Celestia Plays Civilization

by GaPJaxie

Chapter 1

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The day began at sunrise.

It always did. No matter if the sun rose at 5:30 on the longest day of summer or past 7:30 in the darkest winter, the day always began just as the sun cleared the horizon. Celestia had never seen the morning twilight or the pre-dawn. Privately, she suspected they did not exist.

She was standing on her balcony, her head held high, her eyes shut tight. If she asked her little ponies, they would say she had just concluded raising the sun.

She opened her eyes, blinking them a few times to clear them. From her balcony, she could survey the whole of Equestria, from Canterlot’s beautiful streets in the foreground to the distant jungles, forests and roads spread out to the horizon. She could see her little ponies too, as they lived and played in the world she’d made for them -- bright dots of pastel moving against the wider backdrop. It was beautiful, and it made her smile.

To her left, her loyal assistant Raven cleared her throat. “Good morning, Your Highness.”

“Good morning, Raven,” Celestia said. “What news is there this morning?”

“News of a most excellent variety,” Raven said, perking up her ears as she spoke. “Based on an extensive study of our culture, economy, and scientific progress, scholars believe that Equestria has entered a golden age.”

“That’s nice.” Celestia said, still looking out at the world beyond her balcony. “What else?”

“Uh…” Raven froze for a moment, then quickly lowered her head to her notes. “A scout has discovered a ruin in the southern badlands. It appears to be the remains of an ancient changeling civilization.”

“Mmmm.” Celestia looked around. She looked back at Raven, eyeing her white coat and brown mane. She kept both her mane and tail in tight buns. Today, she’d held them together with a chopstick. It looked fancy.

“Um…” Raven took a half-step back under the pressure of Celestia’s gaze. “Do you want me to continue, Your Highness?”


Again, Raven consulted her notes. She spoke more quickly: “Harmony has spread to Griffonstone.” She flipped to the next page of her notes. “One of our pegasus chargers is eligible for promotion. Construction of a farm has been completed outside Manehatten. We have discovered a new source of wha—”

Celestia lifted a hoof, and Raven abruptly fell silent. “Would it be fair to say, Raven, that the news of the morning is, ‘business as usual’?”

“I, uh… no. No, I would not say that, Your Highness.” Raven turned down to her notes, her expression tense and strained. “This is critical—”

She was still talking when Celestia walked off. She turned and headed inside. Beyond the balcony was her bedroom, with its sleeping pad on the floor and grand fireplace on the left. A tray was left next to the bed, containing a mostly empty bowl of oats, a teacup, and a half-empty pot of tea. Anypony could have looked at it and immediately inferred that Celestia had finished breakfast before going to raise the sun, but she had no recollection of how the tea tasted.

This is critical information!” Raven cut in, her tone insistant. “Saddle Arabia has begun construction of The Golden Bazar. The non-aggression pact between Orlovia and Yakyakistan has expired, and—”

“Silence.” Again, Celestia lifted a hoof. This time though, she reached out and brushed the side of Raven’s head. Raven shied away from the touch, her expression uncomfortable and uncertain. “Raven, clear all of my messages for the day.”

After a short pause, Raven nodded. “Yes, Your Highness,” she said, though her expression remained uncertain. “What are your orders?”

“It is decreed,” Celestia proclaimed, “that I will go for a walk.” She let that hang in the air for a time. Then as an afterthought, she added: “And bring me some tea.”

And so, Celestia explored Canterlot. She walked down its wide, scenic vistas, and looked over the edges of its great waterfalls, and admired the abstract designs that decorated its streets. Most of all, she admired the ponies who lived there, and watched them smile and laugh. A pegasus hovered alongside her, carrying a tray in his hooves. Celestia drank the tea as she walked.

But she still couldn’t taste it. From time to time, she checked her cup and examined her chest to make sure she was actually drinking it and not just dumping it down her chin.

Eventually, her meandering course took her to the School for Gifted Unicorns. As wonders went, it was humble, but it had been her choice. She could look in through the windows and watch the little colts and fillies learn.

“Raven,” she said, “are my little ponies happy?”

And there was Raven by her side. “Happiness is at 97%, Your Highness.”

“That’s…” Celestia laughed. Then she sighed. “That’s not what I meant. How is uh…” She struggled for the words. “How is Twilight Sparkle doing?”

“Good, I suppose.” Raven consulted her notes. “Nothing unusual to report. She is currently garrisoned in Ponyville.”

“What is the value of the treasury at this moment?”

“345,122,912 bits,” Raven rattled off immediately. “With a net income of +2,133 bits per day.”

“Good. Good.” Celestia rolled her tongue around in her mouth. It felt dry, and she stood stiffly, her posture uncomfortable. “Well. We can certainly afford it. Upgrade Shining Armor to an Alicorn Caster and pay to hurry the upgrade. Then, order him to move to Ponyville so he can visit his sister.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Raven said. She consulted her notes. “Breaking news, the Lipiz Empire has declared war on Equestria!”

Celestia lowered her head until her horn touched the glass. She shut her eyes and took deep, slow breaths, struggling to keep them steady. Inside, the little colts and fillies looked out at her, wondering what their princess was doing.

“That’s nice, Raven,” Celestia said.

“Oh my goodness! Shiny!”

Twilight laughed. She cried. She hugged her brother so tight she knocked the wind out of him. Then it was the girls’ turn to admire his wings, and to hear the story of how he vanquished Sombra’s ghost to save Flurry Heart. That was how he came to truly understand how much he loved his daughter, an understanding of love pure enough that it transcended his mortal form. Just like Cadence had, once upon a time.

Then, Spike tugged hard on a feather to see if they were real. Shining yelped. Twilight laughed, and promised she’d teach him how to fly.

Celestia watched from a cafe near the train station. She watched Twilight’s smile, and listened to her laugh. The cafe owners, startled to have royalty in their presence, had brought her tea and cakes. The offerings sat untouched.

Eventually, Twilight noticed Celestia’s presence. She excused herself from the crowd gathered around her brother, and spread her own wings to glide across the way. She touched down just a few steps from Celestia’s table, her ears up and her expression bright. “Princess Celestia!” she called. “What are you doing here?”

“Can’t a princess tour her domain?” Celestia asked, adding a playful twist to the words and a smile of her own. “It’s not as though anything significant has happened today.”

“Oooh!” Twilight giggled. “I know! Isn’t it wonderful? I always knew Shining had it in him! Not that I ever said anything because, you know, I didn’t want to put any pressure on him. I love him anyway and he’ll always be my big brother magic or no, but I knew it! And I was right!” She giggled again, a sound that eventually turned to a high-pitched squeal. “Mom and Dad are going to flip.”

“I’d imagine they would.” Celestia drew in a slow breath, and let it out all at once. “I’ve heard your mother is very humble about your accomplishments.”

“Hah! No way. She’s going to rub it in every single one of our neighbor’s faces.” Twilight grinned, then gestured back at the mob. “You want to join us? Say hello to Shining?”

“Oh…” Celestia hesitated. “Another time, perhaps. This is his moment, and yours to spend with him. You should go have fun with your brother.”

“Right. Yeah. I…” Twilight paused. Her smile flickered. When it did, Celestia’s smile flickered as well. Celestia saw Twilight’s eyes dart down, and realized she’d been caught. “Princess is… something the matter?”

“No. Nothing at all.”

Twilight’s smile faded completely, turning to a frown. “It’s not the war, is it?” Her hoof went to her face. “Is Shining going to be moved to the front!? Is that why you’re here?”

“No, no. No.” Celestia lifted a hoof. “Your brother will be fine. Everything is fine. He’s going to stay right where he is -- here or in Canterlot or in the Crystal Empire. I’m not planning to deploy any new units against Lipiz.”

Twilight’s brow furrowed. “None?”

“The Lipiz military is a joke, Twilight. They couldn’t conquer an ice-cream stand, much less besiege an Equestrian city. If we ignore them they’ll eventually give up.”

“Sure, but… won’t ponies die as long as the war goes on?” Twilight stood up a little straighter, stepping in closer to Celestia’s table. “If they’re that outmatched, shouldn’t we stop them as early as we can?”

“We… can’t.” Celestia licked her lips, her eyes went to the ground.

Twilight didn’t answer right away. She stared at Celestia, and eventually, stepped up to stand next to her and put a hoof on her shoulder. Celestia couldn’t feel it. “Why can’t we?” she asked softly.

“Because if we do, they’ll surrender,” Celestia said. “And then it will all be over.”

“I don’t understand.”

A snort escaped Celestia, and her eyes remained down on the ground. She shut her eyes, hoped and waited for Twilight to leave, but her faithful student remained there just the same. “Princess,” Twilight said, “I’m becoming really worried. What’s wrong?”

“Are you happy, Twilight?” Celestia asked. “With your Equestria, and the ponies around you, and your brother? Is this what you wanted out of life?”

“Yes, I am. It is!” Twilight spoke quickly, her tone pleading, seeking to reassure. But then she paused. Her eyes flicked over Celestia’s face, and her ears folded back. “But you aren’t happy, are you?”

“I am, Twilight. I… I am. You’ve made me happier than I deserve.” She rubbed at her face with a hoof. “But I was… that is.” For a moment, she choked up. “You never asked where I came from. And I never volunteered the information. It’s complicated, and if I can be selfish, I didn’t want to talk about it. But I came here to lead Equestria through a time of great crisis. And that crisis is ending. The realm is at peace. Our people are happy and safe. Our culture is unmatched. All our rivals kneel before us. And when it’s over, I’m going to have to…”

“Oh.” Twilight’s eyes went wide. “Oh.”

“Lipiz is the last nation that could conceivably be a threat to us -- if I took total leave of my senses and disbanded the whole of the military. It’s a farce, of course. But so long as they exist, it isn’t over.” Celestia’s voice lowered, becoming rough and torn. “We’ve won. You’ve won. You and Shining and Luna and all the others. I just…”

Her voice sunk to a whisper. “I don’t want it to end.”

Twilight reached out to rest a hoof over Celestia’s. “If this happens, will you,” she almost couldn’t bear to say the word, “die?”

“No. I’ll just go back where I came from.”

“Will I ever see you again?”

“Maybe.” Celestia managed to lift her head and look Twilight’s way. “In another world, or another life. But it won’t be you. Not the pony in front of me. And you won’t remember any of this.”

“And what happens to Equestria after you’re gone?”

“I don’t know!” Celestia snapped, her tone turning into hot anger in a flash. “You go wherever you are before the sun rises. If there is any such place.”

Other ponies had started to stare. Twilight’s absence was noticeable, as was the intensity of their conversation. And so Twilight looked at the crowd, and then back to Celestia, and then she leaned over and hugged her teacher.

Celestia couldn’t feel it. But she hugged Twilight back anyway. A faint whine escaped the back of her throat. She cried, hot tears running down her face, and nopony in Equestria could see it.

“Does it have to be this way?” Twilight asked.

“I… I think so. I think it will just get worse the longer I try to put it off.” Celestia forced some composure onto her face. She let out a loud and rather unroyal sniffle. “Could you… stay, please?”

Twilight did stay. She pressed close to Celestia’s side. Then Celestia spoke: “Raven, bring me the military map please.”

And there was Raven, with the military map held in her teeth. She rolled it out over the table, and Celestia began to micromange units forward over the Lipiz front. What followed barely deserved to be called a war. Lipiz resistance crumbled like a sandcastle kicked by a passing hoof, collapsing under its own weight as their defeated units became hopelessly trapped. The last of their cities surrendered before the tea got cold.

And then Celestia spoke one more time: “Twilight, I’ve always been proud of you.” She took a deep breath. She didn’t wait for Twilight to answer. “Raven, end the turn.”

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