The Best of All Possible Worlds

by McPoodle

First published

The philosopher Voltaire finds himself in the most-frustrating place imaginable: Equestria

The royal court of Canterlot welcomes its newest member with open forelegs: the human philosopher Voltaire, from Earth.

On Earth, Voltaire is known as the greatest enemy of tyranny in the history of literature, and a legend in his own mind.

On Equestria, the court betting pool is giving him a week before the Princess banishes him to the Moon.

Note: This story doesn't have sequels per se, but there are a couple of short follow-ups set in the present day ("Parade Coverage" and "Secret Histories"), and a prequel of sorts in "At the Inn of the Prancing Pony".

TV Tropes page.


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The Best of All Possible Worlds
Translated from the Equine by McPoodle

“To hold a pen is to be at war. This world is one vast temple consecrated to discord.”

—Voltaire to Marie-Louise Denis, May 5, 1752


In the basement beneath the Canterlot branch of the Rich Family Bank, there was once a unique collection of artifacts from the outer lands, the result of a lifetime’s obsession by the younger sister of the bank’s founder. This informal museum was open to employees of the bank, as well as to anypony who asked really nicely.

The author had the privilege of visiting this location on multiple occasions, before an unfortunate incident involving a brownie recipe and a weaponized parasprite caused it to be dismantled, and the artifacts donated to the Palace for safekeeping. The highlights of that collection included a scrap of barding (all that remained of the heroic griffon Captain Otto after he gave his life for the Princesses), a dragon scale that had passed through the Astral Plane, an airtight vial of a semi-solid pink substance that only moved when you didn’t look at it, and a harmless-looking piece of machined coral called a “sell phony” that boasted the tightest security of the entire museum.

The least noticeable of the artifacts were a couple of metal items mounted under a glass case upon a red velvet stand, dating nearly two hundred and fifty years before the return of Nightmare Moon. One of them was a pocket watch, long since wound down, and the other was a large silver coin embossed with an elaborate seal involving an eagle and a regal crown of an unfamiliar style. A good deal of research eventually revealed that the watch was in fact the first watch in the history of Equestria, indeed the first advanced non-magical machine ever seen by pony eyes. The coin was most unusual for what was depicted on its hidden face: the bust of a human, surrounded by the legend “FRIDERICVS BORVSSORVM REX” in the human script: Friedrich, King of Prussia.

Discussion of these finds with Princess Celestia revealed the existence of a detailed set of notes compiled by an ancestor of the author who actually met the visiting human these items are tied to. With the current interest being shown by the public in humans and human affairs, it was thought that this might be the best time to share the details of the visit by this human to the court of Canterlot, and the surprising role a young Equestrian had in these affairs.

Chapter 1

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Equestria is surely the best of all possible worlds, Blue Belle thought happily to herself. We are blessed by the wise leadership of our Princess; the unicorns rule in her name, the pegasi keep Equestria in line by order of the unicorns, and the earth ponies serve and feed their superiors.

Lady Blue Belle, age ten, was, in her own opinion, very close to the top of the Great Chain of Being that kept the world from tumbling into anarchy. She was the lone and beloved daughter of Prince Blueblood the Fifteenth. Like all members of her clan, she got her magic-related cutie mark at an abnormally young age. In addition she was abnormally tall, with an abnormally brilliant white coat, an abnormally beautiful blonde mane...and an abnormally swelled head. There were no unicorns more important than the Bluebloods, Blue Belle knew, and even Princess Celestia bowed to the current Prince’s great wisdom in most matters, or so her father told her.

As a result, Lady Belle expected to have her way at all times. And at the moment what she wanted was not to have her line of sight of the Summer Sun Celebration ruined by a creature that was not only not a unicorn, but not even a pony.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Not so long ago, there was a Summer Sun Celebration in the capital city of Canterlot that would be remembered for decades to come as the beginning of a great storm of troubles that descended upon Equestria and its neighbors.

The prime viewing spot for the Celebration, then as now, was the second-story patio of the Peaches and Cream Confectionary. And sitting at the prime spots at the front of that patio, waiting for the central moment of the celebration to start, were a young donkey named Genevieve and her best friend, a unicorn colt named Zody.

Genevieve wore a conical paper hat with the words “Happy Birthday!” written on them in the Equine script. She was wearing this hat because she had just turned ten years of age. She looked like...well, I suppose she looked like your average donkey jenny—the historical record contains no descriptions or drawings of her. This was despite the fact that her father served in Princess Celestia’s cabinet.

Zody was also ten years old. He had a pale blue coat and a darker blue mane. We know what he looked like because there is a portrait of him and his extended family hanging to this day on a second-floor hallway of Sparkle Hall. Zody’s full name, you see, was Zodiacal Light Sparkle. His mother was Eveningstar Sparkle, the Royal Astronomer as well as the Royal Translator, and his aunt was Morningstar Sparkle, the Royal Historian.

Arranged around Genevieve were a large rectangular pad of paper and a number of small buckets filled with different colors of powdered chalk. With her attention focused on the bandstand below her, the donkey dipped a forehoof into a bucket of brown dust and then carefully applied it to the paper, creating the form of the platform. The edge of her hoof was then gently used to create texture. In a few minutes, the only thing missing from this portrait of the Raising of the Sun Ceremony was the Princess herself.

The colt looked on with awe. The scene below had been perfectly rendered. The unicorn especially marveled at the way the proud royal guards were drawn, with their cheekbones subtly emphasized. It was like suddenly seeing what a pony looked like to a non-pony. Zody looked over at Genevieve with admiration at her artistic ability, and perhaps a little something else in addition to that, but nothing he would admit to out loud, because all colts knew that all fillies were yucky.

This is the scene that was interrupted by the entrance of Blueblood’s daughter.

“Zody!” exclaimed Blue Belle gaily, as she roughly shoved her way between the unicorn and the donkey. “Why weren’t you with me at the gala last night?”

Zody frowned. “I turned you down, Belle,” he told her. “I was going to spend the night with Genevieve and her friends...but my mom needed me to help with some calculations.”

“Oh don’t be silly,” laughed Blue Belle. “Donkeys don’t have friends.”

Zody got in Blue Belle’s face. “I’m her friend,” he told her.

“Hey, I’m right here,” said Genevieve. She was ignored.

“She’s your project,” Blue Belle corrected him. “Your way of proving to yourself that you’re not as awful as the other Sparkles. But this is really getting ridiculous—I only had to give some gladiolas to a starving pegasus family to get over that particular obligation.”

“Don’t gladiolas make a pegasus’ wings seize up in mid-flight?” asked Genevieve.

“Who asked for your opinion, creature?” Blue Belle hissed.

“Hey!” Zody exclaimed. “She has every right to be here. Her father is a government minister, and today’s her birthday.”

“Her father,” Blue Belle said in exasperation, “is the Court Jester. The Court Jester is always a donkey. And nopony ever listens to him. As for this ridiculous birthday business...” She used her horn’s magic to levitate a blue satchel bag off from around Genevieve’s neck.

“Hey!” exclaimed Genevieve, jumping after it. She was easily held in place with the unicorn filly’s magic.

“I assume this is the present you wasted on her?” Blue Belle asked Zody. She turned the satchel around and saw that there was an image embroidered on the front, depicting a pencil drawing a map of Equestria, which she took personal offence to. “Is this a cutie mark?” she demanded.

“It’s the mark she deserves,” Zody explained proudly. “She’s the best artist her age I’ve ever met. Nightingale told us once that she thought Genevieve here could probably draw anything in Equestria, and that’s when I realized that that would be the perfect cutie mark for her.”

She doesn’t deserve a cutie mark!” screamed Blue Belle, as she ripped the design out of the bag, destroying it.

“You have no right...” Zody began feebly.

“I AM A BLUEBLOOD!” the unicorn filly proclaimed. “You are merely a Sparkle.” Pointing at the jenny, she concluded, “And that is NOTHING!”

“I have an audience with the Princess,” said Genevieve, holding back tears. “I’m going to tell Her what you did!”

Blue Belle stretched her neck to look around the donkey and examine her creation, and for a moment was taken aback. “Did you get that audience with the Princess to show Her your drawing of the Raising of the Sun ceremony?” Blue Belle asked.

“Yes...” Genevieve hesitantly replied.

“I’ll tell Her that it’s a fake,” said Blue Belle with a sneer. “You’re going to trace the Princess in from one of Her standard portraits.”

“I’m going to draw Her today.”

Blue Belle shook her head. “You stupid little donkey,” she told her. “Nopony is allowed to look at the Princess during the Raising of the Sun.”

“That’s not what my father told me,” Genevieve said proudly. “He said that the Princess wants Her subjects to look. She does the one raising in public so that the whole of Equestria can celebrate with Her the beginning of another year.”

“But...but...” Blue Belle sputtered. Daddy is never wrong! she thought. And he never looks! If the donkey was right, that meant that Blue Belle and her father were making fools of themselves, year after year. And nopony made a fool of the Bluebloods and got away with it! Blue Belle’s eyes hardened. “You think you’re going to give the Princess a drawing?” she asked with utter disdain.


“What drawing?”

Genevieve looked back, to find that her incomplete painting had been magically incinerated.

At this, she turned and launched herself at Blue Belle.

“It’s Her!”

All eyes turned to the platform, where Princess Celestia had delicately walked out and looked expectantly over the crowd of hundreds of waiting ponies.

“Let the sun...rise!” she cried out happily, opening her wings and springing upwards.

For a moment, she was suspended in front of the golden frame, and in that moment the sun leapt dramatically into the sky. She looked out at the multitude of her ponies...

...and found them all with their foreheads pressed reverently to the ground, a few of them weeping at the glory they did not feel themselves worthy to witness.

It was the same way it was every single year. No matter how many times she asked them to, none of her ponies would look at her. In years past, only her jester Gordon and his daughter Genevieve would share this moment with her. Right now, Gordon was sitting over on one balcony with an expression of simple happiness, while Genevieve was on another balcony...busy trying to rearrange Lady Blue Belle’s facial anatomy.

Celestia landed, hard, on the railing of that balcony. The donkey and the unicorn looked up at her in shock. “I expect both of you at my court first thing tomorrow morning, with a good explanation of what just happened,” she said coldly, before turning and flying back down to her stunned guards.

She turned to take one last sad view of her subjects, and froze.

They were all terrified of her.

Every last one of them were acting as if they expected her to obliterate the entire square, just because she caught a couple of fillies being fillies.

Surrounded on all sides by ponies, Celestia felt like she was all alone.

And that is a very dangerous place for the most powerful being in the world to be.

Chapter 2

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 2

If Equestria was the bright and shining aggie in the eternal marble collection of planets, then Earth was a cloudy that had accidentally been dropped in the dust and given up for lost.

Its inhabitants believed for the most part that they had an all-powerful protector like the Sisters, but apparently He was either shy, busy, or highly devoted to the cause of supporting His humans’ right to free will, because He was a lot less obvious in his actions compared to Celestia and Luna.

Left thus to their own devices, the humans of Earth invented hundreds of languages, experimented with every form of government imaginable and became quite skilled in the obscure art of propelling metal objects at great speeds into other objects.

On a Midsummer’s Night on the continent of Europe, in the capital of the human kingdom of Prussia, four horses rapidly pulled a large carriage through the moonlit streets. One look at the royal seal mounted on the sides of the carriage caused the few humans walking the streets after dark to scatter to either side, bowing low just in case the King was paying attention. The name of the city, by the way, was Burr Linn, presumably referring to a very cold river (the Burr) that had formed a steep cut through a shelf of hard rock (a linn). The carriage had come from the city of the royal palace: Potsdam. The author has not yet learned the details of the incident involving damming the Burr River with pots that gave this city its name, but assumes it must be a good one.

A human inside the carriage removed his watch from the inner pocket of his coat and consulted it. “I cannot be certain, Your Majesty,” he said, “but I do not believe that Monsieur Jordan will be awake at this hour for this mysterious surprise of yours.” The man wore a great green coat over several other layers of clothing, with only modest amounts of gold trim and white lace. He had a prominent nose (for a human) and thin eyebrows and lips, with his graying hair hidden beneath a powdered white periwig that was somewhat askew. In relation to the king, he was the court philosopher, but before gaining that position he was merely a writer of plays and other subversive works, such as his accounts of the scientific and philosophic thoughts of the English. He was born with the name François-Marie Arouet, but nowadays he was universally addressed by his pen name. He was drunk, although he knew better than to show it.

“Oh Voltaire,” said the King lightly, “surely you know by now that my court knows to keep my hours, especially on a concert night.” He emphasized this point by waving a flute he clutched in one hand. “Besides, President Maupertuis and I planned this surprise well in advance.” This king was Friedrich, the second of that name to rule the land of Prussia, and referred to by Voltaire as “Friedrich the Great”. He wore a bright blue coat, with a great deal more gold trim and white lace. His face was dominated by his large blue eyes, which appeared to effortlessly absorb everything that happened around him. He also wore a powdered wig although, being eighteen years younger than the man he considered his teacher, he might have looked better with his own natural hair. He was also drunk, and didn’t particularly care who knew it.

Voltaire found the watch’s key and proceeded to wind it then raised the watch to his ear to hear it tick. He noticed that the ticking coincided with the rhythm of the hooves of the horses trotting outside. A piece of clockwork in a clockwork universe, he mused.

A silence settled over the inhabitants of the carriage. The King suddenly noticed the flute in his hand and put it in a case, then pulled some letters out of a diplomatic pouch and tried to read them by the light of some flickering candles mounted on the back wall.

There were two other humans in the carriage besides the king and the writer. The one sitting next to King Friedrich took this moment to speak up. “Monsieur de Voltaire,” he said in a soft voice, “I noticed you reading a book during the intermissions of the concert tonight. May I ask what it was?” This was Count Francesco Algarotti, an essayist and amateur scientist. His coat’s color was similar to the king’s, but without the trim or the lace. He was the man responsible for King Friedrich’s art collection. He had decided not to drink tonight.

Voltaire put his watch away and looked over at Algarotti. “It was Gulliver’s Travels, by Dean Swift. This must be the fifth or sixth time I have read it. Have you heard of the work?”

“Only by reputation,” Algarotti replied with a thin smile. “Is that the fabulous tale about the sailor who discovers a land of tiny men?”

“Among others,” said Voltaire. “I am currently reading about Gulliver’s adventures with the Houyhnhnms, a race of talking horses.” He carefully refrained from mentioning the race of barbarous humans named Yahoo that the Houyhnhnms kept as slaves. “I wonder,” he said with a smile, “what the general reaction would be if the horses of Europe began to talk?”

“Preposterous!” exclaimed the fourth human in the carriage. This was Pierre Louis Maupertuis, president of the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences—a position that had been offered once to Voltaire at a time when he was unable to take it. Maupertuis was famous for an expedition he had led to the far north of the world to prove that the Earth was slightly flat on top instead of being perfectly round or slightly pointy. He had a broad face with cheeks slightly mottled from the effects of frostbite. He also wore clothing reminiscent of an arctic explorer’s, so that none might forget his contribution to the History of Science (and yes, he used that phrase frequently—capital letters and all). He was currently in possession of the carriage’s bottle of wine, which he had been sipping from at frequent intervals throughout the trip.

“Ah,” Voltaire sighed ruefully. “Well if that is the learned opinion of the great Flattener of the Earth, then I would be a fool to pursue the matter further.”

Maupertuis had long suspected that everything that Voltaire said about him was a veiled mockery. He was usually justified in this belief. On this occasion, he looked at the writer with suspicion for a moment, but then smiled slyly and looked outside.

“I suppose they would have to be paid,” King Friedrich speculated.

“Paid?” asked Maupertuis.

“The horses,” explained the King. “If they started talking, that is.”

Now it was Maupertuis’ turn to sigh.

“Yes,” said Algarotti, “but consider that if horses could speak and understand us, then drivers would no longer be necessary, so there would be a slight cost savings from that.”

“I had not thought of that,” noted Voltaire with surprise. A moment’s thought, though, brought him back into his usual sarcastic mood. “It would in some ways be similar to the amateur pickpockets who lost their positions after the invention of gas lighting,” he said brightly. Having won the argument in his own mind, he moved on. “If I may change the subject, dear Algarotti, I also observed that you were reading a thin volume yourself. Would you care to share the name of that work with us?”

“Not at all,” the art lover replied, producing the book in question and passing it over to Voltaire. “It’s a philosophical treatise by von Leibniz called Monadology. I believe you may have heard of it?”

Voltaire tossed back the book as if it were bound in white-hot iron, causing Algarotti to laugh. “A very unfortunate work, that,” Voltaire said. “I shudder to think of the harm it has unintentionally done to the world since its publication.”

“Oh come now!” Algarotti said in mock disappointment. “The philosophy it outlines is called ‘Optimism’ after all, and I see nothing wrong with having a positive outlook on life.”

“The title of that philosophy is very misleading,” Voltaire explained wearily, as if he had covered this point thousands of times in the past (and he had). “A more accurate name would be This-is-the-best-of-all-possible-worlds-so-I-am-forbidden-to-do-anything-to-make-it-a-better-place...ism. I believe precisely the opposite.”

“Somehow I don’t think your name for it will stick,” King Friedrich said with a laugh.

The carriage came to a stop, and Voltaire looked outside. He saw a three-story brick building and, standing in front of the door, Monsieur Jordan.

Charles Étienne Jordan was King Friedrich’s Inspector of the Poor for the city of Burr Linn, assigned to improve the welfare of the penniless. His appointment was one of the first real signs in his reign that the King did not resemble his ancestors, who were more fond of oppressing peasants than helping them. The Inspector was a short man and, lacking a wig, his head of black hair was easily visible. He had dark bushy eyebrows, a thick black beard, and sad hazel eyes. He was currently doing his best to stifle a yawn. “Welcome...Your Majesty,” he said, bowing low as the King exited the carriage. He remained in that position for several seconds, so that he might not do his king the dishonor of seeing him and his drunken friends falling out of the carriage and stumbling about as they tried to regain their footing.

As Jordan straightened up, he saw a second coach pull up next to the carriage. Jumping out of this vehicle were a half-dozen of King Friedrich’s bodyguards.

“Jordan!” the King exclaimed once he reached his servant, slapping one meaty hand upon the man’s shoulder. “Do you have everything prepared?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Jordan suppressed a sigh, and glanced uneasily over at Voltaire. “Ever since noon, Your Majesty,” he did not add. If a king told you he was going to arrive at noon but didn’t actually show up until after 10 p.m., then you were not going to remind him of that fact. That was how Monsieur Jordan had managed to keep his head attached to his shoulders through the reigns of both Friedrich II and his disastrous predecessor.

“Excellent!” exclaimed King Friedrich, turning to face the philosopher. “Can you guess where we are?” he asked.

Voltaire took in his surroundings as he sought to regain his equilibrium. This was an area of the city he was not familiar with. He believed he saw a graveyard a few blocks to the north. The buildings surrounding their destination were abandoned. The reason for this was clear to anybody with ears: the screams emanating from the building. Voltaire had once made the mistake of touring Charenton when he was a young and foolish man and so knew exactly what manner of torment was being prepared for him. “It is an insane asylum,” he observed sourly.

“Correct!” exclaimed the King. “Isn’t it a good surprise?”

“No, to be perfectly honest,” Voltaire said quietly.

“‘No’? Do I hear one of my subjects contradicting me?” King Friedrich asked warningly. Everyone in the vicinity who was not a king imagined they felt executioner’s axes lightly touching their necks at that moment.

“This is a place of suffering,” Voltaire said weakly.

“This is a place of research,” the King corrected him firmly. “By studying the mad, we can learn why this has happened to them, and one day find a way to prevent it. Besides, the mad do amuse me so!”

“Could I perhaps skip the visit?” Voltaire asked desperately.

“No,” replied the monarch. “You see, I am allowed to say that word. You’re also not allowed to pout, so stop it at once! Now follow me, everyone. Jordan here has arranged the Grand Tour for us.”

As he approached the building, Voltaire felt an odd feeling of foreboding (this on top of his general disgust at the notion of enjoying the suffering of those who don’t deserve it). He looked back longingly at the carriage, where the driver was brushing down the horses. For a moment he wished that one of the four was the Pegasus of ancient myth, so he might jump on and escape from this impossible king he was bound to, a king he felt he had partially created.

As he crossed the threshold, he felt a strong feeling of unreality. He had read fantastic stories about young men who had ignored ominous signs and crossed into the realm of the fairies; they had felt what he was feeling, and if they ever returned to the world of mortal men, it was hundreds or thousands of years later.

~ ~ ~

Once inside, Voltaire discovered the others gathered around a painting that was mounted on one wall of the entry hallway. The painting was labeled “The Garden of Eden”, and looked to be several centuries old.

“Lucas Cranach the Elder,” proclaimed Algarotti proudly. “Early to mid-Sixteenth Century.”

The background of the painting showed several vignettes involving a young naked couple and an old man in robes, respectively Adam and Eve (the first humans created by God) and God himself (I don’t believe I’ve mentioned yet that this particular god was not given the most creative of names by his creations). Regrettably, the author does not have in her possession the full story of Adam and Eve, so the matter of why the disembodied head of God was using His fire vision in the painting to glare angrily at the pair of humans trying to cover themselves with bushes will remain forever unknown.

The foreground of the painting depicted a number of animals, mostly in pairs. Lions lay peacefully beside cows, deer, sheep, geese, peafowl, horses, and a lone unicorn. On Earth, this last-named creature is entirely fictional, and so was depicted as a white mane-less horse with a curving horn as long as it was.

Well that’s entirely wrong, Voltaire thought to himself. It should be shorter, with a little triangular horn. Then he tried to figure out how he could possibly know what a unicorn actually looked like, and felt ill at ease.

~ ~ ~

The party ascended to the second floor, where most of the inmates were being kept. Two rows of cells lined the wide hallway, each covered with a large thick door with a small window to look inside at the inmates, and iron bars embedded in each window to keep the inmates from getting too close while you were busy looking at them. Everything was illuminated by sickly yellow candlelight. Voltaire’s feelings of uneasiness increased.

With the asylum’s attendants supplemented by the king’s guards to protect the visiting group from harm, Jordan opened the door of the first “attraction” for the night.

At the far end of the darkened cell, a large man who was chained to the wall stood up. He was so tall that he had to bend his neck to keep from bumping his head on the high ceiling of the room. In the dim moonlight, he looked as if he were covered with hair. He fixed the group with a commanding stare from his glowing yellow eyes.

“I would advise the group not to look Ivan straight in the eyes,” Jordan told them, raising a hand to shield his face.

“Whatever for?” asked Algarotti. “The glow is surely a trick of the moonlight.”

“You shouldn’t look,” Jordan explained fearfully, “because Ivan can turn those he catches with his gaze into any animal he pleases.”

“You believe this madness?” the King said with that same note of warning in his voice.

“Uh...of course not,” Jordan hemmed. “It is simply that Ivan, like many of the patients, is set in his delusions, and we find it the safer course to indulge his beliefs rather than challenge them, as doing so makes him very upset.”

This statement was a lie. Jordan had prepared it and was now saying it because he knew that King Friedrich was leading Prussia into a grand Age of Reason where misery would be abolished and everyone would live happily ever after. The real reason why Jordan didn’t look at Ivan, though, was because he did not want to be turned into a newt.

“Well he certainly is intimidating,” admitted Maupertuis, taking a swig from his bottle.

Voltaire reached over and took the bottle, then tossed back a drink himself.

“Ivan is generally acknowledged as the ‘king’ of the asylum by the other inmates,” said Jordan, as he led the group back out of the cell.

“He is but the current king, for now,” King Friedrich said mysteriously.

“That was a Siberian, was it not?” asked Maupertuis. “What is he doing here, so far from home?”

“He was one of the Potsdam Giants,” the king answered grimly. “It was my father’s idiotic notion of how to create an unstoppable army: beg, borrow and steal the tallest men in the world to man it, and on seeing them, your enemies will be too terrified to resist. Never mind the fact that the lot of them didn’t know a thing about fighting, and some were so tall that they suffered from brittle bones! I disbanded the troop as soon as I was crowned, but it appears the methods Father used to ensure their loyalty was too much for some of them.”

~ ~ ~

The next inmate they visited was crouched in the far corner of his cell, studying a drawing. Voltaire noticed that the walls of the room were entirely covered with coarse paper, and every inch of this paper was covered with drawings. Voltaire saw drawings of simple buildings, drawings of tools, drawings of flowers and common animals, but mostly drawings of ponies. Lots and lots of ponies.

Voltaire’s breath caught in his throat. The feeling of strangeness that he had sensed ever since leaving the carriage was concentrated in this place, was coming from this place, from the funny little man in the corner with the lopsided grin. Voltaire looked at his companions, and saw that none of them were feeling what he was feeling.

Algarotti wandered away from the others to examine the inmate’s bed stand. He poked curiously at a rubber ring six inches in diameter, which seemed to be floating an inch above the small table.

“What have we here?” Maupertuis asked brightly, peering closely at the drawings.

The little man turned around and looked with confusion at the speaker.

“Oscar only knows German,” Jordan explained.

I should note that all of the conversations to this point were in the language known as French. This was the native tongue of Voltaire and Maupertuis (and Monsieur Jordan). German was the native tongue of King Friedrich and the rest of the Prussian people. (And Italian was the native tongue of Algarotti, but we won’t be hearing any of it in this story, so you don’t need to know that.) The members of the king’s retinue were conversant in at least three languages each, of which two were French and German.

Maupertuis repeated his question in German.

“These are my visions of another world,” the little man answered in a thin, piping voice. “The unicorns are the dominant race.”

Voltaire, who had been studiously trying to avoid looking at anything in the room, glanced over for a moment at the drawing nearest him, of a little pony unicorn with exactly the proportions that he had earlier thought to be correct. He saw then that nearly all of the ponies were in fact unicorns, and all the buildings and tools were scaled to their size.

“Have you ever heard of a book called Gulliver’s Travels?” he asked Oscar uneasily in German. He reasoned that a civilization of magical unicorns would easily be able to enslave any number of Yahoos, and began searching the drawings for any human figures. He was relieved to find none.

“I never heard of it,” Oscar said.

Algarotti meanwhile picked up the rubber ring and examined it. It had numerous cuts and what appeared to be bite marks on it. He then raised it up and deliberately dropped it. It slowly floated down to rest once again on a bed of air.

The King looked about him in annoyance. “You abandoned your former project, Oscar,” he said. His German was noticeably worse than his French. “You promised you’d make me a pair of seven-league boots, and instead you have taken up cartooning. And a very odd style of cartooning it is, I will add.”

Voltaire took a closer look at the drawings. He noticed that the lines never met or crossed, leaving tiny gaps on the paper instead.

Interspersed with the drawings in the center of the room were large black ovals. As Voltaire turned his head, the blackness in the ovals turned with him, like hundreds of animal eyes following his every move. Voltaire closed his own eyes then, and hoped that the king would not order him to open them.

Meanwhile the inmate was complaining in his penetrating voice. “I never promised you seven-league boots,” he said. “I promised you a way to travel anywhere in the world in an instant. I have the travel part down (but not yet controlling the destination), thanks to my magic pencil...”

As the inmate started to pull something pointy out of a fold of his clothing, one of the guards panicked. “He’s got a weapon!” he cried out, and in moments Oscar was buried under a pile of men beating him senseless. Algarotti took advantage of the moment to slip the rubber ring inside his coat.

An object bumped against Voltaire’s shoe. He looked down to see the pencil: a quite ordinary cylinder of graphite inexpertly wrapped in paper tape. He reached down to pick it up.

The moment he touched the pencil, the awful feeling in his gut disappeared.

Voltaire shook his head, clearing it of the superstitious mutterings that had been filling it, and placed the pencil next to his watch. Imagine thinking that the Houyhnhnms were real! he reproached himself. Of course Swift’s book is a work of fiction—the satire is too obvious to be anything else.

Then he looked over at poor Oscar. “Are we quite done?” he asked loudly.

The guards froze and looked down guiltily at the defenseless man they had been battering.

King Friedrich sighed. “Yes, it’s time to get this over with.”

~ ~ ~

Jordan led the group down to the cell at the end of the hallway and opened the door.

“My dear colleague Voltaire,” Maupertuis said sweetly, “I have spoken with the inhabitant of this cell, and I do believe he is the cleverest man in all of Europe, cleverer even than you! He told me that your story about Newton discovering gravity from an apple hitting his head is a complete and utter lie, and that your book The Age of Louis XIV was the work of an imbecile.”

“He called himself cleverer than me?!” Voltaire exclaimed. “I’ll have to have a word with him!” And so saying, he stepped into the cell.

It was empty, save for the bed and the paper crown and bottle of port which were resting on it.

The door behind Voltaire suddenly shut, and he heard the sounds of uproarious laughter.

“Welcome to your new home!” cried the King.

“What is the meaning of this?” cried Voltaire, wheeling around.

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked King Friedrich. “You have taken leave of your senses, and you are being kept here until they come back to you. You should be grateful that I’ve named you king of the asylum.”

“I don’t understand,” the writer protested.

Maupertuis handed the king a small book open to a particular page, from which the king proceeded to read out loud:

Micromegas, learned scientist living on the star Sirius, composed a book about the insects of his country that was very curious but that got him into some trouble. The mufti of the country, a great hairsplitter and very ignorant, found in his book statements that were suspect, ill-sounding, rash, heretical, smacking of heresy, and prosecuted him vigorously: the question was whether the substantial form of the fleas of Sirius was of the same nature as that of the snails. Micromegas defended himself wittily; he got the women on his side; the trial lasted two hundred and twenty years. Finally the mufti got the book condemned by some jurists who had not read it, and the author was ordered not to appear at court for eight hundred years.

“That mufti,” the King yelled through the bars, “is me! Admit it!”

“I...I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Voltaire protested. “I have heard of this Micromegas, it is true, but it is an anonymous work. Anybody could have written it.”

“No, only you could have written it,” said Maupertuis. “It stinks of your particular breed of contempt. How dare you write a work ridiculing your king!”

“It’s the work of an evil genius!” proclaimed King Friedrich.

Voltaire just couldn’t resist the lure of being called a genius (of any sort) and told the truth. “Well, alright, I wrote it,” he said. “But the king being mocked is obviously Louis XV of France, not you! And the true target of the work is a certain world-flattening, presidency-stealing idiot and his band of sycophantic followers!”

The others stared at him through the bars in shock.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that last part out loud,” he admitted.

“We’re heading back to Potsdam, fellows,” the King said to the others. To the newest inmate he said “I’ll come back for you when you give me good reason to.”

Voltaire laughed loudly at the departing company. “Alright, Your Majesty, I’ll freely admit it: you’ve got me. Best joke ever! Now let’s go out and get drunk! Your Majesty? Your Majesty?! What does the port mean?”

“Everybody knows how much the English love port and, well, you always were a little too fond of the English,” the voice of Maupertuis drifted back to him.

“I hate port!” Voltaire said with a pout as he sat down on the bed.

~ ~ ~

Jordan came back to the cell a half-hour later. “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked. “Other than letting you go?” he added apologetically.

Voltaire sighed from his place at the back of the cell. “I don’t blame you, Monsieur Jordan,” he said. “We are all King Friedrich’s puppets in the end, you especially. I’m surprised he hasn’t made you dress in motley and bells yet. I would appreciate it, however, if you got me a lot of paper, a pen and some ink.”

“Of course,” Jordan said, and raced down the hall.

He came back ten minutes later with the requested writing materials, a lit candle to see by, and a small table. With a burly attendant present to ensure that the prisoner did not try to escape, the door was opened and the objects were placed within the room.

Voltaire sat quietly the whole time. He had seen that the cell was equipped with chains, and he did not want to force Jordan to have to use them.

“Thank you, Monsieur Jordan,” he said at last through the door once it had been shut.

“Will you be needing anything else?” his captor asked.

“No, I think you can finally get some sleep.”

“I’ll see you in the morning then.”

“Good night.”

As Jordan and the attendant walked away, he heard Voltaire muttering to himself. “Now what would be the best language for abject groveling? ...German. Definitely German.”

It was nearly one a.m. before Charles Étienne Jordan was finally free to go to sleep. Waiting for him in the little bed next to his own was his ten-year old daughter, Jenny.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t celebrate your birthday today,” he said sadly.

“That doesn’t matter,” she told him with a brave grin. “Am...” She hesitated for several seconds before continuing. “Am I going to get my wish?”

The elder Jordan sighed. “I’m not sure that the King will return tomorrow to see your painting of him. But if he doesn’t, I’ll take you to see the cleverest man in all Europe.”

Not clever enough, though, to stay out of a lunatic’s cell, he added to himself.

Chapter 3

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 3

Voltaire tried writing several drafts of his letter to the king, but failed to reach the right tone, one that got the king to laugh and forgive him without actually saying that the writer was in the wrong for expressing his opinions through his fiction. The fact that he had considered Micromegas too dangerous to put his own name on it was not a point in his favor. Eventually he failed and fell asleep. He dreamed that Ivan had come up to the door and stared at him through the bars until he turned into a unicorn.

He awoke (still human) to a cold breakfast waiting for him on his writing table (along with an invitation to meet Jordan’s daughter at 4 o’clock that afternoon), and a stupendous hangover. He drowned his sorrows in port wine, and was soon in a good mood again, at least until he had discovered that he had kicked over the ink pot during the night and he no longer had anything to write with.

Voltaire considered calling for Jordan, but he felt guilty for what the king had put him through, and decided to bother him as little as possible. Remembering the confiscated pencil in his possession, he decided he’d use that, at least until he had come up with a draft he was satisfied with. He cleaned his breakfast knife with the napkin, and then used that to sharpen the point on the pencil.

“All hail Friedrich the Great,” he began, which in German looks like this:

Heil Friedrich dem Großen...

Before his eyes, the loops of the e’s, the d’s and the o’s started to darken, until they looked just like the ovals in Oscar’s cell.

Voltaire fearfully rose to his feet, and the blackness in the shapes shifted as he did so. Looking at the pencil in his hand, he suddenly realized that these were not eyes watching him, but pits. Or portals, Voltaire remembered. Just as Oscar promised the king.

He reached down and placed a finger over the “o” in “Großen”, and felt the opening under his skin. He used the pencil to draw a big circle on the paper and tried to reach through it, but only found his hand contacting stone.

This was an exceedingly strange mystery. What would Newton do? he asked himself, mentally addressing his hero. The great Sir Isaac would apply logic to the problem, and so would he. Oscar had drawn what he had seen through these portals, but Voltaire only saw stone. Oscar’s portals had only been drawn around the middle of his cell, so perhaps...

Voltaire picked up the piece of paper. It was clear that the darkness he was seeing through the hole was different, and what he felt when he put his hand up to the hole was different as well: a different stone. He walked around with the paper and when he came near to his bed, he suddenly saw daylight.

Through the hole was a blue sky, and something far in the distance flying downwards far slower than should be possible. He saw clouds, but something was definitely wrong with them: they were all on their sides. He carefully tilted the paper some more, and finally spotted the ground, far to his left.

Voltaire shook his head in wonder. Not only had he discovered a portal to another land, but this land was sideways! Struck with inspiration, he laid down on his bed so his feet were now pointing in the direction of the other world’s “down”, and was thus able to get a better look at things.

He was looking out from the side of a tall castle or palace, nearly two dozen feet off of the ground. The castle extended above him for several hundred feet. The castle must have been on top of or on the side of a tall mountain, because a green valley stretched below him a thousand or more feet down. The valley stretched as far as the eye could see, bounded on one side by a low mountain range. It was certainly inhabited, because he could make out the rectangular plots of fields and orchards, but they were too far away to make out the farmers.

But there was, Voltaire realized, a way to see the inhabitants of this land up close. From the bed he could look out of the outer wall of the castle. A few steps away, all he could see was the rock that made up the castle wall itself. But closer to the door, he ought to be able to see inside the castle.

The human stood up and cautiously walked towards the door of his cell, his marked piece of paper before his eyes. For four steps, all he saw was the dark insides of a wall, but then his view emerged into a great wide hall.

Tilting his head sideways, Voltaire saw a crowd of colorful ponies all looking in the same direction. Some of the ponies wore robes, and some did not. The ones that didn’t wore their manes arranged into elaborate waves of multiple colors. Voltaire guessed that the ponies following this elaborate fashion were the mares, and the others were the stallions. Since they all wore the same fashion of hairstyling, they were probably imitating their ruler. And since they were all facing the same direction with looks of awe in their little pony faces, that must mean that their ruler was over there, in a direction that Voltaire could not see however he tilted his little window.

He decided he needed a much bigger window.

Voltaire took every piece of paper he had, and arranged them to form a large square on the floor. He had no way of attaching the pages to each other, so he was very careful as he drew the outline in pencil not to let any page slip away. Finally he completed the large circle and waited.

The view through the large window was much clearer than before. Slowly and deliberately, Voltaire planted his hands on the paper outside the pencil circle, and leaned his head through.

He finally saw the ruler of the ponies. And that sight was so astonishing that he forgot which way gravity worked in their world, and fell right through.

Chapter 4

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 4

“Are you sure you can’t come in with me?” a nervous Genevieve asked Zody outside the door of Princess Celestia’s daytime audience chamber. “Maybe I should have worn a dress.” Around her neck, she was wearing the gray and frayed satchel she had owned before Zody had given her his present. She had also managed to recover the embroidery patch of the pencil drawing the globe and glued it on, but she made sure to have the satchel turned so that was not visible. No need to make things even worse for herself than they already were, after all.

“Mother and Aunt Morningstar forbid me to get involved, and that includes going in with you,” the colt told her sadly. “Don’t worry, though—everything will be fine. Just tell Princess Celestia the truth. The Princess always knows when she’s being lied to.” He looked over at Blue Belle, who was standing with her father on the other side of the hall. She was wearing a dress so frilly that her face was practically invisible. “And I don’t think you have to worry about the dress, either,” he added with a grin.

“I re-did the drawing from memory,” the jenny said, unrolling a large piece of paper that had been standing next to her. “What do you think? I had to copy the Princess from Chiaroscuro’s official portrait, just like Blue Belle said I would. Should I even bother showing it to the Princess?”

The inanimate details of the new portrait, Zody noticed, were not too different from the drawing that he had seen the day before. The guards, however, looked much more cruel and forbidding than he had remembered them being previously.

“You can give her the drawing once this matter is resolved between you and Blue Belle,” Genevieve’s father told her. He was using his hooves to comb through his daughter’s coat and mane, trying to work out all the snags. “Now I want you to listen to me very closely,” he said, gently drawing his daughter’s face so they were looking eye to eye. “The ponies in there are all doing you a great favor by taking time to decide this matter instead of leaving it to the court system. When we enter the room, you will wait in the back until the herald calls for you. You will speak only when spoken to, and try not to say more than you need to. Be on your best behavior, and this will all turn out all right. Do you understand?”

Genevieve looked up at her father with a worried expression, and nodded once, not saying anything.

At that moment, the doors of the audience chamber opened.

“Genevieve,” her father said, “follow closely after me...”

~ ~ ~

Genevieve found a spot in the back of the enormous room, near the Celestial Chorus. A few minutes later, she was joined by Blue Belle.

“Smile,” the unicorn told her through clenched teeth. “The Princess is watching.”

The donkey looked up and saw Princess Celestia visually scanning the crowd, so she smiled. It wasn’t much more genuine than Blue Belle’s.

“You know I’m going to win this,” Blue Belle told her, her tone utterly contradicting the sweet look on her face as she faced forward. “Nopony’s ever going to believe the word of a donkey against that of a unicorn. And think of what the Princess saw—you struck me first. The penalty for striking a noblepony is banishment for life.” She glanced over to see that her words were having the desired effect on her enemy. “Your father will have no choice but to follow you. So you’ll not only be ruining your own life, but his as well. There’s only one thing you can do—turn around and run away, before the Princess has the chance to question you. I’ll make sure that all that happens is that your father loses his job, and both of you will be able to stay in Canterlot. What do you think?”

Genevieve thought this plan was rotten, because Blue Belle couldn’t be trusted, and because Princess Celestia would still want to punish her for ruining her celebration. She needed to escape, yes, but much further away than she could ever get on her hooves...

~ ~ ~

Princess Celestia looked out over the crowd of officials and petitioners before her, and smiled at seeing the young donkey and Prince Blueblood’s daughter standing side by side, broad grins on both of her faces. Next to them was a roll of paper larger than they were. Ah, to be young! she thought to herself, causing her to smile briefly. Her chancellor, Prince Blueblood, noticed this unscheduled display of affection and scowled.

Behind the foals, a chorus sang a quiet hymn in praise of Princess Celestia’s existence.

The ponies that were speaking to Princess Celestia all spoke on bended knees.

The expression of every pony facing Princess Celestia was beatific, no matter how little sleep they had gotten the night before.

And once again, nopony looked Princess Celestia in the eye, because none of them thought they were worthy.

Princess Celestia hated it. She hated it all. But there simply was no other way of ruling.

Well there was another way that Celestia knew of, but she didn’t like it. The male way of ruling, the way practiced by the dragons and their allies. Rule through conquest. Rule through bullying. Rule through terror.

In Celestia’s court, an official who committed a grievous act, somepony who deliberately acted against the interests of Equestria, could expect at worst a public humiliation before the Princess before being dismissed. In the dragon courts, however, they preferred blood sports to mind games.

So no, the way Celestia was treated as a princess was not the worst way to go. But there had to be a better way.

Celestia at that moment, standing perfectly still except for her flowing mane, her body glowing exactly as much as her subjects expected of her, wished for change, wished for an escape.

And, an instant later, she came to regret that wish, when she realized that there was one more pony watching her than she could see in the room.

After using her magic to seal the doors, Celestia silently started pondering who it might be who could be spying on her, even as she carefully reached out with her magic for more information. It was no longer a challenge for her to do this sort of thing without being noticed by the unicorns in the room. After all, she had to have something to do while being subjected to endless speeches. Nevertheless, whoever was spying on her was managing to do it with a form of magic she had never encountered before. She made a note to congratulate her or him on this feat, after foiling whatever nasty scheme she or he was up to, of course.

The list of possible eavesdroppers included Lunar Republic cultists (unlikely that they could be this subtle), Discordians (she didn’t even want to think about that possibility, remote as it was), and spies from the Orange Dragon Clan (also unlikely, since the Princess already knew who their spy was, and was keeping him quite happy with a steady stream of misinformation). Celestia hoped it wasn’t Janus. Janus was quite a pain, and He couldn’t even be properly disciplined, as the Princess still needed to be on good terms with the boy’s mother. With any luck, He’d get through adolescence in another three hundred years and then stop caring about mortals so much.

She was about to start on the second tier of suspects when her quarry decided to forfeit the game by materializing right next to the little donkey. Celestia stumbled, ever so slightly, as the magical field in the room fluctuated. This meant that a couple of seconds went by before she could focus on the cause of the disturbance.

“A human!” Celestia then exclaimed in surprise, pointing a forehoof in its direction.

By Celestia’s standards, this was quite a minor exclamation, but given how well she had kept her emotions in check in public over the past century of so, even this was enough to cause a full-fledged panic in the crowd. For once, the Princess was thankful of the fact that there was so little empty space in the room that there was no way for them to start a stampede, because she was quite certain they would have if they could. The Royal Guard surged forward, with the twin goals of apprehending the strange visitor and calming the crowd.

Throughout the tumult, Celestia kept her attention focused on a vertical plane of magical energy a pony’s-width away from the back right wall. The human had tumbled out of that plane in a way that strongly suggested a portal of some kind. This was unfortunately confirmed when the donkey leaned in to get a closer look and promptly fell through that plane and out of Equestria altogether, leaving a shocked Blue Belle and her roll of paper behind.

Celestia rushed forward, pushing through her guards like water, to reach for the portal. But alas, she felt it close mere moments before she arrived, and she perceived no way to re-open it. A cry of dismay broke from the lips of Gordon, Celestia’s jester and the jenny’s father.

“My ponies!” Celestia ordered, levitating herself several pony-heights above the crowd. The ponies below immediately froze, then dropped as one into prone positions of terror. Celestia sighed inwardly at the reaction before speaking in her normal kind tone of voice. “My ponies, We need Our magical researchers to be summoned here as soon as possible. Our...visitor needs to be escorted to a secure location until We are ready for him. Gordon can stay. The rest of you need to clear the throne room immediately.” All eyes turned to the double doors leading out, which remained magically closed. “There will be no word of what you have just seen until We have made an official announcement. Is that understood?”

“As you command, Princess!” cried out fifty-eight voices in chorus.

Princess Celestia opened the doors, and the majority of the ponies in the room began to leave.

~ ~ ~

Gordon reached out a forehoof to stop Chancellor Blueblood as he prepared to leave. “Fetch the White Cap from the archives,” the donkey said. “Oh, and you better summon Eveningstar as well.”

“Remove your hoof from the royal person, you knave!” exclaimed the Prince. “I will not be following your advice!”

“Your Excellency,” a smaller yellow pegasus said on bended knees. “Perhaps we should follow his advice.”

Blueblood frowned. “And why is that, Pensive Thought?”

“Because Gordon here dressed up as a human for the Summer Sun Masquerade last year. A very-well researched costume, if I remember correctly.”

“Oh. Right.” Neither pony had even heard of humans before then. “With me, Pensive.” He looked over at where the Princess was casting spells at the spot where the donkey had disappeared. “Perhaps you should stay here,” he said to the jester. He looked fearfully down at the daughter standing by his side, imagining for a moment what it would be like if she had been the one to fall into nothingness instead of the donkey.

Blue Belle looked up curiously at her father’s expression of fear. It was one she had previously only seen on her inferiors, and it was one she was trying very hard to keep from showing herself.

Genevieve the donkey briefly tumbled through a very weird feeling before suddenly arriving in a darkened room. She looked around her in confusion. She could no longer hear the sounds of the ponies, only distant growls and howlings of strange creatures from the other sides of the walls.

She looked down to see the audience chamber through a sort of window in the floor. This window appeared to be made up of several pieces of paper overlapping one another.

It would be a simple matter to jump through that window and go back to the audience chamber. Back to her judgment, which she felt she couldn’t possibly win. Back to her banishment, which her father would have to follow.

Being jester was everything to her father after Mother died. He had told Genevieve, again and again, that he was Equestria’s only hope for real change, because all change came from the Princess, and the jester, alone of all of the Princess’s advisors, was always allowed to tell her the truth without consequences. Equestria needed her father, more than she needed him.

And that is why Genevieve reached down and scattered the pieces of paper below her, causing the window to Equestria to flicker and die.

She was now stuck here in the human’s world, forever. What sort of world was she stuck in?

Well for one thing, it was badly lit—she could barely see a hoof before her face. On a table in the middle of the room she saw a paper crown. It was easily the most-colorful object in the room, and made Genevieve think of her birthday hat from the day before. With a mental shrug, she grabbed the hat and tried it on. It was too big, but with a small adjustment she was able to get it to stay on her head.

If the human world has something as silly as paper crowns, then it can’t be that bad, right? she thought.

Continuing her examination of the room, she turned over one of the pieces of paper to see it was covered with an odd series of squiggles. She was reaching down to pick up a pencil she saw at her hooves when the door before her suddenly opened.

~ ~ ~

Edward the human attendant looked slack-jawed at the animal he found in Voltaire’s cell. He certainly hadn’t expected this when he started searching for the escaped patient from Room 102. Then he saw the paper crown on the creature’s head and the pencil gripped in its mouth.

“Hey Monsieur Jordan!” he cried out. “Ivan’s turned the philosopher into an ass!”

Chapter 5

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 5

Voltaire found himself in another padded room. He wondered if this was because the unicorns knew that he had come from a padded room, or because they believed all humans to be insane. The latter, after all, was not too far off from the truth.

It appeared that the stories that humans had about unicorns were all wrong. They were not all white in color. They were not all the size of horses. They did not have the beards of goats, and their hooves were not cloven. They were not wild and untamable. The part about being unable to resist the charms of a maiden, though, had yet to be tested.

They most definitely had a language, made up of the sounds available to any horse or pony. He had already made progress on a rudimentary Unicorn-to-French dictionary:

A particular series of high whinnies meant “Stop! In the name of the law!”

A pair of snorts meant “Keep your hands where I can see them.”

A shorter series of medium-pitched whinnies meant “Follow me, you wretched excuse for a creature.”

Finally, a loud pair of whinnies meant “Did I give you permission to look at her, you slug?!” This was always, always followed by a blow in the solar plexus.

All guards everywhere used the same rote vocabulary. With as many times as he had been arrested for expressing his opinions, Voltaire knew this to be a fact.

There was something else that Voltaire learned about unicorns: their horns were not used for healing, or at least, not exclusively for healing. The unicorn guards had been quite clearly using their horns to levitate him once he had worn out their patience. While he was enveloped in the glowing red field, it had seemed as if the force of gravity had been neutralized in his vicinity. He had nearly lost his watch when it began floating out of his pocket. The same ability was used to manipulate the key used to unlock the room Voltaire was currently stuck in.

This actually made a good deal of sense. Humans dominated the Earth thanks not only to their clever brains, but to the nimble hands that could transform their thoughts into reality. Stuck with hooves, it seemed that unicorns had no chance at civilization without levitation. He wondered how they did it, and whether it was possible for humans to duplicate this trick with a machine of some kind.

His ruminations were interrupted by the sounds of several ponies arriving outside of the door to his cell. There seemed to be a rather loud argument in the pony tongue between one of the ponies and the leader of the guards who had levitated him. He was rather satisfied to hear the guard lose that particular argument, whatever it was, as he feared it might involve the possible medical uses of levitation upon his internal organs. He then heard a key being turned in a lock.

On the other side of the opening door, Voltaire glimpsed a figure glowing by its own light. He dropped down on one knee and bowed. “Greetings, noble and glorious steed, empress of the Houyhnhnm.” Even if she didn’t understand French, he hoped that she would judge him by his tone and attitude. Potentially being taller than the ruler he was appealing to was probably a bad idea, so he lowered himself onto his knees.

Celestia had nearly forgotten how impressive it was to see a tall biped bowing like that. She didn’t understand a word of what he said, but she was intrigued by the fact that the last word was nearly Equine. She allowed Eveningstar, the captain of the guards, and his lieutenant to enter the cell before she followed. The door was then closed and locked by the pair of guards remaining outside.

Eveningstar Sparkle was a dark blue unicorn with a pale lavender mane and tail. Her cutie mark was the constellation Gemini. On her back was a small box.

As the ruler of the unicorns turned her attention to the wooden box, Voltaire cautiously raised his head to get a good look at her, trying not to attract the attention of the scowling guard captain.

“Radiant” would be the best word to describe her, and not just because of her glowing coat. She of all the unicorns most-closely satisfied the myths. She alone was tall enough to look him straight in the eyes. Her coat was whiter than white. And her spiral horn was as long as she was. In her eyes he saw great strength, as well as great compassion. She was unicorn and maiden, all in one. And that shimmering mane! It was like a memory of a summer’s day from childhood—almost certainly too glorious to be real, but for once, he was willing to let fantasy win out over reality.

The wooden box on the smaller unicorn’s back was now open, and a small object floated out of it, supported by a magenta glow that was connected by a beam of light to a similar glow around the big unicorn’s horn.

Actually on closer inspection, the term “unicorn” was not correct for the bigger one, because she quite obviously had a pair of wings, making her both a unicorn and a Pegasus. Voltaire did not remember ever hearing of such a creature in his studies of various nations’ myths and legends.

The object was an unmarked gold coin. It was placed on a small table that was in the room, and then a second object was retrieved from the box. This was a piece of woolen fabric, off-white in color. It had been sewn to be slightly curved, so that it would fit snugly as a cap. In fact, it must have been made for a human, because it was too wide to rest comfortably on the head of a unicorn or a Pegasus-unicorn without the ears getting in the way. Assuming this to be some sort of bizarre welcoming ceremony, he remained still. The object stopped above his head and out of his range of vision, then floated slowly down until it was on top of his wig.

Three ponies were now all looking at Voltaire with rapt attention. The captain tried to look like he had better things to do.

“Thank you for the beautiful gift?” he said with less confidence than he meant to convey. He wondered if he was expected to give something in return, especially since the ponies all looked very disappointed after he had spoken.

The two creatures which were not guards spoke together in their equine language. The Pegasus-unicorn walked up to him and gave a critical look at the cap. Then she raised an eyebrow in surprise. Voltaire felt the weight of the cap being lifted off of his head, followed by his wig. Voltaire sighed—he must look hideous with his natural hair matted down. This problem, though, was solved by re-applying the cap to his bare head and then dropping the wig down on top of the cap. An indescribable sensation floated down from his scalp into his head as the tall pony returned to stand beside the others.

Can vos agnosco mihi iam?” she said. Or, to be more accurate, she whinnied like a pony, but at the same time he heard words seeming to come from her lips. Somehow the whinnies had been made very faint, so he could easily focus on the words.

Voltaire blinked. Was that Latin? he asked himself. The human was very familiar with Latin, as it was the universal language of scientific and philosophical literature, a role that was only recently being replaced by French in Voltaire’s lifetime. The only time he ever heard it spoken, however, was in church, and then only to repeat the same tired phrases over and over again.

“Can you understand me now?” the Pegasus-unicorn had asked him.

“Yes, I can understand you,” he replied in the same language. As he spoke, he heard a series of horse noises emerging from his mouth at the same time, but it was so faint that he could barely hear it.

Voltaire reached up cautiously and touched the edge of the white cap peeking out from under his wig, causing a curious scratching sensation to sweep across his scalp. What a remarkably-useful means of understanding! he mused. “I am Voltaire,” he said, bowing once again, “writer and philosopher...and human, if that fact was not already known to you.” The sound of his own name was not accompanied by a whinny or other pony sound.

“Hhoywhaihre?” said the unicorn, utterly failing to pronounce the human’s name. “V”s and “T”s were simply not part of pony speech.

Voltaire frowned and started thinking. His pseudonym had been very carefully selected. So many other authors made the mistake of picking something simple, like “The Fox” or “The Greek”. “Voltaire” had at least five different meanings packed into it, and he was always amused when a correspondent invented new ones that they were sure were the true meaning of the name. Literally, it was the name of his family’s estate, Airvault, with the syllables reversed, and an anagram of one spelling of his birth name, Arouvet Li (Arouet the Younger). But it was also meant to sound like several words in French that conveyed his character. Now which of those would be the best one to use under the circumstances...

“Voltige,” he said suddenly. He was pleased to find that this word did indeed have a translation. “You may called me ‘Voltige’.” Then he suddenly wondered why the ponies would know what “voltige” meant.

Translator’s Note: For those unaware of the term, “voltige” is what circus acrobats do on top of a running horse. “Voltige” is in fact the way that the author refers to Voltaire throughout the original version of this story, but I think it will be confusing to the human reader to have to juggle both words, so I will be using “Voltaire”, even when a pony is actually saying “Voltige”, unless they are specifically punning on the name.

“‘Voltige’?” asked the unicorn incredulously. “I’m not sure if I should be insulted or not,” she remarked to the Pegasus-unicorn. “In any case, he seems to be handling this whole situation very well.” She then turned to face the human. “Very well Voltaire, I am Eveningstar, the Court Astronomer and Translator. And this is Princess Celestia, sole ruler of the land of Equestria. I am a unicorn, and she is a winged unicorn.”

“Yes, how are you so calm, Voltaire?” asked Princess Celestia. “The last I knew, there were no magical ponies on Earth, although humans did appear to have knowledge of unicorns and pegasi.”

“He’s acting so calm because he’s a dragon spy!” the guard captain said. “Any moment now, he’s gonna...”

Without looking back at him, Princess Celestia raised a hoof. “I was asking Voltaire,” she said sweetly. Well, if you were an idiot, all it sounded was sweet. The captain had the intelligence to hear what was behind the sweetness, and shut up.

“Oh, well please don’t take this the wrong way,” Voltaire said with a smile, “but I happen to be dreaming right now.”

“Dreaming?” Eveningstar asked in disbelief. The captain behind her sputtered incredulously.

“Please don’t dwell on the matter,” Voltaire told Eveningstar. “I was in a rather miserable place when I fell asleep, and I would rather not wake up anytime soon.”


“Nevermind, Eveningstar,” said the Princess with a wry smile. “I for one don’t mind being a figment of this human’s imagination. For one thing, that makes him more likely to cooperate with us.”

“Oh certainly,” Voltaire replied. “How may I be of assistance?”

“Could you please tell us how you were able to visit Equestria?”

Voltaire blushed. “Well, um...” he said, stalling for a few seconds. “I, uh, used a magic pencil.” Said out loud, it sounded like something out of a children’s story.

He noticed the ponies were looking at him with confusion (plus of course with suspicion in the case of the captain). He also noticed that the word “pencil” when he had said it had not been accompanied by a translation. He repeated the word a few more times to no effect.

Eveningstar walked up to him. “The caps only translate words they already know. To learn additional words, the wearer needs to be mentally linked with a translator pony, which would be me. Once we are linked, any time you say a new word, or hear a new word, our minds will be searched and the equivalent words in Human and Equine will be added to the cap’s vocabulary.”

“Did you say mentally linked?” Voltaire asked nervously.

“Yes,” Eveningstar replied warily, “and that does mean that thoughts might drift between us when we are both close enough to the cap. What I find to be effective is to keep your private thoughts in a third language that the particular cap doesn’t know. I stick to Griffon when I’m using the green cap on a dragon, for example, and Dragon when I’m using the orange cap on a griffon.”

These unicorn abilities are looking more and more like magic, Voltaire thought grimly to himself. Luckily, the human language of the cap was Latin, and there was no chance that he would ever think casually in that language. “Very well,” he said finally, kneeling down and presenting his forehead to her.

Eveningstar’s horn glowed a faint red as she pressed it lightly to Voltaire’s forehead. The feeling that came over him this time was definitely describable: it was exactly like eating a sorbet too fast. Owwww... he thought to himself as he rubbed his head.

“Now could you repeat what you said?” Princess Celestia asked.

“I said that I came here by way of a magic pencil, silly as that sounds.” This time, when he said “pencil”, he felt a fainter version of the “brain freeze” and saw Eveningstar’s horn briefly glow, followed by the right pony sound coming out of his mouth. From the look of her face, she went through exactly what he did. It was at this point that he realized that a unicorn’s magical glow was the same color as its eyes.

He also noticed that the eyes of all four ponies in the room rested on the gold coin while he had spoken. Nothing unusual had appeared to happen to it.

“A magic pencil?” Princess Celestia asked with a smile, turning her head back to face him. “How perfectly appropriate! You are a writer, are you not?”

“Yes...?” Voltaire said, not understanding her meaning.

“Well in Equestria the writers have a saying: The pen is mightier than the horn.”

“Ah, I see,” said Voltaire. “We humans have a similar saying, although of course not involving a horn.” And he tapped his forehead for emphasis.

“We were wondering if you could use this pencil for us,” the Princess continued. “You see, a young donkey fell through your pencil’s portal into your world shortly after you fell into this one. That portal is now closed, and the easiest way to rescue her would be the same means you used to create the portal in the first place.”

“Oh, of course!” Voltaire said, springing to his feet. “I just need to...” He searched through his pockets, but failed to find the pencil. He checked them again, and then again, before he remembered. “I’m afraid I left the pencil in my world. You see, I was just taking a peek, and had no intention of visiting. It was all sort of an accident, you see.”

Once again, he saw the ponies looking at the coin as he spoke, and noticed them all sigh in disappointment when nothing appeared to happen to it. He began then to have a suspicion as to the coin’s purpose.

“Well in that case,” Princess Celestia said, “I need to get my magicians to work on opening their own portal to Earth. Come with me, Voltaire; they will need something personal from you to act as the locus of their spell. A lock of hair should be enough, but it cannot be removed from you until the instant the spell is cast.” She turned and knocked on the door of the cell to have it opened by a guard, then turned her head to address the human. “I trust you will not give Captain Hardheart here a reason to be rough with you again, will you?”

That was ‘rough’? Voltaire thought incredulously, comparing the levitation with the sort of treatment he had undergone in the Bastille and other royal and aristocratic prisons. “I will be on my best behavior,” he said proudly, and looked over at the coin with the rest of them before continuing. “I would never wish a sovereign to see such things.”

The coin flashed brightly for a moment.

“Aha!” Captain Hardheart proclaimed. “He lies!”

“I was speaking to the Princess,” Voltaire explained calmly. “She doesn’t need a coin to know the truth. And I was telling the truth about being on my best behavior. As to what happened on the way to the cell, I did not know then what manner of being I was dealing with.”

“We do not have time for this!” the captain complained. “Can’t we just knock him out?”

“No, we shall not, Sergeant,” the Princess said firmly, staring sternly at him for a moment.

And in that moment, the very fabric of reality seemed to ripple, causing everyone who wasn’t a Princess in the room to shudder.

Voltaire suddenly suspected that Princess Celestia didn’t need any guards whatsoever.

Chapter 6

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 6

Voltaire walked down the middle of a corridor. He formed the center of square whose corners were made up of guard unicorns, all of whom were aching for him to give them a reason to unleash their magic upon him. Walking in front of these were Eveningstar and Princess Celestia. The Princess had already sent a runner ahead to summon her magicians to meet her at the audience chamber where Voltaire had arrived in Equestria.

“I have concluded my research,” Voltaire overheard Eveningstar telling the Princess.

“And...” the Princess prompted.

“There is no question that all four of them are accelerating in their convergence, “ Eveningstar said, “one tenth of a percent faster every month, one hundredth of an arcsecond per month faster compared to last year. At this rate, the four stars will meet in late spring of the Year 7024. But before then will be the real interesting part: all four of them will be simultaneously occulted by the Moon two hundred and forty-nine years to the day after yesterday, exactly on the millennial anniversary of—”

“The universe is fond of round numbers,” Princess Celestia interrupted with a sigh. “You’ve done very well, Eveningstar. I shall handle the matter from here.”

“But what does it mean?” the astronomer asked.

“Nothing that anypony in your generation will have to worry about,” the Princess replied sadly. “Please do not ask me any more about this.”

“Very well, Your Highness,” said Eveningstar, bowing her head briefly.

~ ~ ~

The group arrived at the throne room and was met by a group of very old and very serious unicorns in very decrepit robes. Unlike the other pony robes Voltaire had seen so far, these were short enough to reveal that the magicians had marks on their haunches, all variations of a compass rose surrounded by stars, yet each one unique. He had already noticed the sun mark on the Princess and the astronomical mark on the Royal Astronomer.

The magicians spent a great deal of time studying Voltaire, part of it spent telling him how he couldn’t possibly be a human, because his hair was the wrong color, because he wasn’t the right height, and because he wasn’t wearing a toga. In this they resembled any number of human “experts” that Voltaire had encountered in his life.

Once they had been convinced of the fact of his existence, and he had spent ten minutes patiently explaining that a wig on his head did not in fact mean that he was too stupid to tell the difference between his own hair and somebody else’s, the necessary lock was cut off and the old unicorns got to work.

Voltaire rejoined the Princess, who he saw had been comforting a donkey. Realizing who this must be, the human kneeled down and offered his heartfelt apology for in any way being responsible for this family tragedy. Gordon was not quite ready to forgive him just yet, but it was a start.

~ ~ ~

“The creation of a new portal could take several days,” Princess Celestia told the group as they left the throne room. “If we are lucky, young Genevieve will work out how to use Voltaire’s magic pencil on her own before then.”

“Several...days?” Voltaire asked, blanching. He started imagining all the horrible things that humans could do to a talking equine, especially one too young to defend herself. Imagine if the King got his hands on her? he asked himself fearfully. Imagine if the priests got their hands on her?

Princess Celestia turned back around with a gentle smile on her face. Voltaire easily read this as something meant to calm the nerves of himself and the other ponies in the corridor. “Well, everything that can be done has been set in motion,” she said. “Besides, the flow of time between Equestria and Earth is variable. It’s entirely possible that the days that it will take to recreate the portal will only be a matter of minutes on Earth.”

Voltaire realized that if the flow of time between worlds was truly variable, then the reverse of the Princess’s scenario could also be true, that they could open the portal in a week to find that Genevieve was now an octogenarian. He kept this to himself, although from the look in Celestia’s face, it appeared that she saw him realize this.

“Well, now that the necessary business is out of the way, I believe we can move on to pleasantries,” Celestia said. “I’ve arranged a room for you, Voltaire, and the services of the Royal Tailor. As long as you are staying in Equestria, you will be treated like any other visitor. This is an open society, and anyone who crosses our borders into our lands will have the same rights and responsibilities as everybody else. I expect you to learn our laws and obey them.”

“Of course, Your Royal Highness.”

“Eveningstar will be able to assist you, but only as that fits into her other duties. As Astronomer Royal, she will only be unavailable on certain nights, but as Royal Translator, she will need to be at my side at many royal functions.”

“And my guards?” Voltaire asked carefully.

“My evaluation of you concludes tonight,” the Princess told him. “Assuming you don’t give me reason to think otherwise, they will no longer be your personal guards after that.”

“Then I sincerely hope that I live up to your standards,” he replied.

“You’re doing well so far,” she told him. “Now do you have any questions?”

“I have noticed a personalized mark carried by every pony I have seen, but not by your donkey jester. What is its significance?”

“A very good first question,” Celestia said with a slight smile. “That is a cutie mark, and they are the primary means by which ponies (and a select number of other equines) are distinct from all other speaking creatures on this world.”

~ ~ ~

Eveningstar watched with amusement as the Princess explained to Voltaire what a cutie mark was, and how it was acquired. At one point the human muttered the phrase “idiot savant” to himself in one of the languages which the white cap could not automatically translate.

She may not have known what the words meant, but she could make a reasonable guess. After all, she had been performing translation duties for the Princess for over a decade now, and she was well aware what non-ponies thought of the cutie mark system.

~ ~ ~

“Gemini has a special significance in Equestrian mythology,” the Princess continued, as she explained what the cutie marks of each pony in the party represented. “They were supposed to be the first earth pony and unicorn to ever meet, and together they had to work out each other’s languages. Afterwards they became so close that everypony joked that they were ‘twins born of different mothers’, hence the name.”

“And what is the meaning of your mark, Your Highness?” Voltaire asked.

“I control the Sun,” she said simply. “Each morning I set it on its path around Equestria, and I also control how hot the summers get and how cold the winters get.” She turned her head with interest to take in his reaction.

There was the briefest moment of hesitation, and then he said, “Ah, so you’re the one responsible for that. I’ll have to compliment you on last May. Someday when you have the time I’ll have to ask your secret to making a ball of incandescent gas with a diameter two hundred times that of the Earth go around the planet instead of vice versa. Also, you must be very wise if you are as old as the Sun.”

Unseen by anybody, the coin resting in Eveningstar’s closed box flashed, but the Princess didn’t have to see it. The fact that the human wouldn’t believe her was obvious. What interested her was how precisely he’d express his disbelief. “Oh, I’m not quite that old,” she joked, continuing to feel him out. “The Sun was controlled by a committee of unicorn mages before I came along. My lifespan can be measured in mere centuries.”

“Daylight controlled by committee? There are no words to express my trepidation with that concept. And personally I don’t think you look a day over 98. You know, for no reason whatsoever, that reminds me of a race of ancient humans that once mixed up their months and years and ended up believing that one of their sages lived for 969 years. That worked out to nearly 81 years after you divide by twelve, which is quite respectable for a human. How long do mere non-Princess ponies live?”

“Oh, about as long as humans live,” Celestia answered. It was pretty obvious to her by now, so she decided to voice her suspicion: “Do you by any chance work with royalty on a regular basis?”

“Why yes, yes I do,” the human replied. “However can you tell?” he added facetiously.

“Call it Princess’s Instinct,” she said. “If you’re going to be here for several days, and you’re willing to be discreet, I could perhaps find a place for you in the royal court.”

“I thought you already had a jester,” said Voltaire, with an absolutely neutral tone. If Celestia needed any further proof that this human was in fact discreet, the way he had uttered that sentence provided it in abundance.

“The court could use some shaking up,” she told him. “I desire a court that does what is best for Equestria, that achieves my goals without needing me to tell them how to think. I like to be surprised.”

“You like to be pleasantly surprised,” said the human. “No monarch likes the other kind of surprises.”

“No, I suppose not,” said Celestia. “But the other kind can’t be avoided, and if you are truly clever, you can make even those serve your needs.”

“You are indeed a wise ruler,” said Voltaire. “A consequence of your thousands of years of living, no doubt.”

“I try to learn from everypony I encounter,” Celestia said.

“Pardon me, but ‘everypony’?”

“A slip of the tongue. We ponies tend to use it instead of ‘everybody’.”

Voltaire briefly gave the Princess a look that made it clear that he was evaluating her just as much as she was evaluating him. “Well you call this place ‘Equestria’, after all,” he said finally. “It’s perfectly forgivable that you might occasionally forget that your population is not entirely composed of ponies, what with the dragons, and the griffons, and the donkeys, and the lone human.”

“Do you or don’t you?” Princess Celestia asked. She trusted Voltaire to know to what she was referring.

“I gladly accept your invitation to join your court, and I promise to be much more discreet in public, if I may be ever so slightly less discreet in private,” Voltaire replied.

“I do have other business to attend to beside you,” Celestia told him. “For example, there are plenty of proposals I could have been reviewing while we were standing here.”

Voltaire looked around him. “Oh, is this my new room?” he asked. “How long have we been standing outside the door?”

“Fifteen minutes,” she said with a laugh. “Well, I suppose we should be going.”

“Wait!” interrupted Eveningstar, who had been quietly taking in the entire conversation. “Don’t you think he ought to know about his predecessor? So he knows what not to do?”

“Oh, he wasn’t so bad,” said the Princess, not sounding entirely convincing. “He made a lot of positive contributions to pony civilization.”

“The Roman (as we called him) visited Equestria one thousand, seven hundred and forty years ago,” Eveningstar explained to Voltaire. “According to the memoirs of his translator, he was an egotistical bore who made life miserable for everypony...I mean everyone around him. He was convinced that he was the greatest writer of his generation, for one thing. And he constantly whined about how his emperor had betrayed him.”

“And the questions...” Princess Celestia added in a too-innocent voice.

“...and he kept asking borderline-obscene questions about species-transformation spells...”

“Ovid!” exclaimed Voltaire, interrupting. “You actually got to meet Ovid?”

Eveningstar groaned. “You mean to tell me he actually was famous?”

“Oh yes, if not the greatest writer of his generation, I’d certainly rate him as a close second,” the human stated.

Eveningstar and the Princess exchanged a look. “And who do you think to be the greatest writer of your generation?” the translator asked Voltaire, having a strong suspicion what his answer would be.

“Oh, well when it comes to greatest writer in all of Europe...that would be me.”

“Of course,” Eveningstar replied sarcastically.

“Only Europe?” Princess Celestia asked with a mock-look of disappointment. “If I remember correctly, Europe was a not-especially large part of the Earth’s surface.”

“Well...I’m probably also the world’s greatest, but the fact of the matter is, I haven’t learnt Chinese yet, and until I have done that, I cannot be certain that there are none greater than me, only reasonably certain.”

Celestia sighed theatrically. “I suppose that will have to do.”

The tall creature staring at Genevieve was a human.

Her father had told her a lot about humans a year earlier, including what they looked like.

Considering that she was going to spend the rest of her life here, Genevieve wished that she had remembered much more about them than what they looked like, but at the time she was so excited about the fact that she was about to turn nine that she hadn’t paid much attention to her father’s explanations.

She wasn’t sure if humans were any more willing to give donkeys jobs than ponies were, but if they were, maybe she could get a job as a portrait painter. In that case, she needed to learn a lot more about what humans looked like.

Seeing as this particular human was standing in place and barking, she had a chance to get a good look at him for drawing purposes. Like his world, he was oriented at a right-angle to all that was right and proper. Creatures were supposed to be longer than they were tall. That’s how it was for donkeys, ponies, Zebricans, and griffons. Even mythological creatures like deer and horses were oriented that way. The only creatures that stood upright were birds (beautiful but unintelligent) and dragons (clever but utterly untrustworthy).

The human was fidgeting, looking frequently over his shoulder. This made it obvious that what at first seemed to be a gray coat was in fact gray clothing. Actually, as Genevieve looked closer, it appeared to be multiple layers of clothing. Well that seems pointless, thought the donkey. Unless...of course! The humans must be cold-blooded! It is rather cold in this...where am I, anyway? Is this a prison cell that the human in Equestria came from? Oh no! I must warn the Princess!

The donkey quickly assembled all the pieces of paper she had scattered earlier and then reassembled them as near as she could remember to the shape they had when she had arrived. Unfortunately, no matter how much she moved them around, the window to Equestria would not reappear. Well, thought Genevieve, a human made that window, so maybe I can make enough bits drawing portraits to pay a human to make another one.

It was at this point that a second human joined the first. Genevieve stopped to watch them. Having a pair of creatures before her meant the opportunity to observe social relations, and that sort of thing always made for more-lucrative portraits. For example, the way the first human sniveled at the second human’s barking made it plain that Number Two was the boss. Number Two wore more elaborate clothing, showing that fashion was one way in which rank was expressed. Number Two looked mad, and frustrated, but he never once struck Number One, and even reached out to comfort him when he saw that his outburst had frightened his subordinate. This showed that they were a caring race. Also there was something indefinably familiar about this second human. He didn’t look anything like the human she had briefly seen at the palace, or like the drawings of the Roman, but nevertheless, Genevieve felt like the name of this human was on the tip of her tongue.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Number Two turned his attention to Genevieve herself. Humans had really tiny eyes compared with equines, so it was a bit hard to read him based on facial expressions. The vocal cues, however, were still abundantly clear, perhaps even easier to read for the fact that she couldn’t understand the words he were saying—Blue Belle was perfect proof that people could say one thing and mean another, after all.. This time, he was lecturing, using his, claws, to gesture at different parts of her. Apparently, she was being used to settle an argument, in Number Two’s favor. At one point, Number Two uttered a human word that, for no reason that Genevieve could understand, made her think of her own name.

~ ~ ~

“...and finally, that donkey couldn’t possibly be the philosopher, because it is a she. A jenny, to be precise.”

“Oh, uh, of course,” said Edward, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “So, how did that get here, and where’s the philosopher?”

Jordan looked around, then rested his head in one hand in frustration. Other than the scattered papers on the floor, the cell looked as clean as it was last night. All that was missing was Voltaire, and all that was added was this young donkey. “Tell the others to keep their eyes open for the King’s ‘guest’ as they search for Ivan,” he said. After Edward had left, he studied the hat on the donkey’s head. The King had meant for that hat to be a joke at Voltaire’s expense, and there was no logical reason for anyone to wear it, unless maybe as a party favor. Perhaps she had been sent by the King for Jenny’s party, he thought, before his mind started to poke holes in this theory. And the secret agent sent to accomplish the task was so sneaky that he was able to break into the building undetected, sneak past the attendants while they were out searching for a missing patient, and then not only got this creature into the cell without making a sound, but also stole Voltaire out from under all our noses. Jordan laughed to himself. No, even better! This is the number one spy of Empress Elizabeth, a little girl, because who would ever suspect a girl of being a spy? She was sent to kidnap Voltaire, to use his philosophical musings as a secret weapon to conquer Prussia for Mother Russia! But then he turned Ivan against her, and turned her into a donkey, so that he was able to escape! She’s wearing the hat to tell me that’s she’s really human!

Or maybe she’s a demon in the form of a donkey. But that’s surely the most ridiculous theory of them all—right?

He looked over at the donkey, to see her deliberately put the pencil she was holding in her mouth into the satchel that was hanging from her neck, and then pull the drawstring shut. Then she looked up at him with an expression that was unmistakable: What now?

~ ~ ~

Genevieve was starting to get unnerved by the strange laughs that Number Two was making as he began to approach her with a length of rope. It was like he was going crazy or something.

Chapter 7

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 7

With some degree of trepidation, Eveningstar took Voltaire to the dining hall to get dinner. The arguments the Roman had had with his translator on the matter of diet were epic...and nauseating, and Eveningstar feared a repeat with her current guest. But Voltaire proved to have no problem whatsoever with a vegetarian diet.

The human looked around him with interest at all the other ponies around him. “Seeing the inner workings of a castle always fascinates me,” he told the unicorn before him at the table. “It’s like a city in miniature, but far more organized.” He looked around without saying anything for several moments. “So, question number two,” he then said. “How many different kinds of ponies are there?”

~ ~ ~

Eveningstar spent a few minutes explaining the differences between earth ponies, pegasai, unicorns, and winged unicorns, and how they each expressed their magic. The last two, in Eveningstar’s opinion, were the best.

“So are they species or merely breeds?” asked Voltaire. “It would seem unfair to rate one type over another if the higher types ever give birth to the lower, and vice versa.”

“Err...” Eveningstar began. Then she saw her unicorn sister and unicorn brother-in-law enter the dining room, followed by their earth pony son.

Voltaire looked in the direction his flustered guide was looking, and smiled victoriously.

The family of three approached, and the mare coldly introduced them: “I am Eveningstar’s sister, Morningstar Sparkle. This is my husband Fellstaff, and our son Cognizant. I was one of the ponies in the throne room when you made your rather theatrical arrival.” She had the opposite color scheme of Eveningstar, lavender coat and dark blue mane, but the same color eyes. Her cutie mark was the constellation of the Eagle. Fellstaff was the color of summer wheat, with a lighter yellow mane. His cutie mark was a “magic” symbol similar to that of the mages that Voltaire had met earlier. Finally, Cognizant was a slightly-orange tan in color, with a blond mane. Despite being nearly an adult, he lacked a cutie mark.

“A pleasure to meet a pony of such obvious importance, and her family,” said Voltaire, standing briefly so he could bow. “I am Voltaire.” So far the hypothesis established by the Princess’s example, that females dominated Equestrian society, was being proved by every pony he met—the last names seemed to be passed down by the mares instead of by the stallions, for instance. Even the all-male mages, who seemed to be pretty full of themselves when he had met them, were now cowering in a back table of the dining room, being mocked by a pair of teenage fillies for their poor table manners.

Morningstar took the “Voltige” pun even worse than her sister had. “Indeed,” she said with an arched brow. “And what circumstances bring you to Equestria?”

This was precisely the question that Voltaire didn’t want to answer; he had figured out that the ponies didn’t know that he had escaped from an insane asylum to get to Equestria. “Oh, I happened upon a magical item, and went where my curiosity led me,” he said, hoping that he wouldn’t be pressed for details.

“Is that what you were in the human world?” asked Morningstar, “an explorer?”

“No, I was Court Philosopher for King Friedrich the Great of Prussia.”

Morningstar’s manner visibly relaxed on learning that she was speaking to a fellow royal adviser. “Oh, well that’s different,” she said. “You came here as part of your duties.”

“Yes,” he said hesitantly, “That’s exactly right. Before that I was a writer.”

“Oh, I’m a bit of a writer myself,” said Fallstaff. “What sort of things did you write?”

“Plays, epics, histories,” Voltaire said. “I sought to reveal fundamental truths that would transform humanity forever.” He tossed this off as if all writers were like that. “What do you do, Morningstar Sparkle?”

“I am the Royal Historian of Equestria,” she said proudly. “Furthermore, I lead the Sparkle family, and uphold the legacy of my direct ancestor in the twenty-eighth generation, Star Swirl the Bearded!” *

“Oh dear!” exclaimed Voltaire, turning away and using one hand to shield his eyes. “I had no idea! Am I even allowed to look upon your most august visage?”

The two Sparkle sisters rolled their eyes, for different reasons.

* Author’s Note: The Sparkle family at this time suffered under the unfortunate misconception that they were the direct descendants of Star Swirl the Bearded, when in fact the direct line died out in the third generation. In fact, there were at least three pones who unknowingly had a closer line of descent than the Sparkles at this time, including Nightingale Needlepoint. The truth would be revealed less than fifty years after the events of this story (when the Sparkles tried to crush the upstart Needlepoints once and for all), and the resulting humiliation would eclipse the standing of the family all the way until the present day.

Morningstar pulled Eveningstar aside for a private conversation.

“Don’t you think you should keep that human away from the more public parts of the castle, at least before the Princess makes her official statement?” she asked.

“She never told me to do anything like that,” Eveningstar said.

Morningstar sighed. “An adviser to the Princess should not need to be told,” she said, then raced over and pulled her son away when she saw him talking to the human. “A word of advice, Voltige. Keep your distance from any pony without a cutie mark. You wouldn’t want anypony to get the wrong idea. They are very impressionable at that age, and liable to shape their entire lives based on a stray remark.”

“Oh, well I...”

Morningstar cut the human off. “Do you know what percentage of ponies have intoxication-related cutie marks? Seven percent. And do you know who was the first individual to inspire an intoxication-related cutie mark? Your predecessor. So don’t get any fancy ideas around my son. Come along, Cognizant, Fellstaff. We have a busy day tomorrow.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the two males said in concert, as they were led away by the mistress of the household.

Later that evening, Voltaire had his fitting with the Royal Tailor. Eveningstar had to be there, as his clothing was entirely different from the Roman’s, and so there were many new clothing related terms that had to be translated. She smiled when he asked that the trousers be made with reinforced knees, considering that so many of his conversations with ponies so far had been made on hands and knees so that his eyes could be down at their level.

Eveningstar noticed that the human got a misty look in his eyes when the white unicorn tailor had told him that her name was Nightingale (yes, that Nightingale). Voltaire had muttered the word “Rossignol” (which Eveningstar correctly deduced was “nightingale” in his native tongue) and she had gotten a brief mental image of a human in long skirts riding a horse, which she suddenly realized was a female (the human, I mean—the horse was a mare as well, but that is beside the point).

The dark blue unicorn had not even considered the possibility that humans came in two genders like ponies (despite the strong hint given by Voltaire at dinner), since the only Equestrian humans she had ever heard of had both been males. The other part of that vision, the fact that Earth had horses and that humans had enslaved them, was something that she knew she had to find out more about immediately—she was certain that Princess Celestia’s opinion of the human would change greatly if what she suspected was true. But she couldn’t let the human know that she had been able to see his thoughts so clearly, or he would find a way to keep her from seeing any more.

After Nightingale left, Eveningstar confronted Voltaire. “The Princess said that your world does not have magical ponies. Does that mean that you have non-magical ponies?”

“We have non-magical everything,” Voltaire replied. “Earth is a world almost totally devoid of magic, with that pencil as the only certain exception. But yes, we have ponies, and horses. Does Equestria have horses?”

“Horses are just mythological creatures on Equestria,” Eveningstar said quietly, her mind distracted by the horror of a world without magic. She then put aside her ruminations to continue her interrogation. “And what do humans think of the ponies and horses on their world?”

Voltaire looked down at the stone that made up the windowsill his arm was resting on. “What do you think of marble?”


“Or brick. You ponies do have brick, don’t you?”

“Of course we have brick!” Eveningstar retorted. “What are you talking about?”

“Horses and ponies on Earth are part of Human civilization, the same as marble and brick, and like marble and brick, they give a human status. If your house is made of brick and you use your horse to help you make a living, you’re a commoner. If your house is made of marble and you use your horse to be taller than all the commoners, you’re an aristocrat. Ponies on Earth are just toy horses. If you ride a pony, that means you are the child of an aristocrat, which is about the most-worthless position imaginable.” Of course, he did not mention that he was himself the child of an aristocrat, and rode a pony when he was young. The last thing he needed to win an argument right now were facts, after all!

“Are you saying that humans own ponies?!”

“They’re not like Equestrian ponies, Eveningstar,” Voltaire said, picking up a forehoof with his hands and looking her in the eye. “They are very bright creatures, but that is all that they are, creatures. They cannot speak, and they cannot think. Do you need to pull out your truth-telling coin in order to believe me?”

Eveningstar sighed. “No, I believe you,” she said. “But that is a rather unpleasant concept to swallow.”

Voltaire briefly thought of Gulliver’s Yahoos. “The idea of someday finding a world where your own kind are mindless beasts is not unknown to us humans,” he said. “If you don’t have any more questions, could you take me to your observatory? I’d like to see what the stars over Equestria look like.”

Eveningstar took Voltaire to a large domed room in the castle. Using her magic, she caused the dome to retract, revealing the night sky.

Voltaire looked around him at the empty room. “Don’t you have any telescopes?” he asked the astronomer. The sensation that caused him to involuntarily wink told him that they didn’t before she even had to reply.

“We unicorns use magic to focus light and give the illusion of closeness so that the planets and stars can more easily be measured.”

“So only unicorns can be astronomers, then?” Voltaire replied with a disapproving frown.

“Well, the first astronomers were pegasi, and they did quite well before unicorns took over and developed their own advancements.”

Voltaire sighed. “I have the feeling that this is a very common development in pony history. Some earth or winged pony has a good idea, but only the unicorns can truly bring it to fruition. It must be a depressing thought, knowing that there’s a limit to your usefulness.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire heard what he was sure was a very standard apology from the unicorn, about how very useful pegasi and earth ponies were, in their allotted spheres. She didn’t even seem aware of her own racism. Or “breedism”, to coin a term.

He politely excused himself from Eveningstar then and went out into the palace grounds to look at the stars for himself.

This day had gone on far longer than any dream the human had ever had before. His head was on fire from the long-delayed hangover, but he had to figure out where precisely he was.

In Micromegas, he had written about a visitor from another star. If he was on a world around another star, then it was probable that the night sky would be made up of different constellations, or perhaps tilted to put a different star over the North Pole, but it was exactly the way it had looked last night in Burr Lin. So he was probably on Earth, in the Northern Hemisphere. A place with no other humans for hundreds of miles. He figured he was either in the wilds of Siberia, or somewhere in North America away from the colonies, perhaps near the exit of the Northwest Passage. He could have decided between these two possibilities if he knew the location of the Moon in the night sky, but if it had risen, it must have been blocked from his sight by the palace, because he couldn’t see it.

In any case, the sight of the night sky amazed Voltaire, as it always did. Here was a wonder provided free to every creature in the universe, regardless of class or education. Contemplating its wonders always made him think of God.

He looked down to see Eveningstar standing beside him. “Do you ever pray to Celestia?” he asked her.

Eveningstar blinked as she tried to figure out where that question could have possibly come from. Then she looked up. Of course. “Yes, I pray to the Princess. Do you have a god that you pray to?”

Voltaire nodded. “We humans have a god. I...only have two prayers though.”

“What are they?”

“Well the first is a prayer that God make my enemies ridiculous. He has never failed me in that one. And my other prayer is...”

Voltaire was unable to finish that thought without becoming incredibly ill all over the grass. As soon as he had recovered, though, he became incredibly angry at the Princess, and demanded to see her instantly.

Chapter 8

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 8

The Night Court was an entirely different affair than the Day Court.

The lack of ponies was the main thing. The Throne Room of the Night was never witness to the crushed masses of the Throne Room of the Day—no fear of suddenly discovering you had claustrophobia. Instead, the Night Court was the home of punctuated boredom: nothing happened for hours, sometimes several nights in succession, but when a crisis did arise, it was inevitably exaggerated beyond all reason because it erupted out of such tranquility.

It was a good time to get one’s paperwork done.

Princess Celestia hadn’t slept in seven and a half centuries. It simply wasn’t necessary for her, after all. And during Night Court, she could allow herself to drift into a state between sleep and wakefulness that left her fresh to raise the Sun at its close.

...Or maybe she’d have to deal with the human and his ego tantrum, instead.

Voltaire stood there at the entrance of the Night Court, his hands involuntarily clenching and unclenching over and over again. In Celestia’s drowsy state, the rhythmic motions entranced her. Not for the first time, a fleeting pang of jealousy for not having such interesting appendages flashed through her relaxed thoughts.

Voltaire reached up and tried to adjust his wig to look presentable. Tried...and failed. “Your Grand Royal Highness,” he said through his teeth. “I most humbly request a brief audience in private, so that I might partake of your divine guidance.”

The Princess smiled lazily at the sheer number of words used to express such a simple question, without even managing to get to the question mark at all, which was sort of an odd way to...what was she thinking about again?

The night guards looked at each other with a smirk.

Oh, that’s right! Celestia thought to herself. He wants a talky. “You may speak, Voltaire,” she said breathily, her eyelids hooded. “As you can see, my advisers are gone, and I have no petitioners. Anything said in here will remain in strictest confidence, and my guards are absolutely trustworthy.”

Voltaire looked to the unicorn who was standing beside him, and gestured her towards the Princess.

Celestia watched with growing amusement as a nervous Eveningstar trotted right up to her and stretched up towards the Princess’s ear.

The winged unicorn brought her head down so that her Royal Translator would not have to strain herself. “How dramatic!” she whispered with a grin. “What does he want you to tell me?

He wouldn’t tell me,” Eveningstar whispered back. She looked over at Voltaire, who had thrown open the doors and was trying by stares alone to force the guards to leave.

If this is some kind of comedy by those two, it isn’t very good, Celestia thought petulantly. “Get on with it, Voltaire,” she said.

Voltaire responded by staring intently at Eveningstar and thinking two words very clearly in Latin.

Celestia imagined the thought, whatever it was, flying between Voltaire and Eveningstar, and dutifully followed it with her eyes. She then saw the unicorn fall back in shock as if she had been physically struck. “Eveningstar...?” she asked nervously.

Voltaire pointed imperiously at Celestia.

“I think this game’s gone on long enough, Voltaire,” Celestia warned. “You will tell me what this is about, right now.”

A very nervous Eveningstar finally leaned over and whispered Voltaire’s message into her monarch’s ear:

Mind control.

~ ~ ~

“Everypony out of the throne room,” Princess Celestia suddenly ordered. “NOW.”

She was wide awake. In fact, she suspected she was now more awake than she had been since the last time the dragons had threatened to invade.

Without a word, the four royal night guards marched out of the throne room.

“That includes you, Eveningstar,” the Princess told her adviser, raising her head to its full height in an attempt to intimidate her.

Eveningstar automatically started to walk away, then stopped herself so suddenly that she stumbled. “Nnnno,” she said, turning her head back. She looked like she had seen a ghost. “I want to know what he means. I think...I think I saw it happen, to him. He tried to tell me something, and his body turned against him. I...I would like an explanation.” She had an utterly lost expression on her face, as if she knew that what she was doing would ruin her life forever, but at the same time couldn’t stand to live with herself if she didn’t follow through. “Unless...unless you order me to leave.”

Voltaire closed the doors, then walked up to Eveningstar and rested a hand on her withers. “Well?”

Celestia sighed. “I can’t explain it without triggering it. A lot.” Two silver buckets, a table covered with a dozen glasses of water, and a pile of towels suddenly appeared before the human and the unicorn. Two pony-height buckets. “Are you really sure you want to go through with this?”

Eveningstar wearily raised herself on her hind legs and rested her forehooves on the rim of her bucket before giving her monarch a look of equal parts resignation and defiance.

Celestia looked over at Voltaire, who gave one look at the unicorn’s much larger belly before positioning his bucket a bit further away from hers. “Are you sure you don’t want to get a few ‘how dare you’s in first?” she asked him. “‘Freedom of thought’ vs. ‘loyal actions’...that kind of thing?”

Voltaire shook his head. “Get on with it.”

“Very well.” Celestia closed her eyes and concentrated for a moment. Before her, the doors locked and the windows were covered with a substance that looked like wool. The ears of the three in the room simultaneously popped, like the room had been suddenly teleported to the bottom of the ocean. Celestia opened her eyes and started her explanation with an odd twang in her voice—this was because another spell was clamping her nostrils shut. “The Roman told me much about the human world during his time here. It appeared to be a place where reason and understanding have a weak hold on human passions. As a result, humans frequently resorted to violence to solve their problems.

“Equestria is not like that. On Equestria, violence is never the permanent solution to any problem. But in the distant past, the ponies didn’t know this. The Hearth Warming Eve story you hear every year is a very polite version of the truth. Before the tribes united to found Equestria, they were at each other’s throats. Not for a few months, as the play implies, but for generations. Generations of hatred. Generations of betrayal. Generations of...” it comes... “...killing.”

Celestia turned her head and waited nearly a minute as the human and the unicorn before her emptied their stomachs into their respective buckets at hearing the forbidden word, and then reaching down for the glasses of water and towels to recover. Eveningstar’s reaction was somewhat delayed, as she first had to absorb the meaning of a word she had never heard before in her entire life, before she had the experience of reacting to it. When they were done, Celestia then turned back around and continued speaking as if nothing at happened. “When I first became princess, I was young, and naive. I was also foalish enough to believe that just by outlawing something, I could make it disappear forever. So I cast a spell so powerful that not even I could reverse it, a spell to prevent anypony in Equestria from even thinking about...”

“...pinking,” Voltaire interrupted, bringing up the first dueling term he could think of. “Let’s agree to call it ‘pinking’. And I notice you left yourself out of this little arrangement.”

“I may have been foolish, but I was never stupid,” Celestia replied. “I banned only two thoughts. Actually, I banned a few other things, but none of those are still in effect. That’s because my little ponies are very clever, and they managed to think of ways to break every one of my silly little prohibitions when they really needed to be broken. The same applies in this case. If a single pony ever figures out how to think about, um, pinking, without getting sick, then the prohibition will be broken for all ponies.”

Voltaire gave the Princess a long look of accusation and disapproval. “You really should have known better,” he chided her. “Did your parents never instill in you the notion that you should leave the free will of your subjects alone?”

At the mention of the words “your parents”, Eveningstar panicked, and started furiously shaking her head back and forth in warning. A confused Voltaire then looked over at Celestia, who was staring at him with utterly dead eyes. Assuming he survived the next five seconds, Voltaire congratulated himself on finding the one topic liable to drive Princess Celestia into a homicidal rage, a very useful lever to have against your monarch and employer. And then he threw up into the bucket for thinking about a homicidal rage.

“I misspoke, Your Royal Highness,” Voltaire pleaded on bended knee after cleaning up. “There are no words to cover my blunder. It is obvious that you have suffered enough for what you have done.” Please don’t kill me, he thought. And then he sprang back up so he could make another contribution to the bucket. Not that there was anything left to contribute by this point.

Eveningstar had been thinking to herself while the human was going through this, causing her to realize something. “Your Highness,” she said cautiously, “I think I can break the spell for you, if you’d like.”

“I’ve long since acknowledged the uselessness of my actions,” the Princess said. “I still believe that ‘pinking’ will never be a worthwhile thought for a pony, no matter how desperate the circumstance, but I have no right to prohibit the thought itself. If you think you can break the spell, Eveningstar, go right ahead.”

“Thank you, Your Highness. Voltaire, I need you to give me the word for ‘pinking’, the actual word, in every language you know.”

Every language?” he said in utter despair, before gathering his courage. “Very well. You know what it is in Latin. In French it’s tuer (hurk!), in Spanish it’s matar (ull!), in Italian it’s uccidere (huhhh!).” He stopped at this point, breathing heavily and wondering if he’d pulled a stomach muscle yet.

“Is there any relationship between those languages?” asked Eveningstar.

“Well, they are all descendants of Latin, the result of the breakup of the Roman Empire,” explained Voltaire.

“The Empire broke up?” asked Celestia. “How sad. The Pax Romana sounded like the closest thing to pony civilization that you humans ever managed to achieve.”

“It’s alright,” Voltaire replied, happy for a break from the recitation of misery. “We currently have a Holy Roman Emperor, which everybody says is even better than a plain old Roman Emperor. It’s just too bad the Holy Roman Empire is neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.”

“The three words you gave, they didn’t sound very related to the Latin word,” said Eveningstar.

“No, they didn’t. They appear to be approaching the concept from different directions. You see, the Latin caedo most closely resembles the English kill, while the Spanish matar is derived from Latin mori, meaning simply ‘to die’. The German töten, on the other hand...”

The Princess watched with silent awe as Voltaire effortlessly got through a minefield of words for “killing” without once getting sick, and apparently not even noticing.

“Oh, do you use the phrase ‘on the other hand’?” asked the translator with enthusiasm. “We use ‘on the other hoof’. What happens when you have more than two possibilities?”

“We take off our shoes,” Voltaire joked.

“Now töten actually sounds like the Griffon word for a natural death, hocken, literally a being coming to death,” said Eveningstar. She produced the “ck” sound by lightly striking her throat with a hoof. “Based on the usual rules of conjugation for that language,” she continued, “the bringing of death would be hockick, which as you can tell is an echo of the Equestrian hoyhie, yet one more sign of the deep interrelationship of the pony and griffon tribes from the beginning of time. So, Princess, how did I do?”

“Very impressive!” said the Princess. “You managed to break the spell on ‘killing’ with no unicorn magic used whatsoever.”

Voltaire involuntarily winced at hearing Celestia using the dreaded word, but then he relaxed when there were no ill effects. “So, what’s the other forbidden thought?” he asked.

Celestia’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, I’m not telling you that. It’’s absolutely disgusting, and unlike killing, there’s no reason to ever think about it, ever!”

Voltaire only had to ponder for a few moments before making another trip to the bucket. “Ah, that one!” he exclaimed.

“How did you think of it so fast?” Celestia asked incredulously.

“I couldn’t have survived puberty without it,” Voltaire replied. “And the Church agrees with you that it is a mortal sin. The Church hasn’t quite gotten around to damning Christians for eating ice cream, but they’re getting around to it.”

Celestia scowled. “Ugh, I get sick just thinking about it.”

“Ice cream?” Voltaire asked with a silly grin.

“No!” Celestia replied with a laugh. “You know what I mean.”

The human shrugged. “Fine, you can keep it forbidden if you really want.”

Eveningstar looked back and forth between the two of them. “I don’t really want to know, do I?” she eventually concluded.

After they had exited The Throne Room of the Night and walked back out of the hearing of the guard ponies roaming the halls, Eveningstar turned to Voltaire. “Now that you can say it, what was your second prayer?” she asked.

The human beside her hesitated. “You wouldn’t understand,” he said.

“Try me.”

“I told you that I revealed truths that would transform humanity,” he said without looking at her. “My second prayer is that I might die before the day comes that they start killing each other over those truths, in my name.”

Chapter 9

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 9

It really shouldn’t have surprised Jordan that the donkey was able to sabotage the knot he tried to tie in the rope around her neck. A hoof coming up at just the right time, and suddenly he was tying a slip knot instead of an overhand. He decided it would be best for him to pretend not to notice—if the jenny was just a donkey, she wouldn’t be clever enough to get out, and if she was...something else, then it might not be prudent to get on her bad side. He pulled the crucifix by its chain out from inside of his shirt so it rested where he could easily grab it. Just in case.

Taking the coil of rope in his hand, he started walking out the door, only to be pulled up short when the animal refused to move. This of course was the expected behavior for a donkey under the circumstances.

“Come on, jenny,” he addressed her in a friendly tone. “We’re going to a party. You’d like to go to a party, yes?” He finished with a great big smile—this had always worked well on his daughter when she was younger, and he figured it ought to work nearly as well on a domesticated animal.

The donkey tilted her head sideways at him as he spoke (shifting her ears to keep the paper crown from falling off), before finally deciding to follow him.

Of course, she didn’t smile back at him. That was physically impossible. He must have been seeing things again.

~ ~ ~

Genevieve allowed herself to be led out of the padded room and down a long, poorly-lit corridor, past doors with barred windows. The smells and sounds around her were very disconcerting. This was most definitely a human place and, she hoped, not typical of their kind. The rope around her neck was not a good sign. It meant that these humans didn’t trust her, or that they were worried that she might wander into places they didn’t want her to go. Even though the circumstances were completely different than the throne room visit she had been prepared for this morning, Genevieve realized that her father’s instructions to her applied just as well here, because the goal in both cases was to keep from making her hosts mad at her: be polite, watch and listen, and don’t speak unless spoken to. The language problem took care of the third instruction. In fact, Genevieve considered it most likely that she was being led to wherever the humans kept their version of the white cap.

She stopped short when she saw that the human she called Number Two was attempting to lead her down a narrow and poorly-built staircase. The human turned to address her, again using the bark that Genevieve was certain was the human translation of her name, but this time she refused to do as he wished. Instead, she leaned forward, grabbed the coil of the rope that he was holding in his foreclaw in her mouth, and gently tugged it free. Then she used her head to motion him to go down the staircase first. She had to repeat this motion many times before he got it, causing her to doubt his intelligence. But finally Number Two made his way all the way down the stairs, keeping his head turned and his eyes on her the entire way.

Once she was sure that the way was safe, she walked carefully down, keeping the rope in her lips. Then when she reached the bottom she passed the coil back to the human. Number Two quickly made to rub the rope off on his trousers, before looking surprised to discover that it was dry. Evidently, he knew nothing about how equine mouths worked. Either that, or he thought she was a drooler.

Number Two led the filly through another dark corridor and through a door into late-afternoon sunlight. Genevieve raised a forehoof to shield her eyes while she adjusted, then was led a short ways down a dirt path to a grove of trees. A blanket had been spread out next to a table with very narrow benches, and lying down on her stomach on the blanket was a miniature human with long brown hair. There was a pad of paper in front of her and some jars of paint, and she was dipping a brush into the paints one at a time in order to draw on the paper. On her head was a conical paper hat, brightly colored and decorated with unknown symbols. She was wearing what appeared to be a fancy pink dress.

It’s a baby human, and it’s her birthday! Genevieve realized. Then she looked around. And she doesn’t have any guests at her party! She looked back over at the human who had brought her here. He had what looked like a broken-hearted smile on his face, looking not at her, but at the girl human, at...his daughter? Genevieve understood.

“Happy birthday, little human!” she cried out. She hoped that the human would understand her feeling of goodwill, even if she couldn’t understand the donkey’s words. The human girl turned to look, and a great big smile broke on her face. She rushed over and hugged Genevieve, and Genevieve hugged her back.

In the corner of her eye, she saw Number Two talking to his employee, Number One. Number One was excitedly gesturing back to the large building she had come out of. In response, Number Two adjusted his clothing, and then tied the other end of Genevieve’s rope around a small tree before walking away.

Genevieve didn’t mind that she’d just been chained to this spot. She was here to make this human happy, and that was the only thing that mattered.

Besides, not only did she have the slip knot, she knew she could easily pull the tree up by the roots in about ten seconds if she really needed to.

Number Two didn’t understand equines at all.

Voltaire couldn’t sleep. He never was very good at sleeping in a strange place, and Equestria was about as strange as you could possibly get.

He reviewed his situation, and he didn’t like it. In Europe, he had an extensive network of correspondents and admirers, many of them quite influential. If somebody in power ever wanted to get back at him for something he had written, they would with any luck be held back by fear of the wave of protest that would erupt from his legion of friends.

He had no such legion here.

His existence depended on the goodwill of a very small number of individuals. Worse, they were individuals belonging to a species and a culture he knew next to nothing about. How did he know they didn’t turn savage on the nights of the full moon? What if they considered looking over your left shoulder to be the height of blasphemy? What if Princess Celestia got tired of him? He was awfully prone to tiring out monarchs.

Voltaire had his wits to protect him, and under normal circumstances that would be more than enough. But these were far from normal circumstances. He needed to form some backup plans. Lots and lots of backup plans.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire got out of bed and put his old clothes on. As he was opening the door to his apartment, he found that he had to push a bundle out of the way. That bundle turned out to be several days’ worth of new clothes made by Rossignol.

Voltaire smiled for a moment, imagining his Émilie trying to ride the Royal Tailor. Then he picked up the package and brought it inside.

A few minutes later, looking almost perfect in his own estimation, he finally exited his apartment. All that was missing was a shave. Considering that ponies appeared to never shave, this meant two things: under no circumstances should he allow a pony to shave him if he wanted to keep all of his blood inside of his neck, and there was a good chance that none of the ponies would even notice his stubble.

~ ~ ~

One thing that would be useful for any backup plan was information. Voltaire got directions to the public archives. Walking down shelves of cubbyholes each holding one to a dozen scrolls, the human picked one at random and unrolled it. He was disappointed to discover that the powers of the white cap apparently did not extend to written languages. He tried a few more scrolls, on the unlikely chance that he had picked the only work of gibberish in the collection.

He could certainly ask a pony to read one or more scrolls to him, but part of the point of going into a library in the middle of the night was to find out things that you didn’t want anybody else to know you knew. He figured he could ask Eveningstar to accompany him here later, but for the most part, this part of his plan was a dead end.

~ ~ ~

The next thing to do was to learn the layout of the castle. He doubted that he’d discover any of the secret passages that all castles had on his first night of exploring, but then again, he might get lucky.

On his travels he made the acquaintance of the night cooks, the night cleaning staff, and the night dentistry crew. He got away from the last group as fast as humanly possible.

He was walking by the entrance to the guard barracks when the back of his leg was bumped by a small object. He looked down to see a rubber ball on the ground. As he picked it up, his eyes were caught by those of a small dog that was looking at him expectantly.

“Is this yours?” he asked the dog.

At this point, he would not have been surprised in the slightest if the dog had replied to him in Equine, followed by a string of curses to punish him for his patronizing tone. Well, he might have been surprised a little.

“I hope you don’t think dogs can talk,” remarked Captain Hardheart. “Because if you are, that would make you even stupider than you look.”

“Good morning, Captain,” said Voltaire, standing up. He glanced back and forth between the waiting dog and the pony guard. “Company mascot?” he asked.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” the stallion replied. “Steelteeth here wants his substitute toy back.”

Voltaire bounced the ball a couple of times off of the floor, driving the dog utterly bonkers. “Substitute toy?” he asked.

“Yeah, he used to have a genuine unicorn throwing ring. Floated at the perfect height for throwing, came back to you if you whistled, and tasted like the finest corn meal...or so I’ve been told.”

“Of course,” replied Voltaire with a knowing smile. “What happened to it?”

“Somepony stole it. One of my stallions tells me he saw it snatched right out of thin air a couple of weeks ago. Like it had been pulled into another world. You wouldn’t happen to know what happened to it, do you?

Voltaire knew that look quite well from human guards. When one of them was in that particular mood, it didn’t really matter if you were innocent or not of whatever they were accusing you of.

Voltaire pulled out his watch. “Look at the time!” he exclaimed. “I need to head over to that place to do the thing, with somepony really, really important!”

“Uh huh,” said Captain Hardheart skeptically.

Voltaire took another look at the watch, and then glanced out of a nearby window. The darkness of the night was fading, and it would soon be dawn.

Voltaire smiled craftily. “On second thought, do you think the Princess would allow a humble visitor during the raising of the Sun?”

Chapter 10

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 10

Dear Aunt Celestia, Princess of Equestria, Guider of the Sun, you know the rest,

You said you were worried who else might read this letter, so we’ll be vague in answering your request:


Oh wait, you’d like us to be more specific? Alright, how about this:

Hay no.

This is your problem, you take care of it.

Also, we’ve got a lot better things to do than sit around for a few hundred years wearing your shiny jewelry.

Can’t you use some of your own ponies? You’ve got jillions of them, after all. With all the time you have, you ought to be able to breed yourself six superponies that are so emotionally pure that you can have fun inducing their nervous collapses after you’re done with them.

Or was that too specific for you?

Let us say this again, for the ten thousandth time: We are not Equestrians. We live in our own kingdom, and we want nothing to do with your kingdom.

Got it?

With the usual love and affection,

~~Your Fancy Alicorn Cousins

P.S. Our wizards sort of caused a teeny-tiny catastrophic flood that’s put the entire island under two pony-heights of water. How about you use that sun of yours to dry us out?

Princess Celestia rolled her eyes as her magic rolled up the scroll she had been reading. Family, she thought to herself. Can’t live with them, can’t leave them under two pony-heights of water. She made a quiet announcement of the adjustment to the daily schedule that would be necessary to literally bail her cousins out of their predicament, and a messenger was sent to keep the populace from panicking. They’ll probably panic anyway, Celestia thought darkly, but at least I tried.

The Princess normally requested solitude at sunrise and sunset. She claimed this was to help her concentration, but it was not for the reason the ponies thought. She didn’t need concentration to control the sun, she needed concentration to keep from thinking about Luna while she was raising and lowering her night. However, there were always exceptions, and the knowledge that the human was going to barge in here sooner or later to make sure she could do what she claimed meant that she might as well have company, for however long it took before he thought to do it.

Voltaire was not quite as bright as Celestia had hoped, because he had not shown up for the first sunset after his arrival. However, he did manage to show up fifteen minutes before the first sunrise, so that counted for something.

Celestia caught the human trying to sneak onto the long patio while she was busy greeting the Diamond Dog ambassador while simultaneously keeping Prince Blueblood and Morningstar Sparkle’s petty sniping at each other from getting any worse. Eveningstar was pretending to study the countryside below to keep from getting involved, and she was joined in this endeavor by Morningstar’s son Cognizant. The Princess pretended not to notice Voltaire, in that way that made it abundantly clear that she did notice after all.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire was about to make his way over to Celestia’s company, when his eyes were caught by the setting Moon.

It was enormous.

Furthermore, it glowed a bright white, despite the late hour.

And it had the image of a unicorn’s head on it.

No!” Voltaire whispered to himself in shock. He continued his protestations in his mind: No, no, no, no!

He wasn’t on Earth. All certainties flew out of his head.

He could be on another planet in Earth’s solar system, although that was unlikely.

He could be on a world orbiting a dim star close to Earth’s sun, although that was even less likely.

Perhaps indeed he was in the Fairy Realm. The Irish, for example, had held that the Fae Folk lived on a world entirely separate from Earth, connected by only a few magical caves. That would mean that this was a world made to look like Earth, right down to the constellations in the sky, but it was not Earth at all. A world ruled by magic...did Newton’s physics even apply here?

Voltaire thought back to the rubber ball, the way it had bounced off of the floor. For that matter, every interaction he had had with the physical world where he didn’t see or feel an obvious magical influence matched what he had experienced at home.

Still, moving a ball of light across the sky each day must be an immense magical endeavor, and the Princess had not contradicted him when he told her the size of the Sun.

He had to know for sure.

~ ~ ~

“...well of course I know about the amniomorphic spell!” snapped Morningstar. “Star Swirl the Bearded created all of the forms of magic known to ponykind!”

Prince Blueblood gestured at the figure of the Princess, who was standing behind him with her eyes closed and her horn glowing. “All forms?” he asked with a grin.

“Err, well...” the mare said in confusion. “Well...yes! Sparkles have been known to raise and lower the Sun in Equestria’s distant past.”

In a corner, Blue Belle silently watched the conversation. She was both trying to stifle a yawn, and keep a running tally of every time her father succeeded in outwitting his rival or vice versa. The Prince was winning the tally, as usual.

“A body at rest, stays at rest,” stated a voice at the other end of the platform from the unicorn filly. She got up to take a closer look. “A body in motion, stays in motion at a constant velocity, following a straight line. Either state of action can only be changed by an application of an external force.”

It was the human who had appeared in the audience chamber and was somehow responsible for Genevieve’s disappearance.

Why do I remember her name? Blue Belle thought to herself. She then positioned herself so she could observe this strange creature without being spotted.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire was deliberately not trying to talk over the other ponies, but as he had predicted, they had all stopped their conversations to hear him talk, including Eveningstar and Cognizant, so he continued reciting Newton’s Laws of Motion.

“The action of a force upon a body will be in the form of an acceleration. This acceleration will be in the direction of the force applied, directly proportional to the amount of force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the body.”

Now to get to the good part. “Gravity is the name of the force that causes all bodies to be attracted to one another. This force is directly proportional to the product of the masses of the two bodies, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the centers of mass of the two bodies. Between two ponies, this force is negligible, but between a planet and its Sun, it is enough to force one of them into an elliptical orbit around the other.”

“Yes, that sounds about right,” said the Princess, making her way through the small crowd to reach him. “By the way, what took you so long?”

“I wasted the afternoon trying to strike up a conversation with a dog,” Voltaire said with a self-deprecating smirk. He didn’t understand the hurt looks some of the others gave him for this remark.

“I don’t remember the Roman ever expressing such understanding of celestial dynamics,” said the Princess. “Has there been an advance in human understanding of Natural Philosophy?” She was so intent on their conversation that her horn was no longer lit up. Voltaire saw by the glow on the eastern horizon that the Sun was just about to rise. If Celestia was a fraud, then he only needed to distract her for a few more minutes to see for himself if the Sun would rise without her theatrics.

“Yes,” Voltaire said in reply to the Princess’s question, “although it might be more accurate to refer to the modern pursuit of knowledge as Natural Science rather than Natural Philosophy. The latter term is based on the assumption that knowledge can best be obtained through the imagination. Unfortunately, we humans are capable of imagining a great many things that just aren’t so, and it turns out that the true nature of reality sometimes fails to follow purely human notions of what should be or not.

“The method we use now is mathematical. We study how the universe works, measure its properties, and determine a formula that best matches what we see. Expressed in Equine instead of mathematically, these formulae are known as Laws of Nature. This is the method perfected by the great genius Isaac Newton.” He expressed the name in Equine using English puns: Eye-sack New-ton. Rather amusingly to Voltaire, this double pun referenced two of the scientist’s greatest contributions: to optics and to the understanding of weight.

“Your human ‘Laws of Nature’ are flawed,” observed Morningstar. “Objects in motion certainly do not remain in motion. They slow down and halt all on their own.”

“On the contrary,” said Voltaire. “They are slowed down by the friction in the air, or to a greater degree by friction against the ground.”

“And where do you escape either of those?” Morningstar asked.

“In space,” said Celestia. “The atmosphere of this planet fades into nothingness thousands of ponyheights above us. Beyond that is the vacuum.”

The other ponies all looked up nervously at this revelation, imagining running out of air if some magical mishap ever landed them too high above the earth’s surface.

“Your law of gravity is even more flawed,” said Prince Blueblood. “How massive is this world, compared to the Sun?”

“The Sun is about 300,000 times more massive,” answered the Princess.

“By your law, we should be orbiting the Sun, where precisely the opposite is the true situation.”

“That’s because of the powerful magic exerted by Princess Celestia every day,” said Eveningstar, stepping forward to stand beside her monarch. “A magical catastrophe centuries ago caused the Sun to be permanently repelled from the Earth. Only the daily application of magic keeps it in its place. It would require the same amount of magic to put our world around the Sun as it would be to pull the Sun around Equestria. Since the latter is a lot easier to control magically, that is what the first unicorn Sun mages did, and that is what our Princess does now.”

Celestia nodded. “Magically, you can get away with a great deal of subtlety. I am not breaking that gravity law of Mr. Newton, in fact I’m using it. When I cast my spell, it’s as if I become as massive as a million Suns for just an instant, but because it’s magic, only the Sun can feel that mass.”

Voltaire looked distinctly uncomfortable for a few seconds, before finding a suitable comeback. “So I take it that joking about your weight is off-limits, then?”

Only Celestia dared to laugh at that joke.

~ ~ ~

Blue Belle took careful note of everypony’s reactions. Her father had always told her that he was very nearly the equal of his Princess, but she had never seen him on as familiar a basis with Her as this human was. And they had only just met!

~ ~ ~

“You are truly a human of many talents, Voltaire!” Celestia proclaimed.

“Oh, my knowledge of all things scientific is quite recent,” he replied. “I first became interested in Newton when I learned that the English had made him, a mere commoner, master of their currency.”

“Oh, what did it look like?” asked Cognizant. “I have a denarius that the Roman left behind.”

Voltaire began to search his pockets. “I don’t have any English pounds,” he said, “but I think I have...yes. This is a Prussian Reichsthaler, the currency of the country I came to Equestria from.” And he showed the ponies the very coin this author would gaze upon two and a half centuries later. “As I was saying, the English held this Newton in very high regard, for working out the inner workings of the universe. When he died, they gave him a burial place beside their own royalty. When I heard that, I knew that I had to understand this man’s knowledge if I were ever to understand the world. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the mathematics behind his laws before I met my teacher, Émilie du Châtelet.”

For a moment, Celestia saw a look in Voltaire’s eyes that she had never seen before. Well, she had seen it before, but never from him. It was a look she got a lot from her ponies: the look of one looking rapturously at their goddess.

She saw him shake himself out of his stupor and look around him. “I suppose you can call her Busybee in Her Hive *,” he said. “It’s not an exact translation, but I think it will do.”

* Translator’s Note #1: Just as with “Voltaire” and “Voltige”, “Émilie” was written as “Busybee” throughout the original Equine version of this story, but has been corrected for this translation.

“Well this is interesting,” Morningstar observed. “The Roman was quite convinced that no female human could ever be an intellectual.”

“Growing up, I always suspected that a woman could be just as smart, just as brave, just as worthy as a man,” said Voltaire. “But I never met a woman who was all of those things before I met Émilie.”

“Describe her to us,” said Celestia.

“Émilie was the smartest person I ever met. Any subject she set her mind to, she could learn. Even when the only texts she could find were mangled translations, and the only people she could get to teach her were hopeless incompetents, she somehow always managed to extract the truth and end up an absolute master of the subject. When all of France’s intellectuals united behind a misled French rival of Newton, Émilie not only mastered Newtonism, she wrote the first translation of Newton’s masterpiece into French, and together she and I wrote a popularization of Newton that converted the masses to the side of truth. And she was not just a genius in the sciences: she was also an expert at economics and history. Her concentration was unsurpassed, and so was her ability to bring her brilliant imaginings to life. She was the Scientist writ large, and the world lost its most precious jewel on the day she died.” As he finished the eulogy of his dear wife*, he lowered his head in remembrance.

All of the ponies remained silent, giving the human his moment.

* Translator’s Note #2: I won’t tell the author if you don’t.

“You know,” Princess Celestia said finally, “I think I really would have liked to have met her.”

“She would have made a good Sparkle,” admitted Morningstar grudgingly.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire looked up at the eastern horizon. It hadn’t changed since the last time he had looked, and that had been an awfully long time ago. Nervously, he consulted his watch. “Um, Your Highness...” he began.

“What’s that?” asked Cognizant, peering intently at the timepiece.

“It’s a watch,” Voltaire quickly explained. “Your Royal Highness...”

Celestia smiled at Voltaire. It was a most unsettling smile.

“What does it watch?” asked Cognizant.

“Time. It watches time,” said Voltaire impatiently, his eyes on the Princess. “Your Grand Royal Highness...”

“How does it work?”

“Springs expand, gears turn, hands turn. Here!” And with that he took the watch off of its fob and tossed it over his shoulder. Cognizant nearly leapt over the railing to catch it. “Your Highness, aren’t you forgetting something?”

“Am I?” she asked, with that same infuriating smile.

“Your...your primary job function. The reason the ponies let you wear that nice jewelry?”


“...the Sun! You need to raise the Sun!”

Celestia looked casually over her shoulder. “I suppose I should...” she mused. “Is it really that important to you?”

Voltaire rushed over to the eastern railing. “What land lies under the Sun right now?”

“The Island of Prance,” answered Morningstar. “Home of the Princess’s ancestral family.” She smiled evilly before continuing. “I wonder if the inhabitants have started igniting yet?”

If Celestia had any doubts that allowing the ponies to start thinking about killing would not have some unpleasant consequences, the spontaneous invention of gallows comedy by the Royal Historian was more than enough proof.

Voltaire dropped to his knees and hugged the Princess’s withers. “Please!” he pleaded. “For the love of ponyanity!”

Morningstar...” warned the Princess.

“Alright, so I may have been exaggerating a little...” the unicorn grudgingly admitted.

Celestia gently brushed Voltaire aside and walked up to the eastern railing. “I believe the flooding problem is now taken care of,” she announced, before closing her eyes and causing her horn to light up.

As Voltaire watched, the horn became brighter and brighter, with an equal amount of light leaking out from under the Princess’s eyelids and from the end of every hair on her body. When she became utterly blinding, there was a sudden indefinable lurch, and the Sun sprang into the sky, stopping nearly ten degrees above the horizon.

~ ~ ~

“Do you believe in my cutie mark now?” Celestia said with a smile as she turned back around...

...only to see everybody else prone on the ground. Including Voltaire.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire heard something that might have been a gasp, and might have been a sob.

He dared a glance up at Her. At Celestia, Princess and Goddess of Equestria. And then he stared at Her quivering eyes. No, she was not a “Her”. She was a “her”, and she deserved to be treated as well as the best “hers” he had ever known.

Voltaire got up, and calmly dusted himself off. “Ha, ha,” he said dryly. “You got me.”

The Princess smiled weakly at him. The other ponies slowly got to their hooves, and looked uncertainly at Voltaire. All except for the unicorn filly that he supposed was Blueblood’s daughter—she was staring at him with a fixed concentration that he had last encountered in the mirror during his childhood. It was the look of a child who was realizing for the first time the depth of the lies he or she had been raised under. He would need to keep an eye on this one, Voltaire told himself.

“With your permission, Princess, I would like to retire to my room and reclaim the two days of sleep that I have missed. Afterwards I will be happy to perform any duties as your adviser that you would wish of me.”

“But of course, Voltaire,” she replied, inclining her head slightly.

“Oh, you are adviser of Princess Celestia?” asked an oddly-accented voice the human had not heard before.

He turned to face a black-coated bipedal creature nearly as tall as he was, unclothed except for an open blue vest and a gem-studded collar around his neck. The creature’s arms and hands were disproportionately large, and used to support its weight like that of a gorilla. Its head was undoubtedly that of a dog.

“This is Noir,” said Morningstar, “ambassador for the Diamond Dogs.”

“Ambassador Noir,” Voltaire said with a bow and a flourish. “It is an honor to be in your noble company. I do apologize most profusely over my earlier remark. I had not been informed about your people.” A talking dog, he meanwhile thought sourly to himself. Captain Hardheart, I’m going to get you for this!

Noir laughed heartily. “That alright,” he replied. “We Diamond Dogs are exception to rule.” Then the smile left his face as he said, “but don’t call Noir noble. Dragons are the only noble we know and thanks to griffons, now we are free. Free and equal.”

“Hmm...” Voltaire mused. “A people without nobility. I do hope your stay in Celestia’s palace is not very short, because I’d like to have a long talk with you sometime about your government, after I’ve had some sleep.”

“Diamond Dogs proud of our government,” Noir said, slapping his chest with one meaty paw. “Noir would like that talk!”

Chapter 11

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 11

Back at the asylum, Jordan caught up with the art expert from last night as he was trying to sneak his way up the stairs. “Count Algarotti!” he called out. “What a pleasure to see you again so soon! Have you got another painting for me?”

The Italian turned, a look of distaste on his face. “I don’t really need your help, Charles,” he said. Jordan saw that he had the spare set of keys for the inmates’ doors in his hand. He suddenly wrinkled his nose and started to sniff the air.

Jordan quickly tried to come up with an excuse for why the smell of donkey could be found in the stairway of an insane asylum.

“Isn’t your girl a little young to be wearing perfume?” Algarotti asked.

Jordan took a cautious sniff himself. As if he needed more proof that the donkey outside was an unusual animal, it appeared that not only did she wear perfume, but she also bathed regularly. “Err...yes?” he said uncertainly.

“Whatever,” Algarotti said with a shrug. “I’m just here to see the patient in room 108.”


“Yes. Has he recovered from his injuries?”

“He’s well enough to see visitors, I suppose,” Jordan replied. “Are you sure you wouldn’t feel safer accompanied by an attendant?”

Algarotti raised one eyebrow as he lifted a corner of his coat, revealing the holstered pistol tied around one leg. “I think I can take care of myself, Charles. Now run off and fill out some forms, or whatever else it is you civil servants do for fun.”

Having no further recourse, Jordan bowed briefly, and then backed his way out of the staircase without tumbling to his death.

~ ~ ~

Having gotten rid of the peasant, Algarotti quickly made his way into cell 108. The inmate turned to look at him from his bed. He looked like one large bruise, but the count had far more important things to dwell on.

He walked up to the bed and pulled a large rubber ring out from inside his coat. “What is this? Where did you get it?” he demanded in the patient’s native tongue.

“It’s a dog toy!” Oscar explained with a laugh, before settling into a severe coughing fit. “I had one just like it when I was a boy. You throw it, and the dog fetches it.”

“No dog toy can do this,” Algarotti replied with a growl as he dropped the ring. The ring seemed to fall like a feather before coming to a halt in mid-air, floating at knee height.

“That’s because you’ve got hands,” the inmate explained. “The unicorns put a spell on it to make it float, to make it easier for them.”

“The unicorns...” Algarotti said to himself as he looked around at all the drawings on the walls of the cell. He rushed over and started minutely examining them. “They’re real? What else can they do?”

“What can’t they do would be the better question. I’ve seen them taking on beasts much larger than themselves, and winning easily. I didn’t used to believe in magic, but I do now, and I know that they are the masters of it.”

“You said you were able to spy on them, that you created windows with a magic pencil?” asked Algarotti.

“Not just windows,” said Oscar, sitting up with some difficulty. “Portals. How do you think I was able to steal that toy? But that’s not all. The pencils have different powers for different species. For humans, it’s portals. A monkey once stole my pencil and waved it in the air a few times, summoning a tornado.”

“Amazing! How did you get that pencil?”

“I made that pencil, from a rock made of pure graphite. I found it in the Coppenbrügge outside Hamelin. The outside of it looked pretty burnt—maybe it fell from the sky. Once I found out what it could do, I turned the whole rock into magic pencils. I spent my family’s fortune trying to get somebody, anybody to believe me, but not even the evidence of their own eyes was enough to believe the words of a mere charcoal burner, and I finally ended up here.”

“Well I believe you,” said Algarotti. “And I can make King Friedrich believe you.” He gestured at the wall. “Based on these drawings, the unicorns are fairly primitive. We’ll probably be able to find something to trade them in return for their magic. The King is a very ambitious man, and he’s willing to reward quite generously for anyone who can give him an edge in his rivalries with the other powers of Europe. Now if you just give me your pencil, I can take it and the dog toy to the King.”

“I haven’t got it. Your friend with the permanent smirk on his face stole it from me when the King’s guards attacked me. The rest of them are all buried in a pit in Brunswick, in a spot only I know.”

“Voltaire!” Algarotti cried out in rage. “Why must he always take what I want? Wait right here.”

~ ~ ~

The human raced out of room 108, not even bothering to lock the door behind him. He flipped through the keys as he walked, stopping dumbfounded at the open door of room 122. Voltaire was gone, the room smelled of the same perfume from the stairway, and the floor was scattered with pieces of paper.

Pieces of paper with pencil marks on them.

~ ~ ~

Back outside, Genevieve and the human girl were chasing each other around the tree. The human had removed the donkey’s leash as soon as her father had disappeared, without Genevieve even having to use any body language to ask her to do so.

Eventually they got tired, and threw themselves down on the blanket, laughing. The human sat up and started speaking in her language at a rapid clip, gesturing extensively at the world around her. Genevieve really wished she knew what the girl was saying, but at the very least, it must have been something happy, because she hadn’t stopped grinning since they had been introduced to each other. She ate a little more of the cake that the girl had given her.

The human then beckoned the donkey to her side as she got back to work on her drawing. The picture she was working on depicted the copse of trees they were resting under. A human figure in a pink dress, obviously the girl, was sitting at the table, with a gigantic cake in front of her with lots of candles. In front of her were dozens of happy humans. One of them was probably the girl’s father, and Number One could be seen as well. There were tall humans, and short humans, and a human with really fancy clothes and a big fancy crown. Most interesting to Genevieve, there was a sort of pegasus-human, which is to say a human sitting on a cloud. She wore a long white dress, and looked down on the party with pride.

All of this was done in a fairly-realistic style, but contrasting with that was a large cartoon speech bubble which floated in the sky, containing the symbols “HERZLICHEN GLÜCKWUNSCH NACHTRÄGLICH!!!” There was a “tail” coming out of the bubble for each human in the drawing, other than the girl, indicating that all of them were saying the phrase.

As the donkey watched, the human added her to the drawing, complete with her satchel and her paper crown.

Just then, she heard Number Two happily call out her name. As she turned her head, she saw the girl get up and run into the arms of her father. She couldn’t be sure, but it appeared that she and the girl shared the same name. In a weird sort of way this made sense, as Genevieve had the strong feeling that she had known this little human for a lot longer than a single afternoon. Seeing that the older human had not yet turned his attention to her, the donkey walked over to the rope, slipped her head in the loop, and carefully pulled it snug.

She looked down at the human drawing, and had a nagging feeling that something was missing. After studying it for several moments, she suddenly realized what was the problem: there was no tail connecting the speech bubble with the drawing of Genevieve. Seeing that the paint jars were too small for her to use her hooves to paint, and with the only paintbrush currently in the human’s claw, the donkey reached into her satchel, removed the pencil she had found on arriving in the human world, and added the missing pair of lines.

Suddenly she sat down and sneezed loudly. For an instant, the world seemed to float before her eyes, then it settled back down again.

“Bless you!” said the human father.

“Thank you,” said Genevieve, before putting a hoof to her throat. Something was definitely wrong with her voice.


Genevieve looked over to see that the man had fainted.

The surprised donkey looked down at the drawing, and found she could now understand the words in the speech bubble: they said “HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY!!!”

“You can talk!” the human girl exclaimed.

“Yes,” the little donkey replied. “I suppose I can.”

Chapter 12

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 12

Voltaire was dreaming, and for once it was a good dream.

He was sitting in his box at the Comédie-Française and basking in the applause of a thousand rapturous Parisians over the successful premiere of his new play, A Citizen of Canterlot.

In the play, Sparkle, rebellious daughter of Queen Celestia, fell in love with the British dragon Hornpipe, despite the fact that such a love was the only thing imaginable that the Queen had expressly forbidden. Hornpipe attempted to elope with Sparkle, but they were interrupted by Blueblood, the High Priest, who secretly wanted Princess Sparkle for his very own. Unfortunately, the battle between Blueblood and Hornpipe ended up revealing the reason for Queen Celestia’s ban: Sparkle was in fact nothing more than an enchanted yew tree, brought to life when the Queen learned that she could not have foals of her own. And wouldn’t you know it, Celestia arrived to tearfully lift the ban just as her adopted daughter went up in smoke before her very eyes...

It is the height of madness to expect a dream to make sense, but may I offer up a few notes: First, all the characters were played by humans in pantomime horse costumes, and yet by some miracle the audience was crying at the end instead of rolling on the floors. Second, the character of Sparkle was quite literally an amalgamation of Morningstar and Eveningstar Sparkle, being Morningstar on her right side and Eveningstar on her left side. Third, Celestia was a queen in this play and not a princess, because French drama of the time demanded that the love interest always be a princess. Fourth, if you think the plot is ridiculous, Voltaire thought so too, but of all the different kinds of plays he had tried to write in his career, doomed love stories always worked best at the Comédie-Française. Fifth, Voltaire had a bad habit of thinking he was being subtle every time he added a dig at organized religion to one of his works. And finally, an adult British dragon named Hornpipe, who is somehow small enough to romance a pony...did I mention that this was a dream?

Voltaire probably would have allowed the cries of “Author! Author!” in his head to go on for hours, but gradually he came to notice that the sounds of the audience were accompanied by an odd sort of “bwop!” sound, at first one at a time, but soon building to a virtual chorus of “bwop!”s.

The human realized that he was dreaming, that the sound was coming from outside of the dream, and woke up. Cautiously, he opened his eyes...

...only to see dozens, if not hundreds, of disembodied pairs of pony eyes floating above his bed. As he watched, yet another pair of eyes sprang into existence, accompanied by another “bwop!” sound.

~ ~ ~

The philosopher might have died of a heart attack right then and there, if he did not happen to remember a passing remark Eveningstar had made to him when she was originally showing him the features of his rooms: “Legally, we can’t prevent any curious pony with the ability from scrying you remotely, but this suite has been enchanted with an illusion spell so you will know when you are being watched.” It turned out to be the creepiest illusion spell ever, sure, but it did its job.

Voltaire leapt out of bed, slapped the white cap haphazardly on his head, and started waving his arms wildly through the illusory eyes.

“Get out! Get out! Get out!” he ordered. It took a few repetitions, but eventually he got all of his watchers to leave him alone.

And that was how Voltaire knew that the Princess had officially released word of his existence while he had been asleep.

Voltaire checked the door to see if he got another present, and found the rudimentary shaving kit he had asked Rossignol for before turning in a day ago. One top of that was his watch. It took a moment for Voltaire to even remember that he had lent the object to Morningstar’s son at their last meeting. Checking it, Voltaire saw that he had plenty of time to get to the council room before the start of the meeting he had a standing invitation to. Of course, that was assuming that Cognizant had not allowed the watch to run down, but that didn’t seem to be the case: not only was the watch wound, but it appeared to have been well-oiled.

Voltaire failed to note the fact that he had never lent the watch key to Cognizant.

Voltaire wondered a bit about Cognizant while he shaved himself. He wondered how often unicorns had earth pony children, and whether there was any sense of shame attached to that occurrence. Of course, with the power wielded by the Sparkle family, it was possible that no pony dared express their disapproval. And then there was the matter of the earth pony’s lack of a cutie mark. This fact could be seen as a form of rebellion by Cognizant, a refusal to take up the family business of political domination (or magic—in this world, they were evidently one and the same). If so, then he and Voltaire already had a lot in common.

After trading his nightgown for a suit, Voltaire began to make his way down the halls and up the stairs that led to the Princess’s council room. The suit he had chosen was a bright orange in color. Among humans, it was reminiscent of some of the more desperate courtiers at Versailles, but among ponies, it seemed slightly drab. Even Voltaire’s wig was slightly orange, thanks to a jar of tinted talcum powder that the Royal Taylor had included with his clothes earlier. For a pony who knew nothing of modern human fashion a couple of days ago, Rossignol was a remarkably quick and imaginative study. (Voltaire considered that he should probably start calling her “Nightingale”, since the French version of the name made him think of Émilie too much.)

My little ponies, my little ponies, hm, hm, hm, hm, hm...

Voltaire stopped in his tracks at hearing the faint singing of Princess Celestia. He cautiously backed up and took a peek into the small room where she was standing. The Princess had her back to him, and was studying a large unrolled scroll of paper, which consisted of multiple genealogical tables. She was using her magic to wield a feather pen to add new entries to the table, with an amused look on her face.

Voltaire stepped away from the doorway and sighed. He had been trying to think of a way to accomplish the goal that he believed she and he shared, to bring her metaphorically down out of the clouds so she could be treated as a deserving mortal instead of as an implacable force of nature. Well and good for an enlightened monarch, but she certainly wasn’t helping things any on her end by referring to her subjects as “my little ponies” and maintaining breeding charts of them where anypony could see.

If he was going to get through to these ponies, if he was going to get through to the Princess, he needed a way to bypass their emotions and appeal straight to their reason. He needed something clever. He needed something imaginative. He needed something...theatrical.

With a snap of his fingers, the human significantly hurried his pace.

Chapter 13

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 13

Voltaire arrived at the antechamber of the Royal Council Room to find the council waiting outside, while a children’s chorus was singing inside. Passing him on the way out, he saw the Royal Tailor, Nightingale Needlepoint, talking with a stallion unicorn. This unicorn had a black coat and a gray mane. His cutie mark was a multifaceted diamond. He was showing her some gems, and she was giggling. Was this the same Nightingale Needlepoint, Voltaire asked himself, who had raised his voice three octaves while fitting him for his trousers?

“Well, that was fast,” Eveningstar said to no one in particular. “The Princess only introduced them to each other for the first time last night.”

Voltaire thought back to the sight of the Princess with her genealogical diagrams. He wisely decided not to say anything.

Voltaire then turned to address the closest pony to him, who happened to be Morningstar. Pointing at the closed door and the singers beyond, he asked, “Did something start before I got here?”

Morningstar replied with an angry glare.

As far as angry glares from a female went, it was at the level where you needed to begin thinking seriously about changing all of your locks, but not quite up to the level where you needed to defenestrate yourself to escape from her righteous wrath.

Voltaire had been in this sort of situation before on Earth. Most of the time, the reason for the stare was completely irrelevant, like “because waffles” or “how could you not know she was my sister?” Still, if only for statistical reasons, he made a mental note to discover what Morningstar thought he had done to deserve that stare, as soon as asking the question would no longer lead him to discover what else a unicorn’s horn was capable of doing.

Meanwhile, Eveningstar decided to answer Voltaire’s question. “You’re not the center of the universe, Voltaire,” she said. “Ambassador Botvinnik* of the Orange Dragon Clan woke up yesterday, so the Celestial Foal’s Chorus is serenading him. Considering what we’re about to do to him, we thought to soften him up first.”

* Translator’s Note: “Botvinnik” is the name of a green shrub that only grows in Draconia. The dragons consider it to be a “brain food”—like most such foods, the baby dragons that are forced to eat it hate it with a passion. Ponies have a version of this name that they can actually pronounce, but I’ll be using the dragon version here.

Voltaire took a few seconds to decide what to say in response to what Eveningstar had just said. “But I am the center of the universe!” would probably not be a good first choice.

Morningstar decided to take this moment to speak to him...or perhaps a better phrase to use would be growled at him. “You’re late,” she said, levitating a scroll into the air. From the extra second she spent glaring at him before sending the scroll his way, she made it clear that his tardiness was not the reason she was mad at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, taking the scroll.

That wasn’t going to be good enough.

“I’m also sorry to say that I can’t read Equine yet, so I’ll have to get to this later,” he said as he tucked the scroll into his coat. It made for a very obvious bulge.

Voltaire made a note to get some sort of traveling bag similar to the ones he just now noticed all the ponies were wearing. Bags that they in fact had probably been wearing since the very first moment he had ever seen them.

Voltaire had a habit of missing the obvious sometimes.

“No,” Morningstar said with an annoyed sigh, “you can’t read it later. That scroll lists everything you need to know before your first Royal Council meeting, but I can boil it down to two points. Point #1: Never remind the Princess of her immediate family.”

Voltaire noticed that all of the ponies in the room nodded at that statement, some grimly, and others with looks of near-terror in their eyes. “I already know that rule from personal experience,” he said.

“Point Numb...wait, from personal experience?” asked Morningstar. “And you still have all of your hair?”

“Well it’s under the wig, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I say ‘yes’.”

“Hmm...” mused Morningstar. With a flash of her horn, she caused a dome of purple light to surround the two of them that completely blocked out all outside sounds. “Point number two is the current political situation,” she told him. “You can have the simple version...or the truth.”

Voltaire tapped idly on the barrier, and noted that rang like a bell when it was struck. It also distorted light passing through, making it impossible to read lips through it. “Well, I’ll take the truth of course. Since when did I rate high enough with you to deserve that?”

“You still have all your hair,” Morningstar replied, before taking a big breath.

~ ~ ~

Alright, first of all (said Morningstar), know that Equestria is the dominant political power in the known world. The only beings who could possibly challenge our hegemony are the dragons. Luckily for us, they have a general dislike for authority, spend much of their adult lives asleep, and spend most of their waking years accumulating the treasures for their hoards and scheming to steal each other’s treasures. The few times when they have been united behind a decisive leader, they have made for very dangerous foes, thanks to their craftiness and ability to carry out plans for decades before their purposes become clear.

Each dragon owes its allegiance to a clan of between a dozen and several hundred members. The clans are named by colors, but each clan is made up of dragons of different colors, so the names must have some additional meaning. Unfortunately, dragons tend to hoard knowledge as much as possessions, so whatever that meaning was, we ponies would have had to figure it out without getting anything useful from asking the dragons themselves.

I was one of the first ponies to work out a plausible explanation. Most dragons appear to see colors when they hear or say certain words. The largest dragon clan close to the Equestrian border is the Orange Clan, and I believe that the word “courage”, among others, is orange to dragon eyes.

~ ~ ~

Dragons can get quite enormous, and frequently need creatures that are closer to pony-sized for transportation, communication, and spying purposes. Their preferred creature in these cases is the griffon.

Voltaire quickly confirmed at this point that a griffon was indeed the mythological creature he had been thinking of, with the foreparts of an eagle and the hindparts of a lion.

Under dragon domination for centuries, the griffons came to resemble them socially, being made up of multiple feuding clans led by rival members of their extensive royal family.

In 6418, Thunderwing, a member of a younger branch of the griffon royal family, fled from capture and appealed directly to the Princess from the Equestrian border for sanctuary. After much reflection, the Princess granted that sanctuary, thereby changing the course of griffon history. Thunderwing became so respected in his adopted home of Trottingham that forty ponies relinquished their Equestrian citizenship to become his followers when he returned to Griffonia. Over the next few years, Thunderwing raised a griffon army and subdued or allied with every one of the clans, until he ended up as sole ruler of the land. His descendants in the female line have ruled the griffons ever since.

By 6746, the griffons had become powerful enough to interfere successfully with dragon politics, in the matter of the Diamond Dogs.

~ ~ ~

Nopony knows exactly where the Diamond Dogs come from. The dragons claim to have created them, but we know for a fact that they are not capable of that kind of magic. In any case, the Dogs were slaves of the Orange clan for the entirety of their known existence. They were used to mine for gems when this could not be accomplished by dragon brute strength, or when it was highly dangerous.

In the year 6740, a group of Diamond Dogs led by Goliath turned against the dragons and declared their independence. It was a long-fought war, and the Dogs would have been triumphant over the Orange Clan, but then that clan signed a temporary alliance with the neighboring Purple Clan, and all seemed lost.

That was when Duchess Praiseworthy of the Griffons decided to commit her country’s resources to the side of the Diamond Dogs, as a way of revenging herself on the dragons for their centuries of snubs. The griffon army made life so miserable for the Purple Clan that they decided to back out of their alliance, and the Orange Clan was forced to accept the liberation of the Diamond Dogs five years ago, ending the war.

~ ~ ~

“What did Equestria do during this war?” asked Voltaire, as the doors of the council room were finally opened.

“Equestria has a long-standing policy of never interfering with anything that happens outside its borders,” Morningstar replied, as the rest of the councilors made their way into the room. “As the case of Thunderwing’s followers shows, individual ponies have been willing to act internationally, but only after permanently severing their ties with Equestria. Many ponies fought for the Diamond Dogs. The Griffon army included descendants of the Forty. And, I’m ashamed to say, some of the crack pie squads of the Orange Clan were made up of pony mercenaries.”

“So,” Voltaire said after a moment reviewing what he had just learned, “in what way does what you just told me differ from the so-called ‘simple version’?”

“In that version,” Morningstar replied, “dragons are but a laughable threat to Equestria, and no pony has ever fought for the dragons or on the wrong side in any war. Of course, that’s assuming that the Diamond Dogs were the right side.”

“How could fighting for your freedom ever be the wrong side?”

“They’re a race that has no concept of aristocracy,” Morningstar said grimly. “They offer up a terrible example to peasants everywhere.”

Only then did she drop the privacy spell.

Chapter 14

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 14

As Voltaire walked into the council room, he heard the sound of clapping. It most certainly didn’t sound like whatever a pony would do to applaud. Looking around, he saw a foal’s chorus bowing and, across from them, a green dragon applauding from the other side of a pane of glass.

The human did a double-take. For one thing, this was a full-fledged dragon straight out of the European tradition: long neck (and presumably tail), spiny back, great folded bat wings, and triangular head. It was maybe twice the height of Voltaire, with only its upper body visible through the window. The really disconcerting part, though, was the fact that the window was set in the same wall Voltaire had walked through to enter the room. This meant that he should have walked past the dragon standing in a pit in the floor on his way in, but he saw no such thing. In fact, the dragon appeared to be situated in a small antechamber of a much larger cavern system. Glints of gold and precious jewels could be seen behind the dragon, and it appeared that its face was being illuminated from a light source high above, perhaps a chandelier, but a chandelier with a much steadier light than could ever be produced by candles. A gas arc light, perhaps? That must be obscenely dangerous, if this dragon could breathe fire like the legendary ones could.

“Is that a human?” the dragon asked in a deep voice. “I heard of one visiting during my first nap.”

Eveningstar led Voltaire to the window. “Ambassador Botvinnik, this is our newest councilor, Voltaire. Like the Roman, he is also a visitor to our lands.”

“It is an honor to meet you, Councilor Voltaire,” Botvinnik said with a slight nod of the head and a simple gesture with one claw. “Has Luna taken you to see the Moon yet?”

The door to the room magically shut, as everypony in the room started to panic.

Eveningstar sighed. “That is still a delicate subject, Ambassador,” she said quietly, “and one we do not wish to distress Princess Celestia about.” She blessed her stars that the Princess hadn’t heard the dragon utter the dreaded name.

The other ponies also realized that the Princess was not in earshot, and slowly resumed their composure.

“She still hasn’t freed herself?” the dragon asked. “A pity. I would have liked to have met her once more.”

The look of everypony in the room made it clear to Voltaire that their opinion on the subject was “oh no, you wouldn’t.”

Occam’s Razor suggested to Voltaire that Luna was part of Celestia’s immediate family.

Also, “Luna” meant “Moon”, and Equestria’s moon had the face of a vengeful pony stamped into it.

Conclusion: Celestia did indeed have a temper, and it was exceedingly unwise to cause her to lose it.

Experimentally, Voltaire reached up and touched the window separating him from the dragon, and found it to have the texture of rough fabric, despite looking completely transparent. Pressing on it lightly caused a faint yellow glow to briefly surround Voltaire’s finger, the same color as the dragon’s eyes. He noticed that the wall on either side of the window was covered with several other squares of what might be similar gray-colored fabric, but these did not look like glass. “Is this some sort of magical viewing window?” he asked.

“Indeed,” Botvinnik beamed. “It’s my own creation, in fact. Five potential wars between the dragons and the ponies have been prevented so far because of my viewer. It allows our two races to converse without endangering themselves.”

Well! thought Voltaire. Score one point for the dragons. “I assume then that you are a little bit larger than you appear to us on this side of your magical handiwork.”

Botvinnik briefly dropped out of frame, and came back carrying the statue of a pony that looked as if it had been carved out of a single ruby, with some sort of dark-colored flaw inside it. It was just big enough so that the claws of one hand could not close around it. “This ‘little pony’ right here? It’s life size,” he said, his broad grin easily showing his razor-sharp fangs.

The human swallowed audibly.

~ ~ ~

“The Princess is coming!” announced the voice of a guard from the other side of the door.

The door was magically opened, and the councilors all lined themselves up in front of the chorus. Several of them took this last chance to try and fix their manes.

Morningstar looked up at Voltaire. “There’s something else in that scroll you should have read,” she told him. “After the chorus finishes their song, each of us will offer up a brief prayer to Her Highness. Do you think you can open your mouth for once and not have something clever come out of it?”

“Now hold on a minute,” the human complained. “How am I going to know what to pray for? And at least where I come from, prayers are private things. I think what we are going for here is more like a hosanna.”

The councilors groaned in unison. “We don’t have time for this!” exclaimed Prince Blueblood. “Tell Her about something nice you’ve noticed in Equestria. Whatever it is, She was responsible for it.”

“What, everything?” asked Voltaire in mock incredulity. “I think it’s time I settled for myself once and for all what type of deity I’m dealing with here.”

The councilors groaned for a second time. Voltaire spotted a tuft of flowing hair, the very end of Celestia’s mane, peeking around the edge of the doorway. Several others had seen this as well, and waited for her entrance, but no further signs of her presence were made visible.

Several seconds of silence were finally ended by the voice of the Princess from beyond the door. “How many types of deities are you acquainted with?” she asked.

“Humans claim the existence of a wide variety of gods,” answered Voltaire, “but I’m not sure that most of them even exist. I believe in a deity that I call God the Creator, so that’s one deity I know of. There is of course the Great and Powerful Celestia, of which I learn new wonders every day.” He looked around to make sure he had his audience’s full attention before getting to the next part, the beginning of his grand plan: “And finally there’s the Frog Princess of Fomalhaut, the bravest of all creatures not born in Equestria. Oh, the stories I could tell about her! But this is neither the time nor the place for me to tell you about her.” There, he thought. With any luck, they’ll be asking me to tell the tale that will transform their lives. Then he noticed that “Fomalhaut” had not been translated. He looked over at Eveningstar, and saw her shake her head firmly in refusal, eyes wide with fright. A moment’s thought revealed the reason: Celestia was the solar goddess of the ponies. The phrase “Frog Princess of Fomalhaut” implied that a star is in fact a far-away sun. And that meant that Celestia would have a rival. That being the case, it was far preferable to imply that Fomalhaut was merely a far-away place with an unusual name.

Voltaire decided to return to Princess Celestia’s question. “The three traits that the Jesuits taught me belonged to God were these: omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. How many of these does Celestia possess?”

“The Princess knows all and is all-powerful,” Blueblood answered. “Being everywhere, on the other hoof, is rather silly. She is quite obviously where you can see Her at any given moment. If She needs to go somewhere else, She walks, or flies, or teleports.”

“Omniscient and omnipotent,” said Voltaire in summary. “Got it.” And I’m going to hold you to those words, he thought, when I teach you otherwise.

Princess Celestia chose this moment to make her entrance into the council chamber, accompanied by the jester, Gordon. Despite the traditional outfit, he didn’t look very jolly this morning. She took her place at the far end of the council table, with Gordon standing beside her.

The Princess was greeted by the traditional “Sunrise Chorus” from the fillies gathered to greet her old friend Botvinnik. She thought the solos by Blue Belle and Zody were both in good voice, although they did appear to be trying to drown each other out.

If Blue Belle had been allowed to make a prayer to the Princess along with the councilors, it would be to thank her for the gift of her voice. It was the one part of Blue Belle that was not part of her destiny as a Blueblood, and not under the rigid control of her father.

Zody sang because he was a Sparkle, and a Sparkle was always loyal to the Princess.

But he was singing next to Blue Belle, and Blue Belle had ruined his best friend’s life, so he didn’t have to like it.

In Voltaire’s opinion, the only reason those two foals were soloists was because they were the children of the two competing clans controlling the pony aristocracy. Otherwise, they stunk.

Of course I should mention that Voltaire had a tin ear, so his opinion on matters musical was completely worthless.

After the singing came the hosannas.

“All hail Celestia the Great,” intoned Prince Blueblood. “Thank you for the life-giving rays of your glorious Sun!”

“Praise be to Celestia the Immortal,” said Eveningstar. “May the paths of Sun and stars alike guide all ponies on the path of Truth!”

“Glory be to Celestia the Wise,” proclaimed Morningstar. “May your council continue to lead Equestria to greatness!”

“Dear Princess Celestia,” said Voltaire. “I really like your mane!”

The sound of the collected facehoofs could be heard through most of the palace.

It wasn’t until Blue Belle was leaving the room with the rest of the chorus that the actual point of Voltaire’s statement of praise finally hit her: everypony else had praised things Princess Celestia had to do, to protect Equestria and keep the Sun from flying into the void, but only Voltaire had actually praised something She had a choice in: Her personal appearance.

“Now then, Ambassador,” Celestia said to Botvinnik after the foals had left and she had allowed the councilors to be seated. “I would like to speak with you some more, but I have some Equestrian business to get to with my council first.”

“But of course, Your Grand Royal Highness,” said the dragon, bowing. “Feel free to contact me at your leisure.” He waved his hand, and the image reverted into a square of gray fabric again.

“Forgive my paranoia,” asked Voltaire, “but how do we know that he isn’t still listening in on us?”

“Voltaire!” exclaimed Morningstar. “You are far too suspicious. Botvinnik is an honorable dragon.”

And as she said “honorable”, she winked at him with the eye not visible from the inactive window.

Voltaire bowed his head in mock shame.

This was entirely too much like politics in Europe.

Voltaire wouldn’t have it any other way.

~ ~ ~

The first order of business was the swearing in of Voltaire as a counselor. I won’t bore you with the words of the oath—it is the same oath used for most public servant positions today. Voltaire swore never to intentionally mislead his Princess, and never to act against the best interests of the Equestrian people. There was also the part setting the scutage of his military obligations to the Crown to two minuets and a madrigal in praise of the Princess, but considering that this particular clause has not been invoked for the past fourteen hundred years, that is neither here nor there.

“Now what position would you suggest I appoint you to?” the Princess asked. “Blueblood is chancellor, Morningstar is first minister, Eveningstar is minister of defense, Pensive Thought is secretary of pegasi affairs, and so on.”

“Perhaps I should observe the proceedings, and come up with a suggestion afterwards,” said Voltaire.

“Very well,” replied Celestia. “Gordon, could you read the minutes for the last session?”

The last session had primarily concerned the arrival of the griffon delegation. Since that would culminate in the grand celebration later this night, I’ll skip ahead to the first new order of business.

“Put before the Council is the matter of the renewal of the trade embargo against the Orange Clan of dragons,” said the pegasus Pensive Thought, reading from a scroll before him. He looked up at Voltaire, and explained: “The embargo was started during the Diamond Dog War of Independence. Since the dragons have continued, even after the signing of the peace treaty, to use economic means to sabotage the Diamond Dog Republic, Equestria has retaliated with an embargo of our own.”

“It’s a foalish measure,” commented Gordon, “and only hurts Botvinnik himself. With the exception of the ambassador’s pineapple crop, which no creatures but ponies will buy, there are no dragon products that cannot be profitably sold to the outer lands, which means that the embargo means nothing to them. The Trottingham and Stalliongrad regions of Equestria, on the other hand, are being devastated because they are dependent on trade with dragons.”

“It sounds like you’re in the pocket of Ambassador Botvinnik,” said Blueblood with a smile. “As for Trottingham and Stalliongrad,” he added with a dismissive wave of a forehoof, “the damage there is not economically significant.”

“Are you perhaps saying that only because the unicorn population of those two regions is also of no significance?” asked Gordon accusingly.

Blueblood judged that question to be beneath him, and declined to answer.

“Is there perhaps some way of punishing the dragons other than an embargo?” asked Voltaire.

“We never bothered to investigate that,” Morningstar admitted.

“But an embargo is a really obvious sign of displeasure,” added Blueblood, as if that fact alone was enough to decide the matter.

“Let’s bring it to a vote,” said the Princess. “All in favor of extending the embargo for one more year?”

The ponies all said “aye”.

“All opposed?”

The human said “nay”. (The donkey didn’t bother to vote.)

“Are you sure you want a lone vote of opposition to be your first official action as a counselor?” asked Eveningstar.

“Yes,” said Voltaire. “In fact, I know what position I would like to hold in this council. Princess, I would like to be the minister of the loyal opposition.”

“There’s no such thing!” protested Morningstar. “In fact the very concept of a loyal opposition is not scientifically possible!”

“On the contrary,” said Voltaire, standing up for maximum eloquence, “a loyal opposition is vitally important for the wellbeing of any robust government.”

“So what is it?” asked Eveningstar.

“It is the foil of the chancellor. Now Prince Blueblood, you lead the council, yes?”

“Princess Celestia leads the council, as she leads all of Equestria,” replied Blueblood.

“Ah, but she delegates the day-to-day functions to others,” Voltaire countered. “And you are at the top of that delegation. Her Highness has her grand plans of how she would like Equestria to function, now and in the future. The Royal Council acts to bring those plans to fruition in the form of proclamations and laws, but who selects the order and priority of drafting those laws? You do, dear Prince. But what if you’re wrong?”

“Wrong?” sputtered Blueblood. Then he collected himself. “If events were ever to prove that my leadership of this council was not in Equestria’s best interest, then She would give me a specific ministry, and appoint another councilor to be Chancellor. But that would only happen in a crisis.”

“Which would mean the individual selected to be the new Chancellor would have to be prepared beforehand,” said Voltaire. “That is the role of the loyal opposition.

“The Loyal Opposition exists to point out flaws in the Chancellor’s plans, and to propose alternate ways that Her Highness’s goals can be fulfilled. In the normal course of affairs, it is a job defined by frustration, because if these alternatives were any good, then the loyal opposition wouldn’t be in opposition to the majority anymore. I should emphasize that the function of the loyal opposition exists only within the council. In public, it is the duty of all councilors to support the actions of the majority.”

“I don’t like this idea,” said Morningstar. “You’re intending to lead a group with this position, forming a political party with no other goal but the overthrow of the current administration.”

“I agree that this isn’t the best possible use of a loyal opposition,” Voltaire admitted. “The position is designed for use in a representative parliament, but it doesn’t appear that the Equestrian government has one of those.”

“I agree with Morningstar’s observation that this innovation could act to destabilize the Council,” said the Princess. “However, I think it would make for an interesting short-term experiment. All in favor? All opposed? The notion is passed, by a vote of four to two, with three abstaining.”

“What shall we call this little party of yours?” Eveningstar asked with a smile.

“That is simple,” Blueblood interrupted. “My party is the Equestrian Party, and Voltaire’s party of one shall be called the Idiotic Party.”

“That’s not the way it works on Earth,” said Voltaire. “There, each party tries to give the other the most-insulting name possible, but each party gets the final say in which one of these insults to accept with pride as their own.”

Blueblood smiled. “That sounds fair enough, in its own twisted way. Do you accept the name of Idiotic Party?”

“No. Would you like to be the Fathead Party?”

“No! How about the Bipedal Party? That one at least is not very insulting.”

“I hope to have more than bipeds in my party, so no,” replied Voltaire.

“Who will be in your party?” asked Eveningstar.

“Mine will be the party of all that disagree with the current social order. I will accept anyone who wishes to join. Unicorns need not apply.”

“Hey!” protested Morningstar.

“How about the Hey Party?” asked Blueblood with a mischievous grin. “After all, you appear to be full of it.”

“No. How about the Blueblood Party?”

“I’d rather not,” Blueblood said with a frown.

“Yes, can’t make the egocentrism too obvious,” joked Voltaire. “Robe Party?”

Blueblood looked with pride at the robes worn by himself and every other pony member of the council other than the Princess and the jester. “Accepted! What do you say to being called the Wig Party?”

“Accepted! A periwig is an ancient and respected symbol of wisdom in Europe.”

“If the matter is settled,” said the Princess, “let us bring back Ambassador Botvinnik to inform him of our decision.” She waved a hoof over a metal plate on her end of the table, causing the image of the dragon to appear once again in the wall. He still had the ruby statue of a pony in one upraised claw, but it turned out not to be a statue at all, but instead a hollow container, because its detached head and neck was being held between two claws, revealing that it was filled with a coarsely ground brown powder. A pinch of the power was held between two talons of the dragon’s other claw, being raised towards a flared nostril.

In an instant, the pinch of what was probably ground tobacco was dropped out of sight, and the top half of the container was back in place. “My dear Princess,” said the dragon with a bow. Then he gave a start as he saw that the ruby pony’s head was on the wrong way. The snuff container was slowly lowered out of frame.

“Ambassador Botvinnik,” Princess Celestia said (showing no sign of noticing the dragon doing anything out of the ordinary), “it is my sad duty to inform you that the Royal Council has decided to extend the current embargo on Orange Dragon imports for another year, starting tomorrow.”

Botvinnik inclined his head slightly. “A pity. And congratulations once again on becoming councilor, Voltaire. You’re going to have to get me one of those periwigs.”

So, Voltaire thought, not only do we know that he’s spying on us, he also knows that we know that he’s spying on us.

This is exactly like European politics.

~ ~ ~

“Final order of business,” Princess Celestia said a few minutes later in a serious tone, before breaking out in a grin, “I hear that Morningstar’s son Cognizant just got his cutie mark!”

The ponies and dragon applauded, the former in the form of stamping their forehooves on the floor.

“When’s the cute-ceañero party?” the Princess asked.

“This evening, after the Griffon Gala,” Morningstar replied. “You’re all invited.”

“I’ll try to be there,” the Princess said. “If there’s no other Then this meeting is dismissed.” And she rapped her hoof loudly on the table.

~ ~ ~

As the councilors left the chamber, Morningstar pulled Voltaire aside. “You, however, are not invited,” she told him, returning to the same angry glare she was giving him before the meeting.

Voltaire sighed.

Free to his own devices for a few hours, Voltaire made his way over to Nightingale’s shop to put in an order for several periwigs shaped for pony heads. As the official symbol of his new party, he hoped to be handing several of them out really soon.

He’d treasure the look on Nightingale’s face when he added Botvinnik’s measurements to the end of the list to his dying day.

He returned to his room to freshen up, only to find a peeved Morningstar and a buoyant Cognizant waiting for him.

“Morningstar?” Voltaire asked uncertainly.

“Voltaire, this is Cognizant, or ‘Cogs’ as he now wishes to be known,” the unicorn mother said with resignation. “He would like to be your apprentice, for as long as you remain in Equestria.”

“My apprentice?” Voltaire asked in shock. “Isn’t he your apprentice?”

“Not anymore,” Morningstar said in a dismal tone, then turned and walked away.

“So, uh...Cogs...” Voltaire began. And then he froze, because Cognizant’s new cutie mark was the flywheel from his watch.

“Hey, want to see my copy of your watch?” Cogs asked, pulling out a perfect replica of Voltaire’s watch from his saddlebag. “I’ve also got plans for scaling the mechanism up into a watch an entire city could see. It will be so big and grand...ooh, maybe we can name it a Grandfather Watch!”

Voltaire sighed. He wished somebody had warned him not to do anything impressionable in front of blank flank ponies.

Like I said before, Voltaire tended to miss the obvious sometimes.

Chapter 15

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 15

Alright, so what if you considered the mockery as a form of constructive criticism?” read the words on the piece of paper in Algarotti’s hand. It was evidently the draft of some sort of apology from Voltaire to King Friedrich for writing Micromegas.

The Italian shook his head incredulously. Voltaire, he thought to himself, how can you be so smart, and at the same time so very, very foolish?

Just then, he heard the sound of someone stepping into Voltaire’s cell. He glanced over his shoulder in annoyance, only to freeze on seeing Ivan, the seven-foot tall mental patient.

Ivan quietly raised his finger to his lips, in an attempt to keep Algarotti from crying out.

Algarotti responded by screaming like a little girl.

~ ~ ~

Ten minutes and ten burly attendants later, the Siberian was finally subdued.

Algarotti’s primary contribution was to not wet himself.

Beside him stood Jordan. His primary contribution had been to try and coordinate the fisticuffs of the attendants. Jordan shook his head and sighed. “Let’s bring him back to his cell, boys,” he said.

The men surrounded Ivan, and, led by Jordan, began the short walk back to his cell, leaving Algarotti once again alone in the cell. He just needed a little more time to collect his thoughts, and he’d be able to figure out what happened to the magic pencil (and to Voltaire, but that was entirely secondary). This process was once again rudely interrupted by a visitor.

“Excuse me,” said the voice of a little girl, “but what did he do?”

“Shh!” replied Jordan’s daughter in a near-identical voice. “Daddy said not to let anyone see you talk. And I’m not really sure what’s wrong with Ivan. I never could get a straight answer out of anybody.”

Algarotti furrowed his brow in frustration and looked around. There was the girl, and approaching him was...

“But this is important! Sir, do you know what’s wrong with Ivan?”

Oh dear God, it’s a talking donkey.

Algarotti thought for a moment that he was going mad. But then he thought about the pieces of paper he had seen in this room with pencil lines on them forming a huge circle, and finally put the pieces together.

On closer examination, this creature before him wasn’t really a donkey at all. Algarotti was an expert on all the different ways that God was depicted in art. That included an awful lot of manger scenes, and an awful lot of donkeys. So even though he had very little experience with real live donkeys, he had seen enough depictions to know what a donkey was supposed to look like. This creature had a proportionally-larger head than a real donkey, and a more-prominent forehead. These were precisely the ways that the ponies in Oscar’s drawings differed from real ponies. So that meant that he was now face to face with a magical donkey from another world.

This wasn’t exactly the way Algarotti had been planning to exploit the magic pencil situation, but it would have to do. Speaking of which, Algarotti soon spotted what must have been that very pencil poking out of a satchel the donkey was wearing around her neck.

“Sir...?” she asked him hesitantly.

In any case, the first thing to do was to take control of this situation. Algarotti was not a man of violence (in fact, he was quite the opposite). He managed to get most of what he wanted in life, from both men and women of power, by means of his natural charm. After all, was he not author of the best-selling Italian book Newtonism for the Ladies? He had already lowered himself to conversing with peasants today. He supposed there was no real difference between this and talking to a filthy animal, so he dived right in.

“That man is here because he is confused, little girl,” Algarotti said with a smile and what sounded very convincingly like a kind voice. “He is so far away from his home that nobody speaks his language, so he kept getting into fights with people. My name is Francesco, by the way. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He held his hand out expectantly.

“Thank you, Francesco,” replied the donkey with the girl’s voice, putting a hoof in the man’s hand. (That is just so weird! Algarotti thought to himself without betraying anything in his expression.) “My name is Genevieve. I’m not from around here.”

I already figured that one out, Algarotti thought wryly as he completed the handshake. He made a mental note not to use that particular hand for anything decent until it had had a thorough scrubbing, followed by a wash in fresh rosewater.

“See, Jenny!” exclaimed Genevieve, looking at the girl, “I told your father that the others wouldn’t go crazy if I talked!” She then turned back to address the human towering over her. “What about the man who stayed in this room?” she asked him.

“Oh Voltaire? That was just a joke.”

“So he’s not dangerous?”

“Not really.”

“And the people here in the cells are patients, not prisoners?”

“That is correct.”

“Oh, good!”

“Hey, Genevieve,” Jenny interrupted. “Maybe you can use your pencil to fix Ivan!”

“Sure!” the donkey replied, sitting down on the ground. As Algarotti watched, she slid a mostly-blank piece of paper towards her with a hoof, and then used her lips to pull the magic pencil out of her satchel.

Algarotti leaned forward expectantly.

Jenny stepped forward and pulled a strip of fabric out of a pocket in her dress. It looked like it had been cut out of a scarf. She used the strip to tie the pencil to the front of one of Genevieve’s hooves.

On the paper, the donkey quickly began to sketch a scene, although she had to stop from time to time to adjust the wobbling pencil with her teeth.

For the art expert, this was even more amazing than hearing her talk. After all, he reflected, any boob can talk!

The scene quickly brought into focus on the page depicted the inmate Ivan, surrounded by Jordan and the attendants. Each of the dozen men in the picture were individually depicted, with startling details of personality. Algarotti had never noticed that Jordan’s smile was wider on the left side than the right, for example. Of course, Algarotti had never had occasion to make Jordan smile before.

When she was finished drawing the figures, she added a cartoon speech bubble with the German word for “hello” written in big letters. The bubble was carefully drawn so that all twelve characters were speaking it.

The donkey untied the strap and placed both it and the pencil in her satchel, then turned to the girl. “Let’s see if it worked!” she exclaimed, before they both ran out of the room.

Algarotti picked up the drawing and quickly followed.

~ ~ ~

I’m not speaking German,” he heard an unfamiliar voice say. “You all suddenly started speaking Selkup.

Peering into the open door of room 102, Algarotti saw Ivan carrying on a normal conversation with Jordan. The group was in exactly the same arrangement as the drawing. Algarotti had to step away from the door for a few seconds to stop himself from shaking.

Jenny and Genevieve took one peek into the same room before they started dancing around each other in the hallway. “It worked, it worked, it worked!” they sang in chorus.

“Girl...Jenny!” Jordan exclaimed from inside. “What did I tell you about keeping quiet?”

“Sorry!” said Jenny, as Genevieve put a hoof over her mouth.

Algarotti leaned against a wall to think. If he was right, what that donkey could do with the magic pencil was something he had wanted all his life, something he wanted much more than the ability to create portals into a world where he would be outnumbered by magical beasts. And who knew if Oscar had been telling him the truth earlier about how the pencil worked? Maybe now that the donkey had “primed” it, anybody would be able to do what she just did. He led Jenny and Genevieve a few steps away from the door so he could talk to them without being overheard by Jordan. “How did you learn how to do that?” he asked.

“I didn’t mean to—it just sort of happened,” explained Genevieve with a frown. “At least...I think I did that the first time. It’s weird, I can remember changing the drawing to learn how to speak German, but at the same time I feel like German and Equine were always the same language, but that doesn’t seem likely. It’s like I’m remembering two things at once, and they are fighting it out in my head!”

~ ~ ~

I can actually ask for things now!” the voice of Ivan said from inside his cell. “Could I please have a drink of water?

Algarotti poked his head into the room. “I’ll get it!” he said, before taking Jenny aside and presenting her with her drawing. “Draw a glass of water,” he suggested, pointing at a spot on the paper. “Over here where we are, so Monsieur Jordan doesn’t get mad.”

Genevieve looked up at him, her eyes wide, for a few seconds, and then nodded once. She pulled the strap and pencil out of her satchel, and then pointed a hoof in his direction. “Could you...?”

“Of course,” Algarotti said nervously, as he picked up the pencil and the strap. For a brief second, he examined the magic pencil. Outwardly, it looked exactly like a paper-wrapped pencil, but somehow it felt different, in a way he could not define. Then, before he had paused long enough to attract attention, he placed the pencil along the donkey’s hoof and tied it in place.

Jenny drew the outline of a glass, stopping for just a moment with the picture incomplete before finishing it.

Right before their eyes, an oversize glass of water materialized.

Algarotti noticed that Jenny seemed just as surprised as he was. He reached out, to pick up the glass, and found it to be a perfectly ordinary object, if not perfectly round. It felt like glass, weighed about right, and was cool to the touch. Its contents certainly looked like water, with a couple of too-cubical ice cubes floating in it. Algarotti decided not to taste the water (after all, that was what Ivan was for) and instead took the glass into the room.

Nothing horrible happened to Ivan when he drank the water. Algarotti stood watching in the doorway for a minute, just in case the glass decided to fade away after a while.

As he stood there, he felt the same internal battle that Genevieve had described earlier. His mind seemed to rebel against the impossibility of a glass of water appearing out of nowhere, and it did this by inventing one implausible explanation and false memory after another.

That glass had been there since the moment the building had been erected, the thought entered his head.

But how did the ice remain frozen all this time? his rational mind countered.

It’s part of the lunch left out for Ivan, anticipating his inevitable capture, was the second foreign thought. I clearly remember walking past it on the way to Oscar’s room.

No! Algarotti shook his head furiously. The ice would still be melted.

Jordan put the glass there, right before Ivan was captured, as a good luck charm meant to speed his discovery. It’s one of the peasant’s idiotic superstitions.

This explanation was good. It fitted with Algarotti’s poor opinion of Jordan’s intellect, and required no false memories. Glasses do not appear out of nowhere. It was the memory of seeing it appear that was false, and now that memory would fade away...

NO! Algarotti slammed his head into the doorjamb. I will not give up the opportunity to wield that power! That pencil controls reality!

Twelve men were now giving odd looks to Algarotti.

“Err...I slipped,” he said, putting a hand up to his head to make sure he wasn’t bleeding.

After one last look to be sure the glass (now empty) most certainly was still in existence, he headed back into the hallway.

“Are you alright?” Jenny asked.

“Never better!” said Algarotti. How can I get my hands on that pencil? he asked himself. Step One: try the direct approach.

“You know,” he told Genevieve, “when humans use that pencil, they draw portals to the place you came from.”

“Oh is that how that works?” she said. “I thought you had different pencils for different things.”

“So if you give me the pencil,” Algarotti said, “I can draw you a portal so you can go back to your family.”

He saw a look of panic pass across her eyes when he said that.

“No...I’m going to stay here,” she finally said, pushing the pencil down into the satchel and out of sight. “Maybe I can get a job helping the patients.”

Algarotti frowned. It looked like concern, but was actually a mild case of panic. “I don’t think there are that many mental problems where the solution can be drawn,” he told her slowly as his mind raced to find a way to keep her (and her pencil) as close to him as possible. Finally he got an idea. “It so happens that I myself am an artist,” he told her. “How would you like to become my apprentice?”

Step Two: Theft through deception.

“Really?” the donkey asked, hopping up and down in excitement.

“Sure,” he said. “Follow me. The attic of this building has been converted into an artist’s studio, as a reward for the calmer patients. We’ll evaluate the areas where you need help.”

“I’ll tell Daddy where we’re going,” Jenny said, walking into the cell.

That poor man, Algarotti thought to himself, looking at the ebullient patient sitting on his bed. If only he had opened his mouth earlier, he could have saved himself years of misery in this hellhole. After all, he’s been speaking fluent German all his life.

Algarotti carefully took his time evaluating Genevieve’s artistic skills. After all, Jenny was watching everything he was doing, and her father knew where they were.

So Algarotti started by spending time to gain Genevieve’s trust, and to get her to lower her guard. He found some wooden shims, and with his penknife made a little rounded shelf with a notch in one side. Once this object was tied onto the donkey’s forehoof, it was able to hold pencil, pen or brush steady so that she didn’t have to keep adjusting it. After that he spent nearly a half an hour going over subjects with her like color and perspective, covering several canvases with simple drawings.

Finally, Algarotti felt ready to make his next move. “Let’s take a look at your shading,” he said. “We’ll work with pencils.”

In a small wooden box that he had positioned between himself and the donkey several minutes ago (and out of Jenny’s direct line of sight) were a collection of pencils of multiple lengths and types. Algarotti now reached into that box and pulled out all but one of the pencils to spread on the ground between them. The pencil that was left behind looked exactly like the one that Genevieve had in her satchel, except for the fact that it was sharpened.

“Now for pencil work, it helps to have pencils that are both sharp and dull, depending on what effect you are trying to achieve,” Algarotti told Genevieve. He picked up his penknife, then used it to sharpen several of the pencils, one at a time, letting the shavings fall into the box with the one pencil in it until it was nearly covered. He made sure to take an awful long time doing this.

Inevitably, Genevieve pulled her own pencil out and gave it a look before rolling it with a hoof towards him. “Could you sharpen this one, too?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said, picking up the magic pencil and starting to sharpen it, holding knife and pencil less than an inch above the box. “Now why don’t you take one of those pencils and draw me a face three-quarters illuminated by the setting sun, while I dump out these shavings?”

Genevieve placed an ordinary pencil in her holder and focused her attention on the canvas before her.

Algarotti gently dropped the magic pencil into the shavings, where it made not a sound. Then he fished out the identical-looking ordinary pencil, shook it a bit to get the shavings to fall off, and placed it right next to Genevieve.

Genevieve kept drawing.

Algarotti got up, walked over to a wastepaper basket, and dumped out the shavings. He then picked up the magic pencil and started sketching a Reichsthaler on the inside of the box.

It didn’t turn into a real Reichsthaler. Instead, it turned into a portal to what looked like a kitchen.

So Oscar was telling the truth—only a donkey has the ultimate power.

Sighing inwardly, Algarotti wet his thumb with his tongue and rubbed the edge of the portal. Once he had erased part of the circle, the rest of the portal turned back into a pencil line.

He had learned something useful, but it was clear that theft alone was not good enough. The magic pencil was placed back in the box, and Algarotti walked back over to sit next to Genevieve. He placed the box next to the pencil at the donkey’s side.

“Alright, that’s pretty good,” he told her, reaching out one hand to point at the shading, “but this is too extreme a graduation. What you need to do is to try bringing out the highlights.”

As he said this, he reached down with his other hand without looking and picked up the magic pencil, bringing it up to the paper. “Now if you try it like this...” He then looked down at the pencil in his hand and faked surprise. “Oh, this is yours,” he said, and put it into the donkey’s satchel. He then reached down and picked up the ordinary pencil. “As I was saying, if you try it like this...”

Step 3: Manipulation. Which requires I find out how this creature ticks...

Feeding Genevieve turned out to not be that difficult: she just went out the back door and chewed on some grass.

While she was out, Algarotti explained to Jordan that he had accidentally discovered Genevieve’s little secret, and far from wanting to get her into trouble, was willing to pay to have her as an apprentice.

“I can get her works sold without anybody else knowing what she really is,” he explained.

He also explained that he thought it best if he spent the night at the asylum, so to have a full day working with Genevieve starting first thing in the morning.

He shared a wretched dinner with Jordan and his attendants without complaining, and then helped one of them drag a bed up from one of the empty cells to the attic, where another bed had been set up for Genevieve. Originally, the donkey had wanted to sleep in the same room as Jordan and his daughter, but there simply wasn’t enough space in their tiny bedroom for another bed.

Everything seemed to be working out for Genevieve. But that didn’t keep the nightmares away.

They’re going to find out about you,” the voice of Blue Belle taunted the donkey. “They’ll find out you were fighting in front of your monarch and they’ll send you away into the wilderness. Where you’ll starve to death!” In the dream the filly unicorn towered over her. Your only hope is to come crawling back to me and become my slave!

No!” the sleeping donkey said to herself. “You can’t make me! Nopony tells me what to do.


Illuminated by a single candle, Algarotti sat in a chair, listening and watching.

Chapter 16

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 16

“Blue Belle? Blue Belle? Daughter, where are you?”

Blue Belle tuned out the pleas of her father. He was probably after her because of that fight she had at the school.

It just wasn’t fair!

Blue Belle used to rule Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and no other student would dare to challenge her. Now she had to defend her reputation on a constant basis.

What happened? That portal...that portal changed everything.

Suddenly a donkey that nopony had even heard of was all that anypony would talk about. Ponies were buying and selling drawings that the servants had swiped from her walls. Her life was called a tragedy...

...and Blue Belle was the villain.

In an instant, Blue Belle’s followers had abandoned her, and those she thought were her friends left her for the new favorite: Genevieve’s friend Zody.

But Zody is my friend! Mine!

Perhaps if Blue Belle was treated as a villain she might retain her respect. But that was impossible, thanks to the other change wrought by the portal.

“In the castle fair, lives a stal’ so bare...” began the anonymous poem, the poem that revealed Blueblood’s idiocy for the world to see.

And of course there was a sort of magical quality about Voltaire, that the only works of his that anybody read and knew were the anonymous ones.

Blue Belle was suddenly at the bottom of the heap, the one being mocked instead of the one doing the mocking. And for some incredibly frustrating reason, the moment when she needed a thick skin the most was the moment when she appeared to be growing a conscience.

She dreamed of Genevieve every night, and every night, her fate at the hands of the humans became worse and worse. But she knew, she knew every night, that she was the one responsible, and no matter how much magic she could summon, she would never be able to get Genevieve back. This offense was not only unforgivable, but also unredeemable.

~ ~ ~

“Blue Belle? Blue Belle?”

She didn’t want to be around anypony right now. Instead, she was hiding in a forgotten storage closet in an obscure corner of the palace. By removing a board in the wall, she was able to look out over the day audience chamber. The chamber was two stories tall, and the closet abutted the far wall of the second floor, so there was little chance that the ponies milling about in the chamber below would ever think to look up into the shadows to see her.

Those ponies were the Princess’s experts in magic, most of them aged beyond their years from their experimentation in the forbidden disciplines. Celestia understood that the urge to see the unknown could be overwhelming in some researchers, and (after they had burned themselves looking), those researchers were the best ones to assign to difficult cases, like re-opening the portal to Earth.

The chamber had been abandoned to them from nearly the instant Voltaire had fallen through that portal in one direction, and Genevieve in the other.

Blue Belle had to know what they were doing, how close they were to saving the poor donkey, and if there was anything she could do to help. She had tried simply entering the chamber on multiple occasions, but sooner or later Zody could come by and scream at her, or her father would show up and demonstrate his utter lack of compassion. So that left spying from the closet.

A group of three researchers were talking to each other—Blue Belle strained to hear them.

“Well, that’s the last of the leylines accounted for,” said Aether.

I will not bother to describe these mages. If you’ve seen one mage, you’ve seen them all.

“And...?” asked Phlogiston.

“And now there are no magical currents in the room that are unaccounted for.”

The group sighed in frustration.

“Hold on, the human said that magic was rare to non-existent on his world,” noted Caloric. “Have you tried looking for an absence of magic?”

“Of course I have, you simpleton!” yelled Aether. “Where were you on the first day?”

“Trapped in the Everfree,” said Caloric with a sheepish expression.


“It’s the default destination of my plane alignment spell, alright? I just forgot to set the fourth coordinate.”

“You’d forget your robe if you ever took it off at night.”

“You take that back!”

“The accusation of forgetfulness? Everypony knows...”

“Oh, I would never deny that!” exclaimed Caloric. “I just want you to retract the shameful statement that a wizard of my caliber would ever remove my robe for any reason whatsoever!”

“But of course!” the other two researchers replied.

“I’m no good at this hooves-on work anyway,” said Caloric. “Surely the librarians have come up with something by now. Preferably three or four conflicting sources, so we can spend the next week debating their intrinsic importance. I got my cutie mark in disquisition, after all.”

Well, this is getting nowhere, thought Blue Belle. She got up to find out what her father wanted.

“We’ve had the detection spell all along...” said Aether.

Blue Belle turned around and sat back down again.

“...but it won’t do you any good.” Aether levitated a large tome towards Caloric and quickly flicked the pages. “Here.”

Caloric glanced down. “That looks simple enough.”

“That is not the detection spell,” explained Aether. “That is the spell to create the instructions for the detection spell. Watch!”

Phlogiston took this moment to avert his eyes.

Rising on his hind legs, Aether made a complicated series of passes with his forehooves, some of which should not have been physically possible. There was a bright flash from his horn, and an object made of blue light and inscribed with mystic runes materialized before him. It looked sort of like a cube and sort of like the head of a pike, depending on whether the last thought in your head was musical or not. Oh, and it had a tendency to suck out your soul if you stared at it too long.

Blue Belle turned away in fear, feeling the dread effect all the way from the closet.

“Put it away!” cried out Caloric.

With another impossible move, the light sculpture vanished.

“So,” challenged Aether. “Do you think you can cast it?”

“No,” replied Caloric, trembling. “Impossible.”

“The energy requirements are negligible,” noted Aether, “but the manipulations are maddening. Only She Who Must Not Be Discussed could comprehend it.”

The three mages quickly looked around them, terrified that they might be caught by the Princess bringing up the forbidden subject.

“That was one of She’s spells?” Caloric asked in a whisper.

The others nodded in reply.

“Of course,” Caloric realized. “This was centuries before The Fall. Anything She wrote back then should have been safe. Surely the notes were allowed to survive the purge that followed the Fall of She?”

“Alas, these did not. A most tragic filing accident.”

The trio briefly lowered their heads for a moment of silence.

“Err...did anypony tell Princess Celestia?” asked Caloric.

“No, but the Princess knows everything, right?”

“Of course.” Caloric put forehoof to cranium to think. “Well, where did the instruction spell come from?” he asked finally.

“She’s assistant, Obsidian, left a seven hundred volume set of memoirs behind,” answered Phlogiston. “Most of the work was dedicated to minute descriptions of what she ate for breakfast every morning, but she did eventually get around to describing her adventures with She.

“Unlike our case, the portal opened up by the Roman lasted as long as he was on Equestria. She Who Must Not Be Discussed led an expedition, including Obsidian, that crossed through this portal and explored Earth.

“The Roman had triggered the portal to open when he fell through a cleft in the back of a volcanic cave. Obsidian’s mistress estimated that this portal must have been formed millions of years ago. That mistress understood the process, but Obsidian sure didn’t, and therefore neither do we.

“She’s team searched the Earth, and found dozens of other such portals in other volcanic caves scattered across the world. None of the others seemed to lead to Equestria, but the Princesses didn’t want to take any chances, so She closed all of them, ending with the Roman’s portal.

“You can look over the relevant sections of the memoirs yourself if you’d like, but any time Obsidian tries to transcribe one of She’s theories, it becomes completely incomprehensible, and it’s obvious that Obsidian herself was in way over her head. The only part she understood well enough to make us understand it was the instruction spell.”

“What we need is new blood,” said Caloric. “A blank flank who can read Obsidian’s notes, get a cutie mark in portalology, and solve all our problems for us.”

“That’s what Cognizant was for.”

Caloric groaned. “We’re going to be spending the rest of our lives in this room, aren’t we?”

“No, just until that donkey on the other side of the portal figures out how a magic pencil works.”

“But it’s been two days already.”

“Well remember, the flow of time is variable between worlds,” explained Aether. “It might be the same instant as her arrival on Earth.”

“I hope so,” said Caloric. “What if she doesn’t want to come back?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” countered Aether. “Voltaire and the Roman described Earth as ‘Tartarus for Ponies’. Why would she consider Earth to be a better place than Equestria?”

Blue Belle, who knew she was responsible for Genevieve getting precisely this impression, had taken on more guilt than she could handle, and shuffled sadly out of the closet and back to the world of “death by a thousand cuts”.

~ ~ ~

“There you are!” exclaimed Blueblood. “I’ve decided that it’s time for you to wear this!”

It appeared that Blue Belle’s father was not after her because of that fight.

Held in his magic was a multicolored wig, a static reproduction of the Princess’s own mane, scaled down to a filly’s size.

Blue Belle sighed, and submitted to yet another cut by not resisting when the hideous object was stuck on her head.

Chapter 17

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 17

Blue Belle and her father entered the large outdoor tent that was acting as Princess Celestia’s temporary day audience chamber.

In addition to the usual sights of the Princess, the ministers and the petitioners, Blue Belle also saw several griffons in the crowd. They were attired in the traditional style: plain cylindrical brown boots over foreclaws and hindpaws, facial feathers carefully fluffed out to obscure the beak as much as possible, and an extensive styling of back fur and feathers to create the illusion of a mane. All of the griffon nobility in Griffonia were styled in this fashion.

This group of visitors was the official delegation from Griffonia, led by Sky Shock, seventh in line to Praiseworthy VIII’s ducal throne. Blue Belle liked Sky Shock: she led her delegation with absolutely no patience for horseplay, and unlike certain ponies, she managed to do this without making a foal of herself. She also always had a nice gift for Blue Belle when she visited Equestria.

The official ball in honor of the griffons would be held tonight. For now, they were merely observers.

~ ~ ~

Blue Belle and her father made their way easily through the crowd as it parted ways before them. Blue Belle stopped at the front of the crowd facing the throne, while Blueblood took his place beside his monarch.

~ ~ ~

In the gardens of Canterlot, there was a very foolish and lonely creature called a peacock. While all of the sensible creatures fled into the treetops and the bushes to avoid the ponies that tramped through their grounds, the peacock alone would actually leap out of the bushes, and spread its multicolored tail so that it could be seen, and complimented. If it did not get complimented, it would begin to scream...

~ ~ ~

Crouched on his heels next to Princess Celestia’s throne was the creature Blue Belle considered to be the closest relative the silly peacock had in Canterlot. He had dressed himself up like an apple farmer, and was sitting there in that undignified position, his chest puffed out and the thumbs of his hands hooked into the lapels of his suit, to make his chest look like it was even more puffed out. And what is he proud of? Blue Belle asked herself. Looking weird. That’s the only reason why everypony’s paying more attention to him than to the Princess. Than they should be paying to Father!

Voltaire was the creature that had humiliated her father, and caused jealous ponies to invent even more humiliations, like using logic to prove that his coat wasn’t the purest of whites. She had been hearing taunts of these humiliations from her classmates at Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, the first time she had had to defend herself against somepony else’s verbal assaults. And the worst part, the most-infuriating part, was that Voltaire was always right. Infallibility was a trait that was supposed to belong to goddesses, not stupid hairless creatures too stupid to even know that forelimbs were for walking!

Just once, just once, thought Blue Belle, I want to be there when he makes a foal of himself. Leading ponies into humiliating themselves used to be my specialty! ...wait a second, maybe I can make him humiliate himself...

~ ~ ~

The current matter before the Princess was a land dispute between two brothers in the “no-mare’s land” between Canterlot and the Everfree. The father of the pair had established an apricot farm that had barely managed to support his family. After he died, he split his farm into two pieces too small for either to be sustainable, and now the brothers were petitioning the Princess to overturn the will and pick one of them as sole heir. The elder brother claimed his birth order as his sole justification for getting everything, while the younger brother claimed to have assisted his father for years, and to have given up the chance to form a family.

It was at this point that a third brother stepped forward, claiming the existence of a revised will that gave him everything. When the Princess asked to see this will, the newcomer had the nerve to look surprised, and claimed that he had it back at the inn he was staying in. He then left to retrieve it.

“Well!” said Princess Celestia good-naturedly, putting aside all the paperwork that had been presented so far. “Let us move on to the next petitioner while we wait for Pitt the Younger to return with the will.”

“No!” protested Pitt the Elder. “We have earned the right to be heard, and we do not wish to relinquish it.”

“My brother is right,” chimed in Pitt the Middling. “We shall all wait for Pitt.”

“Very well,” said the Princess. “You two do not mind if we are entertained while we wait?”

The brothers agreed that this was permissible.

“Good!” exclaimed Princess Celestia. “My concertmaster tells me that she has a small piece unrelated to tonight’s gala that she would like to premiere.”

“Excuse me, Princess,” said Blue Belle, stepping out of the crowd. “Before you do that, could I ask Counselor Voltaire a question?”

The Princess smiled indulgently at Blue Belle. “I’m afraid you missed the question and answer session with our human visitor. Perhaps I can arrange for a private audience with him at a later time.”

“Could you tell us about the Frog Princess of Fomalhaut?” the unicorn filly blurted out.

This caused a bit of a stir in the crowd, and an even bigger stir around the throne.

“Yes...” said Voltaire with some hesitation, “I’d be happy to tell you all about the Frog that private audience.”

“But I want to hear about it now!” she protested.

“You promised a most-entertaining tale,” said Eveningstar.

“Well...yes,” said Voltaire, “but I think this is too broad an audience for the effect I was intending...”

“You were not thinking of telling my council a tale that was in any way...salacious...were you, Counselor Voltaire?” asked the Princess with a smile.


“Then I think this would be the ideal time to tell it. The inn that our missing Pitt is heading to is at least a half-hour’s walk away from here. We should have more than enough time for your story and my concertmaster’s sonata.”

“I...well...if you insist,” Voltaire said, rising up from his crouch slightly in order to bow to the Princess. He then fixed a venomous glare at Blue Belle.

Blue Belle for her part smiled in satisfaction. This ought to be good.

“Beyond forest, meadow and stream, beyond ocean, mountain and desert, lies the Swamp of Fomalhaut,” Voltaire began in a voice low enough that his audience had to lean forward to hear. He was putting his all into this performance—it may have not been the circumstances under which he wished to tell it, but that meant that the story had to be that much funnier, that much more serious, that much more tragic. The story must be the most-entertaining story he could possibly tell. Only in that way could he possibly succeed in getting most of these ponies to hear the story as just a story, and not as something fraught with terrible meaning.

“It is a little place, no bigger than this tent, and not marked on any map. That is because it is a place shunned by those few men who know of it, and I have no doubt that if ponies ever visited my world, they would shun that swamp as well. The place is damp and dismal. A pestilential vapor fills the space between water and zenith at all hours, so that the sun is never visible. The sky is filled with all manner of biting and sucking insects. Will-o’-the-wisps lead foolhardy visitors to their doom. And the water swarms with leeches.

“In short, it is a perfect paradise for the Frogs of Fomalhaut. I suppose I should ask, are there frogs in Equestria?”

“There are, Counselor,” replied the Princess.

“And do they talk?” asked Voltaire.

“No, they do not,” said the Princess.

“Well in general, frogs on Earth do not talk. But the Frogs of Fomalhaut do. They not only talk, they also sing, and in their ears at least, they are the most-beautiful singers in the whole world. Let me try to reproduce for you their most-famous song.” And in a voice pitched so deeply that only a Diamond Dog could have matched it, Voltaire croaked the following: “Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax, brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax!”

The audience looked upon him in stunned amazement.

“Well,” he said bashfully, “my Frog is somewhat rusty. If I have failed to acquaint you with their voices, let me at least convey their appearance.

“A typical Frog of Fomalhaut is about this big.” And so saying, he touched his index fingers and thumbs together to create a circle that he held up to the crowd, keeping his other fingers curled into his hands. “His color is a mix of dark green and dark gray, which allows him to blend in well with his swamp. He has great big eyes on the top of his great big head.” Voltaire held cupped hands to the side of his head to illustrate. “A frog is mostly head, and the part that isn’t is converted into throat when he is singing.” Again, Voltaire used his hands to illustrate, moving them out and back from his chest to show how much a frog’s throat expanded.

Voltaire took a brief look around, to see that the ponies were eating all this up with big grins on their faces. He suspected this was just because they were not used to bipeds and the ways they could use their hands to illustrate their stories.

“There is a balance in all things,” Voltaire told his audience, “and in return for their ability to think and to speak, the Frogs of Fomalhaut are remarkably vulnerable, much more than even an ordinary frog of Earth or Equestria. For example, if a sleepwalking pony ever happened to walk closer than its own body length next to one of these magical frogs, the minuscule vibrations would be enough to send that poor frog to a hospital, to heal it of the resulting injuries. And that is a walking pony, mind you. A trotting pony could completely destroy Fomalhaut civilization before she had even realized what she was doing. Fomalhaut Frogs also only live for a single year, but I dare say that in that brief span they manage to fit in a full lifetime of happiness, for these frogs know of no predators, are never hungry, and always feel perfectly safe.

“The protector of these frogs was the Princess Fisby. Fisby was universally beloved by all of her amphibian subjects, who considered her to be the most amazing and wonderful creature in all of Creation. Fisby possessed a nearly unlimited quantity of magic: by exerting herself to her utmost, she could just about get that sleepwalking pony I mentioned earlier to topple over. She was also incredibly long-lived, having been around for at least thirty-five years! In size she was perfectly enormous, fully twice as big as any ordinary frog.” To illustrate this, he held up his hands with index fingers and thumbs touching as before, and them opened out his other fingers to chart out Fisby’s size. “Her hue was a sort of greenish-purplish mess that the frogs considered to be aesthetically the most perfect color possible. Her eyes glistened with the most divine of slimes, and when she spoke, her voice was a full octave deeper than her subjects—truly a voice of beauty and refinement!” Voltaire uttered these lines with the deepest of respect, which of course only caused the listening ponies to laugh all the more.

“What about her hair?” Blue Belle interrupted.

“Her hair?” Voltaire replied in confusion.

Blue Belle removed her Celestia wig and floated it over until it rested on top of Voltaire’s head. “She had the same hair as Princess Celestia of course, didn’t she?”

Blue Belle exulted as Voltaire squirmed. It was obvious to her that the human had only invented this story as a way to indirectly humiliate the Princess.

Well, now that motive has been made fully obvious to everypony.

“Err, yes...” Voltaire said, thinking furiously, “her hair.” He decided to take what he had been given, and run with it. “When Princess Fisby was young, she had a vision, a vision of the majestic Princess of Equestria!” As he said this, Voltaire suddenly stood, sweeping his arm to indicate the Princess beside him. This caused the audience, most of whom had not had the chance to see the human standing upright, to gasp in unison. Voltaire waited for the crowd to settle down before continuing: “Fisby saw that Princess Celestia cared for her ponies, protected them from harm, and helped them to achieve their hopes and dreams. Fisby had been born with powers beyond those of other frogs, and she decided to use those gifts to emulate her inspiration. Fisby was by no means a goddess, she couldn’t even defend herself against a foal, but she would use every ounce of the strength she had to try to make her subjects one-tenth as happy as you ponies. And as a symbol of this pact she made with herself, Princess Fisby fashioned a wig out of dyed swamp grass. Fisby’s subjects thought this only made her more pleasing to look upon. What do you think?”

Voltaire roughed up the multi-colored wig on his head before bulging out his eyes, puffing out his cheeks, and spreading his lips as far down and back as he could. He then opened and closed his mouth a few times and flicked his tongue out, darted his eyes a couple times in a “come-hither” sort of gesture, and in his deep froggy voice uttered the words “Am I not beautiful?” This got a good laugh out of the crowd, especially from Princess Celestia.

“Frogs were nocturnal creatures,” said Voltaire once he had their attention once more. “They sang and played by night, and slept by day. But Princess Fisby allowed herself only a few moments of sleep every twenty-four hours, and then only during the night. During the day, she had work to do.

“Princess Fisby’s magic created the fog that kept predators from finding Fomalhaut Swamp, and each day it had to be renewed. She personally tended the stinking plants that attracted the stinging insects that the frogs needed to live. She also cared for and pampered the spoiled tribe of will-o’-the-wisps, so that they would use their confusion magic on the frogs’ enemies, and not on them. Most importantly, she alone fought off any predators that were not deterred by fog or insects or wisps.

“And in return for this, every evening Princess Fisby would be greeted by a chorus of frogs singing ‘Brr-deep! Brr-deep!’ In Frog, this phrase meant ‘Hail, glorious Goddess of Frogdom!’

“Fisby hated to be called a goddess. Time and again she would try to correct her subjects, and time and again they would laugh her off. ‘How humble our Goddess is,’ they would tell themselves, ‘that She would pretend to be mortal in order to not humble us poor, worthless frogs!’ A group of frog priests set themselves up and surrounded their princess. They told her it was to protect her from any subjects that might try to hurt her, but in reality it was in order to become rich and powerful from controlling the means of access to their ruler.

“Meanwhile, froggy philosophers would debate the part their presumed goddess had in the nature of the universe. ‘How is it,’ they asked themselves, ‘that evil can exist in this, the best of all possible worlds? For surely, with Princess Fisby looking over us, this must be a perfect world. And yet occasionally a frog will accidentally wander out of the swamp, and meet an untimely end. And another time, one frog will seek to make another miserable, in order to achieve unworthy ends. And sometimes we are stricken by plague, and many of us sicken. How can this be? How can evil exist in a world where the Supreme Goddess is a frog?’

“When the priests heard these questions, they would laugh them off. ‘Foolish philosopher,’ they would answer, ‘your question comes from ignorance, nothing more. Everything that happens, happens by the will of Fisby. The frog that wanders out of the swamp is being divinely punished for being too stupid to live. Every struggle of one frog with another is to root out an evil or blasphemous thought that had entered into their heads. And when the plague comes, it only strikes those who deserve what happens to them. This is the best of all possible worlds, and the best you poor deluded frogs can do under the circumstances is to bless our Princess all the more for making this world the way it is, and pray that one day you might be delivered the wisdom of us priests, to know this fact for a certainty.’ And the philosopher frog would then be thrown into the prison to rot.

“Now I ask you all to consider the question of the philosopher frog.” Voltaire spread his arms wide, and swept them to include everyone in the tent. “Fomalhaut is on Earth, which is not a place visited by Princess Celestia very often.” The Princess laughed a little at this, which of course meant that all of the guests had to laugh as well. “In all of that swamp, the only creature who acts for the well-being of that swamp and its inhabitants is Princess Fisby. That means that, mortal as she is, she is the closest thing to a goddess that Fomalhaut has.

“Princess Fisby does not know all. She is not all-powerful. And she cannot be in all places at once. She knows her swamp better than any other creature in it, but she knows nothing of mathematics, or poetry, or haute cuisine, to say nothing of realms of knowledge that would be useful to her, like the origins and motivations of the many kinds of predators she has to face each day. Princess Fisby is roughly a dozen times stronger, tougher and more magical than the average frog, but the enemies she faces each day are easily more powerful than her. She succeeds through her wits, her courage, and a great deal of luck. The philosopher frog wanted to know, in the best of all possible worlds, why Princess Fisby would allow evil to exist in her Swamp. The answer is that the Swamp of Fomalhaut was not the best of all possible worlds. It was merely the best world that one mortal frog could possibly create for her subjects.”

Voltaire gave an apologetic and somewhat frightened look to his audience. “I wish to be very clear at this point. Fomalhaut is on Earth. A swamp on Equestria would have a completely different fate. Every spot on Equestria is guarded by our illustrious and perfect Princess Celestia. The Princess ensures that this is indeed the best of all possible worlds, and that everything that happens does happen for a good reason. I do not want my listeners for a moment to think that I was advancing Princess Fisby’s philosophy of life as one that anypony would wish to pay serious attention to. I simply wished to help you get inside the mind of my protagonist. Have we got that settled? Then I will tell you about the night that everything in the Fomalhaut changed.

“One evening, the frogs awoke from their sleep and began singing ‘Brr-deep! Brr-deep!’, only to find that there was no princess to hear it. They searched high and low, from the tops of the cypress trees to the bottoms of the bogs. Finally they found her, lying atop a lone lily pad. She was horrifically bloodied and just barely clinging to life. Nearby was the inert form of a monstrous crane, easily twenty times her size. The fight between them had been done entirely in silence, and frogs sleeping not a pony-length away dismissed those sounds as but figments of their dreams. Even when the Princess had been so grievously injured, she had not cried out, because she thought her blow was mortal, and wished to delay their grief at her demise for as long as possible.”

Voltaire spared another look at his audience, and knew he had them in the palm of his hand. There were even tears in a few eyes.

“The frogs looked upon this scene in horror, complete and utter horror. Never had they imagined that a monster like this crane could possibly exist. They could all see that if it had not been stopped then it would have gobbled up dozens and dozens of them in their sleep. All of the strongest frogs gathered together and, by working harder than they had ever worked in their entire lives, they were able to drag the crane out of the swamp, far enough away that they hoped that it would never return. They were the first frogs ever to leave the Fomalhaut and return alive, and the tales they brought back of dry land left the other frogs looking like this.” Voltaire gave his listeners his impression of a gape-mouthed frog, earning another laugh. It was a rather uncomfortable laugh, though, seeing as it came in the middle of the most-dramatic part of his story.

“And then there was their Princess,” Voltaire continued. “She was mortal! Mortal, and bleeding to death. The frogs that knew a little about medicine came forward. They were frightened, terribly frightened, frightened to touch their princess, and even more frightened of failing her. But eventually they stopped the bleeding. Together, all of the frogs who found the Princess built a bier, and putting her atop it, they solemnly carried her back to the log that their ancestors had given her to live in when she had begun her reign.

“The log was guarded by the priests, who quickly took the senseless body of the Princess. The Head Priest stepped forward, and told the frogs that what they had seen was an illusion, a test given them by the Princess. Princess Fisby was still a goddess, he said, and they were to go about their froggy business and pretend that all this had never happened...because it hadn’t.

“The frogs responded to this pronouncement by laying their froggy hands on the profane bodies of the priests, and throwing them bodily out of the swamp, never allowed to return. All of the priests’ prisoners were freed, and to add insult to injury, they were put in charge of Fomalhaut until the Princess recovered.

“It took a month for Princess Fisby to recover from her injuries. During this month, the frogs had to learn what it took to keep Fomalhaut safe for their kind. The day after the Princess was injured, her fog burned off, and the swamp was assaulted by a veritable army of predators, led by the very crane that had nearly finished her. The frogs tried to appeal to the will-o’-the-wisps, but those fickle creatures abandoned them, so they had to fight off snakes, turtles, herons and even raccoons all by themselves. The battle seemed hopeless, until a couple dozen young frogs discovered the magic that had been buried inside of them all this time, and summoned up the protective fog, so much thicker than Princess Fisby had ever been able to create, and complete with its own illusions to replace the wisps. Under cover of this fog, the assault was turned back at the cost of many many injuries, and Fomalhaut was saved.

“A month passed, and the only frog who got any sleep on a regular basis during this time was Princess Fisby, who was kept completely ignorant of what was happening. Finally, she emerged to speak with her subjects. She looked down from her log throne upon their faces, and was appalled. Her innocent subjects, once free from any care, now knew how truly unfair life was to them. They had all of them fought desperate battles against predators. They had learned how to work with nature to raise their food and shape the nature of the swamp to their liking. And they had learned that Fomalhaut was but a tiny part of a much larger and indifferent world. All of this pain and hardship showed in their faces, but those expressions were also tempered by hope.

“Princess Fisby told her subjects that she was taking back her responsibilities, starting immediately. She apologized profusely for failing them, and for forcing them to learn the unpleasant truth of her duties. She wished for them to go back to their former lives. Those lives were so very brief after all, while she had been blessed with a long life and great powers. Surely it was her purpose in life to shield her subjects from her cares.

“At hearing this, Princess Fisby’s subjects loudly protested. It had been irresponsible of them to reject her frequent hints at her true nature, and to never ask about the true nature of their world. It was true that she was a greater frog than they were, but only by a finite amount. One Fisby was equal to ten or twelve normal frogs, not an infinite number, as they once believed. Since there were ten times twelve frogs in Fomalhaut, one Fisby alone was not enough to protect them. From this moment forth, the Princess would be served during the day by a rotating contingent of frogs that would assist her in her tasks. It would be the proud duty of everyfroggy to share the burden of the Princess, and they even appointed days every month when the contingent would be extra large, so that the Princess would finally be allowed to sleep. She protested that as part of her special nature she didn’t need to sleep much, but they were quite adamant on this point.

“And so the nature of frog society was transformed. And that is why when Princess Fisby greets her subjects every evening, she no longer hears the chorus of ‘Brr-deep! Brr-deep!’, but rather ‘Ribbit! Ribbit!’ For ‘ribbit ribbit’ is Frog for ‘Thank You’.”

There was a moment of utter silence at the conclusion of Voltaire’s story, only to be followed by a thunderous applause from everypony present. It was the most-satisfying ovation the human had received in his entire life.

As he was bowing, Voltaire felt a hoof on his shoulder, and turned to see Princess Celestia looking at him, tears of grateful joy in her eyes.

As he took in that look, Voltaire failed to notice that in a small number of ponies, the looks of happiness at hearing a good story gradually turned to confusion and, in an even smaller minority, some of those looks of confusion turned to rage.

Blue Belle stumbled out of the tent in a haze.

Voltaire is deliberately trying to undermine the divinity of the Princess! her mind’s voice railed at her. And She actually wants him to do it!

Does he actually want the kingdom to collapse? If enough ponies believe such a lie, it will surely be the end of Equestria!

What could he possibly gain from such a plan? Is he truly that petty, that full of himself, that he’d be willing to say such a thing about Her, just to pull Her down to his level?

Celestia is the most powerful being in Equestria!

But She wanted him to tell that story.

Her power is infinite.

But She wanted him to tell that story.

Her knowledge is infinite.

But she wanted him to tell that story.

Her every action has always been just, and She has never been wrong. Her assumption of the title of Princess was justified, Her absorption of the Unicorn and Pegasus kingdoms and the Earth Pony republic were justified, her Judgment of Pinwin (which gave the home village of my ancestors over to the dragons in order to prevent a war) was wise, as was her decision to chase down the Meteor of 6748 by herself, subjecting herself to potentially fatal injury in order to save the whole’s true! Celestia is mortal! Celestia is mortal!

~ ~ ~

Blue Belle was overcome by a tremendous generalized fear, and felt like she was going to be physically sick. But this was not the result of any spell of Celestia’s. Rather, Blue Belle had suddenly discovered herself to be completely cured of the “spell” of Princess Celestia herself.

She was the first pony to have undergone this miraculous mental transformation.

She would not be the last.

Chapter 18

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 18

That night was the grand ball in honor of the delegation from Griffonia. The grand ballroom was decked out in colors of orange and brown, and everywhere was to be found actual and symbolic representations of peaches, the griffon export especially loved by the ponies.

Princess Celestia’s counselors surrounded her as she watched the dances from her dais. Voltaire was particularly pleased by the music, because it sounded a century out of date. The human may have been at the very forefront when it came to the matters of rights and freedoms, but in the arts, he was most-definitely a retrograde. He considered the era of the previous French king, Louis XIV, to be the very height of human civilization, a peak that he believed would never again be attained. For this reason he valued the music of Lully far above that of Vivaldi or Bach, Voltaire’s contemporaries. On the floor a step below him, ponies and griffons were performing a quadrille—on Earth, this was a form of dance that (in Voltaire’s day at least) was only performed by mounted horses.

Behind them, Cog was up on a ladder, trying to nail a mechanical monstrosity to the wall. Being an earth pony, wielding the hammer was proving difficult. Most of the guests tried to reduce his humiliation by pretending they didn’t see him.

Eventually the dance ended. The ponies applauded by lightly tapping the floor with their forehooves, and the griffons did the same using the boots over their claws, despite the fact that it would be easier for them to applaud as a human or dragon does. The concertmaster turned to face the audience and bowed.

Now came the moment of the event that was the centerpiece, while simultaneously being the most yawn-inducing: the time for self-aggrandizing speechifying. Voltaire was only slightly disappointed to find that not even the Princess herself was immune to this phenomenon.

“I feel a special kinship with the griffons,” she said, as servants passed around mugs filled with a frothy brown beer. “When I took in Otto Feuerhausen, or Duke Thunderwing as he came to be known, I treated him like my own son. I taught him everything I knew about politics, but more importantly, I taught him of the power of friendship.

“It was through the power of friendship that he turned a crumbing frontier outpost into a thriving pony community, turned an army of forty pony volunteers into five hundred mostly-griffon followers, gained ally after ally without resorting to arms, and healed the seemingly irreparable breach in Griffonia’s royal bloodline.

“Therefore, in no small way, I feel responsible for Griffonia’s fate: the occasional missteps of its past, as well as its recent triumphs against draconic encroachment. May I now offer a toast!” And so saying, she picked up her large mug of griffon beer with one hoof. “To the intertwined fates of Equestria and Griffonia: may we together face a most glorious future!”

“Hear, hear!”

The next to speak was the leader of the griffon delegation, Sky Shock. “Tonight,” she began, “marks an historic occasion.” She was speaking Equine fluently, with only a slight Griffon accent. The feathers around her eyes were colored light blue in contrast to the white of the rest of her head and neck, and formed flame-shaped masks. “One hundred years ago today, the griffons and the ponies signed an unprecedented trade agreement, dropping almost all of the tariffs that blocked the free and equal trade between our peoples. The result has been happiness and prosperity, riches the likes of which neither Equestria nor Griffonia had ever known. And all of our subjects have shared in this plenteous bounty! A toast!”

“A toast to the true beneficiaries to this bounty,” interrupted Gordon caustically, “which most certainly does not include the poorest of the poor. A toast to the rich, who made sure that the destitute got nothing. A toast to the current arrangement: power and glory for the nobles, so they might drive the nails of oppression ever deeper into the hooves of the impoverished! Same as it ever was, same as it ever was!”

Princess Celestia sighed inwardly as Gordon drained his glass alone. Her jester had definitely taken a turn for the bitter as the days since the loss of his daughter built up. But, as was usual for the court jester, his words were completely ignored by everypony. Unheard by Celestia, Sky Shock had completed her toast by raising her voice over Gordon’s, and the others had already drunk to it. The only other person who seemed to have actually heard Gordon’s words was Voltaire...

And Voltaire had stopped breathing.

“Voltaire...” she said gently, to no response. “Voltaire!”

The human suddenly snapped out his reverie and looked up at her. “Yes, Your Royal Highness?”

Celestia saw a deep-seated fear now in his eyes, which were nervously scanning the crowd. She would have liked to ask him about it, but this was not the time. “I would have the pleasure of your company tonight, before Cog’s party.”

Voltaire nodded. “We have much to discuss,” he said, before turning back to watch the curious crowd that was looking at them.

~ ~ ~

A few minutes later, a couple of griffon guards led a younger male griffon into the ballroom and up to Sky Shock. He was colored similarly to her, but without the eye masks. The nobleffony[1] looked upon him in dismay: he was wearing no boots, his beak was quite prominent, and he had no trace of a mane. He was at least wearing the orange cap that translated Griffon into Equine. “[Thundering Paws, you are a disgrace to your herd!]” she hissed at him in Griffon through a closed beak. “[Compose yourself for your Princess!]”

Translator’s Note #1: If a noble pony is a noblepony, then a noble griffon is a nobleffony. And no, you’re not allowed to snicker when you hear it.

The younger griffon laughed in her face, and let the cap translate his words into Equine so that all might hear: “Mother, shall I tell you how many errors you have made in those two sentences alone? First, I have told you before and I tell you again, I will not accept the pony name of Thundering Paws! Paws do not thunder, hooves do! Address me as my friends do, by my birth name, by my griffon name: Leopold of the Frozen North! Second, we are not a herd, we are a flock! And finally, finally my dear Mother, I shall not compose myself for ‘my’ Princess, because she is not my Princess! My loyalty is due to my duchess. I shall respect Her Royal Highness Celestia in her lands, and thank her for the gift of the sun, but her sovereignty does not extend to the Aerie! Our own Praiseworthy should not be a duchess, she should be a princess, like Celestia! For does she not rule her own land and people like Celestia rules her land and people?” He turned away from the gaping noble to face the Princess, and was pleased to see that she was intrigued rather than infuriated at him. He bowed respectfully in her direction, but not too deeply. “Your pardon, Your Highness, for my rude behavior just now, but I do have a small question to which you alone possess the answer.”

“You may ask...Leopold, but I do not promise that I shall answer.”

“Is it true that Duke Thunderwing was only a duke because he expected you to annex Griffonia?”

Celestia frowned. “He did ask it of me, yes. Many times in fact, but I refused him. It was only a small minority of the griffons who wished to adopt pony ways, and I felt that to make the griffons part of Equestria, to make them obey laws that were meant for ponies, would in the end cause far more anguish than happiness.”

Leopold now gave the Princess the deep bow he had refused her before. “You are indeed a wise monarch, oh Princess.”

“Tell me, Leopold,” Voltaire asked with a smile. “Are you an only child? I expect that Sky Shock wouldn’t have a feather left on her head if she had to handle more than one of you.”

“I have an older sister,” Leopold said quietly, looking off into the distance. “Her name is Grizelda.” He then cast a glance as his mother. “Sky Spire, I mean. She works in the Bakery[2].” Voltaire noticed that Sky Shock lightly bit her tongue on hearing her son say that last sentence.

Translator’s Note #2: I could (and in fact did) write an entire monograph of the implications of this crucial fact about the Equine and Griffon languages: they use the same word to mean both “bakery” and “armory”.

“You see,” Sky Shock explained to Voltaire, “griffons, like ponies, are divided into three tribes: the Flyers, the Magicians, and the majority, who are the peasants. Sky Spire was born without magical ability and...unable to fly. Like all nobility in this situation, she was taken to the Bakery upon reaching her majority...where she’s been ever since.” Her voice nearly broke on the word “where”. “The Bakery is where all who cannot serve the Duchess in any other way dwell. The place is guarded by the Forty—the hundreds of descendants of the ponies who accompanied Thunderwing into Griffonia, like Plasticity here.” She gestured towards the geologist pony who had accompanied the griffons to Canterlot, and was currently trying to keep from blushing because Nightingale was smiling sweetly at him.

~ ~ ~

Wah! Wah! Wah! Wah! Wah! Wah! Wah! Wah!

The ponies all looked in shock at Cog’s invention. A door in the front was open, and a little wooden bird standing on a platform (with an enormous plumed tail) was being thrust out and pulled back in for each obnoxious sound.

“What does that mean?” Celestia asked Cog, rubbing an ear with a hoof to try and restore her hearing.

“It means that it is 8 o’clock,” Cog explained.

“Well, I guess that’s the end of the party then,” the Princess announced. “It was quite enjoyable. Thank you all!” She then turned and walked out of a side door, followed by all of the counselors except for Voltaire.

The guests agreed with the true reason for the Princess’s sudden departure (not wanting to be in the same room with a device that made a sound like that), and quickly exited the room as well.

“So, what do you think?” Cog asked his adviser eagerly. “It’s called a peacock clock.”

“I think you might want to try using a different bird,” Voltaire replied. “One that doesn’t make everyone want to destroy your invention.”

“Good idea!” said Cog. “One problem though—the part of the clock that makes the sound is a non-magical dragon invention (I wanted to avoid using any magic in my clocks if at all possible), and I’m not sure if I can figure out how to modify it.”

“Who in their right mind would want to invent a device that does nothing but mimic the most-annoying sound in Nature?” Voltaire asked incredulously.

“Oh, it was a very clever dragon,” Cog explained with an innocent smile, “by the name of Oubliette. After he presented it to the chief of his clan, he was rewarded with an all-new type of room, named for him! He got to spend the rest of his life in it, listening to his invention over and over and over again!”

Voltaire face-palmed.

Voltaire eventually found the Princess and Eveningstar waiting for him in the same small room he had earlier seen Celestia and her family tree. That particular document was no nowhere to be seen. Voltaire entered the room and closed the door behind them.

“So,” said Celestia. “There was a matter you wished to discuss?”

“Your Royal Highness, I know that Equine has a word for ‘revolution’. Does it have any...political meaning for you?”

“Only in the outer lands,” answered Eveningstar. “The dragons like to say they have undergone one every time a clan chief has been replaced. In reality though, those are merely coups by a small minority. I don’t think there has ever been a true revolution of the people.”

Voltaire sighed and ran a hand across his face as he tried to collect his thoughts. “There is...a sort of pattern in human history,” he told them. “I do not know if ponies are vulnerable to this pattern, in fact I cannot be sure that this pattern actually exists in human history, as I have never encountered a work by any other historian pointing it out. It is somewhat evident in French history, a little more obvious in German history, and blatantly obvious in English history, but the English are themselves blithely ignorant of it.”

It seemed obvious to Celestia that the human was trying to prolong as long as possible getting to the unpleasant point of his argument. “Go on,” she prompted him.

“Well, consider your average two-tiered society,” Voltaire said. “You have the peasants, who do all the work and get none of the reward, and you have the nobility and royalty, who do none of the work and get all of the reward. This situation arose because the nobility saved the peasantry from conquest in the past, or perhaps they were the ones doing the conquering, and the peasants are the vanquished.”

Considering that Voltaire was himself a minor member of the nobility, and he was talking to two rather peeved nobles, he felt the need for a disclaimer: “Nobility have a definite purpose in life: they use their leisure and prosperity to fund the artists that justify our existence as a race. They also have the time for education and self-study, which leads to wisdom. They are the rulers, and they deserve to be.

“But over time they forget about their responsibilities,” he continued. “They expect the rewards without having to work for them, and they expect greater and greater amounts of respect and tribute from the peasants for doing this. Eventually, they stop even considering the lower classes as belonging to the same species as themselves.

“Meanwhile for the peasant, life becomes more and more unbearable. But the important thing to realize here is that this is a gradual process. Over the course of a single lifetime, no peasant ever realizes that things are getting worse and, being illiterate, have no way of learning this.

“This trend can continue indefinitely, until something comes to disrupt it, and that disruption is always the same: prosperity. Adversity actually makes things better, as it drives weak and powerful together, but prosperity pushes the classes apart. The rich get richer and, by controlling the flow of money, keep most of those riches out of the hands of the poor. Then they use their newfound wealth to make the poor even more miserable.

“Now, for the first time, the peasants can see their lives getting worse by the year instead of by the lifetime, and they can see where the trend is headed. Keep this up for a century, follow by a minor crisis of any kind, and the result is revolution.

“Most of the time, these attempted revolutions fail, but sometimes they succeed, and things get really, really ugly. Sooner or later, however, the nobility always regain control, because they are more organized and because they are facing a group habitually used to obeying orders. The resulting counter-revolution is even worse than the revolution, as the nobility conquer their own people. And so the cycle is reset.”

“Wow,” said Eveningstar in dismay. “That’s...that’s horrible!”

Celestia uncomfortably rubbed the side of her neck with one hoof. “I had hoped that humanity had found a way out of that kind of trap. The Romans seemed particularly vulnerable to it. Tell me you at least got rid of slavery.”

Now it was Voltaire’s turn to feel uncomfortable. “Ah...depends on the continent.” He brightened up slightly. “Europe doesn’t have it. We still have serfdom,” he added under his breath, “but not slavery.

“Is there any chance that a revolution could happen in Equestria?” Eveningstar asked, eyes wide.

Celestia sighed deeply. “No,” she finally answered. “I will never be overthrown by a popular uprising based on class warfare.”

Voltaire stared at her in disbelief for a few seconds.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Celestia smiled coyly at him, raising one eyebrow. “Yes...?”

“How do you...?”

“I know, Voltaire.”

“You...know. You know because ponies are incapable of disloyal thoughts?”

“I never put a restriction like that upon them,” said Celestia. “In fact, I am rather proud of the fact that it is just not magically possible for anyone to restrict ponies’ thoughts in that way. Do you think you would have been allowed to form a shadow government today otherwise?”

“I suppose not,” answered Voltaire. “Well, do you know because...wait, that is a really specific statement of fact: you will never be overthrown, by a popular uprising, based on class warfare. You leave yourself wide open for any number of miscellaneous political disturbances with a statement like that.”

“Voltaire, I know certain things. Never mind how I know them, I just do. It’s only a very few things, and the vast majority of them have already happened. Just trust me on this.”

Voltaire bowed his head. Running around quoting prophesies, Voltaire thought. You’re not making my Grand Plan for your benefit any easier, you know!

~ ~ ~

“There has to be some way for humans to avoid that unfortunate cycle,” commented Eveningstar.

“I am in complete agreement,” Voltaire said earnestly, “because the alternative is the complete destruction of France. Long-term, the best solution is the education of the masses, so they have the tools to peacefully fight back against oppression themselves. In the short term, the best way to avoid revolution is for the powerful to be aware of the needs of the powerless. That is the duty of the enlightened monarch.”

“Does Earth have any of those?” asked the Princess.

“Few, very few,” Voltaire said sadly. “But I have been most fortunate in having one of them as my employer.”

“King Friedrich,” said Celestia. “Tell me about him, Voltaire—perhaps I have something to learn from an enlightened monarch.”

“King Friedrich the Great was the eldest son of King Friedrich William, the so-called ‘Soldier-king’ of Prussia,” recited Voltaire. This was from a biographical speech he had prepared several years earlier in a vain attempt to gain Émilie’s sympathy for the man. “The father centralized the government. He centralized everything, really—he sought to control his kingdom as much as possible through laws and regulations instead of the prior system of mass corruption and terror. That phrase I used once, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’? That was Friedrich William’s catch-phrase. He was an absolute despot, with a terrible temper, but he had the virtue of detesting his nobility at least as much as he despised his peasantry. Prince Friedrich was the heir to the throne from his birth. Instead of being raised as a pampered aristocrat, his father insisted that he be raised as a common soldier. This was an improvement, but young Friedrich insisted on teaching himself the classics and contemporary philosophy in secret. That’s how he first got in contact with me.

“Most people don’t think they get the father that they deserve. Prince Friedrich hated his father. He wanted to be a philosopher, and out of all of the competing schools of thought he decided to follow mine. This is rather funny, because I have no school of thought, just a string of disconnected beliefs. Nevertheless, he made me his honorary father, and he built up a court of idealistic young men that shared my views. I wasn’t then able to join him—perhaps that was for the best. He got an admiration of English customs from me, and when he turned 18, he tried to escape Prussia and flee to England. He was caught, and forced by his father to watch the punishment dealt out to his best friend. I won’t tell you what that punishment was, but I will tell you that Prince Friedrich went mad for three whole days afterwards. As soon as he recovered, he intrigued to get himself married to the heiress of the Emperor of Austria, which would have automatically excluded him from the Prussian succession. For this, he was punished by having the only remaining source of happiness in his life, his sister Wilhelmina, taken away to marry a margrave. He was then himself married to a loathsome client of the Austrians, for whom he could feel neither love nor friendship.

“At the age of 27, I helped him to write the Anti-Machiavel, an anonymous refutation of the soulless political manual he had been raised under, and which the rulers of Europe to this day give more respect than the Holy Bible. The next year, he finally succeeded to the throne of Prussia. He immediately began putting into place the reforms I and other philosophers had urged upon him. Religious tolerance was proclaimed, work programs were instituted for the poor, the insane were given charitable treatment...” (a slight pause here to ponder the way that this last one had affected the life of one François-Marie Arouet) “...and the tax system was reformed to be less oppressive. In addition, he set vast projects in place to reclaim lands from the swamps and to plant newly-discovered crops like the mysterious potato.”

“So is he an ideal king?” asked Celestia.

“,” answered Voltaire hesitantly. “For better or for worse, Friedrich William made King Friedrich the man he is today. He started his reign by taking Silesia from the Austrians, and even now he plots additional wars to fill in the holes in his territories—because of a series of dynastic arrangements, the map of Prussia looks like a Swiss cheese. Even more unfortunately, this ambition threatens to trigger a war between the English and the French. With their extensive colonies on every continent, the next Prussian war could become the first-ever World War. Friedrich also shares his father’s unfortunate temper, although luckily, he has thus far displayed it on far fewer occasions than Frederick William.”

Celestia nodded to herself on the completion of Voltaire’s account, but said nothing.

“That was an interesting observation about fathers,” said Eveningstar. “If this isn’t too personal, may I ask if you got the father you deserved?”

Voltaire scowled. “No, I most certainly did not. My father was interested in one thing and one thing only: getting rich, by any means necessary. He believed that with enough money he could buy himself all the respect he could ever want, and in the corrupt world of contemporary France, he was absolutely right. He always preferred my elder brother Armand over me, because Armand knew enough to keep his opinions to himself.”

“You still haven’t learned that lesson, Voltaire,” Celestia said, laughing gently at him.

“Yes, well the fact remains that I am nothing like my father.”

“Nothing?” Celestia said with raised brow. “Nothing he taught you managed to stick?”

“Well...there is one thing. Right after I returned to France from my first exile...”

“...your first exile?” Eveningstar interrupted with an incredulous grin. “What happened, did you decide to quit being banished?”

“As I was saying,” Voltaire said insistently, “after I returned, a scientist friend of mine made me aware of a new government lottery designed to get the crown’s finances out of a hole. This lottery had been so incompetently set up that there was a way to legally extract huge sums from it, a sort of ‘intelligence tax’ that the clever could levy on idiotic government officials and use to line our own pockets. I made myself absurdly wealthy from this before a panicked government finally shut it down. If I was anyone else, I would have spent all of that money in five years and spent the rest of my life in poverty, but I was the son of a greedy treasurer, so I knew how to invest and loan the money out so that I was set for life. That is the primary reason that I was able to put my true opinions to paper, because the truth never sells in my world.

“If I may dare to ask the Princess the same question,” Voltaire said with a crafty smile, “did you get the father you deserve?”

Princess Celestia gave Voltaire a long cold look before finally answering. “My father made me the Celestia you see today.” Without another word, she turned and walked out of the room, her horn’s magic opening and closing the door.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” said Eveningstar.

Voltaire shook his head. “She didn’t say that her father made her what she is today. She said that her father made her what she is today.”

Chapter 19

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 19

“Count Algarotti? If you could wake up please? Count...? Count...?”

Algarotti opened a pair of bleary eyes. He was lying in a wretched cot, and two figures were looking expectantly at him: that idiot Jordan and the talking donkey child that he had to pretend to be nice to. He noticed that the little artist had been drawing him in his sleep. The floor was covered with her drawings—he knew that for a fact because he knew her style now—and one that most-certainly was not hers. This extra drawing was of a girl, a human girl, at a party attended by the King, his court, and apparently even the girl’s dead mother. This artist knew nothing about the proper way to portray spirits in European portraiture.

“What time is it?” Algarotti asked with a froggy voice.

“A quarter after nine, My Lord,” Jordan replied, his head bowed. “The King is here.”

“The King!” Algarotti exclaimed, fully awake now. His immediate response was fear that King Friedrich had somehow learned of his plan. Or one of them, at least. Algarotti had an awful lot of plans.

Genevieve looked at him with a worried look on her face, and that made Algarotti even more nervous. She saw me when my guard was down, he realized. Is she already beginning to see through me? Curse children and their damned ability to see through lies!

After he had made himself presentable, Algarotti headed down to the kitchen, where the King of Prussia was sitting in a chair and listening attentively as the attendants took turns telling him the story of Ivan’s escape and recapture.

“Your Majesty,” Algarotti said as he entered the kitchen, accompanying this with a bow and a sweep of one arm.

“Algarotti,” King Friedrich noted, raising an eyebrow. “So you are here. Well, that saves me some trouble. Guards, arrest that man.”


A pair of guards sprang out to grab his arms, having been standing on either side of the doorway in wait. A third guard then found and removed his pistol. Walking out from their company to stand before the stunned count with a smug grin was President Maupertuis, the same man who had plotted to get Voltaire institutionalized two days ago.

“Pierre!” Algarotti exclaimed. “I thought we were friends!”

“Ah, but that was before you became an evil influence to the king,” Maupertuis explained in an oily voice.


“A dreadful mistake has been made,” said King Friedrich. “Some foul schemer has tricked me into throwing my dear mentor Voltaire into an insane asylum, can you imagine? Now, since I am the king, I never make a mistake, so therefore, I was misled into this disastrous course of action.”

“Of course,” Algarotti said, nodding vigorously. “You were misled by Maupertuis.”

“On the contrary,” Maupertuis said. “I, too, was misled, into thinking that a harmless work of fiction by the beloved Voltaire was actually treasonous in content. I was led into this you.”

“By me? I merely observed that Micromegas was the kind of book that Voltaire would write to mock a king. You’re the one who decided to act on it!”

“No, no, no,” the King said calmly. “Maupertuis is the President of the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences. Arresting him would reveal an error of judgment on my part in appointing him to such a prestigious position. My private art dealer, on the other hand, is completely expendable.”

Algarotti swallowed audibly.

“Your Majesty!” cried out a guard. He rushed into the kitchen from behind Algarotti. His two handlers moved him aside for a moment to let the guard through. The man then kneeled before his sovereign, and said, “We have searched all of the cells, and have found no trace of Monsieur Voltaire!”

“WHAT?!” the King bellowed. “Where is he?!”

The kneeling guard shrank. “There is something else...”

“Out with it, Soldier.”

“The madman named Oscar claimed that Algarotti here knew where Voltaire was hiding.”

Algarotti began to think of several unpleasant things to do with Oscar if they should ever meet again.

“I’m not sure we can trust the word of a madman,” King Friedrich said cautiously. “But I know what I can trust: the word of a man being tortured.”

What?!” exclaimed two voices at once.

Algarotti turned his head to see Genevieve a few feet away from him. “Genevieve,” he begged, “lend your pencil to somebody who can draw a portal. We have to get Voltaire back now!”

Genevieve stood there, her legs spread far apart like she was bracing herself for fight or flight, her whole body trembling. “Nn...nnno!” she answered after an internal struggle. “If I do that then I’ll have to go home. And I’m never going home, ever again!”

King Friedrich and his men looked on incredulously. “What madness is this?” the King asked, as he stepped forward to get a look at the donkey.

“You’re the King!” Genevieve exclaimed, looking up at him, seeing the utter and complete self-confidence that only kings (and madmen) in Europe possessed. “Please let my friend Francesco go.”

Friedrich wheeled about to confront Algarotti. “Your life is on the line, Swan *. Now is not the best time to demonstrate a stupid parlor game.”

Author’s Note: Voltaire called Algarotti “the Swan of Padua”. I’m not quite sure if that was a compliment or not—they tend to be beautiful creatures with a penchant for biting you when you’re not looking.

“I...I’m not...” Algarotti sputtered.

“What sort of fool do you take me for? Donkeys do not talk!” Friedrich picked up the slight Algarotti by his lapels and shook him. “Quit throwing your voice and tell me what you know. If it turns out you knew something about Voltaire’s disappearance and refused to help me, I’ll throw you into a pit so deep, you’ll die of old age before you ever reach the bottom!”

“She really can talk,” Algarotti said meekly.

LIAR!!!” the King roared, throwing Algarotti to the ground. “You will not challenge my faith in a rational universe! God created Man as lord of this world! Do you know who believed in fairies and talking animals, Algarotti? My father.

The guards looked at each other glumly, then picked up their weapons. There was simply no way around it, now—nobody could remind King Friedrich of his hated father and be expected to live.

“You let him go!” Genevieve cried out, rushing through the guards and then sinking to her rear knees beside King Friedrich to grab at his coat with her forehooves. “I can get you anything you want...other than the missing man. Just let him go!”

King Friedrich pulled himself away in shock and pointed at Algarotti, his face turning beet red. “You’re madder than any inmate here, you know that? We will have to shock your sanity back into you before I can proceed to a fitting punishment for your betrayal of me.

“Guards, kill that donkey!

In the brief moment of confusion while they reacted to this unexpected command, Algarotti slipped free of the guards holding him and made a run for it, Genevieve only a few paces in front of him.

Genevieve was almost more shocked at her ability to run than the fact that the King of Prussia wanted her dead. For some reason, she was convinced that her reaction to the death warrant should have been more visceral.

~ ~ ~

Algarotti was absolutely worthless as a fighter. The only reason he was not immediately recaptured was because the guards were all focusing on catching Genevieve, and they didn’t really have their hearts set on capturing a cute baby donkey, especially considering what they were going to have to do to it when they did.

Genevieve practically burst through the door of Voltaire’s cell on the second floor, which Algarotti then locked with his keys. The donkey used her mouth to pick up one of the ubiquitous sheets of paper that Voltaire had once used to travel from Earth to Equestria. She looked around her, only to find that the portable table had been smashed into splinters by the guards during their search. She looked up at Algarotti, who was standing to the side of the door in hopes that the guards would not see him if they peeked inside. “Francesco!” she cried out after spitting out the paper, then racked her brain to remember his title, so she could show him the proper respect. “My Lord!”

Algarotti turned his head to look at her. “Yes?” he asked.

“Could...could you kneel down in front of me? I need something to write on, and everything here is padded.”

Algarotti looked at the room as if for the first time. “I...yes, alright.” He got down on his hands and knees, and sighed.

They’re in here!” shouted a voice. Instantly, a half-dozen guards began to throw themselves at the door.

Jordan!” cried out the voice of the King as he ran down the corridor. “Bring me your keys!

Genevieve fitted her pencil holder over one hoof and slid the magic pencil in place, then hesitated as she looked down at the piece of paper on Algarotti’s back.

“What are you going to draw?” he asked, trying in vain to crane his neck around so he could see her.

BAM! BAM! BAM! came the sound of the door as it was being battered by the guards.

Jordan! Where are you with those keys!!” shouted the King.

“Why are you doing this?” begged Genevieve, tears running down her cheeks.

Because our King orders it,” replied the sad voice of a guard who grew up on a farm with a jenny.

“Yes, of course!” Genevieve cried out. She roughly swiped the piece of paper off of Algarotti’s back and started digging desperately through her satchel. “Where is it? Where is it???” she said out loud.

With a click, the lock opened, followed a second later by the door. Two guards kneeled down and aimed their muskets, and two more guards aimed their guns while standing.

“Yes!” Genevieve cried out triumphantly, pulling out a folded piece of paper and quickly spreading it out on Algarotti’s back. It was the drawing of Jenny’s birthday party, the drawing that had granted Genevieve the ability to understand German.

The guards hesitated. This donkey was speaking with the voice of a little girl.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” demanded Friedrich. “Am I not...”

As he was saying this, Geneveive’s pencil sought out the figures of the crowned king and the donkey in the drawing. She scratched out the crown from atop the king’s head, and drew it on top of the donkey’s head.

“...your Prince?” Friedrich concluded. “Wait, is that right?” His voice sounded a lot less certain than it had been a few seconds earlier.

“Guards, I believe you should think very carefully at who you are pointing your weapons at.”

The guards looked at where the voice was coming from, and then instantly dropped their guns in terror. “Forgive us, Your Majesty!” they cried out in unison.

Genevieve, Queen of Prussia, raised her head imperiously and looked in disdain at her subjects. “That’s better.”

~ ~ ~

Algarotti fell over onto his rear in shock. “Your Majesty!” he cried out, in a mixture of incredulity and giddiness.

Genevieve is queen! he realized. And...I still remember that she wasn’t. As he got to his feet, he saw how everyone else was bowing to the donkey in fear, without exception. Do I still remember because I was in contact with the paper when it happened?

He saw Genevieve looking at him with uncertainty. “Who am I?” she asked him desperately. “I have two fathers, and one of them was really, really mean to me! Which one is real?”

While keeping a neutral expression on his face, Algarotti looked down in judgment at the animal at his feet. She was asking him which personality would live and which would die: the innocent child, or the hardened monarch. Well, Algarotti wasn’t sure for how much longer he could manipulate a child. On the other hand, with but one (recent) exception, Friedrich had always been like putty in his hands. The choice was obvious.

“Why, you are the Queen of Prussia, Your Majesty,” he said calmly. “And you always have been.”

“But I seem to remember...” Genevieve said faintly.

“You are the queen of the rising power of Prussia,” Algarotti continued relentlessly. “You command a mighty army. You have the respect of every power in Europe. Your wise policies have made you the darling of every intellectual. Nobody can hurt you. Nobody will ever tell you what to do, ever again. That other Genevieve you once told me about? The weak Genevieve, the victim Genevieve? She was but a troubled nightmare of what could have been. You are strong, Queen! Loved by the righteous, and feared by the wicked. Doesn’t it feel good? Doesn’t it feel right?

Genevieve blinked several times in quick succession. “Yes,” she said with growing certainly. “Yes, of course, Algarotti.” She used the King’s name for him, Algarotti, rather than the jenny’s, Francesco. “I am the Queen,” she proclaimed, “I am the Queen of Prussia!”

Algarotti beamed. Now was the perfect moment to save his own skin. “Your Majesty,” he said cautiously, “there is the small matter of my arrest. I do hope that...”

Queen Genevieve raised a hoof to silence him. “Please, Algarotti, say no more. You did your best to protect my royal person when my brother lost his wits and ordered my guards to kill me.”

Brother? Algarotti thought weakly to himself.

“Eep!” cried Crown Prince Friedrich. He dropped to his knees and desperately grasped Genevieve’s hooves. Only Algarotti recognized the reversal of roles. “I swear, dear sister, I do not know what came over me. It must have been the evil influence of...of...”

“...President Maupertuis,” Algarotti filled in with an evil grin.

“Yes, President Maupertuis!” cried Friedrich. “Oh, sister, we should catch him, and when we do we, that is, you could...”

“...torture him,” Genevieve said darkly.

Algarotti looked back and forth between Friedrich and Genevieve in utter bewilderment. Friedrich in particular had a look to him that Algarotti had never seen in him before: the look of a man unused to command, the look of a man who in fact never expected his orders to be obeyed—the look of a dreamy-eyed intellectual.

“Freddy,” Genevieve said sadly, “let me handle this. Go back to Sanssouci. You handle the philosophy and flute compositions, and I’ll handle Prussia, alright?”

“Alright, Jenny,” said Friedrich, getting up. “But what about Voltaire?”

“I’ll do everything in my power to find him, this I swear,” Algarotti said, lying through his teeth. “No matter where on this world he may have run to, I will hunt him down.” He looked carefully at the donkey’s face as he said this. She showed no signs of thinking that anything was wrong with what Algarotti had just said. Emboldened by this, he reached forward and plucked the magic pencil from her satchel. “This belongs to one of the inmates, if you remember,” he told her, as if it were the least significant act in the world.

“Hmm, yes, yes,” she said, her attention on the Prince.

“Well just, just don’t hurt him, Francesco,” pleaded Prince Friedrich. “It was a bad joke to throw him in here in the first place, and I can understand how he could be upset. Just give me the chance to apologize to him, and then I’ll leave it up to him whether he wants to stay in my service or depart.”

Genevieve clucked her tongue at him. “Brother, you do not ask if a servant wishes to leave. Honestly, sometimes I think you really need to grow a backbone.”

Algarotti wandered out of the cell and made his way to Jordan. There was a question he just had to ask, but at the same time he dreaded getting the wrong answer. “So, Queen Geneveive and Prince Friedrich,” he said reluctantly. “One of them is adopted, yes?”

Jordan looked at him carefully, with what appeared to be carefully disguised surprise. “But of course, My Lord. It is simply considered bad form to remind Prince Friedrich of this fact.”

The royal siblings returned to Potsdam, along with the guards. Algarotti chose to stay behind at the asylum, to spend one more night in the attic.

But he didn’t sleep. Instead he got to work on a canvas. After brainstorming some ideas on scraps of paper and sketching out his design in (non-magical) pencil, he began painting, the magic pencil kept in a pocket right next to his reclaimed pistol, waiting for its supreme moment.

This painting, he told himself, will be my greatest masterpiece.

Chapter 20

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 20

The next few Royal Council meetings were unusually quiet. Everypony spent their time watching the Princess warily with new eyes. For Voltaire they reserved a look all of its own. They wanted to judge what precisely was the degree of influence he had over Princess Celestia, and what they needed to do about it.

The Wig Party still had only two members, one human and one dragon, but Voltaire expected that would change dramatically in the near future.

Seeing as he had been forced to introduce the parable of Princess Fisby upon the general population of Canterlot, Voltaire wished to judge the effect it was having upon them, so he requested and received permission to take a daily walk through the city, accompanied by a royal guard. This guard was only occasionally Captain Hardheart, and they never wished to engage in conversation during their walks. The other ponies he met, on the other hand, were more than willing to talk to the only human they were ever certain to meet in their lives.

There was one place he was forbidden to go, though: Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Despite the name, the institution of higher learning was in fact controlled by a board of unicorns, not Princess Celestia. A big sign had been planted at the entrance of the university the day after the parable had been told: “The works of the human known as Voltaire are henceforth forbidden to be discussed or disseminated in any form by any living creature upon this campus.”

Some students approached him off-campus, and urged him to visit the school. Even with his mouth shut, it would be a powerful form of protest, or so they claimed. Voltaire, knowing better, told these students that, as a self-made man, he was himself a “work of Voltaire”, and so could not show himself for that reason. Then he tied a few strands of his hair around a tame bird’s leg and released it onto the school grounds. With any luck, the dumb animal would be put on trial for bringing one of his “works” on campus.

He had tried on several occasions to talk to a professor from the school, to discover whether they were angry at him for the correct reason or not. What he quickly discovered was that none of them had actually heard even a synopsis of “The Frog Princess of the Fomalhaut”, and had a tendency to react automatically against anything that the students found more interesting than the sound of their own voices droning on the arcane workings of magic.

That the students had been affected by the story was obvious, even for one looking upon the school from afar. The sign that had once announced the name of the school to the outside world had been covered with a surface of rough stones, too rough to intelligibly paint over. Traces of paint visible around these stone made it clear that somepony had tried to alter the name, probably multiple times, to “Princess Fisby’s School for Gifted Frogs”.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire kept a homemade laboratory notebook with him on his daily trips, into which he jotted his observations. It was his opinion that if the physical world could be studied scientifically, then so should the social world of humans or ponies. The difficulty was simply finding a way to convert observations of behavior into numbers, so that those numbers could be transformed into the magical equations that explained everything.

In the matter of “The Frog Princess of the Fomalhaut”, the ponies of Canterlot could be divided into a small number of categories:

First, there was the majority, who had not heard the story yet. This number was steadily shrinking, as the story was retold over and over again.

Of those who had heard the story, the majority of them simply thought it to be a good story. Some of them liked the story so much that they told it to everypony willing to listen to it. Maybe they liked the story for itself, or they liked the way Voltaire had told the story, and just liked reproducing the performance—the fact that there was a story attached to that performance was almost incidental.

With all of these retellings, some ponies got a mangled version of the tale. Voltaire in his conversations with ponies was frequently asked questions about the story. He was always very careful in how he answered. Never did he hint that there was another layer to the story deeper than the surface, and he always urged those who wished to repeat the story to tell it as close as possible to the way he told it, regardless of what they might think of it.

Another category of pony were those that didn’t care for the story, for purely aesthetic reasons. They didn’t think a story that didn’t involve ponies could possibly be worth listening to, or they considered the idea of a talking frog to be so ridiculous as to make it impossible to pay attention to anything these frogs did, or one or another of the other impossibilities in the story got in the way.

Only a tiny minority of listeners seem to have realized the lesson about Celestia that Voltaire was hiding in the story. It was a little difficult to determine how large in fact this number was, as very few ponies were foolish enough to discuss a potentially-treasonous subject with him when there was a royal guard standing right there listening in. But as far as Voltaire could tell, the number was indeed small.

Voltaire didn’t have a problem with the fact that so many ponies missed the point of his story. He was an aristocrat, and that extended to the intellectual sphere as well. If every pony spent all their time thinking, Voltaire believed, then civilization would collapse. For the world to keep working, the majority needed to labor in professions where thinking was a liability. Thinking also tended to make humans and ponies miserable in the long term, so why condemn the majority to misery? As long as the thinking minority were not using their intelligence to exploit the non-thinking majority, what was so wrong with an intellectual aristocracy? Voltaire couldn’t be sure of it before his promised conversation with Ambassador Noir, but he was fairly certain that even the Diamond Dogs had such an aristocracy of the mind, even if they refused to believe in an aristocracy of the blood. That would make their republic a meritocracy, he suddenly realized, and so he made a note to tell the Ambassador about the system the Chinese used to select their bureaucracy.

Of those that now knew that Celestia differed from them in degree but not in kind, most ponies reacted much like the human’s fellow counselors did: by becoming quiet and thoughtful. There were many implications of this discovery for them to mull over. Celestia still deserved respect, but how much respect? How should they treat her around those who didn’t know? How should they treat her around representatives of the outer lands? If she was mortal, how should they respond if they caught her making a stupid order?

Under the circumstances, these questions were all asked as hypotheticals, as ways that the frogs should act around Princess Frisby. Voltaire would remind the ponies that the frogs already owed allegiance to those they knew to be mortal. There were guilds (just like ponies had guilds), and apprentices had to be obedient to their masters, even when they knew those masters to be wrong. Were there not fables (among frogs as well as among ponies) about clever people in positions of weakness who worked around arrogant and wrong people in power? And were they not able to succeed without those people ever being the wiser? And yet, remember that Princess Fisby is benevolent. Remember that she has lived for thirty-five whole years. And remember that she has gained much wisdom in these years. Unless you, or rather unless this hypothetical frog, is sure, it is probably best to assume that Princess Fisby is right. After all, when was the last time that you know of that she screwed up?

The griffon delegation’s time in Equestria was drawing to an end. It was now time for the true purpose of the visit: a private audience between Countess Sky Shock and Princess Celestia.

But first, there were the usual empty pleasantries to get through. As a seasoned ambassador, Sky Shock knew to keep her true feelings locked deep where the Princess could have no hint of their existence. These empty platitudes, in her opinion, were a pathetic waste of time, but that was not an opinion she was allowed to express. It was certainly the opinion of the common griffons, the ones that didn’t adopt a second name at reaching adulthood (like they had gained an invisible cutie mark), the ones that didn’t try to disguise themselves as something they were not. It was the pony way to be in love with the sound of their own voices. Griffons as a matter of fact didn’t care for the sounds of their own voices when they were talking. They were much more fond of their screech, the sound they used to stun their prey, and their roar, the sound they used to intimidate each other in their fights.

But Princess Celestia was talking, so Sky Shock sat politely, and pretended to listen. She was talking about her favorite subject when another griffon was in the room: the intimate tie between herself and the griffon royal family. As a distaff member of that family, Sky Shock was cooed over by the Princess since the moment she had hatched. She wondered if the Princess cared as much about her subjects outside Canterlot as she did about a family of non-ponies, most of whom would never leave Griffonia to meet her face-to-face.

Voltaire decided that the best way to deal with the problem of ponies mishearing his story would be for him to get it written down, so he could hand it out as necessary.

The first step was the translation, which Voltaire worked out with Eveningstar. The use of a written language was a great help in Voltaire’s learning of the Equine language, as this helped him to separate out each of the different Equine sounds, sounds that Voltaire tended to run together in his head.

The story was tweaked slightly at this stage. Voltaire wanted the story to be memorable, and easy to retell, so he familiarized himself with pony figures of speech and tricks of sentence construction that were distinct from Latin. The language in fact had a very unique syntax that he had only encountered once before, during his study of Hungarian.

Next came devising a way of disseminating this story to the masses. Voltaire was disappointed that he didn’t get to be the person who’d go down in Pony history as the inventor of the printing press and movable type. The invention existed, it just was never used, because unicorns could magically reproduce any written work perfectly.

“Well, isn’t that a fine state of affairs, Lady Sparkle!” he had exclaimed to Eveningstar and Cogs when he had been told this. “Unicorns get to decide what the pegasi and earth ponies get to read! And do unicorn fillies ever demand to hear the adventures of Fast Flight, the Wonder Pegasus?”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” said Eveningstar. “We unicorns know what’s best for the other breeds. They are our responsibility, after all.”

“Oh yes, Lady Sparkle,” Voltaire agreed sarcastically. “You did after all allow them to learn how to read and write, so that proves it! Now on Earth, we keep the slaves illiterate, so they don’t get dangerous ideas in their heads.”

“There are no slaves in Equestria,” Eveningstar replied with an annoyed tone.

“Of course, great and magnanimous Lady Sparkle,” said Voltaire. “I keep forgetting.”

Cogs watched all this, and remained silent.

~ ~ ~

In a matter of days, Cogs and Voltaire had made a number of improvements in the printing press (well, mostly Cogs—he was the mechanical genius, after all). The speed of the device was dramatically improved through the power of clockwork, and unevenness of the ink was reduced through the magic of chemistry (and the power of consulting).

Voltaire decided not to introduce the idea of a book at this time, and kept with the tried and true form of a scroll to receive his story. The story was short enough after all that the entire tale could be covered by five plates. Considering the size of some scrolls he had seen in the Royal Archives, this was like comparing a pamphlet to Diderot and d’Alembert’s planned Encyclopédie.

Voltaire set up shop in an unused building near the palace that he christened the “Press Room”. With Cogs becoming his constant companion, Voltaire’s Royal Guard escort was removed, especially on days when he promised not to leave the Press Room. That didn’t mean they couldn’t go out for lunch.

“So,” asked Voltaire one day as they were returning from said lunch, “what do you think of my thesis?”

“About the Princess?” asked Cogs. “Well, I suppose I’ve always known, in a sense. I was drilled from birth about the importance of my family, and how we predated the Princess. Everything she’s done for us used to be done by Sparkles. Lots and lots of Sparkles and other unicorns, but as you said yourself, always a finite number. But on another level, I never really thought about it. Everypony else acted the way they did around her, so I just trusted in that.”

“So you followed the wisdom of the crowd?” Voltaire asked with a grin.

The earth pony grimaced. “Considering what that wisdom has to say about my own breed, I suppose I should have known better.”

The two entered the Press Room, only to find the giant machine partially disassembled.

“What is going on here!” Cogs cried out.

“My apologies, Lord,” said one of Cogs’ assistants, as he respectfully touched his forelock with one grease-stained hoof. “The distribution gear broke out of alignment as a result of pushing the machine past the one-scroll-per-minute mark. I think that if we shifted the load over these three other gears...”

“Who gave you permission to alter my design, Peasant?!” Cogs demanded, snorting into the other pony’s face.

“My Lord Sparkle,” Voltaire said quietly.

Cogs looked at him in confusion. Voltaire never called him by that name. He usually only called his mother or aunt “Lady Sparkle” when he was being sarcastic about their unicorn prejudices...

Cogs stepped back, and looked at this earth pony he had hired, hired with the expectation that he would do his job without drawing attention to himself. Without drawing attention to the fact that they were the very same breed.

Cogs Sparkle took a very deep breath, and let it out slowly. “I’m sorry I blew up at you like that,” he said quietly. “What is your name?”

“, Lifter, sir.”

“Lifter. That is a fine name. Now, Lifter, let us examine my blueprint, together. I don’t think your particular solution will work, but you are definitely thinking along the right lines. Now if we instead installed a bypass here...”

“Princess, if Griffonia does not get your help, it will be the end of us.”

“Wh...what?” Celestia exclaimed.

Sky Shock had had enough small talk to last a lifetime. Time was growing short. “Our country is bankrupt, and we no longer have enough food to feed the entire population. Something needs to be done.”

“How did this happen?” the Princess asked incredulously. “I know you bankrupted yourself fighting the dragons, but you promised me—”

“We did all we could,” Sky Shock interrupted. “We spent far more than we had on that war, and our numerous attempts to make up the loss through clever economics have all failed miserably.”

“But...I authorized a private loan ten years ago.”

“And we do appreciate that loan, Your Highness. It put off the collapse. Unfortunately, the drought in Trottingham has affected our food supply.” Unstated was the nature of this food supply. Both griffon and pony knew what this food supply was. It was born in the fields of Trottingham, and it ended up in the bellies of griffons in the mountains of their homeland. No more needed to be said, just so long as the food could not think for itself.

Celestia nervously put a hoof to her teeth. “I, uh, can’t lend you any more bits, Sky Shock. Not without my cabinet finding out. You got all of the surplus I had at the time. And what I managed to accumulate since then has gone to Trottingham.”

“Your cabinet was unwilling to come to the aid of one of your own cities?”

“It’s an earth pony city,” the Princess said apologetically. “You wouldn’t understand.”

Sky Shock ground her beak in frustration. “ that case, you have no choice but to petition the cabinet for assistance. This is more important than pride, Princess. My griffons are dropping dead of starvation on the streets. Just so long as the Orange Clan does not find out...”

She was interrupted by the sound of an insistent scratching upon the door. “Mother! Mother!” the voice of Leopold cried out in distress.

Princess Celestia nodded at the griffon ambassador in silent permission as she turned to open the door. Behind it was her son, and an exhausted griffon courier. Both of their facial feathers were matted with tears.

“What is it?” Sky Shock asked anxiously.

Once the story had been committed to paper (bright blue paper, so Voltaire could more easily track who had a copy), Voltaire acted to get it spread as far as possible. He and several pony volunteers set up shallow barrels on street corners filled with the scrolls. Mounted on each barrel was a wooden panel upon which was painted Zody’s illustration of a little frog looking up at the sky and singing. The unicorn told Voltaire that he did it in the style of the lost donkey Genevieve. The human had looked at Zody very oddly when he said that, and consulted the Reichsthaler he had in his possession.

Voltaire had Zody set up an extra-large barrel of scrolls on the street corner nearest to the student entrance of Princess Celestia’s School. This one did not have the singing frog panel on it, but instead a picture of an omelet, implying that the scrolls contained merely recipes. After all, Voltaire thought to himself, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

The next day he found the barrel in splinters, and no trace of a scroll to be seen. That the scrolls had been found and read by the students, however, was obvious. This was because from his vantage point he could see that something had been painted on the walls of nearly every building on the campus. The same something that had appeared overnight on the walls of the businesses owned by ponies who understood Voltaire’s message:


~ ~ ~

A few hours later, Voltaire had Cog set up another barrel on a different street corner, near one of the most popular eating places for students. This time, scrolls were printed on the exact same material used for advertising fliers, and there were no images on the barrel. The barrel was, however, painted the same color as Princess Fisby. Voltaire watched Cog set this up from several blocks away, and hoped that none of the professors who had condemned his story sight-unseen had spotted him and made the connection.

Voltaire and Cog took different routes back to the Press Room. On his way back, the human’s attention was suddenly caught by a poster at the entrance of a dark alley.

The poster advertised an upcoming magic show at the Canterlot Concert Hall. This would not have been so interesting, if one or both of the performers were unicorns, but they weren’t. One was a Diamond Dog, and the other was an earth pony.

This wasn’t really magic, it was stage magic. In the magical land of Equestria. The idea boggled Voltaire’s mind. He could not, for the life of him, understand why ponies who saw miracles on a daily basis, who knew for a fact that the sun and the heavens were propelled by real magic, could possibly be interested in trickery masquerading as magic.

Voltaire vowed that he would see this magic show someday, although more to talk to the pony audience members than anything that the performers could possibly pull off. After all, for beings as honest and forthright as these ponies, how could they possibly know anything about the kind of deceit needed to pull off a truly impressive (fake) magic trick?

~ ~ ~

Ah, Voltaire? Could I have a moment of your time?” said a voice behind Voltaire’s back.

It seemed familiar, somehow.

He turned around to see a young pegasus stallion with a yellow coat.

“I know you from somewhere, don’t I?” Voltaire asked himself out loud.

“I’m Pensive Thought,” the pony said.

Voltaire shook his head. “The name doesn’t ring a bell,” he said.

“I serve beside you on the royal council?” Pensive Thought prompted.

“No, I think I’d remember you if that was the case,” said the human.

The pegasus sighed. “I’m Prince Blueblood’s toady.”

“Oh you!” Voltaire exclaimed. “I remember now. What would you like to talk with me about?”

Pensive Thought looked around him nervously. “Not here,” he said.

Voltaire glanced down the abandoned alley. “How about in here?” he offered.

The pegasus craned his neck to look inside the alley with some trepidation. “Well...alright,” he finally said.

The two of them walked a little way into the alley—far enough in not to be overheard, but not so far that they couldn’t dash back out if anything happened in there.

“So,” said Voltaire when they had picked a spot, “I don’t really see that many of your kind in Canterlot.”

“I’m the son of unicorns,” Pensive Thought replied. He didn’t sound very proud of this fact.

“I see,” Voltaire said. “It must have been hard to learn how to fly under the circumstances.”

Pensive Thought glanced back ruefully at his tiny wings. “My breed is not what I wanted to discuss, Mister Voltaire.”

“I’m all ears,” Voltaire said, rubbing a finger against one of his own. “Not as much as your average pony, get my meaning.”

“I have heard that your home world has many similarities with Equestria,” Pensive said. “Is this true?”

“Yes, it does indeed appear to be the case,” said Voltaire.

“And would you happen to have...”—the pegasus looked around himself very carefully before continuing—“...tobacco on your world?”

Voltaire reflexively coughed on hearing the word “tobacco”. “Yes,” he said with a frown, “I’m afraid that I am familiar with that particular poison.”

“Oh,” said the pegasus in a disappointed tone. He turned to leave the alley. “I won’t waste any more of your time, then.”

“Now hold on,” the human said lightly, resting a hand on the pony’s withers. “Let me hear the rest of what you have to say. I haven’t seen or smelled a trace of tobacco since arriving here. Is the stuff forbidden?”

Pensive turned around. “In public, yes, by direct order of the Princess. We are allowed to use it in the privacy of our own homes. I’ve been trying fruitlessly to convince the Princess to rescind Her order for several years now, but she has been unreceptive to my pleas, and I have gotten only lukewarm responses from the other stallions on the council to a revival of the ancient practice.”

“But not the mares,” Voltaire deduced. “Yes, I’ve observed that the ‘stallions’ on my world are the primary users of tobacco, while the ‘mares’ on my world oppose its use in public, just as yours do—with a couple of prominent exceptions.”

“I was just hoping that, with how well you have connected to the Princess, that you might have been willing to put in a word for me,” Pensive said sadly.

“I understand completely,” said Voltaire sympathetically. “The politics of influence is a vital part of how anything actually gets done in European society, and if you happened to have a cause that didn’t make me sick to my stomach just thinking about it, I would have been happy to help. But the current policy, with its allowance for private use, sounds about right to me.”

“I understand,” said the pegasus, turning to walk out of the alley. “I...I guess I’ll see you at the council meeting tomorrow.”

“Pensive Thought?” interrupted Voltaire.


“You said that tobacco use was an ancient practice among ponies. It is only a couple centuries old for humans, or at least for the particular branch of humanity to which I belong. Just out of curiosity, how did it start?”

The pegasus turned back around to face him. “It was introduced by Pansy, the pegasus hero of the original Hearth’s Warming Eve. It’s not certain where he picked it up, although it is usually thought to be the camels.”

“Of course,” Voltaire commented dryly. Who else to introduce chewing tobacco to ponies, but the camels?

“After he, Smart Cookie and Clover the Clever saved ponykind, they were each allowed to have the one thing they ever wanted. Smart Cookie just wanted a farm to retire on, Clover founded the precursor to Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and Pansy introduced tobacco chewing, teaching that it encouraged clear thinking.”

“Yes,” said Voltaire doubtfully, “I’ve heard similar claims on my world.”

“During The Chaos, it fell out of favor,” Pensive continued, “and when the Princesses took over, they expressed their distaste in no uncertain terms.”

“Well, thank you for the history lesson,” said Voltaire with a grin, guiding the pegasus out of the alley. “It was very informative. One final question, though: if Clover founded the unicorn school, why isn’t it still named after him? Don’t tell me that the Princess is that egotistical?”

“No, of course not,” said Pensive. “It’s just that the most-serious rebellion that the Princess ever faced in her solo reign was born in Clover’s Academy, leading to calls that it be abolished when that rebellion was crushed. The Princess put it under her own name to keep that from happening.” He looked out of the alley. “I...uh, gotta be going now.”

“Gotta fly, huh?” Voltaire asked with a grin.

The small-winged pegasus did nothing more than blink for a couple of seconds, then turned without a word and walked away.

“Did I say something wrong?” the human asked himself.

~ ~ ~

Alight, mister, reach for the skies and don’t make a move, and nopony gets hurt!” The voice came from the dark alley behind Voltaire, and was accompanied by what he was fairly certain was a carrot being stuck into his spine.

Voltaire couldn’t believe what was happening. “Are...are you robbing me?” he asked incredulously. He tried to turn his head to get a better look.

Hey, what did I tell you about not moving? Now untie your money bag and toss it behind you, or...

The fascinated human waited in vain to hear the rest of that threat. “Or what?” he asked in amusement. “You’ll tickle me into submission? Perhaps unleash the horrors of The Pointy Pillow? Or The Comfy Chair? You’re a pony, for crying out loud! I don’t think there’s anything you could do to intimidate me.”

I’ll turn your head into a melon,” the voice said, with utter conviction.

Voltaire laughed out loud. “That’s a good one!” he exclaimed, “But you’re utterly out of your league. I grew up among the French, and no greater or craftier thieves exist in the whole of Creation!” He turned around as he said this to face down his potential robber—a mostly-white unicorn, with a faintly blue coat and a faintly red mane and tail. He was wearing a red bandana over his muzzle, and he was levitating a carrot to poke the human with. Of course, the bandana utterly failed as a device to prevent being identified by witnesses, since his colors and cutie mark were enough all by themselves. And speaking of which...

“I’m sorry,” Voltaire said, his arms crossed, “but I utterly fail to see what a cutie mark of four hooves running could possibly have to do with pumpkin-ification. Or cantaloupe-ification, for that matter.”

“Alright, you’ve got me there,” the unicorn said good-naturedly, with an obvious smile behind his bandana. “I just couldn’t resist the challenge of holding up a whole new species. Still, it will make for a good story.”

“How do you know I won’t turn you in?” Voltaire asked.

“Will you?” the unicorn asked.

For the second time, Voltaire was impressed by just how brazen this pony was. “No, I don’t think so,” he said with a laugh. “In fact, I think I’m going to reward you for entertaining me!” He picked up his money bag and began to open it. “I think fifty bits should...” To his amazement, the bits in his bag had all been replaced with wood chips. In fact, it wasn’t his bag at all, but a replacement that had obviously been swapped out during their conversation, or perhaps even earlier when he had been talking to Pensive Thought.

Voltaire looked up, to see the thief using his cutie mark-given talent to run down the alley as fast as possible, rounding an unseen corner to escape.

The human laughed out loud. The pain of losing his money was significantly lessened by the fact that he got free room and board, and because he had been receiving all of those bits as unsolicited donations from grateful readers of “The Frog Princess of Fomalhaut”.

It appears that the fine art of deception is alive and well in Equestria, Voltaire thought.

~ ~ ~

“Well if it isn’t the human!” exclaimed an earth pony blocking Voltaire’s exit from the alley. Three more earth ponies appeared behind him.

By this point, Voltaire began to suspect that he had stumbled on the proverbial “dark alley” of fiction, the one where absolutely everything interesting ever happened.

“Yes, that’s me,” Voltaire said brightly. “Voltaire the Human!”

“Have you been printing any more lies about our Princess, Human?” the earth pony from before said threateningly, making Voltaire blanch. The four ponies advanced upon him slowly, lowering their heads and pawing the ground with their hooves as they herded him deeper and deeper into the alley.

“Back off, Jack,” came a voice from behind them.

“This isn’t your problem, Lifter,” said Jack, refusing to take his eyes off of Voltaire. “Trot away, and pretend you didn’t see anything.”

“Well maybe I’m going to make it my problem,” said Lifter. “That human works for the pony that’s paying me.”

“I heard you tell me that you were paid in advance,” Jack replied. “Besides, have you ever read the junk that this human wrote? Don’t you know what he’s trying to do to our Princess?”

“I don’t care what he’s writing, Jack. I just know what I see. And what I see is a creature with a decent head on his shoulders. Now that’s the rest of my crew behind me, and we outnumber you two to one. So I think that maybe you are the ones that need to trot away, and pretend you didn’t see anything.”

Jack looked around to confirm the truth of Lifter’s words...and the barely-restrained rage in their faces. “This isn’t over, Human,” he warned. “If not us, then someday somepony’s going to put you in your place.” He and his gang then skulked their way past Lifter and his ponies.

Voltaire shook his head. “You’re all at the bottom of the social ladder, through no fault of your own, so why do you have to be so obsessed with putting each other in their place?”

“Power over our own kind is the only power we have,” explained Lifter.

“So...have you read my story?” Voltaire asked.

“Politics doesn’t interest me,” Lifter said, walking past Voltaire with head held high to lead him to the Press Room.

Voltaire didn’t think he had ever encountered a more obvious lie.

Suddenly the air was split by a blood-curdling scream from the palace. It was a cry of loss, and a cry of rage. It was the cry of a griffon.

“And her last words before the crowd fell upon her were these: Let them eat cake!”

“Duchess Praiseworthy ordered her soldiers to fire, upon her own people?” Princess Celestia was flabbergasted. “That can’t be the whole story,” she repeated for perhaps the fifth time since the griffon courier began her tale. “The rule of the Thunderwings was wise and benevolent. Her subjects should have understood that fact, no matter how much they were suffering. They were being led on pony lines. How can there be a revolution...?”

“How?” asked Leopold rhetorically, rising up from beside the form of his catatonic mother, the griffon who had screamed so loudly just a few minutes before. “How, you ask? I’ll tell you, Princess, I’ll tell you. The griffon rabble rose up against pony rule, because they are not ponies. Our nobility has tried, oh have we tried, to indoctrinate the griffon multitude in the benefits of pony civilization, but it just never took. The whole course of Griffon civilization, post-Unification, has been dedicated to this goal. We had to bring the griffons to pony perfection, by any means necessary. That was the whole purpose of the Bakery, to bring us in line with you. Any griffon that did not meet the pony mold was brought to the Bakery, to be molded into line. That’s why the Bakery was the target of the revolution, why it had to fall.”

“But the Forty guarded the Bakery,” said Celestia. “They were the living symbol of all that it stood for.”

“The Forty betrayed the Bakery, and all that it stood for.”

“You didn’t mention the Forty,” Celestia said in a small voice. “What happened...?”

“The Duchess slaughtered the Forty!” Leopold screamed.

“It’s true,” said the courier, struggling under the weight of Sky Shock’s unconscious body. “They were going to betray the Bakery’s secrets...”

“What secrets?” asked the Princess, fearfully.

“I don’t know,” the courier whimpered. “That was just what I was told.”

“And I don’t know them either,” said Leopold. “Ask my mother when she recovers. Whatever they were, though, I very much doubt they were worth dying over.”

“So what happens now?” asked Celestia.

“We apply for asylum,” said Leopold simply. “But realize this: we will soon be joined by the entire griffon aristocracy. At least those not insane enough to flee to the dragons, or cruel enough to try to flee to the Diamond Dogs. Thanks to the dragon embargo, the Dogs are on the verge of starvation themselves. Any additional mouths to feed will tip them over the brink.”

The Princess bowed her head. “Any griffon who wishes to cross the border is free to do so,” she said. “And I will do everything in my power to feed and care for you. It’s the least I can do.”

These words enraged Leopold, who flew up and got in her face. “Do you think there is ANYTHING you can do that can make up for this? You bragged that pony and griffon destinies were joined. Well, here is your payback! You broke us, Princess. You broke us forever. The royal family already lies dead on the floors of their Canterlot-inspired palace, and any nobles that fail to reach the border in time are soon to follow. We were a miserable folk before Thunderwing, but we never took each other’s lives before. You did that to us, Celestia, when you took Thunderwing in, and when you allowed him to lead his personal army back into his homeland.

“You wanted your pet human to turn you into a mortal, complete with the ability to make mistakes? Consider that wish granted, because I don’t think this world has seen a bigger mistake in a thousand years! In the coming months, the mountains of Griffonia will be stained with blood, as class warfare tears us to pieces. So just remember, when you see the rivers of Equestria turn red, that you were responsible for this. We’ve turned into killers of our own kind...because of you.” Without another word, he turned and led the courier carrying his mother out of the room.

“What have I done?” Celestia asked herself, sobbing, as she sunk down to her knees. “What have I done?!

Chapter 21

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 21

The Bridle & Saddle Inn, Canterlot
57 Summer 6764

My dearest friend,

After an exhausting flight, I am finally arrived safe in Canterlot. Unfortunately, it appears that I will be here longer than we anticipated, for reasons you will soon discover.

I arrived in the city late last night, and managed to get the last good room at the Bridle & Saddle Inn. Innkeeper Blanket remembers you fondly from our last visit, and sends his regards.

I was also able to secure a good spot in the pre-dawn line to air grievances before the Day Court, but that was the last of the good luck I was to experience.

The first thing I noticed was the shouting. The ponies here are protesting the griffons. It’s like it was in Stalliongrad, but even worse. The ponies, most of them earth ponies (sorry, Dear, but it’s true), were shouting out their hatred of the whole griffon race, as if all of them were responsible for the present madness. I tried to share my experiences, but was shouted down for my trouble. I do not know what the Princess will do about this, but I hope she does something, and soon.

Then there was the sunrise, which I’m sure everypony in Equestria noticed. Unlike some of the less experienced of the supplicants, I knew to look at my shadow rather than the sun, and so managed to retain my sense of sight, but even when doing that, it was obvious that the shining orb wobbled significantly in its rising.

Chancellor Blueblood himself emerged from the palace to calm the populace, but managed to botch it in the most spectacular way possible. “Mares and gentleponies,” he told us, “do not upset yourselves over the sunrise you just witnessed. Our beloved Princess was merely battling off the evil emotions being directed at her by those wretched griffon revolutionaries while she was trying to raise the sun.

“Oh, and in a completely unrelated development, the Princess will be unable to see anypony today. Come back tomorrow.” And then he had the nerve to turn around and walk into the palace, completely ignoring the cries of distress by all us ponies in line.

Two noblemares stood to one side watching this, close enough for me to overhear. “Who does he expect to believe that ridiculous excuse?” the first noblemare said to the second.

“Well he had to say something,” explained the second noblemare. “After all, none of them are enlightened.”

That last word caught my attention—I had never heard it applied to a pony before. I took a good look at those two, and I noticed two things out of the ordinary: they weren’t wearing the traditional Celestia wigs, and they each had a bright blue scroll sticking out of their satchels. I was later to find that this was the general pattern: nopony but the Princess wore her hair like her anymore, and between a quarter and a third of all Canterlot ponies had that identical blue scroll prominently placed upon their persons. The simultaneous timing of these two changes is most suspicious.

Meanwhile, the clerk had the good sense to wait outside and take down the names and complaints of all of the ponies in line, in several cases offering what advice she could to deal with their problems. Sadly, most of these ponies would probably never get their problems addressed by the Princess—they could only afford to take a single day off from their farms or other place of employment, and needed to set out for the long trip back to their homes almost immediately.

Having the luxury of being able to stay in Canterlot for as long as necessary, I had no such worries. Also, if the Chancellor’s story was anything close to the truth. I was confident that I wouldn’t even have to wait until tomorrow.

“Name?” the unicorn clerk asked me when it was my turn.

“Mayor Wheatstraw of...” I started to answer, but the pony behind me interrupted before I could finish.

“What kind of pegasus name is ‘Wheatstraw’?” he demanded. It was a unicorn noblestallion, a high and mighty citizen of Canterlot who had probably never left the sheltered bounds of the city in his entire life.

He then used this as an excuse to cut in front of me.

Now I know what you’re thinking, dear husband, so let me say this right off: I did not turn my intimidation against that silly little colt. I merely applied the power of sarcasm.

Excuse me,” I addressed him. “I would just like to ask, I mean, if it’s not too terribly bothersome of you, if you could please return to your rightful place in line? I mean, if you’d like to.”

...Alright, perhaps a slight touch of intimidation was used. But no more than a smidgen.

The noblestallion obediently returned to his place in line. And only whimpered once.

“I chose to take my husband’s name when I married,” I explained to nopony in particular. “It is a proud and noble earth pony lineage.”

“Yes, I’m sure that is the case,” said the clerk, feeling rather uncomfortable. She then asked me the name of the town I was mayor of.

“Trottingham,” I replied simply.

You could have heard a pin drop.

The clerk immediately pulled out a different piece of paper, and got down the name of the inn I was staying at, and a promise that I would not leave before the Council was able to see me.

Can you believe it? The Royal Council wants to see me!

I was so giddy, I almost failed to see the group of forty or fifty bone-tired unicorns trudging past us into the palace, led by the Sparkle sisters.

“The Princess honestly can’t see anypony right now. You will be informed when the Council is ready to hear your report,” the clerk told me.

So that’s why I’m stuck here. I wanted to get this letter off before the departure of the northern mail delivery team.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on everything that happens.

Thinking always of you, your beloved,


Blueblood woke his daughter up an hour after sunrise.

“Can’t I sleep in?” Blue Belle asked in a drone. “After all, I don’t have to go to school anymore.”

Blueblood snorted imperiously at her. “No daughter of mine is going to slack on her studies simply because she was suspended,” he told her. “I will be taking over your education personally, starting right now. Get a notebook, ink and quill together—I’m taking you to the Council meeting.”

Voltaire’s on the Council. This thought caused Blue Belle to spring out of bed.

~ ~ ~

“...and the Purple Clan’s apparent sympathy for Equestria in the Third Triangular Crisis was in fact caused by the chief of the clan sponsoring his younger son’s attempted takeover of the Yellow Clan, which was firmly aligned against the Orange Clan due to the Affair of the Mango Tiara,” Blueblood explained patiently to his daughter as they made their way to the council chamber.

Blue Belle’s jaw wasn’t open, because she was trying to be a proper lady, but she was none the less astonished. In the last five minutes she had learned more about the true motivations of the dragons than she had picked up in years of schooling and close observation. The Blueblood walking beside her bore no resemblance to the fool that everypony (including even herself at times) saw on a daily basis.

Just then Voltaire walked up to them. “And who do we have h...oh, it’s you,” he said as he attempted to greet Blue Belle before recognizing her. “Have you decided to apprentice your daughter, Blueblood?” he asked her father, as he turned to address him.

“That’s Prince Blueblood, you buffoon!” Blueblood exclaimed. “And considering that this session will prove to be yet another triumph against your obstructionist tactics, I considered today the perfect occasion for the formal introduction of my eventual successor!”

And...he’s back to being a jerk again, thought Blue Belle glumly. Is that what I’m going to turn into when I grow up? “Were you planning on telling me that you were going to make this announcement before you went ahead and did it?” she asked him.

“Surely you know about your destiny,” Blueblood replied in a hurt tone. “I have informed you of it on multiple occasions.”

“That’s not the point,” said Blue Belle with a pout. “Having power is one thing. Wasting time in pointless ceremonies is quite another.”

Blueblood gave her a penetrating look. “In my opinion, those so-called ‘pointless ceremonies’ are how you keep your power. Remember this well, Daughter: perception is reality. If everypony thinks you are powerful, then you are powerful.”

This gave the human pause. “You may be ever so slightly less dim than I thought, Prince Blueblood,” he said finally.

~ ~ ~

“The words allegedly said by the Princess are just that: words. Hearsay. Until I hear otherwise from a responsible pony, my order stands.”

Blueblood was facing off against half of the Council. With the Princess incapacitated, his control of the government of Equestria was absolute, but it was certainly not universally accepted, even in the Council chamber. Three ponies wore the official symbols of the Wig Party, and if Blue Belle was any judge of character, the party would be gaining a fifth member after today (Ambassador Botvinnik didn’t count).

Counterbalancing that was Blue Belle herself, hastily added as a “junior member in good standing” of the Council. Even to her, this sounded ridiculous—her father must really be desperate for supporters. And he was doing nothing to hold their loyalty, with this talk of denying the Princess’s wish to admit the griffon aristocracy into Equestrian sanctuary.

“We have the word of a griffon courier,” replied Morningstar. “Which is admissible as unimpeachable testimony in any Equestrian court of law.”

“I said responsible pony, you ignorant cow!” exclaimed the Prince. “In the wake of their recent actions, no griffon is deserving of our trust!” He spat out the word “griffon” like it was a curse word.

Morningstar’s eyes boggled.

...and that’s two new wigs to hand out today, Blue Belle thought to herself, taking all of this in with wide eyes.

“Blueblood, not even you are so stupid as to...” Voltaire began to say, but then he suddenly stopped, and his eyes grew wider and wider. “No,” he whispered, “you actually play that game, too?” He resumed addressing the Prince, by saying, “very well, I’m willing to play my part. I think that the problem with your recent actions is that they lack a policy to guide them together. You ban the griffons from entering Equestria, but what about the ones who are already here? What about the dragons?”

“I’m glad you asked that, you wigged-out cretin,” Blueblood replied with an absurdly-wide smile. “The griffons are a threat to the Equestrian Way of Life. That is my policy in a nutshell. All griffons in Equestria are to be forcibly removed in one week’s time, and all of their possessions in Equestria are to become the property of the State.”

“And where will you eject them to?” Voltaire asked.

He’s calm! Blue Belle observed of Voltaire’s tone with mounting panic. Too, too calm!

“That is not my concern,” Blueblood said, inspecting his hoofacure. “The griffons’ failed state can have them, if they wish, or they can become the dragons’ problem. I do not care one way or the other.”

“Of course, Chancellor, of course,” Voltaire said, his words placid, but his eyes boiling over with rage. “But may I make a suggestion regarding this order of banishment?”

“What do you have in mind, Human?”

“I propose doing nothing for one week,” Voltaire said. “No announcements. That way, when the devastating blow strikes, it will be completely unsuspected. No chance for the griffons you’re subjecting to a death sentence to take time to think of a way to fight back. And, if the Princess just so happens to recover in that time, you can get her advice on the best way to carry out your clever little scheme.”

It’s obviously a ploy to hold the madpony at bay, Blue Belle deduced, in hopes that the Princess would fix everything without the truth getting out.

“I like that!” Blueblood exclaimed. “I’ll make a loyal Blueblood out of you yet!”

“Dear God I hope not,” Voltaire replied.

~ ~ ~

“Now you mustn’t think that unicorns are completely oblivious about the plights of the other breeds,” Blueblood said to Blue Belle as they exited the palace, smoothly taking up his political instruction right where it left off. “The key is to give them concessions at precisely the moment before you’ve gone too far. The way to see this point is...”

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” Blue Belle shouted in his face. “How many ponies are running around in that head of yours, anyway?”

Hail Prince Blueblood!” exclaimed a brown earth pony from several ponylengths distant.

Blue Belle looked upon the speaker with disdain. Several ponies had gathered before the palace as soon as the news of the Griffish Revolution had broken. By their shouted racist slogans, they were trying to persuade Princess Celestia to solve the problem in ways rather similar to her father’s so-called “policy”. The voice of this brown pony in particular had been the loudest.

“Well met, good pony!” Blueblood exclaimed, turning his path to meet up with the protesters. His daughter followed with extreme reluctance. “I take it you are the leader of this worthy group of petitioners?”

The earth pony bowed deeply. “I am, Your Highness.”

“And what is your name, earthy pony?”

The pony glanced up at him briefly from his bow before replying. “Jack, Your Highness.”

“Jack,” Blueblood repeated with a laugh. “What a very ‘jacky’ name! Jack, Jack, Jack!”

Blue Belle wondered, if she kept this look of incredulousness on her face for much longer, if it would stick there forever.

“Err...yes. Would you mind terribly if I stood now...Your Highness?”

“Go ahead, by all means! You got the abject bowing, and the title down, so I think it’s alright to stand now. Don’t look me in the eyes, though.”

“Oh, I would never think of such a thing, Your Highness.”

Another ‘Your Highness’!” exclaimed Blueblood. “I love those! Especially considering that I actually am so much taller than the lot of you. So, dirt ponies, I hear you’re mad at the griffons. Astute bit of observational work. Oh, sorry about using the big words on you. I mean to say that you see well, with those eyes of yours. Yes, the griffons are just no good, no good at all. I’ve got a plan, see, a plan to put them in their place!”

“,” Jack said, looking very uncertain.

“These griffons are a problem, a most-definite problem! You don’t know any griffons, Jack, do you?”

“Not...not personally, Your Highness.”

“Lucky you! I have to deal with them on a daily basis. They smell. Like...salt, and oil, and dirt and...what’s that other thing? It’s wet, and they get it on their haunches when they’ve been working too hard...”

“Sweat, Your Highness?” ventured Jack.

“Yes! Sweat, that’s the thing,” replied Blueblood. “Nasty stuff, that. Ponies don’t have any of that. Some of us excrete perfume, but that was just a silly unicorn experiment gone wrong! Anyway, I’m going to be replacing all of that nasty sweat with blood.”

“W...what?!” Jack exclaimed. Behind him, all of the other earth ponies listening in were in similar states of shock.

“Well of course, dear fellows!” the Prince exclaimed. “Surely you see that is the only logical endpoint of your...of our grand plans for the griffons! I have heard your slogans, after all! They’ve stolen our jobs (although I don’t recall them doing much that a pony can’t do better—they must be stealing our jobs somehow!) and our mares (although, again, I don’t remember a single case of that happening, particularly without the consent of the mare), so that means they have to go! They are different, just as the breeds differ from each other, and so their blood must be shed! Who is with me? Hello? Hello? Huh. Where did they all go? I thought I had a nice crowd here listening to me just a moment ago.”

Blue Belle felt like her brains were dribbling out of her ears.

Voltaire opened the insistent knocking at his door. He looked around, to see nobody. Then he remembered he was a giant among pygmies, and looked down, to see Blue Belle walking boldly into his room.

“What are you...?” he began.

“You promised me a private audience,” she told him curtly. “Well, here I am.”

“Well...I...shouldn’t you have a chaperone?”

The unicorn filly ignored the question as she turned to face him. “At the Council meeting today, you said you figured out what game my father is playing. I want to know what that game is.”

Voltaire said nothing for several seconds. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said finally.

“Liar. What is my father doing?” she asked. “He refuses to tell me, but you seem to know everything, so I came here to get the answer out of you.”

“He’s just an air-headed imbecile,” the human tossed off, “too full of himself to realize what he’s saying.”

“No,” Blue Belle replied, backing him into the door until he forced it closed. “It’s an act, I know it now. Everything he says and does in public is all fake. Now you’re going to tell me why he’s doing it.”

“I...I can’t,” Voltaire said, looking away. “You’re so young!”

It’s about being the Prince,” Blue Belle realized. “Our family is the only one allowed to have the same title as the Princess. And he’s training me, he’s been training me my entire life, so I’d end up like him. Well I want a choice in the matter! I want to know why my father is the biggest jerk in the history of Equestria, and you’re going to tell me!

Voltaire turned and opened the door. “You really need a chaperone, young lady,” he told her, “or ponies are going to start to tell the most awful stories about me! Now come back with an adult, preferably one without a pain-inducing horn on their head...”

Oh you want to see what kind of pain a unicorn horn can dish out?!

And with that, the door slammed itself shut.


~ ~ ~

A few minutes later, the door to Voltaire’s room was magically opened, and a stunned Blue Belle staggered out. A pony periwig floated out behind her. “I...I’m joining your political party, Human, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!” The words sort of fell out of her lips rather than being spoken by her with any degree of force.

“ might as well,” a weary Voltaire said. He was clinging on to the doorjamb like it was the only thing keeping him from falling down. His right eye was rapidly swelling, and would make for a swell magically-induced black eye in the morning. “You’ll note that your behavior is proof positive of my thesis!”

Blueblood was waiting for Blue Belle at their apartment in the palace. He immediately noticed the wig on her head.

“Well,” he said calmly, “it’s about time. Most ponies rebel against their parents in their teenage years, but we Bluebloods have always been ahead of the curve! Are you going to tell me more about how I’m destroying Equestria?”

Blue Belle sighed deeply and sat down. “You were telling me about how the unicorns could tell when the earth ponies and pegasi were on the brink of revolt.”

Blueblood eyed his daughter strangely. “Yes,” he said. “Well it isn’t just a matter of demonstrations like the one we saw earlier today. It’s useful to keep an eye on the newspapers and pamphlets being put out. Most of them are the work of idle cranks, but if you track the circulation numbers...”

Eveningstar opened the door of her apartment, to see Blue Belle standing there quietly looking up at her. “Could you give this to Zody, please?” she asked. She used her magic to present a long wooden tube, the kind used to hold artwork.

For a moment, Eveningstar was tempted to slam the door in Blue Belle’s face. After what her father had said at the Council meeting, and after what this filly had done to that poor donkey...but then she saw the wig planted firmly on the filly’s head, a wig identical to one she had been wearing for the past three days. “Alright,” she said, and accepted the present. She closed the door as the filly turned away.

Within a matter of seconds, Blue Belle’s retreating form was met by Zody. Held in his magical clutches was Blue Belle’s gift, a reproduction of Genevieve’s drawing of the Summer Sun Celebration, the original drawing, that Blue Belle had incinerated. It wasn’t the actual drawing, but Blue Belle’s memory of it transferred to paper. Zody had one of these himself, based on his own memory, so he knew from experience how hard it was to accomplish this spell. He had needed his mother’s power feeding into him to pull it off, and he was confident that Blue Belle had done hers with no help from her father. And yet her version looked so much better, so much closer to Genevieve’s style than Zody’s.

“You really liked it, didn’t you?” he asked her.

Blue Belle looked down. “I have a habit of destroying what I love,” she said sadly. “I’m sorry about what I did, Zody. I’m really, really sorry. I thought she was taking you away from me. I thought that I owned you. I was such a fool. I still am. I...I won’t take up any more of your time.”

“Belle,” Zody said gently, holding out a hoof to stop her. “First you get my frog drawing accepted by Voltaire, then you get yourself suspended with that ‘Fisby Lives’ stunt. The old Blue Belle, the one that so casually tried to crush Geneveive beneath her hooves, would never have done either of those. What happened to you?”

“I had to live with the consequences of my actions, for once,” she told him. “And I was forced to learn what I really am, what it means to be a Blueblood, and not a Sparkle or a Nightingale.”

“And what does that mean?” he asked, sitting down beside her.

Kings, queens and princesses (the voice of Voltaire echoed in her head), even the kind who aren’t thought to be gods, are nevertheless required to be infallible. Doubting your monarch is the sure path to treason against the country that monarch rules. So when something goes wrong, it is never their fault. Instead, the same excuse is trotted out time and again: they were misled, by evil councilors.

For a country to succeed, for Equestria to succeed, you’ve got to have somepony willing to take the fall. Somepony willing to force a fall if necessary. If the country is going to tear itself up with riots, then you need somepony to prove how stupid the wrong side is. You need a Blueblood who’s willing to do whatever it takes to lose, to lose with no sympathizers on his side.

“It means I have to be a jerk,” Blue Belle replied to Zody. “It’s in the constitution. But I’ve got an escape clause. For a few years at least, I’m allowed to be a jerk to my father instead of a jerk to the world. And...and I’d really like a friend or two in that time, before I have to be alone again.” She looked away from the colt beside her. “I’ve been watching the mages working on that portal to get Genevieve back, and they’re all a bunch of idiots.” She reached back into her saddlebags and removed a packet of notes. “Now I’ve been doing some research, and I think I’ve uncovered a few new avenues I’m going to suggest to them. I’m telling you this, so that you’d be more willing to put up with my abrasive and annoying pers—”

“Belle!” Zody interrupted, gently using his magic to pull her head around to face him.

“Yes, Zody,” she said.

“You’re trying to buy my friendship,” he told her calmly.

“Yes,” she said, bowing her head.

He used a hoof to raise it. “Friendship doesn’t work that way.”

“I’ll buy you lunch!” she blurted out.

Zody sighed. “We’ll split lunch,” he told her. “And we’ll talk, and we’ll see how it goes after that.”

The Bridle & Saddle Inn, Canterlot
59 Summer 6764

My dearest friend,

Something extraordinary has happened with the mobs that were out for griffon blood—overnight, they are now out for Blueblood’s blood instead! A more perfect example of a pony nailing himself in the hoof has never been imagined.

Enclosed you will find one of the blue scrolls I saw everypony carrying around. It contains a fanciful tale invented by the strange bipedal creature that arrived in Canterlot a week or two ago.

It was an enjoyable enough story, but I fail to see why it is held so reverently by some.

Thanks to waving the silly thing around like the Sword of the Ancients, I was admitted entrance this morning to the Raising of the Sun Ceremony. It was set in the Royal Gardens, and I think I saw the most marvelous bird that ever existed—it looked like it was made out of purest fire!

There were also about a dozen rabbits, and they all started following me everywhere I went. Now I know what you’re thinking, Dearest. You never believe me when I tell you these animal stories, but I swear that it is true!

I learned a great deal by milling about among this crowd of so-called “enlightened ponies”. From what I was able to overhear, the Princess is not dealing with “evil griffon emotions,” and instead is recovering from the shock of learning what the griffons had done.

I fail to see why this simple truth needed to be concealed by Prince Blueblood. Of course, if this letter fails to reach you, I suppose I will have to take that as proof that this really was a truth worth hiding.

Nopony should be surprised that the Princess reacted as She did. She did not create the ponies, but, by raising Thunderwing, She did create the griffons, or at least the griffons as we know them now. What loving goddess would not grieve at their fate under the circumstances? Let Her take as long as She needs to recover. I can wait.

Since She is recovering, the task of raising and lowering the sun had to be taken over by dozens and dozens of the unicorns of Canterlot. That they were responsible for this in the distant past is a well-known part of our history, but I never thought I would live to see the day when I could witness it with my own eyes. It was a stunning sight to see, and proof of the immense power which She wields.

Also, they did a much better job than yesterday, as I’m sure you noticed. Maybe, like the frogs in the story, the unicorns can eventually let the Princess take a day off now and then, so that she might—

Oh. Oh my.

This changes everything...and nothing, I suppose. I suddenly understand an offer made to me while I was watching the sunrise. As soon as I finish this letter, I need to visit the royal kiln...

I hope you don’t think I’ve taken leave of my senses.

Read the story on the blue scroll. I dare not say any more.

Your bewildered and “enlightened” wife,


Gradually, ever so gradually, the world began to knit itself back together for Princess Celestia.

She heard sounds, infinitely distant sounds, of hooves walking on carpet. Smells, musty old smells, of a room that had never been slept in. No, as a matter fact it had been slept in, more than once but less than a dozen times over the course of several hundred years, but never more than for a single night at a time, and always by a pair of...

Oh my!

Celestia threw aside the sheets she found atop her, and stood up on a bed. She found herself in a deep but somehow comforting blackness, blacker than she ever remembered experiencing in the palace.

I am in the palace, right?

She reached out with her magic, and confirmed that she was indeed still in the palace. There was only one possible place where she could possibly be, and lighting her horn she confirmed it: she was in Luna’s bedroom.

Since the room had been built after her banishment, Luna’s room had been faithfully maintained by servants (somewhat randy servants...). It was designed to keep out both light and sound, so that the once and future Princess of the Night could comfortably sleep through Celestia’s day.

It was, she realized, the only possible place to put a catatonic princess until she wanted to wake up.

Voltaire’s Prince Friedrich had lost his senses for three whole days after whatever his father did to that one poor friend of his.

How long have I been out? she asked herself. Who had been taking care of the celestial cycle while I was asleep? Had it been night or day when I collapsed? Is Equestria freezing, or broiling?

Celestia rushed to the heavy curtains, and roughly shoved them aside to step out onto a patio and look around.

Equestria looked normal for a late afternoon. The sun was in its expected place in the sky, and the ponies below her went about their daily activities, seemingly nonplussed.

But what of the griffons? What is to be done about the revolution? Will that idiot Blueblood let power completely go to his head? How is Trottingham handling the influx? What can I do to help? Did the ponies completely lose their minds when they learned of my moment of weakness? What do I do? What do I do?

She stepped forward, intending to launch herself into the sky and fly around to find somepony she could get a report from.


She stopped suddenly and looked down. Her hoof had brushed against something ceramic, triggering a simple sound spell.

The spell had been emitted from the mouth of a tiny little clay frog. It was sculpted so its eyes were gazing up at her, and its mouth was open in a joyous song.

Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit!

There were dozens of these little singing frogs, arranged in a semicircle around the patio door. Some of them had had their spells set off by the frog she had touched, and were now delivering their message to her. She levitated the frogs into the air around her, and saw that each one was unique. Some looked well made, while others were obviously the works of ponies who had never touched clay in their lives. Her little ponies understood, and they had done all this, for her!

Celestia heard the tinkling of joyful laughter, filling the air like silver chimes. It took a few seconds for her to realize that she was the one doing the laughing.

And that was how Canterlot learned that their Princess had returned to them.

Chapter 22

View Online

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 22

“Ambassador Noir?”

“Ah, Councilor Voltaire,” the Diamond Dog said, turning to face the approaching human. “Was wondering where you were.” He was wearing an actual black suit and tie.

“Come with me,” Voltaire said, reaching out a hand, “I’ll take you to the Council’s private box.” He was wearing a dark blue version of his usual dress suit, somewhat heavy on the frills.

The two bipeds had met in front of the Canterlot Concert Hall. Today’s performance was not musical, but instead magical in nature. Woofston, the legendary Diamond Dog illusionist, was giving a series of farewell performances, paired with his chosen successor, the earth pony Hoofdini. Voltaire brought with him Eveningstar and Cog, while Noir was unaccompanied. Eveningstar was wearing a simple purple dress, while Cog’s suit rather resembled Noir’s, accented by an orange bow tie. A flat box as wide as Cog was balanced on his back.

Voltaire had been trying to find a time and place to speak with Noir ever since they had first been introduced, but for one reason or another they had never been able to find free time away from their obligations and personal pursuits to schedule a meeting. This matinee was the first opportunity that presented itself.

~ ~ ~

A few minutes later they were sitting comfortably in their box. Noir leaned out to see the audience (mostly earth ponies) taking their places in the arena seats below. He grunted lightly in disapproval.

“What’s wrong?” asked Voltaire, leaning out to see what Noir was seeing. “You aren’t by any chance afraid of heights?”

“There no need for us to be this high,” Noir explained. “You can see plenty good from down there.”

“Well,” Voltaire laughed, “there has to be some reward for the rich and powerful.”

“Does there?” Noir said darkly. He turned and used his enormous paw to gesture at the crowd below. “, is for looking down on other ponies, yes? Diamond Dogs’ oppressors looked down on us because they were towering beasts of greed and cruelty—what’s your excuse?”

“Well!” Voltaire exclaimed in shock, standing up from his seat. He took a few moments to calm himself down. “I...can certainly see your point of view.”

Noir gestured at Voltaire’s seat with a gentle smile. “Sit, Councilor Voltaire. Sit. Don’t need to fear me. Noir is lawyer, so bark worse than bite.”

Voltaire laughed loudly and sat back down. “‘Your bark is worse than your bite!’ That was funny! ...err, that was a joke, yes?”

“That was joke, yes,” replied Noir with another smile.

“Yes, I was thinking about that manner of your speech,” Voltaire said with delicacy. “I know you were part of the committee that wrote the Diamond Dog constitution, so I suspect you must be eloquent in your own language. Unfortunately, your Equine sounds...

“...little rough ‘round edges?” volunteered Noir.

“Exactly! That is why I asked Eveningstar here to manufacture one of her magical caps, specially adopted to Diamond Dogs!”

As he said this, Cog stepped forward and, from the box on his back, Voltaire removed a woolen skullcap, its color the same charcoal gray as Noir’s head. He leaned over towards the ambassador, the cap held in his hands.

Noir leaned back, one brow raised in suspicion.

“Is there a problem?” Voltaire asked.

Noir shook his head. “Is a good gift, a good good gift, but Noir must say no. Like Noir said, Noir is lawyer. His words save the innocent from the wicked. That cap,” he said pointing at it, “choose your words. It would chose Noir’s voice. Noir only study pony tongue for few years. In more years, Noir get better, sound more like native. ‘Till then, don’t mind sounding dumb.”

Voltaire sighed and put the gray cap back in its box. “You’re putting me at an advantage, and I wanted to speak with you about your political philosophy, a sophisticated conversation requiring complex vocabularies. You leave me no other choice.” With this, he removed his wig and stripped off his white cap, putting it with the gray one in the box.

The others in the room were speechless. The human who used words as his weapon...had just disarmed himself. Voltaire looked at them haughtily as he adjusted the periwig.

“Could...could Voltaire keep that off, too?” Noir asked, pointing at the wig.

“My...wig?” Voltaire replied. Speaking in Equine unaided was a lot harder than he thought.

Noir nodded. “Never liked that wig thing. Dead hair on top of real hair. Looked unnatural.”

Voltaire sighed, placed the wig with the two caps, and did his best to get the strands of his scant gray hair as organized as possible. “Voltaire do it,” he said, then sighed inwardly. My Equine is atrocious! he scolded himself. “But only because we in box, and nopony see in.”

He turned to the two ponies in the room. “Voltaire...” He wanted to say “I suppose I don’t need your services tonight”, but he couldn’t remember the Equine for half of the words, and many of the words he could remember he realized he couldn’t pronounce, including, most infuriatingly, any of the pronouns for referring to himself. He closed his eyes and mentally searched through his vocabulary. “Voltaire...don’t need you ponies.” He opened his eyes to see two hurt pairs of eyes. “Tonight,” he quickly added. “Don’t need ponies tonight. Wanted be less rude saying that, but forgot the words. Agreeable?” Voltaire frowned. That last word didn’t sound right at all.

“That was fine,” Eveningstar said. To the slightly confused Noir, she explained about her link to Voltaire through the White Cap, and the fact that Cog had volunteered for the same duty in regards to the Gray Cap. “We’d still like to stay.”

“I’m here for the show, actually,” said Cog.

“And I tend to find that you are the most-entertaining show in Canterlot,” Eveningstar said with a smile, pointing a hoof at Voltaire.

“Show? Like Court Jester?” Voltaire asked ruefully after a second’s thought. “And talk slower.”

“Like Court Philosopher,” Eveningstar replied. “And yes, I can talk slower if you’d like.”

“That just Court Jester for pointy-heads,” said Voltaire. “Like Gordon, Voltaire not taken seriously. Voltaire is just voltige, a pony-rider of words.”

“So is Woofston,” said Noir, gesturing at the closed curtains below. “He not only pony-rider, but also dragon-rider of words and tricks. Most famous dragon-rider of all time.”

“Woofston was the first Diamond Dog I had ever heard of,” said Eveningstar. “He visited Canterlot with his dragon handler when I was just a filly. All of us unicorns attended the show, convinced we could figure out how he faked his magic, but he tricked all of us.”

Voltaire rubbed his chin in thought. “Voltaire thought these two had fake magic, but wasn’t sure, and didn’t want to look foalish saying it.”

“No, they are fakes, and quite proud of it,” said Cogs. “Diamond Dogs have no magic, and earth pony magic relates to nature, the manipulation of earth or, in my case, metal. Hoofdini could use earth pony magic to perform his escapes, but he deliberately refrains, and the more talented earth ponies can sense that he performs his tricks without magic.”

“Why?” asked Voltaire. “This world has magic, lots of magic. Human world has little. Our magic humans are fakes, but...pretend to be real, to get rich. Human magickers” (that word was definitely wrong!) “like a type of thief, only the people know they are being robbed, and clap at the cleverness.”

“We’re not that different from you,” said Eveningstar. “Ponies like a good show, whether it be a meteor shower or a card raising itself from a deck. For unicorns, especially the magical specialists like the Sparkles or the Bluebloods, so much of what we do with our horns has become mundane. To see somepony that should not be able to do what we do, but yet do it, easier than us, and to go on and do what we’s an intellectual game, but also...wonderful.”

“Talking too fast again,” complained Voltaire.


“It way to get around rules they tell us,” said Noir. “‘Earth pony never good as unicorn,’ they say. ‘Diamond Dog never good as dragon.’ Dragons liked our magicians so much that every noble had to have one. Treated them better than pets. Better than most of their subjects. Diamond Dog magicians were taught to read and write, so they could study each other’s tricks, so they could be even better magicians. They smuggled dragon political books to rest of us, and we learned what we could be.”

“Interesting!” exclaimed Voltaire. He looked longingly over at the box with the White Cap in it. This would be so much easier if I hadn’t given into to my cursed desire for fair play! he thought. “So does that mean...”

“Shh!” interrupted Noir, pointing at the stage. “Show starting.”

Woofston was standing on the stage. He was a light gray Diamond Dog with darker gray spots on his face and joints and a thinning head of hair, all of which indicated his extreme age. He was dressed in a suit and tails, and looked every bit the gentleman. He had begun his show by juggling. In fact, he had begun his show with no fanfare, no dimming of the lights. He just had the curtain open to him juggling three brightly colored balls. Seeing as he was performing for ponies, he soon had the riveted attention of his audience. “Juggling is easy,” he said. His Equine was flawless, but accented oddly, containing equal parts of Diamond Dog and Draconic. “Let’s try something a bit more challenging.” He tossed each ball high in the air, and as they fell they burst open into miniature bouquets of flowers. He easily caught each bouquet and tossed it out to three mares in the audience. Without allowing his viewers a chance to recover, he started pulling large bouquets out of thin air and tossing those to the sides of the stage, dozens, perhaps as much as a hundred times, in quick succession. The thundering hoof applause of the stunned audience grew and grew. A change in the lighting, and suddenly those tossed bouquets now looked like the foliage of an outdoor garden.

“The dragons have a story,” Woofston told the audience, “about a maiden in a garden. Well, here is the garden, and here,” with a gesture at the demure earth pony who walked upon the stage, “is the maiden. You’ll have to use your imaginations, as this stage is a little small for an actual dragon maiden.” The audience laughed, changed instantly to a gasp of surprise as the mare blew a small stream of fire. “Well, perhaps not so much imagination will be required, after all.”

The story continued on, with good and bad dragons, and good and bad spirits testing them. To Voltaire it sounded like something out of the Thousand and One Nights. This was a thoroughly new way of performing a magic show. The ones he had seen had been rather clinical, a series of effects presented with the same air as a scientist would present his latest discovery to his peers. In that case the goal was to, under no circumstances, look like an actual miracle-worker, as those had a bad habit of being burned at the stake. But here, where magic was commonplace, magicians could move on to the next stage of entertainment, using their illusions to tell stories. And judging from the enthusiastic reactions of the crowd, these ponies had most definitely come here to be entertained by fake magic. Voltaire wondered how much of this he could get into A Citizen of Canterlot, assuming he ever got to stage it for the Parisians. Assuming I’m ever allowed back into France, he thought glumly. Assuming I ever manage to return to Earth! That made him really depressed, so he turned his thoughts to the central question he wanted to pose to Noir, of how his people could survive without a nobility. He carefully began to phrase his arguments, to cobble some semblance of intelligent thought out of the thoroughly alien pony language he was forced to work with.

“...and they lived happily ever after!” Woofston exclaimed from the top of a magically constructed tower. The audience applauded uproariously as the lights on the stage cut out. A split second later they came back up, and the canine magician was suddenly at the front of the stage, seemingly teleported from his last location, with the elaborate tower nowhere to be seen. There he received the cheers of the crowd.

A placard placed at the side of the stage announced a half-hour intermission before Hoofdini’s show would start.

There was a knock on the door of the Council’s private box. Eveningstar used her magic to open it. On the other side was a well-dressed unicorn servant. “Shall I get you anything for the intermission?” he asked. “We have a full kitchen in the basement for the exclusive use of our upper-tier guests. Free of charge, of course.”

Voltaire would have liked to have ordered something, but he saw the disapproving look upon Ambassador Noir’s face. After all, the use of the phrase “upper-tier guests, free of charge” assumed the existence of its opposite, “the riff-raff we have to let in to keep them from burning the place into ashes. They get the used champagne, and we make them pay for it.” He shook his head.

Seeing this, Cog supplied the words that the human would have struggled to supply: “Sorry, but no. Thank you for the offer, however.”

The servant bowed at the front knees. “You have only to ring this bell,” he said, pointing at a pull rope, “and we will be quick to serve you in any means you desire.”

The obsequiousness by this point was too much for Voltaire, and he wrinkled his nose as he gestured for the pony to leave, which he did.

Noir sighed. “That what is wrong with ponies and dragons. Why does one pony have to be better than another pony?”

This was the opening Voltaire had been waiting for. “The way inequality is shown is sad,” he said. “But inequality itself is needed. Some must rule, while others follow.”

“Diamond Dogs have rulers and followers,” replied Noir, “but any of us could be ruler. You split yourselves up. Under Celestia, there are rulers of towns and regions, but they are picked only from some of you. Only noble can be leader, not peasant. Why noble? Why peasant? Why not all be peasants like Diamond Dogs?”

“Division of labor,” answered Voltaire. “Takes time to be worthy to lead. Takes learning. But life is hard. Takes work to live. So most work harder, so few can have free time. But poor have to be kept happy, or they rebel against more work. ‘Bread and Circuses’, the Romans called it.”

As far as Voltaire knew, the Equestrian government had neither “bread” nor “circuses”. But that was because any income that came into the coffers was immediately spent on the unicorn nobility. This was a problem that required some thought—he put it aside for later.

“Diamond Dog not have to divide labor. All Diamond Dogs are equal.”

“Excuse me,” said Eveningstar, “but my sister told me that Diamond Dogs, before their revolution, didn’t have to take care of themselves. The dragons fed and protected them, and they did this for all, even those that were not currently needed on a digging project. It seems to me that this gave you the free time you needed to plan your rebellion.”

“That...true,” Noir said reluctantly, not wanting to give any credit to the creatures he had fought against.

“A-ha!” Voltaire exclaimed. “Diamond Dogs are not all peasants—Diamond Dogs are all nobles!” Then he quickly sobered. “But you not have dragons helping now.”

“Yes,” said the ambassador. “Now we starve. We work lands, never enough time to work and take care of ourselves. We are peasants now.”

“And as peasants you will perish,” Cog said, standing up from his cushion. He began to pace around the room. “But suppose you had new peasants?”

“New peasants?” Noir asked in confusion.

“Mechanical peasants!” Cog exclaimed.

“You...but...” Voltaire put his hands to his head and concentrated to summon up the right words. “You...don’t to do that. Do you?”

“I don’t mean literal peasants,” Cog explained. “I mean, take the time-consuming part of being a peasant, and mechanize that!”

“Slower,” Voltaire commanded. After Cog repeated himself, Voltaire thought about the suggestion. “So...harvesting?”

“Mechanical harvester.”


“Mechanical horsepower.”

Eveningstar gasped. “That violates everything that ponies stand for! You’re proposing the replacement of earth pony magic...”

“...for a race that has no magic!” exclaimed Cog. “Look, Auntie, no pony wants anything to do with my inventions, and for good reason: because magic can do it better. This is what my talent is meant for. To improve lives, not for the ponies—for the Diamond Dogs!”

“...and for the griffons,” said Noir.

“For the griffons?” asked Voltaire. “I thought griffons had...magicians.”

“Exactly,” explained Noir with a big grin. “Griffons have magicians exactly like Diamond Dogs have magicians. They fought beside us, so we know. They’re really good at the faking, but still...fake magic.”

“I guess they did it to try and be more like the ponies,” Eveningstar said. “They definitely have pegasus magic, though. They can fly in ways that would be impossible in a non-magical flying creature that size, and they can manipulate the weather. They are much better than pegasi when it comes to creating violent weather like tornadoes and blizzards.”

The conversation sort of died at this point. Cog’s suggestion had given Voltaire much food for thought. On Earth, the British were masters of the machine, and they had so much free time to waste as a result that they had a reputation for foolishness among the French. Their government, although less corrupt than the French, had a good deal of room for improvement, but nevertheless it was the most-representative government in Europe. Voltaire concluded that France needed to get into machines, fast, or Great Britain could quickly rise to become the dominant political power on the planet.

Hoofdini began his performance before Voltaire returned from his reverie. The magical pony’s performance was mostly based around escaping from a variety of devices used against criminal ponies. The political metaphor of this was more than obvious.

Once these were done, Hoofdini launched into the story of his childhood as the son of a poor woodspony. Unlike Woofston, Hoofdini’s story was not punctuated by magic tricks—it was simply a tale, told masterfully, of the rural life that the urban dwellers of Canterlot had never known, and wished dearly to experience.

Voltaire looked around him, and saw with surprise that the walls of the theater were turning into trees, and a bubbling brook had appeared between the aisles of the seats below. As he looked closer, he saw that both of these were phantoms, and by concentrating he could see the walls and floor behind them. The details of this illusion varied from one spot to another of the theater. An area occupied by a knot of earth pony fillies had nearly completely transformed into forest, while up in the box opposite to Voltaire’s, a group of snooty unicorns too busy chatting with each other to pay any attention to the performance was completely devoid of illusory vegetation.

What is going on? he asked himself in panic. Looking around, he saw the others with him, as well as the ponies below, were simply accepting, as if this were an expected part of the show. this it, then? he pondered. The basis of magic, the fundamental way that our two worlds differ? These ponies act as if reality can be shifted purely by force of will, while on my world we call such individuals ‘insane’, and have abundant proof that they are wrong. But they are actually doing it, aren’t they? He saw that Hoofdini’s stage was also unaffected by the spell. For this part of the show, he isn’t the magician—they are. What in the world are they not capable of doing doing through the power of belief? As he surveyed the crowd of earth ponies, he saw how many of them had his signature blue scrolls visible on them.

Merde! is the word my translator has told the author he was probably thinking at this point.

He refuses to translate it, and this author probably doesn’t want to know in any case.

Chapter 23

View Online

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 23

Author’s Note #1

By Royal Order 1895, the full name of the pony identified in this narrative as “K”, as well as the names of all of his ancestors and descendants, shall be obscured until the end of time. All identifying descriptions of these ponies shall be expunged from all publicly accessible documents.

Blue Belle awoke to the sight of golden sunlight streaming through the curtains of her apartment.

This meant that she had overslept.

Today would be the day of the first Royal Council session after Celestia’s recovery. Blue Belle had hoped to have a little quiet moment in private with her father before the moment she’d very publically throw him under the carriage of her righteous rage for his reprehensible policies against the griffons. She just wanted him to be absolutely sure where she stood.

“Nothing personal, Daddy. Now which pair of ribs would you like me to insert the stiletto blade between?” You that.

Instead he had left without her. Left without waking her. As if the excuse of accidentally sleeping though his humiliation would be accepted by anypony.

The filly quickly brushed her coat with her magic and carefully planted her periwig on her head before racing out the door.

She’d find time for eating later.

~ ~ ~

She arrived at the Council chamber a full half-hour early. Standing apart from the members of the Council was a tall bright yellow pegasus with an orange mane and the cutie mark of...the most adorable rattlesnake that the unicorn had ever seen. Blue Belle supposed that she was the witness that had been requested for the refugee issue.

For the councilors, the center of attention was Voltaire’s black eye; he had even chosen his ensemble to have the maximum color contrast against it. Every councilmember present wanted to know how he got it, but he stubbornly refused to say.

Only one councilmember was missing: Prince Blueblood. “He hasn’t arrived yet,” said Voltaire quietly, without a trace of resentment in his voice.

Blue Belle nodded, looking away. “I think I know where he is, then,” she said.

The pegasus Pensive Thought stepped forward. “Shall I go with you?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine,” the unicorn said over her shoulder as she walked way.

It was only later that she realized that Pensive Thought had been the only councilmember left to be wearing a robe instead of a wig.

~ ~ ~

There were, as a matter of fact, two different ways to get from the Blueblood apartment to the Council chamber. One of them was much shorter than the other, and that was the route that Blue Belle had taken. But on a day like today, there was every reason to take the longer, more private path, so now she was taking that path back from the Council Chamber, in hopes of finding her father.

As Blue Belle approached an intersection, she picked up the sound of a lone voice, her father’s voice, talking to itself. Blue Belle stopped in her tracks, and listened intently for a few seconds, until she was absolutely sure that her father was carrying on half of a conversation where the other party was inaudible. Then she smiled like a foal and started galloping for the corner.

When she reached it, she used a spell she had recently mastered that spontaneously changed a pony’s positioning and momentum. It wasn’t teleportation (the spell above all that she wished she could master), but it was a pretty good second.

Using that spell meant that she was barreling towards her father at full speed, giving him no time to get out of the way. She saw how his head and eyes were inclined towards his right in the moment before he looked up at her in shock. She continued her trajectory for a direct collision course towards him and then, at the last possible second, cast the Shift Direction spell again, to cause her to crash into the empty space to Blueblood’s right, and to topple an invisible something to the ground.

Blue Belle climbed up the invisible hill and started hopping up and down in excitement. “Uncle K! Uncle K! Uncle K!” she cried out gleefully.

“Uncle is right!” replied a disembodied voice. “Uncle! Uncle!”

Blue Belle hopped down and stood, staring at the nothingness with eager eyes.

There was a slight shimmer in the air, and suddenly an earth pony was lying on the ground who hadn’t been visible a second ago.

“The colors! The colors!” he cried out, looking around him wildly.

Blueblood put a hoof on his shoulder to calm him. “It’s just the visible light spectrum, old friend,” he said. “Do you remember that?”

“I...think so,” Uncle K replied cautiously.

Blue Belle rushed forward and hugged him. “It’s been so long!” she cried out, her muzzle buried in his side. “I started wondering if you were real, or if you were just a pooka or a deer.”

Uncle K laughed. “Silly filly!” he exclaimed. “There’s no such thing as deer!”

The smile suddenly left the filly’s face. “You are an earth pony, right?”

“That’s right,” Uncle K said with the trace of a grin on his face.

“You’re not hiding your horn?”

The pony responded by kneeling on his front knees. “I dare you to find it if I have it,” he said.

Blue Belle reached forward hesitantly and tapped the earth pony’s forehead with her hoof, eliminating any possibility that there was an invisible horn.

“But...” she protested. She lifted a hoof and gestured a circular path around her. “Walk around me.”

Grinning mysteriously, Uncle K did as he was told. He walked all the way around the filly, lifting his hooves high with each step...and making no sounds whatsoever.

He had hooves. Blue Belle made sure of that by grabbing one and examining it. She then rapped it on the ground, still it didn’t make any sounds.

“That...that...that...that shouldn’t be possible!” she exclaimed. “No earth pony works that way!”

“Not,” said Blueblood.

Blue Belle was struck by yet another wrenching shift in perspective. Shift Direction, she realized, had something in common with every other spell she was naturally good at: it was an alteration spell. And her father was the best Alteration mage in Equestria. But he wasn’t casting those spells on himself...

Blue Belle gasped as turned on her father. “You made him this way!” she exclaimed.

“That’s only a partial answer,” Blueblood replied. “It would be more accurate to say my whole family made K’s whole family into what they are.”

“The perfect spies,” Blue Belle said in awe. She quoted her father’s words back to him: “Information is the fountainhead of control.”

“And our family has had a hoof in the affairs of Equestria since before there even was an Equestria,” he replied. “When your political rivals get clever enough to outwit every one of your unicorn tricks, it makes good sense to pick the least-regarded of the other breeds of pony, and find out what kind of tricks they are capable of...given more magic than they know what to do with. That reminds me, Daughter: don’t cast any powerful spells around K. He’s so fully charged now that any more magic might make him something other than a pony.”

Blue Belle looked incredulously at Uncle K. He did seem to sort of vibrate subtly in the light, like he was on the verge of rocketing through the stone ceiling and on into the sky. “And what is your opinion?” she asked him out of curiosity. “Do you mind what he has done to you?”

“Are you kidding?” K asked incredulously. “I’m a super-pony! I can do things ordinary ponies can only imagine. There are no secrets, anywhere that anypony can keep that I can’t figure out. And I’ve seen more of the world with my own eyes than the Princess will see in a million years.”

“K’s exaggerating,” said Blueblood. “He can’t read Princess Celestia’s mind.”

Blue Belle blanched. That denial was way too specific for her tastes. She began thinking furiously about math problems.

Blueblood walked in front of his daughter and spy and began walking towards the Council chamber. “K has been scoping out the situation in the Aerie for me.” He gestured towards a thick folder in his saddlebags.

Blue Belle was suddenly brought out of her funk. “What was it like?” she asked hesitantly.

For just a moment, the filly saw a flash of primal terror in the earth pony’s eyes as he thought back. But his final verdict was this: “What a rush!”

Translator Note #1 (replacing the much-longer Author Note #2):

Ponies take trans-breedism very seriously.

Imagine what the first people to read Frankenstein, the first people to see the stage play, and the first generation to watch the original movie, thought of the idea of bringing the dead back to life.

Now multiply that revulsion by a hundred-fold.

That’s what the average pony feels when they imagine taking a pony of one breed and trying to give them traits that belong to another breed.

It is an extremely irrational reaction. Even in the era when this story was set, trans-breed marriages were tolerated, and it was common knowledge that even the purest of pure-breed couples still stood a good chance of giving birth to a different breed of foal. Never mind the fact that not only the author, but virtually every pony in Equestria, knows at least one pony that doesn’t fit the abstract definition of their breed.

Despite all of that, for the vast majority of ponies the breed that they are born into is something sacred, as sacred as the cutie mark.

Pegasus, Earth Pony, and Unicorn foals each have their own unique rituals associated with growing up, and a shared identity as a member of their breed that overlaps with and in some circumstances overrides the loyalties and emotions tied to family.

So therefore you might understand that the tone of this chapter was completely different in the original Equine. It read like nothing so much as an Afterschool Special. Prince Blueblood was a black-hearted villain, K was a quivering victim, and Blue Belle was the outraged voice of the pony reader. It took a great deal of research to prove my gut feeling that not only the Bluebloods, but K himself, had a completely different attitude towards the subject, which I hope I have faithfully portrayed.

When the three ponies (well, two ponies as far as anypony could see) returned to the antechamber, Blueblood stood still for a second to take in the sight of his political rival. Then he calmly strode forward to meet Voltaire, rose on his hind legs, and gently laid a hoof over the black eye. “A perfect match, wouldn’t you say?” he asked snidely, before dropping back down to all fours. “You should think twice about this griffon vote if you don’t want a matched set.” He then walked into the empty chamber.

Pensive Thought tried to join him, but was jostled out of the way by Wig Party ponies.

Voltaire nodded in satisfaction. As he had expected, Blueblood had managed to turn even a haymaker punch from his daughter into a strike against him, without managing to lie. If ponies failed to remember that a bruise was always bigger than the object causing it, well, that was their loss, right?

“Please wait here until you are called,” he said to the yellow pegasus.

“Y...yes sir,” she replied, intimidated, for once in her life, at encountering a creature taller than her.

A few minutes later, Princess Celestia arrived in the chamber.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to make this brief,” she said curtly. “The East Lawn area is currently full to bursting with ponies wishing to see me after my being away for so long, and I wish to use that opportunity to announce the government’s united position on the Griffon question.” She looked down at the surface of the table before her. “You will hear me apologize for my absence, but let me begin by apologizing to you.” She raised her head to look them in the eyes. “I am sorry for dropping the governmental reins during one of its worst crises. I shall endeavor to work night and day to catch up on everything that has been missed.”

Blueblood stepped forward and bowed before his Princess. “You will find, Your Royal Highness, that the vast majority of that business has already been taken care of.”

“I thank you for that, Chancellor Blueblood, but the matter of your actions during my absence brings up a rather unpleasant subject.” Celestia used her magic to produce a small scroll, which she unrolled before her. “I have here your plans to force seven hundred of our subjects to leave our homeland. Physically, they are griffons, but the vast majority of them have been Equestrian for at least two generations. They have shown no inclination that they are opposed to our Equestrian ways and have proved on innumerable occasions that they treasure their pony friends as much as their griffon friends and family. Is there anything, Prince Blueblood, anything at all, that you can say to refute this?”

Prince Blueblood bowed his head. “No, Your Highness.”

“You take full responsibility for the actions of this government in my absence in regards to the griffons?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Very well.” Princess Celestia sighed deeply. “Prince Blueblood, you are hereby dismissed from your position as my chancellor.”

Blueblood bowed even lower, touching his horn to the ground. “Yes, Your Highness,” he said, and backed away.

“Councilor Voltaire, come forward. Do you accept the position as my chancellor, to carry out my wishes as you see fit?”

“I do, Your Highness,” said the human, bowing gracefully.

The Princess leaned forward. “Wh...what happened to your eye?”

“A harmless bit of pony-on-human violence. It’s quite encouraging, actually. I was beginning to think Equestria was too good to be true again.”

Celestia smiled enigmatically. “Chancellor, for your first order of business, I request a resolution to the matter of the griffon nobles seeking sanctuary in Equestria. Do you need to make a presentation?”

“The facts of the matter are well-known to everyone in this room, yourself even more than us, Your Highness,” said Chancellor Voltaire. “I would like, however, to ask the opinion of one who will be directly affected by this decision: Mayor Wheatstraw of Trottingham.”

“A wise move,” said Princess Celestia. “I believe I passed her on the way in. Please admit Mayor Wheatstraw.”

The tall pegasus was ushered into the council chamber. She bowed low before them. “Your Highness. Councilors. How may I be of service?” she asked.

“Mayor Wheatstraw, the nobles of neighboring Griffonia wish to apply for sanctuary. If accepted, they would need to be housed in your province, as well as the neighboring province of Stalliongrad. Do you have any reservations to note for the official record before we render our decision?”

The Mayor was taken aback. “Well,” she replied after a moment’s thought, “I would like to have it put on the record that we welcome anyffony who is in need of our hospitality. Our region has a major part in the special relationship you have with the griffons, and we will not repudiate that legendary friendship, not now when it will be tested the most!”

The others in the room applauded briefly at the passion exhibited by this speech.

~ ~ ~

The Mayor was sent to the East Balcony, there to await the arrival of the Princess. Afterwards, the matter of accepting the refugees was raised to a vote and passed.

“It is well and good for you to decide to help these nobles,” Prince Blueblood said acidly, “but how will you pay for it?”

“I’m glad you asked,” replied Voltaire, pulling a scroll out of his handbag and unrolling it for the new Leader of the Opposition. “I performed a thorough investigation of the royal finances over the past few days, and have discovered quite a few irregularities. For instance, did you know that every one of your ancestors’ assistants siphoned funds out of the royal treasury?” He put a hand to his chin in thought, saying, “Not Pensive Thought, however—either he’s the first honest assistant your family has ever employed, or he discovered that there simply wasn’t anything left to steal.”

“Hey, I’m right here!” protested Pensive Thought.

Nopony noticed him.

Voltaire unrolled the scroll a little further, saying, “I have here a list of twenty-three estates built with stolen funds that will revert to the crown as soon as I get the necessary paperwork put through. That will easily double our annual income. And here are my proposals for taking better care of the ponies’ money going forward.” Voltaire was completely unaware that he had unconsciously assumed the attitude of his father as he was giving this report.

“Give me that,” Blueblood said with some annoyance as he levitated the scroll towards himself and started examining it. “I suppose this means you’ve assumed the duties of Finance Minister on top of being Chancellor. Now here, right here! What sort of human chicanery is this? You’re going to begin charging ‘compound interest’ on all government loans. What in Tartarus is compound interest?!

Voltaire’s answering grin was one of the most chilling things ever seen in the council chamber’s history.

The Princess stepped around the table to confront them. “Well, gentleman and gentlepony, if we have settled matters to your mutual satisfaction, I need to greet my subjects.”

The members of the Council bowed, and then followed the Princess out the door, in strict order of precedence: Chancellor Voltaire was the first after the Princess, while Leader of the Opposition Blueblood was last.

As he was leaving, the Prince looked briefly at a seemingly empty corner of the room, as if he were listening to a voice only he could hear. “Stay here,” he then muttered under his breath, before finally leaving the not-so-empty room.

Translator Note #2 (replacing another sanctimonious Author Note):

Royal Order 1895 was the direct result of the article “Who Guards the Guardians?”, written by ace reporter Firefly II in the Year 6926. The article did not name the unicorn and earth pony families tied together by a “dark legacy of transbreeding,” but it didn’t take a genius to identify the unicorns as the Bluebloods.

Unsurprisingly, they were far too politically entrenched to be given more than a slap on the pastern.

The treatment afforded the “victims” of this crime, the “J” family, demonstrates in full the dangers of even a benevolent autocracy. Every trace of the family, as mentioned above, was removed from the public record. And I do mean every trace. Novels with characters based on them were bought up and removed from existence. Bribes and...more persuasive means...were used to ensure that any who knew of this family’s existence forgot all about them. And the members of the “J” family were plucked out of Canterlot and relocated to who-knows-where. Once again, I am being literal. Nobody knows where they went to, not even Celestia. Especially Celestia. She could encounter ”J”s on a daily basis, and she wouldn’t know it. I’ve heard rumors that she performed psychic surgery on herself. And all of this, because the members of this family, at least those born earth ponies, are not, in the strictest sense, pure earth ponies at all.

This is one of the reasons why I smile wryly whenever I encounter humans convinced that Equestria is a perfect paradise compared to Earth.

Chapter 24

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 24

“Announcing the ruler of Equestria, Her Royal Highness Princess Celestia!”

As Celestia walked onto the East Balcony, the hundreds of creatures below bowed as one. Besides the ponies, Celestia also saw several griffons and Ambassador Noir.

When they had finished bowing, the majority of the crowd looked right up at her. Looked her in the eye, with a twinkle in their own eyes. They now knew that she was a pony capable of doing anything, even messing up, and yet this revelation made them love her all the more.

The Princess felt like her heart was going to break from happiness.

“ subjects,” she told them, a simple spell making her gentle words audible from one end of the lawn to the other. “I have been away from your presence for quite some time now, and for that I wish to apologize. As I believe has become common knowledge, I made a mistake several hundred years ago in regards to the griffons, a mistake that led to generations of misery, that culminated in the loss of lives and the displacement of the griffon ruling class.” She took in a deep breath. “But what is done is done, and now it is time to move forward. In the wake of their revolution, groups of noble griffons have applied for sanctuary in Equestria. It is my decision to grant that sanctuary, to allow these griffons to settle in the Trottingham and Stalliongrad provinces.” She gestured toward Mayor Wheatstraw beside her. “The ponies of these provinces have informed me that they will extend every courtesy to the newcomers, but this will still be an enormous effort. I would therefore like to ask for volunteers, to travel up north and help in the construction of new homes.”

“Princess Celestia?” said the Mayor of Trottingham, stepping forward.

“Yes, Mayor?” replied the Princess.

“Will you be visiting the North yourself?”

“Yes, I intend to oversee the first two days.”

Morningstar cut off the sound magnification spell, and just in time, too.

“Two days?!” protested the Mayor. “Why only two days? Does this crisis not rate more than two days?”

The Princess confirmed the presence of a blue scroll in the Mayor’s satchel. Strange to say, the fact that it led ponies to start shouting in her face was actually considered by her to be a good thing.

“You must understand,” said Morningstar, stepping forward to defend her monarch, “that when the Princess travels for anything longer than a couple of days, she brings the whole court with her. They simply can’t stand to be out of her presence for longer than that. The ponies of the province the Princess visits supports her.”

“Which is a great honor to us!” interposed the Mayor.

“But that means they have to support the court as well. The Princess stopped month-long visits to provinces, because the commoners were driven to ruin supplying the Canterlot nobility with an endless supply of free food and luxuries.”

The Princess turned to her Chancellor. “I don’t suppose you have a solution for this, Voltaire?”

“I’m afraid not, Your Highness,” he replied. “Our royalty do the exact same thing.”

Blue Belle turned the sound system back on before stepping forward where the crowd below could see her. “Then I propose a new solution, for a new era of governance: You go alone, Your Highness, supported by the benevolence of your subjects. Any noble who wishes to follow will have to support themselves. And I volunteer to be the first to do so.” She looked around confidently at the nobleponies that surrounded her and stood below her in roped off areas on the East Lawn.

She saw that they were wavering. The Frog Princess of Fomalhaut had completely redefined what it meant to be a ruler of Equestria, and the Griffish Revolution had raised grave questions as the rights and responsibilities of being a noble. They were clearly thinking over her proposal. All they needed was a goad from the opposite direction.

“Daughter, I forbid you to do this!” declared Prince Blueblood, stepping forward.

Blue Belle thought that she had never loved her father as much as she did at that very moment.

“We nobles are too good to actually have to spend the money we extort from the masses!” Blueblood declared, continuing to stick his metaphorical hoof further and further into his metaphorical mouth. “The north is a land of the utmost savagery, where ponies actually have to pluck their food from dirt-sprung plants, instead of having them magically prepared from dragon-imported caskets of refined ingredients. By insisting that our subjects feed and pamper us at no cost to ourselves, we emphasize again and again how they will never hope to be anything like us, how they should begin to worship the ground we deign to...”

“Father, with all due respect, could you please shut the Tartarus up!

This outburst was met with a chorus of cheers and applause, a good deal of it from the nobles.

“And I do not intend merely to spend my own bits to live idly in some Trottingham inn,” Blue Belle informed them. “I will be there as a true volunteer, to contribute my magical ability, and what physical strength I possess, for the duty of assisting the northern provinces with their burdens. I will not be there to lead, unless my leadership is truly wanted.”

Voltaire stepped forward. “I have made an unexpected profit from ponies insisting on remunerating me for that silly little fable I penned,” he said, “so I believe I shall be able to accompany you as well, Your Highness. As a human, I suppose there are some physical duties I might be suited for, although I am considered rather worthless in that realm by my own people’s standards. All I can offer other than that are stories, both real and fictional, from my world to entertain the tired workers as they eat their evening meals.”

“The Sparkles shall be there,” said Morningstar. “Ready and willing to submit our talents to whoever shall be leading this mission.”

“I believe I shall be putting you and your sister in charge of the mission, as a matter of fact,” said the Princess. “I trust you to divide your duties without acrimony.”

The Sparkle sisters bowed in unison. “It shall be done,” said Eveningstar. Looking out over the crowd, she added, “anypony wishing to join our expedition, please approach me at the Observatory with a list of ways you can be of service. Know now that this trip will be open to any ponies able to pay their way, regardless of class or breed.”

Morningstar stepped forward. “Do remember to make arrangements to take care of your business in Canterlot before we go. I will not be held responsible for a magical stove left on for however long this is going to take!”

Princess Celestia sighed in satisfaction. “Once again, I’d like to thank you all for being the glowing example that leads my course. Good day, my little ponies.”

“Pardon me for asking,” Princess Celestia asked the Mayor afterwards, “but do you by any chance know of a weather pegasus named Butterbold? I ask because...”

“Princess,” the Mayor interrupted, “don’t you recognize me? I am Butterbold.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the Princess. “I’m sorry. It’s just, your family name has changed.”

“I have taken the name of my husband,” Butterbold explained.

“Then you did marry Harvest,” replied Celestia. “You made for a cute couple the last time you visited the capital.”

“I believe you are the first married mare I have encountered who has taken your husband’s name,” observed Voltaire. “I am curious as to the reason.”

“This is Voltaire,” interjected the Princess, “a visitor to our fair lands, and our new Chancellor.”

“Well!” exclaimed Mayor Wheatstraw. “For the sake of your curiosity, I will say that I did it because his family was of a higher standing than my own, and because of my immense respect for earth ponies in general.”

“Of course!” exclaimed Voltaire. “Very good reasons, very good reasons indeed! And what, purely for curiosity sake, was your maiden name?”

“Ah,” said Butterbold Wheatstraw, suddenly getting antsy. “As a matter of fact, my birth name was...Fluffykins.

Voltaire’s raised eyebrow said volumes.

An hour later, the Council met for a second time, drawn together by a dragonfire-sent message.

“Ambassador Botvinnik would like to address the Council,” the Princess told them. “But before we do, I think we have some unfinished business to settle.” She turned to Voltaire. “Chancellor,” she said, “we ended our last session with you giving yourself the duties of the Finance Minister.”

“Have you an objection with this, Your Highness?” Voltaire asked.

“I do not,” Celestia replied. “It is a position to which I believe you are uniquely suited. However, I would like to know: how will you configure the rest of your cabinet?”

“I had planned for the vast majority of Chancellor Blueblood’s positions to be retained, if their holders are willing to work under me.”

“Are there any objections?” the Princess asked the councilors.

Nopony raised a voice in protest.

“And what about Prince Blueblood?” Celestia asked. “Do you have a place for him in your cabinet?”

“Well, he had no place for me in his...” Voltaire began.

“You never asked,” said Blueblood.

“That’s right...I didn’t.” The human looked over at the folder Blueblood had placed on the table, stuffed with notes and drawings. “How does Minister of Information sound?” he asked.

“I would be honored to accept the position,” Blueblood said, inclining his head slightly. “Shall I begin fulfilling that post with a report on what’s been happening in Griffonia?”

Blueblood stepped to the front of the room and began organizing his notes.

Blue Belle took this moment to look around her. In the room were Princess Celestia and nine councilors, with Blue Belle herself as the newest of these, and Eveningstar absent to organize the volunteers for the “Northern Expedition”.

If you asked anypony in the room, they would list the ten creatures in the room.

And yet if you asked how many total creatures were in the room, they would answer “eleven”.

The reason for this was a lesser form of K’s invisibility, one that was completely impossible for a unicorn to detect.

It wasn’t even magic. K simply knew the trick of not being interesting enough to notice.

Blue Belle noticed him, because she was specifically looking for him. He was standing next to the door and also next to the dragon panel. This was a smart move because it was not known if the trick of not being interesting worked on dragons, and he was in one of the few positions that a dragon using the panel could not see.

Also, K’s trick failed when the number of ponies around him dropped to less than around six or so. That was why he had to employ his full invisibility power when he was alone with Blueblood, just in case another pony should happen to drop in on them.

He and Celestia had nodded to each other when she entered, so that was another exception.

Minister of Information Blueblood cast a simple spell on an upraised hoof, which caused objects placed underneath it to be projected as images on the wall behind him. The first such image was taken from a griffon newspaper.

“These are the griffons responsible for the deaths of the Royal Family,” reported Blueblood in a clinical tone. “They also burned down the Bakery after liberating the griffons being kept inside.”

The next image showed a large crowd of griffons watching a sinister-looking tall object in the distance. “And this is their public execution after a mock trial.” He did not allow the image to stay up long enough for anypony to identify the object.

The third image showed a new Bakery on the grounds of the old one. A large crowd was watching a stream of griffons being led into it “And here is the public imprisonment of the griffons responsible for the mock trial. Their trial was, to all appearances, a legitimate if unreasonably rushed affair.”

The fourth image was made up of three stick-figure diagrams of various griffons. “The first government of the Griffons after the overthrow of the Duchess was a National Assembly, charged with creating a constitution under which a general election could be held. The Assembly disenfranchised the nobility, and declared responsibility for the deaths of the Royal Family in order to prevent a riot.

“The riot happened anyway. The Assembly was overthrown and replaced by the second revolutionary government of Griffonia, the Legislative Assembly, which tried and executed the regicides. The populace of the Aerie turned against the Assembly, and forced an election. Before the results of the election were announced, the faction claiming to be the Constitutional Convention took over (Government #3) and, by their fair trial of their predecessors, proved their right to rule in the eyes of the griffons. They wrote up a constitution, arranged another general election, and then dismissed themselves. Thus ended the first week of the revolution.”

“Well!” declared Princess Celestia, at a loss. “These griffons appear to be short on patience at the moment.”

“Indeed,” replied Blueblood. The next image he put up showed a particularly wild-eyed griffon in a robe. “This is Maximilian Peter. He is the head of the government that has just been voted into office, the Griffon Republic, who are in fact controlled by the Sub-committee for Wise Governance. Maximilian started his term by producing a list of every griffon he believes to be too ‘pony’ to be considered loyal to the Griffon Republic. The list runs to thirty-five hundred names. Seven hundred of those griffons have already been imprisoned or exiled from the republic, a process which Maximilian has self-consciously called ‘The Culling’. There are now as many griffon commoners as nobles applying for Equestrian sanctuary.”

“I don’t anticipate that the two groups will get along very well,” said Voltaire dryly.

“What do you know of the nobles who have applied for sanctuary to the Diamond Dogs and the Dragon clans?” asked the Princess.

“The Diamond Dogs were having trouble turning away the nobility, but then they became the first state to recognize the Griffon Republic, which led the griffon nobles to leave en masse. A good thing, because they had nearly succeeded in eating their hosts out of house and home. The griffon commoners are willing to work for their food, and so have been welcomed.

“Of the dragon clans, only the Orange accepted refugees, and only nobles. They have armed them with cake and pie, and allowed them to cross the border with these weapons to attempt to take their land back.”

“What happened?” asked Princess Celestia.

“The griffon peasantry have taken the radical position that getting hit by conventional weaponry is not actually debilitating,” Blueblood said guardedly.

The Council gasped in unison. Well except for Voltaire, whose opinion of being hit by a pie was similar to a griffon peasant’s.

“What about the situation outside of the Aerie?” asked the Princess.

Blueblood projected a map of Griffonia. “The area to the south, on the border with the Orange Clan, is more conservative than the capital. There have been several attempts to put a dubious claimant forward to restore the Dukedom. He has been defeated four times, but has not yet been captured.

“There have been numerous conflicting claims to the land owned by the griffon nobility. Each of the governments have granted the land to their supporters and taken it away from their enemies. As a result, there are constant fights over every hoof of land in the entire realm.

“In short, the Griffish Revolution has turned in on itself.”

There were a million questions that Voltaire would have asked at this point if he was the ruler of Equestria. The last question he would have asked, however, was the question the Princess asked instead, with a level of earnestness that utterly baffled the human:

“What’s the weather been like?”

Blueblood put up a maretesian graph that he was particularly proud of, showing the daily high temperature in the Aerie since the days of the Bakery Crisis. The graph sloped sharply downward, and was now a dozen degrees below freezing.

“That graph says everything that needs to be said,” commented the Princess sadly. “There is no need for our intervention whatsoever. It appears that the griffons are not the only ones that are taking matters at an accelerated rate.”

The ponies all nodded grimly at this pronouncement.

Voltaire, meanwhile, looked at the Council and its wise ruler like they had all just taken leave of their senses.

True, the griffons will all be frozen solid in another week if you project the trend into the future, Voltaire thought to himself. But Equestrian weather doesn’t work that way, right? Right? “If, um, that is the opinion of the Council,” he said in confusion, “I believe we are finally ready for the Orange Clan ambassador.”

Prince Blueblood silently levitated a piece of parchment over for Princess Celestia to examine. It did nothing to improve her mood. “Very well,” she said in reply to Voltaire, waving a hoof over the control panel. “Ambassador, are you available?”

“I am,” said Botvinnik, with a somber look on his face. His periwig was conspicuously absent. “I wish to protest Equestria’s inaction in the wake of this crisis.”

The Princess leaned forward. “And I wish to protest, on the strongest terms, your arming of the griffon nobility. The Non-Intervention Pact of 6703 prohibits unilateral intervention in any of the three governments of Equestria, Draconia or Griffonia.”

“Yes,” the Ambassador replied, “but one of those three states no longer exists, thereby obligating the two survivors to take any means necessary to bring Griffonia back into existence.”

“That clause was designed for the case of foreign invasion,” said the Princess. “This is an internal matter.”

“This is an abomination!” cried out the dragon. “Putting the base-born over the refined classes is a violation of the Natural Order, and must be crushed immediately! As a matter of fact, the Orange Clan has done far more than equip the griffon nobles with pies and cakes. Our cloaked army of dragons has already crossed the border, armed not only with magic, but with sticks and stones as well!”

The reactions of the pony councilors to the revelation of this armament escalation rather resembled eight simultaneous heart attacks. Voltaire, on the other hand, remained as impassive as Celestia.

“Our secret army will enter the Aerie in a matter of hours!” bragged Botvinnik. “We plan to topple the false government of the rabble, and re-order matters to our satisfaction.” He smirked in satisfaction. “If you are quick in bringing in your own army, we might consider giving you a piece in the inevitable partitioning of Griffonia!”

“This is intolerable!” the Princess yelled. “You cannot just take the role of arbiter of nations into your claws without a clear precedent!”

“All of Griffonia was once part of Draconia! How’s that for precedent!”

Celestia snorted. “By those same grandiose claims, so is Equestria.”

“So it is,” observed Botvinnik with a superior air. “So it is.”

“I cannot allow you to get away with this,” Celestia warned him.

“And what precisely are you going to do?” Botvinnik replied. “By the time you fly to the Aerie, it will already be in Dragon hands! And we know your limitations—you cannot teleport that far, and in the wake of your collapse, you lack the strength to hop-teleport there any faster than you can fly. Your most powerful unicorns were using up their magical reserves by raising the sun for you, so they will also be utterly worthless under the circumstances. Admit it, Celestia, I've finally made a move even you cannot counter! Not without endangering the lives of thousands!”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Celestia replied.

Voltaire saw the Princess put on a smile, a smile that he was sure haunted the dreams of all of those who tried and failed to pull one over on the Sun Princess of Equestria.

“You are correct that neither I nor my unicorns can teleport straight to the Aerie,” said the Princess. “But these are not the only ponies who are capable of warning the griffons of the conquering army. I merely need to promote one of my pawns, like so.

And with that, she fired a blinding beam of magical energy at the corner of the room, a corner that to all but three individuals in the room, seemed utterly devoid of ponies.

Woo-hoo!” cried out a mysterious voice, a voice that seemed to distort at the end, like it was being pulled out of the normal realm of space and time.

Prince Blueblood face-hoofed. “You are taking full responsibility for doing that, Princess.”

Chapter 25

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 25

Queen Genevieve was awakened from restless dreams by a hand on her shoulder. She looked up from her cot into the face of Crown Prince Friedrich.

“There is a plot against your life,” Friedrich told her.

“Again?” she replied wearily. After throwing on a plain blue cloak, she followed her brother out of the cottage.

It was several hours before dawn in the abandoned village of Woiselwitz. It barely even counted as a village, being made up as it was of less than a dozen little shacks that leaned into the wind. But it was better than sleeping in a tent, which was the fate of most of the Queen’s army camped outside nearby Strehlen. Genevieve hated war, but this one was no choice of hers. The French had determined to destroy their hated British enemies once and for all, and since Prussia had a comfortable position as Great Britain’s ally, France had decided to join with both Russia and Austria. Normally, the threat of Prussia’s armies kept France in line, but with Austria and Russia invading Prussia from two sides, France was free to steal Britain’s colonies in America and India.

The Queen mutely followed her human brother across a bitterly cold field to another cottage. Inside, a young Silesian man sat in a chair, bound hand and foot. “Your Majesty,” the man said, bowing his head—the only part of him that was free to move.

It was no surprise to Genevieve that this was a Silesian, since she was in Silesia after all.

Silesia was a small duchy that had been in the possession of Austria’s ruling family for several hundred years, although a difference in religions between the rulers and the ruled meant that when a younger and more ambitious Queen Genevieve had conquered Silesia a couple decades ago, there had been virtually no resistance to the change in tax collectors. When the current war had broken out, it was obvious that Austria would attempt to reclaim the lucrative mines and rich farms of Silesia, and so the Queen and her army had spent a good deal of time here.

What she was surprised by was the fact that she knew this man. His name was Kappel, and he was in charge of the horses for the Queen’s host in Silesia, the Baron von Warkotsch. She had been engaged in a lengthy correspondence with this baron about the details of their short stay at Strehlen, with her in Woiselwitz, and he in his manor at Schunbrunn. Groom Kappel had been the one entrusted with carrying the letters back and forth, and as a result she probably knew his face a good deal better than that of the Baron von Warkotsch. But that didn’t mean that she knew a thing about him personally.

Author’s Note: Is there a particular reason why humans use place names that are so hard to remember? Why can’t more towns have names that mean something, like Burr Linn?

“Do you mean to kill me?” she asked the prisoner.

“No, Your Majesty!” exclaimed the man, his face turning white with fright. “It is my master!”

“He brings proof, Sister,” said Prince Friedrich. “A letter in the Baron’s own hand.” From a table he picked up an envelope, its seal sliced open. From within he unfolded a letter, and held it out for the Queen to examine.

You can seize the Queen, living or dead, this night!” it read. It was neither addressed nor signed, and indeed, the envelope was also missing an address and addressee. The seal on the envelope was not unique to Baron von Warkotsch, but on the other hoof it wasn’t used by that many others.

“I went to the liberty of finding one of the letters the Baron has been sending Your Majesty,” Friedrich added, taking another letter from his pocket and placing it beside the treasonous note. The handwriting styles matched exactly.

The royal donkey turned to the prisoner. “How is it that you came to learn of this plot?” she asked.

“For some weeks now,” Kappel explained, “I have been delivering letters back and forth between the Baron and the Curate Schmidt, in the neighboring village of Siebenhuben. None of the letters are addressed on the outside, and all of them are sealed. I asked no questions, because I am a loyal man, and I had no reason to ask questions.

“Now last night, I was standing with the Baron’s horses, waiting for him to finish his meeting with Your Majesty—”

“Yes,” said the Queen, “we were discussing the details of the army’s departure to Breslau tomorrow. He got himself very drunk.”

“—a meeting which ended just after midnight,” Kappel continued. “On the ride back to Schonbrunn, he began making the most extraordinary statements...” The man paused here, afraid that the words he was about to repeat might bring the wrath of the Queen upon himself as well. But his loyalty to his monarch and his trust in the tales of her generous nature eventually won out, and he nerved himself to continue. “He said that your personal security was criminally careless, how you only had two sentries and thirteen soldiers in this town, with the rest of your army a twenty-minute ride away. And that all of this would make it absurdly easy for anyone who dared to seize Your Majesty.”

“I told you so,” commented Friedrich.

“You said no such thing!” exclaimed Genevieve, before turning to the prisoner. “Please, Herr Kappel, continue with your story.”

“Well I thought he was making a joke, albeit a joke in very bad taste. We said nothing more for the rest of the ride. I returned to my house, only to find my wife waiting up for me. She told me that the Curate had been waiting at the house for hours in hopes of speaking privately with the Baron. The Curate had finally been forced to return to Siebenhuben, in order to run the church service for Saint Andrew’s Eve, but he left my wife a letter which he had written up on the spot. He had left strict instructions that this letter was to be delivered to the Baron the moment he returned, with a reply expected before 7 am. Under no circumstances was the letter to be given to the Baron’s wife, or anybody other than the Baron himself.

“My wife, well my wife is an insatiably curious woman, and she just couldn’t accept the idea that this sort of intrigue was going on, without being in on it. She actually tried to find a servant to read the Curate’s letter for her, but nobody awake at that time was able to read, so she was eventually forced to give the letter to me. I couldn’t read either, and I rather wished to keep my job, so I gave the letter to the Baron, but I made sure to do it while his wife was in the same room. The way he dismissed both of us while he prepared his reply, and the surprise and indignation she expressed, made it clear to me that he was up to no good.

“As soon as I got that reply, I borrowed the Baron’s seal and made my way to the Reverend Gerlach, a just man who the Baron hated with a passion. I told the Reverend my story, and broke the seal so he could read the message to me. Once he had done so, I then had him copy the message and put it into another envelope, which I used the Baron’s seal on. I instructed my apprentice to take the copy to the Curate, but not before 7 am, while I raced over here with the original. And that is what happened.”

The Queen sighed. “Send Rabenau’s dragoons to arrest the Baron at Schunbrunn,” she ordered her attendant, “and put Algarotti in charge of Lentulus’ platoon to hunt down the Curate. Instruct Rabenau that he is to take the Baron’s wife into custody, but treat to her as a guest. And untie this man! I thank you, Herr Kappel, for your service to me—it will be rewarded. I wish, though, that I knew why it was that your master wished to betray me like this. I have only shown him the utmost courtesy. When his brother had died, I had the opportunity to take his land away from him, to punish him for fighting for the Austrians during the Silesian War, but I forgave him. In what way have I offended Warkotsch?”

“I do not know,” said Herr Kappel, standing up from his chair, and rubbing his rope-burned wrists. “The Baron is a very willful man. Sometimes he would complain about his peasants, how a noble no longer had the right to beat them for not bowing low enough when he rode through the town.”

“Ah, well that change was my doing,” the Queen admitted with a gentle smile.

By the tremendous good luck which seemed to follow him his entire life, Count Algarotti had been put in charge of the arrest of the Curate Schmidt. What this meant was that he sat on his horse while the trained soldiers burst into the home of the family where the curate had been spending the night—it turned out that Schmidt had left Schonbrunn too late to get back to Siebenhuben before it had become too dark to ride safely, and the cleric had a bad habit of oversleeping.

With Schmidt captured and sent back to the Queen to be interrogated, Algarotti rode on to Siebenhuben. A search of the Curate’s fireplace revealed a cache of letters from his Austrian masters, ready to be set alight the moment the spy suspected he was about to be captured. One of those letters caused Algarotti’s heart to catch in his throat. He double-checked the date: it had arrived that very day. That meant that Algarotti had a few days at most before the news it revealed became common knowledge, and then his grand plan would fall apart.

Algarotti sent all the letters but the one back to his Queen, and dismissed the lone soldier accompanying him. Then he gathered together into a sack the silver dining service that Schmidt had bought using the profits from his spying, and rode out to the village smithy.

~ ~ ~

“I remember you casting bullets for our soldiers a week ago,” he said to the blacksmith.

“Yes, that’s true,” the large man replied. “Would you like me to cast some bullets for that pistol of yours?”

Algarotti nodded, and produced the sack. “I need a dozen bullets of pure silver,” he said. “Anything left over is yours, if you swear not to tell anyone what you have done.”

The blacksmith looked over the rather large collection of silver. “You’re lucky I’ve done some jewelry work before,” he said. “What you do with those bullets is no concern of mine. However, I should warn you that silver is a rotten material for making bullets out of. If you want to actually hit anything with one, you’ll have to be at point blank range.”

Algarotti nodded grimly.

“Come back tomorrow,” he told the Count.

~ ~ ~

That night, Algarotti went to the room he was renting in Strehlen, and unrolled the drawing he had been working on ever since he had made Genevieve queen. Around the central figure of the drawing was an intricate series of tiny symbols. In one corner he drew a small crescent moon (the alchemical symbol for silver), intertwined with a skull and crossbones.

The next morning, he rode out to the blacksmith’s shop. As he rode, he kept his ears open to hear what the people were talking about. There was talk of the Queen’s imminent departure for Breslau, and a few highly distorted rumors about Warkotsch’s plot. But there was no word of the news contained in Algarotti’s confiscated note. There’s some chance I can pull this off after all! he thought to himself.

He claimed the small box containing the bullets without saying anything. As he was leaving though, he was interrupted by a question: “I just have to know: what do you possibly need those for?”

Algarotti smiled before he answered the blacksmith: “When I left home to become an artist, my father had one piece of advice for me: Never make anything you cannot unmake. I always thought it was a particularly stupid piece of advice for an artist...before today.”

~ ~ ~

Algarotti arrived at Woiselwitz carrying a long wooden tube, to see over a dozen soldiers bumping into each other trying to form an impromptu bodyguard around the Queen’s cottage. He had to present the password three times to three different soldiers before he was allowed in.

The Queen and her brother were studying a map of Eastern Europe spread out over a small table. “This is hopeless!” she exclaimed.

“Bad news, I take it?” asked Algarotti.

“The Russians have taken Kolberg,” Friedrich explained. “That was our last port. The British have expressed their cowardice by voting out their old Prime Minister, and the new one promised his constituents that the funds to support Prussian troops will be cut off immediately. The Austrians are masters of Schweidnitz and the mountains, the Russians are behind the length of the Warthe from Kolberg to Posen. Our every bale of hay, sack of money or batch of recruits only arrive here by courtesy of the enemy or from his negligence. Austrians control the hills in Saxony, the Imperials the same in Thuringia, all our fortresses are vulnerable in Silesia, in Pomerania, Stettin, Kustrin, even Burr Linn, at the mercy of the Russians. The war is pretty much lost, and our enemies will succeed in their publically stated scheme to partition Prussia. Can you imagine it? What kind of barbarian could possibly countenance the dismantling of another sovereign state?!”

“Could I have a moment to speak with the Queen in private?” the Italian asked.

“Well, we are pretty much finished here, in every sense of the word, so be my guest!” exclaimed the Prince as he made his way out the tent’s entrance.

“I’m not in a very good mood,” said Queen Genevieve.

“Of course you aren’t!” exclaimed Algarotti. “You became queen thinking that you could use your royal power to make the lives of everyone better, but you have met nothing but resistance from your aristocracy. You tried to arbitrate peace for Europe, only to be invaded.”

“I tried to improve conditions for women,” the Queen added, “only to find that this coalition against me is led by Madame Pompadour of France, Maria Teresa of Austria and Elizabeth of Russia—a League of Three Petticoats!”

Algarotti covered up a sudden attack of nervousness. It was precisely that League that maintained the war against Prussia that served his purposes so perfectly. As the letter he stole from Schmidt revealed, Empress Elizabeth had just died, to be succeeded by her nephew Peter III, an unabashed fan of Queen Genevieve and her policies. This war was just about to dramatically turn in the Queen’s favor, and Algarotti was the only man in Silesia who knew it.

Reigning in his actual emotions, Algarotti frowned. “Yes,” he said, “it was rather a surprise when traditional enemies France and Austria suddenly aligned.”

Queen Genevieve gave vent to a rather un-ladylike snort. “We both know the reason why Pompadour used her considerable influence over the French King to sign that alliance was because of her fondness of Voltaire, and her rage at his mysterious disappearance. Why does everything always have to go back to that annoying little philosopher? If I could only use my pencil—”

Genevieve had managed to recover her memory of the power of the pencil, and had forced Algarotti to hand it over. It was the only memory of her prior experience that she appeared to have retained. The Count, in his more paranoid moments, wondered if the pencil itself was responsible for this. It was the most powerful object on Earth, and it wanted to be used.

“Well you can’t,” said Algarotti in response to his queen, “because you can’t put in visual form the wish that all men get along, that they could solve their problems without resorting to bloodshed. What you require is a more direct form of power. Something like this.

And with that, he pulled his drawing out of the wooden tube and unrolled it on top of the map.

The drawing showed people from all walks of life prostrate on the ground. A mountain rose before them, and atop the mountain was an enormous donkey—Genevieve, as she would look if she suddenly became an adult and was then doubled in size. Her eyes were pure white and her coat crackled with mystical power. Hundreds of annotations described each of her incredible powers. In short, this image was a blueprint for making Genevieve over into a living god. Almost unnoticeable in the drawing was Algarotti standing by her side as the prophet and archbishop of her new religion.

Genevieve sighed as she looked over the drawing. “Yes, it’s just as you have described to me.”

Algarotti removed a sealed envelope and placed it on the table. “This is the latest news from Burr Linn,” he said. “Before you read it, consider carefully my argument. You witness human suffering on a daily basis. You do what you can to help, but you only have so many riches to spend, so much power to use. By signing this drawing and thereby bringing it to life, you give yourself the full power of the Pencil. Anything you imagine will become reality.” On seeing the Queen still silent he offered his final argument: “And once you have solved all of humanity’s problems, you will finally be able to return to Equestria. You have never told me why it was that you had to leave that wondrous place, but whoever was responsible for expelling you from that paradise would finally see judgment at your hooves.” Genevieve blinked as she thought this over, causing Algarotti to smile inwardly in triumph. Then she turned and opened the sealed message.

Algarotti didn’t need to peek over the Queen’s shoulder to read the message, because he had forged it himself the night before, along with the framework of “evidence” that would later reveal it to be a fake created by Curate Schmidt. “Burr Linn has fallen to the Russian army,” the letter read. “Large areas have been burnt to the ground. The mental hospital was especially targeted. Monsieur Jordan and daughter did not survive.

“Jenny!” the Queen exclaimed. From the tattered satchel she still kept around her neck, she pulled out her magic pencil, and used it to affix her signature to the drawing of her apotheosis.

Chapter 26

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 26

It took one week for the Canterlot party to organize, a stunning testament to both Eveningstar’s meticulous organizational skills and Morningstar’s terrifying motivational skills. It also helped that Countess Sky Shock had returned to Canterlot from Stalliongrad, and was available to describe in as much detail as necessary to any pony who would listen exactly how much trouble Griffonia was in.

Voltaire, having nothing useful to do while Lifter was busy printing up several hundred copies of “The Frog Princess of the Fomalhaut”, took to reviewing his repertoire. In the heady days of his youth, he had earned his keep in the very expensive city of Paris through his wit, and for his ability to recite and act out various bits of the plays of Corneille and Moliére from memory. For a similar reason, Voltaire had near-perfect recall of his first few books, because he had found that the best way to promote them was to recite them. He picked out the ones that required the least amount of explanation, and got to work translating them into fluent Equine like he had “The Frog Princess”.

~ ~ ~

The whole city of Canterlot turned out to watch the official departure of the Griffish Relief Expedition of 6764, waving their forelegs fondly in farewell.

They eventually tired of this, as it took the group seven hours to completely leave sight of the city, so large had it grown.

~ ~ ~

The Expedition, while initially immense in size, quickly dwindled, as it began to dawn on the ponies that they would indeed be walking the entire 150,000 ponylength distance between Canterlot and Trottingham. There was another factor as well that factored into the decision to turn back: the price of supplies.

~ ~ ~

“This price gouging is unacceptable!” exclaimed Cogs to the others gathered around the cooking fire on the fifth night of travelling. This group tended to be made up of the core members of the Wig Party: Voltaire, Morningstar and Eveningstar Sparkle and Blue Belle, plus the apolitical Cogs Sparkle and finally Pensive Thought. They gathered together each night to exchange their opinions of how best to advise Princess Celestia when they finally arrived in the Northern Provinces, to share the old political stories that the ponies knew so well and Voltaire knew so little, and for Voltaire to practice his act upon.

Two members of this group stood out among these: Pensive Thought and Voltaire. Pensive Thought was a member more out of pity rather than for any other reason. He was in a sort of political limbo after the loss of the Robe Party’s majority in the Royal Council, and it was unlikely that Blueblood would have any use for him until such time as he regained that majority. Theoretically, he was the pegasus representative to the Council, but since he had grown up around unicorns his entire life, the number of times he had raised motions that had actually been acknowledged as useful by his constituency could be counted on one hoof. He rarely had anything to say during these dinners.

Voltaire of course stood out in any group of ponies. Besides the usual contribution of his inestimable wit, his dexterity made him the group’s cook, especially since a long day of walking usually left the unicorns disinclined to use their magic. He had introduced the practice of making shish kebabs of the vegetables they had bought from the farmers each day. This practice of using spits to cook their food was something that humans had in common with griffons, and Sky Shock had shared a knowing smile with him the first time she had spied him doing it—they both knew quite well what kind of food was best suited to cooking on a spit. It was because of this practice that the informal group decided to call themselves the Kebabbers.

Three members were conspicuous by their absence from this little dinner group: Blueblood, Princess Celestia, and Jester Gordon. Blueblood had elected to stay in Canterlot, to demonstrate his ridiculous opposition to the entire relief operation (and to run the Equestrian government in the absence of the Princess, but most ponies failed to notice that fact). Princess Celestia supped with a different group every night, in order to maintain harmony. And Gordon wasn’t about to leave the mages in Canterlot that were his only hope of being reunited with his daughter.

“Do the human nobility have a standard method to deal with price gouging?” Morningstar asked Voltaire in response to her son’s outburst.

Voltaire scratched his head. “Well, they usually slaughter a dozen peasants at random.” The others looked at him in total shock. “In fact,” he continued, “that tends to be their default solution to any time the peasantry do something they don’t expect.”

Eveningstar shook her head. “The way you say such things with a smile on your face really makes me question your sanity sometimes.”

“Well, you’re not the first,” Voltaire admitted. Seeing the griffon countess flying overhead, he flagged her down to join in the discussion. “Countess,” he asked her, “do you by any chance have any problem with the rates you are charged for provisions?”

“Oh I have no problem at all in that area,” Sky Shock replied. “In fact, most ponies try to give me their possessions without accepting payment. To be fair to you ponies, however, I always insist on paying the fair Canterlot price for everything I get.”

“That’s extraordinary!” exclaimed Cogs. “However do you manage such an equitable rate of exchange?”

“Oh, I just give them one of these,” the griffon replied laconically, before displaying her best predatory grin.

Voltaire started to laugh out loud, but was stopped short by the sight of all of the ponies automatically offering their kebabs to the Countess.

Morningstar groaned. “Are we ponies, or sheep?” she asked herself. The fact that her kebab was the one being most earnestly presented sort of answered that question for her.

“Well,” Voltaire concluded, “it appears that the griffon approach to price gouging is based on the same rationale as the human approach. It just differs in leaving the seller alive at the end of the transaction.”

“Perhaps we should ask that griffons take care of our purchases going forward,” Cogs suggested.

Eveningstar shook her head. “No, we’re trying to improve the nobility’s reputation for honest dealing, not stick us with the terror most ponies associate with omnivores. Uh, no offense, Countess.”

“None taken,” Sky Shock replied.

“Well, you’re our wily finance minister,” said Blue Belle to the human, entering the conversation. “What do you suggest in that capacity?”

“Hmm…” pondered Voltaire. “How much per day are we losing to this practice?”

“I’d say about 1000 bits with the current size of our group,” said Cogs.

“And we’re buying from how many ponies during that day?”

“Fifty or so.”

“Ah. Well in that case we need to concentrate our corruption,” replied Voltaire. “Give me a bag of 500 bits and a day’s lead time for each village we’re passing through, and I’ll find one pony willing to get us everything at or below Canterlot prices. As that pony continues to deliver a good value, I’d continue to ‘feed’ him from the bag. In this way I’d be able to cut our losses to half or less of what we are currently paying. Of course, we’ll never be able to get a completely fair deal. The opportunity for a peasant to pay back the distant nobility that he blames for all of his problems is simply too great to ignore.”

Blue Belle grinned. “I assume that you never tell your selected agents of corruption exactly how much you have in that little bag of yours, correct?” she asked.

Voltaire nodded. “You’re getting quite good at thinking like a human,” he replied.

Once this exchange was complete, Sky Shock flew off to join her fellow griffons at their separate camp.

“I wish we had something better to eat than this green garbage,” muttered one of her guards.

The Countess sighed and pushed over a small barrel. “No meat-eating in Equestria. I’ve made that perfectly clear on multiple occasions. Supplement your vegetables with the bone meal, and you should be fine.”

“How much longer will it be until we reunite with our brethren?” asked a male nobleffony, as he sprinkled white flakes from the barrel onto his salad.

Sky Shock made a conscious effort not to look at the bone meal as it was being applied. “Ten days, Lord Whirligig,” she said.

“I can’t wait,” the lord replied. “Stalliongrad has nothing on the Aerie. Being stuck in the lowlands knowing that the menials are overrunning my estate is just so…galling, you know?”

“Indeed!” chimed in the lord’s wife. “The ponies have assured us of their support when we march across the border to seize what is rightfully ours! We will make that rabble pay for what they have done to us, to the royal family, and most importantly, to the innocent multitudes in the Bakery! My uncle was spending his retirement there after he broke a wing fighting for the Diamond Dogs!”

Sky Shock winced. She struggled to keep her breathing steady.

“An eye for an eye, and a beak for a beak!” the nobleffony continued, not noticing the effect of her words on her countess. “No, ten thousand eyes, and ten thousand beaks, for are we nobles not ten thousand times better than any of the base-born? Don’t you agree, Countess? Countess?”

Sighing deeply, Sky Shock turned in for the night. She found herself forced to admit that the pony government was handling this crisis far more realistically than what was left of the griffon government. That’s when she made her decision: she’d continue to travel with her own kind during the day, but from now on, she’d be eating her dinners with the Kebabbers.

The next day, the Expedition received word of the results of K’s timely warning: the griffon peasantry had risen up en masse, formed their own army, and had liberated the dragon peasant army from the need to take orders from the dragon nobility. Rather foolishly, the panicking Orange and Purple clans sent in two more armies, only to see the same thing happen to them. The liberated armies, accompanied by the griffons as “advisers”, had then overrun the Orange Clan’s territory, and a revolutionary government of peasant dragons on the model of the Griffon Republic had been established. The parallel with the establishment of the Thunderwing Dynasty 126 years earlier by griffons and their pony advisers was lost on nobody. The fleeing Dragon nobility then moved in with their former slaves, the Diamond Dogs, creating a thoroughly uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.

Not so coincidently, by this point the weather over Griffonia had completely stabilized.

Chapter 27

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 27

“So, Human,” a very stressed Sky Shock asked Voltaire a couple nights later after they had all finished eating, “how have your kind handled revolutions?”

The expedition was on the border of Trottingham province.

“I don’t think humanity has ever faced a revolution on the scale of your own,” Voltaire replied with uncertainty. “We certainly have faced all number of calamities, both natural and human-caused, but not that particular one.”

The griffon shrugged. “I should have known you wouldn’t have an answer for absolutely everything. Nevertheless, I am in the mood for a story. Could you tell us about a human noble who faced overwhelming odds? Because overwhelming odds certainly looks like what we’re facing now.”

Sky Shock chose her words with extreme care. She knew full well that the Fates had picked this featherless bird to be an instrument for changes both good and horrible, but she needed change, she desperately needed change, or in a generation the griffons would be extinct—either at their own claws, or else by the will of the Princess for being a threat to Equestria. She only hoped by calling on the human’s fearful powers with such a small audience, that she might be able to in some way shape the results. It also helped that the dweeb had no idea what he was doing half of the time.

“I’ve written historical epics about two human kings who faced overwhelming odds,” replied Voltaire cheerily. “Their names were—”

“Wait!” interrupted Sky Shock. “Why kings? Don’t you have any good stories about queens? Or princesses? Or countesses, maybe?”

“Look, humans have males running things by and large. If it makes you feel any better, you can flip all the genders in your head as I tell the story. Now where was I?”

“You wrote epics about two kings,” prompted Cogs.

Voltaire nodded. “I’ve written about two epic kings, Carl XII of Sweden, and Henri IV of France. Faced with invasion, King Carl fought off his much-more powerful neighbors to become a sterling example of how to go down fighting. Everything he ever believed in was eventually betrayed, but to the bitter end he was always true to his own, admittedly self-defeating, ideals.”

Sky Shock grimaced. “Yeah, I don’t want to hear about King Carl. What about King Henri?”

Translator’s Note: It should be noted that griffons can pronounce most human words without any of the difficulties that ponies have. It is curious that nopony has ever bothered to note and investigate this fact, or how a rigid beak could possibly pronounce for example the common Equine letter “M”.

“King Henri settled a massive civil war with a minimum of bloodshed,” said Voltaire, “a civil war where he was on the losing side, the side that was massively outnumbered, but also the side that was in the right.”

“By a civil war, I take it that you mean that not only the peasantry, but also the nobility was divided?” Sky Shock asked.

“That is correct,” the human answered.

“That sounds even worse in some ways than my situation,” the Countess said. “Please, tell us this epic of yours.”

“I am rather proud of my Henriade,” Voltaire said. “It was my first truly-popular work (so massively pirated that I didn’t make a sou) and, as the first French epic in the poetic style, succeeded in having a major effect on my life.”

“It’s how he quit being banished,” said Eveningstar with a grin.

“I wish you’d stop using that phrase,” Voltaire sulked, “but yes, I was allowed back into France after the current King of France, King Henri’s great-great-great grandson, expressed his admiration of it. However, since it is a poem, I found it didn’t translate very well into Equine. Let me instead recite an essay about King Henri that I wrote at the same time as the Henriade, as a way of conveying its themes to the English.

“Now the civil war was fought over which of two competing organized religions people would live with.”

“‘Organized religion’?” asked Morningstar. “Who ever heard of an organized religion?”

“Ha!” exclaimed Voltaire. “Perhaps this is the best of all possible worlds! Seriously, though, an organized religion is a thing many humans consider more valuable than life itself.”

“So it’s a form of drug addiction?” asked Eveningstar.

“Alright, I have two things to say in regards to that question,” Voltaire replied. “First, I’m disappointed you ponies know about drug addiction. Your civilization has officially dropped back out of the ‘best possible’ category. And second, I am not going to touch that analogy of yours with a 39 ½ foot pole. One religion was called ‘Catholic’ and the other ‘Protestant’; the Catholics for all of Europe were led by a single man known as ‘The Pope’, while the Protestants were divided by nationality, with the head of state also heading the religion. Just so you’ll know who to root for, King Henri was a Protestant.”

Sky Shock, fully expecting that this story would magically fit into her own life, was already busy trying to analyze it. To this end, she asked, “Which one came first?”

“Well the names should make that obvious,” replied Voltaire. “The Catholic faith was supposed to be universal, as that is what ‘catholic’ means, while the Protestant faith was a protest against Catholicism. The Protestants claimed to be pursuing a return to lost ideals dating back to the founding of the Catholic faith, but these in fact were an array of new ideas.”

Sky Shock nodded. For Griffons, then, Catholics were the Poniests, established by Duke Thunderwing and centrally led by the royal family, and the Protestants were the Nativists, newly organized under a half-dozen universities and claiming to represent the pre-Thunderwing social order, despite the fact that there were no Griffish documents surviving older than Thunderwing’s naming ceremony. The Nativists eventually became the intellectual backbone of the Revolution.

But wait, Sky Shock thought to herself. Voltaire said that the Protestants were the heroes and the side that eventually won. That can’t be right! Maybe the Catholics are Nativists, since Nativism is theoretically thousands of years older than Ponyism…

“Would you like me to continue?” Voltaire asked, breaking into the griffon’s reverie.

“Oh! Yes, go on,” Sky Shock said, deciding to hold back her analysis until she had heard some more.

“Henri the Great, King of France,” said Voltaire, “was born in the Equestrian Year 6445, in a small town near the southern border of that country. His father...”

At this point, Voltaire metaphorically dived head-first into a thicket of human names, families and genealogies, from which it appeared there would be no escape for anybody not fortunate enough to have grown up learning this stuff in childhood. What Sky Shock was eventually able to decipher was that there was this Valois dynasty that had been ruling the land of France for a while, but it was in trouble because a king died young and left only underage children to succeed him, children who kept dying mysteriously before they had the chance to give birth to heirs of their own. Brother succeeded brother, and the number of brothers left was running out.

In the wake of this political vacuum, a cruel family called the Guises instituted a reign of terror. Because they justified their horrible actions behind the cloak of the Catholic religion, the Guise’s enemies soon converted to Protestantism. The future hero Henri was a member of one of these Protestant families, the Bourbons, who although poor were related closely enough to the Valois to be their possible successors.

In Sky Shock’s estimation (and the fact that human males were equivalent to griffon females according to Voltaire), that meant that Henri was meant to represent herself. Well, either Henri or his father, who Voltaire derided as worthless because he kept changing his religion back and forth, and ended up turning Catholic at the time when the Protestant minority needed him the most.

Sky Shock really hoped that Voltaire wasn’t saying that she was Henri’s father, and was fated to live as pathetic a life as he described. On the other claw, as she was reluctantly forced to admit, her mother was notorious for changing her position between the Poniest and Nativist positions more than once. But the critical difference was that Sky Shock’s family had all been academics, and their opinions had no effect on the duchy as a whole.

This identification made all the more sense given that Henri’s mother (and therefore Sky Shock’s father) was a steadfast Protestant leader respected by her own side, and feared by the Guises.

The animosity of the two sides in Voltaire’s story soon rose into the horror of civil war, a war that the monarchy was powerless to stop. This was a murky part of griffon history that Voltaire was unknowingly referring to, one noted for conspiracy and counter-conspiracy. Given the low status of her family at the time, Sky Shock found herself learning more about it from Voltaire’s story than she ever managed to piece together herself, and of course far more than than the rubbish peddled to the ponies and others as “the truth”.

In particular, the story revealed the motivations behind the arrest of Sky Shock’s father for the crime of treason in 6749. It had happened during Griffonia’s entrance into the Diamond Dog War of Independence, and the so-called “treason” was the fact that he was a Nativist, which could be twisted into the belief that griffons were better off when they were under the influence of the dragons. Sky Shock’s mother had the written testimony of the father’s military service to prove his innocence, but she was tricked into handing it over to the prosecutor, Random Tally, who arranged for it to be replaced by a false court martial for abandoning his post. Things could have gotten really serious, except at that exact moment…

“It seemed certain that he would be executed,” said Voltaire, referring to the human in jeopardy in his own account, “but at this exact moment the King died. Everyone at the time suspected poison, but this was unlikely, as only the saintly Catherine de’ Medici stood to gain by the death of her own son and his replacement by a younger brother who was much easier to control.”

Despite her lack of knowledge of the inner workings of the Thunderwing clan, Sky Shock instantly realized the griffon counterpart to Catherine de’ Medici: Duke Cumulous, father of both Praiseworthy VII and Praiseworthy VIII. The crime that the human was implying Catherine was guilty of was exactly the same as the one that the Red Duke was suspected of.

But that didn’t mean that all parts of Voltaire’s story made sense to the griffon countess. She had no idea who the Guises corresponded to, and the two leaders of the Bourbon family while Henri was growing up corresponded to no griffons that she could identify. (I mean, Griffonia was a landlocked country, so how could “Admiral Coligny” match up to anyffony?)

By the death of her son, the true reins of power in France had been seized by Catherine de’ Medici, the mother of all these child kings. In the face of an unending civil war, the Queen Mother saw the power of the crown evaporating, and determined that the only way to save it was to ensure that the two sides decimate each other and then, when neither was powerful enough to dominate her, she would arrange for one side to be utterly annihilated. Which side was chosen to meet this fate was totally unimportant to her.

By her manipulations and a share of luck, Catherine de’ Medici succeeded in seeing most of the leaders of the two sides fall in battle against each other. The leader of the Guises had been assassinated by an agent she had inflamed into action, and by naming the Bourbon leader in his dying breath, he set the remaining Guises into a blood feud against Admiral Coligny and his clan that wonderfully advanced her plans.

At this moment, she shared her plans with the King and his brother (the last of the Valois), and they agreed eagerly. A false peace was proclaimed, to be sealed by the marriage of Henri with a Valois princess. For Henri was now a rising star of the Bourbons, most of the former leaders and his father having died. The marriage was celebrated, Henri’s intimidating mother died under mysterious circumstances, and all of the remaining leaders of the Protestants had gathered in Paris to celebrate their triumph.

“At last,” Voltaire narrated breathlessly, “one night (which was the Eve of St. Bartholomew, in late Summer of 6484) at midnight, the signal is given. All the houses of the Protestants are forced open at once; the Admiral Coligny, alarmed by the uproar, rushes out of bed; a troop of assassins rush into his chamber; their chief thrusts his sword into the Admiral’s breast, and back-hands him in the face like a common thief.

“The young Duke of Guise is at the foot of Coligny’s house, waiting for the assassination. He cries aloud, ‘Is it done?’

“Immediately the assassins threw down the still-living body out of the window. Coligny fell, and expired at the feet of Guise; the young man trampled upon him, crying ‘Revenge! Revenge!’ over and over again.

“Meanwhile all the friends of Coligny are assaulted throughout Paris; men, women, and children are promiscuously slaughtered; every street is strewn with expiring bodies. Some priests are seen holding up their holy symbol in one hand, and a sword in the other, running at the head of the murderers, and encouraging them in the name of God, to spare neither relations nor friends. In the palace, Henri’s wife, the King’s sister, appeals in vain for mercy, as soldiers slew her husband’s Protestant servants around her, so that her bare feet are covered with their blood.

“Some victims try to swim across the river that runs through the city. The King, seeing this from the balcony of the palace, picks up a projectile weapon and tries to kill a few of them himself. Catherine de’ Medici, undisturbed and serene in the midst of the slaughter, looks down from another balcony, encourages the assassins with her words, and laughs at the dying groans of the murdered.

“The court reeking with the blood of the nation, tried some days after to palliate such a crime with the forms of law. They justified the massacres with a calumny; they imputed to the Admiral, a conspiracy which nobody believed. Parlement was ordered to proceed against the memory of Coligny, his dead body was hanged in chains at the gallows. The King himself went to see this loathsome spectacle, and as one of his courtiers advised him to retire, and complained of the stench of the corpse, the King answered, ‘A dead enemy smells sweet.’”

“Voltaire, Voltaire!” interrupted Eveningstar. She had been trying to shout the human down for some time now.

Voltaire stopped and looked around him. All of his listeners shared looks of the utmost horror at what they were hearing.

“Are humans always this abominable?” asked Pensive Thought.

“Oh no, these sort of moments tend to stand out,” explained Voltaire, waving a hand dismissively. “It’s just that we have a sort of perverse fascination for them.”

“I can tell,” said Morningstar in disgust. “You should see the look of your face right now. Lady Sky Shock, if you are still interested in hearing the rest of this sordid tale, could we perhaps have a night or two to recover from this first part?”

The Countess nodded mutely, thinking only of the images in her head of the Night of Unsheathed Claws. She was absent from the Aerie when it happened, but afterwards she was put in charge of the Bakery, which meant she was one of the very few that knew the fate of the half of the city’s population that disappeared that night. It was the beginning of her own personal nightmare, and here was Voltaire to provide even more of the unwanted details.

Noffony dared to question Duke Cumulous after that night, and he convinced himself that the Nativist party in Griffonia was defeated forever. This delusion would prove to be fatal, for far more griffons than merely himself.

Chapter 28

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 28

With the arrival of the Relief Expedition in Trottingham, the time for telling tales was put on hold. Nearly a hundred griffon nobles had set up camp in a ring around the town, and dozens more were expected to arrive within the next week. The Sparkles did their organizational magic, the Princess dazzled pony and griffon alike everywhere she went, and Voltaire began giving carefully prepared “impromptu” performances of “The Frog Princess of the Fomalhaut”.

The work was treated as a revelation by the pegasus and earth pony population. Those who had formerly been too terrified to be within a city block of their monarch now flocked to offer their services to her. Voltaire appeared at Blue Belle’s ear to offer a crucial piece of advice: “If you don’t want the unicorns to be permanently identified with the priests in my story, I suggest you become even more helpful to the common ponies than you already have been.”

Blue Belle took these words to heart, and set as her first order of business convincing Captain Hardheart of an idea she had often overheard from grumbling pegasi and earth ponies: that the Royal Guard should not be a unicorn-only force. The Captain resisted this concept at first, until she pointed out the obvious tactical flaw in having a defensive force with a great big hole in the vertical direction for deflecting attacks from winged adversaries, and without the strength to face off against magic-resistant foes.

Voltaire’s advice to Blue Belle proved to be timely. In merely a week, the proportion of Trottingham’s population that was equipped with blue scrolls had risen to nearly half, and the Royal Guard tryouts were packed enough that the Captain was cautiously optimistic that the candidates he selected might have a chance of surviving their hazing.

Author’s Note: The “Trottingham Induction” is an event long afterwards cherished in the traditions and ceremonies of the Royal Guard, and a certain individual who I have been prodding for quite some time really should collaborate with me to write the definitive guide. In any case, the predominance of Trottingham recruits and Trottingham accents in the Guard is the most-visible consequence today.

One night Voltaire had been invited by Pensive Thought to a pegasus watering hole, to give him yet another opportunity to tell the fable and so that the two of them could talk over the state of Equestria.

The pegasus counselor plied Voltaire with saltine crackers, bowls of tomato bisque and even some cured fish of questionable provenance, all while asking if there were any plans being developed by the Princess against the dragons that she wasn’t telling the Council.

Eventually, from seeing the effect that these salted foods were having upon the equines around him, Voltaire concluded that Pensive Thought was trying to get him drunk, and was failing miserably. As he was pondering the correct way to deal with this situation, the bad fish kicked in.

“How are you feeling?” Princess Celestia asked the bedridden Voltaire. He was staying with Mayor Wheatstraw.

“No longer sick,” he replied. “Pensive Thought is a spy for Botvinnik, by the way.”

“I know,” the Princess replied. “All of the Blueblood secretaries have been dragon spies.”

“Does he know?” Voltaire asked. “Did any of them know?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve always known, though. If he sees fit to keep secrets from me, I don’t see why I can’t keep secrets from him.”

“That sounds rather petty,” Voltaire observed.

Celestia shrugged. “The Bluebloods have a solid track record of stealing from the people’s funds, leaving me little sympathy for how much the spies have been siphoning off. At least they’ve been keeping their ill-gotten gains in Equestria, where they were maintained by Equestrian labor.”

Voltaire shook his head incredulously. “At times I wonder if any of you monarchs have the slightest idea what you are doing.”

“I could say the same for you,” the alicorn replied. “I hear you’ve been telling the Council another one of your stories…without informing me first.”

“Are my words so dangerous that they require regulation?” Voltaire asked sarcastically. “Do my lips need to be registered beside crème brûlée as instruments of war?”

He did not in the slightest appreciate the gravity with which she considered this question.

Voltaire spent the next day recuperating, waking occasionally at the sounds of construction outside of the window—the ponies were working furiously to expand Trottingham to house both the visiting ponies and the griffons. Unicorn nobles and businessponies from Canterlot worked side-by-side with the residents of the town, under the direction of the Mayor. The griffons, on the other hoof, were less than cooperative, a sign of how little control Countess Sky Shock had over them.

That night, the Princess brought the members of the Kebabbers over to visit…minus Pensive Thought, who had fled for parts unknown.

“Is there anything we can get you?” Cogs asked. “Any sort of food or mineral that has miraculous healing abilities for humans?”

From his bed, Voltaire shook his head.

“I bet meat would cure you right up,” Sky Shock offered.

The ponies all got uncomfortable.

“I’ve gone meatless for most of my life,” Voltaire said. “It’s true that I might be somewhat weaker than the average nobleman as a result, but I’ve always made sure to take care of the only muscle of mine I truly need.” And with this he tapped the side of his head with a finger.

“The Countess has expressed her interest in hearing the rest of the story of King Henri,” the Princess said. “Since you’ve caught me up on the first part, why don’t you continue where you left off?”

“I’d like to start by providing you for once with a piece of good news tied to St. Bartholomew’s Eve,” said Voltaire. “When the order of death went out to the city of Paris, it also spread to the governors of all of the provinces of France; so that in a week’s time, more than a hundred thousand Protestants were massacred all over the kingdom.”

“Voltaire…” warned Morningstar.

“Patience, Counselor. Two or three governors only refused to comply with the King’s orders; one among others, called Montmorrin, Governor of Auvergne, wrote to the king the following letter, which deserves to be transmitted to posterity:


I have received an order under your Majesty’s seal to put to death all the Protestants in my province. I have too much respect for your Majesty not to believe the letter is counterfeited; but if (God forbid) the order is truly yours, I have too much respect for your Majesty to obey it.

From the back of the room, Princess Celestia quietly facehooved. Voltaire had just provided a precedent for any of her enlightened subjects to disobey any order they considered “out of character” for her.

“Those massacres wrought in the Protestants who escaped, rage instead of terror; their irreconcilable hatred against the court seemed to supply them with new vigor, and the spirit of revenge increased their strength.”

The Princess looked over at the griffon countess, who appeared to be deep in thought. “How did Henri even survive that horrible night?” she asked.

Voltaire explained that the plotting Queen Mother had decided that the beloved Henri was to be spared so that he might become a captive, his life dependent on the good behavior of his followers. Henri then got Catherine to agree, in writing and in public, that she had to let him go on the death of the current king. But Catherine had in the current King of France a creature who was completely willing to carry out each and every one of her plans. This king was not going to die young.

“Not long after,” continued the human, “the King was taken with a strange sickness, which carried him off in two years. His blood was daily seeping out of his skin, and…”

The ponies simultaneously exclaimed in disgust. Sky Shock, to nobody’s surprise, hadn’t even flinched.

Must you go into detail?” asked Eveningstar.

“Well it was sort of a poetic justice thing, blood for blood and all that,” explained Voltaire. “But I can move on.” He explained that the new king was the last of the Valois dynasty and, thanks to a war wound, would never be able to father a child. This meant that Henri was in line to become the next King of France. But the King hesitated to formally announce this.

The Duke of Guise took advantage of this hesitation to advance his own agenda, pretending to be the most devout of all Catholics. In the words of Voltaire: “His liberality secured to him the common people, he had all the clergy at his devotion, friends in Parlement, spies at court, servants throughout all the kingdom.”

Princess Celestia saw Sky Shock’s eyes boggle.

“Botvinnik!” she exclaimed. “Um, sorry,” she quickly added in response to all of the eyes upon her. “I was thinking of something entirely different. Carry on.”

The Duke then created the Holy League to control the Catholics in the country. The King of France, afraid of Guise's growing power, tried to arrange his certain death by giving him a too-small army to face off an invasion of France by pro-Protestant Germans. The King then sent the majority of his forces to destroy Henri. Both of his plans failed—Guise won against overwhelming odds, and so did Henri. Henri was in a position to demand unconditional surrender, but he refused to be the bad guy, and backed down. As a result, Guise marched on and took over Paris, making the King of France his prisoner.

Voltaire looked comfortably around him at his captive audience. “Men are seldom good or bad enough,” he told them. “Had Guise attempted that day against the liberty or the life of the King, he had been in all likelihood master of France; but he let him escape after having besieged him, and thus he did too much and too little.

“The King fled to Blois, where he held the Estates General, the meeting of the three parts of the kingdom.”

The Princess saw Sky Shock nod in recognition. She remembered that the griffon kingdom also had an Estates General, and that its calling had started the countdown to revolution. She began to wonder what precisely the Countess was aiming to get out of this story.

Guise followed the King to Blois before the Estates General could get around to proclaiming him a traitor, and made a reconciliation with the King, but it was all for show. Little did the Duke realize, however, who would be betraying who first.

“The King was resolved to be revenged on him,” said Voltaire, “and upon his brother the Cardinal of Guise, the partner of his ambitious designs, and the most ardent promoter of the League. He provided daggers himself, and distributed them to some Gascons, who offered to be the ministers of his vengeance. And so…”

“You may skip the description of yet another massacre,” the Princess said coldly.

“Well, this is merely two Guises, but if you insist. Afterwards, the bodies were laid out under Catherine de’ Medici’s apartment; but she was totally ignorant of her son’s design, being at that time distrusted by all parties, and forsaken even by the King. She died a few days later.”

Since the King had ordered Guise’s death in cold blood, and had failed to try him for any of his actual crimes, the Catholics became even more disgusted with their king, and turned against him entirely. Thus the assassination of the Duke had the same effect on his followers as the assassination of Admiral Coligny of the Bourbons had had upon his followers.

The Guise cause was taken up by his brother, the Duke of Mayenne. This duke united Paris in his cause, which cheered in unison when the dead Duke’s widow accused the King of France of murder, and demanded he be tried in Paris and, in the event of his inevitable conviction, that he be executed like a common criminal.

The control of the city at this time was in the hands of some businessmen. “They were called the Sixteen,” Voltaire said, “not because of their number, for they were forty—”

The Princess was completely unsurprised to hear Sky Shock gasp at this point. She was rather surprised by this revelation as well, and paid close attention to the part The Forty were about to play.

“—but from the sixteen wards of Paris which they had divided among themselves to rule over. This group alone was in a position to stop the Duke of Mayenne, but treated him much as the Duke of Guise had treated the King, exploiting his cause to make themselves all-powerful. Moreover, the priests, who have ever been the trumpeters of all the revolutions in the world, thundered in the pulpit, and assured in the name of God, that whosoever should attempt to kill the Tyrant (that is, the King), should go infallibly to Heaven.”

“What or where is ‘Heaven’?” asked Eveningstar.

“The majority of Europeans,” answered Voltaire, “believe that their souls will go to one of two places after they die. If they are good, they will go to Heaven, there to be happy forever. If on the other hand they are wicked, they will spend eternity in Hell, there to suffer a torment personalized to their sins until the end of time. In general, murderers are believed to go to Hell after their execution. Declaring an exception as the priests in Paris were now doing, was…I believe the English would have called it ‘not very sporting.’”

Finally, the King realized that Henri was a friend instead of an enemy. The two united their armies, and marched on Paris. The League, its bluff called, was on the brink of ruin, when yet another assassin stepped forward. With relish, Voltaire described how the religious fanatic prepared himself for his “holy” mission, and how the priests of Paris assisted him. He told the ponies and one griffon how this man managed to bluff his way into the royal camp. “As the King was perusing the letter,” Voltaire continued, “the assassin stabbed him in the belly, and left the dagger flicking in the wound—“

“Ew!” the ponies exclaimed in unison.

“Alright,” Voltaire said with a grin, “some more glossing is required. The King, mortally wounded, grabbed the knife out his own body, and used it to strike down his assailant.”

Henri was now King of France, but all kings had to be anointed in Paris. Before he had even made a single move, half of his army, the Catholic half that had been loyal to the previous king, abandoned him. The leaders of this half did this not out of religious piety, but in hope of the kingdom falling apart, so that they might claim a large piece for themselves.

The Duke of Mayenne had no claim to the throne. So he picked out a doddering old fool who did have a claim, and had him anointed.

King Henri and the Duke fought against each other for years, with the Duke proving himself a worthy adversary in the field. But soon the King had Paris bottled up. He could have taken the city, he should have taken the city, but that would have meant it would have been sacked by his soldiers, and he couldn’t bear to think of himself as the man responsible for such an atrocity. So he merely besieged the town, hoping that the inhabitants could come to their senses and surrender.

But as Voltaire explained, “Mayenne, the priests, and the Sixteen Burgesses managed so dexterously the spirits of the people, worked up their hatred against the heretics to such a degree, and fooled their imagination to such an enthusiasm, that they chose rather to die by hunger, than to submit.” The priests put on old sets of armor and marched around, pretending that they were willing to fight King Henri’s forces to the death. Soon famine descended upon the town. “That prodigious multitude of citizens had no other support but the sermons of their priests, and the fictitious miracles of friars, who, by the way, had all things in plenty in their convents, while all the town was reduced to starve. The miserable Parisians, lulled at first by the hopes of being soon relieved, were singing ballads in the streets, and lampoons against Henri; a fact not to be related with probability of any other nation, but suitable enough to the genius of the French even in so desolate a condition. That short-lived wretched mirth was stopped quickly by the most serious and the most inexpressible misery. Thirty thousand men died of hunger in a month’s time. The poor starved citizens tried to make a sort of bread with the bones—”

“Stop!” ordered the Princess with a frown. “You’re doing it again.”

“Right, right,” agreed Voltaire with a sigh. “In short, they were starving, and they did some things they shouldn’t have, but still they refused to yield. Henri pitied their condition more than they did themselves; his good nature prevailed over his interest.

“He suffered his soldiers to sell privately all sorts of provisions to the town; thus it happened, which was never seen before, that the besiegers fed the besieged. ‘Twas a singular spectacle to see the soldiers from the bottom of the trenches send up victuals to the citizens, who were throwing down money to them from the ramparts. By these means, the soldiers got too much money, the besieged were relieved, and Henri lost the town.” Then the Spanish king, a man who had been a major source of funding for the Catholic League, saw this as the moment to reveal his true intentions, and invaded the country, with hopes of annexing it. King Henri fought him off and returned to Paris, only to find it even more strongly devoted to resisting him. This was despite the fact that Mayenne’s puppet king was now dead. Mayenne called for a meeting of the Estates General to pick another puppet of his choosing. But the King of Spain was calling the shots now, and the Catholic people hated the Protestants so much they were willing to cease being French forever rather than submit to a Protestant king’s rule.

“At last Henri,” Voltaire narrated, “tired with the cruel necessity of waging an eternal war against his subjects, knowing besides they hated his religion, not him, resolved to turn Catholic; for the priests were the only enemies he was afraid of. A few weeks after, Paris opened its gates to him, and what his valor and his magnanimity could never bring about, was easily obtained by going to Mass, and by receiving absolution from the Pope.

“And that is the end of my tale.” Voltaire sat back and closed his eyes. “Are there any questions?”

Celestia looked over at Sky Shock, who was deep in thought, and frowned.

As near as she could tell, this story really didn’t have any relevance. It was just a demonstration of the brutality of human nature. Applied more broadly, it could be taken as a warning of what even the ponies might have been forced to descend to if not for magic, and the special nature of Equestria.

She supposed that somebody might get something out of the story, if they were persistent, but they were equally likely to be misled. For example, it appeared that the forty-member “Sixteen” from Voltaire’s story did nothing that corresponded with the actions of Griffonia’s Forty.

Sky Shock sat very still and quiet for nearly a minute. She had a question she needed to ask, but she already knew the answer, and bitterly disliked it. Finally she spoke.

“Why is it that the choice of religion is so important to humans?”

Voltaire fidgeted uncomfortably. “I mentioned before about humans, at least the European ones, believing about two different eternal fates after death?” he said. “Well God’s the one in charge of judging where each individual soul goes. Since a religion describes who God is, and what He wants, and because humans have come up with thousands of different religions, most humans have got it into their heads that God considers the choice of religion more important than anything else they have done in life. Only one religion is the true one, according to this view, and the vast majority of humanity who chose one of the wrong religions…well, they are damned. It doesn’t matter how good they have been in life, without the right religion, you will be punished forever.”

Sky Shock sighed deeply. “So what you are saying is that King Henri threw away eternal happiness, condemned himself to the hatred of his Creator and the fate of endless suffering after death, in order to save his people from utter destruction.”

“No, no, no!” Voltaire protested. “The King was an intellectual, and most intellectuals know better than to think that God is so narrow-minded as to condemn someone on so narrow of grounds.”

“But you don’t know that for sure, or you would have said so,” countered the griffon.

Voltaire bowed his head. “No, I don’t. But it is what I prefer to believe.”

“That’s all I needed to know,” Sky Shock said with a heavy heart. She bid the others good night and headed back to the open-roofed house that had been built for her and her staff in Trottingham.

It turned out King Henri was not that different from the doomed King Carl that she had refused to hear about. She knew now what she needed to do. She merely needed to find the right setting.

Sky Shock’s son Leopold arrived in Trottingham from Stalliongrad two days later, accompanied by the rest of the griffon nobility. The leading ponies of both towns got together with the Canterlot ponies to host a grand open-air banquet in their honor.

The Countess was circulating among the griffons when she spotted Voltaire picking up a wooden shaker from a table for examination. In his other hand he was holding a bowl of salad.

Sky Shock quickly launched herself into the air and confronted the human, eye to eye. “What do you think you’re doing with the royal bone meal?” she demanded.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Voltaire, quickly putting the shaker down. “I didn’t know this was reserved for nobility.”

“Come now,” said Lord Whirligig, stepping between the two. “The biped has more than proved himself worthy of our friendship.” He had a blue scroll prominently displayed inside the rope webbing around his torso. “I also understand that he is an omnivore, and has been weakened by his pony-induced diet.” He picked up the shaker, and handed it over to Voltaire.

Sky Shock glared at the human once again. By now a substantial crowd of griffons had gathered around them.

“I was merely curious,” said Voltaire, putting down the shaker. “I can easily go without—”

“This is verging on disrespect, My Lady,” Lord Whirligig said, picking up the shaker once again. “Is there a particular reason—”

Sky Shock snatched the shaker from Lord Whirligig and slammed it down on the table. “I will not subject him to the shame—”

“What are you talking about?!” exclaimed Whirligig.

Unnoticed by the others, Lady Whirligig snuck in and grabbed the shaker of bone meal, applying its contents liberally to the vegetable shish kebab she held in her claw.

“Griffons, I have a confession to make,” announced Sky Shock. “The Forty were completely justified in turning against the griffon royal family. They have betrayed us all, and I will defend their shameful secret no longer!”

Needless to say, this had the full attention of the griffon nobility, none more so than Leopold.

“The Forty rebelled because they learned the second function of the Bakery,” Sky Shock explained. “The first function, as you all know, was to house peasants who dared to rise against the established order. These imprisonments were in most cases for life, and their lives were so arranged to ensure that they were not imprisoned for very long.

“The Bakery also housed all nobles who could not fulfill their duties to the Dukedom through flight or magic, as well as those who, like the prisoners, had become a threat to the State. They were housed in comfort for their entire lives. Those that wished to make themselves useful baked cakes and pies…or else they volunteered for rendering.”

With the exception of Princess Celestia, no ponies were in earshot for this part of Sky Shock’s testimony, as the two of them had arranged beforehand. The truth would eventually be told to them, but carefully, in better-controlled circumstances. After all, up to a couple of weeks ago, what was about to be revealed could not be contemplated by a pony without a violent physical reaction.

“The bakery produced two kinds of bone meal for the use of those griffons unable to obtain enough meat in their diet. The noble bone meal was made from the bodies of unthinking animals. But the royal family considered themselves better than that. They would eat no meat, because that was the way of the ponies, and they could not use the meal of common animals. That is why royal bone meal has a special composition: the bones of willing griffons.”

In the distance, Lady Whirligig spat out a cherry tomato, and launched the shaker of royal bone meal as far as she could throw it.

“And in the end, every nobleffony in the Bakery volunteered for rendering,” Sky Shock continued. “The fact of the matter is that the royal treasury could not possibly maintain all of those griffons in their chosen lifestyles for their entire life spans. At every waking moment they were besieged with propaganda about the glory of surrendering themselves for consumption, propaganda that I and my family were largely responsible for writing.”

Leopold stepped forward. “You mean that my sister, your daughter, Sky Spire…”

“Call her Grizelda,” answered Sky Shock. “It is what she would have preferred. You were weaned on her.” —Leopold turned away in shock— “We all had her for about a month. It was how they ensured my loyalty. Your father assassinated Duke Cumulous, and was sentenced to death by thunderbolt, the truth covered up because of our blood relationship with the Thunderwings. It was only my cowardice that preserved your life.”

She looked out among the crowd. Those griffons that were not throwing up were weeping.

That is the secret that the Forty stumbled onto as a result of the Night of Unsheathed Claws, and they demanded an end to it. Quite rightfully, they called it an abomination to both pony and griffon natures. Duchess Praiseworthy, rather than consider ending this practice, lured the ponies to their doom, and in so doing lost all support from the peasantry, who rose in revolt.

“What I have done for the Royal Family of Griffonia in supporting this monstrous practice is a crime against nature. I have thought deeply on this matter, and I have decided to surrender myself to the Griffon Republic, there to be judged by their laws like any commoner.”

“You cannot do this!” protested Lord Whirligig. “You are the legal claimant to the duchy!”

“I surrender that as well. I name my son Leopold as my successor, although you are free to call an Estates General to elect any alternative candidate you wish.”

Leopold stepped up beside his mother. “If I become duke, my first order will be to dismantle the aristocracy. Griffons were never meant to act like ponies, or dragons. I will not try to overthrow the rightful government of the Republic.”

“You could run for president,” suggested Voltaire.

“That’s not a bad idea,” said Leopold.

It would be an understatement to say that the griffon nobility were not pleased by this turn of events.

Chapter 29

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 29

The expedition stumbled northwards out of Trottingham, in a state of disarray.

Each night, as Princess Celestia camped with a different group of ponies, she would tell them the true history of the griffons as she now knew it.

A lot of nightmares were generated as a result.

“How can you do this to them?” Voltaire asked her once.

“My ponies deserve to know the truth,” she told him, “those that live here most of all. The truth always gets out eventually, in any case. By telling it myself, I can control how it is absorbed. You’ll notice that I emphasize how wrong it was to make the griffons act in a way that was contrary to their nature, like forcing a unicorn to be raised as an earth pony or wingless pegasus.

“Besides,” she said with a sigh, “they’ll only live with this horror for a generation. I’ve seen it before, Voltaire, with the aftermath of Discord and...Nightmare Moon. They make up stories, turn the nightmares into fairy tales, and get on with their lives.”

The human, thinking back to the miracle he witnessed at the Canterlot Concert Hall, nervously rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “That’s what I’m afraid of, Your Highness. You’re not going to be able to shape what kind of stories these ponies come up with, and before too long they will control how future generations of ponies perceive the griffons.” He pointed up in the sky, at the symbol of darkness engraved upon the full moon, and dared to speak a bit more. “After all, don’t you have any regrets about what ponies think about her?”

The Princess looked in the direction indicated and said nothing.

“Leave me, Councilor,” she finally said in a husky voice a full minute later.

Voltaire bowed briefly and left, noting the tears that were gathering in her eyes.

The Frigid River marks the boundary between Trottingham and Stalliongrad provinces.

It is frozen solid in midwinter. In spring, it is a raging torrent, impossible to navigate and extremely dangerous for anypony foolish enough to attempt to swim in it.

This was the height of summer, however, which meant that it was an easily-fordable stream.

However, the fact that it had shrunken so dramatically compared to its height meant that the riverbank was exposed, composed of thousands of smooth rocks ranging from gravel all the way up to several the size of a large pony’s head. It was easy enough to walk across in the light, but a bit treacherous in darkness, which is when the expedition arrived. For this reason, Celestia decreed that they would camp here overnight.

She didn’t appear to be very pleased with this decision.

“Help! Help! I’m stuck!”

The cry drifted over the camp, barely arousing the heavy sleepers. It didn’t help that the cry was in a deliberately-quiet tone, like the filly making it was embarrassed to reveal her predicament. The Moon had set for the night, but it was still a few hours before sunrise, resulting in near complete darkness.

The pony with her hoof stuck between rocks was Twinkletoes, daughter of Quickstep, the pony who the Princess had appointed as Minister of Earth Pony Affairs based on her competence in organizing Trottingham resources for the Royal Council. Mayor Wheatstraw had not been very happy with this appointment, but in the end the choice had been up to Quickstep, and she had accepted it gratefully, adding her small family to the expedition in order to start her duties. The purple-coated Twinkletoes in particular had made an impression on the other ponies, for her never-ending stream of questions and her habit of always getting into trouble through her constant exploring. Her presence at any time could be easily determined, however, from the slight wheezing caused by her asthma.

Now her mother was here on the riverbank, looking around for a unicorn capable of lighting the way for her through the treacherous rocks.

“May I be of assistance, Madam?” Cogs asked, a coal-miner’s lamp burning atop his head. He was accompanied by his mother Morningstar, who had been the one to wake him up.

“Yes, thank you, Cogs,” said Quickstep.

“I think I’ve twisted my ankle!” complained Twinkletoes from the darkness.

“Well, let that be a lesson to you!” the mother cried out in some irritation. “Stand still, and we’ll come for you.”

“Hurry!” the filly whined. “It hurts!”

Just then, a light and a wind whooshed over the heads of the three would-be rescuers, and they watched as Princess Celestia swooped down and snatched up the stuck filly, flying her back to the camp. The human and two ponies were forced to turn around and race back to find where the Princess had taken Twinkletoes.

To their shock, they found her attacking the filly, beating upon her chest and crying out “Breathe, Luna! Breathe!” Her voice sounded like a just-cutified filly, and her eyes were unfocussed.

The unicorn watched for a few seconds in shock, before realizing what she needed to do. “Tia!” she cried out, in the tone of a disapproving mother.

The Princess immediately raised her head and looked at her, then blinked several times as she came to her senses. “Where...?” she asked.

“Your Highness,” Morningstar said, bowing lower than she had ever bowed before.

By this time a substantial number of ponies and griffons had emerged from their tents, wakened more by the Princess’s actions than by the filly’s earlier.

“M...Morningstar,” Celestia said hesitantly. “Do you know how I managed to...” Looking around, she saw the battered form of the purple filly, and gasped. She used her magic to heal her, and then looked around in rage. “What happened here?!” she demanded. “Who would dare to harm—”

Morningstar quickly closed the gap between then and reached up a hoof to rest upon her monarch’s back. “It’s alright, Your Majesty. You had a nightmare, and you need to get back to sleep.”

“I...” She put a hoof to her mouth in horror. “I am so sorry!” she exclaimed to the speechless mother standing before her, her equally silent daughter clutched in her forelegs. “I know there is nothing I could possibly—”

“Go to bed,” Morning ordered her. “We’ll settle this matter in the morning.”

“But I...” Her words died in her throat as she saw Quickstep close her eyes and bow her head. “...very well. Until the morning.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire watched the proceedings from the shadows until the Princess was back in her tent. “I don’t suppose we’re going to get an explanation for that before the morning?” he asked.

The other members of the Council pawed nervously at the ground.

“Well if you’re not going to say anything,” Voltaire said in annoyance, “then I’ll just start making educated guesses, and you’ll just have to correct me.” He remembered the name Celestia had called the filly, and remembered where he had heard it before. “Luna was Celestia’s...sister...” he said, slowly. The relationship was just a guess, based on her being family and on how it appeared that he had just witnessed a memory from early in Celestia’s life.

The Council simultaneously looked in fear at Celestia’s tent at the utterance of the name “Luna”. When nothing happened, Morningstar sighed deeply and continued where Voltaire left off. “...and this is the part of Equestria where they grew up,” she said. “She has never provided anypony with the details, but it is reasonable to assume that...She...was the younger sister, and Celestia is the elder. Based on what we just saw, I’d say that this sister nearly drowned in the Frigid, probably in the early spring when it runs the fastest.”

“She was the younger sister?” the human asked.

The Council once more looked downwards, this time mournfully.

“What She is now is a matter of debate, unknown even to the Princess,” said Eveningstar. “She was corrupted by the Nightmare and became Nightmare Moon.”

“Or the Nightmare stole her body and killed her soul,” added Morningstar.

“Or she was evil from birth, and the Princess spent a lifetime keeping her growing powers suppressed,” said Blue Belle. “In any case, Nightmare Moon raised a rebellion in the name of She Who Must Not Be Named, but she never told her followers that her goal was to bring eternal night to Equestria, a night that would kill all life on the planet and leave her a queen of corpses. The Princess had no choice but to kill her, leaving her silhouette forever in the Moon to remind her of her failure.”

“Is that honestly the Blueblood version of the tale?” Eveningstar asked incredulously.

“No, it’s my version,” Blue Belle replied. “I researched the subject the moment I realized I was capable of studying it while keeping my lunch in my stomach. I suspect the exact same thing is true for all of you.”

Eveningstar sighed. “The truth of the matter, Voltaire, is that Celestia’s sister was driven mad because her subjects feared and hated her night, and gave Celestia all the love that was both of theirs by right. She became the Nightmare, tried indeed to bring nighttime eternal, and was transformed into an integral part of the Moon for all—” She suddenly stopped herself in shock before completing that sentence. She was about to open her mouth and reveal her realization, but remembered the Princess telling her not to worry about this very subject a few weeks ago, and hesitantly decided to say no more on the matter.

“An ‘integral part’?” Voltaire asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that she was banished for all time,” said Morningstar.

“It means,” corrected Eveningstar, “that the shape you see on the Moon is Nightmare Moon.” She walked over to Quickstep, and put a hoof on her withers. “Let’s take her to the doctor, alright?” she addressed her softly.

Quickstep looked up with tears in her eyes, and nodded.

Voltaire hardened his expression. “This tip-toeing around memories is not doing anybody any good,” he said to himself.

Chapter 30

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 30

The group reached Stalliongrad the next day.

Quickstep and her family left to return to Trottingham, the earth mare having resigned her Council post regardless of anything Celestia could say to dissuade her (or the fact that the Princess’s healing had left the ebullient Twinkletoes cleared of her asthma and healthier than she had ever been in her entire life).

The Princess announced that there would be a meeting the next day of all of the griffon nobles in Equestria, so that they might decide what they would do in the wake of Sky Shock’s revelations. She made sure to emphasize that the terms of her offer of sanctuary still stood regardless of what they decided, and that they would be allowed to make the decision to stay or return individually.

After making this announcement, the Princess dismissed her guard and walked out of the town.

~ ~ ~

When an hour had passed without her return, Voltaire convinced the Council and Guard to wait while he set out to find her.

Eventually, he spotted her sitting atop a small hillock, staring out into space.

He approached her at a leisurely walk, then sat down cross-legged beside her and looked out over the clover in the same direction she was. He loved the fact that she let him do this, that she wasn’t hung up over who stood or bowed or kowtowed in her presence, especially in private. She knew he respected her, and that was enough.

Neither spoke for a few minutes.

Pff!” Voltaire heard. He turned his head, in time to see the Princess making the sound again as she tried to blow a strand of her shimmering hair out of the way, to no effect.

“You know, that used to work once,” she told him gently, rising to her hooves.

Voltaire said nothing, merely looking up at her.

“Do you think you’d ever like to meet your God, Voltaire?” she asked.

Voltaire shook his head wistfully. “I suspect that my God would be pretty surprised to see me. He’s a pretty stand-off sort, I imagine, and very clever with natural machinery, but with not much tolerance for thinking creatures. Have you ever watched a salt crystal grow? Such perfect harmony. I think my God created the universe to be His crystal garden. The fact that the same laws of the universe that create a salt crystal also allow life to exist was probably completely unintended. As long as we don’t mess things up too badly, He’ll just keep pretending that we don’t exist.”

“I suppose that is a good enough argument as any to keep your sodium intake down,” commented Celestia with an amused grin before thinking of grimmer matters. “Well unfortunately for ponies, they actually got to meet a real god once. His name was Discord, and He was bored.

“The Three Tribes had only just united into a single nation when He struck. At His whim, ponies were transformed into tortured shapes, or turned against their cutie marks to attack each other for His amusement. Random lives would be forced to run backwards, just to demonstrate to the others just how pointless mortality really was. Heroes were forced to be villains, and wise men were made fools. Starswirl the Bearded tried to stand up to Him. He...he was tortured for centuries, before he finally managed to escape. Escape...or commit suicide. Since he never returned, there is no way to tell for sure. The ponies fell into despair.”

Voltaire stared at her at shock. For weeks now, he had toyed with the idea that this world might be the perfect world that Leibniz had mistakenly claimed his own was. The fact that its inhabitants weren’t killing each other over their impossible-to-verify guesses about the nature of God was a good part of it. And here was a moment when the matter was settled to everyone’s satisfaction. Here is your God...and He despises every last one of you.

“This torment lasted,” the Princess continued, her voice heavy with sympathy, “for...well, nopony can possibly tell how long. Discord sped Sun and Moon through the sky at random. Lifespans were in general lengthened, for the mad god grew fond of certain individuals so He could sustain His fun at their expense forever. Luna and I afterwards called the length of His rule a hundred years when it came time to fix the calendar, but it was probably closer to a couple thousand.

“One of His favorite victims was Starswirl’s student, Clover the Clever.”

Voltaire noticed that she clipped the sounds of this character’s name, like every instant spent saying it was an instant wasted.

“Clover faithfully served Discord as His adviser, all while plotting His overthrow. In his daughters, I and my sister Luna, Clover had the most powerful pegasus and unicorn that had ever been born. But this wasn’t enough.

“Through use of the forbidden amniomorphic spell, he shaped us into something more, something transcending unicorn, pegasus or earth pony.”

“He made you into what you are today,” said Voltaire.

“Exactly,” replied Celestia, reaching up a hoof to manipulate the unearthly substance of her mane with trepidation. “Discord might have had infinite power, but He had a mind, a personality, that could be manipulated like any other, and obscure rules that He had no choice but to obey. My father kept that god fooled, while he put us two through a grueling course to develop the physical and magical strength we would need. When Discord got too close to discovering our true nature, Father sacrificed Mother to distract Him.”

Voltaire’s mouth gaped. “Surely she sacrificed herself for the lives of her children,” he gently corrected.

“She died begging her husband for mercy,” Celestia coldly insisted. “And by that atrocity, he saved all of Equestria. Everypony knew that Discord was getting tired of this world, and everypony also knew the fate of the hundreds of other worlds He had tired of, as He so liked the looks on our faces when He told us. Given the Hearth’s Warming Eve story, He was setting up the old tribes to hate each other once again, so that the Windigos might finish us off once and for all.”

The human sat there, horrified.

“And so we struck, Luna and I,” the alicorn continued matter-of-factually. “We took Him utterly by surprise and imprisoned Him in stone.”

“You beat a god?” Voltaire asked incredulously.

“We outsmarted a god,” Celestia corrected. “We never could have overpowered Him. Between us we forged the Elements of Harmony, Light and Darkness, and together we used them to defeat Him.”

“Then what happened?” asked Voltaire quickly, to fill the hesitant pause in her narration. He’d spend some other day trying to figure out what the story Celestia was telling him actually meant. For now, he needed to hear as much of it as possible while Celestia was in the mood for sharing her most painful memories with another living soul, because he suspected he would be long dead of old age before the urge to do so ever struck her again.

“We cleaned up Equestria,” said the Princess. “Discord had left several booby traps behind after His defeat. One of them tried to send the Sun hurtling into the void. The unicorns only just managed to prevent this catastrophe. I found that I could easily do what it took all of them to do, and so realized what my cutie mark meant. Luna took over a similar function for the night. The chaos was gradually reversed, and Equestria was brought back to normal, but it was forever changed.”

Princess Celestia gestured at the entire world around them. “Just as with the Sun,” she told the human, “the natural systems of the planet refused to work by themselves. Clouds never formed, seasons refused to turn, and animals remained stuck in a sort of perpetual mental childhood. Luna and I decided that the ponies needed to take over these functions: the pegasi to direct the weather, the earth ponies to help along the natural cycles, and the unicorns to assist where necessary.”

Voltaire thought he saw a look of doubt flit across Celestia’s face, and why not? By this action, as much as by her and her sister taking over the heavenly duties, she imposed her race of ponies upon every other race on the planet, whether they wanted the burden of domination of not. Would the dragons have done better? Or any other magical race of this planet he had not yet learned about? Probably not. And what about humans? From what he had seen so far, the yoke of the ponies was far lighter than the yoke of forced religious and cultural conversions that the Europeans had imposed upon the less-armed tribes of the world in the past couple of centuries. Enlightened by the example of the griffons, Voltaire now recognized that even when Europeans wished to improve the lives of the “savages” instead of conquering them, they were still hurting them, because the goal was always to turn “them” into “us”, to force the foreigners to live like “civilized” human beings, even in the absurd case when the so-called savages were the Chinese, with a civilization thousands of years older than Western Civilization. (To be fair, this “domination through patronizing” problem was a flaw of all humans in power throughout recorded history, including the Chinese. As for the Europeans, they were just the most recent ones to engage in the practice, as well as being the ones whose atrocities resulting from it were best-documented.)

“During this time Father died,” Celestia continued, pulling the councilor out of his reverie. “Luna mourned him deeply—she had no memories of what she used to be before he altered her form. I, on the other hoof, did.”

The Princess looked down sadly at the ground. “She changed after that. Started complaining about the way the other ponies treated her, that she got less respect than I. All very true, but I just dismissed this as the onset of adolescence. It was obvious by now that we were immortal, and so it made sense that she would go through the phases of life slower than the other ponies.” The pony’s face twisted as she proceeded to tear into her own flaws: “I was drunk on power, and dedicated to controlling every detail of the new government of Equestria, something I at the time found far more fascinating than the plight of my own sister. When I refused to switch roles with her, to do anything reasonable in fact to get her the credit she deserved, she began poring through Father’s research, looking for a way to force me to give her what she wanted. And there she discovered a way to summon the Nightmare.”

Celestia stopped suddenly, and looked up at the sky. Voltaire looked to see what she was looking at, and saw nothing special at that patch of sky. He concluded that she wanted to look at the Moon, at the sky object most-closely associated with her sister, but there was nothing to look at. Unlike on Earth, Voltaire could not remember a single time that he saw Equestria’s moon during the daytime hours, or any night when that same body was ever anything but full. Perhaps Celestia lacks the finesse that her sister had with the night sky? he wondered. Perhaps she alone remembers evening glories that this world will never see again?

After several moments, Princess Celestia began to speak once more, this time in the tone of a philosopher. “I’m not sure how to classify that foul spirit. Was the Nightmare a god? Or yet another trap left behind by Discord? Perhaps she could be likened to a disease? Just as a plague will feed so hungrily on a population that it will doom itself by killing all of its carriers, so the Nightmare, feeding on misery, plotted to bring about an eternal night that would forever deprive it of its food source.”

She hardened her resolve for what was to come. “Awakened far too late to the consequences of my inaction, I tried and failed to break the curse, to convince Luna to fight back against the spirit, or to steer her minions away from their suicidal course. It was only when the death toll reached into the thousands that I was finally forced to act. I knew already that the Elements of Harmony could not be used to free her, that they needed both of us, that they were fueled by our love for each other, for our ponies, and for our country, but that could never be re-captured, so I forced them into an instrument of destruction. They instead rebelled against my will and imprisoned Nightmare Moon, sister, in the Moon, and then fragmented into six pieces.

“That was seven and a half centuries ago,” she said, dropping her head once more to the ground. “Every night, when I set my Sun and raise her Moon, I am forced to face my failure.” She said this in a low voice, but with a certain intensity.

Voltaire was reminded by her posture of the sacrament of confession, one of the few aspects of modern-day Christianity he admired. Is this the best she can do for forgiveness? he asked himself. Appealing to the judgment of an apostate monkey?

“I pulled away from my ponies,” Celestia said, continuing her self-condemnation. “For a while, I allowed them to rule themselves, while I lay in a cave and tried and failed to end my own life. But in the end they could not, or would not, rule themselves, and they begged me to take over. I’ve been living ever since with a sense of numbness. I’ve tried, I hope, to make my ponies’ lives as pleasant as possible, but I’ve never wanted any of them to be a part of my life. That didn’t stop several of them from forcing themselves into my life, for my eternal benefit. You, Voltaire, in your short time here, have done more for me than generations of Councilors.”

Voltaire stood up then, and put a hand carefully on one of her shoulders. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” he told her gently, “but I wrote ‘The Frog Princess’ for Equestria, not for you. Someday you could be the one left for dead in a swamp, after facing off against a re-awakened Discord or who knows what, and when that day comes, you’re going to need a pony, or more likely a whole lot of ponies, able to help you out, with their magic or perhaps with those Elements you talked about.”

Celestia turned to leave, and bid Voltaire to follow her. “I have been thinking along similar lines,” she told him. It feels good to be talking to someone without having to look down upon them, she thought. “Come, there’s probably a lot of worried ponies waiting for me.”

Chapter 31

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 31

“Let me begin by reminding you of that which is before your very eyes,” said the Princess, addressing the mass of griffons before her from the dais she and the Royal Council were standing on. “This is Equestria,” she said, with a sweep of one hoof, “and I am its ruler. My council writes its laws, under my supervision, and all who live here are expected to obey those laws. The lifestyle they protect has been called ‘The Pony Way’. I have tried to make allowances to those non-ponies who choose to live within these borders, but that can only go so far. So by and large, at least in public, those of you who wish to live here will have to live as ponies.

“That means not slaughtering your prey around ponies who do not wish to see such things. That means not engaging in duels with the expectation of not being punished for it. This is a peaceful realm, and I intend for it to remain that way.

“That extends to any plans you might have for invading Griffonia to take back what you think is yours. Whatever you are planning, I don’t want to hear about it. And if any ponies are involved in this plan, they had better be doing so of their own free will.” She turned her head to address the smaller group of ponies who were standing on one side of the griffons. “And as for my ponies, I expect you to stand up against any bad examples they might provide you.” With a slight smirk at the griffons, she added, “And vice versa. If any ponies are interested in trying to repeat history, know this: history never repeats itself exactly. You will be taking the exact risk of the original Forty by forfeiting your citizenship to try your fortune in a foreign land, but know full well that your task would be much harder than the first time.

“The griffons you seek to overthrow are united instead of divided. They have already proven themselves the betters of the Orange Clan, and now they have that strength added to their own. If you are wise, you will see this as the lost cause it is, and choose one of two courses: Stay here, or return to the Griffon Republic, there to integrate yourselves into their society.” She used her magic to raise and shake a small bag of bits hanging around her neck. “If you choose the former, I am willing to provide modest stipends for each one of you, a bag of bits this big, every month for ten years, and not a single day more; you will be expected to find some way to support yourselves by the end of this time. If departure is your choice, then that is a matter outside of my control. I refer you to Citizen Perrygore here.”

“Err...yes,” said the nervous griffon in the high-collared suit with tawny feathers. “The Griffon Republic has magnanimously decided to reverse its opposition to, continued existence of nobility, and is willing to admit them back within Griffonia’s border. As free and equal citizens of our great land.”

From the back of the griffon crowd, Sky Shock’s eyes boggled on seeing the Griffon Republic representative. How is he still alive? she asked herself incredulously.

A different griffon lord stepped forward. “Well, isn’t that convenient,” he observed sarcastically. “I thought you all wanted us dead.”

“The death sentence was repealed by the Legislative Assembly, leaving only the perpetual banishment,” corrected Perrygore weakly. “And as I said—”

“Yes, but why now?” asked the griffon lord. “Could it have anything to do with the three dragon clans which have invaded your lands? Or the fact that your mad leader Maximilian Peter has banished so many commoners that he has nobody left to hunt or farm for him?”

“You are misinformed,” Perrygore said, straightening his lapel. “Maximilian Peter has been banished. He had become somewhat...unstable.”

“I heard that he was banishing everyffony who had called him names in créche school,” commented Lady Whirligig.

“...That too,” answered Perrygore with a roll of the eyes. “The Republic is now ruled by a Directory of five First Citizens. We are currently negotiating with the Equestrian government for official recognition.”

“And will you grant it?” the griffon lord asked Princess Celestia.

“We are still considering the request, Lord Wind Shear,” said the Princess diplomatically.

“Translation: If one of your governments manages to last for a full six months, get back to us,” joked a pony heckler, causing a good deal of laughter from both ponies and griffons, not all of it of the comfortable kind.

Perrygore sighed. “If I may be allowed to return to the point,” he said in a lawyerly fashion. “You will find on returning to Griffonia that yes, your properties have been annexed by the State and equally distributed. You will receive your new land by lot when you apply for citizenship.”

“We will be penniless!” exclaimed Lady Whirligig.

Perrygore sighed yet again. “Please. I have done my research, and I know as well as you do how much of your fortunes you invested in Equestrian trading companies prior to the Revolution. We have settled the inflation issue, and are willing to recognize Equestrian bits at the old rate of exchange. All you lack is land, and the Republic promises a return to private property at the end of the current war, along with a relinquishing of most of its extraordinary powers. You will have your estates again soon enough, obtained fairly this time, might I add.” This remark earned him a great deal of unfriendly eagle-eye glares.

“In addition, you enjoy superior education and experience to most other griffons,” he continued. “We have established laws against discriminating by former class in job hiring, and set up a system involving a written document we’ve invented called a ‘resume’ that will ensure that jobs are filled fairly. I can tell you that this is so because we used it to select our Directors, and one of them is a pony!”

Blue Belle had a fairly good idea which particular pony it was, and scowled as a result.

“I suppose if you want to be cynical about it, you have ten years to decide,” Voltaire remarked.

Many of the griffons looked at each other and nodded.

“I still say we should bring back the good old days,” muttered Lord Whirligig. He thought he had said it softly enough so that he would not be overheard.

“You want to ‘bring back the good old days’?” said Blue Belle out loud as she stepped forward. (She had, of course, been using her father’s magic to monitor for any backtalk.) “Do you even know anymore what they were? Your royal family were a bunch of monsters, preying upon lords and commons alike in their pathological need to transform themselves into ponies.”

“Perhaps the Nativists were right,” rebutted Lord Wind Shear. “The duchy was a Pony addition to griffon society. Who says that we wouldn’t be better off with a decentralized aristocracy?”

“Have none of you studied your history?” replied Sky Shock from the back. “What the Nativists called ‘true griffon society’ was nothing more than a draconic way of life! If any of you have had the unpleasant experience of visiting one of the clanholds, you will agree with me that their way, that of family plotting against family, and member plotting with member within a family for ultimate control, is to a griffon a form of unbearable torture! Why do you think our ancestors so quickly embraced the ‘Pony Way’ so eagerly?”

“But that’s not the ‘Griffon Way’ either,” protested Lord Whirligig. “We need to get back to the flock.”

“No!” countered Leopold. “We need to correct that error of our language, once and for all. Voltaire over there reminded me of the fact that we are of two natures: eagle and lion. Eagle flocks consist of precisely two birds: father and mother. They raise their children until they are old enough to fly, then kick them out of their nest. But lions don’t live like that. Lions enjoy living in large families, from children to grandparents, all living together and caring for each other, ranked according to age and accomplishments, and as a group ranked equally to all other lion families. This grouping is called a ‘pride’, because that is the emotion that sustains it. If you look at what the commoners have done with Griffonia, especially with their new holidays and celebrations, each successive government has been groping in the dark, but they have been coming closer and closer to the perfect griffon social grouping. And what they have come up with is the pride, with perfect equality outside of the family and in the realm of law. I contend that the Griffon Republic is the true state of griffon society, what it was in the lost days before the dragons moved in to ruin our lives. That is the world I would like to move back to.”

“I will leave you to discuss this matter yourselves,” said Celestia, and she and her Council walked down from the dais.

She was just about to return her prop to Morningstar, the money bag she had used to illustrate the size of the griffon stipend, when she realized that it was gone. “Well!” she exclaimed in amused shock. “It appears that I am the victim of a robbery!”

While the Royal Guard partnered with the local police to find the thief, Citizen Perrygore was converged on both sides, by Sky Shock and Blue Belle.

“I don’t believe it!” exclaimed the griffon ex-countess. “Aren’t you Random Tally?”

Perrygore got a look of panic in his eyes, and tried in vain to find somewhere to flee to.

“Don’t worry!” she assured him. “I don’t hold you responsible for the treason trial of my father. You were clearly acting under orders from Duke Cumulous.”

“...Down to the under-winged practices I was forced to use,” he replied. “I am deeply sorry for the pain I must have caused you.”

“I’m over it,” Sky Shock said with the wave of her claw. “I’m just surprised that you managed to survive the purge of the royal family and their staff, being the Ducal Prosecutor.”

“Erm...yes,” said Perrygore. “I still am, as a matter of fact. Prosecutor for the People, that is. Not Ducal Prosecutor.”

Sky Shock looked calmly into his eyes for several seconds. “Then I guess that means you will be seeing me again in an official capacity, very soon.” She turned and walked away, gesturing idly with one claw. “You can go ahead and ask him your question now, Blue Belle,” she said before walking out of earshot.

“Well!” Perrygore exclaimed, only to find himself being sucked into the pony’s coldly inquisitive stare. “Um...can I help you?”

“Why yes, Perrygore,” Blue Belle said in a cheery but quiet voice, “Prosecutor for the People for the Directory. And private assistant to Maximilian Peter, Treasurer for the Constitutional Convention, Secretary for the Legislative Assembly, and Constitutional Analyst for the National Assembly. Not to mention your work as Random Tally, Ducal Prosecutor under the most paranoid duke in Griffonia’s history. It is an honor to finally meet you in the feathers and fur.”

Perrygore looked at her in shock. “ did—“

“A perk of being the daughter of the Minister of Information,” she told him, giving him a look that he swore belonged on a griffon.

Perrygore started to look around for a means of escape for the second time that day. “Um...” he began to say, “that was all just a series of remarkable—“

Blue Belle shut him up by briefly pressing her hoof to his beak. “Very good,” she remarked quietly as she lowered it. “That ‘um’ and ‘err’ business. Very misleading.”

Perrygore became very still.

The unicorn used her magic to levitate a small rectangle of cardboard out of her satchel and into the griffon’s slightly open beak, all without breaking eye contact. “When you finally get around to a government you’re happy with, I suggest you tell K the little joke on that card. You’ll find that all kinds of doors will open for you after you do that. But do remember who gave you this little piece of advice, hmm?”

The griffon’s eyes crossed looking down at the card before him.

“To the beginning of a beautiful friendship!” she said as she trotted away.

Chapter 32

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 32

It took less than ten minutes to apprehend the thief of Celestia’s money bag, considering that it still reeked of alicorn magic. The thief turned out to be a vagrant, an earth pony mare with a deep red coat and mane...and no sense of remorse whatsoever.

“Not so hard!” the thief protested against how she was being mare-handled by the much bigger pony beside her. Her voice had a clear lower-class Manehattan accent to it.

“I wouldn’t give a second thought to this little street rat, Your Highness,” the big pony said to the Princess. “She’s only been in town for a month, and already has been caught twice trying to steal food from the market.”

“If I don’t miss my guess,” Morningstar said, “I believe that this might also be our heckling mare from earlier.”

“What, do you got a problem with a pony expressing herself? It’s a free country, isn’t it?”

The other ponies all looked at each other curiously.

“Well, that’s an interesting formulation,” Eveningstar remarked.

“I like it!” exclaimed Voltaire. “You ought to use it on the travel brochures. Equestria: It’s a free country!”

Morningstar rolled her eyes. “Knock it off, Human,” she snarked.

“A pity you had to throw your life away in pursuit of crime when you could have found something better to do with your talents,” said Celestia, turning to go.

“Wait!” the criminal cried out. “I demand the right to be tried by the Princess!”

“Well!” exclaimed the sheriff. “This ought to be fun. What are you going to do with her, Your Highness? Send her to the M—?”

The sheriff was prevented from finishing that sentence by a brick to the head that was “accidentally” launched by Morningstar.

Princess Celestia opened her mouth for a moment, thought better of it, and then shut it.

“That’s two,” remarked Morningstar.

“Yes I noticed,” said the Princess with a smirk. “Well the prone sheriff here did bring up a salient point: as the injured party, I am not allowed to be your judge.”

“I believe under the circumstances that would make the chancellor into the pertinent party,” remarked Voltaire. “Would you object to having a biped from another planet judge your case?”

The red pony shrugged. “Just so long as it isn’t another stupid Stalliongradder.”

Voltaire was thankful for the fact that Nightingale had accompanied Plasticity with the expedition to check out rumors of gem deposits near Stalliongrad. With her help, he was able to adopt the traditional judge’s robe into something that didn’t look too ridiculous. She also put together a truly grand judge’s wig for him, an importing of European tradition into Equestrian law.

“Hear ye, hear ye!” he announced, banging his gavel. “I hereby call this Royal Court of Equestria to order.”

It was two days since the theft, the traditional time allotted for the two parties to prepare their arguments. The occupation of “lawyer” existed in Equestria, but with certain limitations, including a barring of them from the actual courtroom. They could help defendants and prosecutors to craft their speeches, but in return the pony making the speech in the courtroom was required to set up large green placards placed for them to read from, in order to show the jury that they couldn’t come up with the words all by themselves.

Now Voltaire, the victim of jealous nobles seeking to ruin him, as well as Voltaire, the president of the merciless private bank trying to collect on his loans, had seen both sides of the French justice system. He had a healthy distrust for lawyers. But at the same time, he did consider it somewhat unfair to deprive their services from those who were no good with words. But that was the system he was stuck presiding over. He was limited to little innovations like replacing a banging hoof with a banging gavel.

“We shall now hear the case of Celestia vs. Malice.” The Princess had tried as much as possible to level the playing field for the thief by leaving her title off of the name of the case, but she had two things standing in the way of this goal: she was the only individual on the planet named “Celestia”, and the thief had the misfortune of being born with the name of “Malice”. You would think she would have had it legally changed at some point.

Morningstar stepped forward. “My name is Morningstar,” she said for the record. “I have been authorized by...Celestia to speak on her behalf.”

The Princess was sitting at the back of the gallery, wearing a tight shawl and a pair of sunglasses to disguise herself. She wasn’t fooling anypony.

“Very well,” said Judge Voltaire. “State the nature of your complaint.”

“The victim was robbed of the sum of 500 bits,” said the unicorn. “Assuming you find the defendant guilty, we leave the degree of her punishment in your...” —she was going to say “hooves”— “...hands.”

“Very well,” said Voltaire. “How does the defendant plead?”

It took a few moments for Malice to realize that she was supposed to speak. “Oh, I plead guilty.”

“You do?” Voltaire said with a raised eyebrow.

“I do,” the earth pony said with a vigorous nod.

“Well then!” exclaimed the human. “That simplifies things. The prosecution has already stated a lack of preference when it comes to punishment. What do you have to say regarding what I do with you, Malice?”

“I...” the red mare said, looking around her to make sure she had everybody’s attention, “ the victim of society!”

Voltaire face-palmed. It was the lamest excuse imaginable, especially in a wonderful world like Equestria where everybody was pretty much guaranteed employment. Nevertheless, when he looked up he saw that the defendant had the rapt attention of the entire gallery.

“At birth, I was given the name of Malice,” she said. “This set the course of my life, a course that was confirmed by my cutie mark.” She turned to display it to all, then proceeded to describe it for the official record: “It’s a drawing of my foreleg, snatching away a bauble. How could I be anything but a thief under the circumstances?”

Many of the ponies nodded to each other, apparently convinced by this argument. A concerned Princess started to step forward, only to be stopped by seeing Voltaire shake his head at her with confidence.

“May I have a look?” he said, climbing down from the ridiculously high bench he was sitting on.

“Go right ahead,” said Malice.

Voltaire made his way down (carefully, so he wouldn’t trip on his robe and make a fool of himself) and approached the mare. Bending over, he examined her flank.

“See anything you like?” she said over her shoulder.

“Watch it,” he warned her.

The cutie mark was as she described. The object being stolen was a plain red ball. Although on second thought...

“This cutie mark is ambiguous!” he declared.

Malice bent herself double trying to get a look. “What do you mean?”

“That bent foreleg could be taking that ball away,” said Voltaire, “or it could be throwing it out. Or merely holding it. Any one of those possibilities could be illustrated the exact same way. And as for your name, was it ever written down?”

“My parents were illiterate,” the mare said, her eyes narrowing. “My father died while I was in my mother’s belly, and she died less than a day after I was born.”

“Well, there you have it!” said the human, oblivious to the pony’s reaction to his words. “Your name is not in fact ‘Malice’, but ‘Mallus’, the old name for an apple, the very object poorly rendered in your cutie mark. And that will be the nature of your punishment: Mallus, I hereby decree that you will be given a bag containing ten thousand apple seeds. You will plant those seeds across the width and breadth of Equestria. Once you finish, you will be a free pony. Case and Court dismissed!” He quickly walked out of the court before any of the ponies had time to find a hole in his logic.

The newly re-named pony turned to leave, only to find a tall white unicorn filly blocking her way. “Excuse me, Mallus, but I wonder if you might be interested, once your term is served, in working for one of the leading families in the realm?”

“What could you possibly see of interest in a street rat like me?” Mallus asked incredulously.

“Well, you did manage to steal a big clanking bag of bits right off the neck of the centuries-old pony who raises the Sun every morning. That takes stealth, and courage. I take it that you can read?”

“I can,” the earth pony replied.

“Good,” Blue Belle said, passing her another cardboard card. “This is the address in Canterlot where you can make contact, and what to say when you get there.”

The red mare looked down curiously at the card. “‘Why is a raven like a writing desk?’” she read out loud.

Postscript to this chapter, by the Author:

Placticity did indeed find a huge supply of gems near Stalliongrad, and set up the mine that made his wife’s fortune. Nightingale bought her way back into the aristocracy she didn’t know her ancestors had fallen out of and, as stated earlier, was able to survive the challenge to her position issued by the Sparkle family, a challenge that ended in their humiliation.

By the 70th Century, the Needlepoints had become the great land barons of the North, their power seemingly insurmountable, until the pegasus reporter Firefly II came to visit the area. The result of her research into the family’s secret slave labor practices in the mines produced the article “The Shining Light of the North” in 6921. The article led to the shut-down of the mine and a series of lawsuits that bankrupted the Needlepoints so thoroughly that they lost their noble status and dropped off the face of Equestria. It is assumed that they changed their names and became commoners.

Mallus never did take up Blue Belle’s offer after serving her sentence. She instead joined the Royal Guard, but this too only lasted a few years. The wanderlust that was the source of most of her problems took hold once again, and after getting the Princess to release her, she set out to see the world. Her descendants, the Apples, were gypsies and sharecroppers for generations, only gradually and reluctantly rising up to become farmers as they spread from one end of Equestria to another, bringing their namesake trees with them wherever they went.

Oh, and Firefly II? She was the second in a long line of Firefly’s, pegasi noted (with II as a notable exception) as fast and agile fliers, the backbone of the Royal Guard pegasi in the 70th Century and beyond. Only the eldest mare of each generation got the coveted Firefly name, the other brothers and sisters (for this was a very large family) had to settle for names describing their speed, their agility, or their unusual coloration...

Chapter 33

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 33

The Griffish Relief Expedition of 6764 was winding to a close.

The situation with the griffon nobility, if not resolved, was at least contained. Those griffons that chose to stay had been housed, and a system for maintaining them for a decade in a diminished version of “the manner in which they were accustomed” had been established. Those griffons who were willing to try their luck with the Griffon Republic departed for the border with Citizen Perrygore, who seemed even more nervous than he had been when he thought they were his enemies. As for the ones in the middle, those who wished to invade Griffonia with pony support, they were quickly becoming aware that there just wasn’t enough pony support in light of the Bakery revelations for any such invasion to be practical, and so this group gradually melted away.

A training academy was set up in Stalliongrad for future members of the Royal Guard, one of what would eventually be three such academies. The graduates from these institutions would not just be servants of the Princess, but also were highly sought after by local law enforcement and the local border patrol. After all, the situation with the griffons and the dragons was far from permanently settled, and an invasion was always a possibility.

The economies of the two provinces had been vastly improved, with Canterlot investment money being applied to a host of lagging businesses.

And the royal government of Equestria had been broadened to embrace the other two pony breeds. A new Minister of Earth Pony Affairs was appointed—the corresponding pegasus position still theoretically held by Pensive Thought was held open for Butterbold Wheatstraw as soon as she had completed her term as mayor of Trottingham. Additional positions were opened up for Weather, Transportation, Agriculture and Mining, with local experts on all but Agriculture appointed. The Princess gave a stern lecture to the “generalist” ministers that they were henceforth to serve not only their own breed but also the other two, and Blue Belle was made Minister of Unicorn Affairs.

All in all, thought Voltaire, the mission had been a complete success, and a shining example to the ages of how to address a monumental crisis. The human dreamed that if his own kind faced a crisis of this magnitude that it would respond with something even a tenth this amount of hope, of understanding, and of genuine compromise. Or at the very least, that the authorities wouldn’t start burning Jews and heretics at the stake to cover up for their massive incompetence.

Translator’s Note: Ouch.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire, as chancellor, tended to get pulled into every decision being made by the Princess and her council, no matter how little he might be qualified for it.

And so it was that he was drawn into an argument about the rules of hoofball.

Captain Hardheart had decided that the game would be an excellent way for the three breeds in his expanded troop to begin to get to know each other.

The trouble was, the game had three completely different sets of rules for the three breeds, with no expectation that they would ever play directly against one another or beside each other.

Voltaire’s suggestions in this matter were no better or worse than those of any of the ponies the Captain consulted, although the one about incorporating Steelteeth’s floating ring into the game was gleefully accepted...especially as Steelteeth was free to assault anypony foolish enough to try to actually touch it. Finally, when the group was debating the best way of determining which team should be first “at play”, he suggested flipping a coin.

Captain Hardheart looked down at his hooves. “And how, pray tell, do you expect an earth pony or pegasus to be able to flip a coin?”

Voltaire pulled his Reichsthaler out of his pocket and roughly threw it into the air. “Something like that, I would suppose,” he said with a smile. He watched as the coin flipped over and over through the air and landed with a “poof!” in the dirt of the field.

“Hooves!” the Captain declared playfully, looking down at the coin.

“‘Hooves’?” Voltaire said, a growing feeling of nameless dread growing in his gut, as he looked down as well.

The side of the Prussian coin facing upwards was engraved with a large horseshoe instead of the portrait of the royal donkey he remembered. To him, the U-shape resembled nothing so much as a holy symbol.

Chapter 34

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 34

A truncated version of the Royal Council was meeting in the Stalliongrad Town Hall that afternoon.

“Hoofington is petitioning to be included in the route the expedition takes back to Canterlot,” Eveningstar reported in a bored voice.

“Hoofington?” Morningstar asked incredulously after consulting a map. “That’s on the far side of the Everfree Forest from the capital! How can they possibly justify—”

She was interrupted by the sound of Blue Belle opening the hall’s twin doors to enter. Doing this let in the sound of dozens of caterwauling ponies.

“All of the fillies are crying,” she reported with an earnest tone.

“We noticed,” said Morningstar dryly.

“That’s why we’re not holding this meeting at the park as scheduled,” added Eveningstar.

“Do any of you know why?” Blue Belle asked. “We’ve never run into anything of this scale before during our travels, and it just suddenly started this morning.”

“Not really,” said Morningstar dismissively. “I’m not especially good with children.”

Eveningstar bit her lip, to hold back any of dozens of stories of Cognizant’s colthood that more than illustrated that remark.

“Maybe it’s some kind of spell!” speculated Blue Belle.

“I’ve afraid that crying in foals is a very common symptom,” noted Princess Celestia, “with a variety of causes, most of them non-magical in nature. Short of a silence spell, there’s nothing you can really do without more information.”

“I’ll see what I can find out!” the unicorn filly said with a salute. She used her magic to quickly open and close the doors, briefly letting the sound of unhappy foals back into the building.

There were a few moments of relative silence, before Eveningstar remembered where they had left off. “The Hoofington city council claims that all of the roads leading to and from it are the best-maintained in all of Equestria, while the eastern roads are prone to inducing hoof-rot in any ponies unfortunate enough to be forced to use them.”

“The eastern roads that we took to get here?” asked Morningstar.

“Um...yes,” said Eveningstar.

Morningstar looked pointedly down at her hooves.

“Look, I’m just reading the petition,” Eveningstar countered. “It’s not like this is my opinion on the subject.”

“Fine,” said Morningstar. “We’ll hire the town artist to create a visual reply to the fine town of Hoofington: a cartoon of the Princess looking down at her stinky-cheese hooves, with the caption ‘Oops!’”

It took a supreme effort of will, but the Princess finally succeeded in maintaining a straight face. That did not mean, however, that she was not going to commission that cartoon, if only for her to keep for herself.

A couple hours passed. The noise outside got steadily worse, until it became quite impossible to keep the meeting going.

“Do you know any songs we could sing?” Morningstar asked the others. “The louder the better.”

The doors were opened by a thoroughly panicked Blue Belle.

Close that door!” the others chorused, trying to make themselves heard above the cacophony coming in from outside.

The unicorn filly put her back into it like the crying was a physical force. “It’’s only in reaction to unicorns,” she reported. “And the effect is definitely spreading.”

“Spreading?” repeated Eveningstar. “From neighborhood to neighborhood?”

“From year to year,” said Blue Belle with growing desperation as she approached the Princess. “It started with the newborns, and it’s all the way up to the fillies and colts now. Every pegasus and earth pony appears to be affected. Deer Dread is the only other young unicorn in town, and I saw her eaten alive by fear before my very eyes! She’s nine years old, and I’m only ten! It’s been progressing steadily and inexorably, one year per hour. I may only have a few minutes left!”

“‘One year per hour,’” Celestia repeated in horror. “It’s happening again!” With a blinding burst of magic, a golden sphere burst outwards from her horn, passing through the ponies and the walls.

The other ponies in the hall rushed to the windows, to see the sphere expand until it seemed to envelop the whole of Stalliongrad. They watched for a few seconds longer, but the sphere got no bigger than that.

“What’s happening?” Eveningstar demanded.

“It’s a time distortion,” the Princess said with a heavy heart, “and it’s affecting all of Equestria.”

“Then why aren’t you expanding that bubble any wider?” Morningstar asked. “And why can I still hear foals crying?”

“That’s as big as I can make it and still have it be effective,” Celestia replied. “And the shield spell doesn’t reverse the effects, it just keeps it from progressing.”

But how are you going to fix it?!” cried Blue Belle.

“I can’t,” replied Celestia.

What do you mean you can’t?!” cried the white unicorn, grasping desperately at Princess Celestia’s legs. “What about Deer Dread? What about the foals? What about every other pony in Equestria a hundred hours from now?!

Celestia kneeled down and wrapped her wings around the terrified filly. “Somepony is responsible for this,” she told her in a deliberately calm voice. “Once we figure out who, then I can convince them to stop.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire took that moment to barge into the room, followed by the Royal Guard. “Hey, I see you’re having some sort of crisis going on, so I came by to help!” he said with false bravado. “I’ve got a piddling little mystery to ask you about, but it’s probably best to save that for another time.”

“Perhaps not,” Celestia said, standing up and looking strong to bolster the confidence of the uncertain ponies and human before her. “I need any of you to tell me anything strange you have seen or experienced since this morning. No matter how insignificant, it can help me to deduce the cause of this disturbance. Voltaire?”

“Ah...well, it’s probably just a unicorn’s odd idea of a practical joke,” he said, pulling out the Reichsthaler. “Perhaps Cogs has gotten into counterfeiting as a hobby? Heh-heh.”

Nopony laughed at the joke.

“Let me see the coin,” Celestia instructed him solemnly.

Voltaire handed it over. She raised an eyebrow on seeing the horseshoe engraved on the front, then gave it back to him.

“Do you remember what it used to look like?” she asked.

“It was a portrait of Queen Genevieve,” he said.

Celestia sighed, then gestured to the Sparkle Sisters and Blue Belle. “All of you saw this coin on the morning Voltaire watched me raise the Sun. Do you remember Queen Genevieve on the coin as well?”

The trio nodded mutely.

“Tell me everything you remember about Genevieve,” the Princess said to Voltaire.

“Well, she’s been the Queen of Prussia for the past eleven years,” the human replied. “She first corresponded with me in 1738, in the postscript of a letter written by her brother, Prince Friedrich.”

“And what about the donkey that passed through the portal that brought you to Equestria?”

Blue Belle began to shiver uncontrollably.

Voltaire watched her in concern for several moments before being drawn back into the dead serious expression of the Princess. “Well, Your Highness, that was...Genevieve as well. But she couldn’t have been the same donkey, could she?”

Celestia said nothing, instead watching him intently.

That Genevieve was the daughter of your royal jester,” he said, “and she turned ten the day before my arrival.” He peered at the coin in his hand once again, bringing to mind the portrait of her that wasn’t there, and the many paintings of her at Sanssouci that the Great Masters of Europe had made. “But they look...and her father is that even biologically possible?! And why have I never questioned that impossibility before now?” He followed this with the question that perplexed him the most. “And how in the world did I refrain from joking about her species in all the time we’ve been in contact with each other? I should have been banished to the deepest, dankest pit in all of Germany for the sort of quips I’m only just now thinking of!”

“It’s alright,” Princess Celestia assured him. “You have spent an entire lifetime with this fact, and never before now encountered anyone willing to challenge it. Now I need you to think very carefully about this question: Is there any godmagic available to the humans on Earth? Even in the form of a story you’re certain is false?”

“I...well, there certainly are stories. The Arabians tell of a brass lantern housing an all-powerful spirit able to grant three wishes to any who rub the lamp. Do you think that is what is responsible?” Voltaire was trying desperately to maintain an air of confidence, but in truth he felt like he was on the edge of a precipice, as everything in life he thought was certain was being stripped away from him. The monarchs he thought he knew, the absence of anything miraculous on his homeworld...

“I have no idea,” said Celestia, interrupting his thoughts. “Although, knowing that the donkey has used at least two of her three wishes would be good to know.”

Celestia next turned to the shaking unicorn. “You still remember Genevieve, Blue Belle?” she asked.

Blue Belle blinked in shock. “How could I not?”

“Is she anything more than a donkey to you? Does this symbol have any significance?”

Blue Belle peered at the coin being presented to her by Celestia’s magic before replying. “She’s a very important donkey to me,” she said quietly, “one who I have grievously wronged.” She then realized that Celestia’s word “more”, in this context, meant something similar to how she would use it to describe K. “But physically, she is no more than a mortal donkey, to the best of my knowledge. And that is merely a horseshoe to my eyes. W...what would I have answered an hour from now, if that shield was not in place?”

“I’ll have to find that out myself,” Celestia replied. “Voltaire, you may come with me, but the unicorns had better stay here.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire followed Celestia out the door into the noisy marketplace. “Are you sure you should be coming out here?” he asked her. “After all, what if they are scared of all h...horns?”

“Are you coming, Voltaire?”

Voltaire looked upon the Princess in amazement. Somehow between eye blinks, Celestia had lost her horn. The human felt that she had altered herself in some other aspects, like her proportions or voice had changed, but not in any way that he could name. She also seemed shorter, although they were certainly still eye-to-eye like they were before.


“I am pegasus, unicorn and earth pony, Human,” she told him sternly. “Does it surprise you that I can choose which aspect I manifest as?”

“Well...I suspected it might be a little harder than changing my wig,” he replied.

Celestia the pegasus laughed, before turning to walk briskly up to a pegasus that was walking by with her distressed child. “Madam,” she said, “could I ask your daughter a question?”

Horn or no horn, there was no mistaking the Princess of the Sun. “Certainly, Your Highness,” the mother said, a little flustered, and ushered a filly forward.

Voltaire dug through his bag and produced a lollypop, which he held out for the filly.

“Little pony, what is your name?” Celestia asked.

“Tree Branch,” the filly replied, her eyes fixed on the piece of candy.

“Could you tell me what that little object around your neck means?”

Voltaire’s eyes focused on a silver chain around the filly’s neck, a chain that was attached to the ends of a little horseshoe.

Where did that come from?” the mother whispered fearfully.

“This is the symbol of Equestria’s goddess,” the filly said, quite obviously repeating something she had been forced to memorize. “Can I have the sweet now?”

Voltaire handed the lollypop over.

“P...Princess,” the mother addressed her with a worried look, “where did that chain come from? I just realized that she’s been wearing it for an hour now, but I don’t remember her putting it on, or where she could have gotten it from.” In response to the thoughtful look on her monarch’s face, she remembered her manners and did a quick curtsy. “My name’s Sky Canter.”

“How old is your daughter, Sky Canter?” the Princess asked.


Celestia thought for a second before speaking. “Your daughter has been struck by a powerful charm spell that only affects fillies and colts—those nine years of age or younger. I am going to deal with this problem personally. Until then, take your daughter home, and please do not punish her over the next few days if she appears to believe things that you know not to be true—that is merely the spell confusing her. And please tell this to all other parents of similarly aged children you know.”

“Y...yes, Your Highness,” Sky Canter said with another curtsy. “And thank you for personally devoting yourself to this problem.” She then quickly led her daughter away.

“That was a lie,” observed Voltaire quietly.

“It will stem the panic I saw growing in the parents,” Celestia told him firmly. “And it contains a good deal of the truth.”

~ ~ ~

Princess Celestia reported her findings to the Council.

“So do you know enough now?” Morningstar asked with growing frustration. “And if you do, do you mind letting the rest of us in on it? What do you mean by ‘time distortion’?”

“History has been changed,” the Princess informed them. “That’s what gods do. They don’t just change things going forward from the moment They did them; They make changes that affect future and past events.”

The historian sat down hard on the wooden floor. “So it is possible,” she said at last. “I had always suspected that certain moments in our history were too unlikely to be possible. I was just never sure if they were propaganda covering up a darker truth, or somepony mucking with reality.”

“Somehow or another, Genevieve has become a goddess, and She’s come to Equestria to claim it,” Celestia continued. “This event happened about nine hours ago.”

“How do you know that?” asked Eveningstar.

“Because historical changes ripple outwards at a fixed rate: one year every hour. Within a certain radius, the change is instantaneous, but we are far enough from Her for that effect not to matter.”

“Is...Canterlot far enough?” Blue Belle asked in a quiet voice.

Celestia shook her head sadly. “Now a few weeks ago,” she continued, “Genevieve wished that she was the Queen of Prussia. How old is that coin?”

“Less than a year old,” answered Voltaire.

“Then less than an hour after she made that first wish, the coin changed from showing King Friedrich to showing Queen Genevieve.”

“Friedrich was king?”

“Yes, and you told us all about him.”

“I do not remember that,” said Eveningstar. “I remember him telling us about his queen.”

“That’s because the change continued to expand through time at a year per hour,” Celestia replied. “By three days after that wish had been made, all of your memories had been re-written to believe that Genevieve had always been queen. The reason I know that this wish was made only a few weeks ago is because I still remember Friedrich being king. In another week or two, my memories would have been re-written as well.”

“Well put them back!” said a panicking Morningstar.

“I told you: I can’t,” said Celestia sadly. “I once had access to the kind of power that could fix any problem, but I gave up the right to it long ago. My shield spell has halted the effect in Stalliongrad, but it continues to advance over the rest of Equestria. Genevieve is replacing me as ruler of Equestria, and all She has to do is wait a week for everypony to acknowledge Her. They’ll have no choice, because She will be the only monarch they had ever known.”

It occurred to Voltaire that the Princess knew an awful lot about the process of re-writing history. “I assume you have a plan,” he said.

The alicorn nodded. “I’m going to Canterlot to confront Her, as that is almost certainly where She is. This will be an extremely dangerous journey. Because of the distance effect, all of Canterlot will be loyal to Her. Now is there anything I need to know about Genevieve before I go?”

This question was addressed specifically to Blue Belle, who winced. “I messed up her life,” she told them reluctantly. “I made her so miserable that she thought that even Earth would be better than putting up with me.”

“I see,” said the Princess. She didn’t show the slightest bit of surprise at Blue Belle’s revelation. “Voltaire, I need you to come with me. Whatever magic made Her into a goddess, it must have come from Earth, and so I need your knowledge.” From her saddlebag, she floated out a golden necklace with an hourglass-shaped pendant. “As long as you’re wearing this, She can’t affect your memories.”

Voltaire nervously put it on.

Blue Belle used her magic to fish out another necklace. “I’m coming with you,” she said.

Celestia sighed. “Your presence would be very welcome, Blue Belle, but you must be very certain. No torment you can possibly imagine will match what we might have to go through before we succeed in this endeavor. We will be in the presence of a being capable of anything, a being with a legitimate reason to want to torture you. You will consider yourself lucky if She merely kills you. Stay here, under the shield. I’ll teach the unicorns how to maintain it, and even after it fails, you can still wear that necklace here in Stalliongrad and you’ll be safe.”

“And how long does this necklace last, Your Highness?” Blue Belle asked, her voice quavering. “Will it work even if you cease to exist?”


“Will it work as long as I live?”


Blue Belle looked up at Celestia with desperate, pleading eyes, as she asked, “Will it work until I can’t possibly stand being the only pony left in the world that remembers you and remembers Voltaire and remembers my father and remembers what this world was and what we were finally fixing it to?” She turned away and walked towards the door. “No, Your Highness,” she said, respectfully but firmly. “I won’t stay behind and live with that guilt when I know full well that I am the cause of this mess, and I am your best hope of getting through to that stubborn donkey. You’re saying that even if you succeed, it might have to be at the cost of my life. I’m still going. This is my purpose in life, to accept the blame even when it isn’t my fault.” She looked back, tears in her eyes. “And today it is my fault, so please, take me with you.”

“Alright,” said Celestia with a heavy heart. She passed out a dozen more necklaces to the members of the Council (and put one on herself), then showed the Sparkle Sisters how to maintain the shield spell. “I can’t take anypony else with me,” she said. “Speed and stealth are essential. If you work in shifts, the shield will hold out for about a month before the temporal gradient becomes so great as to collapse it. You should have plenty of time to put on the necklaces before that happens.”

“Good luck, Your Highness,” said Eveningstar.

Morningstar looked up from the ground, at a loss for words for a few moments, before smiling slightly. “I was always too proud to ever believe you were a goddess, but right now, I believe in you anyway,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” a teary-eyed Celestia said as she embraced them all with her wings. “It just so happens that I was made for outsmarting megalomaniacal gods.” She broke the hug, and walked outside, the others following her.

The Princess walked up to a vehicle and looked around. “I’m stealing this chariot!” she announced loudly with a grin. “You can prosecute me when I get back!”

Voltaire and Blue Belle secured themselves, and the Princess took off into the sky. She circled around to be sure that the two sisters below had taken over the shield spell before releasing control of it and flying through.

“So how many times have you done this before, Your Highness?” asked Voltaire from the back of the chariot. Thanks to a permanent enchantment, almost all pegasus chariots allow riders and fliers to converse regardless of wind speed. “Challenged a time-altering god with nothing but your wits?”

“Oh, a few dozen times, I think,” Celestia answered. “I can’t really be sure.”

“But you’ve never lost, right?” asked Blue Belle.

“Well that depends,” answered Celestia honestly. “If you mean ‘lost’ as in losing Equestria to a single willful individual,”—Voltaire caught the distinction between this and “a popular uprising based on class warfare”—“then no, I have never lost. But you must understand: if I ever did truly lose, then I would be stripped of the ability to remember that the challenge had ever taken place. There is no way of knowing how much I have truly lost to contests of this nature. I may have had brothers or sisters that I will never know I had. I could have ruled all of this planet, other worlds, even the universe. I may well have once been that God you believe in, Voltaire.”

“Are you then so attractive, that every god must come down from the heavens to challenge you?” Voltaire joked, trying to break Celestia’s growing melancholy.

“Oh, most of my challengers are home-grown,” Celestia replied with a little smile. “It’s the cutie marks, you see. The most powerful magic in all of Equestria. Before cutie marks, we ponies were the helpless prey of the predators of this world, paralyzed by our own fears. But with them, our power is unshakable, even without an ancient Princess pulling the strings. A cutie mark allows a pony to do anything, and I do mean anything.”

“So every two or three generations you’re forced to put down one of your own, then?” the human asked.

The Princess sighed. “You have to understand, they come from positions of such pain that they believe that only raw power will make things right. I have always been open to what they have to say. My greatest greatest friends, have come from those I have convinced to relinquish their power.”

“And how many have you been forced to kill?”

“You forget, Voltaire, that until a few weeks ago, it was not even possible to think of that word. I have resolved every one of these crises without violence. Either I have convinced my antagonist to relent...or I accepted that their world view was superior, and allowed them to have their way.”

“But surely you would not give up your crown willingly to an usurper!” exclaimed Blue Belle.

“Remember your history, Blue Belle, the public history as well as the one your family keeps secret. I stole control of Equestria from your ancestors. Surely you know that.”

Blue Belle snorted in disbelief. “Thanks to some rather disgusting perversions of biology, the only individual with an indisputable claim to all of Equestria is frozen in stone in your garden. I’m more than willing to look past matters of legitimacy to those of fitness. If the griffons did one of their blind tests for your job, nopony would have a better resume than yours, Your Highness.”

Celestia pretended not to notice that Blue Belle knew about the current location of Discord, the crown’s oldest state secret.

And Voltaire made a mental note to take a tour of the statue gardens in Canterlot if he ever got out of this alive.

Chapter 35

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 35

“It appears that the new goddess made a few changes in my former capital,” Celestia remarked lightly, as she flew the chariot around the outskirts of Canterlot.

She wasn’t fooling anyone with this tone, least of all herself.

Canterlot was the city where she had spent the majority of her unnaturally long life. Its annoyances had become endearing over the centuries for her, but now they were all swept away.

“She took away the palace?” Blue Belle remarked in an aggravated tone as she peered over the side of the carriage. She was pointedly ignoring the most obvious and impossible change to the city.

“Hmm...doesn’t appear to be any bureaucratic quarter at all, from this elevation,” added Voltaire. “Or even a nobles’ quarter.”

“She’s managed to create a working government without a bureaucracy or a nobility?” asked the Princess with a smirk. “I might as well give up right now!”

Voltaire caught on to Celestia’s tone. Realizing it was as much for her benefit as for their own, he decided to match it as a way to get the truth he felt the Princess didn’t want to admit to. “Alright,” he said in mock annoyance, “I’ve been meaning to wait for a better time to ask this, but I simply must know: where exactly does one go to buy one of those?”

He pointed, but was unable to look in the direction he was pointing. The same was true of Blue Belle. Floating a hundred ponyheights above the center of the reshaped Canterlot was a blazing incandescent ball—a second sun.

“That’s the Goddess Genevieve herself,” Celestia said, staring right at it, “or at least I think it’s her. An adult donkey with my proportions.”

“What is she doing up there?” Voltaire asked.

“Why, basking in the light of her own glory, of course,” Celestia answered, her tone still light. “I’m going to see what else she’s up to.”

Of course she can look at it, Voltaire thought to himself. It would be a pretty poor sun pony who lacked that talent. “Well don’t do that for too long,” he said, leaning forward with a wicked grin. “You could go blind.”

Celestia took in a sharp breath, causing the unicorn and human to freeze. “You’re not my mother!” Celestia cried out in the tones of a whiny teenager, then broke out into laughter at her own joke.

Blue Belle gasped in happy amazement at seeing the Princess refer to her family for the first time in what must have been centuries in anything other than rage or regret.

“Unfortunately,” Celestia added as she continued her examination, “the mere city below is not all that she sees.”

The other two dropped their grins, preparing for the worst.

“She’s watching that city for two things in particular. The first is unicorn magic.” As she said this, Celestia made her horn disappear, using the same “aspect magic” she had used with Voltaire in Stalliongrad. “And the second,” she continued, “is criminal intent.”

Voltaire sighed in sarcastic wonderment. “Ah, the dream of busybodies everywhere!” he exclaimed.

“She can do that?” Blue Belle asked nervously. “See into the minds of any pony She wishes?”

“She is a god, remember,” said Celestia. “But we ponies have our defenses. It would be difficult for her to look into the mind of any pony that resists her. But after all—”

“No wait,” interrupted Voltaire in annoyance, “I’m well versed in this particular argument.” He switched to a thin piping tone, obviously an imitation of a woman’s voice. “‘But after all,’” he asked, “‘if you have nothing to hide, then why can’t I stay in your bedroom and write down everything you say in your sleep?’”

“A marefriend of yours?” Celestia joked.

“Yes. Also my first biographer. Unwitting and unwilling, might I add.”

“And was this before or after your first—?” prodded Blue Belle.

“It was the cause of my second imprisonment in the Bastille, if you must know,” the human snapped. “I’m mostly mad because I never saw any royalties. Those were my words! I should have made something from them, something other than an exclusive invitation to spend time at the top prison in France.”

~ ~ ~

“I think it’s finally time we set hoof in the new Canterlot,” announced Celestia as she brought the chariot into a landing.

They were in a small clearing, not far from the northern road into the city.

“I think we need to do something about Blue Belle first,” replied Voltaire.

“Yes, I think this will be the last chance for either of us to use our unicorn magic, considering the prohibition in place.”

“But if you place an illusion on me, won’t that be detectable?” the filly asked.

“If I used a unicorn illusion? Yes, but I think you know the one I’d like to use on you instead.”

“‘Somepony Else’s Problem’,” Blue Belle said, giving her name of the strange ability demonstrated by Uncle K. “Canterlot should be crowded enough for it to work. But beware of small groups.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Celestia reached up with one faintly glowing hoof, and ran it through Blue Belle’s impeccable coat in the wrong direction, causing the fur to stand up.

And just like that, Voltaire’s eyes bounced off of Blue Belle, and found a cluster of blackberries much more interesting to look at. A cluster of blueberries that seemed to be silently screaming in terror.

Now you need to remember not to look at me,” a cluster of bees buzzed in the distance. The honking of a nearby goose was eminently more musical, less doom-laden, and fit for hearing.

“Considering that my eyes are having a conniption anytime they get anywhere close to you, I think that I can manage to obey that command,” said Voltaire, fighting down an irrational impulse to run somewhere that didn’t feel so incredibly wrong as the spot right next to him.

“Hmm...” Celestia mused. “Not enough S.E.P., and too much T.J.C.”

“‘T.J.C.’?” asked Voltaire.

“‘That’s Just Creepy’,” explained Celestia. Closing one eye for concentration, she brushed about half of the furrow she had made in Blue Belle’s fur back into place, then deepened the little chasm that was left. “There. That ought to do it.”

Voltaire looked around him once more. “Well, that is an improvement. Now I can barely detect the skip my eyeballs are making, and it no longer feels like Satan has come to collect.”

“Halt, in the name of Our Lady!” cried the pegasus captain as the two visible creatures parted the bushes to join the royal road. She was wearing a pure brown blanket on her back embroidered with an image of the planet of Equestria on either side, and she was wearing a woolen cap the color of the sky that rose like a truncated cone above her head. Behind her were a troop of her soldiers, made up mostly of earth ponies and pegasi, plus a zebra and a donkey.

Celestia and Voltaire both kneeled.

“What were you doing in that clearing?” the captain demanded.

“We were merely getting our bearings, Ma’am,” Celestia replied humbly. She dared to look up at her, and caught a glimmer of surprised recognition, quickly suppressed.

“What is your business in Canterlot?”

“We come to pay respect to Our Lady,” said Voltaire, using the term for Her used by the captain. By a supreme effort of will, he managed to do this without rolling his eyes.

“Not with those you won’t,” the captain said, reaching forward to examine the hourglass pendant around Celestia’s neck. Reaching into her saddlebag, she pulled out a couple of paper packets with her mouth and dropped them to the ground. “Put those on, clean yourselves up, and then get to the back of the line!” she barked. There was indeed a long line of ponies and other quadrupeds making their way through a checkpoint into the city.

“Oh thank you, Ma'am!” exclaimed Voltaire in false reverence, picking up and opening the packets. Each contained a horseshoe pendant on a silver chain.

“If I might be so bold as to ask for another favor in addition to these priceless gifts,” Celestia asked humbly, “might we be directed to this city’s center of worship?”

“Of...of course,” the pegasus said, startled. She proceeded to give them directions to the Cathedral of the Sacred Steed. Then she turned around to confront the soldiers who were sniggering at her loss of composure. “And what are you all looking at, maggots?!

The soldiers quickly fell into position.

“Now go along your business,” she gruffly instructed the disguised alicorn and human.

“Of course,” said Celestia, raising her head briefly so she could bow once again.

“N...none of that,” said the Captain. “We are all equal in Our Lady’s Equestria.”

Celestia and Voltaire backed into the clearing once again, to “clean up”.

In reality, though, Voltaire began to examine the pendants they had been given. At the same time, Celestia held the trade sheet they came in, so that Blue Belle could examine the ads that were printed on it.

“I do believe we have met the resistance,” concluded Voltaire in a low voice.

But how is that possible?” nobody asked. “I thought you said everypony in Canterlot was converted.

“My ponies never cease to amaze me,” Celestia said, her remarks seemingly addressed to Voltaire. “If there was any possible way to do it, they would have figured it out. Now what are you looking for, Voltaire?”

“A hidden symbol,” the human replied. “In the early days of the Christians, they were persecuted by the Romans for their potentially treasonous beliefs. To survive, they adopted their cross-shaped holy symbol into another that cleverly hid the cross in plain sight, allowing them to identify each other. Something like this.” He held up the horseshoe so that most of it was covered up by his thumbs. What was visible was the bottom of the U-shape, where a tiny golden rivet decorated the silver shoe. The symbol had seven of these rivets, just like the symbol Voltaire had seen in Stalliongrad, but this single rivet was additionally decorated with eight infinitesimal little blobs. At first glance, they might look like stress marks, like the artist was going out of her way to show that this nail had been driven really hard into the shoe. Or, if you were a little more artistically inclined, the rivet and splashes might look a great deal like...

My cutie mark!” Celestia squeaked in surprise.

Vive la Résistance,” remarked Voltaire in French.

Celestia briefly brought back her horn, to reshape the time pendants to be identical to the Resistance pendants.

“Wait, are you permanently changing their shape?” Voltaire asked. “Will they still work after that?”

“They were not hourglass-shaped as part of their function,” Celestia replied. “Rather they were hourglass-shaped so I could tell them apart from...the eye-shaped pendants.” She gave him a provocative look, just daring the human not to ask.

At first, Voltaire didn’t want to ask. He was after all getting a bad reputation for asking useless questions. They were on a supremely dangerous mission, and the mystery objects in question had been left back at Stalliongrad, so there was no possible way that the information would be of any use whatsoever, and might in fact prove to be a dangerous distraction to a famously distractible brain such as his own. But he was already doing such a good job of self-distraction wondering about them, so...

“Alright, I’m just going to fall right for your obvious trap: What do the eye-shaped pendants do?”

The alicorn laughed. “They create the illusion that you’re wide awake. Very useful for Royal Council meetings.”

“Hmm...” Voltaire mused. “I don’t remember ever seeing you wearing one in any of the meetings I’ve attended.”

“That should tell you something, shouldn’t it?”

“Yes, I suppose it does,” Voltaire said with a smile.

Celestia looked down at the newsprint draped over her upraised hooves. “Now what are you looking for, Blue Belle?” she asked.

An answer to my question of ‘how’,” a babbling brook replied. “And I found it on the second row, third ad from the right.

See feats never before seen by pony eyes!

Impossible escapes, incredible stories!

It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

“Hoofdini!” exclaimed Voltaire.

“His next show is in a couple of hours,” said Celestia, “but I want to see this church first. Let’s get to know this goddess.”

The three visitors had a long way to walk to reach the Cathedral of the Sacred Steed, because it was located in the exact center of Canterlot.

Along the way, Celestia and Voltaire (and a nimbly dodging Blue Belle) walked by dozens of shops. The streets were crowded with a bewildering variety of talking animals: earth ponies, pegasi, zebra, donkeys, griffons, oxen, even reindeer and camels. The visitors spent a couple of vain minutes trying to reach a couple of humans in European dress that they had spotted on the other side of a crowded square.

The underside of Canterlot’s extra sun was nowhere near as bright as it appeared to be outside the city limits. Here, Geneveive’s glowing form could be actually be gazed upon without crying out in pain, Her shape only somewhat blurred. Her limbs were tucked under Her like She was sitting on an invisible couch. Around Her was a white circle of light. The entire effect was that of a large brown eye looking down at the city.

“T.J.C.” remarked Voltaire in a sing-song voice, before changing the subject. “Well that’s interesting,” he said, looking straight ahead as continued to walk.

“What is?” asked Celestia.

“The change in architecture,” Voltaire said. “The shops in Canterlot used to have the living quarters on the second floor, much like Northern European shops back on Earth. This is more like the Mediterranean model, with the shop in front and....” He paused to walk up to a fence and peek over it. “...And the living quarters in the back, next to a nice courtyard with a fountain.”

Is that bad?” asked an out-of-tune harmonica from a nearby stall.

“Not bad,” said Voltaire, “just different. It tells me something about Our Lady’s approach. Our Lady...or her adviser.”

A few seconds later, the sound of a dusty blanket being beaten by an earth pony subtly morphed into a lecture. “Well I think it is bad,” it seemed to say. “If your husband is on the top floor he can debate politics with the neighbors and greet perfect strangers as they pass. Putting the husband in the back keeps him in line, keeps him from getting above his station.” The sarcastic-sounding blanket was clearly not happy with this state of affairs.

“Well I think that’s a bit much to conclude purely based on a piece of architecture,” Voltaire said to Celestia. Then he stopped in his tracks. “Although, the fact that all the males are in all-concealing burlap robes while the females wear nothing more than jewelry does lend credence to your theory.” He might have even called those robes “burqas” if they had been worn by human females. “Now what could you have possibly done to make Her mad at males as well as at unicorns?”

There was an uncomfortable silence before the crunch of gravel finally answered him: “I hope Zody didn’t do something stupid.

The Cathedral of the Sacred Steed was an immense hoof-shaped building. To use a system of measurement decades before it officially existed, the building measured 130 m long by 50 m wide, and 25 m tall. Three portals, each 3 m tall and 2 m wide, were set in the western flat end: the central one was closed, but the northern and southern ones were open. Surrounding and separating the portals was a wealth of quadrupeds and bipeds in stone relief, and all raised up so that they looked down upon the humble visitor. Above each portal was a magnificent stained glass window, 8 m by 2 m in size, and above those was a 12 m diameter circular window, also in stained glass. Extending up another 25 m on the north and south corners were two spires: the north one a half-circle in cross-section, and the other forming an extended cone with a spiral groove carved around it. Both shapes were truncated at a 30-degree angle (or 1/6 π radians, but that’s delving far deeper into the metric system than the translator cares to go at present). For the north spire, the truncation turned a pillar into a hoof upraised to the heavens, a symbol of hope. For the south spire, almost certainly representing a unicorn’s horn, the truncation left a much more ominous feeling in the observer.

“Is that the Pony Last Judgment?” Voltaire asked out loud, pointing at the image depicted by the circular window. “Then that means She did base this on a Catholic cathedral, almost certainly Chartres. She’s got good taste, I’ll give Her that.”

After removing their shoes, the visitors entered the north portal.

It was between services, so the building was deserted. Occasional tourists walked around the outside, looking at the stained glass dioramas, but no one else dared to walk inside.

The reason was obvious once you tried to enter: an oppressive silence that seeped into the soul. It was like this spot, more than any other, was under the “Eye” of Genevieve.

Inside, a low railing outlined the to-be expected horseshoe shape along the outer border of the cathedral. Between those railings was the wide central aisle the trio was walking down, and far ahead of them was another low fence separating the nave (the central approach) from the chancel (the sacred end of the cathedral). The chancel in turn contained a low marble table with a large black book on it, illuminated by a scintillating light from above. An angelic voice hanging in the beam seemed to hold an eternal high note.

On either side of them were rows of deep benches. Attached to the backs of the benches were metal stands holding open books.

Celestia leaned over to examine one of the books. “‘The Lady is our shepherd,’” she read out loud, “‘I shall not want.’”

A frowning Voltaire flipped through a few pages. “Not very original with her hymns, is She?” he remarked.

“A ‘shepherd’?” Blue Belle repeated incredulously. “I think I found something even more offensive than ‘voltige’!” She then realized how small of a group she was in and ducked into the space between benches to avoid being seen.

Celestia smiled at the remark, then looked around in alarm. “Voltaire, you better not—”

The church got visibly dimmer as the chancel light winked out and the voice faded into an annoyed groan before cutting off. Voltaire hopped over the little fence and skipped back to join them, the black book under his arm.

Celestia sighed.

“Do you want to know about Genevieve’s religion or not?” Voltaire asked with an “I dare you to wipe this look off of my face” grin. He put the book on top of the hymnal and opened it.

The lettering was completely incomprehensible to Celestia and a cautiously peeking Blue Belle. It was made up of stark black shapes, alternating thick and thin, curved and pointed, like something carved out of paper instead of printed. “What is that?” the Princess asked.

“Middle Low German,” answered Voltaire with distaste. “I wouldn’t be surprised if...” He flipped a few pages. “Yes, of course. Printed by Gutenberg himself. Typical, absolutely typical. A religion of revealed truths, the ‘Good News’ proclaimed for the masses, and that truth is deliberately written in a language that the common public can’t read. Catholic logic at its finest, gentlemares. Well give me some time to examine this, and I should have all the answers you need.”

“You’re going to get yourself arrested,” said Celestia.

“So?” asked Voltaire. “That will just get us taken to where we wanted to go in the first place.”

“We could be hauled before a magistrate instead of the Goddess,” said Blue Belle.

“No, I get the feeling that Our Lady is a very hooves-on sort of jenny,” the human replied. “Leave me here while you catch that show.”

Celestia wasn’t very happy with this, but it was already clear that no actual alarm had gone off when Voltaire had grabbed the book, and they really needed to find out both what Genevieve was doing and what the Resistance was up to as soon as possible, so she reluctantly sighed and led Blue Belle out of the cathedral.

“‘Am Anfang schuf Göttin Himmel und Erde,’” they heard Voltaire read out loud. “Hmph...a likely story!”

Chapter 36

View Online

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 36

The pegasus Celestia and the invisible unicorn Blue Belle made their way beyond the city limits of Upper Canterlot and into the seedier neighborhoods of Lower Canterlot to the southwest. From the buildings that they passed, nervous equines peered out from shuttered windows. There was the sound of fast, nearly out of control carts, but always two or three streets over, never where the two ponies were walking.

Celestia stopped by the side of a dark alley, to read a sign that was posted there:

Curfew Hours

Equines: One hour after sunset

Unicorns: Only allowed outside between
four hours after sunset and four hours before sunrise

Now, assuming that this Equestria has the same sixteen-hour clock as the one I used to be princess in, Celestia thought to herself, that would mean that no unicorn would ever be allowed to go outside during the summer, because during those months “four hours after sunset” would actually be later than “four hours before sunrise”. She also noticed that the words on the sign stating this rule had been defaced repeatedly, most-recently by replacing it with “Only allowed outside when you’re dead, screwheads!

She felt a leg being tapped by a pony who wasn’t there, and looked in the direction indicated, down the alley. She couldn’t see anything but a lot of junk, but eventually she detected the sound of labored breathing. Cautiously, Celestia made her way inside, past piles of trash that had been thrown in here from the surrounding streets. Blue Belle followed, becoming more and more visible as they moved out of the public eye.

Circling around one of these piles, Celestia and Blue Belle discovered a unicorn shivering in place. He had a faint blue coat and equally faint red mane and tail. His cutie mark appeared to be a set of hooves running, but that was hard to make out, because there were lines of scars cutting through and around them. The tip of his horn had been sawed off and, by the clear liquid at its tip, it had been done quite recently. A shocked Celestia considered it a wonder that he wasn’t unconscious from the immense pain he must be feeling. He looked up hopefully at her for a moment, until he saw what breed he was facing. Then with a sigh, he kneeled his front knees and presented his neck...

...A neck that was completely covered with bruises and barely healed cuts in the shapes of an equine’s hooves.

Celestia slowly backed out of the alley, her eyes tearing.

That’s it,” she decided, “I’m not letting Her have Equestria.

~ ~ ~

Blue Belle, though, had not left the alley. She reached out a hoof in compassion. The unicorn looked at it in confusion, his mind trying to reconcile a pony that was there and not there at the same time. Then he looked up at her face.

“YOU!” he roared in sudden recognition, his face contorted with rage.

Blue Belle turned and ran, the colt dashing at her, trying to catch her tail in his teeth. She made it out of the alley, and was jerked to one side by Celestia.

The unicorn colt emerged into the light, and winced. He looked around him in panic, as windows and doors opened. He looked back into the alley, but knew that it was too late. That was until something indescribable stepped in front of him, and his potential persecutors decided that he was somepony else’s problem.

The majestic pegasus stood there and looked down at him, in a way that only unicorns had ever looked at him before. She reached out a hoof to his side. He curled into a ball, but all she did was mess up his fur.

Something changed at that moment, but he could not be sure if it was himself that changed, or the rest of the world.

The pegasus stood up and casually walked away, as if she had never seen him. Doing this revealed the existence of a muscular earth pony, who had come out of one of the doorways.

The unicorn froze. There was no way that he hadn’t been seen.

“What were you just doing?” the earth pony asked the pegasus.

“Nothing,” the pegasus said casually over her shoulder.

The earth pony looked cautiously around him. For a moment, his eyes were about to rest upon the unicorn colt, but then they just skipped past, and kept on looking.

The colt turned his head, to see that another tall pony had suddenly materialized beside him. He immediately noticed the odd trough in the fur of her side, and checked to see that the pegasus had given him an identical mark. He then looked up into the eyes of the Devil herself.

Why?” he asked, utterly stupefied.

Because I stand by my own,” Blue Belle growled back at him in a strange non-voice. Then she turned and followed the departing pegasus. “I trust you to be smart enough to know what to do with your gift.

The colt spent several seconds examining his new mark, and wondering about the way his voice no longer sounded like it was coming from him, or any other pony. He saw the ponies emerging from the houses, and how none of them saw him. He felt something then that he had never felt in his entire life. He tentatively decided to label this new emotion as “hope”.

Celestia walked into the decrepit box office of the theater where Hoofini was scheduled to perform. Walking up to the booth, she asked, “Is there any chance I can get in there early?”

The creature inside shifted its head, revealing himself to be the Diamond Dog magician Woofston. “He’s doing rehearsals right now, ma’am,” he said politely, his eyes trained on a pile of paperwork before him. “It’s exceedingly dangerous. You can go in and watch, if you sign this waiver.”

Celestia leaned down to read the extremely fine print of the waiver. “I the undersigned,” she muttered to herself as she read over it. “ the case of my complete dismemberment? ...when the knives come to life? ...soul permanently lodged in my left hindhoof??” Her eyes flicked up, and Woofston started back, but at that moment she saw the reason for the ridiculous waiver and its tiny print: it forced an equine to lean forward so that Woofston could examine the horseshoe symbol hanging around her neck.

It was also clear that he recognized her.

The disguised alicorn signed the document with a flourish. “Celestia,” she wrote, without the “P.” in front because she wasn’t currently a reigning princess of anywhere. However, she was cheeky enough to add a comma and “Solar Mechanic” afterwards, to distinguish herself from all the other Celestias out there.

Woofston left the booth, and used a key around his neck to lock the front doors of the theater. “Follow me,” he said, bypassing the doors to the auditorium for a smaller locked door that led into a badly-lit hallway. “There is no way I’m giving up a dramatic opportunity like this!”

The unseen Blue Belle quickly followed.

~ ~ ~

The hallway appeared to lead towards the backstage area. As they walked, the diamond dog and two followers were able to hear more and more of what was going on onstage and in the auditorium: Hoofdini and the small number of ponies in the audience were calling out to each other, one at a time.

She uses her sun to make our crops grow,” a voice said.

She listens to our complaints, and makes sure that her justice is carried out throughout Equestria,” said another.

She is kind and she is sweet and she loves us all like we were her own foals,” said a rather young voice.

Celestia and Blue Belle turned a corner, and were able to look out on the audience from the darkness offstage. The earth pony magician was standing at one side of the stage, and next to him was an illusory version of Princess Celestia. Both of them were facing the audience. The illusion’s appearance was altering slightly with every statement made by the small crowd in the audience, but it appeared to be becoming more and more solid.

This is like the spell I used to recover Genevieve’s drawing,” the curtains whispered excitedly. “Only they’ve figured out how to do it without unicorn magic. They’re combining their fractured memories into a whole! Using the power of the herd to resist losing who they were.

“She is fair to all of her ponies,” Hoofdini announced to the ponies in the seats below very deliberately. “Earth pony, pegasus, unicorn, or any of the other sapient races—all are treated equally.”

Celestia nodded to herself as she recognized what he was doing: not only recreating the world as it was, but improving it as well. Well, two could play at the game of rejiggering reality.

Seeing the rather large backside of the phantom princess, Celestia grinned mischievously. Projecting her voice out into the crowd, she announced, “And no matter how much she ate, Princess Celestia never ever gained any weight.” And as she said this she strode forward, taking the place of her image.

The crowd erupted into applause, thinking this was part of Hoofdini’s magic. At least until they saw him fall prostrate at her hooves, at which point they did the same.

“Rise,” she said proudly to him and the other prone ponies, “Your princess has returned to you.”

After individually greeting each of the couple dozen ponies in the audience, Celestia was ushered backstage by the two magicians. “There’s somepony who wants to see you,” Hoofdini told her. “The pony responsible for anypony remembering you.”

He opened the door, to reveal a very surprised Prince Blueblood. He was mostly surprised because nopony should have been able to see him: he had instructed an earth pony in how to apply the “Somepony Else’s Problem” mark to his own coat.

Daddy!” Blue Belle cried in her phantom voice, springing forward to embrace him.

Oh Belle, oh Belle!” the Prince said rapturously in a similar tone. “I missed you so much. But you shouldn’t have come. You have no idea how much danger you are in.

I had to come,” she told him, tears of joy streaming down her face. “Both to talk Genevieve down, and because I had to know what happened to you.

“What did happen to you?” Celestia asked. “Your memories should have been rewritten along with everypony else’s.”

Luck, Your Royal Highness, pure luck,” Blueblood answered her, rubbing the furrows out of his and his daughter’s sides so they could more comfortably converse. “I had Hoofdini over at my apartment for a private audience that night. The crowds baying every day for my blood had gotten a bit much, and I asked him to help me remember the Canterlot of my childhood. I think it was that experience, that earth pony spell, that protected us at the precise moment when Geneveive arrived. We left my apartment to find everypony racing to do homage to their new and perpetual goddess.”

“And I am thankful that the Prince knew instantly what had happened,” added Hoofdini. “Without him, I would have lost my concentration trying to find out what was going on, and we both would have been lost.”

“How did you know what was going on?” Blue Belle asked.

“I remembered a fairy tale,” answered Blueblood, “‘The Village of Topsy-Turvy,’ which covered this exact circumstance, a fairy tale that you read to me as a foal, Princess.”

Celestia nodded. “Yes, I always like to prepare as much as possible for the once-per-generation disasters; I find that it saves time. I’ll definitely need to remember to tell that particular fairy tale much more in future, having seen this beneficial side effect.”

“How has the resistance been going?” Celestia asked.

“Not very well,” Blueblood said with a sigh. “Genevieve can most definitely see through earth pony illusions. We have been slowly recruiting non-unicorns, but the fact that there is no government makes it hard: the only person to overthrow is the goddess Herself, or her human adviser. ‘The Archbishop of Canterlot’, he calls himself. He lives in the Cathedral of the Sacred Steed.”

“Then we must have been lucky not to have met him yet,” Celestia told him. “I can only hope that Voltaire hasn’t been captured there—we left him at the Cathedral to collect information. He thinks he knows who this archbishop is. Our next course of action should be to return there, learn what Voltaire knows, and then confront the adviser.”

“I’ll gather my forces,” Blueblood said, walking towards the door.

“I’ll take care of it,” said Woofston. “You need to spend some time with your daughter.”

Celestia made her way to the door. “I’m afraid we can’t wait too much longer—I’d much rather that we were all caught together rather than separately. I’ll come back to this room in a half hour, to give you two time to say whatever you need to say in private. And as for those forces, Blueblood, realize that this will be a mental confrontation, not a physical one.”

“Understood,” the Prince replied. “And perhaps you need to realize that you sometimes need to get through a physical confrontation to get to the mental one.”

The pegasus Celestia was walking back to the Cathedral of the Sacred Steed, with pegasi comfortably spaced on either side for her to talk to. But that was only for show. In reality, she was talking with Invisible Blueblood and his invisible daughter, who were walking between the pegasi and herself.

She had already explained to Blueblood how it was only Genevieve who had the power to fix things.

Assuming that she’ll listen to reason—of which I have my doubts—then that means She’ll also be able to impose any additional changes that we can convince Her to make,” he said.

“Yes, I suppose,” Celestia said cautiously.

We could implement better representation of breeds into the Royal Guard,” he suggested.

“I already started that on the Expedition,” Celestia replied. “And I didn’t need to alter reality to do it.”

Well, we could implement better representation of breeds in the Royal Council,” said Blueblood. “Something like a Minister of Earth Pony Affairs, or perhaps an earth pony Minister of Agriculture?

Already done,” said Blue Belle. “And again, didn’t need a goddess to pull it off.

Let’s about a better mix of breeds and species in Canterlot? What we have right now under Genevieve isn’t too bad—it’s one of the few good points of this reality.

Celestia said nothing for a second as she looked at the supposed unicorn breedist beside her. “Well, I can ask,” she finally said. “But the fact of the matter is, all of these equines came from somewhere, probably ripped from their homelands by divine order. There are strong historical reasons why Canterlot is so highly unicorn in nature. If you don’t intend to rip out that history, then you’re sort of stuck with the consequences.”

I know!” suggested Blue Belle. “You should take a student every generation or three, to teach your wisdom to. Then let them out into the world as your own personal envoy for change.

“Actually,” said Celestia, “that already happens to me, through no deliberate action of my own. My last one, Turquoise, died while Blueblood was still a young colt.”

Oh, I remember him!” the Prince exclaimed. “Best jester you ever had, Your Highness.

“Yes, that was back when you were...more like you are now. I noticed the way those other ponies looked at you as you made your way through the theater.”

The situation required a different Blueblood,” the unicorn explained simply.

“Perhaps we should work on devising a form of Equestrian government that does not require that other Blueblood,” Celestia said delicately as they crossed the threshold of the empty cathedral and stopped to remove their shoes. Night was falling, and the interior was poorly illuminated by flickering candlelight.

Blueblood was silent throughout this process. “Yes,” he finally said as the group began to walk down the aisle. “That would be a good suggestion.

How about rotating the location of the Summer Sun Celebration so it isn’t in Canterlot every year?” asked Blue Belle. “That way you would be aware of abuses in government much more easily.

“That would be easy enough to do,” said Celestia.

But it wouldn’t need a goddess,” added Blueblood.


What if we supplement the Council with one of those parlements that Voltaire keeps talking about?” asked Blueblood. “Make the government more responsive to the popular will.

“Ah, now that is the sort of change that would only be supported with centuries of precedent, the perfect request for a goddess. Hello, Voltaire.” They had stopped at the bench where he was sitting.

“How many houses are you thinking of?” the human asked, getting up. “I got a crash course in comparative government just from studying a couple weeks of recent griffon history. I can tell you this right off: one doesn’t work. It tends to react wildly to surges of popular opinion, leading to bad laws that then have to be cancelled by later laws.”

Well the griffons started off with two houses because of their basic split in political philosophy,” said Blue Belle.

“Wait a second,” realized Voltaire. “How many invisible ponies am I conversing with?”

“Two,” said Celestia. “The other is Blueblood.”

“Blueblood!” exclaimed Voltaire in surprise. “Well...welcome to the good fight and all that. Now to return to our discussion, the English Parliament has two houses: one for the lords, and one for everyone else. And the French, on the rare occasions of their parlement, have three houses: one for lords, one for priests, and one for everyone else. Perhaps you should also have three houses, for your three breeds of pony. I mean it’s well and good to think of the zebra and the buffalo, but if your latest census was correct, they just don’t have big enough numbers in Equestria to deserve their own house.”

We want to avoid conflict between the breeds, not encourage it by setting up antagonistic houses of government,” said Blue Belle. “Perhaps we could use the traditional governments of the breeds, but open each up to all inhabitants of Equestria. From the unicorns, a House of Lords, with the Princess encouraged to give out titles to deserving members regardless of breed or race. From the earth ponies, a House of Commons, with representation based on the city or village you live in. And from the pegasi, a House of Elders, pulled from the retired members of the Royal Guard, the Mayoralties, and several other worthy posts.

Very good!” exclaimed Archbishop Algarotti as he emerged from the shadows. “I’ll be sure to offer up that suggestion—after Our Lady has erased you all from existence.”

Chapter 37

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 37

Francesco Algarotti, Archbishop of Canterlot, Governor Plenipotentiary of Earth, the most powerful mortal on two worlds, and Close Personal Friend of Our Lady Genevieve, certainly had this to say for himself: he looked good in a brown cassock.

The heavily powdered and perfumed periwig of his previous lifetime was nowhere to be seen, revealing his natural wavy black hair underneath a brown, non-magical skullcap. In his right hand he held the wooden handle of a brass walking stick, although there appeared to be no reason short of vanity for the man to be using a walking stick in the first place. The human had a broad confident smile on his face, but that did not keep his left hand out of a hip pocket, a pocket which had a suspicious bulge in it. A brief frown flitted across his face, as he realized that the pocket contained two items: his “insurance”...and a rather embarrassing good luck charm that he’d rather not have his fellow human realize that he had.

“What are you going to do to us?” asked Blue Belle, after quickly removing her S.E.P. enchantment.

Seeing this, Blueblood did the same.

Algarotti turned his attention to the group. “I will do nothing,” he said in perfect Equine, walking calmly towards them down the central aisle. “It is She who will bestow upon you the fate for which you prove yourselves deserving.” On saying the word “She”, he gestured dramatically toward the ceiling with the upraised walking stick, following it with his eyes.

Everyone’s eyes looked up in trepidation. Well, almost everyone’s. Voltaire, who had been the victim of pickpockets multiple times in the past, kept his attention on Algarotti’s left hand, the one in the pocket. Sure enough, he saw the Italian remove his hand and toss away an object. An object which turned out to be an unpainted rubber ring. It was the same doggy chew-toy that the Burr Linn mental patient had stolen from Equestria by use of the magic pencil, which in turn led Voltaire to almost be eviscerated by Captain Hardheart when he was suspected of its robbery.

Voltaire had a very good memory of objects tied to potential eviscerations. Particularly his own.

Algarotti kept talking, but Voltaire paid no attention, his eyes instead riveted on the trajectory of the rubber ring. Slowly it wobbled through the air, supported by the magic spell that refused to let it drop below chest height to a pony. After a few seconds, it drifted over the fence separating nave from chancel, before finally coming to a halt over the table Voltaire had stolen the sacred text from. This, by some sort of automatic mechanism, caused the holy light and angelic choir to reactivate.

Voltaire pointed a quivering hand at the now venerated chew-toy, his eyes watering up and a stupendous guffaw building in his gut.

Blue Belle squelched this reaction by stomping hard on his foot.

Voltaire glared at her. “What was that for?!” he hissed.

We are being judged for our lives by an almighty goddess right this very second!” the unicorn whispered back. “A goddess that has obviously sent this human down here to bait us into some sort of inappropriate action, so She will be perfectly justified in doing whatever She wishes to us. That being the case, I am not going to have the fate of Equestria decided by an overgrown child’s attack of the giggles!” Putting the tip of her hoof to her mouth, she made a low whistling sound.

The ring responded by floating lazily back a half pony-width, which caused the sound and lightshow to turn back off. The ring stopped moving at the precise moment that Blue Belle stopped whistling.

“Well, that’s an interesting feature,” said Voltaire on seeing this. “I suppose it goes faster if you whistle louder?”

“Voltaire, will you please pay attention?” asked Celestia. Then, rolling her eyes, she added, “yes, it goes faster if you whistle louder.”

“Algarotti, my consecrated boy, you’ve just got to get me one of those after Our Lady is finished scooping out most of my gray matter,” Voltaire said to the other human as they both stood in the aisle. He then proceeded to squeeze past him. “Excuse me, pardon me, bless me,” he said as he skirted past.

Blue Belle face-hooved.

When he reached the large doors at the front of the cathedral, Voltaire threw them open, revealing a sizeable group of curious equines, including Prince Blueblood’s supporters. “Oh, don’t mind them,” Voltaire said over his shoulder. “I just do better with more people around. Doesn’t matter if they’re laughing at my jokes or demanding my execution, I’ve just got to have an audience.”

“I’ve noticed, you glory-mongering brat,” Algarotti said in a low voice. He then moved his hand away from the brass part of the walking stick and back to the wooden handle. “It does not matter to me, Friend Voltaire,” he continued more loudly. “I address my remarks to Our Glorious Lady, who sees all and knows all.”

Algarotti’s move caught Blue Belle’s attention.

“I will begin by informing you of your history,” said Algarotti. “A history every equine and human now knows from birth, and which you were willing to profane a holy relic to obtain.

“Our Lady, the glorious Genevieve, is the guardian and protectress of two worlds: Earth and Equestria.” He pointed with his staff at the round stained-glass window that hung over the central portal to the cathedral, the “Last Judgment”. The adult Genevieve, with her eyes closed, sat on a golden throne between two planets, each looking as they might look from their respective moons. Each planet was surrounded by a series of circular portraits of typical humans and equines of various types, all prostrate and awaiting their eternal fates. “At first,” Algarotti continued, “She thought to leave the peoples of these worlds to their own devices. But the Earthlings and the Equestrians soon proved themselves unworthy of liberty. The humans were cruel to each other, declaring war on each other on the flimsiest of excuses, and treating friendship and kindness as weaknesses to be exploited. Meanwhile the equines proved themselves too weak and trusting, allowing themselves to be ruthlessly taken advantage of by any of the neighboring carnivores willing to do so, and utterly incapable of independent thought.”

Algarotti rested his hands on the handle of his walking stick as he fixed his contemptuous glare on his listeners, daring them to refute his words. Celestia merely smiled mysteriously at him, showing her confidence through experience that his statement about her ponies was in no way universal.

Voltaire, meanwhile, crossed his arms and looked away. “I’ll be the first to admit that my fellow humans are grievously flawed,” he said finally, “but we have our virtues as well.”

“Yes,” replied the archbishop, tapping the stick on the ground, “but I find that human virtue increases in inverse proportion to the ability to control one’s destiny. If a human is free to do anything he wishes without fear of punishment, he will oppress his fellow man.” He then deliberately moved his hands to hold the walking stick by the body instead of the handle. “I believe you yourself could testify to this, Voltaire,” he said with a wicked smile.

Voltaire looked back over at Algarotti. “Do you?” he asked.

“Yes, I do,” Algarotti said smugly. “You were educated by the Jesuits, were you not?” He did not wait for an answer before continuing. “Well the Jansenists tell me that the Jesuits were notorious for their perversions against their students. Their young, male students. What, pray tell, did they do to you?”

A shocked Celestia looked back and forth between the two humans. “Voltaire...?” she said gently, raising a hoof to rest on her adviser’s shoulder.

Voltaire swiftly swatted it away, his cold dead stare fixed on Algarotti. “How dare you!” he barked.

The ponies involuntarily stepped away. It was the angriest they had ever seen him. With the exception of Celestia’s memories belonging to times long past and places far distant, it was the angriest any of them had ever seen a living creature.

Blue Belle noticed how Algarotti eagerly switched his grip on the walking stick once again, to rest on the wood instead of the brass.

“Do you think I am that simple to understand?” Voltaire asked. His hands were gripped on the back of a pew, to stop himself from doing more than merely talking in response to this provocation. “That my biographers smugly conclude that ‘Voltaire opposes the corruptions of the Church, so surely he himself must have been a victim of the most-heinous version of that corruption’? You do not know me, sir, you do not know me at all!” He closed his eyes for a moment to calm himself, then stood straight and turned away. “I am not to be explained, to be brushed away, merely as someone fighting an injustice for no other reason than because I was a victim of said injustice. I oppose the vices of the Church because I respect what Christianity was founded to accomplish, and because I mourn the potential it had, so sadly wasted in the present day.” Voltaire sighed. “I will not deny that the disgusting crimes you allude to never take place, but they are rare, exceedingly rare. And the Church is not the only place where such things occur. It is—”

“A flaw of the human race,” Algarotti finished. “Thank you for making my point for me.” He waited in vain for Voltaire to say something more. “The Gracious Genevieve saw these flaws, and sought to involve herself more with her two worlds, but she had to know more. So she allowed herself to be born as a mortal donkey.”

The ponies turned and followed Algarotti as he walked along the north wall of the cathedral, pointing one by one at the stained glass windows above them. Voltaire had to suppress a grin at a Nativity scene precisely identical to the one so often portrayed in European art, but with the humans replaced by donkeys and the donkey replaced by a rather startled-looking cloaked human. Like the former Genevieve, this incarnation was the daughter of a government employee, although the figure of Celestia in the windows was always veiled.

“These windows are very well lit,” noted Celestia with a frown. “You wouldn’t by any chance—“

“Well, this is a special occasion,” Algarotti said with a smirk.

So it was true: Genevieve was yanking her sun around the sky willy-nilly, just to illuminate a stained glass light show an hour after sunset was supposed to occur. Celestia groaned at the damage the goddess had just done to the local agriculture, not to imagine the amount of blind panic being unleashed in the streets of every city in the realm.

“Problem?” the human asked with a twinkle in his eye.

“Just get this over with,” Celestia replied, then froze as her eyes met the next window.

The window showed Genevieve’s mortal mother dying in a hospital with a mottled face, while a parallel scene showed Blue Belle with the same symptoms being treated by magic in a much better hospital, and surviving the experience. In the bottom right corner of the image, Prince Blueblood was whispering lies into the ear of a veiled Princess Celestia about what happened.

Celestia glanced over at Blueblood, who showed not a trace of guilt.

Algarotti saw the reaction. “The unicorns’ first crime against Our Lady,” he said smugly.

“Or maybe,” said Blueblood darkly, “the mother died of an incurable blood disease, my daughter had the mumps, and somebody chose to remember the facts differently in order to have somepony to blame.”

Algarotti smiled brightly as he glanced up at the ceiling. “Keep it up,” he said lightly, his hands on the brass part of the walking stick. “Your feedback is so appreciated.”

Blueblood scowled at the human, as he once again adjusted his grip on the walking stick/pointer.

A wide window in the center of the north wall showed young Genevieve in a playground, being jeered at by pegasi led by Blue Belle. She was using her magic to levitate some rocks, with the intention of throwing them at her.

“Never happened,” said the accused unicorn, her nose in the air. After a moment, though, she lowered it. “Well, there was that one time, but that was collateral damage. Those pegasi deserved everything that was coming to them. And what was she doing on campus anyway?”

The answer to that question was revealed in the identity of the pony the attacked donkey had been walking towards in that scene: Zody Sparkle.

Another window depicted an idealized Zody, surrounded by images of flowers, crystals, castles and a double throne.

“Inspired by love,” Algarotti narrated, “Our Lady created art of such astounding perfection that all who saw it were transformed. Hate turned to love, and cruelty into kindness. With this art, Equestria could have been truly turned into a paradise.”

Blue Belle rolled her eyes. Genevieve’s art was good, sure, she thought to herself, but this was getting ridiculous.

“But the evil Blue Belle desired the pure Zodiacal Light for her very own, so she struck back with the unfair advantage of her magic.” And Algarotti pointed triumphantly to the large stained glass window situated at the very tip of the hoof shape of the cathedral, behind the table.

The window showed a vast conflagration, clearly lit by the horn of a maniacal Blue Belle, that consumed all of Genevieve’s art. Apparently the Genevieve of this story could not survive without it, for she willingly leapt into the flames. A mesmerized Zody Sparkle was pressed up against the white unicorn like a cat in need of scratching.

“There is little to tell after that,” Algarotti said. “The Goddess came to me, and together we devised the appropriate system for ruling first humans, then equines, in the manner in which they deserved. She brought Leibniz’s philosophy to life for the employing the philosophy of Machiavelli.”

Once again, Blue Belle noted how Algarotti would change his grip upon his staff any time he was about to say something controversial.

“And is this your idea of the ‘Best of All Possible Worlds’?” Voltaire asked incredulously, pointing at the large stained glass window making up much of the southern wall of the cathedral.

The image mostly showed separate scenes of humans and equines living in peace with each other. On the Equestrian side, all of the figures were precisely the same size, but on the Terrestrial side, one human was ever so slightly larger: Archbishop Algarotti, and he held up a tiny little pencil like it was a baton he was going to use to conduct an orchestra. The image of perfect harmony was ruined, however, by two small additions: in the corner of the first image, angry humans threw fruit at other humans, and in the corner of the other, donkeys, zebras, earth ponies and pegasi threw fruit at unicorns. Looking closely, the ponies could see that the victimized humans were all wearing black armbands marked with the symbol of a double-headed eagle.

Scapegoating?” Voltaire asked. “This is the answer to two worlds’ problems?”

“Yes, Voltaire, precisely that,” answered Algarotti in a patronizing tone. “Humans and equines alike are consumed by a need for fairness. Not for themselves, because everyone is convinced that they alone are the exception to the justice system, and must be shown compassion for their missteps.” He spoke the word “compassion” with utter contempt, and punctuated it by pounding the end of his staff on the floor. “But when a stranger breaks the law, that stranger must be punished!” Algarotti used his staff to point at the same window as Voltaire as he continued his explanation. “Our system divides the world into but two classes: the Blessed, and the Damned, and unlike the old world, the Blessed are in the clear majority. The Blessed are willing to have their every action and every thought monitored, knowing that any serious infraction against another of their class will result in their transformation into one of the Damned. In return, the Blessed may do anything they want against the Damned without consequences. Because the Damned aren’t really people. For the equines, the unicorns are the Damned, for their contemptuous misuse of power. For humans, it is the Austrians, for the centuries of interference in Italian and German politics.”

“And how, pray tell, could you distinguish the Austrians so easily from the Prussians, who must surely be at the head of the armies of the Blessed?” asked Voltaire with a small smirk.

“Accent,” Algarotti tossed off.

Voltaire face-palmed. “Yeah, that system couldn’t possibly be abused,” he said, his head still in his hand.

“It’s a good system!” Algarotti protested.

“Yes, and I suppose you use the magic pencil as a lie detector,” Voltaire tossed off.

“I don’t need the pencil anymore,” Algarotti bragged. “Not since I talked Genevieve into signing her own apoth...” He suddenly caught himself, and scowled.

Voltaire raised a brow in triumph. “It must be a tight fit for the genie inside one of those,” he remarked, looking significantly at Celestia. He then turned back to Algarotti and put on a receptive face. “I’m sorry, I interrupted you yet again. You were stacking additional hyperbole upon this wonderful system of yours, yes?”

Algarotti took a moment to collect himself. “You may scoff at our system, but the fact is that it genuinely works. The rate of violent crime on Earth is less than half of that of the era of the Paces Romana and Sinica.”

“Well of course!” Voltaire exclaimed sarcastically. “I don’t imagine that crime would be very common when your thoughts are not your own. How could you do this to your own kind, Algarotti? You’ve reduced us all to puppets for Her amusement! What purpose is left in our lives in Her brave new world? More importantly, what purpose has She left Herself?”

Her purpose?” Algarotti asked in disbelief. “The purpose of Our Lady is to guide us to the meeting of our destinies.”

“But this is not ‘guiding’, it’s controlling!” Voltaire replied with indignation. “The system you describe voids free will. This may not mean much for an Equestrian, or even for the masses of humans who toiled under absolute despots, but a pitifully small band of Europeans hoped to accomplish great things with free will. To transform the world and one day make all of us into equals.”

Now it was Celestia who was looking at him in disbelief. Meanwhile Algarotti was so flabbergasted that his mouth was opening and closing like a fish.

“It’s a new trick I learned from an old dog,” Voltaire explained. “Anybody is capable of noble acts, given the right education, education of both facts and ideology. The existence of aristocracy today is the result of not having the resources or willpower to give that education to all.

“But I ask you once again, Archbishop, as stand-in for the absent goddess: What is Her purpose? By making us all Her ‘little humans’ and ‘little ponies’, She has reverted herself into the foal She truly is. When is the Deity going to set aside Her toys, and grow up?


So demanded the voice of a goddess.

Chapter 38

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 38

With the sound of a thunderbolt, the goddess Genevieve landed upon the streets of Canterlot, accompanied by a small entourage. There was Her father, still reeling days after Her apparent return from the dead. There was the silent human girl Jenny, her wide eyes taking in everything around her. And there was Her “consort” Zody, who was busy drooling onto the pavement because he didn’t have enough of a mind left to know how to close his mouth.

With Her arrival, equines fled in every direction, but Genevieve’s attention was focused squarely on the blasphemer defiling Her sacred cathedral. With the slightest glint of Her eyes, everything that wasn’t nailed down in the building was teleported to Her presence.

Yup, I still got it, Voltaire thought to himself smugly, before he realized the change in his surroundings. He looked around him to see that a couple of folding chairs, the table, and the floating ring had accompanied them on their journey through the Horrifying Dimension That Shall Not Be Spoken of Again.

The holy book that he had been skimming dropped to the ground with a loud “thump!”, causing Voltaire to jump. With a sigh, he turned to face the Celestia-sized donkey before him. “So, is somebody unwilling to take a little honest criticism?”

Genevieve’s reply was a lightning bolt to the face.

Celestia and Blueblood rushed over to examine Voltaire’s twitching form.

He’ll live, in case you’re wondering,” Genevieve replied, her voice amplified and deepened.

Celestia looked up to examine her adversary. The goddess Genevieve had the long legs of an alicorn, but the brown color and facial structure of a fully-grown donkey mare. Instead of irises, Her eyes glowed a pure white. Seeing how She could do by pure willpower anything that a horn or wings might do, She didn’t bother with either.

“Were you even listening to a word he was saying?” Celestia asked. “Those were legitimate complaints, by and large.”

The opinions of humans I have found are completely worthless,” the goddess replied. “Present company excluded,” She added, waving a hoof at Algarotti.

“You make a poor choice in advisers,” said Blue Belle, “as you would see if you ever bothered to examine his ‘lying stick’.” She used her telekinesis to snatch the staff away from Algarotti and throw it at the donkey.

You dare to use unicorn magic against me?!” Genevieve caught the stick easily with Her magic and brought it to rest at Her hooves. Then, wondering at the name that Blue Belle had given it, She rested one hoof lightly on its bronze surface and looked up in shock and betrayal. “Francesco, why am I unable to hear My own thoughts when I am touching your staff?

“Ahhh....” the human stalled.

With a toss of the head, Genevieve laid Algarotti out with the same spell She had just used on Voltaire, blasting him back against a nearby wall. “I’ll deal with you later,” She said, before turning Her attention towards Celestia. “Sun Princess, I hold you personally responsible for allowing the corruption and discrimination that marked My mortal life to take hold. Having already taken away your power over the Sun, why should I stay your punishment for a single moment longer?

Celestia looked down at the prone Voltaire for a moment before standing up, fixing Genevieve with a defiant stare. “Because you could actually learn how to govern from somepony with the proper experience.” She gestured around her with a hoof. “These are elementary mistakes, the kind I made in abundance when I first became princess. But I learned from my mistakes, and while You are right that there was much wrong in my Equestria, it was better than it had been, and it was on its way to getting much better in the future. Voltaire here had made me aware of the problems that made Your life so awful, and I was working on some solutions when—”

Too little, too late,” Genevieve said curtly. “You had three quarters of a millennium after you banished Nightmare Moon. And in that time you failed to come up with a long-term solution to the dragons, and created a slow-motion disaster with the griffons.” It was clear that Genevieve had at least skimmed Equestria’s history, both public and secret, since Her apotheosis. “All while throwing dozens of ponies into the past in a vain attempt to save your sister.

Celestia’s fur visibly bristled. “You are mistaken, My Lady,” she said coldly. “All of those poor ponies sacrificed themselves by their own choice, not mine.” She looked at the ground in sadness. “It appears that the corruption and banishment of Luna are two fixed points in time, incapable of being altered.”

Genevieve formed a dark smile on her lips. “Yes, and every time traveler who visited the era had a greater and greater adverse effect on both of your minds, making the tragedy more and more impossible to prevent!” She thought for a few moments, as both Voltaire and Algarotti began to stir. “I could prevent that tragedy, you know. You deserve a proper reward for saving this land from Discord, and ‘fixed points’ are no obstacle to one such as I. How would you feel if I caused you and your sister to revert back to your mortal forms immediately after that victory? You could live out the remainder of your lives as national heroes, while the unicorns would be forced to take back their responsibility to govern the heavens. Perhaps with that responsibility, they wouldn’t become quite so loathsome.

Celestia shook her head, not allowing herself to be tempted for even a moment by this offer. “We would be back at Hearth’s Warming Eve again, but without the happy ending,” she said. “And besides, you could never give up your hatred for Blue Belle. Not after you’ve redefined your life around it.”

The alicorn gave a sad guilty look at the unicorn, who recognized it as her cue. “I just know it would be wasting your time to try to convince you that I am no longer the same unicorn who hurt you,” Blue Belle said gently as she approached the divine donkey. “But I have changed, and I’m willing to do anything to make amends.”

Will you die for me?” Genevieve asked, a spark in her otherwise expressionless eyes. “Slowly and painfully? And will you bring back My Zody to the way that I remember him?

The zombie-like Zody flopped his head to one side on hearing his name.

A look of utter despair came over Blue Belle at this sight, followed by determination. “So be it,” she said with a steely tone. “I will give You Your vengeance, and show You what Your vaunted ‘system’ has done to Your fellow equines.”

Having said this, she reached up a hoof and ripped the time pendant off of her neck.

“No!” cried Blueblood, who tried to rise to his hooves. He looked down to see Voltaire’s hand grasped around his neck.

Don’t look,” the human whispered, employing all of his enfeebled strength to keep the unicorn from seeing what was happening to his daughter. “For God’s sake, don’t look!

Blue Belle spread her legs and gritted her teeth as the bruises began to spontaneously appear all over her body, rapidly turning her pure white coat into a purple and blue mess.

Then her legs broke, and she collapsed to the ground.

Genevieve crept forward with a gleeful smile. “Yes, yes...

Blue Belle’s legs reset themselves in twisted angles. Then her ribs were methodically broken.

The unicorn’s cries of pain began gradually to change into whimpers and then hoots of joy.

My Lady!” Blue Belle cried out in a disturbingly happy tone as her face was caved in by the blows of invisible hooves. “How can I suffer for My Lady?

The donkey’s jaw dropped. “What’s happening?

“She’s undergoing a lifetime of growing up in Your Equestria, all in a manner of moments,” Celestia told Genevieve calmly. “Not only physically, but also mentally—she’s turning into Your Blue Belle, the pony responsible for this entire world of suffering.”

There is no suffering in my—

“What pony would possibly tell You that in Your face?”

Their thoughts—

“Thoughts can be hidden, especially when such a thought is so demoralizing all by itself that it’s best to pretend you never thought it.”

The crunching and squishing of Blue Belle’s injuries continued to build up.

No...” Genevieve moaned, trying to look away.

Yesssh...” Blue Belle hissed. Or a sound that could be construed as “yes”, as she lacked most of the apparatus for intelligible speech by this point.

An angry Celestia reached out with her magic to wrench the goddess’ head back around. “Face Your lesson like the superior being You are,” she lectured. “See how she still lives despite no longer even looking like a boned creature anymore. There is a talent in inflicting as much pain as possible in a pony without killing them. Discord was a master of it, but it became a lost art with His defeat. It appears that under Your ‘benevolent’ rule that Your subjects have recovered this knowledge. You’ve found the one way to get around the windigos’ ban on violence, by making the victims embrace their punishment!”

It’s too much, too much!” Genevieve cried out. She tried to use Her magic to heal Blue Belle, but for every fix, another five wounds would be inflicted. And when She tried to reach out to the unicorn’s mind, She discovered it to be even more horrifying than her body.

Ssssuuuffferrrriiinng!” Blue Belle burbled out blissfully.

Take her away!” Genevieve wailed.

“But I thought this is what You wanted,” Celestia said in mock confusion. “She took away Your love, Your art and Your dignity. You probably also thought that she took away my love for You as a loyal subject. Is this not fair recompense? That she willingly sacrifice herself to You as an eternal monument of pain?”

Genevieve looked at Her upraised hooves and then around Her at the curious ponies and other equines who had gathered around them. In the unicorns’ eyes She saw nothing but fear and self-loathing, and in the others saw only hate for the unicorns and simpering worship of Herself, a worship devoid of any genuine adoration, only fear that She would turn them into unicorns if they crossed whatever arbitrary laws She might come up with next. “What have I done?” She asked Herself, tears running down Her face.

“You have taken advantage of their nature,” Celestia calmly informed Her. “They are herd animals. They picked up Your worst traits and amplified them to make You happy.”

I don’t want it. I don’t want it!” the goddess proclaimed to the crowd.

They didn’t believe Her.

“Hurt Blue Belle more!” a watching pegasus urged. “Make her beg for mercy, and then deny it! Give us our justice!”

Justice!” screamed the blood-thirsty crowd in unison. “JUSTICE!

Genevieve hung Her head. “You win,” She said quietly to Celestia. “I’ll make you the Princess again. I’ll put everything back the way it was.”

The way it was?! Algarotti cried out to himself in outrage. Back to the old injustices? Back to when I was going to get arrested by that arse of a prince? No, no You will do no such thing, you mud-wallowing farmyard animal. I will preserve this reality, at any cost. Climbing to his feet with the help of the wall he had landed against, he pulled out the pistol loaded with the silver bullet, and pointed it squarely at Genevieve’s heart.

With a grimace, Voltaire tried to get up, only to find out that his legs were still paralyzed. He put his fingers to his lips and tried to whistle, but only a feeble sound emerged, causing the rubber ring to wobble slightly.

Algarotti quickly cocked the pistol, and fired.

At the same instant, a shrill whistle split the air from a spot on the other side of Genevieve from Algarotti.

The rubber ring zipped forward at incredible speed, striking the human in the back of one leg and causing him to fire wildly.

The pegasus who had been urging Genevieve to carry out Her vengeance was struck in the wing by the bullet, and plunged to the earth. (Being a pegasus, she survived.)

Voltaire and Genevieve both looked in shock at the source of the whistle, which revealed itself with a shimmer as being a unicorn colt.

“You’re welcome,” he said to his goddess, fixing Her eyes with a look of utter contempt.

Chapter 39

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 39

From the ground beside Voltaire came the sound of quiet weeping.

I told you not to look,” the human whispered with a sigh to Blueblood.

He winced as a wave of prickles washed their way across his legs. Voltaire flexed his toes experimentally, before carefully rising to his feet.

“There’s nothing to worry about now,” he told the unicorn. “The goddess will put everything back the way it was.”

I don’t want to remember any of this,” Blueblood moaned, looking out at nothing. “I just want a daughter who thinks that schoolyard bullying is the sum total of pony depravity.”

“I think we can arrange that,” said Voltaire. “Are you going to be alright? I’m going to take a little walk to see what’s what.” He looked around himself, his mind wandering.

“I will never be alright again for the rest of my life,” Blueblood announced morosely.

“Have fun, then,” Voltaire replied as he wandered off, having obviously not heard the unicorn’s reply.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire’s first stop was the prone body of Algarotti, who was clutching his shin.

“Does it hurt?” Voltaire asked, his hands shoved into his pockets.



The Italian presented his other leg. “Want to make it a matched set?” he asked sarcastically.

“Oh that won’t be necessary,” Voltaire said with a predatory grin. “After all, I have before me the prospect of the rest of your life. A life of cowardice and failure. Just like your life before we met, if I remember correctly, only this time there will be that nagging feeling at the back of your head. A memory that simply cannot be recalled. A conviction...that once upon a time you were Archibishop of Canterlot, and you utterly botched up the opportunity. What was in that bullet, anyway, that made you think it would have done anything to Her?”


“Silver?” Voltaire asked with a laugh. “As in, a silver bullet? What are you, a peasant? Did you also have it blessed by the local priest and carried through the village square on a velvet pillow?”

Algarotti turned his head away and refused to say any more.

Voltaire glanced around himself, and saw the pistol. He knew at a glance that it could not have held more than one bullet, but just to be safe, he kicked it away, with all of the violence he would have inflicted on his fellow human’s shin if he wasn’t currently making a point about being the better man. The pistol bounced off the outer wall of the cathedral before coming back and caroming off of the side of the thing that once was Blue Belle. It looked like it hurt.

Heee-heee!” the thing predictably chortled.

Voltaire turned away with a shudder.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire’s eyes sought out Genevieve, who was currently standing in front of the human girl from earlier. She was utterly frozen in place, paralysis being her apparent defense mechanism against having to accept the scene she had just witnessed. The tip of an all-too familiar pencil peeked out of a tunic pocket.

The philosopher could have sworn that he had seen that girl somewhere before, but could not place her. Then again, he was never all that fond of children. What good were they, anyway? he thought morosely. They don’t get any of your sophisticated jokes, and they blindly defer to authority. And look what that child donkey disguised as an adult has done to this wonderful world. No, I’ll never trust children, unlike Émilie, who was always going on about them: her grown ones that she had so many regrets over, the neighbor’s, Rossignol’s, the ones she might contemplate having with me before my moods drove her into the arms of one willing to give her what she wanted: a botched pregnancy leading to a botched delivery that led to her...

No, he stopped himself suddenly. Not going to think about it.

“Sixteen,” Genevieve said absently, tapping the girl lightly on the head and then turning her so she couldn’t see Blue Belle.

“Wh...where am I?” the girl asked Genevieve softly. “And who are you?”

Genevieve frowned. “I am Genevieve, Jenny,” she said. “And I think I took away a few too many memories this time.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire walked up to the colt whose whistle had saved Genevive’s life. “I know you from somewhere,” he mused. “Don’t tell me, I’ll remember it in a minute.”

The colt looked at him incredulously.

“Oh I know! You’re the kid that robbed me that one time!”

The colt’s look turned to utter confusion. “Look, mister, I swear to...” he looked for a second at Genevieve, and then spat at the ground. “I swear to whatever trustworthy deity exists, that I have never seen you in my entire life.”

“Yes, you’re definitely that pickpocket,” Voltaire said, nodding. “And those light hooves must have carried over to this life as well, seeing how you managed to steal yourself some very un-unicorn-looking magic with your disappearing act.”

“That was...” The colt gestured around, but found that Celestia was nowhere to be seen. “The pegasus with the wavy hair. Ask her who she stole that spell from.”

Voltaire leaned forward and stared at the colt intently, causing him to start backing away.

“What are you doing now?” he asked the human.

“Memorizing your features. I’ve got the feeling that Blue Belle is going to want to track you down when everything’s back to normal. She appears to have picked up the habit of collecting interesting ponies.”

“You’re insane!” the pony exclaimed. “And you could have just asked me my name instead: Cut String.”

Voltaire laughed out loud. “You call me insane, and then give me your name so I can track you down? No, it most certainly is every last pony in Equestria that’s insane.”

Cut String rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say,” he said sarcastically. “Can I go now?”

“Well I’m not keeping you,” Voltaire replied, as he turned to walk away. “And Genevieve looks distracted, so now looks like as good a time as any.”

Hmm...” Voltaire heard Cut String mutter to himself as he walked away. “I wonder if I can snag the human’s pencil...

Voltaire froze in place for a moment in shock. Not going to think about it! he finally concluded mentally, and continued his search for Celestia.

~ ~ ~

He finally found her on the other side of the cathedral, throwing up into an open sewer.

It seemed entirely appropriate to Voltaire that an open sewer was located right behind the Cathedral of the Sacred Steed.

He waited until the alicorn was as clean as she was going to get before advancing and resting one hand on her withers. “Are you going to be alright?” he asked gently.

“I have to be alright,” she said, without a trace of emotion.

“Look, they’re all kind of waiting for you back there...” Voltaire said nervously, looking back around the side of the building at the city square.

“Yes, yes,” Celestia said, gathering herself. “Just a simple matter of walking a goddess through restructuring reality. Like I said, I’ve done this before.”

“And then what?” Voltaire asked.

Celestia sighed. “And then I have her restore everypony’s memories back to the way they were before. All but my own. There has to be at least one who has learned something from this whole mess.”

Voltaire nodded absently, but then suddenly caught himself. “Wait, why everybody but you? Are you saying that after everything she’s gone through, you’re going to revert Genevieve into becoming the same donkey she was when she fell out of Equestria? You’re going to negate an entire lifetime of experiences?”

“No,” Celestia said wearily, “She’s going to do it, at Her own insistence, with the negation of Her godhood as the last part of the spell. That’s how these things always work out.”

“And the others?”

“You saw the others, Voltaire. Do you think any of them want to remember this world?”

“I’ll remember,” Voltaire said quietly. “In fact I insist on it.”

“You?” the alicorn asked in wonder. “What possible reason would you have to retain your memories of...this?” She swept a hoof to encompass the world around her with that last word.

“So you won’t be alone,” Voltaire replied.

“Oh, Voltaire,” Celestia said sweetly, “you don’t have to do that.”

“Recall the part of my conversation where I said that I would insist on it,” Voltaire said wryly, “and then pretend that I said that now instead of then. I mean, Blue Belle back there is nothing on human depravity—I witnessed worse the last time my personal chef asked for a raise!” The haunted look in his eyes betrayed the veracity of that statement. Voltaire got serious, adding, “You’ve got to have someone to help you through this.”

“Me?” Celestia said with a raised eyebrow. “I believe I mentioned once or twice that I did something like this before, and the majority of the time, it’s me and me alone doing the confronting. Granted, I was channeling you this time.”

This took Voltaire aback. “Wait—me?”

“Yes, you. You have a very distinct way of looking at the world, I’ve observed. Pessimistic about how things will eventually turn out, but nevertheless optimistic from moment to moment. It was your piercing intellect, your merciless summation, that I was calling upon when confronting Genevieve.”

“Well!” Voltaire exclaimed, at a loss for words.

This anomalous state of affairs did not last very long.

“I don’t think that I’m quite that bad!” he finally exclaimed. “You were utterly merciless!”

“She was a god, Voltaire,” Celestia said with the hint of a smile. “If you treat me, a mere princess, as badly as you do, surely a goddess must rate a couple extra measures of scorn!”

“Well...” Voltaire said, pretending to think about it, “...maybe a couple.” He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Must you always resort to humor when facing the worst this world throws at you?”

“Yes,” she said, dead serious. “Always.” And then she chuckled, unable to hold back her amusement at hearing an objection like that from him of all people.

“I’m serious!” Voltaire exclaimed. “I mean....” He gestured wildly around him. “ can you possibly bear to go through with all of this?” he asked incredulously.

“Because I must,” Celestia answered simply.

“No, it’s not that easy!” Voltaire insisted. “You and the sewer here are proof of that.”

Celestia glanced at the open hole at her hooves and decided to finally be serious. “That was my response to seeing something horrific happen to one of my advisers,” she said.

“And nothing else?”

“And what else?”

“I don’t know about you,” Voltaire said, “but I saw the utter failure of pony character. Not a one of them stood up to that tyrant before you!”

“You forget the Resistance.”

“The Resistance was a joke! They just stood and watched like the rest of them.”

“Then perhaps you’ll note the significance of that inaction,” said Celestia. “None of them actually stepped forward and defended Her. Commented on Her actions, yes, but there is a world of difference between that and actually lifting a hoof in support of evil.” She fixed the human with an authoritative stare. “So my ponies are weak. So are humans. So am I. Alone, every one of us can be coerced into doing terrible things, or standing by while evil triumphs. But we are a herd, and a herd stands together. We strengthen ourselves as a group, and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. It pains me that it isn’t true on Earth, but on Equestria, what you call ‘tired bromides’ are by and large literally true. Love can conquer all, knowledge is power, and friendship is magic. No matter how often I might be tempted to lose faith in my own kind—or in myself—I am always brought face to face with our essential goodness and capacity to do great things.”

Voltaire took this all in silently, looking guiltily at one shoe as he pawed the ground. He realized that his dark thoughts about children and ponies earlier were simply excuses, ways to distance himself from the horrors he had just witnessed. “Oh, I am a firm believer in the second maxim you quoted,” he said finally, “but I guess I know what you mean about ponies surprising you. Like Hoofdini, or Cut String.”

“And who is Cut String?” Celestia asked.

“The pony you applied that disappearing magic on. The one who saved Genevieve.”

“Is that his name?” Celestia asked with an arched brow. “Hmm...I wonder how I could fit him into the chart? Loyalty? Or possibly Magic?”

Voltaire threw up his hands. “That’s it, I’m done here!” he exclaimed facetiously. “And don’t for a minute think that we’re even over that whole ‘killing’ fiasco! I threw up at least three more times than you.”

“Well somebody didn’t have the presence of mind like I did to skip a meal before facing down a ruler of Equestria!” Celestia replied with a smirk, already on her way back to the square.

Chapter 40

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 40

When a goddess changes reality, She can do it the easy way, or the hard way.

For an example of the easy way, how about literally re-writing history?

In the wake of their defeat of the

Windigo threat, Clover, Pansy and Smart

Cookie became the first inter-tribal

heroes in pony memory. And in recog-

nition of their act, each was allowed to

have their one fondest wish granted.

Smart Cookie, uninterested in fame,

merely wished to retire to a comfortable

living. The farm she was granted has

remained in her family ever since.

Clover founded the first ever

school of magic, with himself as its

first dean of studies. Under another

name, that school still operates.

But it was Pansy’s wish that

changed the lives of everypony the most:
the introduction of a representative parliament from
the introduction of chewing tobacco from
the griffons.
the camels. The idea became instantly

popular, and was emulated enthusias-

tically in every city, village and

hamlet in the new Equestria.

Unfortunately, Pansy’s wish was

also the only one to be discontinued, at

the express orders of Discord. It is the

general opinion of historians that the

only reason He did this was because He
was a stick in the mud.
was an asthmatic.

“Isn’t that rather unfair to Pansy?” Voltaire asked Celestia.

It was only the human and the alicorn that were witness to the miracle being performed by the contrite donkey goddess to the fat tome in the Royal Library.

“Not really,” answered Celestia. “Pansy didn’t really have anything he wanted, so he gave Father a second wish.”

“Your father was the tobacco chewer?” Voltaire asked incredulously, trying to reconcile this with the innocent-looking unicorn depicted in stained glass in the entrance hallway of Canterlot Palace.

“No, as a matter of fact he was a tobacco smoker. Big fat cigars were his favorites. Oh, and the popular image of him failed to take into account the bushy mustache he later grew in a failed attempt to imitate Star Swirl. Try to picture that.” The princess sighed heavily as she did so. “My lungs seize up sometimes just thinking about it.”

Genevieve sat there quietly, not saying anything.

A much harder case was fixing matters in the present day. The resulting manipulation of events could be best compared to knitting a six-dimensional sweater while you’re wearing it. The fact that both the princess and the goddess had a long list of side goals they wished to accomplish at the same time did nothing to simplify matters. Let us try to unravel the strands, starting with the longest:

The Eastern Road outside Hamelin, November 11, AD 1740

Pierre Louis Maupertuis, President of the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences, waited impatiently in his ornate carriage for Voltaire to arrive. For months, he had been forced to sit through one excited diatribe after another as his monarch had schemed how to lure the reclusive Frenchman out of the hands of Madame du Châtelet. And now, just as the king was gearing up for some sort of war against an unstated enemy, the wily philosopher had suddenly announced his intention of moving to Potsdam and entering the King’s service as Royal Philosopher. There was no question but that the French were sending him as a spy to learn Friedrich’s intentions, but the King absolutely refused to listen to any of the president’s urgent warnings. And worst of all, he would be the one stuck with the job of escorting this pompous ass across half of Germany! Maupertuis clucked his tongue as he looked out the carriage window for the sixth time that hour. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if the idiot was dead drunk in some nameless tavern. It would be sunset in another couple of hours, and if he was forced to spend the night in Hamelin, not only would it be expensive, but he would be late to the opening of the next session of the Academy! And he’d get in as much trouble for that as he would for showing up without Voltaire.

Well, better to be given a “time out” for failing at something I don’t actually want to do... thought Maupertuis. Grabbing paper, pen and ink, he quickly composed a note excusing himself of his duty to escort Voltaire. He put it and a letter of credit inside an envelope with his rival’s name written in large block letters on the outside, then instructed the driver to rest it atop a nearby bush. If I’m really lucky, the president thought to himself, perhaps the oaf will fail to see the note, and be forced to beg his way to Prussia!

Oh good, it’s President Maupertuis, the Flattener of the Earth!” cried out an all-too-familiar voice at just that moment. I thought I missed you!

Maupertuis spent a moment silently cursing the heavens before leaning out of the door of the carriage. “Voltaire!” he cried out in ill-disguised cheer. He started searching around him for the philosopher, but found that the outside world was far brighter than the dim inside of the carriage, and was momentarily blinded. “I am glad to see that you could make it,” he said, one hand shielding his eyes. “Why don’t you come inside and...”

The president’s jaw audibly struck the bottom of the carriage door window as he finally spotted Voltaire. The man himself looked just as insufferably smug as he always did, and dressed in a shabby riding cloak. No, what flabbergasted President Maupertuis was not the man, but his ride: an absolutely magnificent Arabian mare with a coat of the purest white. Its mane was of a shade so pale that it seemed to be translucent, catching the rays of the sun and scattering them to his eyes with what seemed to be all the colors of the rainbow.

“No,” Voltaire said laconically, “I think I’ll ride alongside instead of joining you inside. I hope you don’t mind.”

“, of course,” Maupertuis said. “Shall we be going?”

“Allow me to lead,” Voltaire said. His horse pulled ahead without its rider seeming to do anything to direct it. For reasons known only to its rider, it was wearing a white skullcap. “I know this wonderful rustic cabin at the base of the Coppenbrügge where we can stay the night at no charge.”

The horse tried to turn its head to look at Voltaire at this statement, but the rider pointed forward imperiously, causing it to return to its course.

Maupertuis’ driver turned around to look questioningly at him.

“What are you looking at me for?” the president asked irritably. “Follow him!

“Ha, ha!” Voltaire cried out as his horse took the lead. “It’s good to be young again!”

Mauptertuis shook his head. Bonkers, completely and utterly bonkers, he thought to himself.

~ ~ ~

A couple hours later, the horse and the horse-drawn carriage entered a deep forest. Having given the carriage’s driver instructions, Voltaire dropped back so he could talk with Maupertuis.

“This is a finely maintained forest, is it not?” Voltaire asked.

Maupertuis looked around. “I suppose so,” he replied. “It is also getting dark. Where is this inn of yours, anyway?”

“It’s not exactly an inn,” Voltaire explained. “More like the home of somebody I’d like you to meet.”

Maupertuis rolled his eyes. “I don’t expect we’ll get much in the way of accommodations in a place like this,” he grumbled. “Is it much further?”

“Oh, not long,” Voltaire said. “In fact, it’s probably somewhere right...around...”—He looked around him, settling for gazing in a southeasterly direction. Then he noticed that his horse was staring just as fixedly to the southwest, and quickly switched his gaze to that direction instead.—“...there!” And with that, he quickly rode off the road and into the thickets.

The driver stopped the carriage. “Shall I come down and let you—?” he started asking.

“No, you may not!” Maupertuis snapped.

“Here he is!” Voltaire announced cheerily a few moments later as he walked into the clearing, pulling another man along by his elbow.

The newcomer appeared to be a peasant of some kind, covered from head to feet in soot. “Let go!” the man cried out in German. “I didn’t do nothing to either of you, so what do you want with me?”

This finally was enough to induce Maupertuis to leave his comfortable carriage. He waved the driver down to open the door, then marched straight up to Voltaire. “Is this the homeowner you were referring to earlier?” he asked incredulously. “A...a common collier you’ve never even met before?”

“Now see here!” Voltaire protested. “Oscar here is a very interesting individual, with plenty of interesting ideas!”

~ ~ ~

As he was saying this, Oscar prepared to flee for his life. He had witnessed on more than one occasion the awful aftermath of what happened when aristocrats got into a fight, and he knew that the peasants like himself unfortunate enough to get in the way were inevitably the losers. He stopped at the sight of a majestic white horse, that appeared to be looking at him with an incredible degree of understanding.

Oscar,” he heard the man to his right ask him, “what would you say would be the most-economical means to increase the productivity of swampland?

“You drain it, of course,” Oscar replied, his eyes fixed on those of the white horse. “I have the designs of a machine—”

“Excellent!” the man replied. “Let’s go to your cabin to talk it over.”

~ ~ ~

“And you say you built all this yourself?” Voltaire asked for what had to be the third time that evening.

The two aristocrats and two peasants were seated around a large table in Oscar’s kitchen, with hot bowls of barley soup before them. Oscar nodded in reply to the question, while continuing to blow on his soup.

“This is an awful large place for just one person,” Voltaire remarked.

“It was supposed to be for a family,” Oscar said, bowing his head. “But my sweetheart ended up picking another man.”

“That’s too bad,” said Maupertuis, surprising Voltaire by taking the startled man’s hand in his own. “I know what it is like for a fickle woman to pass you over for an inferior.”

Voltaire scowled, knowing full well who his rival was referring to. Teaching Émilie algebra did not give you the automatic right to make a pass at her!

Maupertuis meanwhile had dropped the hand and gestured around him with both of his own, including the one still holding a spoonful of soup. “For such rustic fare, you have done quite well for yourself. And your ideas are quite intriguing.”

“You know who would be really interested in them?” Voltaire asked, after wiping the flung soup off of his face. “His Majesty. Doesn’t he always talk about reclaiming all the lands lost to wilderness by the Thirty Years War?”

“Indeed he does,” Maupertuis said, nodding.

“I bet I’m going to get in good with His Majesty when I present Oscar to him,” Voltaire bragged with a smug grin.

“Me?” Oscar asked in shock. “You want to take me to visit the King of Prussia?”

“Err, actually it’s the King in Prussia,” Voltaire corrected. “Strictly speaking, there’s a good deal of Prussia in the hands of other rulers. But if all goes according to plan, it’ll be King of Prussia in a couple of decades.”

Oscar didn’t even have to think for a moment. “Of course I would love to come with you! There’s nothing holding me here. Let me pack my things.” He got up and retreated to his bedroom, but not before casting one longing look at the perfect-temperature soup he hadn’t got a chance to start on.

Mauptertuis meanwhile was in full-on scheming mode. If he could get Voltaire out of the way and present this undiscovered genius to the king himself, there could be no telling what the grateful monarch might bestow upon him. He might even get a parade through the streets of Burr Linn! “You know,” he said as an idea slowly occurred to him, “we really ought to celebrate our good fortune in meeting Oscar this evening. I have some bottles of brandy I was going to present to His Majesty, but I don’t think he’d mind if we had a couple of glasses right here and now! Excuse me while I go and get them.” He then knocked the drowsing driver off of his chair. “Brant, go out and fetch us the brandy.”

Brant’s eyes lit up at the possibility of getting a taste of the good stuff. “Yes, sir!” he said, before plunging out into the windy landscape outside Oscar’s cabin.

Voltaire’s roving eyes meanwhile had settled on a wooden box sitting on the mantlepiece. He got up, lifted the lid, and peeked inside. “Say!” he declared as he pulled something out of it. “What do you call this?”

“That’s a pencil,” Oscar said, returning to the room with his movable possessions wrapped into a bundle. “I make them myself. There’s a lot of graphite in the hills, and I find that making pencils relaxes me when I have trouble sleeping.”

“What an interesting hobby!” Voltaire exclaimed. “Would you care to share your methods with me?”

~ ~ ~

Four hours later, both Oscar and Voltaire were out cold, thanks to a heavy application of brandy by President Maupertuis. Graphite cylinders and wrapping tape were scattered all around them.

The president put down the glass he had been nursing all night and put on his coat. “Pick him up, Brant,” he ordered, as he rolled up some mechanical drawings and shoved them into the bundle on the floor. “And bring this with you.”

Brant, who had been doing all of the pouring and none of the drinking, sighed and made his way over to Voltaire.

“Not him!” Maupertuis exclaimed. “I want the peasant. Voltaire can have the cabin, and the hangover.”

With a grunt, the driver picked up the rag-doll body of the collier, gathered up his bag, and began staggering towards the door. For a moment, he found himself right next to Maupertuis’ glass, and slowly reached out his free hand towards it.

“Brant!” Maupertuis exclaimed. “Get moving!”

With a muttered obscenity, Brant dropped his hand and followed his master out into the biting cold.

~ ~ ~

The next morning, Voltaire awoke in a comfortable bed.

Good morning, sleepy head,” a familiar voice told him in an unfamiliar tongue.

Voltaire suddenly sat up. A hand rushed to his head, and then he put it down in wonder. “What happened to my headache?” he asked.

Celestia, her terrestrial disguise removed, laughed. “You’re welcome,” she said. The cap on her head instantly translated her Equine into French .

* Translator’s Note: You know how you always wondered why Celestia speaks English with a French accent, almost like she learned it as a second language? Now you know.

“You’ve got a magical cure for hangovers?” he asked. “Why have I never heard about this before?”

“Because in my opinion the majority of hangovers are earned,” Celestia said with a frown.

“How very puritanical of you,” Voltaire said with a mocking frown to pit against hers. “So, were you able to find Oscar’s magic pencil stash?”

“There doesn’t appear to be one,” Celestia replied. “Nor is there any strong source of magic in the immediate vicinity.”

“Then I guess that the meteorite that Genevieve saw when she scanned through Time is indeed what we’re looking for,” said Voltaire. “We’ve got six days before it hits.”

“And we shall be spending it in this human’s cabin?” Celestia asked.

Voltaire nodded in reply.

“Did you ask his permission? Is he being fairly recompensed?”

Voltaire laughed. “I just set that man up for life. A decade of bitterness at being thought of as a crazy man has been replaced with a job for the only man in Europe willing to make his dreams of land reclamation a reality. I think under the circumstances he won’t mind us squatting here for a week in a place with bad memories that he has no intention of ever returning to.”

“Well if we have some time, perhaps I can see a little more of your world than just this cabin,” the alicorn said. “And maybe you can finally answer those questions you’ve been dodging ever since you came up with this scheme.”

“Sure, it’s safe to answer you now,” Voltaire said, getting out of bed. He started a fire, both for cooking breakfast and for heating the water for his bath.

“At what point are we in your lifetime?” Celestia began.

“This is a little more than a decade before the moment I fell into Equestria,” Voltaire explained.

“That man said he was going to bring you to your king.”

“Yes,” said Voltaire. “This was my second time seeing King Friedrich in the flesh. The trip lasted only a few months, then I returned to Paris to report my findings.”

“‘Findings’?” questioned Celestia.

“The King of France himself sent me out to Potsdam to find out if Friedrich was plotting against him. I, uh, wasn’t able to find out anything,” Voltaire said, his eyes looking anywhere but at the alicorn. “In fact, Friedrich managed to get me to tell him everything I knew about the French plans. Good thing I really didn’t know that much.”

“Voltaire, you are no longer my official spy for humanity,” Celestia said mockingly.

“Well fine!” Voltaire said, in a mock pout. “I didn’t want to be a silly spy anyway.”

“Voltaire,” the alicorn asked, suddenly getting worried. “If that man was supposed to take you to see King Friedrich, then where are you, the Voltaire that belongs in this time period? Is there any chance that we might bump into him by mistake?”

“You want to know where I am at this very moment?” the human replied non-nonchalantly as he set the table. “I’ll tell you: passed out dead drunk in a nameless bar in Hamelin.”

The alicorn shook her head in disappointment. “So what’s going to happen when this Maupertuis fellow and the historical you arrive in Potsdam?” she asked. “Won’t their stories be wildly different from each other?”

“Well let’s see,” Voltaire said, putting on an insincere look of seriousness. “I will say that I was unavoidably detained, in order to keep from revealing that I drank my way from one end of Europe to the other, and Maupertuis will say whatever he needs to say to keep from getting caught, and I sincerely doubt that he or I would ever tell enough of the truth for anybody to suspect that something extraordinary had happened.”

“And you were that sure that Maupertuis would steal Oscar?”

“Of course!” Voltaire exclaimed with a grin. “If there’s one thing I never underestimate, it’s the presence of Maupertuis’ dagger one inch away from my back at all times. I bet he even tried to steal you.”

“Well he tried,” Celestia said with a chuckle, “and I got to practice my buck for the first time in three hundred years. If not for that thick coat he was wearing, I probably would have bruised him pretty badly.” She then raised a hoof to her chin in contemplation. “It did manage to get a laugh out of that servant of his, though.”

Chapter 41

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 41

Six days passed at the remote cabin. Voltaire wished that he could show Celestia all the wonders that humanity had created in the seventeen and a half centuries since the last time Equestria had been in contact with Earth, but he found that he had very little to work with. As far as art was concerned, all the cabin had was a cheap reproduction of a weepy Crucifixion. For literature, there was a Bible, some religious tracts, and a whole lot of specialized books about soil chemistry and similar topics. This was not to say that the Bible doesn’t contain some wonderful passages, but unfortunately when Celestia’s translation cap was being prepared, Voltaire had unthinkingly selected French as the language to use instead of German, and of course German was the only language Oscar could speak or read. He recited some bits of a French Protestant Bible he had glanced through once, as well as he could remember—which was not very well at all. He regretted leaving his gray cap back in Equestria, as that would allow him access to the excellent Latin translations of that work.

So instead he fell back on the book he was reading right before falling into Equestria: Gulliver’s Travels. He had read the story enough times in English to be able to translate it into very passable French. The work was too long to cover in the amount of time they had, especially with all of the explanations that would be required for Celestia to make sense of it, so he resorted to paraphrase.

~ ~ ~

Celestia used to think that Voltaire was talkative, until he switched from speaking Latin through his translation cap to speaking French through her translation cap. Now he just wouldn’t shut up.

This is not to say that she didn’t enjoy his wit or his charm, or the extreme mental work he was going through translating that Gulliver story while keeping up with her. It was just that there was so much of it!

Every day had the same general pattern: The two would eat breakfast from Oscar’s larder. Celestia would travel out into the woods for half of the day, with Voltaire huffing and puffing as he tried to keep up while declaiming Swift’s masterpiece. They would return to the cabin for lunch. Celestia would tend Oscar’s garden in silence while Voltaire would read or write inside the cabin. They would share a dinner where the bounty of that garden would dominate. And then they would play games of chance or logic before turning in for the night.

If you’re thinking that a working garden in Germany in November is an impossibility, you would be correct, unless you took into account two facts: Celestia was part earth pony, and she had a lot of spare magic available from not having to raise or lower the sun each day.

~ ~ ~

On the fifth day, Voltaire got so close to finishing Gulliver’s Travels that he insisted on intruding into the first hour of Celestia’s “alone time”. The alicorn did her work while the human spoke, nodding her head slightly from time to time to let him know that she was still listening:

It is now five years since I have returned to my native land. The look and smell of the English Yahoos I still find intolerable. The first money I laid out was to buy two horses, which I keep in a stable. My horses understand me tolerably well; I converse with them at least four hours every day. They are strangers to bridle or saddle; they live in great amity with me and friendship to each other.

“And so the tale concludes,” said Voltaire with a flourish. “So, what do you think?”

Celestia smiled politely as her magic worked a trowel. “I find it interesting that you chose that of all works to tell me.”

“Should I have lied about our flaws?” Voltaire said, his civility a thin veneer. “I would not think to deceive you about the true state of mankind.”

“I already knew the true state of mankind,” Celestia said wearily, “for Ovid was a very bad liar. And my sister just had to come over here and see for herself. I don’t suppose you know of any stories or legends about a midnight-blue alicorn haunting the dreams of your ancestors?”

“No, I can’t say that I do,” Voltaire said after a moment of thought. “But you haven’t given me your opinion of the work yet.”

“The author sounds like a very bitter man,” Celestia observed.

“Your Highness...” Voltaire scolded lightly.

“What would you have of me?” Celestia said, finally putting her tool down and rising to her hooves. “Do you want my outrage? Are you so unused to your employers not losing their temper at your antics that you must provoke me by any means possible?”

The look of surprise followed by introspection in Voltaire’s expression made plain that this was precisely the unwitting reason for his actions.

Celestia sighed theatrically and put a hoof on her chest. “‘I have heard enough!’” she cried. “‘The history of your country seems to consist of nothing more than a squalid string of conspiracies, rebellions, revolutions, murders and massacres. Every judgment seems to be motivated by greed, by malice, hypocrisy, hatred, envy, lust and madness!’”

Voltaire laughed. She had just repeated word for word what the ruler of the Brobdingnag giants had said to Gulliver.

“As if you needed an outsider’s judgment on your own affairs!” Celestia continued in her own words. “You have seen what my ponies might become if misled, so why should I condemn your kind for your vices? At least you are aware of them. This story seems to be a sort of ‘Frog Princess’ for humans. Do more than a tiny minority know that it is speaking of their own condition and not that of newly discovered islands on the other side of your world?”

“I think most of us know well enough,” answered Voltaire. “Although I have seen some sons of the English ambassador playing at being Gulliver in Lilliput with their tin figurines. Perhaps in a few years it will become a fairy tale like those of Perrault.”

Celestia nodded, her eyes straying back to the garden.

Voltaire, no longer having anything to do, took in the cultivated field as if for the first time. “I didn’t know this was a hobby of yours,” he said. “At least, I don’t remember you doing it during the time I was in Equestria.”

“Oh, the urge comes and goes. This world...” she gestured around her “ have no idea what you have on this world, a place where the natural processes run themselves! I have never known what that would truly look like before coming here.”

Oh that’s right, realized Voltaire. That god Discord took over before she was born.

“The closest we had was this little alcove in the back of a cave,” Celestia remembered, “where my sister and I raised a mushroom garden. I didn’t know it at the time with all of our bickering, but the happiest moments of my life were Luna and I, tending that garden.” She waved a hoof at the dirt around her. “For me, gardening is a little bit like being a mother.”

Voltaire said absolutely nothing. It began to dawn on him that there may have been additional downsides to this whole “amniomorphic spell” business that he hadn’t considered before now.

“Gardening is the purest form of care you can imagine,” Celestia continued, oblivious to the growing sorrow on the face of the human behind her. “I watch over my little ponies, but my touch is always light. Always, I worry about how I am stunting their emotional growth by interfering too much in their lives. Oysters live in their gardens, and an oyster must have a grain of sand to make its pearl. In the same way, I make life good for my ponies, but not too good. I knew that Blue Belle was bullying Genevieve, for instance.”

“You did?” asked Voltaire, pulled suddenly out of his reverie.

“Yes,” Celestia said, with some regret. “I had hoped that their conflict would deepen Genevieve’s character, while bringing Blue Belle to realize the pain she was causing so she might become kinder as a result. I failed, however, in judging just how much pain the bully was inflicting on her victim. I misjudged a good number of things, as you well know.”

“Well, I think you could have predicted Genevieve’s emotional reaction well enough,” Voltaire replied. “From what I overheard, she was a fairly typical member of her age group. ‘Newly cutied,’ I believe you call it when talking about a pony in the same situation. We humans don’t have a specific term for someone between ten and twenty years of age—somebody should come up a term...‘fifteen-ager’ or something like that. I remember all too well what that was like: everything bad that happened to you was the worst possible thing, and your decisions were matters that the whole world must bear witness to.” The human smirked as he added, “Of course in Geneveive’s case, her decisions quite literally became earth-shaking. So, is gardening how you move on when ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t enough?”

Celestia knelt down and began aerating the soil with the trowel. “The thing I like best about gardening,” she told the human, “is that your creations live with whatever you do without judging you. It’s being a god, without the guilt.” She smiled wistfully. “Everyone who feels powerless should practice it, and even I feel powerless a good deal of the time.”

“Of course,” quipped Voltaire, turning the advice to apply his own circumstances. “Better to exorcise your frustrations at the unfairness of your royal employers and of Life itself on a hapless plant, than on anything capable of feeling pain.”

“Close enough,” Celestia said, and got back to work.

Voltaire stood there in silence for a few moments, then picked up a garden fork and knelt down to help her.

Chapter 42

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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 42

At the end of the sixth day, Voltaire and Celestia lay down on a slope of the Coppenbrügge’s foothills to watch the sunset. Neither of them said a word as it progressed.

“Well!” Celestia finally exclaimed as the twilight began to fade. “That one was pretty good.”

“Hmm,” Voltaire said. “Not as good as yours, though.”

Celestia gave him an accusing look. “You’re just trying to flatter me,” she said with a frown.

In the darkening sky, a distant point of light began to grow.

“I am not!” Voltaire said, sitting up. “That sunset right there was an impersonal activity, the interaction between an immense natural process and the peculiar nature of the atmosphere on the horizon. A good sunset might be caused by a distant forest fire that puts dozens of people out of a home, while a bad one might be caused by weeks of clear skies that help crops to ripen. Your sunsets, on the other hand, are deliberate works of art, and are a direct reflection of your mood. The melancholy you hide from the ponies always shines through in those moments.”

Celestia put a hoof to her cheek in thought. “Well maybe they’ll start getting cheerier in a few years. My sister’s coming back to me, and I think this time it will be handled correctly.”

The light grew into a fireball, which streaked above them to hit the far side of the mountain.

Celestia closed her eyes and swung her head around a few times, before stopping in the direction that the meteorite had landed. “I have its location,” she announced as she opened her eyes.

“Great!” exclaimed Voltaire, jumping to his feet. “Let’s go right to it!”

“Right now?” Celestia asked with a smile as she rose to her hooves. “It will be too dark to navigate. It’s not like anybody’s going to stumble across it in the next few hours. We shall go in the morning.”

“Aw, but I wanted to go now!” the human protested.

“Are you that impatient to hasten the moment when we will permanently part?” Celestia asked sadly.

“No,” Voltaire replied, “but I’m no good at waiting, and there’s no way I’ll get any sleep tonight.”

“Well perhaps in that case we can move on to the next card game you were going to teach me. Cribbage, I believe it was?”

“Ah, cribbage,” Voltaire said with a growing smile. “I’m sure to beat you at this one!”

~ ~ ~

“How do you do it?” Voltaire asked fifteen hours later, as the two set out to find the meteor.

“Oh, I’ve always been fond of games,” Celestia said, taking to the air.

“Now that’s not fair,” Voltaire said, pouting.

Celestia flew low over him in a circle. “I’m staying with you instead of racing ahead, so I don’t see how that’s unfair at all,” she observed.

“Let me get on your back, and we’d get there a lot faster,” Voltaire countered.

“I only had you on my back before because we were in public view,” the alicorn said. “You’re heavy.”

“I am a twig compared to most humans!”

“Then I shall institute a ‘no riding policy’ for humans and my ponies,” said Celestia with a half-smile.

“But this will take forever!” Voltaire whined.

“Patience, dear Voltaire, patience.”

~ ~ ~

Five hours and one lunch break later, the human and the alicorn had finally found the long trench in the earth that terminated in the black rock from space.

“Are you sure that’s it?” Voltaire asked. He looked around to see that Celestia had backed off by six feet.

“I’m sure,” she said.

“What are you doing back there?”

“I don’t want to get any of that stuff on me.”

“It looks pretty harmless to me,” the human observed.

Celestia shook her head violently. “You are looking at the most potent source of magic on this world, in some ways even more powerful than the Elements of Harmony. I think it’s the life essence of a god.”

Voltaire walked around the lumpy black rock, taking it in on all sides. Suddenly he froze. “I think you may be right,” he told the alicorn, “because this sky stone has a face.”

Celestia carefully walked around to Voltaire’s side of the meteorite to study the mostly buried visage. “It’s another Discord!” she exclaimed. “Or a creature with at least a family resemblance to Him. But this one seems almost calm. Like He knew the fate that was coming for Him, and accepted it.”

Voltaire crouched down and remained in that position for several seconds, noting that the face looked rather horse-like, but the carbonized skin resembled that of a dragon. “Perhaps this, err...draconequus was Discord’s mirror opposite,” he speculated, “giving His life to prevent Earth from becoming like Equestria did under the Lord of Chaos’ reign. Or else He got so bored of torturing mortals in this dimension that He willed himself out of existence, and yet even a piece of His body is fated to make humans and ponies miserable. I just wish I knew for sure,” he added with a sigh. “I much prefer to know if the gods I meet are benevolent or malevolent.”

“Well, that’s the whole thing about being a mortal,” said Celestia with a shrug. “No omniscience means we will never know if this object landing here was part of a bigger plan, or a complete accident.”

“So now what?” Voltaire asked uncertainly. “Will you be able to destroy it?”

“It won’t be easy,” the alicorn replied. “No force on Earth or Equestria will be enough to do the job. But I know what to do, when the time is right. Until then...” and she stepped even further away from it.

“What about me?” the human protested. “I’ve got to make a pencil out of it!”

“Voltaire, the worst that will happen to you is that your hand will fall into Equestria.”

Coward,” Voltaire muttered jokingly to himself. He kneeled down next to the large rock and opened the knapsack he had carried out here with him. Removing the garden trowel, he set to work digging into the head of a god. For an all-powerful creator and/or destroyer of worlds, He sure had a spongy cranium.

~ ~ ~

After a couple of crumbling failures, Voltaire succeeded in creating a pencil from what was once a lock of hair of the fallen god. “You know, this looks exactly like the magic pencil Genevieve and I handled,” he said, holding it up.

Celestia carefully trotted forward to examine it. “No it doesn’t. It looks completely different!”

The human and the alicorn spent a moment looking at each other in confusion before reaching the same non-conclusion: “That’s just creepy.”

~ ~ ~

Voltaire looked up at the sky. “Okay, Genevieve, we’re ready!” he announced in a loud voice.

With a sudden whooshing sound, a flat vertical circle of blinding light appeared floating in the air before them. From out of it stepped the goddess Genevieve, and then it snapped shut into nothingness behind Her. Voltaire noticed that there was a fuzzy ball of golden light floating beside Her, about the size of Her head.

Without saying a word, She stared at the space between them and blinked. This caused another glowing portal to appear at the level of the human’s waist; this one was oriented horizontally instead of vertically, and was much smaller in size. While the glow of the ring itself remained, the light from within the circle faded, providing a view to the space on the other side.

Peering down into the ring, Voltaire saw himself sleeping in the cell of the insane asylum—it was the night before he would have drawn his way into Equestria with the magic pencil, only in this reality he didn’t have that pencil.

With the room’s door closed and no windows anywhere on the floor, it was impossible to tell what time it was. In fact, the light streaming in from outside the portal was the main source of illumination for the indoor scene.

The juxtaposition of dark cell with late afternoon mountainside was enough to start Voltaire tipping forward, losing his balance.

He was suddenly righted by a tug of magic.

“Oh, no,” Celestia said, “we’re not starting that again!”

With a shake of his head, Voltaire recovered himself. He picked up his homemade magic pencil, and dangled it over the hole in space and time. “Death from above!” he said playfully, as he released the pencil point downwards towards the sleeping Voltaire’s chest.

The portal winked shut just as the Voltaire from 1751 was about to look through it at his counterpart.

~ ~ ~

“Kneel, Voltaire.”

The human looked over at Celestia, to see that she was presenting her bowed head to Genevieve.

Voltaire shrugged. “Alright, I’ll trust you,” he said, doing as she did. “This time.

Genevieve gently raised a hoof, and somehow drew a ball of light out of each of their heads, yellow for Celestia’s and a dull green for Voltaire’s. “I will give these to your alternate selves,” She told them, “and then My duty to you will be at an end.”

“So those are our memories of the reality with You as a goddess?” Voltaire asked, rising back to his feet.

“They are,” the donkey replied.

“And whose memories are those?” he asked, pointing at the ball of light She had brought with Her.

“Those are Blue Belle’s,” said the goddess.

“We won’t be needing those,” said Celestia staring down Genevieve. “I never want her remembering those things.”

“She won’t give you a choice,” Genevieve told her sadly.

“Let me be the judge of that,” the alicorn replied. “Give her memories to me, and I’ll be the one to decide whether to break her or not.”

“Very well.”

Celestia used her magic to pull the ball of light into herself.

With a nod of Her head, Genevieve opened another glowing portal. “I’ll open the second portal after the consequences of delivering these have settled out.” She gestured at the balls of memories remaining beside Her.

Two seconds later, the human and alicorn were once again alone on the slopes of the Coppenbrügge.

~ ~ ~

The winter sun swiftly set. It began to get bitterly cold, so Voltaire volunteered to make a fire. This task was completed far too quickly, leaving still more time to wait.

During this time, Celestia sat quietly, while Voltaire paced incessantly.

Finally another portal appeared, a small one, floating right above Voltaire’s head. From it dropped the magic pencil.

Death from above!” cried out the voice of the Voltaire from 1751, just as the portal winked out of existence.

“Hey, no fair copying me!” the 1740 Voltaire countered. “Well, that was anticlimactic,” he commented as he picked up the pencil. “What happens now?”

“What happens is that this timeline ends,” said Celestia with a sigh. “I just need to destroy this enchanted graphite, and our purpose would have reached its conclusion.”

“So we’re going to die?” Voltaire asked nervously.

“We have become superfluous,” Celestia explained in a serene tone as she closed her eyes. “Our new selves have our memories, and the consequences of allowing two of any individual to exist at the same time are quite dire. If it were not for Geneveive’s protection, one of us would have probably blown up by now.”

“And are you sure you’ve thought this all through?” Voltaire asked carefully, holding up the magic pencil he had just retrieved from himself, from the version of himself that would survive while he would die.

“What do you mean?” Celestia asked.

“Well, forgive me for playing Devil’s Advocate, but what would happen if you used this pencil to fix up a few of your mistakes before letting Celestia #2 take over? Maybe there’s a way for the griffons to figure out who they really are without slaughtering themselves. And maybe there is a way to save your sister.”

Celestia shook her head firmly. “No,” she said, “no second chances for me. I am blessed to have seen and done as well as I have, and I simply have to accept that I cannot do better. If I take that pencil to correct one thing, what justification is there to prevent me from using it again, and again, and again? And after that, what’s to prevent me from stopping the new timeline from replacing this one?

“Your condemnation of the Goddess Genevieve was entirely apt, and would with justice apply equally to me if I were to start using that instrument to bend the rules: The ponies would become dependent on me, and would end up as little more than toys for my amusement. I cannot take that pencil, for any reason.”

“But the griffons!” Voltaire pleaded.

“Do you have a better answer?” Celestia asked, honestly hoping that he did. She continued speaking when he failed to say anything. “If I had never helped Duke Thunderwing, then the griffons would have continued under the despotic thumb of the dragons. Who’s to say that would not have ended in a bloody war of revolt, or even annihilation? The revolution that we got appears to be dying down, or so I sincerely hope. One generation of bloodshed, and one generation of atrocities before that. I wish I knew how to eliminate that much, but I think even with the wisdom of a goddess that I would be unable to manage it.”

Celestia caught the way that the human looked covetously at the pencil in his hand. “And what of you? Would you be any better at resisting the lure of having your every wish granted, were I to take that pencil and draw whatever you bid me draw?”

Voltaire sighed. “There is only one thing in my entire life that I have truly regretted, and I have long since realized its uselessness.”

“You would have me bring back your Émilie,” guessed Celestia.

“She was not meant for this time,” the human said with a sad shake of his head. “Her entire life, she was ridiculed for doing things that the world thought belonged solely in the realm of men. And in the end, I failed her like every other man, or woman, she ever met. But I firmly believe that she would not have lived in a later century if she had been given the choice. She told me often how lucky she felt that she might provide an example, no matter how feeble, for the generations of women to follow, that they should know what might be possible because she had tried it first. Even her failures she hoped would become inspirations to future would-be Émilies.” In a lower voice, Voltaire forced himself to continue. “I would, if I could, reverse my own stupidity so that at least when she died, she wasn’t surrounded by her enemies. But if doing so would have prolonged the emotional torment that was her life, then I think in the end it was for the best.”

He tossed his homemade pencil atop the meteorite and turned away. “Let’s get this over with,” he muttered.

He suddenly noticed the air around him getting hotter and hotter, kept from escaping by a crystalline dome that Celestia had summoned into existence around them. The atmosphere shimmered around him as he broke out in a sweat. It was hotter than the hottest summer day he ever remembered, hotter than the ovens at Sanssouci, hotter than the iron-smelting furnaces from his childhood. So hot in fact that he no longer felt anything at all, like his body had been burnt away, leaving only his soul to continue to witness the events around him.

Voltaire tried to look to Celestia, only to be turned away from the gleaming brilliance of her coat. A sort of liquid fire poured out of her eyes as she channeled the power of the Sun through her—Earth’s sun, for her cutie mark gave her control of all stars within a certain range. The light of the Sun was so bright that it merged with Celestia’s white coat, making her invisible.

In the field of pure whiteness, only one object was visible, and that was the alien meteorite. Slowly, it began to glow brighter and brighter, changing color steadily from red through orange, before beginning to fade back to red.

And then Geneveive was suddenly beside her, and added the power of Equestria’s sun to the conflagration.

The meteor’s color began to shift once more, through orange to blue, and from blue to the same brilliant white as everything else.

Suddenly the jagged ball incinerated, accompanied by an unearthly howl of frustration so loud it obliterated Sound itself as the bubble protecting Earth from the alicorn’s spell suddenly blew out like a candle.

The white faded to black, leaving nothing behind of the god’s head, the human, the alicorn and the former god donkey but a scorched hole in the earth.

End Original Timeline

Chapter 43

View Online

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 43

Alright, here is where we get into the alternate timeline that Celestia and Voltaire just created. Pay attention to the headers, as this might get a little confusing.

The Charité Lunatic Asylum of Burr Linn, June 22, AD 1751

King Friedrich and his guests ascended to the second floor, where most of the inmates were usually kept. Two rows of cells lined the wide hallway, each covered with a large thick door with a small window to look inside at the inmates, and iron bars embedded in each window to keep the inmates from getting too close while you were busy looking at them. Everything was illuminated by sickly yellow candlelight. Voltaire’s feelings of uneasiness from entering this place increased.

With the asylum’s attendants supplemented by the king’s guards to protect the visiting group from harm, Jordan, the group’s guide, approached the door of the first “attraction” for the night.

“Wait, why are you skipping Ivan?” the King asked, seeing Jordan unlocking the door of room 108 instead of 102.

“Oh, Ivan’s not a patient anymore,” Jordan explained. “We received a German-to-Selkup dictionary in the mail—that’s the language he was speaking all this time—and with its help we were able to integrate him back into society. He’s currently acting as one of my attendants while earning enough money to make his way back home. You, uh, did send us the dictionary, Your Majesty, didn’t you? It was sent anonymously, and I do know how much you like your little acts of benevolence to be anonymous...”

“I didn’t send it,” said King Friedrich. “Although I am pleased to see the story of yet another Potsdam Giant end happily.” He briefly explained the ill-begotten idea of his father’s to the group. “So, who do you have in this room?”

“This is—” Jordan began, before looking at the name written on the slip of paper mounted next to the door. He quickly blocked it from view. “—nobody!” he exclaimed. “Next room.”

With a frown, the king roughly shoved him aside to look at the sign. “‘Oscar’?” he asked with growing displeasure as he read it aloud. “What is one of my foresters doing in an insane asylum?” The last sentence was more roared than asked.

“Ah, well,” Jordan equivocated, fidgeting. “He got himself into a bit of a fight in the pub down the street a few hours ago, and he was very drunk, so the constable decided to just have him sleep it off in here. He’s not in trouble or anything...unless you think he should be in trouble. Then he’s definitely in trouble.”

The king sighed. “Open the door,” he said in a resigned voice.

Jordan did as he was told.

Inside the unlit room, a man was loudly snoring in a bed, his arm dangling down to the ground. The group squeezed their way in to look at him.

“My word!” exclaimed Count Francesco Algarotti, lifting his candle up to illuminate one wall. “Where did these drawings come from?”

Voltaire walked to the opposite wall, where a long strip of coarse brown paper had been crudely stapled to the surface. There he saw more of the same thing that the count had discovered: drawings of simple buildings, drawings of tools, drawings of flowers and common animals, but mostly drawings of ponies. Lots and lots of ponies.

Voltaire’s breath caught in his throat. The feeling of strangeness that he had sensed ever since leaving the carriage on the street below was concentrated in this place, was coming from this place, from these drawings of funny little horses with horns coming out of their...from unicorns, unicorns drawn with exactly the proportions that he had thought to be correct when looking at the painting downstairs. Voltaire looked at his companions, and saw that none of them were feeling what he was feeling. “Who drew these?” he asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“Oh, uh, well,” said Jordan, fumbling for his words. He began to wonder if he would still have his job in the morning at the rate that he was screwing things up. “That’s the work of my daughter.”

“Humph!” exclaimed Algarotti disdainfully. “Tell your daughter that she’s drawing that particular creature all wrong.”

“Of course, My Lord,” Jordan apologized. “I have told her that on many occasions, but she insists that this is how she wishes them to look in her work.”

Voltaire took another look at the drawings, and noted that none of them were higher up than the level of his chest, despite there being plenty more paper to draw on. That must mean that the artist was little more than a child. Alright, creepy or not, you do not trample on a child’s right to express herself, he thought angrily to himself. “I think they look fine!” he exclaimed. “What is Your Majesty’s opinion?”

“Hmm?” said Friedrich, looking up from his examination of his unconscious forester.

Voltaire gestured at the walls.

With a shrug, Friedrich picked up the light he had rested on the room’s bed stand, and walked over to look the images over. “Well executed,” he noted. “Manages to maintain scale for pony-sized creatures. But I fail to see references to contemporary or Classical settings. The purpose of art, when it is not merely a thing of beauty, is to enlighten us about our own condition, yes?”

Algarotti saw that the last question was addressed to himself. “Yes of course, Your Majesty,” he said with a nod.

“Well, what does this drawing have to tell us? Nothing, as far as I can tell. It is merely a fantasy, with made-up creatures substituting for humans. In short, it is a fine production for a child, but a child who still needs to mature as an artist.”

This was a perfectly good explanation, and the others instantly accepted it. But to Voltaire, another explanation instantly presented itself, one that he didn’t like one bit: that this place had some sort of mystical connection with a far off land of unicorns, where science was a joke and magic was all-encompassing, and somehow this girl was part of this connection, which she used to faithfully represent this land in her art. The idea of such a place, and such a connection, terrified him...and intrigued him. Voltaire made a vow to himself to return to the asylum one day without his monarch, to have a long talk with this daughter of Jordan’s.

Meanwhile the director of that asylum was busy digging himself out of the hole he had been digging for himself over the past half hour, by buttering his employer up with honestly earned praise. “Oh, you are most perceptive, Your Majesty,” he said. “My daughter is indeed, a child.”

The king nodded in satisfaction. “And how old is she?” he asked.

“Ten,” answered Jordan. “Exactly ten years old.” He regretted uttering that last sentence the moment it left his mouth.

“‘Exactly’?” King Friedrich asked, instantly catching on to it. “You mean to say that her birthday was today?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Jordan said with a bowed head.

“You agreed to go through with this...tour...of mine, instead of giving your daughter a proper celebration?”

And with that, poor Jordan was doomed. That’s how it was for the hapless servants of Friedrich the Great: you were to serve him to the best of your ability, through rain or shine, despite illness or personal tragedy...except on those rare occasions when doing so made him feel guilty. Then no earthly power could save you.

“Well this is unacceptable!” King Friedrich exclaimed. “Wake the child at once! I will give her a birthday celebration that she will never forget!”

“Your Majesty,” Maupertuis said, sidling up to the king. “It is closer to midnight than it is to sunset, and a growing child needs to get her sleep!”

Voltaire and Algarotti looked incredulously at each other. One simply did not use that tone with a king.

Amazingly, though, it appeared to work. “Of course,” the king said, looking sheepish.

A king, looking sheepish! a watching Algarotti thought in wonderment. What was the world coming to?

“And besides,” Maupertuis added, “we have our plan to carry through.”

“Oh yes!” the king said, his eyes sparkling with mischief as he rubbed his hands together.

Voltaire didn’t like the way that the king was looking at him when he said that.

~ ~ ~

“Your Majesty? Your Majesty?! What does the port mean?” a desperate Voltaire asked from inside his new cell a few minutes later.

“Everybody knows how much the English love port and, well, you always were a little too fond of the English,” the voice of Maupertuis drifted back to him.

“I hate port!” Voltaire said with a pout as he sat down on the bed.

~ ~ ~

Jordan came back to the same cell a half-hour later. “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked. “Other than letting you go?” he added apologetically.

Voltaire sighed from his place at the back of the cell. “I don’t blame you, Monsieur Jordan,” he said. “We are all King Friedrich’s puppets in the end, you especially. I’m surprised he hasn’t made you dress in motley and bells yet. I need to write a letter.”

“That’s what the candle, and the little table, and the sharpened feather, and the paper are for,” Jordan said carefully. It wouldn’t do to imply that a world-famous philosopher was an idiot for failing to notice all that, so he hoped he got across the tone of conveying information with absolutely no judgment attached whatsoever.

“I can see the candle and the table and the paper, and I thank you for them,” Voltaire said very patiently.

“Ah good!” Jordan exclaimed. “They were Ivan’s idea. He realized that a writer like you should be able to write himself out of trouble.”

“An excellent insight,” Voltaire said, trying to keep his voice calm. “He just managed to forget one thing.”

“He did?”

“What am I supposed to use on the sharpened feather to write on the paper with?”

Jordan peered into the room, and indeed saw what was missing. “Oh. I think we’re out of ink. Ivan’s been writing a lot of letters back to his family.”

Voltaire sighed. “Of course.”

“I’ll go out and get some more in the morning,” Jordan said with an encouraging tone.

“Thank you,” Voltaire said.

“Will you be needing anything else?” the philosopher’s unwilling captor asked.

“No, I might as well get some sleep.”

“Good night.”

It took half of the bottle of port before Voltaire was in a fit state to sleep peacefully.

~ ~ ~

Death from above!

Voltaire was suddenly awakened by an object bouncing off of his chest. For a moment, he could have sworn he saw a small circle of light floating above him, and a smirking face looking down at him. Before he could focus his eyes, however, the circle was gone.

After a few fumbles, he managed to pick up the object that had awoken him. It was a pencil, crudely wrapped in paper.

He looked questioningly at the window of the cell, the only logical place the pencil could have come from. “Ivan..?” he asked out loud.

There was no answer. Getting up and looking around, he saw a cold breakfast waiting for him on his writing table, along with an invitation to meet Jordan’s daughter at 4 o’clock that afternoon, and an apology that Jordan’s usual source was out of ink.

He also discovered that he had a stupendous hangover.

He drowned his sorrows in port wine, and was soon in a good mood again. After all, despite Jordan’s apology, Voltaire had something to write with now, and the philosopher never considered himself defenseless as long as he held one of those in his hand.

~ ~ ~

“The King of France!” Friedrich bellowed for what had to be the tenth time that morning. “How could I have not realized that he was mocking the King of France, not me?”

The King in Prussia didn’t even wait for the carriage to stop before the asylum before stepping out onto the sidewalk.

“We are going to get Voltaire out of that cell first thing,” he instructed a thoroughly cowed President Maupertuis, “and then I’m going to wish Jordan’s daughter a proper birthday.” He looked around him in a near panic. “Where’s the cake? Did we forget the cake?”

Count Algarotti stumbled out of the carriage, carrying a sheet cake easily as wide as he was tall. “No, the cake is accounted for,” the Italian mumbled. He just knew that he’d end up getting frosting all over his pale green coat before this day was through.

~ ~ ~

What is this thing, anyway? Voltaire thought to himself in amazement, as he bent down to examine what had happened to the pencil lead on the page before him.

He placed a finger over one of the “o”s on the page, and felt the opening under his skin. It was like the black blob on the page was actually a hole in the paper, but instead of reaching through to touch the wood underneath, instead he was feeling cold stone.

This was an exceedingly strange mystery, too strange even for Sir Newton, and so Voltaire consulted his inner Émilie du Châtelet, the cleverest person he had ever known. Voltaire’s gut told him that Jordan’s as-yet unseen daughter had the ability to perceive a strange world populated by unicorns instead of people. But how did she get these visions? Did they appear to her in her dreams? Were they painted on the inside of her eyelids every time she blinked? Or did she have some other way of directly seeing this world? Through a magic mirror, or perhaps...a magic portal created by a magic pencil?

It was a stretch of the imagination to string all of these suppositions together, an extreme stretch, but it seemed to make sense, as well as fitting very well into the way that a visual artist would think. The drawings in Room 108 had not been drawn using the magic pencil that Jordan’s daughter had apparently lent him just now, but that made sense, as it appeared (and further experimentation immediately proved) that any closed circle in such a drawing would turn into a portal, thereby ruining its artistic integrity.

Now that he had figured out the mechanism, Voltaire simply had to see how he could exploit it...

The Audience Chamber of Canterlot Palace, 46 Summer, EY 6764

“A human!” Princess Celestia exclaimed in surprise, pointing a forehoof at the back of the chamber.

Genevieve stared slack-jawed at the gangly limbed creature that had seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Around her, ponies screamed in panic, rushing in all directions away from the new arrival. At the same time, a double row of royal guards were shoving ponies to left and right in order to reach them.

In Genevieve’s mind, it seemed that the grim guards were equally motivated to capture and punish her, like she was somehow responsible for this. Desperate, she looked around for some way of proving her usefulness.

It seemed to her that the creature had sort of fallen out of nothingness, because to the best of her recollection it had appeared a bit at a time, like it was taking off a cloak of invisibility.

The donkey started to poke her muzzle in the general direction where the creature had appeared from. Suddenly, all she could see was a sideways room. The world started turning around her...

Inside the same cell at Charité, June 23, AD 1751

Genevieve the donkey briefly tumbled through a very weird feeling before suddenly arriving in a darkened room. For just a moment, she felt something like a hoof strike her side, and she was turned around to see behind her, into the face of the Princess reaching out to try and grab her.

But now, she was someplace else entirely.

Genevieve looked around her in confusion. She could only faintly hear the sounds of the ponies, drowned out by the growls and howlings of strange creatures from the other sides of the walls around he.

She looked down to see the audience chamber through a sort of window in the floor. This window appeared to be made up of several pieces of paper overlapping one another.

It would be a simple matter to jump through that window and go back to the audience chamber. But that would ruin everything, for herself, but much worse, for her father.

That is why Genevieve reached down and scattered the pieces of paper below her, causing the window to Equestria to flicker and die.

With the portal between worlds broken, the flow of time in the two realms moved forward at vastly different speeds: Equestria lurched forward into the future, while Earth crawled at a nearly imperceptible rate:

Equestria: Voltaire was locked into a cell, and then met Eveningstar and Princess Celestia.

Earth: Genevieve...

Equestria: Voltaire talked himself into being Celestia’s newest councilor.

Earth: ...rose...

Equestria: Voltaire met a dragon, and formed a new political party.


Equestria: Voltaire told a silly little story, and transformed the state of pony-Princess relations forever.

Earth: ...her...

Equestria: Griffonia was roiled by a revolution and Princess Celestia had a mental breakdown with no human help whatsoever, thereby proving that Voltaire was not in fact the new center of the Equestrian universe.

Earth: ...hooves...

Equestria: The Princess led an expedition of volunteers north to prepare the ponies to shelter the ousted griffon nobility.

Earth: ...and...

Equestria: Voltaire told another story, and transformed the state of griffon-griffon and griffon-pony relations forever. (He really should learn to shut his big mouth.)

Earth: ...looked...

A Field Outside Stalliongrad, 75 Summer, EY 6764

Voltaire demonstrated to the captain of the guards how an earth pony or pegasus could flip a coin to resolve disputes, by throwing his Reichsthaler roughly into the air. “Something like that, I would suppose,” he said with a smile. He watched as the coin flipped over and over through the air...until suddenly it froze in place, along with the rest of the universe.


At that moment, a flood of alternate memories flooded into Voltaire’s mind. An alternate memory of how he arrived in Equestria, where the magic pencil came from a mad forester that he had never met before. Another alternate memory where the coin in his hand showed Genevieve as a queen, and he accepted this as reality. And a whole set of memories of the immediate future, where Genevieve had used the pencil to make herself a goddess, and Princess Celestia was forced to resort to nothing more than her wits to save both Equestria and Earth from the petty wrath of an all-powerful ten-year-old jenny. Those memories continued with the plans to turn that wrecked reality into the very reality that he now resided in, concluding with his week matching wits with Celestia in 1741.

As a thoroughly shocked Voltaire tried to absorb all of this, the floating coin began to wobble slightly, and then start to slowly tumble, its speed gradually building until—

“STOP!” screamed Voltaire.

The coin obediently froze in place.

“What is it?” a confused Goddess Genevieve asked, materializing beside him.

“You were going to leave!” Voltaire cried, turning to face Her.

“Yes...?” She asked, having no problem with Her actions whatsoever.

“Without saying goodbye?” Voltaire asked insistently.

“We never really met!” Genevieve protested. “And besides, you will meet Me again, a month from now, when you return to the portal in Canterlot.”

Voltaire shook his head. “That won’t be You. Not really. Not the donkey who’s done so much—”

“So much what?!” Genevieve interrupted irritably. “So much wrong? Is there anything I didn’t ruin? And if it wasn’t for the Princess, it would all be ruined forever!”

“So You made some mistakes,” Voltaire said flippantly.

“I broke my fellow equines. And humans, too. You saw what I did to Zody. I could have made him normal at any time, but I knew if I did that he would hate Me, so I left him like that! What kind of inequine monster does that make Me?”

“But you didn’t set out to do any of that,” Voltaire assured Her. “Tell me what You were trying. What did you want?”

“I wanted it all to make sense!” the goddess cried, as She turned Her back to him. “I wanted all the good in My life to be rewards for doing the right thing, and all the bad to be punishments for doing the wrong thing, or the acts of something evil that could be defeated forever!”

“You wanted the promise to be fulfilled,” the human told Her. “The promise that Your princess was a goddess who was morally responsible for everything that happens.”

Genevieve nodded, Her eyes screwed shut. Electrical sparks ran down Her face instead of tears.

“Well she’s not,” Voltaire said, putting a hand gingerly on the goddess’ withers and arching his neck around to look Her in the face. “She never was, and she never wanted anybody to think she was. That was their mistake, not hers.”

Genveive nodded once again. “I know,” She said in a shaky voice.

“And now that little mistake has been fixed.”

“Because of you,” the donkey said, opening Her eyes and gazing at him.

Voltaire forced himself to remain calm as he looked into those glowing white pits where Genevieve’s eyes should have been. “And I would never have stayed in Equestria long enough to do what I did if not for You,” he told her. “That may not have been Your intention, but that’s what ended up happening. After all,” he added with a bitter laugh, “God works in mysterious ways.”

“Yeah,” Genevieve said, Her head dipping down so that She was looking at the time-frozen grass at her hooves.

“Genevieve,” Voltaire said as he lifted Her head, slightly burning his hand on Her tears, “You’re going to be leaving soon.”

“Yes,” the donkey replied in a low voice.

“And You’re going to have a chance to start over, something that’s very...very special indeed.” Voltaire’s voice caught as he thought of what he and the Princess could each do with second chances.

“I don’t deserve it,” Genevieve muttered.

“Yes, you do,” Voltaire insisted. “You were too young...too young for all of this, and this time You’ll have a chance to grow up in the world You deserved from the beginning. What would You like to happen? Tell me, and I’ll ask the Princess to do what she can to help you.”

“I don’t care what happens,” Genevieve said, trying to turn Her head away.

“Humor me,” Voltaire said.

“I don’t want to be anybody,” Genevieve said with a sigh. “This whole thing started because I wanted Zody to be more than a friend. That wasn’t fair for Me to ask—”

“Genevieve...!” Voltaire warned.

“—Not because I’m not a unicorn,” she explained, looking the human in the eyes, “but because he’s fated to spend his life in politics, and I want to have nothing to do with politics for as long as I live. Besides, he told Me that he had fallen in love with Blue Belle. He actually apologized to Me, as I was torturing him! She must have changed—was that your doing as well?”

“Ah, well,” Voltaire said, fidgeting uncomfortably. “She actually managed to do that to herself as she tried to undermine my influence with the Princess.”

Genevieve gave Voltaire an inscrutable look before continuing. “I think they were made for each other,” she said. “And I was made for My art. That’s what I will do, when I am mortal again: I will devote Myself to My art. But I will have no recognition. I’ve seen what fame does to both ponies and humans, and I want no part of it.”

Voltaire shook his head incredulously. “Well if that is what You truly want, then I’m sure the Princess will arrange something. I hope You don’t mind if she consults Your reborn self just to make sure.”

Genevieve shrugged, then turned away. “I must go now; if I go any longer with this guilt I think I will burst.”

On impulse, Voltaire stepped forward and hugged Genevieve.

“What was that for?” She asked.

“It was for You,” he said.

She stared at him doubtfully with those eerie eyes.

“...And for the Princess. For all the times after she lost her sister, when she was screwing up and there was nobody to hold her.”

With a resigned sigh, the goddess faded out of existence, leaving the human embracing nothing.

The Field Outside Stalliongrad, 75 Summer, EY 6764

The Reichsthaler landed with a “poof!” in the dirt of the field.

“Heads!” the Captain declared, rousing the human from his reverie. “Although your rulers must all be tremendous egoists, if they insist on having their portraits engraved in their currency. Princess Celestia is fine with issuing completely featureless bits. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” said Voltaire. If you live in a world where counterfeiting is rendered impossible through the use of unicorn detection spells, he added mentally. “Although I like the head,” he added. “It’s much preferable to the possible alternatives.” He reached down to pick up the coin. “Are we done here? Because I think I’m late to a royal council meeting.”

“Yeah, you can go,” Captain Hardheart said.

~ ~ ~

“You kept your promise,” were the first words Voltaire said to Princess Celestia when next they met.

Chapter 44

View Online

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Chapter 44

The statue garden located behind Canterlot Palace, 95 Summer EY 6764

The journey back to Canterlot from Stalliongrad had been mostly uneventful, which left Blue Belle plenty of time to mull over her suspicions.

Something’s wrong, she kept telling herself, and the Princess and the human know what it is.

The two of them effortlessly dodged all of her attempts to figure out what precisely had happened to them right before that last Council meeting in Stalliongrad. And to everypony else, perhaps, they managed to pull off their illusion that nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

But the knowing looks they would get in their eyes, the way that they seemed so sure about minor aspects of the immediate future, and the way they would laugh at nothing in particular made it abundantly obvious to the new Minister of Unicorn Affairs that there was a secret to be uncovered. She silently vowed that as soon as she had reunited with her father, the two of them would get some kind of answers out of the pair.

The thought of meeting her father again caused Blue Belle to softly gasp, as if at one time there was a question of whether she was ever going to see him again. This sharpened her suspicions even further.

“Why are we out here again?” she asked her two companions, as they followed a nearly-invisible path deeper and deeper into the Royal Gardens.

“Well, that portal to Earth has got be fixed sooner or later,” Princess Celestia said lightly, “and I figured there was no better time for Voltaire to see Discord’s statue. You did want to see it as well, didn’t you?”

“Of course,” Blue Belle said impatiently. “I just didn’t think that it would be this inaccessible.”

“Yes,” the Princess said with a frown, “I probably should relocate Him again. He tends to have a...bad effect on the vegetation.”

“You say that like He’s still alive in there,” the unicorn said nervously.

“That’s because He still is,” Princess Celestia replied.

The unicorn broke out into a cold sweat. “Is there any chance that He could break out?” she asked.

The alicorn closed her eyes for a moment. “No, He’s secure,” she said finally. “Speaking of which, we’re here.”

~ ~ ~

On a marble pedestal stood a mixed-up bipedal creature, one arm outstretched in a dramatic gesture, with His eyes closed and His single-fanged mouth open wide, like He was singing an aria from an opera.

Voltaire chuckled. “Is this actually what it appears to be?” he asked. “Did the Princesses of Sun and Moon defeat the Draconequus god by staging a singing competition?”

“Yes,” Celestia said with a broad grin. “And He ‘won’, through rampant use of a laryngitis spell on all of the actual contestants.”

“We had a Roman emperor like that,” Voltaire said with a shake of his head. “It’s said that he let Rome burn to the ground one day so as to provide better accompaniment for his latest fiddle composition.”

“Excuse me, but ‘Draconequus’?” Blue Belle interrupted.

“That’s, err, His species,” Voltaire replied.

“His mean there’s more than one of Him?” Blue Belle started hyperventilating.

“Ah...” Voltaire hedged.

Celestia glanced up at her Sun. “Would you look at the time!” she exclaimed.

Voltaire thoughtlessly did just that. “I’m blind!” he exclaimed.

“We need to be in the audience chamber, right now!” the Princess exclaimed.

Still inside that same cell at Charité, June 23, AD 1751


Genevieve was now stuck here in the human’s world, forever.

Well, forever...or until she picked up that magic pencil over there and repaired the portal to Equestria. She didn’t know how she knew that the pencil was magic, or the fact that it operated for anybody just by drawing, with no incantations or other special instructions. She just knew. (Thankfully, she was not aware of everything else she could have done with that pencil if she had a mind to.)

And this was a prison, wasn’t it? The creature in Equestria was an escapee from a prison, and nobody knew but her! She had to go back, even if the Princess wanted to punish her. Although...

Genevieve’s memory flashed back to the moment when she had glimpsed the Princess’s face during her journey between worlds. She realized that what she saw was a look of compassion, the look of a pony who was honestly pained to be losing her.

She decided then and there that she would not be motivated by fear of what her ruler might do to her. She would face her just punishment, whatever it might be.

Also there was the matter of the footsteps generated by multiple creatures approaching the door, but Genevieve assured herself that fear of the monstrous, almost-certainly deranged fellow prisoners/monsters that were coming for her soul had absolutely nothing to do with her selfless decision. She pushed the papers back into a large square, stood in the middle with her hooves holding the papers in place, and picking up the pencil with her lips, quickly drew a circle around herself.

Of course she fell through instantly.

The Audience Chamber of Canterlot Palace, 95 Summer, EY 6764

That’s it!” exclaimed Caloric in a towering rage.

Too bad that towering rages look utterly ridiculous when you’re wearing mage’s robes.

“I have had enough of this recalcitrant portal! May Princess Luna take it to Tartarus for all I care!”

As the other two mages gasped in horror at the utterance of the Forbidden Name, Caloric bucked a random pillar.

At that precise second, Genevieve tumbled out of the just-opened portal on the other side of that pillar and cracked her head against the floor.

Genius!” proclaimed Aether and Phlogiston, reaching out to shake his hoof.

All three raced forward, not to assist the fallen donkey, but to stabilize the portal. That job was reserved for Gordon, who seemed to have materialized nearly as fast as his daughter.

“Genevieve! Genevieve!” he cried, cradling her form in his forelegs. “Speak to me!”

“ I in trouble?” she added weakly.

The jester could do no more than to hug the jenny tightly to himself, wetting her coat with his tears of joy.

~ ~ ~

At that moment the doors to the audience chamber burst open.

“We’re home!” exclaimed Voltaire. “Did we miss anything?”

Princess Celestia merely rolled her eyes as she followed the human into the room.

“Genevieve!” Blue Belle exclaimed, racing around the other two to reach the prone figure.

“I’m sorry, Lady Belle,” Genevieve said, her head bowed, “I failed even at my exile. Give me the worst the Equestrian Justice system has for me.”

“Are you nuts?!” the white unicorn exclaimed. “This whole time, I was manipulating you for my sick gratification, but no more! I’ve become a new pony, and you’ve become one of my new role models!”

“Me?” the bewildered donkey asked.

“Yes, you!” Blue Belle replied, poking Genevieve in the chest.

“Do you have any idea how long you’ve been gone?” Princess Celestia asked as she knelt down beside her.

A shocked Genevieve bowed her head down to the ground. “No, Your Highness!” She then bowed her head even further to add, “I am not worthy, Your Highness!”

“Genevieve,” the Princess said gently but firmly, resting one hoof on her shoulder, “you are a subject of Equestria, and for that alone you are worthy of my attention and love. I am your protector, but I am not so high above you as you might think. In any case, you have been gone for fifty days, and a lot has changed while you were gone.”

“F...fif...fifty days!” Genevieve exclaimed. “But I was only gone for a few seconds!”

“A few seconds on my planet,” Voltaire explained, “but time does not move the same in our two worlds.”

On hearing this, Blue Belle’s brow furrowed in suspicion, and she grabbed one of the mages to ask him some questions.

Genevieve looked up at Voltaire, her eyes blinking rapidly. “You are a human!” she exclaimed.

“And not a prisoner,” he added with a bow. “Merely the victim of a rather cruel practical joke.”

Genevieve looked behind her at the still-open portal. “Then I guess you better be returning, then?” she asked cautiously.

“Yes,” Voltaire said with a sigh. “It is time for me to finally make my leave.” He gestured to the Sparkle Sisters, who were waiting curiously outside the door of the audience chamber. “Thank you two for everything,” he told them, before extracting the gray cap from under his periwig and handing it off to Eveningstar. “Now have excuse for short goodbye,” he joked in bad Equine.

“Goodbye,” he said to the distracted Blue Belle, tapping her on the head with a finger. “You now new ‘Voltige’. Have fun annoying Princess!”

Celestia and Blue Belle simultaneously face-hooved.

“Goodbye,” he said to Gordon. “You jester—laugh more!”

“Goodbye,” he said to a confused Prince Blueblood, who was only just then entering the audience chamber. “Having still the fun at being the sore loser.” The prince figured out enough of that last sentence to nod in agreement.

“Goodbye,” he said to Genevieve. “Be nopony.” She looked at him strangely for this.

Finally he turned to Princess Celestia. He opened his mouth...and found absolutely nothing to say. He wanted to thank her for showing him that it was possible for a stubbornly deluded populace to change, because that gave him hope that his native France might yet avoid the pains of revolution that he knew were coming. He wanted to assure her that when the time came to face her cursed sister that she would be able to help her. He selfishly wanted to congratulate himself that he had managed to become memorable to an immortal, and therefore was now an immortal of sorts himself. But without his cap he could say none of these to his satisfaction. Finally he grinned as he thought of the perfect way to say goodbye.

Ribbit!” Voltaire croaked.

Nopony said anything, all of them looking to their Princess to see her reaction.

Although her eyes glistened, Princess Celestia said nothing for several seconds, until suddenly...

Brr-deep!” she croaked back at him.

In the language of Voltaire’s fictional frogs, she had just hailed him as a god.

Voltaire chuckled, and then he laughed, and then the laughs built into gut-busting guffaws. Once he started, he found himself completely unable to stop. Wiping his eyes several times, he waved feebly, then stumbled towards the portal and tumbled through.

And so it was that Voltaire, the greatest champion of human liberties of the French Enlightenment, left the magical land of Equestria, not through exile or fleeing from a vengeful mob, but by laughing his ass off.

The cell at Charité, June 23, AD 1751

When Voltaire arrived back on Earth, he heard Blue Belle exclaim from the other side of the portal. Eagerly, he leaned forward and listened in.

Wait just one second!” the unicorn exclaimed. “The timing of this is unbelievable! How did you know the portal would open at that precise moment? And the time gradient between worlds is completely impossible! Phlogiston here tells me that it would require even more magic than an alicorn possesses to make time pass so slowly on Earth compared to Equestria.

The mage pony muttered something about making that statement under duress.

And that means...I knew it!” Blue Belle crowed. “That can only mean the covered-up existence of a g—

She was never allowed to finish that sentence, as a shocked Princess teleported the two of them out of sight.

Well! Voltaire thought to himself. It looks like the Princess will be forced to restore Blue Belle’s memories after all! I do hope that Celestia is able to cut out the worst parts. Better for the filly to think she blacked out from the pain after removing that necklace than to go through what actually happened.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire! Voltaire, are you in there?

The voice was that of King Friedrich, and it was accompanied by the rattling of Jordan nervously flipping through his key ring to find the key for this door.

Voltaire only had a few moments to spare. With a kick of his foot, he scattered the pages forming the portal. He then picked up the magic pencil that was located at his feet, and dropped it through a circle of light that had just then appeared at his side.

Death from above!” he exclaimed with a smirk.

The circle winked out of existence just as the door opened.

“My dear Voltaire!” the King exclaimed as the door was opened. “Are you...groveling?”

Voltaire jumped to his feet. “Of course not!” he exclaimed roughly. “Would Friedrich the Great have asked the legendary Voltaire to join his entourage for no other reason than to see him grovel?”

The three men standing behind Friedrich looked on in shock, certain that they were about to see the idiot in the prisoner’s cell get the punishment he had just wriggled out of.

For a few seconds, Friedrich said nothing, his eyes growing bigger and bigger and bigger. And then he slapped his knee and uttered an explosive guffaw.

“Don’t ever change, Voltaire!” he laughed.

The other men, relieved, turned and made their way out to the belated birthday party for Jenny.

Seeing that they were alone, the King pulled his Court Philosopher aside. “And if you ever deign to use that tone towards me when a commoner like Jordan is present, I will have your head. Understood?”

Yup!” Voltaire squeaked, before meekly following in his monarch’s footsteps.

But of course by this point, he had already decided that serving King Friedrich was no longer worth the trouble.

After all, if you’ve served the Alicorn Princess of Equestria, any other ruler is merely second-rate.

~ T H E ~ E N D ~

Afterward, Credits & Acknowledgements

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The Best of All Possible Worlds


Ponies, as has been stated, have a habit of taking anything unusual in their lives, turning it into a good story, and then preferring the story to reality; humans are not that different from ponies in this regard.

Once Emperor Noffony I had been overthrown, the griffons settled down into something greatly resembling “normal” to the ponies. As a result, the story that the ponies ended up telling themselves to explain the events of the Griffish Revolution was that their neighbors had temporarily gone completely insane, but were all better now, thank you very much. As for that bizarre form of government they now practiced—something called “republicanism”—ponies simply put it in the mental bucket labeled “things that will only give you a headache if you try to figure them out” and went back to the same hum-drum lives they led before any of this madness ever happened. (Pinkie Pie, when she came around, earned herself a permanent place in that bucket.)

The griffons on the other claw consider themselves entirely different than what they were before the Revolution. They see themselves as a unique experiment, a merger of all of the major races of the world: their own strength of character, fused with Diamond Dog republicanism, pony ingenuity, and dragon patience. This belief is backed by fact: The Griffish Republic boasts the highest ratio of non-natives among their population of any of the Four Races. In the case of the integrated Orange Clan, the non-natives are treated indistinguishably from griffons, and are treated as if the facts of their differing sizes, lifespans and diet are mere accidents of birth and nothing more. This confidence in their own identity is due to an innate belief that they are uniquely blessed by the creator god that all of the ponies seem to have forgotten about, and destined to convert the entire world to their doctrines when the time is right. Luckily for everybody else in the world, that time is “not yet”.

The parts of Princess Celestia’s life after the events of this story which are not public knowledge are not in my place to reveal, so you’ll hear no more of her here.

Also, Morningstar and Eveningstar’s great accomplishments occurred before Voltaire visited Equestria. They attended the family weddings, helped to care for the family grandchildren, and died of old age surrounded by their loved ones. Typically for Morningstar, she spent her last moments criticizing those around her for their lack of sincerity when they claimed they would be sad to see her go.

~ ~ ~

Cogs Sparkle moved permanently to the Aerie and became a Griffish citizen, although he became a conscientious objector during the Griffish-Equestrian War. He is even suspected of sabotaging some of the clockwork engines of war that he had prepared for use against a possible dragon invasion that never materialized. He married a fellow inventor who happened to be a griffon, and died without fathering or adopting a child. Instead, he spent his life putting Griffish civilization on a non-magical, technological foundation.

This was long considered by pony historians to be a bad idea. Magic, after all, is a lot cheaper than technology.

With the opening of the Trans-World Portal, however, that gamble is finally starting to pay off. It may take centuries for the consequences to fully play themselves out, but most objective observers predict that the griffons will become the major economic winners of the trans-Portal trading network.

~ ~ ~

Zody Sparkle married Blue Belle in EY 6768. Their daughter, Rigella, was born a year later, and was named after the bright blue star. Zody died at Water Loop in 6770. After a complex negotiating process, Rigella was officially adopted into the Sparkle family, and all modern Sparkles are her descendants.

Blue Belle was present at the tragic death of her husband at Water Loop, and the collapse of Noffony’s invasion in that battle is largely credited to the joint machinations of herself and Perrygore. After the inevitable awards ceremony at Canterlot Palace, Blue Belle withdrew from politics, spending nearly two decades in mourning before marrying her long-time suitor, the Griffish diplomat pony Sir Purse Strings. Despite her age, Blue Belle fulfilled her family duty by giving birth to Blueblood XVI three years later. There are dozens of stories told about her, impossible rumors that she killed the Mad Emperor herself before he succeeded in severing the Strings of Fate, that her husband was a mere pickpocket that she tricked the world into thinking was aristocracy, and that she was secretly the Princess’ most trusted advisor and the hoof behind the most incredible acts, both good and evil, that happened during her long life.

Most of these rumors are true.

~ ~ ~

After the Orange Revolution and the voluntary joining of the Orange Tribe of dragons with the Griffish Republic, Ambassador Botvinnik and a number of other aristocrats joined the Purple Clan, but they were never allowed the power they once held. Botvinnik is currently nothing more than a pineapple farmer, and ponies are still his only purchasers.

~ ~ ~

Noir of the Diamond Dogs died of a heart attack in 6769. The Diamond Dogs said that he chose this form of death rather than vote either for or against invading the Griffish Empire as an ally of the ponies.

~ ~ ~

The griffon Sky Shock was tried for crimes against griffinity and placed under house arrest for the remaining fifteen years of her life. By all accounts, it was more a prison of the mind than of the body.

She died crying out the name of her lost daughter.

~ ~ ~

Leopold ran for president against the mysterious figure who would later go down in history as Noffony I, under a platform of strict neutrality. He was assassinated during a political speech, an act which at the time was blamed on the ponies and led both to Noffony’s elevation to emperor and the outbreak of war.

~ ~ ~

Uncle K’s sanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. realizqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi.. Ponyagination. After transfornisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Strings of Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi. Ponyaanisqatsi.

~ ~ ~

Citizen Perrygore survived the turmoil of the Griffish Empire the same way he had weathered every other event of the Revolution. Which is to say I have no idea how he survived the turmoil of the Griffish Empire.

He settled into a comfortable cave and wrote his memoirs, which in letters to his friends he claimed contained all the secrets of his various political masters through the years, including Noffony I.

He died peacefully in his sleep in 6783. His memoirs were never found.

~ ~ ~

True to her wishes, Genevieve left no impact on history. This at least was what she believed to her dying day on the shores of Water Loop.

However, it is suspicious that an incredible series of portraits of Princess Celestia exist from this time period, signed by Prince Blueblood. The Prince was not known for his artistic ability. If not for those signatures, it is highly unlikely that the works would have survived the Iconoclastic Purge of the early Eighth Millennium.

~ ~ ~

In AD 1754, Friedrich the Great triggered a conflict called “The Seven Years War” in Europe and “The French and Indian War” in America; Winston Churchill considered it “the first world war” in history. Despite being massively outnumbered by an alliance of his numerous enemies, Friedrich managed to fight them to a standstill, giving his British allies the leeway to fight in the colonies instead of in Europe. It’s a bit of a stretch, but the fact that I am writing this translation in English instead of French is in some part due to the King in Prussia. To take a less American-centric view, the economic and political strength of modern Germany is also partly to his credit. Balanced against those two accomplishments is his masterminding of the First Partition of Poland. He died in 1786, having succeeded in his dream of becoming King of Prussia instead of merely King in Prussia. Napoleon considered the man to be his greatest inspiration as a general.

~ ~ ~

I hope you realize that the villainous character of Count Algarotti was entirely my own invention—I needed an antagonist from among Voltaire’s circle in Prussia, and I couldn’t take Maupertuis seriously, so I went with the guy Thomas Carlyle had an irrational dislike for. In real life, Algarotti was a polymath and a bon vivant who went through life offending no one. Algarotti’s essay on opera (1755) shaped how that art form would be treated for the next several decades, and Cristoph Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice was a direct result of their shared ideas on the form.

~ ~ ~

Voltaire’s prediction that he would not last long in King Frederick’s service turned out to be accurate: he got into a fight of words with President Maupertuis in 1753 over the latter’s intellectual bullying of his inferiors that ended with the French philosopher getting himself arrested and kicked out of the country.

Forbidden to settle in Germany or France, he eventually bought himself a private estate just over the Swiss border at Ferney, where he spent the rest of his unexpectedly long life as a lord of a tiny village. The horrible official response to the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, and the even more shameful cover-up of that response by most other philosophers of the day, led Voltaire to pen Candide, the work by which he is best known today. After a crisis of conscience, he used the fame this gave him to attempt that which he lacked the nerve or selflessness to do previously: to use his pen to defend the weak instead of merely to attack the strong. He became a champion of religious tolerance, raising awareness for the martyrdoms of the Protestant Jean Calas and others, and his return to Paris to watch a performance of his most-famous play in 1778 was a triumphal one. As he had expected, however, the stress of the trip was too much for his weakened body, and he died before he was able to leave the capital. It is said that on his deathbed that a Catholic priest begged him to renounce Satan and all of his works. Voltaire’s response: “Now is not the time for making new enemies.”

On July 11, 1791, in the midst of the French Revolution, his remains were transferred to the Panthéon of Paris in a huge public ceremony. Written at that time was his epitaph, reflecting the way the revolutionaries viewed him:

He avenged Calas, La Barre, Sirven and Monbailli.

Poet, philosopher, historian, he gave a great impetus to the human spirit, and prepared us to be free.

He combatted atheists and fanatics. He inspired tolerance. He reclaimed the rights of man against serfdom and feudalism.

He also founded a watch company that is still in existence today.

~ ~ ~

“If God hadn’t existed, it would have been necessary to invent Him.”

—Voltaire, Letter to the Author of The Three Impostors, 1768

Credits and Acknowledgements

In writing a story set two and a half centuries before the first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, I’ve wandered pretty far afield from Lauren Faust’s original vision. Nevertheless, I wish to express my profound appreciation of that vision, and in particular her careful “non-vision” of the character of Princess Celestia. By leaving her mysterious, she has left the space that I and so many other unworthy authors have attempted to fill with our writings.

The only names in this story that directly come from Friendship Is Magic are the following: Princesses Celestia and Luna (and Nightmare Moon). Discord (and other theoretical dragonequii). Star Swirl the Bearded. The Blueblood and Sparkle families (assuming they are families in canon). The Summer Sun Celebration, the Raising of the Sun Ceremony, and the details and characters of the Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant (the Windigos, Clover the Clever, Private Pansy and Smart Cookie). Equestria, Canterlot (and especially its palace and gardens), The Everfree Forest, Hoofington, Manehattan and Trottingham. Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. And of course the ponies as a race and what little we know so far about griffons, dragons and Diamond Dogs in this setting.

My knowledge of Voltaire was primarily taken from Voltaire: A Life, by Ian Davidson (2010). My primary source for King Frederick II was Frederick the Great by Thomas Carlyle (1865). Both were supplemented by their entries on Wikipedia, so I get to blame that if I got anything wrong.

I went through a period a decade ago where I tried to find the best generalist work on the French Revolution that had ever been written (in English). I eventually concluded that The Days of the French Revolution, by Christopher Hibbert (1980) was that book, and it was my source for major parts of Chapters 20 - 32.

Additional Bibliographic Notes by Chapter


* “solid pink substance”: shoggoth or Smooze—you decide!

* the watch: When Isaac Newton proved that the universe could be explained mathematically, this opened up the possibility that it could be completely explained in that way, that the universe was some sort of elaborate mechanism like a clock, and once the Celestial Clockmaker (aka God) had set that clock in motion, there was no longer any reason for Him to intervene. Under the philosophy of Deism, which grew up around this concept, God’s only purpose was to create the universe; everything that followed after that was the result of the interaction of that machinery with human free will. Voltaire was a Deist.

Chapter 1

* Opening: The starts of both this and the next chapter are modeled after the narrative style of Candide.

* Genevieve: Her name selected, as if it needed to be said, because its diminutive is “jenny”.

* “Nightingale told us once that she thought Genevieve here could probably draw anything in Equestria”: First mention of the Royal Tailor, and Rarity’s ancestor.

Chapter 2

* Burr Linn: Berlin. I probably let this joke go on for far too long.

* “The King suddenly noticed the flute in his hand”: Friedrich the Great was a passionate flutist, having C.P.E. Bach and Johann Quantz among his court musicians, and composing original pieces of his own.

* Dean Swift: Jonathan Swift was Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and Voltaire was fond of using titles to either elevate (in the case of Swift) or demean (in the case of “Flattener” Maupertuis). Gulliver’s Travels had been written in 1726, so enough time had passed for the work to become generally known.

* Pegasus, with a capital “P”: It should be remembered that prior to the Twentieth Century, there was only one winged horse in literature or mythology, and “Pegasus” was his name, not his breed.

* The Garden of Eden, also known as Paradise (1536, by Lucas Cranach the Elder). You’ll want to spend a few minutes examining this in detail, because there’s some weird stuff (otherwise known as The Book of Genesis, Chapters 2 and 3) lurking in odd corners of this painting.

* “he did not want to be turned into a newt”. Witches can do that, you know.

* Seven-league boots: A common element of fairy tales, each step taken in these boots takes you as far as an average man could walk in a seven-hour day, approximately 30 km. The most recent reference to them that I can remember was from Howl’s Moving Castle.

* “Newton discovering gravity from an apple hitting his head”: Voltaire was in fact the first author to use this story to demonstrate how the scientist realized that the force that caused apples to drop towards the center of the Earth was the same as the force that kept the Moon falling but missing the same destination. I used to think the story was an oversimplification, but other than the fact that the apple fell next to Sir Isaac instead of bonking him on the head, it turns out to be essentially accurate.

* The Age of Louis XIV was published in 1751, just barely making it in before the setting of this story. It was a cultural evaluation of the late Seventeenth Century, which Voltaire considered to be the Golden Age of modern civilization. Which meant of course that he thought of his current age as a corrupt fall from that paradise.

* Micromegas was published in 1752, so I’m cheating a bit by including it here. The story was about Micromegas (“little giant”), a native of a planet orbiting the star Sirius. He teamed up with a native of Saturn to examine Earth. There, they came upon a team of learned explorers, almost certainly Maupertuis’ polar expedition, and proceeded to mercilessly mock their stupidity. The excerpt given in this chapter was from the beginning of the book, explaining why the Sirian suddenly saw a need to visit other solar systems. Seeing how King Louis was the one who exiled Voltaire from France, it is far more likely that he was the target of the satire than Friedrich.

* Port wine (and the English): Port is fortified wine produced in a particular region of Portugal (hence the name). It became popular in Portugal’s ally England during the War of the Spanish Succession, because import of wines from their enemy France became impossible at that time, and the Portuguese alliance included duty free imports.

Chapter 4

* The Orange Dragon Clan’s spy: Later revealed to be Pensive Thought.

* Janus: I threw this in here to show that the Princess engages in activities completely unknown to her subjects. The Roman Janus was the two-faced god of beginnings and endings. The doors of his temple were closed in times of peace and open in times of war. Let’s just say that the fight between Genevieve and Blue Belle just opened those doors, and they will not close for at least a generation after the end of this story.

Chapter 5

* The stories that humans told about unicorns: I’m referring primarily to the Unicorn Tapestries.

Chapter 6

* Eveningstar and Celestia’s conversation: This is based on the assumption that Celestia thought Nightmare Moon’s banishment to be eternal before this moment, and that the book Twilight Sparkle reads about the thousand year term of banishment was written afterwards, probably at Celestia’s command. The banishment in my chronology occurred in the year 6014, while the story takes place in the year 6764.

* “That reminds me of a race of ancient humans that once mixed up their months and years and ended up believing that one of their sages lived for 969 years.”: The individual referred to is Methuselah, and this argument about substituting months for years is a common one used by rationalists to explain his supposed longevity in the Bible.

* The Roman: Ovid, or in Latin, Publius Ovidius Naso. The emperor being referred to was Augustus, who went to the extraordinary length of personally sentencing the poet without a trial or a hearing before the Senate in AD 8. He was exiled to Tomis in what is now Romania, where he completed the Metamorphoses before he died in AD 17. The author was deliberately vague about the cause of his exile in his writings, his least ambiguous statement being that he was guilty of “a poem and a mistake”, his crime worse than murder, more harmful than poetry.

* Zebricans: I’m pretty sure the first use of “Zebrica” to refer to the home country of the zebras in Equestria comes from the Fallout: Equestria series of fanfics. My stories are not in that continuity, but I find I like the name “Zebrica” enough to use it anyway.

* Empress Elizabeth: Ruler of Russia from 1741 to 1762, and a long-time enemy of King Friedrich.

Chapter 7

* “He figured he was...near the exit of the Northwest Passage”: In other words, Voltaire guessed that he was in the same general location as Studio B, given where people thought the Northwest Passage was located in 1751.

* Voltaire’s prayer that God make his enemies ridiculous: This one is documented as being his. The second one is my own invention.

Chapter 8: Voltaire liked body humor jokes. No more need be said.

Chapter 10

* Celestia’s fancy alicorn cousins: This was written during the period when the Crystal Kingdom was just a rumor among the fans, so I decided to combine it with Prance (France) and make it an island floating just off the horizon to the east of Canterlot. Obviously, this was also before I learned that Canterlot was landlocked.

* The amniomorphic spell: I’m told that the name, first revealed and tied to Star Swirl in “Luna Eclipsed”, was meant to be a weak Harry Potter pun. My interpretation, however, was that it was tied to shaping (amnio) of one’s form (morphic). At a time when we had just learned that the alicorns had not created the ponies, the name of the spell seemed to imply that it was used to turn two normal ponies into alicorns. If I’m lucky, the first episode of the Fourth Season will confirm this. [Edit: It didn’t.]

* The “magical catastrophe” that forces Celestia to raise and lower the sun each day: This is later revealed to be the work of Discord.

Chapter 11

* The Coppenbrügge outside Hamelin: Site of the climax of The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Chapter 12

* A Citizen of Canterlot: The plot of this nonsensical play was inspired by that of Voltaire’s most-famous play in his lifetime, Zaire. It is also a subtle dig at the supposed author of this story, who is at times Morningstar, at other times Eveningstar, with unresolved emotional attachments to both her princess and her assistant.

Chapter 13

* The Diamond Dog Revolution: The reader is expected to make parallels between this development and the American Revolution, with the Diamond Dogs standing in for the Americans, the Orange Clan of dragons for the British, and the griffons for the French. Goliath in this case is George Washington, Duchess Praiseworthy is King Louis XVI, and the ponies correspond with the Prussians and other nations that did not officially choose a side in the conflict, but rather sent private individuals like the Baron von Steuben to lend individual support to the American cause.

* Botvinnik: My private system for keeping dragons as distinct in character from ponies as possible includes the rule of giving them all names of famous Russians or at least East Europeans. The historical Mikhail Botvinnik (1911 - 1995) was a Soviet and Russian International Grandmaster and World Champion of chess who was also a pioneer in the field of computer chess.

Chapter 17

* The Pitts: A reference to the two British prime ministers William Pitt the Elder and William Pitt the Younger.

* “The Frog Princess of Fomalhaut”: This is essentially Voltaire’s “Power and Omnipotence” essay from the Philosophical Dictionary, converted into a fairy tale. It’s also the whole reason this story was written, because the moment I read it, I knew Princess Celestia needed to hear it.

* “Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax”: Chorus of the titular creatures from the comedy The Frogs, by Aristophanes (405 BC).

Chapter 18

* “Peaches, the griffon export especially loved by the ponies”: You ever notice how peaches have this warm inviting orange skin, but turn blood red around the pit?

* Grizelda: Yes, she’s precisely who you think she is, at least if you know what the common nickname for “Grizelda” is.

* “It means that it is 8 o’clock”: At least in the first season of the series, clocks only had eight hours on them.

* Voltaire’s theory about revolutions: This is the one major aspect of his character that I invented. You see, Voltaire was a good historian, but the art of modern history was so new in his time that he simply didn’t have the data necessary to come up with this theory. Instead, it’s my own invention, fueled by equal parts Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee. Although it is my impression that even as early as 1751, Voltaire had a gut feeling that France was hurtling towards self-destruction.

* The details of King Friedrich’s life: All taken from Carlyle’s biography.

* Voltaire’s first exile: In 1726 (before Voltaire had become Voltaire) a French nobleman, the Chevalier de Rohan, tossed out an insult to François-Marie Arouet at a party. Arouet responded in kind. The Chevalier responded by sending his servants to beat Arouet. Arouet challenged him to a duel. Insulted that someone so inferior to him in birth would dare to do such a thing, the Rohan family arranged for the monarchy to issue a warrant to arrest Arouet—back in those days you didn’t even need a charge to do this, just so long as the gap in nobility between the two parties was big enough. Under normal circumstances, this would have led the young wit to be tossed into the Bastille, where it was highly unlikely that he would ever be seen again. Arouet negotiated to be exiled to England instead, where his exposure to English government and science would not only fundamentally change his outlook on life, but also lead to the adoption of his new name.

* “Did you decide to quit being banished?”: Invader Zim (Nickelodeon, 2001), created by Jhonen Vasquez.

* Voltaire’s scientist friend, who helped him get rich: This was Charles-Marie de la Condamine. Remember earlier when I told you that Pierre Louis Maupertuis got famous by traveling to Lapland to prove that the Earth was ever-so-slightly flat on top? Well in reality he only did half the job: he measured the length of a degree of latitude near the Pole, but that had to be compared to the length of a degree of latitude near the equator in order to prove that one was smaller than the other. And the man who measured the equatorial degree (in Ecuador, in fact)? Charles-Marie de la Condamine. Unlike Maupertuis, he didn’t get a swell head over the accomplishment, even though he ended up doing more than the “Great Flattener”: since the meter is based on his degree of latitude, Condamine effectively created the basis of the Metric System.

Chapter 20

* Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie: This was considered by its creators and contributors to be the founding document of the Enlightenment, its aim to transform the way its readers thought of the world around them. When completed in 1772, it had 28 volumes and 71,818 articles. Voltaire contributed 26 articles on history, literature and philosophy.

* The griffons bankrupting themselves fighting the dragons (over the Diamond Dog War of Independence): Parallel to France bankrupting itself fighting for the Americans in their war of independence.

* Attempts to make up the loss through “clever economics”: Finance ministers Jacques Necker and Charles de Calonne fail to save France through clever economics, 1776 - 1787. The fictional analogue for France being supported by the local god-princess, of course did not correspond with real life.

* “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs”: Common proverb first quoted by the Middle Eastern historian Charles P. Issawi. The quote continues “...but it is amazing how many eggs one can break without making a decent omelet.”

* “FISBY LIVES!”: A derivative of “Frodo Lives!”, a counterculture slogan of the 1960’s and 1970’s, often found spray-painted on the walls of college campuses and a reference to the Lord of Rings series of books by J.R.R. Tolkien (1955), which entered widespread paperback publication during this period. The precise meaning of the original slogan is uncertain.

* “Are you robbing me?”: “I’m robbing you!

* The Pointy Pillow and The Comfy Chair: Season 2, Episode 2 of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, entitled “The Spanish Inquisition” (1970).

* “Pumpkin-ification”: Oblique reference to the satire Apocolocyntosis Claudii by Seneca the Younger (First Century AD). The title is a Greek pun meaning both the apotheosis of the Emperor Claudius, and his miraculous transformation into a pumpkin.

* The proverbial “dark alley” of fiction: Here’s the pertinent section of TV Tropes, which itself could be considered a “dark alley” of sorts, if the currency you are about to be deprived of is time instead of money.

* “Let them eat cake”: A phrase incorrectly attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette. In fact it was invented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and placed in the mouth of a fictional queen for his Confessions in 1765, when Antoinette was only nine years old.

* “The Bakery”: The Bastille, which was stormed on 14 July 1789.

* The taking of the Griffon Palace: The Women’s March on Versailles, 1 October 1789.

Chapter 21

* “B”s letters to her husband: Modeled on John Adams’ letters to his wife Abigail, particularly the ones from 1778 - 1779, when he was traveling in France to enlist their aid in the Revolution.

* “Affair of the Mango Tiara”: Deliberately redolent of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace (1785) that so discredited Marie Antoinette.

* “Evil councilors”: I am convinced that the entire course of English monarchical history between the Norman Conquest and the Civil War was dominated by this belief.

* A pony “nailing himself in the foot”: Pony analog of the human phrase “shooting yourself in the foot”, although this version is less about stupidly inflicting pain on yourself and more about pinning yourself to the floor through stupidity so that the perfectly-justified bloodthirsty mob that’s coming for you can more easily inflict their vengeance.

Chapter 22

* “My Equine is atrocious”: With help from the readers, I eventually worked out that the key to bad Equine as spoken by Diamond Dogs is to avoid use of the words “I” or “me”, the forms of the verb “to be”, and in general to strip out all unnecessary words to getting your meaning across.

* The method by which the Diamond Dogs learned enough political philosophy to liberate themselves: This owes some debt to the animated film La Planète sauvage (The Savage Planet, 1973), directed by René Laloux, which also is about long-lived giants dominating normal-size creatures that they treat as pets.

* Woofston: Inspired by the pioneering magician Alexander Herrmann (1844-1896), stage name “Herrmann the Great”.

* “[griffons] are much better than pegasi when it comes to creating violent weather like tornadoes and blizzards”: In my headcanon, pegasi can levitate themselves and control moisture, while griffons can control air currents. This is the reason why they can speak any language they care to learn, even ones that should be impossible to pronounce with a beak.

* “...or Great Britain could quickly rise to become the dominant political power on the planet”: Although the rivalry between France and England (later Great Britain, later still the United Kingdom) dates back to the Norman Conquest, the struggle between the two powers for control of the world dates between the start of the Nine Years War and the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars (1688 - 1815). Right around the time of this story is the point where it became inevitable that the British would win, unless held back by the force of individual French genius. This was because of the increase in industrial capacity created by the Industrial Revolution, and a much quieter reform in banking practices that left the British with nearly unlimited credit to pay for the ever-increasing cost of war. Have I put anybody to sleep yet?

* Hoofdini: Inspired, obviously, by the magician Harry Houdini (1874 - 1926).

Chapter 23

* “The most adorable rattlesnake that the unicorn had ever seen”: The character being described is Butterbold, Fluttershy’s ancestor, so whatever cutie mark she gets, it has to be cute. The choice of a rattlesnake reflects both Butterbold’s personality, and her parallel with John Adams (the Gadsden Flag).

* Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (Mary Shelley, 1818). The most famous of the theatrical adaptations was written by Henry M. Milner (The Monster; or The Fate of Frankenstein, 1826), but the version that inspired the movie was written by Peggy Webling in 1927. There were two silent adaptations of the novel before Frankenstein (1931, Universal Studios, directed by James Whale), but usually when somebody refers to “the original”, the 1931 version is the one they’re thinking of.

* Afterschool Special: Refers to a series of made-for-television movies produced by the American ABC network in the 1970s through the 1990s.

* “Who Guards the Guardians?”: The Latin original of this phrase (“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”) was first written by the poet Juvenal at the end of the 1st Century AD. It is also translated as “who watches the watchmen?” and so is the source of the title for the comic book series Watchmen (1987, Alan Moore).

* Firefly II: I’m having trouble absolutely pinning down the precise statement from Lauren Faust that proves this, but Rainbow Dash was designed to have the look of the G1 pony Rainbow Dash, but to have the personality of Firefly. Hence the frequent appearance of “Firefly” as either a mentor or ancestor of Rainbow Dash in fanfiction and fanart.

Chapter 24

* “K simply knew the trick of not being interesting enough to notice”: As several readers pointed out, this concept was stolen directly from the Somebody Else’s Problem field in Life, the Universe and Everything (Douglas Adams, 1982).

* The National Assembly: In the French Revolution, this lasted from 17 June to 9 July of 1789. It began as the Third Estate breaking away from the meeting of the Estates General (called to deal with the failure of Necker and Calonne). They declared the Tennis Court Oath (20 June) to not dissolve until they had drawn up a new constitution. They renamed themselves the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July, although historians frequently group both groups together as the National Assembly, since they have the same makeup. Under this name, they lasted until 30 September 1791, when they dissolved themselves. Among the acts of the National Constituent Assembly were the abolition of feudalism (4 August 1789), the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (26 August 1789) and the polarizing Civil Constitution of the Clergy (12 July 1790) and the passage of the Constitution of 1791 (30 September 1791).

* The Legislative Assembly: Staying with the French, this body first assembled on 1 October 1791. By the time it was replaced by the French National Convention on 20 September 1792, it had almost no political power left. This period saw the disastrous beginning of the war against Austria (and eventually the whole of Europe) and the suspension of the monarchy.

* “The populace of the Aerie turned against the Assembly”: This is meant to represent the First Paris Commune, an unofficial government backed by mob rule which acted as a force driving the official French government further and further to the left.

* The Constitutional Convention: More-correctly known as the French National Convention, this body ruled France from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795. It marked the beginning of the French First Republic, the adoption of many of the positive legacies of the Revolution, and two different constitutions. This was also when Louis XVI was executed and the Reign of Terror ruled supreme.

* Maximilian Peter: Modeled on the French Revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre (1758 - 1794).

* Sub-committee for Wise Governance: The Committee of Public Safety, the de facto government of France during...

* The Culling: The Reign of Terror (5 September 1793 - 28 July 1794). The fictional group names only seven hundred victims; its real-life counterpart claimed tens of thousands.

* The griffon peasants deciding that getting hit by pastry didn’t hurt: Representative of the transformation in warfare at this time, where French peasants began fighting for the abstract idea of “the nation” instead of standing by while kings they cared little for launched armies of mercenaries at each other.

* The minor civil war inside Griffonia: The War in the Vendée (1793 - 1796).

Chapter 25

* The Warkotsch Plot: Taken straight from Book XX, Chapter IX of Frederick the Great by Carlyle.

* “The Austrians are masters of the mercy of the Russians”: Direct quote from a letter of King Friedrich dated 10 December 1761.

* “A League of Three Petticoats”: This was King Friedrich’s term for the three women. As his treatment of Madame de Châtelet showed, the king’s liberal attitude on most matters did not extend to the female gender.

* “The war was about to dramatically turn in the Queen’s favor”: In our history, this moment, in January of 1762, was known as the Second Miracle of the House of Brandenburg. King Friedrich’s letter above was taken from the Wikipedia article for Miracle of the House of Brandenburg.

Chapter 26

* The liberation of the dragon peasant army: As the French conquered the territories of their enemies, they organized them into client states, all with French-modeled republican governments.

Chapter 27

* “I’ve written historical epics about two human kings”: These were La Henriade (1728), about Henri IV of France, and the History of Charles XII, King of Sweden (1731—“Carl” is the Swedish form of “Charles”). A condensed version of the former work appeared in English as an “Essay Upon the Civil Wars in France” (1728). This offers a chance to read Voltaire in his own words.

* 39 ½ foot pole: “You’re a Mean one, Mr. Grinch”, sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966 TV special directed by Chuck Jones).

* Henri the Great: Henri IV, born 1553.

* “A king died young”: Henri II in 1559.

* “[He] left only underage children to succeed him”: François II (crowned 1559 at the age of 15, died in 1560), Charles IX (crowned 1560 at the age of 10, died in 1574) and Henri III (crowned 1574 at the age of 22, died in 1575).

* Henri’s worthless father: Antoine de Bourbon (1518 - 1562).

* Henri’s respected mother: Jeanne d’Albret (1528 - 1572).

* Civil war: The French Wars of Religion (1562 - 1598).

* “It seemed certain that he would be executed”: The “he” in this account is Louis, the Prince of Condé, and the year is 1560.

* Catherine de’ Medici: Lived 1519 - 1589.

* The two leaders of the Bourbon family: Louis, Prince of Condé (1530 - 1569) and Gaspard, the Admiral Coligny (1519 - 1572).

* The assassinated leader of the Guises: François de Lorraine II, Duke of Guise (1519 - 1563).

* Henri’s new wife: Marguerite of Valois (1553 - 1615). The marriage took place on 18 August 1572. Jeanne d’Albret opposed the marriage; she received a pair of perfumed gloves from Catherine de’ Medici as a peace offering, and soon after she put them on she dropped dead.

* The St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre: Started on the night of 23 August 1572, and lasted several weeks. The eventual death toll is impossible to know for certain, given the massive amount of propaganda issued after the fact by both sides, but by averaging the extremes you end up with a ballpark figure of 10,000.

* The young Duke of Guise: Henri I, Duke of Guise (1550 - 1588). As you’ll notice by now, there were an awful lot of Henri’s running around France at this moment in history.

Chapter 28

* The “Trottingham Induction”: My explanation for why the Royal Guard is in some respects like the British Yeomen of the Guard. The “certain individual” referenced is of course Shining Armor.

* The Estates General: The one tied to the French Revolution was called in 1789, while the one that Voltaire is referring to was called in 1588.

* The Cardinal of Guise: Louis II (1555 - 1588). He was assassinated on 24 December.

* The Duke of Mayenne: Charles of Lorraine (1554 - 1611).

* The Duke’s widow: Catherine of Clèves (1548 - 1633).

* The Duke of Mayenne’s puppet: Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon (1523 - 1590). As king, he was known as Charles X, but the fact that another Charles X of France exists (reigned 1824 - 1830) is definitive proof that nobody in later ages believed he was the legitimate ruler of France.

* The King of Spain: Felipe II (reigned 1554 - 1598). And yes, this is the Philip II of the Spanish Armada.

* Henri turns Catholic: This was on 25 July 1593. He was crowned on 27 February 1594.

Chapter 30

* God creating the universe to be His crystal garden: I first encountered this idea in a science fiction story from the 1930’s, I think. I can’t remember the name or author, though.

* Celestia and Luna as pegasus and unicorn, respectively, before their apotheoses: The former is from “Sunny Skies All Day Long”.

Chapter 31

* Citizen Perrygore, alias Random Tally: Corresponds to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754 - 1838), in my opinion the most-fascinating figure in the history of the French Revolution. When everybody else was losing their heads (in many cases literally), he managed to hold positions of power for the National Assembly, the Directory (1795 - 1799), the Consulate (1799 - 1804), the French Empire of Napoleon I (1804 - 1814), the restored King Louis XVIII (1814 - 1815, 1815 - 1824), and King Louis-Philippe (1830 - 1848). His greatest achievement was preventing the dismemberment of France at the Congress of Vienna (1814). He did this by playing all the other countries of Europe against each other. In terms of character, Talleyrand was utterly and completely corrupt, willing to betray anybody to advance his own ends, and yet made himself so indispensable that government after government found themselves with no choice but to hire him to work for them. In his own mind, however, he was always faithful to one master, the nation of France, and he only changed sides when he felt that a government had stopped serving that master. Some of my favorite quotes of his: “What clever man has ever needed to commit a crime? Crime is the last resort of political half-wits.” “Since the masses are always eager to believe something, for their benefit nothing is so easy to arrange as facts.” “Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts.” “The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and expedite its occurrence.” And finally his judgment of America: “A country with thirty religions and only one sauce.”

* The Directory: In the history of the French Revolution, this refers to the period from 1795 to 1799, a period dominated by the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte.

Chapter 32

* Malice/Mallus: Johnny Appleseed. ‘Nough said.

* “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”: The Hatter, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865), in the chapter “A Mad Tea Party”. Carroll didn’t intend the riddle to have an answer, but upon being besieged by correspondence on the matter, eventually came up with the following: “Because it can produce a few notes, although they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!” (“Nevar” is the word “raven”, spelled “with the wrong end in front.”). It was puzzle expert Sam Lloyd who came up with the more generally accepted answer: “Because Poe wrote on both.”

Chapter 33

* Hoofball: Not sure if this was actually first used in the series (like what the Cutie Mark Crusaders were doing with that ball in “Lesson Zero”), or if this is purely a fan creation.

Chapter 34

* “I’m stealing this chariot!”: And nopony will ever know.

* “I stole control of Equestria from your ancestors”: The idea that Prince Blueblood is a descendant of Princess Platinum is a pretty old one in the fandom. If I ever find out which story was the first one to make that connection, I’ll go back and insert the proper credit here.

Chapter 35

* Somepony Else’s Problem: See Chapter 24.

* “That’s Just Creepy”: Spike’s line from “Owl’s Well That Ends Well”, written by Cindy Morrow. [Yeah, it appears that I just imagined the “just” in that quote. Deal with it.]

* The Cathedral of the Central Steed: As stated, I based this on Chartres Cathedral. I used Wikipedia’s entry for most of my research for these descriptions, although the church was first brought to my attention through the PBS “Cathedral” documentary by David Macaulay that I saw in my childhood (1986), and I was reminded of its glory by The Education of Henry Adams (1918).

* “The Lady is our shepherd. I shall not want.”: Psalm 23 in the Old Testament.

* Gutenberg: Johannes Gutenberg (c.1398 - 1468).

* “Am Anfang schuf Göttin Himmel und Erde.”: Genesis 1:1 from the Gutenberg Bible (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”), with “Gott” changed to “Göttin” (“Goddess”).

Chapter 36

* The proposed House of Elders: The Houses of Lords and Commons are obvious enough from the British Parliament and the way their governments were portrayed in the “Hearth’s Warming Eve” episode. The House of Elders, on the other hands, reflects the Gerousia from the government of ancient Sparta, a clear inspiration for ancient pegasus society. To qualify for membership in the Gerousia, you had had to be a Spartan male over the age of 60. Election was by approbation, and membership was for life.

Chapter 37

* The Last Judgment: Here is the western rose stained glass window from Chartres, depicting this subject. The Last Judgment is always on the western rose of a cathedral, because that is where the sun goes to die.

* The Jesuits vs. the Jansenists: The two groups were bitter rivals of each other in the Eighteenth Century in France. Interestingly, Voltaire’s father sent him to a Jesuit school, and his brother to a Jansenist school, despite claiming to be a devout Christian—sounds kinda cynical to me.

* The stained glass images of Genevieve’s mortal life along the north wall of the cathedral: In the northern hemisphere, the southern side of a building will always be better lit than the northern side. For this reason, the stained glass on the northern wall of a cathedral always depicted the travails of the life of Christ, while the southern wall depicted his resurrection and the promise of the afterlife. The exception of the gloom of the north side was the transept, which was devoted to the Virgin Mary.

* The window of the idealized Zody: Corresponds to the northern rose window at Chartres, which similarly glorified the Virgin.

* The conflagration window: The Chartres windows don’t really match up here, as the Crucifixion is usually depicted as an object in the chancel rather than in the windows behind it.

* The “Best of All Possible Worlds” Window: Corresponds to the southern rose window at Chartres, which depicted the Apocalypse.

* Paces Romana and Sinica: Reference to the Pax Romana (27 BC - AD 180), which was invented as a term by Edward Gibbon in Chapter Two of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776) [oops—anachronism alert!]. Less well established as an historical concept is the corresponding Pax Sinica, which refers to the multiple periods when a united China dominated East Asia, during the Han, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Wikipedia puts its first mention in 1994, and it appears to be used more frequently to refer to a hypothetical future state as to any moment in the past. Just as everybody likes sticking “-gate” after the name of any American governmental snafu, fans of Gibbon like to turn every period of relative peace into a Pax, despite the mismatch in using the Latin term for “peace” for peoples that don’t speak Latin.

Chapter 39

* “Sixteen”: That’s how many times Genevieve has had to reset Jenny’s memories so far.

Chapter 40

* The Thirty Years War: Lasted from 1618 - 1648. In the territory of Brandenburg (which makes up half of Prussia), half of the population was killed off, and it took centuries before the region fully recovered. Of course any Thirty Years War reference from me will include the obligatory plug for the incredible Ring of Fire series—1632 (2000) and sequels—of sci fi novels created by Eric Flint.

Chapter 41

* Celestia’s mock speech of outrage at hearing Gulliver’s Travels: This is a paraphrase of a speech by the King of the Brobdingnags, but is also an exact quote from the corresponding speech from the Queen of the Brobdingnags in the Jim Henson/Hallmark TV miniseries adaptation from 1996 (directed by Charles Sturridge).

* Perrault: Charles Perrault, author of Histoires ou contes du temps passé (1697, commonly known as Tales of Mother Goose in English). The versions of fairy tales that Disney adapted into films more closely resembles the gentle Perrault versions than the, err...grimmer Grimm versions.

* “Teenager”: The term wasn’t invented until 1941.

Chapter 42

* Cribbage: According to Wikipedia, cribbage was invented by Sir John Suckling in the early 17th Century.

* “Death from above!”: Catchphrase of the hyperkinetic three-foot rabbity thing Max from Sam & Max (creations of Steve Purcell appearing in comics, video games and a 1997 animated series). The 7th Bomber Wing of the U.S. Air Force may have come up with it first.

Chapter 44

* “Be nopony”: This reminds me of the similarly simple yet profound statements of the Tramp from The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban (1967).

Woo! What a ride!