• Published 27th Oct 2013
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The Celestia Code - iisaw



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

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6 Conspiracy Theories

Chapter Six
Conspiracy Theories

"Careful, it's still hot."

I nodded, blew across the top of the tin mug, then gently sipped. It was good tea.

Jigsaw sat back and gave me a thoughtful look. We were in the street, right where we had been when she had casually toppled one of the pillars of my world-view. She'd gotten me to stop hyperventilating, unpacked the kettle, pot, and mugs, lit a small fire, and had made me tea.

I drank half the mug before I trusted myself to speak. "So..." It came out as a half-strangled squeak. I cleared my throat and tried again. "So, there are other... depictions of Princess Celestia, like that one?" I pointed to the book that still lay open beside me.

"Yes," she replied cautiously. "They aren't well-known outside of archaeological and historical circles, of course. I can understand how you might not have encountered them before. I believe you specialized in Physics, Magical Theory, and Mathematics, right?"

"Yes, but I've also read History, and, believe me, there's nopony else I know who's as interested in the Royal Alicorns! Why did I never even get a hint of this?"

Jigsaw shrugged. "Probably because History, as Equestria knows it, is in shambles. It's a complete mess: Part legend, part folklore, part guesswork, and part unreliable documents written by ancient revisionists. Just in the time I've been in university, we've had a legendary boogeymare turn out to be real and a long-lost princess, had a mad trickster-god return to life from a statue, and had an entire forgotten empire pop up out of nowhere! Half the history books written before last year are complete garbage now."

I nodded in sympathy, thinking how upset I'd be if the rules of mathematics and magic changed every few years. "So, the depictions..." I couldn't bring myself to utter the words "tyrant" and "Celestia" in the same breath.

"They crop up in various places," Jigsaw said with a shrug. "Mostly where somepony or some group of ponies had a grievance that they blamed on the Princess, either for causing or for not alleviating. That said, it's pretty rare to find one carved into stone, particularly in a civic building like a library."

I thought of the Sun-in-Glory that had been painted on the ceiling of the Golden Oak Library in Ponyville. "What could be so bad that it would make ponies turn against the Princess?" I wondered aloud.

"How about that she and Discord were actually co-rulers of Equestria and she turned him into stone in a fit of jealous rage when she caught him in bed with Luna and a..."

"What?!"

"Whoa there, Twilight!" Jigsaw held up her fore hooves. "It's just one of the silly stories. A conspiracy theory that some ponies took a little too seriously."

"They'd have to be complete and utter idiots to believe such nonsense!"

Jigsaw shrugged. "It all happened more than a thousand years ago. Where's the evidence for or against?"

I was about to say that I knew Celestia, and that she would never do something so awful, when I stopped myself. Argument-by-assertion was for foals. I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts.

"Such actions on the part of Princess Celestia would be extraordinarily out of keeping with her known character, and so would require extraordinary evidence to merit any consideration at all. Lack of any evidence is a definite strike against that theory."

"Wow." Jigsaw's eyes widened a bit. "I wish you had been around when I was cramming for my debate class!"

I grinned. "Professor Magnolia always said I could argue the wheels off a train."[1]
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[1] Or, failing that, simply lecture it to death.
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"Well..." She got to her hooves and grinned. "Now you've got a chance to disprove another conspiracy theory. But first, you've got to decrypt the mysterious code and figure out what it is that needs disproving!"

"Well, when you put it that way..." I got up and helped her put away the tea things.

She started off down the street toward the library, looked back over her shoulder, smiled mischievously, and called back to me, "C'mon! Adventure awaits!"

"Oh, so now, you're in charge?"

"I've got the map, and I'm out front! Try to keep up!" She stuck her tongue out at me. "Princess."

= = =

The library had an arched stone roof that was still intact. Protection from the weather plus the dry desert air had preserved the interior quite well. We lit our horns as we entered, and both looked up at the ceiling. I can't speak for Jigsaw, but my motivation was to check the apparent soundness of the stonework and to examine any decorative carvings. Alligators had nothing to do with it.

It nearly broke my heart to see the empty shelves lining the walls. What a wealth of knowledge must have rested there at one time! Just an account book from that long-ago era would have opened a window into their culture.

The building was in a rough Y shape with a central rotunda. It was in that large circular space that we found the bas-relief of Celestia. We stood for a long time, looking at it until Jigsaw finally broke the silence. "Yep, definitely not so bad. I've seen ones with dripping fangs!"

I couldn't help a snort of laughter, though I'm sure she was just making light of the situation to help me with my—there had to be a name for a phobia of having an idol debased, but I couldn't bring it to mind. Yes, I've read Psychology, too, but I can't be expected to remember every little detail. I knew it was going to bug me until I looked it up.

Above the carving was a line of small suns near the ceiling. There were ten on each section of wall between the doors leading to the wings of the building. I brought out my notebook that had the key that I'd worked out for decoding the rays. "Okay, let's see if this works!" I picked a sun over the middle of the wall and started working.

HEDEMONOFCHA

"Hede monof cha?" I squinted at the paper. "That doesn't—"

"Demon!" shouted Jigsaw.

I whirled around, horn blazing with magical energy. "Where?" I cried, looked around for some unearthly fiend to unleash my magic on.

"No, no! The word! Look at your notebook: HE DEMON OF CHA! Your decoding scheme works. You just started in the middle of a sentence."

"Oh. Oh, of course!" I lifted my eyes from the page to meet Jigsaw's. "You're never going to let me forget this, are you?"

She had a really wicked smile sometimes. "Not in a thousand years, princess... but I will keep it our little secret."

"I suppose I will have to be satisfied with that," I pouted. "Now let's see if I can find the starting point." I got out the journal and opened it to the page with the illustration of the sun. I held it up and compared it to the line of carved ones. They all looked pretty much the same to me.

"May I?" Jigsaw asked.

I shrugged and passed the book to her. She found it within seconds. The original sun was right over Celestia's head. Pretty obvious in retrospect.

"How do you do that?" I asked her.

"I... I just look at them. It seems obvious to me. It may be because of my special talent for working out puzzles, I suppose."

I shook my head. "I think it's more that I'm artistically tone-deaf." A sudden thought struck me, and I chuckled.

"What is it?"

"Oh, nothing really. I just realized that Trixie could have beaten me without breaking a sweat. You see, I got into a magic duel once with a unicorn named Trixie. 'The Great and Powerful' Trixie, to be precise."

"Hey, I've seen one of her shows! She's really talented." Jigsaw frowned. "You fought a duel with her? A real duel? Not just the party-popper stuff the young nobles get up to in Canterlot?"

I shook my head. "Not at all. Trixie is a fairly powerful magician in her own right, and she was using an ancient amulet to boost her power to the highest levels."

"Did you...?" Jigsaw drew a hoof across her throat.

"Oh, no! No, everypony was fine afterward." I bit my lip. "Uh... it's a long story. The point is, she specializes in illusion magic and pyrotechnics. She could have won with the first cast if she had challenged me to a duel of illusions. I've got powerful magic but no talent for artistry. The best I could have come up with would look like animated crayon scrawls."

Jigsaw thought about it for a second and then asked, "So if I challenged you to a magic illustrating-pottery-shard-patterns duel..." I gave her the stink-eye and she broke off, chuckling.

"My point is," I said, "sheer power isn't always the best tool to use on a problem. Even sheer brain-power. It always helps, but training and talent are often more useful."

Jigsaw gave me a crooked smile. "So, being a genius alicorn isn't all it's cracked up to be?"

I just rolled my eyes and got back to the job at hoof. I re-decoded the first sun, just to make sure it was the correct one:

LADYCELESTIA

Then the next:

FREEDUSFROMT

The next sun was the one I had already done:

HEDEMONOFCHA

"The demon of chaos?" Jigsaw guessed. "That must be a reference to Discord!"

I nodded non-committally[2] and continued decoding.
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[2] One of Luna's tricks. She's a wealth of princessly techniques.
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OSBROUGHTBYU

"Looks like you were right," I said, and continued on.

NITINGTHETHR

I kept going, just concentrating on each letter until I had made a complete circuit of the room. Then I recopied the message in a more understandable script:

Lady Celestia freed us from the demon of chaos brought by uniting the three pony tribes. But when we would go again to our rightful place, she bid us yet to live among our lessers and kept upon her brow the treasure of the unicorns. So we came away in secret to this place and crafted anew the magic of old. In time of great need, seek it beneath the cornucopia. It alone holds the power to cast down the false princess and she calls for our enslavement.

"Unicorn supremacists." Jigsaw sneered in disgust. "I hate unicorn supremacists."

"No mention of Luna," I noted. "The jerks."

"They seem to think uniting the tribes brought about Discord's reign somehow."

"Logic isn't the strong suit of those sorts," I observed.

Jigsaw read ahead and pointed to the last sentence. "What's with the 'and' there?"

"I'm guessing it's used archaically for 'if.' They had to make the message come out to multiples of twelve letters, I suppose."

"So, they ran off sometime after the defeat of Discord, when it became clear Celestia was going to keep Equestria united and the tribes equal," Jigsaw said.

"Right," I agreed. "And they seem to think Celestia kept a 'treasure' of theirs, 'on her brow.' A crown maybe?" We both looked up at the relief. "It's edge on, so it's kind of hard to tell, but it looks like the Element of Magic! It's certainly not the crown she wears now."

"The unicorns thought the element belonged to them? Why would that be?"

"No clue," I said. "We'll come back to that. The interesting bit is that they claim to have made a magical artifact or weapon, capable of defeating Celestia, and they hid it under 'the cornucopia.'"

"Cornucopia," Jigsaw repeated. "The mythical ram's horn that gave a never-ending supply of food. Maybe there's a statue or mural somewhere and they hid the thing under it?"

A sudden thought hit me. "Wait. What if the cornucopia wasn't mythical? It would be a pretty useful thing to have in a desert city where there's no decent farmland or earth ponies to grow food, right?"

Jigsaw's eyes lit up. "Now, wouldn't that be something to take back to the university!"

I nodded in unambiguous agreement that time. "Not to mention the magical weapon they created. Although, that would be better off sealed in Canterlot Tower or maybe one of the vaults in the Royal Archive."

"Well, what are we waiting for?" Jigsaw asked, pulling the map out of her saddlebag. "Let's lay out a search pattern! You can do an aerial sweep over the city to spot anything obvious, and I'll double-check the map and journal."

I had to smile at her sudden enthusiasm, though I was getting excited myself. "Alright, a simple outward spiral should do it. I'll be back soon!" I headed for the door.

I had gotten out of the rotunda when Jigsaw called me back. "Uhmn... Twilight?"

"Yes?" I asked, poking my head back into the big room.

"I..." She hesitated. "I... just thought..."

"Yes?"

"M—maybe it isn't such a good idea to split up. I know there's probably nothing dangerous in the city, and I'm sure... uh..."

Tartarus! How could I have been so insensitive? The last time we'd been out of sight of each other a changeling had jumped her!

"You're right!" I said with conviction, "Why don't we save the bookwork for tonight and go flying while we've still got light?"

Her relief was obvious, but then she frowned. "Are you strong enough to carry me? I mean, yes, I know you're strong enough, but will it be awkward? Will I get in the way?"

I shrugged. "We can do it a few different ways. I can carry you, or I can give you some temporary wings of your own, or..."

= = =

"Woo-hoo!" cried Jigsaw, her mane and tail whipping in the wind. She was holding her fore legs out from her sides like ersatz wings and leaning back and forth as I banked. I was levitating her as I flew, holding her above and slightly behind me.

"Hey, Wonderbolt," I called up to her, "I know it's fun, but keep scanning the ruins!" I couldn't really blame her; I remembered all too well those giddy days when I first got a real feel for my new wings.

"Yes, ma'am!" she yelled back, and nearly conked herself on the forehead as she tried to salute at speed.

We spent a few hours covering the city. There were several mostly intact buildings and statues, but nothing remotely resembling a giant horn full of fruit. We kept it up until the sun got low in the Western sky, then I put us down at the library and we both gulped at our canteens.

We gave the building another, more thorough search and then I sealed each of the two doors that lead to the outside with rubble from a collapsed wall. "Just to be on the safe side," I explained to Jigsaw as we settled down to examine the map and journal.

"Fine by me," she said with conviction.

It wasn't long after that that we began to yawn. I don't know who started it, but we soon couldn't help ourselves, even though it was still early in the evening. "I guess I didn't get much sleep last night," I said.

"Lucky you!" Jigsaw replied. "I didn't get any!"

"None at all?" I asked, surprised.

"I... was kind of upset."

"Yeah, I noticed, but—"

"And I was also a bit ticked off at myself. I knew I was being unfair to you—"

"Hey, we're good now, okay?"

She nodded, then yawned again. "It's kind of funny," she mumbled as she rolled the map and replaced it in its tube, "we've been talking and joking like old friends all day..."

"I hope we are friends," I told her as I put the journal and my notebooks away.

She gave me a broad smile at that. "Me, too. It's just that, a little while ago, I was completely in awe of you. I never would have dreamed..." She waved a hoof around in a vague gesture. "All this."

"That I'm a whole lot less awesome, close up?" I snorted. "Any of my Ponyville pals could have told you that!"

She yawned again as she shook her head. "No, still some awe there... just... I don't know... too tired to think." She leaned over and gave me a one-legged hug and a light kiss on my cheek. "G'night Twilight. Thanks for taking me flying." She lay down and pulled her blanket over her.

She was deeply asleep before I had unfrozen from the effects of her kiss. It was just a social thing, right? Completely casual. Of course it was. Right. Casual.

Our bedrolls were next to each other, set out that way for convenience while we studied the documents together. If I moved mine away, would she take it as an indication of... what? I didn't even know. I settled for shifting it just far enough so that I wouldn't hit her if I flopped a wing out in my sleep.

I raised a shield around us, giving it about half a day of magical charge. It turned out to be a very good thing I did so.

= = =

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