• 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 5

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 5

Voltaire found himself in another padded room. He wondered if this was because the unicorns knew that he had come from a padded room, or because they believed all humans to be insane. The latter, after all, was not too far off from the truth.

It appeared that the stories that humans had about unicorns were all wrong. They were not all white in color. They were not all the size of horses. They did not have the beards of goats, and their hooves were not cloven. They were not wild and untamable. The part about being unable to resist the charms of a maiden, though, had yet to be tested.

They most definitely had a language, made up of the sounds available to any horse or pony. He had already made progress on a rudimentary Unicorn-to-French dictionary:

A particular series of high whinnies meant “Stop! In the name of the law!”

A pair of snorts meant “Keep your hands where I can see them.”

A shorter series of medium-pitched whinnies meant “Follow me, you wretched excuse for a creature.”

Finally, a loud pair of whinnies meant “Did I give you permission to look at her, you slug?!” This was always, always followed by a blow in the solar plexus.

All guards everywhere used the same rote vocabulary. With as many times as he had been arrested for expressing his opinions, Voltaire knew this to be a fact.

There was something else that Voltaire learned about unicorns: their horns were not used for healing, or at least, not exclusively for healing. The unicorn guards had been quite clearly using their horns to levitate him once he had worn out their patience. While he was enveloped in the glowing red field, it had seemed as if the force of gravity had been neutralized in his vicinity. He had nearly lost his watch when it began floating out of his pocket. The same ability was used to manipulate the key used to unlock the room Voltaire was currently stuck in.

This actually made a good deal of sense. Humans dominated the Earth thanks not only to their clever brains, but to the nimble hands that could transform their thoughts into reality. Stuck with hooves, it seemed that unicorns had no chance at civilization without levitation. He wondered how they did it, and whether it was possible for humans to duplicate this trick with a machine of some kind.

His ruminations were interrupted by the sounds of several ponies arriving outside of the door to his cell. There seemed to be a rather loud argument in the pony tongue between one of the ponies and the leader of the guards who had levitated him. He was rather satisfied to hear the guard lose that particular argument, whatever it was, as he feared it might involve the possible medical uses of levitation upon his internal organs. He then heard a key being turned in a lock.

On the other side of the opening door, Voltaire glimpsed a figure glowing by its own light. He dropped down on one knee and bowed. “Greetings, noble and glorious steed, empress of the Houyhnhnm.” Even if she didn’t understand French, he hoped that she would judge him by his tone and attitude. Potentially being taller than the ruler he was appealing to was probably a bad idea, so he lowered himself onto his knees.

Celestia had nearly forgotten how impressive it was to see a tall biped bowing like that. She didn’t understand a word of what he said, but she was intrigued by the fact that the last word was nearly Equine. She allowed Eveningstar, the captain of the guards, and his lieutenant to enter the cell before she followed. The door was then closed and locked by the pair of guards remaining outside.

Eveningstar Sparkle was a dark blue unicorn with a pale lavender mane and tail. Her cutie mark was the constellation Gemini. On her back was a small box.

As the ruler of the unicorns turned her attention to the wooden box, Voltaire cautiously raised his head to get a good look at her, trying not to attract the attention of the scowling guard captain.

“Radiant” would be the best word to describe her, and not just because of her glowing coat. She of all the unicorns most-closely satisfied the myths. She alone was tall enough to look him straight in the eyes. Her coat was whiter than white. And her spiral horn was as long as she was. In her eyes he saw great strength, as well as great compassion. She was unicorn and maiden, all in one. And that shimmering mane! It was like a memory of a summer’s day from childhood—almost certainly too glorious to be real, but for once, he was willing to let fantasy win out over reality.

The wooden box on the smaller unicorn’s back was now open, and a small object floated out of it, supported by a magenta glow that was connected by a beam of light to a similar glow around the big unicorn’s horn.

Actually on closer inspection, the term “unicorn” was not correct for the bigger one, because she quite obviously had a pair of wings, making her both a unicorn and a Pegasus. Voltaire did not remember ever hearing of such a creature in his studies of various nations’ myths and legends.

The object was an unmarked gold coin. It was placed on a small table that was in the room, and then a second object was retrieved from the box. This was a piece of woolen fabric, off-white in color. It had been sewn to be slightly curved, so that it would fit snugly as a cap. In fact, it must have been made for a human, because it was too wide to rest comfortably on the head of a unicorn or a Pegasus-unicorn without the ears getting in the way. Assuming this to be some sort of bizarre welcoming ceremony, he remained still. The object stopped above his head and out of his range of vision, then floated slowly down until it was on top of his wig.

Three ponies were now all looking at Voltaire with rapt attention. The captain tried to look like he had better things to do.

“Thank you for the beautiful gift?” he said with less confidence than he meant to convey. He wondered if he was expected to give something in return, especially since the ponies all looked very disappointed after he had spoken.

The two creatures which were not guards spoke together in their equine language. The Pegasus-unicorn walked up to him and gave a critical look at the cap. Then she raised an eyebrow in surprise. Voltaire felt the weight of the cap being lifted off of his head, followed by his wig. Voltaire sighed—he must look hideous with his natural hair matted down. This problem, though, was solved by re-applying the cap to his bare head and then dropping the wig down on top of the cap. An indescribable sensation floated down from his scalp into his head as the tall pony returned to stand beside the others.

Can vos agnosco mihi iam?” she said. Or, to be more accurate, she whinnied like a pony, but at the same time he heard words seeming to come from her lips. Somehow the whinnies had been made very faint, so he could easily focus on the words.

Voltaire blinked. Was that Latin? he asked himself. The human was very familiar with Latin, as it was the universal language of scientific and philosophical literature, a role that was only recently being replaced by French in Voltaire’s lifetime. The only time he ever heard it spoken, however, was in church, and then only to repeat the same tired phrases over and over again.

“Can you understand me now?” the Pegasus-unicorn had asked him.

“Yes, I can understand you,” he replied in the same language. As he spoke, he heard a series of horse noises emerging from his mouth at the same time, but it was so faint that he could barely hear it.

Voltaire reached up cautiously and touched the edge of the white cap peeking out from under his wig, causing a curious scratching sensation to sweep across his scalp. What a remarkably-useful means of understanding! he mused. “I am Voltaire,” he said, bowing once again, “writer and philosopher...and human, if that fact was not already known to you.” The sound of his own name was not accompanied by a whinny or other pony sound.

“Hhoywhaihre?” said the unicorn, utterly failing to pronounce the human’s name. “V”s and “T”s were simply not part of pony speech.

Voltaire frowned and started thinking. His pseudonym had been very carefully selected. So many other authors made the mistake of picking something simple, like “The Fox” or “The Greek”. “Voltaire” had at least five different meanings packed into it, and he was always amused when a correspondent invented new ones that they were sure were the true meaning of the name. Literally, it was the name of his family’s estate, Airvault, with the syllables reversed, and an anagram of one spelling of his birth name, Arouvet Li (Arouet the Younger). But it was also meant to sound like several words in French that conveyed his character. Now which of those would be the best one to use under the circumstances...

“Voltige,” he said suddenly. He was pleased to find that this word did indeed have a translation. “You may called me ‘Voltige’.” Then he suddenly wondered why the ponies would know what “voltige” meant.

Translator’s Note: For those unaware of the term, “voltige” is what circus acrobats do on top of a running horse. “Voltige” is in fact the way that the author refers to Voltaire throughout the original version of this story, but I think it will be confusing to the human reader to have to juggle both words, so I will be using “Voltaire”, even when a pony is actually saying “Voltige”, unless they are specifically punning on the name.

“‘Voltige’?” asked the unicorn incredulously. “I’m not sure if I should be insulted or not,” she remarked to the Pegasus-unicorn. “In any case, he seems to be handling this whole situation very well.” She then turned to face the human. “Very well Voltaire, I am Eveningstar, the Court Astronomer and Translator. And this is Princess Celestia, sole ruler of the land of Equestria. I am a unicorn, and she is a winged unicorn.”

“Yes, how are you so calm, Voltaire?” asked Princess Celestia. “The last I knew, there were no magical ponies on Earth, although humans did appear to have knowledge of unicorns and pegasi.”

“He’s acting so calm because he’s a dragon spy!” the guard captain said. “Any moment now, he’s gonna...”

Without looking back at him, Princess Celestia raised a hoof. “I was asking Voltaire,” she said sweetly. Well, if you were an idiot, all it sounded was sweet. The captain had the intelligence to hear what was behind the sweetness, and shut up.

“Oh, well please don’t take this the wrong way,” Voltaire said with a smile, “but I happen to be dreaming right now.”

“Dreaming?” Eveningstar asked in disbelief. The captain behind her sputtered incredulously.

“Please don’t dwell on the matter,” Voltaire told Eveningstar. “I was in a rather miserable place when I fell asleep, and I would rather not wake up anytime soon.”


“Nevermind, Eveningstar,” said the Princess with a wry smile. “I for one don’t mind being a figment of this human’s imagination. For one thing, that makes him more likely to cooperate with us.”

“Oh certainly,” Voltaire replied. “How may I be of assistance?”

“Could you please tell us how you were able to visit Equestria?”

Voltaire blushed. “Well, um...” he said, stalling for a few seconds. “I, uh, used a magic pencil.” Said out loud, it sounded like something out of a children’s story.

He noticed the ponies were looking at him with confusion (plus of course with suspicion in the case of the captain). He also noticed that the word “pencil” when he had said it had not been accompanied by a translation. He repeated the word a few more times to no effect.

Eveningstar walked up to him. “The caps only translate words they already know. To learn additional words, the wearer needs to be mentally linked with a translator pony, which would be me. Once we are linked, any time you say a new word, or hear a new word, our minds will be searched and the equivalent words in Human and Equine will be added to the cap’s vocabulary.”

“Did you say mentally linked?” Voltaire asked nervously.

“Yes,” Eveningstar replied warily, “and that does mean that thoughts might drift between us when we are both close enough to the cap. What I find to be effective is to keep your private thoughts in a third language that the particular cap doesn’t know. I stick to Griffon when I’m using the green cap on a dragon, for example, and Dragon when I’m using the orange cap on a griffon.”

These unicorn abilities are looking more and more like magic, Voltaire thought grimly to himself. Luckily, the human language of the cap was Latin, and there was no chance that he would ever think casually in that language. “Very well,” he said finally, kneeling down and presenting his forehead to her.

Eveningstar’s horn glowed a faint red as she pressed it lightly to Voltaire’s forehead. The feeling that came over him this time was definitely describable: it was exactly like eating a sorbet too fast. Owwww... he thought to himself as he rubbed his head.

“Now could you repeat what you said?” Princess Celestia asked.

“I said that I came here by way of a magic pencil, silly as that sounds.” This time, when he said “pencil”, he felt a fainter version of the “brain freeze” and saw Eveningstar’s horn briefly glow, followed by the right pony sound coming out of his mouth. From the look of her face, she went through exactly what he did. It was at this point that he realized that a unicorn’s magical glow was the same color as its eyes.

He also noticed that the eyes of all four ponies in the room rested on the gold coin while he had spoken. Nothing unusual had appeared to happen to it.

“A magic pencil?” Princess Celestia asked with a smile, turning her head back to face him. “How perfectly appropriate! You are a writer, are you not?”

“Yes...?” Voltaire said, not understanding her meaning.

“Well in Equestria the writers have a saying: The pen is mightier than the horn.”

“Ah, I see,” said Voltaire. “We humans have a similar saying, although of course not involving a horn.” And he tapped his forehead for emphasis.

“We were wondering if you could use this pencil for us,” the Princess continued. “You see, a young donkey fell through your pencil’s portal into your world shortly after you fell into this one. That portal is now closed, and the easiest way to rescue her would be the same means you used to create the portal in the first place.”

“Oh, of course!” Voltaire said, springing to his feet. “I just need to...” He searched through his pockets, but failed to find the pencil. He checked them again, and then again, before he remembered. “I’m afraid I left the pencil in my world. You see, I was just taking a peek, and had no intention of visiting. It was all sort of an accident, you see.”

Once again, he saw the ponies looking at the coin as he spoke, and noticed them all sigh in disappointment when nothing appeared to happen to it. He began then to have a suspicion as to the coin’s purpose.

“Well in that case,” Princess Celestia said, “I need to get my magicians to work on opening their own portal to Earth. Come with me, Voltaire; they will need something personal from you to act as the locus of their spell. A lock of hair should be enough, but it cannot be removed from you until the instant the spell is cast.” She turned and knocked on the door of the cell to have it opened by a guard, then turned her head to address the human. “I trust you will not give Captain Hardheart here a reason to be rough with you again, will you?”

That was ‘rough’? Voltaire thought incredulously, comparing the levitation with the sort of treatment he had undergone in the Bastille and other royal and aristocratic prisons. “I will be on my best behavior,” he said proudly, and looked over at the coin with the rest of them before continuing. “I would never wish a sovereign to see such things.”

The coin flashed brightly for a moment.

“Aha!” Captain Hardheart proclaimed. “He lies!”

“I was speaking to the Princess,” Voltaire explained calmly. “She doesn’t need a coin to know the truth. And I was telling the truth about being on my best behavior. As to what happened on the way to the cell, I did not know then what manner of being I was dealing with.”

“We do not have time for this!” the captain complained. “Can’t we just knock him out?”

“No, we shall not, Sergeant,” the Princess said firmly, staring sternly at him for a moment.

And in that moment, the very fabric of reality seemed to ripple, causing everyone who wasn’t a Princess in the room to shudder.

Voltaire suddenly suspected that Princess Celestia didn’t need any guards whatsoever.

Author's Note:

Guess what? It's time for more criticism from the "anonymous author" to the translator McPoodle! In this epistle, we learn why the author isn't translating her own story.