• 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 34

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 34


A truncated version of the Royal Council was meeting in the Stalliongrad Town Hall that afternoon.

“Hoofington is petitioning to be included in the route the expedition takes back to Canterlot,” Eveningstar reported in a bored voice.

“Hoofington?” Morningstar asked incredulously after consulting a map. “That’s on the far side of the Everfree Forest from the capital! How can they possibly justify—”

She was interrupted by the sound of Blue Belle opening the hall’s twin doors to enter. Doing this let in the sound of dozens of caterwauling ponies.

“All of the fillies are crying,” she reported with an earnest tone.

“We noticed,” said Morningstar dryly.

“That’s why we’re not holding this meeting at the park as scheduled,” added Eveningstar.

“Do any of you know why?” Blue Belle asked. “We’ve never run into anything of this scale before during our travels, and it just suddenly started this morning.”

“Not really,” said Morningstar dismissively. “I’m not especially good with children.”

Eveningstar bit her lip, to hold back any of dozens of stories of Cognizant’s colthood that more than illustrated that remark.

“Maybe it’s some kind of spell!” speculated Blue Belle.

“I’ve afraid that crying in foals is a very common symptom,” noted Princess Celestia, “with a variety of causes, most of them non-magical in nature. Short of a silence spell, there’s nothing you can really do without more information.”

“I’ll see what I can find out!” the unicorn filly said with a salute. She used her magic to quickly open and close the doors, briefly letting the sound of unhappy foals back into the building.

There were a few moments of relative silence, before Eveningstar remembered where they had left off. “The Hoofington city council claims that all of the roads leading to and from it are the best-maintained in all of Equestria, while the eastern roads are prone to inducing hoof-rot in any ponies unfortunate enough to be forced to use them.”

“The eastern roads that we took to get here?” asked Morningstar.

“Um...yes,” said Eveningstar.

Morningstar looked pointedly down at her hooves.

“Look, I’m just reading the petition,” Eveningstar countered. “It’s not like this is my opinion on the subject.”

“Fine,” said Morningstar. “We’ll hire the town artist to create a visual reply to the fine town of Hoofington: a cartoon of the Princess looking down at her stinky-cheese hooves, with the caption ‘Oops!’”

It took a supreme effort of will, but the Princess finally succeeded in maintaining a straight face. That did not mean, however, that she was not going to commission that cartoon, if only for her to keep for herself.


A couple hours passed. The noise outside got steadily worse, until it became quite impossible to keep the meeting going.

“Do you know any songs we could sing?” Morningstar asked the others. “The louder the better.”

The doors were opened by a thoroughly panicked Blue Belle.

Close that door!” the others chorused, trying to make themselves heard above the cacophony coming in from outside.

The unicorn filly put her back into it like the crying was a physical force. “It’s...it’s only in reaction to unicorns,” she reported. “And the effect is definitely spreading.”

“Spreading?” repeated Eveningstar. “From neighborhood to neighborhood?”

“From year to year,” said Blue Belle with growing desperation as she approached the Princess. “It started with the newborns, and it’s all the way up to the fillies and colts now. Every pegasus and earth pony appears to be affected. Deer Dread is the only other young unicorn in town, and I saw her eaten alive by fear before my very eyes! She’s nine years old, and I’m only ten! It’s been progressing steadily and inexorably, one year per hour. I may only have a few minutes left!”

“‘One year per hour,’” Celestia repeated in horror. “It’s happening again!” With a blinding burst of magic, a golden sphere burst outwards from her horn, passing through the ponies and the walls.

The other ponies in the hall rushed to the windows, to see the sphere expand until it seemed to envelop the whole of Stalliongrad. They watched for a few seconds longer, but the sphere got no bigger than that.

“What’s happening?” Eveningstar demanded.

“It’s a time distortion,” the Princess said with a heavy heart, “and it’s affecting all of Equestria.”

“Then why aren’t you expanding that bubble any wider?” Morningstar asked. “And why can I still hear foals crying?”

“That’s as big as I can make it and still have it be effective,” Celestia replied. “And the shield spell doesn’t reverse the effects, it just keeps it from progressing.”

But how are you going to fix it?!” cried Blue Belle.

“I can’t,” replied Celestia.

What do you mean you can’t?!” cried the white unicorn, grasping desperately at Princess Celestia’s legs. “What about Deer Dread? What about the foals? What about every other pony in Equestria a hundred hours from now?!

Celestia kneeled down and wrapped her wings around the terrified filly. “Somepony is responsible for this,” she told her in a deliberately calm voice. “Once we figure out who, then I can convince them to stop.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire took that moment to barge into the room, followed by the Royal Guard. “Hey, I see you’re having some sort of crisis going on, so I came by to help!” he said with false bravado. “I’ve got a piddling little mystery to ask you about, but it’s probably best to save that for another time.”

“Perhaps not,” Celestia said, standing up and looking strong to bolster the confidence of the uncertain ponies and human before her. “I need any of you to tell me anything strange you have seen or experienced since this morning. No matter how insignificant, it can help me to deduce the cause of this disturbance. Voltaire?”

“Ah...well, it’s probably just a unicorn’s odd idea of a practical joke,” he said, pulling out the Reichsthaler. “Perhaps Cogs has gotten into counterfeiting as a hobby? Heh-heh.”

Nopony laughed at the joke.

“Let me see the coin,” Celestia instructed him solemnly.

Voltaire handed it over. She raised an eyebrow on seeing the horseshoe engraved on the front, then gave it back to him.

“Do you remember what it used to look like?” she asked.

“It was a portrait of Queen Genevieve,” he said.

Celestia sighed, then gestured to the Sparkle Sisters and Blue Belle. “All of you saw this coin on the morning Voltaire watched me raise the Sun. Do you remember Queen Genevieve on the coin as well?”

The trio nodded mutely.

“Tell me everything you remember about Genevieve,” the Princess said to Voltaire.

“Well, she’s been the Queen of Prussia for the past eleven years,” the human replied. “She first corresponded with me in 1738, in the postscript of a letter written by her brother, Prince Friedrich.”

“And what about the donkey that passed through the portal that brought you to Equestria?”

Blue Belle began to shiver uncontrollably.

Voltaire watched her in concern for several moments before being drawn back into the dead serious expression of the Princess. “Well, Your Highness, that was...Genevieve as well. But she couldn’t have been the same donkey, could she?”

Celestia said nothing, instead watching him intently.

That Genevieve was the daughter of your royal jester,” he said, “and she turned ten the day before my arrival.” He peered at the coin in his hand once again, bringing to mind the portrait of her that wasn’t there, and the many paintings of her at Sanssouci that the Great Masters of Europe had made. “But they look...and her father was...how is that even biologically possible?! And why have I never questioned that impossibility before now?” He followed this with the question that perplexed him the most. “And how in the world did I refrain from joking about her species in all the time we’ve been in contact with each other? I should have been banished to the deepest, dankest pit in all of Germany for the sort of quips I’m only just now thinking of!”

“It’s alright,” Princess Celestia assured him. “You have spent an entire lifetime with this fact, and never before now encountered anyone willing to challenge it. Now I need you to think very carefully about this question: Is there any godmagic available to the humans on Earth? Even in the form of a story you’re certain is false?”

“I...well, there certainly are stories. The Arabians tell of a brass lantern housing an all-powerful spirit able to grant three wishes to any who rub the lamp. Do you think that is what is responsible?” Voltaire was trying desperately to maintain an air of confidence, but in truth he felt like he was on the edge of a precipice, as everything in life he thought was certain was being stripped away from him. The monarchs he thought he knew, the absence of anything miraculous on his homeworld...

“I have no idea,” said Celestia, interrupting his thoughts. “Although, knowing that the donkey has used at least two of her three wishes would be good to know.”

Celestia next turned to the shaking unicorn. “You still remember Genevieve, Blue Belle?” she asked.

Blue Belle blinked in shock. “How could I not?”

“Is she anything more than a donkey to you? Does this symbol have any significance?”

Blue Belle peered at the coin being presented to her by Celestia’s magic before replying. “She’s a very important donkey to me,” she said quietly, “one who I have grievously wronged.” She then realized that Celestia’s word “more”, in this context, meant something similar to how she would use it to describe K. “But physically, she is no more than a mortal donkey, to the best of my knowledge. And that is merely a horseshoe to my eyes. W...what would I have answered an hour from now, if that shield was not in place?”

“I’ll have to find that out myself,” Celestia replied. “Voltaire, you may come with me, but the unicorns had better stay here.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire followed Celestia out the door into the noisy marketplace. “Are you sure you should be coming out here?” he asked her. “After all, what if they are scared of all h...horns?”

“Are you coming, Voltaire?”

Voltaire looked upon the Princess in amazement. Somehow between eye blinks, Celestia had lost her horn. The human felt that she had altered herself in some other aspects, like her proportions or voice had changed, but not in any way that he could name. She also seemed shorter, although they were certainly still eye-to-eye like they were before.

“How...?”

“I am pegasus, unicorn and earth pony, Human,” she told him sternly. “Does it surprise you that I can choose which aspect I manifest as?”

“Well...I suspected it might be a little harder than changing my wig,” he replied.

Celestia the pegasus laughed, before turning to walk briskly up to a pegasus that was walking by with her distressed child. “Madam,” she said, “could I ask your daughter a question?”

Horn or no horn, there was no mistaking the Princess of the Sun. “Certainly, Your Highness,” the mother said, a little flustered, and ushered a filly forward.

Voltaire dug through his bag and produced a lollypop, which he held out for the filly.

“Little pony, what is your name?” Celestia asked.

“Tree Branch,” the filly replied, her eyes fixed on the piece of candy.

“Could you tell me what that little object around your neck means?”

Voltaire’s eyes focused on a silver chain around the filly’s neck, a chain that was attached to the ends of a little horseshoe.

Where did that come from?” the mother whispered fearfully.

“This is the symbol of Equestria’s goddess,” the filly said, quite obviously repeating something she had been forced to memorize. “Can I have the sweet now?”

Voltaire handed the lollypop over.

“P...Princess,” the mother addressed her with a worried look, “where did that chain come from? I just realized that she’s been wearing it for an hour now, but I don’t remember her putting it on, or where she could have gotten it from.” In response to the thoughtful look on her monarch’s face, she remembered her manners and did a quick curtsy. “My name’s Sky Canter.”

“How old is your daughter, Sky Canter?” the Princess asked.

“Nine.”

Celestia thought for a second before speaking. “Your daughter has been struck by a powerful charm spell that only affects fillies and colts—those nine years of age or younger. I am going to deal with this problem personally. Until then, take your daughter home, and please do not punish her over the next few days if she appears to believe things that you know not to be true—that is merely the spell confusing her. And please tell this to all other parents of similarly aged children you know.”

“Y...yes, Your Highness,” Sky Canter said with another curtsy. “And thank you for personally devoting yourself to this problem.” She then quickly led her daughter away.

“That was a lie,” observed Voltaire quietly.

“It will stem the panic I saw growing in the parents,” Celestia told him firmly. “And it contains a good deal of the truth.”

~ ~ ~

Princess Celestia reported her findings to the Council.

“So do you know enough now?” Morningstar asked with growing frustration. “And if you do, do you mind letting the rest of us in on it? What do you mean by ‘time distortion’?”

“History has been changed,” the Princess informed them. “That’s what gods do. They don’t just change things going forward from the moment They did them; They make changes that affect future and past events.”

The historian sat down hard on the wooden floor. “So it is possible,” she said at last. “I had always suspected that certain moments in our history were too unlikely to be possible. I was just never sure if they were propaganda covering up a darker truth, or somepony mucking with reality.”

“Somehow or another, Genevieve has become a goddess, and She’s come to Equestria to claim it,” Celestia continued. “This event happened about nine hours ago.”

“How do you know that?” asked Eveningstar.

“Because historical changes ripple outwards at a fixed rate: one year every hour. Within a certain radius, the change is instantaneous, but we are far enough from Her for that effect not to matter.”

“Is...Canterlot far enough?” Blue Belle asked in a quiet voice.

Celestia shook her head sadly. “Now a few weeks ago,” she continued, “Genevieve wished that she was the Queen of Prussia. How old is that coin?”

“Less than a year old,” answered Voltaire.

“Then less than an hour after she made that first wish, the coin changed from showing King Friedrich to showing Queen Genevieve.”

“Friedrich was king?”

“Yes, and you told us all about him.”

“I do not remember that,” said Eveningstar. “I remember him telling us about his queen.”

“That’s because the change continued to expand through time at a year per hour,” Celestia replied. “By three days after that wish had been made, all of your memories had been re-written to believe that Genevieve had always been queen. The reason I know that this wish was made only a few weeks ago is because I still remember Friedrich being king. In another week or two, my memories would have been re-written as well.”

“Well put them back!” said a panicking Morningstar.

“I told you: I can’t,” said Celestia sadly. “I once had access to the kind of power that could fix any problem, but I gave up the right to it long ago. My shield spell has halted the effect in Stalliongrad, but it continues to advance over the rest of Equestria. Genevieve is replacing me as ruler of Equestria, and all She has to do is wait a week for everypony to acknowledge Her. They’ll have no choice, because She will be the only monarch they had ever known.”

It occurred to Voltaire that the Princess knew an awful lot about the process of re-writing history. “I assume you have a plan,” he said.

The alicorn nodded. “I’m going to Canterlot to confront Her, as that is almost certainly where She is. This will be an extremely dangerous journey. Because of the distance effect, all of Canterlot will be loyal to Her. Now is there anything I need to know about Genevieve before I go?”

This question was addressed specifically to Blue Belle, who winced. “I messed up her life,” she told them reluctantly. “I made her so miserable that she thought that even Earth would be better than putting up with me.”

“I see,” said the Princess. She didn’t show the slightest bit of surprise at Blue Belle’s revelation. “Voltaire, I need you to come with me. Whatever magic made Her into a goddess, it must have come from Earth, and so I need your knowledge.” From her saddlebag, she floated out a golden necklace with an hourglass-shaped pendant. “As long as you’re wearing this, She can’t affect your memories.”

Voltaire nervously put it on.

Blue Belle used her magic to fish out another necklace. “I’m coming with you,” she said.

Celestia sighed. “Your presence would be very welcome, Blue Belle, but you must be very certain. No torment you can possibly imagine will match what we might have to go through before we succeed in this endeavor. We will be in the presence of a being capable of anything, a being with a legitimate reason to want to torture you. You will consider yourself lucky if She merely kills you. Stay here, under the shield. I’ll teach the unicorns how to maintain it, and even after it fails, you can still wear that necklace here in Stalliongrad and you’ll be safe.”

“And how long does this necklace last, Your Highness?” Blue Belle asked, her voice quavering. “Will it work even if you cease to exist?”

“Yes.”

“Will it work as long as I live?”

“Yes.”

Blue Belle looked up at Celestia with desperate, pleading eyes, as she asked, “Will it work until I can’t possibly stand being the only pony left in the world that remembers you and remembers Voltaire and remembers my father and remembers what this world was and what we were finally fixing it to?” She turned away and walked towards the door. “No, Your Highness,” she said, respectfully but firmly. “I won’t stay behind and live with that guilt when I know full well that I am the cause of this mess, and I am your best hope of getting through to that stubborn donkey. You’re saying that even if you succeed, it might have to be at the cost of my life. I’m still going. This is my purpose in life, to accept the blame even when it isn’t my fault.” She looked back, tears in her eyes. “And today it is my fault, so please, take me with you.”

“Alright,” said Celestia with a heavy heart. She passed out a dozen more necklaces to the members of the Council (and put one on herself), then showed the Sparkle Sisters how to maintain the shield spell. “I can’t take anypony else with me,” she said. “Speed and stealth are essential. If you work in shifts, the shield will hold out for about a month before the temporal gradient becomes so great as to collapse it. You should have plenty of time to put on the necklaces before that happens.”

“Good luck, Your Highness,” said Eveningstar.

Morningstar looked up from the ground, at a loss for words for a few moments, before smiling slightly. “I was always too proud to ever believe you were a goddess, but right now, I believe in you anyway,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” a teary-eyed Celestia said as she embraced them all with her wings. “It just so happens that I was made for outsmarting megalomaniacal gods.” She broke the hug, and walked outside, the others following her.

The Princess walked up to a vehicle and looked around. “I’m stealing this chariot!” she announced loudly with a grin. “You can prosecute me when I get back!”

Voltaire and Blue Belle secured themselves, and the Princess took off into the sky. She circled around to be sure that the two sisters below had taken over the shield spell before releasing control of it and flying through.


“So how many times have you done this before, Your Highness?” asked Voltaire from the back of the chariot. Thanks to a permanent enchantment, almost all pegasus chariots allow riders and fliers to converse regardless of wind speed. “Challenged a time-altering god with nothing but your wits?”

“Oh, a few dozen times, I think,” Celestia answered. “I can’t really be sure.”

“But you’ve never lost, right?” asked Blue Belle.

“Well that depends,” answered Celestia honestly. “If you mean ‘lost’ as in losing Equestria to a single willful individual,”—Voltaire caught the distinction between this and “a popular uprising based on class warfare”—“then no, I have never lost. But you must understand: if I ever did truly lose, then I would be stripped of the ability to remember that the challenge had ever taken place. There is no way of knowing how much I have truly lost to contests of this nature. I may have had brothers or sisters that I will never know I had. I could have ruled all of this planet, other worlds, even the universe. I may well have once been that God you believe in, Voltaire.”

“Are you then so attractive, that every god must come down from the heavens to challenge you?” Voltaire joked, trying to break Celestia’s growing melancholy.

“Oh, most of my challengers are home-grown,” Celestia replied with a little smile. “It’s the cutie marks, you see. The most powerful magic in all of Equestria. Before cutie marks, we ponies were the helpless prey of the predators of this world, paralyzed by our own fears. But with them, our power is unshakable, even without an ancient Princess pulling the strings. A cutie mark allows a pony to do anything, and I do mean anything.”

“So every two or three generations you’re forced to put down one of your own, then?” the human asked.

The Princess sighed. “You have to understand, they come from positions of such pain that they believe that only raw power will make things right. I have always been open to what they have to say. My greatest advisers...my greatest friends, have come from those I have convinced to relinquish their power.”

“And how many have you been forced to kill?”

“You forget, Voltaire, that until a few weeks ago, it was not even possible to think of that word. I have resolved every one of these crises without violence. Either I have convinced my antagonist to relent...or I accepted that their world view was superior, and allowed them to have their way.”

“But surely you would not give up your crown willingly to an usurper!” exclaimed Blue Belle.

“Remember your history, Blue Belle, the public history as well as the one your family keeps secret. I stole control of Equestria from your ancestors. Surely you know that.”

Blue Belle snorted in disbelief. “Thanks to some rather disgusting perversions of biology, the only individual with an indisputable claim to all of Equestria is frozen in stone in your garden. I’m more than willing to look past matters of legitimacy to those of fitness. If the griffons did one of their blind tests for your job, nopony would have a better resume than yours, Your Highness.”

Celestia pretended not to notice that Blue Belle knew about the current location of Discord, the crown’s oldest state secret.

And Voltaire made a mental note to take a tour of the statue gardens in Canterlot if he ever got out of this alive.