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And So it Begins.{STAR Recrutment} (See OOC)

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It had been just over a week since Ice Storm had been to Las Pegasus and struck the deal that would forever change her path in life. The end goal was the same.... the methods now though.... were a little bit different. After practicing a bit more using the technique that Twilight showed her in the guild to focus on her emotions and the orbs she had gained even more of a mastery of them. She felt like she could now use them to her full potential. In fact, the remake of her store showed that. Instead of looking like it was made out of ice, now it was made out of ice that was now permanently frozen. However, the air around them wasn't biting. It was a bit cooler than outside but it wasn't absolutely frigid. The ice was cold to the touch though.

 

Today however, the shop had a closed sign on the front. That wasn't too entirely unusual, considering it was a day that Ice was normally closed on anyway. Everything inside was dark though. Even the ice that was in the building wasn't reflecting any light back out. almost as if they were absorbing the light instead of reflecting it. The reason for this was simple. No pony needed to see inside today. The less that ponies saw, the better for everypony involved. That said, there were many ponies that knew otherwise that there was indeed a bit of light coming from the floor of the shop. It was only visible once you entered the store. These ponies were all ponies that Ice Storm had sent Recruitment Letters to. Ponies that she had done research on and found that they might be a good fit. Ponies of promise, and ponies that... may have no where else to turn other than the streets. If she could give them a purpose, and help defend Equestria while she was doing it, then she was more than doing good for the world. She was sure of it.

 

Once inside, magic in the floor of ice would light up with arrows instructing them to follow a very specific that to a stairwell before descending down into a much brighter lit room with a table. A large table, and Ice Storm was seated at the head of it, her orbs orbiting her freely in a constant, steady motion. She looked down at the lot of files in front of her... "My enemies..... Equestria's Enemies..... they will fall by my hooves.... The waiting is over..." she said to herself looking up at the clock. "The first prospect should be showing up right about now..." she added taking a seat and waiting. Today was going to be a long day, but if everything went right... by it's end.... everything will be worth it.

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Yoru really wasn’t so sure about this invite she had received. In’ei, however, was more curious about what these letters were trying to recruit them for, and managed to convince Yoru to check it out warily. Thankfully, she hadn’t had to go too far to answer it though, since the building in question was inside the city. The unicorn stopped in front of the strange building, tilting her head as she sensed a bit of magic keeping the icy structure as dark as it was on top of not freezing everything. 

 

Yoru poked at the magic a bit, figuring out the spells involved to sate her own curiosity before moving inside slowly, a bit surprised by how light it was inside. Briefly, at least, until she remembered who she was sharing a body with and what shadow magic could do. 

 

“Hello? Anyone home?” She called, noticing the arrows a few seconds later, following them down the stairs and pausing as she saw the other mare. “Oh... umm... are you the one who sent this?” She asked, blinking as she looked at the mare. 

 

“Wait, are those orbs what I think they are? Those are super magical artifacts... Where did you get those?” Yoru approached, her interest in the orbs overriding her shyness. 

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It'd taken a little time to reach this Canterlot after obtaining a ride to it via a 'train' after receiving the letter. It was strange, that letter, and Sombra had to wonder who this Black Ice was and how they'd found out that he was even still alive. Although, in hindsight, if they happened to have agents of some sort, any one of them could've seen him in Ponyville and recognized him for who he really was. Hrm.

 

Eying his surroundings on the way to the building that'd been specified, Sombra noted it seemed rather.. upscale. There were plenty of signs of rich and easy living here, from the store displays to the prim, marble buildings. He didn't dare look out at the high view Canterlot had; standing on the balcony of a tall castle was one thing, being so high up on a mountainside was entirely another. His attention drifted back to his destination, ignoring the few posh ponies of the streets as he stepped up to the building in question. After a last glance around, he strode inside with the confidence of somepony who was meant to be there. Mere seconds after he was inside, out of view, he dropped what illusions he wore to disguise himself on the way so that whoever had decided to summon him here would see him as he truly was, signature horn, cape, and all.

 

His eyes roved over the ice with interest and shifted towards the arrows that lit up on the floor, no doubt meant to guide him along. There was something about it all that had Sombra a little on edge; it had a feeling of a trap. If somepony wanted him captured, or worse, sending him a message like that with the possibility that it'd benefit him was one way to snag his interest. Sombra didn't give a damn about protecting Equestria, or anything else for that matter, but he was here regardless for his own self interest and to see if those benefits might be genuine and there was that chance they wouldn't be. Whatever lay ahead, he would be ready.

 

Taking his time, Sombra followed the arrows as each one directed him downstairs, pausing briefly along the way to curiously tap one with his toe for a reaction, and soon found himself at the end. The tyrant darkened the doorway to what was obviously some sort of meeting room, peering in with a resting scowl that seemed ever present on his face and those inequine red eyes sweeping over what he could see. There was a mare at the head of the table with strange objects orbiting around her, and.. it seemed somepony else had made it here before him. Inclining his head, the tall stallion sauntered inside without a word, his head held high like he was royalty.

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Out of all the cities Loose had visited, Canterlot was her least favourite. She made a non-binding pact with herself that she would never come back to this city within her own control. But despite her return being somewhat under her control, she did not wish to mark it as such. She was here on business, and such business was of a high level of importance. Luckily, unlike the first couple of times she was here, she still somewhat remembered the layout of the city, or at least, the most important parts of it. This meant she didn't have to wander around lost in a town full of self-centred posh ponies that wouldn't help her, not that she would tell them of her true reason for being here. Just a day ago, she received a pre-recorded message from somepony named Black Ice, the leader of a new organisation that was supposed to protect Equestria from forces that the military would not. Having been rejected from the traditional military, she could not reject the offer knowing that it would probably be the only chance of doing something she would actually enjoy. 

 

Once she made it inside the building that she assumed was the correct one, she noticed the iciness of the floor below her. It was cold, but not that it really affected her. For a pony named Black Ice, it was quite relevant for there to be ice here. But there was something up with the ice, it felt warmer in certain parts. When she felt around the warmness, it painted the mental image of arrows in her sign. There were directions on the floor. She followed the directions along, which lead her into a stairwell. At the end of the stairwell was a large room, which she had to pulse louder to get a full image of the room. There were three others here, one she assumed was Black Ice, but the others she did not know. 

 

"It sure is fortunate for the directions to have emitted heat signatures," She said out loud to the three ponies in the room.

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It pleased Ice Storm to see that the fliers seemed to be responsive. A good number of the notices that she she out had responded and a a few of them were making their way out to Canterlot. The first one to show up was a unicorn mare. Yoru Arashi. She was a unique mare, as she had an entire other entity living inside of her. This intrigued her greatly. She couldn't find much information on something like this happening in the past, so this was a new experience for her for sure. One that she would need to inquire about, as well as the stability of the connections. She wasn't doubtful, but she did need to make sure everything was accounted for. For something the scale that she is starting, she can't have slip ups. Because of that, she herself had taken on her own persona. She had to. Just in case any of these ponies had means to betray her, she could have some plausible deniability. Until everything was set in stone, she needed all of that that she could get. Instead she wore a coat tight black body suit, and a simple illusion spell make her mane and tail appear black as can be. From her neck up, she was still her normal ice blue. All identifying marks were covered though.

 

One thing that Yoru instantly seemed to pick up on were the orbs that were floating around her. They were the one set of items that she could not hide, and Yoru knew immediately that they were a super magical artifact. and asked where Ice had got them. She was about to answer when King Sombre entered the room. He also seemed to pick up on the orbs flying around and seemed to hold himself a bit higher than everypony else. Something that Ice was okay with as long as he didn't try to overstep her. If he accepted this, that meant he would work for her, not the other way around. However, if everything went the way she wanted. The way she envisioned... he would find it in his best interests to take her up on the offer, as he might find himself in a position of power again in the future.

 

Finally another mare entered. Loose Canon from the appearance. She pulled the file forward with her magic. She was blind, and because of this she was turned down by almost every other agency so far because of it. Nopony should ever be denied the chance to defend what they love. The dossier on Loose said that she could navigate via sound. With the fact that a lot of her operations starting off would be under the cover of darkness, being able to navigate in those conditions was imperative. She made a not that it was a good thing that the magic in the arrows generated a head signature. "Of course. I knew you were coming so I set it up specifically for your abilities," Ice Storm started before turning back to Yoru, answering her Question in a fashion that would address everypony else in the room as well. "My name, is Black Ice. To answer your question, Ms. Arashi, I am indeed the mare that sent for you..."

 

"The artifacts that you brought to the forefront, are indeed super magical artifacts. They were made by a friend of mine, without my knowledge, using my own aether as the catalyst. They are permanently bonded to me. they are called Opalus Spheres, designed to amplify magic relating to the element of ice tenfold; each. They are the reason you are here in front of me today. they gave me the power needed to do what I needed to do. There are a few more prospects coming today. I will await for them to get here before going into too many details as to why you all are here, and what is in store for all of you. The number one thing that I can't stress enough is, once your in, you're in for life. Once you sign this document today. There is No. Going. Back. I will go over that more as well when everyone gets here," Ice finished.

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Well, this was certainly interesting... and terrifying... Unless she was mistaken, that was Sombra, former tyrant of the Crystal Empire. Yoru blinked a bit at his arrival, shrinking back from him slightly even as her body tried to take a more confident posture to match his own. In the end, it was somewhere between fear, defiance, and curiosity. 

 

Thankfully, the next arrival seemed much more pleasant, breaking Yoru out of the little trance of sorts Sombra had caused. The unicorn smiled slightly at Loose, wondering about her comment for a few seconds before the pieces fell together in her mind. She was blind? Well that was unfortunate, but not crippling in some cases. Yoru frowned slightly as if in response to something that had been said that nobody else could hear, turning her attention back to their host once she began speaking. 

 

Black Ice, huh? While there had certainly been stranger equestrian names she had seen, In’ei continued to doubt that the name was true, and Yoru had no reason to doubt her other half. Regardless, the spheres were explained, putting Yoru back into the role of an excited scholar as she began looking over the spheres again. They were fascinating, to say the least. 

 

For life? Well, as long as she could keep doing what she loved, learning and teaching, Yoru didn’t mind learning from what this group had to offer. Besides, she knew In’ei would never let anything happen to her. 

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The former tyrant's gaze was intense as he glanced between the two ponies present, taking in all the little details as he walked around the table and past Yoru. This Black Ice was covered up well enough, but it wasn't like he could really know anypony enough to recognize them, or need to recognize them. The other pony, whose name he hadn't gotten yet- scratch that, a Ms. Arashi- seemed to recoil from his very presence. Her attempt to draw herself back up despite the fear in her body language earned a small, smug little smirk from Sombra. It was nice to see.

 

King Sombra lost interest in the mare quickly in favor of Black Ice's explanation about the spheres that floated around her person. Artifacts, made only for her use. It was an interesting little detail. It'd prevent anypony else, especially him, from trying to bend that power to his will; not that he was here to take another's power in the first place, or at all. He was only here to see what this was all about, and why he'd been.. invited.

 

Picking a seat a few down from the mare responsible for this meeting, Sombra plopped himself into the chair, an ear cocked towards Black Ice. His attention briefly shifted as another pony entered after him, somepony who was apparently blind. The detail about the warmth in the arrows to guide her here was an interesting one, and he had to wonder how else she was able to find her way around without sight. Any further, internal pondering was cut short by Black Ice's voice, highlighting that further information was pending until more ponies arrived.. and that this would all be for life. For life. He leaned forward, forehooves dropping onto the edge of the table.

 

"Do you know how long that will be, for me? I am a long-lived creature, and this would be far too binding for my liking," he growled, his voice deep and powerful, carrying easily no matter how quietly he spoke. "What if you were to die of old age, or violate the rules of whatever contract you wish to set up? Would that void it?" Sombra continued, asking a question that he was curious about now that this.. for life was an issue. He had no interest in ever being trapped by anypony else again, and especially not by a piece of paper. They were questions he couldn't stop himself from asking despite Black Ice stating it was something she'd wait to explain- he had to know. Swallowing back a sliver of dread in his throat, Sombra grumpily leaned back in his chair and kicked up his rear hooves onto the table's edge where they came to rest, one crossed over the other in a rude fashion only known of him.

 

The king wasn't leaving, despite his concerns; he was going to hear everything out before he decided whether this entire situation had more pros than cons. He could stand to wait. After a last glance over at Yoru, and the blind newcomer, Sombra settled himself to do just that and looking disgruntled while he did.

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The heavy, deep thud of metal sounded as Stormstride walked into the room slowly. Her metal clad hooves echoing softly in the air as her silver and white mane hung loosely in a ponytail. It glittered in the light around them as her emerald green eyes looked deeply at every pony present. The varying silvers and blacks of her armor were not reflecting much light, as if they had been burnished instead of polished. The visible chainmail down her back legs and across her underbelly did little to hold back the thick fur padding under her armor. And the Dragon's teeth around the neck piece made her look very barbaric. Hooked to the saddlebag was a metal helm, with a partially open face, and mounted with the horns of a goat on either side. She looked like something out of a nightmare, and her face only completed the look, stoic and partially curling a lip in a scowl. The horn sticking up from her mane was pointed and had a slight chip missing from the left side near the tip. There was an air about her that screamed danger, as her look said as much. But she remained silent as she stepped out of the way of a stallion coming up behind her. While her coat was a mottled gray, darker and lighter patches intermingling, His was a solid dark gray. He towered over her, easily one of the larger unicorns, though not obscenely so. 

 

His long horn curved up slightly, coming more to a point than a rounded tip like most unicorns. The stark difference between them was that his eyes were a darker, softer green. And he was smiling cheerfully as he hummed to himself. His mane was a more silvery than hers, and he wore no armor. In fact the only noticeable thing about him was his size and apparent proportions. He was a healthy looking stallion, early adulthood in his years and was strong. He practically skipped when he walked and his tangled mane bounced and bobbed as he moved. It looked like he had never figured out how a brush worked in his whole life. But his jovial smile was genuine as he spoke. 

 

"So sorry to interrupt, but we received notice to arrive at some sort of... meeting. Uh. Well my sister did and since we do pretty much everything together, we both came! I'm Thunderbuck, and this is my older sister Stormstride! I guess she's more the combat oriented one, but I'm pretty useful in a pinch. I have a big variety of spells I can use, though.. most of them aren't for combat. But I have great shield spells!!" Stormstride's hoof came up and silenced him from speaking more. Lowering her hoof, she looked at all the ponies present and finally spoke, though her tone was far less jovial and very flat. As if she had no joy in her heart and no love in her soul. 
 

"Three questions, What's the pay? What do I kill? How far are we going to kill it? That is all I need to know." Her piece said, she fell silent and just looked around at the ponies one by one. She was judging them, analyzing them as if they were her targets. She was no stranger to this kind of work apparently, and it showed in her attitude. She was on the job, and when she was on the job that was her focus. 

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"So...this is the place," Jijing Fengbao said as he glanced at the paper he had rolled into a scroll before staring at the ice cream shop? He was expecting something else, perhaps a warehouse or something secretive. Still the main question on the elderly Qilin's mind was...why him? He knew it was because of his past and yet, he was surprised by the offer. His goal was to remain a hermit and a teacher, escaping his life as a warrior due to his age. But it seems that his reputation followed him to Ponyville. He could have easily discarded the offer and went back to the safety of his new life. But something stirred him, his desire to right the wrong surfaced. 

 

"There is great evil in this world, and I can't sit back and waste my talents while the world is in peril. Nor can I simply let the past dictate where I am I might not be young, but I can still fight."

 

She entered the ice cream parlor and immediately began to wonder why was here. Was this a group for merely mercenaries? Clearly there was a powerful unicorn with a chip on his shoulder and some mare with armor and asking what the pay was and who to kill. He held his tongue merely shaking his head. Instead he made his way towards the desk/ counter and faced a mare with orbs rotating around her body. 

 

"Black Ice, I presume?" 

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Ice Storm gave Sombre a look when he spoke up about how a Life investment seemed to be a bit too binding for his liking. She looked him square in the eyes. "This isn't about how you feel. I don't care if you have the lifespan of an alicorn. This is an unauthorized combat strike force. If I die of old age, the next one in line picks up the pieces and continues to press the organization forward. That may be you, that may be somepony else. it all depends on how well you prove your loyalty to me, and what the situation is during my downfall. Everything that we will be doing will be under the radar and without any sort of government protection. That is the reason that this is a life investment. I need tough, strong willed individuals that cannot be swayed easily. I will not have any loose ends in my agency that can bring the whole organization down. If life is too binding for you, then I won't stop you from leaving. However, You will not get this chance again, and the rewards for staying will be lucrative," she spoke looking around the room as three more entered the room, one of them being far more brash than the others. She liked that. The file called her Stormstride. She was efficient and somewhat ruthless and didn't mess around. it was why she would be one of her commanders. Next to her was her brother, that while lacking true combat experience held a lot in the way of defensive magics. Something that was important for getting ponies out. She smiled.

 

Before she could respond, the other one, a Qirin, entered the room right behind the first two and addressed her. She nodded again. "I am, please take a seat. We have a lot to go over. First off... everypony gets a thousand bits a month, just by being an agent. The more missions we run, and run successfully, the more we get paid Every mission pays a minimum of three hundred bits a day. This includes prep time. Starting off, these will mostly be gathering intel. I can help a lot with this because I still have my hooves in several very powerful doors. Because of that, if anyone is ever caught during a mission, I can pull strings to make sure the cases mysteriously disappear, or get you out myself. You will not remain imprisoned for long. If I can't either myself, or my second in command will be there to get you out."

 

"The one thing I cannot stress enough is no direct combat on Equestrian soil if we can prevent it. Outside of Equestria, The job gets done through any means necessary, Civilians are never targets, period. We are not tied with the government at all, so we will be essentially acting as an organized mercenary group.... for now. Base Headquarters will be in Las Pegasus. Where at in Las Pegasus, well... that information is for those who last until the end of the meeting. Know this... if you walk out those doors before the end of this interview. you will not remember a thing about what's in here, or anything you heard at this meeting. To answer your question Stormstride, our targets, are anypony that directly threatens the safety of Equestria. Once we have enough information on them to establish a threat, we will come down hard, and we will come down fast." Ice said looking around the room before starting to hand out the files to every pony that's in the room.

 

"This... is everything that I know about each and every one of you. If you accept everything that will be explained today, your ranks will also be listed. The reason you all even got an invite to be here was because I felt that you were trustworthy enough to know about us,  thirsty enough to fight, and more than happy to get paid to do it. Many of you have already been in combat before. I know that I myself have, and I will be fighting along side of you on most missions. I have plenty of combat experience, stemming back to when the Crystal Spire fell from the invasion of the Red Jarl. I heard reports from other agents stating that you were there as well... as noted in the file," she said directing the final statement towards Sombre. "I'm going to presume that these reports are either false or misconstrued. Cause certainly if these were true, you would not be sitting here in front of me today, nor would you have been so easy to track down and get ahold of."

 

"The reports were that you lead the invasion on the ground assault while the Red Jarl used his Airship to bombard the spire trying to open a vault that later exploded as well. The spire exploded.... It was drastically weakening and on the verge of collapse. I had an unconscious Twilight on my back channeling every ounce of my magic to create essentially a thousand foot slide of ice, fighting through brainwashed guards in the process, to get to our own airship with the Pinnacle building of the Crystal Empire collapsing down around us. I have witnessed first hoof front line combat and catastrophic loss of life... That is why I vowed to never let it happen again... We founded a defense team... one to help prevent large scale invasions like this. Similar to what I'm building now. However, they never acted... We always served as a response force to an invasion that was already happening. During my time as an agent of this organization, which, I still am. That's how I got all of these files on all of you... There have been three more large scale invasions that I am aware of.... The defense team was too defensive. They were always waiting, watching, waiting, and watching.... until it was too late to stop." she said feeling the anger well up on her as she was now back at the head of the table."

 

"I am DONE!" she said rearing back and slamming her fore hooves into the table, her orbs instantly flaring up as her anger flowed through them, accentuating their power as the entire table froze instantly. "Sitting back and waiting for the next invasion to come. I am done spending weeks to months gathering intel confirming intel that confirms other intel. If we find information about a possible target, and we find confirmation on that information from a viable source, we strike that target. Anyone that's planning an invasion on Equestrian soil will think twice before crossing us... Now... if you'll notice... the ranks that are listed are different from standard. That's because by the time we're done building, this won't just be a mercenary group. No, this will be an entire fleet, supported with airships, and a flagship that will inspire dread, fear, and and loss. Why? because when the enemy sees it, they know they've lost. This airship will be built in the private shipyard. Untraceable by air."

 

"We will use this fleet to take the fight to them. If they want to invade Equestria, they will have to go through us to do that. And I want us to be that unstoppable, immovable force, that no one else will even dare raise arms against us. Once we get to our full power, we won't need to worry about intervention... at least not too much. That's why this isn't an in and out thing. I want pones that are dedicated, willing to commit, and willing to do what is needed to make sure that others are able to go home at night to their families. The end result, an army, a fleet, of ponies that are unstoppable forces of determination. And Don't worry, the fleet won't just be reserved for me. My Second in command will be coordinating many of the strikes that we will be orchestrating, and she has quite a few of personal missions of her own that you will embark on. Many of them in lands that hold ancient power, and an armory.... several armories filled with plenty of goodies for everypony involved. And again, remember, none of this is authorized. We are flying solo. which is even more reason. We don't want new comers coming in once we've established everything, and then running to others and jeopardizing everything we've worked for."

 

"Everypony in this room is a pony that I've put enough trust into, to personally invite and meet with, and tell you in person what you were getting into. This is going to be monumental, and worth every bit of the time that you put into it. The more that you do, the more that you help, the more you prove you're loyalty not only to me, but to my second in command, whom should be here within the next half hour. The more power you'll have within my ranks. The more power that you have in my ranks, the more you'll be able to help decide what are viable threats, and the actions that need to be taken."

 

"HOWEVER, everyone in this agency must be ready to drop everything on a moments notice, to fight. If myself or anyone else finds a threat that is imminent and severely dangerous, we all respond, and we all respond with lethal force. This also applies if one our outposts are ever compromised. You are to send out a distress beacon immediately and I will be there as soon as I can. If it's after the Shadow of Ice is completed, you are to get into the shelters that will be built and marked on them. We will bombard it. Are there any questions so far? This is a lot to take in," Ice Storm said as she sit back and crossed her forehooves. The bulk of everything was on the table. Of course there were a few things that she didn't make open. But being up front with the bulk of the information meant that she could hit the concerns immediately, and weed out the ones that could be an issue.

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She received her files and moved her hoof over the embossments on the sheet. Everything there was right, well, except for that one mistake; it had nothing to do with information though, just a simple misprint. The mare certainly knew where to get her sources. All the demands that came from Black Ice didn't faze her in any single way, why would they? She had no regrets at all, this was the only way she could do something that she felt was worthwhile to her at all. Rejected from the Equestrian military she was. If such a force as this one is needed to exist, then the Equestrian military must be terrible anyway. She only had one opportunity to accept this, but the restriction didn't matter as there was no way she could deny. There was a payment of a thousand bits base monthly. Really, she didn't need the bits much at all, but the Equestrian economy said bits were important and anything to help her mother would be good. Black Ice made no mention of pay rates for rankings. She assumed it was because this was all a new system, but she was kind of interested in what she was going to get. There was no way she was going to be commissioned, she wasn't really into that stuff. NCO sounded good enough for her though, maybe she'll get bonus perks for being an early pick. She didn't want to think of much, just being here was a perk in itself. 

 

"I know you're addressing the group, but you're kind of suggesting that I would have a choice in this," she pointed out. "Technically, I do, but there's no real reason for me to ever drop this opportunity since it's basically my entire future. You can expect my utmost loyalty for as long as it takes to protect Equestria, which realistically, would be for as long as I live. I'm glad you picked Las Pegasus, you could have picked anywhere except for Canterlot and I would have been satisfied."

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Yoru was becoming less and less sure about this idea as more ponies arrived, though that was just her shyness talking most likely. Thankfully, she recognized one of them as that kind street performer she met before. And his sister, though she was less sure what to think of her. Predictably, In’ei liked her, but those two were birds of a feather, so it was to be expected. The next to enter after them was... a kirin? She wasn’t expecting to see one of them around here...

 

Her attention was drawn back to Ice as the mare began speaking again, which thankfully kept her from noticing the large cat-like creature that had just entered the room. Once the files were handed out, she read over hers with interest to see what they managed to dig up on her. Wait... how could they have known about that? Yoru frowned as she closed the file, making sure nobody else read it over her shoulder or something. 

 

All in all, the benefits still seemed to outweigh the drawbacks. Plus, a hole in her memory would drive her crazy, and the added cash flow could help her in her research. Yoru nodded along as Ice finished up, humming a bit as she asked for questions. Thinking it over, she wasn’t sure she had any questions to voice. 

 

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Miles really didn’t like being summoned by names he had never heard before. He was not some servant to be called on at whim, at least not for most ponies. With friends, he would be likely to help. And then there was Sombra, who commanded his undivided loyalty. 

 

It was unfortunate then, that the cat yokai had not seen his king since the Empire was sealed away. His mood darkening from the thoughts, his stomping march through Canterlot grew angrier, drawing stares from the ponies as they scrambled away in fear. Good, he didn’t have time for them anyways. 

 

Eventually he reached the place, simply walking in and following the arrows. It seemed he had arrived just in time to hear the explanation of what is was they were all here for, so he remained in the back of the room and crossed his arms as he listened. Subconsciously, and without even realizing who it was, he had placed himself behind Sombra. 

 

“I’ve been looking for someone for a long time now. This business will help, correct.” He rumbled out once the explanations finished, his question less of a question and more of a statement. 

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King Sombra's silence was a sullen one and the stallion had crossed his forelegs over his chest with the addition of his rear hooves still being propped up onto the edge of the table. Those unsettling red eyes of his finally broke away from staring down Black Ice in favor of looking upon the new arrivals, his attention drawn to them by the heavy metallic sounds of the armored mare's hooves. Both she and what appeared to be her brother particularly caught his interest because they were both grey ponies, and though the curve of the stallion's horn was more pronounced, he was intrigued by both of them. Grey, green eyed ponies. The stallion in particular almost reminded him -- of himself.

 

The umbrum's mood changed, if slightly, and he took note of both of their names, something he normally didn't bother with when it came to ponies. Perhaps he'd get a chance to work with them and get to learn more about them. He'd look forward to that, which was strange enough.

 

The next new arrival that he noticed seemed to be an older pony-like creature. Diverse group, Sombra thought to himself with a slight lift of an eyebrow. His appraisal of the arrivals was cut short by Black Ice's voice, and his gaze snapped back to her, meeting her eyes with his own intensity. Her answer did annoy him slightly. Even after the others were dead of old age, and he was still alive, anypony that took over would have as much power over him as Black Ice would once he signed whatever contract, or made whatever promise, to help her on her mission. He felt he might actually be willing, if joining Black Ice's cause meant he'd be paid so much. As much as he didn't care for money, it'd certainly help him out quite a bit.

 

"If you treat me right, perhaps I'll stick around," Sombra remarked dryly and fell silent, only shifting one rear hoof off the table when Black Ice slid their files out to them in the midst of her explanation. Dark magic flickered around his unusual horn and he plucked his up, cracking it open and reading it with more curiosity than he'd let on. Much of what he'd done in the Crystal Empire was there, on top of strange reports that Black Ice herself spoke of aloud. His eyebrows rose and there was something in his expression when he looked up at her again.

 

"I don't recall that. I must've been terribly drunk." This was stated with a flat expression, and his tone was dripping with sarcasm. An eyebrow quirked. "In all seriousness, I never knew the Crystal Empire was attacked. I've been.. indisposed.. these past two years. I hardly think I can raid the empire when I was still in literal pieces." The king snorted and his snout wrinkled in annoyance. With as heated as Black Ice became as her speech continued, he didn't dare voice that such destruction happening to the empire -- pleased him. Great loss of life. Good. They deserved it.

 

His ear twitched back from Black Ice's shout, and he curiously eyed the ice that'd formed on the table. Beyond lifting his rear hoof slightly when it was frozen, he didn't seem at all bothered by it. He waited until she'd finished and opened it up to questions. "Is Equestria truly so poor at defending itself?" he decided to ask, his rumbling voice ringing out again and carrying easily. His ear twitched towards the blind pony's expression of loyalty, and the sound of a new voice. Somewhere behind him. Something about it sounded.. familiar, and Sombra shifted in his seat to peer around the back of his chair, making himself visible.

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Jijing Fengbao flipped open the folder and leafed through it. The papers contained within were very thorough, chronicling his entry into the martial arts school, followed by news clippings of his deeds in Long Guo such as defending a town from marauders and setting up his own martial arts school. He winced at the next paper of how he defeated a notorious robber, only to have the entire town burn in the process. He shook his head as if to forget the memory of his failure. Lastly, there was a map where a red X appeared over where his hut was. 

 

What surprised him was that it seemed, at least to Black Ice, was how much Equestria was not protected. 

 

"What about the Equestrian Army? I don't know of their training methods, but surely they are capable of defending against minor threats. Or am I wrong about this assumption?" 

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Stormstride moved to a seat and sat quietly. She listened intently as her brother plopped himself in the seat next to her and propped his hooves on the table. He smiled still, but her face was taunt. After the others spoke she took a deep breath and let it out through her nose slowly. "The Equestrians are as well trained as school foals. They know nothing of real combat. They can not even take care of their own orphaned foals properly, how can they be expected to tend to the needs of a military nature? I can do as you ask, and the pay is sufficient provided we are not sent on suicide missions. I have no intention of giving my life for the same ponies that abandoned myself and my brother years ago." Her tone was bitter and bordered on violent. With so much anger in her heart, she gave little concern to the thought that civilians might be in the cross hairs of an attack. 
 

"However, that said, I will do my best to not let civilians call into my line of sight when working," she said as she slowly reached her hoof up to her back. It latched into the hoof catch on her sword hilt. Drawing the blade slowly, she set it on the table. The blade was as long as she was, with a mild curve up at the end. The blade was double edged and made of the same black metal as most of her armor. The hilt, blade, and cross guard all had silver engravings in what looked like a vine or cursive pattern, but no words were discernible. As she put the blade on the table, her brother spoke in a more jovial tone. 

 

"Sister, please. We talked about this. You do not have to view every pony as an enemy. We are not some exile sneaking into a forbidden land. This is Equestria, our birth land. We can at least..." Her raised hoof silenced him as she turned a soft look on him, after which she looked down at the file on herself. Taking a moment to look over it, she closed the folder and then looked at the mare called Ice. "I do not care about what it is you know about me. The only thing that matters is that I am efficient, and that I am capable of performing almost any task set to me." She was very cold, and her exterior exuded a level of anger toward all ponies. Her brother seemed to balance that out as he smirked and pat her shoulder, instantly softening her face. 

 

"My sister and I are willing to help. We merely need a small assurance. We don't really have a home so we would like to request a place to park our cart while we are away on missions of whatever you need. Being vagrants we have free travel through almost anywhere we want. We can be ready to move out at any moment. That sound nice?" Buck was hoping to ease whatever tension his sister had created. He knew her temper often rubbed most ponies the wrong way. 

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Midnight Oil had just finished his assigned rotation at Canterlot Castle and returned to his quarters. With a deep sigh, the bat pony removed his helmet and sat it on the nearby desk. "What a night," he mumbled under his breath, sitting down at the desk. "Lets see," as he began to look through the stack of mail. "Junk, junk, letter from home....Hm...what's this," as he opened the letter and began to read. "S.T.A.R....?" he said aloud, raising his eyebrow. He could not help but scoff at one line in the letter however, 'If you cast your allegiance to me,' but agreed to hear out the proposition...Midnight would remove the remainder of his armor and rest till it was time to attend the meeting mentioned in his letter.

 

Midnight would arrive at the Ice Cream shop and sigh. He would enter through the door, keeping to the side of the room in shadow to minimize his presence. His gaze would glance from pony to pony in the room as the blue unicorn addressing the group spoke, as well as the questions they asked. It took every bit of his being to keep from answering a few of their questions himself, however this was not his meeting. Being a member of the Lunar Guard, he had full understanding of how the E.U.P. functioned and understood the true reason that S.T.A.R. was now being formed.He would take a deep breath and steep forward from the shadows, making his presence known to the group before taking his seat. "I have but one question, this group dose have a Royal Charter, correct?"

 

 

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The sarcasm that was dripping from Sombra's tone was... both relieving and infuriating at the same time. It seemed that he had no recollection of the events. Either he was a very good liar, or it was somepony that was probably emulating him to gain power and standing with WRAITH. Still, she would remain skeptical of him. He was an enemy of Equestria at some point, and she didn't have a built relationship with him like she had with Tempest. He was still an uncertainty. It was one of the main reasons she put him so high in the ranks. Keep your friends close, and enemies closer. If he proved well, then some additional standings, personnel, power, all might come his was. The same could be said about anypony else here as well.

 

Another pony chimed in, not having much to say himself. A rather strange creature, but not one that she hadn't heard of. She fought a couple of them in Neighpon when she was on EPIC rescue missions. Getting agents out when negotiations went south. When he said that he had been looking for someone and this might just help him find them she felt she needed to speak up on that. "While I hope you the best in finding whomever it is that you are looking for, I must remind you that this is an army... not a matchmaking service. not to say you can't do some hunting in the down time," she commented to him before glancing around once more. 

 

Her eyes turned to Stormstride as she spoke about Equestrians being about as well trained as school fillies. That they couldn't even take care of their own orphans, let alone tend to the needs of a military. She continued by saying that she would do as asked as long as it wasn't any suicide missions. That she wasn't going to give her life for the same ponies that abandoned her and her brother so many years ago. She shot her a glare, one as cold as the ice that was on the table. "Last time I checked, no pony in this room was born with a silverspoon in their mouth, and I can guarantee you that you are not the only pony in this room that grew up as an orphan. I am well aware of how snobbish many ponies can be, but I've also seen the flip side. There are ponies that do care, that want to better others but have no means of doing so. However, that being said, our job is going to be making sure that those ponies can not only go home, but have a home to go home to. To prevent others from having to experience what I personally, or you personally have experienced. It sucks trying to survive on your own as a filly. By being a part of this, you will ensure that less have to go through that pain. If you seek vengeance against those whom have done nothing to you, then you are no better than the ones who scorned you before." she replied as her brother spoke up, almost to confirm what she just stated. She did need to clear one thing up though.

 

"You may not be exiles, but anything done with this is going outside the law so requires a great deal of tactical planning. Things will not always be as they seem. Some of the missions will be cut and dry, and most of them, will be outside of Equestria. Anything in Equestria we will likely be going in hot, and engaging an already hostile environment. First priority in these events will be establishing a perimeter. Keep the civilians out. That's easy enough for me to do once I'm present. From there, we are to eliminate the thread through any means necessary. That being said, if you and your sister need a place to stay during down time, the base will be open for all at any time once it's finished. It should be finished within the year. Until then, feel free to take up lodging at some of the other hotels. I have massive discounts there and if you tell them that you're one of my operation managers for the hotel and casino that hides the base, well.... let's just said, you're not even gonna get rent cheaper in Ponyville, or any other small town." she responded to him Thunderbuck before looking over to Jijing. He asked about the capabilities of the Equestrian Military. She looked to the guard that had entered not too long before she had finished her first explanation on the organization and then back to the Qirin.

 

"A vast majority of the Equestrian Military forces are defensive based. Which means they wait for a threat to engage. By that point, they already have numbers and are already upon us. It's usually too overwhelming for the military because they've already scouted everything out and know what they are getting into. Simply put, so far every invasion as been well beyond the scope of what the military planned for. This last one my entire unit just happened to get split up and sent to different regions right before the attack on Canterlot. With this organization, I can make sure that doesn't happen again," she said looking back to Midnight. "Well, I know that you walked it a little bit late, so you probably didn't hear any of the times I mentioned that we didn't have clearance from the royals to do this. In fact, The princesses don't even know we exist yet," she said as Loose Canon spoke, stating that she had no reason to leave or to do anything else.

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Stormstride narrowed her eyes. "You think I don't know why most of these ponies in this room are here? I know we all had it rough. But I was 17 when our parents died. I was barely grown up and suddenly they wanted to take my baby brother away from me. Send him off to some foster home or orphanage. He was five. You know what that would have done to him?" she said in a low tone. "Stormstride..." Buck said as he put a hoof on her. She shrugged him off as her horn sparked, her temper flaring a bit. 

"Most every Equestrian is a blatant snob. And the few that aren't are just as bad because they do not stand up and do something about it. I have no love for any pony breathing except my brother. That said, what I can promise you is that if you lay down the orders I can and will follow them. However, if a pony, any pony gets between me and the objective with the intent to stop the mission from progressing... they become a threat. I don't care if they are under a spell or doing it of their own free will. What little bit of dirt our tent and cart take up is our home when we get a chance to stop. More times than not we end up having to leave town because while they enjoy our services when we are awake, the moment we decided to go to sleep our tent or cart is obstructing the operations of the town. So do not talk to me about ponies being a snob. And I've had my fair share of run ins with Celestia's soldiers. I've seen untrained dock workers with more brain and brawn than a troop of these idiots combined. You can say what you like about them, or promise whatever good exists in them you like. But you can never undo what they have done. You can preach at me about some of them being good when none of them would even look at us when I was screaming for help. Now you can either pay up and tell me what to do, or you can kiss my flank. I don't care which..." Stormstride's tirade done, she sat on her chair again and let out along sigh. She looked tired and her patience was worn thin. Ice and several others might have been able to tell, that her rant was just that, ranting. She was venting frustrations from years of pent up anger. Having gotten some of the pressure off, she relaxed finally. 

Buck looked at his sister, waiting for her to finish. Her little tangent was more just for show and he knew it. She was not the type to brandish her blade against unarmed or innocent ponies. She might butt heats and make displays of power. Her words could cut a few ponies deep to their pride. But she was not going to take it further than that. Looking at Ice he nodded softly, "Thank you for the offer. We may take it up when we reach the location. That said, I would like to request one thing. That when we are on down time, we get at least a few moments to ourselves of silence. Just ten minutes is all I ask. After that, we can be ready to answer whatever call you want. 

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"So, this is where a new 'secret elite force' is meeting for recruitment ..." Tongue Twister mused to herself as he looked over the ice cream shop - made, apparently, of actual ice.  She put a hoof against the wall for a moment - it was cold like ice, but didn't melt.

 

She made a rough guess as to how much magic would be required to not only summon so much ice, but to keep it safe and permanently frozen.

 

It was rather quite a lot.

 

"Well, this looks promising." she noted to herself as she slipped inside.  Over the years, there had always been talk about the need for a more active defense of Equestria - usually old guys in bars muttering 'someone shouda done something earlier !!'

 

The problem with that being resources - in order to be an effective force, it would have to be very well funded, and very skilled at investigation.  And of course, the royals couldn't know about its existence - grants plausible deniability if anything went wrong, and prevent the whole country from being dragged into a conflict (figuring a foreign power would see ANY action from Equestrians as a hostile act).

 

The combination of 'incredible resources', 'secret' and 'actually trying to protect instead of take over everything' is quite rare.

 

So far, it looked like this STAR organization probably had the resources; the rest, she'd have to see.

 

From her studies, she knew that all civilizations fall eventually; she'd rather Equestria NOT do so while she could do something about it.

She was looking for a more direct way to help - she could only alter and 'misplace' so many potentially dangerous artifacts !

 

Once inside the shop, she noticed that the only light was coming from arrows on the floor, directing her elsewhere.

 

She approached a meeting room, and heard a mare venting, and decided NOT to enter just yet.  After all, interrupting someone's rant can make you a TARGET of said wrath.  Once the situation calmed down, she risked a peek inside.

 

"Let's see - a Qirin, an aerion, an earth pony, whole lotta unicorns, a  Koma Inu ?!  Diversity of strengths, unity of purpose.  Good so far ..." she noted to herself, "GREAT SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS !  That mare has a matched set of aetheric amplifiers !  I've only read rumors that such things existed !"

 

"Black Ice, I presume ?" Tongue Twister asked as she looked for an empty seat.

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Miles gave no real response to the unicorn’s words aside from an annoyed grunt. He stood there for a few more moments before he ran out of patience with the pony in front of him staring at him. 

 

“And what are y-“ He growled out, stopping short when he actually saw who it was. “Sombra? Is that you?” He asked, his voice suddenly excitedly hopeful. Did he really just find his king here of all places? He certainly hoped so. 

 

————————

 

Yoru was staying quiet as she sat in her seat, listening to what was going on around her and conversing with In’ei silently. She was kinda hoping to get through this meeting without drawing too much attention to herself, which was becoming easier the more people came into the room to take the attention. 

 

“Oh! Do you have any kind of library I could take a look at? Perhaps you have a book I have yet to see.” Yoru finally piped up, looking over at Ice. 

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Everything going on within the room, the voice of Black Ice and Stormstride, were paid close attention to by Sombra even while he turned to see who belonged to that oddly familiar voice. His eyes alighted upon Miles, and it took him that moment to register who and what he was looking at. Having been around ponies for a little too long made Miles' appearance slightly jarring within this meeting room, but it- he- was unmistakable. A pleased, fang-baring smirk crossed Sombra's face and he rose, removing his rear hooves from the edge of Black Ice's table to approach the koma-inu.

 

"Why, of course it's me. Who else could even come close to my looks?" Sombra replied, shaking out his long mane. The way it moved, it had a slight wavy movement to it, like rippling shadows. "I thought you were gone, dead perhaps, to the years." Escaped, perhaps, from the Crystal Empire before his curse dragged it down with him. Abandoned him. Truly, no matter how intriguing or unusual the pony or creature, Sombra could trust nopony, and could trust the supposed loyalty of nopony. In his eyes, loyalty was a lie. It was time for him to discover what happened with Miles after his defeat, and the Crystal Empire's disappearance from the world, and see if there was anything to Miles's loyalty.

 

Behind him, the conversation went on between Black Ice and Stormstride, the latter pony answering the question Sombra asked. Equestria had no real protection and, as he could guess, no real army to speak of to deal with the real threats it'd been putting up with. It was both disappointing, and not surprising. The royal sisters seemed to have gotten soft over the years, and they'd let their citizens be soft, too. Spoiled, sheltered foals who put their princesses upon a pedestal. If he'd managed to regain the Crystal Empire and could actually go through with something he'd been thinking about, a plan he'd been toying with, Sombra would have likely met no resistance in his attempt to conquer Equestria, too. It would've been done for a variety of reasons, and for the umbrum most of all.. But that had never come to pass, and the umbrum were never freed. The king knew, in some small way, that they were just using him to achieve their freedom when he'd never asked to be their champion to start with.

 

An ear twitched towards the word, orphan, and Sombra paused to listen. It was surprising to hear that the angry Stormstride, and her brother Buck were- had been- orphans. He made a mental note to get to know the pair sometime, if he could. Perhaps he'd be able to work with them too if he was given a chance to. He wanted to know more about them, why such grey-furred ponies also had curved horns when nopony else he'd seen ever did.

 

The shadow king stepped up near Miles to glance back over the room, noticing there were two new arrivals. A new pegasus, and a certain bat-winged pony he recognized. An eyebrow lifted and he grunted, amused. It figured he'd see Midnight here of all places.. His attention drifted back to Miles, deciding he'd paid the rest of the room enough attention for now.

 

 

 

 

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I'm late, I'm late, I'M LATE!!!!! Raven screamed to herself in her head, her pace not slacking as she ran though the streets of Canterlot. She had received a most curious potion, one keyed to only work for her, and to spit out a scroll with a message. At first, she had thought it to be a mistake, she wasn't a hero, she didn't fight... It must of been meant for her parents... Examination of the potion, and the magical signatures within, however, told her that no one else of her blood would have been able to open the stopper. Why me? Why am I even going?

 

These thoughts only slowed her a little, as she slid to a stop in front of a store front, one familiar enough to her, seeing as she had walked past it several times... This is the place? Weird... An elite force based out of an ice cream shop? She double checked this was the location, and then tried the door, glad to find it unlocked. Giving a quick glance around, she headed in, breathing a little better in the cool, darkened interior. The way the ice was reminded her of her own ability, and it put a soft smile on her face. Too bad as she stood on the threshold of the stairwell it faded. She was nervous, this may be her one chance to follow in her families hoof-steps, and so, she took a deep, steadying breath. Once down, and into the room, she quickly scanned it, noticing several ponies were already there, including one she didn't expect at all... Is that King Sombra? Okay.... She saw the pony at the head of the table, her black body-glove and the orbs around her showing that either she was the leader of this force, or at least high up in it...

 

"Sorry I'm late, ma'am... Got caught up in studying a new spell theory..." Raven spoke up hesitantly, before finding an empty seat, that oddly enough had a folder with her name on it. Being the curious sort, she quickly opened it, and found most of her life's story written in black and white, short as it was. Glancing at the other's folders, she felt embarrassed. Her folder had only a few pages, despite the good she had thought that she had done in Canterlot, while most of the others seemed to have quite more detail in them. There was a nice section about her family, the house of Dupone, and their service to Equestria, their dedication to it... It made her smile once more...

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The rant that Storm went on... wasn't without merit. It was true. There were a lot of ponies that were snobs, and there were a many more that ignored what was going on as to not become the wrath of those they stood up against. She starting going on about how she had no love for anypony that breaths and that anyone that stood in the way was an enemy regardless of why they were there. She did say that she could follow orders, and the mission would get done though. As her rant came back around to her preaching, she raised an eyebrow. She commented how her brother was five when they tried to put him into a foster home. "THAT ALONE," Ice Storm started looking back to Storm. "Is more than I ever got. However, that is not important right now. Just know this. If you wish harm on a pony that you've never met because of what happened in the past, then you yourself are part of the exact problem you just described. The way of changing that, starts with you," she said, her words almost dripping in her venomous tone.

 

She took a moment to peer around as a few more came into the room. A couple of enlistees that she had heard back from. Once was another unicorn, and like Tempest, she had a damaged horn. She wasn't sure if that was something that was keeping her out of the REA, but there wasn't ever any record of her looking for it. There were however plenty of records on her family and the merits that they had she knew that she would do well even if she wasn't much of a fighter type. She apologized for being late and that she was working on research. Ice nodded. "It is quite alright. We're just getting started so you haven't missed much," she said looking back to Yoru. "And to answer your question, yes. We have access to several libraries and databases. If there's information you're looking for, we have ways of finding it. All you have to do is tell us what to look for," she said with a smile before nodding to her.

 

Finally the other mare that came in seemed to also look for an empty seat and seemed infatuated with the orbs around her. She looked to here when she asked about her identity and she nodded. "Indeed I am. This force, starting off small, will grow. This will be a force the like Equestria, and it's enemies have never seen. That said, Tongue Twister, Raven, you both are the new comers here. Tell us a little bit about yourselves. take a moment to get to know the agents that you will be working with.," she smiled sitting back in her chair.

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"Yes ma'am." Raven said as she stood once more. Fiddling with one of her saddlebags, she drew a folder out and laid it on the table. "I am Raven Shadowfire, last heir of House Dupone. It is a minor title, and one Equestrian has not actively seen the need for, however my family has served Equestria and her people since... well, for a long time. There has been a member of House Dupone serving in the REA in some capacity since its founding. My parents retired to raise me, but my mother was a captain of her own squad, and my father was one of the quartermasters. I was trained with every intention of being the next generation to join the TEA, but due to having to learn how to cast again, I was denied the chance. I thought I could fill the void being denied the chance to fulfill my families legacy with helping those less fortunate around Canterlot, but it's not enough. There's suffering across Equestria, and outside of it." 

 

Raven figured giving a brief history of her family would explain why she was here. "I cannot stand here, and honestly say that I've done the best I could do while this is still true. So, since I can't stand before the thrones giving the oath my family has given for generations, for as long as this organization keeps it mission, to protect Equestria, then I shall give it to you."

 

Her tone changed, the words solemn and carrying weight, sounding as if they might of once had magic backing them up. "My name, is meaningless, my title, empty, for I am an instrument and weapon of Equestria's will. This shall be true until my duty has been fulfilled, or I have been released from my duty. This I swear upon my honor as the last heir of House Dupone." The conviction in her words was almost palpable, and one could tell she meant it. "To that end, I took the liberty of preparing this for you, ma'am. It's all of House Dupone's asserts, minus a list of connections. My uncle is still going over those." Raven said as she slid the folder she had pulled out over to the one she thought was the commander, the mare with the orbs around her. "All of it's is open for the cause to use, as is my family's home here in Canterlot."

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Miles smiled at first as it truly sunk in. He had found his king again after all this time. After a few moments though, he kneeled in front of Sombra, bowing his head. 

 

“I wish I could have been at your side when you re-emerged, my king, but it would seem the curse affected my kind differently. I remained sealed for some time after you were freed, and you were nowhere to be found once I did awaken. I have spent every waking moment since in search of you, so that I may serve you again and fulfill our pact.” He said, keeping his head bowed the whole time. 

 

—————

 

Yoru smiled as it was confirmed that she would have access to various sources of information, libraries included. She was eager to learn all they had to teach her, especially any books with more information on her connection to In’ei. With that taken care of, the mare turned towards the new unicorn, listening as she introduced herself and told a bit of her backstory. The pledge at the end was quite interesting actually, and she made a mental note to write it down later for further study. 

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Raven. My name is Yoru Arashi.” She said, smiling kindly at the other mare. 

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