• Published 22nd Mar 2015
  • 7,952 Views, 1,376 Comments

The Breaking of the Storm - moguera

Deadly threats loom ever nearer for Dawn Lightwing and those close to him.

  • ...

Meeting of Minds

Chapter 2: Meeting of Minds

"Oooh! I'm not sure about this," moaned Twilight Sparkle as she paced back and forth frantically along the platform.

"Um...not to be a jerk, but I'd like to point out that you're the one who made me send the letter," said Spike, looking none too pleased with Twilight's antics, "If you weren't sure about it, you shouldn't have accepted his offer."

"I know!" snapped Twilight, "But I can't help but wonder what angle he's working. What the hay is he after? What does he gain by coming to talk to me in Ponyville?"

"There's only one way to find out," replied Spike. He watched Twilight trot back and forth for a few more minutes before raising an eyebrow. "Are you sure you don't want me to get Arkenstone?"

"No!" shouted Twilight, freezing in place before whirling around to face Spike directly, "I already told Arky I could handle this. None of my training will be worth anything if he has to look over my shoulder all the time."

Spike snorted, sending twin emerald streams of flame spurting out his nostrils. As always, it was frustrating to watch Twilight worry herself into a fit every time something like this happened. But there was little that he could do to stop it...short of dumping a bucket of water on her head, which, given that it was in the dead of winter, wouldn't be much appreciated and would probably do more harm than good.

At least it was easier to get Twilight's attention now that he was at eye-level with her when he reared up on his hind legs. Spike's purple-scaled body had been growing all throughout the winter, his back, tail, and neck elongating a little more with each passing week. His face was quickly losing the chubby baby fat that had defined its shape for years and was slowly stretching outwards, now looking slightly more angular, with his snout morphing into something of a beak-like shape. His new wings, which had grown out of his back over the summer, were a fair bit larger now, actually stretching out past his shoulders. Though they were still too small to carry the young dragon in flight, their growth was the best marker of how much Spike had grown over the past few months.

Twilight...was still Twilight, of course. She hadn't changed all that much over the months, in looks or personality. Not even getting herself a coltfriend had done much to tone down the perpetual worrier part of her personality and she would agonize constantly over the most banal trivialities imaginable. Not to mention that Spike still didn't trust her by herself in the kitchen very much.

A whistle in the distance made Twilight freeze yet again, her head whipping around to follow the tracks that led up to the city of Canterlot. A plume of smoke in the near distance heralded the approaching train. "He's almost here!" Twilight squeaked, quivering, "Am I ready? Of course I am! I've reviewed everything five times-"

"Ten times," corrected Spike.

"Ten times. I've got this! I can do this! How do I look?"

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Like you're gonna blow a gasket if you don't calm down. I know you're worried about what this guy can do, but isn't showing so much anxiety the worst thing to do around a member of the Noble Court."

Twilight groaned. "Of course, you're right." Raising a hoof to her chest, Twilight took a deep breath, before slowly letting it out. As she did, the tension began to flow out of her body and she began to relax a little. Spike couldn't help but smirk at the sight of it. That calming technique Cadance showed her is practically a miracle worker.

A few minutes later, the Ponyville train platform began to vibrate as the train drew closer, accompanied by the squealing of brakes as they worked to slow the behemoth vehicle down. Gradually, it came to a shuddering halt next to the platform.

Spike used a hand to back Twilight up a little so that the ponies on the train would have room to disembark once the doors opened. The crowd that emerged from the cars was light. Now that Hearth's Warming was over, there weren't as many ponies with a reason to travel and even fewer who had legitimate reason to visit Ponyville. It wasn't like the village was a major tourist destination or anything.

However, Twilight and Spike's attention wasn't on the regular cars. Rather, they gravitated towards the car that had been coupled between the rest of the passenger cars and the caboose. It was one of the luxury private cars favored by ponies of the noble class, most of whom loathed the idea of sharing space with the common ponies, even those wealthy enough to afford first-class passage. The car itself was practically a hotel suite on rails. It would contain a luxurious bedroom, a sitting and dining room, and even its own kitchen where the passenger's servants could fix meals for their employer. Practically every single one of the Canterlot nobility had their own car, which could be coupled onto any train to carry them to any part of Equestria. Some even owned multiple such cars. The elaborateness of the furnishings served to declare the wealth and status of the occupant to the few privileged enough to be allowed onboard.

Even as Twilight and Spike watched, members of the station's staff were already going through the process of uncoupling the car so that it could be towed to an adjoining track, allowing the train to continue on its way without the car and so that the car could be coupled to another train heading back to Canterlot at a later time.

The doors to the private car slid open, allowing a pair of unicorns clad in light leather armor with steel edges. The steel had been colored a light-purple color, which set it apart from the brown of the leather. Twilight found herself wondering nervously just where that leather had come from.

"Ah, Dame Sparkle," said a stallion in a smooth voice as he appeared in the doorway of the car, "Thank you for being so kind as to greet me at the station."

His coat was a light-purple color, only a shade off from Twilight's own, though most of it was concealed by the stark white suit jacket that he wore. His mane, likewise, was a darker purple that, again, came close to mirroring Twilight's, albeit without the streak of hot pink that ran through Twilight's own mane and tail. His eyes, however, were a dark shade of brown, intelligent and calm as they looked out at the mare and the dragon. His expression was warm and friendly, surprisingly lacking the arrogance and condescension that seemed to characterize ponies of the noble class, particularly when they had to deal with a pony like Twilight, who had been knighted for her part in the defeat of Discord. As far as most nobles were concerned, Twilight still counted as a commoner for the most part and few of them seemed to think that the nobility she had been conferred was remotely equivalent to the nobility that they had been born with.

Twilight bowed her her head, bending her forelegs to lower her stature a little, as was appropriate for greeting a fellow noble of superior rank. "It's an honor to have you visit my humble home, Lord Baron."

Baron Elderflower of Dream Valley smiled a little bit wider at Twilight's formality, as though her display had pleased him. He lifted his head all the way up and inhaled deeply, as though he were trying to savor the fresh, country air. Exhaling back out his nostrils, he returned his attention to Twilight, still smiling. "Humble though it may be, there is certainly a quaint charm to this place. I can see why you enjoy it so. It's certainly a pleasant change of pace from Canterlot."

That was a reach, considering he hadn't even stepped outside of his private car yet, much less seen any of Ponyville up close and personal. Sure, even from a distance, the town exuded a wonderful, rustic charm that had attracted any number of visitors. However, one had to actually walk down the streets truly get a sense of the life and energy that ran through the village.

The voices of the stallion and mare working to uncouple the Baron's car reached their ears. His coming to Ponyville had created a lot of extra work for the train crew. The caboose and his private car would have be towed onto a separate track, then the caboose would have to be towed back so that it could be reattached to rear of the train. Ponyville's station, not exactly being a hub of commerce, didn't give them a lot of room to maneuver and they couldn't afford to take too long if they wanted to keep to their regular timetable.

Nonetheless, Elderflower didn't take a step past the door. In fact, a light flick of one ear was the only acknowledgement to the voices, as though he had all the time in the world and the petty concerns of the working pony didn't mean a thing to him, which they probably didn't. After all, who was he to care if some commoners got their schedules messed up? It set both Twilight and Spike's nerves on edge; one of those things that showed through the Baron's kindly, personable demeanor and showed that he was a pony who set himself apart from others and considered them beneath himself.

"Since we have this opportunity," said Elderflower, "I am more than happy to invite you to join me in here. I assure you that it is perfectly comfortable, if a bit spartan for my tastes, and that we can talk easily. I have a fine selection of drinks on offer that we can enjoy while we talk."

Twilight gave the Baron a brittle smile. "Thank you for your kind offer, My Lord. But I am more than happy to host you in my home. I understand that it is probably beneath your usual standards, but I assure you that it will serve well enough."

Elderflower inclined his head toward them in the barest hint of a suggestion of a nod. "Of course," he said, "I am here at your indulgence, Dame Sparkle. I am happy to hold our conversation in the venue of your choice. It would be rude otherwise."

Only then did he step leisurely down from the car and away from the door, giving Twilight and Spike a clear view of his cutie mark, a bookshelf full of neatly arranged books, in the process. His two guards moved with him. There was barely any delay as two powerfully-built earth ponies harnessed themselves to the caboose, pulling it and the private car away from the rear of the train. There was a sense of urgency to their movements that prompted Twilight and Spike to throw them an apologetic glance as they worked. However, the Baron's eyes didn't so much as twitch in their direction.

"I am grateful, Lord Baron," said Twilight, returning her attention to Elderflower, "Please follow me."

"By all means," said Elderflower, his polite smile still in place, "Lead on."

"Coco! Be a dear and fetch me the red velvet please," called Rarity from the far side of the workroom, where the sewing machine hummed relentlessly.

"Right away!" Coco Pommel called back as she rushed to retrieve the roll of fabric from its cubbyhole, moving carefully not to disturb or trip over the numerous items strewn across nearly every available horizontal surface as she did. Having worked as an assistant and apprentice to two other designers, Coco was more than a little familiar with the idea of "organized chaos." Every designer had their own arrangements that suited the way they worked best, even if it did look messy.

The off-white earth pony reared up so that she could clench her teeth onto the edge of the fabric and pull the roll from its resting place. Fortunately, it was low enough that she didn’t need a stepladder to retrieve it. Rarity's workroom had been designed and organized with a unicorn in mind. For a pony with telekinesis, the height of a particular shelf was less of an issue. In fact, a stepladder was the first of a fair few accommodations Rarity had needed to make in order to allow the apprentice designer to work effectively.

Coco shouldered the red velvet with a toss of her two-toned cyan mane and quickly toted it over towards Rarity. She set the roll onto the table next to where Rarity was working, but not so close that it might roll on top of the fabric Rarity was currently feeding into the sewing machine.

"How are those hems coming along?" asked Rarity without looking up.

"I'm nearly finished," replied Coco, "Only a few more stitches."

"Wonderful! I'll check your work in a little bit. When you're finished, could you take the finished pieces out and set up the displays for them?"

"Of course," replied Coco with a smile and quickly returned to finish her own task. Working for Rarity was a demanding task. Even when she wasn't working on a commission, the alabaster unicorn always seemed to be working on something, either tinkering with an existing design or playing around to come up with something new. She was always inquiring for Coco's input as well, asking the younger mare's opinion on her work and demanding honest expression.

The illusion of a faultless designer who could spin masterpieces out of thin air with nary a thought had been almost immediately dashed to pieces. Granted, Coco realized that she should have known better than to think that Rarity was some kind of maestro of effortless creativity. She soon realized that Rarity worked very hard to achieve the success for which she was renowned. It didn't diminish the respect and awe that Coco viewed Rarity with. Rather, the revelation only increased Coco's respect for Rarity. The fact that Rarity was more than willing to both solicit and listen to Coco's opinions about her work only made Coco admire her further. After all, Suri Polomare hadn't cared one wit what Coco thought (Not that Suri had done much of her own work, only what she couldn't foist off on Coco.).

Even more amazingly, Rarity allowed Coco to experiment on a few designs as well. She'd happily provided Coco with her own space in the workroom and even a supply of her own materials to allow Coco to try her hoof at her own designs. Rarity critiqued Coco's works with the very same acute attention to detail that she expected Coco to examine her own designs with. As a consequence, a few of Coco's own creations now stood on display in the Carousel Boutique's showroom, a shocking surprise to Coco, as she'd never expected Rarity to allow an apprentice's work to be showcased alongside her own.

It was the work of a few minutes to finish attaching the hem to the dress Coco had been working on. Setting it aside, she took the completed dresses Rarity had designated and carried them out into the showroom to set about hanging them on ponyquins and and setting them on display. It was less easy for Coco, who had to make do without levitation or any of the fine manipulation that magic would afford a unicorn. But it was something she was well-practiced with and it didn't take her long to get everything set up.

She was setting one of the pieces on display up to be more visible through the window when she happened to look out. There, amongst the ponies coming and going along the street, were Twilight Sparkle and her dragon assistant, Spike. Coco had been amazed to meet and talk to an actual dragon, albeit a young one. She'd found Spike a charming and erudite young fellow, with a rather sharp wit as it turned out. On the other hoof, Twilight Sparkle was an amazing pony, if rather flighty and more interested in talking about books, things she had read in books, and things she'd heard that books had been written about than anything else. Coco could see why both of them were such close friends with Rarity, despite their quirks.

However, her attention was stolen by the stallion walking along with them, a stallion who was all too familiar Coco, even though she'd only met him once, a few months ago, back in the Crystal Caverns underneath Canterlot.

With a startled squeak, Coco ducked down beneath the window, her body trembling. She felt as though her blood had turned to ice in her veins and she shivered violently from head to hoof-tip. Why is he here? What does he want? Did he see me?

Carefully, Coco raised her head so that her cyan eyes could rise above the level of the windowsill and look out into the street. Baron Elderflower, Spike, and Twilight were walking off down the street, their backs to the boutique as they headed towards the library, where Spike and Twilight lived. There seemed to be no indication that Elderflower had noticed Coco at all. She let out a quiet sigh to relief and struggled to stand back up. Fear had turned her limbs to rubber.

"Um...Miss Rarity," Coco called into the workroom.

"Yes dear? What is is it?" Rarity sang back, clearly still immersed in her own work.

"I uh...I need to take a m-moment to use the bathroom," Coco called back, her voice wavering as she fought a war against her own nerves.

"By all means, go right ahead," Rarity answered, "You know you don't have to ask me about that."

"R-right..." Coco headed up the stairs and into the living quarters above the boutique, where the bathrooms were. She stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind her before locking it. Only when the latch clicked into place did Coco slump to the floor and let out a sound that was halfway between a sob and a sigh.

It hadn't been that long since she'd come down from Canterlot with Rarity, having transferred her apprenticeship from the aging seamstress she'd previously worked under (after Suri, of course), to the Ponyville designer. Before she'd left, Coco had endured a conversation with one Perlin Bluestreak, a mercenary in the Baron's employ. She'd first seen the young stallion deep in the caverns below Canterlot, slaughtering two-score of trained bodyguards with almost contemptuous ease, a scene that had driven a paralyzing fear of him down into the marrow of her bones. To make matters worse, Perlin had apparently taken some kind of interest in her, frequently visitng her at her new job, a position she had the Baron to thank for, and hovering behind her, often watching silently. Coco's last conversation with Perlin had made it painfully clear that Coco owed her new position as Rarity's official apprentice to the Baron's manipulations. Perlin had also made it quite clear that the Baron considered her to still be in his service.

The revelation had instilled a sense of quiet dread in Coco that hovered over her in a manner not unlike Perlin's presence had in the days since that fateful conversation. The blissful, dream-come-true sense of actually working for and with Rarity had abated that dread somewhat. But the sight of Baron Elderflower walking outside had brought that dread back out and even magnified it. She couldn't imagine what he expected her to do, but Coco knew that, when he gave the order, she would have to carry it out, or she would feel the chill of Perlin's mithril feathers soon enough. Of course, carrying out whatever sick, despicable order the Baron gave her would probably mean the end of Coco's fashion career and the termination of Rarity's regard for her.

Her life or her life's calling. Either one would come to an end the moment Baron Elderflower ordered her into action and Coco wasn't entirely sure which was worse.

She lay there, shivering on the floor for some time before forcing herself up. She couldn't afford to let Rarity start worrying about her, which Rarity almost certainly would if Coco spent too much time in the bathroom.

Please, she pleaded silently, not caring that the Baron couldn't hear her, Please don't ask anything of me yet. Let me have this dream a little longer.

Baron Elderflower followed Twilight Sparkle, hanging a little bit behind and to the right of her, through the streets of Ponyville. Walking on her left side, level to her shoulder, was the young dragon who had accompanied her. The Baron's two guards followed slightly behind them.

Elderflower hadn't been the slightest bit surprised when he realized that Twilight intended for them to walk all the way from the station. The town wasn't very large, so a carriage wouldn't have been practical anyway. The crisp, cool air was not unpleasant, though Elderflower thought himself a little underdressed for the weather. A mild warming spell had quickly remedied that problem.

He hadn't been at all disappointed that Twilight had declined to join him in his private car, her response to his offer carrying all the caution of a fish studiously avoiding taking the bait, fully aware of the hook hidden inside. It was, perhaps, an unnecessary caution on Twilight's part. Although it would have been easy to drug her and spirit her back to Canterlot while she was inside his car, Elderflower hadn't made any particular plans towards that end...Not that he hadn't entertained the possibility. If nothing else, Elderflower prided himself on his ability to improvise to take the fullest advantage of the situation. However, trying something so overt and forceful was a greater risk than he was willing to take at this juncture. But worth considering in the future, he mused, though he hoped that he could swing Twilight around with simple logic and rational argument, it was more likely that he would ultimately have to resort to other methods to make her more pliable towards his way of thinking.

Elderflower decided to turn his thoughts towards reviewing what he knew of Twilight Sparkle. Like all the nobility, he had, of course, conducted extensive research into her and her history. She had been born to common parents, neither of whom had been earmarked as being exceptionally talented. She was the younger of two foals, her older brother going on to enter the Royal Guard, become Captain, and eventually marry Princess Cadance, which linked Twilight to the royal family by blood.

Twilight herself had shown a surprising degree of intelligence and aptitude at an early age, prompting her parents to try and enroll her in Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, a difficult prospect, given her family's limited finances. During the entrance examination, Twilight's magic unexpectedly flared while being tested on a dragon's egg, hatching the egg into the baby dragon now walking by her side. Impressed by the raw potential of the filly, Princess Celestia made Twilight her personal student on the spot.

From there on, Twilight's progress through the school had been nothing short of meteoric. Between Princess Celestia's instruction and her own phenomenal talents, Twilight excelled in nearly every single one of her classes. Elderflower remembered some of this himself. He had only been two years ahead of Twilight when she'd entered the school. It had only taken her one and a half years to completely overtake him and all his peers. By the time she officially graduated from the school itself, Twilight had been recognized for earning no fewer than three Principles, an almost superequine feat of brilliance.

Not much later, she journeyed to Ponyville and managed to unlock the Elements of Harmony, defeating Nightmare Moon and restoring Princess Luna after a thousand years of absence in the process. Later on, she successfully re-imprisoned Discord after he escaped and was officially knighted, along with her helpers, by Princess Celestia. Throughout all of this, she had remained in Ponyville as its resident librarian, evidently continuing to further her education.

All of this was of little actual interest to Elderflower, as it was general minutia that just about anypony could have dug up about Twilight Sparkle. His own memories of her were rather sparse, seeing as he had only observed her in passing during the years they had spent in school together. She, of course, had been an object of fascination from the moment of her admission. The fact that she'd been made Princess Celestia's personal student, in spite of her unremarkable lineage, had marked her out to all the ponies attending the school, particularly those from noble bloodlines, more than a few of whom thought that Twilight's status was a personal insult against them.

Elderflower himself had known better, even then. It had become quickly obvious just why Celestia had taken Twilight on from the moment the lavender filly's name appeared at the top of the class rankings almost immediately after her entrance. The reason became even more apparent when Twilight was quickly advanced through classes and still managed to remain at the top amongst students a year or more her senior. Her raw magical potential was a talent not seen in centuries, possibly millennia even, along with a mind to match.

She also isn't bad to look at, noticed Elderflower, discreetly eyeing Twilight as they proceeded along. Granted, she didn't display the cultured elegance of a true Canterlot unicorn, her commoner sensibilities showing through quite clearly in her simple state of dress, which was nothing more than a jacket, scarf, and boots to ward off the winter chill. That wasn't to say that she was unappealing. The word that Elderflower would use to describe her was definitely "cute." As potential consorts went, the Baron reasoned that he could definitely do worse. Her magical talent certainly more than made up for any lack in physical appeal. He was fairly certain that a mage of her power would bear equally, if not even more powerful foals.

That was assuming, of course, that such a relationship was in the cards. Unlike Steel Flint, Elderflower knew better than to bank on such a direct approach taking advantage of Twilight's connection to the Princesses. He doubted he would have any success in that department anyway, given that she was probably still smitten with that earth pony she had attended Steel Flint's gathering with.

Elderflower knew better than to underestimate that Arkenstone fellow. For all that he was an earth pony, he had still entered into a duel with Steel Flint, a stallion known for his prowess in battle magic, and had somehow emerged victorious. There was a great deal more to Arkenstone than met the eye and Elderflower would have to mind him carefully.

Elderflower had also researched Arkenstone's history. The results had been much more spotty than Twilight Sparkle's. Arkenstone had been born to the butler of the Duchy of Paradise Estate and had been raised to be the personal butler to none other than Prince Blueblood. During his foalhood, Arkenstone had been a close friend to Twilight's older brother, and apparently Twilight by proxy. Then, for reasons unknown, Arkenstone abandoned the original career path set out by his family and journeyed to Ponyville. It had been difficult to ascertain what he'd been doing, but all the evidence seemed to suggest he'd spent his time on the farmstead that would later become famous for being home to Applejack, the Bearer of the Element of Honesty.

From there, things only got more difficult still to track. Arkenstone had seemingly wandered aimlessly, even leaving Equestria behind and traveling through Saddle Arabia, possibly as far as Guoxia, before returning. Sporadic reports had him in various communities holding any number and variety of jobs, almost all of them being utterly menial. Only recently had he returned to Ponyville and settled down to open a teahouse of all things. Ultimately, none of this was particularly useful in determining what Arkenstone was capable of. All that Elderflower could determine was that Arkenstone was a dangerous obstacle, one that needed either be circumvented or removed.

But that can wait for now, thought Elderflower, If I can convince Twilight Sparkle to see reason, then it may not even be necessary. Though his bloodline would definitely benefit from Twilight's inclusion in it, not to mention how his status would benefit from having a personal pipeline to the royal family, that was not necessary to his plans. ...Though it would be a pleasant bonus.

"And here we are," said Twilight proudly.

Elderflower couldn't keep his jaw from dropping slightly at the sight of their destination. He'd read the reports. But lifeless text on paper couldn't compare to the sight of an actual living tree with doors and windows set into it, and even a balcony protruding from an upper story. It was a marvel in its own right. Such a building, if it could even truly be called a building, would have had no place in Canterlot. But it looked right at home, here in the middle of rustic Ponyville.

Twilight opened the door wide, revealing the interior of what was unquestionably a library. That was less surprising than the nature of the building itself. Elderflower already knew that Twilight lived in a library from the reports and it was completely in-line with her character. Even when she had been a student at Celestia's School, Twilight had eschewed living in the regular student housing for a making a home for herself in one of the annexes to the Royal Archives, practically setting up her own personal library from the texts she acquired, thanks to her connections as Princess Celestia's student.

A lot of her fellow students had seen the move as arrogant, believing that Twilight was setting herself apart from the rest of them to mark herself as superior. However, Elderflower had realized, even then, that she'd been using her connections and privileges to do the only thing she really cared about, furthering her studies to the the exclusion of all else, even interaction with other ponies.

The interior of the library had been carved out of the wood of the tree itself. The ground floor was a single large room, lined with shelves. There were doors leading out, presumably to other rooms. But those other rooms seemed to be for private use, given that there was no sign that any of the library's patrons were using them. Aside from that, a single staircase wound up the wall, running along the rising tops of bookshelves to reach an alcove that formed the entirety of the second story. From his position on the ground floor, Elderflower could see the furnishings of a bedroom up above. Those were clearly Twilight's living quarters then.

They were not alone. There wasn't a huge throng, but there were a few ponies wandering about. A couple were examining titles on the shelves while a few others were reading around a single large table that occupied the center of the room.

"Right this way, My Lord," said Twilight, heading for the stairs.

Elderflower followed behind her, while his guards once again brought up the rear. He noticed that the dragon had peeled away and was making for one of the other doors. As the young drake pushed the door opened, Elderflower's eyes made out the fixtures of a kitchen that lay beyond.

He continued to follow Twilight up the stairs. The lavender mare was stripping off her winter clothes as she went, her magic floating them over to pegs to hang from, while the boots drifted to a mat by the door. They entered into the bedroom alcove, not even pausing as Twilight led them out onto the balcony.

Elderflower raised an eyebrow as he stepped, not into the biting cold of a waning winter's day, but the pleasant warmth of a sunny spring day. His eyes caught the faintest violet flickers in the air, forming a faint, almost invisible barrier that had been wrapped around the edge of the balcony. Ah, temperature wards and a climate control spell. Both of them are so finely woven as to be nearly invisible. There were probably privacy wards as well to keep the odd passerby from overhearing their conversation. It was an impressive feat, to say the least, a fine reminder of Twilight's skill as a mage.

She'd obviously prepared for their meeting. A table had been set out on the balcony, along with cushions. As meeting places went, they might as well have been sitting on rocks in the wilderness. Most nobles would have considered such arrangements to be openly insulting at best. However, Elderflower thought that the sheer novelty of the location made up for the lack of creature comforts somewhat.

Besides, this is probably the best she can do with her limited means, thought Elderflower, I'll just appreciate the effort that she went through.

Twilight and Elderflower took seats across the table from each other, sitting down nearly in unison. The two guards that had accompanied the Baron positioned themselves inside the door, looking out over the library.

"Spike will be back with some refreshments," said Twilight, "I'm sure you're tired after your journey, so I hope that they'll be to your liking."

"I am sure that anything you have to offer will be suitable," replied Elderflower, giving Twilight a patronizing smile. In truth, he was certain that anything she could provide would unimpressive, if not downright repulsive. But the Baron was prepared to suck mud through a straw if it meant increasing his chances at success. My father would probably be throwing a fit if he knew how far I was going to see this through. It was definitely above and beyond what a pony of his station would normally be expected to do. But the work was just too important to foist off on somepony else.

"Well then," said Elderflower, resting his elbows on his table so that he could set his chin down on his steepled hooves, "Let's begin, shall we."

"Of course," said Twilight, "You mentioned in your letter that you had something important to talk to me about. What is it?"

Elderflower's eyes narrowed as he watched Twilight's face. He could just barely make out the anxiety swimming just barely beneath the surface. She'd clearly practiced hard in preparation for this and was doing a very good job at maintaining a political poker face.

"Firstly, I would like to apologize on behalf of my peers and superiors who may have offended or troubled you over these past months," said Elderflower, keeping a smile up for Twilight's sake, "As the old saying goes, an idle mind is Discord's playground. Suffice to say that the nobility have little to keep them occupied but their power games. Part of what I am seeking to do is to rectify that situation."

"How so?" asked Twilight, canting her head slightly.

Elderflower sighed. "Though I can't speak well of the rest of the Noble Court's intentions, the truth is that I too would like to take advantage of your connection with the Princesses. I believe that, if you were to assist me, then we could get Princess Celestia to see reason in this matter."

Twilight's expression hardened. "What matter, exactly?"

"What I wish is to get Princess Celestia's approval to establish the Noble Court as the House of Lords to the Parliament, with the existing Parliament being designated the House of Commons. The two houses would then share responsibility for the governance of Equestria."

Twilight opened her mouth to automatically reject Elderflower’s idea. However, before she could even start speaking, her rational mind clamped down on he tongue to keep her from voicing her rebuke. That’s…actually pretty reasonable. It was certainly a far cry from what she had been expecting. It actually made a fair bit of sense. She remembered Celestia talking with her advisors about the possibility of creating a second house of Parliament as a check on their overall power and to get them to discuss the legislation they’d been creating more thoroughly.

But still…the Noble Court… She frowned as she looked over at Elderflower. “But I’m not sure the Noble Court is the best choice…” Her mind drifted back to what she remembered of the Noble Court and their behavior. She remembered Steel Flint’s attempt to overwhelm her with suggestion spells before attempting to physically force her to submit to him and attempting to kill Arkenstone after that. She remembered her visit to Canterlot being plagued by countless overtures, romantic and otherwise, by ponies who thought she would trip over her hooves to gain their favor. She remembered disparaging remarks about her friends and the town she had chosen to call home. She remembered a certain mare going so far as to take another mare hostage and threaten Dawn’s home with Fluttershy in an attempt to manipulate her. She tried to imagine ponies like those in charge of a genuine house of Equestrian government. The thought made her shudder.

“I can understand that you might be reluctant to support this,” said Elderflower, “You have suffered at the hooves of my peers, for which I apologize greatly.” He sighed. “But that is part of why I want to do this. I believe that this will solve your problems as well as mine.”

That got Twilight’s attention and she found herself staring at Elderflower in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Ultimately, the goal of the ponies trying to control you is to enhance their status amongst their peers. This has little tangible effect on Equestria as a whole since they are not in a position of genuine governance. Sadly, as I told you before, idle minds and all that... Because they have no concerns of actual governance to keep them occupied, they instead turn their minds to amusement and the inane power games that obsess those of our class. Given something to actually apply themselves to, they will cease obsessing over such minor affairs and work towards the genuine good of our nation." Elderflower gave Twilight a warm, friendly smile. "What do you think? It would certainly be better than the situation we have now."

Twilight hummed and rubbed her chin. She had to admit that Elderflower made a very good argument. It stood to reason that a great many of the excesses of the noble class stemmed from the lack of anything worthwhile to do with their time...at least, that's how it appeared on the surface. After all, there were members of the Noble Court who were quite productive, ponies like Prince Blueblood and Fancy Pants, who had applied themselves to governmental and economic roles separate from their status as nobles. Granted, that was because they had, more or less, abandoned the statuses afforded to them as members of the Noble Court and applied themselves to fields outside what nobles were normally willing to engage in.

"You might have a point," Twilight admitted, "But I'm not entirely sure that I trust the Noble Court to be responsible with even a portion of a branch of our government." The notion that ponies would be in a position to decide the course of Equestria's legislation simply because they had been born into a particular family didn't sit well with her. After all, the entire reason Celestia had begun to marginalize the governmental powers of the Noble Court in the first place was because of petty tyrants who had used the circumstances of their birth as an excuse to do whatever they pleased with the ponies they ruled. "Even if we don't establish a House of Lords for the Parliament, there are things that those who truly want to participate in Equestria's government can do."

“That may be so,” admitted Elderflower, “However, that is an unacceptable outcome.”

“Why is that?” asked Twilight.

“What you are saying is that we should cast aside the privilege our titles grant us and operate outside the bounds of the nobility,” said Elderflower, “That is unacceptable.”

Twilight let out a disappointed sigh. “I figured as much. In other words, what’s truly important is that you take control of the government as nobles.”

“That is correct,” replied Elderflower, “It is not merely our desire. It is our obligation. Being born into the noble families of Equestria, it is our responsibility to seize the nation and guide it's course, lest all fall into chaos.

"But that obligation is being denied by Princess Celestia's misguided ideals. Thus, it falls to us to correct Equestria's course before irreversible damage is done. The games my peers have been playing with you and your friends are merely a symptom of this disorder. However, I believe that, with your help, we can change things for the better and restore history to its proper course."

Elderflower fixed Twilight with a stare, a fanatical light burning in his eyes. "Twilight Sparkle, will you help me with this?

Author's Note:

So...a lot of you have clearly noticed that the past couple of chapters have been rather exposition-happy. That was a deliberate effort on my part, as I felt I needed to work more on building up the beginning portions of my stories. When you read a series of actual books (Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files being my go-to example, as always), you'll note that, with each book, the author doesn't simply start off expecting you to automatically know who the characters are, no matter what book of the series you're on, but instead takes the time to reintroduce the characters with each successive book. That was something that I'm trying to work on with this latest story in my series. My next effort should be to work on integrating the exposition more organically into the narrative so it doesn't feel quite so clunky.

Once again, thanks to all you wonderful people, this story has made it into the featured story lists, though not to the top this time (I think), thanks to it being overshadowed by Accidents Happen by one Majin Syeekoh, which is understandable, given that it's such a short, easy read...and really good on top of that. Granted, the numbers seem to indicate at least ninety-percent of you have already read that story, but, on the off chance that some of you haven't yet, go give it a gander. It's barely over a thousand words, so it's a quick read. It's also a textbook example of a good author doing a lot with very little, using a very small number of words to tell a quick, entertaining story, certainly worth the five or so minutes (at most) you'll spend reading it. Go on...I'll wait...
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Next Chapter: Twilight and the Baron throw down...philosophically, that is...