• Published 20th Mar 2017
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The Timestone - Bachiavellian



Star Swirl has found a way to keep touch with the Princesses even as the centuries go by. Its only cost was his life.

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II. The Second Visit

***

“Two weeks and a half weeks this time.” Star Swirl hummed to himself in thought. “That’s a little better.”

“Hello, old friend.” Celestia smiled as she left the portal’s fluorescent wake. From behind her, she produce a paper-wrapped parcel. “I’ve spent some time thinking about it, and I finally realized that there is something that you can’t wish into existence here.”

The bundle floated to Star Swirl’s side, and he picked it up in his own magic. It was heavy for its size.

He lifted an eyebrow, but on the inside he couldn’t help but feel a little bit of excitement. “What is it?”

“If you want to know,” said Celestia as she took a seat on one of the cushions on the floor, “then you really ought to open it, don’t you think?”

Star Swirl blew a raspberry at Celestia’s mischievous grin. “The years are making you quite the jester, it seems.”

“Perhaps,” said Celestia with an chiming giggle. “Or perhaps I’ve finally learned to recognize an old joke when I see one.” She made eye contact with the old unicorn.

Star Swirl huffed and puffed, but he opened the package anyway. Underneath the crinkly brown paper were…

“Books,” he said, eyes scanning the first of the tomes. Despite himself, a barking chuckle managed to come up from his scratchy throat. “You are a clever one, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Celestia nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, I do believe I am.”

Star Swirl browsed the selection, glancing at authors and titles. “Cottonmouth’s Complete Compendium of Potions and Poisons. I’m glad that boy finally managed to apply himself…”

“Mhmm. He has his own shop and everything now. His niece helps him run it,” said Celestia.

“The one who used to catch toads?”

“The very same,” she said.

The name on the next book made Star Swirl’s lips curl downwards. “Eugh,” he moaned, “You brought me one of Pearl Drop’s?”

“I thought you’d like to see how your competition was doing.”

“Competition? Hardly!” Star Swirl harrumphed disdainfully. “She is a scam of a wizard, and that’s a fact. Her theories are naught but poppycock and nonsense that only occasionally align with reality.”

“But you’re still going to read it.” Celestia smiled knowingly.

“Only to fill the margins with notes that prove how ridiculous her notions of “leylines” and “thaumic ebb” are,” said Star Swirl. “It will not be difficult.”

Without further wasted time, he flipped over to the next book.

On the Mathematics of the Motions of the Heavenly Bodies.” he read, “written by Clover called Clever.” The wizard let out another throaty laugh. “She’s still at it, then, is she?”

“At it and kicking,” said Celestia. “Literally. No doctor can keep her in bed. Silversong has the castle’s strongest orderlies watching her night and day, and she still manages to wriggle free every now and then.”

“That’s my girl,” said Star Swirl proudly. He set Clover’s book aside and took a look at the last one. Its cover was dark and hardbound, and the only marking on it was a picture of his cutie mark. Curiosity and confusion were measured in equal portions when he opened up its pages. “This one’s blank.”

“It’s meant for you to fill,” she said. “I knew you still wanted to continue your research here, so I thought you’d like to record your work on something that won’t melt into dreamstuff if it were to leave this place.”

Thoughtfully, Star Swirl looked over the gift. “Celestia, you truly are a clever one.”

Celestia rolled her eyes. “You’re welcome, Star Swirl. And may I mention that you have a very odd way of saying ‘thank you’?”

“Psh, it’s the best you can do when you get to my age.” Star Swirl. “Especially since you didn’t think to bring ink.”

“Mark the pages with magic or heat,” said Celestia. “They were made to be sensitive to spellwork.”

Star Swirl paused for a moment. “That’s very thoughtful of you. Thank you.”

Celestia beamed. “You’re welcome!”

“Bah,” said Star Swirl, waving a hoof in the air as if to clear it of the excessively sentimental feelings that had suddenly arose. “Gifts aside, what brings you here?”

Celestia frowned playfully. “You know, after what happened last time, I deliberately scheduled enough time so this meeting wouldn’t be all business.”

“What happened last time?” Star Swirl asked cautiously.

“We might have caused just a bit of a diplomatic incident.” Celestia smiled sheepishly. “I didn’t think I’d be gone for so long, but with how quickly time flows here, I was absent for almost week in Equestria.”

Star Swirl did some quick mental calculations. “Yes, a week. Sounds consistent.”

“Consistent it may be, but Luna had trouble with the sun. She managed to lift it only twice herself during the time. The Circle of Mages had to be reassembled for the other days.”

“What of now, then?” asked Star Swirl. “Did you inform the Circle ahead of time of your absence?”

“Now?” Celestia looked confused for a moment, but then her smile returned. “Silly Star Swirl, now Luna is older than I was at our last meeting. She easily handles both sun and moon.”

“Oh,” said Star Swirl, blinking. He studied Celestia’s smiling face, which did not seem a day older. “It’s just that you…”

“Look good for my age?” she asked, giggling. “It would seem that you were right about the whole ‘agelessness’ affair.”

“Good,” said Star Swirl, nodding. “When you and Luna are at Equestria’s helm, it will greatly benefit long-term stability.”

With a moan of annoyance, Celestia said, “It’s all business with you, isn’t it?”

“If you don’t want to spend an entire month away from home, then you’d better thinking about business pretty soon, girl.” Star Swirl tsked his tongue.

“As you wish,” said Celestia. She straightened herself on the floor cushion. “We seek your advice today because things have, well, stagnated in the recent years. Our advice is heeded in the Council, but outside of the Sun and the Moon, Luna and I still command no real authority. And I believe that though they may respect our input, the nobles of the tribes are still loath to delegate us any real power. I suspect they would be willing to let this arrangement continue indefinitely.”

“Stubborn mules, the lot of them.” Star Swirl kicked at a dust mote idly.

Celestia raised an eyebrow at the action.

“There is dust here?” she asked.

“I made it,” said Star Swirl. “It feels more like home.” He left it at that and turned his attention back to Celestia’s problem. As he hummed to himself, the beginnings of an idea began to form.

“Tell me,” he said after a little while, “have you heard the phrase, et armentis?”

“Pegasopolian,” replied Celestia, nodding. “It means, ‘for the herd.’”

“Yes, yes,” said Star Swirl. “A trite saying, overused by politicians and generals alike. But like all hackneyed phrases, I think this one holds a kernel of truth. I think you will need to earn the recognition of the armentis in order to make headway.”

A drape of skepticism fell across Celestia’s face.

“How would being popular help me rule and unify three nations?” she asked slowly.

“It will go a long way, methinks,” Star Swirl said. “Nobility requires vassalage for its very existence, and I think that in their heart of hearts, every blueblood knows this.”

He cleared his throat before continuing.

“Were you to win over the hearts of the herds, it would unsettle their rulers,” he said. “They would likely become far more cooperative with you to try to keep their peoples’ opinions of them from souring. And if they don’t…” Star Swirl shrugged. “Rebellion is not pretty, but it is certainly effective.”

Celestia frowned and her brow pinched angrily. “I will not incite a revolution. That would be barbaric.”

“If your political opponents have even the slightest instinct of self-preservation, then there will be no revolution. So long as you stay ahead of any plots to remove you from the game, having the sustained support of the masses gives them only one intelligent option.”

“I see.” Celestia sat back, thinking. “Have you any suggestions for procuring this support from the masses?”

“Oh Celestia,” Star Swirl sighed. “How can somepony as smart as you be so uncreative? You are a beautiful and ageless alicorn that commands the very sun itself. If you cannot come up with a way to make yourself seem likeable, then you are truly lost.”

The white mare tapped a hoof against her chin in thought. Then she smiled and clopped her hoof on the ground.

“A holiday!” she declared. “I’ll make it a festival out of raising the sun.”

“Don’t be gaudy,” said Star Swirl, turning up his nose.

“But I’m serious,” she said. “Ponies love big, flashy events that seem important, and they love it even more when they have an excuse to eat and drink.”

Sighing, Star Swirl ran a hoof through his mane. “Well, if that’s what you want to try, I won’t stop you. I’ll only remind you that one of the obvious conveniences of being ageless is the endless ability to try again after your first attempts fail.”

“You just watch, you old sod,” she said. “I’ll bet half my future kingdom that this idea takes off.”

Star Swirl only rolled his eyes in response.

***