“The Council meeting will commence. This morning’s first subject, the dimensional traveler. Princess Luna will be opening.” Celestia rakes her eyes over the hidden room as she finishes speaking, taking in the medley of expressions on the faces of everypony there.
A now-informed Cadence sits next to her rather stone-faced husband, looking over the assembled ponies with trepidation. She had sat in on meetings before, but never actively participated. Never mind being a part of something so worldchanging and important as the emergence of “The Third Aetheral,” as some were calling their guest.
Celestia’s assistant, Raven, who had been sworn to secrecy, stands next to her. The poor mare’s nerves are frayed by the commotion around her, and the bright pony can barely take it all in.
The members of the merchant’s guild in attendance seem divided. To them, this is already cut and dry. Either the traveler would be a positive influence on business, maybe even be a game changer...Or he would crash the market, sending the economy into a tailspin. To them, a mild effect seems unlikely.
The soldiers and guards are nearly inscrutable as always, but they seem less tense than they had been in the first meeting. The non-violent first contact likely put many of their fears to rest. Shining Armor and the other higher ranking guards in attendance still look uneasy, however.
The mages, as usual, are unreadable under their cloaks and hoods.
Like the merchants, the scholars have a rift in their ranks. The thought of new, alien knowledge and culture was enticing to them all, but to what cost, some asked. What would they have to pay for the information? Would they even have a choice when it comes to what they want, and what must be given up?
And there-in lies the biggest reason the Aetheral is still sitting on his Class II threat level: His knowledge.
It’s not so much his general know-how and skill that could cause unrest, Celestia idly muses, but rather his ideas, his culture, his values and reason. Some may be sceptical when presented such a reason, but to the royal sisters, it makes perfect sense.
An entire country could be founded on peace and love, and grow into the safest and brightest hub of culture and commerce the world had ever seen. A superpower, some call it. What could destroy such a cohesive behemoth? A single, enticing idea. A thought that goes against everything the prosperous land teaches could rend everything asunder in a storm of opinionated conflict. The dear traveler has been nothing but cooperative, but he could still sow strife without even realizing it. It’s imperative that the language barrier be breached at once. If the Aetheral had any concept of empathy, then he would understand the plight of the sisters.
Luna holds a foreleg to her mouth and clears her throat, drawing the council room’s attention to herself. “As you all know, we are currently playing host to an Aetheral, the third that Equis has ever known. So far, he has been cooperative. Friendly, even.”
A few councillors look towards one another, already knowing that there is an inevitable catch.
“But…” just as they thought, “there are a startling number of differences between he and other known Aetherals. This could greatly complicate interactions with him. First and foremost would be his lack of a magical core.”
Celestia gives her sister a sidelong glance, silently asking why she opened the conversation like that.
Luna just shakes her head.
Confused muttering overtakes the room. There’s no way any being couldn’t have a magic core. ALL living things have one. It’s what ties a soul to a body, after all. So no magic core means no life.
“Princess,” asks one of the scholars over the others, making the stone room go quiet, “if I may?”
Luna nods, surrendering the floor to the middle-aged stallion. “By all means.”
He smiles, showing a few wrinkles on his face. “My thanks, Highness.” He clears his throat and stands. “Honored Council, I am Certain Selection, a biologist under their Majesties’ employ. Although I do not wish to seem condescending, I cannot let false data like this remain while we have such an important subject to discuss.”
Certain’s eyes look around, being sure his audience is listening before continuing. “As you all may or may not know, the nervous system of all living beings requires a constant flow of magic across all nerve pathways. This magic is stored and regulated in the magic core located most often in the center mass of the being in question, save changelings whom store magic within their head. More specifically, it’s located in the Fablemen Core, which is composed of tri-faceted plates of porous bone and placed just behind the heart.”
The room listens closely, the gathered councillors now curious as to where the biologist is going.
“Magic is the source of all life, as it is needed for almost all bodily functions,” states the biologist. “Brain signal transfer, energy absorption via digestion, even the contractions of the heart are caused by shifting and reacting magic fields. As such,” Certain continues, “We can conclude that the Aetheral MUST have some sort of magic core. He would not be able to live otherwise. Its location may not be readily apparent to us due to greatly differing biology, but…”
All eyes in the room shift to Raven, who looks like she wants to shrink down to a speck under the scrutiny.
Celestia looks down at the white-coated mare with a gentle gaze, spurring her to sigh and stand with a folder held in telekinesis. Steeling herself, the mare looks over the gathered ponies resolutely. “Allow me to introduce myself,” she starts. “I am Raven, the personal assistant to Princess Celestia, and I have been spearheading the effort to establish communications with the Aetheral.”
To the mare’s silent horror, the room regards her with much more intensity than before.
Gulping away the lump in her throat, Raven presses on. “As I tried to communicate with the Aetheral, I also took the liberty of casting a few discreet scanning spells to gather an understanding of his biology. I concluded that he would react better to a single pony rather than a team of scientists poking and prodding him.”
A few in the room nod in agreement, seeing the logic, though a number of others frown.
“What I found was… unnerving, to say the least.”
“Unnerving?” questions a posh looking noble—Caesar, Raven thinks his name is—with a raised eyebrow. “In what sort of way?”
Celestia’s assistant opens the folder in her grasp, looking at several of the documents before replying. “The way his body functions. So far, I’ve only been able to scan the nervous system. On the surface, it seems the same a pony’s, but the appearance is where all similarities end.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that his body does not use magic. At all.”
Where Raven had expected an uproar, there was deafening silence, which seemed all the more foreboding. Everypony was frozen. The very idea of a being with no magic… She should have expected this. Expected the sudden chill that gripped the room. It’s a total upheaval to all they knew about life. Magic is a part of everything, it touches all life in the known world. All except the Aetheral, it seems. She may as well have told them that he was made of stardust.
A perturbed Fancy Pants sucks in a deep breath and speaks through the room’s tension. “Truly, Miss Raven? This is… certainly a new situation. I do not claim to know just how such a thing is possible, but I do know that our guest should not be in land of the living.” Fancy observes the council room, taking in the distress of his fellow ponies. “So,” he starts, gaining more of his usual confidence back, “I will ask what is on the minds of all of us gathered here. How?”
“His nerves, rather than use constant streams of magic to convey signals,” she explains, “use pulses of electricity.”
Rather than shock, the assembled ponies look at her with confusion, and in some cases, disbelief.
“No! Preposterous! There’s no way that lightning could play such a vital part in anypony’s biology!” Certain Selection all but yells as he stands, a few gasps meeting the action. “Miss Raven, I understand that this is a huge discovery and you want to be part of it, but you cannot simply falsify information like this!” he says with a pointed hoof. “It will impede any future studies!”
Every bit of intimidation on Raven’s face is quickly superseded by fury. “You have the gall to think I would make something as important as this up?!”
“Yes, yes I do! Everypony knows you want to move up from being a glorified secretary, and what better way than to lie and gain attention through the biggest event of our lifetime!”
“Why I never!”
The two ponies go back and forth, gaining volume with time as they lean over the table to better argue. The councillors can only watch, the heads in the room turning back and forth like they were watching a mesmerizing game of ping-pong. Then…
Both Raven and Certain stop mid insult and turn to face the voice, only to go pale under their fur upon seeing Princess Luna’s cool visage.
“If you two are finished, I have something to say.”
Both ponies immediately sit back down and bow their heads in shame.
Luna takes in the reactions of the rest of the room. “Honored Council, today’s meeting was opened in an unorthodox manner for a reason,” she says, ignoring the sidelong glare she got from her sister. “The reason was to show you just how stressful this is going to be for all of us, and how tempers can fray if left unchecked.”
Both Raven and Certain sink lower into their seats.
“I wished to show you how vital it is that we work together,” Luna continues with a small frown. “Not everything will make sense with our newest guest, and for good reason. He is from a plane of existence that could very well be unimaginable to even our greatest fiction writers. His story is totally unknown to us. For all we know, to hear his song could paint a picture more beautiful than any other, or it could be utter madness.” The small frown the alicorn’s face lifts some. ”But what I do know is that we can grow from this, that this is a golden opportunity. This is a chance to foster a friendship across dimensions. This is how Faust intended it.”
The alicorn’s eyes harden once more. “But if we are to accomplish such a thing, then we all need to cooperate. In this arena, disarray means failure. Teamwork is key. Miss Raven, Mister Certain, I want to offer you my sincerest apologies for putting you both on the spot. I did not mean to cause either of you alarm, I merely wished to show just how easily a division can be put in our ranks.”
Both of the ponies look at each other, before nodding in acceptance towards the Princess.
“Excellent!” Luna exclaims happily. “Now, Miss Raven, if you could report the rest of your findings.”
The white-coated mare nods and clears her throat. “As I was saying, the Aetheral’s nervous system uses a series of electric pulses rather than a constant stream of magic. Other than that, the basis of his nervous system bears a striking resemblance to that of any other creature on Equis. I would go out in on a limb and even say they were identical.”
The scholars in the room all look towards each other subtly, their faces like masks and their thoughts unknown.
“In addition,” Raven continues without missing a beat, “A believed to be memetic effect can be observed when the Aetheral’s face is in full view.”
A wave of whispers runs down the council chambers as all the suspicion from before comes rushing back in a torrent.
Raven quickly takes notice of the sudden fearfulness. “It’s nothing harmful!” she says with haste. “From what can be gathered, viewing the entirety of his face can cause feelings of unease, a pin and needle sensation on the hooves, and mild nausea. Nothing that cannot be cured.”
“So you’re saying that he’s ugly?” one of the soldiers down the table bluntly asks. “If the guy is as laid-back as we are led to believe, then I don’t think he’s going to be offended if you just tell the truth.”
The unicorn mare gives the offending guard, a major, a glare, making him wilt slightly under its intensity.
“No. It’s not that,” Raven replies, totally sure of herself. “If even a bit of his face is covered, then the memetic effect is negated. I’m sure that if his mane was long enough to come down over his face even a little bit, then the effect would not be a concern at all.”
A few of the scholars near the other end of the table quietly deliberate among themselves before they all turn towards the mare. “Are there any other effects that can be observed? Even ones that are believed to be isolated incidents?” a yellow coated mare with a pair of spectacles asks for the group.
The same group talks to each other quietly once more, this time finding a question more quickly. “What about the trigger of the effect? Is there any speculation as to why exactly it happens?”
Raven falters some under the unexpected inquiry. “Well, um, no. There could be a number of reasons, but…”
“It’s likely to be triggered by the subconscious of the pony viewing the Aetheral.”
All eyes turn back to Certain Selection, who looks towards Raven. “From what can be gathered from Miss Raven’s report, there is no conscious reaction to the memetic effect, but rather one that cannot be controlled. This leads me to believe that the greatest possibility is an unconscious flight signal that is triggered by the visage of the Aetheral, but I am willing to wager that Miss Raven already knew this,” Certain says, giving the mare in question a smile.
To her credit, she is quick to catch on. “Exactly! That was the most likely theory, but I did not wish to speak without a second opinion. Thank you, Mister Selection.”
Luna seems especially pleased by the turn of events. “Indeed, and while I hate to cause a rush, may we move on?”
Celestia’s assistant blushes. “Oh. Of course,” she clears her throat. “Moving on, the Aetheral displayed enormous mathematical capabilities. He was able to solve everything from basic arithmetic to advanced calculus with only a few errors once the tests progressed to the later stages. Most of said errors were caused by translation troubles rather than mistakes with the math itself.”
A few ponies in the room nod approvingly.
“While these tests were administered, I had my scanning spell active, and I believe I caught another power associated with our guest.”
The ponies in the room lean forward once more.
Raven opens her folder and shuffles a few papers, scanning over one before speaking further. “As the difficulty of the problems progressed, the Aetheral began to slow, taking more time for each one until he came to a halt altogether on some advanced algebra. For the purpose of testing, I discouraged him from using his chalkboard to write out his thoughts. After a moment of concentration, the electrical activity in his brain spiked in an area around the back of his head. Afterward, he was able to solve the problem completely unassisted. He proceeded to do so for the rest of the testing and flew through all the presented problems faster than what should be possible.”
The Council dissolves into quiet deliberation once more, the scholars more so than the others. Such an ability is unheard of, and if the Aetheral is willing to teach its use to others…
The merchants in the room now seem more interested as well. Financing does have its roots within mathematics, after all. A pony able to do rapidfire mathematics with no aid would never have any trouble finding a job.
The mages and guards are somewhat unmoved by the revelation.
“An intriguing talent,” Fancy Pants cuts in over the din of conversation. “Tell me, Miss Raven, once our guest is up to snuff with Equestrian, could I perchance schedule a meeting with him?”
“What?” calls a short, porky merchant chief incredulously. “You cannot be serious! Do you expect me or anypony else to let you drag the noble Aetheral into your scheme to monopolize the general trade market? I believe not!”
Fancy blinks at the accusation. “Good sir, you have it all wrong. I merely wish to offer our guest rewarding work should Equestria play host to him longer than expected. His talents could-“
“Ruin the rest of us!” says a wealthy looking mare garbed in a suit. “Besides, why would he work for a hack like you, when the First Equestrian Bank could utilize him to a far greater result with even greater rewards?” she asks with a glare.
Fancy Pants looks aghast. “Are any of you listening to yourselves? You talking about an Aetheral!” he exclaims. “He is not some trained animal to be sold to the highest bidder.”
“Exactly,” agrees a lab coat wearing mare from the scholar part of the table, making Fancy smile. “The Aetheral would obviously be more at home with fellow intellectuals. I know for a fact we can find him a generous grant.”
Fancy’s smile falters again.
“Oh, don’t look so sour,” a stallion with spectacles and a sweater vest says when he catches sight of Fancy planting his face in his hooves. “He could better the lives of countless ponies with that amazing brainpower of his.”
“Are any of you even considering what HE might want!” Raven yells over the rest of the Council, quieting them all. “He can think and feel just like the rest of us. Maybe he doesn’t want to do any of that, maybe you all need to stop scrambling over each other! This is just plain shameful!”
Before anypony can retort, Celestia clears her throat, immediately shutting down all conversation and bringing attention to her. She looks over the assembled council like she did at the beginning of the meeting, pulling the thoughts right off the faces of the ponies her gaze lands upon.
“While I am able to sympathize with many of you,” Celestia begins neutrally, not bothering to name any parties, “I believe that many of your desires will forever remain unfounded, as a critical part of this little operation has been compromised. Raven, if you would?”
The white mare looks toward her employer with confusion before her eyes widen in understanding, the meaning behind Celestia’s words sinking in.
“Err, right. Everypony, there is a serious problem with both ourselves, and the Aetheral.”
All the eyes in the room turn fearful.
“After appropriate first contact was established, we attempted to make a rudimentary breach in the language barrier and hopefully establish a medium for communication. The efforts to do so were found to be impossible.”
The room is so quiet that one could hear a pin drop.
Raven looks at all the faces around her and winces internally. “We found out that the differences between the Aetheral’s vocal cords and ours are enormous, drastically limiting any form of verbal communication to almost nothing. In addition, it’s been deemed too unsafe for all parties involved to involve the use of a translation spell, as doing so would require a mind-link between a him and a pony.”
The mare in the lab coat from earlier stands, her face twisted in disbelief. “T-that’s impossible! You cannot honestly be saying that a huge wealth of alien knowledge is beyond our reach?!”
Celestia nods in Raven’s steed.
The poor mare sinks back into her seat, her eyes shining with unshed tears. “Th-the greatest discovery of the era… is going to yield nothing?”
A depressing aura emanates from the mare, ensnaring all her fellow scholars and others around her with melancholy. It seems that all the Aetheral did was raise the hopes of those around him for nothing.
It simply isn’t fair.
Raven can’t help but look away.
Before long, the entire room is covered with a depressed air. It didn’t matter to any of them that it’s all out of their control; it still feels like a colossal failure. After all, it’s not every day that the appearance of a mythical being becomes a letdown. Even the guards seem disappointed with the outcome of the meeting.
Cadence lays her ears back and looks around the room, practically able to feel the depression emanating from every other pony around her. She looks to her side worriedly, seeing that even her ever resolute husband is wearing a deep frown.
If there is one thing Cadence can say that she well and truly hates, it’s seeing other ponies in pain, and this has to be the most misery she’s seen since, well… forever! There must be something that she can do. Hmm… Twilight is good at solving problems. What would she do in this situation?
Find the problem at its root? That sounds like a very Twi thing to do. Luckily, Cadence doesn’t need to dig for it, as it’s already plain to her.
Everypony is depressed because none of them can speak to their guest. Soooo logically…
“Auntie Celestia, Auntie Luna?” Cadence says, speaking up for the first time.
Both of the alicorns look over to her, taking in her smiling face with confusion.
“If nopony is able to talk to the Aetheral and using the translation spell is too dangerous, then why not make a new spell that’s less dangerous?”
The solar and lunar ponies both blink then look at each other with incredulous expressions.
One of the mages down the table scoffs. “Princess, please. If the solution to this was that simple, then I think somepony else would have thought of it.”
Cadence lays her ears back again and sinks a little lower into her seat, her expression one of hurt. An instant later, Shining turns to the mage with a smoldering leer that promises pain, making the offending pony go pale under his fur. Before the guard captain can hop over the table and defend his wife’s honor, Luna speaks up.
“Cadence, I do hope that you realize that you are going to get some manner of award for this,” Luna says, not looking away from her sister.
“Indeed,” Celestia simply agrees as she rubs one of her temples with a hoof
The pink alicorn just blinks innocently at her aunts.
“Really? Tell me more.”
The energetic guard pony in front of you seems to get the gist of what you say and smiles widely in response. Not a moment later, he’s chattering away in the pony language that you have no hope of comprehending. You rest your head on your fist, just enough to obscure a bit of your face, as the pony in front of you regaled you with a very animated tale.
As it turns out, the guards DO have the ability to break their stoic façade. The pair assigned to you today is considerably more approachable than the others. This one in particular is in a league of his own. From the jumping, flapping wings, and flailing spear, you hazard a guess that he is trying to tell you about some sort of adventure he had during his enrollment with the military. The deftly spoken babble coming from his mouth does nothing to help him, however.
The guard jumps up and slashes his spear at an invisible foe, right before he ducks and mimes a wound to the shoulder with an exaggerated yelp of pain.
His colleague, who is still by the door, just shakes his head in what you swear is exasperation.
Every day you notice another something about these curious little aliens that is almost uncannily human.
A knock suddenly comes from the door with the distinct sound of hoof on wood.
Faster than you thought possible, the energetic little guard halts his tale and rushes back to his position next to the door, his face already set into an unmoving mask. If you ever meet the one who trained them, you’ll definitely need to congratulate them on a job well done.
The door slides open, revealing Scribe as you half expected, but next to her is something you find truly surprising.
The queen pony. The one who personally carried you into the castle.
Both the guards incline their heads as the pair walks past them and closes the door.
Scribe has her usual clipboard, pair of chalkboards, and bright smile, which seems especially illuminating today.
The queen looks down at Scribe with thinly veiled amusement before she turns her attention to you.
Gesturing to Scribe, the queen takes one of the chalkboards and begins to scribble upon it with lightning speed while Scribe watches the image on the board come to life with trepidation. In what seems to be record time, the queen finishes whatever she was making and looks it over with a nod.
She looks to you with a gentle smile, right before she turns her board to face you.