very grateful, for the hostess was allowing her to make a rather bold move later on in the party.

All there was left to do now was wait - wait for her twin sister Sigrun to join her and wait for the quiet festivities to begin.

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Lilac Briolette was feeling rather harried. In fact, she was downright frazzled. She wanted so badly for this night to help those who had suffered and sacrificed so much throughout the invasion, and as such everything had to be perfect. Was the food okay? Were the fish tables too close to the herbivore meals? Were the enchanted fountains a little too much, or would the practicality be appreciated? She didn’t want this to be showy or to feel high-brow at all, for it was a place where all were welcome to come and be at peace - zero demands or expectations were made of partygoers. Come and leave when you please, eat your fill, wear what you want. Even the prima ballerina had elected to do nothing with her hair aside from brush it and let it fall naturally, wearing a simple dress made of white jersey fabric. Though she was still quite lovely, with sophisticated “no-makeup” makeup, she was very rarely this dressed-down in public. She wanted pony, gryphon, caribou - all partygoers to feel welcome!

From the corner of her eye, she noticed her foreign guest lurking as far away from the dance floor and the food without actually hiding as she could. The caribou cow, Ylva, was wearing her usual steely expression, no emotion betrayed as she peered around Trillion’s main hall. Should Lilac approach? A wave of the hoof said no, she shouldn’t, but the crystal mare still felt like she should go and see what was wrong. Still, though, there was so much still to worry about. Did the band know the plan, understand the way she wanted the music handled tonight? Did they and the chefs feel jilted that they were working as opposed to relaxing? Well, they had volunteered, but still…And then there was Ylva’s contribution to come later...how would her guests react to that? She did not want to upset them, and yet the cow’s plea had been so sincere and heartfelt that the dancer had to allow the shaman an opportunity to present her gift to the Crystal Empire.

Lilac was worrying. About many things. She was so desperately afraid that something would go wrong and nopony would find comfort or rejuvenation here. There a lantern went out, here there were not enough sweets from Roam laid out...there was so much still to do, but the party had already started!

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Flux was having a grand old time in the party that was going on. It wasn't all that exciting for a party, but that was alright, especially after all the excitement of the invasion. The changeling was once again in her unicorn form, bouncing through the area with her usual level of energy and excitement. She hadn't been all that tired after the fight, as all she had really done was dodge and move around while talking, which was something she was used to doing all the time. Not the dodging part, but the rest was pretty typical. Plus, she had only really launched three physical attacks throughout the battle.

While she was physically full of energy, her magic was all but dry and she felt like she would need to get some more love pretty soon. In the meantime though, she was bouncing along, using what remained of her magical energy to carry a plate piled high with various sweets and a glass filled with a milkshake. She hummed happily to herself, stopping as she spotted a caribou standing off by herself. Well, that wouldn't do, this was a party! Flux bounced over, finally letting her body and magic rest as she came to a stop near the caribou, setting her food down and giving the female a friendly wave.

"Hiya! I'm Flux! What's your name?" She asked, tilting her head as she used her hoof to place one of the sweets into her mouth as she began to eat it.

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Considering the circumstances of her arrival to the crystal empire, Randgrid of Heil-Barn's grin and the seeming lack of concern about her would likely seem out of place to many. Blindsided in Barn while investigating one loyal to the Red Jarl as he conducted business with envoys of the shadowy WRAITH, apparently the Whitescar princess had been retooled into a soulless weapon by the magician Cyprianus, at least until the sound of a child's triumphant music managed to reach her heart.

It was unusual sure, but Randgrid had never been the sort to really dwell too far on things that had happened, choosing to keep her focus squarely on what lay in front of her. Besides, this wasn't the first time she had woken up bruised and battered in a strange place with no recollection of where she was or how she had gotten there. The only difference was that, usually such instances involved less dark magic and more drinking to excess.

From what she could gather, the black-hearted Red Jarl had actually stooped down to aiding some tyrant in laying conquest to the Crystal Empire, the land where she found herself now. The tyrant had been slain, but the Jarl and most loyal to him had escaped without consequence. As it were, only the unit of vikings Randgrid herself had brought to the empire authorities along with the wizard had been successfully captured. The empire had a feeling of sadness about it from all that happened, and one inspiring mare had decided to throw a grand party for all at a massive theatre.

Randgrid was not the sort to ever pass up a good party. She had a want to return to Whitescar and hound the Red Jarl to the ends of the world for what he had done, but to drink and eat and be merry with new friends was a thing that could always come first. As it were, she made a direct line for the banquet. Randgrid could not resist a feast. She would often return to her father's fortress in Heil only to take part in the feasts held within the Grand Meal Hall. She had arrived quickly after the party began, rid of the heavy plate armor she had worn before, and had long been gorging herself at the banquet table.

She stopped only when it happened that she spied a familiar face. It was a caribou from Askr, sister of the Jarl there. Randgrid decided to approach her with a smile. "Aha, if it isn't a familiar face!" she started as her hoof went to Ylva's back. "You are Jarl Sigrun's sister, are you not?" she asked with a grin. "I did not know there would be other caribou here in the Crystal Empire--then again, I did not know that I would be here either!"



It had been the most harrowing of days for Alexandrite Tilt. A day of sorrow and grief and also loss. It had also been a day of hope and new beginnings and also of love. The will and the heart of the crystal ponies had been proven to be stronger than the wicked evil that would attempt again to besiege them. More than that, however, it had been a special day for Alexandrite personally. It was the day she had found true love.

It had been hours since Alexa had seen Lilac last. Preparing this party had kept the ballerina terribly busy a long while. Her invitation extended to any and everyone in the wake of the invasion, she had moved the place from her estate in the Moonstone Ward to the Trillion theatre. Alexandrite had felt a pride for her love that she would after all that had happened, put such efforts into making such a fine and exquisite party for everyone to enjoy.

Alexandrite arrived at the party in formal dress, knowing it would not be right to show up in the armor which she was most comfortable in. This was fine with her once, and not only because said armor had been terribly damaged by an axe. Instead, she was happy to appear before Lilac dressed in a quite fine, long royal purple gown with a white trim, her long yellow mane done up in a braided bun. She had done her best to make herself look nice, taking the time to clean her brusies and scrapes. There were some bandages worn under her dress, but none were visible.

She was surprised when she finally spotted her dear Lilac, that she had dressed most simply, letting her mane fall down naturally and wearing a dress quite simple in design. It was a surprise, but to Alexa, she looked no less beautiful than ever she did.

"Good evening, sweetest Lilac," Alexandrite said fondly as she approached with a steady stride. "You've truly outdone yourself with this delightful party of yours... though I wonder if perhaps I overdressed for it."
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The silver-eyed cow blinked. Once, twice, and then broke out into a deep-bellied laughter.

“Well met, little Flux,” she replied cheerfully, her smile wide and warm, “My name is Ylva, Right Hoof of the Jarl of Askr. I did not expect to receive such a friendly and genuine greeting during my time here. Thank you for your kindness, small one. I will not forget this.”

Ylva was about to continue speaking, but was quickly interrupted by a hoof around her back. Startled, she turned to find...Randgrid? What was she doing in the Crystal Empire? The daughter of the High King was looking jovial as always, and her presence washed the Askr cow with a sudden sense of optimism. She was sure that if anybou could convince the ponies that Whitescar’s hardy caribou could be peaceful allies and even stalwart friends it was Randgrid. Her natural good-humour made it hard to mislike her. Ylva had to wonder, though, what the High King’s daughter had meant by not expecting to be here herself. Was her arrival unplanned? It seemed odd, the idea of spontaneously arriving in the Crystal Empire just because.

“Randgrid,” the cow replied cheerfully, “You are correct, I am Jarl Sigrun’s sister. It is good to see your smiling face here in the Crystal Empire. The Jarl of Askr caught wind of the Red Jarl’s plans and we rushed here immediately, to offer our aid and friendship. Our longship carried many Askr caribou and a great deal of wood and hammers...but what brings Randgrid of Heil-Barn to the Crystal Empire? Are you here on behalf of the High King?”

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Lilac just about jumped out of her crystalline skin at the sound of Alexandrite’s voice, if only because she had wound herself up that much fretting over every tiny detail of this party that she was about to get a fit of the vapours. But as she whirled around to face the love of her life, it was like taking a sip of calming chamomile tea. Instantly she felt her nerves unwind and the worried knot in her brow relax as she took in the lovely sight before her.

Seeing Alexandrite gave the crystal dancer a lot of clarity and helped her realize that most of her tension was rooted in fears which had lingered after the battle. In the heat of the moment, when the Crystal Empire faced certain doom, it was her refusal to believe they could lose and the presence of a mare as inspiring as the courageous Alexandrite Tilt that had kept her fears at bay. When Lilac returned to the Blossom Estate, alone, the dam that had held back all of her uncertainty and pain collapsed. She threw herself into planning this event, salvaging what she could of her things and moving into the Trillion Theatre as so many others in the Company had. The stage here had been turned into something of a boarding house for the dancers, technicians, and staff that kept the place running. It was their refuge, and so it would be for all who came tonight.

Which was why it had to be perfect. Lilac needed this, they all needed this. Something warm and cozy and good and fun to chase away the dark shadows of yesterday and inspire optimism for tomorrow. Throwing herself into the planning, however, hadn’t helped with her persisting fears. Instead, it had changed them into something else.

Lilac gave the guardsmare a small smile. It was amazing how just looking at Alexandrite gave her the answer to a question she didn’t even realize she had.

“Thank you, my Alexa,” she responded warmly, stepping forward and planting a soft kiss upon the mare’s cheek, “You are not overdressed in the slightest. This party has no dress code, and besides...you are positively stunning. I’m afraid I’ll make an awful hostess. It will be difficult to entertain the guests tonight if I cannot keep my eyes off of you.”

Having dedicated her life to the intensive study and mastery of ballet, Lilac had very little experience in love. Romance as she knew it was told through dance and came to life only on the stage. When it came to the real thing...she was clumsy. She flushed the moment she properly flirted with the yellow-maned beauty she called her love, though she meant every word she had said. Alexandrite was breathtaking this night, her armour traded for an elegant purple dress that made her crystal coat shine brighter. All of her efforts were visible in the best way imaginable. Lilac truly could not keep her eyes off of her.

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Flux smiled widely at the caribou's friendly response as she introduced herself. Yay! More friends! That was always a good thing to have, in her opinion. She popped another treat into her mouth as another caribou approached, completely ignoring the disguised changeling. Oh well, Flux didn't really mind. She smiled again as she recognized the face of the caribou and she overheard a name to go with it.

"Hiya Randy! I see you already know Yivvy! I just met her! She's nice. Much nicer than Meggy when I first met him." She said, pausing to pop another treat into her mouth, finishing it before continuing. "Anyways, I'm Flux! I was there when you were taking down that meanie lizard thing!" She chirped, smiling widely as she took a large drink of her milkshake.

Her imaginary friends were trying to get her to not eat so much sugar, but she was ignoring them. She needed to get some more energy back for her magic, and what better way to get energy than through consuming large amounts of sugar?

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(I wasn't sure which character of mine would work best in each thread, so they might travel between them.)

After everything that had happened, no one who knew anything about Prince Blueblood would have been surprised that the first thing he wanted, after being released from medical supervision, was a drink. But unless you knew him very well, you would have been surprised at the particular kind of drink he was looking for. It wasn't any fancy wine or elegant bubbly champagne. No, it was one of those thick, dark, Stalliongrad Stouts that were, to borrow the local phrase "Strong Like Bull!"

See, the Prince was a sailor in his spare time, and had often been out in inclement weather when bringing his boat into port. After times like that, he'd made his way to the nearest pub, and ordered what was the only thing available, dockside porter, and he enjoyed it like he enjoyed no other beverage. The memory stuck with him, and after trauma like the recent invasion, compared with which the fiercest nor'easter was but a breeze, he went for the closest thing available, and did not complain in the slightest about its potency.

He still drunk it out of a tulip-bulb glass, though. A stallion had to keep some class, after all.

Taking his cup, he sipped the black liquid, relaxing, with a slight wince of pain as his bandaged lacerations twinged. There. He felt ready to face the burden of conversation. There were few ponies he would call friends, but from what he heard they were all in the Empire somewhere. Even Java, by now, was among that number; after all, life was too short to consider even the more exasperating acquaintance as anything else, especially considering how much shorter it almost was.

Looking around, though, he saw only the faces of strangers, and some of them caribou strangers, at that. Some kind of envoy, he'd heard; no doubt to run the kind of political damage control he was all too familiar with himself. Perhaps a little sympathetic advice, from a pony that had to repair and maintain his public image on a weekly basis, would not go amiss.

Ah, two of them together? Excellent. Prince Blueblood adjusted his bandages to a more picturesque angle, took another fortifying gulp of the stout, and trotted up to open diplomatic discourse. "I say..." He paused. He'd forgotten how big they were, up close. Up until now, the only female he'd had to look up to see eye to eye with had been his aunts Luna and Celestia. He took a deep breath and tried again, "What's your big idea? I mean, I've some... unenviable experience in public disasters, but I've never had to apologize for something like this. It's going to take a little more than a word to the papers to smooth things over."

Oh well, he probably shouldn't hold his breath waiting for a Foreign Office appointment.

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Princess Cadence rarely, if ever, refused an invitation. Right before King Sombra’s latest attempt to regain his ill-gotten Crystal Throne, the prima ballerina Lilac Briolette invited Cadence to a special party she intended on hosting. Since then, it seemed Lilac expanded the scope of the event so that it could help rejuvenate the spirits of those caught up in the Sacking of the Crystal Empire. With that in mind, Cadence knew that not attending was not an option. She had to be there tonight for all her subjects.

Since this occasion was to be without lavish pomp and circumstance, Princess Cadence saw fit to pretty herself up only as much as she did on a day-to-day basis. The only thing the princess wouldn’t be wearing tonight was her crown; no, she had gifted it to a little filly who displayed extraordinary courage in standing up to King Sombra. As a replacement crown had yet to be made, Cadence would just have to do without the gold headdress for tonight.

When Princess Cadence arrived in the Banquet Space set aside in the Trillion Theatre, the alicorn was astounded by how virtually untouched the building was from the recent conflict. Already, the pink princess’s heart felt lighter after having to cope with the stress of the past few days. Now ordinarily, Cadence would have greeted the hostess of the event first, but it appeared Lilac was preoccupied with the guard Alexandrite Tilt... seemingly now very much in love with one another. Cadence never got tired of seeing love blossom (she was a love princess after all), so she let the new couple be.

Instead, the Crystal Princess made her way towards the two caribou emissaries nearby. One of them Cadence recognized from the other day; Ylva, sister and Hoof of the Jarl of Askr. The sisters came with a host intending to fight off the rebellious Red Jarl, but the Forces of Darkness were soundly defeated before they were able to arrive. Instead, they nobly offered to help rebuild the Crystal Empire, and make amends for crimes committed by renegades. Cadence couldn’t recall seeing Ylva’s companion before, but she’ll find out who the other caribou is soon enough.

“My ladies,” Cadence warmly curtsied the two caribou; “On behalf of the Crystal Empire, I hope that you are receiving the hospitality you’ve earned for all your help in rebuilding our home.” Turning to Ylva, the alicorn asked; “Will the Jarl of Askr be joining us? I’d love to personally thank her as well.”

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HWAAASHOO!”

A loud sneeze bellowed out of the Jarl. She was late to this banquet and she had a fairly decent reason. Shortly after she’d arrived in the Crystal Empire, Sigrun hadn’t been feeling her best. Her nose felt like it was being barricaded off deep inside her nostrils and bore pinkish tinge on her normally dark brown snout.. The area between her eyes had a constant annoying pressure and her eyes were tearing; hardly a fitting state for a Jarl.

There was quite a bit of speculation on Ylva’s part as to what was wrong with her sister. There was the potential common cold, a possible sinus infection. Eventually the two cows figured it out what it was. An affliction as old as time, one that could range from annoying to deadly… Allergies. In Sigrun’s case it turned out to be to flower pollen, which the Crystal empire had plenty of thanks to the magic that shielded it from the cold.

It took a lot of convincing from her sister but eventually, the Jarl of Askr did arrive at the party. Back home it might have been considered laughable for such a powerful cow like herself to be able to subdued by a daisy. According to her sister however, having such an affliction could actually help the ponies relax around her and her herd. Sigrun couldn’t let her pride prevent her from potentially mending relations with the ponies of Equestria, so she would go to this party; stuffy nose and all.

The Jarl’s personal longboat soon turned up in front of the location and Ylva stepped off first, her sister promising to come soon after. A few tissue boxes later she eventually stepped off the vessel, trying to appear somewhat respectabl-- “WACHOO!”

Well, so much for that. Because of the heat of this area (compared to the rough lands of Whitescar), Sigrun had forgone her cloak and wore a simple looking tunic. She wore no armor, no helmet, and didn’t bring her blade. She immediately scanned the area for sight of her sister; not too hard seeing as she and the Jarl were the only ones with a pair of antlers on their heads. Or so Sigrun thought…

There were another pair of antlers on the scene. These ones belonging to… Rangrid?! The High-king’s daughter?! How in the name of Tuktu did she get here? Did the High king send her to try and mend the wounds in the empire as well? Well, only one way to find out. As she approached the two she caught the last statement her sister had made...

“Randgrid,” the cow replied cheerfully, “You are correct, I am Jarl Sigrun’s sister. It is good to see your smiling face here in the Crystal Empire. The Jarl of Askr caught wind of the Red Jarl’s plans and we rushed here immediately, to offer our aid and friendship. Our longship carried many Askr caribou and a great deal of wood and hammers...but what brings Randgrid of Heil-Barn to the Crystal Empire? Are you here on behalf of the High King?”

“My ladies,” Cadence warmly curtsied the two caribou; “On behalf of the Crystal Empire, I hope that you are receiving the hospitality you’ve earned for all your help in rebuilding our home.” Turning to Ylva, the alicorn asked; “Will the Jarl of Askr be joining us? I’d love to personally thank her as well.”

Before the Jarl of Askr could join in the conversation, a third voice joined it. It belonged to a pink pony with both wings and a horn. She must be one of those alicorns Ylva spoke so highly of. If what her sister said was right, this one’s name was... “Princess Cadence.” The Silver eyed cow smiled a bit and bowed in greeting, “I apologize for my tardiness… I’ve been finding the empire’s climate doesn’t agree with me…” The jarl’s voice was sounding a tad congested and slightly tired. Soon a cloven hoof was offered in the princess’ direction, “Enough about my woes however. Are the materials we’ve been providing proving useful?”

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"Haha, well not exactly, good Ylva!" Randgrid started, less ashamed perhaps than she should be and more instead delighted for a chance to tell her story. "It's quite the curious thing, you see! I was in Barn, hot on the trail of a snake called Galti, one of the more heinous villains under the Clan Olin banner. I had him followed to the dark alley behind the Seaview Tavern, and sat waiting as he met with some shifty looking unicorn in a black hat and scarf, an envoy from that shadow group, WRAITH we keep hearing about, I believe. I was just about to get the drop on them, when--WHAM!--Something good and heavy comes at my head from behind, knocking me out cold."

Randgrid took a moment to drink something from a cup and smile. "Next thing I know I'm here in this empire, clad in strange black armor facing down a lindworm of all things, Hersir Megin and some other Olin scum all around me. Now, apparently, it was all on account of some no good wizard bewitching me. He had cursed my mind from me and had me gallivanting about terrifying young ones, if you'd believe it!" Randgrid gave a hearty laugh. "It's funny how things go, I suppose, but it does me well to see the ponies here prevail in the face of the Red Jarl and his wicked schemes!"

The caribou's head turned as another spoke to her, a unicorn mare who had approached Ylva and said her name was Flux. Randgrid didn't in truth recognize the mare, though she spoke with familiarity. She went on to say she was there for the fight with the Lindworm... but Randgrid still couldn't place it... that was, until she stopped focusing on the face and focused on the voice instead. Aha! This was that changeling, she had just changed, as changelings are want to do! Randgrid smiled at her, glad to have figured it out. "A pleasure to see you again and looking well, my friend!" She nodded to Ylva. "Flux here was one of the heroes of the day, going hoof to hoof with a Olin Hersir and then helping to capture that no good wizard who put me under his blasted spell."

It was then that her and Ylva were approached by a pair of regal seeming ponies Randgrid was sure she hadn't seen before. She left the male unicorn, who approached and started to question them for Ylva, who was no doubt both better with excusing such things and more aware of the bigger picture and focused her eyes on the female, a pony who possessed both wings and horn. Randgrid knew enough about ponies to know what this meant. This was none other than the Crystal Princes herself, fellow royalty.

"Aha! So you are the Princess Cadance! Well met," Randgrid started, stepping toward her, draping a foreleg over her back and hugging her roughly, a grin on her face. "It is always a delight to meet one who shares the same title! I am Randgrid of Heil-Barn, daughter of the High-King of Whitescar. I have not been here long, but i must say that you have a fine and beautiful empire here, filled with brave and true ponies who know both how to fight and how to feast!"

Only moments later, Sigrun herself, showed up. "Sigrun, my old friend! How well it does my heart to see you here!" she declared as she went from the princess to the Jarl, squeezing her in a hug. "How have you been of late?"


Alexandrite smiled at the welcome praise and even more at the gentle kiss. Like Lilac, romance was far from her forte. She was a jouster and an empire guard, and took both of those things very seriously, aiming for perfection. Love had just never been something that entered the equation. Now that it had, she found it so often made her feel fluttery inside. She was resolved in all things in her professional life, but a glance from Lilac could have her melting into puddle of indecisive stupor.

Since the end of the battle, when Lilac had professed her love, however, Alexa supposed she had found a new confidence of sorts, at least. There had been so much uncertainty involved in the courtship, but now that their feelings were out there and known plainly to both, she felt a little more confident in approaching it, though always she still feared saying the wrong thing.

"Well, in that case, for the fault of distracting you, I shall just have to do my part to stay and assist you with the guests, even as I fear I may be distracted myself by your loveliness," she said fondly, smiling at the other mare. Perhaps before, she would have offered to go elsewhere so at not to be distracting, but in that moment she was pretty sure that wasn't what either of them wanted. "With two half-distracted hosts, perhaps the guests will be as well treated as if they had a single proper one."
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Ylva blinked in amazement while Randgrid told her story. The High King’s daughter was many things, a fierce warrior and a champion of drinking halls being chief among those. But perhaps her most remarkable quality, the silver-eyed shaman realized, was her ability to laugh and move on even from most dire circumstances. To have one’s mind stripped away and their body used as a vehicle was easily, in Ylva’s mind, the worst act of violation one could commit. Had it happened to her, and worst yet had she been used to terrorize children, the Askr cow would still be struggling to recover. And yet Randgrid could simply laugh it off. Astounding.

“You never fail to amaze, Randgrid,” Ylva said incredulously, “And it does my heart well to see you here tonight. Qalipu herself must have guided you to the Crystal Empire, as there is nobou better than you to help the ponies see that not all who hail from Whitescar are as black and rotten inside as the Red Jarl. Your laughter and penchant for blacking out under tables with a mug in hoof will certainly make it difficult for these folk to continue fearing our kind!”

Perhaps to make such a jab at the Princess of Heil-Barn’s expense was punishable by death, but Ylva’s playful grin and chiming laughter only proved that she aimed to summon forth another of Randgrid’s full-belly laughs. It was simply too easy to be friendly with this cow, despite her high status.

As Ylva’s laughter faded another unicorn drew himself into the conversation, though this one carried with him a sense of regality. Ylva’s cold expression returned as she appraised the stallion, her silver eyes looking him up and down before moving to his drink. She smiled, then, in response to his question.

“You seem to be the pompous, spoiled, cowardly sort,” she replied, not unkindly, “I have seen many like you in Equestria. But that drink of yours is thick stuff, it calls for a strong stomach. You’re an intriguing one, unicorn - I suspect there’s more to you than you let on. Perhaps more than you realize. I shall be glad to get to know you.

As for my purpose here, I have nothing to apologize for. I am not Clan Olin and have done no wrong. My Jarl has brought Clan Askr here to offer aid and support to the Crystal Empire, and to remind its citizens that they have friends in the Whitescar. We will eventually wish to bolster relations with the Empire and Equestria, but that is not for now. Now is a time for healing, and tonight I am here to offer the only gift a shaman of Askr can. But that will come later.”

Ylva turned, then, to dip her antlered head in a bow to the Crystal Princess, a lovely and lithe create if ever the silver-eyed shaman had seen one.

“Many thanks, Princess,” Ylva replied just as her sister arrived upon the scene, “Your kindness is most welcome. The crystal ponies are understandably wary of us, though they have been quite hospitable. We have not been chased out of your Empire yet, so all is quite well considering the events of the past week.”

The well-mannered cow then removed a blue kerchief from her scale coat, offering it to her twin.

“My Jarl,” she said happily, “I am glad you joined the festivities tonight. Please, take this for your allergies.”

It was not difficult to tell that Ylva was quite the doting sister.

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Alexandrite’s proposal thrilled the prima ballerina. She was quite excited at the prospect of her love sharing in her hostess duties, though when she turned her gaze about the room it seemed as though she currently had very few duties to attend. The caribou emissaries, Princess Cadence, and Prince Blueblood were all locked in conversation. Hesitant to interrupt a conversation that could potentially turn political, the dancer turned back to her guardsmare with a sly grin.

“While that is a fantastic idea, my Alexa,” she laughed, finding her stride in this “love” business, “It seems as though my guests are all involved in important conversation that doesn’t include us! Though I know how we might pass the time…”

The lilac-hued mare gestured to the empty dance floor, where the band was playing a gentle waltz, “Shall we, my love? I am ready for another pas de deux.

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Flux was, for the most part, ignored again as more ponies arrived on the scene. Randgrid did mention her, saying she was glad to see her whole and healthy. Flux smiled widely at the words, nodding a bit in agreement, her face currently too stuffed with food to actually voice a response.

Soon enough, an alicorn came on the scene, as well as another caribou and a unicorn stallion. She momentarily looked over at a couple of mares that she could feel love from, debating whether she should take some for herself. She shook her head though, turning back to the ponies and caribou around her as she sat there on the floor. She could wait on the love until she could get some from her friends. In the meantime, she gave a friendly wave to all the new arrivals before continuing to eat her sugar-filled meal.

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Well, it wasn't the most auspicious of beginnings, but it was a start. Three whole sentences without a diplomatic incident! And, if he was reading the reply of the shaman right, she didn't think him a totally useless of political floorspace!

Yes, it was somewhat embarrassing to have to count these trifles as triumphs, but the Prince had hit rock-bottom, as far as his self-estimation was concerned, earlier today, and one had to take what one could get. "Why, thank you. I... hope not to disappoint." Strong as his stomach might be, Blueblood's head could still use conditioning, and it was currently wracking the contents of his skull for something reasonable to answer the shaman with. His roving eye caught a glimpse of Flux waving at everypony with a grin. He could only return a more tired smile. "Hm, if you can leave us half as happy as she is right now, you'd be quite the shaman indeed."

There, that sounded alright. Any further attempts at conversing were interrupted by a sudden sneeze from the visiting jarl; the sister of the shaman, it seemed. Cadence was talking to her. Of course, of course, his cousin would be more prominent in this sort of role; much better at it too. He didn't envy her, he told himself, it wasn't that, it was just...

He was just so tired of giving the impression of being, in the words Ylva, 'spoiled, pompous, and cowardly.' But what could he do? Blueblood was no fighter, and never would be, not on the level of these caribou. And what else would effect anything against the kind of destruction wreaked upon all these ponies?

His feelings of inadequacy were not helped very much by being in close proximity to Randgrid and Sigrund. The latter's sneezes sounded stronger than he was, and as for the former... well, she was well respected among her kind and the exact opposite of him in pretty much every way. That wasn't a coincidence.

Another sneeze from the Jarl. This one brought out the tender side of the shaman, who offered a small handkerchief. Looking to the side, Blueblood saw a tea-tray, and poured a little honey and squeezed a lemon slice into one of the steaming cups. "Ah, here." He offered the beverage, a little tentatively, to Sigrund. "This will at least keep your throat from feeling like sandpaper. Er, have you ever had tea before? Or lemons?" He knew that the northern... well, perhaps he shouldn't call them barbarians, at least had mead, so knew what honey was. As for the rest... well, at least he could offer assurances that it was not poison.

*Is this going to be my role? Just the pony that brings in the tea, like a servant?*

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Bulk Biceps had taken up what had become his customary place at any gathering - a large piece of floor in front of the buffet table. A mug of some of the thickest, darkest, Stalliongrad Stout he had ever had was close at hoof as he sampled some of the foods, these being much more familiar to him than the last gathering in the Spire. The invitation had said 'Come as you are', so Bulk had come as he was, clean and brushed, but without an ill-fitting dinner jacket and tie. Still, he wasn't there out of any real physical desire to be. His wings still ached from the furious flying he had done during the battle days before, and the rest of his body now did so as well after having spent days offering to put his strength to good use in the cleanup of the Empire. He had come, instead, to try and find some peace. To try and be reminded of good things after what he had witnessed. To try and find some fellowship even as he was standing alone to one side of the table. Even just being in the presence of ponies in a good mood might put him back in one, even if he had no one to converse with himself.

Every once in a while, though, between bites and sips, he would look up, out through the theatre window, over the dim lights of the Crystal Empire's cityscape, and stare very intently at something only he could see, two thousand yards away.

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“Many thanks, Princess. Your kindness is most welcome. The crystal ponies are understandably wary of us, though they have been quite hospitable. We have not been chased out of your Empire yet, so all is quite well considering the events of the past week.”

Well, progress was being made towards improving pony-caribou relations. It’ll be a long while yet before the situation became hunky-dory, but Princess Cadence intended on mending the fences as much as she could. “I’m glad to hear that things are going as well as they can,” the alicorn smiled at Ylva; “Should trouble ever come to Whitescar, I promise that the Crystal Empire will never turn its back on your people; not after everything you all have done for us.”

"Aha! So you are the Princess Cadance! Well met. It is always a delight to meet one who shares the same title! I am Randgrid of Heil-Barn, daughter of the High-King of Whitescar. I have not been here long, but i must say that you have a fine and beautiful empire here, filled with brave and true ponies who know both how to fight and how to feast!"

Princess Cadence returned Randgrid’s hug, although her own foreleg wrapped around the caribou much more lightly. The alicorn had to say that this boisterous daughter of the High King fit her original preconceptions of a caribou to a tee. And Randgrid’s grin happened to prove very infectious as well. “I may have never visited Whitescar,” Cadence happily replied; “But based on what I’ve witnessed these past few days, the hearts of the caribou are undoubtedly filled with as much light and love as any pony. Well met indeed, Randgrid.”

“Princess Cadence. I apologize for my tardiness… I’ve been finding the empire’s climate doesn’t agree with me… Enough about my woes however. Are the materials we’ve been providing proving useful?”

And this must be Jarl Sigrun, at last. The cow truly looked as majestic as eyewitness testimony described. Cadence though winced upon seeing her fellow caribou’s afflictions, but it seemed Ylva had a solution on hoof. As Sigrun indicated her desire to discuss matters other than her physical weaknesses, Cadence decided to oblige the Jarl. “They are indeed, Jarl Sigrun. That, and the other caribou helping to rebuild the Crystal Empire. Along with help from Equestria, I’m confident that reconstruction efforts will be finished much faster than anticipated!” Cadence allowed herself to beam at that final proclamation.
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Though it had been several days since the attack on the Crystal Empire, many of the visitors that had ventured to the north for the Faire were still within the city. Many others had taken the first trains home, but the remainder stayed to help. There was damage to many of the structures of the empire, and unicorn magic was a great aid in the repairs. A certain group of ponies from Ponyville had stayed for this reason.

Two uncomfortable-looking colts entered the the hall of the Trillion Theater. Both had been pressed into tight bow ties and collars for the event, and both had their manes and tails slicked down with product. Snails pulled at his too-tight collar, and Snips had to force himself to not restyle his mane.

After the events at the Crystal Heart, the colts had struggled to find their parents in the confusion of the aftermath. When they finally found each other, hours later, the sense of relief was palpable. The adults had been frighteningly close to one of the Equestrian airships that had crashed to the ground. By mutual agreement, Snips and Snails had not told their parents the entire story... The full truth would have probably gotten them grounded forever... As it was, Snips' dad had mentioned something about 'keeping him on a leash,' and he had sounded just a bit too serious about it...

Tonight was the first time that the pair had been let out of sight of their parents, but even now they were not too far away, just in the other side of the Hall. The colts had come seeking the banquet table, and only the promise that they'd be right back had allowed them to slip away.

"Finally!" Snips said in relief.

Snails nodded emphatically in agreement. "Yeah... I mean, I love my Mom and stuff, but she's been hugging so much, I can't breathe!"

Snips grimaced in sympathy. "Come on!" he said to his friend, "Lets get some grub!"

The two moved across the floor, avoiding the hooves of taller ponies. Snips scanned the room before spotting a familiar face. "Hey!" he called, getting Snail's attention. "Isn't that Miss Lilac?"

Snails looked in the direction his friend had indicated, and saw the dancer that was their host. The two had not seen what had happened to the mare amidst all the fighting, but were both glad to find out she was ok. Snails looked at the mare standing with Lilac, a look of confusion on his face. "Who's that she's with?" he asked. "She looks familiar..."

Snips focused on the other mare as well. She did look familiar somehow. It took him several moments to recognize her. "Alexandrite??"

Snails looked again, then nodded. "Oh yeah! That is her! I didn't recognize her without the armor."

The shorter colt nodded, then offered, "We should probably go see them. Wha'd'ya think?" he asked Snails, but the tall colt's attention was drawn to the other side of the room.

It was her! Princess Cadance was here! The pink mare was not wearing her royal regalia, but she was still instantly recognizable. Snails' heart fluttered as he recalled the kiss the Princess had given him. He hadn't wanted to wash his cheek for a couple of days after that. He stood for a moment, dazed, before he finally looked and saw who was around the Princess. His eyes widened and began galloping toward her!

Snips called after his friend in confusion. "Hey! Where are you..." he began, then he too saw. The creatures around the Princess were caribou! He chased after Snails.

Snails skidded to a halt in front of Cadance, his horn glowing with as much power as he could muster. "Are you OK, Your Highness?" he asked, a growl in his voice.

Snips didn't go that far, but he glared up at the tall cervines. "Hey!" he called out. "What're these caribou doin' here, Princess??"

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Only moments later, Sigrun herself, showed up. "Sigrun, my old friend! How well it does my heart to see you here!" she declared as she went from the princess to the Jarl, squeezing her in a hug. "How have you been of late?"

The well-mannered cow then removed a blue kerchief from her scale coat, offering it to her twin.

“My Jarl,” she said happily, “I am glad you joined the festivities tonight. Please, take this for your allergies.”

Sigrun smiled happily at Randgrid hugging her old friend tightly as if to make sure she was real. Yep, she was real alright. “It’s wonderful to see you here as well, Randgrid! Did you come here on a diplomatic mission as well? I imagine your father would have come as well.” The jarl eventually released her old friend and snorted with a sigh, “as for how I’ve been…”

Soon, Ylva came up to her sister with a blue handkerchief. SIgrun nodded in thanks and held it to her red snout and blew loud and hard. To be honest, it sounded more akin to a foghorn going off rather than a caribou unclogging her sinuses. The noise echoed across the space …

*HOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK!*

...and soon the red nosed jarl breathed deep in relief, “Thank you, Sister… And I suppose that answers your question, Princess Randgrid.” The Cow laughed heartily before scratching a hoof to her nose.

. Looking to the side, Blueblood saw a tea-tray, and poured a little honey and squeezed a lemon slice into one of the steaming cups. "Ah, here." He offered the beverage, a little tentatively, to Sigrund. "This will at least keep your throat from feeling like sandpaper. Er, have you ever had tea before? Or lemons?"

Sigrun looked down at Blueblood and smiled, “Why, thank you.” the Jarl looked over the drink and sniffed at it, it’s curious how much you fail to value a sense until it’s been blocked off for a while. The Jarl took a sip and smiled, “Hmm… So this is what equestrian tea is like.” She took another sip and smiled down at the blonde stallion, “It’s a bit too sweet for my liking, but to know that you offered it to me in the hopes of making my stay in your land easier on me…” The Jarl balanced the cup on her back a moment before she bowed her head to the prince, “... I thank you, Sir.”

Looking over the stallion she took note of his impressive build (for a pony) and smiled, “Hm… From your solid build. I can only assume you must be one of the guard captains. Would you care to spar with me sometime? I’ve been wondering how you ponies’ warriors are taught to fight, perhaps you’ll learn a thing or two!” The cow smiled serenely before she returned to sipping her tea.

“They are indeed, Jarl Sigrun. That, and the other caribou helping to rebuild the Crystal Empire. Along with help from Equestria, I’m confident that reconstruction efforts will be finished much faster than anticipated!” Cadence allowed herself to beam at that final proclamation.

The Jarl of Askr beamed right back the princess before saying in a proud and powerful voice, “Excellent! I hope to return to your kingdom when the healing is done. I’d heard the Crystal empire called a warm jewel of the north --well, relative your people’s homeland-- and I’d very much love to see it in it’s prime.”

Snails skidded to a halt in front of Cadance, his horn glowing with as much power as he could muster. "Are you OK, Your Highness?" he asked, a growl in his voice.

Snips didn't go that far, but he glared up at the tall cervines. "Hey!" he called out. "What're these caribou doin' here, Princess??"

The proud Whitescar cow blinked as a pair of colt slide into the scene, between her and the Princess. The Jarl looked down at the two, They certainly didn’t look the type that were fighters; the orange one -while tall- had legs that were like toothpicks and the shorter blue one was… well stout was the nicest way to put it. Sigrun let out a loud laugh and smiled down at the two, “You ponies sure breed some the bravest of offspring! First that young stallion yesterday who ran smack into my hindquarters and now these two!”

She looked down and one cloven hoof took turns to ruffle the two brave little colt’s manes, “Calm down, you two. We’re the good caribou; Three times as tough as those monsters that attacked you but nowhere near as nasty!” She extended her hoof to the both of them in friendship, “I am Sigrun, Jarl of the clan of Askr…. in case you don’t know; A jarl is like a chief in charge of all the caribou in their clan… or in my case several clans.”

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Randgrid laughed boisterously and downed the rest of her drink at Ylva's praise--for she could only take it as praise, ignorant that the other caribou was perhaps playfully teasing her.

"Aye, it is so, good Ylva! I have heard it whispered all across my father's kingdom--the Valkyrie of Heil could out-wrestle a mountain giant and out-drink a sea serpent!" She smiled a goofy grin at the shaman. "I do not rightly know if either count is true, but it remains that in me this land could find no firmer friend against the wickedness of that swine Red Jarl! Our enemies will rue the fact that they decided to bring me here to make such fine friends as these!"

She nodded at the princess, contented by her words. "Indeed, Princess. Our land is cold, but our hearts brim with all the heat of the Heil lava flows!" she declared, raising her empty mug upward with enthusiasm.

Looking at the alicorn, she was reminded then of her small part in the ordeal, of the six caribou raiders and the unicorn wizard she had helped to capture and left with members of the crystal guard. "I wonder did you receive the gift that I left with your guards for you--the Hersir Megin, that wizard and the others?" she said, laughing.

Turing finally toward Sigrun with a smile, laughing at the resounding honk oh her nose being blown. "Most impressive, good Sigrun! I'd say there is more power in that nose of yours than there is to the churning roars of Mt. Heil!" she declared patting the other caribou roughly on her back.

"As for my father, I haven't seen him in some time now and know not where he might be," she said. "I just got through explaining my tale to your dear sister here, but let us say that it was fate alone that brought me here. It certainly wasn't my own designs!"

When the children approached and Sigrun spoke to them, Randgrid again gave a laugh. She looked again toward the princess and smiled at her. "You must be a fine leader, good Cadance, to inspire such fine and firm loyalty in others! Never have young ones come rushing to my defense against assumed enemies, though for the safety of the good and loyal caribou calves of Whitescar, this is probably for the best."


Alexandrite felt an awkwardness set in at her love's suggestion. For all she talked about dancing with Lilac, to do it literally did seem a fairly daunting thing. Lilac, was after all, a prima ballerina, and when it came to Alexandrite herself, her hooves were mostly accustomed only to galloping into a charge. Despite this bit of self-consciousness, she wasn't going to say no. She couldn't rightly pass up on a dance with the mare she loved.

"When it comes to the dance floor, Sweet Lilac, I have fear that one of your expertise you would have me at quite the spectacular disadvantage," she acknowledged with a laugh.

She smiled a warm smile and nodded sincerely to the other mare then. "But I would not dream of passing up on the opportunity all the same. If you wish us dance, then allow me to lead the way!" she said, offering a guiding hoof to Lilac as she looked to the dance floor.
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Ylva let out a light chime of laughter at Randgrid’s grin. It would truly be a dark day in the Whitescar if ever the Valkyrie’s spirits darkened. The shaman, finally relaxed enough to grab her own pint of honeyed mead from a nearby fountain, joined the caribou princess in drinking. It would do her good, in any case, to have something to warm her belly before she offered her gift to Princess Cadence and her empire. Very rarely did Ylva ever feel nervous, but after a venomous and volatile reception from a unicorn stallion when Askr’s forces went to aid the reconstruction of the Empire, Ylva could not help but feel a little anxious. The thought of it caused her expression to darken a little as each moment brought her closer to the decisive moment and she resisted the urge to sigh. The shaman could only hope that the ponies present tonight would see the sincerity in what she had to offer and would not take offence to the barbarian caribou yowling at them in her foreign tongue.

The cow took a generous swig of her mead, remaining fairly quiet. She smiled and offered a warm thanks to the crystal princess when she made it quite clear that the Crystal Empire would support Clan Askr should they face trouble, quietly stating, “Your faith in us and your fierce loyalty humble me, highness. You are a Princess of remarkable character.”

Ylva drew away from the conversation, then, feeling no need to speak further. Sigrun was the Jarl, after all, and she was speaking beautifully tonight. She had a few fumbles during the cleanup of the Empire, mostly at the start, though that was not due to any mistake on her own part. Cultural differences played a huge part, then, as the way a Jarl must behave in Whitescar is rarely palatable for the gentler ponyfolk. Jarl Sigrun had adapted quickly and well, though, as her sister knew she would. Ylva doubted if her twin would need further assistance, so she was content to resume her more comfortable position as a watchful shadow of the Jarl.

Sigrun only further proved herself to be in no need of help when two brave charged onto the scene. She spoke so well with them! Ylva merely smiled at the little ones, offering a playful wink to the lanky colt after her sister explained to him that the caribou of Clan Askr were not their enemies. The foals of the Empire and Equestria were all so very bold! How admirable.

Finally her gaze was drawn to the elevated stage where a band was playing gentle waltzes the likes of which the shaman had only ever heard outside of the Whitescar. It was time to prepare. “Excuse me, my Jarl, my friends. I must prepare for my gift to the Empire,” the cow announced politely, casting her eyes down self-consciously when they met Cadence’s. The worry was clear upon her expression, no matter how she tried to mask it.

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Flux hummed a bit between a couple bites of food, listening to the conversation. She was essentially on the sidelines, but that was fine for now. After all, who wanted to watch a pony just sitting there and stuffing their mouth with sweets? It didn't sound all that fun. Therefore, she couldn't really blame them as that was essentially what she was doing. She did finish up though fairly soon, leaving nothing on her plate and about half the milkshake left. The disguised changeling looked over at Ylva as she announced she was going to prepare some kind of gift for the empire. Flux could sense the worry, and see it on her face, making her frown somewhat. Standing up, she patted the caribou gently.

"Hey, I'm sure you'll do great, Ylvvy." Flux said, looking at the caribou with a gentle smile. "Y'know, if you need any help, I'd be happy to assist." The disguised changeling removed her hoof from the caribou, picking up her milkshake instead and taking a sip as she awaited the response.

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"I wonder did you receive the gift that I left with your guards for you--the Hersir Megin, that wizard and the others?"

Being reminded that Sombra was far from the only threat the Crystal Empire faced not too long ago didn’t make Princess Cadence feel pleasant inside. All the same, she answered Randgrid’s inquiry in a polite manner; “Yes, we were able to take Cyprianus and his, ‘companions’ into custody. The prisoners were relocated to Canterlot yesterday without incident, and are currently waiting to stand trial for their crimes.”

A most unexpected interruption came in the form of two colts, the duo Snails and Snips. Princess Cadence chuckled off their overprotectiveness, and thankfully Jarl Sigrun and Randgrid took it all in stride, using the opportunity to praise pony children for their bravery (Ylva was taking her leave at this time). “If you’re impressed by the courage of these two colts now,” the alicorn enthusiastically told the caribou; “Then you haven’t heard anything yet!”

“Snails,” Cadence turned to the boys and winked; “Snips. Tell these two lovely caribou the courageous tale of how you defeated King Sombra, one of the most powerful sorcerers in all of history!” Before the princess could listen to the story however, she briefly caught the glimpse of what looked like another caribou somewhere by the dance floor, except this one was much smaller than the ones she’s seen already. A younger caribou perhaps?

“Please excuse me,” the Crystal Princess announced as she left the group, intrigued to see who this mystery calf was. But having to wade through a crowd feeling obliged to thank and honor Cadence, the caribou had disappeared somewhere by the time she made it over by the dance floor. Where could they be?

*Cadence’s story continues on the Dance Floor*

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Well, at least Sigrun liked the tea. That was one thing going well, although to be honest, by the standards of service that Blueblood was used to, he wasn't doing so well. A really good valet would have known not to add that much honey. Between being mostly ignored politically, and being mostly mediocre in other respects, quite frankly the Prince had never felt quite so small since... well, since the battle in the Spire.

Which was why the jarl's next words caught him all the more off guard.

“Hm… From your solid build. I can only assume you must be one of the guard captains. Would you care to spar with me sometime? I’ve been wondering how you ponies’ warriors are taught to fight, perhaps you’ll learn a thing or two!”

Fighter? She thought that he was a fighter!? He took a quick gulp of his stout as he tried to formulate his response. To reject it would be seen as cowardice, but to accept would be sheer idiocy.

In that time, he saw the approach of the two colts, and his cousin praise their bravery. That decided him. *Let's go with idiocy.*

Giving a smile at Snips and Snails, he raised a glass to Sigrun. "That's the main secret, I suppose; there's courage everywhere in Equestria. I myself am more in the naval line than the Guards, per se, but I'd be up for a drubbing... provided you faced me in a boat race afterwards!"

Needless to say, half of that was just the stout talking; it had a considerably bolder tone of voice than he habitually used. The remaining rational parts of his brain, certain that they knew the exact time and place that they were now going to perish, gave up the struggle entirely, and allowed the Prince to grab another pint. Quite free of inhibitions now, he asked a question of all the caribou present. "Incidentally, I want ask, always been curious, you know, how do you all not get scurvy? Y'need fresh fruit to not get it, but I don't think there's much up all in the Frozen North."

He didn't know much, but Blueblood knew sailing; and that was one of the first things he learned. Never leave on a voyage without citrus. Those fruits grew in the tropics; the Vikings were by definition ship-travelers, so how did they not get scurvy? It was all a mystery.

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The shaman blinked down at the chipper unicorn who had been swallowing mounds of sugary treats, a little perplexed. After just a few moments a wide grin cracked over the cow’s expression and she ruffled the mare’s mane cheerfully. On Ylva’s very brief list of ponies she did not believe she would upset with her gift, there was at least one more she was certain she could tack on. Like Randgrid, this little pony seemed to carry an endless font of cheer within her.

“Thank you, Flux,” she replied softly before walking away, nodding her head to indicate the unicorn should follow.

To be continued on The Dance Floor

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Flux sorta listened to the voices around her as she awaited Ylva's response to her offer. She giggled a bit as the caribou ruffled her mane. Yep, these caribou were definitely better than Megin and his buddies. She had to wonder what had happened to him, since he wasn't that bad once he stopped being a meanie. The disguised changeling blinked a bit at the thanks, smiling widely at the caribou and watching her as she walked away. Then she spotted the nod and stood up, taking what remained of her milkshake with her as she moved off with the caribou.

"Yay!" Flux chirped, practically bouncing along as she went to go help out her new friend.

(And thus Flux leaves this thread.)

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“Excuse me, my Jarl, my friends. I must prepare for my gift to the Empire,”

“If you’re impressed by the courage of these two colts now,” the alicorn enthusiastically told the caribou; “Then you haven’t heard anything yet!”

“Snails,” Cadence turned to the boys and winked; “Snips. Tell these two lovely caribou the courageous tale of how you defeated King Sombra, one of the most powerful sorcerers in all of history!”

“Please excuse me,”

Sigrun nodded at her sister. She was a bit uneasy at the thought of having her more socially aware (at least in regards to ponies) sister separating from her, but she realized that Ylva wouldn’t leave her alone if she didn’t think she could handle herself… even then it was rare she let her tackle things on her own since they’d been reunited, but it was nice to know the High shaman had faith in her. “Try not to get in too much trouble, Sister!” she said to her lighter coated sibling as she moved to the dance floor.

The situation with the two colts ‘protecting’ the princess was only proving to be more and more interesting. Apparently these two played a role in the defeat of the monstrous King Sombra. “Very impressive, little ones!” The Jarl smiled and lowered her head down to the taller one and looked him over a few times and then the shorter one, “I trust you two must have used a bit guile to defeat him, correct? No offense meant but, you two don’t seem the type to rely on your strength to bring down and powerful Sorcerer.” Sigrun had seen many a rough battle won by cunning. The Jarl of Askr may be both tall and strong, but she was far from the largest of her kind and knew the value of intellect over strength at times. These two definitely didn’t look to be fighters so they surely must have had some moment of brilliance that allowed them to triumph.

Once the princess had excused herself the Jarl nodded and calmy waved to the pink alicorn,"I shall try to hold my own against these to great warriors of Equestria!" she said with a chuckle

Turing finally toward Sigrun with a smile, laughing at the resounding honk oh her nose being blown. "Most impressive, good Sigrun! I'd say there is more power in that nose of yours than there is to the churning roars of Mt. Heil!" she declared patting the other caribou roughly on her back.

"As for my father, I haven't seen him in some time now and know not where he might be," she said. "I just got through explaining my tale to your dear sister here, but let us say that it was fate alone that brought me here. It certainly wasn't my own designs!"

At Randgrid’s words, Sigrun let out a loud and hearty laugh. “Maybe some day we shall weaponize it! With a thunderous sneeze I shall send my enemies flying away from the battlefields and into the sky! My foes shall tremble at the sound of my sniffling!” The Jarl chuckled and nodded at her friend. Taking out the handkerchief her sister had given her so recently the jarl held it to her snout and sighed once she heard about the High king’s absence, “I hope he is alright… we can’t afford to lose him so soon after he has brokered peace between whitescar and the rest of the world. I’m glad to see his daughter here though, regardless of what circumstances may have pulled you to the empire in such a sad time.”

"That's the main secret, I suppose; there's courage everywhere in Equestria. I myself am more in the naval line than the Guards, per se, but I'd be up for a drubbing... provided you faced me in a boat race afterwards!"

"Incidentally, I want ask, always been curious, you know, how do you all not get scurvy? Y'need fresh fruit to not get it, but I don't think there's much up all in the Frozen North."

The silver eyed cow grinned at the blonde stallion, “Well I don’t see why I couldn’t face you in a race in my personal longboat… We should probably clarify the rules though. Am I allowed to use my longboat to fly over yours and snatch the lead?” She asked, clearly just teasing him. “Really though, I haven’t seen much of Equestrian vessels. It will be nice to see one in action.” The jarl offered a hoof for blueblood to shake… and then pulled it back to offer the other one when she realized her handkerchief was still on it.

His question on the typical caribou diet was an interesting one! Scurvy was an occasional problem for amateur sailing caribou back home, “That’s actually an interesting question. My species doesn’t have easy access to fruit so we find other sources that offer the same vitamin that prevents scurvy. Things like Fish and mushrooms, those kind of things. Since trade opened up with the other creatures of the world we’ve had easier access to superior sources … though I still am rather fond of the fish.” The jarl chuckled softly.

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[OOC:

will give some perspective on what Ylva's performance sounds like. Please listen! :catbug:]

Through the crowds gathered around the food and drink of a banquet space, the elevated stage on the dance floor is clearly visible. As the music faded and the band took their leave, clearing space before they did so, it was hard for most eyes to keep away from the platform. Moments ticked away and confusion spread, until a caribou cow in a white shawl stepped up and set a drum in the centre of the stage.

The shaman moved through the quiet crowd and climbed the steps to the stage with her drum, then cast her silver gaze out over the crowd of Crystal Ponies and their allies. Another deep breath was drawn as she set down her drum, and then Ylva spoke.

“Greetings, my friends,” she said softly, though her voice carried throughout the dance floor and the banquet space, “I am an emissary of the caribou clan Askr. I am the High Shaman Ylva, right hoof of Jarl Sigrun. We came to the Crystal Empire in our longships to help you combat the Red Jarl but arrived too late, and that fact wounds us grievously. But I am not here to apologize tonight. There is little that we of Askr can offer in the wake of this destruction beyond our friendship and our meagre supplies to help you rebuild. There is even less that I can offer beyond this one, simple thing…”

Another deep breath. She could feel the eyes on her, many eyes. There was curiosity, suspicion, anger, and fear lingering in the air, or at least that is what Ylva was convinced of. This was not the same as home, in Askr. Her rituals were met with love and thanks there, and she was always so sure.

“In Clan Askr, Tuktu, the warrior god of the moon, commands an army of the fallen. Every valiant soul who perishes in battle is called to this army, to fight against the darkness and keep chaos at bay. Their weapons gleam like pinpoints in the night sky, for they are his stars. It is our goddess of the aurora, Qalipu, who carries the souls of the deceased to him within her river of light, and it is the duty of a shaman to guide these souls to her.

This is all that I can offer, and it is the most precious thing I have to give you. This ritual is sacred to my Clan; it has never been witnessed by an outsider, not even our dearest friends and allies in the Whitescar. But times are changing, and if we are to be your friends we should place the same faith in you all that we place in our kin.”

And that was it for speaking. She would not apologize for the Red Jarl nor speak of Clan Askr’s intents for becoming allies of Equestria and the Crystal Empire. This was not the time for the tricky dance of politics, it was a time to offer those she would call her friends the most sincere gift she had in her to give.

The cow dipped her head forward and began to rub her drum with her antlers, the sound not unlike the rhythmic push and pull of ocean waves. She continued this for some time, until the white shawl around her shoulders began to flicker with colour. The shawl was made with the fibres of Qalipu’s Mane, the plant from which she created the aurora pigment. Since these fibres hadn’t been boiled, only body heat could bring out the colour and light within them.

Ylva started drumming, her hooves tapping out a heartbeat across the skin of her instrument to make way for her song. It began softly, her voice lilting with the language of the Whitescar as she swayed, her shawl leaving streaks of of colourful light around it. Having covered her antlers and drum in the aurora pigment, Ylva’s little performance was beginning to glow with the colours of the northern lights.

As her drumming began to boom, the shaman began throat singing. Great grunts and growls burst from her maw and seemed to pull the sound of the drum out and push it up, skyward. There was a primal power in her voice, and the rest of her performance flitted between the lyrical trilling of song more familiar to ponykind and the brute, powerful thrum of throat singing. Every switch between the two began with a great slam of her antlers upon her drum, which spread her ethereal, glowing pigment scattered into the air about her.

When the singing was done, Ylva continued to tap the rhythm of a heartbeat upon her drum with her hooves, the volume fading until she drew silent and still. Without another word she gathered her drum and stepped away from the stage, her gaze cast downward. She hoped beyond hope the sincerity of her message had reached them, that it would be well-received.

It wouldn’t be long before she found out.

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