A day went by in which Twilight Sparkle adjusted to her newfound size. The changes to her daily life were mostly small, but they were many, even down to simple things like getting out of bed. She had to make sure her new horn did not scrape up the bathroom ceiling, make sure that her chairs still fit her larger form, make sure her writing desk was properly adjusted. Spike had been as stunned as all her friends when he had seen her; he had cried a bit, but she had sat beside him in the dark and snuggled close to him, and he had fallen sound asleep tucked underneath her wing.
Now the sunshine filtered through the window, and Twilight yawned herself awake. Beside her, on her bed, Spike stirred. He blinked his green reptile eyes and looked up at her. “Morning,” he said.
“Morning,” she said. “How'd you sleep?”
“Probably better than you, giant girl,” he said, and smiled.
She laughed and noogied him. “It's not that cold. I'm surprised you didn't get hot under my feathers.”
“Eh, I was fine,” he said. He clambered off the bed, but stopped and turned to look at her. “Twilight, I... I'm sorry for being so scared of you.”
She smiled. “I know, Spike. You don't have to apologize. If I were in your place, I would have been freaked out, too.”
“I... I, um,” he glanced from one side to the other, and kept looking to the left, “I love you, Twilight. You, uh, know that, right?”
She nodded. “I love you too, Spike. That's all you need to say.”
“Ha! Well in that case- gack!” He belched up a great whiff of purple smoke, one which swirled and came together as a scroll. “Oh! A letter!”
“Who's it from?”
He broke the seal and rolled open the parchment. “'My dear Twilight Sparkle, you and your five friends, as well as Spike, are cordially invited to an official presentation before the Equestrian Royal Guard in two days' time. I shall be formally creating an integrated command structure for the Guard that accommodates both deer and ponies, and I would like you all to be present. Your faithful mentor and friend, Princess Celestia.'”
“She's integrating the deer into the Guard command? That's great!” cheered Twilight. “We'll definitely go! Write her back right now, Spike.”
“Yes ma'am,” said Spike, hurrying to get some paper and a quill.
A day later, the sun shone hot upon the plains of Gildedale. Clive Croexeus stood upon the very shallow hill that marked his Waystation, the resting place of pronghorns in the Pronghorn Network. He gazed across the endless fields of golden grass, noticing the wind that blew over the full expanse. It was quite peaceful, when one got right down to things. It put him well at ease.
“Clive? I say, Clive old bean?”
“I'm here, good fellow,” Clive said, glancing round as Niles Nigellus came up from the spiral ramp that led down to the Waystation. “What is it?”
“There's a message for you, sir,” said Niles. “From Princess Celestia.”
“Is there, now?” he said, turning round. “Well, then, you'll have to let me see it.” He trotted for the ramp and followed Niles down it, down into the cavern painted with the imprints of the Dreaming. Clive took a moment, closed his eyes, and knows for just a bit the echoes of infinity. He can feel her, feel Celestia, feel the pony he has known so long, feel her in the imprint of the message she has sent. They are united, as she is with all her lovers, and though he knows he is not the first, and will not be the last, he cherishes his time with her, and has cherished it all days since its starting.
“Coming,” he said, trotting to the message grotto. He stood before the well of light and watched the new report.
Clive, darling, Celestia's voice hissed and snapped, I should very much like to see how you're doing. Could you come here tomorrow afternoon, to Canterlot? I am making an important announcement. I am going to integrate the deerfolk of the Shimmerwood into the Equestrian Royal Guard, and I could use some moral support. If you're busy, of course, I'll understand. But I would like you here.
“Integrate the deerfolk into the Guard command?” said Niles. “Well, by George, that's quite a large deal. Especially given the history of deer and ponies.”
“It is indeed,” hummed Clive. “I do hope Celestia knows what she's doing. I hope she is not upsetting too many ponies.”
“Why wouldn't she know what she's doing?” Niles asked. “Obviously the ponies know their history and are at peace with it. It's a sound decision in wartime.”
“Perhaps...” hummed Clive. “But regardless, Celestia's call is not one I can easily ignore. I'll be there.”
A day later, Falalauria awakened to the sound of chirping birds outside her tent. It was a curious thing for her to wake, at least as an outsider would perceive it. Her Sight worked even in her sleep, such that she knew the moment she would wake; but still she slumbered out of consciousness, so she only knew the moment she would wake as she awoke. It was a strange sensation, but she'd made peace with it centuries ago.
Now she yawned, and stretched as she arose. Her antlers shimmered, and a gentle music filled the air. She was ready to go out and have breakfast when a gentle tapping came at her tent's door. “Hello?”
“Um, hello, Miss Falalauria, ma'am!”
She smiled. “Hello, Spike. Come in.” The little dragon toddled through the entrance, coming to a stop and glancing up at her. She hoped she wasn't too intimidating; she sat down, just in case. “What brings you here so early?”
“A message, my lady!” he said brightly, holding up a roll of parcel. “I think it's from Princess Celestia?”
Falalauria engaged her magic and the scroll rose up into the air. “Thank you, Spike. Would you like to stay for breakfast?”
“I'd love to, but I gotta get going. Twilight wants my help organizing the Languages section of the library!” He backed up. “So if you don't mind...”
“I don't mind at all, Spike. You are dismissed.” He smiled, and then ran out of the tent. Falalauria turned to the scroll. “Now what could Tia want to contact me about?” She rolled the scroll open, and she began to read. “Hmm... hmm.... hmmm... integrating the command? An excellent idea. My deer will be excited, at any rate. And I'm certain this goes well for us.”
A day later, the parade grounds of Canterlot were filled with ponies. Unicorns and pegasi and earth ponies of every shade and hue were milling all about, though most of them glanced eagerly up at the large stage settled in the stony siding of the area. There must have been more than a thousand ponies present, and more of them, pegasi of course, rested upon clouds up in the air. Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Applejack all stood upon the stage, Spike right next to Twilight. Luna was there also, as was Shining Armor. Clive the pronghorn also stood there, though he fidgeted a bit at waiting for so long. Even Magus Javier was there, standing next to Fluttershy. Standing at the back of all was Falalauria, pink silk woven like streamers through her antlers.
In a burst of rainbows and sunshine Celestia appeared upon the stage, posing regally before the cheering of the crowd. She let them cry for several moments more, then raised a hoof for silence. “My beloved subjects,” she began, her voice projecting magically to the crowd, “I have gathered you here today for an important announcement- well, you've probably guessed that already.” A chuckle rose; she smiled. “The war with the dark lord goes well, but its waging could improve. Every day, brave ponies sacrifice their strength and love and lives for all Equestria, and they need every bit of help that we can muster. In particular, they need the recognition that not only ponies are fighting on our behalf.”
A murmur rose up from the crowd.
“As most of you are aware, the white-tail deer of the Shimmerwood have been our guests in Equestria for the past few months. They have behaved as kindly and as courteously as you might expect any guest to act, but they have gone beyond even this. Those of them that are trained in combat have assisted us in battling the dark lord. At the Battle of Manehattan, scores of white-tails served bravely in defense of the city, many giving their lives to protect it. This sacrifice deserves our recognition, and our thanks.” She smiled. “But it also deserves our awareness. The white-tails are a powerful and wise fighting force. Their armor and weapons and magic are an excellent augmentation of Equestria's own defenses. It is time they formally became a part of our war effort.”
The crowd was quiet. Falalauria could tell they were confused. It was a happy sort of confusion, however, and she could not wait to see how they'd react. But then of course she could See, couldn't she? It wouldn't hurt to peek fifteen minutes into the future. She had been so concerned with helping Luna and Celestia prepare today's event, she had not given time to seeing it within her Long Sight. Now her starscape eyes expanded, wheeled- she gasped. “Oh, no!”
“Thus, I am officially announcing that, from this day forward, the deer of the Shimmerwood shall be integrated into the regular military command of the Equestrian Royal Guard. Deer and ponies will drill together, train together, fight side-by-side.”
“Tia!” cried Falalauria, dashing up behind her; those both on the stage and off it startled at the disruptive behavior. “Tia, we must call off the ceremony. Do it privately.”
“Call it off? Lala, what are you doing? I'm in the middle of this,” whispered Celestia. She turned back to the crowd. “What is more, deer with sufficient command experience will be placed in positions of authority, even over ponies.”
“Tia, tell them to leave! Tell everyone to leave, right now! We're moments from disaster!”
Celestia, with furrowed brow, ignored her. “I realize this is a dramatic step. Not in half a century have pony soldiers been under the command of a different species. However, I am confident that this arrangement will lead to the greatest, the firmest benefit, and will lead us, in all our love and goodness, towards victory.”
Ah, yes, victory- but for whom indeed?
Everypony jolted as the voice ran through their heads- all did, except for Falalauria, who merely hung her head in full defeat. The others glanced in all directions- “Look!” cried out an earth pony, and pointed up. Those on the stage followed the hoof, and gaped.
Reiziger's head floated in the air. It was enormous, at least half as big as all of Canterlot. Its antlers stretched the whole width of the city, and its gleaming, whitish teeth were taller than most towers. It smiled, and its red eyes blazed. Hello, little ponies. Sorry to block your sun.
Celestia and Luna reared back, and the world erupted into blasts of gold and silver. The entire mountain range was shaking from the power of the magic, the whole sky gleamed with light so bright that nopony could see anything else. It nearly blinded some of them, and all of them could taste the ozone generated by the power being used. Moreover, the twin blasts lingered, hanging in the air for several moments, nearly driving everypony mad.
At last, the battle magic dissipated, and the sky grew clear. You're not going to get rid of me that easily, I'm afraid. With a swirl of shadow in the sky, Reiziger's head reappeared, grinning down at them.
Celestia noticed first. “It's just a projection!” she cried out.
“He is not fully here,” said Luna next.
No, indeed, I am not. I am miles and miles and miles away. What is more, it is taking all my strength to get through your considerable wards and shields. I could not hurt you even if I wished to, and you cannot hurt me.
“Then why are you here, you jerk?” Dash shouted.
Why, I had to be here. I had to witness for myself this momentous day, this day on which the natural order of things was restored!
“Natural order?” Twilight repeated. “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”
The order your dear princess just gave. Deer in charge of ponies! It makes me smile. So good to see that you ponies have come back to your senses, and recognized your one, true place!
“Oh no,” Luna whispered, and felt powerless.
“Our place?” growled Shining Armor.
The place you last occupied thousands of years ago, when the association between our folk was at its strongest- and at its most proper.
A prickle ran up Twilight's spine. “Wait...” she whispered. “Wait, hold on, thousands of years ago?”
Go on, Twilight Sparkle, think it through.
“Twilight, listen, he's lying-” said Celestia, eyes suddenly wide.
“But thousands of years ago... during the height of the deerfolk... ponies weren't sapient. They couldn't have participated in your civilization!”
Oh, of course they could have- and they did! Just not in the way you arrogant ponies would assume.
The crowd was loudly murmuring. Celestia felt rooted in place, felt powerless to stop the nightmare playing out before her. Falalauria had stood, but now she stepped backward, and then she disappeared.
“They did?” asked Fluttershy.
Who do you think plowed our fields? Who do you think waited on us at table? Who do you think lifted our heavy burdens?
The crowd went dead silent. Everypony looked up shocked and horrified into the sky. Twilight's stomach dropped. “But... but you all had ma... mag...”
Magic? Why would we waste magic on such mundane tasks? Why, when we had such a ready supply of free labor? And then in everypony's mind there came a burst of images, so vivid and so real they could not have been faked:
Ponies harnessed, pulling plows across the endless fields. Ponies hauling deer around on litters, flying litters held by pegasi. Unicorns employed as magic batteries, deerfolk draining them to fuel themselves. Ponies kept in dingy, dirty stables. Ponies being whipped for misbehaving. Newborn foals torn from their screaming mothers. Ponies inspected at sales, deerfolk looking at their legs and hooves and teeth. Ponies slathered up with ugly makeup and made to perform in circuses and freak shows.
As the images departed, Dash was trembling. “You... you used us as slaves...”
Yes, that's right. It's all you're good for, after all.
She wheeled at Javier, her face a mask of rage. “You used us as slaves!”
“I... we...” Javier backed sheepishly away.
“I don't... I can't take it!” Dash cried, and she flew off in a streak of rainbow.
“Rainbow, wait!” cried Applejack, but she was gone.
“Javier, it's not true,” said Fluttershy, tears in her eyes. “It's not true, it can't be true!”
“No, it can't!” cried Twilight. “It can't be true, because if it were, we would already have known about it! There's no way something as... as big as this could have gone unknown by ponydom for all this time! Somepony would have found out about it, and written about it!”
Oh, some ponies knew about it- isn't that right, Celestia and Luna?
With awful slowness, Twilight turned around. Celestia and Luna looked down at the surface of the stage. Twilight walked up to Celestia, trying hard to look into her eyes. “It's not true. Please, Princess Celestia, tell me it's not true.”
Celestia looked down at her. “Twilight... you must understand...”
It's not hard to understand at all! Your princesses knew from the very beginning about the deerfolk's dominion over ponies, and they hid it from you! Makes you wonder where their loyalties lie, eh?
The crowd was thrashing, shouting, screaming. Twilight jolted back. “No. No!”
“Twilight, you must understand, ponies weren't ready to know!” Celestia said. “We- we-”
“How could you do this?” Twilight started weeping. “You lied to me! Every time I've ever asked you about the history of the deerfolk- all the books you've ever given me- all lies! I trusted you and you lied to me!”
Oh, don't feel too bad, Twilight. After all, it's not as though ponies were the only species under our subjugation. More images flashed through their minds.
Antelopes forced to pay tribute. Bison shoved off of their land. Elephants made to perform at shows. Zebras sold at auction. Giraffes made to fight to the death, while cheering deer looked on. Griffins used as royal guards against their will. Breezies grown and kept as pets. Diamond dogs made to bare-knuckle-box inside a filthy ring. On and on and on.
And why not? The deerfolk were the greatest civilization ever to live upon this Earth. We were the apex of culture, the pinnacle of sophistication. Why should every other species not bend the knee to us?
“How could you?” Twilight shouted at Celestia again. She stepped backward and vanished in a whisper.
“Twilight!” cried Celestia. “Twilight, come back! Please come back!”
Fluttershy was weeping. Applejack had sat down hard upon the stage. Pinkie Pie laid down upon her stomach, hooves over her ears. Rarity stood frozen in pure shock. Rage and fury came out from the crowd now. Some were throwing cans and bottles at the stage. Javier, like Falalauria before him, teleported far away.
Oh my, it seems I've killed the mood. The massive head was smiling broadly. Well, I did keep my pledge, didn't I? No harm done. Farewell, my little slaves! So good to see you back in the harness and back under the lash again! In a slow unspooling of black smoke, the head broke up and dissipated into empty air.
“Orders, your highnesses?” asked Shining Armor.
“I... I...” Celestia kept shaking her head back and forth.
“Allow the crowds to disperse,” said Luna flatly. “See to it that they do not hurt each other.” She glanced up at the sky. “The pegasi that were airborne... it is too late to catch them, isn't it?”
“It is,” said Shining Armor.
“So there will be no censoring this, then,” said Luna. “General Shining Armor, please see that nopony is harmed today.”
He snapped off a salute. “Will do, princess.” He started trotting off... but then he stopped, and turned around. “How could you?”
Luna closed her eyes and hung her head. “Please do thy duty, general.”
Shining Armor's eyes grew narrow, but he followed his orders all the same.