• Published 25th Jul 2013
  • 12,509 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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Eclipse

"So what, if anything, do their glasses do?"

Celestia turned the clear lenses over in her field, then allowed just enough of the yellow glow to recede for Luna to get a grip. "The same thing most of their inventions do, Luna -- they almost work, at least under certain conditions. If you tweak your way around the conditional invocations and trigger them, they capture a short series of images for whatever you're staring at. Not exactly film quality -- more of a stuttering transition. So to that degree, they managed at least a limited success. But as for Sun-shielding kicking in... the spell holds for about a minute -- and then it subtly starts to weaken. The pony wearing these might escape permanent damage -- after spending a few weeks with their eyes covered by bandages. I'm just glad we intercepted those two in time. If Applejack hadn't recognized them..."

Luna sighed. "Now that would have given the papers something to report on, and some undoubtedly would have invented ways to blame it on us. How did the brothers react?"

"Badly." Especially in the initial stages. (The removed pants had been burned after Rarity confirmed that given the rather uncommon build possessed by the pair, it was unlikely that anypony else could use them -- and given what had happened just before that removal, it was even more unlikely that anypony would ever want to. Cleaning could only do so much.) "The protests were creative, I'll give them that. If it wasn't for -- personal interests -- I actually would have enjoyed the story about some mysterious super-powerful unicorn using magic to switch their marks with those of known criminals so that the actual con artists could establish a new career under false colors. And they tried to keep from using magic in order to prevent anypony from getting their signature, claiming a sudden attack of Rhynorn's Flu -- but they slipped after I asked Applejack to kick in some dinner." Celestia shrugged. "Not my fault that they reacted to the apples as missiles on the attack... But honestly, Luna? I think they knew all along that the image recording was faulty and didn't care. But their shock upon learning that the Sun-blocking aspects had failed? That was honest. The younger one --" she was still trying to pin down their actual names "-- was horrified."

"You are claiming ethics for them?" Luna asked, more than slightly disbelieving. Her own field rotated the clear quartz, bent the elastic band, twisted it in and out.

"Of a sort," Celestia admitted. "They're con artists, Luna. Ponies robbed of twenty bits for a product which doesn't quite work as advertised are unlikely to seek a physical sort of revenge, at least not if the sellers are out of immediate range: the majority mutter darkly for a few minutes, try to forget they were ever taken, and move on. Ones who've had a family member lose their sight are considerably more likely to go on the warpath. A good con artist will do anything to avoid causing permanent injury, because that stands a good chance of ending their careers -- or worse. So yes -- they were shocked, dismayed, and almost got within three gallops of repentant. Of course, then they immediately switched to claiming they'd been sold the goods by a pony who is going to do a spectacularly good job of never being found, which is one of the many benefits from not actually existing. Frankly, at this point, I'll settle for them picking one defense by the time this comes to trial, along with getting a judge who'll forbid them to sing."

Her sister smiled, tried not to yawn, partially succeeded. "Then we are ready?"

Celestia looked at the clock on the Mayor's office wall. One hour before noon on the second annual Return Day. "We are."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It had been one of the stranger days in Equestria's astronomical history, at least in the era when observations of the sky had become consistent enough to allow any degree of science to exist at all. The Sun had been raised as it always was. (Temporary escape of Discord and a one-extended-night performance from Nightmare excepted.) About ten minutes had passed -- and then the Moon had come up right behind it.

Ponies had been alerted. The entire continent had been told what was going on, and Celestia had been sure to send messages and envoys who could explain them to the other nations. Everyone -- given the sheer number of non-ponies involved, the word had to be used -- possessed at least some awareness of what was taking place. And naturally, many of the leaders for those distant countries had contacted Celestia and yelled at her using the most formal language available while enjoying the benefit of being dozens of gallops or more away and hoping she had no personal teleport arrival site for their residences. They had told her she was tampering with nature. She had very politely informed them that in this aspect, she was Nature and if any one of them felt they could do a better job, they only had to present their credentials for handling the Sun. This had effectively knocked the screaming down to a mere background mutter, but she knew there had been offense taken by those forever looking for excuses to grab ever more of the foul stuff. She didn't care. The eclipse was going to happen, and mildly strained diplomatic relationships with those who treated their embassies as places for spies to get some sleep simply found itself filed under 'Inevitable, Don't Care' and stuck in a drawer which was to remain locked until well after Return Day ended.

But still, there were ponies outside of Canterlot and Ponyville who had done their typically-unintentional best to remain uninformed. Some of them happened to look up and see the two celestial bodies sharing a sky. A number of those had fainted. Others had flown into their local town hall screaming about the return of Discord and won the chance for a very belated education. Still more had felt content to scream in the privacy of their own homes before rushing their entire family into the basement in order to await the inevitable. At least one Manehattanite had decided the world was ending and the best thing she could do with her remaining seconds was to let her neighbors know exactly what she thought of them. In detail, with references backed up by the occasional hastily-drawn chart. That fight had expanded to include most of a city block and when Celestia finally learned of it two days later, her first (later regretted) thought had been to wonder if any raggedy dolls had been at the center. And those were just some of the things she found out about afterwards: Celestia (correctly) suspected most of the incidents outside the nation's borders were being held back until such time as they could be thrown directly in her face.

But through incredible government effort, the exhausted voices of town criers (due to be discharged with honors the next day), plus successful infliction of the feeling that there would be a test later and everypony had better pass, the vast majority of Equestria knew and at least partially understood what was going on, at least in the sense that this was a joint working by the Diarchy and any panic was not only pointless, but made them appear willfully illiterate. And so most of those who looked up simply stared. A very few thought about the power of their Princesses and used a moment for reflection on how lucky they were to be citizens of such a nation. And there were even some who even guessed at a part of what was behind it all: the desire to create a new symbol, one which would show the Diarchy united. Those ponies were the easiest to spot, because they all had one thing in common.

"Why are you smiling?" Not offended in any way and hardly could be -- simply curious.

Fancypants did not take his gaze off the Moon as it moved through the day sky, but simply gave his head a polite tilt towards Rarity in order to show he was listening. "Because Return Day is a time for happiness, Rarity."

She smiled as well. "I suppose it is at that." The designer looked around at the town square. "And for beauty."

Dark blue fabric hangings, silver buntings, and graceful two-toned draperies covered the large wooden stage which had been erected near the back edge of the square, right about where Snowflake generally placed his one-pony Day And Night Labor business tent on market days. (The huge pegasus was about ten rows back and quite some distance overhead, having considerately placed himself where he wouldn't block anypony's view.) The fountain had been temporarily enchanted so that the water turned the deep purple-black of a new moon sky -- while sparkling like stars. Representations of Luna's mark were everywhere: some ponies wore necklaces showing the symbol, others had scarves. Even Zecora had decided to get in on the act, wearing a single earring in the shape of the crescent moon. The zebra had been given a position close to the stage: she had asked for a good view to help her send a personal report on events back to her homeland, and the Princesses had been glad to oblige. Rarity and Fancypants were on the stage itself, at the left edge, with him outermost: it was understood that Celestia didn't mind having her old friend up there with the sisters, and Rarity was more than welcome to accompany him.

The other Bearers were spread about the area. Fluttershy had taken a place near Snowflake: it was unusual for her to stay in the air, but there were just too many ponies around for her to be truly comfortable on the ground and in an emergency, he gave her something more than large enough to hide behind. The two pegasi got along: Snowflake was Fluttershy's current first resort for substitute animal caretaker when missions came calling -- if she could scrape the bits to hire him, and Rarity knew he was giving her a very quiet and rather substantial discount to begin with.

Rainbow was also in the air, just behind the stage: she'd expressed a desire to witness things from something close to the angle being used by the Princesses. The Guards hadn't liked her taking a position slightly out of casual sight. She had declared Bearer, they had declared Royal Authority, she had countered with So What?, they had offered Detainment, and then she'd shot back a definitive So Go Ask Them! Which they had. And so she was in her chosen position and they were in theirs, with the Guards decidedly the more unhappy about it.

Applejack, torn between the little benefits which very rarely (as in 'hardly ever') came from being a Bearer and her occasional nerves about "puttin' mahself forward," had compromised with a place in the second row. She didn't exactly object to being honored when she'd just finished doing something, but taking a small form of reward just for existing could still feel unnatural to the farmer -- at least for those times when direct bit-earning wasn't involved. She had used her minimal pull to set up a concession stand at the largest entrance to the town square and Big Mac was still there, carefully collecting bits. (She hadn't been able to come up with anything both eclipse and apple-themed in time for Return Day, which openly rankled her -- but she'd told Rarity she had another year to work on it.) With extra money earned, Applejack could relax and enjoy the holiday -- especially since nopony was doing anything with her other than allowing her to be part of the crowd.

Pinkie was actually at the library. Twilight had been torn between making astronomical observations of the eclipse or magical ones of the workings which allowed it to happen -- and lacking the ability to be in two places at once or hopes of teleporting back and forth quickly enough not to miss anything, she'd groaned, sighed, spent two days trying to figure out something which would allow it to happen anyway, and finally just given Pinkie a three-hour crash course in data recording. The baker still didn't grasp all the science behind what she was supposed to be taking down, but her memory now included details on the actual process of recalibrating telescope apertures and how to call off the resulting numbers, with Spike standing by to record them all. She'd told the others the view was just fine and then added something about azimuth in a way which suggested she was still trying to work out what it meant and was going to stick the word in as many sentences as she could until she found one where it fit.

Twilight herself was easy to find. Rarity just had to follow the sounds of the fight.

"How can you say this isn't happening? You're looking at it! That's the Moon, right up there! And there's the Sun a little distance away from it!"

"Because it is patently impossible," said a male griffon voice so dry as to force the Weather Bureau into scheduling an immediate downpour just to make up for the damage he was doing to the environment. "Sun and Moon cannot share the sky. It has never happened. It never will happen. Therefore, this is illusion from your leaders and delusion from all who believe it -- including you."

"But --" It was rare to hear Twilight audibly swallowing back words, but she had a tendency to respect authority -- especially when that authority was held by those at the top of their fields. The fact that Rarity could hear the librarian internally starting to question whether that authority was justified hadn't completely negated the trend yet. "Professor Skywise, Sun and Moon shared the sky all the time during Discord's era! It's in the one-sheet and extended briefing! The Princesses confirmed it!"

"Yes, they did," the voice commented, negating another five percent of the humidity from the air. "And how old are they?"

Confused by the change in direction, "I don't know exactly -- something over a thousand -- actually, Princess Luna could be biologically younger, I don't know what was happening while she was in abeyance..."

"And you trust memory to remain clear after so much time?"

It would have been close to blasphemy had it been coming from a pony. Twilight treated it as such regardless. "YES!" And there went the last of it. "Because they're the Princesses! They're the living record! If they say Sun and Moon shared the sky, I believe them! If they told me there was a second moon and some kind of flying device blew it up before it could fire a giant beam of heat at the world, I'd listen!"

Nineteen percent moisture and dropping. "You are a rather naive thing, aren't you? Or would the personal student of a senile Princess prefer 'stupid'?"

Rarity checked the availability of all emergency exits and found them more than willing to accommodate her for an unexpected lunch date.

A little too slowly, "So you're going to believe that's an illusion no matter what happens?"

"Correct."

With just a touch of challenge, "So why did you come at all? The Griffon Republic isn't exactly close. Why travel all that way just to witness something you don't believe in?"

"So I can write a paper proving it false and you ponies all the more fools for believing in it."

The challenge became softer. "You don't have any instruments. You didn't even bring a single telescope. And griffons can't feel magic that way, so you won't be able to tell exactly what kind of working the Princesses are doing and I know you're not going to take the word of anypony here for it. How are you going to prove something you haven't measured?"

"It is a thought experiment."

"And that is...?"

"I think it is not actually happening. Therefore, it did not."

There was a very long pause. Empires had died in that kind of pause. Some of them had committed suicide as a final desperate means of escape.

Twilight's tones were just barely on the edge of hearing, and a disturbing level of politeness had returned to every last word. "I know one form of proof you would have to accept, sir."

Disdainful, "And what would that be?"

Complete and utter calm. "Having the Princesses send you to the Moon. Then all you have to do is look down. If you can see Ponyville, I win."

Rarity waited.

"...you are a very rude young mare."

"Thank you. And you are a very stupid griffon. Or would a supposed professor prefer 'willfully ignorant'?"

"I'm leaving."

"So soon?"

"I have seen your papers. Shoddy less-than-amateur work in my opinion, and once I finish writing my fellows concerning you, no astronomer in the Republic will ever feel any other way!"

"You're the top astronomer in your homeland, right?"

"Yes!"

"The single most skilled and knowledgeable by magnitudes?"

"Correct!"

"Good. Then my reputation is perfectly safe because none of the others will be intelligent enough to read."

There was a sharp intake of breath. This was followed by the sound of wings. And then there was somewhat more room on the stage.

Fancypants gave Rarity the most subtle of side glances. "A delicate and proper lady, is she not?"

"Oh yes," the designer agreed.

"Demure in every way."

"Frequently."

Fancypants nodded. "He had it coming."

"And then some."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Brinner Brigade looked over the crowd from the balcony of Chef's hotel room. They were having some trouble counting the attendance, especially when they couldn't be sure which attendees actually existed.

In reality, the town square was packed about fourteen rows deep in the ground and four in the cloudless sky. This did not represent the totality of Appcarrville's native population plus the visitors who had come in to witness the birth of Eternal Darkness -- but as Saucier had heard some ponies discussing, the most desirable viewpoints weren't necessarily considered to be in the center of town. Many ponies had decided to watch from the dam, while others were going partway up the recently-renamed Dragon Mountain. A few owned telescopes of their own and wanted to make personal observations. A number had simply chosen to huddle indoors until it all Went Away, and three of those were currently wrapped around each other in the desperate hope that the dream would end any minute now. But for those less terrified by the new (or returned), there were high points available around the area, both for the settled region plus what was considered to be the fringe part of the wild zone, and rather than risk overcrowding to the point where ponies would barely have room to look up and (for two of the races) only have their gazes fall upon a cloud of pegasi, everypony had spread out.

But in the world they were seeing... well, there were variations. Eight-legged earth ponies were the least of it.

Chef had been the only one with a bed. The others, being Scum, had been snuck into the hotel room and given floor, bath, and so on down the line -- with the exception of the couch. Not only was it too good for them, but it meant an increased risk of falling asleep. Chef had not slept, not even after the pony who had not been a lamp managed a miraculous escape which their self-determined leader forgot about five minutes after it didn't happen, not to mention mentally dismissing the interrogation itself and everything which had come with it. He had been mostly awake for weeks now, had barely dreamed at all -- at least, not that he could remember, and memory itself had turned unreliable some time ago. He didn't remember that, of course, which made it all the easier not to admit.

"All right..." he mumbled to the others. If he still could have counted what he was seeing, he would have come up with twelve. Triple vision wasn't only entertaining, it was an ally which provided reinforcements. Sadly, all of them remained Scum, but what could he do? "Got the vial..."

Saucier (all three of him) rocked a little from side to side. "Vial?" He seemed somewhat fresher than the others, but not by much. "What's -- in it?"

"Exam Crystal," Chef told him. "Couldn't tell you on the train -- prohibited..."

All of them managed blinks and four came a little further into awareness, at least for a few seconds. A mention of Exam Crystal could do that. It was a little like mentioning a high explosive which knew your name, had the keys to your residence, and mistakenly thought you owed it money.

Exam Crystal was the street name for a semi-refined substance which could be harvested from the plants which were the base of wake-up juice -- if those plants grew in the deepest parts of a wild zone, in the heart of ungrounded magic looking for the worst possible ways to express itself. It was wake-up juice gone tesseract. Let a bit of it dissolve under your tongue -- never on -- and no matter how tired you had been, no matter how many weeks had gone by with insomnia or spent in exhaustive study during that pre-finals push, even with the strain of being a splinter resistance counter-revolution cell which was afraid to sleep or at least under orders not to -- you would be awake. Any pony taking Exam Crystal would be more awake than they had ever been in their life, and would remain so -- right up until the moment it wore off.

If it was one of the good batches, if the pony risking their future on it was lucky, they would simply find themselves just as tired as they'd been before they took it -- plus about thirty percent. Given that the Brinner Brigade had been steadily foraging into lands of self-exhaustion seldom explored by ponies, thirty percent was theoretically enough to place them in something close to a waking coma, and 'waking' might have been the crueler option.

But if it was one of the bad batches... then nearly every bit of sleep postponed would sneak up behind them, gently tap a shoulder, and then drop a piano on their heads. They would be out cold until virtually every missed moment had been made up for, and there would be no way of waking them for more than a second or two until the books had been balanced.

There was no true means to tell how long Exam Crystal would last. It was a matter of quality, metabolism (and that last could be a major factor), the plant's exact location in the wild zone and how much magic it had truly absorbed. A strong dose might take the user through six hours. A weak one could buy a minute or two. And you could have a strong dose with the bad batch aftereffect, a weak one with the good...

...and there was exactly one way to tell exactly which kind you had.

You took a piece. You put it under your tongue. Waited twenty seconds. And if your heart didn't get slammed backwards into your large intestine, you assumed it was a positive sign.

"This could kill us... couldn't it?" asked Sous, who was still capable of understanding that.

"Not... by itself," Chef just got out. "Can't die from it. Just sleep. Took it -- chef training -- last year. Got a good batch. Made it all the way to bed. But... Worst-case... short-term, bad batch. Fall asleep -- middle of the fight. And then we're dead. Nightmare -- easy targets."

"We don't do this..." Meat barely breathed, "...dead anyway. Rather go down... fighting... than live under Nightmare... in the dark."

Saucier blearily looked at all of them. Took a slow breath. Seemed to be as deep in thought as he could still manage. And finally said "Open it."

Chef took the Fawkes Vial out, removed the jade stopper from the hematite cylinder, and let the contents slowly slide onto the hotel's balcony. The yellow crystal pulsed, rumbled, vibrated a little and shook itself two inches to the right. Saucier reached a hoof towards it.

"No!" Chef blurted, swatting the hoof away. "You -- don't touch. I touch. You're -- just scum. I break it. Know how to do it. Got it before. Back alley. Very high quality back alley. Behind great restaurant. Best-smelling trash..." Pasta moved in front of Saucier, staring at the crystal. Chef's eyes were doing the same -- but now there was confusion in his face. "How -- how do you break it again?"

Pasta sighed. Well, there was no help for it now. He squinted, forced mind and memory into the best focus he had left, counted -- and then his hoof gently tapped the crystal. "Five," he whispered.

And before Chef could at least try to scream at him about declaring their numbers to the world, the pulsating yellow broke into five equal semi-translucent pieces.

Chef stared down at it some more.

"Stupid thing."

"Why?" Meat asked with what was nearly the last of his undrugged strength.

"Should have given me a bigger piece." He kept staring. "Not yet," he told the Scum. "In case... bad batch, short term... not yet..."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

There were Solar Guards in the air. There were Lunar Guards on the stage. There was a very empty space where a griffon had once been, and nopony had tried to fill it. And there were two alicorns trotting through the aisle which had been left in the middle of the crowd.

Showtime, Celestia thought, and glanced down at Luna, who was walking exactly by her side, neither the least bit in front of the other. Her sister smiled up at her, then looked back towards the crowd. Several of the visitors stomped politely on the ground, others planted their hooves with more devotion. The Ponyville natives cheered. The press, which Celestia had very deliberately assigned to the absolute back of the gathering, remained quiet under the lie of neutrality.

Celestia didn't care. It was almost time. She had been aching for this since the moment she'd realized what Luna wanted. The last few minutes of pacing about the Mayor's office had been almost unendurable. She had briefly thought about moving Return Day up on the calendar as they'd so very slowly approached the date, had used part of the last eternal dragging seconds to wonder if there was any way to advance noon. But they were so close now, they could begin in a few minutes, they were moments away from --

back

-- and she did not think about where the word had come from, or why, or what it meant at all.

They climbed the stairs to the stage. Two Bearers, one old friend, several Guards, three visiting dignitaries, and -- one empty space which had previously been filled courtesy of angrily-written words sent in a diplomatic pouch, all of which called in so many favors as to wipe her IOU slate with the Republic clean. Celestia glanced at Twilight, gave her student a slightly raised eyebrow which the press wouldn't catch.

Twilight winced.

Celestia smiled. Finding out exactly what Twilight had said could wait until after the eclipse: it had been enough to realize that adjacent seating was guaranteed to create words. All she needed to do for the last bit of magic in that vanishing trick was write the Claw Observatory and ask whose contributions they'd rather have, his or hers -- plus those of her student. For now...

The sisters took their places: younger on the left, older on the right. Luna looked over the cheering, stomping crowd.

"Greetings, Ponyville!" she called out, and the joy in the younger's voice was as real as the happiness which called back. (Celestia basked in the twin sounds, and they were warmer than Sun had ever been.) "Welcome to the second Return Day!"

They cheered again. Luna almost glowed. Celestia had seldom seen her that happy, not in the days since the Return. It had been a state most common in the earliest part of after, satisfaction at jobs well-done and delight at the acceptance of what was truly becoming their nation --

further back

-- and it was wonderful to see.

And then Luna yawned -- theatrically, exaggerated, adding a smile to the end. "My apologies," she said. "As most of you know, I seldom see this hour..." Laughter. "...so if none of you mind, I would like to make it a little more -- comfortable."

Still more cheering. They'd been briefed. They understood. They welcomed her. And for those who had chosen to attend and were not carrying press credentials, there was no fear at all. Celestia couldn't even find doubt. They believed in the eclipse. They believed in Luna. Perhaps only here, and possibly most at this moment simply because she was standing beside her sister and that was a silent reassurance that all would go well -- but still, they believed...

And now it was her turn.

"Our little ponies," she smiled to the crowd, and her own magic made the words sound in every part of Ponyville, with some of the extra Guards, brought in excess numbers just for this, streaking off to provide warning for all the local major observation sites, "glasses on."

There was a great shuffling. There was also a mild confusion, as some ponies had never actually donned the things before that moment. Sets of friends helped each other with the elastic. Celestia waited through all of it, then resumed.

"I am, as the saying goes, just here to observe," she told them. "The Moon is Princess Luna's domain, and I'm not going to intrude on it. I will, however, along with her, provide one last set of reminders -- and yes, everypony, I know you've been lectured and educated and drilled over the last few weeks. This is the end of it, I promise -- and it concerns what happens after the eclipse."

before

She ignored that internal word as well. "It'll take a few minutes for totality to be achieved. Princess Luna will gradually accelerate the Moon until first contact is made, then let the faster pace proceed steadily until we do have totality -- again, which will last a little under eight minutes." A subtle nod to Luna.

Her sister took the cue. "The eclipse will not be held for longer than that -- not on a first Return for something other than myself. We have had comments that it is too brief, and others claim it is too long. We are compromising on what we had originally intended in the first place." Several reporters muttered to themselves. "Once the Moon is completely away from the Sun, I will accelerate its motion somewhat more. This will allow it to return to its proper position in time for a normal raising." Which was actually the trickiest part of the process and the one which would require the most energy to enact: the sisters were planning on doing the bulk of it together once they reached privacy again. "The night will not be disrupted in any way because of this. Do not worry -- we will have the appropriate phase and place when the evening festivities begin."

Celestia waited for the renewed cheering to subside, then resumed. "Which of course is when the bulk of any Return Day -- or Return Night -- events should take place anyway. I'm told the rides are ready to go, the concert will begin on schedule, and we are running the fireworks." Which got nearly as big a cheer as Luna's first words. "Yes, that means we'll be in Ponyville for the majority of the festivities. We won't be around at every minute, however: we will both need to spend a little time in Canterlot before Return Day ends." And they also needed to reach a bed so Luna could at least nap for a few hours. "But as Princess Luna specifically requested that this be the heart of the party --" pause for happy acknowledgments and praise of her little sister "-- it will remain so."

"But before we reach night," Luna told the crowd, her tones solemn, "there is something to be done."

The audience went quiet as Luna's horn ignited, the corona reaching the primary limit in less than a second.

Her sister's voice was serious. Not booming: that had slowly faded after that special Nightmare Night, and she now only reverted to it under stress -- or when she wanted the dramatic effort. But the emotion ran deep, and any darkness in it offered only the promise of protection for those seeking safety beneath the shadow of spread wings.

"Return..." Luna began. "I was brought back to myself by the Bearers, some of whom are here tonight." She smiled at all she could find. "I understand that Laughter is helping Magic to study our little trick: do not think ill of her absence. She was there at the most crucial moment -- the one where she became part of that..."

She stopped, and Celestia knew what was happening. Luna had spoken of it -- but only to her. Submergence. Drowning. Internal burial. But to others -- nothing. For the story of what had happened and how, for any ears other than hers -- the words would not come, and perhaps never would. She could not speak of it: only around.

"...which told me Laughter still existed," came the soft continuation. "Along with Magic to direct that joy. Kindness to let me know why the attempt had been made. Loyalty said there was still somepony waiting for me. Honesty proved all of it true. And Generosity to offer me a place in the world again. All of it together let me hear that offer -- and believe for a single crucial moment that there was a chance I was worthy to accept it."

Even the reporters had fallen silent.

"One moment was enough. I returned," Luna said. "And there was a place for me. Not merely in the castle. Not simply in Equestria itself. And not even just in Ponyville -- although this has become my second-favorite place." The crowd remained silent, let her speak. "The one I love most, though... is the one I am in at this very moment. A here and now where all of the pony virtues are true. The place where I truly belong -- at my sister's side."

Celestia would not cry in front of the crowd. She would not...

"And so I wished to return here again for the holiday," Luna told them all. "Because in this age, Ponyville is the place I love second-most. Because in so many ways, you were the second ponies to take me back -- all of you together." She left no doubt as to who the first had been. "But also because I wished for all of you to witness something. That we --" a look at Celestia "-- are truly together once again, as the Diarchy. Two acting as one. Two almost being one. And when two truly come together -- it creates something new."

She looked up.

"She is Sun," Luna said simply, "and I am Moon. This -- is unity."

Her corona went double, the energy around the base of her horn getting closer to blue-white. The Moon accelerated.

The eclipse began.

Celestia watched, one of only two ponies there who could do it without the glasses. And she could have listened to the cries of delight around her, the shouts of purest wonder -- but they were hard to hear. There were other words in her ears. Not echoes: words. And as the shadow began to block Sun, they became louder. Closer. More real.

(A quarter gone now)

"You seem to be a reasonable pony."

"You seem to be the world's worst judge of character."

And with sound so close, could vision be coming behind it?

(Half blocked)

"You have no experience. You have no chance. You're a fool chasing a fool's dream, too stupid to know it's impossible and too determined to stop. And the only thing I can do in the face of such idiocy -- is come with you and make sure you don't kill too many other ponies along the way."

Right behind vision...

"Stay down."

"If they find out you're hiding us --"

"-- then use the time they spend killing me to escape. Stay down."

...should come...

(Three-quarters obscured)

"We need you."

"So you do. What do I need?"

"The chance to be truly needed?"

...presence.

Then: there. Now: gone.

I miss you.

Before the last time...

I love you.

...there was this.

I feel you.

And now this is here again.

(Totality)

Come back to me.

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It was amazing.

Everypony below them was watching the eclipse. And that was all they were doing. They did not risk whispers. Some of them might have been blinking: it was hard to tell through the magic-infused quartz. They simply started up at the sky and drank in the shadows.

Wonder. Awe. Minds locked into doing nothing which was not spectating.

Even the Guards had been caught staring.

And it made them all idiots.

They could not see that this was the beginning of Nightmare. That what they thought was the end of the darkening was just the beginning. Yes, it was just shadowed, the strangest of dusklight, and it made the complicated dress on the white unicorn, the one near the left edge of the stage, shimmer and half-glow. But this was clearly meant to fool the crowd, lull them into half-awareness and leave them defenseless when the horror began.

Or perhaps this was part of the horror, right here. The eclipse might not be true Eternal Night after all, not by itself...

Chef felt those thoughts speeding through his mind, which felt as if it was working better than it ever had. (In this case, 'faster' did not even remotely equal 'better'. It couldn't even make a gallop at 'sane'.) Yes, that made sense. It all made so much sense...

"It's enthralling!" he told them. "They're all caught! Something about that thing is getting every pony at once!" He spoke very quickly. Was there any other way?

"But how are we immune?" Meat asked, faintly vibrating in place.

"It's our training!" Chef insisted. "Plus we're not looking the same way! But mostly training! My leadership! Maybe a little from the Exam Crystal, but that's all my leadership because I got it!" He looked down at the usurper. "Double corona, what does that do...?" His mind raced, which it could do very easily given that nearly all the roads were empty. "If we hit her horn, backlash her right now, what's it do..."

And he looked at Saucier. There would be plenty of time to claim he had never done so later, but right now, they couldn't rely on the drug's duration.

"It won't kill her," Saucier sped through. "But it will hurt her. It could knock her out. Some ponies say the Princesses can work through it, but..."

Chef automatically ignored that part. "Right! Can't try to hit her from here -- too much distance, too easy to miss! Let's get down there! Sous -- get in the air! Get over the stage, make it look like you're just trying for a better view -- but not too close! Wait for the rest of us!"

Sous took off. The other four (because there was no more time for denying it) charged off the balcony, through the hotel room which none of them had been capable of keeping clean, nearly went through the door because there was barely any point to wasting time in opening the thing and Chef was used to making that sort of hole anyway. Down two flights of stairs in seconds. Through the empty lobby. Outside, heading for the town square, and that was taking more than a little of their unreliable time...

Ponies were frozen. The enthrallment was that complete. Those in the crowd weren't moving. The ones in the streets who had decided to stay out of the morass or simply shown up too late to get a bench were staring up through their glasses. Chef briefly wondered if the glasses were part of it, but they were wearing the things and they were still okay. It was clearly the passed-along strength of his will which none of them were worthy of and had better give back the instant this was over. It was the same will which had kept him from losing his soul through signing the hotel registry and they couldn't keep it.

They moved around the perimeter of the crowd, nopony visibly watching them. The town square had been set up as a rough amphitheater and in this case, that meant all the pony spectators on ground level were to the front and sides. There was a little open space left to stand near the back: they'd seen that from the balcony, and all Chef needed was one clear shot from close range. And he'd brought the perfect weapon. The ideal sacrifice. He'd miss it more than he would any of the Scum, but whatever remained of his mind felt it was somehow appropriate. A single moment of hard contact with his chosen weapon, and backlash would hit. The usurper would be knocked out. And then it would be portraits and bits and firings and perpetually-banned mares from professional kitchens for the rest of his life, which would be so very long because their own weak mess-up would of course reward him by turning him into an alicorn and then retiring, handing over the thrones, and then there would be some changes made...

They ran, and it seemed that they were moving so very quickly. Chef looked up, saw Sous checking their position, getting closer to the stage himself, and Chef briefly wondered if Sous would try to get there first and take all the glory and portraits and power for himself... Well, not on his watch! He galloped faster, was getting closer to the crucial point, and now it seemed as if ponies were looking around, just a few, because the noise of movement was strange in this frozen Tartarus of a Nightmare-enthralled world, some of those who were nearly a third as strong-willed as he (once he pulled all his will back into his own body) might have stolen more of his strength. Were any of those Guards? Yes, a couple of them had started to follow the pounding hoofsteps. He was coming around the perimeter, the view of the usurper becoming more clear with every step, he just needed one clear shot --

-- the world opened up.

There was the left edge of the stage. That odd half-glowing dress. Some overdressed jerk with a mustache. Some Guards, all in the service of the faker, a few just beginning to move. And there was the Nightmare, the corona still double, eyes half-faded to white, getting that much closer to revealing herself as the monster she truly was -- and there was nothing but open space between he and her lit horn.

He shouted the battlecry, the one he had worked on for the entire run down the stairs.

"FOR MY PORTRAIT!" he screamed, and let the Royal China fly.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Then vanished.

Now crashed in.

Celestia's head wrenched around, moving faster than most other ponies could, moving faster than she should have -- but it still wasn't fast enough. Even she couldn't turn completely in the amount of the time she had to use. All it did was bring eyes losing the last mists of past into a position to see present.

There was a unicorn stallion, very late middle-age, an ash-blonde mane and dark-brown body failing to distract from maddened yellow eyes which were just barely visible behind the quartz. He was far too overdressed for summer heat. There was a field like boiling water insanely sparking around his horn. And it was irregularly surrounding a plate. A very familiar-looking plate. One which had just been launched towards Luna. At her horn.

Backlash! was the first word in the internal scream, an automatic reaction which couldn't be stopped. Luna, focused on keeping the eclipse steady, hadn't started to turn yet. Hadn't and possibly couldn't drop the field. No matter what Celestia's knowledge of the situation was (and there was a chance, always that nightmare of being wrong), the thought of a Stage Two backlash, even with Luna's resistance should the worst somehow pass, was a horror.

Her own field began to come up, Celestia intending to block, deflect, anything --

-- but it wouldn't be fast enough...

...and the plate hit.

It hit the body of a similarly-overdressed young earth pony stallion, whose eyes had also turned yellow. He had thrown himself in front of it. The glass shattered, some of it cutting through cloth.

The wind was just right for Celestia to smell the blood before she saw it. The cuts weren't deep: just scratches. But still, there was blood.

"TRAITOR!" the crazed unicorn screamed. "I"M GOING TO --!"

Exactly what he was going to do, nopony ever found out.

There was a cough. A rather dignified one, a sound which somehow cut through the world and got everypony's attention, even in the face of the eclipse and the madness taking place beneath it.

The overdressed stallion stopped in midscream, looked at the stage. Fancypants was gazing down at him. And the aristocrat calmly pointed his left front hoof straight up.

The maddened unicorn, too crazed to think, glanced in that direction.

Which meant he got to see the equally overdressed pegasus fall on top of him.

The collision was heard across the town square. The scream of frustration carried for some distance beyond that.

Another cloth-covered unicorn stallion, younger with a coat of oddly glistening red, froze in his charge so quickly as to stumble for several hoofsteps -- before being caught in Celestia's field. His yellow eyes blinked in dull surprise -- then closed, and did not open again. A second earth pony with similar non-taste in clothes rather more sensibly dropped to the ground and put his front hooves over his head. He stopped moving. A few seconds later, he began snoring.

Celestia charged off the stage, flinging the familiar red-coated unicorn into the hooves of the Lunar Guards, getting in front of her sister just in case anything else happened --

-- but it was over.

She looked down at the younger of the earth ponies, the one who had taken the plate for Luna, who was now lying between a Guard and Rainbow Dash, who had swooped in to help. His yellow eyes were beginning to phase back into green.

"Princess," he breathed, and that word along with the ones that followed it made up the most exhausted sentence she had ever heard. "My apologies for letting them ruin the party..." And then he passed out.

Luna had gotten her attention on the scene now -- but her field remained at the double corona level. Still managing the eclipse.

Celestia looked down at the fallen pegasus. Also familiar. And young.

The crazed (and now injured) unicorn pinned underneath (with the force of Twilight's field now added to that), so much older... all the yellow eyes...

"YOU FOOLS!" the unicorn stallion screamed as Applejack pushed her way in, lasso out to tie them up for good measure. "Don't you see what you've allowed to happen? We were your only chance! She's taken over! The Sun is gone! She'll keep it blocked forever and leave us in Eternal Night! Or she'll enthrall everypony in Equestria, everypony but me! She already got all of you -- but I'm too strong! I'll fight to the last! You fools let her seize power and she'll never give it back! The Sun will never return, it'll be like this for a thousand years or more unless you help me right now, you have to listen to me, I'm a Chef...!"

There was another light cough.

Fancypants pointed up a second time.

The first glimmer of Sun returned as the Moon began to move past it.

Then more Sun streamed through.

And still more.

"...oh...."

But that lasted only a second.

"She's been discovered!" the unicorn ranted, swinging back into madness with the skill of the most practiced motion. "She's just pretending to let you all go in order to trick me! She'll bide her time, she'll wait a year, and then when the next Return Of Nightmare Day comes --!"

He didn't really stop yelling. He tried to keep going well beyond that, even with Celestia's right front hoof jammed into his mouth.

"Exam Crystals," she told him, looking down at the maddened yellow eyes. "A very bad batch. The average pegasus has a faster metabolism than a pony from the other two races. Your companions are younger than you: theirs are fairly quick. And as for you, older and slower -- I give you until just about -- shall we say -- now?"

And that was the last thing he knew for some time.

Not that he'd ever really known much at all.

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It was five days later. It had taken that long for Canterlot's best physicians to wake them up for more than a few seconds at a time. Once the group was proven capable of keeping their eyes open and understanding things (as well as they ever had) plus had gone through a series of primary interrogations, they were put under heavy guard, confirmed as immobilized (heavier on the pegasus) and restrained (devices over the horns of the two unicorns), then brought into Celestia's private judicial chambers and abandoned there.

In this case, those chambers were the room on the right.

Of all the duties she had as the holder of the Solar Throne, 'judge' was one of those which she tried to use the least. Oh, she would overhear disputes now and again -- but that was mere arbitration. The trying of criminal cases was generally left to the courts. Celestia believed in trial by jury for the majority of offenses, and she also believed that her typical place was staying out of it.

But there were cases which still found her playing a personal part. There were even a very few charges where what were very nearly the oldest of laws under her tenure said she had to take up the role. And so she maintained a pair of judicial chambers. One was soft, comfortable, welcoming, designed to put ponies at their ease when she knew innocence was on the horizon and those terrified of false accusations leading to real results needed every bit of reassurance they could find.

This one was cold marble with gold inlays, all furniture blocky without a single soft edge in the entire room, everything designed to discomfort and intimidate with overscale layouts that made other ponies feel so much smaller than they already were compared to her, sunlight magically altered to harshen at her command. It was not for pleasant discussions. It was for anything but.

She felt the dust was taking something away from the ambiance, although certain perspectives might have thought it added a bit to the sunlight.

Celestia glared down at the bound ponies and for the first time in decades, wished she was taller.

"I'm going to remove your gags," she told them. "But not just yet. I don't want to hear you talk until after I finish. Believe me, from what I've been told by the ponies who gave you the first rounds of questioning, nopony wants to hear you talk any more, Garleek Ramshead." Her gaze did its best to transfix the one who now only answered to Chef: he glared at her in return. And then she began pacing back and forth in front of them, hooves clicking against the marble.

She'd worn her best shoes. Extra-loud clicks had seemed necessary.

"First, I want to congratulate you -- as a group." Ten eyes, all returned to their normal hues, stared rather far up at her. "Since the end of the war against Discord, my sister and I have faced many conspiracies. When we were trying to unite the continent, there were those who tried to divide it again and profit from the imbalance, or simply grab the whole realm for themselves. Once we'd established ourselves, it changed into those who would splinter their own nations away from ours -- or just seize the thrones and remake Equestria in their own images. Smear campaigns. Assassination attempts. Legal tricks woven into bills they hoped nopony would truly read. It's been over a thousand years, and in that time, I thought I'd seen every kind of conspiracy there was. Until I found yours. Because it is the single stupidest thing I've ever heard of."

(It wasn't: she merely wanted them to feel they'd achieved that much. It was, however, in the top fifteen.)

"Your reactions at the demonstration... well, I'm not above admitting I became angry," Celestia told them. "Accusations against my sister, especially baseless ones with no proof at all behind them... I don't react well to that. So yes -- you were fired. The amusing thing here is that Princess Luna approached me while you were still sleeping off your not particularly creative attempt to take her out -- oh, and incidentally, she does not invade dreams casually. Unless there's something specific she has to look for or somepony she has to contact, she normally lets herself be drawn to nightmares -- so she can help whoever's going through them. And with all the dreaming ponies in Equestria every night, the chances of her coming to one of you -- even if you'd panicked and had your nightscape turn into a vision of her supposed takeover -- let's just say the odds are rather long. Since the Return, numerous ponies shield their dreams: she's quite aware of that. She lets them. You might be surprised to hear she values privacy quite highly. I suspect you're surprised by a lot of things. Like reality, if you only ever let it get close enough to see..."

She stopped for a moment. Resumed pacing, forcing her hooves into the marble with added impact. Watched the clicking beat against fragile minds.

"But I'm getting off topic," she allowed. "The amusing thing -- is that Princess Luna told me she was going to approach me after the eclipse, when she presumed I'd be in the best of moods. She feels that ponies are still trying to adjust in the aftermath of the Return. That it's natural for some to be scared -- and, given that we gave you no warning for the demonstration, that your reaction was -- understandable. And should she have found me in such great humor, she was going to ask for your reinstatement."

Four pairs of eyes blinked. The remainder disbelieved.

"I saw the joke in that," Celestia admitted. Looked down again. "But I didn't laugh. And I am not laughing now. I do have a question, however. You see -- I distinctly remember firing you. And having that memory be so clear, I can also do what the interrogators were told you were so afraid of -- count. I fired one -- two -- three -- four. Not five. One of you quit."

Her field reached out, surrounded the gag of the youngest earth pony, removed it.

"So, Blending Stock -- or do you prefer Saucier? Why did you quit?"

"Stock is all right, Princess." The large bright green eyes blinked up at her. They were set in a pleasant face, strong features which had a humble cast to them. An off-white coat, topped by a light yellow mane cut extra-short, and his mark showed a mixing bowl and ladle. "I thought -- I'd better keep an eye on them."

"Because?"

"Because -- they're stupid, Princess." Chef writhed within his bonds. "Some more than others. Rigatoni's just inhaled too much suspect flour over the years. Sizzler's fine as long as he stays at his station, but he's rubbish with anything away from it. Passer's sort of okay, but he lets Ramshead get in his ears and -- they're all like that, really. As long as he's yelling, all that goes through their brains are the echoes of his words. And he's an idiot." The writhing got faster. "I heard him when he was on his way to clean out his things, and some of the stuff he was muttering... I knew he'd drink. I know that when he drinks, his intelligence goes lower than what you'd find in a mushroom. And the others would get drunk, and angrier, and let him lead them in stupidity. When he thinks for them, nopony thinks at all. So I had to keep an eye on them, and I couldn't do that while I was in the palace, I had a really bad feeling -- so I quit."

She let the clicking become a little faster, and was not displeased to see Chef twitching in rhythm. "And why didn't you just tell me about it? Once you knew what they planned..."

He sighed. "At first, I never thought they'd get that far. Stupidity, exhaustion, hurt themselves in training -- and they weren't sleeping. I was hoping the other three would come to their senses and just quit. But I was hoping for a little too much. And as for reporting to you -- Princess, Ramshead followed us in order to prevent any social lives outside the kitchen. I know he followed me back from the meetings a few times, and it's one of the few things he's sort of good at. I couldn't always be sure I was alone, and if I'd betrayed..."

Chef writhed so hard as to nearly throw himself across a half body length of marble. His personal answer for 'if' was very obvious.

"But they were getting more and more tired," the young line cook sighed. "Admittedly, so was I. And Chef kept us all drinking so much... I got some sleep whenever I could and I even tried to dream about what was going on in hopes that Princess Luna would hear me and come -- but it didn't happen. Honestly, by the time we got to Ponyville, I wasn't thinking all that well myself. But it still felt like I had a good chance to stop them just by either tripping them on their way out the door or waiting for them to pass out in the middle of the stairs. I didn't think Chef would get an Exam Crystal -- and I got blocked before I could 'accidentally' knock it off the balcony."

"So instead -- you used the crystal to be awake as long as they were, and still be able to try. And then you took a plate for Princess Luna."

He nodded.

"Stock," she said, "you do realize that when my sister and I are working magic in public above the most basic levels, the Guards will raise a hidden shield spell and place it around us? To prevent backlash attempts from making horn contact?"

His eyes slowly closed. "No. I didn't."

"They do," Celestia told him. "Princess Luna was in no danger." And Celestia had still reacted as if it was all real, because the instinct could not be made to go away -- and there had still been the risk of other ponies getting hurt from the idiocy. "It's not something we make particularly public. Few ponies know shield spells can be hidden, and they generally have to be kept fairly small when they're in that state or the energy overwhelms the concealment. But every unicorn and a number of other ponies know about backlash. Stop magic by making hard contact with the horn. Four stages. First -- known as Stage Zero for whatever reason-- inconvenient, Stage One painful, Stage Two injurious, and Stage Three -- the triple corona infliction -- fatal. That knowledge is out there. And so many try to take advantage of it -- and we know to block those attempts before they begin. The shield is hidden, but attempts to break it would be visible -- and of course, things bouncing off are easy to pick up on."

"So she was safe all along," the young stallion said. "I'm thankful..."

"I know. Stock -- would you like to be head of the Solar Kitchen?"

About ten percent of Chef's scream got through the gag. It was still enough to leave five sets of ears flattened.

It took a few seconds before Stock could make himself reply. "No, Princess."

Celestia blinked. "...no?"

"I'm not ready. I know about things which aren't food -- but I don't know enough about food itself yet. I'm a good saucier. But I wouldn't be a very good chef."

She smiled. "In that case... I'm offering you a job in the Lunar Kitchen. Junior sous chef. You'll float about the various stations and take instruction. When Anise feels you're ready, you'll be moved back to the Solar as full sous, with her own promoted to lead that kitchen. And one day, you might take over from there. If you're willing to work under a mare...?"

"Yes," he simply said.

Her field undid his bonds. "Behind me for a moment, please." He stood up, arched his back and stretched out muscles, then moved to the place she'd requested. "Now, the rest of you -- are rather stupid ponies. Three of you fairly so. One -- we'll come to that. But the fact remains that none of you hurt anypony except each other, and three didn't even get to make an attempt. However, Rigatoni, Sizzler, and Passer... you are not getting off so easy. Think of this as my offering you a chance to be smart, or at least more so than you are now. If you accept my offer, you'll receive community service. Enough of it that your social lives will suffer without Ramshead following you for years to come. But eventually, it will end. You'll also be assigned to the Lunar Kitchen. You'll work under the direction of a mare -- and Stock. You will report directly to Princess Luna and if she says one word against you, the probation will be revoked -- and then some. Take this deal and you'll avoid trial and have a chance -- but if you go against it in any way... well, let's just say you'll be wishing for the Moon."

She released their gags.

"What's -- what's the community service?" a dry-voiced Passer gasped.

"That's for Princess Luna to decide."

"So -- it could be anything."

"True."

He glanced over at Chef, who was writhing in such a way as to be facing away from both -- then looked up at Celestia again. She shook her head.

"I'll take it."

The other two agreed in quick turn.

"And that brings us to you." Her field seized Ramshead, rotated him, forced him to face her without any movement possible. "The lead idiot. A shining source of stupidity who blocks out all light of intelligence and believes any thinking not his own to be the highest of crimes -- which makes just about everything into a crime, because he can barely think at all. I kept you on the staff because you had some talent for coordinating cooks, although that now seems to have been a skill for taking most of the credit. I read the transcripts of what you told the interrogators, which is why I now have a whole new vocabulary list of things to call female chefs and -- oh yes -- am led to understand that I am your weak mess-up mare." The words hit hard enough to crack the marble. "By all rights, I should put you on trial. The other four will testify: I'm making that part of the legal paperwork for their deals with the court. I should throw you on display in front of all Equestria just to see how Murdocks could possibly render you into a hero, simply for the humor of it: I got a good enough laugh when your coup attempt was described as a kitchen prank. And given that the charge is striking against a Princess, I get to be the judge. It's an old law, it's unfair in many ways -- but it's still on the books. You'd have a jury of your peers, of course, assuming we can find twelve other ponies that idiotic. But even so, I don't like your odds."

He blinked. It was all she was allowing him to do.

"So your deal -- is quite different," she told him. "If you take it -- probation for life. Community service for same. Extensive psychiatric evaluations before any of the former can proceed and unless you can talk your brain into operating soundly for a while, you may be spending some time in an asylum. In the event that you are somehow deemed fit to enter society, you will be given employment as a cook -- at the lowest level, somewhere which is not the palace. You will work under the direction of mares. There will be nopony you can claim superiority over. You will attend remedial classes until you gain a standard school diploma. Princess Luna will speak with you at regular intervals to see if you're learning anything. If she feels you're hopeless -- well, the others will be wishing for the Moon, and you? Will be wishing you were them. There's more to it, but -- those are the basics. I can show you all the terms before you sign off on them, or have somepony read them to you. You have thirty seconds to make a decision."

Celestia did what she hated most and removed the gag. She also loosened her field, enough to allow jaw movement.

He blinked a few more times.

"I -- would be working -- under a mare?"

"Correct."

"PUT ME ON TRIAL!"

He would have screamed more, but Celestia replaced the gag.

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Later, after the Sun had been lowered, she sat down to dinner with Luna -- which, for her sister, was breakfast. There was no discussion of a joined name for the meal, and the kitchen was much quieter.

She told her sister about everything.

Finally, she finished with "Any ideas for their community service?"

"Something to do with education, I suspect, in the faint hopes that they might gain one. Possibly still more time spent with mares in charge of their lives. Or perhaps Sizzler can cook for the griffon embassy, but I would have concerns that they would try to recruit him as a singularly inept spy... I had hoped you would smile when I said that."

Celestia sighed. "I may need a few days. It's -- not funny yet. I know you were safe, Luna, but I still reacted as if you weren't. And that's natural, but... I reacted slowly. Because I wasn't completely paying attention..."

"Nopony was, sister. They were watching the eclipse. Even our Guards were caught by the moment."

"Which is a problem we should have seen coming." Another sigh. "I should have seen it. I should have guessed that there was at least a chance that anypony I fired over what happened at the demonstration would do something stupid -- especially for those who were idiots to begin with. I knew some of the Royal China was missing: Anise mentioned it. But I thought it had been deliberately broken on their way out in petty revenge and didn't want to waste time proving it over a pattern I never liked. I spent my time jotting down notes on which of Murdocks had asked whether I had a search warrant after a mere knock and didn't see the danger closer to you."

"Despite any appearances you may try to enforce to the contrary, you are not omniscient," Luna dryly noted. "Even if you sometimes briefly manage to make me fall for it. You anticipate, you plan, you expect and counter -- but precognition is not among your talents, Tia. You had no way to see this coming."

"I should have seen more."

"I was not hurt --"

"-- I was looking in the wrong direction!"

"Forward instead of left?"

"Past instead of present!"

And they had to wait for the rumbles of thunder to die away.

"You -- do not lose control like that," Luna slowly said. "I have always been the one who let that aspect slip under stress. Never you -- well, never since I returned."

Celestia stared at her plates, which had been vibrated a hoof width out of position.

"Sister...?"

A whisper which hit harder than the thunder. "...I was waiting for them."

Luna said nothing, because nothing was all that needed to be said.

"When you showed me that first illusion -- I thought of them. I saw them, just for a moment. Like it used to be before. I even saw you that way, and I felt -- like I used to. It only lasted a second, but -- in that second, everything was back. Everypony. All of us. It hurt, Luna, it hurt -- and it felt better than anything since the moment you returned. Because I got you back after a thousand years, when I'd tried so hard not to give up hope -- and then, in that one second, I had everypony else..."

Still no vocal response.

"I would have done anything to make the eclipse happen. I would have overruled both Courts. Personally spoken to every pony in Equestria. Made deals with the other nations. Because nostalgia makes you stupid, Luna, stupider than Ramshead ever was. Part of me believed -- truly believed -- that at the moment the eclipse became totally real... they would come back to me..."

And now there were words "You told me you thought --"

"-- I can't be sure. I'll never be sure. And so I thought I could get them back -- as they were. Everything as it was... even if it was just for the eclipse... to see them again, to talk, to touch..."

"Stand." It was an order.

Celestia wasn't used to orders from her little sister -- but her legs were straightening even as she softly asked, "Why?"

"Because I am taking you between. Because you should arrive on your hooves. And --" the dark eyes closed "-- because the staff should not see us cry."

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They could no longer be called graves.

Four places, meaningless to anypony else. There would be no trace of bodies, not after so much time. Four locations where friends had been lost. None of them held memorial markers and in three cases, those symbols would have meant nothing to the citizens of the present day. History cared to remember Celestia, for it seemed as if Celestia had always been there. With Luna returned, questions about her exact part in the war were slowly beginning to emerge, even if the answers weren't being provided -- not yet. But the other four... lost. History had become legend, and in turn, legend had become history. She had tried to preserve their names, desperately attempted to keep some form of the record intact -- but ponies believed what they wished. That she could bless. That she'd had no before, and that was a delusion she'd ultimately encouraged. And that there had been but one -- and now, just two.

There was a pair of intact records for what had truly happened, and both went to each site in turn. They talked. They remembered, including those things they tried to keep buried within themselves, because that too was part of the story. And they did so throughout the night.

The others had not come back. They could not, never as they had been. But on a new kind of Return Day, Celestia and Luna awoke them in memory, let them live in story and jokes retold and songs rendered deliberately off-key.

It ached. It hurt.

It helped.

And at the last site, they stood under the waving branches of the willow.

"Tia?"

"Yes?"

"I should have asked when I returned, but it had been so long and paper does not last..." Softly, with just the faintest trace of hope, "Do you still have the picture?"

"Luna -- you don't want to know how many spells I invented to make sure I still had that picture." With the last of the tears for the night, "I should have told you... right after you returned, I should have shown it to you..."

Gently, "And I should have asked. Ideas come -- when they come, sister. May we go see it?"

"In a minute..." Celestia trotted forward, settled down in the grass next to the trunk.

A willow. He would have said the world was playing a joke on him. Too sad a tree...

Celestia, the Princess, the legend, the subject of tales which had only grown more distorted over centuries until all hope of making ponies believe the true had been lost. One. Luna, restored, her last connection to the pony Celestia had once been. Two. And there, for all but the survivors, the count stopped.

"We were six..." she whispered.

She felt the body press against her, the wing draped across her back. For a moment, she didn't know whose it was.

"We are six," Luna whispered back.

And they stayed there until it was time to raise the Sun.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Both returned to the castle. Both canceled everything they had for the day, for both horribly needed sleep. And they trotted together to the midpoint of the structure, where Solar and Lunar wings diverged, and made ready to head for their own beds.

And both paused.

"Tia -- next year? Another?"

"Oh, yes. And -- what comes after."

"Agreed. However -- let us make two other agreements before we rest."

"Which are?"

"First -- it will take time. Too much of it. But even if nopony else ever reads the words -- and I know we will have trouble finding any to believe -- we write it down. All of it. We cannot spread too much word of before, I know that -- but what was should exist somewhere outside our heads, even if it is only within private texts. They deserve so much more than that -- but let us begin there."

"I can't argue... any of it. But -- it's going to hurt."

"I am aware."

"All right -- but give me a few moons. I think things are about to get a little more intense..."

Luna raised an eyebrow -- but let it go. "Very well."

Celestia yawned. "So what's the second thing?"

"Before this time next year?"

"Yes?"

"We both truly need to learn how to cook."

Comments ( 104 )

Just… beautiful. Amazing. Brilliant. Wonderful.

Thank you.

Magical backlash to the horn, very interesting. I was just writing about that in my own story.

You bring up an interesting concept that I was wondering about a while ago.
Adds to the "Read-list".:raritystarry:

So, I have a question... What style of planet is your Equestria? By that I mean, is it a globe or a disc?

Why am I thinking that Discord somehow sealed those lost four inside an eclipse? I could read it that way, or more generally, but it seems like just the sort of ridiculous thing he'd try to pull.

they were put under heavy guard, confirmed as immobilized (heavier on the pegasus) and restrained (devices over the horns of the two unicorns)

And how were the earth ponies restrained? :trixieshiftleft::trixieshiftright:

Whoo, what a ride! A generous helping of hijinks, and then wham, right in the feels.

First: I went through the final chapter and fixed a number of small things which made perfect sense at 1:30 a.m. (Sleep-editing: still not the best idea.)

Second on through...

2936083

The actual title inspiration on this one was musical, but it's from Little Shop Of Horrors.

2936831

For me, Discord finds a degree of beauty in his own workings and chaos occurring naturally (and that's on display at one point, although not here) -- but having seen it, has no trouble getting rid of it so he can try something else. Plus his sense of what beautiful is can be disturbing to begin with. Chaos esthetics are not necessarily for the faint of heart or weak of sanity And yes, he'd have more than a little trouble with the concept of others desiring consistency, or seeing anything worthwhile in pattern.

As far as personal appearances, even in memory... not at this place on the timeline.

2965652

I think it's partially a territorial issue and fears of being without backup. In Canterlot, watch your step because there are others watching it for you. In Ponyville...

3004531

I've been working with it since Triptych started and it's spread into the connected stories. If you're curious for my take, there's an extensive definition section near the start of Chapter Eight.

Again: I'm aware I'm going to wind up posting a glossary.

3004812

...narrow that down? (Use private mail if you don't want to publicly post your own concepts) If you mean the idea of eclipses in Equestria... as noted in one blog post, there are ways where this is a fixfic for my own mistake.

(Short version: for Luna's Lottery Lunacy, I put a total eclipse in the Lunar Courtyard for a daytime press conference as part of the atmosphere -- then realized that given Equestria's cycle, eclipses can't exist. Several thousand words later...)

3004823

I'm flexible. (But until I see a cosmic turtle, it's a globe.)

3005017

Okay, that's just -- actually, I can see him trying it, but... well, not with me listening to his speeches.

3005157

And how were the earth ponies restrained?

Culturally!

That was amazing. I loved every second of it. Truly beautiful.

3006011
>as noted in one blog post, there are ways where this is a fixfic for my own mistake.

And as I may have forgot to tell you, there are many ways in which I am thankful you made that mistake. Because this story has been great.

Very nice. I like the way you dealt with the other four. I plan to deal withthem myself in my own verse.

3006011
I just meant the concept as a whole, like a fridge brilliance moment after your watch/rewatch some episodes and realize "Whoa! If Luna's been gone that long it's possible that no one's ever seen an eclipse before". I've never read any of your works before now.

3012557

Because in this story, regardless of all what happens in any others, or canon, they were pulling (and have pulled) scams. And in this specific instance, were selling an item that, far from protecting ponies, would be more likely to cause them actual permenant blindness.

So, heck, no they don't get any sympathy.

And having just had our house ransacked, I'm even less inclined than usual to feel anything other than comtempt for the criminal element (which in this case in this story, Flim and flam are.)

Seriously, I love all your stories. :twilightsmile:

I think your Luna and Celestia are really well written. They just have a great balance between them of humor, ruler, and the 'seen-it-done-it' attitude. Also Chef is such a jackass. :rainbowlaugh:

But really, this was a great story and I can't wait to read more!

What a wonderful read this was.

It started off with an amazingly powerful look into the history of Luna and Celestia, and especially of their love for one another after going through so much. A tale full of pain and joy and fear and hope, with the latter winning out. More than ideal for my tastes in stories - and oh, so many tears were shed!

Then: hijinks! Silly Chef-and-Scum! Twilight verbally beating the crap out of a stodgy Gryphon! Yay! ...all wrapped around more delightful and moving background between the Sisters.

And then the end: the sorrow of what was, the agony of what might have been, the pleasure in what is... and ultimately, once again, the hope for what can and will be, and many more tears.

I have nothing more to say right now than thank you.

Light and laughter,
SongCoyote

Hah, I loved this! So good to see the Chef get his just desserts, and Stock being a good guy all along :D

3202543 The apple family DID agree to the deal though, they could have said "No, get the *$#@ off of our farm!" I might burn in hell for this, but why spend years building your own orchard when you could probably make a deal with a farmer as a provider. As several youtubers have proven, the deal the Flim-Flam brothers offered the Apples, would have made them MORE money at the rate ONE SCS6000 was working.

3022842 (First, my sympathies, I know the feeling of being robed) And yes, I am not speaking about the story, I personally like it. I was merely speaking about Cannon occurrences.

3201603 Well, I will say that they did pressure them into the deal, I will admit they were agressive, in the end, the Apples made the deal, they gave in. As for the mane 6, That is still six extra bodies around the farm that normally don't work there. And as I said, Technically, they won the bet. It was "who could make the most cider!" not who could make "the most DRINKABLE cider" They won the farm, fair n' square...well...sort of.

3203629

Except the deal was not "for the farm", the deal was for the "exclusive right to sell cider in Ponyville". Which is probably not something any of them have the legal right to do anyway (Mayor Mare seemed to take it seriously, so I'm not really sure what to think here). So Flim and Flam won the exclusive right to sell their undrinkable cider in Ponyville, and they would still have to find their own apples, unless they came to a separate agreement with the Apple family.

It apparently would have driven the Apples out of business, if they couldn't find any way to compensate, but Flim and Flam were threatening to drive them out of the cider market through legitimate competition, which would have had more or less the same effect. But Flim and Flam would still not own the farm - all their comments to that effect in the episode are nothing more than an intimidation tactic.

As for whether the offered deal (1/4 of the profits from machine-made cider) is actually profitable for the Apples, I'd want to examine the assumptions those youtubers made - I suspect they are assuming that the apples will otherwise provide no profit, or that only a small percentage of their yield is being used, which may or may not be the case. (Simple example, if we assume, for the sake of argument, that they use 10% of their annual yield for cider, and that Flim and Flam would use 100% of their annual yield, with the Apples getting 1/4 the profit, they'd be making (1/4)*10 = 2.5 times as much money from cider sales, but would then be out of apples to, y'know, sell. I strongly suspect there's not enough information provided in the episode to determine exactly how profitable the deal would be. Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about apple farming and cider-making.)

3204002 Huh...never thought of it that way...perhaps I was being a little bias to one side...still, what if we are just over-thinking an obvious moral in a little girls show... :applejackunsure:






Nah. :ajsmug:

And there, for all but the survivors, the count stopped.
"We were six..." she whispered.

Excuse me while I curl up in the corner and totally don't cry to myself like a little bitch.

3203926

When I read Chef in this chapter, why was I envisioning A dumb version of Gareth Blackstock from Chef!

Sadly, I've never seen the series -- and having just read up on it a little, I'm starting to make tentative plans for fixing that.

I didn't have any particular chef in mind when I put him into the story -- although when the time came for his real name, the GR initials were ultimately a deliberate choice and a small tribute. (Fortunately, at no point did he ever say this was the most amazing counterrevolutionary cell.) However, the more I look at him, the more he could arguably pass for a slightly less demented version of Marco Pierre White.

Slightly.

But even so... it still wasn't intentional. There just seem to be certain, shall we say, personality traits which are known to pop up at the top of the profession.

"Having the Princesses send you to the Moon. Then all you have to do is look down. If you can see Ponyville, I win."

Funniest line in the whole story. And that is well and truly saying something.

not even after the pony who had not been a lamp managed a miraculous escape which their self-determined leader forget about five minutes after it didn't happen

"forgot", not "forget".

3240629

Typos and cockroaches: name two things which breed in the dark... fixed and stepped on repeatedly, thankee. Stories come and sometimes stories go, but making eye-slide edits is just about forever.

The awkward-seeming 'her' is because we're in Celestia's POV for that section.

I often have a hard time judging which lines will be seen as funny: I know what I wanted, but it's difficult to gauge what the reader reactions will be: worked in draft, killed by the audience. 'Look down' is up there, though -- so to speak.

Personally, I have a small fondness for the Base Ten question. There's nothing like utterly destroying a sibling's entire worldview while on their own turf.

3241454
Much of your humor reminds me heavily of Douglas Adams ("it hung in the air the same way that bricks don't") or Terry Pratchett: the real highlights are the detailed and over-the-top descriptions (brinner, dinfast, and the audible kitchen wars), absurd metaphors (math at the start of chapter 2), the timely drawn-out moments that would otherwise pass briefly with just a chuckle, and the occasional perfect deadpan from an unexpected source (the "look down" line).

The base-ten bit was funny, but I've seen the joke about aliens using base-ten in too many other places (FiM and otherwise); as a result, it was still funny, especially with your descriptions of Luna, but not a highlight for me the way Twilight's "look down" and "none of the others will be intelligent enough to read" lines were.

(As an aside, have you seen Faster Than Light, which averts that by having Equestria use base-eight?)

3242474

(As an aside, have you seen Faster Than Light, which averts that by having Equestria use base-eight?)

No, that's one I've missed. (One of the perils from writing: I don't get to read as much.) Base Eight, huh? I'm going to blame Sleipnir.

As for the way the jokes go in the story -- um... that is not company I fit among by several million readers (and dollars). But I will say this: the Brinner Brigade is as close as I've come to semi-deliberately (on that subconscious level) going for some level of Pratchett Effect. If they made anyone briefly think of the slightly-more-effective conspiracy in Guards, Guards!, then mission arguably accomplished -- and it's something I mainly realized after the fact.

The undercurrent generally doesn't keep the rest updated on livestream.

3248081
You might not consciously go for that kind of humor often, but it's the most frequent and by far the highest quality humor in your work. Certainly it's not something I often see done well.

Base Eight, huh? I'm going to blame Sleipnir.

Sleipnir, joint-based counting, limb-position counting, or any number of other interesting origins. But nicely done; that's the kind of humor I mean. :twilightsmile:

This started funny and sweet, then took a sharp right into beautiful.

Fancypants totally stole that scene on the stage. Twice. :duck:

3248081 Terry Pratchett...

is


Awesomenesssssness

Ok ... What's the before, after thing?

In your verse. When did only Lulu and Tia wield the EoH between themselves?

What's Abeyance?

Will Lulu ever talk about the Inner Burial to anypony other than Tia?

Other than those questions, and a few misused verb tenses throughout the story (my internet is spotty atm and couldn't point them out when I was reading them) it was an amazing fic. Thank you so much for such an amazing series that has quite quickly hit my top five. Even in ways surpassing the Who Rules?: Series in not only raw amount, but in raw feels. Although in otherways I doubt any story could ever replace Who Rulse as my all time fav. (nastalgia factor) although I love this series none the less. I'm off to the next part of the series.

3248081 3251037

No, that's one I've missed. (One of the perils from writing: I don't get to read as much.) Base Eight, huh? I'm going to blame Sleipnir.

I did too, and you use Base ten in 1 10th bit, also with how all of Equestria uses human tech, human architecture, and base 10 being easy to keep track of at an expotential level (Deci, Centi, Milli, Nano. Or Deca, Centa, Mega, and I think Hecta?) base 8 other than in computer programming/languages (8 bit, 32 bit, ect) would be a nightmare in calculating anything. That and more than anything I love how that one question is going to haunt Luna forever or at least a few stories until she finds an answer as to why. That and Base 10 is scientific, and easier to keep track of. Nice and orderly. And I don't know how it'd be Base 8. I can see your Tia limb count in the big question.

Btw. Give Slepinir a cookie. (S)He deserves it.

3501143
Doing everything in base 8 sounds difficult because you're thinking in base 10 and imagining having to convert everything. If everything were in base 8, you'd have scientific notation for base 8, prefixes for powers of 8, and so on. There were human civilizations that didn't use decimal, as well.

3501117

Ok ... What's the before, after thing?

In your verse. When did only Lulu and Tia wield the EoH between themselves?

Unfortunately, I can't quite touch these two just yet, other than to say that the first is there if you look for it -- or might become clear later. The second is, at best, gonna be a while.

What's Abeyance?

This one's in the glossary blog post, though: it's the term for the period of Nightmare Moon's imprisonment.

Will Lulu ever talk about the Inner Burial to anypony other than Tia?

As I see it, she'd need someone she trusted on that level -- which is something else that could take a while.

3502128

I've read and looked ... but I don't really get it. As for the second ... That's cool, but I'd be interested in seeing how they talk about the time after Dissy, where Sombra, and NMM came into play way after Dissy's conquest and the loss of their 4 friends. So it'll be interesting to see how that goes.

Side note. I read mark of Appeal. Thank You! Thank you * Infinity * 5. For seeing that spell as a failed monstrosity where Tia and Lulu would have no idea what would happen if the spell was complete. I still don't think Cadance's ascension had anything to do with Tia and at the most she was just there when Caddy accidentally took ranked up to Alicorn.

I personally think it'll be interesting if all the Mane 6 go Alicorn, or a mass ascension event accidentally released.

_________________

Where's 8 come from though? Even if you used the Alicorn-Based model it'd be only 7. But while I can see how 7, 4, or 6 could be used. Well I can see Base 4 since things exist in nature that are Base 4, as well as in science, especially if they have advanced sciences. But I can see ponies use Base 10, and never question it.

That and Abaci use base 10. It's not only funny, and one of the scenes I love in this story (I so want it to come up in future stories where Luna hunts for the answer for why ponies use Base 10 instead of more normal pony Bases. Since 8-bit [0 and 1's] and 16 bit programing [1 - 9 a - f] is bases of 4.

This is truly stunning, I'm so sorry I didn't read this sooner. I love seeing Luna and Celestia's interaction as siblings. Owing to having a little sister myself, seeing it done well always gets me right in the heart. This is a true example of it done well. I adore the subplot with the cooks as well, it was hilarious as it started and hearing of their wars back and forth and then blossomed into something even more incredible. The finale with Stock completely awed me and I truly felt for the poor others.

I love the creation of the Exam Crystals too, just the right hint of need and questionable legal basis to make them feel oh so real. The description made me giggle uproariously and I loved Chef's descriptions of it.

So many parts I want to point ut and gush over I worry my comment will be as long as the story. This to me is a wonderful example of how incredible fanfiction can be.

Good show. Again, as in Luna's Lottery Lunacy, the interaction between Luna and Celestia is wonderful to read. I don't think there are a lot of writers on this site who write the Royal Sisters better.

However, I do think there's a pretty big flaw to this story: the bad guys.

I haven't read everything you've written (I have yet to get started on Triptych itself) but I've read a considerable share of your stories by now. Most of those have at least one clearly villainous character. And... forgive me for saying this, but you don't seem to be very good at them.

Take Chef. He's stupid, arrogant and paranoid, and cares little about other ponies' well-being. All those traits are cranked up to eleven, and he doesn't get a single redeeming quality, or any explanation for why he's so awful. To top it all off, at the end we get an anvilicious speech from Celestia, who tells us one more time what a terrible pony Chef is.

It's almost like you assumed that the readers would love Chef initially, so you pulled out all the stops to show us how much of a jerk he is. At any rate, it doesn't make him very convincing, as a character or as a source of conflict.

And then there's the Canterlot nobility. As in every fic ever that mentions them, the nobles are both supremely pretentious and supremely useless, and serve no function in the story except to annoy the Princesses. Sure, a few jokes at their expense can be fun, but once we get Celestia mentally calculating that the nobles would do more damage to Ponyville than any natural disaster, it starts to feel like overkill. All the more so because we aren't shown any of their horrible behaviour beyond a few petty squabbles over who gets to stand where; we just have to take Celestia's word for it that they're obnoxious.

And finally, the press. Your portrayal of them is so cynical that it moves past funny and right into disturbing, especially with the Princesses' remarks on 'why we need a free press, again.' In your Equestria, every journalist (except for a tiny minority of "honest reporters" who are only ever mentioned as hypothetically existing, never actually seen) is not only willing but eager to print lies, grotesque exaggerations, and wacky conspiracy theories as news if it will sell more copies. In other words, every newspaper is the Daily Mail, with nary a Guardian or Independent in sight. Surely they can't all be that bad?

Another point that bugs me is why the press seems to be universally bent on making Luna and Celestia look as bad as possible. Even if all your newspapers are sensation-chasing tabloids, I'd expect a fair number of them to be slavishly loyal to the Crown, rather than unfairly critical of it. This is the case in most real-world monarchies, as far as I can tell; after all, blind patriotism sells at least as well as blind panic.

In your Equestria, that doesn't seem to be the case. Consider the implications of that for a moment. The newspapers are all corrupt and will print anything that sells. The newspapers print lots of abuse directed at the Princesses, and rarely anything positive about them. Apparently, then, anti-royalist sentiment is what sells.

That, in turn, would mean Luna and Celestia aren't very popular among the population at large – in which case a handful of hysterical reporters would be the least of their worries.

In the last chapter, we're told Celestia has two courtrooms: one pleasant and comforting, the other harsh and scary. That seemingly small detail bothered me a lot. For you see, in order to pick a room, Celestia has to make assumptions about the suspect's guilt or innocence, before the trial even starts (you say so outright: 'when she knew innocence was on the horizon'). That rather dashes the hopes of any trial in either room actually being fair.

And I think this is symbolic for the entire story. Celestia, Luna and a select few around them are in the nice room: everything they do is sweet and beautiful and right, and if it ever seems otherwise, they have ample justification for their deeds. Chef, the nobles and the Murdocks reporters are in the nasty room: they're stupid, petty and vain, and they do evil things all the time, just because they're evil like that.

So, I think this story displays your typical strengths and weaknesses as a writer: you handle emotions, especially those of the Princesses, subtly and beautifully, but you can be a bit... heavy-handed when it comes to morality.

3655903

...okay, this is going to take a while...

First: bringing on the bad guys.

Take Chef. He's stupid, arrogant and paranoid, and cares little about other ponies' well-being. All those traits are cranked up to eleven, and he doesn't get a single redeeming quality, or any explanation for why he's so awful. To top it all off, at the end we get an anvilicious speech from Celestia, who tells us one more time what a terrible pony Chef is.

It's almost like you assumed that the readers would love Chef initially, so you pulled out all the stops to show us how much of a jerk he is. At any rate, it doesn't make him very convincing, as a character or as a source of conflict.

But what he's mainly supposed to be a source of is comedy.

Part of this goes to a pair of story traits: length and tag. The background counterrevolutionary cell isn't meant to take over the story. It's a mid-length piece with a Comedy label, and Chef is meant to be a comedic villain. Such personalities don't have to be fully realized as characters with all background motivations laid out and any distinguishing childhood traumas indicated. And honestly, I put him out there as a mega-jerk immediately in the vague hopes that it would make it easier to people to laugh at him.

Chef is an assemblage of negative personality traits which seem to crop up in food service far too often: some would swear the profession is a magnet for a given type, and they may not be wrong. He's a very angry stereotype who spends most of the story drunk off his hooves, which isn't doing any tiny portion of rationality he might possess any favors. He is, first and foremost, an idiot. And if I start explaining the whys and wherefores of that idiocy -- I chance leaving comedy behind. I think that's the big risk when it comes to detailing your villains (and Chef is still more towards Plot Arc B) in a comedy story: the deeper you go, the less funny it might become.

(You can't even really give him credit for being a Celestia loyalist: at the start, this is more about taking revenge for his having been fired while Proving Everypony Wrong and at the end, it's mostly about a portrait and all that he expects to follow.)

As far as motivations go, sometimes -- especially for the short pieces -- a jerk is just a jerk.

For longer works -- one of the comments I got on Triptych -- a comment which preceded a downvote -- was this quote: "The fact that the only ponies who seem like what we're used to from the cartoons are the more-or-less VILLAINS of the piece?"

Take that as you will.

The nobility... with one exception (and it's the one you haven't reached), they've been background material. I just keep mentally using Jet Set & Upper Crust as the building point for the majority: petty ponies with petty conflicts and too many bits to use in funding their pursuit of petty victory. Kind of like Washington D.C. in the early winter. Or any other time of year, really...

The press: I think I commented on Sonic Rainbigot that one of the conceits for this little version of Equestria is that Diamond Tiara would represent the typical editor and Gabby Gums is close to the gold standard of reporting. The tabloid level of journalism is the typical one simply because it sells best. There are stronger publications, but we don't hear as much from them simply because they're not as much of a source for conflict.

(And yes, there are pro-Diarchy papers, but they tend to distort in that direction. Where U.S. Democrats see endless spin in any Fox News story, the Republicans pick up twists from MSNBC -- and neither is exactly wrong. Each side also buys the publications of the other: how else are you going to know what the opposition is claiming about you?)

We see more of the Murdocks Press Corps than the others for a few reasons: they're a connecting element among the stories, they are a source of conflict, and they're meant to show that in this Equestria, not everypony is a Diarchy loyalist -- and those who aren't have a media voice (and prospective leadership). It's a reminder that not everypony is on the same side.

Sensation-chasing tabloids... mostly, even for those on the Diarchy's side. I would say it's an ongoing joke about the deterioration of journalism, but if you look at the historical record, it's pretty much always been this bad: it's just a lot faster now. For Equestria, however, panic really does sell better than calm -- especially given how prone to panic a large part of the population is to begin with. A large number of ponies freak out on cue, and that cue doesn't necessarily have to be a subtle one. Think of the Flower Trio as those who, if given a broadcast news teaser of 'Fifteen Things In Your Garden That Might Be Killing You: Details At Eleven', would stay up shivering for as long as necessary in order to discover exactly why they just tore up their entire front yard. Then turn them into Typical Readership, add in that generally-low reporting standard... and say hello to the self-perpetuating cycle. The majority of papers have no need to become better. So they don't.

(Side note: one of the things I keep meaning to shoehorn in somewhere is that no one's necessarily invented libel law yet.)

Stronger writing does exist. It just doesn't sell as well.

In the last chapter, we're told Celestia has two courtrooms: one pleasant and comforting, the other harsh and scary.

It''s a pair of judicial chambers, actually -- a judge's workspace/office, divorced from the main courtroom.

For you see, in order to pick a room, Celestia has to make assumptions about the suspect's guilt or innocence, before the trial even starts (you say so outright: 'when she knew innocence was on the horizon'). That rather dashes the hopes of any trial in either room actually being fair.

Being present at the attack does give Celestia a small advantage for knowing what happened as regards some aspects of 'did this take place?' guilt... but in this case, what's happening is more along the lines of what's called pre-trial intervention: giving the accused a chance to plea-bargain with the court before any actual jury assembly on up. (The Equestrian equivalent of arraignment can be presumed to have taken place offscreen.)

However, there's something else going on in that scene, and it's something which was indicated at a few other points:

This Celestia isn't perfect.

She gets angry. She overreacts, especially where Luna is concerned. She plots, plans, and manipulates, but she's not omniscient. She's nowhere near omnipotent either. Many ponies have fallen for both, but they're buying into an illusion which they partially created themselves.

In that scene, Celestia indicates that she tries to avoid being a judge, even when there's only a few categories where she has to be. (Arbitrations are another category.) There may be reasons for that. And she's trying a little PTI here for those who might deserve it -- or not... but at the same time, she's angry. There was an assault attempt on her sister, and she's reacting to that. She's offering a level of chance, even to Chef, but...

Try looking at that scene with Celesta-as-pony instead of Celestia-as-Princess. It might read a little differently.

Note that Luna was more calm about the demonstration incident than Celestia was: the younger sees where ponies could come to that conclusion, the elder goes into How Dare You Accuse Her! mode at the drop of a horseshoe. And arguably doesn't get completely out of it. One pulled out the dismissal paperwork (thus triggering the whole thing in the first place): the other was ready to take them back and probably would have never fired them at all: words that were hurtful, but understandable.

As said in Luna's Lottery Lunacy, there are ways where the junior sibling is the superior ruler.

And I think this is symbolic for the entire story. Celestia, Luna and a select few around them are in the nice room: everything they do is sweet and beautiful and right, and if it ever seems otherwise, they have ample justification for their deeds. Chef, the nobles and the Murdocks reporters are in the nasty room: they're stupid, petty and vain, and they do evil things all the time, just because they're evil like that.

So, I think this story displays your typical strengths and weaknesses as a writer: you handle emotions, especially those of the Princesses, subtly and beautifully, but you can be a bit... heavy-handed when it comes to morality.

I would say that the sisters are generally on the side of what's best for Equestria -- but they aren't perfect. Both make mistakes and as a certain headmaster once semi-said, their errors tend to have larger consequences.

Most of the nobles are petty, but they're petty much raised to be so -- and openly avoiding it means attacks from the rest: the nail standing out getting hammered down. The press is generally of poor quality and yes, some are in direct (and loyal) opposition. Some will have justifications for that, and that can make them more dangerous. But others -- are just jerks. As in life, so in fiction. And in this case, they're jerks who know no election turnover of power is ever coming, so yelling, screaming, and printing distortions are most of what they can do at all.

As for being heavy-handed on the morality side... sometimes, and a bit of that may be on purpose. Anvils have their purpose in any forge. But there are going to be stories where the greyscale has to be invoked. And when that happens, hopefully I can handle the more refined category of tools. On somewhat more sleep than I'm trying to handle this response.

...that didn't help at all, did it?

*sigh* It never does.

Actually, it usually just makes things worse.

3656197 Wow, that's an impressively lengthy reply, especially considering your lack of sleep.

As far as motivations go, sometimes – especially for the short pieces – a jerk is just a jerk.

Well, yeah, but there's a difference between "just a jerk" and "a super-mega-ultrajerk with all his jerky jerk traits blown up to cartoonish proportions and not a single redeeming quality, who also gets lectured by the good guys at the end about what a jerk he is."

He is, first and foremost, an idiot. And if I start explaining the whys and wherefores of that idiocy – I chance leaving comedy behind. I think that's the big risk when it comes to detailing your villains (and Chef is still more towards Plot Arc B) in a comedy story: the deeper you go, the less funny it might become.

Now, here we disagree. I'd say the exact opposite: that a flat character (and there's no getting around that that's what Chef is) rarely stays funny for more than a scene or two. I think that fleshing out a character, if done well, tends to increase their comedic potential.

However, there's something else going on in that scene, and it's something which was indicated at a few other points:

This Celestia isn't perfect.

True, of course. But I think the problem is that she seems perfect because most of the other characters are such idiots and/or jerks. It's hard for a decent, reasonable character not to look perfect when interacting with Chef, Upper Crust or the Murdocks reporters.

And that brings me to a larger point about how you tend to portray Equestria. Because maybe I haven't been honest with myself, and my problem isn't so much that you're dropping anvils as which anvils you're dropping and where.

I've read a lot of your stories now, and on their own, they're all pretty awesome, with great character writing, well-constructed tension curves, and most of all, original premises. Sonic Rainbigot: Rainbow Dash accidentally makes a racist remark to a bitchy and manipulative pony, then gets the press on her tail until she can goad her nemesis into committing the same faux pas. One Tenth-Bit: Rarity learns the hard way that the Canterlot police are a plaything of the rich and powerful: whether the police go after you depends on whether you've crossed the wrong pony or brown-nosed the right one, rather than whether you've actually done anything. Luna's Lottery Lunacy: Luna organises a lottery to fix a hole in the national budget, but it spirals out of control as ponies spend their life savings on tickets. This story: Luna and Celestia schedule an eclipse for Return Day, and lots of ponies freak out over it for no good reason.

However, when you put them all together, a pattern emerges. I don't know if this was your intention – it's just how it comes across to me – but your take on Equestria seems to be an extremely cynical one. With the exception of the Princesses, the Bearers and most of Ponyville, nearly all ponies in your Equestria are stupid, greedy, panicky, or some combination thereof. Again, this may not have been your intention, but this is the impression I'm getting from your stories, and you haven't given a lot of (in-story) clues to the contrary.

In other words, you paint a Hobbesian nightmare-nation full of squabbling idiots, which needs the guidance of a select few sane ponies to keep from falling apart altogether. And if your imagination can take a magical land of friendship and harmony and turn it into that... then I shudder to think how you view the real world.

Estee #39 · Dec 20th, 2013 · · 2 ·

3656505:

:facehoof:

See? Made things worse.

but your take on Equestria seems to be an extremely cynical one.

You... are not the first person to say something along those general lines. And I nearly took the following words to PM about twenty times, or shifted them into a blog post... but in another move I'm undoubtedly going to regret, I'm going to answer them here.

However, before I start, I do want to get the obvious joke out of the way or it'll be haunting me all day.

then I shudder to think how you view the real world.

Accurately! :ajsmug:

Okay, now that I don't have to deal with that impulse any more...

*slow breath*

*several more just like it*

This has turned into a dark running joke between myself and the very few people who know I write here. 'There are writers turning ponies into serial killers, sociopaths of all stripes, changeling secret agents looking only to destroy from within, invaders and walking corruptions and eldritch evils and cosmic horrors -- but I'm the worst thing to ever hit this site because I'm seen as the cynical one. Beware!'

Oh, the horror. Of the non-cosmic variety.

But... I think I know where my real perceived sin is here, and it may start with something I said in that interview: not being afraid to chase ideas into dark corners.

I won't call my permutation on Equestria dark -- not in the way the story tag implies. But I won't deny that the shadows are somewhat deeper. And part of that is from following the ideas where they seem to be leading. Most of those chases started with the show itself. For example: paparazzi imply a press with less than respect for those they hunt -- so Fluttershy's modeling career thus kicked off the first stage of what became Equestria's less-than-sterling fourth estate.

Other bits are from the old joke 'you say cynic, I say realist.' I've been trying to build an Equestria which is a little more grounded in some form of reality. To make certain stories work, that reality echoes our own a little more closely than the show displays. So yes, there's racism here and there. Some police are corrupt (although it is noted that Cropski is an exception who slid past the usual safeguards). And some ponies are petty, with many panic-prone.

Are there good ponies out there? Sure: lots. But what we've mostly been dealing with are the antagonists. We haven't seen that many typical citizens because they aren't driving the story -- and when they do show up, they can be all-too-easily influenced by what's happening around them. There's one element I have been working with pretty much all along: that ponies can have a very strong herd mentality: the right leader charges and the group follows without thinking very much about where they're going, much less why. Individuality may be at a premium in this Equestria -- at least individuality which holds together when the crowd starts acting another way.

But that's still not the perceived sin.

I think it's this:

I cast slightly deeper shadows over the world -- but not the Mane Cast. And that makes them stand out more brightly against the greyed tones surrounding them.

The called sin is increased contrast.

I think my Equestria can get to people because the Mane Cast have, to a strong degree, remained themselves. I haven't changed them so much (for the stories you've read) that they can't be recognized. Oh, they have changed... Pinkie can be calmer, Twilight has an increased awareness of her own problems while still being largely helpless to stop herself... but for the most part, they remain the Mane Cast. It's the environment which has changed. And the contrast between largely-familiar and authorial permutation jars. Or worse.

What I wanted was a version of this world where stories which dealt with issues from our local idea of reality could take place. That meant some degree of shadow, and not Luna's protective ones. And I've heard the complaint that many readers go into Equestria to escape and when they get to mine, they find the things they were trying to escape from and the characters they care about struggling to deal with them. It's too recognizable... and so it offends.

So if I'm seen as the cynic -- and honestly, the term does feel funny at times, if mostly by comparison -- then all I can do is echo Kurt Vonnegut: so it goes. It appears to be the descriptive term immediately worse than Piano Murdering Pony Hitler, but I eventually let that label sit where it fell and I suspect I'll do the same with this one. Eventually.

I can live with a label of 'cynic', whether it truly applies or not. But this is another take on Equestria among tens of thousands. It just seems to be one which presses a button or two -- and not those I was aiming for...

And, having made that still worse:

Well, yeah, but there's a difference between "just a jerk" and "a super-mega-ultrajerk with all his jerky jerk traits blown up to cartoonish proportions and not a single redeeming quality, who also gets lectured by the good guys at the end about what a jerk he is."

Well, someone had to tell him. :trollestia: (Don't worry: he ignored all of it.)

We may have to agree to disagree here. I think he served his purpose as-is: you believe he could have been broadened. For this, he's a three-ingredient dish, half-baked.

3656781 Sounds like a pretty spot-on analysis of why your Equestria "pushes people's buttons" to me. However, for me, it pushes quite another kind of button which you haven't mentioned yet. But I'll get to that later.

This has turned into a dark running joke between myself and the very few people who know I write here. 'There are writers turning ponies into serial killers, sociopaths of all stripes, changeling secret agents looking only to destroy from within, invaders and walking corruptions and eldritch evils and cosmic horrors – but I'm the worst thing to ever hit this site because I'm seen as the cynical one. Beware!'

What I wanted was a version of this world where stories which dealt with issues from our local idea of reality could take place. That meant some degree of shadow, and not Luna's protective ones. And I've heard the complaint that many readers go into Equestria to escape and when they get to mine, they find the things they were trying to escape from and the characters they care about struggling to deal with them. It's too recognizable... and so it offends.

That, pretty much. Grimderp stories about serial killers and eldritch horrors are easy to write off as harmless fantasy. Stories about gambling crazes, corrupt police or unscrupulous journalists? Those hit closer to home. Your Equestria feels more cynical because it's less obviously unrealistic.

I think it's this:

I cast slightly deeper shadows over the world -- but not the Mane Cast. And that makes them stand out more brightly against the greyed tones surrounding them.

The called sin is increased contrast.

True. And it's this increased contrast that pushes one of my buttons, as you called it. For I've seen worldviews like this before: most of the population is lazy, greedy and/or stupid, and a small minority of obviously superior people (or ponies, as the case may be) seem to be the only ones who make sure anything gets done at all.

Most of those views were used to promote aristocracy and authoritarian rule.

Not that I'm accusing you of supporting those (I'm pretty sure you're not actually Pony Hitler). As I said before, how it comes across to me doesn't have to match what you intended. But it's hard for me not to see it like this.

Celestia looks around, and what does she see? A beloved sister. A faithful student. Five other Bearers, all good and honest souls. A few close friends, like Fancy Pants.

Decent, sane, reasonable ponies.

Celestia looks down, and what does she see? Arrogant nobles busying themselves with petty squabbles. Journalists eager to lie, distort and slander for maximum shock value. Corrupt police officers. Panic-prone citizens with a strong herd mentality, ready to stampede off a cliff if some nutcase with enough charisma convinces them to.

Ponies who can't be trusted to govern themselves. Ponies who would be utterly lost without her firm hoof, and Luna's, keeping them at least somewhat on the right track.

That is the button it presses for me. You probably didn't intend it that way (I hope you didn't) but the leap from your "increased contrast" to some kind of justification for absolute rule by a small elite isn't a very big one. Especially given that the ponies on the bright side of the contrast just happen to be the Princesses and those who have considerable influence with them.

3657117

...well, at least you didn't decide I subconsciously hated Twilight.

All I'll say politically is this: the Equestrian system works -- for them, with considerable effort. And I'd rather have someone above average in charge than someone below. For details on the latter, see (insert name of politician here).

3658370 ...okay, now I have even less of an idea where you stand than before. But hey, you don't want to talk politics, and it's your comments section, so I'll shut up now.

Man this is good. A perfect blend of comedy, pathos, and just a touch of practicality. :twilightsmile::twilightsmile::twilightsmile::twilightsmile::twilightsmile:/5 Twilights.

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Was not expecting such a touching ending. In fact it comes so far out of left-field that it jars a little too sharply with the comedic theme you had up until that point. A very interesting take on the Princess' personal history though.
Thumbed up and favourited!

4214186

Seconded. This is one of my favorite parts of the story, too. One half would risk a sad tag on its own. The other half would be too much of a farce to hold my attention. Together, they're genius. They have completely separate internal narratives, and the story builds to a beautiful climax as we see them clashing in every way.

The amazing part was that, thanks to one particular item that screams "dangerous mcguffin" when it's introduced, there's even some suspense to it. The audience is left in the position of desperately hoping the underdogs can't pull off an upset.

If they told me there was a second moon and some kind of flying device blew it up before it could fire a giant beam of heat at the world, I'd listen

:rainbowlaugh:

300 likes, you more then welcome

I loved this story! (Even as a professional chef, though a lot of how you portrayed Ramshead can be true)
My only gripe is never finding out the other Four that helped save the world in the Before, but not known does add to the stories majesty.

3657117
What amuses me here is that you have the extremely incorrect idea that democracy is inherently good.

It isn't. At all. There's nothing inherently good about democracy. As someone once said, there's nothing more democratic than gang rape.

The reason that the Founding Fathers of the United States of America tried to make democracy as indirect as possible is precisely because the more direct democracy is, the worse the outcomes tend to be. People are stupid. People are incapable of governing themselves. The average person in the developed world has an IQ of 100. Do you know how smart that is? It is bloody stupid.

A significant percentage of Americans can't even tell you that the Earth goes around the Sun. And it is even worse in Europe.

The idea behind representatives is that the best people are capable of getting elected, and that the masses will elect these people - these respected locals - to represent them because they're awesome and they know that they will do the right things, even if they don't quite understand everything that's going on themselves. They trust them to do the right thing, they trust their wisdom. That hasn't really been the case for a long time, and nowadays, it is, in essence, a popularity contest.

If you look at Egypt or Iraq, what happened when they introduced democracy was a disaster - the people there didn't understand the concept of pluralism, of tolerance, and behaved tribally. They believed that because they won an election that meant that whatever they said, went.

And you can see that even here in America with many crazy people who think that majority rules, even though the US was set up specifically to prevent the majority from abusing minorities. Look at what a mess Congress is nowadays, and that is precisely because people have shifted from the idea of Congressional leaders being wise, rational men to Congressmen doing what you/the party tells them to do.

Doesn't really work so well.

It has long been noted that the ideal form of government would be a benevolent dictatorship. Having an immortal, loving, benevolent dictator would be preferable to our form of government. But no one really trusts anyone to do that, though one could argue that was more or less what FDR was seeing as he got elected to four terms as president and was wildly popular and did all sorts of good things for people, as well as being able to make tough choices when necessary.

I'd be happy to have Celestia in charge, but it needs to be someone like Celestia in charge. In their world, it can work.

Ultimately, the real goal with a government is to have the best person rule. The idea behind democracy is that it makes it easier to get the best person in charge. But I think it would be very difficult to argue that any president since LBJ or possibly Nixon was the best person we could have in charge of the country, and it might even go all the way back to Eisenhower.

But who is our Princess Celestia?

4913871 Some points:

– IQ is defined in such a way that the average is always 100. If people get smarter, the 100 mark is simply pulled up. "The average person has an IQ of 100" is a tautology.
– I'm offended by the suggestion that people in Europe are more stupid than in the US, but maybe that's just Old Continent chauvinism talking.
– The idea behind democracy is not necessarily to get the best person in charge. The idea, as Karl Popper put it, is first and foremost that if the wrong person gets in charge, he should be prevented from doing too much damage. That's what checks and balances are for.
– And on that note, democracy is built on the recognition that in the real world, there are no Celestias. Everyone is human, and everyone is fallible, no matter how smart, skilled, or benevolent they are. No one can be trusted with dictatorial powers.

I don't think anyone will argue that democracy is perfect – but it's the best we can come up with. Attempts to get rid of it and replace it with something "better" have failed rather spectacularly in the past.

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