The good news, as far as such things went, was that Twilight was only obligated to be present for the first three hours of torture.
There were many dangers involved in political dealings with the various buffalo tribes, and the typical #1 entry on the fear-twisted checklist was the eternal possibility of Death By Boredom. A species which knew (but seldom openly admitted) that they possessed a collective tendency to act on impulse had designed most of their society in an attempt to force themselves into slowing down. As such, the general rule for setting up anything with one of the Chiefs was to figure out how long it would take for dealing with anyone from any other nation, then field-toss a dart at the nearest board: whatever number it landed on would be reluctantly attached as a temporal exponent.
In this case, Chief Kaizo had arrived in Canterlot three days prior to the meetings, mostly because it took three days for the embassy to properly consecrate itself for his stay and he had to personally oversee all of it, generally while leading the extremely loud cleansing chant which continued under both Sun and Moon before starting all over again at the moment anyone dropped a note. (Property values tended to be rather low in the vicinity of that embassy, and anypony who was hearing-impaired took happy financial advantage.) And in a few hours, he would be arriving at the Day Court to open the negotiations which would -- if they went well -- grant Equestria shared water rights to the Carabao River. Negotiations which would begin after the Chief, his backup chanters, and a full charge of dancers had performed the ceremonies which welcomed all parties to the meetings, asked the spirits for the blessings of peace, patience, and understanding upon said meetings, made sure the entire Day Court itself was temporarily consecrated and since any form of politician-hosting government tended to desecrate something just by existing, that was going to take a while...
The short form was that before anything real could be done, there would be four days of stomping, chanting, dancing, and invocations of every sort, all of which would be just barely visible within the shifting multi-hued smoke from the peace pipes. And under the rules imposed by the original ancient treaty between Equestria and the Tribes United, Princess Celestia (or the current acknowledged ruler of Equestria, but that bit of treaty language could have but a single interpretation) would have to be present for all of it -- otherwise, the negotiations could not begin at all.
Twilight, however... a mere three hours, and she hadn't even learned about those until the morning before the ceremony began. Buffalo also were known for drawing up some fairly comprehensive contracts, and so chiefs who had been in the shadowlands for centuries had provided for the modern day: in the event that there were ever living successors for the throne, their attendance would be required. Just long enough for introductions, the insertion of their names into the chants, plus some time for the peace pipe smoke to truly saturate itself into their lungs and make them wonder if the grand painting along the ceiling had always been talking to them and they just hadn't heard it until now.
She was making her way from the train station to the palace, on hoof. (Sun was just beginning to touch the sky: deep purples and blues beginning to phase into lighter pinks and surprising streaks of orange as the formal moment of raising approached.) And she was doing so alone.
Alone seemed best. Twilight had done some research immediately after receiving the letter, just enough to learn about exactly what she was in for, along with deciding that the best way to keep her friends was through not subjecting them to any of it. Spike had taken over the library for the day, and as for having anypony else accompany her -- she didn't understand the need for that. More than a few ponies had asked her about Guards: when hers would be arriving in Ponyville, what the armor would look like, and (for the restaurant owners) if they were expected to offer any discounts with presentation of proper ID. Twilight hadn't understood most of the questions. She was a librarian. A librarian with wings and horn both, yes, but a librarian, and the central things which needed guarding in a library were the books. She could manage that on her own. Besides, a bunch of ponies moving through the aisles while in full armor were not only going to crowd the place to the point of making serving patrons just about impossible, but they were pretty much guaranteed to scuff something important.
Still... technically, she was in line for the thrones. Cadance's assuming custody of the Empire had taken her out of the direct succession, and so her former foalsitter was happily avoiding the whole thing in the far North. But Twilight -- should something happen to one of the sisters, it was possible for the Diarchy to continue with a substitute occupying one of the seats, and if both somehow fell...
(She shuddered at the thought. She couldn't help it.)
Twilight was in the line of succession, was in fact now occupying the very first link. It was something she tried not to think about too much or preferably, at all. But in this case, it meant she had to subject herself to three hours of dancing, chanting, spirits, and herbal smoke which her fillyhood imaginary friend generally insisted wasn't all that bad, especially since it allowed said friend to directly make the comment about thirty minutes in.
She sighed to herself, something which was noticed by only a few citizens. There weren't many ponies on (and above) the capital's streets at that hour, and they nearly all had something in common. Those coming off the Lunar shift were too tired to fully reconcile the presence of an alicorn trotting all by herself, while the ones heading for the first stage of the Solar hours hadn't been awake long enough to manage the feat. As such, she wasn't getting stares so much as sleepy blinks, most of which were initiated in the name of finding out whether she would still be there on the fourth viewing. Compared to some of the reactions she occasionally collected on a first sighting, it was actually a refreshing change of pace.
Meet the Princess at the palace. Travel to the Day Court meeting together, with full buffalo honor guard. Three hours of trying to sort out reality, and then maybe my hearing will recover on the train ride home...
The obligations -- the duty -- of being a Princess. But it was only for three hours, and then she would be a librarian again. For as much as anypony would let her be.
The outer wall was getting close now, looming ahead in her sights, the shadows intensified by the transition from night to day. She automatically straightened out the dip in her spine, brought her head up and twitched her ears in a futile attempt towards a last-second grooming of the fur around them.
The wall -- but not the gate.
I came in on the wrong approach path. Well, that was what she got for trotting while distracted. She'd arguably been lucky just to have wound up steering for the palace. This is... She glanced up, compared the rather rare outer viewing angle to her memory of the interior. ...actually, I'm almost directly below her tower, aren't I? Her bedroom's somewhere up there. I can just about see the balcony. So I just turn and follow the wall in this direction. I'll still get there on time.
She turned, started to follow the curve. The sounds of wings drifted down to her on a current of carefully-crafted morning breeze: more citizens on their way to (or from) work.
The flapping noises seemed to be descending. She made a mental note to review Canterlot's laws for airborne commuting, which was generally expected to maintain a minimum altitude above the hoof traffic, in order to prevent accidents. (Ponyville had a reason for no longer possessing any such regulations, and it was named Rainbow Dash. Not only was accident prevention effectively impossible at any altitude, but there had been a discrimination suit filed after the weather coordinator finally realized she'd been personally collecting ninety percent of the tickets.)
...all right, now it was getting ridiculous. It sounded as if there was an entire flock overhead, and their altitude was audibly at a value where every pegasus in the group was practically right on top of her. Twilight looked up.
As it turned out, the lowest of the flying minotauroid turtles just happened to be looking down, and so the first thing Twilight did was make direct eye contact. Blue orbs blinked at her, and the yellow scales around them shifted to suit.
The second thing was an immediate, instinctive count, one which wound up being partially disrupted by the gasps which were now sounding from the few other ponies on the street. There were at least forty of the turtles. The scales were dominated by yellow, with a few bursts of orange here and there. Shells were red, green, or blue, while the wings which didn't seem to have any joints going through the natural armor were universally white. Their hovering posture seemed to indicate a bipedal design, as did the stubby appendages on what would have otherwise been the forelegs: a short-reach cross between claws and fingers. There was intelligence in their eyes, but not much of it.
And the third thing was the natural one.
...flying -- turtles?
It froze her, if only for a moment. It kept her from acting. And as a special side bonus for the new arrivals, it also completely prevented her from noticing the net until it dropped on top of her.
Twilight yelped, and wings flared on an instinct she hadn't learned to control. It just provided two more limbs to get tangled up in the weave.
"Good morning!" the lowest of the flying turtles half-chirped. "This is your kidnapping! Please note that we've recently switched to a linen fiber. We find that it not only helps to prevent rope burns and chafing, but it's rather friendly against the fur and so is perfectly suitable for long trips. We've had a sixty percent drop in emergency post-kidnapping grooming services since instituting this change."
Twilight spared exactly enough time for one blink, and then her horn ignited --
-- just as the heavy (and rather oversized) cone of jewel-encrusted metal was slammed onto her skull. Stubby fingers quickly fastened the straps of the restraint under her chin.
"For our casting victims," the turtle went on in the practiced patter of someone finally getting to unleash a long-practiced speech upon an unsuspecting world, "who require having their magic shut down during both kidnapping and transport, there has been a certain tradition of steel. But we're always making progress! In the time since your last kidnapping, we've been experimenting with an osmium alloy. Again, this smooths out the edges rather nicely and keeps your grooming intact! -- oh... Roy! Watch your speed on those swoops! You're going to give her a headache!"
"But she's restrained!" something protested from behind her. "That was my part of the King's plan! Come in from the back and make sure her casting was negated!"
"Not that hard!" the low-altitude flier refuted. "She's wincing! You can see she's in pain! How is that going to look on your official victim review?"
"I..." She heard the creature behind her swallow. "Um... I'm still in my training period, Princess, and I would hope that you'd understand a certain degree of -- learning on the job?"
Twilight, her head still ringing, could hear hooves starting to pound, moving towards her. Citizens mobilizing themselves into a spontaneous rescue effort. And she tried to fight back, but her horn was restrained: unicorn workings had become impossible. Pegasus magic required movement and her wings were wrapped in linen loops, her legs tangled in soft white threads. The third casting possibility meant getting everything past the cobblestones of the streets, she couldn't focus and there were more turtles coming down, those stubby fingers were reaching for the strands of the net, pulling them under and around her, closing the confinement into something very much like an airy saddlebag, lifting --
-- and then she was in the air.
They were carrying her. It took four of them to do it: they didn't seem to be capable of managing much weight -- but they did seem surprised that it had only taken four.
"Weren't we supposed to use sixteen on this? Isn't that why we brought so many porters?" a green-shelled one questioned.
"Maybe she's lost weight," a red decided.
A burst of deep blue field went past that one, and also came within a hoofwidth of Twilight's snout.
"Don't!" somepony screamed from below. "You might hit the Princess!"
The kidnappers continued to ascend, quickly getting out of casting range.
"Sixteen to four," the green turtle continued as if nothing important had happened, "is a lot of weight."
"Well, they don't have shells," someone commented from out of her sight. "You can't really lose weight on a shell. Maybe their diets are easier."
"You look very pleasantly slim, Princess," the trainee complimented her, voice heavy with worry and the stumbling tones of a new hire desperately hoping for another day on the job. "For a pony. If you're into ponies. Which I'm not. Because I'm not a pony. But still. Slender. Um... svelte?"
"So who's dropping off the pipe?"
"Let's hope he puts the right end in this time."
Laughter all around her.
"All right," the supervisor said, and flew down to her, keeping pace with her trap. "Now in order to prevent enduring what we've been told is a rather boring trip, allow me to introduce you to another new addition into our package." It held out a liquid-soaked square of silk, worked it through the net and pressed it against her snout.
The last words Twilight heard before going unconscious were "We're all looking forward to hearing what you think about our choice in floral scent."
The crime had been committed just outside the castle walls and technically, that put it into the jurisdiction of the Canterlot police. But it also involved a Princess, which meant the Guards felt they had to investigate and since it was the time of shift change, that meant the Solar and Lunar corps were currently in the middle of becoming tangled with both local law enforcement and each other. A confusion of armor and badges was quickly developing. Witnesses were interviewed multiple times in rapid, head-spinning succession. Shed feathers were bagged and sent off to exactly the wrong departments. And nopony knew what to do with the pipe.
There were arguments, and there were many of them. But the breeze was moving down, exactly as scheduled, and so practically none of those sounds drifted up to the alicorn who was pacing around her Royal Bedroom, with occasional disgusted glances towards her rather empty balcony. Disgusted glances which would then move to the nearest clock before returning to that balcony, with each volley carrying an ever-increasing amount of concern.
"They're late," Celestia softly muttered to herself. "They're never late..."
And that was when the first Guard to get his priorities fully sorted pounded his forehooves against her door.