• Published 26th Oct 2013
  • 12,696 Views, 378 Comments

Triptych - Daetrin

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

  • ...

And You Could Have It All, My Empire Of Dirt

“This is not good. This is very not good.” Twilight pranced nervously in place, looking over the frozen Equestria spread out before her, then suddenly froze in place again. “Luna!”

A flash of light brought her to the Lunar barracks, where soldiers stood as frozen statues. Seated among them, captured in the middle of a laugh, her head flung back and her eyes sparkling, was Luna, unmoving. Twilight moved slowly and carefully toward her, feeling as if she were intruding on some private moment, a trespasser in a hall of statues.

She tentatively reached out to brush Luna’s cheek, but shuddered and pulled back when she found it still soft under her hoof. Statues would have been terrible enough, but there was something even worse about ponies who still felt alive and simply did not move. “Oh Luna, what do I do?” She asked, expecting no response and getting none.

She at the same time wanted to curl into a ball and empty her stomach out the window. Then she wanted to find Celestia and beg her to fix everything. Not too far from the surface was a frightened foal, bawling because she’d accidentally broken her mother’s jewelry box, and Twilight found herself curled up on the floor, fighting off a flood of tears. Her expression ticked back and forth between manic grin and pained grimace with metronome regularity while her brain ran in panicked circles, trying to flee from scene confronting her.

“No,” she muttered, forcing herself to her feet. “No no no. I will fix this. I will. I just. Take a deep breath, Twilight. You have time.” She laughed, a hollow and forlorn sound. “You have plenty of time! Nopony’s going anywhere.”

She shook her head hard, as if she could clear it with physical force. “All right, all right. I told everything to stop. Maybe I can tell it go.”

Slowly, cautiously, she stretched out all her senses, letting the cloak of divinity enfold her, accepting the shift in perceptions that came with it as she gathered her thoughts. “Um,” she said. “Go.”

Nothing happened. But she hadn’t really expected it to. The mistake hadn’t been a simple command, but a desperate surge of emotion that had crossed all the barriers she kept up between herself and the unexplored core of her godhead.

Luna and Celestia alike had cautioned her against reaching too far out into the vasty expanse of the divine. Neither of them embraced their god entire very often, and Luna had mentioned that even her experience with the Elements of Harmony was a mere taste in comparison. And she’d taken it to heart; even the spectacle in the library was more flash than substance, a finely focused trickle of what lay within her.

There were no books to guide her, no studies or treatises. Neither Celestia nor Luna had any words that properly described, encapsulated, conveyed the experience. The royal sisters, as close as two gods could be, were still utterly different. All of which left Twilight on her own when it came to understanding what she had become. She wasn’t alone, but the best anypony could do to help her swim those waters was shout advice from the shore.

It was not far different, she thought, from the way Luna had put off addressing her guards and her subjects. But Luna hadn’t waited until it was far too late. Twilight paced the room, making a wide path around the frozen forms of the guards, the tapping of her hooves the only sound in existence. Her jaw worked with soundless self-recrimination, the words not making it out past a firmly closed muzzle, until finally she realized she was only delaying further.

She stopped in front of Luna, the alicorn held suspended in a moment of joy and triumph. A moment Luna had all too few of, and one she’d ruined in a moment of pique. “I’ll make it up to you,” she promised, even knowing Luna couldn’t possibly hear her.

Twilight teleported again, back to the highest tower in Canterlot, and planted her hooves firmly on the stone as she looked out over the kingdom. She had no idea what she would do to fix things, but she had to do something, and no simple spell would do.

She took a deep breath, in and out, closing her eyes and looking inward. It was like opening a long series of doors, sinking through a very deep lake, opening a thousand books, and casting ten thousand spells, all at once. She had been braced for some overwhelming thunder of sensation or power, an impossible tide of some strange force. But it was just her, all the way down.

Equestria lay hushed around her, silenced by the blanket of her presence. She covered the land - mountain, lake, field, and river - from one end of Equestria’s expanse to the other. Her power, her magic, mixed with that of Equestria’s, a living drive wheel to power all the interconnected pieces. And it wasn’t just hers. Luna’s own dark godhead was threaded throughout the complex intermeshing that made up the kingdom’s soul, matched with Twilight’s, the two of them together shaping and supporting the underpinnings of every pony’s life.

For every pony was there. Each stallion, mare, and foal was part of that network, contributing to a living machine - even though that word was inadequate to the task - that drove and was driven by the collective life of Equestria. Shining threads connected to the few ponies outside the borders of their nation, salted across the globe and contrasting the other powers that claimed their place. There was the dark scar of the Everfree, crouched and glowering in the middle of Equestria. Across the sea there was the stark sweep of Zebrica, black and white, white and black, and the patchwork of Saddle Arabia. And deep down below the air and water, in the molten oceans of the planet’s core there was something old and iron, spinning patiently in place.

But the mountainous island of the gryphons held only a terrible emptiness, other than the few bright specks of pony ambassadors. There were gryphons of course, but no god touched them, no divinity shielded or supported them. It was a hole in the world, some strange wound that made her shudder and draw back.

She turned away deliberately, for she had work to do. Any mysteries of the world, fair or foul, would have to wait for her to work a miracle and bring Equestria back to where it was supposed to be. She drew strength from within herself, stretching her whole mind over the convoluted confusion and picking at the halted drivetrain of the country. She couldn’t simply unchain herself, as thoroughly as she was intertwined. That would tear Equestria asunder, and she had no idea how Celestia had managed the feat without cracking the world open like a rotten egg.

Like many acts of impulsive casting, her one slip had turned a complexly ordered system into an utter mess. With her senses truly flung wide she could feel the wellspring of her godhood feeding into the land’s own magic, where it mixed with Luna’s and where it touched everything within its borders. Where it should have nourished and aided, it hindered instead, locking everything into a single moment, the inertia of an entire country stopped dead without the slightest strain.

She began picking at the gears, untangling the pieces of misapplied magic around her erg by erg, molecule by molecule. The natural motion of magic began again, and a whisper of an errant breeze tugged at her mane before vanishing again, butting up against the edge of the bubble of time she’d reclaimed. “All right,” she said aloud. “I can do that.”

Twilight bent back to the task with more assurance, her confidence building as her sphere of living air grew, slowly at first but expanding in great leaps as she became more practiced. As she worked through the mechanisms of Equestria though, she noticed that quite a lot of it was rough. Messy. Inefficient. Magics and powers clashing and struggling, small things out of place, coarse meshings between parts.

She wondered why Celestia had never done anything about it, but then, it was entirely possible she didn’t even know. Each god was unique, so perhaps this view of Equestria, the way everything fit together, was something only she had. And if that were true, then it fell to her to do something about it.

She began cleaning it up as she went along, cleaning and organizing all the little details. It wasn’t difficult work, just exacting, but it was exactly the sort of thing she enjoyed. Confident that she could not only fix her mistake but make up for it by addressing a heretofore unknown problem, she worked through an ever-widening area, repairing and correcting.

It took forever. It took ages. It took perhaps ten minutes to expand her bubble of air to the whole of Equestria, straightening out the last few dots around outlying ponies with a flourish and drawing a deep breath, looking down at a no longer motionless city.

She hesitated over what to do first, but after a few moment’s thought decided she had to return to the meeting she’d abandoned, as much as she preferred to check on Luna. Another flash of lavender magic returned her to the meeting room, where the unicorns were standing just where she’d left them. But they turned to face her as she appeared, stopping the first incipient resurgence of panic before it even started, and she gave them as sincere a smile as she could manage under the circumstances. “Sorry about that,” she said brightly. “Just a...slight emergency. Now, where were we?”

It was only when she received speechless stares in reply that she realized she was looking down at them, instead of their eyes being at a level. She gathered up all her blazing power, flushed red at having forgotten to bring it under control yet again, and packed it away so she was once again simply the unicorn Twilight Sparkle. “Sorry, sorry,” she apologized.

“It is fine, Twilight Sparkle,” Blueblood said in an entirely calm tone. The rest of them, she saw, were no longer alarmed either, now that she’d reigned in her aura, and she decided that it must not have been overwhelming as the first time she’d forgotten.

She smiled gratefully at him. “Right then. Back to what we were discussing. All I want is for you to come back to court!”

“Of course, Twilight Sparkle.”

She blinked. Given their attitudes before, she hadn’t expected such capitulation. But then, maybe they were somewhat shaken by the remnants of whatever they’d experienced in her inadvertent freezing of Equestria's time. “Well, good!” She certainly wasn’t about to waste such agreement. “I’ll see you there, then.”

“Yes, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight hesitated. There was still something odd about their acquiescence, and she looked over their calm, attentive gazes. “Is everything all right?”

“Everything is fine,” Platinum said, and the rest echoed the sentiment in a chorus of unruffled serenity.

“Okay then!” Duty performed, she scurried from the room, off to find Luna and inform her of the success.

There was, even in the dead of night, the noise of ponies talking as they went about their duties in the vast castle at the center of Canterlot, but it was absent now. There were ponies, certainly, and they were moving as they should. But there was no conversation, no idle banter or argument, no laughter or hastily shouted afterthoughts. They simply walked in silence, only deigning to notice each other in order to avoid collision.

She slowed down and stopped at the base of the stairs, watching ponies pass by with a vague sense of unease. Finally she stopped a courier that seemed passingly familiar as he reached the landing, stepping in front of his path. “Excuse me,” she said. “Is everything alright?”

He looked at her, betraying no surprise at the interruption. Or indignation, or annoyance. “Everything is fine.”

“But nobody is talking or anything. It’s just...so quiet.”

The courier waited silently, apparently not seeing that as needing a reply. Twilight shifted uncomfortably and finally stepped out of the way. “Never mind. Thank you.”

“You are welcome,” he said politely and continued on.

She watched him depart, the beginnings of worry slipping away as she realized that everything must indeed be fine. Everypony was calm and collected, after all. With that affirmation she climbed the stairs to the barracks and knocked on the door. “Is Luna there?” She asked, peering past the Lunar guard that answered.

“No, she is not,” he replied calmly. And stopped, adding nothing else to explain or dismiss. He simply stood, waiting patiently.

“Well where is she?”

“I don’t know,” he said in the same unruffled tone.

Twilight nodded understandingly, turning to head off down the halls in search of the misplaced alicorn. “Luna!” She called. “Luna! Where are you?”

There was no answer, and Twilight paced through the tower, calling Luna’s name at intervals. Nopony gave her any notice as she worked her way upward, for Luna’s name was not theirs. Only when Twilight stepped through the door to their private chambers did the alicorn look up from the stack of paperwork she was working through. “Yes, Twilight?”

“There you are. Are you alright?” There was something that nagged at her about the sight of Luna simply signing papers.

“I am fine, Twilight,” Luna replied calmly, and Twilight’s shook her head, feeling unsettled.

“What’s going on, Luna? Why are you acting this way?” Twilight demanded, not really expecting an answer.

“I am signing papers. It is what I’m supposed to do.” The answer betrayed no puzzlement, or impatience, or any emotion whatsoever. It was fact, and fact alone, and that was not Luna.

Twilight sat down heavily, not even bothering to close the door. Luna turned back to her work, and Twilight simply watched, an unidentifiable emotion rising within her. It simply wasn’t fair, she decided, after all the panic and triumph, after fixing the entire kingdom piece by tiny piece, to return to this. She watched a distorted image of her Luna quietly and efficiently working through papers, without complaint or consideration, as if she were just some cog in an enormous machine.

“Oh, no.” She spoke before the conscious realization was fully on her, but then it came all in a flash. Luna was indeed operating as a cog. She had no other choice. Twilight had removed the possibility for anything else.

She shuddered, shivered, and fell as the revelation blazed through her, and she lashed out at the walls she’d built around herself, shattering them before the last vestiges of choice were closed off from her. Of course she hadn’t given thought to the strange and unponylike behavior of every stallion and mare she’d run across, for she’d made it nothing to be questioned. She’d made it so there was nothing to prevent Equestria from functioning smoothly and without incident.

She stood, hooves planted, eyes closed, and breathing slowly. “Why,” she asked plaintively. “Does this have to be so hard?” Her voice cracked at the last word, her fur standing on end from the aftershocks of understanding.

No answer came from Luna, who seemed to not have even heard her. Which was possible, now that she thought about it. If it wasn’t part of running Equestria smoothly, it wasn’t something that existed. Her will kept the rules she had established at bay, but nopony else had a chance.

She was still worrying at that particular bit when she became aware that Luna had opened the door, prepared to head out to who knew where. “Wait,” she said, and Luna paused obediently in the doorway. “Okay. Hang on. I’m going to fix this. Again.”

Twilight let her godhood blossom again, looking out at the vast expanse of the perfectly meshing magics, then reached out and stopped Equestria’s clock. It was cleaner this time, simply one hoof on the mainspring, and everything halted. There was no fuss, no messiness, simply one singular act of will.

She didn’t yet have a clear idea of what she was going to do, but she knew that the longer ponies were trapped by the confines of her mistake the harder it would be to undo. As it was, there was nothing to make Twilight’s changes stand out from the natural background of the living Equestria.

She studied the frozen dynamics, her attention riffling through the suppressed hopes and fears and desires of all the ponies under her care. They were still fundamentally the same, even if they couldn’t express it. Twilight breathed a soft sigh of relief that, no matter what she’d done, there hadn’t been any direct harm to any ponies. Just a brief inconvenience, so long as she could wipe away the changes she’d wrought.

Of course, doing just that was the trick. She paced back and forth in the frozen room, wishing she had Spike to talk to. Or at least talk at, if nothing else. Instead, after another few paces, she went back to examining the living mechanism that she had to fix, frowning as she concentrated. Surely there had to be a solution.

Her hooves measured the length of the room twice more before she stopped, disparate thoughts coalescing into a plan of action. It wasn’t the best plan she’d ever come up with, but it would have to do. She reached out, bringing all the power of her godhood to bear, and began to systematically destroy all the rules and limitations that shaped Equestria.

Since she hadn’t changed the ponies, the natural patterns should re-establish themselves soon enough, and aside from some minor confusion there would be no harm done. She hoped.

She took one last look over the frozen landscape, took a deep breath, and let time resume.

“Twilight? What…?” Luna took a step toward her, shaking her head as if trying to clear it of cobwebs. “What happened? Wha-eep!” She squealed as Twilight’s flying leap of a hug sent them both tumbling over the floor.

“Thank Harmony you’re back!” Twilight clung to the no-longer-larger pony, her muzzle buried in Luna’s neck. “I made a huge mistake and - hold on I still need to make sure -” She cut herself off, sorting hastily through the blurred wheels of Equestria in motion. Ponies wobbled a bit without support but inertia kept them approximately where they should have been. Approximately.

Luna watched, amused and bemused, as Twilight abandoned her frantic affections to restore the guides and guards that kept Equestria going, lest somepony find they could not get a cutie mark, or that their special talent no longer worked. Or pegasi began to fall from the sky, or wendigos appeared out of nowhere, or who knew what else.

She hammered in the last pegs, watching anxiously to make sure nothing and nopony broke from the strain of the restored system. When everything seemed stable, if not perfect, she let out a breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding and finally looked down at Luna. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to, but it just happened!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Luna said with a small, self-satisfied smile. “But I do know you look absolutely amazing.”

“What?” Twilight stared, feeling suddenly hot, and Luna captured Twilight’s muzzle, pulling her down for a kiss.

When their muzzles finally parted again, Luna’s smile had grown to a grin. “You look positively radiant, dear Twilight,” she said with a modest lilt to her voice. “Why have I not seen you like this before?”

“I, um.” Between the sudden change of topic and Luna’s kiss she found it hard to string coherent thoughts together, and all the expanded consciousness of a god didn’t seem to help. If anything it made it worse, with Luna’s dark swirling divinity pressing against hers in a metaphysical mirror of their bodies.

“I made a mistake, Luna,” she finally got out. “I...broke Equestria. And had to fix it.”

“Moodkiller,” Luna accused lightly, the look in her eyes changing from flirtatious to sympathetic even though she kept her hold on Twilight. “What happened? I felt something, but I wasn’t sure…”

Twilight spilled the story in a dozen disjointed sentences, clinging to Luna as the recitation made her realize again how thoroughly her mistake could have gone wrong. “What do I do? How do I tell them...how can I even start to apologize? What do you say after you’ve hurt so many ponies?”

“You’re asking me?” Luna’s voice was low, sweet and deadly.

“You’re the only pony who might possibly understand,” Twilight said miserably.

There was a long silence. Finally Luna sighed, running her hoof through Twilight’s mane. “Oh, Twilight. I never found a way. That’s the gulf between god and mortal. Everything we do affects so many, so profoundly. A word, a gesture, an offhoof decision could ruin or exalt a life, or ten, or a thousand. How could you ever encompass that in words?”

“There’s always a way,” Twilight protested. “There has to be. I don’t know what it is but I need to at least explain. Even if I can’t figure it out now I will eventually. Even if it hasn’t been done before. Being a god has to be good for something, right?”

“If you must be a god, you must be a god,” Luna told her. “I may have ulterior motives,” she added with a grin. “For having you keep this more celestial form. But being a god is simply being who you are. Never try to be less than that.”

“Duties, I can handle. But can I look this way without scaring ponies? I don’t want to do that! That isn’t who I am.”

“That is just a matter of control.” Luna rubbed her muzzle against Twilight’s. “That, I can help with.”

“And then we can figure out a way to explain what I did to your subjects.” She smiled wryly, relaxing against Luna.

“Our subjects, I think. You may not be a princess officially, but you’re doing as much as I am. If not more.”

“Our subjects, then.” A small shiver ran through her from horn to hoof at the phrase. “Yes. Let’s talk.”