• Published 27th Oct 2013
  • 25,391 Views, 1,315 Comments

The Celestia Code - iisaw

Princess Twilight Sparkle discovers a centuries-old mystery hidden in the Royal Archives.

  • ...

16 Détente

Chapter Sixteen

The sight of the Golden Oak Library burning was something I had mixed feelings about. The leaves had already ignited and flown up into the sky, trailing embers, and the limbs were beginning to char. From where I stood in the street, I could see Celestia on my stargazing balcony, glaring down at me. The tips of her primary feathers were beginning to blacken and smoke. I knew she wasn't going to save herself, so I reached out with my magic to teleport her away, but I couldn't get a grasp on her. The only part of her that seemed reachable was her heart.

I tried to fly up to her, but the ashes falling down became so heavy that they fouled my feathers and forced me back to the ground. I tried to walk forward, but I couldn't see the library any longer, and the gray ashes were so deep that they made moving difficult. Soon the dust was up to my chest and I struggled to take even a single step. I floundered and tried to use my wings to lift me up, but they found no purchase, slamming down into the dust without effect. I strained and raised my face up to the black sky, but I was still sinking into the dust, and there was nothing in sight but a small blue-green orb.

I felt, rather than heard, a hoof slam down on the ground beside my head and turned to look. A platinum shoe, studded with fire opals, encased the end of a long black leg that reached out for me, lifting and turning me, still wrapped in a blanket of dust. Pitiless dragon eyes looked down into mine, as she gathered me into her forelegs like a foal.

"Luna..." I gasped, the breath leaving my lungs like it was being pulled by some magic.

She lowered her huge head and breathed for me, filling my lungs with something that was not quite air—something that roiled with her strength.

"Oh... so young," she whispered without taking her lips away from mine. "And yet so powerful. So powerful, and yet so hesitant. So hesitant, and yet so determined. So determined, and yet so inexperienced."

"Luna, stop fooling around!"

"I am not she," the Nightmare hissed, her breath carrying her words into me. "I am the one she cannot save you from, Twilight Sparkle."

"Who... what..."

She melted into me, filling my vision with those huge, luminous eyes, and my heart with a dreadful desire in the instant before I awoke.

= = =

"Twilight!" Somepony nudged my shoulder gently. "Twilight, you should really wake up now."

The tone in Jigsaw's voice jolted me into full consciousness. I reflexively brought up the pre-matrix components for a shield spell before my eyes were even fully open and had a second spike of adrenaline as I realized that, in my distress, I hadn't raised one the night before.

And, oh brother, had I picked the wrong night to get lax with the security precautions. There, in the doorway to the rotunda, flanked by the general on one side and the captain on the other, stood Queen Chrysalis herself.

"Your Majesty," I heard my mouth saying. "I regret I was not awake to properly greet you." I bowed, never taking my eyes off hers. For me, protocol[1] was no less an instinctual reaction for having been learned.
[1] Court formalities are as much a shield, social lubricant, and safety valve as anything else. Ponies who think they are outmoded affectations haven't looked deeply enough into the subject. (I have books I can recommend.)

Chrysalis waved away my words like the matter was of no importance to her. "I merely wished to see how you were getting along."

So, she hadn't immediately attacked us: That was a good sign. "Quite well, thank you," I said. I left the "until now" part of the sentence unspoken.

If the rigid postures of her subordinates were anything to judge by, this was the farthest thing imaginable from a casual visit. The general, in particular, was braced like a royal guardspony awaiting a dressing-down for a major foul-up.

"Really?" She drew out the word and gave me the You're a Lying Cow[2] smile. "There seemed to be a rather large fire in the city last night. I shudder to think what your research might look like when it isn't going well. And speaking of things going poorly..." She made a peremptory gesture with her hoof and the general took one step forward. "My general has displeased you..."
[2] Slight word-substitution, there, though it begins with the same letter. No offense intended to any of my bovine citizens.

"Oh, no!" I interrupted, "No, not really."

"Indeed?" There was that smile, again. "What she told me makes me think otherwise. Mm... now I don't know whether to punish her for disobedience, or for lying to me." Her voice was laden with menace.

The general didn't budge, but I could see the captain shiver. I had no doubt that the punishment would take a very physically unpleasant form.

"I would take it as a great favor if you would show mercy, Your Majesty," I improvised. "What happened yesterday was a simple misunderstanding, and I am, actually, quite pleased with the conduct of your citizens."

"My subjects, you mean." Chrysalis wasn't smiling. "They know as well as I, that mercy is just a polite word for weakness."

O-kay. The nicey-nice approach wasn't working so well, so it was time to think like a changeling—a cold, brutal, deceitful insect.

"Please!" I sneered at the queen. "Do you really expect me to believe you're going to damage such a valuable officer? I know you're much more intelligent than that. Can we just cut to the chase, here?"

Chrysalis blinked and lifted her chin a bit. Then, she glanced at the general, who gave her a knowing look and nodded slightly.

"Well, well, well..." There was a bit of a chuckle in her tone. "Cutting and chasing... words I like better." She looked around the room. "No shield, today. Are you getting careless, or has something affected your magic?"

Uh-oh. Well, as Applejack would never say, when yer bettin' th' farm on a bum deal, all y'all kin do is bluff. "I've come to trust your people completely," I said, flicking a brief glance at a completely insignificant spot just inside the doorway.

Chrysalis snickered, then threw back her head and laughed. It was a much more pleasant sound than I'd remembered. "Ah! You ponies are not as practiced at deceit as you may think. Perhaps I could give you a few pointers."

"I might enjoy that more than you'd think."

"Mm..." Chrysalis considered that for a moment. "So, you have no objection to the continued presence of my subjects?"

"None," I assured her. It was a simple, not completely inaccurate answer to a complex issue.

"Very well." She turned to go and then casually said, "I will speak with you again. Soon." She didn't wait for an answer.

Everyone, ponies and changelings, relaxed quite a bit when she was gone.

"So..." Jigsaw slowly exhaled. "Anyone for tea?"

= = =

The general and Jigsaw were quite surprised when I assigned them to comb through the ruins together, in search of more documents, but they didn't object. Of course, I attached another monitoring spell on Jigsaw before they left, adding quite a bit more functionality to it than the last one.

The captain, on the other hoof, was less than happy at being left behind with me. I had pretty much given up hope of putting us on friendly terms, but I thought I could try putting her at ease.

"You have a name besides your title, don't you? May I know it?"

The captain looked startled and then said something I couldn't be sure I'd heard correctly. "Uhmn... did you say 'Sherry?'"

"Csharreee, Your Majesty," she corrected.

I tried it again a couple of times, insisting to the captain that I wanted her to correct my pronunciation. "And please, call me Twilight Sparkle," I told her.

The captain was horrified. "The queen would chew my head off if she heard me being so disrespectful to royalty... even pony royalty." I got the distinct impression that she wasn't employing hyperbole or metaphor.

"Just when we're alone," I insisted. "You can 'Highness' me all you want in front of others."

"I would be more comfortable not—"

"It's a royal command. You'll get used to it."

Csharreee swallowed hard. "I understand, Twilight Sparkle."

"Good!" I chirped at her. "Now, I need to do some calculations that will keep me busy for quite a while, and I'd like you to help out."

"I will do whatever you ask of me, Twilight Sparkle. I keep track of troop strength, so I can do sums quite well."

Oh dear. "No, I don't need help with the... uh... sums, actually. I'd just like you to keep a pot of tea going and provide me with food occasionally, so I don't have to break my rhythm. I have a little dragon that usually does that sort of thing for me, back home."

"Dragon?" Csharreee gasped.

"Just a little one. Hardly more than a baby."

She gave me a sideways look, probably trying to decide whether or not I was telling the truth, and said, "Of course, Twilight Sparkle."

It turned out I had to teach her how to make tea, and which parts of our supplies were food and which were wrappings, but she was attentive and picked things up quickly. I was soon laying out an approach to calculating the amount of dark energy held by the great crystal.

"Pardon me, Twilight Sparkle," Csharreee asked after she'd set down a plate of oat rolls beside me. "But may I ask a question?"

"Sure!" I replied. She wasn't really interrupting: I was just copying over the results from my first set of calculations prior to arranging them into order for the second round.

"Is that some sort of figuring?" She pointed to the Finemare diagrams and amplituhedrons I had set down in my notebook.

"Yes, actually." I knew that my work would be far beyond her understanding, but I thought that giving her a sketchy idea of the concepts would be the polite thing to do. "You see, some 'figuring' is much easier when you use a geometrical analog... uh... a shape. Like ratios, for instance."

She frowned. "I do not understand. I see how a shape might have sides of certain dimensions, and that two shapes placed together might be measured to determine a sum, but this..."

I was pleasantly surprised. "That's right! That simple idea is really the basis of all I'm doing here. But the shapes can be used for many other calculations. Here..." I flipped to a page of path integrals that had some blank space and began to sketch. "If I make a right triangle..."

= = =

Sometime later, I heard Jigsaw and Sesseressia chatting cheerfully as they entered the library.

"Whoa!" Jigsaw exclaimed as she saw the floor of the rotunda, which was completely littered with pieces of paper cut into varying shapes. "What in the hay happened here? Did you two decide to make paper snowflakes... and fail miserably?"

"Oh, hi guys!" I said. "General, did you know that Csharreee here is a mathematical genius? She's really got a handle on basic geometry and is already starting on algebra after only... oh... oh dear, why is it so dark in here?"

"Sundown, Twilight," Jigsaw said, grinning.

"What, already?"

Jigsaw turned to Sesseressia and said, "You see what I mean?"

"Wait..." I glared at her, suspiciously. "What have you been telling her?"

Jigsaw only grinned wider. "Just that you can get lost in formulae and diagrams and forget to eat... and other stuff that only everypony knows about you."

"But mathematics is fun!" I protested. "Why can't anypony see that?!"

"I can," Csharreee said quietly from behind me.

Jigsaw cracked up. A serious fit of giggles overtook her, and the rest of us all stared at her like she was a madpony.

I sighed. "Well, at least you're in a cheerful mood." I turned to the big changeling. "Did you have a good day, general?"

Sesseressia nodded. "I, too, am in a pleasant frame of mind," she said, in a tone of voice about as warm as a cobblestone before dawn.

"Oh." This day was not going as planned. "I'm glad to hear it, but did you find anything interesting?"

"Oh, yeah!" Jigsaw gasped out, trying not quite successfully to stop her chuckles. "You should see some of the mosaics in the public baths! You won't need a chart to decode what's going on there!" She dissolved into another squirming fit of laughter.

I was just about to bop her on the snoot with a bag of dried apples when four more changelings arrived, all drones. One of them stepped forward, making a slight stridulating noise that I supposed served them as a substitute for a clearing of the throat.

Sesseressia turned to look at her. "Yes?"

The one who had stepped forward gave a quick bow. "General, we are here for you."

"Ah, yes," the general sounded mildly surprised. "I have no need of you. Attend to the captain."

"Actually," Csharreee said a bit hesitantly, as if she were only just realizing the fact behind her words. "I'm not hungry either."

Jigsaw stopped laughing and Sesseressia whipped her head around. Nearly simultaneously they both said, "What?"

= = =

So the two bugs had gotten something from our association without even trying. That was very interesting. It wasn't love. I mean, it couldn't be, could it? Yes, I love my friends, but I still didn't really consider Csharreee a friend, even though it was delightful to see her latch onto mathematical concepts like Pinkie Pie on a fresh cinnamon bun. Yes, we had a great time together but—but what? I didn't know. I just didn't have enough background knowledge, and nopony else had any clue what was going on.

As Jigsaw and I ate dinner and shared tea with the changelings, I decided to do some subtle questioning of Csharreee the next day, in between tutoring sessions.[4]
[4] And working on my own calculations, of course. It wouldn't do to forget the monster lurking in the basement.

It was a bit difficult getting to sleep because I really didn't want a repeat of my dreams from the night before, but I eventually slipped into a sound, dreamless slumber.

= = =


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