• Published 26th Oct 2013
  • 12,700 Views, 378 Comments

Triptych - Daetrin

What does it mean to be a pony? A ruler? A god?

  • ...

Learning Experiences

The Canterlot Archives buzzed with activity. The entirety of the staff, every shift and the reserve, was occupied by pulling books from the shelves and piling them into carts. The stacks more resembled a mine than a library, with knowledge being excavated from the depths and ferried to the surface. It was not to feed the appetite of an industry or a city, but rather that of a single mare.

Twilight rested in the middle of a broad open space, eschewing the reading desks and couches for a plain cushion and lots of room. Her eyes were a blank white and her mane glowed and rippled in a nonexistent breeze, divine power hanging thick in the air. Books marched from left to right in ordered ranks, their covers spread, pages flipping. The wall of tomes stretched from floor to ceiling, arranged in a strange assembly line as only Twilight could organize. Scrolls punctuated the flow of ornamented covers, unrolling themselves as she shuffled them off to the side of the floating books, bracketing herself with pressed papyrus.

She drank in the river of knowledge completely, over a thousand years of histories and records, treatises and diaries. Her horn barely glowed, but faint whispers of lavender and violet rippled through the air like a misplaced aurora, and the fur of the librarians stood on end whenever they drew near enough to push yet another cart into position. She didn’t even see the workers feeding her insatiable appetite, just the books as they were lifted, consumed, and placed back down on the other side of the room, spent.

There weren’t any other patrons. Not only was it early morning, but there was neither room nor attention for any other pony but Twilight Sparkle. It was not the first time that she had monopolized the Archives, but it was the first time she had done so in a fashion quite so spectacular. A few gawkers had gathered outside the open archive doors, dazzled by the inconstant light of a god at work, and as the morning wore on more accumulated, some small portion of the traffic stopping and staying.

“Excuse me, pardon me, everypony...” Rarity sailed merrily through the gathered crowd, pushing them aside with polite words and stepping through the doorway into the hushed maelstrom of the library. There she faltered briefly as she took in the sight of Twilight in her full glory, half ethereal, consuming a hundred books at a time, and illuminated from within by the heady light of incarnate knowledge. It wasn’t just the light that threw off her stride, but also the long and shimmering horn that adorned Twilight’s now alicorn-sized frame. Rarity couldn’t help a small stab of jealousy at Twilight’s lithe elegance, so suddenly acquired and carried without thought, but she pushed it aside. If Twilight was to be in the company of the Princesses, it was fitting that she looked like them.

As she stood gawking she noticed something more, not about Twilight herself but about the books she was handling. Twilight wasn’t just reading them. As they moved through her magic, her presence, wear and tear reversed itself. Ragged edges became smooth, creases vanished, tears repaired themselves and stains dwindled to nothing. It was in all quite a sight, but she took a breath, braced herself, and stepped forward, assured that regardless of spectacle, Twilight was still Twilight.

As soon as Rarity crossed behind the wall of moving books, Twilight turned to look at her, face blank, eyes a featureless white. The scattered shards of her attention coalesced around her friend, her focus made physically manifest as pointed crystals of deep lavender. The moment Rarity blanched, though, it all evaporated. The glow vanished, the books slowed to a halt, Twilight’s mane and tail lost their otherworldly lustre, and the oppressive weight of power eased.

“G’morning R’rity,” Twilight said, sounding a trifle underwater. She shook her head once, then once more, blinking, and tried again. “Good morning, Rarity.” She smiled ruefully. “Sorry, I’m a little bit bookmuddled.”

“Good morning, Twilight.” Rarity produced a brilliant if uncertain smile. “I’m sorry, bookmuddled?”

“Literary-derived dissociative fugue?” Twilight prompted. “You know, after you’ve finished reading a book and it’s still with you so you have a hard time remembering it’s not the real world?”

“Oh! I see.” Rarity eyed the immense pile of unshelved books behind Twilight. “Yes, I can imagine why.”

“Yeah.” Twilight gave her a sheepish grin. “I’ve made it through most of the archive, at least. Anyway! You got my note?”

“We got all your notes,” Rarity said archly. “Though really Twilight, something that long is more than just a note!”

“I didn’t want to wake you up!” Twilight said defensively. “You all stayed up pretty late for Luna and I didn’t want to bother you any more than I was.”

“Oh, and I appreciate it!” Rarity waved it away. “It’s just...are you sure you know what you’re doing, Twilight? Politics are not exactly straightforward. Or kind, most of the time.”

“Well, that’s why I’m having you take care of it.” Twilight paused a moment, realizing how that sounded, then shook her head. “Anyway. I know you are good at making contacts here in Canterlot and that you want to. And I think there are ponies that would be on Luna’s side if they knew what she was like, or at least weren’t following others.”

Rarity nodded agreement. “Oh, certainly, but what do I have to convince them? Besides my charming personality, of course.”

Twilight summoned a stack of cards in a burst of purple sparks and floated it over to Rarity. “Personal audiences with the Princess. Invitations, signed by her.”

“Oooh.” Rarity made a small, pleased noise. “That will get some attention. Did you have anypony particular in mind?”

“No, the kind I want aren’t in these books.” She waved at the momentarily stationary wall of tomes. “Ponies that have big ideas and want to do big things, but haven’t been able to. Luna’s role, her nature is in creativity and ingenuity. That’s what you’re good at too, and a lot of the ponies you know.”

“Such flattery!” Rarity laughed musically, taking the cards from Twilight and stowing them safely away. “I know just where to start.”

“I knew I could count on you,” Twilight beamed. “Are the rest of you clear on what to do? Should I go talk to them when I’m done here?”

“I think they’ve got it all,” Rarity said. “But are you sure putting Applejack and Pinkie together is the best idea? They have...rather different approaches.”

“Oh, they’ll be fine.” Twilight paused meditatively, considering how much Pinkie Pie had irritated Applejack on a certain memorable occasion. “I hope. Anyway, they’re not going after the courtiers so I’m not worried about a lack of, um, decorum.”

“True.” Rarity nodded sagely. “Very well, I’ll go start...networking.” She flashed a brilliant grin. “Ta-ta!”

“See you later!” Twilight smiled, waiting for Rarity to reach the door before starting the show again. The time spent with Rarity had given the library staff a chance to catch up with a small part of the backlog, and Twilight tackled it with eager thirst, quaffing the bounty in a froth of information.

In all it took her only a few hours more to finish what she wanted, even if it was tempting to continue on and consume everything the Canterlot Archive had to offer. But she had work to do, and comparative literary analysis of the works of the preunification period wasn’t very relevant. Reluctantly, she deposited the last of the books on the final carts, wobbling slightly as she stood up. The teeming multitude of facts trumpeted and thundered in her mind, trying to trample over her thoughts, but she martialed them into order, strict as any general.

For all that she could feel the power of her godhood, it seemed to paradoxically make no difference to the difficulty of her work. There was no spontaneous revelation, no effortless flash of insight to aid her. All it seemed to grant her was a metaphysical depth; stronger roots, a larger reservoir. She did not reach higher than mortals, but her foundation was laid on deeper bedrock. So while she could handle that massive influx of history and sociology and politics, it still left her as dazed and staggered as any other studying binge.

She picked her way, blinking, through the cluttered detritus of book-laden carts until she found the head archivist, directing the re-shelving with the grace and timing of an orchestra conductor. “Thank you,” she said cheerfully, despite feeling as if everything was somehow more distant, sounds echoing tinnily in her ears. “I might be back for more, but not today or tomorrow.”

“You’re...welcome.” Chrysoberyl managed to get out after a faint, incredulous pause, hastily essaying a deep bow to the goddess. “It was an honor, Miss Sparkle.”

Twilight smiled uncertainly, not sure how to respond to the obeisance. She settled for a hasty nod and headed for the door. The crowd there parted like water around her, scattering off into the hallways. She watched in faint bemusement, not quite able to grasp their behavior through the obscuring haze of still-unruly knowledge. But it was a puzzle far down on her list, and she turned her mind to other issues as she trotted off to find the suddenly-overworked Skyshine.

The pegasus was the center of a mass of lesser functionaries, each of whom came bearing paperwork, adding to the growing tower of official forms on Skyshine’s desk. That crowd, too, parted to let Twilight through, swirling away from her form like foam in the wake of a boat as she approached Skyshine. By the time she reached the desk the room was nearly empty, and she looked back curiously. “Why are they doing that?” She asked idly.

Skyshine stared at her with disbelief. “Because,” she managed after a moment. “You’re overwhelming.”

“What?” Twilight blinked, feeling a cold shock splash over her. “What do you mean?”

“You’re...” Skyshine gestured helplessly. “It’s just...it’s hard to think.” She had a wide-eyed, poleaxed expression, and faint panic began to chase away the remaining fog in Twilight’s mind. She became aware, all at once, that she still wore the power she’d invested in her literary efforts wrapped about her like a dress, trailing along behind her in an invisible train. She clutched at it, pulling it into herself in a convulsive hiccup, and the tension in the room vanished.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t know...I mean, is it really that bad?” She blinked at her new perspective from ever so slightly nearer the floor. She’d been so preoccupied she hadn’t even noticed the difference.

“It’s. Um.” Skyshine rubbed at her throat. “Like standing at the bottom of a very tall mountain. And seeing an avalanche. It’s just...beyond the scope of any pony, a force of nature, and it...impends.”

“Oh,” Twilight said in slow horror, thinking of all the ponies she’d brushed past and sent fleeing without really noticing. Of how she must have seemed to them all - remote, distant, unreachable, powerful. A god.

“Oh.” She said again, flushed with an obscure embarrassment. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Skyshine said gamely. “It’s just who you are.”

“It’s not all right,” Twilight disagreed. “I’ll have to pay closer attention from now on.”

“Of course, Miss Sparkle.”

Twilight shook her head. “Just Twilight,” she corrected Skyshine. “Please.”

The pegasus nodded and cleared her throat. “Very well, Twilight, what can I do for you?”

“Oh, right.” She shook her head. The shock had driven all thought of her errand out of her mind, but now it returned in force, along with all the knowledge she’d acquired for the purpose. “I need a meeting with Prince Blueblood, Duke Diamond, Duchess Platinum, Count Silver, and Marquess Malachite.”

Skyshine’s eyes widened as she took in the names. “But that’s all -” she started, stopped herself, and nodded. “Of course, Miss Sparkle. I’ll set up a meeting with them as soon as may be.”

“Thank you, Skyshine.” Twilight glanced guiltily around at the ponies who were peering cautiously into the room. “Um, I’ll go...find Luna. She’s in the tower?”

“I believe so. If she’s sticking to her schedule.”

“Right. Thanks!” Twilight gave Skyshine a wan smile and scurried out, climbing stairs and crossing the short skyway to the Lunar tower.


Though Luna’s own domain within Canterlot Castle had been busy ever since Luna had assumed her place on the throne, it was not special in that regard. The empty audience chamber notwithstanding, the Castle itself had been full of fevered activity since the change, and it showed no signs of abating. And now it was especially severe as Luna herself was staying in the tower to address as much as she could of what Twilight termed ‘public relations issues.’

Luna wasn’t sure she was addressing them well at all. Despite her prowess at oration, talking with ponies on a more personal level was not something she had ever been good at. At that, Twilight had admitted she wasn’t the best either, even granting she had somehow ended up with more and better friends than she’d ever imagined, and hadn’t been able to give Luna much advice. But they were both in agreement that Luna had taken all those in her service for granted for far too long.

It would have been logical to start with her personal guards, the bat-winged and dragon-eyed ponies that shadowed her wherever she went, but some deep intuition made her discard that. Intuition or uncertainty; regardless of which one was ascendant she left them to trail silently along behind her as she made her rounds.

Making ponies come to her would have been more in keeping with her station, but Luna was keenly aware of how little she’d done to fulfill that role. She was accorded respect by divinity and loyalty by rank, but Celestia didn’t need either. While Luna chafed under any comparison to her sister, even when she made it, this was one instance where she needed to follow Celestia’s example. Unfortunately, she’d quickly found that not only did she not know who the ponies were, she had no idea what most of her staff did.

She stepped into a small room halfway down the tower, having already left a short trail of mutual confusion and alarm behind her, and greeted the young mare sitting behind a desk. “Hello.”

“Princess Luna!” The mare bobbed up in startlement and immediately went back down again in a deep bow.

“Please, be seated.” Luna said, a bit desperately. Nearly every pony she’d addressed had wound up with their muzzle to the floor, which wasn’t the best start to what was intended to be a friendly conversation. Her shadows, at least, stayed outside without being asked, leaving the two of them some modicum of privacy.

“Of course, Your Majesty.” The earth pony bobbed her head, sending loose curls of cherry red mane tumbling over her eyes. Then she pawed it out of the way with a faint, embarrassed panic, settling into her chair with a wan smile. “What can I do for you?”

Luna met the smile with her own, one that was just as uncertain. “I’m...just here to talk. I haven’t been as present as I should have been, these past few years. I’m afraid I don’t know you. What’s your name?”

“Flaire,” she answered, and Luna looked at her closely. There was no need for her to crane her neck to see Flaire’s cutie mark, printed as deep as it was upon her soul. A phoenix feather, throwing off sparks, a fire to match the smoke of her coat and the flame-blue of her eyes. She was not the sort of pony Luna would have expected to see behind a desk doing paperwork.

“Flaire,” Luna repeated, considering the mare. “Your talent is...starting things. Ideas, changes.”

“Why, yes!” The eyes, which had started to quail under Luna’s scrutiny, sharpened again. “How did you know?”

Luna grinned suddenly, conspiratorially. “My sister delights in being mysterious and inscrutable,” she confessed. “And I can see why. But I’ll tell you. I am the goddess of dreams, and your talent is very close to them.”

“Oh,” Flaire said faintly, looking more than a little panicked, and Luna felt her grin starting to slip. That was, it seemed, slightly too much truth.

“Regardless!” Luna pressed on. “What is it you do here? There seems to be more to running the Lunar throne than I remember.”

The mare ducked her head. “I’m secretary for the head of the Canterlot Beautification Committee, Sterling Silver.”

Luna nodded. She could at least see why a beautification committee existed, and why a secretary might be needed, unlike most of the titles accorded to the ponies inside the walls of her domain. And yet, there was something off.

“And why are you here? The fire that burns in you is not that of the coordinator, the logistician, the public servant.” Luna did not underestimate bureaucrats. Some ponies might think of them as soulless automatons, but she knew the passions that drove them were equal to any artist’s muse.

“I...guess it isn’t.” Flaire agreed, trying to look away, her eyes flickering but unable to break contact with Luna’s. “I never intended to be a secretary, really. It just kind of happened.”

Luna chuckled softly. “Yes, I know how things can just happen. What did you intend, then, when you started out? What drove you here to begin with?”

“When I was a foal,” Flaire began slowly. “A friend of mine, my best friend, had no idea what her talent was, what her cutie mark would be.” She smiled briefly in reminiscence. “Maybe it wasn’t as big a deal as we thought at the time, but it seemed important back then. One day we went to a museum on a school trip. It had art, sculpture...I enjoyed it, but it struck her clear through. By the time we left she had her cutie mark.”

Her smile faded. “Not long after, the museum closed, and all I could think was, without it, how would ponies get their cutie marks? So I started then, trying to make it so there would be places for art.”

“And your friend?” Luna asked.

Flaire finally looked away, the muscles in her jaw working briefly, and Luna reached over the desk to place a gentle hoof on her shoulder. Even Luna had no trouble seeing how Flaire felt.

“What happened?”

“There was...an accident. She made her own paints, and...” Flaire made a vague gesture, not really meaning anything, just moving for the sake of moving.

Luna nodded understanding. “Mixing paints is no joke. I bleached myself white for a week once.”

Flaire blanched, turning a speechless glare on Luna before remembering it was the princess she was angry at and looking away again. The smile that Luna had been fighting to keep on her face slid away entirely. Not every conversation ended up with that look, but they all seemed to go off-course somehow. Any openness Luna had managed to coax out of Flaire was gone, the window of opportunity slammed closed by the sudden change of mood.

“I...I’m sorry,” Luna said. “I didn’t mean -”

“It is all right, Princess Luna,” Flaire said stiffly. “It was long ago.”

“Yes, but, it still bothers you,” she protested.


Luna cast about for some way to continue from the short, unhelpful reply. The atmosphere grew increasingly strained and brittle until she finally abandoned the thread of conversation. “Well,” she said, with as much desperate cheer as she could muster. “I will see what I can do to ensure there are museums for foals, and that you are involved if I can.”

“...thank you,” Flaire said, slightly less formal, and Luna took it as a victory, if a small one. Luna nodded and exited the room with what decorum she could scavenge. Once the door was closed behind her she let herself sag, blowing out a long breath.

She felt suddenly self-conscious as she realized her guards were still there, and straightened up again. “Well, it could have been worse,” she said, half to them and half to herself. She stretched her wings, looking mournfully down the long spiral of the tower, at all the doors she had yet to visit, and suppressed a sigh. It wasn’t aimed at the task ahead of her, but rather at herself for how she’d managed it so far.

Her hoofsteps echoed back to her as she started forward again, trying to reorder her mind before she approached the next pony she could find. The guards were whisper-quiet, and unfocused as she was she didn’t realize that the echo belonged to another pony entirely until Twilight’s voice shocked her out of her reverie.

“Luna! There you are.” Twilight beamed as she trotted toward where Luna had halted in the middle of the hall. “I’m all set, I think. I’m still working out a few details but by the time Skyshine gets everyone together I’m pretty sure I’ll have everything ready.”

The sour mood that had started to creep in vanished as Twilight talked, and Luna chuckled softly at Twilight’s inexhaustible eagerness. “It’s good to hear your plans are going so well.”

“Yup!” Twilight grinned. “Enough organization and everything falls into place.”

“Well...” It didn’t seem that simple to Luna. There was a gap between the concept and the execution of ‘talk to ponies’ that she had yet to cross, but Twilight didn’t seem to have that problem.

Twilight’s cheerfulness faltered slightly. “Is...is everything going all right here?”

“Not...exactly,” Luna admitted to her reluctantly. “I’ve been talking to ponies but I don’t know that I’ve done too well in getting them on my side.”

“What?” Twilight blinked at her. “Why?”

“I just don’t have your gift, Twilight.” She shook her head sadly. “I’ve just never been good at making friends.”

“Well, I’d never made any friends before I went to Ponyville,” Twilight said, stepping forward to rub her muzzle along Luna’s. “But once you start it’s not so bad. I mean, you’re friends with all my friends.”

“They’re different.” Luna leaned in against Twilight’s touch. She wasn’t even convinced that Twilights friends counted, since Twilight had been there every step of the way. “You helped. I need your help for this.”

“I’d love to help! Only, I won’t be here long, since I have to go to my own meeting, and besides I don’t know most of these ponies.” Twilight frowned in thought. “If only you had a...a native guide, who was already on your side - “

One of the guards coughed politely, interrupting her. “Ma’am,” he said deferentially.

Both of them looked at him. Luna knew she’d been neglecting her guards, even more than the rest of her staff, and a sudden sense of dread stabbed at her. Twilight, on the other hoof, radiated interest, and Luna wondered if, growing up in the Palace as she had, she actually knew all the guards Luna didn’t.

“Er, yes?” She hazarded.

“Moonbow and I could...I mean, we’d show you around.”

“You would?” The knot in her gut vanished in a frission of relief, but there was still something that made her want to squirm in embarrassment. She had been treating them as furniture, not ponies, and that was something she should never do. “I’m afraid I don’t know you. I should,” she admitted, “but I don’t. I haven’t been doing things right these past...” She waved a hoof helplessly. “Years.”

“I’m, er, Chestnut.” He reached up and tugged off the crested helm, the glamor fading away to reveal an ordinary pegasus. In fact, one of the most persistently monochrome pegasi she’d ever seen. Dun coat, dun mane, dun eyes and an overall demeanor as to render him nearly unnoticeable even when she was looking directly at him. “And we know, ma’am.”

Luna winced, even though Chestnut managed to make the “ma’am” a far more profoundly respectful address than most ponies managed with more ornate titles.

“We’ve been here since you came back. Well, before you came back but we didn’t matter then...” He paused for a moment to get his thoughts back on track. “The Guard knows what you’ve been through. More or less. We’ve always been here for when you needed us, but you’ve been, um. Distant. Until just today, really.”

He glanced over at Moonbow, who removed her own helmet, though her colors weren’t much different with the glamour gone. “We were always...meant to be your friends,” she said. “It takes more than combat ability to become part of the Lunar Guard.”

“This is perfect!” Twilight’s excitement cut apart any misgivings that might have tried to develop in Luna’s mind. She wanted to object to it as more of Celestia’s meddling, but it was true that in the distant mists of the past, the Guard had been formed out of those ponies that were simply close to the princesses. “We should have thought of asking you first.”

“Yes,” Luna agreed dryly, all too aware that she’d avoided talking to her guards under the nebulous fear of something exactly like this. Now that it had arrived, it wasn’t too bad aside from the cringing core of mortification that kept her smile from being fully genuine. “We should have.”

“We’d love to get to know both of you!” Twilight smiled at them. “After all, we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other.” Twilight giggled. “I’ve hardly ever seen Celestia without her guards, and now I guess with Luna it’ll be the same way.”

“We are supposed to stay with the princesses,” Chestnut said. “Though we haven’t been able to for some time.” He made a face. “I mean, until recently we didn’t have our own princess to protect!”

“Well, I’m back now,” Luna said, feeling that the conversation was starting to go awry again, if in a different way. “How many are in the Guard now? The Equestrian government is...larger than I recall.”

“Oh, there’s several hundred now,” Moonbow said, but continued before Luna could blanch. “But only eight in your personal guard.”

“That doesn’t seem like very many,” Twilight said doubtfully. “Only eight guards for every hour of the day, every day of the year?”

“Well...the princesses - and you - don’t really need their physical safety guarded,” Chestnut explained. “It’s more their mental and emotional and moral safety. We’re here to be supportive and helpful and keep them from going crazy, you know? If you were a princess, your friends - the other Elements - would probably be your guard, effectively.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t ask them to follow me around all day!” Twilight protested. “They’re my friends but they all have their own lives too.”

“Well the Guard had theirs too, at the beginning,” Luna put in. “I ended up leaning on my friends - way back then - for things I needed done, because I could trust them. Eventually it just kind of turned into what the Guard is.”

“And we don’t just follow the princess around all day,” Moonbow added. “Well, we do, but you can just ask the Sunnybutt Squad, we do a lot more than that.”

“The Sunnybutt Squad?” Luna asked, sudden amusement dancing in her eyes. “Really?”

The mare looked suddenly panicked. “Um. Please don’t tell them I called them that.”

Twilight giggled. “I thought I was the only one who had ever called her that. Even if it was only once, when I was a foal.”

“Oh, I called her that all the time.” Luna grinned conspiratorially. “It was a good way to pester her when she was trying to be difficult.” Though Celestia was still somewhat of a raw topic for her, recounting harmless sibling rivalry was inoffensive enough. “I wonder if it still is...”

“I suppose we’ll find out when she gets back,” Twilight said eagerly. “Of course, now you have to tell me what she called you. I know she had to have a nickname for you.”


“I know for a fact Spike told you about that whole ‘Twilight Flopple’ thing,” she said with mock severity. “It’s only fair.”

Luna groaned. “All right, all right,” she said reluctantly. “Woona.”

“Aww, that’s adorable!” Twilight said gleefully.

“I know,” Luna grumbled. “How can you possibly take a ‘Woona’ seriously?”

Moonbow coughed softly and they both glanced at her, then at each other, Twilight ducking her head with a deep flush and Luna briefly pressing her hoof against her forehead. “Forget that you heard anything,” Luna muttered at her guards..

“Ma’am,” Chestnut acknowledged with a barely restrained grin.

“You can’t order me,” Twilight grinned. “But I’ll be nice. I can wait to tease you about it tonight.”

“I can imagine,” Luna said in a dry tone. “It won’t be long until you and Tia are ganging up on me.”

“Or the reverse,” she suggested. “I am supposed to be on your side, after all.”

“‘Welcome back, Sunnybutt’ does have a certain ring to it,” Luna agreed, but both their smiles were somewhat strained. Celestia was still not as harmless a topic as they might have wished.

“Anyway,” she said after a moment, turning to Chestnut and Moonbow. “Could you introduce me properly to the other Guards?”

“Of course!” Moonbow answered. “We’d be glad to!”

“Will you come too, Twilight?” Luna dipped her head to give the unicorn a brief nuzzle.

She smiled apologetically. “I’m afraid I need to get back with Skyshine. I have to be there if somepony doesn’t cooperate.”

“Very well. I will put myself in Chestnut’s and Moonbow’s capable hooves, then.” They exchanged another embrace and Luna turned to her guards. “Lead the way.”


Twilight watched them go for a moment before turning around to pick her way back down the tower. She had been worried that Luna might have been having some issue with her attempts to connect to the ponies under her care, and Chestnut and Moonbow’s presence had been a particularly lucky stroke. Or rather, a designed one, and she didn’t know whether to be irritated or thankful that Celestia had made it so.

She put that aside. It was only reasonable to expect that Celestia had chosen the best ponies for her government and it was neither fair nor helpful to get upset about it, especially when she had to somehow dragoon five influential ponies into helping Luna.

As Rarity had pointed out, Twilight had no experience playing politics, and even after her gluttonous library binge she had no expectation of being able to do so effectively. Instead she intended to appeal to their self-interest, which she now knew better than they did. All the thousands of books she’d devoured had given her a unique perspective on their family and personal histories and intersections, and she felt she could at the very least get their attention.

She made her way back to Skyshine’s office, where the harried-looking pegasus was directing an even larger swarm of ponies than before. This time they didn’t scatter at her approach, but more than a few of them gave her a second look. She didn’t mind the second look - she was now an important pony, after all - and she was pleased that she no longer was terrifying anypony, but she still felt awkwardly out of place. She didn’t quite fit in the normal Canterlot hierarchy, and it created an inevitable distance between her and the others.

Skyshine didn’t seem to mind, though. She waved at Twilight the moment the unicorn stepped through the door, before loading up a nearby earth pony scribe with a stack of papers to be delivered elsewhere in the complex of Canterlot’s bureaucracy. “We have got to get you a title,” she called. “I sent everything ‘on behalf of HRH Luna’ but it’s not ‘in her hoof’ so it’s not as urgent as it should be.”

“What would you suggest?” Twilight made her way over to Skyshine’s desk, glancing over the forms and memos and repressing the urge to dig into them herself. “I mean, Luna can just sign whatever we need.”

“How about ‘Equerry?’” Skyshine suggested. “It’s a little obscure but that’s probably for the best. I don’t think anypony really knows what your role is yet, but you obviously should be listened to.”

Twilight frowned thoughtfully, sorting through her massive store of knowledge. “That is obscure,” she said. “Nopony’s held that post since the Diarchy was established. How in Equestria did you manage to have that on the tip of your tongue?”

The pegasus smiled shyly. “I’ve always been a bit of a history fanatic. When Luna first came back I dug even deeper than usual, since the most recent records were a thousand years old. I guess it just sort of stuck with me.”

“Well it works for me,” Twilight smiled. “Go ahead and draw up whatever you need to. I’m sure Luna will be fine with it.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Skyshine assured her. “In the meantime I’ve set up your meeting in the Sunset Harvest Chamber, just off the main tower, first floor. You know which one I’m talking about?”

“I think so.” Twilight closed her eyes a moment, summoning up a mental map of the palace. “All right, yes.”

“It’s cleared for the next...hours...so you can set up whatever you need to.”

“Oh, I don’t have much.” She didn’t have anything, in fact, other than words. That, and the support of Princess Luna, and whatever authority that entailed. “I just need to make sure they’re all coming.”

“The runners should be back any moment. They all live here in Canterlot, after all.” Skyshine glanced at the clock on the wall. “If you hang around another five or six minutes I’m sure you’ll catch one or two of them. I’ll send the rest on down to the chamber.”

“I would like to be sure they’re coming. Even if it’s not all of them.”

“Oh, I’m sure they will,” Skyshine said confidently. “None of them would pass up a chance like this.”

“They decided to ignore Luna’s court though,” Twilight protested.

“Sure, in hopes of getting an invitation like this one.” Skyshine eyed her. “Though I don’t imagine what you have in mind is anything like they do.”

“Oh.” She should have realized the political implications. Until that moment she’d just thought it was pique that drove the ponies, but of course cold calculation had its place. For a moment she felt vastly out of her depth, her mind spinning into the unlit gulf that was political maneuvering, before she focused herself again. She only needed to get them back to court. It would be simple, and it would work. “No, I imagine not,” she said at last.

Another pegasus flitted into the room, half a-wing and half on the ground, reminding her strongly of Rainbow Dash. He stopped long enough to drop a sealed envelope on Skyshine’s desk before vanishing back out the door. “Blueblood’s sigil,” Skyshine said with a glance at the wax crest. “It’s yours.”

Twilight hastily picked it up, cracking the seal with a flicker of magic and opening the crisp paper with a sharp crackle. “To Twilight Sparkle acting on behalf of Her Royal Highness Princess Luna, greetings. It is with the greatest pleasure and so on.” She skimmed down the page. “How can it take him three hundred words to say yes, he’ll be there?” She wondered aloud.

“That’s being brief,” Skyshine said with an absolutely straight face. “Of course, you did ask for an immediate reply.”

Twilight gave Skyshine a look, glanced at the note again, and nodded to herself. “All right. I’m headed down. Have the rest forwarded there.”

“I’ll do that.”

“Thank you.” Twilight gave her a sincere and grateful smile and trotted out of the room. It wasn’t a very long walk to the Sunset Harvest Chamber, which was small and comfortable and decorated in the inevitable autumnal colors. It was emphatically not an audience chamber but a place to have a nice chat, and it brought back half-nostalgic, half-discomforting memories of being in similar rooms with Celestia while she traded polite words about obscure subjects.

She found, half by memory and half by hunch, a small antechamber where she could see ponies arriving through a wood lattice. She could stay there and wait until they’d all arrived, which she understood vaguely made it seem she was more in charge, but it struck her more as hiding and she had to get the replies from the messengers anyway. So she wandered the room, finding the most comfortable seat and settling down.

There wasn’t long to wait. The remaining messages came in quick succession, delivered by courier pegasi, and in one case an earth pony, all confirming the meeting. They were all florid to varying degrees, though Blueblood’s missive was still champion for empty words. It was a little bit gratifying that they had spent so much effort on the replies, even if the actual content didn’t impress her.

When they came themselves, they came in a body. Five unicorns, all uniformly white and immaculately groomed. The only real differences between them were mane colors and cutie marks, making them look like matched siblings. It wasn’t that far from the truth. The genealogy records were meticulously kept, and they could all trace their ancestry to Princess Platinum, if not as directly as Blueblood could.

She blinked away the errant facts that came swarming through her mind at the sight of the subjects she had researched and gave them a broad smile. “Hello! Thank you for meeting me.”

“We were expecting to hear from Luna herself,” Duchess Platinum said, more sour than sweet. “But I suppose you’re just as good. Maybe better.”

“Indeed,” Blueblood said grandly. “We unicorns must stick together. And now that there is a unicorn goddess it is more important than ever that we coordinate.”

“This goddess lark,” the Marquess put in. “I’ve heard it but I’m not sure I believe it. You don’t look like one.”

Twilight was speechless. She’d thought they would ask why she wanted to meet, not hijack the conversation entirely. There was something disturbing about all the hidden assumptions packed into their assured postures and smug expressions. “This doesn’t doesn’t have anything to do with that. I wanted to talk to you about Luna’s court.”

“Of course you did.” Diamond’s blue eyes were cold behind his monocle. “That’s what we’re here to discuss. Now that I think about it, you’re a better court focus than Luna anyhow. She’s too...unpredictable.”

Twilight tossed her head, a combined gesture of frustration and negation. “I am not a court focus. I am here to talk to you about Luna’s court. I know you didn’t go before because you didn’t like what she was doing, but I want you to come back.”

“I’m sure you do,” Blueblood said unhelpfully. “I imagine we can find some agreement that will benefit all of us.”

“Oh, of course!” Twilight brightened again. That was back on script. “I discussed what Luna had in mind and after some research I’ve figured out something for each of you.”

“Really,” Malachite said skeptically, her eyes as green and hard as her namesake. “And what, pray tell?”

“Right.” Twilight glanced around at them. “Luna is a great patron of the arts, and now that she’s back there will be even more creative energy throughout Equestria. It’ll be more like it was over a thousand years ago, but that means more opportunity! Prince Blueblood, given your connection with the House of Platinum, I think you’d be interested in a new resurgence of historical nostalgia. We’ll be trading wider than ever and I have some ideas on where to look for the ancestral unicorn capital.”

Blueblood didn’t look impressed but Twilight continued gamely. “Count Silver, your family has been on the coast for practically forever and I know you like sailing so perhaps some maritime games, and the shipbuilding that goes along with it.”

Like Blueblood, Silver didn’t seem particularly excited about the implications of her proposal, so she turned to Malachite. “And the Malachites have been trying to expand Ruckrock for ages. With an upswing in demand for artisanal stone-”

“This is foal’s stuff,” she said dismissively, cutting Twilight off. “You’re missing the point entirely.”

“What point?” She blinked at them, feeling more than a little off-balance. They were not acting at all like she expected.

“The fact that there is now a unicorn goddess.” Silver said. “And we unicorns can retake our place as the rulers of all ponykind, the place we held in ages past.”

“Wait.” Twilight took a step back, head swimming.

“It’s obviously your destiny,” Duchess Platinum put in. “We had alicorns before, and look how that turned out.”

“Don’t -”

“It takes a unicorn to get anywhere. You’re the one that took care of Nightmare Moon and Discord,” she continued over Twilight’s protests.

“Stop -”

“It has to be us that leads Equestria. Celestia barely does anything, and Luna is completely incapable of rational decisions.”

Something snapped. Twilight’s eyes blazed, lighting up the room, and she stamped her hoof, making the city tremble in its foundations. Her divine essence sprang free, sending her mane and tail billowing in an etheric breeze as she was suddenly several sizes larger. Faint imperfections in the surrounding marble erased themselves and glass windows attained crystal clarity.

STOP.” Twilight’s voice wasn’t so much loud as weighty, felt as much as heard, rippling outward with no concern for walls or floors, a vast wave echoing from Canterlot.

The other unicorns made no noise, no sound, no movement. She took a long breath, getting herself back under control, and nodded to them. “Thank you,” she said in a more mundane voice. “Now, I don’t think that you...”

She trailed off as she realized they were too still. They didn’t blink or breathe, frozen in mid-action. “Oh, no,” Twilight breathed, stepping forward and prodding the Duchess. There was no reaction, and she backed away, then turned and bounded out of the room, looking around wildly. Everywhere, ponies were still as statues. Pegasi hung in the air like oversized mobiles, unicorns and earth ponies were rooted to the ground, and the fountains outside stood still, the water like ice.

She turned full circle, then her horn glowed as she flashed to the top of the observatory, looking out over the spread of silent land below Canterlot. She reached into her divinity, spreading her consciousness out over the whole country. Not one blade of grass stirred, not one mote of dust floated in the wind, not one animal or pony breathed or moved or spoke.

Equestria, obedient to her command, had stopped.