• Published 9th May 2020
  • 279 Views, 46 Comments

For the Mare Who Has Everything - GrassAndClouds2



An extremely wealthy and powerful member of Luna's Night Court who is nearing the end of her life resolves to obtain the secret of immortality, no matter the cost

  • ...
0
 46
 279

3. A Bag of Fertilizer, A Holy Text, A Bolt of Terror

Vicereine Puissance spread her wings slightly in order to shake out the faintest of wrinkles in her deep purple dress and lied to herself that she did not feel cold.

It was just exhaustion, she told herself when she could no longer maintain the lie. She had been staying up late going over her agents’ reports on the Golden Horseshoe hunt, and was also taking lessons with a retired teacher of magic so that she could better understand the complicated and technical lab reports that Moondancer was producing on a weekly basis. Add to that all of her regular duties in managing two provinces, multiple powerful Night Court committees, and innumerable properties, as well as the one day a week she lost doing things like playing frisbee, painting, or reading storybooks with Scepter, and it was perfectly understandable why she might not feel as warm and full of energy as the other ponies.

Perfectly understandable, she repeated to herself, and managed to make herself believe it.

“Vicereine?” said Precise Point as she reentered the room. Perfect Precision was sitting next to her and handling some of Puissance’s private correspondence. “I have distributed your notice, the one announcing you have taken an interest in Naqah relics and will pay top bit for any ancient or powerful artifacts from that part of the world, to all the nobles.”

There had been a time when Puissance could have just gone to Vicereine Wallflower, traded some favors, and used the Royal Diplomatic Corps to lean on Everlasting Peace until he gave her what she wanted, but that time was gone. Furthermore, even if Puissance operated entirely on her own, she still didn’t dare draw upon Equestrian resources in order to get Everlasting Peace’s horseshoe. If she promised him, for instance, that Equestrian soldiers would back him in battles against the other sects, that might get her the horseshoe, but it would also likely end in Luna dropping a meteor on her house and hauling her away.

So that meant Puissance was limited to private resources in terms of what she could offer Everlasting Peace, and unfortunately, she didn’t actually have anything on hoof which he wanted. She’d already sent him a list of possible options, including some of the most powerful magical trinkets she had in her warehouses, only to be rebuffed. That was galling, but Puissance could not let things end there, so she was now reaching out to her fellow nobles for anything they had which might be of use. If ponies like Night Light or Wallflower happened to have an ancient Naqah relic moldering in a cabinet somewhere, they would know she was willing to pay handsomely for them, and then she could—

“Oh, Vicereine!”

Puissance jumped at the shout, then turned and had to hold back a sigh. “Baron Mounty Max,” she said to the pony trotting through the door to her quarters with a goofy hat on his head and a goofier grin on his face. He was carrying a paper bag with what looked like a jam stain on it. “Good morning.”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” Max smiled at the window of Puissance’s quarters, which was open and letting in the spring air. “I was about to head home for the day, but your secretary gave me your note and I thought of something so I wanted to tell you right away.”

Puissance’s eyes narrowed. “You think you have knowledge of Naqah artifacts?”

“Maybe.” Max shrugged. “After I got ennobled I did a tour around my province, and I came across this book which I think is from Naqah. Its cover had that writing the camels use a lot, anyways.”

It was probably a cookbook, Puissance thought. Or, knowing Max, a book of nursery rhymes for foals. “And you have it?”

“Not exactly. But I saw its cover, and after my secretary Mrs. Grobhar told me about your note and I told her about the book, she introduced me to a sketch artist at her favorite teahouse. The artist cast a spell on me to remember the book’s cover really well, and then he drew it while I described it.” Max opened the bag and pulled out a jelly donut, then blinked. “Oh. I, um, may have grabbed the wrong bag at Donut Joe’s.”

Puissance raised an eyebrow, because Luna was less likely to punish her for that than if she yelled at Max or had servants throw him off the castle battlements.

“Well, I can still remember it. Here.” Max took a blank piece of paper and a nearly-empty inkpot from Precise Point’s desk, looked around, saw that both secretaries were currently using their quills, and so grabbed a fresh quill from an ornate holder on a shelf. Puissance’s mouth dropped, because that quill was an extremely rare relic said to be crafted from one of Commander Hurricane’s pinion feathers, but Max didn’t notice and nopony reacted in time before the baron started sketching. “The cover was rectangular, and it had these squiggles here, here, and here…”

Perfect Precision walked over to Max. “That is the cover to the holy book of the camels,” she said.

Max brightened, but Puissance frowned. Forcing herself not to grab the quill out of Max’s hooves--on the off-chance he really did know something, she couldn't risk offending him now-- and said, “Copies exist all over the world. Why should I believe there is anything special to that one?”

“Well it was hoof-written. Doesn’t that mean it’s probably important?”

“No,” Puissance said. “Many religious orders task their initiatives with writing out holy texts by hoof. The book you saw could have just been some random novice’s attempt at copying a text.”

Max sighed. “Oh. Maybe you’re right.” He saw the inkpot was empty and so dipped the quill into the donut before adding a last few details in jelly, then set the quill down and backed up. “Sorry to waste your…”

“Wait.” Perfect Precision’s voice was tense as she pointed with a hoof to a small jelly sigil Max had drawn at the bottom of his picture. (Meanwhile, Puissance had grabbed the quill and put it safely behind her where Max couldn’t get his hooves on it, and was already thinking of a quill repair expert who could make sure the jelly didn’t damage it.) “Why did you put this here?”

“Because that’s what the cover I saw looked like.”

Puissance turned to her personal secretary. “Why does it matter?”

“Copies of the camel holy book never have that sigil on them. It was supposedly inscribed on the first holy texts by their prophet; and copying it is considered blasphemy by all of the major camel sects. Subsequent copies have a different sigil, here.” She gestured at a part of the cover which was blank in Max’s picture.

Puissance’s mouth opened and she forgot all about her precious quill as she considered what this meant. Either Max knew that detail about camel religions and was making his story up, which seemed unlikely given the Baron’s general cluelessness, or the volume was some kind of heretical copy, which also seemed unlikely since the Naqah sects had thoroughly destroyed heretical dissidents during their various battles, or… or it was real.

Then something occurred to her. “What did Princess Luna say when you told her you may have found an original holy text of the camels?” asked Puissance in a low voice.

Max blinked. “Um… I didn’t… do you think she likes to know about things like that?”

###

Princess Luna of Equestria was deep in the middle of a discussion with Duchess Posey about clouds when a distant thumping noise echoed through the corridor, causing both of them to turn.

After a moment, Vicereine Puissance came around a bend in the hallway with Baron Max’s tail gripped tightly in her mouth. As they watched she dragged him forwards by the tail while he, stuck on his back, stared up at the ceiling and said ‘ow’ occasionally when his head bonked off a stone in the floor. Behind them came Puissance’s secretaries, as well as half a dozen nobles and two dozen castle staff who were curious as to why Puissance was dragging another noble somewhere.

When Puissance reached the correct distance in front of Luna she disdainfully spat out Max’s tail and met the Princess’s gaze. “Baron Max,” she said in a flat, exasperated tone, “wishes me to invoke the Right of Approach on his behalf so he may tell you about an item of potential national significance which he discovered in his province.”

Max rolled to his barrel, got up, and blushed as Posey and Luna both stared at him. “Erm… so, about that…”

###

“A dragon!” Puissance ranted while she walked through Canterlot’s garden district. “He left the book with a dragon!”

“What’s wrong with dragons?” asked Scepter as he ran about sniffing at flowers. He was in front of Puissance, and Perfect Precision and Precise Point trailed behind them both. “They’re cool!”

“Yes, dear, but that book is very important and must be secured in the right hooves.” The book could also be useful for Puissance’s personal ambitions, but Puissance had known that Luna would have had conniptions if she’d tried to keep something that potentially influential from her. And things had worked out regardless. If Puissance could convince the book’s owner, the dragon, to give it up, then Luna was prepared to let her use it to get Everlasting Peace’s Golden Horseshoe, provided she did not interfere with Equestrian diplomatic interests when she did so. But that meant she had to get the book from a dragon, and dragons were known to be greedy, avaricious beasts who would never give up anything if they could help it.

Still, there was no need to burden Scepter with all the details. He had met Max at the Gala and had surely realized the baron was an idiot; now she had reinforced that, and teaching him the rest of her message would not be hard. “See, dear, when you grow up and become a noble, it will be your responsibility to assess the contents of your province and identify resources which may benefit the national interest. You must know of every important item in your domain, no matter how small or well hidden. Good nobles spend as much time as needed to learn this information.”

“But that sounds boring…”

Puissance gently pat Scepter’s cheek. “Sometimes it is. But as nobles we have many responsibilities. The lives and welfare of all the ponies in our domains depend on us. We must spend the time required to ensure that our ponies prosper.”

Scepter inclined his head. “I know,” he said, and Puissance felt a warm wave of relief flow through her. It seemed that Scepter was finally starting to understand he couldn’t just play forever; that he would one day have to work, and work hard, to administer the provinces Puissance now ruled. “But that won’t take all our time, right? I mean, even nobles have to have fun!”

“We do,” said Puissance. “We have fun by being patrons of the arts, by attending refined banquets, by having those refined hobbies I told you about, by socializing with the proper sorts…”

“And by playing in the mud!” Scepter said suddenly, pointing a hoof ahead where a brown-coated stallion was up to his barrel in a muddy patch. “Look! That pony’s a noble, right? He’s that Duke Greengrass guy! And he’s in the mud!”

Puissance groaned to herself, but Scepter was already running towards the muddy Duke of Caneighda, and she had to hurry to keep pace.

“Ah, Vicereine Puissance!” called Greengrass as Puissance and her heir approached. Now that they were nearer, Puissance could see that there were around a dozen foals helping Greengrass plant flowers and crops into the patch. “A splendid afternoon to you!”

“And to you,” said Puissance dryly. “You seem to be having fun.”

“Oh, I am!” Greengrass heaved himself out of the mud patch with enough force to splatter a few of the foals with him, and also Scepter, with mud. They burst into giggles and Puissance had to fight not to put her hoof to her face. “Nothing like a little hard work to drive away the doldrums.”

Puissance nodded. “I suppose, given your removal from committees, it makes sense you would fill your time with… other pursuits.” She wrinkled her muzzle at the mud.

“Haven’t you heard?” Greengrass beamed. “Luna reconsidered. As of last week, you are looking at the newest member of the Parks and Recreation Committee!”

“…the junior-most member of the least-powerful committee in the Night Court,” managed Puissance. “Congratulations.”

Greengrass beamed as if he thought Puissance meant the compliment, then swept his muddy hoof out at the foals. “It’s not just about ensuring that all of Equestria’s public parks and gardens have the beauty and grandeur our populace deserves from their public spaces,” he said. “It’s also about helping our future generations learn the glories of gardening! For instance, take Snails here.” He reached out and grabbed a muddy, gangly unicorn with a long horn and a dopey expression. “I took him on as an apprentice just a short while ago and he’s really bloomed. You might say he’s blossomed into a proper gardener!”

Snails smiled. “Hi Vicereine Puissance,” he said. “My big sister told me all about you!”

“Oh? What did she say?” Puissance asked.

Snails paused. “Actually, she said I’m not supposed to repeat it in ‘civilized company.’” He tilted his head. “Are you civilized company?”

Puissance mentally counted to ten before letting herself respond to the inane colt. “Perhaps we should be going.”

“No, Granny Pu! I want to help!” said Scepter, who was already working with a blue-coated, red-maned foal to maneuver a large sunflower into a hole.

“That’s Sprite!” said Snails suddenly. “She’s a friend from back in, uh, Hoofington! I’m teaching her the stuff that Duke Greengrass told me about gardening!”

“Dear…” Puissance moved towards Sprite and Scepter with a sigh. Sprite opened her mouth like she was going to eat something, then suddenly shut it with a painful wince, as if she’d bitten something which turned out to be inedible.

Snails blinked, then said, “Oh,” before pulling Sprite aside. And then he whispered something which Puissance could have sworn sounded like “Don’t feed on her, Raindrops said she doesn’t have any love,” but that made no sense, so she decided she must have heard him wrong and put it out of her mind.

“But I’ve been talking only about myself,” said Greengrass suddenly. “How have you been?”

“Well, I—“

“Of course you’ve been well!” Greengrass went on. “After all, I understand you’re now hosting one of the largest Shouma delegations which ever visited Equestria! What’s it like having a few thousand cows roaming around your lands?”

Puissance grimaced at the reference to Cow Cow, who had devoted himself to annoying her and was proving a tactical master at it. Shortly after her initial rebuffing of Cow’s demand, more ships from Shouma had arrived and disgorged hundreds upon hundreds more soldiers and traders. They were faultlessly polite and willing to make excellent deals with Puissance’s merchants… and were also rapidly filling up all of the luxury hotels and residents in the province. Puissance was a hoofful of cows away from being obligated to let them move into her own properties just to have somewhere to put them. As for paying for his delegation’s costs of living, it still wasn’t anything close to a real burden to her, but it was certainly annoying for her to order breakfast and then learn that no grapefruits were available because cows had eaten every one of them in the province.

Luna might have been able to help, but that would have caused its own problems. If Luna knew that Cow Cow had demanded the death of an Equestrian citizen she would have been obligated to react by, at the very least, expelling Cow Cow from Equestria and possibly even supporting the other warlords or Fu Ling against him. That would be disastrous, since Equestria could not afford to alienate potential allies or split up its military strength with the Tyrant Sun so close to attacking. Luna, Puissance knew, would expect her Vicereine to resolve the issue without giving up Yang Chew and also without doing something that forced Luna to get involved in a war halfway across the world. So, in her report to Luna, Puissance had frankly written that Cow Cow had ‘asked for something morally unacceptable, which for the sake of political expediency I cannot disclose in this message,’ and promised to find a way to deal with him without giving into the unacceptable demand. Luna had let it go at that for the time, but Puissance knew she would be watching her very carefully until Cow Cow went home, and extra scrutiny was one thing she most certainly did not need.

(And of course, he still had the Horseshoe, and if she couldn’t get it there was no point in anything else… but if she got it via an evil deed and then got deported to the moon, that wouldn’t help either. She had to do something else, find some way to beat him, and if she hadn’t come up with a way to do that she’d just have to think harder…)

“It has been enlightening,” she said as she forced her thoughts back to the present. “Cultural exchange between us ponies and the citizens of Shouma has always been something encouraged by the House of Optiebeurs-Golo. I could even direct a few of their traders to Caneighda, if you wished to see them for yourself.”

“No need,” said Greengrass. “I’m sure they’re just fine in your capable hooves.”

Puissance managed a grimace of a smile. “Well, let me know if you change your mind. By your leave—“

“Hold on!” said Greengrass. “Wouldn’t you like to join us? I’ve been to Palomino, you know and I’m well aware of how important it is to you that all the parks and public areas be absolutely perfect from a… horticultural perspective.”

“Oh, can we please, Granny Pu?” begged Scepter. He had somehow gotten even muddier in the few seconds since Puissance had looked away from him. “This looks really fun! And—and you said I’ll need to know about how the farmers in my provinces grow stuff, right? So I should try it myself and learn!”

She had indeed said that, and Puissance was distantly pleased that Scepter was paying attention to her… but still. If he was to learn farming there were sophisticated agricultural schools where he could do it. He didn’t need to mess around in a muddy patch within one of Canterlot’s less-prestigious neighborhoods.

“Please?” Scepter reared back on his hooves and widened his eyes in the way that only foals could pull off. “It’ll be fun!”

Puissance sighed. “Very well,” she said. “And—ack!” Scepter had jumped forwards and given her a big, muddy hug. At first she recoiled, but then she relaxed into it and let the warm sun beat down on them both as they embraced. Distantly she saw Greengrass chuckling at the sight, and that odd Sprite pony was licking her lips for some reason, but she ignored that and just embraced her heir. “Yes, dear, I am glad you are happy, just please try to stay clean—“

Then Greengrass pushed a shovel at her. “I’m glad you’re staying!” he said. “And, seeing as how we’re adults, we should be setting a good example for the next generation, don’t you think?” He gestured and some of the foals carried gardening tools to the secretaries as well. “Why don’t you all come over here and I’ll show you how to spread fertilizer!”

Puissance’s glare at Greengrass promised revenge, and his bright, amused grin indicated that he knew it but didn’t care. After a few moments, she finally sighed to herself and stepped into the field.

“Thanks again, Granny Pu,” said Scepter as he worked with Sprite to drag a hose over. “You’re the best!”

Puissance smiled at that, and then she braced herself to begin spreading the fertilizer.

###

The sun seemed to be larger lately, Puissance mused. That meant the weather should be hotter. Why didn’t she feel it?

She stood with her retinue on a mountain in the middle of nowhere, or more precisely, the middle of Nulpar. A little below them on the slopes was a tiny settlement of ponies which seemed to have more dormitories and small inns than a town of that size would normally boast. Above them was an opening into the mountain, in front of which was a big sign reading “REFERENCE LIBRARY OF THE GLORIOUS DRAGON OF THE BOOK TREASURE.” A small booth had been set up near the opening where a few ponies were waiting in line to go in.

As for Puissance’s party, it mostly consisted of the Vicereine herself and two dozen pegasi of her staff carrying six oversized palanquins, each full to bursting with materials. In addition to them there were also Puissance’s secretaries, her bodyguard Solar Flare (wrapped in a cloak so nopony would see her unless the worst happened), three scholars of camel society, a unicorn artisan named Bookmancer, and a squadron of heralds. Baron Max of Nulpar was also present, as this was in his province and this mess was basically his fault besides. And Duchess Posey of Cloudsdale was next to Max, because she seemed to be worried that otherwise her new coltfriend (or newly-acknowledged coltfriend, anyways), would say the wrong thing and get himself eaten by the dragon.

Well, Puissance mused, there was always hope.

“This place has really picked up since I was here last!” said Max brightly. “Sealbhach must be working well with Vorel.”

“I suppose all the dormitories are on account of the library?” Posey asked.

“Yes,” said Max. “Sealbhach wrote me and said that ponies are already coming from all over the continent to look through Vorel’s books. And they bring books of their own, so her collection keeps getting better… and of course they buy things in town. Oh, look, they got the souvenir stand open!”

Puissance looked where Max was pointing, saw a unicorn hawking ‘I went to see the Dragon of the Book Treasure and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’ clothing, and sighed to herself but did not otherwise react. A few of her thoughts were preoccupied with Moondancer’s last report, which had stated that she had finished her tests of the Alicorn Armor and found it would work just fine as the shield component of the spell they were trying to cast, but for the most part she tried to focus on the coming encounter with the dragon. “Indeed,” she responded. “Now, when the dragon comes out, do not embarrass yourself.”

“I won’t,” he promised. “Don’t worry. We’re friends. She likes my massages.”

Posey frowned. “You’ve done this before?” she asked Puissance for at least the fourth time.

“Yes.” Puissance thought back to the dragon she’d hired to guard the vault where she’d kept, among other things, the Alicorn Amulet. Granted, that hadn’t worked out as she’d hoped, but the point was that she knew how to negotiate with dragons. “I have everything under control.”

Posey glanced at the distant valley where Puissance’s airship was hidden. If the dragon turned hostile, Puissance had decided, she didn’t want her to be able to shoot down their best means of transport home. After all, she had no intention of spending days flying through endless mountain wastes on the way back to civilization, even if Max assured her that the province was ‘really nice when you got to know it.’ So she had hidden the airship some distance away, and even if Posey very much wanted to get back on it, it would stay in the distance until Puissance was done.

Which would hopefully be soon. “Let’s begin,” she said. “Heralds! Play music to summon the dragon!”

“Wait!” protested Max. “Why don’t we just get in line to see her?” He gestured at the line, where a goat--Sealbhach, Puissance assumed--was ushering in a bespeckled pony with a scholarly bearing.

“I find that, to work with dragons, it helps to appeal to their vanity,” said Puissance. “She will appreciate being beckoned by a beautiful song instead of being waved up by her doorgoat. That will also show her that we are not just common scholars, but are here on a mission of great importance.”

Max frowned. “I don’t think--”

“Heralds, play!” ordered Puissance, and they began.

Concerti Brilliante’s famous ‘Ode to a Dragon’ was on its fourth verse, and the ponies in line were staring at them as if they were crazy, when the mountain in front of them seemed to roar and then a dragon with golden scales burst out of it. “Who dares disturb the library of Vorel’aurix-levethuix Maekrix-book-rasvim?” she demanded. “Who dares?”

Posey clenched. “Where is the anti-dragon detachment again?” she muttered to Puissance.

Puissance gestured with a wing to the valley where many of Equestria’s finest pegasi warriors and unicorns who specialized in anti-dragon spells were waiting just in case something went wrong before she turned back to the dragon. “I am Vicereine Puissance,” she said in a formal voice. “I represent Princess Luna of Equestria, the ruler of this land. I have heard legends of the library of Vorel’aurix-levethuix Maekrix-book-rasvim and wished to see if they are true--”

“You are here to see my books?” interrupted the dragon. “But then you could have just joined your other ponies in line. You would not need this horrible music. Why… ah!” She sniffed. “I smell your greed, pony! You are here to steal my hoard!”

Puissance frowned and took a step back, Solar Flare rushing to her side. “No, I--”

“I am the Ruler of the Book Treasure! I will not let anypony take them!” Vorel roared. She then turned to Max. “You! Why have you told this thief where my treasure is?”

“I, er, well…” Max tugged at his collar. “She’s not a thief… and besides… we brought books for you!” He gestured to the palanquins. “In exchange for looking at your collection. Not actually taking anything without your permission, but just looking, and maybe, uh examining one in very close detail. We’ll give you lots and lots of books to do that. What do you say?”

The dragon carefully examined the ponies before flying to one of the palanquins. Puissance’s driver quivered slightly but did not otherwise move as Vorel tore the roof off the palanquin and then let out a loud hiss of pleasure. “Mine!” she said as she ripped the palanquin apart and clutched several old tomes from within it to her chest. Puissance had sent agents all over Equestrian to find old first editions which, based on Max’s report, Vorel would like best, and it seemed to her that she had chosen correctly. “All mine!”

“So,” said Max in a slightly calmer tone, “oh wise dragon, whose gold scales shimmer even in the darkest night, may we look at your collection now and inspect one of your books very closely?” Posey frowned at the compliments but didn’t say anything. “Please?”

The dragon hesitated. “Yes,” she said at last. “But if you dare try to steal any of my hoard, you will face the wrath of the Ruler of the Book Treasure!”

“We wouldn’t dream of it,” said Puissance, and led her party, minus the palanquins and their carriers, to the mountain’s opening.

Once there, the goat in the booth frowned. “You know, you could have just gotten in line,” said Sealbhach. And you didn’t need twelve thousand books. The going rate here is one or two for short visits.”

“With dragons, I find it best to be generous,” Puissance said. “And I have no wish to wait in line. Please clear these ponies aside.”

“You can’t just cut,” protested an old scholar. “Even if you are a Vicereine. There’s no law stating that Vicereines can cut lines whenever they want!”

Solar Flare telekinetically floated a lawbook out from her cloak, opened it to a certain page, and showed the scholar.

“...oh,” said the old pony. “I guess there really is such a law.”

“Indeed,” said Puissance. It was rarely used, except for when Wallflower wanted to get a new chew toy for one of her two-headed dogs and the pet store had a three hour line, but it was there. “Now let us pass. We have important work to do.”

Vorel led the party into the mountain, and soon Puissance, Max and Posey, Solar Flare, Bookmancer, and the scholars found themselves in the heart of the dragon’s cave. Puissance’s drivers began to fly down the palanquins of books as Max pointed at the pedestal upon which the camel text was mounted. “There it is,” he said. “The one we talked about. Although I don’t know how you’re going to…”

“Watch and learn, Baron,” said Puissance. Then she nodded at the scholars. “You. Test it.”

Two of the scholars rushed to the book, backed up quickly as Vorel growled at them, and then advanced again at a slower rate upon receiving a pointed glare from Puissance. Once there, one waved some kind of magical crystal over it and the other produced a magnifying glass to inspect it. The third stayed back and cast a magic spell that caused her eyes to glow blue while she looked at something nopony else could see. The pony with the crystal exchanged it for another and then a third; the pony with the magnifying glass flipped the book open, leaned in to sniff the pages, and scraped the tiniest fragment of ink off of one page to plop it into some kind of portable chemical kit. (This earned another growl from Vorel, but Max hurried forward and managed to mollify her with a long stream of compliments that deepened Posey’s frown.) Meanwhile Puissance and the disguised Solar Flare looked around the cave, watched scholars reading through the other books, examined the pile of jewels, and learned, from an offhoof comment by Max, how he’d given the dragon a long back massage.

Max, Puissance determined, had a decidedly odd life.

It took more than twenty minutes before the scholars nodded to each other. “It’s authentic,” said one. “This is the original holy text of the camels.”

Puissance let herself smile just the faintest amount before turning to Vorel, who was now ripping apart more palanquins and hugging the books inside to her body. “Truly impressive,” she said. “Vorel’aurix-levethuix Maekrix-book-rasvim, your hoard is indeed beyond compare. It is the third or fourth greatest book collection I have ever seen.”

Vorel paused, books falling out of her claws. “Third or fourth?” she hissed. “Impossible! I am the Ruler of the Book Treasure! No little pony could have a better book collection than me!”

Puissance caught the dragon’s gaze, drew on her special talent of exerting authority and did not back down. “As an Equestrian noble I must speak the truth,” she said. “And it is nothing to be ashamed of, having the fourth-best collection.”

“I must have the first!” roared Vorel. “I will not settle for the fourth!”

Posey moved protectively towards Max, and the scholars cringed under their rough tables, but Puissance did not flinch. “I have many books myself,” she said. “And perhaps we could work together to make a collection greater than any other.”

“No!” Vorel jumped up, sending books tumbling around her. “You want us to combine our books! But I will not give them to you! These are mine!”

Puissance held up a hoof. “Please let me finish. I propose this: your collection currently consists of more than fifty thousand books--“

Vorel hissed and cut Puissance off, then said, “I have fifty-one thousand, six hundred and twenty-eight books, counting the ones you just gave me.” The dragon’s voice indicated that trying to take those books back would be decidedly unwise. “And I will not give any of them up.”

Puissance smiled, “To that fifty-one thousand, six hundred, and twenty-eight book collection, I will add two hundred thousand more that I have obtained over the years.” That was being a bit misleading, since Puissance had actually gotten this new collection over the last several days by having her agents buy out the entire inventories of bookstores around Equestria—again with a focus on books that were rare, old, or first edition, as per Max’s notes on which books Vorel found most attractive—but the date she’d gotten them was hardly the point. “These books will be yours, free and clear. Now, I understand they may fill up your cave, so I will of course help you find a larger one… or a building fit for a reference library, if you prefer.”

Vorel tilted her head. “I do not need a new building. I can simply dig out my cave, pony. Besides, these ponies tell me how wonderful I am, and I can hardly move to a new building and leave them to wilt in the absence of my glorious treasure and person.”

Even for dragons, Puissance thought, Vorel was rather vain. Although judging from the way Vorel had glanced up to her cave’s opening, where Sealbhach was watching them, maybe there was one creature in particular she did not want to leave. “Either way, I would be happy to give you the two hundred thousand books.”

The dragon fixed her gaze upon the purple pegasus. “And in exchange?”

“One single book from your collection.” Vorel stiffened, and a small jet of flame escaped from her nostrils, but Puissance held her ground. “Come, Vorel’aurix-levethuix Maekrix-book-rasvim. I am giving you two hundred thousand books, some of them quite rare. Why, in that palanquin there is a unique journal written by an Equestrian noble; it is the only copy in the world.” The journal in question was an ancient journal written by Supremo Blueblood, the great-great-grandfather of Prince Blueblood. It was indeed unique; the writing was so vapid and dull that nopony had ever had reason to copy it. In fact, it has sat in the Blueblood estate for decades upon decades without anypony reading it until Blueblood, evidently having forgotten to get Puissance anything for her birthday a few years back, had crammed it into her hooves as a gift and insisted it was an enlightening read. However, given that Max had reported Vorel being delighted by a Daring Doo book, Puissance suspected Vorel would find the journal acceptable as well. “Think of how great your treasure will be.”

The dragon froze, clearly torn between two options. Then she wheeled around and pointed a claw on Max. “You! Do you trust this other pony’s deal?”

Max’s mouth dropped. “Um, me?”

“Yes, you. The pony with the good back massaging technique.” Max blushed and Posey looked very unhappy, but neither said anything. “You were honest with me when you entered my cave last summer. Now speak. Can this pony be trusted?”

Puissance calmly looked at Max, hoping to telepathically convey that there was only one response which would not result in her throwing him off the mountain.

Max gulped. “Uh… er… I haven’t looked at her book collection myself, but Vicereine Puissance is known for being really good at collecting valuable things. If she’s made a collection, it’s a safe bet it’s really valuable, so if she gives that collection to you you’ll definitely be getting something amazing!”

Vorel was silent for several moments. Finally, though, she made herself nod. “Very well, Puissance. You may have one book… but not the camel text.” She stabbed a claw at it. “You may pick from any other in my collection.”

Puissance sighed to herself. This wasn’t wholly unexpected, but it was annoying. “And if the camel text is the one I want?”

“Then… then you may transcribe it if you wish, in exchange for two hundred thousand books. But you may not have the text itself!” Vorel’s eyes flashed. “It was the first book in my hoard. It is the greatest treasure in my collection. I will not give it up, not for every other book in Equestria!”

Max frowned. “What now?” he whispered. “I thought you said on the way here copying it wasn’t enough?”

“As I said, watch and learn,” Puissance answered. Then she turned back to the dragon. “You drive a hard bargain,” she said. “But what if I could find a way to take the text while also leaving it with you?” Vorel stared, and Puissance beckoned the unicorn artisan over. “It can be done, and I will prove it. You, Sealbhach. Are there any books here that multiple scholars are trying to use at once?”

The goat frowned. “Uh, sure. There’s a big collection of old Caballerian spells; a few different scholars are fighting over who gets to use it first.”

“Somepony bring that book here,” Puissance ordered, and then waited until an owlish scholar hurried over with it. “Now, Bookmancer, please show this dragon of the Book Treasure what you can do!”

Bookmancer spread out a collection of papers, inks, and bindings in front of himself before examining the spellbook very closely. He peered at it, sniffed it, and even licked it (earning another growl from Vorel). After several minutes he nodded and began to cast. As ponies watched, a few pieces of parchment gradually disappeared along with a bit of ink… and then, several more minutes later, the pages reappeared with writing on them. Vorel gasped and snatched them up, then flipped open the spellbook. “An exact copy,” she breathed.

“Indeed. Bookmancer can, if provided with the same materials that were used to make another book, create an exact, indistinguishable duplicate of that book.” Puissance nodded. “What I propose is this: I will send you the two hundred thousand books. If they are to your liking, you will allow Bookmancer to create an exact duplicate copy of your camel text.”

Vorel slowly inclined her head. “Very well. You may do this, and keep the copy in exchange for the two hundred thousand books.”

Puissance hid her grimace. She needed the original; she couldn’t take the chance that Everlasting Peace one day found out she had sent him a copy, even a perfect duplicate copy. That would severely damage her reputation and could even harm relations between Equestria and Naqah, which could lead to Luna becoming very unhappy with her. “If they are exactly the same, what difference does it make?” she asked.

The dragon glared. “I would know.”

“Then I propose this: when Bookmancer is done he will present you with both the original and his copy, and you may choose which one you will allow me to take,” said Puissance. That would be fine; Bookmancer knew how to force a choice and make ponies picking from several objects choose the one he wanted them to choose. As long as he himself didn’t mix the two copies up--and he wouldn’t, Puissance had gotten him to create copies of her own books and then tested to see if he could pick his copies from the originals; he’d proven he could magically tell his own books from the originals even if nopony else could--he’d ensure that Vorel would let him leave with the one Puissance wanted. “How does that sound?”

Vorel was silent for almost a full minute before finally inclining her head. “Very well, pony. You have a deal.”

Things wrapped up quickly after that. Puissance’s party ascended from the caver and Solar Flare shot a flare into the sky so the airship crew would know to head their way. “That was interesting,” mused Posey as the airship rose up in the distance. “And you really don’t mind giving up two hundred thousand books?”

“No,” said Puissance. “Not if I get the one I want.”

“That’s not like you.” Posey smiled softly. “I suppose you’re finding that physical possessions aren’t as important in your… ah… silver years?”

Puissance bit back her response. She was not old, she shouted in her head. She was not old, and why would she not care about possessions? Was it the old bromide that her time would be better spent with friends and family? She had plenty of time left for both! Even were she not about to become immortal, she could spend months and months collecting things and still have all the time she needed to be with her family. She—

The wind whistled through the mountains and Puissance felt very cold.

“You wouldn’t understand,” she said to Posey at last. And indeed, she knew Posey wouldn’t. She knew Posey wasn’t considering that Puissance’s donation would justify her having an increased presence here, in a place that was--against all odds--becoming a hub of scholarship and literary research. Obtaining even an informal amount of control over it would prove to be very beneficial, especially if she could start to base one of her research teams here. Nor was Posey considering how the grateful Vorel would likely prioritize Puissance’s researchers, allowing them to obtain the information they needed before any rivals.

And, of course, Posey had no idea that Puissance planned to live forever… and knew that Vorel, long-lived as dragons might be, would not. If Puissance’s plans worked, then there would come a day sometime in the future, centuries distant but there nonetheless, in which Vorel would die of old age but Puissance would live on. Dragons tended not to leave heirs in the legally-binding sense of the word, and she would certainly outlive Sealbhach and any other coltfriends she might make in the settlement. That meant that, when Vorel finally did die, the library’s fate would be determined by the courts, where Puissance would have an excellent legal claim to assume ownership of the library. After all, the vast majority of its contents had been donated by her. After having done so much to build it up, the courts would see that--in the absence of any legal heirs--she had the most right to it by virtue of having invested the most into it. She would thus regain every book she had just lost to Vorel, plus all of Vorel’s current collection, and of course all the books Vorel had gotten as admissions fees in the meantime. It would be one of the greatest deals she had ever made.

But Posey wouldn’t understand, and besides, Puissance wanted to get out of the cold. So she got onto her airship as soon as it opened up its doors and spent most of the route back in seclusion.

###

“We must see if Moondancer has any updates,” said Puissance to Solar Flare the next day. “Check in with the team transporting the books. There are to be no delays. And—“

Something loud crashed outside of Puissance’s estate, and she whickered in annoyance before leaving the inner quarters and looking outside. Ponies were running around screaming and she saw at least three crashed taxis. “Corona is attacking!” somepony yelled. “Luna is badly injured! Run!”

Puissance looked towards the castle, where panicked guards were rushing around, and felt a cold wave of despair take her. She couldn’t be too late, she insisted to herself. She couldn’t die now. Surely she had more time—

But then Solar Flare grabbed Puissance with her telekinesis. “We must run!” she yelled, and they did, but Puissance barely saw where they were going.

“It’s not too late,” she whispered. “Not too late. Not too late.”

###

In the end, as it happened, she was right, and it was not too late. At least not then.

Corona was defeated by the Elements, as was Discord, the monstrous beast that one of Corona’s unhinged minions had released. The battle had been terrifying, and the… transformations… Discord had wrought more so, but at last the situation was resolved.

Well, except for the fact that Luna seemed to have forgiven her sister and was letting her live in the palace. Puissance knew she wasn’t the only pony deeply concerned or even angry about that, but Luna had flatly rejected the tentative efforts by a few other nobles to banish her, so there was nothing they could do.

Except, Puissance thought, become a pony that could not be killed, not even by Luna’s formerly-deranged-and-now-wandering-around-Canterlot-claiming-to-be-good-again sister.

Late one night a few weeks after the battle, while she reclined in the inner quarters of her Califurlong estate with a thick blanket over her, somepony knocked on her door. When it opened she saw it was Solar Flare. “Vicereine,” said the pegacorn, still in the same downtrodden tone which she’d had ever since Corona’s attack. “I once again have to apologize. I was unable to protect you, or the other ponies you entrusted to me in the Vault…”

“Solar Flare,” said Puissance gently. “Nopony could have protected me from Discord and Corona. You did everything you could. You have nothing to feel ashamed of.”

“Still.” Solar Flare bowed her head low. “I failed you. I am sorry…”

Puissance paused, because Solar Flare seemed to have something more to say. “Yes?”

“But I also do have good news to report.” A brief smile flashed across her face. “We—“

“GRANNY PU!” The door banged open and Scepter raced in, knocking aside both Perfect Precision and Precise Point, before jumping up against Puissance’s barrel. “I had a nightmare about Discord again! I need a hug!”

Puissance unthinkingly began hugging her great-grandcolt, who was sleeping over at her house as part of the one-day-a-week thing Luna was still insisting on. (Puissance had hoped Luna would at least let up on that given the extenuating circumstances, but when she’d dared approach Luna the alicorn had just sweetly mentioned how Puissance must be looking forward to her day with ‘Flicker,’ and that was that.) “Of course, dear.”

“It was awful!” Scepter wriggled as close as he could against Puissance’s coat. “I dreamed he turned you into a cabbage and I accidentally ate you and never got to see you again!”

The Vicereine looked at Solar Flare, who had hurriedly yanked her cloak back on as soon as Scepter entered the inner quarters. “I can come back later,” the bodyguard said.

But it looked to Puissance like Scepter would be there for quite a while, so she said, “No. You can keep telling me about the… things… we were discussing.”

Solar Flare nodded, though when she spoke again Puissance thought her tone sounded annoyed for some reason. Surely the bodyguard wasn’t jealous of Scepter? “As I was saying, Moondancer reports that her construction of the apparatus needed to cast Star Swirl’s spell for… the things… is on track.”

Puissance nodded. “Good.”

“Your shipping staff have sent the two hundred thousand books to Vorel, and Bookmancer has started crafting his copy of the camel text. He expects it to take some time because of the complex methods used to construct the original text, but does not foresee any problems that would prevent him from finishing his job.” Puissance nodded again and Solar Flare went on. “Another hundred cows have arrived. City officials are trying to find accommodations for them that could not be construed as insulting. Cow Cow has again sent word that he will leave with his cows, and send you the thing you wanted, if you give him what he wants.”

“So, no change.” Puissance settled back with Scepter still nestled against her. She felt very tired, and for a moment she wondered if she could just stay like this. Let the others look for immortality on her behalf, let her stay with her heir in the warmth of her rooms, and…

“But there is one more update.” And Solar Flare smiled at last. “News of Corona’s return has roused some of her old cults. You received a letter from the Shadowbolts earlier reporting that one such group is due to march through Palomino on their way to Canterlot. They have various artifacts they believe will re-empower ‘Celestia’ and return her to her ‘Corona’ form. One of those artifacts is a… thing… which the cultists seem to believe has immense power.”

Puissance’s heart began to beat faster. She shifted and began to stand, though Scepter clutched against her and made her fall back down. “They are sure?” she said as she draped a wing over Scepter’s little form.

“One of them is closely monitoring the cult. When the leader showed the thing in question to the cult in order to prove he truly had Celestia's favor, the Shadowbolt spy was able to magically analyze it from afar and determined that its power approaches that of Princess Cadence of Cavallia. Plus, it looks identical to how the legends say it should. They are sure.”

“Good.” Puissance smiled slightly. “The guards will arrest and defeat them, and then I need only requisition—“

Solar Flare shook her head. “The Shadowbolts’ letter said that Luna is hoping that there need be no battle, or even many arrests. She does not want there to be further pain or punishment after the recent battles, and as the cultists have done nothing so far besides walk towards Canterlot with several artifacts, she is optimistic that you… or another noble, if they leave your territory… can find some way to talk them into going home.”

Puissance sighed to herself. “Let me guess. If we can stop them peacefully, Luna will let us keep the ‘thing.’ But if they leave my territory or if we have to call out the military and use force…”

“It will become the property of the next noble to stop them, in the former case, or the Equestrian military, in the latter.” Solar Flare paused. “She may still let you borrow the, um, thing, even if it is acquired by the government.”

“No.” Puissance immediately shook her head. “First, requisitioning an artifact of that power level would take months. There are countless regulations and bureaucratic checks to make sure we nobles are not ‘misusing’ Crown resources, and given Luna’s newfound focus on us, those could not be avoided. I…”

She cut herself off. She was not so short of time that she had only months left, she told herself. No, she was objecting over the principle of the thing. Why should she have to wait months to get her new lease on life?

“And artifact requisition requests are public,” she went on. “Imagine that the fourth thing we are looking for is in, say, an old vault belonging to Blueblood or Greengrass. Once they knew what I wanted and why I wanted it, they would extort me for everything I had in exchange. Or they would just refuse to give it to me and laugh at my upcoming… you know.” She sighed. “We will have to stop the cult. Well, we can leave tomorrow. I—“

“NO!” Scepter held Puissance tighter. “Can’t you stay with me a few more days, Granny Pu? Please? I was so scared when Discord attacked! I thought I’d never see you again! And I was so happy to be over at your house today but it went by so fast and I was really hoping we could have a couple more days!” He tried to burrow deeper into Puissance’s coat. “Please don’t go anywhere!”

“But dear,” Puissance began, “your grandmother has some very important business to take care of. We nobles must prioritize our ponies above—“

Scepter shook his head. “I’m one of your ponies!” he pointed out. “And I want you to stay with me for a little longer!” His eyes grew teary. “Please, Granny Pu? Everything was so scary when Discord attacked, but when I’m with you I’m not scared. Just a few days?”

Puissance hesitated, torn. She needed that Horseshoe, needed it badly, but Scepter was so scared and so sad and so in need of her…

“Solar Flare,” she said at last, “Could you go to the cult and find some way to slow them down? I will head up there myself in two days.” She carefully lifted up Scepter and nestled him under the blanket she had. “I would appreciate it.”

To her surprise, Solar Flare did not immediately rush to obey as she did with all of Puissance’s other orders. In fact, when she swiveled her gaze over to Scepter, it seemed almost… resentful? But then the moment passed. “As you command, Vicereine,” she said and left.

Puissance nodded, then moved herself and Scepter over to the fire before starting to sing an ancient silly lullaby her mother had once sung to her. It was fine, she told herself. She had enough time. She could have everything. The Horseshoes, her family, and everything else she wanted.

Everything.

Author's Note:

This chapter starts shortly after "Contest of Champions", and continues through the end of Season 2 and into the start of Season 3. I am leaving the actual events of Corona's attack (and Discord's attack) vague so as not to step on RDD's toes.

Posey and Max becoming an official couple is, per Talon & Thorn, a thing that happens shortly after Contest. So it's the case here.

Thanks to RDD for checking the 'Corona attacks' stuff, and to both RDD and Talon for their help with the Nulpar scene.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!