• Published 19th Jul 2012
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The Best of All Possible Worlds - McPoodle

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

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Chapter 29

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 29

The expedition stumbled northwards out of Trottingham, in a state of disarray.

Each night, as Princess Celestia camped with a different group of ponies, she would tell them the true history of the griffons as she now knew it.

A lot of nightmares were generated as a result.

“How can you do this to them?” Voltaire asked her once.

“My ponies deserve to know the truth,” she told him, “those that live here most of all. The truth always gets out eventually, in any case. By telling it myself, I can control how it is absorbed. You’ll notice that I emphasize how wrong it was to make the griffons act in a way that was contrary to their nature, like forcing a unicorn to be raised as an earth pony or wingless pegasus.

“Besides,” she said with a sigh, “they’ll only live with this horror for a generation. I’ve seen it before, Voltaire, with the aftermath of Discord and...Nightmare Moon. They make up stories, turn the nightmares into fairy tales, and get on with their lives.”

The human, thinking back to the miracle he witnessed at the Canterlot Concert Hall, nervously rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “That’s what I’m afraid of, Your Highness. You’re not going to be able to shape what kind of stories these ponies come up with, and before too long they will control how future generations of ponies perceive the griffons.” He pointed up in the sky, at the symbol of darkness engraved upon the full moon, and dared to speak a bit more. “After all, don’t you have any regrets about what ponies think about her?”

The Princess looked in the direction indicated and said nothing.

“Leave me, Councilor,” she finally said in a husky voice a full minute later.

Voltaire bowed briefly and left, noting the tears that were gathering in her eyes.

The Frigid River marks the boundary between Trottingham and Stalliongrad provinces.

It is frozen solid in midwinter. In spring, it is a raging torrent, impossible to navigate and extremely dangerous for anypony foolish enough to attempt to swim in it.

This was the height of summer, however, which meant that it was an easily-fordable stream.

However, the fact that it had shrunken so dramatically compared to its height meant that the riverbank was exposed, composed of thousands of smooth rocks ranging from gravel all the way up to several the size of a large pony’s head. It was easy enough to walk across in the light, but a bit treacherous in darkness, which is when the expedition arrived. For this reason, Celestia decreed that they would camp here overnight.

She didn’t appear to be very pleased with this decision.

“Help! Help! I’m stuck!”

The cry drifted over the camp, barely arousing the heavy sleepers. It didn’t help that the cry was in a deliberately-quiet tone, like the filly making it was embarrassed to reveal her predicament. The Moon had set for the night, but it was still a few hours before sunrise, resulting in near complete darkness.

The pony with her hoof stuck between rocks was Twinkletoes, daughter of Quickstep, the pony who the Princess had appointed as Minister of Earth Pony Affairs based on her competence in organizing Trottingham resources for the Royal Council. Mayor Wheatstraw had not been very happy with this appointment, but in the end the choice had been up to Quickstep, and she had accepted it gratefully, adding her small family to the expedition in order to start her duties. The purple-coated Twinkletoes in particular had made an impression on the other ponies, for her never-ending stream of questions and her habit of always getting into trouble through her constant exploring. Her presence at any time could be easily determined, however, from the slight wheezing caused by her asthma.

Now her mother was here on the riverbank, looking around for a unicorn capable of lighting the way for her through the treacherous rocks.

“May I be of assistance, Madam?” Cogs asked, a coal-miner’s lamp burning atop his head. He was accompanied by his mother Morningstar, who had been the one to wake him up.

“Yes, thank you, Cogs,” said Quickstep.

“I think I’ve twisted my ankle!” complained Twinkletoes from the darkness.

“Well, let that be a lesson to you!” the mother cried out in some irritation. “Stand still, and we’ll come for you.”

“Hurry!” the filly whined. “It hurts!”

Just then, a light and a wind whooshed over the heads of the three would-be rescuers, and they watched as Princess Celestia swooped down and snatched up the stuck filly, flying her back to the camp. The human and two ponies were forced to turn around and race back to find where the Princess had taken Twinkletoes.

To their shock, they found her attacking the filly, beating upon her chest and crying out “Breathe, Luna! Breathe!” Her voice sounded like a just-cutified filly, and her eyes were unfocussed.

The unicorn watched for a few seconds in shock, before realizing what she needed to do. “Tia!” she cried out, in the tone of a disapproving mother.

The Princess immediately raised her head and looked at her, then blinked several times as she came to her senses. “Where...?” she asked.

“Your Highness,” Morningstar said, bowing lower than she had ever bowed before.

By this time a substantial number of ponies and griffons had emerged from their tents, wakened more by the Princess’s actions than by the filly’s earlier.

“M...Morningstar,” Celestia said hesitantly. “Do you know how I managed to...” Looking around, she saw the battered form of the purple filly, and gasped. She used her magic to heal her, and then looked around in rage. “What happened here?!” she demanded. “Who would dare to harm—”

Morningstar quickly closed the gap between then and reached up a hoof to rest upon her monarch’s back. “It’s alright, Your Majesty. You had a nightmare, and you need to get back to sleep.”

“I...” She put a hoof to her mouth in horror. “I am so sorry!” she exclaimed to the speechless mother standing before her, her equally silent daughter clutched in her forelegs. “I know there is nothing I could possibly—”

“Go to bed,” Morning ordered her. “We’ll settle this matter in the morning.”

“But I...” Her words died in her throat as she saw Quickstep close her eyes and bow her head. “...very well. Until the morning.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire watched the proceedings from the shadows until the Princess was back in her tent. “I don’t suppose we’re going to get an explanation for that before the morning?” he asked.

The other members of the Council pawed nervously at the ground.

“Well if you’re not going to say anything,” Voltaire said in annoyance, “then I’ll just start making educated guesses, and you’ll just have to correct me.” He remembered the name Celestia had called the filly, and remembered where he had heard it before. “Luna was Celestia’s...sister...” he said, slowly. The relationship was just a guess, based on her being family and on how it appeared that he had just witnessed a memory from early in Celestia’s life.

The Council simultaneously looked in fear at Celestia’s tent at the utterance of the name “Luna”. When nothing happened, Morningstar sighed deeply and continued where Voltaire left off. “...and this is the part of Equestria where they grew up,” she said. “She has never provided anypony with the details, but it is reasonable to assume that...She...was the younger sister, and Celestia is the elder. Based on what we just saw, I’d say that this sister nearly drowned in the Frigid, probably in the early spring when it runs the fastest.”

“She was the younger sister?” the human asked.

The Council once more looked downwards, this time mournfully.

“What She is now is a matter of debate, unknown even to the Princess,” said Eveningstar. “She was corrupted by the Nightmare and became Nightmare Moon.”

“Or the Nightmare stole her body and killed her soul,” added Morningstar.

“Or she was evil from birth, and the Princess spent a lifetime keeping her growing powers suppressed,” said Blue Belle. “In any case, Nightmare Moon raised a rebellion in the name of She Who Must Not Be Named, but she never told her followers that her goal was to bring eternal night to Equestria, a night that would kill all life on the planet and leave her a queen of corpses. The Princess had no choice but to kill her, leaving her silhouette forever in the Moon to remind her of her failure.”

“Is that honestly the Blueblood version of the tale?” Eveningstar asked incredulously.

“No, it’s my version,” Blue Belle replied. “I researched the subject the moment I realized I was capable of studying it while keeping my lunch in my stomach. I suspect the exact same thing is true for all of you.”

Eveningstar sighed. “The truth of the matter, Voltaire, is that Celestia’s sister was driven mad because her subjects feared and hated her night, and gave Celestia all the love that was both of theirs by right. She became the Nightmare, tried indeed to bring nighttime eternal, and was transformed into an integral part of the Moon for all—” She suddenly stopped herself in shock before completing that sentence. She was about to open her mouth and reveal her realization, but remembered the Princess telling her not to worry about this very subject a few weeks ago, and hesitantly decided to say no more on the matter.

“An ‘integral part’?” Voltaire asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that she was banished for all time,” said Morningstar.

“It means,” corrected Eveningstar, “that the shape you see on the Moon is Nightmare Moon.” She walked over to Quickstep, and put a hoof on her withers. “Let’s take her to the doctor, alright?” she addressed her softly.

Quickstep looked up with tears in her eyes, and nodded.

Voltaire hardened his expression. “This tip-toeing around memories is not doing anybody any good,” he said to himself.