• Published 13th Nov 2017
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I Can Read Names in Clouds - Yuu



In the aftermath of the confusion with replacing the newest princess, a human arrives to learn about pony society.

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The Paradigm Shift

“Excuse me, Ma'am,” Curiosity said, “Did you just say we export the meat of ponies?”

“That is correct, Lady Curiosity.” Her smile grew even wider.

Curiosity’s eyes rolled, and she promptly fell onto her pillow, unconscious. Gloaming’s forehead lit up with magic, and a similar glow enveloped Curiosity.

“She is alright, should wake up soon,” Gloaming said.

“Drama queen,” Rainbow said.

“To be clear, we don't butcher ponies to sell them abroad,” the queen said, “as Lady Curiosity may think. We grow a lot of tissues for different medicinal purposes, and sell some of them. Some of our neighbours are carnivores, so they gladly buy the meat. We also export some protein-rich products of fermentation. It isn't meat, but griffins, for example, can eat these products instead of meat and remain perfectly healthy.”

“Great, I would like to taste these products too,” I said. “I'm very fond of fermented food, in my country it is very popular.”

Curiosity woke up, and I smiled at her as I continued.

“You know,” I added, “fermented beans, tainted meat, carrion, especially eyes of small animals...”

Curiosity shuddered but didn't faint, contrary to my expectations, only glaring at me. Gloaming rolled her eyes and Rainbow stuck her tongue out.

“I think we can find some fermented food after the meeting,” the queen said. “So how do you want to look for the mistress of the dark river?”

“I or Lady Medley could transport us to her,” Gracia said. “But I think we should first discuss what we know about her and what we can give to her. I also propose we plan our discussion with her ahead of time.”

“I can sum up everything Ladies Gracia and Snowy Clothes told us,” Gloaming said. “When the mistress makes her exchanges with somepony, the other party usually perceive it as a fair deal. I also suspect that she only asks for services that ponies or zebras could complete, not for anything impossible.”

“I would like to add, that some of errands she wants to do for her could be tacit,” Curiosity said. “She may monitor the actions of ponies who speak to her, and take them into consideration.”

“I see,” the queen said. “And regarding the threat of Disaccord, is it possible to ask the Coalition for help?”

“Ma'am, I believe the Coalition would send several mages capable of counteracting his high level magic,” Gracia said. “In exchange, they might ask for some ponies to help in research or even operative missions, to compensate for the lack of manpower.”

“I agree with Lady Gracia, our operative groups could work well with ponies,” I said. “The Coalition could provide the necessary support to hide them from the baseline human population, to make things simpler.”

“I was hoping for something like that,” the queen said. “A solution that benefits both sides. I can also go to Earth myself, if this action would help protect our country.”

Several ponies cried out at once.

“Your Majesty, you can’t!” Gloaming said, rising above the rest. “How would we live without you?”

“Don’t you remember that I serve mostly as an adviser these days?” the queen asked. “We don’t even have any big military conflicts, that would require my participation. Plus, my sister will be with you, and she is as capable as I.”

“In this case, Ma'am, the Coalition could possibly dispatch some very powerful mages,” I said. “Are you really the most capable fighter here?”

“I am.” she said. “Only now are we able to live in peace. Before unification of the state we had many internal and external conflicts, and after unification many of our neighbours considered us a threat, so war continued. I had to excel in the battlefield for the sake of other ponies, giving me centuries of military experience.”

Every pony went silent for a minute after this announcement.

“That explains the proverb about the Royal Sisters,” Curiosity said to me. “One is a company, two is a battalion.”

A military company? In that case I’d need support from Gracia or from some high-level Coalition operative, if I wanted to engage the queen in some sparring. And that heavy metal regalia of hers, maybe it was more functional than a mere symbol of status.

“So that is an option, if we can't negotiate something better with the mistress,” the queen said.

“I hope we won’t need to do anything so drastic, Ma'am,” Gloaming said. “Anyway, what can we give to the mistress? I think it could be a service from ponies, even from the element bearers.”

“Do we need to sacrifice some abilities of anypony?” Medley asked.

“Based on what I know about her Earth counterpart, that may be not necessary,” I said. “Someone may need to give up her abilities in one of two cases, I think. The first is if she requires an immediate exchange. I know our Leja could give something first and ask for a service later.”

“That would be great, if the mistress operates on the same principle,” Curiosity said.

“The second case is to balance new abilities,” I said, “if they give a person too much power. I hope we don’t need any of that, considering how Disaccord disappeared the last time without any retaliation.”

“I believe many ponies would still be glad to lose something, in exchange for increasing the odds of a peaceful solution,” Gloaming said, lowering her ears and looking down at her forehooves. “I also understand that I can’t do that, nor other element bearers.”.

“Yes, Ladies,” the queen said, “you must keep all your abilities, as losing them may compromise your connection to your genius. I propose we contact the mistress after we conclude our meeting here. Do you have any other matters to discuss?”

“Ma'am, I would like to suggest a punishment for the doctor who blackmailed Agrimony,” Gracia said. “I’m sure the Coalition would love to study your medicine, and they would most certainly ask for someone to demonstrate it by treating real injuries on humans.”

“And this doctor will be made to work with other species, even if he doesn’t like them,” the queen said. “I will consider it. Thank you, Lady Gracia.”

“Also, I went to Earth recently and found that I can use pony magic in this form on Earth,” Gracia said. “I only used a couple of simple effects, but I believe the principle holds true.”

“So anypony who travels to Earth will preserve her abilities? That is good news. Would you or Lady Medley help us to contact the mistress?”

“I believe Lady Medley can do that,” Gracia said. “I will support her in case of something unexpected. I would also ask Lady Snowy Clothes for support.”

“What kind of support?” I asked.

“You can strengthen our connection, due to your ability to call spirits,” Gracia said. “You also know Leja, so you can imagine who we are going to meet.”

“So it would be like a normal summoning, but we will be summoned to the spirit, not she to us,” I said. “Let me check the surroundings in this room first, to be sure there are no obstacles for that.”

The queen nodded, so I closed my eyes and concentrated on the spirit world. Then I opened it and looked at the spirit world in this room. There were familiar, semi-transparent ponies, but nothing interesting in the room besides that.

Actually the spirit side of the queen looked strange, like two ponies of different sizes superimposed on each other. I had only seen that kind of spirit side on…

“Ma'am.” My vision returned to the normal world. “I have found no obstacles, but I noticed that you may have some proficiency in spirit magic, even more so than Lady Gloaming.”

The queen didn’t react, but Gracia smiled at my words. So, the sly sorceress actually knew it all along, but decided not to tell anyone. Of course, with her ability to evaluate bodies of ponies around her…

“Do tell me about your findings,” the queen said.

“You have two images that represent you, Ma'am,” I said. “One is similar to your current body, while the other one is smaller. Usually I see these things on changing breeds like me, indicating you have another physical form.”

All ponies except the guard and Gracia, who wasn’t really a pony, gaped at me and at the queen, who remained as calm as before.

“It isn’t some kind of state secret, just not common knowledge,” the queen said, then sighed. “I planned to tell the element bearers soon, and today isn’t a bad time.”

“Can you really change your body?” Curiosity asked, who was the first to brace herself. She even forgot to mention the title.

“I can, and do, out of necessity,” the queen said. “Soon after I integrated the magic of the three pony races, I started to look younger. I understand now that the magic adjusted my body, so I could use it properly. I had no issues with that, until I began to look like this.”

She closed her eyes and her form blurred for a second. The effect faded, and in her place stood a young mare or a grown filly, looking even younger than the element bearers. She was now the shortest pony in the room. This new form of Azure Sky had the same coat colour, but the mane and tail had turned to a flat shade of light fuchsia. Her jewellery had also changed, to accommodate a slightly thinner neck, legs and trunk. The element bearers gaped again, though Medley smiled broadly.

“You look so adorable, Ma'am!” Curiosity cried.

“And that was the problem, Ladies,” she said, wrinkling her snout. “I couldn't be adorable and imposing at the same time. So I decided to change my appearance. I used illusions at first, but that wasn’t convenient at all. I had to look for another method.”

“But how did you do that?” Gloaming asked.

“I found some legends about a species who could change their appearance,” the queen said. “Now I think they could have been the ancestors of doppelgängers. But the only method I could extract was to use willpower, to wish the change to take place. I began to create a detailed model of myself, but larger and older. It took me several years.”

I hadn’t heard about anyone who could willingly become a changing breed, but I also hadn’t heard about a world inhabited by colourful ponies before, either.

“I thought about my new body all the time,” she continued. “Soon I started to see it in my dreams. It took several decades, but eventually it became my second nature. In the meantime I had mastered some illusion effects, and I used special clothing to change my appearance, but it was never enough. Finally after fifty years and fourteen months I noticed one morning that I had succeeded — my new body was real, and I had changed into it without noticing. In the next several days I learned how to change back and forth at will, and so I assumed my new image.”

“There must be other ponies in the court who know about this, Ma'am,” Gloaming said.

“Of course. The key members of the government know, so they would recognise me if I appeared in this form.”

“Have you used this form in combat, Ma'am?” I asked.

“Yes, several times. It helps surprise opponents, but I normally can’t change forms as fast as I would like. Only if I use time compression effects.”

“Maybe I can share my knowledge in this area, Ma'am,” I said. “I was trained to change forms very quickly, even during battle.”

“We can arrange for it, some day,” she said. “I think I will stay in this form for a while. I suspect that my appearance doesn’t matter much for the mistress.”

“Ma'am, did Her Majesty Veiling Glare have the same problem?” Gracia asked.

“She became younger, like me,” Azure Sky said, “but for some reason this process stopped earlier. She ended up looking old enough, so she didn’t create a second form.”

“Ma'am, you are the only known ruler of a state who is also a changing breed.” I paused, thinking how could I politely tell her about possible consequence.

“Are you saying I should prepare for an influx of immigration requests, from the changing breeds on Earth?” she asked, smiling.

“There are many of them, and some may want to settle here. And not only them I think. Many humans may be interested, if they can find a way here.”

“I think we can organize an embassy here soon,” the queen said. “So if a human from the Coalition wants to come here, she may work as an ambassador.”

I nodded. Ponies could also send a delegation to Earth. Some ponies could work as diplomats, some as scientists with the Coalition researchers.

“Ladies, do you have anything more to discuss before we meet the mistress?” the queen asked.

After no-one spoke for some time the queen asked me, Gracia and Medley to proceed. Medley decided that she would open the door to the next room and use it to transport all of us to the mistress. I would make a reverse summoning, to help us come to the mistress, and Gracia would monitor the whole process.

I remembered Leja and imagined her in pony form, then used this image as a beacon for our destination. I nodded to Medley, who closed her eyes and sat motionless for about a minute. After that she stood up and went to the door.

“Everypony, please come here,” she said. “I’m about to open the door to the place we’re looking for. It’s… indoors, some kind of room. I’ll come through last.”

I decided to go second-last, just before Medley, and let everyone pass through the door ahead of me. Before crossing the threshold I noticed it was more of a common room, not the living room I was expecting.

“Lady Medley, are you sure you’ve lead us to the right place?” the queen asked. “This room looks very similar to another meeting room in the town hall.”

“I agree, Your Majesty,” Curiosity said. “I remember this room from my sister’s talent show. This is indeed our town hall, or else a very accurate copy of it.”

“Hey,” Medley cried, “I know you!” In an instant she pounced onto a pony with a light gray curly mane, who had been sitting on a pillow in another part of the hall.

She had a purplish-grey coat. Her mark was some white blob, maybe cotton candy or a cloud. I recognized her, too, I had surely seen her several times in town. She was a pegasi, judging by her build, though I had never seen her flying—

“You're Violet Cloud!” Medley said. “You’ve lived near my house for years. But what are you doing here?”

“I believe you want to meet me,” Violet Cloud said.

I came closer to Violet Cloud. She had a saddlebag with her. I looked under the lid, but the only thing I could see was some small furry things of different colours. And some coloured threads?

“But we wanted the mistress of—” Gloaming said, before Medley thrust her foreleg into Gloaming's mouth.

“She is the mistress!” Medley hissed, loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Should I introduce everypony?” Curiosity asked.

The queen nodded. “Please, Lady Curiosity.”

Curiosity told Violet Cloud who we were, but it seemed a bit pointless, if she was really the mistress.

“Thank you for your decision to meet us,” Curiosity said. “We have several questions to discuss, and we hope you can help us.”

“Please, go ahead.”

“Wait a moment,” Gloaming said, making several steps to Violet Cloud. “How can we be sure you are really the mistress we need?”

“Well, your pink friend, who is having trouble traveling to other worlds, opened a door to another place to find me,” Violet Cloud said, smiling. “I decided to make it easy for you, and came here in advance.”

“Supposing you’re the mistress,” Gloaming said, slightly louder, “is it true you can bring dead ponies back to life?”

“Yes, I can do that,” she said.

“But how?”

“In simple terms, I know where to look for reserve copies of ponies’ minds,” she said. “Creating a new body is relatively easy.”

Gloaming’s eyes dilated, and her ears started twitching.

“So you really are responsible for everypony’s death?” Gloaming cried. “Don’t answer that, you already said so. But why can’t you bring back the dead without an exchange? Or maybe just prolong our lives?”

“You are quite efficient at creating foals,” Violet Cloud said, “and from my point of view, birth isn't so different from resurrection.”

“We have much to think about, and other matters to discuss, so let’s return to the main reason we came to this meeting,” the queen said.

“Your freezing project works fine, by the way,” Violet Cloud said to the queen. “You even have the correct estimation of when you could restore frozen minds in some form or another.”

“No, I can’t let it continue,” Gloaming said. “You have to restore all dead ponies.”

“I can make a deal to restore some dead ones,” Violet Cloud said. “But you can't force me to do anything.”

Rainbow moved closer to Gloaming after these words. The queen went to Gracia and quietly told her something. Gracia only nodded.

“I will see to it,” Gloaming said.

She inclined her forehead to Violet Cloud and a glow appeared before her head. A similar glow, only yellowish, appeared around the hooves of the queen. In the next second something shined in the air before Violet Cloud, and Azure Sky disappeared in a blur.

Several ponies shrieked. The queen stood before Violet Cloud and gazed at Gloaming. Everyone stood still for a second or two, then the queen moved one of her forelegs, revealing a deep cut on her left shoulder. Scarlet blood flowed freely onto the floor.

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