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A Chance Meeting (Marais de Feu) [Closed]


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FRR-RA-HOOOOO!!!

 

'Nautilus' deftly dodged the snapping beak of a saurian head, jumping back just in time to submerge herself in the bubbling swamp waters. An intense heat ruffled the golden fibers of her mane as she looked up, wide-eyed, at the furnace-like throat of the head that just attempted to cook her alive... Not that she would taste very good, but this creature clearly didn't know that.

 

"I love them with a little spice!" She cawed, goading the monster into a less dense patch of the swamp. Gnarled trees groaned and thick sludge exploded in a wave of muck as the belligerent giant pursued its wily prey, watching with lurid yellow eyes as she weaved through foliage and skimmed over sludge like some kind of confounded swamp seapony.

 

"Come on, slowpoke! You want a piece of this tail, don't you?" Shooting a grin over her shoulder, she waved her tail like a red flag, seeming to successfully enrage the monster further as she put on the speed.

 

One three minute eternity later, and she came upon a wide open space, pillars of flame bursting through viscous boils in the swamp. 

 

RRRRR-RAAA!!!

 

Turning around, Nautilus bore witness to three leering faces emerge from the verdant canopy, glistening red scales reflecting the scorching light of the flame pillars. The rest of its lengthy bodied soon followed it, girthy and muscular, and covered in thick plates like natural steel. Bits and pieces of that natural armor were missing in places, showing signs of frostbite and acid damage.

 

The monster hissed as the mare's horn lit up with a turquoise aura, an acidic stench staining the air around her as she faced the beast down.

 

"Well? You cornered me. What' are you going to do now?"

 

FRR-RA-HOOOOO!!!

 

A stream of yellow-orange light met her goading, and she had to duck under the muck to avoid getting toasted. The impact of the ray with the volatile waters created a chain reaction, three more fire-pillars gushing out as if in retaliation. 

 

That gave her an idea.

Surfacing with a gasp, she narrowly avoided getting her head chomped  clean off as the Fire Hydra chased after her, pressing her into a desperate gallop to stay ahead of its many fang-filled maws.

It was a tricky maneuver, and- GAH!

 

Nautilus got knocked clean off her hooves by the sinuous tail that raced to meet her, sending her tumbling back into the muck with a splash.

 

Not a moment later, a single furious beak impacted her landing zone with a tidal wave of sludge, boiling into a glowing orange bubble before exploding in a spectacular display of power.

 

For a second, it seemed the Fire Hydra had finally gotten her. That is, until it heard her taunting voice from its left.

 

"Aw, you almost got me that time!" She giggled, popping in a shower of turquoise sparks as two deadly rays swathed the area she was just standing in in burning plasma.

 

"Over here!"

FRR-RA

 

"Nope, here!"

 

RA-HOOO!!!

 

Things went on like this for several exhausting moments before-

 

!!!???

 

Glaring down into the waters, three sets of narrowed eyes quickly widened as it recognized the trap it had just fallen into.

 

Unfortunately, its reaction times were slowed as a sheet of ice flash-froze the beast in place. 

 

With a steady rise in tempo, the waters directly beneath the hydra grew into an angry yellow-red, a rumble rattling the beasts bones as it desperately struggled to free itself in time to avoid its immanent incineration.

 

RR-RAAA-AAHOOOOO-OOOOO!!!

 

Too late, an epic pressure impacted its soft and weakened belly, soon followed by two more jets of artificially enhanced flames as the hydra was lifted into the air and launched several meters above the treeline, streaming smoke and ash as it screamed its defiant rage against the heavens.

 

-AAAAA-HOOOOOOO- 

 

THUNK

 

The titan's roar is brutally cut short as the sundered stump of a tree breaks through its chest, impaling it and sending its three heads swinging back to clunk against the tree's base, frozen in shock and denial.

 

Its serpentine tail swings like a pendulum, twitching and curling in on itself before it, too, goes limp.

 

---

 

"Whoo, that was a toughie!" Nautilus laughed and swiped some sweat from her brow as she carefully picked her way through the foliage to locate ehr quandary. 'I wonder if any of those Neighjun fellows saw that?

 

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"....Really?" silver mane'd mare asked to have what she just heard, reconfirmed.

 

"Shaa, 'am certain Miss Silverhoof." said the Neighjun mare, with accent so thick one could hand their overwear on it.

 

Hou...or rather 'Rain Silverhoof' as she was known around this parts paused in consternation. An unknown mare...coming to this forsaken swamp for reasons, apparently similar to her own.

 

She wouldn't be able to gather even that much, if not for her carefully groomed disguise. 'Rain Silverhoof' was seemingly a vagrant and trader, coming to Marais at least once or twice a year. Doing that for more then three decades made the mare something of a local celebrity, with her arrivals treated like holiday of sorts. In short, ponies here trusted her.

 

"Mais, so will ya be staying for a night Miss Rain? We can throw up some party real quick." the mare asked.

 

"Take your time then." sorceress replied. "I need to meet this....'Nautilus' mare." she added before throwing back her saddlebags and marching into the swamp.....

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Even for mare with centuries worth of experience, picking up a trial in a marsh was no easy feat. The nature itself was quick to cover and erase any clues and hints, and her 'Soul Sense' was little help in place so teeming with life.

Yes, teeming. To untrained eye, Marais was combination of horror-worthy swamp, and fiery hell. But as some wise pony somewhere said 'Life finds a way'. The fire crabs was skittering among trees roots, the ember birds nesting in the treetops, and she even seen chimera or two during her day and a half search. Those, she had to beat into submission, but aside from that her search was uninterrupted.

 

And then she came along an evidence that even Marais itself couldn't erase quickly. A trail of trampled foliage, knocked out of the way trees. And at the end of it....

 

"........." Shuren stared with a frown, at the carcass of the fire hydra. After quick examination her feelings were...conflicted. Apparently, the thing was killed by luring it into a trap. Enhancing flames in such environment was...risky. One reckless spell, and the much of the gasses trapped under the muck and waters of the marsh could be ignited into enormous explosion, instead of predictable jets of flame. The ability to enhance fire despite that, only spoke about control and skill of mare in question.....

 

On the other hoof......bothering with all of that, only to take so very little of the creature spoke of extreme wastefulness. Hou couldn't care about morality of the act, but fire hydras were rare in Equestria continent (although apparently more abundant in unwelcoming marshes of southern Hesperia....half a world away) breed slowly, and every part of them was valuable in one way or another. And this mare, slain this creature for equivalent of few bags of body material. This wasn't hunting. This was...this was poaching! Stupid, wasteful poaching. And Hou hated to make thing go to waste.

 

Peeved, she reached to her own bags, and pulled out a jagged jade crystal. The mineral lit up in sinister glow when she used her magic, and she was greeted by the sight of both Wūyún and one of her minions.

"I came upon a valuable find..." she said. "I am sending the coordinates. Send in the 'Condors' and strip it bare before carrion feeders get to it first. Take even the bones"

"As you command Lady Shuren. Will you be waiting for them?" masked minion acknowledged the order before inquiring.

"No....." white mare said, as she now held crystallized remains of an aether from flame enhancement spell used by a mare. " I will be searching for a mare who did this. To give her a lesson, one about an old Equestrian saying...." she said as she start to wade again...but this time, following a magical trail....

 

"Waste not, want not...."

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It took some doing, but eventually she managed to pick up on the hydra's landing zone through a mix of sending the mass panic that radiated out from its sudden appearance and subsequent demise, and the strong aetheric signature such a monster gave off, even in death.

 

In a blip that was as silent as the dead, Nautilus appeared stop her slain for, getting a good look at the wooden splinters and jagged, red-staindd trunk protruding from its chest. It was a visceral sight, but she'd seen much worse.

 

A quick scan of the area confirmed she was far from the first pony to make it there first, but that was of little matter. There was no way anypony was going to be able to extract this thing before she got what she came for.

 

It was unfortunate that the heart was... Gone. It probably would have been a big help, but this was more or less the first fire hydra she'd slain here. 

 

Chuckling, she closed her eyes and concentrated; a pale, turquoise glow began to envelop her as she opened up her metaphorical magic pores, carefully absorbing the chaotic energies of her environment in preparation of her big spell.

 

Being a mere simulacrum, she lacked the biological components to properly make use of her potions, but that didn't mean she didn't have special tools at her disposal for just a job such as this.

 

As she went about her business, a thin beam of light lanced into the sky, pulsing outwards at its peak to create a thin, translucent some around the immidiate area. It'd make perceiving the area difficult for anyone who didn't already know where to look, and even then. 

 

best not to have any witnesses.

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Hou spend few hours following the aether trial. Whoever this mare was, her journal was quick chaotic, even going back and forth in places. This only could mean that the mare was franticly searching for something.....

 

So it was even more surprising when the trail seemingly started to turn around and started to aim at the direction she found the slain hydra...could it be that....?

 

That was odd. This could only mean that the mare that slain the hydra with a trap, and a somepony that removed some body parts were NOT one and the same.

In short, 'Nautilus' (and there was no way in Tartarus it was real name. Unless you were sea-pony, siren or kelpie that is) set up the trap, it ended up killing the reptile, and some third party came along and stole the prize of somepony effort. That would make Hou's irritation abate....if not for a logical fact, that without help, 'Nautilus' couldn't make use of all hydra parts either!

This made her as guilty of the wastefulness as the 'Third Party' (which Hou decided to call 'Pony W' from now one).

 

Sorceress started to reach out into her back once again, to fetch another artifiact to confirm that 'Nautilus' was really heading to, or already was at the hydra carcass. However, the beam of silvery light shooting into sky, became a conformation enough of that suspicion.

"Mafalda Barrier...." she identified the spell on sight. Despite the name, it was not a barrier. instead, it was a powerful perception filter spell over large area. When cast it would remove ability to perceive certain object or objects by those to that wander into it's range by any of their senses. One could even step on what they were searching, and still will be unable to recognize it as something they were searching for.  Aside from initial cast, it was also very subtle, invisible to the naked eye (aside from rare gift of arcane sight, but it was 1 in 400 000 000 occurrence so....). The only limitation was no being able to act violently towards those affected by the spell, otherwise the masquerade was broken.

 

Luckily Hou was outside of initial range cast, otherwise she wouldn't know it was used in fist place, and would be helpless until 'Nautuilus' was long gone. And since she knew the spell, she also knew how to break it....

" "Nautilus' doesn't want visitors...." Hou realized, as she reached into her pockets, for two vials, containing silvery liquid....

"...Unfortunately for her, I don't do 'Requests'...."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Few minutes later, 'Nautilus' could feel that Mafalda Barrier was dispelled.....

 

No, not dispelled....saying so implied some subtlety or stealth...or at least, care for such things. Instead, it was SHATTERED. 'Rakh'noh Breaker' was the most brutal and forceful way of dealing with the Barrier, and that in itself was a massage. 'I know you are here, and I am coming', that was what the usage of it implied. While 'Nautilus' couldn't hear it's caster just yet, the flames of the swamp itself served as it's harbingers. Slowly, more and more of them - first in in the distance, and subsequentially closer ones - turned from natural red-orange, to ghastly greens or purples. And soon enough 'Nautilus' found herself surrounded by that unnatural light. Almost at the same time, a squelching noise of somepony wading through the swamp could at last be heard.

 

Not long afte, a mare came into the her sight. Raven black, long mane and tail, snow white coat, and black dragon leather duster on her back. Few pouched along legs and waist, containing useful tools without a doubt. She didn't seemed to emit any magical aura....but that only implied incredible mastery of her arcane powers, being able to stop natural aether leakage. And last of all, her stance......it was one of somepony that was confidant in being the most dangerous thing in her surroundings. The white mare stopped, sizing 'Nautilus' up with her violet eyes.....and...taking a whiff?

 

"One from Andalusia....? Nooo...something's not right." she said before whiffing again, few times in fact. Her brews were furrowed as if she was puzzled by this strange mare before her.  "And your Soul.....Ah.....a copy then! And twofold one at that! You are far from home." sorceress exclaimed in realization. After a pregnant pause she continued.

"I am a reasonable mare. Could you...enlighten me, how did you planned to salvage four ton carcass, from an environment where biological matter degenerates even faster then in humid Unyasi jungle?" she asked, ready to judge every word of 'Nautilus' answer.

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'Nautilus' glanced in the direction of the disturbance the instant her spell was rather rudely dissolved, the un-subtle glow around her failing to follow the same pattern as she continued to channel energy into her own reserves.

 

A small smile came to her face as she sized up what was appearing to be a rival of sorts. Her tools and lack of magical presense spoke of a mare that knew what she was doing, but could she stop the copy before she was finished with her business? 

 

Only time would tell. 

 

Another flick of light from her horn, and the area around them was captured in the grip of a Slow Time spell, the only creatures exempt from its effects being Nautilus herself and her 'visitor.'

 

"I'm surprised to hear the name of my homeland on the tongue of a native to this land." She said, showing no signs of stress or worry despite the entity before her being several time stronger than the mere simulacrum. "And one knowledgeable of my machinations! An accomplished mage, perhaps...?"

 

She made a show of focusing on her equipment, that smile widening just a bit. "Ah, or perhaps an alchemist. A profession I have found rare amongst the ponies of this land. Curious, how did you come upon this ancient practice?"

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Time slowing heh? Temporal magic was complicated, but it rewarded it's difficulty with sheer advantage it provided in various situations. However, even those that mastered it to greatest extend found it taxing. Hou called into question usage of such spell as a show of force...when all those energy could be useful later. But it wasn't her problem....

 

"Oh child...." sorceress begun closing her eyes, and shaking her head with bemused smile. "Do you think you are the first...'expatriate' I came along?" she revealed. "You wouldn't in fact make it into first ten. That, and subspecies of one of your templates did exists here at one point. They just simply went...extinct." Hou added, opening of of her eyes. They showed 'amusement' rest of her face displayed.

 

Shuren ignored the questions about her background. Most would see a mare that tried to label her conversation partner. However....

"You stalling. And you avoiding answering my question." she cut through all the chaff with this simple observation. After a pause, she added.

"I know your world Miss 'Nautilus'. One does not have to enter, to observe it. And I also know that your realm have no direct counterpart of me. I also saw the mare that was template of your soul. Do you know what I found?" Hou asked.

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Out in the temporally altered field, tiny pinpricks of turquoise light blipped into existence, barely formed and subject to the machinations of slowness. They were Incredibly small, little more than background radiation, waiting to bloom into a beautiful flower of magic. 

 

Nautilus breathed out, and with her blue foggy breath, the aura surrounding her seemed to seep into the deceased hydra, the intensity continuing to grow in minor increments. "If you know of my 'realm', as you put it, then you should also know that I am a mere shadow of a power that resides there."

 

Humming, she grinned, several more little dots of light appearing above her, visually indistinct from the noon sky. "You have a threatening aura about you, miss 'Jade.' I would advice caution interfering in my projects, but perhaps we may assist each other?"

 

"Tell me what you want from my catch, and I may grant it... And more. After all, I, too, happen to be older than I look. I know a trick or two that you most likely do not."

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Hou scoffed when 'Nautilus' mentioned her other 'template'.

"There is no point in power if it consumes itself. Your original, in her mad quest, doomed herself. Either her mind will further unravel, making her descent into insanity so deep she will become harmless..." Hou mused.

"...Or she will earn one grudge too many, making multiverse dog-pile her. She might think she will be untouchable due to all her safeguards....but we both know there are fates far worse then death, aren't we?" sorceress added with a smirk. But not at the though of other Rose potential fate...instead Shuren smirked at magical display before and around her.

 

"Regardless...I am not worried about the mad-mare, and I am not worried about you. As you said, you are mere 'shadow' of her..." Hou said while taking a few steps forward.

"And what apt description it is! Like a shadow, all your life is shaped by Her. Your very creation, your species, your capabilities. Even your resolve to distance from your template...to become Her antithesis...is defined by Her existence. You can't escape that." sorceress kept talking. Her voice was venom, her teeth were swords, and her tongue a spear. And worst of all, her words were undeniable.

"And you are terrified of Her. Not that She would do anything to you physically, no.....By disposing of you,  She shown She wants nothing to do with you, and You know that. No...what you really fear...is turning into Her." white mare mused.

"Ahh you probably tell yourself that you different, that since you saw how She ended, how She now IS, you can avoid the same pitfalls! But deep down....deep down, you can't deny the similarities. Same soul. Same mind. Same  HEART!  For all the experiences you by now made yours and yours alone, You are still carved from the same cloth! Each day you fight to be Her as She was, not Her as She now IS.....And since now you allowed yourself to love,  you shudder at the thought that - just like Her - all it can take is one bad day...." Hou paused for an effect.

 

"....One bad day, filled with sorrow.... And that it could be ALL that it takes, for You to to begun journey towards that same downward spiral into abyss...and before you even notice..." as sorceress said those last words with emphasis, her eyes shifted downward, at the stagnant waters they were standing in. On it's surface, was a small metal cylinder. It had green light. The light was blinking.

 

Second after both of their eyes laid on it, the cylinder exploded! Filling the air with black dust, and metal fillings gilding in the air, glued all over their surface with the same dust.

 

And all magic in large vicinity shut down. Immediately.

"One Chrysalis legacy, that's not complete waste of time..." Hou explained. "Any magic in the area that doesn't come from magical items is now cancelled in the vicinity. That 'simulacrum' you are now hiding behind technically falls under that, so that's why it didn't shut down and fell like a rag-doll 'Nautilus'. Good luck however, casting any spells through it before swamp's slow air, and even slower water currents don't disperse the material. But of course you already know all of this." sorceress laid the facts in detail. She could right now, probably walk next to 'simulacrum' in question and rip it to shreds, but instead she opted to keep talking, not moving further from where she was. That to, was a massage.

 

"....As I said, I am no worried about current you. I am however understandably....cautious, about what You can become. But I also a reasonable mare. And instead of...I dunno... - sending a assassin to end any possibility of you turning into omnicidal maniac, and instead hurting that spa mare during the attempt?.....I simply won't give you that bad day...." Hou stated the simple solution with a cocky smirk.

"What I WILL do, is give you Three Promises. First, I promise to not irreplaceably damage that little town we both found so charming. Second, I promise I will not touch that little earth pony mare you have your eyes on.....perhaps I even go out of my way to make her and her sister safer then they are now?" unicorn mare mused.

"And Third...." Hou's gaze turned sharper, and her voice deeper and more threatening "...IF by some chance...you would start that downward spiral regardless.....I will put you DOWN, before you will get to deep into that insanity, and get too much power. And I will move Heaven and Hell to do so. For all three of those, you have my word." sorceress vowed.

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Nautilus' smile gradually waned as the sure-hoofed sorceress rattled on detail after detail with stunning effectiveness. Everything she said was true, she was afraid of slipping, of becoming what, deep down, she knew she really was... One wrong turn and she'd be travelling down the same road, and she knew it. The very thought of this madmare even knowing about Aloe was enough to make her non-existent blood boil, but in situations like these it is best to keep a level head.

 

Jade was a manipulator, of that she was sure. Looking her over more carefully now, she noted her 'promises', as if she held the moral high ground. She was attempting to establish herself as a 'friend' of hers, 'reassuring' her that she wouldn't let anything bad happen. To be honest, it was enough to make the poor mare more than a little paranoid... she could feed that seedling of worry already sprouting in her mind, soon to blossom into an elaborate scheme that would forever ensure the safety of her and hers... But for now, she should focus on the very real threat Jade presented.

 

"That is all very generous of you, Miss Jade." She stared in a cordial tone, equipping a likewise smile. "However, your assistance is not required. I am more than capable of keeping her safe."

 

"Furthermore, you seem to have me mistaken." She chuckled, "This form's purpose is simply for hunting and gathering. There are so many exotic materials with so much potential here, and seeing as I can be in multiple places at once, it would be folly of me to squander such opportunities."

 

Regardless of Jade's attempts, the simulacrum's steady glow- which had dispersed almost completely during the surprised attack- began to return to her with much more potency than before, rapidly engulfing the fallen reptile in an explosive show of magical power. 

 

A steady thrum- almost a buzz- drowned out the white noise of the swamp before-

 

THWAR-

 

The hydra suddenly erupted in turquoise light, whisked away to a safely warded safehouse in Eggwater Bay. All that was left was the gently hovering form of Nautilus, who herself had become significantly less corporeal than before.

 

Regardless, she smiled. "Ah, now that that is out of the way, we may exchange discourse without such a visceral distraction, wouldn't you agree?"

 

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" You assume too much. It would be generous if I gave you a choice." Hou said with haughty expression. "Your desires or compliance aren't a factor, Rose Compass. I am too....fond of the world to let your potential, future, insane self rend it. It's damaged enough as it is, and I WON'T tolerate any attempts for it's restoration. Even if the reason is 'Love'. If you start behaving like rabid mutt for sake of restoring you beloved, I will do ANYTHING to foil you. Even if I have to. whistleblow Harmony Chosen or...."  sorceress eye twitched for a moment, before she spoke the next name with utter contempt... "...Discord to do so. So be so kind to NOT give me reason to get to such extremes. You tolerate me, and I tolerate you." unicorn mare said.

 

'Nautilus' giggle earned the 'simulacrum' another disapproving squinting glare.

"Yes they are. They are renewable resources as well...If you take care NOT to over-gather and over-hunt. Something you should take special take care with. After all, most changeling have...bad record when it comes to reining-in their wants and desires." Shuren's voice was once again smooth, but with subtle hint of warning underneath it.

 

The tension was interrupted by creak of suddenly burdened branch. Hou took her gaze away from the Rose and smirked. On branches, roots and trunks of swamp trees, were masked ponies of all races, at least six dozen of them overall.  Wearing black, all encompassing clothing made the identification all but impossible. Hou's 'Condor's' have arrived.

 

It was that moment , 'Nautilus' chose to perform her disappearing act on the slain fire hydra.

 

After a stunned silence Hou spoke again. "...I see. An innate resistance. I have to improve upon design then..." and she surprisingly sounded...much less angry? Brooding?

'Condors' however, turned their masked visages at the 'simulacrum'. Half of them started to unsheathe weapons that could only be described as unholy spawns of sword and bone saw.

Before they could ponce at 'Nautilus' however, sorceress extended her hoof and shook her head to stop them. This made her servants return to expectant perching on pieces of environment. They will be no butcher work here today.

"So you not as wasteful as I thought. Still...." white mare calm exterior turned into smug grin once again. "...You will find that your quarry is missing few key pieces. Liver, among other things I assume? I didn't had time for closer inspection earlier." she mused, before quickly adding "And before you extend the accusing hoof - no, it was not me. I believe there is some....third party here who pulled a fast one on you. Who or what it is, I don't know and I don't care. It was at least sentient, no bite or scratch mark on the carcass. You should keep a closer look on your game in the future." Hou added with a scoff coming along with her 'advice'.

 

When 'Nautilus' proposed to extend their discussion, Shuren tilted her head.

"Is there anything else left to discuss? I don't believe there is. That said..." Hou smiled again. "...You are welcome to prove me wrong. Or, to change the topic." she added, focusing her full attention on Rose once again.

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She didn't seem particularly bothered by present company, shifting in place to get comfortable. "Alchemy," the vaguely translucent pony said, quite simply. She tilted her nose up at her fellow pony, a curious glint to her eyes. "Since you seem to familiar with my derivative counterpart, you should also know what it is I seek to accomplish. Immortality can serve you just as well as it could serve your servants." She lifted a hoof to point in their vague direction without looking.

 

"The materials I used in my world are absent here. The formula, although complete, will not work here. I must create a new means of curing this condition, and beasts like the hydra I just slew will further that goal. You can further that goal as well... " She then tilted her head to the side, squinting at the mare. "Or perhaps you've found your own solution already? It does not matter all that much, the goal is the same with or without your help."

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The moment Rose mentioned 'Immortality' Hou froze. And she stood motionless all the way until 'simulacrum' mentioned how useful sorceress could be for that goal. And then...

 

"Heh...haha...Ahahah...." unicorn mare started giggling. And as much as he wanted to contain herself, she couldn't...

 

"BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

"A....AHAHAHAH...MY...MY SIDES!" she wheezed, while one of her hooves moved up and down in mirth, splashing the swamp water.

"You...You still stuck up on that idiotic, impossible dream?! BWAHAHAHA!" Hou kept laughing, as if she heard the best of jokes.

"Okay...okay, I...I am fine now..Bwahaha!" teary eyed, white mare did her best to rein her amusement.

"Alright..let's..haha...let's assume your plan worked and you gave everypony eternal life...hahaha..." sorceress still struggled wit few rebellios giggles.

"How long you think this world would be able to sustain ever-growing generation of immortals? Ten generations? Eight? I calculated an answer for that question once, in boredom...." Shuren revealed with a smirk.

"Two. Two measly generations! Oh you naive, short-sighted queen! You so stuck with abolishing death itself, that you didn't though about logistics of that plan! Even if you would prevent everypony from dying, soon you would be left with malnourished world full of living skeletons, begging to perish!" Hou pointed out.

"Second...they wouldn't be grateful for it! Oh sure they would sing you praises for it at first.....but soon..soon enough it would become...normal. Expected. They would demand eternal life." she explained. "And after few centuries too soon...you would find them performing the most sickening of atrocities. Not out of malice, no. Out of sheer boredom." sorceress continued.

"...And that's because most sapient minds aren't able to bear the burden of immortality Compass! For them, life is worthy living because there is an expiration date! Every second is precious! They wouldn't know what to do with themselves, if infinite time was dropped on their laps. So they shouldn't get it. No...eternal life should be something that one has to earned! Through fights, scheming and struggle! And even that should only shield them from ravages of time. To not get complacent, to keep their minds and bodies sharp, always at peak performance." unicorn mare paused, her stare suddenly becoming vacant and lifeless.

"I glimpsed the world like that once Rose. World when life finally, unrecoverably defeated death. One of ever growing mass of cancerous flesh! Instead of void of space, endless ocean of rotten pus, whole planets and starts mere tumours in it! Fanged circular maws, tentacles moldy suction cups, bloodshot eyes, filled with putrid blood! It was greatest horror I could have witnessed. It was worse then most accursed depths of Tartarus!" Hou voice never raised above whisper during that description, the nightmare she witnessed apparently still vivid in her mind.. But as soon as she finished, Shuren's glare was again sharp, and cold.

"Some call me monster, and I don't care about that label. But even I would not condemn universe to something....something like this!"

 

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Rose had to admit... She hadn't actually thought it out all that much. She could remember the spark: that one moment of realization, an acknowledgement of the impermanence of all things, and how it made her feel in that moment.

 

Confused, angry, lost, and a profound sadness.

 

She never wanted anyone to suffer the pain of loss like she had, and after finding her love, she never wanted to suffer it again herself. She had thought a cure to mortality was a solution, but would it have instead been a curse to bear on his shoulders?

 

Sorting through her borrowed memories, her face grew pale as she realized how warped and twisted they were, how muddled her mind had become in those latter days. The single-mindedness of her goal, and how it had lost all reason and meaning after her love's death, and even before it.

 

No... Perhaps everlasting life wasn't what she truly sought, but she would pursue it nonetheless. Because if there was one thing Jade was right about, it was that it should be earned. 

 

"... You are right." She said quietly, and she bowed her head, growing dimmer. "You're so right... I hadn't stopped to think about my stolen dreams and what they may have meant. I carried over a madmare's delusions and took them to heart, but you've helped open my eyes..."

 

Lifting her head up, she locked eyes with Jade and smiled, although it was a wan thing. "Thank you." Straightening up, her posture became more confident, and her smile sharper. "But I will still pursue this elixir of eternity, granted with a few caveats. It will not be my primary goal now, and when I manage it, it should not be made public, but bestowed upon those worthy... Perhaps I am not the mare to judge a ponies merits so, but neither are you."

 

"Regardless," her eyes wandered off, into the distant, gas-choked skies above the swamp with its boiling clouds and noxious atmosphere. "I am still a patron of life, and will continue to devise medicine and cures to what ails I can. Ponies may not live forever, but that does not mean they do not deserve a healthy, comfortable life up until their inexorable terminus."

 

Finally, she looked back down at Jade, expressionless. "My offer still stands. You can work with me, and together we can uplift the population's health. Improve it. I'll soon be in a position to make change where it is due, but you... I am uncertain where you stand."

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sorceress just stood there, with inscrutable expression, while changeling had her little epiphany. But when Rose finally finished, and it was her turn to speak, it became obvious...

 

"My, my.....gratitude? I last saw such open-mindedness during 'Battle of Chilly Creek' 700 years ago. So many ax wielding caribou, and not enough helmet wearing Equestrian's..."....that she was only doing her best to mask her surprise, with both stoicism and black humour sarcasm. And underneath all of that...a hint of respect?

 

"Mind you, while I am not agreeing entirely, I can see you are already wiser then most....Rose." Hou continued. "So many refuse to listen to things they find...unpleasant. The fact that you do, without rejection if telling enough." she added what - probably - could be considered a compliment.

 

"Also, no." Shuren quickly rejected Compass proposition of working together. "Allow me to disperse your misapprehensions about what I am. While I seek to repair the world, I am not a healer Rose. Right now I am a predator, one that seeks to clean up and improve her hunting grounds. And if I have to sacrifice the few eggs while making this omelet? So be it. These that will survive will prove their merit by just that, surviving." white mare said, revealing her social darwinist's views.

"I am not interested in this 'population' of yours, only exceptional members of it. That said, do as you will. I wont impede your work if you don't impede mine but....consider this..." Hou said.

"Give mare a carrots, and she will be hungry tomorrow. Teach mare how to cultivate a carrots, and you feed her for a lifetime." sorceress recited an old Long-Guo proverb.

"I don't know what you did for your 'work' so far. Perhaps you spoke with Princess to seek aid, perhaps you will. This is not what you should pursue. What you should do, is becoming a side of your own. Not tied to me, not tied to Sparkle's nor anyone else. But your only one entity, no matter how much skill or power you have. What you truly need is followers..." Hou glanced tellingly at the 'Condors' that were still patiently waiting for their Mistress.

"Or, in your case, disciples...." she advised.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Disciples?" Rose echoed, blank-faced at first before breaking out into laughter. "Miss Jade," she said, after reigning in her wild mirth, "I may be one pony, but I can be- and am- in multiple places at once."

 

Finally, she calmed down all the way, casting her gaze off to the swarm of creatures surrounding her without an inkling of fear. "And besides that, I have my children, or son-to-be brood." Lifting her hoof, a small, pale light like an ember sparked to life above it, causing the hoof to briefly becoming transparent. "Unlike Equestrian changelings, which I have heard form hives of exorbitant and unsustainable numbers, my kind produce a select few specialized spawn who's capabilities are applicable to the quote 'quality over quantity'." Twisting her hoof this way and that, the flame never left the top half, growing brighter and more defined. "When the time comes, they will aid me in my endeavors,  and if I must, I will create my own vassals."

Now the fire was a full blaze, turquoise edges snapping at the nonexistent wind in a fury. "Having Twilight supporting me is nice, and so is having a love to share my experiences with, but at the end of the day, it has been, and always will be me. It is by my hoof that this form exists, it is by my will that my former crew was established, and it was under my own power that I was transported here, to grace this world with a new dawn of prosperity."

The flame suddenly guttered out as she snapped it, like breaking the neck of a phoenix and watching it turn to dust. "Neigh, Jade, my friend, I do not need disciples as you do, for I possess all the tools and power I will ever need."

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"Oh? It's a rare and useful technique indeed. But while each of your copies can have full access to you knowledge, your aether capacity and magical power is split with each use. Every considered the situation when each of them came upon two beings on brink of death, who only can be saved by your full potential? Would you be willing to choose which of them lives or dies?" Hou presented Rose with another hard question. "No matter how much you try, there will never be enough copies."

 

Of course watching Rose squirm over hard philosophical questions wasn't as much a treat as hearing that changeling queen will a parent soon. Interesting....

 

"Congratulations. Although I do find it amusing that you plan your children's futures before they are even born. And without other parent's input." sorceress made another jab at Rose 'control freak' tendencies.

But as Rose kept going about building a kingdom, and she started to speak about herself as a gift to Equus, Shuren's smirk grew wider and wider.

"Careful Rose, your 'Template' is showing. She wanted to bring him back by 'Her Own Power', with her own way, just as you want to bring this new 'Golden Age' on your own and according to your vision.....I am sure I don't have to remind you what atrocities she resorted too because of that attitude, do I?" white mare mare said, making another stinging remark.

 

"You are a refugee here Rose. This is not your world. And it won't be for a really lonooog time. And yet you are already making designs for it. This isn't a mindset of  a healer, but I saw it before. It's very ambitious...most often displayed...in conquerors...." Hou mused with %$&#-eating grin.

 

"You may be wise for your age, but you still naive! You are foolish to think that one can be always prepared for every opportunity. I lived for very twelve centuries, and no matter how careful I was, there were situations again and again that left me blind-sided, and only survived due to adaptability. And - as we already established- you are your own worst enemy Rose. Do you really think, that your Love and children will call you out on your worst tendencies? Fool! Don't only they won't know what those issues are at first, when they do, they will care too much, be too revering to hurt your feelings!" sorceress continued with harsh lecture.

 

Hou had to admit, when she woke up this morning, she didn't expect to have to what amounted to a therapy session with dimension-displaced, cloned changeling queen.

.....That wasn't a phrase you think everyday.

 

"And besides, how do you want to help the world if you cut yourself from the influence of the world? You know what I think about your plan? What I see? A queen that - based on memory of one of her genetic templates - withdraws into her small, self-built community, afraid of the larger forum, to avoid outside extinction that will never come. You will stay in your little pond, leaking whatever 'world-view' suits you  into growing cesspool of society at large. And this 'truth' will neither mesh or clash with other opinions. You won't be invalidated, but neither you will be right. This is existence of a mare ruled by fear, surrounded by yes ponies. On in your case, yes-changelings. And finally extinction WILL come, but not from outside, but from your own inflexibility." she summed out with a smirk.

 

"You can't help this world, invest in it, without submerging yourself into it first!. How can you heal what you don't understand? And this understanding will bring shift in yourself. As much as you wish to avoid it, change will come. It is unavoidable, undeniable. Your only hope is, that it will go into opposite direction that your Original had gone. What refuses to change, dies. I am not a mare I was two hundred years ago, just like she isn't a mare I was five hundred years ago and so forth. And if you wish to help the world, you have to change along with it Rose!"

 

 
   
   
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Change along with it, huh? Ironic that this was something the changeling had overlooked. Even after everything that had been said- the jarring revelations- she still clung to the mare she used to be, trying to hammer a warped image into something beautiful. 

 

Rose sighed, and her form dimmed even more, now better resembling a ghost. 

 

"I will change," she murmured quietly, more to herself than her spectators. "I have to. I just... Don't know how."

 

She looked down at her pale hooves, as if searching for answers. Frustration etched itself upon her muzzle as she clenched them, then released it with another labored exhale.

 

How was she supposed to go about doing this?

 

she was falling into the same trappings that made that madmare, despite her own efforts, but she can still fix this. She has time. Nothing but time, and ambition.

 

She wasn't going to try and bring life eternal to this realm anymore- that was unreasonable, and not the solution here. All she could really do is improve the quality of life of its inhabitants, but... Was that enough? Healing the ailed, curing the sick? There's so much more she could do, so much she could... Teach.

 

... Yes, she could teach them. Although they could never rival her in depth and understanding, she could raise a new generation of learned alchemists who spread their teachings- and healing touch- across the land.

 

She could have her own disciples.

 

Looking back at Hou, she couldn't quite muster up a smile. Looking at her followers, she could.

 

She stood up.

 

"Perhaps you were onto something about the disciples," she said out loud, studying each and every face in attendance. "I have an idea..."

 

Checks and balances. The original Rose went mad because her ambitions went unchecked, until she was too dangerous, and too strong, to do anything about. She didn't really feel she needed anybody watching her moves- especially the dark magic- but alchemists could still learn regardless.

 

"We'll see each other again. In the meantime, this form will continue with her tasks in De Feu while I meditate..." She cast her eyes amonst the gathered creatures. "Unless, perhaps, one of your underlings would be interested in some tutelage?"

 

"Perhaps the best way to help the world is to teach those already in it how to help each other. Luckily, I happen to be pretty savvy in that regard ~" she smirked. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hou just scoffed when changeling queen expressed her doubts about her further development.

"You expect me to tell you how? I may very well, try to answer 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' or 'What is truth?'." sorceress mocked. "Nopony alive will tell you with 100% certainty. I just can tell you what I adhere to. And I believe we all make our own purpose in life. So stop moping and make yours." Shuren 'asked', not bothering to soften her words.

 

"And honestly, you were transparent for me, but don't try to be literal with it. But worry not, for me everypony is see-through. It's...a hobby. You pick more then few of them like me, if you live that long." white mare mused.

 

Compass's words of 'appreciation' were met with hoof-wave.

"Good for you. And as long as your 'ideas' will not be in line 'Bring Eternal Night' I doubt I would care about things you do or want. That is...unless you give me a reason to do.."  sorceress said, in tone that made it unclear if it was a threat, invitation for a bargain or both.

 

Rose proposition extended towards hr 'Condors' made Shuren rise an eyebrow for a second.

"You mistake 'disciples' with 'servants'. And since they are the former - and have no choice but to be happy with it - resignations from service of Hou Shuren is not accepted. If you want some proper recruitment for that...." unicorn managed to stop herself from saying 'Waste of time'' aloud "....project of yours,  print some flyers first." she 'advised'.

 

"Now, unless you want to bring something...important, I will take my leave. As much enjoyable it is to scoff at others faults, I have schedule to adhere too."

 

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'What a rude pony' Rose thought, but decided not to make it an issue. Let the sorceress beleive what she wants if it makes her happy. "At this given moment?" She shook her head. "No. You are the one who intervened in my affairs, Ms. 'Shuren.' a productive intervention, but an intervention nonetheless."

 

She made a show of inspecting her ghostly hoof, then. "Although you may find what remains of that fire hydra when I have concluded my research and acquired what I need." At this, sho looked up at the Condors again, studying them. 

 

Servants. In many ways, they were like a crew; loyal, probably talented, and they all more than likely serve a vital function. She couldn't help but draw the stark contrasts either, whereas her crew was distinct through personality quirks, these things didn't strike the changeling as much of anything special.

 

Hmm... Actually... 

 

"'Hou Shuren'," the words came out like a command, even if they were a mere form of address. Her crimson eyes zeroed in on the pony with a smoldering intensity, her body gaining a little more definition. "If that's your real name. How would you feel about a trade of services? An... Apprentice, of sorts."

 

"It's clear to me that, despite your great numbers, you lack what I would like to call distinction amongst your ranks. Would I be correct to assume the faces blend into each other?" She chuckled behind a hoof. "What would you say to this form joining you on your little misadventures? It can offer advice, knowledge, and tactical support when needed. All I ask is that I be able to call upon you every once in awhile, when I require something of you."

 

"A fair trade, is it not? A powerful, self-sustaining ally and all I ask is a little of your time now and again." It would also allow Rose to track her movements and guage her knowledge. She may have made peace with Hou, and she doesn't intend to come into conflict with her, but knowing what she can do will prevent things like that powder from coming out of nowhere again. That could have been bad. 

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Shuren squinted her eyes for a moment when Rose proclaimed her anteriority. This just asked for a correction.

"Not many 'moments' come before me Miss Compass. For example....I roamed this wetlands long before first ponies came here. I arrived as a pioneer. Long before beginning of the Marais villages, animals, trees and even ruins on the coast that are here now." she explained in calm, almost soothing voice. "No secrets of this place are unknown to me, because I am older then all of them. Every tree and root knows touch of my hoof, and every beast is wary of me, with their fear as primal as that for storm and fire. When Maretonians came here to build their colonies, I showed them the best spots to do so, and I was there when griffons turned them away with fury and sword." for most this would be boast. For Hou it was statement of the facts.

 

"You may have the memories, comparable to that of this world elder beings, but you not one yourself. Not yet." sorceress said "That and....those memories are imitations...copies....just like yourself. However..." white mare gave changeling queen a studious look, while raising her hoof during this dramatic pause. "...there is no rule that says an imitation cannot defeat the original. Use those loaned gifts, and the life you given, to create your own pearls of wisdom." she said, before turning around. No longer interested in hydra, she attempted to leave - with her 'Condors' already disappearing from sight. However when Rose spoke again, sorceress stopped and looked over the shoulder.

 

"...You judge based on but one sample. Like a surgeon that picks tool for specific procedure, I call upon servants for specific task." she clarified. "You and I may be examples of renaissance....mares, but most are not as gifted. Therefore, servants...or helpers, need to have to be assigned to tasks they excel in." unicorn advised. "Being able to apprise talents of others is burden of both leaders and teachers alike, Miss Compass."

 

Then changeling queen gave Hou an proposition. The benefits might be great, but with long-term commitment she would have to relinquish way more of her own secrets then she was comfortable with. No...she always kept cards close to her chest, and she wasn't about to change this now.

 

"No. Not like this. I am not some hound to be at anypony's beck and call." Hou denied initial proposition, hiding true reason behind her 'pride-fullness' "Favour for favour, with each party can accept or deny each request on individual basis. As how to get with touch with me..." Shuren reached into a pocket dimension. She pulled out what was Long Guo-looking, metallic lantern, that she then thrown towards Rose to catch.

"Copper sulphate. Light it up with copper sulphate, to get in touch with me regardless of distance. And other flame will have no effect. Now, are we truly done here? Or do you want bring forth a first request?" Hou asked.

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Again with the self-righteous prattling. She had to admit, she did raise several good points, but the overall vibe she gave off just... really put the mare off. 

 

Catching the lantern in her magic, she gave it one good look before whisking it away to a safe location, where the real Rose began to study it in earnest. "Only in the shattering can the rebuilding occur," the mare spoke, and the words carried such volume, such weight, that they resounded in the mind just as well as the body. "A wise mare once told me that, and I think I am beginning to understand the meaning behind it."

She turned her attention back to Hou, her expression neutral. "Perhaps something of yours must be shattered before It can be rebuilt into its proper shape?" Shrugging, she let that little bit of advice go.

 

"Scylla." She spoke next, and there was a tingle in the air when the word was spoken. "It is a cursed name, and the name of a tyrant. Speak it, and I will know exactly where you are. No border, spatial, temporal, or dimensional will impede it." She chuckled, then, looking around as if expecting her other self to appear at any moment and smite her. Yet, Rose Prime never did. "All Rose's know it, but hopefully I am the only one who will heed it." Dipping her head in a surprisingly formal curtsey, she grinned, as her spectral form begin to fade. "Until then, Miss Shuren, I bid thee fair tidings ~"

 

In the next moment, the false mare was gone, the magic binding her form dissipating into the surrounding magic field.

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  • 1 month later...

Well, well, well....this changeling queen attempted to outdo her in a conversation? Rose words carried much gravitas, but Hou wasn't known for her silver tongue for nothing.

 

"Then she's a wise mare indeed. I keep those words in mind...." sorceress replied to the queen while adding a nod "However...." unicorn paused, rising one of her hooves slightly for emphasis. "For every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it." Shuren said "And to quote one form my homeland ''What flows, breaks not.'  "

sorceress said.

 

When Rose revealed her name, Shuren only mouthed 'I know.' under her breath,but quiet enough to not interrupt the changeling. When the parting came, white unicorn came with farewell of her own...

"Guard your heart well, nascent queen." Hou said, while Rose ended her projection. Sorceress waited for a moment, to make sure she was alone, before speaking to herself.

 

"Cursed...yes. And how fitting....a name of many-headed beast, for an existence that is one but many." she mused before pausing. "I prefer not to use it, if possible. Foolish risk is that, foolish." Hou added.

"That said....if all Roses are this sea beast....then who is 'Charybdis' in this equation?" she wondered.

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