In the barren throne room, both Celestia and Luna look at one another as Highwind breathlessly finishes his verbal report. Celestia’s face is set into a troubled frown while Luna’s is etched into picture-perfect alarm. It seems like everything new they learn about this creature makes it seem that much more worrisome. Noteworthy speed, a language barrier, what can be assumed is a magic disruption ability, and worst of all, intelligence to the point of self-awareness. Not everything can be assumed to be going downhill, however. If Highwind’s data is accurate, then the traveler is supposedly injured and could simply be seeking out help.
The elder alicorn turns to her younger sister. “What is your take on this, Luna?”
“Well,” she starts, obviously being careful in the choice of her words, “for everything that we’ve learned, it’s still a woefully small amount. Too small to be basing any sort of decisions on.” Luna looks out at the city through one of the stained-glass windows depicting events long since passed. “If what you’ve gathered is correct, Sir Highwind,” she looks at the guard standing in front of the thrones, “then for all we know the creature could simply be lost, injured, and in want of help.”
“But as likely as that is...” Celestia cuts in.
Her sister sighs. “As likely as such a situation is, we cannot take any undue risks,” she says wearily, the stress of the day beginning to show. Both the princesses look at one another, indecision showing clearly on the expressions of both. Then, through some unseen conversation, the sisters reach an agreement.
“Corporal, tell Head Captain Shining Armor to put Canterlot on lockdown and begin an emergency broadcast for other major cities to remain on watch. Cite this as an unknown, class II biological threat within Equestria,” Celestia orders, her tone low and grave.
“Take care to alert only those who should be privy to this information until further notice; there’s no need to be inciting panic,” Luna adds onto the end of her sister’s order.
It pains the ruler to take such action, for she knows it’s most likely unwarranted. But the recent string of calamities like Discord’s escape and the changeling invasion leave her little choice but to take action before anypony can be hurt.
Highwind’s jaw drops from the sheer severity of the order he’s given. Do the princesses truly think that this creature is such an enormous threat? It’s unnerving, the notion that the equine nation may be facing down another abomination. As a corporal, however, it’s not Highwind’s place to be questioning his orders.
Turning after offering a short salute, the pegasus guard takes off down the throne room to Shining Armor’s office as fast as his wings will carry him.
The instant the guard is out of earshot, Luna looks to her sister with a troubled visage. “Tia? Must we take such extreme action? You know as well as I that this traveler is most likely just seeking help, don’t you?”
Celestia sighs and nods and affirmative. “I do, but the last few years have revealed that we’ve become lax in our security. Discord should have never been able to free himself, and the changelings should not have been able to infiltrate our capital with such ease.” The sun princess begins walking, her long strides quickly being matched by her younger sister’s slightly shorter ones.
“But do not mistake this for hostility,” Celestia continues as she glances at the stained-glass windows they slowly pass, the earthshaking events frozen within each one bringing back a medley of memories. “If the traveler is truly just seeking assistance, then I intend to welcome it with both open heart and open hooves.” Celestia’s tense face drops back into the serene, motherly visage that would keep her subjects so calm, before it abruptly changes back to mild distress.
Luna smiles inwardly at her sister’s statement. Never could it be said that the elder alicorn is hardhearted. “Well, I for one am interested in what we can learn from this visitor,” Luna starts jovially, trying to pull her sister out of her little funk. “What sort of magic it knows, its culture, what its home is like.” The moon deity puts on a wide grin as her inner scholar begins to show. “It’s all so interesting! It must hold information so sapid that the university scholars would find themselves drooling at the mere thought of a conversation with it.”
Despite herself, Celestia can’t help but feel the corners of her lips rising slightly at her sister’s excitement. Being totally honest with herself, Celestia is just as curious about the traveler as Luna is. For all they know, the world-jumper could hold secrets of the universe, life, and other unclear topics. It is going to be imperative that they keep the first confrontation as nonhostile as possible if they hope to learn anything from it.
It’s not a moment later that a blaring siren can be heard throughout Canterlot and the castle, pulling the sisters from their conversation rather abruptly. It seems like Highwind is faster than they gave him credit for. It’s only been several minutes since he’s been sent off.
Now it’s just a waiting game... It won’t be long before-
A pegasus guard pokes his head into the throne room. “Your majesties, a thousand pardons, but the council is assembling and they are requesting your presence at your earliest convenience,” he says apologetically.
Both the sisters wave him off and dismiss him.
Celestia turns to her younger sister. “Unto the breach once more, hmm Luna?” she asks, already knowing the answer she’s going to get.
Luna just responds with a face so sour one would think she bit into a lemon, fitting Celestia’s expectations perfectly.
In his large office, Shining Armor sighs and idly straightens his red commander coat. He’s part of the military, not some noble. So why does he have to attend these irritating meetings again?
Apparently, the princesses don’t want the citizens exposed to the creature that is approaching the city, and therefore had him put it on lockdown. That’s all fine and good; the concern was more than well-founded, so Shining did as he was told. Now the capital is on high alert, teams of guards are on standby and that’s where his role should have ended until the situation required his attention once again.
But no... he has to attend a verbal fencing match between the hardheaded nobles and the princesses. What use is it to endlessly needle each other with words that are so obviously not genuine in their fanciful trill?
It’s simple. There isn’t. But of course, nopony wants to simply take the path of least resistance and do what needs to be done without needless conflict. It’s all about how good you look to your peers and how many favors you can goad out of strangers.
The Head Captain then sighs and shakes his head. He could be doing something productive with this time. Like finishing up his paperwork, training, or spending time with his wife...
The last thought makes him smile.
A glance at the clock tells him that he is going to be expected soon. With another sigh, the unicorn stallion leaves his office and begins the walk to the council chambers, his hooves sharply clacking on the stone floor with his brisk pace. Along the way he passes a number of his guards and a hoof-full of other castle staff, many of whom offer him respectful nods, and in the case of younger guards, looks of awe.
The winding paths of the palace are quickly navigated, the illusions and repulsive compulsion wards that cover a number of secret hallways Shining passes are plain as day as he approaches. Without so much as a backward glance, he walks through an impalpable tapestry on the wall into a dark hallway with a set of double doors at the end. It’s a wonder that the illusion spells, cast back during the time of Starswirl, still hold fast today.
The guard captain reached the doors and opens them, noting that he seems to be one of the last to arrive.
The council chamber is simple and utilitarian. The windowless room is made from monotone stone with a simple, rectangular table hewn from marble in the center.
Both the princesses are already at the head of the table, resting on large, luxurious cushions as they wait for everypony to show up.
Around the table are assorted nobles, influential merchants, guardsponies, and the occasional high level unicorn mage. All these ponies are here because they managed to worm their way into political affairs while holding influence in the public eye. Honestly, it’s obvious that most of them are here to improve their own standings rather than legitimately try and help with the governing of the country, even if they say otherwise.
The only ones who immediately jump out at Shining are the ever haughty Prince Blueblood, who looks positively unconcerned with the situation, and the well-known entrepreneur Fancy Pants, who is wearing his seemingly eternal expression of amusement. Taking his seat next to Celestia, the eldest Sparkle child patiently waits for the meeting to start, being sure to keep his face schooled into the blank mask that his forces are known for.
A glance up at the face of his aunt in-law tells him that she would much rather be somewhere else as well.
Her eyes meet his with a raised eyebrow.
He gives an almost unnoticeable shrug in return, before looking at the rest of the table.
Celestia’s eyes twinkle in understanding, before they resume their dull stare forward.
Several other counselors enter the room during this time, taking their seats until there are no spots left open.
Celestia and Luna stand. “My esteemed council,” starts the sun deity, “as I’m sure you’re aware, approximately an hour ago, at 7:07 p.m., Canterlot was placed under lockdown due to the confirmation of a class II biological threat approaching.”
Whispers immediately break out within the council chamber. Everypony was aware that the city have been placed on lockdown, but not for such a severe menace! The only way that the situation could get worse was if the approaching creature were a class I.
“...Although the creature has displayed no readily confirmable hostility, magical capabilities, or other anomalous properties or abilities, there is the very real possibility that it could be elevated to a class I,” Celestia continues.
The room goes silent as a chill runs down many a spine. Discord was considered to be a class II. What in the world is this thing and how can it be so dangerous..?
Luna takes advantage of the silence and continues on in place of her sister. “It has such a classification for number of reasons. One, the fact that the leader of the surveillance team who spotted it claimed that the creature is, in fact, sentient. Meaning that it is likely capable of logic and reasoning.” The night princess stops for a moment to let it sink in. “The other reason is how its existence first became apparent to us. A special team alerted my sister and claimed that this visitor is not of this world...” Luna looks over the assembled Council with a barely suppressed smirk, “Or even this reality.”
A few stunned gasps break out among the group of ponies, even Shining and the other guards letting their stony faces show surprise. Not from this reality? What could the princess possibly mean by that? It’s nowhere even near feasible to attempt to unravel space and time on such a scale...isn’t it?
“Your Majesty,” says a hefty, beige-coated merchant, who flicks his short tail nervously, “surely you jest. If this creature belongs to a different universe than it would have to mean...”
“That it broke through the aether to arrive here?” Celestia finishes for him questioningly. “It did,” she finishes casually, confirming the merchant’s, and the rest of the room’s, fear.
It was as if somepony claimed that they had just killed somepony in cold blood that the atmosphere changes so quickly. No one talks, instead favoring expressions of varying horror.
Blueblood, if at all possible with his white coat, had gone pale as a ghost, his hooves shivering under the table.
Shining mentally ran through every combat technique in his arsenal, as well as preparing a citywide barrier spell, making the base of his horn tingle. If this thing proves hostile...
Fancy, unlike his fellow council members, had simply given up his expression in favor of a blank mask. No need to mirror the others and possibly start trouble, now is there?
How could everypony not be ready to panic? The aether had been breached, only twice had that ever happened, and only once in recorded history. Even little school fillies know of such significance. The first was Faust, who came to this world so devoid of everything, and turned it into her canvas. Creating the masterpiece known as Equis with magic as her paint, before gifting her kin with magic and her ideals given form, the Elements of Harmony, then vanishing.
The second, and most infamous, was Discord, who held nothing but pure loathing for Faust’s world. He saw it as bland, monotone, and an affront to everything he held dear.
So he set to destroy it the only way he knew how: By changing it all and plunging the land into disarray. The horror stories are still passed down today.
It’s almost universally agreed upon that anything coming from the aether causes cataclysmic change, and after Discord, that can't mean anything good. Surely this must be the same?
“Auntie L-luna?” asks Blueblood, who is trying to rein in his shivering, “What are we to do? Surely there must be a plan of action for this, correct?”
Luna nods and smiles gently, hoping to calm her nephew along with the rest of the room. “Indeed, after reviewing everything, my sister and I have decided...” she glances around the room, “...to welcome this visitor, for we have found no reason for unnecessary violence.”
The room erupts into protest. Many of the merchants and most of the nobles are roaring in defiance of the decision, while the guards and magi remain silent. Though the guards can’t help but pepper the protesters with ugly leers for daring to stand against the princesses.
Luna, growing annoyed with the noise, takes a deep breath and prepares her impressive lungs to overpower everypony, but is beat to it.
Immediately, the raging voices die in the wake of the almost whispered word from Celestia, before all attention is turned to her.
Luna childishly puffs her cheeks out in annoyance for being denied.
Celestia offers her sister an apologetic glance before she coolly looks over her council. “Look at yourselves, babbling like foals. There is no need for such. Who are we?” she questions without receiving an answer. “I will tell you who we are: we are ponies of Equestria, a proud nation founded on the teachings of Faust, who gave us the secrets to living without strife. We’ve used all that she has taught us and met so little confrontation over the years.” The alicorn bends down, emphasizing her huge stature compared to other ponies. “What would we be doing to her teachings and memory if we so blatantly turn away somepony who could be a friend? Especially one who is of the realm Faust was supposedly born in?”
Most of the councilponies look rather cowed at the short speech, many of them not willing to meet the princess’ eyes. Others, however, take the information well as an unsettling gleam enters their eyes.
If either princess noticed the less than pure looks, they did not bother to comment on them.
Everypony is silent for a few seconds longer, before an earthpony guard says; “Your Majesties? What exactly are we dealing with? And how can we keep this as under control as possible?”
“Well, Colonel... Earthshaker is it?” Celestia continues at his nod, “We currently do not have enough information to form a proper conclusion on what species the visitor is most closely related to. As for how to keep the situation under control? We let the visitor approach, and should it turn hostile, we do everything in our power to restrain it without causing injury, to either us or it.”
Although most of the other councilponies seem content with the answer, Earthshaker continues questioning.
“How can we be sure that its intentions are pure? For all we know, this could simply be an act to lull us into a false sense of security,” the guard states. “Furthermore,” he continues, “the travel between wherever it’s from and here could have left some sort of unknown danger on it! It could be carrying enough disease to start an epidemic, or be charged with excessive amounts of harmful magical radiation.”
Many in the room begin to whisper, the fearfulness of the room coming back. Both Luna and Shining gives the colonel an icy stare, ears laid back and eyes narrow, neither pleased with the earthpony’s choice to stand against Celestia.
Celestia begins to sweat, but forces the perspiration back with an unnoticeable spell. It wouldn’t do to let her distress begin to show.
Before Earthshaker can continue on, somepony clears their throat.
All eyes turn to the offender, who is none other than Fancy Pants, wearing his trademark charming smile. He stands. “My good ponies,” he says, his smooth voice immediately capturing everyone’s attention, “I believe that we are all missing a serious point here. As the princesses have somewhat indirectly said, we have been presented with a golden opportunity!”
Many of the councillors quiet themselves, some out of interest, while others do so hoping to get on Fancy’s good side.
The stallion slowly begins to walk around the table. “This is the emergence of an entirely new race into our humble home, and some of you wish to oust this historical chance? Something that is likely to go down in history?”
He shakes his head in disappointment.
The whispering stops as everypony begins to rethink the situation over.
“Many of the concerns here are very valid,” Fancy says with a glance at the scowling colonel, “but we have not made our place in this world for nothing. We have the means to keep everypony safe and sound as history is made...” By now, Fancy’s made it back to his own seat, where he sits and looks towards the princesses, his smile growing minutely. “...Don’t we?”
Both give the charismatic stallion a grateful look for pulling the delegation out of dangerous territory.
“But of course,” Luna says happily in response to Fancy’s question. She turns to one of the castle magi, who have been silent up until now.
Taking the cue, the light vermilion unicorn mare under the moon goddess’ scrutiny speaks up.
“Assuming that the creature has not yet reached Canterlot, it would not be far-fetched for myself and others to run experiments at a distance to determine just how we should go about interacting with it,” she says flatly, to the point.
“Agreeable. Please start as soon as you see fit,” Celestia says with a small smile.
Almost immediately, the designated magi in the room stand and make for the door. As soon as they find themselves beyond its threshold, they vanish in loud pops and flashes of light. It seems that the anti-teleportation wards are still in place.
“I assume that I am to be punished for my insubordination?” Earthshaker warily asks, as if expecting immediate retaliation.
Shining looks as if he wants to say something, but stops when the princesses look at each other.
A quick and silent conversation occurs between them, before Celestia speaks. “No, you will not be punished for speaking your mind. You were not allowed into this council to simply be a mindless drone to agree with everything said here.”
“Now that that’s out of the way, let us continue,” begins Celestia brightly. “I believe that the photos taken of the visitor should be nearly developed by now. When they are done, I will have them brought in, for I would like second opinions and enlightenment on our supposedly guest that you all could bring about.”
It’s only a handful of minutes before somepony knocks on the door and is beckoned in by Celestia.
A nervous looking maid with a large envelope held in her teeth walks in. She quickly trots up to the table, sets the envelope down, makes a short bow, and then turns and leaves.
A yellow glow the color of sunlight envelops the unassuming envelope, making the parcel defy gravity and fly to the head of the table, where it waits suspended in front of the princesses. A miniscule pulse of sunny light opens up the envelope and pulls out numerous photos, all of which arranged themselves neatly in front of the curious eyes of the diarchs, which gradually widen with what they are seeing.
Highwind’s verbal descriptions of the alien do it little justice, as actually seeing it is a jarringly different experience. Although a number of the photos are blurry given that their photographers were flying as well as being a considerable distance from the biped at the time, the few that are clear provide an image that’s difficult to process at first.
It stands on two legs and possesses arms like a minotaur, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s just as described, and even though it’s simply a photo that they are looking at, the eerie, unsettling feeling that Highwind described settles over the alicorns. Both glance at the other nervously. One photo of its back shows a crusted, cringe-worthy wound across its back. The black outfit the visitor wears was apparently not enough to shield it from whatever wanted to do it harm.
The single clear photo of its face is the most startling, as it shows the alien’s small, yet comprehending eyes staring right into the camera.
Several less patient councilponies near the sisters subtly crane their necks around in hopes of getting a peek of the apparently enthralling pictures, only to jump back when they begin passing the stack of photos around.
The councillors look over the photos with a number of varied reactions. Most seem as perturbed as their princesses were. The few council members who are affiliated with the Canterlot University or its numerous research teams seem to be intrigued more than anything. A minority would flinch at the photos and immediately hoof them off. The guards would simply inspect the pictures silently before passing them along.
Once all the images had been passed around, Celestia takes a breath, still thinking over what she saw as she asks “Well? Is there anything we can conclude upon?”
Quick but muted conversations start up all-around, every one of them centering around the alien now that everypony has an image to associate with the supposed threat. It’s so strange, so how could any of them possibly draw up even a half-baked assumption without the chance that it’s totally wrong?
Earthshaker desperately looks like he wants to say something, but a sharp glare from Shining Armor leaves him biting his tongue to still it.
Fancy Pants can be seen slowly rubbing his chin in thought. His eyes narrow as he tries to formulate some form of helpful input, but words seem to elude him.
Poor Blueblood meanwhile is simply doing his best not to have a fright induced heart attack. He glances around, eyes wide and teeth chattering. He’s a prince, not some crisis advisor! This is work that should be left to his aunts and their enlisted grunts...
After looking over the photos one last time, a brown-coated university biologist near the center of the table decides to voice his theories
“Princess? If I may?”
All eyes immediately turn to him, making the biology professor begin to sweat from all the attention. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea..?
“Of course, professor. Please share your thoughts with us,” Celestia coaxes with an encouraging smile.
The middle-aged stallion stammers a little at being directly addressed by a princess, but quickly pulls himself back together and stands. “O-of course, your Majesty... now, where to begin?” he asks himself as the photos are passed back to him. After looking at the pictures over again, he starts. “From the body shape, I believe that it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that this creature is a distant relative of the great apes, like gorillas, chimps, and the like. The forward facing eyes tell me that the creature also is likely a predator.”
The instant that the word ‘predator’ leaves the professor’s mouth, there are several gasps and sharp intakes of breath from the listeners.
Shining looks around the room, forcing down his own pinprick of fright in favor of a blank face. If anything that was said earlier is true, then the alien should be intelligent enough to recognize other self-aware species. It wouldn’t find the idea of a meal that could beg for mercy very appealing...would it?
After letting his audience calm down some, the professor continues somewhat self-consciously “...Although its body seems poorly built for hunting, so it’s likely a sound assumption that the alien is only an opportunistic carnivore and probably would not go out of its way to hunt.“
The tense atmosphere of the room lessons at the minorly reassuring revelation.
“That’s everything that I can pull from the photos. I would actually need to meet the alien before we have any definitive evidence of what I’ve said, though,” and with that, the biologist sits and makes himself look as small as possible, not at all used to an attentive audience.
Everything is silent as everypony fully digests everything they’ve heard in the meeting. An alien from beyond the aether with a class II threat label is moving towards the capital.
The royal forces are not clear to engage.
The first meeting between the pony race and the alien is planned to be peaceful.
And no one but the princesses expect this to work, not that anyone would dare voice such a complaint.
“Your Majesties? What of the Elements?” a wealthy merchant asks worriedly, breaking the silence in the council chambers. A multitude of heads immediately turn to look at the royal sisters, their eyes filled with hope that the six heroes would be involved. After all, this whole situation surely has to go well if the Elements are involved, right?
A hoof-full of others look at the rulers with frowns firmly painted on their faces, showing exactly what they think of such a plan. Shining is among the second group.
Celestia and Luna each share a quick glance at the other before regarding the councilponies carefully. Although the girls and their ability to use the Elements of Harmony would be an excellent contingency plan should everything go downhill, their... unique personalities might prove overwhelming should the visitor be peaceful, and it’s doubtful they would leave it alone after the situation becomes apparent to them. At the same time, neither of the sisters want to deny such a historical experience to Celestia’s student and her friends. There’s no obvious choice in sight; it’s a catch 22.
The sister’s eyes meet again.
Luna gives her sister and almost invisible shrug.
Celestia narrows her eyes slightly.
The younger sister bites her lip, indecision playing across her face.
The elder makes a motion with her head towards the south, in the direction of Ponyville.
Luna shakes her head.
She gets an almost imperceptible motion towards the rest of the chambers in return.
After a few seconds of mulling it over, Luna reluctantly nods her agreement. The whole conversation takes less than ten seconds between the siblings.
Celestia lets out a quiet exhale. “My honored council, it has been decided that the Elements will be called to Canterlot to stay for the duration of this event.”
Many exclamations of relief can be heard around the room, while others mutter their dissatisfaction under their breath. Shining in particular looks like like someone just insulted his wife right to his face.
Or put his sister in danger...
A knock on the door halts all conversation, before a pegasus mare wearing bulky surveillance gear walks in.
She stops just short of the council table and snaps to a rigid salute, waiting to deliver her news.
“At ease, my loyal guard,” Celestia says gently. “What have you to report?”
The bleach white pegasus clears her throat. “Your Majesty, approximately ten minutes ago at 21:00 hours, the subject reached the base of the mountain. It is expected that the subject will begin scaling the mountain at dawn.”