• Published 22nd Jan 2016
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Aporia - Oliver

Once upon a time, if the term even applies, two young ladies decided to visit an Equestria, selected seemingly at random. Which would be nothing special, despite their attitudes towards ponies being so different, if one hadn't mentioned sandwiches...

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Conversation 2: Shining Armor

As the Captain of the Royal Guard, I don’t have to stand watch. I don’t have to personally inspect it either, but from time to time I insist to do both. This can be a boring job, and I won’t inflict on any of my guardsponies anything I’m not ready to do myself. Which was the particular reason I happened to be at the doors to the throne room right after Princess Celestia called a court recess for tea and this whole nonsense happened.

Imagine, if you will, Nightmare Moon, as she is depicted in the ancient illuminated manuscripts, or at least somepony with a similar coloration and imposing air of beautiful but deadly threat. Add a much less predatory, but still way too smug expression onto her face, like that of a cat who knows precisely where you keep the cream. Give her a really long, straight, undulating, transparent mane, the kind our royal highnesses or Nightmare Moon herself wore – that’s where the association came from, I think – but in glowing fire ruby red. Now give this something the overall body structure of a minotaur, or at least something bipedal, so that it always stands rampant, towering over even the tallest ponies, taller than Celestia herself. Color the face white, and only the face – the rest is clad in a dress of the darkest black, darker than coal and soot, with a row of round golden buttons down the oddly bulging chest. What you must have imagined by now looks nothing like what I saw, but it translates the impression I got perfectly: Something wicked this way comes, and I’m the party paladin.

It should be obvious that my first, instinctive reaction was putting up a shield bubble, and it completely blocked the corridor even before my guardsponies finished readying their spears. “Halt,” I said confidently.

But the creature kept advancing along the empty corridor, and the moment she was at the shield, she calmly stepped through like it wasn’t there. Or rather, like she wasn’t there, because I could clearly see her dissolve into particles of black and red and reform just inside the boundary, without even breaking stride. She stopped a few steps away from me and said, waving a box in her hand like this was perfectly normal, “I’m sorry I came uninvited, but hey, I brought cake.”

I honestly couldn’t find an appropriate answer to that. Just how do you respond when a heretofore unknown creature – one that distinctly gives you the impression of Nightmare Moon, to boot – waltzes up to you, ignores your best spell like it’s so much newspaper, and then mentions cake?


Yeah, maybe like that.

She looked straight into my eyes and adjusted her mane, as if she were looking into a mirror, and I took a good view of her eyes. Dark green, and somehow reflecting the lights of a city that clearly isn’t there. “You really did nothing to deserve the Worf effect, Shining Armor, sorry about that,” she said, suddenly. “I’ll try to make it up to you somehow. Anyway. Are any of their highnesses in, or should I come later?”

I was almost about to ask what a Worf effect was – I need to send my sister a letter and find out if she knows, I suppose, – but was interrupted by the creak of the doors behind me, and Celestia’s voice. “What happened, Captain?” This startled me so much that I actually dropped the shield. Not that there was any point keeping it up.

“We… ahem, we have a visitor,” I said, not taking my eyes off the creature. “It seems they brought …cake.”

“Which would be perfect for tea, wouldn’t it, Shining?” Celestia said. I could almost hear the smile, though of course I couldn’t see it. “Invite our guest in, then,” she added, and I distinctly heard the sound of the door opening fully.

The creature looked at me, bending down slightly, as if waiting for me to let her pass, and I had no choice but to do as I was bid. “Follow me, please,” I said, turning around and following the princess into the throne room, all the while throwing glances across my back at the nameless horror. The nameless horror was following, and soon, the doors quietly closed behind us.

Celestia kept walking back towards her throne, where a small table with tea things was set up for her, and I kept thinking how needlessly big and open the throne room is. Whoever designed it in the ancient times probably thought that if any enemy ever managed to get all the way in here, no defenses will stop them. Unfortunately, in recent years, the few threats we actually get are the kind that start from the throne room and work their way down. Like Nightmare Moon herself. Not to mention Discord. The latter was the most embarrassing failure the Royal Guard has been party to in the last hundred years, and to know it happened on my watch is even more painful than knowing we couldn’t actually do a thing. Even if our charge actually believed it necessary to inform us of the particulars of what everypony believed to be an ancient piece of ugly artwork.

“What should I call you, and where do you come from, stranger?” Celestia said, taking a glance at the horror. I must admit that in the throne room proper, she didn’t look quite as threatening. Possibly, because the comparatively much more cramped corridor leaves far less space to maneuver.

“The name is Rika, your Grand Royal Highness,” the creature said. She looked like she was about to continue.

Celestia interrupted her immediately. “A simple ‘your highness’ or ‘princess’ is more than sufficient. Sometimes, more than is proper.”

“Well, if you say so,” Rika grinned, showing off a row of teeth, with short, but worryingly pointy canines. “I’m of a species called human… or was once, at least. I don’t think you have any here, except my friend Mary down in Ponyville, and she came with me. ‘Another world’ will have to do for the description of ‘where,’ for the moment, because it’s not any of the ones you might know. We’re way too far outside your context to give a more meaningful description in reasonable time.”

The princess smirked at Rika over her back, curled up on one of the pillows beside the tea table, and levitated another pillow for her …guest. “Maybe a bit closer than you think. At least, I believe I have a fair idea of what kind of being you are, though I’d rather hear it in your own words.”

I took this as my cue to stand at attention by the wall. If this discussion turns less amicable, that will be my time to shine… or make an ass of myself, which feels more likely, but if I don’t have the heart to try, I might as well resign right now. When Rika unwrapped her cardboard box, I tensed a bit. I’m not sure what I really expected would be inside, except delicious-looking chocolate cake, but evidently, that was all.

“It would be …difficult,” Rika said. “I often get mistaken for a librarian, but I’m not, I just live there. The most fancy sounding thing I was ever called was ‘The Reader of Last Resort,’ but to explain what that means would require a few hours. The word ‘witch’ is right out, you use it for something else. A magical girl? You don’t seem to have those. I’ve got a lovely, short explanation, that hinges on the derivation of the word ‘monster’ in a language I’m pretty sure you don’t speak. It’s a context problem,” she said, pulling on an embarrassed smile.

“Well, it’s good enough for me, all things considered,” Celestia snickered, levitating a cup and the teapot towards Rika. “What brings you to Equestria, then?”

“Thank you,” Rika muttered, looking into the cup, now full of tea, and observing Celestia levitating the pre-cut pieces of cake. “It’s… Well, it’s an experiment, of sorts. I want to know what my friend can learn here, and possibly, what she might teach ponies. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, I’m afraid. I was kind of hoping you could treat this as a foreign student exchange incident, and elected to make my introductions in person before the news reaches you otherwise, to make this less of a surprise.”

“Oh? Have you really done anything that would require forgiveness?” Celestia said, taking a whiff of a levitating piece of cake. …If it’s poisoned, I’ll never forgive myself, that’s for sure. If the princess can even be poisoned, that is.

“Other than coming uninvited and intruding upon your precious break time, no.” Rika smiled, discreetly grabbing a fork off the table. Kitchen staff always insists the Princess must eat confectionery in a proper and dignified manner and supplies her with utensils. She never uses them. It has been something of a private conflict that is actually older than my job. Legend has it, it escalates to a proper food fight once every generation, to the embarrassment of all concerned parties. “But being polite hurts nobody,” Rika added, biting the cake off the fork.

“At the very least you have great taste in desserts,” the princess commented after taking a bite of her cake.

Rika chuckled, “Not really. This is just cake, in so far as I remember cake. Seeing that it meets with your approval, though… Have I shown enough goodwill for you to permit me an impolite question?”

Celestia actually giggled at that. “I shudder to think what could you ask, after such a roundabout buildup.”

“On the dawn of the Summer Sun Celebration and the day immediately preceding it,” Rika said with a curious smile, “how many ponies in the crowd in Ponyville were reporting to you?”

…What is she talking about?! It’s definitely classified information, but I can’t even think why would anypony want to know that now!

“Not counting Twilight Sparkle, I presume?” Celestia asked. “You have to know that I have charged her with inspecting the preparations for the festivities.”

Rika nodded. “Naturally.”

“One,” Celestia replied. Rika raised her eyebrows, and the princess countered, “Why would you expect more?”

Rika bit her lip, apparently, in thought. “I’m trying to discern between three likely alternatives – that you have so much control of your world that you can tune it like a piano, that you’ve gambled the fate of Equestria on random chance, or that you’re aware of who the main characters of your story are,” she said finally. “Since you said ‘one,’ the first one is out, because the answer would either be ‘none’ or ‘all of them.’ It’s too low for the second one, because nobody accepting such a gamble could resist hedging their bets. That only leaves the third, and makes me wonder why am I crashing your tea break now, and not the reverse.”

“Are there any other alternatives?” Celestia inquired. “Twilight is, without a doubt, the heroine of her own story. But for all the virtues of my favorite student, the world does not start or end with her. I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

“The world is a story, about people, told in words, across time. That is true of every world that exists,” Rika said, with strong conviction in her voice. “And like in every story, million to one chances come out nine times out of ten. Not for everyone. Just for some people.”

Celestia fell silent, and spent more than a few seconds sipping her tea before answering. “My little ponies believe that a miracle is something unexpected, almost impossible. But over the centuries, I have found that in times of great need, the power of true friendship can make a miracle inevitable. Given time and opportunity, harmony can take care of itself. All I really needed to do was to ensure it’s not deliberately obstructed before it blossoms. To think of what happened in terms of characters and plot seems …so incredibly detached.”

“I suppose it is,” Rika shrugged, “I should say that your way of thinking is just as alien to me. But I usually don’t go to places where true harmony can be found.”

“You’re not aiming to make me worry, are you?” the Princess said curiously.

“No, I’m just hoping to actually see it in action for once,” Rika said, smiling and standing up. “I must apologize, but we will have more opportunities to talk in the future. I have to go, while you have other duties, I’m sure.”

“Wait,” the Princess said. While she did not bat an eyelid, a faint hint of steel in her voice was quite evident. “Before you leave, answer a question of mine, if you will.”

Rika faced Celestia, relaxed, as if this was a completely regular occurrence. Trust me, it isn’t. “Of course.”

“You have revealed what your friend is to do here, and it could meet with nothing but my approval.” Celestia stated calmly. “But what is it that you, yourself, came for? Forgive me this show of mistrust, but my position is surely no surprise.”

The grin that came in response to that was slightly disconcerting. “I did say it was an experiment, didn’t I. Have you ever encountered a situation where you can do anything, and yet, none of it will do the least bit of good?”

The Princess slanted her ears down slightly. “More often than you would expect.”

“Welcome to the club, your highness,” Rika replied. “I’m the president. Mary, on the other hand… She does nothing and then everything just happens. Me, I’m just a plot device. And a reader.”

I’m not stupid. I wouldn’t make Captain if I were, shields or no, and back in school I was considered more than a bit of a nerd. But this entire exchange flew so far over my head that I felt like a total idiot. It’s a given that no amount of training prepares one for that nonsense, but the Princess takes it like it’s absolutely normal. Maybe it is, when you’re centuries old…

“All who come in peace are welcome in Equestria,” Celestia told the monster. “Don’t hesitate to visit me again. Indeed, we have much to talk about.”

“Sometime after I’m done settling my friend in, surely. We certainly aren’t something to alter your schedule over,” said Rika, before making a bow – I think it was a bow, though it was a motion so entirely unlike one a pony would make that I could not be sure – and vanishing in a white flash.

For a while, everything was quiet, except for the sound of the princess slurping her tea rather more noisily than she would if we weren’t alone in the room. “What a ridiculous combination… I wonder, what would Radiant say,” Celestia finally said with a hint of sadness in her voice, as if to herself.

“Pardon me, Princess, but… are you talking about that …human?”

“Not quite, Shining… Haven’t you figured out what she is? I asked her to explain it in her own words mostly for your benefit. She didn’t do a very good job, but it was actually clearer than what I expected,” she said, looking straight at me with that unsettling expression she uses when looking at Twilight. That is, when she wants you to solve a puzzle that far exceeds the powers of your intellect, and you feel pitiful that you can’t please her. I imagine Twily feels like this very often. I’ve seen some of her letters.

“All I can see is a threat I can’t even quantify,” was my reply.

Celestia just shook her head. “Try not to antagonize an alien princess bearing cake.”

“…princess?!” The notion that this creature could be one seemed about as absurd as giving the title to Discord, but only briefly. After all, even though Nightmare Moon was not quite Princess Luna, you couldn’t exactly deny the same title to her. The idea of an evil princess you’d need to save a dragon from feels incredibly disturbing, though. I wish I could be sure this is just a silly misconception…

“Send for parchment and a quill, please. I need to write a letter to your sister before continuing with today’s schedule. And by the way, just how long are you going to keep her in the dark about your upcoming wedding, hmm?” she said, throwing a meaningful glance at me.

“It’s not the kind of news you bring in a letter, Princess! And I want to make it a surprise!” I exclaimed. “I even have a vacation day saved to go and tell her in person.”

Celestia just smiled at me and said in a mysterious tone, “Be careful with surprises, Shining…” but switched gears just as mysteriously. “Do try the cake, it’s nice.”

There are two things in life that will forever remain mysterious to me. Alicorns and mares. And sometimes it’s not about my bride-to-be.

All alicorns that exist are mares, there’s got to be a connection.

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