• 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 30

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 30

The group reached Stalliongrad the next day.

Quickstep and her family left to return to Trottingham, the earth mare having resigned her Council post regardless of anything Celestia could say to dissuade her (or the fact that the Princess’s healing had left the ebullient Twinkletoes cleared of her asthma and healthier than she had ever been in her entire life).

The Princess announced that there would be a meeting the next day of all of the griffon nobles in Equestria, so that they might decide what they would do in the wake of Sky Shock’s revelations. She made sure to emphasize that the terms of her offer of sanctuary still stood regardless of what they decided, and that they would be allowed to make the decision to stay or return individually.

After making this announcement, the Princess dismissed her guard and walked out of the town.

~ ~ ~

When an hour had passed without her return, Voltaire convinced the Council and Guard to wait while he set out to find her.

Eventually, he spotted her sitting atop a small hillock, staring out into space.

He approached her at a leisurely walk, then sat down cross-legged beside her and looked out over the clover in the same direction she was. He loved the fact that she let him do this, that she wasn’t hung up over who stood or bowed or kowtowed in her presence, especially in private. She knew he respected her, and that was enough.

Neither spoke for a few minutes.

Pff!” Voltaire heard. He turned his head, in time to see the Princess making the sound again as she tried to blow a strand of her shimmering hair out of the way, to no effect.

“You know, that used to work once,” she told him gently, rising to her hooves.

Voltaire said nothing, merely looking up at her.

“Do you think you’d ever like to meet your God, Voltaire?” she asked.

Voltaire shook his head wistfully. “I suspect that my God would be pretty surprised to see me. He’s a pretty stand-off sort, I imagine, and very clever with natural machinery, but with not much tolerance for thinking creatures. Have you ever watched a salt crystal grow? Such perfect harmony. I think my God created the universe to be His crystal garden. The fact that the same laws of the universe that create a salt crystal also allow life to exist was probably completely unintended. As long as we don’t mess things up too badly, He’ll just keep pretending that we don’t exist.”

“I suppose that is a good enough argument as any to keep your sodium intake down,” commented Celestia with an amused grin before thinking of grimmer matters. “Well unfortunately for ponies, they actually got to meet a real god once. His name was Discord, and He was bored.

“The Three Tribes had only just united into a single nation when He struck. At His whim, ponies were transformed into tortured shapes, or turned against their cutie marks to attack each other for His amusement. Random lives would be forced to run backwards, just to demonstrate to the others just how pointless mortality really was. Heroes were forced to be villains, and wise men were made fools. Starswirl the Bearded tried to stand up to Him. He...he was tortured for centuries, before he finally managed to escape. Escape...or commit suicide. Since he never returned, there is no way to tell for sure. The ponies fell into despair.”

Voltaire stared at her at shock. For weeks now, he had toyed with the idea that this world might be the perfect world that Leibniz had mistakenly claimed his own was. The fact that its inhabitants weren’t killing each other over their impossible-to-verify guesses about the nature of God was a good part of it. And here was a moment when the matter was settled to everyone’s satisfaction. Here is your God...and He despises every last one of you.

“This torment lasted,” the Princess continued, her voice heavy with sympathy, “for...well, nopony can possibly tell how long. Discord sped Sun and Moon through the sky at random. Lifespans were in general lengthened, for the mad god grew fond of certain individuals so He could sustain His fun at their expense forever. Luna and I afterwards called the length of His rule a hundred years when it came time to fix the calendar, but it was probably closer to a couple thousand.

“One of His favorite victims was Starswirl’s student, Clover the Clever.”

Voltaire noticed that she clipped the sounds of this character’s name, like every instant spent saying it was an instant wasted.

“Clover faithfully served Discord as His adviser, all while plotting His overthrow. In his daughters, I and my sister Luna, Clover had the most powerful pegasus and unicorn that had ever been born. But this wasn’t enough.

“Through use of the forbidden amniomorphic spell, he shaped us into something more, something transcending unicorn, pegasus or earth pony.”

“He made you into what you are today,” said Voltaire.

“Exactly,” replied Celestia, reaching up a hoof to manipulate the unearthly substance of her mane with trepidation. “Discord might have had infinite power, but He had a mind, a personality, that could be manipulated like any other, and obscure rules that He had no choice but to obey. My father kept that god fooled, while he put us two through a grueling course to develop the physical and magical strength we would need. When Discord got too close to discovering our true nature, Father sacrificed Mother to distract Him.”

Voltaire’s mouth gaped. “Surely she sacrificed herself for the lives of her children,” he gently corrected.

“She died begging her husband for mercy,” Celestia coldly insisted. “And by that atrocity, he saved all of Equestria. Everypony knew that Discord was getting tired of this world, and everypony also knew the fate of the hundreds of other worlds He had tired of, as He so liked the looks on our faces when He told us. Given the Hearth’s Warming Eve story, He was setting up the old tribes to hate each other once again, so that the Windigos might finish us off once and for all.”

The human sat there, horrified.

“And so we struck, Luna and I,” the alicorn continued matter-of-factually. “We took Him utterly by surprise and imprisoned Him in stone.”

“You beat a god?” Voltaire asked incredulously.

“We outsmarted a god,” Celestia corrected. “We never could have overpowered Him. Between us we forged the Elements of Harmony, Light and Darkness, and together we used them to defeat Him.”

“Then what happened?” asked Voltaire quickly, to fill the hesitant pause in her narration. He’d spend some other day trying to figure out what the story Celestia was telling him actually meant. For now, he needed to hear as much of it as possible while Celestia was in the mood for sharing her most painful memories with another living soul, because he suspected he would be long dead of old age before the urge to do so ever struck her again.

“We cleaned up Equestria,” said the Princess. “Discord had left several booby traps behind after His defeat. One of them tried to send the Sun hurtling into the void. The unicorns only just managed to prevent this catastrophe. I found that I could easily do what it took all of them to do, and so realized what my cutie mark meant. Luna took over a similar function for the night. The chaos was gradually reversed, and Equestria was brought back to normal, but it was forever changed.”

Princess Celestia gestured at the entire world around them. “Just as with the Sun,” she told the human, “the natural systems of the planet refused to work by themselves. Clouds never formed, seasons refused to turn, and animals remained stuck in a sort of perpetual mental childhood. Luna and I decided that the ponies needed to take over these functions: the pegasi to direct the weather, the earth ponies to help along the natural cycles, and the unicorns to assist where necessary.”

Voltaire thought he saw a look of doubt flit across Celestia’s face, and why not? By this action, as much as by her and her sister taking over the heavenly duties, she imposed her race of ponies upon every other race on the planet, whether they wanted the burden of domination of not. Would the dragons have done better? Or any other magical race of this planet he had not yet learned about? Probably not. And what about humans? From what he had seen so far, the yoke of the ponies was far lighter than the yoke of forced religious and cultural conversions that the Europeans had imposed upon the less-armed tribes of the world in the past couple of centuries. Enlightened by the example of the griffons, Voltaire now recognized that even when Europeans wished to improve the lives of the “savages” instead of conquering them, they were still hurting them, because the goal was always to turn “them” into “us”, to force the foreigners to live like “civilized” human beings, even in the absurd case when the so-called savages were the Chinese, with a civilization thousands of years older than Western Civilization. (To be fair, this “domination through patronizing” problem was a flaw of all humans in power throughout recorded history, including the Chinese. As for the Europeans, they were just the most recent ones to engage in the practice, as well as being the ones whose atrocities resulting from it were best-documented.)

“During this time Father died,” Celestia continued, pulling the councilor out of his reverie. “Luna mourned him deeply—she had no memories of what she used to be before he altered her form. I, on the other hoof, did.”

The Princess looked down sadly at the ground. “She changed after that. Started complaining about the way the other ponies treated her, that she got less respect than I. All very true, but I just dismissed this as the onset of adolescence. It was obvious by now that we were immortal, and so it made sense that she would go through the phases of life slower than the other ponies.” The pony’s face twisted as she proceeded to tear into her own flaws: “I was drunk on power, and dedicated to controlling every detail of the new government of Equestria, something I at the time found far more fascinating than the plight of my own sister. When I refused to switch roles with her, to do anything reasonable in fact to get her the credit she deserved, she began poring through Father’s research, looking for a way to force me to give her what she wanted. And there she discovered a way to summon the Nightmare.”

Celestia stopped suddenly, and looked up at the sky. Voltaire looked to see what she was looking at, and saw nothing special at that patch of sky. He concluded that she wanted to look at the Moon, at the sky object most-closely associated with her sister, but there was nothing to look at. Unlike on Earth, Voltaire could not remember a single time that he saw Equestria’s moon during the daytime hours, or any night when that same body was ever anything but full. Perhaps Celestia lacks the finesse that her sister had with the night sky? he wondered. Perhaps she alone remembers evening glories that this world will never see again?

After several moments, Princess Celestia began to speak once more, this time in the tone of a philosopher. “I’m not sure how to classify that foul spirit. Was the Nightmare a god? Or yet another trap left behind by Discord? Perhaps she could be likened to a disease? Just as a plague will feed so hungrily on a population that it will doom itself by killing all of its carriers, so the Nightmare, feeding on misery, plotted to bring about an eternal night that would forever deprive it of its food source.”

She hardened her resolve for what was to come. “Awakened far too late to the consequences of my inaction, I tried and failed to break the curse, to convince Luna to fight back against the spirit, or to steer her minions away from their suicidal course. It was only when the death toll reached into the thousands that I was finally forced to act. I knew already that the Elements of Harmony could not be used to free her, that they needed both of us, that they were fueled by our love for each other, for our ponies, and for our country, but that could never be re-captured, so I forced them into an instrument of destruction. They instead rebelled against my will and imprisoned Nightmare Moon, Luna...my sister, in the Moon, and then fragmented into six pieces.

“That was seven and a half centuries ago,” she said, dropping her head once more to the ground. “Every night, when I set my Sun and raise her Moon, I am forced to face my failure.” She said this in a low voice, but with a certain intensity.

Voltaire was reminded by her posture of the sacrament of confession, one of the few aspects of modern-day Christianity he admired. Is this the best she can do for forgiveness? he asked himself. Appealing to the judgment of an apostate monkey?

“I pulled away from my ponies,” Celestia said, continuing her self-condemnation. “For a while, I allowed them to rule themselves, while I lay in a cave and tried and failed to end my own life. But in the end they could not, or would not, rule themselves, and they begged me to take over. I’ve been living ever since with a sense of numbness. I’ve tried, I hope, to make my ponies’ lives as pleasant as possible, but I’ve never wanted any of them to be a part of my life. That didn’t stop several of them from forcing themselves into my life, for my eternal benefit. You, Voltaire, in your short time here, have done more for me than generations of Councilors.”

Voltaire stood up then, and put a hand carefully on one of her shoulders. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” he told her gently, “but I wrote ‘The Frog Princess’ for Equestria, not for you. Someday you could be the one left for dead in a swamp, after facing off against a re-awakened Discord or who knows what, and when that day comes, you’re going to need a pony, or more likely a whole lot of ponies, able to help you out, with their magic or perhaps with those Elements you talked about.”

Celestia turned to leave, and bid Voltaire to follow her. “I have been thinking along similar lines,” she told him. It feels good to be talking to someone without having to look down upon them, she thought. “Come, there’s probably a lot of worried ponies waiting for me.”