• 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 8

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 8

The Night Court was an entirely different affair than the Day Court.

The lack of ponies was the main thing. The Throne Room of the Night was never witness to the crushed masses of the Throne Room of the Day—no fear of suddenly discovering you had claustrophobia. Instead, the Night Court was the home of punctuated boredom: nothing happened for hours, sometimes several nights in succession, but when a crisis did arise, it was inevitably exaggerated beyond all reason because it erupted out of such tranquility.

It was a good time to get one’s paperwork done.

Princess Celestia hadn’t slept in seven and a half centuries. It simply wasn’t necessary for her, after all. And during Night Court, she could allow herself to drift into a state between sleep and wakefulness that left her fresh to raise the Sun at its close.

...Or maybe she’d have to deal with the human and his ego tantrum, instead.

Voltaire stood there at the entrance of the Night Court, his hands involuntarily clenching and unclenching over and over again. In Celestia’s drowsy state, the rhythmic motions entranced her. Not for the first time, a fleeting pang of jealousy for not having such interesting appendages flashed through her relaxed thoughts.

Voltaire reached up and tried to adjust his wig to look presentable. Tried...and failed. “Your Grand Royal Highness,” he said through his teeth. “I most humbly request a brief audience in private, so that I might partake of your divine guidance.”

The Princess smiled lazily at the sheer number of words used to express such a simple question, without even managing to get to the question mark at all, which was sort of an odd way to...what was she thinking about again?

The night guards looked at each other with a smirk.

Oh, that’s right! Celestia thought to herself. He wants a talky. “You may speak, Voltaire,” she said breathily, her eyelids hooded. “As you can see, my advisers are gone, and I have no petitioners. Anything said in here will remain in strictest confidence, and my guards are absolutely trustworthy.”

Voltaire looked to the unicorn who was standing beside him, and gestured her towards the Princess.

Celestia watched with growing amusement as a nervous Eveningstar trotted right up to her and stretched up towards the Princess’s ear.

The winged unicorn brought her head down so that her Royal Translator would not have to strain herself. “How dramatic!” she whispered with a grin. “What does he want you to tell me?

He wouldn’t tell me,” Eveningstar whispered back. She looked over at Voltaire, who had thrown open the doors and was trying by stares alone to force the guards to leave.

If this is some kind of comedy by those two, it isn’t very good, Celestia thought petulantly. “Get on with it, Voltaire,” she said.

Voltaire responded by staring intently at Eveningstar and thinking two words very clearly in Latin.

Celestia imagined the thought, whatever it was, flying between Voltaire and Eveningstar, and dutifully followed it with her eyes. She then saw the unicorn fall back in shock as if she had been physically struck. “Eveningstar...?” she asked nervously.

Voltaire pointed imperiously at Celestia.

“I think this game’s gone on long enough, Voltaire,” Celestia warned. “You will tell me what this is about, right now.”

A very nervous Eveningstar finally leaned over and whispered Voltaire’s message into her monarch’s ear:

Mind control.

~ ~ ~

“Everypony out of the throne room,” Princess Celestia suddenly ordered. “NOW.”

She was wide awake. In fact, she suspected she was now more awake than she had been since the last time the dragons had threatened to invade.

Without a word, the four royal night guards marched out of the throne room.

“That includes you, Eveningstar,” the Princess told her adviser, raising her head to its full height in an attempt to intimidate her.

Eveningstar automatically started to walk away, then stopped herself so suddenly that she stumbled. “Nnnno,” she said, turning her head back. She looked like she had seen a ghost. “I want to know what he means. I think...I think I saw it happen, to him. He tried to tell me something, and his body turned against him. I...I would like an explanation.” She had an utterly lost expression on her face, as if she knew that what she was doing would ruin her life forever, but at the same time couldn’t stand to live with herself if she didn’t follow through. “Unless...unless you order me to leave.”

Voltaire closed the doors, then walked up to Eveningstar and rested a hand on her withers. “Well?”

Celestia sighed. “I can’t explain it without triggering it. A lot.” Two silver buckets, a table covered with a dozen glasses of water, and a pile of towels suddenly appeared before the human and the unicorn. Two pony-height buckets. “Are you really sure you want to go through with this?”

Eveningstar wearily raised herself on her hind legs and rested her forehooves on the rim of her bucket before giving her monarch a look of equal parts resignation and defiance.

Celestia looked over at Voltaire, who gave one look at the unicorn’s much larger belly before positioning his bucket a bit further away from hers. “Are you sure you don’t want to get a few ‘how dare you’s in first?” she asked him. “‘Freedom of thought’ vs. ‘loyal actions’...that kind of thing?”

Voltaire shook his head. “Get on with it.”

“Very well.” Celestia closed her eyes and concentrated for a moment. Before her, the doors locked and the windows were covered with a substance that looked like wool. The ears of the three in the room simultaneously popped, like the room had been suddenly teleported to the bottom of the ocean. Celestia opened her eyes and started her explanation with an odd twang in her voice—this was because another spell was clamping her nostrils shut. “The Roman told me much about the human world during his time here. It appeared to be a place where reason and understanding have a weak hold on human passions. As a result, humans frequently resorted to violence to solve their problems.

“Equestria is not like that. On Equestria, violence is never the permanent solution to any problem. But in the distant past, the ponies didn’t know this. The Hearth Warming Eve story you hear every year is a very polite version of the truth. Before the tribes united to found Equestria, they were at each other’s throats. Not for a few months, as the play implies, but for generations. Generations of hatred. Generations of betrayal. Generations of...” ...here it comes... “...killing.”

Celestia turned her head and waited nearly a minute as the human and the unicorn before her emptied their stomachs into their respective buckets at hearing the forbidden word, and then reaching down for the glasses of water and towels to recover. Eveningstar’s reaction was somewhat delayed, as she first had to absorb the meaning of a word she had never heard before in her entire life, before she had the experience of reacting to it. When they were done, Celestia then turned back around and continued speaking as if nothing at happened. “When I first became princess, I was young, and naive. I was also foalish enough to believe that just by outlawing something, I could make it disappear forever. So I cast a spell so powerful that not even I could reverse it, a spell to prevent anypony in Equestria from even thinking about...”

“...pinking,” Voltaire interrupted, bringing up the first dueling term he could think of. “Let’s agree to call it ‘pinking’. And I notice you left yourself out of this little arrangement.”

“I may have been foolish, but I was never stupid,” Celestia replied. “I banned only two thoughts. Actually, I banned a few other things, but none of those are still in effect. That’s because my little ponies are very clever, and they managed to think of ways to break every one of my silly little prohibitions when they really needed to be broken. The same applies in this case. If a single pony ever figures out how to think about, um, pinking, without getting sick, then the prohibition will be broken for all ponies.”

Voltaire gave the Princess a long look of accusation and disapproval. “You really should have known better,” he chided her. “Did your parents never instill in you the notion that you should leave the free will of your subjects alone?”

At the mention of the words “your parents”, Eveningstar panicked, and started furiously shaking her head back and forth in warning. A confused Voltaire then looked over at Celestia, who was staring at him with utterly dead eyes. Assuming he survived the next five seconds, Voltaire congratulated himself on finding the one topic liable to drive Princess Celestia into a homicidal rage, a very useful lever to have against your monarch and employer. And then he threw up into the bucket for thinking about a homicidal rage.

“I misspoke, Your Royal Highness,” Voltaire pleaded on bended knee after cleaning up. “There are no words to cover my blunder. It is obvious that you have suffered enough for what you have done.” Please don’t kill me, he thought. And then he sprang back up so he could make another contribution to the bucket. Not that there was anything left to contribute by this point.

Eveningstar had been thinking to herself while the human was going through this, causing her to realize something. “Your Highness,” she said cautiously, “I think I can break the spell for you, if you’d like.”

“I’ve long since acknowledged the uselessness of my actions,” the Princess said. “I still believe that ‘pinking’ will never be a worthwhile thought for a pony, no matter how desperate the circumstance, but I have no right to prohibit the thought itself. If you think you can break the spell, Eveningstar, go right ahead.”

“Thank you, Your Highness. Voltaire, I need you to give me the word for ‘pinking’, the actual word, in every language you know.”

Every language?” he said in utter despair, before gathering his courage. “Very well. You know what it is in Latin. In French it’s tuer (hurk!), in Spanish it’s matar (ull!), in Italian it’s uccidere (huhhh!).” He stopped at this point, breathing heavily and wondering if he’d pulled a stomach muscle yet.

“Is there any relationship between those languages?” asked Eveningstar.

“Well, they are all descendants of Latin, the result of the breakup of the Roman Empire,” explained Voltaire.

“The Empire broke up?” asked Celestia. “How sad. The Pax Romana sounded like the closest thing to pony civilization that you humans ever managed to achieve.”

“It’s alright,” Voltaire replied, happy for a break from the recitation of misery. “We currently have a Holy Roman Emperor, which everybody says is even better than a plain old Roman Emperor. It’s just too bad the Holy Roman Empire is neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.”

“The three words you gave, they didn’t sound very related to the Latin word,” said Eveningstar.

“No, they didn’t. They appear to be approaching the concept from different directions. You see, the Latin caedo most closely resembles the English kill, while the Spanish matar is derived from Latin mori, meaning simply ‘to die’. The German töten, on the other hand...”

The Princess watched with silent awe as Voltaire effortlessly got through a minefield of words for “killing” without once getting sick, and apparently not even noticing.

“Oh, do you use the phrase ‘on the other hand’?” asked the translator with enthusiasm. “We use ‘on the other hoof’. What happens when you have more than two possibilities?”

“We take off our shoes,” Voltaire joked.

“Now töten actually sounds like the Griffon word for a natural death, hocken, literally a being coming to death,” said Eveningstar. She produced the “ck” sound by lightly striking her throat with a hoof. “Based on the usual rules of conjugation for that language,” she continued, “the bringing of death would be hockick, which as you can tell is an echo of the Equestrian hoyhie, yet one more sign of the deep interrelationship of the pony and griffon tribes from the beginning of time. So, Princess, how did I do?”

“Very impressive!” said the Princess. “You managed to break the spell on ‘killing’ with no unicorn magic used whatsoever.”

Voltaire involuntarily winced at hearing Celestia using the dreaded word, but then he relaxed when there were no ill effects. “So, what’s the other forbidden thought?” he asked.

Celestia’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, I’m not telling you that. It’s...it’s absolutely disgusting, and unlike killing, there’s no reason to ever think about it, ever!”

Voltaire only had to ponder for a few moments before making another trip to the bucket. “Ah, that one!” he exclaimed.

“How did you think of it so fast?” Celestia asked incredulously.

“I couldn’t have survived puberty without it,” Voltaire replied. “And the Church agrees with you that it is a mortal sin. The Church hasn’t quite gotten around to damning Christians for eating ice cream, but they’re getting around to it.”

Celestia scowled. “Ugh, I get sick just thinking about it.”

“Ice cream?” Voltaire asked with a silly grin.

“No!” Celestia replied with a laugh. “You know what I mean.”

The human shrugged. “Fine, you can keep it forbidden if you really want.”

Eveningstar looked back and forth between the two of them. “I don’t really want to know, do I?” she eventually concluded.

After they had exited The Throne Room of the Night and walked back out of the hearing of the guard ponies roaming the halls, Eveningstar turned to Voltaire. “Now that you can say it, what was your second prayer?” she asked.

The human beside her hesitated. “You wouldn’t understand,” he said.

“Try me.”

“I told you that I revealed truths that would transform humanity,” he said without looking at her. “My second prayer is that I might die before the day comes that they start killing each other over those truths, in my name.”

Author's Note:

Ugh. This chapter. This chapter is going to haunt me until the end of my days, I just know it. Some people just can't let go of a risque joke.

On the other hand, this chapter does have the honor of being tied to my favorite of the blogs, the Skype Transcript inspired by my fanatical watching of the 2012 London Summer Olympics at the time.