“The ‘flapjack,’” Pinkie said indignantly. She was a little red in the face at this point, though not from her indignation, but rather the vodka that she seemed to have taken a liking to. “What is a flapjack? It’s a pancake! Flapjack was just, just some jerk waiter who got an idea to try and steal the thunder from this delicious breakfast classic!”
“Quite right,” Blueblood agreed. Pinkie did nothing halfway. He was tipsy, she was moving into full drunk territory already – although only her balance seemed affected, not her lucidity. She was half-leaning on Blueblood – or was he half-leaning on her? – but her mouth still moved at a mile a minute.
“Is there anything that would differentiate a flapjack from a pancake? Let's think, what do you put on flapjacks, topping wise…syrup, the same exact syrup that you put on pancakes! That’s why it’s called pancake syrup! Never once have I – ” Blueblood’s horn tingled as he felt a surge of magic, though he didn’t know from where, “ – heard someone refer to it as ‘flapjack sauce’ seriously it’s a pancake it’s in a pan it’s essentially a basic cake-ish recipe pancake I understand…”
She continued ranting as Blueblood and she trotted towards the door, intent on ignoring the ruckus going on around himself and his new best pony in favor of going back to his apartments in the castle and seeing where the night went from there. Probably, with him passed out before it could get truly interesting.
“…a flapjack has some kind of tie into the great North Equestrian past time of lumberjacking so I will make an exception that if you are one of the remaining lumberjacks on the continent fine in your logging camp only you may refer to them as flapjacks…”
That was, at least, until a monster came from nowhere and landed in front of him. A monster that, nevertheless, seemed to be very familiar.
“Zizanie?” he asked.
“…but don’t show up on my local pancake pub and start throwing out your lumberjacking slang…”
There was a moment of silence after Greengrass’ words, as Luna stared at him with wide, puzzled eyes, and he stared back with an expression a thousand times more shocked than that. His outburst had actually banished thought from his mind for the briefest instant of panic – but of course, it did not last.
“Oooooh Stars did I really just say that I was only thinking it I didn’t mean to say it what am I doing I’m saying everything out loud in front of the Princess everything I’m thinking everything I’m thinking oh no Luna I really do think you’re a useless cow but I don’t want you to know that – ”
The words poured from his mouth of their own accord, and there was nothing he could do to stop them. Even as he put his hooves to his mouth to try and stop himself, his mouth kept working. Finally, he did the only thing he could – he turned and ran. He didn’t get far, however, as he found himself wrapped in a midnight-blue aura, lifted up, and floated back to the Princess, who turned him around.
“ – put me down you worthless figurehead oh Stars I just called Luna a worthless figurehead why can’t I stop talking and telling the truth try to lie try to lie I can’t lie why can’t I lie – ”
“You appear to be under the effects of a truth poison, Duke Greengrass,” Luna said, setting the duke down and making her horn glow brighter.
“ – I can see that you idiot and I need you to let go of me before I tell you about how I want to reduce your power to nothing and run Equestria and make it perfect oooh no I didn’t want to say that – ”
Greengrass turned around, trying to run again. Luna turned him back around, however. “If you run, Greengrass, I won’t be able to find a way to counter it,” she said. Her voice and expression betrayed no emotion, but her wings were spread wide and fluttering in annoyance – and her ears were perked and pointed forward – she was listening to every word he said. All this made him do was panic, and think of the things that he did not want to say, did not want Luna to know – and as he thought of them, his mouth translated them into sound, and Luna learned everything. Every plot. Every plan. Every thought he had on her rulership.
“ – this is a truth poison you can’t use this in any kind of court or trial it’s illegal and not admissible as evidence – ”
“I am aware,” Luna said, as her magic washed over him. “It’s a very stubborn truth poison, too…but I believe that I have found a counter – ”
Luna was interrupted by the sound of a roar and great crash from within the ice palace, and sounds of ponies shouting, and flashes of light. She turned to look at the ice palace, regarding it for several moments, before starting forward. “Come along, your Grace,” she said, heading towards the Gala and telekinetically bringing the Duke with her – despite his repeated, loud objections.
At first, as Zizanie’s spell washed over the Gala, there was nothing. The nothing lasted for only a fraction of a second. Then ponies started talking – whether they wanted to or not.
“ – stars above, you’re fat – ”
“ – that’s because it was me who framed you – ”
“ – really she should have known better banishment was what she deserved – ”
“ – if you don’t give me what I want you’ll regret – ”
“ – wish I was anywhere else but with you – ”
“ – featherbrains and mudponies the lot of you – ”
“Oh no I had punch too – ” Trixie began as the whole of the Gala descended into chaos. It took only a few seconds as ponies realized they were saying things they didn’t want to, panicked, and all tried to run away from whomever they had been talking to – which resulted in them running into other ponies, spouting off more words, and panicking even more. Within seconds the two Night Guards that had been closing in on Zizanie were overrun by panicked ponies, shoved aside as the lithe pony ducked into the chaos, moving effortlessly out of Trixie’s sight.
Trixie’s horn flashed, as she performed the counter-spell, shutting off the Truth is a Scourge. There was wave of blue magic, and everypony fell silent – but it didn’t last more than a moment as a flash of purple, from somewhere in the chaos, set it off again.
Trixie grimaced. She couldn’t stop the chaos – not as long as Zizanie could just turn the truth poison back on. She instead turned her magic inwards, switching off her own truth poison as she looked to Shining Armor. He had one hoof to his mouth, speaking into a gemstone – a communications node of his own, like Trixie’s enchanted ear clasp. He finished and looked to Trixie, evidently having not had any truth poison that night, either. “I’ve closed the exits and got Night Guards on them,” he shouted to her over the din. “But I can’t keep them closed for long, there’s too many ponies in a panic! Somepony could get hurt!”
Trixie grimaced. “Give me three minutes!” Trixie responded. She also had to shout right into Shining Armor’s ear to be heard. “If we can’t find her by then, then she’s gone! And I’m sorry, I didn’t expect this to happen – ”
“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” Shining Armor assured her. “Just don’t let Zizanie get away!”
She flashed him a smile before shooting off into the crowd, looking around. She touched a hoof to her hear. “Okay!” she called in. “Raindrops! Ditzy! Fly and try to find me!”
The numerous pegasi of in the Gala were already in the air in panic, of course, but it was much easier to spot two pegasi in the air amongst other pegasi, then it was to spot them on the ground amidst ponies of all tribes. Trixie saw the two waving at her, each of their mouths moving at a mile a minute and their eyes wide with panic even as they closed in on Trixie. She sent a burst of magic to each of them, and their mouths stopped moving.
“What’s happening?” Raindrops demanded, as she and Ditzy flew near to Trixie. They couldn’t land, not amidst the crush of ponies moving all around Trixie.
“Zizanie spiked the punch with truth poison!” Trixie declared. “She’s…she’s somewhere in here, but I don’t know where! We’ve got maybe two and a half minutes to find her before Shining Armor has to let everypony leave!”
Ditzy’s eyes had somehow become wider at Trixie’s explanation, and she looked away, over towards the play-area full of foals. Several of the foals had their mouths moving rapidly and looked panicked – Dinky wasn’t one of them, she saw, but her daughter was moving amongst them, trying to keep them calm while trying to also hide her own panic, as was one of the Night Guards Luna had stationed there. The other was nowhere in sight, presumably having run off to close an exit.
“Okay!” Ditzy said. “What do we do?”
Trixie’s mind was whirling. “Ditzy, take me up!” She said, as she touched a hoof to her ear. “Cheerilee, Lyra, look around for Zizanie, I’m going to try and spot her magically! Carrot Top, I don’t know how that mixing is going but if you can hear me, get back to the Gala! We need help!” Trixie looked at Raindrops. “The second I find Zizanie – ”
“Oh, don’t worry, I figured out my part,” Raindrops interrupted, cracking her fetlocks as Ditzy grabbed Trixie about her barrel, taking her into the air and trying to avoid all the pegasi already flying around in a panic. Trixie closed her eyes for a few moments as her horn glowed, then opened them again. They were now glowing bright blue as she regarded all the ponies around and beneath her.
One of the first spells that Trixie had learned, her ability to see magic was almost as good as Luna’s. She could look at not just the stored, raw magic of unicorns, the way any unicorn who knew the detect magic cantrip could – she could also see the flowing, ingrained magic of pegasi and earth ponies, and other races as well. Even better, everypony had a sort of magical signature tied into their very being – Trixie could use her ability to see magic to find Zizanie, she suspected. She didn’t think it would be easy.
For amidst the stored, glowing pink of the unicorns, the subdued yet powerful green magic of the earth ponies, and the wavy, flowing blue magic of the pegasi currently in the air, there was a trail of jagged, broken, red magic the likes of which Trixie had never seen before. The magic curled and twisted around on itself, getting caught in knots that would then dissolve into nothingness. It reached out ahead of itself and behind itself, twitching, pulsing, shifting without form or reason – but in the center of it all…
Trixie blinked, cancelling her magic sight, and found herself looking at a green unicorn in a mint dress – but the unicorn’s mouth wasn’t moving, her eyes were an unnatrual red and tiger-slit, and she didn’t look panicked, like everypony else – like Trixie herself – but instead she appeared determined, looking for a chance not to simply get out, but to escape. She looked around and up, at Trixie, her eyes flashed with recognition –
“There!” Trixie cried out, pointing. Raindrops was off in a moment. She was not a fast flier by any means, but even she could cover less than a hundred feet faster than a pony could gallop.
Not quite fast enough, however, for a pony to not be able to respond. Zizanie ducked Raindrops’ blow, her disguise falling off of her in a cloud of magic as she did, distracting Raindrops. She lashed out with a hind hoof as Raindrops passed overhead, her blow connecting solidly with the pegasus – but Raindrops took the blow easily, grabbing Zizanie’s hoof and lifting her into the air upside-down. The unicorn cried out, horn glowing, but Trixie sent a telekinetic burst at it, nulling its magic for a moment as she and Ditzy closed in.
That was when it happened again – jagged, chaotic magic lept from Zizanie’s entire form, and she shifted – Trixie wasn’t sure how, but somehow Zizanie was now being held by one of her front hooves instead of one of her hind ones. Raindrops almost dropped her in shock, and when Zizanie lashed out with her tiger’s paw –
“What?” Trixie demanded, as Raindrops tumbled away in the air, bright red, though shallow, scratches across her cheek, having dropped what Trixie was beginning to suspect was not a unicorn at all. Zizanie landed on three hooves, while her right foreleg was now like that of a tiger.
The not-unicorn looked at her own paw in almost horror, before glaring at Trixie and turning around, running, her movement lopsided thanks to her odd appendage. Ditzy was after her in a moment, as was Raindrops again, with Trixie along for the ride. Trixie’s horn glowed, conjuring an image of Shining Armor right in front of Zizanie, his horn glowing as he charged her. Zizanie bought the illusion, crying out and turning, right as Ditzy let Trixie fall a few feet to the ground and closed in on Zizanie, hooves outstretched and colliding with the not-unicorn’s face. She rolled with the blow, however, letting herself fall before striking once more with chaotic magic that wrapped around and suffused Ditzy. The gray pegasus cried out as she tumbled from the air, wings having vanished, disappearing into a swarm of moths that shot up and into the air.
Trixie’s eyes widened at the sight – she had forgotten that Zizanie could do that – but they no sooner had when Ditzy’s wings reappeared, whole and healthy. However powerful this chaos magic was, it apparently was not very stable or long-lasting. They had that going for them, at least.
Zizanie had gotten up to run again, but stumbled – her other front hoof had changed appearance, becoming long and furred, ending with a hand, like that of some kind of monkey. “Gah!” The not-unicorn cried out, stopping her run. She turned her eyes on Trixie, chaotic magic swirling around her once more even as a single gossamer wing, like that of a moth, sprouted from her back. “Look at what you’re making me do…!”
Trixie dodged the burst of chaos magic that lashed out from Zizanie’s horn. It collided with a Gala-guest behind her, and the earth pony glowed, shivered, and shrank, suddenly finding himself to be a foal no more than a year or two old.
Trixie stared in disbelief even as the age spell wore off and the pony found himself full-sized again, before looking back at Zizanie. The not-unicorn shouted at her as her single moth wing spread wide, while her tail transformed into one that was short, scaled, and heavy, ending with a club like that of some prehistoric beast. Her horn had been joined by an antenna, and her right hind leg, though still basically pony-shaped, was now black and made of chitin, with several holes in it.
“What are you?” Trixie asked.
“Draconequus she’s a draconequus I thought they were just legends – ” A voice from beside Trixie came. She looked, and saw Lyra and Cheerilee, their mouths moving under the effects of the truth poison – she sent a magical burst at Lyra, stopping the effects of the truth poison on her. Lyra offered her a nod of thanks, even as the barest sense of order came to the Gala – in that ponies were backing away from Zizanie. “She’s a draconequus,” Lyra said, horn glowing as she summoned her lyre to her sie. “A kind of chimera, basically, but their body parts could be anything…”
The former unicorn glared hatred at Lyra’s words. “I’m not,” she said, though she almost sounded like she was trying to convince herself. “I’m a pony. There may be a little spark of chaos in me, but I am a pony!”
As she shouted this, she threw her monkey paw forward, fingers on it spread wide. A gout of flame lashed out at Lyra. Cheerilee reacted first, jumping and pushing Lyra out of the way and ducking beneath the fire herself. When she came up, her mane and tail were a little singed, but that was all. “Okay,” Trixie said. She had used Zizanie’s momentary distraction to turn herself invisible, even as she created a half-dozen illusory copies of herself. “So how do we get her?”
Cheerilee smiled a little as she scuffed the ice palace’s floor with one hoof. “A good solid buck to the face, I think,” she said, charging. Ditzy and Raindrops followed, while Lyra and Trixie hung back – even as Trixie sent her illusions forward – horns glowing and ready to try and counter any spells Zizanie cast.
Zizanie’s moth wing flared at the rush – but, rather than stand and take it, she turned and ran. Her moth wing battered aside Ditzy when the gray pegasus tried to tackle her from the sky, while she lept and spun in place at Raindrops’ own charge, avoiding an incoming hoof-stomp and responding with a solid push from her monkey paw that knocked Raindrops from the air, though she was up in moments and closed in with a series of quick hoof stomps that put Zizanie on the retreat even as Cheerilee vaulted over her – unfortunately, forgetting her club tail. The tail swung and struck Cheerilee on her barrel; she rolled with it, but still went tumbling away into the crowd of ponies that had by now left panic far behind and had entered a state concern that had yet to be given a word in the Equestrian tongue.
Trixie’s illusory copies were on Zizanie then, but the not-pony didn’t buy them for a moment, bringing her forelegs around in a wide arc and dispelling all of them before jagged chaos magic again struck out at Lyra. Trixie pushed her out of the way, and found herself subject to the chaos magic’s effects.
It was wrong, plain and simple – sharp and invasive, seeming to take a special dislike to her entire being and how ordered it was. It rendered Trixie partially visible again – partially, in that one could see her muscles and bones and veins for a few brief, horrifying seconds as Trixie wondered if she’d been flayed alive. But the chaos magic was also short – even as Trixie wondered how her blood was staying in her body, her skin and coat and Gala dress re-appeared, having been rendered selectively invisible, not removed.
Lyra had picked herself up. She dragged her hooves across her lyre in a series of short, quick notes aimed at Zizanie, finishing with a chord that sent reverberations across the Gala and shattered the nearby glass. It struck Zizanie square on, and she stumbled away. Even as she did, however, chaos magic seized Lyra’s lyre, and she suddenly found herself gripping a living swordfish as big as she was. Lyra fell under its weight and its confused gyrations before her lyre returned to normal. She was up again in a moment, as Trixie recovered from the shock of seeing her own insides, and charged forward.
Zizanie avoided Raindrops’ and Cheerilee’s blows both before sweeping both out with her tail. She turned around, saw that only Ditzy and a pair of Night Guards were between her and the nearest door, and again struck out with chaos magic. The Night Guards were turned into fluttering, confused fruit bats, while Ditzy suddenly grew forty feet tall – more than large enough for Zizanie to charge beneath her legs, reach the door –
The door flew open, inwards, having been bucked open by an orange earth pony in a rush to get into the Gala – Carrot Top, panting heavily, for though she was more than used to hard work, she wasn’t used to galloping halfway across a city to get somewhere in a rush. The door collided with Zizanie’s face, sending the not-unicorn spinning away and landing in a crouch, eyes spinning. Carrot Top took one look at her, drew her own conclusions, and lept at the not-unicorn, bucking Zizanie in her chest and sending her sprawling on the floor.
Zizanie shook her head from the blow, got up, and saw Trixie bearing down on her. Zizanie roared, chaos magic lashing out again – and passing harmlessly through the illusion. Her eyes had just enough time to grow wide as the real Trixie, invisible and right beside her, bucked her solidly in the side of her head, and her world went dark.
Luna entered the ice palace – dragging a ranting Greengrass behind her – and found a scene of utter panic and chaos. Everypony was shouting and screaming at the top of their lungs, pegasi flitted through the air in a panic, Shining Armor was coordinating Night Guards to protect the entrances to the ice palace to keep somepony from escaping, and, on the far side of the room, near the main entrance, Luna saw her apprentice Trixie become visible after having just bucked what looked suspiciously like a draconequus square in her face, though the being’s non-equine parts seemed to slough off of her and disappear as she fell into unconsciousness, leaving behind a white unicorn mare with a purple mane.
The Princess of the Night frowned as she beat her wings, taking into the air and landing on the second floor of the Gala, horn glowing brightly. This truth poison had been a tough nut to crack, but after a few minutes of examining Greengrass, she’d been able to find a counter-spell, and it took only a few moments to modify the counter in her mind to apply to a mass of ponies. Her horn flashed, and she sent a wave of silvery, selenic magic out from her being. The light washed over and purged each and every pony of the truth poison – save one. Even as the rest of the Gala fell silent faster than Luna had ever seen ponies quiet down before, Greengrass’ mouth still worked.
“ – finally you’re dispelling it wait I’m still talking why am I still talking you useless cow what are you doing every one of these worthless ponies can hear me what are you going to do let me keep talking ‘til I say how I want to see each and every one of these sycophants locked away in dungeons and forgotten about while I take over the country and run it because you’re useless – ”
Luna let Greengrass continue for a few more seconds in the silence, before looking at him. “Ah,” she said. “My apologies, Duke Greengrass, I appear to have missed you.” Her horn glowed, and with a light touch of magic, the truth poison was purged from his body, too.
Greengrass’ mouth clamped shut as he stared at Luna, with wide eyes. “You – but – I – ” he stuttered.
“Not to worry, Duke Greengrass,” Luna said, offering a beatific smile. “As you said, nothing said while under truth poison is admissible in a court of law.”
Greengrass’ eyes somehow grew wider. “This – that’s…that’s not right! That’s not – ” He backed away from Luna. “That’s…but I was going to…to win the Game…just wanted to enjoy…this isn’t…this isn’t fun anymore!”
Greengrass turned and ran, barreling past ponies as he charged for the nearest door. Several Night Guards moved to block him, but an outstretched hoof from Luna saw to it that he was allowed to pass without incident through the door, out into Canterlot.
Luna watched him go impassively, before looking back to the Gala and, specifically, her apprentice, who was with Shining Armor even as the Night Guards procured an anti-magic ring and slipped it around Zizanie’s horn. Luna was honestly not sure, however, if that would have any effect on the Discordian’s – for that was surely what she was, to have reverted to looking like a normal pony once out cold – chaos magic.
“Captain Shining Armor and my Night Guards,” Luna said, looking around. “See to the needs of the ponies here, make sure nopony is hurt. Look after the foals first – ”
“We’re okay!” One foal called out – Scepter, if Luna was correct, Vicereine Puissance’s great-grandcolt, who was a combination of too young and too hopped up on adrenaline to care about interrupting the Princess, even as the foals were quickly joined by their parents, most of whom looked far worse for wear then their children. “A little scared, but okay!”
Luna breathed out a visible sigh of relief at that, though she didn’t otherwise respond to the foal other than to nod. “Needless to say, the rest of the Gala will be cancelled,” Luna told the participants in the event, as she took flight, flying over to Trixie and her friends. “I must ask for everypony here to remain while the Night Guard ascertains what happened and if anypony needs immediate help, then you may leave. I ask for patience for just a little bit.”
Luna landed in front of Trixie. Once everypony else in the Gala had turned around, checking on each other and making sure that everything was alright – while more than a few looked thoroughly embarrassed and mortified at what they had said during the chaos of the truth poison, Archduke Fisher in particular being given a wide berth by all the earth ponies and pegasi in the room.
Satisfied that the panic was over, Luna looked to Trixie. “Tread very, very carefully, I believe I said,” she said in a low voice. “This Gala was more delicate than most. I have a distinct memory of this, Trixie.”
Trixie wilted a little under Luna’s gaze. “I…I tried, Princess – ”
“She did,” Raindrops said, stepping forward, as did all of Trixie’s friends. “We didn’t know that Zizanie was a…what was it?”
“A draconequus,” Lyra said. “I thought they were myth…”
“But we didn’t know,” Carrot Top said. “Please, don’t blame Trixie, your Majesty. It’s Zizanie’s fault…and everything worked out in the end! Right?”
Luna looked between Trixie’s friends, before letting out a tired sigh, shaking her head. “You are right, of course,” she said. “Goodness knows that I have had plans blow up in my face in the past…” Luna looked to Lyra. “She is not a draconequus, I assure you. She is a Discordian. There is a seed of chaos within her, and a potent one, but apart from that seed, she is a normal pony.”
“She’s coming to!” One of the Night Guards at Zizanie’s side warned.
The Night Guards both took up ready postures as Zizanie’s eyes fluttered open, as did Trixie and her friends. Zizanie opened her eyes, tried to stand, but found herself being held down by several Night Guards. She looked around, her eyes settled on Luna, and she froze. “Oh no,” she whispered.
Luna frowned as she stepped forward. “Zizanie, isn’t it?” she asked. Her frown deepened. “Poisoning the Night Court…that is high treason. One of the very few crimes in Equestria that still is still punishable by death if the crime is heinous enough. Certainly you can expect to go to jail for the rest of your natural life.”
Zizanie’s eyes widened at that for a moment, before narrowing. She moved into a sitting position, something the Night Guard only let her do with a nod from Luna. “I don’t think so,” she said. “Oh, I’m going to go to jail, but I think you’ll go easy on me.”
Luna blinked at that. “Oh?” she asked.
Zizanie waved a hoof at Luna, beckoning her closer. Luna considered a moment, before leaning in, listening as Zizanie whispered six words into Luna’s ear.
The Discordian unicorn jumped when Luna laughed. Well, not laughed, but chuckled, as she stepped back from Zizanie. “I am afraid,” she said, “that your information is a little out of date. Princess Cadenza knows that she is my daughter. She has for some months now.”
“Wait, what?” Zizanie exclaimed, eyes wide. Her sentiment was echoed by Trixie and her friends – save Ditzy, of course – and, despite themselves, by the Night Guards that flanked Zizanie.
Luna nodded. The surest way to defeat blackmail was to expose the information on one’s own terms. “Cadance and I have been trying to think of a way to break it to the general public,” she said. “Our current thinking is for me to do it at her thousandth birthday next year. But I know that Cadance would not want me to let somepony use that information to try and control my actions.” She looked down at Zizanie, though she was addressing everypony who had heard her. “Although, having said that, I am equally certain that she would not want the surprise to be ruined unless it had to be. Cadance and I can long outlive any scandal, but that does not mean we wish to.”
Zizanie stared at Luna a moment more, before looking down at her hooves, eyes wide. She had probably thought that her six words – “I know Cadenza is your daughter” – would save her from prison or worse. She had been mistaken, and now her smug attitude had been replaced by despair.
Luna thought of all that she had heard due the truth poison’s effects, however, from Greengrass – and the snippets she had heard upon entering the Gala as well. And no matter the crime, she did not wish to leave a pony at the mercy of the hangpony’s noose, not when there was some way for them to at least begin to make up for their crimes. The entire point of capturing Zizanie had, after all, been to find a way to learn the full extent of the crimes of the Night Court…
The Princess reached out a hoof, tilting Zizanie’s chin up so that the pony was looking her in the eyes. “However,” Luna said, her horn glowing. Her eyes glowed white, as did Zizanie’s –
Zizanie opened her eyes. She wasn’t in the Gala anymore. She wasn’t anywhere anymore. As she looked around, she saw nothing but blackness in all directions – blackness, and herself.
She wasn’t alone for long. Just as Zizanie stood, Luna was there, right in front of her, looking down at the pony with a look of disappointment and concern.
Zizanie stared back. “Where are we?” she asked.
“Your mind,” Luna said. “My mind…both, in a sense. This is but a dream. Normally there would be some sort of dreamscape, but I feel we could do without the distractions.”
Zizanie recoiled at Luna’s words. “Get out of my head!” she screamed, backing away from Luna.
Luna held up one hoof. “I’m not really in your head,” she said. “We are conversing only. Even your surface thoughts are unknown to me. I would never invade a pony’s privacy so, not even yours – though entering this dream-state does allow us to speak in private. The only way I will learn something from you, is if you choose to give me that information.”
Luna started trotting in a long, slow circle around Zizanie. “More importantly,” she said, “hours in here are but moments outside.”
Zizanie stared at Luna. “So what?” she asked. “Are you going to, what, trap me in here? Make me get stuck in some kind of dream limbo?”
The Princess frowned. “No,” she said.
Luna considered. “The Night Court,” Luna said. “I want you to tell me everything you know about what goes on behind my back – about your trade in secrets and lies, and who it is you are trading those secrets and lies with.”
Zizanie glared at Luna. “You want me to sell out.”
“No. No! No way! I do that and my reputation is ruined – ”
“Do you honestly believe you have a career as a saboteur after what has happened tonight? Is your clients’ secrecy truly worth life imprisonment and dying for?”
Zizanie blanched at that. The alicorn of the Moon had a point – she was caught. She had no chance. And she owed nopony anything, really, certainly not enough to risk being hanged over. She looked at Luna. “I want to be sent to a medium security prison,” she said. “I want to – ”
Luna’s frown deepened, and held up a hoof. “I am afraid you have the wrong impression, Zizanie,” she said. “This is not a negotiation. You will tell me what I want to know, and then I will help you in whatever way I see fit. Certainly I will see to it that you do not face capital punishment, but I make no further promises. Or, you will not tell me what I want to know, and so I will not help you, and the court that you are set before will judge you as they see fit. Those are your choices.”
Zizanie began to rail at that, at how unfair that was, about what Luna could do with her ultimatum and where she should stick it. Even as she did, however, a change overcame Luna. It was nothing grand or overt – but her expression became a little harder, her muscles a little more tense, her eyes just slightly narrower, her wings raised just slightly…
It occurred to Zizanie that Luna was already being incredibly merciful when she did not have to be. That she had just poisoned the entire Night Court – never mind as part of a sting to try and capture her, as the choice had still fundamentally been hers, and she had made it. What was it that Luna had said earlier in the night? That the Night Court was fundamentally an extension of Luna herself? Meaning an attack on the Night Court was an attack on Luna – on a being more ancient, more powerful, more unfathomable than any other still free, save only Corona.
“Why would you believe anything I say?” Zizanie asked. She didn’t intend to lie. She only wanted to know how Luna could keep to her vow of not invading her mind, if she didn’t intend to verify everything she said. “How would you know if I’m lying?”
Luna’s expression grew colder somehow. “I wouldn’t, if I were you,” she said in a low voice.
Zizanie did not want to test the limits of Luna’s patience, and so considered the options in front of her. She didn’t want to sell out – she really, really didn’t want to, as in her business, reputation was everything. But what did she really gain by staying silent? Nothing. She would never go free from prison if she didn’t work with Luna, work with the courts, and that was assuming that she wasn’t hanged for what she had done. And when she was gone, what would her reputation mean? The only ponies who respected it would simply see her as a resource lost, and nothing more.
Luna was giving her a choice…but really, there was no choice at all. She hung her head in defeat.
“What do you want to know?”
To the outside world, the entire conversation – hours of it – took only a second. Zizanie stumbled slightly when the connection was broken, blinking at the sudden glare of the ice palace’s light. Her expression had changed to one of resignation. “Th…there’s more…” she mumbled absently.
Luna’s expression had shifted as well – becoming a look of cold, unforgiving anger. She stood up straight as she looked past Zizanie, and out at the Gala – the members of the Night Court in particular – with utter contempt, before looking to her Night Guards. “Wait one hour,” she said, “then I want the Night Court before the Selenic Cathedra.” The Night Guards bowed in obeisance, and Luna nodded, looking back to Zizanie. “I know there is more, Zizanie. And you will tell me all of it. And then…then I will decide what to do. I am…satisfied with our progress so far.”
Luna cantered off, Zizanie following, a faint blue glow around her – Luna keeping a telekinetic grip around the professional blackmailer, though Zizanie looked in no mood to run.
Trixie watched Luna trot away, before looking back to her friends. Ditzy had left as soon as Zizanie had been knocked out, of course, retrieving her daughter, but she was back now. “I think…I think it worked,” Trixie said. “I’ve seen Luna do that before…she can have hours-long conversations with somepony mentally in just a few seconds.”
“She looked pissed,” Raindrops noted.
Ditzy covered Dinky’s ears. “Raindrops!” she cried out. Raindrops looked suitably mollified at that, bowing her head a little in embarrassment. After a moment, Ditzy took her hooves from Dinky’s ears, and looked her straight on.
“I’m not to use that word, I know,” Dinky assured her mother. Her head tilted to the side. “What worked, though?”
“It’s…complicated,” Cheerilee told the foal. “The short version is that we were trying to get Princess Luna to act more, in order to make the Night Court a better place.”
“Hopefully we didn’t go overboard,” Carrot Top said.
The nobles of Equestria – the dukes and margravines, the vicereines and barons, and all the ranks in between – filed into the throne room in the small hours of the night. It was rare for Luna to call them all together like this, and none of them knew quite what to expect – especially not after the chaos that they had just been through at the Gala, the truth poison and the mad scramble to capture Zizanie before she could escape. The nobles knew that Luna had seen to Zizanie herself, and all had been about to leave the Gala finally, muttering and complaining about a ruined night, when they had received this extraordinary summons.
It quickly became known that only one pony was missing – Duke Greengrass of Caneighda. All others were in attendance, even viceroy Night Light, found in his office and brought to the throne room, and Viscount Blueblood, who was more than a little tipsy and looked like he’d be nursing quite the hangover the following morning.
The throne room was light in blue and purple lights, magically enhanced moonlight and starlight from the night sky outside. Though more than bright enough to see by, it made the shadows of the room long as the ponies arranged themselves into their familiar positions, filling the available space before the steps that lead up to the Selenic Cathedra, the throne of Equestria, carved from obsidian, cushioned with silk, and inlaid with silver and platinum, a throne that glistened in bright, silvery light. With almost every member of the Night Court in attendance, it was standing-room only as the nobility filed in.
The process was drawn out, however, as every single one of the nobles who entered the throne room paused at what they saw at the throne itself: Luna, standing rather than sitting, once more in her royal regalia with her mane and tail animate, flanked by several Night Guards – and, in front of her, her back to the Night Court but her form unmistakable to those whom had so recently been her victims, Zizanie, a ring around her horn to negate magic and manacles around her hooves to restrict movement. Further, both Luna’s and Zizanie’s eyes glowed a bright, brilliant white, the two of them staring into each other.
As the last of the nobility entered, Luna’s eyes lost their glow, as did Zizanie’s. The unicorn stumbled slightly, an expression on her face of fear, and worry – not imminent, overriding fear, however, more like she had a sense of impending doom. Luna’s own gaze hardened slightly as she regarded the unicorn, before saying something to her. Those in the Night Court who could read lips – of which there were more than a few – knew that Luna said “thank-you for your cooperation. It will be taken under consideration at your trial, as promised. You have my word that you will not face the noose.”
The expressions of those in the room who knew that Zizanie held secrets they did not want exposed – of which there were more than a few – suddenly changed to that of impending doom to match that of Zizanie as the two Night Guards on Luna’s sides directed the unicorn forward. She trotted with her head low, not looking any of the nobles in the eyes. Once she had left the throne room, the Night Guards closed the door behind them, and Luna was left alone with her Night Court.
Most amongst the nobility were doing their best to hide knowing smiles or pained looks of sympathy, as befitted their feelings on what they thought was about to happen – the public humiliation of two or three of their number from whatever Zizanie had told Luna. They expected her to open with some speech about the expectations of the Night Court, before calling out the ponies and talking them down.
They were disappointed. Luna was still – absolutely still – for several long moments, before standing. She did not speak as she descended from the Selenic Cathedra, trotting slowly yet determinedly up to the nearest noble – Vicereine Wallflower – and looking her in the eye.
More than a few ponies in the Night Court felt slight elation. A vicereine! A vicereine was going to be exposed for some crime! It meant the entire hierarchy would move and shift! The sheer change, the opportunities, would be immense!
Luna did not stop at Wallflower, however, even as the earth pony began to wilt slightly under Luna’s gaze. Luna instead trotted past each of the Night Court that had assembled to the left of the throne, looking each noble in his or her eye. Her face, previously a look of impassivity, gradually came to be one of almost stunned shock and disbelief.
Slowly – very slowly – Luna reached the end of the ponies gathered to her left. She still did not speak. She turned, trotting past them – still gazing at them – and then moved to the ponies assembled on her throne’s right. She repeated her process – slow step, looking the noble in the eye, then moving on – the whole endeavor taking five minutes, five minutes where not a pony spoke. Gradually – slowly, and with mounting horror – it began to dawn upon the nobles of the Night Court exactly what Luna had learned from Zizanie – how many of them had been betrayed by the professional blackmailer.
Luna completed her walk, and returned to near the Selenic Cathedra. She stopped in front of Archduke Fisher, looking him over in his entirety. It was as though she was comparing a photograph in her mind to the pony she saw before her – what she knew verses what she saw.
“Archduke Bobbing Fisher,” Luna said, breaking her silence at last. Her voice was calm, neutral – almost consoling, despite what she asked next. “Did you really burn down one of your own factories?”
Fisher seemed taken aback. He blinked. “Majesty, you can’t trust – ”
“Answer the question,” Luna interrupted softly. Neither her volume nor her tone shifted.
Fisher blinked. “Majesty, I…” he began. Luna stared at him – saying nothing more, doing nothing other than breathing and blinking. Almost against his will, Fisher looked away from her, no longer capable of looking her in the eyes. “Yes, Majesty.”
Luna blinked once. She leaned in slightly, opened her mouth as though about to say something – then leaned back again. She began trotting again, moving until another pony caught her eye, this one closer to her throne than any other. “Vicereine Puissance,” she said, her voice still soft and calm. “Your youngest son, Lance. Did you falsify the evidence at his trial?”
Puissance was nearly as tall as Luna, and unlike Fisher, she did not wilt. “I did not!” she objected, loudly – far louder than Luna had spoken. “And – and begging your pardon, your Majesty, but I resent the implication!”
Luna stared, unmoving. Puissance was breathing heavily, sweating all of a sudden, wings extending and retracting pensively. “I…I must insist on an apology, Majesty!” Puissance said.
The Princess stared a moment more, then trotted on. Gritting her teeth, Puissance stepped from where she was. “Majesty!” she objected. “You cannot honestly believe the lies that – ”
Luna turned around, looking to Puissance. She said nothing, she did nothing, other than gaze at Puissance with a carefully neutral expression. There was no magic, no words, nothing more than a glance, but Puissance rocked back on her hooves regardless. She bit her lip, staring a moment more, before bowing her head to the Princess, resuming her place amongst the nobility.
Luna resumed her trek. She stopped at ponies randomly, asked them a question. Sometimes vague – sometimes specific. Often they were questions of their own corruption; sometimes, they were inquiries about the crimes of others, whether they knew, whether they did anything about it. Sometimes the pony tried to deny it, even keeping to their denials after a harsh look from Luna. Others would not answer, looking away in shame. All the questions were on generally the same subject – questions about blackmail, or extortion, or bribes, or even simply looking the other way when the pony asked knew of a wrongdoing.
Duchess Posey’s reaction was the only remarkable one, for being the only one that actually elicited a reaction from Luna. She came up to the pegasus, who had already been sweating and wilting as she observed the castigation of the rest of her peers, and wondered if her turn was coming. She looked Posey in the eye, and said only two words – “a bribe?”
Posey lasted only a second, before losing her balance and falling to her knees and hocks in tears. “I…I’m sorry!” she exclaimed. “It was years ago! I…I was young and Cloudsdale needed the bill to pass and it was only once – ”
“Only once?” Luna asked, the ghost of a smile on her face, a slight trace of incredibly inappropriate mirth in her voice. “Only once? That is a great relief, Duchess Posey, that you are pony of such integrity.”
The sarcasm was thick and cut into Posey like a knife. She buried her head in her hooves. Luna lingered for only a moment – there was the barest trace of regret, of mercy – but it disappeared quickly as Luna stepped away from her nobles, as though trying to put as much distance between herself and them as she could, before finally turning around to regard them all.
“IS THERE A SINGLE HONEST PONY AMONGST YOU?”
To call the shout deafening would have implied that it used sound – it did not seem to, as the gathered ponies all felt Luna’s shout far more than heard it. They instinctively brayed and whinnied in fear as Luna’s head whipped back and forth, glaring at each of them in turn. Gone was the quiet, patient pony of a moment ago. Her head was low, her lips curled back in an animalistic snarl, her wings spread wide. She stamped a hoof to the ground.
“Liars! Imposters! Cruel, worthless, vain, selfish, undeserving MAGGOTS, every single one of you!” Though the volume was reduced from her initial outburst, Luna’s rage was no less palpable for it as she cantered forward and amongst them, glaring left and right, her mane and tail raging and roiling as the stars within glowed angrily. “You are supposed to be the high-born, the great leaders of Equestria, born and bred and trained for your positions. But you are all corrupt! THE WORMS OF THE EARTH HAVE MORE TO OFFER EQUESTRIA THAN YOU DO!”
“Majesty!” one noble – Margrave Club Special – exclaimed. It was a mistake, as Luna’s head whipped around, her eyes locked on his, and she stalked forwards and towards him. The other nobles scurried away from Luna, and the marquess himself backed away before realizing that the effort was futile. “M-majesty,” he begged. “You can’t…you can’t honestly believe what a career criminal is saying?”
“Should I not?” Luna asked, stomping one hoof. The impact made the floor shake, and the marquess nearly lost his balance. “Then it appears that I would do well to ignore every word from your mouth from this day forward. How much do you make per year off of Zaldian bribes? ANSWER ME, MARGRAVE.”
“Majesty – ”
“Look me in the eye, Margrave Club Special. LOOK AT ME. And tell me that Zizanie lied about you. ABOUT ANY OF YOU!”
The marquess looked to his Princess, mouth opening, ready to speak – but he could hold his gaze with Luna’s turquoise eyes for only a moment, before turning away, hiding behind the nearest convenient baronet. Luna followed his retreat with a sneer, before turning around, making her way from the nobility and ascending the steps to the Selenic Cathedra. “I have a mind to purge every last one of you! Throw you all in jail, dissolve the Night Court entirely and try something new for Equestria!”
A viscount with more knowledge of the nuances of law then common sense raised his voice at that. “But – but the laws of Equestria, Majesty! Laws you yourself are beholden to – they say that only the nobility or gentry of Equestria can – ”
“Then it is fortunate indeed, viscount,” Luna said as she reached the throne, turned around, and sat at it with her wings still spread wide, “that every mayoral office in Equestria was bequeathed a Lordship hundreds of years ago!”
Silence. Slowly – very slowly – it began to occur to the gathered nobility that this was not a knee-jerk reaction of Luna’s to learning the extent of their crimes. The idea that this was no accident, no random happenstance, but an actual plan on Luna’s part, began to seep into their minds – and at the same time, it began to occur to them that all the time that they had been lying, and cheating, and breaking the law, and looking the other way, and accepting bribes and arranging blackmail and banishments – that the entire time, even as they patted themselves on the back for being so clever, for working beneath Luna’s notice…that they had not evaded her. That she had known. That all Zizanie had done was provide her an excuse to remove them from power, remove their families from power, and do away with the nobility entirely, and legally at that.
It was not true, of course. But Luna did not see a valid reason for them to ever know that.
The Princess’ scowl had not dropped as she regarded them all. A measure of calmness at last returned to her voice, though it was precariously balanced on the edge of a knife. “This ends,” she said. “The corruption. The degradation. The ruination of so many ponies’ lives. The bribes and blackmail and gossip campaigns, the thefts and threats, the spies and saboteurs and all other acts of petty gain. They are finished and done and I will brook no argument on the matter.
“You may consider yourselves to be on probation. You will act in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the laws of Equestria. You will work honestly and openly and fairly. If you have issue with your fellow members of the Court then you will bring those issues to me, and I shall arbitrate and my decisions will be final. You will do this, because if it begins again, if the slightest whisper of corruption from any of you reaches my ears, then I will dissolve this Night Court, strip all of you of your ranks and titles, and create a new body of ponies who are willing to work for the good of Equestria and are capable of doing so without defiling the very ideals that this nation was founded upon! Do I make myself clear?”
Stunned silence greeted Luna. Her eyes narrowed, and she stood from her throne. “Do not make me ask again,” she hissed.
The response from that was immediate, if discordant – a mixture of yeses, and absolutlies, and of courses. The precise wording did not matter to Luna – she heard agreement and consensus, and for now, that would be enough. She sat back down on the Selenic Cathedra, folding her wings up as her horn glowed, opening the doors to the throne room. “Leave. Now.”
Most of the nobles did so – a few, like Viscount Blueblood, running as though for their lives, most leaving at a somewhat more measured pace. Many ponies, including Archduke Fisher, had their heads cast down in shame. Some – Vicereine Puissance amongst them – still walked with their heads held high, and looked as though they felt undeserving of what had just occurred. No doubt, Luna thought, that they were even now scheming for a way to continue with their lifestyles as though nothing had changed – that they were planning on trying the extent of Luna’s patience, the limits of her ultimatum.
If they actually did…then they would be in for a very, very rude surprise.
Some lingered, rushing to the foot of the Selenic Cathedra. Duchess Fragrant was amongst them, as they bowed and begged forgiveness and pleaded to know what it would take to make Luna stop glaring at them so. That this last group even existed – even though it consisted of less than a dozen ponies – was a bittersweet consolation to Luna, but she was in no mood for mercy now as she pointed to the doors of her throne room. “Go and earn your forgiveness,” she ordered.
Those ponies left, as quickly as they could. Luna watched them go, remaining stoic, tall, regal, as a Princess should…until they were all gone. Then she rocked back on her haunches, nearly falling over. She sat on her barrel upon the Selenic Cathedra, laying her head on one of its arms - for all her power, she suddenly found she lacked the strength to even sit up straight.
She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. She wanted to split herself up into hundreds of bodies and chase after the nobles, whip them into shape and make sure that they took her words to heart. She felt…she felt tired. Spent. Exhausted.
But the night was not quite done. As the Night Guard once more entered into the throne room, she looked to one in particular, Sassaflash. “Please,” she said, “go and find my apprentice. Bring Trixie to me…and the largest flagon of wine you can find.”
The Night Guard nodded. “I will bring Trixie,” she said, trotting off, “and a flagon of water, your Majesty.”
Luna blinked, staring after her retreating form. Did she – was she – had she really – now, of all times, was she really going to enforce…?
As Sassaflash left the throne room, the Night Guard thought she heard exhausted, yet relieved laughter coming from the Selenic Cathedra. But if asked, she would have said it was only the wind.