* * *
Twilight continued to prod, but the slumbering white alicorn did not budge. Exasperated, she leveled her horn at Celestia's flank, and nudged her gently. Still she did not stir, save for a low grumbling, and a faint whisper.
“..who brought the whipped cream.”
It was then that Twilight knew the utter depths of fear.
* * *
“Thank you so much gentlemen. Remember, this is all my fault. Direct orders from a ranking officer, and all that. Please do come see me at my inevitable court martial, and have a good flight!”
Laurie and his guest proceeded through the serenely decorated main hall, footsteps and hoof taps synchronizing into a rhythmic cadence.
“Okay, if you will just wait here,” Laurie tapped a seat in the Princess’s antechamber. “I will inform Her Majesty that we have arrived. Er.. Yeah. Still cant understand me, I know.”
The interloper seated himself at Laurie’s request, reclining slightly.
Laurie approached the door to the study. He took a quick inventory of his grooming, came to attention, and rapped his hoof on the door three times with perfect courtesy. There was no response, but he could hear something in the room beyond.
"Allright then,” he said to himself as gently parted the door. “Good afternoon your Majesty, I would like to present.."
Laurie stopped abruptly. What he had to say was no longer relevant to what he saw. Entering partway through the door, he caught sight of the Princess Celestia sprawled ungracefully across the floor. Her grand and massive body the lodestone against which one perspiring purple pony persistently pushed.
The throw pillow slipped across the polished stone, sending Twilight sprawling across Celestia’s slowly heaving flank. She looked up angrily at Laurie’s shocked countenance. Her eyes glared with a message; not the look of “I can explain everything!” that Laurie was so well practiced with, but something more base and savage.
I Will End You.
Laurie exited the room quickly, slamming the door behind him. He stood there, breathing heavily for a moment, before turning to look at his puzzled guest.
"I will not lie. I'm going to need a cold shower after this. You still can't understand me right? Well don't worry, it's for the best."
Just then a familiar pony rounded the corner of the grand hall, striding silently towards the antechamber with the inexorable determination of an active tectonic plate. He stopped no less than a whisker's breadth from Laurie's face, his royal blue tunic sporting the indelible stains of pink frosting and raspberry glaze.
"I Will End You," He whispered.
From within the study, came a deep rumbling sound.
“What was that?” the dark haired pony demanded, as he glanced around Laurie’s head.
“A bear, I think.”
“Get out of my way.”
“No, no, wait!”
Laurie attempted to shield the door, tripping backwards as the other officer attempted to push past. The dark haired pony tumbled on top of Laurie as they both landed, sprawled halfway into Celestia’s private study.
They scrambled to extricate themselves - pulling their heads clear as the door slammed shut. It vibrated with the distinct *thwack* of a long polished knife embedding itself in thick varnished wood.
They both faced away from the door, staring off into oblivion. After some time, one of them spoke.
“Ah.. Captain Lancaster, is it?”
“Yes, Captain Dornier?”
“We’re both fired.”
“Medical discharge, you see. After I finish throttling your windpipe, I’ll be gouging my eyes out with the kitchen utensils.”
* * *
“Huh.. wonder what that was all about,” Applejack mused at the panicked flailing exit of one particular brown and white pony. She elbowed Fluttershy with a wink. “Yep! Definitely not the silent type!”
“Ohh.. I hope he’s not the silent type,” she responded dreamily.
Applejack found herself halfway across the room before she could speak again, torn between a sudden urge to follow the interloper out the door, a sudden urge to distance herself from any further brain melting single-entendres, and a sudden urge to chug every bottle of cider from the top shelf in the Apple family cellar.
“Love to stay and chat, ya know - but them fields ain’t gonna harvest themselves. I’ll just be.. Ooof!”
“Ach!” The dark haired pony cried, as they collided and tumbled to the floor. “Watch where you’re going!”
Applejack was already out the door, her autopilot apology suddenly drowned out by the beating of pegasi wings and the rattling cacophony of a royal carriage launching under “wartime emergency power”.
This left the dark haired pony in a state of distress. His eyes bulged, and their fierce unfocused stare seemed to be on the cusp of channeling a torrent of raw hatred into a formidably tangible manifestation. The same raw hatred that, were it to escape the rigor mortis of his lips, would erupt forth in a deafening roar of thunder, bellowing a wordless unholy curse that would rend asunder the many souls of all life in all universes.
However, he simply appeared to be choking. On air.
He turned with a snarl, steeling himself to burst out through the door in one predatory leap. It was then that he was given pause.
If there were a terrible and abrupt end to the world, this was exactly how Captain Dornier would have dreadfully imagined it; a leering pink visage with teeth bared wide, framed by two towers of sickly sweet confections stacked like the skulls of a conquered civilization; arms stretched wide to deliver a crushing embrace to all that remained good in the world; its throat warbling with the exuberant singsong malfeasance that heralded the end of time itself. It sang, “cupcakes”.
“Oh god oh god oh god KEEP IT AWAY!”
* * *
Applejack walked glumly back into Sugarcube Corner, halfheartedly tiptoeing past the frosted shrapnel and raspberry flavored ichor that one would expect if a wedding cake were to suddenly explode in a room full of crowded people.
As she sat down to finish her untouched breakfast, she turned to Fluttershy.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d reckon you were part unicorn,” she said, patting her forehead with a hoof.
Fluttershy gasped, feeling her own forehead. “What makes you think that?”
* * *
“We have a problem.”
“I’m looking at it.”
“No. Look around! What do you see missing here?”
“Just shut up and listen to me!” Laurie gestured around the room. “That table needs to be turned sideways and moved to the center. Equal representation of parties, and all that. There’s no tea ready, those chairs have to be moved, we have to take up positions here, annnd here, and that flag in the corner needs to be unfurled and canted half-forward facing away from the door.”
Laurie threw his hooves up in exasperation. “And we need a second flag facing the opposite way on the other side! We don’t have much time!”
“What in her name are you going on about?” Dornier gestured towards the door.
Laurie turned and slapped the thick square deadweight in his satchel. “Chapter eighteen, section five! Protocol for official meetings between Equestrian Sovereignty and visiting foreign dignitaries, diplomats, or military officers! And I’m pretty sure that he’s all three.”
“Oh for the love of..”
“Listen! Duty comes before.. whatever it is you’re planning to do with a blunt kitchen utensil. Or what you’re planning to do to me, for that matter. Even if they’re probably the same thing. The point is, there will be a very important official meeting taking place in the very immediate future, and we can’t be standing around waving our campfire rations at each other when it takes place!”
The door burst open. Laurie and Dornier gasped, suddenly holding each other for protection in the face of what horrors were about to befall.
Twilight Sparkle stepped through into the antechamber. Her head hung in dejected frustration, the last traces of her energy directed in a glare at the two officers.
They held each other tighter, momentarily.
“Um.. okay. Right then..” The two distanced themselves, having quickly forged an unbreakable pact to never speak of this event again.
“Aaaghhh, it’s no use!” Twilight wailed.
“She will NOT wake up!”
“Perfect!” cried Laurie. “We can still do this!”
“No time to explain. Here!” Laurie fetched the weighty slab of dog eared pages from his satchel, slamming it to the table in front of Twilight, and ruffling through the bookmarks until he found chapter eighteen.
“It’s all right there. Pictures and everything. I think I drew some annotations over in the corner there. But anyways! Please follow it to the letter!. I’m going to tell the kitchen staff to prepare some tea, and then I’ll be running halfway across the palace for another flag with the same size and insignia as that one!”
“But..” Twilight protested.
“Do it nooooooowww!” Laurie cried as he galloped down the main hallway, rounding the corner and disappearing from sight.
Dornier and Twilight looked at each other briefly, then to the interloper who had been sitting patiently through the whole exchange.
It raised one hand, waving it gently back and forth.
The greeting it issued sounded not unlike a wheel-less carriage plowing a furrow through a leafy compost-rich forest floor.
* * *
“Now what the hay was that all about?” Rainbow Dash wondered aloud.
They surveyed the damage caused by the dark haired pony’s sudden rush out the door. The first collision had sent Pinkie Pie flying, to say nothing of the twin plates of desserts. The next collision was not seen so much as heard, as the officer had barreled straight into Applejack a second time, outside of Sugarcube Corner.
There had been Words exchanged, followed by an indignant stream of noise that steadily diminished as it raced down the street.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders listened with eyes wide and mouths open.
“How would a whole bag of oats even fit there!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed.
* * *
Laurie returned triumphantly, brandishing the temporarily appropriated flag like a lance. The furniture of the antechamber had been moved into a rough approximation of the drawing in the Royal Guardpony field manual - even though the layout described was a few castles old.
“Are you happy now?”
“What, are you kidding me!” Laurie pointed at the tray of cups surrounding the steaming kettle. “No, no! Ahh.. Wait, perfect. Let’s move that stationary desk just outside of the room. That way when it comes time for tea, we can bring it in properly. Not have it staring them in the face during the initial meeting, or make them wait while we dash back to the kitchen. Even says so in the manual!”
“Un-rutting-believable!” Dornier turned back to Twilight. “Ah, pardon the language, Miss.”
Twilight stared blankly, barely noticing the minor impingement on her ears.
Laurie propped up the flag next to the door, before pushing the small desk out into the hallway. He motioned to the interloper with a series of quick gestures, who understood them perfectly - as he got up to push a sizable potted plant against the side of the door, and planted the unfurled flag at an angle that matched the first.
“Seriously! Where do you find time to read all this crap?”
Laurie looked up angrily. “I..”
“..well I’m lonely sometimes,” he finished defensively.
Dornier guffawed. “Pffffff.. I don’t think I’ve known anyone this pathetic since I heard of that one recruit that got caught clopping off while reading a field manual.”
“Those were two entirely independent actions!” Laurie shouted. “Err. I mean.. multitasking, you know. The section on woodland survival.. Oh go to hell!”
A malevolent grin spread across Dornier’s face. One that he appeared to enjoy immensely.
Twilight sat upright, snapping the Royal Guardpony field manual shut with a twitch of magic. Slowly, she brought her hooves up to the level of her unfocused eyes, shaking gently as she sought refuge in the portion of her mind that was not responsible for conscious thought.
“Do you have one useful thing to say? Hmm? Is there anything I could expect to come out of that horn polisher that you mistakenly refer to as a mouth that could, in any way, be helpful? At all?”
“Ahem.. yes. There is,” Dornier stiffened to a position of attention and saluted. “Good afternoon, Princess Luna.”
“Oh shit!” Laurie shouted as he spun around, snapping to attention.
“Uhh..” Luna regarded them through bleary eyes.
“Ahh. Belay my last. Good afternoon, Princess,” Laurie managed carefully.
“Oh, it’s all right. At ease gentlemen. Where is Celestia?”
Twilight shook her head.
“I see.. well don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. By the way, the room looks perfect! Good job making use of the extra time,” she smiled.
“Oh, and Captain Laurie, right? Um. Don’t worry. I like to read books too. Ahem, just not always in that way.”
Laurie stood mortified, but cocked an eye at the Princess’s choice of words.
“I mean..” her indigo face tinged with the slightest flush of red. “Twilight likes to read a lot too! You two should probably trade books sometime!”
The awkwardness in the room had manifested itself in a metaphoric three-way reach around.
Luna pushed open the door to the study.
“Huh? How’d that get stuck there?” She turned back to face the trio, plus guest. “I’ll have her out in five minutes. Be ready!”
The room was quiet, with the three ponies waiting for the arrival of Celestia.
One pony felt as if he was going to die of embarrassment.
One pony felt as if he was going to die from suppressed laughter.
One pony was in her happy place.
From behind the door, Luna’s voice could be faintly heard.
“Wake up sleepyhorn! Come on, lets go. I know you can hear me. What? No, I’m not the Phillydelphia Clydesdales! How would that even..? ARRGHH!”
There was a sound of a short running start, followed by the sound of two heavy sacks thrown together. Again. And again.
It was a very long five minutes.
* * *
“Are you okay, Miss?”
Pinkie looked up, still dizzy from her encounter with Captain Dornier. When any two ponies meet in such a manner, physics always wins.
“I invented the hippogryph!” Pinkie exclaimed, dispelling any indications of permanent brain damage.
“Ehh..” remarked the grey pony, not entirely convinced.
“Ooohh. Who are you?”
“Ahh, forgive me,” the grey pony said, turning one leg sideways and bending it into a crescent shape. “I’m ..”
“No, I mean who are you? I’ve never seen you before. Are you new here?”
He thought for a moment, letting his leg fall back into a normal stance. “Yes and no. I don’t live here, but I am visiting. I’m.. a reporter. And I’ve heard that something rather interesting took place last night.”
“Oh..” Pinkie’s bubbly smile returned. “Would you like a cupcake?”
“I would be delighted.”
* * *
Princess Celestia smoothly parted the doors to her study, her horn glowing slightly with the trivial effort as she entered the antechamber. Her body cast a gentle luminance across the room, as she stepped forward looking remarkably refreshed and envigorated.
“Captains, I see that everything looks perfectly in order. Very well done.”
Laurie allowed the hint of a proud smirk to cross his face, which prompted Dornier to respond with an imperceptible roll of his eyes.
“And Twilight Sparkle, my most talented and trusted student, I am so glad to have you here for this occasion.”
Twilight nodded weakly.
“I was having the most wonderful dream earlier. I think you might have been in it too! I simply must tell you all about it..” Celestia pondered her next words carefully. “..sometime later.”
Twilight hid her emotion behind the veneer of a smile. This was surprisingly easy, since horses and ponies lack the physiological capability to vomit.
“And now, to business,” she approached the table confidently.
The interloper stood across the table. He bowed respectfully, to which Celestia responded in turn. The alicorn extended her hoof, which was met by a firm grasp. They shook for a second time, with practiced fluidity.
“Luna, if you would please.”
Princess Luna approached the table alongside her sister. A long polished knife slid out from an ornate holster strapped across her foreleg, levitating over the table and laying itself down between the two parties.
Celestia nodded to the interloper, as she put forward one hoof. Her leg could not twist far enough to turn over completely, but the gesture was understood. The otherworldly visitor extended his hand with the palm facing upwards.
The knife rose into the air with a delicate precision, hovering directly over the outstretched palm. Their eyes locked together as the sharpened tip traced a fine line across the skin, which slowly welled up with a single drop of blood.
The interloper winced slightly, but remained still.
The knife rose again into the air between them, flipping upside down. Celestia closed her eyes, and lowered her head. It spun in a circle, coming to rest gently against the base of her horn.
It slid down the length, shaving away a glowing filament that curled into a loose spiral. The strand of Celestia’s horn floated down lazily, landing in the visitor’s outstretched palm. She braced her wings against the edges of the table, lifting both hooves to meet the interloper’s clasped hands.
They stayed that way briefly, as Celestia intoned a long and soft incantation. As she finished, her horn gently descended, pressing firmly against the crown of the his head.
There was a soft flash of light, and a brief silence that left everyone’s ears slightly ringing.
Princess Celestia returned her hooves to the floor, smiling at the visitor. The two stared thoughtfully at each other for some time, before Celestia spoke.
The interloper’s eyes widened slightly, but not with alarm or undue amazement. It raised one hand, gently waving it side to side.
“Hello,” he replied.
The other ponies stared with rapt attention.
“I believe there is much we have to talk about,” Celestia stated. “But first, could I offer you tea?”
“I would be delighted.”
* * *