The Celestia Code

by iisaw

7 Explanations

Chapter Seven

I was trying to get things organized and not making much progress. The desk was covered with books, scrolls, notepads, inkwells, quills, blotters, pen knives, pencils, and loose paper, all scattered around in complete disorder. I tried sorting the items first, but the pages of loose paper slid off onto the floor and the cups of quills and pencils kept tipping over and spilling. The towers of books wobbled and fell, and I couldn't seem to use my magic correctly, causing mid-air collisions more often than not.

In the midst of this chaos, I was interrupted by Luna, who entered the dingy room and nodded to the desk. "I ken thou hast received a rare gift, Twilight Sparkle."

"What?" I looked back at the desk and saw a small porcelain figurine of a unicorn resting on a stack of books. Even with my limited sense for fine art, I could tell that it was beautifully made. The lively pose conveyed the energy and grace of the young sky-blue and yellow mare and the glaze was perfect and luminous.

As I admired it, the books underneath shifted and the figurine tumbled off the stack. I barely caught it before it hit the stone floor. I tried to find a clear spot to set it down, but the desk was completely covered in research materials. I went to settle it on another stack of books, but that one toppled even before I had let go of the figurine, so I hurriedly snatched it back.

One of books that had fallen from the stack hit the corner of the desk and bounced, heading straight for the open fireplace. I reached out for it with my magic but the figurine wobbled in my grasp, threatening to slip away.

"No!" I cried in frustration, watching the book collide with the burning logs and begin to smolder.

"Canst thou not properly care for this gift?" Luna inquired, with a regally lifted eyebrow.

"Yes, yes!" I insisted. "I just need to make some room! There... there doesn't seem to be any place to keep it!"

"'Tis a treasure beyond price, Twilight Sparkle. Thou must keep it safe from harm!"

"I... I know... I just—"

"If there be no place, then thou must make a place!" Luna's eyes grew huge and lambent and her magic lifted a great pile of books and paper off of the desk and moved it toward the fire.


The mass stopped moving and Luna turned her glowing stare on me. "Make a place, or reject it, Twilight Sparkle! High or low, close or distant, thou must decide."

"I... I don't know—"


"I... I can't—"


Her thunderous voice caused the towers of books and papers to come crashing down, burying me beneath the avalanche.

I woke with a start, tossing my blanket to one side and sitting up fast enough to make my head spin. The fire had died to embers, leaving the rotunda a dim landscape of shadows and red highlights. I looked over to where Jigsaw lay, still asleep, and saw the faintest glimmer of starlight in a nimbus surrounding her.

I gritted my teeth. It seemed Her Majesty of the Moon was in a mood to meddle. At least Jigsaw didn't seem to be having a nightmare. She smiled and murmured in her sleep, moved her legs slightly... not at all like she was in a dream of running... and, once, she stretched out like a lazy cat in front of a fire.

Luna's little dream nudge had been pretty ham-hoofed as far as I was concerned. Did she really think I had any romantic interest in Jigsaw? I thought I had made myself clear. Jigsaw had become a good friend, and, as such, I was certainly going to make room for her in my life. As I was often in Canterlot, not to mention guest-lecturing at the university, I would have ample opportunities to visit her. And when we were apart, we could exchange letters about books, archaeology—whatever interested us. It all came together quite neatly. I had decided.

I retrieved my blanket and went through some breathing exercises designed to relax me enough to go back to sleep. I was wondering if there was a spell that was the mental equivalent of a Do Not Disturb sign when I finally drifted off.

= = =

I stretched and sat up slowly, feeling surprisingly well-rested. I opened my eyes and, for a second, had no idea what I was looking at. Then, my brain finally processed the unexpected images and returned a verdict: Changelings. Hundreds of them. They had us completely surrounded, nearly blocking out the morning light.

"Oh come on, Luna!" I yelled, "Would you please knock it off?!"

There came the eerie susurration of changeling laughter from beyond my shield, but no appearance from Luna. I was suddenly, horribly sure that I wasn't dreaming.

"Twilight? Wha..." Jigsaw sat up, blearily blinking her eyes into focus. "Aaaahhhhh!"

"Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake," came a voice like velvet death from beyond the mass of drones. "Twilight Sparkle! How kind of you to visit my domain." The mass of changelings parted to reveal the form of Queen Chrysalis, striding lazily forward. "Oh! Have I surprised you? I'm terribly sorry!"

Jigsaw had a death-grip around my waist and was trembling from horn to hoof. I stroked her back with a wing and whispered, "Everything is going to be just fine." Then I straightened and gave the crowd a sweep of the Imperious Disapproving Glance[1] before I addressed their queen.
[1] One of Celestia's, believe it or not.

"Chrysalis." I narrowed my eyes. "Didn't you get my note?"

"Oh, I most certainly did!" She sneered at me in contempt. "How could you think I would allow such an insult to pass, unpunished? By the way, don't try to escape. I've warded this whole area with my magic. You won't be able to teleport an inch!"

I thought of several other things I could try, but Chrysalis was very powerful, and I didn't know what she'd be able to stop. One failure would probably be my last.

"Your magic?" I asked in a polite voice that, nevertheless, managed to convey utter scorn. "It doesn't seem to be able to do much about my shield spell."

"Oh yes," the queen sneered back at me. "You pathetic, soft ponies are very good at hiding behind things, aren't you? Well, you'll discover that I am very patient. I can wait until you get too thirsty, tired, and hungry to maintain your shield. And then..." She just smiled, baring those awful carnivore's fangs.

"Twilight..." Jigsaw began in an urgent whisper.

"It'll be okay." I stroked her again and she fell silent.

I didn't take the big bug's word for it. I tried several quick test spells to determine the extent and power of her wards. She was right: They were powerful and well-wrought. Teleportation was out, as was suddenly increasing the size of the shield in an effort to mash the changelings against the walls of the library. The shield moved with me, but the mass of changelings surrounding it could hold it in place by sheer weight of numbers pressing against it. If I dropped the shield for even an instant, I wouldn't be able to re-create it. It was only because I had already cast it that—ah! That line of thought led to a more fruitful series of mini tests. So, I couldn't cast any new spells outside the shield, but I could modify the one I already had going, if I was clever about it. If I changed the—

"Is that the pony you mentioned in the note?" Chrysalis prodded. "Pathetic little thing. It's a wonder you—"

"Shut up, you overgrown cockroach!"[2] I snapped at her. "I'm thinking!"
[2] Oops. Forgot about the "Graciousness is Never the Wrong Choice" lesson, there.

She reared back and sputtered for a second before shrieking at me, "Your death will be slow and agonizing, you presumptuous little grub! I'll have your friend ripped apart right in front of you! I'll... I'll... what? What are you doing?"

"Something I've wanted to try for a while, actually," I said as the shield began to slowly rotate.

"You can't escape! Exhaust yourself trying, but—"

"You are the one who should be worried about escaping. If you start now..." I added more angular momentum to the shield and began to tessellate it. "You could get a head start."

The shield still operated within the limits Chysalis's wards had imposed on it. It couldn't expand or change its spherical shape, and it had to remain centered on me. Well, so what? I often find that limits are spurs to creativity. A so-called spherical shield is defined by a formula describing points arrayed around a center. But, with the indefinite number of points required to describe a smooth sphere, the limiting spell couldn't specify any fixed number of points. I was free to alter the number of points as I chose.

A tetrahedron is, topologically, identical to a sphere.

I levitated Jigsaw and myself up until the shield was clear of the floor, then added more vectors of motion to it, as well as a lot more momentum. The shield began to hiss as it spun. A couple of drones tried to shove against the sphere and were flung aside. Fortunately for them, they hadn't tried that after I reduced the number of defining points to four.

When that was done, Jigsaw and I were floating at the center of what was, for all practical purposes, a spherical buzzsaw.

I began to move us toward Chrysalis, carrying the shield with us. "I'm sorry you didn't take my note seriously, Your Majesty," I told her, having to raise my voice to be heard over the shrieking of the shield's points slicing through the air. The shield contacted a hoof-size chunk of granite rubble, instantly reducing it to a high-speed spray of sand.

It was hard to believe, but Chrysalis's eyes got even bigger.

I had been riding the high of my own cleverness for a while there, but the thought of what was about to happen made me queasy. "Don't look, Jigsaw," I said, and then to Chrysalis, "I'm really sorry about this."

= = =

"I'm sorry I ever doubted you, Twilight," Jigsaw said, as we sat together in the sunlight, enjoying a light meal on the steps of the library.

"You woke up surrounded by a swarm of vicious predators," I replied, as I selected an oat roll from the bag, "You had every reason to be terrified."

"And one big reason not to," she insisted. "You were there!"

I sighed and put the roll back down. "And I'm the reason we were in that mess in the first place. If I had just squashed that changeling like you wanted me to, that would have put an end to it. Like most despots, Chysalis values her own pride over the lives of her subjects. I should have known my note would goad her into something regrettable."

"I'll bet she regrets it: She lost a good piece of her tail before she got away! I'm amazed at how fast she can fly with those flimsy bug wings."

Jigsaw still had no idea how narrowly we had escaped death, and I certainly wasn't going to enlighten her. She'd been through enough as it was. Chrysalis had locked me down very thoroughly, and if I hadn't come up with a structural loophole that depended on knowledge of advanced shield theory, we would have been goners. There was one very important task I needed to complete to avoid another life-threatening situation.

I got out my writing things and began to compose another note.

"What are you doing?" Jigsaw asked.

"I'm writing a letter of apology to Queen Chrysalis."

I just had to laugh at the completely stunned expression on Jigsaw's face. She nearly fell over backwards. "You're what?!"

"Jigsaw, the whole ambush thing happened because I was angry and trying to be clever when I wrote that note. It wounded Chrysalis's pride and threatened her in a way she couldn't not take seriously. This morning, I frightened and embarrassed her in front of her entire swarm. Do you think she just going to crawl back into her hole in the ground and sulk?"

"Oh. When you put it that way..." Jigsaw's expression turned thoughtful. "But do you think she will accept an apology and let it go at that?"

I shook my head. "Certainly not. Not with an apology alone."


"Let me finish this and I'll explain."

Unto HRM Queen Chrysalis of the Changeling Swarm, warm Greetings from HSH Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria.

Your Esteemed Majesty,

I wish to offer my sincere apologies and heart-felt regret for the terrible misunderstanding that I have caused between us. My original letter to you was written in the heat of anger, and its tone and content were reprehensible and unbecoming of a princess of Equestria.

Likewise, my actions and words this morning were colored by my emotional turmoil, though I admit that is a poor excuse for my behavior. On sober reflection, I realize I should have treated you with the respect due to your station, and attempted a diplomatic solution to our differences.

"Oh, suffering stars, Twilight!" Jigsaw groaned as she leaned over my shoulder to watch me write. "I think I may throw up!"

I flicked the end of her nose with the feather end of my quill. "Not on the letter, please: I'll have to start all over."

I earnestly wish that there be peace and understanding between our peoples, and, to that end, I hope that we can serve as examples for them to follow. I offer my hoof to you in friendship, in hopes that such a relationship will serve as a guiding light for all who know us.

"Jigsaw, will you please stop making gagging noises?"

Again, I offer my abject apologies for my words and actions, as well as my intrusion into your territory. I am completely and utterly at fault in this matter.

I and my assistant have come here on a peaceful, scientific expedition, but if you wish us to remove ourselves from your lands you have only to command it.

Yours Sincerely,
Princess Twilight Sparkle

P.S. As part of our research, early this evening, I will be excavating a part of the mountain that is eight leagues West by North of Your Majesty's hive. Please keep any of your subjects well away from the area, as operations of this kind can be dangerous. A safe zone of three leagues should be sufficient. Also, it would be inadvisable to look directly at the mountain during this time.

"Uh..." Jigsaw wrinkled her nose in confusion. "What's that last bit about?"

"The indirect stick that goes with the obvious carrot," I said. "And a slightly subtle way of telling her I know exactly where her hive is."

"I don't understand."

"Let me just make a clean copy of this letter and send it. Then I'll explain."

When I'd finished the copy, I rolled it up and sealed it.

"So..." Jigsaw said slowly. "Explanation?"

I nodded. "I know where the changeling hive is because, fortunately, Chrysalis poured all her magical power into getting away and let her wards collapse, enabling me to shape the magical spatter from my dismissed shield spell into several tracking spells. It was random, because Chrysalis could detect a directed spell, not that she was probably concerned with that at the moment, but it took fairly well on a large number of the drones. That's also how I know that there are at least a half-dozen of them spying on us at the moment."

Jigsaw gave a startled whinny and her mane stood on end as she looked around at the apparently empty ruins. "Holy stars, Twilight! Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't want you to worry," I explained. "And I'll need one to deliver my message."

I got out my spyglass and aimed it at a weathered tower a couple of blocks from where we were. The changeling I had detected there ducked out of sight when she saw me swinging the glass toward her, but the tip of her horn was still visible above the wall. I snorted. "Chrysalis has got to get herself some better minions."

I teleported the drone over to where I sat and gave her a moment to get over her panic at suddenly appearing in front of the nasty little pony who had almost shredded her queen. "I'm terribly sorry to inconvenience you," I said. "But could you please deliver this letter to Queen Chrysalis? I would be very grateful."

The drone didn't reply or make a move to take the letter, so I tucked it into one of the holes in her right foreleg. "There! Could you please deliver it as soon as possible? It contains some time-sensitive information."

I released the drone from my telekinetic grip and she fled.

"Wow," Jigsaw said. "They are fast little buggers, aren't they?" She dropped the hoof she had been shading her eyes with and turned to me. "Now what about this 'excavation' thing?"

"Remember when you were listing my specialty subjects? You forgot a particular favorite of mine: Astronomy."

Jigsaw cocked her head and squinted at me. "Are you trying to confuse me?"

I grinned. "Maybe just a little bit. Your nose crinkles up in such a cute way when you're puzzled by something."

She rolled her eyes at me, but I detected a slight blush under her blue coat. Point to Twilight.

"Originally, I made the mistake of making a big threat with no evidence to back it up. 'All talk, no action', right? Now I'm going to do the exact opposite... and here's how I'll do it..."

= = =