• Published 19th Jul 2012
  • 26,811 Views, 1,799 Comments

The Best of All Possible Worlds - McPoodle

The philosopher Voltaire finds himself in the most-frustrating place imaginable: Equestria

  • ...

Chapter 20

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 20

The next few Royal Council meetings were unusually quiet. Everypony spent their time watching the Princess warily with new eyes. For Voltaire they reserved a look all of its own. They wanted to judge what precisely was the degree of influence he had over Princess Celestia, and what they needed to do about it.

The Wig Party still had only two members, one human and one dragon, but Voltaire expected that would change dramatically in the near future.

Seeing as he had been forced to introduce the parable of Princess Fisby upon the general population of Canterlot, Voltaire wished to judge the effect it was having upon them, so he requested and received permission to take a daily walk through the city, accompanied by a royal guard. This guard was only occasionally Captain Hardheart, and they never wished to engage in conversation during their walks. The other ponies he met, on the other hand, were more than willing to talk to the only human they were ever certain to meet in their lives.

There was one place he was forbidden to go, though: Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Despite the name, the institution of higher learning was in fact controlled by a board of unicorns, not Princess Celestia. A big sign had been planted at the entrance of the university the day after the parable had been told: “The works of the human known as Voltaire are henceforth forbidden to be discussed or disseminated in any form by any living creature upon this campus.”

Some students approached him off-campus, and urged him to visit the school. Even with his mouth shut, it would be a powerful form of protest, or so they claimed. Voltaire, knowing better, told these students that, as a self-made man, he was himself a “work of Voltaire”, and so could not show himself for that reason. Then he tied a few strands of his hair around a tame bird’s leg and released it onto the school grounds. With any luck, the dumb animal would be put on trial for bringing one of his “works” on campus.

He had tried on several occasions to talk to a professor from the school, to discover whether they were angry at him for the correct reason or not. What he quickly discovered was that none of them had actually heard even a synopsis of “The Frog Princess of the Fomalhaut”, and had a tendency to react automatically against anything that the students found more interesting than the sound of their own voices droning on the arcane workings of magic.

That the students had been affected by the story was obvious, even for one looking upon the school from afar. The sign that had once announced the name of the school to the outside world had been covered with a surface of rough stones, too rough to intelligibly paint over. Traces of paint visible around these stone made it clear that somepony had tried to alter the name, probably multiple times, to “Princess Fisby’s School for Gifted Frogs”.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire kept a homemade laboratory notebook with him on his daily trips, into which he jotted his observations. It was his opinion that if the physical world could be studied scientifically, then so should the social world of humans or ponies. The difficulty was simply finding a way to convert observations of behavior into numbers, so that those numbers could be transformed into the magical equations that explained everything.

In the matter of “The Frog Princess of the Fomalhaut”, the ponies of Canterlot could be divided into a small number of categories:

First, there was the majority, who had not heard the story yet. This number was steadily shrinking, as the story was retold over and over again.

Of those who had heard the story, the majority of them simply thought it to be a good story. Some of them liked the story so much that they told it to everypony willing to listen to it. Maybe they liked the story for itself, or they liked the way Voltaire had told the story, and just liked reproducing the performance—the fact that there was a story attached to that performance was almost incidental.

With all of these retellings, some ponies got a mangled version of the tale. Voltaire in his conversations with ponies was frequently asked questions about the story. He was always very careful in how he answered. Never did he hint that there was another layer to the story deeper than the surface, and he always urged those who wished to repeat the story to tell it as close as possible to the way he told it, regardless of what they might think of it.

Another category of pony were those that didn’t care for the story, for purely aesthetic reasons. They didn’t think a story that didn’t involve ponies could possibly be worth listening to, or they considered the idea of a talking frog to be so ridiculous as to make it impossible to pay attention to anything these frogs did, or one or another of the other impossibilities in the story got in the way.

Only a tiny minority of listeners seem to have realized the lesson about Celestia that Voltaire was hiding in the story. It was a little difficult to determine how large in fact this number was, as very few ponies were foolish enough to discuss a potentially-treasonous subject with him when there was a royal guard standing right there listening in. But as far as Voltaire could tell, the number was indeed small.

Voltaire didn’t have a problem with the fact that so many ponies missed the point of his story. He was an aristocrat, and that extended to the intellectual sphere as well. If every pony spent all their time thinking, Voltaire believed, then civilization would collapse. For the world to keep working, the majority needed to labor in professions where thinking was a liability. Thinking also tended to make humans and ponies miserable in the long term, so why condemn the majority to misery? As long as the thinking minority were not using their intelligence to exploit the non-thinking majority, what was so wrong with an intellectual aristocracy? Voltaire couldn’t be sure of it before his promised conversation with Ambassador Noir, but he was fairly certain that even the Diamond Dogs had such an aristocracy of the mind, even if they refused to believe in an aristocracy of the blood. That would make their republic a meritocracy, he suddenly realized, and so he made a note to tell the Ambassador about the system the Chinese used to select their bureaucracy.

Of those that now knew that Celestia differed from them in degree but not in kind, most ponies reacted much like the human’s fellow counselors did: by becoming quiet and thoughtful. There were many implications of this discovery for them to mull over. Celestia still deserved respect, but how much respect? How should they treat her around those who didn’t know? How should they treat her around representatives of the outer lands? If she was mortal, how should they respond if they caught her making a stupid order?

Under the circumstances, these questions were all asked as hypotheticals, as ways that the frogs should act around Princess Frisby. Voltaire would remind the ponies that the frogs already owed allegiance to those they knew to be mortal. There were guilds (just like ponies had guilds), and apprentices had to be obedient to their masters, even when they knew those masters to be wrong. Were there not fables (among frogs as well as among ponies) about clever people in positions of weakness who worked around arrogant and wrong people in power? And were they not able to succeed without those people ever being the wiser? And yet, remember that Princess Fisby is benevolent. Remember that she has lived for thirty-five whole years. And remember that she has gained much wisdom in these years. Unless you, or rather unless this hypothetical frog, is sure, it is probably best to assume that Princess Fisby is right. After all, when was the last time that you know of that she screwed up?

The griffon delegation’s time in Equestria was drawing to an end. It was now time for the true purpose of the visit: a private audience between Countess Sky Shock and Princess Celestia.

But first, there were the usual empty pleasantries to get through. As a seasoned ambassador, Sky Shock knew to keep her true feelings locked deep where the Princess could have no hint of their existence. These empty platitudes, in her opinion, were a pathetic waste of time, but that was not an opinion she was allowed to express. It was certainly the opinion of the common griffons, the ones that didn’t adopt a second name at reaching adulthood (like they had gained an invisible cutie mark), the ones that didn’t try to disguise themselves as something they were not. It was the pony way to be in love with the sound of their own voices. Griffons as a matter of fact didn’t care for the sounds of their own voices when they were talking. They were much more fond of their screech, the sound they used to stun their prey, and their roar, the sound they used to intimidate each other in their fights.

But Princess Celestia was talking, so Sky Shock sat politely, and pretended to listen. She was talking about her favorite subject when another griffon was in the room: the intimate tie between herself and the griffon royal family. As a distaff member of that family, Sky Shock was cooed over by the Princess since the moment she had hatched. She wondered if the Princess cared as much about her subjects outside Canterlot as she did about a family of non-ponies, most of whom would never leave Griffonia to meet her face-to-face.

Voltaire decided that the best way to deal with the problem of ponies mishearing his story would be for him to get it written down, so he could hand it out as necessary.

The first step was the translation, which Voltaire worked out with Eveningstar. The use of a written language was a great help in Voltaire’s learning of the Equine language, as this helped him to separate out each of the different Equine sounds, sounds that Voltaire tended to run together in his head.

The story was tweaked slightly at this stage. Voltaire wanted the story to be memorable, and easy to retell, so he familiarized himself with pony figures of speech and tricks of sentence construction that were distinct from Latin. The language in fact had a very unique syntax that he had only encountered once before, during his study of Hungarian.

Next came devising a way of disseminating this story to the masses. Voltaire was disappointed that he didn’t get to be the person who’d go down in Pony history as the inventor of the printing press and movable type. The invention existed, it just was never used, because unicorns could magically reproduce any written work perfectly.

“Well, isn’t that a fine state of affairs, Lady Sparkle!” he had exclaimed to Eveningstar and Cogs when he had been told this. “Unicorns get to decide what the pegasi and earth ponies get to read! And do unicorn fillies ever demand to hear the adventures of Fast Flight, the Wonder Pegasus?”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” said Eveningstar. “We unicorns know what’s best for the other breeds. They are our responsibility, after all.”

“Oh yes, Lady Sparkle,” Voltaire agreed sarcastically. “You did after all allow them to learn how to read and write, so that proves it! Now on Earth, we keep the slaves illiterate, so they don’t get dangerous ideas in their heads.”

“There are no slaves in Equestria,” Eveningstar replied with an annoyed tone.

“Of course, great and magnanimous Lady Sparkle,” said Voltaire. “I keep forgetting.”

Cogs watched all this, and remained silent.

~ ~ ~

In a matter of days, Cogs and Voltaire had made a number of improvements in the printing press (well, mostly Cogs—he was the mechanical genius, after all). The speed of the device was dramatically improved through the power of clockwork, and unevenness of the ink was reduced through the magic of chemistry (and the power of consulting).

Voltaire decided not to introduce the idea of a book at this time, and kept with the tried and true form of a scroll to receive his story. The story was short enough after all that the entire tale could be covered by five plates. Considering the size of some scrolls he had seen in the Royal Archives, this was like comparing a pamphlet to Diderot and d’Alembert’s planned Encyclopédie.

Voltaire set up shop in an unused building near the palace that he christened the “Press Room”. With Cogs becoming his constant companion, Voltaire’s Royal Guard escort was removed, especially on days when he promised not to leave the Press Room. That didn’t mean they couldn’t go out for lunch.

“So,” asked Voltaire one day as they were returning from said lunch, “what do you think of my thesis?”

“About the Princess?” asked Cogs. “Well, I suppose I’ve always known, in a sense. I was drilled from birth about the importance of my family, and how we predated the Princess. Everything she’s done for us used to be done by Sparkles. Lots and lots of Sparkles and other unicorns, but as you said yourself, always a finite number. But on another level, I never really thought about it. Everypony else acted the way they did around her, so I just trusted in that.”

“So you followed the wisdom of the crowd?” Voltaire asked with a grin.

The earth pony grimaced. “Considering what that wisdom has to say about my own breed, I suppose I should have known better.”

The two entered the Press Room, only to find the giant machine partially disassembled.

“What is going on here!” Cogs cried out.

“My apologies, Lord,” said one of Cogs’ assistants, as he respectfully touched his forelock with one grease-stained hoof. “The distribution gear broke out of alignment as a result of pushing the machine past the one-scroll-per-minute mark. I think that if we shifted the load over these three other gears...”

“Who gave you permission to alter my design, Peasant?!” Cogs demanded, snorting into the other pony’s face.

“My Lord Sparkle,” Voltaire said quietly.

Cogs looked at him in confusion. Voltaire never called him by that name. He usually only called his mother or aunt “Lady Sparkle” when he was being sarcastic about their unicorn prejudices...

Cogs stepped back, and looked at this earth pony he had hired, hired with the expectation that he would do his job without drawing attention to himself. Without drawing attention to the fact that they were the very same breed.

Cogs Sparkle took a very deep breath, and let it out slowly. “I’m sorry I blew up at you like that,” he said quietly. “What is your name?”

“Uh...um, Lifter, sir.”

“Lifter. That is a fine name. Now, Lifter, let us examine my blueprint, together. I don’t think your particular solution will work, but you are definitely thinking along the right lines. Now if we instead installed a bypass here...”

“Princess, if Griffonia does not get your help, it will be the end of us.”

“Wh...what?” Celestia exclaimed.

Sky Shock had had enough small talk to last a lifetime. Time was growing short. “Our country is bankrupt, and we no longer have enough food to feed the entire population. Something needs to be done.”

“How did this happen?” the Princess asked incredulously. “I know you bankrupted yourself fighting the dragons, but you promised me—”

“We did all we could,” Sky Shock interrupted. “We spent far more than we had on that war, and our numerous attempts to make up the loss through clever economics have all failed miserably.”

“But...I authorized a private loan ten years ago.”

“And we do appreciate that loan, Your Highness. It put off the collapse. Unfortunately, the drought in Trottingham has affected our food supply.” Unstated was the nature of this food supply. Both griffon and pony knew what this food supply was. It was born in the fields of Trottingham, and it ended up in the bellies of griffons in the mountains of their homeland. No more needed to be said, just so long as the food could not think for itself.

Celestia nervously put a hoof to her teeth. “I, uh, can’t lend you any more bits, Sky Shock. Not without my cabinet finding out. You got all of the surplus I had at the time. And what I managed to accumulate since then has gone to Trottingham.”

“Your cabinet was unwilling to come to the aid of one of your own cities?”

“It’s an earth pony city,” the Princess said apologetically. “You wouldn’t understand.”

Sky Shock ground her beak in frustration. “Well...well...in that case, you have no choice but to petition the cabinet for assistance. This is more important than pride, Princess. My griffons are dropping dead of starvation on the streets. Just so long as the Orange Clan does not find out...”

She was interrupted by the sound of an insistent scratching upon the door. “Mother! Mother!” the voice of Leopold cried out in distress.

Princess Celestia nodded at the griffon ambassador in silent permission as she turned to open the door. Behind it was her son, and an exhausted griffon courier. Both of their facial feathers were matted with tears.

“What is it?” Sky Shock asked anxiously.

Once the story had been committed to paper (bright blue paper, so Voltaire could more easily track who had a copy), Voltaire acted to get it spread as far as possible. He and several pony volunteers set up shallow barrels on street corners filled with the scrolls. Mounted on each barrel was a wooden panel upon which was painted Zody’s illustration of a little frog looking up at the sky and singing. The unicorn told Voltaire that he did it in the style of the lost donkey Genevieve. The human had looked at Zody very oddly when he said that, and consulted the Reichsthaler he had in his possession.

Voltaire had Zody set up an extra-large barrel of scrolls on the street corner nearest to the student entrance of Princess Celestia’s School. This one did not have the singing frog panel on it, but instead a picture of an omelet, implying that the scrolls contained merely recipes. After all, Voltaire thought to himself, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

The next day he found the barrel in splinters, and no trace of a scroll to be seen. That the scrolls had been found and read by the students, however, was obvious. This was because from his vantage point he could see that something had been painted on the walls of nearly every building on the campus. The same something that had appeared overnight on the walls of the businesses owned by ponies who understood Voltaire’s message:


~ ~ ~

A few hours later, Voltaire had Cog set up another barrel on a different street corner, near one of the most popular eating places for students. This time, scrolls were printed on the exact same material used for advertising fliers, and there were no images on the barrel. The barrel was, however, painted the same color as Princess Fisby. Voltaire watched Cog set this up from several blocks away, and hoped that none of the professors who had condemned his story sight-unseen had spotted him and made the connection.

Voltaire and Cog took different routes back to the Press Room. On his way back, the human’s attention was suddenly caught by a poster at the entrance of a dark alley.

The poster advertised an upcoming magic show at the Canterlot Concert Hall. This would not have been so interesting, if one or both of the performers were unicorns, but they weren’t. One was a Diamond Dog, and the other was an earth pony.

This wasn’t really magic, it was stage magic. In the magical land of Equestria. The idea boggled Voltaire’s mind. He could not, for the life of him, understand why ponies who saw miracles on a daily basis, who knew for a fact that the sun and the heavens were propelled by real magic, could possibly be interested in trickery masquerading as magic.

Voltaire vowed that he would see this magic show someday, although more to talk to the pony audience members than anything that the performers could possibly pull off. After all, for beings as honest and forthright as these ponies, how could they possibly know anything about the kind of deceit needed to pull off a truly impressive (fake) magic trick?

~ ~ ~

Ah, Voltaire? Could I have a moment of your time?” said a voice behind Voltaire’s back.

It seemed familiar, somehow.

He turned around to see a young pegasus stallion with a yellow coat.

“I know you from somewhere, don’t I?” Voltaire asked himself out loud.

“I’m Pensive Thought,” the pony said.

Voltaire shook his head. “The name doesn’t ring a bell,” he said.

“I serve beside you on the royal council?” Pensive Thought prompted.

“No, I think I’d remember you if that was the case,” said the human.

The pegasus sighed. “I’m Prince Blueblood’s toady.”

“Oh you!” Voltaire exclaimed. “I remember now. What would you like to talk with me about?”

Pensive Thought looked around him nervously. “Not here,” he said.

Voltaire glanced down the abandoned alley. “How about in here?” he offered.

The pegasus craned his neck to look inside the alley with some trepidation. “Well...alright,” he finally said.

The two of them walked a little way into the alley—far enough in not to be overheard, but not so far that they couldn’t dash back out if anything happened in there.

“So,” said Voltaire when they had picked a spot, “I don’t really see that many of your kind in Canterlot.”

“I’m the son of unicorns,” Pensive Thought replied. He didn’t sound very proud of this fact.

“I see,” Voltaire said. “It must have been hard to learn how to fly under the circumstances.”

Pensive Thought glanced back ruefully at his tiny wings. “My breed is not what I wanted to discuss, Mister Voltaire.”

“I’m all ears,” Voltaire said, rubbing a finger against one of his own. “Not as much as your average pony, but...you get my meaning.”

“I have heard that your home world has many similarities with Equestria,” Pensive said. “Is this true?”

“Yes, it does indeed appear to be the case,” said Voltaire.

“And would you happen to have...”—the pegasus looked around himself very carefully before continuing—“...tobacco on your world?”

Voltaire reflexively coughed on hearing the word “tobacco”. “Yes,” he said with a frown, “I’m afraid that I am familiar with that particular poison.”

“Oh,” said the pegasus in a disappointed tone. He turned to leave the alley. “I won’t waste any more of your time, then.”

“Now hold on,” the human said lightly, resting a hand on the pony’s withers. “Let me hear the rest of what you have to say. I haven’t seen or smelled a trace of tobacco since arriving here. Is the stuff forbidden?”

Pensive turned around. “In public, yes, by direct order of the Princess. We are allowed to use it in the privacy of our own homes. I’ve been trying fruitlessly to convince the Princess to rescind Her order for several years now, but she has been unreceptive to my pleas, and I have gotten only lukewarm responses from the other stallions on the council to a revival of the ancient practice.”

“But not the mares,” Voltaire deduced. “Yes, I’ve observed that the ‘stallions’ on my world are the primary users of tobacco, while the ‘mares’ on my world oppose its use in public, just as yours do—with a couple of prominent exceptions.”

“I was just hoping that, with how well you have connected to the Princess, that you might have been willing to put in a word for me,” Pensive said sadly.

“I understand completely,” said Voltaire sympathetically. “The politics of influence is a vital part of how anything actually gets done in European society, and if you happened to have a cause that didn’t make me sick to my stomach just thinking about it, I would have been happy to help. But the current policy, with its allowance for private use, sounds about right to me.”

“I understand,” said the pegasus, turning to walk out of the alley. “I...I guess I’ll see you at the council meeting tomorrow.”

“Pensive Thought?” interrupted Voltaire.


“You said that tobacco use was an ancient practice among ponies. It is only a couple centuries old for humans, or at least for the particular branch of humanity to which I belong. Just out of curiosity, how did it start?”

The pegasus turned back around to face him. “It was introduced by Pansy, the pegasus hero of the original Hearth’s Warming Eve. It’s not certain where he picked it up, although it is usually thought to be the camels.”

“Of course,” Voltaire commented dryly. Who else to introduce chewing tobacco to ponies, but the camels?

“After he, Smart Cookie and Clover the Clever saved ponykind, they were each allowed to have the one thing they ever wanted. Smart Cookie just wanted a farm to retire on, Clover founded the precursor to Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and Pansy introduced tobacco chewing, teaching that it encouraged clear thinking.”

“Yes,” said Voltaire doubtfully, “I’ve heard similar claims on my world.”

“During The Chaos, it fell out of favor,” Pensive continued, “and when the Princesses took over, they expressed their distaste in no uncertain terms.”

“Well, thank you for the history lesson,” said Voltaire with a grin, guiding the pegasus out of the alley. “It was very informative. One final question, though: if Clover founded the unicorn school, why isn’t it still named after him? Don’t tell me that the Princess is that egotistical?”

“No, of course not,” said Pensive. “It’s just that the most-serious rebellion that the Princess ever faced in her solo reign was born in Clover’s Academy, leading to calls that it be abolished when that rebellion was crushed. The Princess put it under her own name to keep that from happening.” He looked out of the alley. “I...uh, gotta be going now.”

“Gotta fly, huh?” Voltaire asked with a grin.

The small-winged pegasus did nothing more than blink for a couple of seconds, then turned without a word and walked away.

“Did I say something wrong?” the human asked himself.

~ ~ ~

Alight, mister, reach for the skies and don’t make a move, and nopony gets hurt!” The voice came from the dark alley behind Voltaire, and was accompanied by what he was fairly certain was a carrot being stuck into his spine.

Voltaire couldn’t believe what was happening. “Are...are you robbing me?” he asked incredulously. He tried to turn his head to get a better look.

Hey, what did I tell you about not moving? Now untie your money bag and toss it behind you, or...

The fascinated human waited in vain to hear the rest of that threat. “Or what?” he asked in amusement. “You’ll tickle me into submission? Perhaps unleash the horrors of The Pointy Pillow? Or The Comfy Chair? You’re a pony, for crying out loud! I don’t think there’s anything you could do to intimidate me.”

I’ll turn your head into a melon,” the voice said, with utter conviction.

Voltaire laughed out loud. “That’s a good one!” he exclaimed, “But you’re utterly out of your league. I grew up among the French, and no greater or craftier thieves exist in the whole of Creation!” He turned around as he said this to face down his potential robber—a mostly-white unicorn, with a faintly blue coat and a faintly red mane and tail. He was wearing a red bandana over his muzzle, and he was levitating a carrot to poke the human with. Of course, the bandana utterly failed as a device to prevent being identified by witnesses, since his colors and cutie mark were enough all by themselves. And speaking of which...

“I’m sorry,” Voltaire said, his arms crossed, “but I utterly fail to see what a cutie mark of four hooves running could possibly have to do with pumpkin-ification. Or cantaloupe-ification, for that matter.”

“Alright, you’ve got me there,” the unicorn said good-naturedly, with an obvious smile behind his bandana. “I just couldn’t resist the challenge of holding up a whole new species. Still, it will make for a good story.”

“How do you know I won’t turn you in?” Voltaire asked.

“Will you?” the unicorn asked.

For the second time, Voltaire was impressed by just how brazen this pony was. “No, I don’t think so,” he said with a laugh. “In fact, I think I’m going to reward you for entertaining me!” He picked up his money bag and began to open it. “I think fifty bits should...” To his amazement, the bits in his bag had all been replaced with wood chips. In fact, it wasn’t his bag at all, but a replacement that had obviously been swapped out during their conversation, or perhaps even earlier when he had been talking to Pensive Thought.

Voltaire looked up, to see the thief using his cutie mark-given talent to run down the alley as fast as possible, rounding an unseen corner to escape.

The human laughed out loud. The pain of losing his money was significantly lessened by the fact that he got free room and board, and because he had been receiving all of those bits as unsolicited donations from grateful readers of “The Frog Princess of Fomalhaut”.

It appears that the fine art of deception is alive and well in Equestria, Voltaire thought.

~ ~ ~

“Well if it isn’t the human!” exclaimed an earth pony blocking Voltaire’s exit from the alley. Three more earth ponies appeared behind him.

By this point, Voltaire began to suspect that he had stumbled on the proverbial “dark alley” of fiction, the one where absolutely everything interesting ever happened.

“Yes, that’s me,” Voltaire said brightly. “Voltaire the Human!”

“Have you been printing any more lies about our Princess, Human?” the earth pony from before said threateningly, making Voltaire blanch. The four ponies advanced upon him slowly, lowering their heads and pawing the ground with their hooves as they herded him deeper and deeper into the alley.

“Back off, Jack,” came a voice from behind them.

“This isn’t your problem, Lifter,” said Jack, refusing to take his eyes off of Voltaire. “Trot away, and pretend you didn’t see anything.”

“Well maybe I’m going to make it my problem,” said Lifter. “That human works for the pony that’s paying me.”

“I heard you tell me that you were paid in advance,” Jack replied. “Besides, have you ever read the junk that this human wrote? Don’t you know what he’s trying to do to our Princess?”

“I don’t care what he’s writing, Jack. I just know what I see. And what I see is a creature with a decent head on his shoulders. Now that’s the rest of my crew behind me, and we outnumber you two to one. So I think that maybe you are the ones that need to trot away, and pretend you didn’t see anything.”

Jack looked around to confirm the truth of Lifter’s words...and the barely-restrained rage in their faces. “This isn’t over, Human,” he warned. “If not us, then someday somepony’s going to put you in your place.” He and his gang then skulked their way past Lifter and his ponies.

Voltaire shook his head. “You’re all at the bottom of the social ladder, through no fault of your own, so why do you have to be so obsessed with putting each other in their place?”

“Power over our own kind is the only power we have,” explained Lifter.

“So...have you read my story?” Voltaire asked.

“Politics doesn’t interest me,” Lifter said, walking past Voltaire with head held high to lead him to the Press Room.

Voltaire didn’t think he had ever encountered a more obvious lie.

Suddenly the air was split by a blood-curdling scream from the palace. It was a cry of loss, and a cry of rage. It was the cry of a griffon.

“And her last words before the crowd fell upon her were these: Let them eat cake!”

“Duchess Praiseworthy ordered her soldiers to fire, upon her own people?” Princess Celestia was flabbergasted. “That can’t be the whole story,” she repeated for perhaps the fifth time since the griffon courier began her tale. “The rule of the Thunderwings was wise and benevolent. Her subjects should have understood that fact, no matter how much they were suffering. They were being led on pony lines. How can there be a revolution...?”

“How?” asked Leopold rhetorically, rising up from beside the form of his catatonic mother, the griffon who had screamed so loudly just a few minutes before. “How, you ask? I’ll tell you, Princess, I’ll tell you. The griffon rabble rose up against pony rule, because they are not ponies. Our nobility has tried, oh have we tried, to indoctrinate the griffon multitude in the benefits of pony civilization, but it just never took. The whole course of Griffon civilization, post-Unification, has been dedicated to this goal. We had to bring the griffons to pony perfection, by any means necessary. That was the whole purpose of the Bakery, to bring us in line with you. Any griffon that did not meet the pony mold was brought to the Bakery, to be molded into line. That’s why the Bakery was the target of the revolution, why it had to fall.”

“But the Forty guarded the Bakery,” said Celestia. “They were the living symbol of all that it stood for.”

“The Forty betrayed the Bakery, and all that it stood for.”

“You didn’t mention the Forty,” Celestia said in a small voice. “What happened...?”

“The Duchess slaughtered the Forty!” Leopold screamed.

“It’s true,” said the courier, struggling under the weight of Sky Shock’s unconscious body. “They were going to betray the Bakery’s secrets...”

“What secrets?” asked the Princess, fearfully.

“I don’t know,” the courier whimpered. “That was just what I was told.”

“And I don’t know them either,” said Leopold. “Ask my mother when she recovers. Whatever they were, though, I very much doubt they were worth dying over.”

“So what happens now?” asked Celestia.

“We apply for asylum,” said Leopold simply. “But realize this: we will soon be joined by the entire griffon aristocracy. At least those not insane enough to flee to the dragons, or cruel enough to try to flee to the Diamond Dogs. Thanks to the dragon embargo, the Dogs are on the verge of starvation themselves. Any additional mouths to feed will tip them over the brink.”

The Princess bowed her head. “Any griffon who wishes to cross the border is free to do so,” she said. “And I will do everything in my power to feed and care for you. It’s the least I can do.”

These words enraged Leopold, who flew up and got in her face. “Do you think there is ANYTHING you can do that can make up for this? You bragged that pony and griffon destinies were joined. Well, here is your payback! You broke us, Princess. You broke us forever. The royal family already lies dead on the floors of their Canterlot-inspired palace, and any nobles that fail to reach the border in time are soon to follow. We were a miserable folk before Thunderwing, but we never took each other’s lives before. You did that to us, Celestia, when you took Thunderwing in, and when you allowed him to lead his personal army back into his homeland.

“You wanted your pet human to turn you into a mortal, complete with the ability to make mistakes? Consider that wish granted, because I don’t think this world has seen a bigger mistake in a thousand years! In the coming months, the mountains of Griffonia will be stained with blood, as class warfare tears us to pieces. So just remember, when you see the rivers of Equestria turn red, that you were responsible for this. We’ve turned into killers of our own kind...because of you.” Without another word, he turned and led the courier carrying his mother out of the room.

“What have I done?” Celestia asked herself, sobbing, as she sunk down to her knees. “What have I done?!

Author's Note:

This chapter was originally accompanied by the blog entry "I Swear It's Not My Fault!", wherein I actually advance the overall plot line of these blogs.