• 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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8 The Music of the Spheres (Percussion Section)

Chapter Eight
The Music of the Spheres (Percussion Section)

As night began to fall, I closed my eyes and opened my magical sight, directing it upward. The glowing traceries on the great crystalline spheres beyond the sky resolved themselves into intricate paths and epicycles that defined and controlled the movements of all the celestial bodies. The great twin wheels of the sun and moon turned ever so slowly as I watched. I could easily have lost myself in the overwhelming beauty of it all (as I had done several times since my ascension), but I had a job to do and a very definite time limit in which to do it.

I was sure that Celestia and Luna would understand my meddling in their realm when I explained it to them later, but I needed it to go undetected for the next couple of hours. Which meant I had to get it all over with before sunset, when they would turn their attention to the heavens. If either of the sisters noticed, they would undoubtedly "fix" my adjustments.

I sought out the long, faint curves of the smallest elliptical orbits, sorting and discarding them as I weighed each line for the exact parameters I desired. At last I found what I needed. It was a little bigger and a little farther than was ideal, but I was resigned to pushing myself. I took hold of the skeins of the tracery and twisted, deforming the orbit of the little chunk of rock until it intersected the planet. I poured magical energy into it until it sped up and the orbit flexed away from where I wanted it. Then I readjusted the orbit and added more velocity.

It was a tedious, recursive, and tiring process, getting the rock to arrive at the time and place I wanted, but I eventually did it. I dropped my perceptions back into the normal world and flopped down, not caring that the dust of the plaza was sticking to my sweaty back.

"Did you do it?" Jigsaw asked.

"Yeah, it's done. Whew! I don't know how the sisters manage to keep the sun and moon going each and every day. I'm exhausted!"

"How big is it?"

"Relatively small. About the size of a one-bedroom cottage. Is there any cold tea left?"

Jigsaw passed me the flask of green tea. It wasn't cold any longer, but I didn't have the energy left to chill it down again.

"Leaving aside your definition of 'small' for a moment, do you think it's big enough to have the impact you want?"

"'Impact', ha-ha." I rolled my eyes. "But, yes, it should be pretty showy. It's the velocity that counts. Kinetic energy scales as the square of the velocity, after all, and I gave it a whole lot of velocity!"

Jigsaw opened her mouth to say something and then shut it again, shaking her head.

I got up and stretched. "We should head over to the edge of the city, where we can see the mountain."

We walked slowly, for my sake, while I drank more tea and ate a couple of oat rolls to replenish my strength. I picked a spot on the edge of the mesa where the target mountain was clearly visible and a low stone wall gave us cover. "This looks good." I squinted upward. "Seventeen minutes until impact. That gives us some time to go over the map."

I unrolled the map and studied it quietly for a while. The city was set out in a very orderly fashion with a large, central plaza surrounded by what looked like governmental buildings. There was nothing that looked like a castle or palace, which I found odd.

I cleared my throat and pointed at a large building on the central plaza not too far from the library. "I saw this place earlier and it seems like a good spot to begin our search. Most of the larger and intact structures are clustered around that area. It's unlikely that the 'cornucopia' would be out in a peripheral residential area, don't you think?"

I looked up when Jigsaw didn't answer and saw her gazing at the mountain on the horizon, shuffling her hooves nervously.

"Hey," I asked quietly, "are you okay?"

She sighed and turned her head to face me. "Yeah, I'm okay. It's just that today has been, and continues to be, a bit scary. For a lot of reasons. I think I may be out of my league, here."

I rolled up the map and put it away. I moved into the shelter of the wall and lay down, gesturing for Jigsaw to join me. "Jigsaw, you are my friend... a very good friend, and I will not let anything happen to you, I promise!"

She lowered herself next to me and nodded. "Yes, I believe you. After this morning's demonstration and that—" she tossed her head, indicating the mountain. "—I'm pretty sure that the heavens themselves couldn't save anypony who made you mad. And that's part of why I..."

I waited for her to go on, and several times, it looked as if she would. But then she would sigh and look away, silently.

"Do you want to go home?" I asked her. "I can teleport us in stages and have you back in Canterlot in—"

"No, it's not that."

I waited again but she remained silent.

After a while I said her name and waited for her to look at me. When she did, I said, "Trust me. You can tell me what's wrong and I won't laugh at you or dismiss you. I care about you very much, and I hate seeing you upset." Her lips quivered and her eyes glistened but she didn't say anything. "Please?" I urged.

She took a deep breath, then leaned forward and kissed me full on the mouth.

And the world disappeared in a burst of radiant light.

No, really. That wasn't a metaphor. The whole plaza lit up so brightly that I couldn't see a thing but white. My little message to Chrysalis had arrived.

When the light died away enough, the first thing I saw was Jigsaw's face with—no, I'm sorry, but the expression she wore was utterly indescribable. I assume my own face was much the same. Avoidance is a wonderful coping mechanism, and it was fortunate that we had a very good excuse to not talk about what had just happened. We stood and turned to look out over the desert.

I've seen a lot of terrifying things in my life, but watching that roiling bulb of fire rise over the shattered mountain topped them all. Cold equations just couldn't prepare me for the reality of a major meteorite strike. "I think I used a little too much velocity," I whispered.

I levitated us off the pavement to avoid the ground shock wave, and grimaced as the old ruins around us shook and crumbled even more. Then I cast a shield to protect us from the air blast that followed, which wasn't so bad, but surprisingly loud.

We watched in awe as the gigantic explosion evolved. The rocky debris rained down on the surrounding desert, and the cloud of fire rose and cooled until it was just an enormous mass of smoke and ash, distorted by the high altitude winds. The heat of the impact site kept dust and smoke flowing upward in a thick column for a long while afterward.

"I hope I never, ever have to do something like that again," I said, my voice shaking.

"You can do something like that..." Jigsaw's quiet voice came from slightly behind me and to my left. "And yet it horrifies you. That's just one of the reasons why I love you."

Oh. That.

Damn.

But I had to face it sometime.

"Jigsaw..." I didn't turn to face her. "We should go back to the library. It will be dark soon, and... and we should talk."

I wanted time to think, but Jigsaw started to talk while we walked. "I had a dream about you last night," she began.

"Mn?" Non-committal, that was best.

"I thought I'd be having nightmares about that changeling, but instead, you were with me... though I think Princess Luna was there for part of it, too."

"Meddling moon-butt," I grumbled under my breath.

"But, mostly, the dream was about you," Jigsaw continued, not having heard me. She sighed. "It was a wonderful dream."

I didn't reply. What could I possibly say to that? After a few seconds, Jigsaw stopped walking and I turned my head to face her. She had her head down in a submissive pose but was looking up at me. The setting sun had turned the explosion's cloud into a smear of blood on the sky behind her.

"Twilight?" She was blushing. I could see it even in the dim light.

"Yes?"

"I'd very much like to kiss you again."

Stare down a changeling swarm? Yeah, I can do that. Blow up a mountain? No problem! But face a mare with a serious crush on me? I panicked.

Now, most ponies who know me well will tell you that I can sometimes get just the teensiest bit crazy when I'm pushed beyond my comfort zone. Frenetic might be a better word. But I also have another panic mode: petrification. They're both related in that they share a common effect: My brain stops working properly.

Jigsaw lifted her head and stepped forward. I didn't move.

"Twilight?"

I didn't move.

"Don't... don't you want to...?" I could see the tears start to well up in her eyes.

Oh, Sun and Moon! She deserved better of me than that! I forced myself to speak. "Jigsaw, you... you are one of the most beautiful and intelligent mares I know."

She dropped her gaze and the tears began to spill down her cheeks. "But," she said flatly.

I went to her and wrapped my fore legs and wings around her. I didn't bother telling her not to cry. I wasn't that stupid. "You are athletic and clever," I whispered to her as she sobbed. "You have a wicked sense of humor and a set of talents that I honestly envy." I hugged her tightly and lay my cheek on the top of her head, behind her horn. "You are a mare in a million."

She sniffed and sighed, "But, you don't want me—"

"I do want you!" I interrupted her forcefully, "I want you as a colleague and an adviser and a traveling companion and a dear, dear friend!" I leaned back and lifted her muzzle up with a wingtip until she was looking at me. "If I was into mares, I'd never let you out of my sight!"

When she smiled, she looked worlds better. Red, wet eyes, runny nose, and all.

There was only one more bit of comfort I could offer. "C'mon, let's get back to the library and I'll make us some tea."

= = =

Fortunately, the library hadn't suffered much from the shock wave. I spent a bit of time fusing stone blocks, shifting rubble, and otherwise making sure the building wouldn't fall on us during the night. I also cast two shields around us, one inner and one outer, with a few additional properties woven into the spells. I was fairly sure my egregious display of force would make Chrysalis think twice before attacking us again, but I wasn't going to take any chances.

Jigsaw helped me a bit, both of us pretending to be more relaxed and happy than we actually were, and we settled in for the night with our bedrolls nearby, but facing each other. I briefly wondered if there was some sort of accepted geometry of such things to reflect the exact nuances of the relationship of any two ponies. But then, I'm like that.

= = =

Luna silently gestured with a wingtip at the broken, smoldering mountain on the horizon.

"I had a bad day," I explained.

"My sister and I are a bit concerned, Twilight."

"Sorry for messing with the celestial mechanisms, but I really needed to. Everything is fine now... Well, except for..."

Luna looked up from where she was making swirls in the smoke with her wing tip. The mountain had evidently shrunk to the size of a pony—or Luna had grown. It was hard to tell in a dream. "Yes?"

"I... oh, this sounds melodramatic, but I think I broke Jigsaw's heart."

"She is young and strong-minded, Twilight, I believe she will mend quickly. These were decisions that were best made quickly."

"What was there to decide? I'm not gay."

Luna scooped up some of the bigger fragments of the mountain and dumped them into the crater. She didn't reply, just glanced back at me over her shoulder and twitched her mouth—just so.

Luna can be infuriatingly elliptical sometimes. I took the mountain away from her and put it back on the horizon where it belonged. Her fiddling with it was distracting. "You could just straight-out tell me what you mean!"

"Such things are hardly ever black and white, and the language of dreams does not lend itself to directness." Slices of cheese began to fall from the sky. They melted as they hit the ground and started to form puddles. The stars in Luna's mane became little chopped bits of mushroom, onions, and bell pepper, and fell into the cheese puddles.

"Oh, stop it!"

"When I walk in dreams, do you know what I encounter much more often than fear?" She turned fully to face me and mantled her wings, filling my vision. She leaned forward and said one word, in a long, drawn-out whisper, "Desire."

I woke up with a craving for pizza.

= = =

The morning was awkward, but not nearly as awkward as it might have been. Jigsaw and I were used to the camp routine and went about things quietly and efficiently. We even approximated something like good spirits.

"The big building first," I said, tapping the map with the feather end of my quill. "Don't you think?"

Jigsaw nodded. "Yes, definitely. Depending on its condition, we might have time for one or two others today."

"Your Majesty?" came a hesitant voice from the doorway to the street.

Jigsaw flinched, and I involuntarily lit my horn for an instant. In the doorway stood one of the changeling officers. I'm not sure of the ranks they use, but she was wearing blued steel armor.

I stood and faced her. "The proper usage is 'Highness'. What can I do for you?"

The changeling bowed. "Please forgive me, Your Highness. I bear a message from my queen."

I cautiously lowered the outer shield and slipped out through the inner one, leaving Jigsaw behind. I approached the changeling close enough to loom over it a bit. "Yes?"

She produced a roll of something like paper from a tube at her side. I took it in my magic and unrolled it. There was no greeting or preamble. The message was only three lines and it read:

Apology accepted.

Your proposal might have some merit. I will consider it.

Refrain from any further excavations in my realm.

-C

I smiled. I had acquired a completely new perspective since becoming a princess, and I now had a lot more sympathy for Chrysalis than I had had[1] a few years ago. That didn't mean I didn't enjoy winning, but at least I could be gracious about it.
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[1] i.e., none whatsoever.
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"Please give Her Majesty my thanks, and my assurances that there will be no further disturbances of the sort that occurred last evening."

"Yes, Your Highness." The changeling bowed and turned to go.

On a sudden impulse, I stopped her. "Your people are very well acquainted with the emotion of love, aren't they?"

With the helmet and chitinous face, it was impossible to tell if the changeling was puzzled by my question or not, but she sounded cautious when she answered. "Yes, Your Highness."

"The love of friends, close friends... is it different than the sort between... uhm... lovers? Weaker? Or... I don't know... different?"

The changeling didn't answer for a moment. Then she said, "It is usually different, Your Highness, to varying degrees. It is often weaker but can be stronger." She paused for a longer time, and I thought she had finished what she had to say, when she added, "Please forgive me if I offend you, Your Highness, but I find that it is no less nourishing."

I wasn't offended, just a little bit squicked. "It isn't nourishment in the sense you mean it, but I find that just the presence of my friends strengthens me in a way." I paused, and the changeling waited attentively for me to go on. I wasn't sure if I was crazy or not, but I went with my immediate feelings. "So, please tell Her Majesty that my offer of friendship was completely sincere. I am willing to meet with her and... try to get to know each other. Perhaps a true friendship would be better than one based on deception... and mutually beneficial. At least, I think it's worth finding out... if it's possible..." I trailed off lamely. "At least, we should talk."

"I will convey your message, Your Highness."

"Thank you."

The changeling bowed and departed.

= = =

Jigsaw was showing me how to use an enhancement spell to bring out the faint letters carved into the doors of the large building we had chosen for our first search when I heard a changeling approaching.

It was the same officer I had spoken to earlier. She landed and bowed. "Your Highness, I have another message from Her Majesty."

I expected her bow to be perfunctory, as it had been when we first met, but she remained kneeling. "Please rise," I said.

She did so. "Her Majesty wishes me to thank Your Highness for Your Highness's words this morning and to give Your Highness Her Majesty's assurances that Her Majesty is intrigued by Your Highness's proposal and will formally contact Your Highness to arrange a meeting."

It took me a second to parse all the Majesties and Highnesses. I grinned. "Tell Chrysalis that Twilight Sparkle is delighted!"

"Uh... yes, Your Highness." She pulled another roll of not-quite-paper out of the carrying tube and held it out to me. "Her Majesty also wishes me to deliver this to Your Highness."

Unlike the one in the morning this scroll was sealed with a hard glob of greenish substance. I broke the seal and unrolled it.

The scroll read:

Be cautious. The city has killed many and driven others mad.

-C

= = =

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