When I grasped what she had just said, I was eternally grateful that the humming sphere still worked.
I looked at her, trying to see her eyes through all this blur. She suddenly removed her hoof from my cheek, and turned her head down.
“Looks like we have more similarities than I thought,” I said.
“Let me collect myself after this... rant.”
So, what now? Well, she asked for this, so I would listen to what she had to say.
“Rainbow, what do you think? I hope you feel less weak now.” I forced a smile.
“I don't know yet.” She also smiled. “I should think this over for some time.”
“And thank you,” she said, “now I have somepony I can talk to.”
I tried to focus on her face. “Rainbow, please don't forget about Shimmering. Or your family.”
“Well, yeah. I understand I can't have you here forever. So, finally I will go to one of them.”
Fortunately this place had a lavatory. Soon we visited it and then returned to the library.
We didn’t have to wait long before Curiosity came. She greeted us and we waited for Gracia and Medley. Both of them came in only a few minutes after Curiosity.
“You don't have to show knowledge of our traditions,” Curiosity said to me, “but if you don't know etiquette, that could mean we couldn't teach you, or we didn't get along with you.”
“So let's begin with things you should not do. I think you should follow the rules for pegasi. Then I can talk about land pony etiquette for Gracia.”
“Can you tell us about etiquette for unicorns?” I asked.
“Of course, you better know all of them,” Curiosity said. “So, regarding pegasi, you shouldn't turn sideways to a pony you're speaking to. If you have to turn around, you should keep a distance of at least sixteen body-lengths between you and your interlocutor. The reason is your wings.”
“Yes, I understand pegasi wings are quite dangerous.” I mentally calculated the necessary distance.
Curiosity looked at Gracia. “As for land ponies, you only need to keep a distance of eight body-lengths. There is also a greeting gesture for you.”
Curiosity lifted each of her legs and showed the bottom side of her hooves to us.
“That's reasonable,” Gracia said. “I believe land ponies are considered to be a formidable threat, mainly in close combat.”
“Correct,” Curiosity said. “You should show your hooves to confirm you have no hidden weapons. As for pegasi, you only have to bow, but without bending any legs.”
“I will remember that, but why without legs?” I asked.
“If you incline your body considerably, you can attack with your wings without turning sideways. Not many pegasi can do that, but the tradition still exists.”
“Interesting, and what about unicorns?” Gracia asked.
“They should not bow or bend their neck forward, because that is the first movement when a unicorn prepares to attack. They should greet others by slowly turning their head sideways to the left, then to the right.” Curiosity demonstrated the gesture. “Or vice versa, it doesn't matter.”
“Are there any general rules for all races we should know?” I asked.
“Yes, there are some,” Curiosity said. “The main one: you shouldn't look directly in the eyes of another pony during the introduction, and for some time after that. It is considered rude, because it can be a display of exerting dominance or considering a pony as prey. You should also avoid looking with both eyes at your interlocutor, because binocular vision greatly increases your chance of a successful attack.”
“And regarding the behaviour of unicorns, it should show you aren't preparing any magical effect,” Gloaming added. “The different gestures show which race you belong to.”
Right, because if you don't know a pony, you may determine the race incorrectly. But I could already tell the difference in most cases. Land ponies were the broadest, and usually taller than two other races. Unicorns had longer bodies that pegasi, and a slender build compared to land ponies. Pegasi were the shortest, and most of them were lighter than ponies from other races.
I compared Gloaming and her friends with each other. The tallest one was Triple Apple, and she also had the broadest frame. Gracia might have been slightly taller than Triple Apple, and somewhat more slender, but she had the same broad frame. Curiosity, Medley and Gloaming were of almost the same height. But the unicorns were notably slimmer than Medley. Shimmering was taller than Rainbow, but still a bit shorter than Gloaming. Shimmering was also the leanest, and Rainbow looked quite muscular for a pegasus. But both of them had thinner limbs than other ponies.
“One more question, how should we address the queen?” Gracia asked.
“In the first time during the meeting, you should call her ‘Your Majesty,’” Curiosity said. “After that you can use a shorter name—Ma'am.”
Then she turned to Gracia, looking thoughtful. “Medley told me you are a doctor of medicine, would you like to be addressed as a doctor or as a lady on a meeting?”
“I like the second option more,” Gracia said.
Curiosity gave us some more advice about etiquette, and left afterwards, promising to meet us at the reception with the queen. Gloaming immediately began questioning me again.
“Can you tell me about administration on your world, like how a society is governed?” she asked.
“Well, there are many countries and states on Earth,” I said. “So there are a lot of different forms of government.”
“But maybe some of them are more widespread?”
“Let me think.” I walked around the table to help recalling things. “As far as I know, most countries have some form of democracy. That means the people choose their rulers, as a single person or as a group of people. But sometimes a group of people attempt a seizure of power. In that case, the resulting government won’t be democratic.”
“I see.” Gloaming wrote in her journal. “We have similar systems in other countries. But most of them are hereditary monarchies.”
“We also have some monarchies on Earth,” I said, “but in most of them the sovereign has limited power, and these states still have a form of democracy. But how is your government organised?”
“Quite simple,” Gloaming said, smiling. “Our government consist of two queens, the High Council and several institutes. The High Council is assembled from ministers, who are heads of the institutes, and from individual advisers. For example, we have the Institute of Defence and the Institute of Education. All government workers are chosen by the Institute of Staff, except the queens.”
“So you don't have any form of democracy here?” I asked. “And how is your local government organised?”
“Well.” She quickly checked one of the books. “Common ponies can make a complaint against any member of the government, which may lead to her losing her job. But common ponies usually don't have necessary expertise for choosing a good candidate. So this system can also be considered a form of democracy because a citizen has power to influence government decisions, at least bad ones.”
“That's good, I think.”
“There is a local governor or a governing council in each city and town,” Gloaming said. “Like the ponies at other levels, they are appointed by the Institute of Staff, and they solve local problems. The number of ponies depends on the complexity of the region. If needed, they can ask for assistance on a national level.”
“But what about the queens?”
“They don't age, and they’re considered wise enough not to be replaced with somepony else,” Gloaming said. “Could you tell me about the structure of the Coalition?”
“The members of the Council create rules and issues acts on what to do. The very first Council was formed from the heads of operations against wizards I told you about. After that the Council found itself new people for vacant positions.”
“Are they powerful by themselves or do they only have ruling power?” Gloaming asked.
“Councillors usually have great personal power and influence, due to their magic proficiency and their respect in the Coalition. There is also the president, who acts if there is no time to gather the Council. He is also the commander-in-chief of the Coalition forces.”
I told her a bit more about Earth’s regional governments in comparison to the Coalition government. Soon Gloaming announced that we needed to go to the meeting with the queen. I took with me the communication device that Gracia brought.
We arrived at a big, circular building after only a couple of minutes walking from the library, which Gloaming identified as the town hall. On both sides of the entrance door stood two armoured guards. They had helmets with a transparent material covering their eyes, full body armour, and a kind of armored metallic shoes. As we came inside, the guards followed us with only a slight turns of their heads.
Inside the hall two more guards stood near the door to another room. They opened this door and entered inside, and Gloaming followed them. I and the other ponies went after her. It was a smaller room, without any furniture, and on the opposite side of the room stood the queen. Two guards closed the door and stood next to it.
The queen was the tallest pony in the room, at least a head taller than Gracia. She had an alabaster coat and a long, tri-coloured mane and tail, with heliotrope, cobalt and turquoise strands. The queen wore a metal band on her head, a wide band on her neck, metal shoes similar to ones the guards had, and yet another band on her waist.
She had a frame most similar to the unicorns, despite her height. At the same time she was more muscular than most unicorns I had seen so far.
In a minute other ponies came: Curiosity, Shimmering, and Triple Apple.
“Her Majesty The Queen Azure Sky,” announced one of the guards.
“Greetings, Your Majesty.” Gloaming bowed. “I present you Lady Snowy Clothes and Lady Gracia.”
“Please remember the sound of my trot and my smell,” I repeated a formal greeting. Gracia said the same after me.
The queen observed us for several seconds, then repeated the same formula.
“Can I consider any of you an ambassador from your world?” she asked.
“I cannot represent the whole world or any countries, Your Majesty,” I said.
“Neither can I, Your Majesty,” Gracia added. “But may I convey a message from the Coalition Council?”
Azure Sky nodded.
“The Coalition Council wishes to appoint Snowy Clothes as an acting consul general in the court of Her Majesty The Queen Azure Sky and Her Majesty The Queen Veiling Glare.”
“I see,” the queen said, smiling. “We recognise consul general Snowy Clothes.”
That was news for me. But, at the same time, it was a logical move. The Council couldn’t give Gracia this role, because she was an ally, not a member. Sly sorceress, she waited until the audience to tell everyone about it... But it didn’t change much, because I was always told that I should act as a representative of the Coalition at all times, especially while dealing with foreigners and aliens.
“So, Lady Snowy Clothes, what do you think about cooperation between our worlds?” the queen asked.
“My world is very diverse, and the common people still haven't made any contact with inhabitants of other worlds,” I said. “Only the Coalition and some other organisations have the means to travel to other inhabited planets. The Council believes that it wouldn't be wise to expose worlds like yours to the governments of our countries, because of overall xenophobic and predatory position.”
“Actually, we have a similar situation here,” the queen said. “We can visit other countries, but some of their residents don't like aliens, including ponies. So, as I understand, the Coalition has some exclusive contact with other worlds?”
“That's correct, Ma'am.” I said. “The Coalition can share its developments and knowledge in exchange for similar information from your side. We collaborate in this way with some other organisations.”
“Can I also send representatives to your world, to speak with the Coalition and study your people?”
“It could be done, I think. The Coalition may also assist ponies to avoid increased attention if they can't become humans in our world, as they would appear too different to an average human.”
“It is good that you would help,” the queen said.
“By the way, may I present a communication device to you, which could be used to contact the Coalition representative?”
“Thank you Lady Snowy Clothes, that would be useful.” She nodded to a guard, who came and took the device from me.
Gracia told the ponies how to make a call using the device. It was basically a rectangular screen with two buttons, for voice call and video call. The buttons could initiate a call or answer to an incoming call.
“And Lady Gracia, what is your interest in our world?” the queen asked.
“Ma'am, I have two main objectives here,” Gracia said. “The first is to teach two mares Invisible Magic. The second is to improve your healthcare system.”
As I listened to this conversation and watched the queen, I noticed a strange glimmer around her body. I immediately wanted to look at her through the spirit world, but that would not be polite, as my attention would be shifted and ponies might notice that. Despite how much it itched me, I had to wait for a better chance.