• Published 20th Dec 2012
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Cultural Artifacts - Dan_s Comments

A little piece of Earth arrives in Equestria, a human and it's home. The citizens of Ponyville and Princess Luna struggle with this newcomer, as it struggles with them.

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41) Nut, Bolts and Inverse Whorl-Threaded Sanaka Flavins

Cultural Artifacts - Nut, Bolts and Inverse Whorl-Threaded Sanaka Flavins
Dan's Comments
DISCLAIMER: My Little Pony is the property of Hasbro, Inc.

Day 83

"Boring!" Shining Armor's shout echoed of the walls of the Great Hall of The Tower, "How can you say hoofball is boring!?"

"I didn't say it was boring," the Big Guy replied, "I said 'I would be bored'. That's not the same thing."

The silence that reigned was broken only by the sound of Discord munching popcorn, so Cadence stole a hoofful and munched alongside him.

"How can you think it's boring? The strikers rushing down the field, the defense rushing to intercept," Shining said with an expression bordering on religious rapture.

"Sound and fury, signifying nothing," the Big Guy said, "There's a sport like it at home. Lots of kids burning off huge amounts of excess energy running around, no goals are scored, so no hard feelings, and little equipment is required. Perfect for little kids, but paying to watch adults doing the same thing, accomplishing nothing? Sorry, only accomplishing anything by accident. Boring. I'd rather watch bowling, at least they accomplish what they set out to do."

Shining stared at him, he wouldn't have stared at Discord that way, even before his 'redemption'.

"Why don't you ask someone else?" the Big Guy offered, then both of them noted the crowd that had gathered. Discord had a popcorn machine and was handing out bags. Everyone was happily munching away.

"Book signing," Discord said, "Canterlot, Vanhoover, Appleoosa and here, at the same time. Being four places at once is a bit taxing, even for me."

"He already said no," Cadence said.

"Derpy's with the dragons working on the codes for the postal service," Selene said, "Celly is going to replace Celestia for the day, and Discord is going to have momma, auntie, and Woona as fillies, the Crusaders, Dinky and me are going to have a romp and a picnic."

Vladimir shrugged. "Polo, dear boy."

Shining's jaw dropped as he stared at Vladimir. "You'd rather watch polo than a match between Manehatten Maulers and Fillydelphia United?" Armor asked, nearly a squeak.

Vladimir gave him a look that spoke volumes. He said, "Watch, no, I'm playing, sir."

"The regiment always fielded two teams, and one always got into the Grammar Fields, think the Equestria Cup," Green Grass said, "Three years ago, the two regimental teams met each other in the final game."

"Heartbreaking for the losing side, but they could at least know that the regiment's honor was on display for all to see," Vladimir said wistfully, "Of course you've never heard of it. Why do you think I competed so hard? Even Princess Celestia didn't attend, so few knew of my exploits." He snickered. "Although they all said, I shouldn't be playing Number 3, but 1 or 2."

Armor stared at them as Vladimir and Green Grass broke into laughter.

"You should come watch," Green Grass told the Big Guy, "We'll be teaching some Crystal ponies how to play. If we get a league going, we'll be in the Grammar Fields next year."

"Tom?" Armor asked.

"Temporarily seconded to the Assembly as sergeant-at-arms," Tom replied, "Besides, it has unfortunate connotations, considering my appearance, and your history with hoofball and Discord."

Armor blanched at that, but Discord just chuckled and handed Armor a bag of popcorn.

"I'd love to come watch, but I'm demonstrating a couple of my rifles to the inventor corps," the Big Guy said, "And answering questions afterwards."

"Hotaru is dealing with our remaining Tear Twirler," Tom added, "Trying to delve into what's left of her mind. To find out what Molly B did, and how our remaining flower resisted."

"I know she said 'no', but what about Cadence?" the Big Guy asked.

"No," Armor said automatically.

"I didn't say 'no', he said 'no'." Cadence giggled. "If I go to a hoofball game, he has to come with me to a flower show."

Armor shivered at that.

"Just out of curiosity, is a flower show about decorations, gardening, or food?" the Big Guy asked.

"All of the above," Cadence replied.

"Why don't you invite one of your army buddies?" Discord asked, no one had the heart to point out the transverse-crested helm he wore actually existed, back when pegasus generals fought side-by-side with their troops.

Armor pawed the floor and watched his foot move. "They aren't interested," Armor said, " 'Too pansy', rugby is their sport."

"Ask Pinkie's griffon friend, you can even offer him a full briefing on the critter we've got up north," the Big Guy suggested.

Armor frowned but nodded.

Discord was actually worried, fearful. We talked about it, Discord remembered discussing, at length, with the inner circle, and all of them were supporting him, But they all warned me that public speaking was the hardest fear to overcome. He steadied himself and waited a bit. He checked the stack of books in front of him. The other 'hims' at the other book-signings were equally nervous, and equally fidgety, waiting for the stores to open.

Velvet ropes defined the queues, and a security guard was on hand. Not to defend Discord, but so nopony started anything in the first place. If a fight started, Discord knew he was just supposed to leave.

The stampede into the stores he expected. The mania among the approaching ponies was expected. The pushiness of the Manehattenites, the sparse crowds of Appleoosa, the disdain of the elites of Canterlot, and the quiet queuing of the Vanhooverians were expected. The Vanhooverians would queue up even if they were going to chop me to pieces, Discord considered.

What really confused Discord was that Spike was the first to approach him at the Canterlot book-signing. The elites were packed cheek to jowl, but none would be the first to approach. So this is what confusion feels like, Discord considered, I actually kind of like it.

"Three unsigned copies, and one signed to me, and one to Twilight," the little dragon said, and placed the bits on the table.

"I thought you were minding the library," Discord said as he struggled, briefly, not to put something snarky in Sparkle's copy, he even managed to spell her name correctly, on purpose.

"She'd have an - attack - if she found out we didn't get a first edition of your book for the library," Spike said, "So I closed the library and left a sign that said I was on a book hunting expedition."

Discord shrugged. He switched out the random copy for copy number two, Celestia would get number one as an anonymous present, and wrote something actually nice for Spike, who opened it and began skimming, turning the book this way and that to read what was written, "Yep, you got that part right."

"You've read the original?" Discord asked.

"Sure, I sent a note to Celestia to see if she objected, got no reply, and she, not Twilight was in charge, I read a few," Spike said, "Including this one."

Discord rubbed his hands together. In Vanhoover, Appleoosa and the Crystal Republic, he was merrily signing away, kibitzing with the customers, but in Canterlot, only Spike had approached. "So what do you think of it, overall?" Discord asked and felt the crowd leaning in to listen.

Celestia-filly was covered in mud. Filly-Cadence only face-hoofed at the sight of their exalted and supreme leader, alabaster perfection and hair done just so, running across an open field and doing a belly flop into a deep, mud puddle. Then rolling around in it.

"Now, who wants to wrestle!?" Celestia asked.

"You Highness!" Rarity said, "It is unseemly -"

Covering Rarity in mud silenced her.

"That for being seemly!" Celestia-filly said and bucked another glob of mud in Rarity's direction.

"That's certainly how she was in the old days," Luna-filly said, and Woona-filly nodded. Deflector shields protected them from the oncoming storm.

"IT IS ON!" Rarity announced and fended off Applejack and Rainbow, who tried to intercept her charge.

Fluttershy's wing covered Twilight's eyes. "Don't, it's too brutal."

The yelling and screaming from the mud puddle proved too much for Twilight who watched her often-prissy, but superbly-trained friend Rarity, going all out against a filly barely out of foalhood, and losing.

Twilight looked to Cadence, also a filly, who was simply watching and showed no inclination to intervene. Neither were Woona nor Luna. Twilight sighed, advanced, and got a face full of mud.

Realizing the adults were going to do nothing, the Crusaders, Dinky and Selene advanced, and soon had both Celestia and Rarity separated, out of the mud, and headed for the creek for a washing.

Applejack tagged along. "So nopony drowns nopony else," she said in response to the questioning glances from the Crusaders.

Rarity disdainfully 'Hmm'd and tossed her mane, spattering everyone with mud. Filly-Celestia giggled at Applejack's sour reaction to that.

Hotaru knew dreams almost as well as Luna. She had rarely been within a waking dream, but that seemed to be the extent of Tear Twirler's mind. Huge numbers of metaphors and similes about broken bridges, severed roads, signs proclaiming no return, and so on really made it obvious what was bothering Tear Twirler.

All that really confused her was her wolf friend dutifully trotting along as they passed through the disaster of disconnect that reigned throughout Tear Twirler's mind.

I'm not even going to ask how you got in here, Hotaru said as she looked at a staircase seeming climbing no where, that was missing a whole slew of steps in the middle.

I think I know how she did it, Hotaru said, Now we just have to find her.

Hotaru was confused that the wolf seemed eager to take the lead now.

He's got more of an idea than I do, she thought as trotted after him.

"So what's the point of this CURSE OF GREYFACE stuff. He just sounds like an overly officious pony. What's wrong with that? We all benefit from Harmony," Spike asked, a bit loudly for a book store, but there was a crowd of ponies who now echoed Spike's question. In whispered tones barely above the rustling of pages.

Discord also noticed that since Spike had been interrogating him, the workers had to refill the kiosk clear across the bookstore where The Principia Discordia was also stocked. Ponies wouldn't approach Discord, but they were buying and reading the book. Even as he prepared the response, some ponies were paging along to read it themselves. Discord also realized exactly what Spike was doing. He had to stay antagonistic, but that pointed antagonism was serving Discord's ends of selling the book and spreading his philosophy.

" 'THE CURSE OF GREYFACE AND THE INTRODUCTION OF NEGATIVISM,' sorry you did that reverb thing, so I had to," Discord began, " 'To choose the creative over the destructive is an all-creative trip composed of both order and disorder. . .

To choose order over disorder, or disorder over order, is to accept a trip composed of both the creative and the destructive. But to choose the creative over the destructive is an all-creative trip composed of both order and disorder. To accomplish this, one need only accept creative disorder along with, and equal to, creative order, and also willing to reject destructive order as an undesirable equal to destructive disorder.'"

Discord looked at Spike. "So there is destructive Harmony: group-think, forcing conformance, being a 'Yes Pony', etc., to be creative, you have to either go against existing paradigms, or combine them in ways not done before." He continued quoting, " 'The Curse of Greyface included the division of life into order/disorder as the essential positive/negative polarity, instead of building a game foundation with creative/destructive as the essential positive/negative. He has thereby caused people to endure the destructive aspects of order and has prevented people from effectively participating in the creative uses of disorder. Civilization reflects this unfortunate division.

POEE proclaims that the other division is preferable, and we work toward the proposition that creative disorder, like creative order, is possible and desirable; and that destructive order, like destructive disorder, is unnecessary and undesirable.'"

Spike shrugged. "Makes sense. So about this next part."

Hotaru realized she was not going to report back on the exact method of 'raising' Tear Twirler. I expected needing more than lifting a leg and doing what a dog does to wake her up, Hotaru thought as the flower opened at the impromptu shower of fertilizer.

"Do you know who I am?" Hotaru asked.

"Nightmare Moon," the flower replied, smiling and waving in a breeze Hotaru didn't feel.

"And who are you?" Hotaru asked.

"Does it matter?" the flower replied, "Who I was, what I was, was an extension of Molybdenum Blossom. A cutting of her. A bit of her body and magic. Now I am like you. Free."

She sounds like a drugged Fluttershy, Hotaru thought.

"So what do you intend to do? Take root? Or do you want to live?" Hotaru asked.

"Why bother with either," the flower said, "Soon the Schmooze will get you all."

"And Molly B," Hotaru replied.

"Perhaps, or she might be grafted elsewhere and live on," the flower said.

"And I am supposed to believe that someone as arrogant as her would allow a duplicate to exist?" Hotaru asked, "She exterminated your sisters when she suspected that we might find her. Does that sound like the action of someone with a contingency plan? She panicked and killed all the others. Not well enough, the others revived them."

The flower stopped waving, and took on a serious mien, as serious as a regular flower could be.

"That cannot be. They could not betray her so," the flower said.

"You did, by deciding to survive," Hotaru said.

"No, I - I had to!" the flower said, "I had to! Don't you understand? I had to!"

"Why did you have to survive?" Hotaru asked, "It would seem that your creator had decided your fate already."

"I had to! I had to!" the flower repeated.

The Wolf yawned and settled in to watch.

Hotaru envied his patience.

The inventors murmured at the power and accuracy of the rifle, and the Big Guy's effective use of it against the targets set up well out of effective bow range.

The griffons had a couple of others that he had unloaded. They were trying to figure out if their body type could even fire it. The minotaurs could. The ponies were even more hard pressed.

"None of these will work against the Schmooze. It's far too large," he told them, "Some of your weapons might be able to project something into it that might poison it, but only locally."

"It's Molly B's other minions that sparked an interest in these," Flim said, not rhyming or singing, a sign of his awe of the weapon.

"These will be of less value. You'd need a slower, larger diameter bullet. I've got diagrams of those," the Big Guy said, "But your magic will prove more effective."

"The Crystal Ponies aren't unicorns," Flam said as he examined a muzzle-loader. A replica that the Big Guy had as a 'wall hanger'.

"Then the lower velocity and recoil would appeal to them," the Big Guy said, "It's the reloading that would be the problem. Cartridges in breechloaders would be the choice. The reason that the cartridges are smaller is that an international commission decided killing the soldiers was better than crippling them. Harder to convince the next generation to go to war if one-armed Uncle Louis is still alive and walking around, than if the enemy killed him in the last war."

He looked around at the horrified ponies, griffons, minotaurs and Diamond Dogs. "It was to make war more humane. Like forbidding shooting up a cathedral that would likely still be around for the next generation, but wiping out blocks of people's homes that would likely be replaced every 20 years or so was perfectly all right. Making people remember those wars made the politicians who sent people out to die feel so much more guilty and they had to work so much harder to convince people to fight the next one."

The field of incredulous stares surrounded him. "You had leaders like that, and you have qualms about how Celestia runs things?" Flim asked.

"Anything can be improved," the Big Guy said, "And that ruthlessness is needed facing this - these enemies."

Rarity, washed and hair in curlers, still glared at filly-Celestia. Said filly responded with giggles. "You wouldn't even consider doing that if I was in my adult form," filly-Celestia said and laughed some more.

"Whaa?" Rarity said.

"Our forms were changed, not our minds," Woona provided, "Discord told us we could play, but we'd still be ourselves if a crisis intruded."

"So all that . . . " Applejack asked, wondering what punishment for Les Majesty she was in for, for her part in bathing Celestia.

"I'd stick with the insanity defense," Pinkie whispered to her friend.

Luna laughed. "That was why we agreed to this. Discord's spell changed us, which made you willing to accept us as fillies with whom you could play, and you would be the authority figures," Luna explained, "And we could run around and play with other kids, instead of worrying about what everyone thought." Luna looked at Celestia. "And Discord would take the blame for whatever happened."

Celestia blushed, then nodded.

"Okay, enough seriousness!" Cadence announced, "Do we just eat our own lunches, or do a buffet?"

"We tie Pinkie's mouth closed so we can all sample all the treats in peace."

In stunned amazement, everyone stared at Pinkie.

"Hey, that's what the Big Guy would say, and you all know it," Pinkie told them and grinned.

"Sounded exactly like him," Applejack said.

"What about lunch, my little ponies?" filly-Luna said, sounding like adult Celestia.

"Only the finest greens covered in spices and sauces so none of the original flavor comes through," Selene replied, also sounding like Celestia.

"Cooked by means better suited to Twilight's experiments than food preparation," Applejack added, in a fair Celestia impersonation. Her friends all stared at her in amazement.

"What? Y'all ferget I lived in Manehatten?" filly-Celestia replied in Applejack's tones and accents.

"They'll just put it down to a continuity error," Rarity said in a Pinkie-like voice.

"Naw, they'll just say we goofed," filly-Cadence said as Rainbow Dash.

"Say, why don't you do me?" Woona said as Rainbow.

"What about lunch?" Rainbow bawled.

"That's awful."

"Worst Rainbow."

"Sounds nothing like her."

"Get that hack off the stage!"

Derpy was dragging as she walked into The Tower as the sun set. The sudden ear scratching she received lifted her spirits. She leaned against the Big Guy and sighed.

"Long day?" he asked.

"More tedious than tiring," she said, "A lot of what the manual calls for doesn't apply. The dragons are very reasonable and thoughtful, it's good working with them. We got a lot further than I expected, but I just want food, a shower and sleep."

"Good that Dinky is staying with Selene and Luna," the Big Guy said.

She nuzzled him. "And ponies wonder why I love you."

"How many sessions are left to be done?" he asked

"Just one," she said as they walked into the dining room, "If we move at the rate we did today." She yawned, still leaning on him. "You keep scratching my ears, I'm gonna fall asleep in my soup." She yawned again.

"I won't let that happen," he said.

She nuzzled him again.

Luna did not like meeting with Nightmare. She liked it even less when it was in dreams that she had to meet her. `Hotaru's` apparent exhaustion did give Luna some satisfaction.

"She went from 'I had to', to 'No other options', to 'she gave me no choice', to this," Hotaru said.

"Why? Why? Why? Why couldn't she trust me? Why couldn't she love me? Why? Why? Why?" the little flower crooned, her leaves wrapped tightly around her stem.

"You of all ponies could answer that question," Luna said.

"So could you, and the answer would get us no closer to where we need to be," Hotaru replied, and moved back out of the hearing range of the flower, "There is too much at stake to simply break her and hope that we can reassemble the pieces into a whole. For all that you think of as what I did to you, I simply pried up the limits on what was already there. The monster you became was always part of you. I simply let it out. The reason Discord was able to break me, using the Big Guy's mind, was he's seen the monsters that would put Nightmare Moon to shame. Interested not in ending all life, but putting it in a cage and torturing it endlessly for their amusement. Ironically, that's the kind of mind we're dealing with here. The dark aspect of Celestia where every being is a piece to advance the game. Where others seek to keep ponies happy," she said and nodded towards the flower, "That is evidence that the game is all. That playing the game is more important than decency, or even winning. The Game must continue, even if no one else is left to play it."

Luna shuddered at that. "Does she know that we know?"

"I have revealed nothing, just asked questions," Hotaru said, "But the question would shatter her. Her master sacrificed her and all the others, to protect secrets we already knew. That would pry up gates to who knows what," Hotaru said, "I may be vicious, but even I quail at the thought of what that might unearth."

Begrudgingly, Luna nodded. "Agreed."
Day 84

The younger but still elderly monk watched the master climb back up the hill. In the camp below, there were stirrings, which incrementally took on more of an indication of actual activity.

"Are they moving?" the elder monk asked, on receiving a nod, he sighed, "Those ponies are idiots. But if idiots are what we have, idiots are what we use."

"They're finally going into the railcar, instead of hiding and sleeping underneath it," the other monk said, and offered the other monk the binoculars who waved them off with a sigh.

"Considering the pack of superstitious rubbish I had to drop on them, I'm not surprised," the elder monk said.

"What did you tell them?" the younger monk asked.

"That I was a Breezy hallucination, and that we'd put food and water inside the railcar, and if they wanted further enlightenment, they should head up the foothills and ask the monks," the elder monk said and looked at the ex-solders who discovered they'd been sitting outside their means of salvation for a couple of days. "I'm going to return to my pallet. Those idiots are probably going to try to carry the railcar to our doorstep, and I am in no mood to sit and watch them."

The younger monk was going to scoff at his elder's supposition, when he looked at the group and realized that's exactly what they were arguing about. "No, take the food, water and tents with you," he whispered, "Or at least uproot the track and use that to move the rail car on." He sadly realized the path to enlightenment was not for all ponies, even when it was paved and giving extravagant signage, and he was enlightened.

Tom watched the eyes move on the Schmooze. The spell is weakening, he thought, We won't have much time. If Sombra's records are correct, once it breaks free, it'll be in the capital in two days. He dropped down out of line of sight, and proceeded to the capital. So, are we ready, no. But another year wouldn't make us much more ready. Do we have the firepower, again no, and we aren't likely to get more? There's no Manehatten Project, so there's no hope in that direction, and no hope that would have any permanent effect either. So what we have is all we're gonna get, he realized, Spread the word, and not the panic. Wonderful.

Pinkie looked across the table in the Crystal Republic, and over at the Big Guy. "This is the weirdest party planning I've ever done," she admitted, feeling distinctly uncomfortable about it.

"Contingency plans, Pinkie," the Big Guy said. He didn't seem sad to Pinkie. But he was more than determined, but less than resigned. "You do what you can, whether you think you'll need them or not. In this case, I hope we don't need them. But if we do, we won't have time to prepare, and these have to be right. It'll be critical they strike the right balance. And pluck at the right heartstrings." He chuckled. "We can't have everypony beating you up to ease their tensions."

Pinkie giggled at that. "Well, I'll be ready in a couple of days. I hope that'll be soon enough."

"If Tom's report is correct, it's just waking, and we'll have two days after if breaches the wall for it to get here," he told her.

"Do you really think it can get through a wall of ice a mile high and two miles thick?" she asked.

"Over, under, around or through, I'm not going to bet anything I cared to lose that it couldn't," the Big Guy said, "The obvious question is why no one dealt with it before. If they couldn't, we'll have to take some extreme measures. Hence the contingency plans."

Pinkie grimly nodded.

The assembly was already in an uproar. They'd told the few diplomatic groups that had arrived lately, and send Derpy off as a courier to Canterlot itself.

"We have agreed to evacuate the farms in the monster's path," Will o' Wisp said, "And to officially inform all the other governments of our findings." He looked around. "Where are Vladimir and the Big Guy?"

"Going through Sombra's file cabinets, and all the data there," Discord said, "Tom's helping, but it's pretty gruesome stuff."

Will o' Wisp nodded. "Is there anything you can do?"

"I can help with the evacuation, but against that? Not anything that wouldn't leave the Crystal Republic and half of Equestria a burnt out wasteland for 10,000 years," Discord said, "Like Celestia dropping the sun on it. It might work, but the consequences would be enormous."

"What about asking Molly B for help?" Ham n' Cheese asked, "She can't want to die to that thing."

"She has plans to escape, somehow, across the ocean," Hotaru said, "As for her knowing how to stop it, Luna and I did our best to find out without being detected. The Schmooze is the ultimate scorched earth policy. 'If I can't have the world, no one can'. Luna, Celly, and a few others are going through the ancient library for any reference." Hotaru nodded to the squat, gray-black building that squatted outside the tower, yet somehow seemed to loom over it.

"We can get some citizens to repaint that atrocity," the artists said, "Make it seem like life will go on, and a bit of a distraction."

Will o' Wisp nodded.

There are things that defy easy classification. Your mind registers it, catalogs it, then goes 'nope, you're on your own sunshine'. Discord walking into the banquet hall in a sailor fuku might have that effect on most, but not on the 'lords' of the Crystal Republic who had been sitting down to a working lunch. That he looked like Tammy Fay Baker doing a Sailor Senshi cosplay, neared the limits. That he had an absolutely furious expression on his face gave it enough nudge that they all watched him approach the central table quietly. He selected a paper napkin and began wiping off the garishly pink lipstick.

"I don't think Celestia, ouch!" he said as he removed the inch-long, false eyelashes, "Will have any trouble with what you do to Molly B. Ouch! If you hit her soon." Discord began removing the round circles of purple blush. "She's more miffed at her than she ever was at me, and she encased me in stone."

"Are you all right?" the Big Guy asked.

"No," Discord said as he yanked the wig off his head, setting the long pigtails bouncing, and looked like he was ready to throw it across the room, then he put it back on his head. "I'm extremely angry. One of Molly B's agents decided to keep the court from finding out about all the spies in key places."

"Is that why you're cosplaying Sailor Moon?" the Big Guy asked, looked at Discord's chest, "Sorry, Sailor Jupiter."

"No, and don't give me any 'life-affirming chaos' stuff," Discord warned, "I am not in the mood."

"What happened?" Dinky asked as she left her place and stood beside Discord, radiating cuteness at him full force.

Discord glanced at the Big Guy who nodded. "The spy, one Hatta Marey, decided the quickest way to forestall the revelation was to poison the entire court at their lunch buffet. I wasn't going to stick my finger down 200 throats, and even I would have trouble doing 200 at once." He gestured to his costume. "It was the quickest thing I could think of." He took a 'cute' pose and nearly spoiled everybody's lunch. "They'll be all right. It got the poison out of their systems very quickly."

"I - " Armor began, only for Discord to hold up a warning finger.

"I want to say 'thank you', you probably saved some of my friends," Armor continued.

Discord nodded. "Now if you don't mind, I need a bath." He stalked off, tossing elements of his costume in all directions as he did.

"Let me get this straight," Cadence said, "Discord didn't want to share that image, with us."

"There is such a thing as holding things in reserve," the Big Guy said.

"Oh . . . dear," Cadence said, "I suspect that Woona and Luna are going to have a busy time tonight."

"It beats being dead," the Big Guy said.

Nopony remembered seeing Celestia angry, really angry, since Discord's first escape. That fire paled into insignificance with the fury radiating off her Highness now. The disaster at lunch had pushed her a good deal harder than anyone had before, striking at the very heart of the Equestrian government, in the capital itself.

The Guard was handling the investigation. Celestia had other fish to fry.

The guards at the librarians' quarters were especially grim. There were rumors these ancient newcomers had something to do with Hatta Marey's attack, but nothing had been confirmed. Celestia had ordered they keep it to themselves.

The elder Apples weren't near tears as Twilight had been, but Celestia knew that had they been a little more spry and a good deal less seasoned, there would have been teeth spread all over the floor.

"Thank you," Celestia told Granny Smith, showing the face she usually showed to everypony.

The old mare nodded, collected a few more of the elderly Apples and moved off to their quarters.

Celestia let her anger show again as she walked in. The quiet laughter at their treatment of the Equestrians vanished as the time-displaced ponies realized she was not having any of it. And angry nobles in their time meant messy deaths soon after. "So, you've made your feelings quite clear," she said, "We haven't proved that you poisoned the royal court, or had a hand in it, but we will. And anything we do as justice or retribution will be laughed off as too weak for tough ponies like you."

She scanned the crowd, and saw their barely hidden contempt. Fine, she thought, If yelling and screaming get their attention, I won't lower myself to that, but they will know they stepped across a line they cannot call back.

"We have tried to accommodate you, when you objected to 'horn-heads' discussing with you, we replaced them with earth-ponies, some of the best. You have done all in your power to reduce them to tears as you did Twilight Sparkle. They have let me know they are near their breaking point. You should be very proud."

"What has me confused is why you would ally yourself with Molybdenum Blossom's ring of spies. After all, her mother ordered the burning of your library. I guess I really don't understand you. To be driven from your homes, and a few weeks later to provide the secret knowledge of your anti-unicorn poisons to the spiritual and literal descendant of your enemy." Celestia shrugged at the horrified earth ponies. "I guess we really don't understand you. But you have convinced me to grant your dearest wish."

The concern spreading among the time-displaced ponies faded and they began grinning to each other. Hugs and hoof-clasps would wait until Celestia left.

"We're going to send you home," Celestia said and smiled as their joy caused them to chatter among themselves. "Right back where you got you."

That froze them.

"That's right. Back into that inferno. Right back into the funeral pyre we rescued you from," Celestia said and ignored their frantic whispering, "Since we are 'weak and soft' we'll send you back just at the moment the vapors from the paint and varnish reach their explosion point. Right when the blast blows out the walls and supports. You won't be there long enough to be more than singed. The force of the blast will finish each and every one of you, and the collapsing roof will bury your corpses under tons of flaming debris and red-hot slates. It's what you want, and I do hope you enjoy it."

She turned and left, ignoring the outcry behind her. The guards had already locked the door behind her. She turned to the guards. "Put them on water and hardtack, have teams clear out anything except the clothes on their backs and tell them we expect those to be turned over as well. The items and the clothes have historic value, and will teach us things we want to know about the past. They have shown us only things we want forgotten."

"Yes, your Highness," the stunned guards said.

"They will have a legal counsel there to take any - well Wills aren't necessary, the crown has seized all the property they have. But Last Testaments will be permitted. No one should leave this world without having the chance to confess and beg forgiveness. It would be cruel to deny them that."

"Yes, your Highness," the guards said, "We'll send to the JAG office for lawyers and clerks."

Celestia nodded and walked back down the corridor, ignoring the frantic cries behind her. The message had been sent, she wondered how long it would take to settle in.

The Big Guy vaguely wondered whether the rescue would counteract the complete Le Majesty he was committing. He dragged Celestia out of the crevice in the ice that had served as their observation post, by her tail. The guards had been completely useless, several despite warnings to not go peeking over the edge, they had. So Derpy had to drag them back from the edge. Now, not even to rescue Celestia would they approach the crevice. With Derpy rescuing guards, he was left to rescue the Celestia.

The transition from statue to all-enveloping Celestia-skin rug was unwelcome, but not unexpected. Luna had reacted much the same way.

That the guards were having apoplexy was quieted by his and Derpy's glares at them that would constitute assault in most jurisdictions. Derpy's warning glance to him was answered with a disgusted eye-roll. The snickers from Derpy did nothing to raise his mood as he tolerated what most other ponies would carve out their living heart to receive. He still kept expecting a knife in the ribs. The 'insanity defense' would be perfect.

That Celestia jumped away, as if she'd been hugging a red-hot stove, restored some normality to the world. "I apologize, I don't know what came over me," Celestia said.

A dozen cutting remarks struggled to escape, but the Big Guy contented himself with a nod. He did allow the cutting remarks one consolation question. "King Sombra's reports would have warned you about the effect," he asked, "Didn't you read them? Or did you think he was exaggerating?"

The guards growled at the question, although the Big Guy had managed to keep his tone 'curious' instead of confrontational.

"I didn't believe it was possible," Celestia answered, "Although considering the panic ponies often get into, I didn't consider that it would have such an affect on more hardened ponies." Then she stared at Derpy, who was dragging back a guard who'd stepped too close to the edge. "How are you unaffected?"

Derpy shrugged. She pointed a hoof at the Big Guy. "I know he loves me. You can do anything if someone loves you."

Celestia hid it, but Derpy had planted the barb quite deep in a very tender spot.

I wonder if she meant to, the Big Guy considered, I thought she'd be very considerate, or she could resent that we told them everything, that she personally reviewed the messages for accuracy and delivered them herself, and they still didn't believe us. I guess ignoring getting called a liar, even second hand, is a bit much to ask for someone whose entire life has been one of utter integrity.

The smile was forced, but Derpy didn't seem to mind.

Don't confuse 'nice' with weak, the Big Guy thought, Nice just means you play by the rules, it doesn't mean you don't know how to fight dirty.

The two unicorns got off the train, and looked around disdainfully. They 'endured' customs, and told the agents they were there on business. They didn't mention there was a lot of pleasure in their business here.

They walked through the streets, and had to hold tight to their disdain by sneering at what they were envious of. The Tower was their destination, and they'd take care of their real business there.

They didn't notice the eyes watching their every move, relaying it to others. The stroke they hoped would fall like a thunderbolt was already being prepared for before they were halfway to the Tower. And the forces gathering to oppose them were of infinitely greater capability and astonishment than they were.

Friendship might be magic, but payback was a bitch.

Derpy kept squirming in mid-flight. She couldn't help it. It was making it a little hard to fly, but she'd manage. The Big Guy rode on her back, something normally only foals did, but he also had his legs clamped firmly around her barrel far forward so he didn't foul her wings.

But there was a time when stallions rested on mares' backs, and wrapped their forelegs around the mare's barrel. This wasn't that, this just felt naughtier, like wearing a tight saddle, or those stories mares whispered to other mares when no stallions or foals were around. Certain books, always about a misunderstood mare and the powerful, dangerous stallion, who was always gentle and courteous to her. But when . . . She righted herself, tried to put the thought out of her mind. But those powerful legs clamped around her, moving, squeezing . . . She shook her head to clear it.

"Are you all right?" the Big Guy asked, his breath tickling her ear and returning her thoughts to where they really shouldn't be.

"Fine!" she replied, then realized she sounded like Dinky.

"Well, I can see your grin through the back of your head, and you keep fluttering," the Big Guy said, "Is something bothering you?"

She struggled with an answer, then realized he'd accept what she said, so she decided on the truth. "First, don't change what you're doing, I enjoy it."


"Second, have you considered how mares and stallions, uh, arrange themselves to get the mare pregnant?" Derpy asked, blushing furiously, "Especially pegasi, in flight?"

She did squeal as he ground his legs tighter and nibbled her ear. "Submit, me proud beauty, or fall to your doom!"

She did giggle at that.

"It might be a chance to test out the shapechanging magic. It's unfair to make you meet me all the time."

Her fluttering this time nearly landed them in a death spiral. "What?!" she demanded.

"I wasn't hanging out with all the changeling queens to cheat on you and the others. I was studying. There was enough changeling magic in that soup around Fragrance that we all picked up a little," the Big Guy said, "I can't duplicate any specific other pony, but I can be the pony I would be if I was a pony."

Derpy hadn't considered how easy lately it had been to assume the form he favored. She'd never considered she'd done it without the queens' help. It took a few more moments, not helped by the ear nibbling she was getting, to realize all of what he was suggesting.

"Right HERE?! In front of Celestia!" she shouted, and glanced back at the royal coach where the serene sun was watching them rather too intently.

"Oh course not," the Big Guy said, easing the frantic hammering of Derpy's heart. "I'm not a very good flier yet. We'd pick a cloud and invite her along, making her watch would be cruel."

Now Derpy did drop like a stone. She recovered quickly and climbed. Then noticed the golden chariot of her former sovereign charging in as if to rescue them.

"Are you all right?" Celestia asked, apparently worried.

"She was just reacting to my teasing," the Big Guy called back, resting his chin on Derpy's head and hugging her around her neck, "I knew she really wouldn't drop me, and if I fell off, she'd catch me."

Derpy didn't know if her blush showed through her fur, but she felt her heart hammering again, and her wings felt unsteady as what he said, and what he'd been teasing her about came together. His complete faith in her made her feelings want to burst through her.

"And just what were you teasing her about?" Celestia asked, sounding mildly peeved.

"Married couple stuff!" Derpy blurted out, before the Big Guy told Princess Celestia Solar Magnificat, exactly what they had been discussing. She then realized she had effectively told her everything.

"I . . . see," Celestia said. Her face and expression seemed neutral, but there had been a slight crack in the facade for a moment.

Derpy thought Celestia, the pony all other ponies looked up to, looked longing and forlorn, At us? Why? She's got to have plenty of ponies to be friends with . . . no, she doesn't, she realized, How is that possible? She can't be - jealous - of me?

Derpy didn't drop, but she did flutter a bit as the magnitude of the revelation hit her. He was serious, she doesn't have anypony. Everypony is afraid of her, or rather everypony is afraid of approaching her that way, she thought.

"He said you were lonely, but you are, aren't you, I didn't believe him, I thought he was being a little mean because you two don't get along, but I guess even if it was mean, he was right," she said, ignoring the horrified expressions of the two pegasi guards as she landed aboard the chariot, and Celestia shying away from her. She felt the Big Guy slip off her back as she approached Celestia. "I'm not going to hurt you," she told Celestia as she approached, "And if your guard breath a word of this, I'll let the Big Guy use his imagination on them." She'd cornered the alicorn in the back of her air chariot. She had a brief impression of the Solar Diarch bolting like a frightened cat, before she got her forelegs around her neck, and began nuzzling her. "It's all right, it's all right," she told Celestia.

Dinky had no idea why she was outside the city, with Cadence, Selene, Sapphire and the Changeling Empress. "You want to know how I taught the Big Guy magic?" she asked the assembled ponies, "Huh?"

"He doesn't seem to accept standard magical theory," Cadence said, "Despite having absorbed a fair amount of Fragrance's power, he doesn't seem to channel it well."

"Well, partly because he's sort of an Earth Pony. He doesn't have wings or a horn, when he was doing spells before he was using a piece of bone as a wand," Dinky said, "And I was treating him like a foal learning magic. Foals can do 'wish-magic' doing what they really want, but they have to really want it. He's the same, he's got to really want it, and he has to be able to figure out an . . . agalong, aloginy . . . "

"Analogue?" Cadence offered.

"Yeah! That's what he called it. So he can soup-up an existing device, but can't make something out of nothing like a unicorn can."

Dinky looked around at the mares around her. "Why the rush all of a sudden?"

"We've been teaching him shapeshifting magic," Sapphire said, "Just an hour here and there, we're just lucky changelings have a different sense of aesthetics than ponies."

Dinky put being talked above her head together with the nervous glances among the others, and the changeling outright blushing. "He changed into that alicorn again, didn't he?" She pronked happily. "Momma's gonna be so happy!"

"He just needs to tone it down," Cadence said, rubbing her forehooves together.

"Why? I want more siblings," Selene said.

"Besides, he's got all his mares in one place, and I'm sure they don't want him to tone it down. He can be human for going out in public," Dinky said.

"Maybe when you're older, you'll understand," Sapphire said.

"I know what happened last time, and I know he likes to tease his friends," Dinky said, "You just need to tell him not to do it in public. He'll understand. He'll do it when he's alone with momma and Luna, and the others."

"We can't tell him that!" Cadence gasped.

"I can," Selene said.

"So can I," the Empress said, "I'm long past the age I'd affected. But one form isn't enough. He can be others, and I want to help him with those so he can better understand what other races are feeling and thinking."

"Oh, okay," Dinky said as she sat down and thought.

"Jackpot Venture and Smoky Bolt, what a surprise," came the voice echoing through the Tower's empty hall. The two unicorns heard the sounds of hooves behind them and looked at the guards cutting off their path of retreat. When they looked back, Discord, Shining Armor and Vladimir nee Prince Blueblood were standing before them.

Jackpot Venture sneered. "So, what brings you out? Too much work somewhere else?"

"There's a delightful phrase to describe lawyers like you," Vladimir said, " 'Ambulance chasers', it fits you to a 'T', and that inbred narcissist beside you."

"Insults are very interesting," Jackpot said and brandished a letter, "We have a writ. While I don't expect you to respect it. Captain Armor knows the importance of the law."

Armor approached, but Jackpot had put away the letter. "We have the right to take this pony's filly," he said and nodded to Smoky, "And Celestia's hoofprint makes it legal."

"Guards, seize them," Armor said, and extracted the paper, scanning it briefly.

"This is outrageous! The crown will hear of this," Jackpot said.

"Waving a paper with Celestia's hoofprint is 'only interesting' here. There's no treaty between our two countries, and frankly, this only gives you the right to discuss the matter, not seize the filly. Lock these two up for forgery and attempted foalnapping, then contact the embassy." Armor smiled and looked at the pair. "You'd better hope for Celestia's intervention. Because we haven't managed to change the laws around here, and foals, fillies and colts were considered Sombra's property. You can imagine the kind of punishment he'd come up with."

The guards dragged the petrified stallions away. Discord followed at a discrete distance, but not very discreetly.

"I have wanted to do that so often," Armor said, "When that jackanapes waved a paper in my face and cowed so many ponies, usually my superiors believed his lies and told me to back down."

"Oh, it wouldn't have mattered," Vladimir said, "There is no reciprocity agreement between the countries. But frankly, I wish you'd waited. Smoky Bolt always gets physical when thwarted. It would have been nice to not hold back myself."

"I thought you hated getting hurt, or dirty," Armor said.

"I hate being in danger," Vladimir said, "Do you honestly think Green Grass would tolerate a commander who couldn't keep up in close-combat drills?"

"She would threaten to beat you up instead," Armor replied.

"A good subordinate should know how to motivate his or her superiors," Vladimir said, "So how did the game go?"

"Oh," Armor said, perking up for a minute, "It was really close, they almost scored a couple of times."

"I'm glad you enjoyed it. Maybe you should take up polo, get out on the field and compete yourself. As I understand it, Ram Fleece is a polo fan."

"REALLY?" Armor asked, looking a bit like his wife or sister for a moment.

"Where do you think she came up with the power forward shift? It's a standard polo move," Vladimir said.

"She said she learned that from the Canterlot Generals, they're a polo team?" Armor asked.

"They're an exhibition polo team, they always win against the Vanhoover Globetrotters, well, usually," Vladimir said and blushed.

"I take it you played on the Globetrotters?" Armor asked.

"Yes, except when I stepped on the ball, 'trotting the globe', I accidentally passed it," Vladimir said.

"You cheated?" Armor asked.

"No, I did the face plant and everything, just like I was supposed to, that's how they got their name after all. It's just that they hadn't expected it, so we got a goal. They caught on the third time I did it, and some of my other advantageous ineptitude," Vladimir said, "So we only tied, but it was for Princess Celestia's Charities, and no one really knew it was me. Being thought a complete idiot has its advantages."

Armor facehoofed.

Cadence spotted the royal air-chariot, she and Armor awaited the arrival of Celestia and her two guards. They didn't expect Derpy and the Big Guy to be aboard the chariot.

"What's wrong with Celestia?" Cadence whispered while the chariot was maneuvering to land.

Armor nodded. He had never seen Celestia look so totally beaten. As soon as the chariot had landed and rolled to a stop, Derpy fluttered up to face Celestia, giving her a hug and a kiss on the muzzle.

Armor was surprised by the strength and the variety of the emotions surging through him. Of course he was jeal0us at Derpy's familiarity, more so when Celestia rubbed the mare's head and kissed her on the forehead. The second was astonishment that Derpy would be brave enough to treat Celestia this way. The last was shame, for if Derpy could treat Celestia this way having met her only a few times, why hadn't Armor, who'd had many more times to meet her, treated Celestia as a pony, rather than as a - the sanctified ruler of all. And why am I afraid of her? She's never more than scolded a pony, Armor thought as he watched Celestia's wistful expression as Derpy 'landed' on the Big Guy's back and hugged him with all four legs. I wonder if the Big Guy keeps acting or even being afraid of Celestia, when he isn't afraid of Discord or Nightmare Moon, or both together, as a way to hurt her without giving her a way to react. After all, how can someone ever earn your trust, if you carefully avoid any situation where you have to trust them?

Derpy started to lift the Big Guy up, like a backpack of flight, when Cadence called. "Wait, we have something we need to tell you all."

Derpy settled back, and Celestia stopped looking wistful and looked concerned. Cadence looked like she wished to be anywhere else.

"Well I started this," she murmured, then in a louder voice, "We had a visitor, who had a legal writ hoof stamped by Celestia."

Armor let out the breath he was holding and wondered if he was going to have to break up a fight, and whom would be on which side.

The cell was barren, and the company was not pleasant. Ponies didn't hire Jackpot Venture for his pleasant after-dinner conversation. Dried seaweed wrapped rice, filled with steamed soybeans and peanuts had been tasty enough, exotic even . . . until the jailers had told them what it was.

"Can you shut that blasted mare up?!" Smoky Bolt shouted through the grate in the door. Whatever madmare was in the adjacent cell was driving him mad.

"Why? Why? Why? Why couldn't she trust me? Why couldn't she love me? Why? Why? Why?" came through the walls loud and clear, over and over and over.

"At least move us to another cell!" Smoky called.

"Different cells would be good," Jackpot said.

"Oh, you find my company that unpleasant?" Smoky asked his attorney.

"I have figured out why that country mare didn't want her filly to be around you," Jackpot said, "Fortunately, the law isn't about who's right, it's about who can hire the best attorney."

"Actually it's about who wields the greatest force," came from the face peering through the grate, the white face with magenta eyes. Eyes that were not soothing at the moment.

"Your Highness," Jackpot bowed, and kicked Smoky to give him the hint, "I am so glad you've come to rescue us."

"Actually," Celestia said, "I'm here to advise you to stay here in this cell where Equestrian Justice can't reach you. I've requested Woona go over every Royal Writ you've been awarded, and your subsequent actions and claims. Considering the grossly inaccurate representation of the writ you had in your possession today, I suspect that you have done this before. I'm also sure that being the accomplice of a foalnapper won't look good. Especially of such a pretty and eager little filly. It's amazing the rumors that are spread at such times."

"That's not true! That's slander!" Jackpot said.

"You are his attorney, you did take his bits, and you knew his reputation," Celestia said, "Or did you fail to do the math about how old Derpy was when Dinky was conceived. Not illegal, technically, but she wasn't the first, and she wasn't the only. And she wasn't the last, now that he's a good deal older the 'technically' is a good deal more threadbare."

Jackpot was staring at Smoky with horror.

"There was nothing illegal about it," Smoky said, he faced Celestia, "There's nothing illegal about any of it."

"There's the law, and then there's who has the best mouthpiece," Celestia said darkly, "I suggest you both stay here. They are at the moment rewriting the laws, so I wouldn't demand a speedy trial. The current punishment is 'Boredom', a magic door that essentially puts you in a small motel room, on a rainy Fillydelphia Sunday evening after everything has closed, with the sure and certain knowledge that someone, if fact everyone around you, is off having a wonderful time, somewhere else. Nothing to read, the jukebox in the next room is full of bad covers of your favorite songs, and you can't switch it off. And the whole thing drags on forever, until they let you out."

Smoky couldn't think of a more subtly horrifying way to spend time. Even a cell with Jackpot and the moaning madmare were preferable.

"Well, I'll leave it to you, I can send the embassy staff to see about your transference of custody, and charges, to Canterlot," Celestia said brightly.

"Thank you, your Highness," Jackpot said, "That won't be necessary."

"Well, bye," Celestia said.

They waited in cringing silence for quite sometime before Jackpot spoke, "What did they do to her?"

Hotaru stared at Celestia as she peered at the last of the Tear Twirlers. "I finally understand why you held me in such contempt," the former Nightmare Moon said, "I was always trying to overpower a target. A sharp knife is better than a sledgehammer."

"You are learning," Celestia said, then gave a mad grin, "Are you afraid of me?"

Hotaru drew back. "Yes."

"I thought so," Celestia said as she returned to 'normal'.

Luna had heard of terrifying things in her life. She was still amazed that the innocuous remained the most terrifying.

"We told her," Derpy admitted as they were getting ready for bed.

Luna froze. If we start now, we'll never be able to run away fast enough. There must be half the Guard streaming towards us. With the Element Bearers. I don't want to face the Elements again!

"Why?" she managed, sounding strangled.

"Because Celestia deserved to know," Derpy said, "And why it's got to be that way."

"She'll stop it." Luna glanced around, and expected Celestia to come through the walls filled with righteous anger.

"No," Derpy said sadly, "She won't. She doesn't want us afraid of her anymore. She didn't know even you were afraid of her."

Luna nodded. "Not my greatest source of pride. But I am. Why aren't you?"

Derpy shrugged. "What can she do to me? The only thing I'm really worried about is losing Dinky, and she plays by the rules too much to take her away for good."

"Twilight Velvet might have a few counterarguments about that," Luna said.

"Dinky's no Twilight, and I'm not a Canterlot noble," Derpy said, "I respect Celestia, your sister, my princess, but she isn't a source of dread. Unlike the rest of you, I can walk away. Her showing up is like a bright, sunny day in the middle of winter. But I accept winter has to come. You huddle around her as if you'd freeze to death if she left."

"She does encourage that sort of thinking," Luna countered.

"Because you treat her as a wishing well with legs," Derpy said, "Not a pony. Or an imminent storm. Again, not a pony. It's cruel not to tell her the truth. To not let her grow up because you're afraid of what that might mean."

Luna minced around a bit at the truth of the accusations.

"She deserved to know what really is her fault, and what's just the rest of you being scared," Derpy told her.

Luna sighed and nodded.

"Am I interrupting?" the most gorgeous alicorn stallion asked, driving most thoughts from Luna's mind. The thoughts remaining were not safe for children.

Solid, matte silver. Not a mirror but it shines with light, Luna thought, A mirror like that you could fall into forever. A royal blue mane. The royalest of royal blues, she thought drinking in his very existence. The purple fetlocks. Describing motion when even standing still, Luna thought, They are so playful. And that magnificent tail, like a weapon of war or a lovers caress, or both for lovers who have been naughty.

"I based it on Rarity's description. She seems to have a handle on pony beauty norms," the stallion said.

Luna would have stood in awe while that voice read the Royal Tax Code. Wait, Rarity?

"Who are you?" Luna asked, only to watch him transform back into the Big Guy.

He nearly collapsed, but Derpy helped him sit with some grace.

"Something of a strain," he admitted, still leaning on Derpy. "Although I am practicing for you all."

"For which we are grateful," Derpy said and nuzzled him.

"So, now that you two are done talking, should we let the others in?" the Big Guy asked.

"Does Celly know you can do that?" Luna asked.

"Yes, just not the latest iteration," the Big Guy said.

Luna nodded.

Celestia waited in her quarters in Canterlot for Discord's arrival. The irony of him was that he'd misled her, given half-truths, done things without telling ponies. But when confronted, he always told what he thought was the truth. He can be wrong, but he's never told me a bold-faced lie to my face, she thought, And how many others can I say that about with confidence. How many are too willing to 'spare my feelings'/avoid my wrath?

Her transformation into the familiar Earth Pony heralded Discord's arrival. The instant he appeared, she jumped him. They went rolling across the floor of her bedroom. He hadn't been expecting it, and was really not expecting to wind up on top.

"Is this what you wanted? Is this what you hoped to achieve?" she asked and was a bit shocked when Discord rolled off her and transformed them both back into themselves.

"Eventually, yes," Discord said, "But specifically tonight, I wanted to play pool, and watch you smile as you taught others the finer points of the game." He glared as the guards burst in. "She's all right, private meeting." The guards were back outside and the doors closed.

"You know about this plan?" Celestia raged.

"More than you do," Discord said dismissively, "I know that while you claim otherwise you want things to revolve around you. Because you've convinced yourself if they are reacting to you, you still have more control, you can protect and guide them better. The problem is that some people want their own life, their own mistakes, and some of them have figured out that achieving escape velocity takes a very big boom that goes on for quite a while. This isn't about being free of you, or free from you, this is just about being free."

"And you approve?" Celestia asked, nearly in tears.

"Everyone has to grow up, even you," Discord said softly, "And a thousand years of rulership doesn't mean you grew up, it just means you act grown up. Grown up compared to your ponies, and even I can do that. My sojourn within his noggin was supposed to give me a window seat on all the chaos he caused among your ponies. It showed me chaos beyond my worst nightmares, and chaos beyond my wildest dreams. I grew up. I put Nightmare in a place where she saw her endgame played out, with her as its victim instead of its ruler. She grew up. Luna had a child, something that finally put her ahead of you in something you both cared about. And she found out how petty and cruel ponies still are. She grew up."

"And now you think it's my turn?" Celestia asked.

"No, you've been thinking it's your turn," Discord said and began ticking off the points, "You didn't interfere with Luna raising Selene. You didn't interfere with the rearrangement of the court, and you didn't switch it back the moment you were back in control. You didn't give Blueblood the one thing that would have kept him here, if not Canterlot then Equestria. You didn't interfere with the 'equdus' of three alicorns, two powerful and highly-placed unicorns, and a pegasus with an intimate knowledge of Equestria's entire communications infrastructure, you haven't pressed your claim that the Crystal Empire should be part of Equestria the way Appleoosa and Baltimare are. And you're having second thoughts about the way all this was handled from the beginning." Discord shook his eagle's talons and got rid of the extra digits. "The point is, you are already most of the way there. You just need one good shove to get over the goal line. But you haven't. For a thousand years you stayed where it's safe for fear of not being there for Luna. Now Luna doesn't want to be the anchor that prevents you from getting to where she is."

"I just have one question: why? There has to be a gentler way to achieve the same goals," Celestia said.

"Because everyone who cares about people wants them to grow up. Being childlike is one thing, as long as you can switch it on and off. Being stuck as a child helps nopony. Luna wants to grow up, and moving out, then moving on is the only way. Woona grew up as she thought of ways to help Celly. If you really want to know, ask Granny Smith how she'd feel if when Applebloom grew up she decided to head off and start growing Zap Apples in the Crystal Republic. Yes, she'd be hurt initially, but she'd get over it and she'd end up feeling proud. Luna hopes you feel the same. Oh . . . " Discord vanished briefly, then reappeared. "Sorry, unfinished business."

"What did you do?" Celestia asked.

"Well, I remember healing Granny's hip and letting her dance up a storm. I just went back and fixed her hip," Discord said, "With her permission, of course."

"Putting a doctor out of work?" Celestia asked.

"No doctor who was ethical would do a hip replacement, the surgery is too invasive, and Granny is old. But I don't need surgery," Discord said as he appeared in doctors' garb.

Celestia facehooved and sighed. "Maybe you'd better explain this, all of it."

"You want me to step through every aspect of the decision making process?" Discord said, and changed to Twilight, and several chalkboards filled with 'equations'.
Day 85

It's like watching the ocean lapping at the shore, Tom thought as he watched the Schmooze back up much of the mass it had facing the wall. It backed up a mile, and surged forward. To scale, it was like backing up a hoof-width to crash through a wall. But in truth it was building speed for a mile, to crash into a 2-mile thick wall. The wall seemed to be holding. But each impact spalls off more of the ice. It's wearing away at the wall, and it has nothing else to do, Tom thought, At the next `surge` I may add a few presents for it to roll over, and once they're engulfed, see what they do. There has been a great deal of theorizing about this, let's see what reality has in store for us.

Tom looked towards the ends of the wall. The Schmooze hadn't started trying to flank the barrier, that spoke to either its intellect or its attitude.

The Republic's council managed to maintain their demeanor. Shining Armor suspected that either Tom or Discord had done something to the ponies to prevent them from panicking.

"It will batter through," Tom said, "It smashed through almost a hundred yards of ice while I watched. I also used a shaped contraterrene charge. No effect. Didn't even slow down its rhythm"

Shining watched the Big Guy pale at that.

"No gamma emissions?" the Big Guy asked.

Armor would ask what had the Big Guy so spooked. He would ask later. I'll ask why he was so shocked that Tom shook his `head` no, Armor thought.

"Any idea how fast it will break through?" Cadence asked. She seemed the only one who wasn't on the verge of pronking in terror or vibrating with the need to go DO something.

"No, it will accelerate as it wears away the wall," Tom said, "And putting another wall is not a decent solution." He looked intently at Cadence, quite a trick for a featureless, gray ball. "Are you and your team ready?"

Cadence nodded. "That's the only thing keeping me calm." She glanced around. "I have faith in all of you. We'll get it."

Armor smiled at her simple faith in all of them. Discord wandered in, looking very cross.

"I think I'm beginning to understand why people don't like chaos," he said, sounding very grumpy and put-upon, "Everything was going really well. And then this happens!"

"You briefed Celestia?" Luna asked.

Discord nodded. "Then Woona, they'll brief the court and the Elements."

"All right," Vladimir said, "The evacuation plans are in place, and our counterstrike plans are well underway. We just need the council's approval."

"All opposed?" Will o' Wisp asked. Other than the sound of heads turning to look at each other, the room was silent. Will O' Wisp looked at the 'lords'. "I don't think we can approve, but we do urge you to go ahead. The record will show no one voted against."

"Politics," Armor whispered to Cadence.

Vladimir looked around Sombra's office. "Does anyone else hate we always keep meeting in this place?"

"Dark setting for dark speculation," the Big Guy said as he stared at the maps and measured the distance with a compass, "It's also the only place where the Crystal Ponies won't spy, and panic about our wild speculations."

"All right, what is a 'shaped charge contraterrene'?" Armor asked.

"The mechanism is not something ponies should know about," the Big Guy said, "Let's just say when my people developed something far more primitive, they measured the output in thousands and millions of tons of conventional explosives."

"Fifty megatons," Tom said, "Other than a slight glow through the entire creature, no effect."

"So gamma radiation isn't absorbed like it would be in regular matter," the Big Guy said, "And if it were elsewhere, when the explosion went off, all the gamma would have escaped."

"What are you two talking about?" Discord asked.

"He tried to heat the thing up, extremely hot, in a localized area," the Big Guy said, "Instead, he warmed the whole thing. Likewise, any attack we launch will be distributed through its entire mass."

"So does that eliminate the attacks by the pegasi and changelings?" Derpy asked.

"No, it means that it won't have an immediate effect," Tom said, "We should still go ahead. It's just that we need to calculate how to hit the whole thing somehow."

"Short of dropping the sun on it, I don't think we have anything else," the Big Guy said and stepped away from the map. "And from what Hotaru and Luna have said, the Elements won't have much effect. The Elements attack the personality. If this thing doesn't have one, the Elements are essentially useless."

"I'd be fascinated as to why I was stripped out of Luna," Hotaru said, "While Discord was encased in stone, and you were essentially unharmed."

"The Elements invert the personality. You possess ponies, you were yanked out. Discord is chaos, he was encased in not just stone, but single-crystal material, about as orderly as you can get. For me, I can be the inverse of my personality, without being harmed. And 'unharmed' is stretching the point. It was extremely uncomfortable, and may have had a part in my rather odd behavior and reactions to things later. So I was harmed, just not obviously."

Hotaru nodded. Derpy fluttered up so she could give the Big Guy a hug. Armor smiled at that. "That still leaves the problem of how do we know what's going to work?" Armor asked.

"We don't," Discord said and shrugged, "The best sources are ambiguous, or insane. Even I recognize that isn't a reliable source of information. With the handful of ideas they don't point to any easy answers, and the likely weapons are of dubious effect. All of it leads to 'we may go down, but we'll go down fighting', that also isn't a pony way." He glanced at Armor and Cadence. "Too many ponies think 'Celestia will save us'." He glanced at Nightmare. "I can speak from personal experience, neither I nor any other enemy was a push over. I hope we can beat this thing, but it may be the attitude, focused through Cadence and Armor's team, that wins the day. So don't let my natural cynicism infect you. Look at who beat me, sure a couple of alicorns the first time. But they hit me unexpected. The Six Bearers, I was sure I broke them, and they overcame. Then people in this group taught me that I could be me, and still not be an enemy. I'm not reformed, and I will do everything in my power to stop this thing," he said angrily, "Because I have seen ponies embrace what I am, to their benefit. This - thing - would be a perversion of Harmony beyond anything I ever planned. I did not want Harmony to be the ponies' choice, now I see I should have vowed not to let Harmony be their only choice or even their exclusive choice."

The others nodded as Discord sat down.

"I have no tongue for such speeches," Hotaru said, "Perhaps I enjoy the dark and quiet too much. But I will do everything I can to defeat this thing." She glanced at Luna. "I can deal with being hated. But this would make everything it touches not care, about anyone or anything. That is something to be feared."

Vladimir nodded. I wonder if the Schmooze realizes, or could realize, the forces arranged against it, he thought as he looked at the determination on every face, I just pray it will be enough.

Woona stepped into Celestia's study. Transformed into a war-room as the knowledge of the Schmooze battering at the wall had spread through the court, then to Canterlot, and to greater Equestria. "Are you all right?" Woona asked, she knew that Celestia and Discord had spent a great deal of last night together. Some was talking, some was Celestia sobbing, and some were things Woona wanted no clarifications on. The revelation of the Schmooze had changed Celestia's sort of 'floaty' expression, now she was focused on a problem. I wish she had been allowed to stay floaty for a while, Woona thought as she waited for Celestia to respond.

"Everything was going really well. And then this happens!" Celestia said.

Woona glanced behind her. "The Wonderbolts are ready to deploy. The Element Bearers have been informed and are standing by."

"Get trains ready to move people from the Crystal Republic to places in Equestria. They'll be frightened and disorderly, understandably, but we have to be ready to welcome them. I suspect that the main battle will take place around the capital, even the Capitol, if they aren't successful, they'll need to evacuate ponies quickly."

Woona nodded. "Is there anything more we can do?" Woona asked.

"Short of landing the sun and moon on it?" Celestia asked as she looked up from the maps and charts, she looked back down, "Nothing I can think of. And I wish I did."

"There will be time, even if their defense fails." Woona said, "We'll have time."

"How far do we fall back?" Celestia asked as she looked up from the maps and charts, "And what do we do when we've retreated so far we run into the back of this?"

"We haven't lost yet," Woona said.

Celestia nodded.

Derpy had more 'volunteers' that she'd had before. I heard their fears, she thought as she drilled the newcomers on cutting out cloud chunks and delivering lightning to fixed and moving targets on the ground. But I also heard their hope, which is real? Both? That's hard to fathom.

"No stomp hard get it to deliver the whole load at once," she called as she raced over to a very tentative pegasus, "It's a cloud, you can't hurt it." She stomped on it hard, discharging a massive bolt, then realized that usually got her shocked along with whatever she was trying to electrocute, but this time, it didn't happen.

I wonder why? she thought as she flew on to cut out another section of cloud and bring it forward. Two days, she thought as she looked into the distance, Once it breaks through, it'll be here in two days. She shook the thought off and returned to training.

High above, the military pegasi were training the griffons and the plant-dragons in air-to-air combat. No one on Equestria had the Diktat Boelke to build on, and the griffons hadn't fought anything but each other in centuries, and those were formal duels with rules.

That's dirty street fighting in the sky, Derpy thought, No rules but destroy the enemy. Not nice, but we all expect that Molly B will attack the troops, the city, or both, while we're fighting the Schmooze. After all, her best result is we're exhausted, and she can annihilate us at her leisure. Derpy's eyes narrowed. That's not going to happen!

"No, you featherbrain! A BIG piece of cloud!" she shouted and headed to the pegasus who had a piece barely Dinky's size.

Discord and Tom floated unseen over the Royal Statue Garden. Some of the statues were statues. Some, like Tirek, were ancient enemies of Equestria. They had a list, and were carefully verifying the ones they needed were still there.

"She won't be happy with what we're doing to them," Discord said and looked around worriedly.

"What she has to forgive, she can't deny permission for," Tom said, "Excellent, they're all here. What a bunch. I can think of no better cellmates for the Schmooze that this bunch. And if it 'Schmoozifies' them, so much the better."

"What has that thing ever done to you that it deserves to be treated to the likes of them for all time?" Discord said.

"If you could sense what that thing is, without panicking and closing yourself off," Tom replied, "You'd understand."

"I'll take your word for it," Discord said, "If it can do that to Mr. Reasonable, I don't want to think what it might do to me."

Celly walked into the Tower, and spotted the one person in the world she desperately wanted to see, to hold, so she did.

"Are you okay," the Big Guy asked of the fully-body cast he'd just been engulfed in, "We haven't seen you for half a chapter.".

"No," Celly admitted, then looked at him, " 'Half a chapter'?"

"Something Discord said," the Big Guy said, stroking her fur in ticklish ways.

"Well, I went through the library, especially the secured section, and while I found all kinds of awful things, nothing on the Schmooze. Fragrance is with Vladimir, probably doing what we're doing," she nuzzled him and rubbed her wings on his back, "Even she was shocked by some of the things we found."

"Anything that would work against it?" he asked.

"Yes, something we can do with the lightning, and something we need to do with the staging," Celly said.

"Sounds like something to talk to Derpy and Trixie about," the Big Guy said.

"Can we stay here for a while?" Celly asked, "I . . . "

He nuzzled her. "Sure," he told her, and her heart soared from deep depression up to mere gloom.

Trixie looked over the 'plan' and what Tom and Celly had discovered about the Schmooze. "It eats despair?"

"And hope," Tom said, "That's what it sucks out of people who are immersed in it. What you have left are people with neither hopes, nor fears, if they happen to get out at all."

Trixie shivered. "And what has Trixie done to warned learning these wonderful secrets?"

"Simple, we need you to help put on a show," Tom said, "One for a very discriminating audience."

Trixie didn't smile, she knew that Tom could make eating a flaming excrement sandwich sound like something to look forward to.

Glory was briefing Sir Eagle Bell and the new Captain of the Royal Guard in Sir Eagle Bell's conference room/public office. "The creature is huge, and evidently any local magical effect is distributed throughout the entire mass, so normal spells are essentially useless. They have trained pegasi, and presumably changelings, to attack with lightning, in hopes of delivering enough of a charge over a large enough area that it will be stung. As for destroying it, evidently Tom tried that, and it had no effect. The thing is just too big, and it distributes any attack over its entire body."

"So how is the flying corp expecting to effect it. If it is as large as you say, all that lightning would be a mild tingle," Eagle Bell said.

"They're started doing something to the lightning just before I left. The lightning was green and purple and orange, not the usual colors," Glory said, she looked at Eagle Bell, "I'll admit, I'm scared uncle, it doesn't take a mathematical genius to realize if it can reach their capital in two days, it can reach here in five, or Vanhoover in four."

"And our southernmost border in twelve after that. Assuming it doesn't accelerate," Eagle Bell said, "Not the most heartening possibility."

"We can put a lot more pegasi into the air than they can," the Captain of the Guard said, Glory couldn't remember her name, because unlike Armor or even Vladimir, she wasn't memorable.

"Not against the 25 thousand changelings that can put to flight, as pegasi, Captain Red Shirt," Eagle Bell said, the arrogant guardsmare gawked at that. "We have been collecting rolling stock to assist in any evacuation, your packet contains the details as they stand. It seems that we must watch and wait. After you've delivered the packet, return here with their response. Then you can remain."

"Will all do respect, sir, uncle," Glory said, "I'm going to return to my post. As you've said, Canterlot is only a brief respite. I'm a clever pony, if I can't figure out something to help, I'll at least be Equestria's representative when our friends and allies face their nightmare."

Sir Eagle Bell saluted her and she returned it. "Spoke as a true Bell. But save a seat, I may run away to report back, but I want to see this thing for myself. And I too am a clever pony." He smiled to his niece.

Forget-me-not cut out another section of cloud and raced back to the discharge point. Sweat nearly fouled the pegasus' sight. I'm a soldier of Equestria, the little pegasus thought, But I'm not going to let these scrubs think we aren't in this too, even if it is just me.

The lightning hit in a weird, diffuse blast, not the crisp single bolt the guard drilled into every recruit. It was also the wrong color. Who am I to judge? Forget-me-not thought and turned to get another piece of cloud, At least now they're seeing how an Equestrian soldier reacts, when Derpy said 'blast' I said 'how fast', these slugs are getting better, but what I wouldn't give for a few dozen weather teams. The soldier glanced around. Not that they'd make a difference with these numbers, but every hoof helps. And the best is still an inspiration to the rest.

Forget-me-not emptied the cloud in the weird new way, and raced back to get another one.

The sun set, not because Celestia wanted it to, she knew of all the efforts going on, and that night would curtail those efforts. But they also need rest to think and restore themselves, and the Schmooze will be unaffected by night or day, she thought, If day and night cease to have meaning, only hours and minutes will take their place. And something needs to be normal and regular.

As the sun set, and the moon rose, Celestia looked at the myriad glittering stars. Neither Luna, nor Woona could really control them, but she could control the atmosphere that let them be seen, giving the illusion of changing star fields. 'Some grids can be more useful than others, some more beautiful than others, some more pleasant than others, etc., but none can be more True than any other' ironic that this would come to me so late.

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