• Published 25th Jul 2013
  • 12,518 Views, 219 Comments

A Total Eclipse Of The Fun - Estee



The second anniversary of the Return is approaching, and all Luna wants for the celebration is one thing -- something Equestria hasn't seen in more than a thousand years. This could be a problem.

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Syzygy

"Carry the one."

Celestia allowed herself the indulgence of a very frustrated groan, which seemed like a very small thing when compared to the pleasure of dunking her sister in the nearest ice water pond. "Fine..." The digit was herded to its proper place, where it promptly convinced its fellows to engage in revolution. "And there goes my total. Luna, can I ask you a math question?"

Her sister smiled. It had to be a smile. Smirks generally didn't show that much in the way of teeth. "Of course."

"We have four legs. The pegasi have a total of six limbs and even those unicorns who openly count their horn as a separate manipulator have to stop at five -- or six if they remember to add their mouth. Nopony has claws, talons, fingers, or any representative from the host of grasping digits to use. Feather counts are somewhat variable by the individual. Why do we work in Base Ten?"

The smile vanished. Luna blinked several times. "...I have absolutely no idea."

"Oh, good. Then it's not just me." Celestia finished the recalculation. "Well?"

Beads clicked. "You have it -- this time." There would have been more emphasis on the last two words, but the younger sibling was still battling with the earlier question. "We were taught that way, our parents learned it to teach us... how did that system reach ponies in the first place...?" Her head shook hard enough to create new constellations within the mane. "And thank you very much for something which will be haunting me for at least the remainder of the week. Back to the main problems before I can no longer resist the urge to vanish into the Archives in quest of an answer which I already know I am not going to find. With our forces marshaled and populations known, plus a rather substantial margin of error for those who might travel to both sites and observe... I still wonder if we are allowing for too many there."

"I'm erring on the side of caution," Celestia admitted after putting her own not-smirk (the strength of which was also measured in Base Ten, and not in single digits) away. "I expect every amateur astronomer and most of the professionals, at least." A very few of the last were denying this was possible, even with news of the demonstration and testimony from both sisters about the times it had happened before. After all, what was a mere pair of eyewitness accounts against the thought-dispelling word of a college degree? "Beyond that, I know a large number of citizens are..." and couldn't finish the sentence, not in front of Luna.

Her sister took the burden. "'Skittish' would be fair," Luna wearily admitted. "Still, once we break ground, I remain hopeful that next year's building can hold a larger population. Once they know it is safe from more than the word of whatever honest reporters still remain to speak and mostly be drowned out... Very well. Even allowing for some microscopic fraction of those to get over their fears -- somehow -- at the last minute and travel in, we will collectively be able to make enough glasses for all. Including those who refuse to venture outdoors while it is happening, in the event they happen to accidentally peek out a window at the height of the event and then have no difficulty in overcoming nerves before contacting a lawyer."

Celestia stretched, unfurled her wings to their full span, allowed the muscles along back and legs to extend as she arched and leaned forward. "Good... and that brings us back to the one-sheet."

Which made Luna groan and gave Celestia another non-smirk of her own. What the younger sibling possessed in numerical acumen was counterbalanced by a certain lack of facility with the written word, at least for those to be found outside her diary. (Despite what her sister sometimes insisted, Celestia hadn't read any of what Luna had recorded there since the Return. Looking at old entries during the abeyance had simply hurt too much.) Luna could write -- but for anything other than private thoughts, it tended to come out as either a series of legal proclamations meant to be spoken VERY LOUDLY or a rather dry textbook with equations and diagrams attached. The idea of 'connecting with the general audience', also known as 'dumbing it down', hadn't quite sunk in -- or rather, was still floating on the surface because the bulk of the ocean wanted nothing to do with the toxic concept. "Why do we have to write it? Another cannot take this task?"

"We're the witnesses," Celestia reminded her. "The only ones for the true."

"But -- we could describe it to another, yes?" Luna's head tilted up slightly as the sudden hope negated a little of the weight inflicted by writing. Her hooves pushed away several stomped-on rejected drafts, along with those she'd ice-coated in frustration and a few which had just been chewed. "Somepony versed in the sciences who is used to writing! Somepony like... your student!"

Celestia blinked. "...Twilight?"

"You have another student in this current age?"

"...you want Twilight Sparkle to write the one-sheet?"

"She writes you all the time, sister. She even writes me on occasion, although I suspect the subjects are somewhat different."

Celestia knew they were -- and had to repress both her jealousy and a touch of sadness. Celestia got the lessons. Luna received the personal. And never the topics were mixed. Twilight didn't think of Celestia that way, not yet -- and there were days when Celestia wondered if she ever would. "Yes, but --"

Luna, undeterred, continued the string of hopeful musing. "Surely her facility with words must be improving through the near-constant practice, yes? And I certainly trust her to comprehend the science behind what we are doing, let alone the thaumaturgy. Let her take it! She will be thrilled for the chance to assist the throne --" a pause, and then, because her sister knew more than a little about Twilight "-- not to mention an opportunity to effectively lecture every pony in the realm at once!"

Celestia groaned, and everything accomplished by the stretch was undone in the single breath. "Luna -- there's a certain problem in asking Twilight to do this sort of thing..."

"And what would that be?"

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"Ooooh, and then there's the gravitational lensing! With both of them in the sky at the same time and right in front of each other -- which is attracting the other more? I've never had to try and calculate their respective relative masses! How much do they weigh? Because obviously the one with more mass will have the extra weight, please excuse my pun, it was completely unintentional, in the equation. You remember that equation, don't you, Luna? If not, I can write it out for you... in fact, I'd better because that's going to need to go in this too. Are we using the standard government font? Because if we are... let me think -- I can probably shift the tidal columns over to an index because so few ponies ever go out on the ocean and everypony is hit by gravity, even if Rainbow Dash keeps saying it wouldn't do so much if we could just get everypony to stop believing in it all the time. I don't get that. Reality is not consensual -- you know, that would be a really good thing to stick in Chapter Four..."

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Both sisters left the Ponyville library about seventy minutes later. Celestia trotted. Luna staggered.

"Apparently," the younger just barely managed after they crossed the third block, "she has yet to investigate any lesson in dumbing it down. Not to mention the difficulties one can create when deciding to go with the exact opposite of that concept."

With gentle bemusement, not a little of which was at her sister's belated acceptance of Lowest Common Reading Denominator, "And when did you catch onto that?"

"When the migraine set in. If you remain curious, I believe that was somewhere around Chapter Four. I did my best to track her beyond that, but then she began to shift particles which might or might not exist and the uncertainty of that state was actually exciting her... Celestia, what in the realm and beyond is 'quantum'?"

"Nopony's sure. Which seems to be most of the point."

"Well. Then, I would say task accomplished, for now I am certain that I will never be sure. Of anything. Ever again. Except that I would very much like to lie down for a while now."

"It's ten at night."

"I do not care. Besides, somewhere in that quantum universe, it is eleven in the morning. Let quantum pretend I am there... no, I will take that back. Let it be here and ten at night. Very few bars are open at eleven in the morning."

"You are not drinking this off."

"And why not?"

"Other than the way you usually get when you consume? Because I've been through this with Twilight before and trust me, drinking makes it worse. We'll stop by Fluttershy's and grab you a mild painkiller plus the company of about eight kittens. That'll take care of everything."

"Oh." A long pause. "With quantum, do kittens still exist?"

"Let's pretend."

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A week had passed. Luna had required four days before she'd felt capable of going into the Archives and examining tomes on quantum. Celestia had only needed two minutes to talk her out of destroying them, mostly through pointing out that under the theory, there would probably still be another reality somewhere in which the resident Luna had made the opposite decision, or possibly millions of realities, and her own version couldn't possibly find a way to track all of them down and yell in their faces. Luna had glared at her before declaring her intent to stay in a single universe where one plus one equaled common sense no matter what some ponies tried to insist on, and all that had done was get them back to the Base Ten problem again.

The one-sheets (which would have remained so in any Base except Zero, which Luna refused to discuss) had been printed and distributed across the continent. Celestia felt they were comprehensible, in large part because Twilight had not been allowed to participate in so much as a single sentence. (In compensation, she had assigned her student the task of writing the more extensive guide for visiting scientists, with explicit instructions to keep it down to something most ponies could still lift.) But that brought up the next problem, which was one she'd dealt with too many times before. The government could print something -- but it couldn't make ponies read it, much less think enough about the dumbed-down contents to have any chance at understanding them. And that eventually led to another issue entirely, one Celestia had been dealing with for more than a thousand years.

Her height.

In the before, she had been on the tall side, enough so that she looked down at least slightly on the majority of ponies -- but there had been some on her eye level, and others she'd had to look up to even when all hooves were planted on level ground. When after had happened... well, that part hadn't been all at once. She'd found herself somewhat taller immediately and thought that was the end of it: what else could she have thought? But her height and overall size had continued to increase over the next one hundred and forty years before stabilizing at the current level, with her silently begging for it to stop already all the while.

Celestia had issues with her height. Oh, there were advantages: she could intimidate very easily just by looming and for most of the other species, she took the high ground in a debate simply through existing. But it had taken decades for her to get a grip on the art of not looming, and she still sometimes did it by accident.

Clothing... the fact that anything made for her, even the most basic pieces, cost at least five times the amount for anypony else... annoying, and one of the central reasons she seldom dressed up at all. It was typically coupled with another basic truth: very few designers, no matter how much they might boast about the elegance of Princessly proportions, had any idea what to do upon being confronted with them in a fitting room. Celestia had hopes that Rarity might be one of the ridiculously few who were actually able to accomplish something with her, although she suspected the first thing the designer would do if given an Official Royal Commission would be to faint on the spot.

Speaking to somepony as an equal -- that was difficult at best. If it wasn't her position or the sheer weight of her age interfering, then height did its best to get in the way. Even when she lay down on the floor, many ponies -- and others -- still subconsciously felt as if they were being talked to by a parent, and that was the lowest point she could generally bring her perceived authority to for any who respected her at all.

And then there was just having to look down nearly all the time.

The government could print whatever it liked -- but it couldn't make anypony read the words. But there was a way around that. Celestia wasn't worried about the rest of the realm, not yet -- but Ponyville and Canterlot had to be as informed as possible. And while even the lectures of Guards and town criers (the post had been revived for the occasion and found employment for bellows-lunged ponies while creating floods of complaint-filled letters from those who did not understand why they were being assaulted with words they had no intention of listening to) could go ignored, the direct speech and presence of a Princess was considerably harder to dismiss.

With the eclipse growing closer, town meetings were being held. (For Canterlot, it was more neighborhood by neighborhood, or sometimes even block by block.) Celestia and Luna were dividing them up. A personal appearance at each, speaking to ponies and giving words to be taken as an order: Wear The Glasses On Return Day Or Else, with 'else' frequently taken over by the pony's imagination. (The real 'else' was 'or risk permanent damage to your eyesight', which both sisters explained. However, many listening ponies mentally locked up at 'else'.) But even those visits couldn't get everypony.

So Celestia had asked ponies familiar with their local residents to make lists of those who did not attend. Those names had been linked to addresses. And now she was in the middle of something she hadn't done in centuries -- going door-to-door to personally explain the details to the last of the holdouts.

Which created still more problems.

Ponies didn't always know how to deal with her: she internally sighed and tried to help them through it, generally with no success. She would watch them scramble to make tea: she couldn't always stop them in time and she tried not to drink it -- or at least, to drink just enough to make them happy while not consuming so much that her body revolted: tannic acid remained just that, and her stomach could only take so much in a single day. Many would try to clean their entire residence within a single minute: they would beg for a little time, the door would close, the sound of a miniature tornado would erupt -- for some pegasi residences, this was literal -- and then the door would open again to show how much worse things had become. While it hadn't happened to Celestia yet, Luna had reported one who had asked for a moment and closed the door -- then fled out the window while carrying an assortment of illegal field booster drugs. Unfortunately for the dealer, Luna had taken the moment to pace back and forth in front of the house -- and thus had both seen the felon exiting the window and smelled the distinctive tang of crushed amaryllis petals carried on the backdraft. Everything after that had been taken as a chance for Fun, at least for Luna.

Celestia would have welcomed such an event. Not just to clean up the streets, but for the distraction. Her own chief source of entertainment for the Canterlot shifts was visiting the homes of Murdocks' most devoted followers. Doors hadn't been slammed in her face yet, but they had been opened as slightly as possible. Sometimes she would just barely see an eye. There had been no greetings, just demands to know if she understood the privacy laws (which she had written) or had a search warrant. She would patiently and politely greet those ponies, mostly because it got on their nerves. To them, she would emphasize that any pony caught outside or looking at same without glasses on Return Day would face a fine equaling one-twelfth of their yearly income. No exceptions. No excuses. No kidding. And when the screaming stopped, she would have a Guard give them the glasses, record the acceptance on several copies of the most legal and binding document she'd been able to create -- a millennium-plus of rulership = very -- listen to the renewed screaming and, smiling all the while, politely close the door in their face.

But now she had a Ponyville segment. And Ponyville tended not to have many Murdocks supporters, because they felt the risk was so much higher. The Princesses, even when Luna's temper grew short, had protocols and standards and ways in which they were at least supposed to act (although her sister often skirted the absolute edge while considering whether to push others over it). The Bearers... didn't. Offend Rainbow Dash with an ill-placed remark and continual lightning strikes around your home would be the least of your problems. It encouraged a certain amount of relocation.

She was spending hours trudging through Ponyville to reach those last few residents. And ponies who loved her would go down to front knees in the Official Royal Greeting Stance which she'd never been able to permanently excise from Equestria's culture, shyly invite her in, share their problems, talk about issues they had with family and neighbors, ask for advice, politely request the indulgence of a picture. Sometimes she would meet children and get to play with them for a while: that was always the best part, even if it could feel far too short for her true liking: more homes to visit ahead. (The youngest looked at her height as an additional plaything, and shocked parents often watched as a laughing Celestia lay down and allowed foals to literally climb all over her.) But some ponies would nearly beg for blessing, and there were very few words which had the power to make her as heartsick as that accursed utterance made in sincerity and faith.

Celestia was lucky to get through such a visit in twelve minutes. Some of them threatened to reach half an hour: others went over. And the whole time, she would be looking down.

The amount of work involved in getting it all set up was starting to become ridiculous. She and Luna were both losing hours they needed for other things. But Celestia would go through every last moment of it and take on every burden necessary. She had to. And part of her had been trying very hard to keep the rest from thinking too much about why.

Still... after a while, the words of greeting became monotonous to her ears. Her neck started to crick from the constant assumption of what it insisted was an unnatural angle. Centuries of training kept her voice pleasant and the opening sentences sincere -- but internally, she did get tired. And so at this most recent home on a door-to-door tour that was far longer than she felt it should have been, she finally slipped up and kept her gaze level instead of gently looking down towards the sound of the opening door.

"Hello, my little pony," she gently began, addressing a point somewhere near the top of the frame. "If it's not too much trouble, I'd like to ask for a few minutes of your time so that we might discuss the upcoming eclipse --"

There was a gasp.

This was followed by a thud.

Celestia closed her eyes for a precious half-second, then opened them and looked at the field-held list of names. Noted the one whose home she had reached. Forced her sore neck to bend and wearily regarded the pony in question.

Of course.

"Hello, Roseluck," she told the fainted mare before surrounding the earth pony with her field and gently lifting her off the stoop. "Let's get you inside and try this again..."

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The Brinner Brigade had encountered many of the problems specific to being a splinter resistance counter-revolution cell.

With training... they no longer had the Lunar crew battling against them for control of the never-shared kitchen. None of them would admit to missing their counterparts: they would have rather confessed to trying some of Meat's concoctions while the line cook wasn't looking (which none of them ever had, although Pasta had successfully managed to fake it after a dare). But the advantage of near-daily practice with actual ponies to battle against who weren't themselves was gone. They couldn't join combat sports leagues: Chef felt it would look too suspicious. Hanging around bars after dark and hoping to pick fights with departing drunks was somewhat effective, mostly when it came to getting into fights -- but it also tended to summon police and Guards. It left them practicing on each other, and the injuries were beginning to add up.

They were trying to stay informed about the eclipse itself, which wasn't easy given that the majority of the group didn't believe most of it and didn't understand any. They'd seen the photo layouts, of course. There had been mutual agreement on Luna (or whatever was in her skin) having either deliberately presented the wrong illusion or enthralled ponies into printing the false images. After all, Eternal Night was clearly going to be considerably darker than that.

They were working on very little sleep. It made it difficult to gauge just how much force was going into a kick. Among other things.

They weren't particularly well-financed, especially since they had allotted forty percent of their available resources to the food budget. Fifty percent was going to wake-up juice. Blended with wine. After all, there remained a certain need to remember what they were fighting for, and wine helped with that. Or at least, it helped to keep them in a place where fighting continued to seem like a really good idea which had no chance whatsoever of failing for three to five -- oh, let's face it: five -- stallions who were assuredly in the right because they were Scum led by a Chef and of course, stallions! Always stallions! No mares in professional kitchens and when they saved their own Princess and became the power behind the throne -- well, one spokespony and four whom he would ignore -- that would be the first law they asked her to pass!

But that left very little money in the pool for things like rent and bills and buying pants -- and information-gathering. Surprisingly few members of the still-employed Solar staff would speak to them, especially when they kept blinking at odd moments, maintaining those blinks for far too long, and occasionally doing something which was certainly not falling asleep on the spot, at least not if Chef asked about it and any such moments they caught him in was classified as Just Resting My Eyes Because I'm Tired Of Looking At You Losers All The Time. They were out of the gossip flow. And that meant they were missing a key piece of the plan.

"Where are we going to strike?" Chef demanded. "How are we supposed to free Equestria from the encroachment of mares in my kitchen --" he paused before adding the lesser offense "-- and the tyranny of the Nightmare -- if we don't know which place she's going to be in? Can't any of you get a word from anypony?"

Sous sighed, as it was the best way to cover up a yawn. "I can't even get close to the palace. The Guards might ask why I was hanging around so much."

"Well, don't you know where any of the staff ponies live? Can't you just drop by and gossip?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because when we were still working for the castle, you told us to only associate with other cooks so as to protect the purity of our outlooks and keep lesser talents from intruding on our lives."

"I did?"

"Just about every night before we went off-shift, yes."

"I don't remember that."

"You followed me home."

"Or that."

"On random days. Including peeking in my bedroom window to make sure I was home on time. For the entire time I worked with you."

"You worked for me! Come on -- surely one of you must have had a contact!"

"Don't you?" asked Saucier, whose suicidal streak hadn't diminished with lack of sleep. "You ranked higher than we did and that should have let you meet more ponies. Haven't you been making tries yourself?"

Chef's mind automatically wiped away all memories of the approaches he had made, practically every one of which had ended with the other pony saying "I don't have to put up with you any more and there's no longer any chance of your being able to poison me."

There had been surprisingly little variation on those words.

"I'm in charge here!" Chef roared -- or would have if he'd had enough rest to get that much volume going. Wake-up juice didn't seem to be doing as much as it had a week ago. He was making tentative plans to sue the manufacturer for creating inferior batches, as far as thoughts which only held together for two minutes at a time could be called 'plans'. "My job as Chef is to take your horrible efforts and make them worthy of a Princess, even when she's a weak mess-up mare -- our weak mess-up mare! Meat, what's the word from you?"

"Most ponies won't talk to me."

"Why not?"

"They say I smell like meat."

"Oh, for... Pasta?"

Pasta, who was trying not to go into his boss-enforced lack of social life, coughed twice.

Chef really didn't want to say the next word, as to even remotely imply you needed help from the lowliest of inferiors was to -- well, see slightly earlier part of the sentence. "Saucier?"

"I have some friends outside the kitchen," the youngest cook said.

"AND THAT WAS AGAINST MY ORDERS!" Well, there was clearly one juice seller he didn't need to drag into court. "HOW DID YOU KEEP ME FROM CATCHING YOU WITH THEM? WHEN WE GET BACK IN THERE, I'M GOING TO FIRE --"

The very few functioning neurons remaining in his mind tossed off the concept that losing one-third -- fifth? -- how did one work non-measurement numbers again? -- of their forces at this time just might be, if not an error because he wasn't capable of making those, then at least a tactical hiccup.

"-- you one of Meat's steaks to prove I can exceed the puny talent of his supposedly-special mark! And then I'll -- make you not eat it! So what are you hearing?"

"Not much," Saucier admitted. "The Princesses have been traveling a lot to make sure ponies know to wear the glasses. I did manage to get enough of them for all of us." Everypony avoided counting. "I felt it would be best if we didn't go blind during the attack."

"Good thinking, that," Chef grudgingly allowed. "We're fortunate I thought of it in time." (Five long seconds after the end of Saucier's partially-understood sentence.) "But what about where they'll be? They could be in Canterlot, they could be in -- oh, what's the name of that place -- little town... most of our apple shipments come in from there and about half the carrots... it's... Appcarrville! Right! Okay, Canterlot or Appcarrville! Which is it?"

"They haven't decided," Saucier calmly said. "The Day and Night Courts want it in Canterlot. Rumor says the Princesses prefer Appcarrville because Princess Luna feels more comfortable doing it there. The papers feel the Courts will win."

"Well, of course they will!" Chef insisted. "I've heard about Appcarrville's restaurants! Worst fake Saddle Arabian grass on the continent!" Which was very nearly the sum total of all he knew about the place. Chef knew everything there was to know about every place in Equestria and beyond, as long as that knowledge was important: i.e. about food. (Baking, however, was mere chemistry and barely had a place in a proper kitchen. But as long as their very own weak mess-up mare had such a devotion for stupid pastries...) "Keep tracking the papers, Saucier."

"I could use some money to buy a few of them. Can we take a little out of the juice and wine budget?"

The table went silent at the blasphemy.

"You should have been a mare," Chef snarled. "How any pony who wants to be a cook and just barely has enough lack of skill to wind up as scum could think there's a need to... Steal them if you're a stallion! You're just taking supplies from the enemy!"

"The enemy? I have to steal Princess Luna's copies?"

"...no," said the last of Chef's alcohol-riddled survival instinct with its final breath, "that would seem too suspicious. There's this place... big building... they keep old cookbooks there along with worthless pieces of paper trash..."

"A library?"

"Exactly! Go steal their papers! And I'll even ignore any reasons you might know that word!"

"As you like," said the only pony who still retained a concept of how libraries worked, or indeed ever had a real understanding in the first place. "Or I could just read articles there and sneak out with the enemy none the wiser."

"Good. Good. You might make stallion after all. Eventually. If I ever decide you're ready." Which would be never. "So we'll get their Eternal Night Day location pinned down. We've still got time. And then -- we will strike. For getting mares out of professional kitchens! For my having the largest portrait ever placed in the Hall Of Legends! At least twice as big as that one of the six -- six... whoever they are..."

"And for Equestria!" Sous declared.

Chef blearily glared at him. "For my portrait!" insisted far too many tankards of wine.

You couldn't argue with tankards. "For Chef's portrait!" chorused the group.

"Right! Now, we're going to do some more training. Everypony with a horn, more shield-breaking. We've got a pegasus, so I want to see lightning. A few well-placed bolts might just do the trick, assuming you can aim better than you can spice and it would be hard for you to be worse. Earth ponies... earth ponies..." He squinted. "Is that a horn?"

"...yes?"

"Well, get back to shield-breaking! Whoever here is an earth pony, hoof-to-hoof! And biting. You taste-test enough, your teeth should be your best weapons, at least since you can't overspice anypony to death. We train until we drop!"

"And then we sleep?" proposed an extremely wine-and-sleeplessness-delusional Sous.

"No."

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Both Courts argued. Which neighborhood should have the honor of hosting royalty. Where the Princesses would stand. Which Court members would be standing close by. Closest. There was fighting over what they presumed would be the best benches, even though just sitting arguably put one among the leftovers. Generally idle nobles considered calling in favors in order to get closer than anypony, just because they could. Celebriponies thought about the same -- or at least having others do so on their behalf: like a few of the nobles, some felt making personal requests diminished them -- while wondering what the eclipse light would do to their clothing, makeup, and future photo spreads. Most of the Canterlot elite debated and discussed and got ready to discriminate against each other and everypony else while coming nearly as close as they ever did to acting.

The actual decision went like this:

"Luna?"

"Yes, Tia?"

"It's your party. Where are we having it?"

"Ponyville. It is more -- comfortable."

With a smile, "Done."

And just like that, most of the Canterlot elite decided to stay home, because no matter what some ponies might openly believe and they all agreed on as long as they were in that presence, Ponyville, rural and slightly odd and chaos-prone and home to Element-Bearers who did not have to operate by royal protocol, just wasn't worth the risk.

Most...