• Published 29th Jun 2019
  • 5,014 Views, 146 Comments

The Waiting Doom - Estee



So the options are 'Tell the Princesses exactly what happened during that fiasco of a mission' or 'Death'? Death. Death sounds pretty good.

  • ...
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Actually Worse Than That One Time With The Noodles

There probably wasn't a real chill in the marble hallway, not when so much magic went into ensuring the palace's dual internal temperatures were precisely regulated. A little warmer in the Solar wing, somewhat cooler in the Lunar and in both cases, those conditions were permanent. But they were outside the Lunar throne room now, seven bodies splayed awkwardly across marble because there weren't enough benches available and for the ones which were present... nopony had felt entitled to use them.

A little cooler than might be found in other residences, and always pleasantly so. But for the group waiting for those doors to open, the doors were going to open eventually and they couldn't stop it -- it was like camping on ice, every moment of contact coming that much closer to pulling the last of the heat from their bodies. The chill stone would have done the same for their hopes, but they'd lost that some time ago.

Those ornate doors. They were larger than just about any doors in the realm: they had to be in, in order to accommodate the primary residents. They had weight. They had history. They loomed not just in space, but in time. They were going to open, and not by appointment. The seven had been told to appear, and then they had been told to wait.

Perhaps that was the first part of the punishment, a strangely severe portion. To just sit and wait and think about what they'd done. To spend desperate moments in trying to figure out how they would ever be able to account for their actions, followed by minutes filled with the chill knowledge that no such thing would be possible. To wait without knowing how long they were waiting for, and with full awareness of what would happen to them when waiting ran out... that was torture indeed.

The seven were tightly huddled together, fur intermeshing (and, from two sides, doing so with scales) while generating no warmth. They could not find comfort in each other: that had vanished right after the hope. But they could spend time together. Precious minutes. The last ticks of the clock.

Miserably, "Does anypony remember exactly how war is declared?"

It made Applejack look up, cast a glance towards the collapsed alicorn. (Just about the whole of Twilight's body was pressed against the floor, and the narrow chin seemed to be making a game attempt to sink through it.) The farmer visibly considered the question.

"Ah ain't sure," she admitted. "Ah mean, Ah still remember the stuff from school." A little snort. "Kind of a surprise there... anyway, the way it used t' work was that the Night Court would have a debate. Not a vote, really: jus' talking 'bout all the reasons there were t' start the fight, t' go with every argument against it. Then they'd write it all up, nose it over t' the Princess, an' she made the decision. Night Court can't declare on its own. But --" thoughtfully "-- Night Court stuff is Luna's dominion. So maybe she's the one who makes the call now. Or they work it out t'gether. Maybe Apple Bloom's got a revised edition. Ah could check it out when -- if Ah --"

"-- not what I meant, Applejack," Twilight morosely sighed. "Sorry. I should have been more specific. What I meant was 'Does anypony know how war is declared against us?'"

"Ah," Rarity sighed. "Given that everything in their nation operates through a single entity, I would imagine their Leader would simply order it."

The group silently nodded. Moonlight pressed against fur and scales with a curious density.

"I suppose," the designer added, "we can at least resort to a public shorthoof of 'Leader' now. I doubt anypony will be asking us to recite her public form of address at every meeting."

"I still can't believe we got through her full title when they brought us in to greet her," Rainbow groaned.

"...nopony said we couldn't split it seven ways," Fluttershy pointed out. "That way, we each had less to memorize."

"But it still took fourteen minutes! Do you know all the things we could have done on that mission in fourteen minutes?"

"Worse," Twilight sighed. "I know some of the things we did. And as soon as those doors open..."

They all looked at the doors.

"It was supposed to be an honor," Spike bitterly declared. (Rarity's tail gently swept across his crests.) "The first Equestrians invited into their nation. A special request to help them with their problem. The first, and the last --"

"-- that wasn't it," Pinkie cut in, and the group's attention focused on her. "It wasn't really an invitation."

"What do you mean, Pinkie?" Twilight asked. "They requested us --"

"-- um," the baker awkwardly said. "Remember how everypony got held up in the hallway, because we weren't expecting to see Fancypants?"

They all nodded. Seeing Fancypants had been a good thing. It was always nice to have something good to look back on before exile because that way, when you turned your head for a tearful final glance at everything you were about to leave forever, there was a central subject of focus.

"And I finished first and went a little ahead?" Pinkie continued. "I sort of reached the Solar throne room before the briefing started. Well, outside the doors, anyway. Which were a little bit open. And they were inside, and they were talking about how the Leader had told them that -- well -- if the 'clearly inferior species had any of the morals which they only pretended to possess, then they would prove it through sending their representatives without delay.'" Paused. "And then when we got there, and we'd finished greeting her with the official full title? The part where she stopped glaring at us, said something in their language, and everyone else in the Hall Of Ultimate Power was laughing really really hard because they really really had to? I memorized what she said and -- I finally checked the briefing book."

"You read that?" Rainbow groaned.

"Ah know for a fact," Applejack immediately shot back, "that you didn't. Or y'wouldn't have --"

"Like you went through the whole thing! After what you did --"

The farmer's right forehoof came up just enough to give it some momentum on the followup slam into the floor. "Y'would have done the same, if'fin y'had the chance! An' Ah ain't sorry. Not gonna be sorry. Not after --"

"-- there was a little vocabulary guide at the very back," Pinkie carefully interrupted. "For translations. I guess nopony else got that far, not after the Leader's title was Chapter One. And Two. Plus all those footnotes. Anyway, what she said was 'Behold the idiots who think they can trick us into believing their so-called morals have any value. Let us send them out to die in our stead, for our cause.'"

They were staring at her.

"'Stead' could have been 'stance'," Pinkie added. "She slurs her words a little. I don't think anyone's pointed it out, because... well, because Leader. And I thought about looking it up earlier, but we kept getting distracted. First they took us to the hotel..."

Six sets of gazes immediately fixed themselves upon a white target.

"Oh, really," the miffed designer stated. "Well, much like Applejack, I am not sorry for what I did." And kicked in a false brightness. "Wasn't it the nicest place, though? Usually on missions, we wind up sleeping on boulders, or trying to find some half-solid portion of the swamp which will not have us sinking any faster than a hoof-height per hour, because we discovered that the alligators will investigate any divot deeper than a knee."

"Rares," Applejack cautioned, "maybe this ain't the best time. Yeah, the hotel was somethin', and what it was --"

"-- a showcase, Applejack," the unicorn shot back. "You feel I was incapable of perceiving that? All those little huts and hovels along the road into what they called the heart of the capital, places where broken windows were signs of status because at least the resident had been able to purchase a window once. Dirt and mud and misery along a carefully-maintained road which led to three shimmering blocks of mansions and shops where perhaps five of their own were allowed to do so much as glance at a price, and those were the ones who never paid. Did you not wonder why they took so much effort to cover the windows of our carriage? I did, at the very start, and so I nudged the curtains at every opportunity I found. I saw it all, Applejack, from the very first day, and at the end of that golden road was the hotel. Magnificent art on every wall. Bathrooms born from aquarian fantasy! The sheets, oh, I would have so loved to bring a set home with me, fabric with a thread density almost impossible to count, like being cradled in a cloud..."

"Clouds are better," Rainbow huffily declared.

"I guess you'd know," Spike tightly observed. "Given what you did."

"I'm not sorry either! I was doing something nice --"

Rarity raised her left foreleg, softly coughed. The others stopped.

"It was a beautiful hotel," she declared, the mist of nostalgia already spreading through her eyes. "Everything pristine, as if nopony had ever touched any of it, because it is very likely that nopony ever had. I am glad we were able to experience it, especially as nopony shall ever have that experience again. And the food --"

"The food," Twilight darkly observed, and normally would have hoped to leave it at that.

"Yes," Rarity continued, because hope was dead. "The food."

They all looked back.

"There was a lot of it at that dinner," Spike sighed. "I think we can say that much."

"Well, one of the Leader's titles is Devourer," Rarity noted. "Among so many others. I suppose the philosophy is that someone who has been declared to be a living deity can eat as much as she chooses. All the time. And so is entitled to collect as much food as she wishes from the populace, just in case she happens to feel like eating any of it."

"More than 'any'," Applejack muttered. "We all saw her. Ah caught Pinkie countin' the chins."

"I was just looking to see if there was anything stuck in there," the baker hastily said. "If the crumbs stay in one place too long, you get small insect colonies in the deep folds --"

"-- 'most'," Applejack broke in. "Ah'm sayin' she got most of the food, even if her so-called divine stomach couldn't manage the lot, any more than her s'pposedly godly --"

"-- I," Rarity declared, "acted out of compassion! You saw the size of our welcoming feast! They were showing off for us, the bounty of their nation, when we had just passed the truth, Applejack, and I would think you'd respect that. Those who grew the food were barely able to partake in it. They brought in tray after tray for us and the Leader and her staff, and they carried just about as much back out. Food going to waste. And you are aware of what happens in Equestria, I trust? I simply brought our values into their lands. It was expected of me."

"...they were hungry," Fluttershy softly said. "They were all so hungry..."

Rarity fiercely nodded. "So as the formal mission was not supposed to begin until the morning, after the rest of you were asleep, I went down to the kitchens --"

"-- after the last time!" Pinkie's tail was starting to lash. "You promised me you'd never go into a kitchen like that again after the noodles --"

"-- this wasn't about that! In this case, Pinkie, I simply went in --"

"-- how?" Twilight challenged. "How did you get in?"

The designer now looked rather proud of herself. "They do not have our magic," she smiled, "nor do they purchase -- what was the term? Oh, yes. 'Blasphemous goods.'"

"Because the Leader has all the magic," Twilight instinctively filled in. "She does everything."

"She tells them she does everything," Rainbow muttered. "Anyone can take credit for a hailstorm after it happens. Saying you found out something was wrong and sent a hailstorm to punish your entire country because one person screwed up. And then you pick the one person. Hailstorms and thunder and anyone just getting sick and earthquakes --"

Twilight's fur was now dimly underlit with hot red. "Can we not talk about the earthquake yet?"

"-- and then she says we can't really do anything, our magic is either fake or she's just letting us borrow some of hers --"

"-- the point," Rarity beamed, "is that they did not possess enchanted locks. And so for a unicorn of my field refinement..."

"Tumblers," Twilight groaned. "You just projected your field into the locks through the keyholes, then pushed on tumblers until something clicked. Was that it?"

"Yes," the designer declared with pride -- then paused. Blushed. "Actually, given what happened later --"

"-- and because there was so much food," Pinkie sighed, "food we hadn't eaten, food which was just going to be kicked out... you snuck into the real town and asked everyone to follow you back."

"Well, yes," Rarity replied. "Although it took some time to make myself understood, and that was after I managed to get past their fear. But eventually, I managed to get the idea across to a few, and they passed it along as the procession moved. And increased. Simple charity, Pinkie, charity and generosity. For does not every worthwhile Equestrian restaurant donate that which was not eaten to the hungry? Admittedly, they all began to grow visibly nervous when they recognized that I was taking them to the hotel --"

"-- because it's divine ground!" Pinkie said. "Did anypony read the whole briefing book? Anything touched by the Leader is for the Leader alone! That's buildings, Rarity, every building in the fake town, and that includes the hotel! You can only go there with special permission! Everyone who worked there had to be blessed by her, and she can take it back at any time! The food was for her! She chose it and they couldn't touch it! The only way to get around that would have been..."

Blue eyes widened.

"...if they were being brought in," the baker slowly said, "by someone the Leader had chosen to pass on a blessing. And we were invited. We ate with her..."

The facehoof mostly impacted pink curls.

"Well," Rarity considered as her own blue eyes slowly widened, "when you put it that way..."

"Rares?"

"Yes, Applejack?"

"Y'declare yourself a saint an' we ain't gonna reach the Princesses."

"They were happy," Rarity huffily declared.

"They were eating the food of a deity," Pinkie moaned. "Oh, I think I'm starting to understand..."

"You did not see, Pinkie! None of you did! The joy in their faces! The surprise! -- admittedly, at the time I thought that might have been surprise at not having encountered guards --"

"-- when the penalty for being in the wrong place is death," Twilight groaned, "you don't need all that many guards. They just stay close to the Leader."

"Not close enough," Applejack viciously grinned, and the thick blonde tail slapped at the floor. "Nowhere near. Ah guess 'cause there's this assumption that a livin' god don't need much in the way of guardin'. Or maybe it was somethin' --"

"They were happy," Rarity repeated. "Their expressions were beatific. And they sent for their neighbors, their children, they just kept coming, and..."

The designer paused. The white head dipped.

"I assure you," she told them, "if I had know there was going to be a food riot, I would have proceeded somewhat differently."

Six pairs of eyes winced shut.

"How?" Spike naturally asked. "How do you do anything differently there?"

Rarity thought about it.

"Do you recall those elegant velvet ropes in the lobby? The ones which were strung between golden poles? I could have used them to set up an orderly queue."

The faceclaw, which came with a little more of a hollow to the palm than was provided by the center of a hoof and benefited from the acoustics of going into scales, managed to echo for a while.

"It was not as if any of them got hurt," Rarity protested. "Not more than a few scrapes. And they dispersed once they realized the noise was bringing attention."

"With what finally wound up as half the contents of the kitchens!" Rainbow pointed out, wings flaring for emphasis -- or rather, attempting to do: the actual result was a rather rude poke into Pinkie's flank. "They found that out eventually!"

"At least mine took time to discover!" Rarity declared. "Days for them to realize what had happened! How quickly did anyone realize something was wrong after you acted? Five minutes?"

"It was a favor!" the pegasus shouted. "A gift, Ms. Generosity, and I didn't see you doing it!"

"You might have noticed," came the oddly dry reply, "a certain lack of applicable anatomy --"

"No one should have all that happen on their wedding day!"

"But that's why it was their wedding day," Pinkie sadly told them. "For everyone. Every single couple in the whole country who'd been waiting to get married. Because the storm was just that bad, and they think their Leader controls all the weather. Mistress Of Winds, remember?"

"...I had that part," Fluttershy reminded the group. "I was really worried about my accent."

"And they don't get holidays, or days off, or -- anything, they don't get much of anything, Rainbow. It was in the briefing book!" Pinkie's tones took on the rise and fall of recital. "On the day which the Leader declares as the most miserable of the year, the worst storm -- that's when everyone can stop working for up to an hour, to get married. Outside, in the rain, because that'll remind them that no matter how happy they think being married should make them, it's nothing compared to how they should feel about making her happy."

Twilight blinked.

"That's in the briefing book?"

"Chapter Nineteen."

"I only got as far as..." The alicorn blushed. "...well, not that far."

Spike's head twisted to the left, with disbelieving green quickly fixing on his sibling's features. "You didn't finish a book?"

"It was her title," Twilight sighed. "Every time I got to the point about The Only True Bringer Of Sun And Moon, I had to stop and walk around for a while. In a circle. Oh, and we need a new exit ramp at the edge of my groove, because it's deeper now."

Stopped.

"Or we would if we were going home," the miserable librarian concluded.

"Maybe it's not that bad," Pinkie tried to rally. "Maybe..."

"It's worse," Twilight firmly insisted. "You've never been on the receiving end. 'Twilight Sparkle!' Remember that? Well, now it's two of them. And Luna can still do the Voice. I'm going to be Twilight Sparkled! through a wall."

"They'll have to do it to all of us," Rainbow noted.

"...it's them," Fluttershy reminded the group. "...I think they can."

The weather coordinator's tail lashed.

"Look, I was being nice! I didn't know about their stupid tradition! I just snuck outside in the morning to stretch my wings, and I got hit by the storm because they don't have weather magic, they don't have any no matter what their dumb Leader lies about, and there's no schedule so I didn't even know there was a storm until I got outside, not with all the blacked-out windows in the hotel's guest rooms! But then I saw all the couples, and those wedding outfits were kind of distinctive, you know? You usually don't see chains like that. Not that thick or heavy. Or the cuffs. The cuffs were weird. But I sort of flipped through the briefing book, and I saw the picture of the wedding outfits, so I knew what those were. And it was a really bad storm, when everyone was trying to get married, so I thought I'd just go up and there and --"

More facehoofing ensued. (The faceclaw still ruled over all.)

"I didn't know! And it's not like you told me, Miss I-Read-The-Whole-Book! I was just trying to make it nicer for everyone, because they were getting married with wet fur! And those chains were going to rust!"

"But you didn't break up the storm!" Twilight protested. "We know you didn't, with what happened later!"

"...yeah," a suddenly-very-awkward-looking pegasus agreed, chin sinking down to meet marble. "Well... it was big. Really big. And there was just one of me. It's not like I had the whole team out there, you know? So I couldn't break it up, not without using everything I had. And we had a mission, one where we were supposed to be impressing a whole country. I just... tightened up the edges a little. Made sure it wouldn't fall apart on its own, because if I couldn't break it, I really needed the whole thing moving at once. And then I sort of -- pushed."

"...pushed," Fluttershy's hollow voice echoed.

"Yeah. I rerouted the wind currents a little. Gave it something to ride." Huffily, "And given how big it was, and the fact that there were no preset threads woven into the area, working out the whole thing from first down to last feather, I'd like to know who else could have --"

"...into the wind," Fluttershy softly continued. "As one unit."

"Well... yeah," Rainbow said. Shrugged a little. "To give them all a dry wedding day. I just couldn't figure out why they were all trying to follow it."

"Because it's one of the only things the Leader gives them," Pinkie slowly tried. "The right to get married. Even if it's mostly to make the population larger. The storm is their blessing to get married, Rainbow, their blessing from their living god, and you sent it away. It's like she took it back. The last thing they could be happy about, and they couldn't have that any more..."

"But she's just taking credit for something she didn't do!"

"They don't know that! They think she does everything, because that's what she tells them! The titles of divinity, the food of divinity --"

Which was when Rarity's jaw dropped.

"Which I gave them," the unicorn slowly said. "They knew where that food came from. They accepted it from me as an -- emissary. They had eaten the food of a god..."

"I would have told you sooner," Rainbow protested. "I would. But I had to get inside and dry off because none of us were supposed to leave the hotel before the mission started! And then when we got going, once we left the city..."

The magenta glare went directly towards Fluttershy, an act which was normally equivalent to standing under the world's largest lightning storm while waving a metal sign which read JUST TRY AND HIT THIS. But all the caretaker did was sigh.

"...it was the right thing to do," she half-whispered. "It was being kind..."

Twilight inclined her head to the left, gently brushed the coral mane with unlit horn. The caretaker sighed again.

"...we saw it," she quietly reminded them. "We all did. How hard they worked, because the path to the mission... we had to follow it precisely, we weren't supposed to wander, the Leader's staff made sure of it. So we went past where they were trying to cultivate the fields, without earth pony magic to help. All the plowing with their animals, up and down the furrows, checking every seed, starting before dawn and ending so late, everypony, more hours than Applejack even works, more hours every day, even when they have to put the animals away at night, they just keep working..."

The farmer's head dipped, with the hat following suit. "Yeah. Kind of ashamed t' say it, everypony: Ah was impressed. On the first day. An' then when Ah saw it happenin' again, a harvest push every time, Ah thought 'bout how old some of 'em looked, even the youngsters. How that kind of pace makes y'old too soon. Crunch time can't be all the time, 'cause y'burn out. Got mad, once Ah figured it out. But Ah didn't know what t' do." A soft snort. "Guess you two worked out an answer on your own."

"I was just trying to help," Spike declared as the hollow note switched to a new voice. "That's all."

"...but you saw their animals," Fluttershy helplessly said. "How hard they were being worked. All the time. It's not just the people who burn out, Applejack: it's the animals, and the people aren't allowed to stop. But the animals -- not until Moon comes up, every time..."

"I missed this part," Rainbow reminded them, because along with normal sleep, being carried along in a field bubble while napping had a way of creating personal breaks in the timeline. "I just got the long-term effects. I almost got them across my tail. How did it start, 'Shy?"

"...well... the people aren't allowed to protest. Or ask for new rules, or a break, or anything, because they thought they were obeying their god. But the animals don't know about that. They can't, really. So I waited until it got dark, and then I went out to where the animals were kept. It was easy to sneak out, especially when there wasn't any real light around the pens."

"On the largest plantation in their country," Pinkie belatedly briefed them. "The one where they grow their exports, for the few countries which haven't completely sanctioned them yet. That's where we stopped for the night."

"Pinkie?" Twilight asked. "When did you read all this? Because we really needed --"

"-- in the air carriage going home," the baker sighed. "Because the Leader's title made me fall asleep. A lot."

"...I thought it was a really good idea," Fluttershy quietly added. "Wasn't it? If all the animals stop working at the same time, then they get a break. And the people can't do much without them, so they get one too. So I was just getting the zarlats -- organized."

"A labor union," Twilight slowly said, "of animals."

"...with scheduled strike hours." The frown was a rather pretty one. "Not that I really got that part across. But they did understand that when Sun was at a certain place in the sky, they should stop working for a while. They liked that part. They were tired too. Zarlats can work for hours and hours, but they have limits."

"They run, too," Applejack muttered. "Ah think we can say they run. For a very long time."

"And I'm sure it would have worked, but..."

The one visible eye sought out Spike.

"...it's my fault," the caretaker said. "Really. Not yours."

The little dragon's walking claws curled inwards, scratched against marble. "No. It's mine, too."

"...I'm the one who didn't know how unions worked. Or enough about zarlats..."

"I'm the one who told you I was trying to work on summoning paper!"

Twilight blinked again. "You've been what?""

"It was just a theory! It hasn't happened yet! Maybe it never will, and I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to see me fail! But I told Fluttershy, a few weeks ago. And I was so embarrassed, I was so afraid of looking stupid..."

"...I woke him up and took him to the pens with me," Fluttershy softly told them. "I asked him to try and bring a book from the tree. About unions."

"The zarlats liked me," Spike wearily recalled.

"...yes. Well, you have scales, they have scales, you don't smell all that different..."

"They were rubbing my crests with their horns," the little dragon sighed. "Some of them were licking me."

"...they can be very friendly."

Spike nodded. "Very friendly," he quietly said. "What turned out to be the single most pyrophobic species in the world is naturally very friendly towards dragons."

Everypony went quiet.

"I'm pretty sure that's ironic," he added, and curled up until his knees were touching his chin.

"So that was what started the stampede," Twilight breathed.

Fluttershy's face vanished behind manefall again. "...and when it's fire, once one of them goes, they all go. I just barely got Spike out of the primary pen in time. Then the ones in the other pens smelled the fear, and they went. It sort of... rippled out from there. They put the zarlats away at night because they can't have them anywhere near firelight. We brought fire, and..."

More silence, internally interrupted only by the memories of shaking ground, which had been followed by blue scales and sharp horns crashing towards a campsite where everypony was somewhat occupied in trying to get out of the way.

"...we did give the people a break." Fluttershy paused. "Sort of. I mean, those fields weren't good for anything post-stampede. Neither were the crops. And it's the wrong part of the season to just start over, not when you don't have earth pony magic to help. So they'll have to rest."

"But the stampede took out their exports," Pinkie whispered. "Not what the people eat, but what the Leader sells..."

"Her staff was starting to give us funny looks," Twilight groaned as her ears flattened against the skull. "I remember that. They weren't openly blaming us, but with everything which was happening..."

"But at least we accomplished the mission, on the very next day!" Rarity declared, because the false brightness apparently needed more of a workout.

"Technically," the librarian sighed. "I guess there's an argument that we technically did something..."

"There was an artifact," Rarity stated. "Being used by a monster. We were supposed to find the monster, take the artifact, and give it to the Leader. We did exactly that. She can call many things upon us --"

"-- assumin' speech is an option," Applejack not-so-subtly snickered.

"-- but failure is not one of them," the designer finished.

Twilight took a breath.

"Given everything which happened when we got back to the capital, I'm pretty sure she wanted a working artifact."

"It was a danger to their entire nation," Rarity reminded the group. "It pulled in magic and spit it back out in other forms. Yes, in the monster's grip, the effects seemed to be somewhat distorted. But it would always take in the magic inherent to the land. The monster was terrorizing them. They had a reason to ask for --"

"-- ponies to die in their stance?" Pinkie asked. Frowned. "Stead. I'm almost sure it's 'stead'."

"...yes," Rarity eventually said. "Only without the 'death' part."

"But I thought I had it figured out!" Twilight protested. "It pulled magic out of the plants and when that magic emerged, plants did strange things! I tried to blast it and my spells came back out wrong, mixed in with foliage effects! But when Rainbow tried to get a cloud together, and the air went nuts too..."

"I could have waited on the cloud," Rainbow darkly said. "Forty whole seconds."

Twilight helplessly looked at Applejack.

"You," her tutor in earth pony magic said, "have no idea how lucky y'got, do you? The earth looks out for foals and fools, an' Ah ain't sure which one y'qualify for here."

"I saw what the artifact was doing," the little alicorn desperately tried. "It kept taking in magic and kicking it back out, it couldn't stop. But the more kinds of magic it took in, the more it all got mixed up! I thought if I gave it one more type, something it might not have ever seen before..."

Stopped.

"I didn't even know," she finally said. "Not at first. The ground was already sort of shaking --"

"Twenty seconds," Rainbow observed.

"-- so when the earthquake started --"

"Yeah," Applejack groaned. "The earthquake. An' here Ah thought nothin' could have been more fun than tryin' t' survive random magic, some of it bein' yours, which was kicked at us by a monster an' before anypony says anythin', Ah'm being sarcastic. Good thing Ah know that artifact amplifies, Twi, or Ah'd ask you t' go into the cider shake business with me. We could do the whole Acres at once. Maybe more, since we know they got a tremor in the capital. Tryin' t' stay on our hooves in that, with the wind howlin' --"

"Look," Rainbow protested, "I just got that storm moving. I don't know every natural wind current in the area! I didn't know where it was going to wind up!"

Everypony stopped, looked at the doors. The Moonrise Gate shimmered gently, displayed no movement whatsoever, and seemed perfectly content to let the self-torturing continue without interruption.

"So when do you feel the artifact was destroyed?" Rarity asked. "When the monster fell over?" Wryly, "Supporting itself on a single tentacle was not an advantage in that situation."

"Well, the artifact did need six of them," Twilight remembered. "And no. It didn't really land on top of it."

"It could have been all the lightning," Rainbow decided. "There was enough metal in it to draw some in. I saw it take at least four bolts."

"...I'm pretty sure," Fluttershy softly suggested, "it was all the zarlats trampling across it."

"That," Spike observed, "was a really long stampede. In an earthquake."

"...well, they followed the storm. On instinct, Spike, because the rain would put out fire. And they've got those huge pads for feet, three times the diameter of their legs, with the claws spaced around the perimeter. So they could stay upright." She looked thoughtful. "I didn't know those claws could cut monster flesh. But it was really the impacts that took out the artifact."

"Plus the lightning," Rainbow decided.

"And maybe too many kinds of magic at once," Twilight sighed as her tail curled against her right flank. "Whatever it was, that thing was good and destroyed. It'll never work again. Nopony can restore the spells when we don't know what they were."

"I don't think they could have gotten us back to the capital any faster," Spike wearily noted. "That was a forced march."

"They were extremely upset," Rarity pointed out. "Almost as if more than the artifact was involved."

"Well," Pinkie exposited, "when the Leader brings an earthquake -- I know, everypony, but it's what they're taught! -- it means there's a huge shake-up coming. And usually that's because she tells them she's not happy with them. Less than she usually is. But she wasn't there, and they felt it in the capital..."

"She was in the capital, all right," Applejack muttered. "Much as that one weighs, she pretty much was the capital."

"She was really really upset," Pinkie declared. "With us! And... um... you know you don't all have to glare at me like that. Fluttershy, it would sort of help if you looked over -- anywhere? Anywhere which isn't me -- this is kind of getting uncomfortable..."

"Pinkie," Twilight carefully said.

"I just wanted to cheer her up! She wasn't happy, and when people aren't happy, they can do some really dumb things! Just getting her to speak with me in sort-of-private took so much work, and then --"

"Pinkie."

"-- it was just trying to think of something which could make her smile! And a song just popped into my head! Lyrics and beat and everything! And I thought it applied to her, or she would think it would! So I used everything in the Divinity Chamber as an instrument, and -- well, you'd think she would have been more responsive, right? I mean, a whole song about how tough it was to be a god, out of nowhere, just for her! ...do you think it had a really poor box office?"

"Pinkie," Twilight repeated for the last time as purple eyes began to fade into white, "I just want to point out that when it comes to performing a song and dance routine for a foreign power as a gesture of peace, the nature of your results can now be described as two for two."

Pinkie winced.

"It wasn't just a song."

"Really," Twilight said as her irises winked out.

"No. I also kicked in some jokes."

"Oh," the barely-hanging-on shreds of peace vocalized. "Given that the next time we saw you was when we were all being shoved towards the Room Of Ultimate Judgment and they'd assigned you the blade-encased place of honor -- what were the jokes about?"

"...you remember when I said I mostly read the briefing book on the way home?"

Everypony nodded.

"I sort of nailed Chapter Twenty-Nine by accident."

"Which was?" Rarity's morbid curiosity asked on her behalf.

"Things you never say to anyone in that nation. All of it." Pink curls compacted. "Plus I really thought she'd be a lot more jovial about her weight."

"An' that," Applejack declared, "is why Ah ain't sorry for what Ah did. Y'saw their so-called Leader! How many of her people did she crowd in there, jus' so they could see her go after us? She wanted them t' see us broken."

"They kept looking at me," Rarity quietly said. "And then they would look at her. Like they were moving between light and darkness with every turn of their heads."

"Ah noticed," Applejack said with open satisfaction. "Her staff was doin' the same. Created a moment when there weren't enough of 'em lookin' at me."

She managed a grin.

"Ah guess some of those chains were from the weddings," the farmer decided. "Because they were way rusty. Or maybe none of them know what it takes for one of mine. Bound the wings, covered the horns, but they haven't seen an earth pony in a long time. Long enough t' forget."

Which got wider.

"Thought it was a bit of style, mahself. Bringing some of the chain with me when Ah jumped over her guards an' hittin' her across the head with it. Mah mouth still tastes like rust, an' Ah say it was worth it."

"Yes, Applejack," Twilight patiently said as color slowly emerged in her eyes, mostly because white wasn't going to solve anything now. "You attacked the Leader. The ruler of a nation."

"Who had us on trial, as judge an' jury. Who was gonna do Moon knows what! D'you think she was gonna be fair? 'course Ah attacked: we had t' get out of there! An' y'remember mah part of the greetin'? The one which starts with 'The Unbreakable?'" Applejack snickered. "Ah think her Most Divine Right Front Kneecap would beg t' disagree. Along with a good part of her jaw. Ain't sure Ah did much t' the ribs: too much padding. But with the rest..."

"They saw you attack their god," Rarity breathed. "I just realized that. They saw their god fall."

"How many of them came over the spectator barricade?" Spike asked. "I wasn't facing that way."

"Enough," Rarity quietly said. "The ones who looked strongest. Relatively well-fed. As if they had... well -- actually, I was thinking about this earlier. I'm not sure some of the tumblers ever sprang back. Which would account for the additional charge of having stolen from the hotel."

"Their guards were lousy fighters," Rainbow observed with satisfaction.

"I don't think they've had to fight much before," Twilight sighed. "If your god points at you and says 'go with them,' you go. It doesn't encourage much in the way of practical combat experience."

"Well, the citizenry certainly got the general idea in a hurry," Rarity recalled. "Although they did have to improvise most of the weapons." She sighed. "Those velvet ropes were interestingly weighted. However, bashing the opposition with the hotel's paintings was a disservice to Art."

"...remember when they took us out past the hotel?" Fluttershy asked. "We kept dodging toilet fixtures."

"And wall panels," Spike added. "Their aim needed some work."

"I'm still not sure how they got the floor up," Twilight finished. "But that was what they were using for protective barriers, all the way to where Spike's letter arranged for the extraction point. Pieces of the hotel floor."

"And then the storm came back," Rainbow reminded them. "That provided extra cover." Not without some pride, "You know, it takes a really talented weaver to make something hold together that long."

"...and the zarlats came with it," Fluttershy added. "...which gave the ones who tried to follow us something else to think about. It's funny how it all came back around like that..."

"Well, you know," Pinkie morosely finished. "Rule Of Three."

"No," Rainbow reluctantly admitted. "What's that mean?"

"It means that when you mess up, the world likes to remind you. Three times." Pinkie looked at the doors. "At least."

Everypony sighed. The cool hallway air shifted accordingly.

"So to review," the little alicorn said, "as the first representatives of Equestria to ever be allowed upon their soil..."

Hinges failed to creak. They didn't have to. The sheer weight of presence possessed by those moving doors didn't require sound to get attention.

"Enter," a singularly dark, imperious voice ordered.

Seven sapients slowly got to their hooves, with the exception of the one who eventually regained the use of his legs and stood at Twilight's side, with a scaly palm pressed against the slim flank for mutual support.

Slowly, they shuffled off to their doom.


"So in summary," Princess Celestia stated, trying to keep her tones away from the singsong of Prediction Fulfilled (and incidentally, Side Bet Won), "you first granted a portion of the citizenry what they had been taught to treat as the food of divinity, making them reconsider themselves in that light. Then, with several of the nation's people feeling more elevated than they ever had in their lives, they received two signs: one which upset them because they felt as if they were losing the last joyful thing they truly had, with the other signaling a time of upheaval and change. And while that was happening, you incidentally crippled their Leader's only remaining legal source of exterior income, then followed that up by destroying the one-of-a-kind weapon which, through temporarily granting it to an allied monster, she'd been trying to not-very-subtly test against pony magic because warping the castings of alicorns would be quite the surprise attack. Instead, she had multiple failures kicked into her face, followed by a song which she treated as purest sarcasm driving her to the breaking point -- at a time when her people had been told that if they wished to be happy, then upheaval had to come from within. Oh, and I understand it's also been proven that gods both bruise and require having their jaws wired shut to heal. Which would normally delay the testimony at her own trial somewhat, but the new Citizen's Council is going to need some time to get a new court system together anyway. Would that about cover it?"

Seven sapients blinked. Nodded as one, because they had come so far together, and so they would reach the end the same way.

Princess Luna nodded back.

"Very well, then," the second of the master strategists declared. "Thank you for your service. Carry on."

Comments ( 146 )

'Behold the idiots who think they can trick us into believing their so-called morals have any value. Let us send them out to die in our stead, for our cause.'

They went to France, didn't they?

EDIT: Dangit.

...Quick question.

Did Tia and Lulu get the idea for this masterstroke from Discord? This seems like his kinda thing.

Sometimes, you just have to know who should Help.

9704526

I was actually working from a sort of quadruped North Korea.

Master Strategists indeed! :pinkiehappy:

After getting the repeated descriptions about what the country was like, I actually did expect that the true mission was to sow chaos and upheaval, 'cause no good Celestia and Luna would let that stand without some very, very good reasons.

And hmm... Yeah, it is the sorta thing that should happen naturally, instead of being told about it and then have bad acting.

When the title was given as Leader, I had a pretty good idea of what country was being referenced. Good job, there!

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even if they didn't, im sure he had popcorn and was watching it

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The story implies the Leader requested Twilight' party in particular. Which was, shall we say, a bit of a mistake.

If you take a restrictive, joyless, terrible place, and you send there the Elements of Harmony... well, something's got to give. And it won't be them.

Formenting the Rise of the Proletariat through the Power of Friendship; fantastic :)

Only this crew could accidentally topple a tyrannical dictator by doing the barest minimum of representing their individual elements.

And the Princesses, with their strategists, were counting on that.

If I was one of the Bearers, I might be a bit miffed at that. Being used as pawns in nth dimensional chess must get tiresome.

This was just fucking fantastic. Glorious.

I cannot adequately express through text how incredibly amused I am right now.

When these mares (and dragon) mess something up, they do it with style.

I am really curious about what the Leader species was.

Anyway, very funny story, kind of want to know about the Noodles incident but you don't talk about the Noodles incident. Ever. :rainbowlaugh: That was a very Mane 6 series of events, I could totally see all of that happening.

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I believe it was Not-North-Korea.

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Did Tia and Lulu get the idea for this masterstroke from Discord? This seems like his kinda thing.

It's been established as Celestia's thing since the Grand Galloping Gala. "Liven things up" indeed.

Both princesses are good at pattern recognition. Since in the Estee-verse "it's not an official bearer visit until someone's posted bail", this has their hoof-prints all over it without needing help.

Ponyville is so reality warping the Lord of Chaos considers it a fun hangout.

Celestia just weaponizes it and calls it "Friendship missions".

The Gang Starts a Revolution in North Korea

IIIII had a feeling they were going to be supportive of this result. XD

Very clever and fun storytelling! I like when someone successfully pulls of this kind of 'story in review' format. It felt a little out of character on occasion, mostly from Pinkie Pie who just seemed a bit too Twilight-y for me, but it wasn't detrimental. Nicely done, and quite entertaining!

SO....MUCH......LAUGHING...……..

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I both hate and love you in equal measure for that pun.

I smell an international grand galloping gala here...

I was braced for an unmarked feghoot, but this is good as well.

At first I was appalled and thinking "how could the sisters ever leave such a horrible ruler stand?". Then I thought about it and said ruler must have a really good argument to keep free.

Nice way of showing what it was.

You know, those six really need a pin that gets pulled when they're sent on a mission. Or in Rarity's case, a lot of pins.

Mane 6 solve North Cowrea. Can we please make this real?

I wish i could find this funny, but I cant.

This is celestia being an ass again, for a good cause. Sure, wont deny that.

At this point, I just write her off as a donkey with great pr in verse. She's going to get away with what she does by virtue of that. Oh well, at least the six did some darn nice things in trying to better lives in bad straights.

Yeah. I expected her to say that. That's the thing about a grenade with the pin missing: you can always count on it to explode.

I’m beginning to think the mane six plus Spike are bad at diplomacy.

I just wanna be clear on what Twilight did, since it's pretty clear for everyone else. Was her big oopsie throwing magic at the artifact and causing the earthquake? Or did she specifically do something to get it broken?

How to solve a problem in Equestria or its neighbouring kingdoms: Locate source of problem, aim Bearers at source of problem, stand back. Covering eyes is recommended. After 48 hours, send cleanup crews.

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From the sounds of it, she tried hitting it with different types of magic in an effort to fix it. One of which did cause an earthquake.

"Ah," Rarity sighed. "Given that everything in their nation operates through a single entity, I would imagine their Leader would simply order it."

Wait, what genius sent the Bearers to North Korea?

"I was just looking to see if there was anything stuck in there," the baker hastily said. "If the crumbs stay in one place too long, you get small insect colonies in the deep folds --"

Dare I ask how she knows that?

Outside, in the rain, because that'll remind them that no matter how happy they think being married should make them, it's nothing compared to how they should feel about making her happy.

I can only assume that the only reasons the Leader hasn't gotten the Sombra treatment is because a. She isn't vivisecting her people in the name of science yet, and b. Geopolitics are more complicated now than they were a thousand years ago. (And c. Then we wouldn't have a story. :raritywink:)

I meant, a whole song about how tough it was to be a god, out of nowhere, just for her! ...do you think it had a really poor box office?

If you can't find El Dorado, make it. At your citizens' expense.

Oh. Oh. Silly me, thinking the sisters would let this stand for any longer than they had to. Brilliantly cascading calamity. Thank you for it. Here's hoping your own waits are less interminable in the future.

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Destroying a superweapon that Leader wanted.

How I wish I could point these seven at all of our problems. North Korea, China, Russia, The EU, the United States, and California. Never mind all the people who need a friendship beam all over.

I definitely enjoyed this. But it didn't take me long to realize that everything that went "wrong" was the actual intent of sending them there in the first place.

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I mean really, can you think of anyone better suited to accidentally destroying a superweapon by trying to figure out how it works than Twilight?

Vision #37 · Jun 29th, 2019 · · 14 ·

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Dude. I'm Russian, and I don't see the crap like in North Korea here. We have freedom of speech, access to the Internet and the pricess on food is lower than in most countries, and we have an intelligent leader, and much, and I mean much, better health care in our country than in US. But if you are the one person who watches CNN and thinks that your Hollywood celebrities have the know better about my country you'll just ignore all of the things I written here anyway.
I mean, would I be here, reading this amazing fanfic, based on this beautiful cartoon series I watch on our television if Russia was like North Korea?

A beautifully pulled geopolitical trick shot, and a marvelous example of just-as-planned Princessing. :trollestia:
I hope the girls and Spike get a nice, proper vacation out of this.

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Honestly, my guess was either that, or an attempted stab at Donald Trump.

So, in summation:

The Mane Six toppled Best Korea.


...Seems legit.

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Admit it, our entire world needs to be "Elements of Harmony"-ed.

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While that's entirely true, there was no diplomacy to be had here.

Leader's "mission" for the Bearers was intended as a weapons test/pre-emptive strike against Equestria. Celestia pre-pre-empted the strike and destroyed the weapon by giving Leader exactly what she asked for.

At least, that's how Sunbutt and Crater-ass saw it.

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The artifact was destroyed by some combination of "too many kinds of magic at once" (Twilight), lightning (Rainbow Dash), and a zarlat stampede (Fluttershy and Spike (and Rainbow)). Mostly the stampede. The earthquake knocked the monster over so the stampede could stamp on the thing.

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I can only assume that the only reasons the Leader hasn't gotten the Sombra treatment

Because near-instant disintegration was too kind. Leader is going to be put on trial by the people she oppressed. She'll be wishing she got the Sombra treatment instead.

I’m sure there’s something philosophical in how Chaos is the ultimate manifestation of Harmony.

They couldn’t have planned this. If they had planned this it wouldn’t have worked. But just by being themselves they made everything explode.

Comment posted by Shadow Star deleted Jun 29th, 2019

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In a weekend. They toppled North Korea in a weekend.

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He also mentioned th EU and America as places that should be improved. And it's mostly Russia's fault we have our current president, maybe he's sore about that.

They keep describing this as a disaster, but it really sounds more like a job well done to me.

The main thing that spoils this one for me is, the girls would NOT be even a little bit guilty about this. In fact, they would almost certainly have deliberately LED the rebellion against Leader.

The Waiting Doom

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Well, you all were responsible for the greatest atrocity known to mankind.

The Election of Donald Trump!:fluttershbad::fluttershyouch:

Why... I simply can't imagine a worse scenario, can you? Look at all the evils he's done! Anita Orlando GonnagivemeaCoronaryfromlaughing said so! :trollestia:

Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
I've got a little list — I've got a little list:ajsmug:

Only the Mane Six could fuck up so spectacularly as to break a dictatorship on accident. XD

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