Celestia’s Sun floated high and proud in the sky, as a loud, deep note resonated across the bright walls and tall spires of the city, gently fading away and echoing out into the distant hills and valleys surrounding the capital. Thus was signaled the passing of the first hour of the afternoon, from the large brass bell atop the clock tower situated in the Canterlot city proper as its long hands ticked over in the steady marking of the minutes.
All around, the streets were crowded with the everyday movements of hundreds of ponies going about their daily lives. Though, the level of activity this day was slightly above normal, as every so often one would come across yet another reconstruction project; part of a concerted effort to fix up the city after the previous week’s disastrous events.
Ever since the fate of the whole of Equestria was threatened by the Changeling menace, the residents of Canterlot have had to put up with innumerable disruptions to their routines. Roads were in need of repaving, damaged homes and businesses needed to be rebuilt, and a sense of normalcy needed to return to a populace who had witnessed their lives of safety, security and privilege completely upturned. Especially when it just had to happen on the day of a royal wedding: a momentous occasion in its own right.
Yet, there was only one figure they could turn to who could mollify their concerns and promise help to those most affected. Fortunately for the citizens of Canterlot, and indeed all of Equestria, their beloved and benevolent ruler, Princess Celestia, was always willing to lend an ear to her subjects. Provided they could find the time to attend one of her open courts, everypony had an equal opportunity to have their issues addressed, and the Princess made an effort to devote attention to each one of them.
Including the ones that were decidedly... less deserving than others, which was the case at this very moment in the castle courtyard where the Princess had chosen to hold her meetings that day.
“...and that’s pretty much the long and short of it, Your Highness,” stated a stern voice coming from an ash gray stallion as he wrapped up his story. This particular earth pony was wearing a thick, plaid flannel over-shirt, his close-cut mane tamped down by the scuffed yellow hard hat he wore on his head. His flank was adorned with a mark similar to that of his headgear, overlaid on top of a crossed hammer and saw.
His gaze drew upwards after finishing his tale, eyes full of cautious hope as he waited for the Princess of the Sun’s reply. Up the steps leading to the castle doors, Celestia herself lay down, forelegs folded beneath her and wings tucked to her sides, atop a red silken pillow. Her long, spiraling horn gleamed in the afternoon sun, with her prismatic mane and tail flowing and surging silently in a non-existent breeze. She closed her eyes for a moment, contemplating the details of what she had just heard.
“So... let me know if I have this right, Mr... Sawdust, was it?” she asked, her voice pleasant and patient as ever. Sawdust in return bowed his head, appreciative of the fact that she remembered his name. “You claim that an employer owes you a fair sum of bits over damage sustained during the commotion with the Changelings?”
“Correct, Your Highness,” Sawdust replied with a nod. “The scaffolding of the project me and my crew were working on was completely ruined in the attack, and the amount being paid by our hire isn’t enough to cover the replacement pieces as well. I’ll be forced to go over budget if he refuses to pony up the extra bits! It’s his building, his materials, his money. I’m just the one putting it up.”
Celestia closed her eyes and breathed out slowly. More often than not, the issue at hoof would usually come down to money. Why so many of her subjects came to her first instead of utilizing other official government channels, she honestly could not fathom. Still, she considered these meetings one of her royal duties, and approached it with the same seriousness of any situation.
She ran the facts over again in her head, carefully formulating the best response in order to prevent the Forepony from becoming further irate.
“Have you tried settling the matter in person?”
“I have, Princess. Many times in fact, but he is never available when he needs to be, and his secretary is being equally obstinate.” Sawdust huffed, then paused to remove his hard hat, placing it over his chest in a manner of respect. “I beg you, Princess, please interject on my behalf... I have numerous other reconstruction jobs lined up that I simply cannot start until I am free of this... administrative boondoggle, if you will.”
“Hmm...” Celestia pondered for a moment, tapping a gilded hoof to her chin. In her reply, the alicorn tried her best to give off an air of genuine concern. “Well, I’m truly sorry, Sawdust, and I do hope you understand... But there are more pressing issues that demand my attention of late...”
At hearing this admission, Sawdust gasped slightly, trying to find the words to respond.
“But, I... Surely, you could...” he tried to retort, until his ears slowly drooped down and he lowered his head, defeated. “...I understand, Princess.”
Sawdust bowed respectfully, then placed his hat back atop his mane. As he turned to leave however, Celestia grabbed his attention with a curt ahem.
“However, there may be something I can do... If you lodge a formal complaint to the Trade Commission about this issue, then I should be able to put a fast track on your notice. It’s the most I can spare.”
Upon hearing this news, the earth pony’s glum expression lifted up greatly as he bowed his head.
“A thousand thank-yous, Your Highness!” Sawdust exclaimed heartily, glad to have come away from this meeting with at least something to show for it. “You won’t regret this, I’m forever in your debt.”
Celestia allowed herself a brief smile at the display of gratitude, as she raised a hoof in a dismissive gesture.
“Please, a simple thank-you will do. It’s my pleasure to give my citizens whatever assistance I am able. Good day to you, Sawdust.”
“And a mighty fine one to you as well, Your Majesty,” came the reply from the gray stallion, before he turned towards the path leading out of the courtyard, fighting the urge to whistle a jovial tune.
Once the construction workpony was well out of the courtyard, the alicorn breathed deeply through her nose, then gave off a weary sigh.
There’s so much around here that requires my attention... How I wish I could simply fix everything and solve everypony’s problems with one sweep of my horn... Celestia allowed herself a moment of reflection. At least the newlyweds get to enjoy their honeymoon in Colta Rica... And I still have Luna to help with--
“Excuse me, Your Excellence...” came a voice located at Celestia’s side, drawing her out of her brief reverie.
The Sun Princess looked over to one of her personal escort: a stocky, well-built pegasus soldier, mane and coat bleached in the traditional white of the Royal Guard. His adornments consisted of a shining helmet and bright white and gold armor, emblazoned with the crest of the First Regiment; a stylized red and blue flag with twin thunderbolts underneath. His station, along with that of the almost a dozen others posted amongst the grounds, was a cautious, if not entirely necessary consequence of recent events.
“Yes, Captain Skarmory?” was her reply.
“Shall I send for your next appointment, Milady?” asked the Captain, to which Celestia responded in the affirmative. Skarmory then turned his attention to a nearby soldier at the base of the stairs. “You may bring the next one in, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir!” came the immediate response from a similarly armored unicorn, followed by a quick salute with one foreleg.
As Celestia watched the soldier canter off towards the main gates, she directed her thoughts to her other side, where a tray containing a pot of steaming herbal tea sat unattended. She used her magic to pour some of the liquid into a nearby cup, and then levitated it up to her muzzle, taking a brief sip and savoring the rich, earthy flavor.
And let us not forget the smaller pleasures of the moment... Good tea, and a beautiful, warm, sunny day.
Although, to be fair, the days were hardly ever not warm, sunny or beautiful. This was attributed to the fact that the local Canterlot Weather Patrol made a concerted effort to make it so that bordered on that of religious zeal. Far be it from them to allow even one puff of cloud to cheapen the value of their benevolent ruler’s duty to raise the sun every morning.
Not that Celestia particularly cared either way... She just didn’t have the heart to make light of their hard work and dedication. They were happy to serve her in the way they deemed acceptable, who was she to tell them otherwise?
Waiting for the Lieutenant to return with the new audience, the Princess kept her focus on the cup floating gently before her in a yellow field of magic. As she watched, the white steam billowed and curled away, carried off by the steady breeze...
Wait... a breeze? There wasn’t any wind at all a moment ago...
It had occurred so gradually that Celestia had failed to notice until then, but it was now apparent that a brisk wind had begun to blow through the courtyard... and was gaining in speed.
Placing her drink back on the tray, the alicorn brought her attention to the surrounding area, noting various flags and banners along the walls wafting and flapping, as the trees and shrubs dotting the landscape shook and rustled. Celestia instantly got up from her seat onto her long legs to get a better view.
“Is there something wrong, Your Grace?” inquired the Captain, noting the look of concern that had come over his liege’s face.
“I’m... not quite sure...” came her reply, her tone still even and authoritative despite a growing sense of unease. A sense that was validated when the ambient light of the area began to dim ever so slightly.
Celestia’s gaze was turned upwards towards the sky, followed by that of Skarmory’s, where it was increasingly evident that some kind of fog, or mist, was appearing out of the open air, gradually blocking the light from her sun.
Not hesitating a single moment, Skarmory’s years of training and protocol sprung into action as he began barking orders to the nearby soldiers, concern for the Princess’ safety being his top priority.
“Those of you colts with wings put them to use on the double! I want to know just what is going on here!”
There came a chorus of "Yes, sir!"s and "Affirmative!"s from the pegasi in attendance, who immediately sprung off the ground and flapped hard towards the growing disturbance. In the moments that followed, however, their movements started to become more and more constrained, as a steadily strengthening gale buffeted them the closer they flew to the thickening cloud.
Back on the ground, Captain Skarmory was now trying, rather unsuccessfully, to convince the Princess to vacate the area in favor of the relative safety inside the castle.
“Princess, I insist! You could be in danger if you remain out here!” the armored pegasus shouted over the sound of the wind whipping past his ears. But Celestia’s response was curt and defiant, her voice as steady as her mane, which still maintained its majestic flowing form.
“I refuse to be intimidated by some inclement weather, Captain.” said the alicorn, looking down at the stern, serious face of the soldier pony. “Whatever is transpiring here, I wish to bear witness to it.”
With her response having stunned Skarmory into silence, Celestia directed her sight back to the mysterious phenomena brewing in the space above her capital. And yet, even she began to doubt her resolve just a little upon witnessing the steadily worsening conditions of the once pristine sky.
What had been an endless, unmarked expanse of vivid blue only minutes earlier, there was now a wide and thick bank of menacing storm clouds, hanging like a cover over Canterlot and a good deal of the surrounding area as if it could fall down and crush all beneath it. Amidst the howling gale they produced, the clouds themselves whipped and churned like a roiling ocean, steadily circling around a central point located directly above the castle courtyard. In addition, small snaps of lightning could be seen etching themselves across the underside of the formation, accompanied by the rapid-fire din of several tiny peals of thunder.
And then, suddenly, there was quiet.
Celestia’s eyes widened slightly as, for the briefest of moments, the surrounding air was absolutely still, and the cracks of lightning above paused in their frenzy even as the menacing mass of cloud cover increased its rotation around a single area.
And then she felt it, a tingling in the space around her, as if the air itself was being supercharged with... something. Her fur stood on end, as her nose detected the faintest hint of an odor... The closest thing she could describe it to would be the scent of burnt almonds.
“Princess... I have a very bad feeling about this...” Skarmory remarked, letting his famous composure slip for just a brief moment. “And coming from me... that’s saying quite a--”
The Captain never got the chance to finish that sentence, for he was interrupted right then as the eye of the storm cast forth an immensely bright light. A light so intense, the Princess reflexively cast one of her wings in front of her in order to shield her eyes.
An incredible explosive sound ripped apart the air, as Celestia witnessed in the gaps between her feathers a column of pure white descend from the heavens at a terrible speed. The shining pillar pulsed with energy as it raced towards the ground, directly towards the mason-worked circle laid at the center of the courtyard. There was no time at all to react as it drove into the ground, shards of light splitting off of the impact site as the stone foundation underneath cracked and trembled.
The force of the blast formed a wave of compressed air that nearly blew the heavily armored guards nearby, unicorns and pegasi alike, off their hooves, and which ruffled the fur of the Sun Princess from her perch atop the castle steps.
The worst of the event, whatever it was, seemed to be over. In its wake, it left a brightly glowing mass of energy which slowly lost brightness as the moments passed by. As the luminescence coming off of the strange mass sitting out in the open gradually dimmed, Celestia lowered her wing, blinking her eyes a few times and squinting to get a better look at whatever it was that could throw off such immense power.
The nearby soldiers who had been tossed back by the impact shakily stood themselves up, some of them brave enough to take a few tentative steps towards the glittering object, which was by this point coalescing around a small form splayed across the ground.
Celestia placed a hesitant hoof down on the stairs in front of her, cautious, yet curious all the same. The movement shook the nearby pegasus Captain out of his bewildered gaze, and he immediately voiced his concerns.
“Your Highness, please, stand back! We don’t know what we are dealing with!” Skarmory pleaded nervously, very much out of his element under these circumstances. “It could be dangerous! A weapon... or a trap of some kind! Maybe even a--”
“Hey! It’s... some kind of... creature!” exclaimed one of the unicorn soldiers excitedly, pointing a hoof to the strange being now plainly visible, the light surrounding him having completely bled away just then.
Celestia, shocked at this news, forwent walking, instead electing to take a flying leap forwards off the castle steps and right up to where a crowd of guards had gathered around the unexplained arrival in one flap of her great wings.
“What is it? I’ve never seen anything like that before...”
“How did it get here? That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!”
“Hey, has anyone seen my helmet? I think it blew away...”
“Is it even alive?”
“Make way, all of you. Let me by. I must see for myself.”
The soldiers’ buzzing of conversation halted instantly at the request of their Princess, and they obediently stood aside to make a path for her to the newcomer. Celestia’s hooves clopped against the cracked stone as she made her way right up to the creature, now plainly in view. She was surprised to see it bore no resemblance whatsoever to any animal, sentient or otherwise, she had ever come across in her long life. And having lived for over a thousand years, she had a vast knowledge of most anything that walked, cantered, crawled, slithered and flew over her domain.
It was a large, thin creature, at least, when compared to the average pony, with pale pink, nearly hairless skin on its face and neck, and the ends of its upper limbs, which ended in a pair of bizarre five-digit appendages resembling stubby claws. The rest of its body was covered in what the alicorn could only assume was some kind of loose clothing, though of a make and style she had never seen worn by any pony. It wasn’t entirely alien, she could see, as it had a fairly normal, though a bit flat, face with two eyes, which sported a thin pair of what were obviously glasses, a nose, mouth, and ears on either side of its head, which itself was topped with a short messy mane of dark brown hair. What she assumed to be its chest rose and fell almost imperceptibly with the motion of steady, if faint, breathing.
Celestia’s expression became that of acute puzzlement, and her horn went alight with a soft yellow glow as she passed it over the unmoving form. After a few moments of concentration, she raised her head again, and spoke to the small gathering of ponies around her.
“Whatever he is... and I feel confident that it is indeed a male, he is most definitely alive. Though, it is very strange... There is something that feels... odd about him. I can’t quite place it...”
“All the more reason to get some answers out of him, and that is exactly what I intend to do!” the Captain stated brusquely, galloping up to Celestia’s side as he surveyed the situation. “Place that thing in one of the holding cells, immediately!”
At this, the Princess’s expression widened, as she cast a disappointed gaze down at the high-ranking pegasus.
“Why, Captain, I’m surprised at you! What reason could you possibly have for this course of action?” she admonished the colt, her voice taking on a hint of indignation, to which Skarmory replied, slightly bewildered.
“P-Princess? I’m sorry, I don’t understand...”
“Has this creature personally attacked or otherwise harmed myself or anypony else?” asked Celestia in an accusatory manner.
“No, Milady, but--”
“And has he been tried and found guilty of breaking any Equestrian laws or statutes?”
“...No, Princess...” stated the Captain, starting to feel even more like an impetuous filly being scolded by their mother.
To this, the white alicorn closed her eyes for a moment in contemplation, before she arrived at a conclusion that satisfied her, and announced her decision.
“Then I see no justification at all for treating this creature as we would some lowly criminal. You should be ashamed for suggesting such a course of action so rashly, Captain.
“...Yes, Princess. I humbly accept my mistake...” Skarmory’s face began to burn as he ground his teeth, a small amount of blush showing even through the stark white dye covering his fur.
Responding to this, one of the other soldiers in attendance held a hoof to his mouth and whispered to another of the crowd standing beside him.
“Ooooh, the Captain’s in it deep this time...”
Skarmory’s ear perked up and turned towards the voice, followed by the rest of his head in a look of contempt for the insult.
“Stick a hoof in it, Lieutenant! This is a serious matter!!”
“Indeed it is, and I am to treat it as such,” followed Celestia, as she raised her head high in preparation for laying out her intentions. “I fully intend to discover every detail of these events, but we cannot do so until such a time that this creature regains consciousness. Alert Miss Hearth to prepare one of the spare bedrooms for our guest, and take him there. Place two ponies to stand guard at all times, and when... if he awakes, I wish to be notified immediately. Do you all understand?”
The sound of a dozen "Yes Ma’am"s rang out in harmony, followed by a simultaneous salute from all in attendance.
“Very good. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a great deal of work to do sorting out the inquiries that are sure to come. I suppose it’s safe to say open court is cancelled for today; please alert those waiting at the gates that everything is under control, and that they should come again at the next scheduled date,” the Sun Princess stated calmly as she turned back towards the castle doors.
“Oh, and I pray it does not need mentioning, but under no circumstances at all is word of this to leave the castle grounds. The last thing we need right now is another disruption working its way through the city. Now, perform your duties.”
And with that, Celestia made her way back up the steps out of the courtyard, as Skarmory issued specific orders and the cadre of soldiers split off to do their assigned tasks. The alicorn breathed deeply through her nose, and let out a mighty sigh before turning her attention back towards the sky.
The cloud layer up above was now far along in the process of breaking up and bleeding away. Shafts of sunlight penetrated down into the shade as whatever it was that delivered this uninvited guest to her doorstep gradually faded to nothing, as if it had never appeared in the first place.
And here I thought today was going to be simple... she lamented, turning back towards the door and opening it with a brisk application of magic.
Celestia cantered inside, and then the door once again glowed with a yellow aura, swinging shut with a creak and a thump.