• 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 22

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 22

“Ambassador Noir?”

“Ah, Councilor Voltaire,” the Diamond Dog said, turning to face the approaching human. “Was wondering where you were.” He was wearing an actual black suit and tie.

“Come with me,” Voltaire said, reaching out a hand, “I’ll take you to the Council’s private box.” He was wearing a dark blue version of his usual dress suit, somewhat heavy on the frills.

The two bipeds had met in front of the Canterlot Concert Hall. Today’s performance was not musical, but instead magical in nature. Woofston, the legendary Diamond Dog illusionist, was giving a series of farewell performances, paired with his chosen successor, the earth pony Hoofdini. Voltaire brought with him Eveningstar and Cog, while Noir was unaccompanied. Eveningstar was wearing a simple purple dress, while Cog’s suit rather resembled Noir’s, accented by an orange bow tie. A flat box as wide as Cog was balanced on his back.

Voltaire had been trying to find a time and place to speak with Noir ever since they had first been introduced, but for one reason or another they had never been able to find free time away from their obligations and personal pursuits to schedule a meeting. This matinee was the first opportunity that presented itself.

~ ~ ~

A few minutes later they were sitting comfortably in their box. Noir leaned out to see the audience (mostly earth ponies) taking their places in the arena seats below. He grunted lightly in disapproval.

“What’s wrong?” asked Voltaire, leaning out to see what Noir was seeing. “You aren’t by any chance afraid of heights?”

“There no need for us to be this high,” Noir explained. “You can see plenty good from down there.”

“Well,” Voltaire laughed, “there has to be some reward for the rich and powerful.”

“Does there?” Noir said darkly. He turned and used his enormous paw to gesture at the crowd below. “This...place, is for looking down on other ponies, yes? Diamond Dogs’ oppressors looked down on us because they were towering beasts of greed and cruelty—what’s your excuse?”

“Well!” Voltaire exclaimed in shock, standing up from his seat. He took a few moments to calm himself down. “I...can certainly see your point of view.”

Noir gestured at Voltaire’s seat with a gentle smile. “Sit, Councilor Voltaire. Sit. Don’t need to fear me. Noir is lawyer, so bark worse than bite.”

Voltaire laughed loudly and sat back down. “‘Your bark is worse than your bite!’ That was funny! ...err, that was a joke, yes?”

“That was joke, yes,” replied Noir with another smile.

“Yes, I was thinking about that manner of your speech,” Voltaire said with delicacy. “I know you were part of the committee that wrote the Diamond Dog constitution, so I suspect you must be eloquent in your own language. Unfortunately, your Equine sounds...

“...little rough ‘round edges?” volunteered Noir.

“Exactly! That is why I asked Eveningstar here to manufacture one of her magical caps, specially adopted to Diamond Dogs!”

As he said this, Cog stepped forward and, from the box on his back, Voltaire removed a woolen skullcap, its color the same charcoal gray as Noir’s head. He leaned over towards the ambassador, the cap held in his hands.

Noir leaned back, one brow raised in suspicion.

“Is there a problem?” Voltaire asked.

Noir shook his head. “Is a good gift, a good good gift, but Noir must say no. Like Noir said, Noir is lawyer. His words save the innocent from the wicked. That cap,” he said pointing at it, “choose your words. It would chose Noir’s voice. Noir only study pony tongue for few years. In more years, Noir get better, sound more like native. ‘Till then, don’t mind sounding dumb.”

Voltaire sighed and put the gray cap back in its box. “You’re putting me at an advantage, and I wanted to speak with you about your political philosophy, a sophisticated conversation requiring complex vocabularies. You leave me no other choice.” With this, he removed his wig and stripped off his white cap, putting it with the gray one in the box.

The others in the room were speechless. The human who used words as his weapon...had just disarmed himself. Voltaire looked at them haughtily as he adjusted the periwig.

“Could...could Voltaire keep that off, too?” Noir asked, pointing at the wig.

“My...wig?” Voltaire replied. Speaking in Equine unaided was a lot harder than he thought.

Noir nodded. “Never liked that wig thing. Dead hair on top of real hair. Looked unnatural.”

Voltaire sighed, placed the wig with the two caps, and did his best to get the strands of his scant gray hair as organized as possible. “Voltaire do it,” he said, then sighed inwardly. My Equine is atrocious! he scolded himself. “But only because we in box, and nopony see in.”

He turned to the two ponies in the room. “Voltaire...” He wanted to say “I suppose I don’t need your services tonight”, but he couldn’t remember the Equine for half of the words, and many of the words he could remember he realized he couldn’t pronounce, including, most infuriatingly, any of the pronouns for referring to himself. He closed his eyes and mentally searched through his vocabulary. “Voltaire...don’t need you ponies.” He opened his eyes to see two hurt pairs of eyes. “Tonight,” he quickly added. “Don’t need ponies tonight. Wanted be less rude saying that, but forgot the words. Agreeable?” Voltaire frowned. That last word didn’t sound right at all.

“That was fine,” Eveningstar said. To the slightly confused Noir, she explained about her link to Voltaire through the White Cap, and the fact that Cog had volunteered for the same duty in regards to the Gray Cap. “We’d still like to stay.”

“I’m here for the show, actually,” said Cog.

“And I tend to find that you are the most-entertaining show in Canterlot,” Eveningstar said with a smile, pointing a hoof at Voltaire.

“Show? Like Court Jester?” Voltaire asked ruefully after a second’s thought. “And talk slower.”

“Like Court Philosopher,” Eveningstar replied. “And yes, I can talk slower if you’d like.”

“That just Court Jester for pointy-heads,” said Voltaire. “Like Gordon, Voltaire not taken seriously. Voltaire is just voltige, a pony-rider of words.”

“So is Woofston,” said Noir, gesturing at the closed curtains below. “He not only pony-rider, but also dragon-rider of words and tricks. Most famous dragon-rider of all time.”

“Woofston was the first Diamond Dog I had ever heard of,” said Eveningstar. “He visited Canterlot with his dragon handler when I was just a filly. All of us unicorns attended the show, convinced we could figure out how he faked his magic, but he tricked all of us.”

Voltaire rubbed his chin in thought. “Voltaire thought these two had fake magic, but wasn’t sure, and didn’t want to look foalish saying it.”

“No, they are fakes, and quite proud of it,” said Cogs. “Diamond Dogs have no magic, and earth pony magic relates to nature, the manipulation of earth or, in my case, metal. Hoofdini could use earth pony magic to perform his escapes, but he deliberately refrains, and the more talented earth ponies can sense that he performs his tricks without magic.”

“Why?” asked Voltaire. “This world has magic, lots of magic. Human world has little. Our magic humans are fakes, but...pretend to be real, to get rich. Human magickers” (that word was definitely wrong!) “like a type of thief, only the people know they are being robbed, and clap at the cleverness.”

“We’re not that different from you,” said Eveningstar. “Ponies like a good show, whether it be a meteor shower or a card raising itself from a deck. For unicorns, especially the magical specialists like the Sparkles or the Bluebloods, so much of what we do with our horns has become mundane. To see somepony that should not be able to do what we do, but yet do it, easier than us, and to go on and do what we cannot...it’s an intellectual game, but also...wonderful.”

“Talking too fast again,” complained Voltaire.


“It way to get around rules they tell us,” said Noir. “‘Earth pony never good as unicorn,’ they say. ‘Diamond Dog never good as dragon.’ Dragons liked our magicians so much that every noble had to have one. Treated them better than pets. Better than most of their subjects. Diamond Dog magicians were taught to read and write, so they could study each other’s tricks, so they could be even better magicians. They smuggled dragon political books to rest of us, and we learned what we could be.”

“Interesting!” exclaimed Voltaire. He looked longingly over at the box with the White Cap in it. This would be so much easier if I hadn’t given into to my cursed desire for fair play! he thought. “So does that mean...”

“Shh!” interrupted Noir, pointing at the stage. “Show starting.”

Woofston was standing on the stage. He was a light gray Diamond Dog with darker gray spots on his face and joints and a thinning head of hair, all of which indicated his extreme age. He was dressed in a suit and tails, and looked every bit the gentleman. He had begun his show by juggling. In fact, he had begun his show with no fanfare, no dimming of the lights. He just had the curtain open to him juggling three brightly colored balls. Seeing as he was performing for ponies, he soon had the riveted attention of his audience. “Juggling is easy,” he said. His Equine was flawless, but accented oddly, containing equal parts of Diamond Dog and Draconic. “Let’s try something a bit more challenging.” He tossed each ball high in the air, and as they fell they burst open into miniature bouquets of flowers. He easily caught each bouquet and tossed it out to three mares in the audience. Without allowing his viewers a chance to recover, he started pulling large bouquets out of thin air and tossing those to the sides of the stage, dozens, perhaps as much as a hundred times, in quick succession. The thundering hoof applause of the stunned audience grew and grew. A change in the lighting, and suddenly those tossed bouquets now looked like the foliage of an outdoor garden.

“The dragons have a story,” Woofston told the audience, “about a maiden in a garden. Well, here is the garden, and here,” with a gesture at the demure earth pony who walked upon the stage, “is the maiden. You’ll have to use your imaginations, as this stage is a little small for an actual dragon maiden.” The audience laughed, changed instantly to a gasp of surprise as the mare blew a small stream of fire. “Well, perhaps not so much imagination will be required, after all.”

The story continued on, with good and bad dragons, and good and bad spirits testing them. To Voltaire it sounded like something out of the Thousand and One Nights. This was a thoroughly new way of performing a magic show. The ones he had seen had been rather clinical, a series of effects presented with the same air as a scientist would present his latest discovery to his peers. In that case the goal was to, under no circumstances, look like an actual miracle-worker, as those had a bad habit of being burned at the stake. But here, where magic was commonplace, magicians could move on to the next stage of entertainment, using their illusions to tell stories. And judging from the enthusiastic reactions of the crowd, these ponies had most definitely come here to be entertained by fake magic. Voltaire wondered how much of this he could get into A Citizen of Canterlot, assuming he ever got to stage it for the Parisians. Assuming I’m ever allowed back into France, he thought glumly. Assuming I ever manage to return to Earth! That made him really depressed, so he turned his thoughts to the central question he wanted to pose to Noir, of how his people could survive without a nobility. He carefully began to phrase his arguments, to cobble some semblance of intelligent thought out of the thoroughly alien pony language he was forced to work with.

“...and they lived happily ever after!” Woofston exclaimed from the top of a magically constructed tower. The audience applauded uproariously as the lights on the stage cut out. A split second later they came back up, and the canine magician was suddenly at the front of the stage, seemingly teleported from his last location, with the elaborate tower nowhere to be seen. There he received the cheers of the crowd.

A placard placed at the side of the stage announced a half-hour intermission before Hoofdini’s show would start.

There was a knock on the door of the Council’s private box. Eveningstar used her magic to open it. On the other side was a well-dressed unicorn servant. “Shall I get you anything for the intermission?” he asked. “We have a full kitchen in the basement for the exclusive use of our upper-tier guests. Free of charge, of course.”

Voltaire would have liked to have ordered something, but he saw the disapproving look upon Ambassador Noir’s face. After all, the use of the phrase “upper-tier guests, free of charge” assumed the existence of its opposite, “the riff-raff we have to let in to keep them from burning the place into ashes. They get the used champagne, and we make them pay for it.” He shook his head.

Seeing this, Cog supplied the words that the human would have struggled to supply: “Sorry, but no. Thank you for the offer, however.”

The servant bowed at the front knees. “You have only to ring this bell,” he said, pointing at a pull rope, “and we will be quick to serve you in any means you desire.”

The obsequiousness by this point was too much for Voltaire, and he wrinkled his nose as he gestured for the pony to leave, which he did.

Noir sighed. “That what is wrong with ponies and dragons. Why does one pony have to be better than another pony?”

This was the opening Voltaire had been waiting for. “The way inequality is shown is sad,” he said. “But inequality itself is needed. Some must rule, while others follow.”

“Diamond Dogs have rulers and followers,” replied Noir, “but any of us could be ruler. You split yourselves up. Under Celestia, there are rulers of towns and regions, but they are picked only from some of you. Only noble can be leader, not peasant. Why noble? Why peasant? Why not all be peasants like Diamond Dogs?”

“Division of labor,” answered Voltaire. “Takes time to be worthy to lead. Takes learning. But life is hard. Takes work to live. So most work harder, so few can have free time. But poor have to be kept happy, or they rebel against more work. ‘Bread and Circuses’, the Romans called it.”

As far as Voltaire knew, the Equestrian government had neither “bread” nor “circuses”. But that was because any income that came into the coffers was immediately spent on the unicorn nobility. This was a problem that required some thought—he put it aside for later.

“Diamond Dog not have to divide labor. All Diamond Dogs are equal.”

“Excuse me,” said Eveningstar, “but my sister told me that Diamond Dogs, before their revolution, didn’t have to take care of themselves. The dragons fed and protected them, and they did this for all, even those that were not currently needed on a digging project. It seems to me that this gave you the free time you needed to plan your rebellion.”

“That...true,” Noir said reluctantly, not wanting to give any credit to the creatures he had fought against.

“A-ha!” Voltaire exclaimed. “Diamond Dogs are not all peasants—Diamond Dogs are all nobles!” Then he quickly sobered. “But you not have dragons helping now.”

“Yes,” said the ambassador. “Now we starve. We work lands, never enough time to work and take care of ourselves. We are peasants now.”

“And as peasants you will perish,” Cog said, standing up from his cushion. He began to pace around the room. “But suppose you had new peasants?”

“New peasants?” Noir asked in confusion.

“Mechanical peasants!” Cog exclaimed.

“You...but...” Voltaire put his hands to his head and concentrated to summon up the right words. “You...don’t know...how to do that. Do you?”

“I don’t mean literal peasants,” Cog explained. “I mean, take the time-consuming part of being a peasant, and mechanize that!”

“Slower,” Voltaire commanded. After Cog repeated himself, Voltaire thought about the suggestion. “So...harvesting?”

“Mechanical harvester.”


“Mechanical horsepower.”

Eveningstar gasped. “That violates everything that ponies stand for! You’re proposing the replacement of earth pony magic...”

“...for a race that has no magic!” exclaimed Cog. “Look, Auntie, no pony wants anything to do with my inventions, and for good reason: because magic can do it better. This is what my talent is meant for. To improve lives, not for the ponies—for the Diamond Dogs!”

“...and for the griffons,” said Noir.

“For the griffons?” asked Voltaire. “I thought griffons had...magicians.”

“Exactly,” explained Noir with a big grin. “Griffons have magicians exactly like Diamond Dogs have magicians. They fought beside us, so we know. They’re really good at the faking, but still...fake magic.”

“I guess they did it to try and be more like the ponies,” Eveningstar said. “They definitely have pegasus magic, though. They can fly in ways that would be impossible in a non-magical flying creature that size, and they can manipulate the weather. They are much better than pegasi when it comes to creating violent weather like tornadoes and blizzards.”

The conversation sort of died at this point. Cog’s suggestion had given Voltaire much food for thought. On Earth, the British were masters of the machine, and they had so much free time to waste as a result that they had a reputation for foolishness among the French. Their government, although less corrupt than the French, had a good deal of room for improvement, but nevertheless it was the most-representative government in Europe. Voltaire concluded that France needed to get into machines, fast, or Great Britain could quickly rise to become the dominant political power on the planet.

Hoofdini began his performance before Voltaire returned from his reverie. The magical pony’s performance was mostly based around escaping from a variety of devices used against criminal ponies. The political metaphor of this was more than obvious.

Once these were done, Hoofdini launched into the story of his childhood as the son of a poor woodspony. Unlike Woofston, Hoofdini’s story was not punctuated by magic tricks—it was simply a tale, told masterfully, of the rural life that the urban dwellers of Canterlot had never known, and wished dearly to experience.

Voltaire looked around him, and saw with surprise that the walls of the theater were turning into trees, and a bubbling brook had appeared between the aisles of the seats below. As he looked closer, he saw that both of these were phantoms, and by concentrating he could see the walls and floor behind them. The details of this illusion varied from one spot to another of the theater. An area occupied by a knot of earth pony fillies had nearly completely transformed into forest, while up in the box opposite to Voltaire’s, a group of snooty unicorns too busy chatting with each other to pay any attention to the performance was completely devoid of illusory vegetation.

What is going on? he asked himself in panic. Looking around, he saw the others with him, as well as the ponies below, were simply accepting, as if this were an expected part of the show.

Is...is this it, then? he pondered. The basis of magic, the fundamental way that our two worlds differ? These ponies act as if reality can be shifted purely by force of will, while on my world we call such individuals ‘insane’, and have abundant proof that they are wrong. But they are actually doing it, aren’t they? He saw that Hoofdini’s stage was also unaffected by the spell. For this part of the show, he isn’t the magician—they are. What in the world are they not capable of doing doing through the power of belief? As he surveyed the crowd of earth ponies, he saw how many of them had his signature blue scrolls visible on them.

Merde! is the word my translator has told the author he was probably thinking at this point.

He refuses to translate it, and this author probably doesn’t want to know in any case.

Author's Note:

This chapter corresponds with the blog post "Letter #5 From the Author".