• Published 17th Jun 2019
  • 858 Views, 183 Comments

The First Republic - Starscribe



One generation ago, a volcanic eruption nearly smothered all life on Equus. Ponies and griffons ended up deciding not to kill each other. Contrail is going to set down the history of the Migration War, if it doesn't kill him first.

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Chapter 1

I paced back and forth in front of the entrance to the massive throne room doors, conscious of the grinning guards watching me whenever I turned my back. Ideally I would’ve come during the Eventide court and petitioned with everypony else—but Twilight had specifically intercepted my letter, and told me to arrive now.

The sun was already down, casting a diffuse orange glow through the window and across Canterlot. But the city wasn’t nearly as dark as the old pictures I’d seen. Everyone had electricity now, and so every building glowed. Even the spectacular chandeliers in gold and mother-of-pearl had electric fixtures.

“First time?” asked one of the guards from beside me—a fellow pegasus, at least twice my age and with a form grizzled by a long and difficult career. He hadn’t drawn his rifle once since I saw him, or made any other threatening gestures. Several of the others had insisted on showing off.

“First time,” I admitted. “I’ve been putting this off all summer—but if I’m going to have a chance of getting into the academy, this is it.”

“It’s a little late for admissions,” he said, sympathetic. “Maybe you could try again next year. Oh, I’m Flash by the way. Flash Sentry.”

“Contrail,” I answered, taking the offered hoof. “Just Contrail. From Manehattan. I should be on your…”

He nodded, interrupting. “On the visitor list for tonight, you are. You don’t think my friends would let you wear trails in the castle floor if you weren’t supposed to be here, right? Between you and me, lots of new recruits get guard duty. It’s a great way for them to be close to the princess for evaluation, without actually doing anything too important.”

“This isn’t an admission application. I’m already a student there. I’d like to do my Masters application in the form of a book.” But then I stopped, taken aback by something the guard had said. “You don’t feel like guarding the ruler of all Equestria is important?”

He smiled weakly, tapping me on the shoulder with a wing. “Kid, you just answered your own question. She’s the ruler of all Equestria. If something is dangerous to her, what do you think we’re going to do about it? She basically guards us.”

The door rumbled suddenly, and just one half of it rotated slowly inwards. A unicorn wearing a tight white suit and levitating a board in front of him was on the other side, waiting to announce for me. “Academy Scholar Contrail, formerly of Manehattan,” he said, marching right up to me without much politeness. He glanced down at his clipboard, eyes narrowing for a second, before staring at my flank. “Cutie mark of… overlapping cloud writing, yes.”

He held out the pad, and I quickly signed where he indicated. “There we are. Now, explain the purpose of your visit for the record.”

“Historical interview,” I answered.

“Subject?”

Do I really need to tell him all this? The princess already responded to my letter. But from the way his expression grew darker, I could see that arguing with him would be unwise. “The destruction of Accipio, the griffon migration, and the eventual founding of their new kingdom.”

“Hmm. Hardly seems… very well. The princess’s time is valuable, so you’ll only get twenty minutes with her. Use that time however you see fit. Now, with me.” He turned and started walking.

I could only shrug and follow. I probably shouldn’t write about this stallion’s behavior in the book.

I’d never been to Canterlot before, never seen the spectacular stained-glass exhibits depicting various important events in our recent past. Without sunlight behind them, many had gone dark, while a few were lit unevenly by the spotty electric lights of the city below. They cast strange multicolored shadows on the marble, following me up to the dais.

There at the end of the throne room was the Alicorn Twilight Sparkle herself, ruler of all Equestria ever since the abdication of sisters Celestia and Luna. A reptilian figure lounged somewhere behind the throne, reclining on some cushions there. But despite the apparently docile state of the creature, I kept my steps slow. There were rumors of enemies of the crown being devoured by her dragon, and I wasn’t planning on testing any of them today.

“Pegasus Contrail of Manehattan,” the unicorn called, sounding exceptionally bored. “For an interview about Accipio.”

The ruler of Equestria—of the sun and moon and seasons themselves—looked up from what she was doing. Is that Daring Do she’s reading?

I wouldn’t put that in my record either.

Princess Twilight Sparkle still looked every bit the ruler her power implied. Her mane waved about in the air, so large it filled the empty throne behind where she sat. She was the tallest pony I’d ever seen, one of the few ponies who would rival a griffon. She wore white gold around her head and hooves, with purple gemstones—not very much wealth, considering the power she represented.

There were several chairs arranged around her, but all were empty. Twilight was supposedly even less ostentatious and ceremonial than the Alicorns she had replaced. I could see now that there was truth to that rumor.

“Contrail, right? I remember your letter!” There was a flash of magic from above me, and a slight distortion of the air in front of me. Twilight was suddenly only inches away, towering over me. She was so tall… “You’re the one who wants to compile a comprehensive history of the Griffon Migration. Fascinating subject, I’m honestly a little surprised there are any ponies brave enough to attempt it. I hope you realize the difficulty that task will entail. Traveling all the way to the Accipian Republic, even in these times of peace… it isn’t always safe. Why aren’t you afraid? Wait, let me guess, you grew up with some. Manehattan still has griffons living in it, right? It’s the… bronze district. They do have the best sushi. Nowhere fresher anywhere in Equestria.”

She probably said a great deal more, but Twilight spoke so fast that at first I didn’t even know how to respond. She was downright overwhelming, and for a long moment my mouth just hung open. Eventually she stopped, panting with the effort of whatever she’d just said.

“Princess Twilight, I—”

“No need for that,” she waved a wing dismissively. “Formality is a distraction from scholarship, and that’s obviously what this is. I see you’ve got a case with you, that will be your interview, right? I’m sure the questions are fascinating.”

If I didn’t speak up, this Alicorn was going to run me over completely. “Twilight, then. I hadn’t… I hadn’t intended to actually travel the world and collect this information. I was just going to mail questionnaires to the relevant creatures and hope they respond. I would only be interviewing the ponies I can get to by train.”

“Really?” She sat back on her haunches, dropping the case where it had been and looking dejected. “That doesn’t sound like it will be as interesting. Without you there, how will you know if creatures are being truthful with you? If you don’t actually visit some of these places, how are you going to record the true feeling left behind? This history won’t be alive forever.”

“I know,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound hurt by her accusations. I retreated a few steps, retaking as much of my personal space as I dared. Ordinarily it didn’t matter to me much, but this was the princess of the entire country. This was the pony whose horn raised the sun in the morning! “But I don’t come from a family of means. I’m studying at the academy thanks to one of your scholarship programs. I could never afford passage all over the world. To be honest with you, I can barely afford postage.”

“Go easy on him Twilight,” rumbled a voice from behind the throne, almost in time with my thought. It was deeper than any pony’s voice I’d ever heard. Her dragon. “He’s obviously terrified. Listen to his heartbeat.”

Buck that’s creepy.

“Oh, is that it?” Twilight rolled her eyes. “You’re not seriously thinking I’m going to let a project as important as this not happen because you didn’t have enough bits, do you? Every nation is built on its scholarship, and some of the most important scholarship of all is the historical. Ponies today weren’t alive during the migration. Looking at you… yes, you weren’t either, were you?”

I nodded.

“Well, that’s probably even better. Everypony who was around back then is going to have compromised subjectivity. We all thought the world was going to end, we were afraid we might starve, or that the invasion would kill everypony. A pony like you should be able to cut through all that to the truth. If you’re brave enough.”

I was stunned speechless. I’d been overwhelmed before, but now… it seemed too good to be true. “Princess, I—”

“Twilight,” she said, with just a hint of sternness in her voice. “You aren’t here as a petitioner, you’re here for research. Titles are for nobles and businessponies trying to squeeze bits out of the royal coffers.”

Isn’t that what you’re about to do? “Twilight,” I corrected. “The offer is amazing, but… I think I’ve failed to convey the scale of what this would take.”

“Oh?” She raised an eyebrow. From somewhere I couldn’t see, she produced an old-fashioned quill and scroll, holding them in the air beside her without even looking at them. “What would it take?”

“Well, I would have to charter an airship,” I began. “For about… three months? If we were really trying to make this complete, I’d have to visit the Shell States, tour New Scythia. Fly to the Accipian Republic, and live in the city for a few weeks while I find and arrange time with everypony. I’d need to see Griffonstone too, probably. Not necessarily in that order. A whole ship, a whole crew, just for one pony? That would probably cost…”

“Thirteen thousand, eight hundred bits,” Twilight said. “Plus or minus five percent. One of my accountants would have to get back to you on the specifics. But I’m not feeling terribly patient about all this, so…” She scribbled something on her scroll. “Let’s just make it for twenty thousand, eliminate any chance of not having enough. I’ll give this to you if I’m satisfied with our interview right now. If not, I’ll save this assignment for somepony else. Sound fair?”

I swallowed. My whole body buzzed with energy—I might actually see all the places I’d imagined. My grocery list of impossible dreams could become real just because I asked.

If I could impress the princess again, somehow.

“Princess Twilight, that’s the end of the time we allotted in your schedule for this pony,” said a voice from behind. The same stallion who had led me in. “I can see him out now.”

Twilight looked up and laughed. “You can’t be serious. Err… no, you’re serious. Sturdy Pen, whatever’s next on my schedule, you can cross it out. And… for that matter, clear out the next hour. I’m prepared to be very impressed by what Contrail has for me.”

“Princess, you really shouldn’t make such alterations so last-minute! There are—”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “There are no more important visits tonight, that’s why I called Contrail here now in the first place. And while you’re at it… I’d like a chair brought for him, and a table. He’s a pegasus, so I’m sure he’d be more comfortable that way. As soon as you can, please.”

It was actually happening! Sturdy Pen backed away, lowering his head submissively to the princess. There was obvious disdain in his eyes for me, but I could live with that. Who cared what the servant thought so long as Princess Twilight liked me?

A few minutes later, and servants arrived with a simple table and cushion. It seemed Sturdy Pen had found the hardest, most uncomfortable stool he could in the whole castle. But I didn’t care. I opened up my case, dislodging an explosion of maps, notes, and charts.

Most of it was in a state of maximum entropy, except for the few sheets on top. Twilight’s interview was ready to go.

“Alright, Pri—Twilight. Let’s step back twenty-eight years…”