Drawn Through Confusion

by Dan_s Comments

Chapter 1: Drawn Through Confusion

Drawn through Confusion

by Dan_s Comments

DISCLAIMER: My Little Pony is the property of Hasbro, Inc.

The unicorn barely out of her fillyhood who walked through the halls of Canterlot palace looked around at the various sights and ornaments with the air of a professional evaluating them, despite the clothing that would have marked her as a rube on her first trip to the big city. A closer look would have noted that her clothing was not that of a farmer, but an explorer or adventurer.

The firm tread and determined expression also marked the young mare as somepony not to be trifled with. She was not hostile, merely indifferent. The glories of Canterlot were a distraction easily ignored for her mission. The pegasus colt who would pause, rubberneck, then gallop a short distance to keep up with her was notable only because of the weird top hat he wore, and that he galloped to catch up rather than flying.

"Have you seen how they put the walls together?" he whispered, "I don't think the old city was that shoddy. This place won't last."

"Some of us won't last as long as the city," the young mare said, she grinned at him, "But you are welcome to explain the upgrades to bring it up to standard."

The colt's surety faded. "Maybe I need to check with dad before I do that," he admitted sheepishly.

At the great portals to the Royal Court the guards crossed their spears. "The public session is over for today, please come back tomorrow."

The mare hoofed over a card. "I'm expected, minimum of ruffles and flourishes," she told the disinterested guard.

Who nearly fell over when he read the name on the card. "Beg pardon, you'll be announced."

The mare nodded.

"Please," the guard said as she opened the door. "Announcing Archduchess Dipper Doodle, and Archduke Thunder Evening."

The court came to a halt as the recognition ran through the court, especially Celestia herself.

"So, your Highness, do you have the answer to my riddle?" Dipper Doodle called from across the room to Celestia.

The Princess had been trotting towards the pair, now she froze with a look of utter bewilderment. "Riddle?" she asked as Dipper walked towards her.

Dipper turned back to her brother. "Didn't I tell you?"

"Did I argue?" the colt asked and shrugged.

Celestia approached slowly. "I don't remember any riddle."

Dipper stood on her hind legs, and threw her forelegs wide. "Then pay up," Dipper told Celestia, and smirked slightly, "This is enough of the court I'll count it as full payment."

Celestia bowed and enclosed Dipper in a forelegs and wings hug. "Gladly," she said softly.

The murmurs of the court at the 'impropriety' were argued down about 'the bet' and that the Equestrian Royalty always kept their word. Over all, they accepted the scene. Then Celestia and Dipper broke the hug, and shared a smile.

"So what is the answer?" Celestia asked.

"The question is where is the greatest pyramid in the world, and the answer is the Kanterance one," Dipper said, and she lit her horn to create an image of the huge pyramid, including the cut away of the interior. Dipper was known for her `delved` images into other structures. Her father called it 'penetrating radar imaging', and would then have to explain it to anyone who hadn't had it explained before.

"So your meeting with the seaponies worked out?" Celestia said, using a wing to guide Dipper alongside her, Thunder followed along behind. Seemingly just a colt, but the more experienced guards noted the air of a veteran of too many ambushes to count coming from his `disinterested` taking in of everything around him. One didn't become 'a veteran of too many ambushes to count' by giving the game away.

"Yes," Dipper said and looked back at her brother, "He was useful getting through all the traps and challenges."

"It's not my fault they underestimated us," Thunder Evening said and shrugged, "They used a way of joining the big stones that some of your builders might like to hear about."

"Well, I want to hear about it all first," Celestia said, "And you little brothers and sisters?"

"Why do you think she runs off into the wilderness to explore?" Thunder Evening said and began laughing at his sister's sour look.

The evening meal included Princess Luna. Thunder Evening knew enough to place himself between the Princess of the Night, and the one who'd brought down Discord's wrath on her. To ensure the only Thunderous Evening in the room would be his name. For not the first time, he wished he was twins when looking after his big sister.

She may be older, he thought, But she's not an alicorn.

In this case the reason for the twin was another Alicorn Princess attending the dinner. One Thunder Evening knew was Dipper's second-least, favorite pony.

I guess I take after dad, Thunder Evening thought as Dipper gave Princess Twilight Sparkle the implacable, flat stare that Thunder's and Dipper's dad sometimes used on ponies, But not in all ways, he concluded as Twilight wilted under the vague smile, ears forward posture, but absolutely no animation in the expression or answers Dipper gave to Twilight's questions about the pyramid and their explanations.

"Mares," Thunder grumbled under his breath.

"Your mother and sisters are mares," Luna told him.

"No, my mother and big sister are cool," he politely corrected, "Mares hold grudges against people who never meant to give them trouble, whine about chipped hoof polish, never throw a snowball and can't have fun to save their life. I know for a fact your sister can throw a mean snowball, and she and dad loved driving everypony, -ling, -taur, and -griff crazy at the Foundation Day dinner last year. I think Discord was the only one able to keep up with what they were saying." He looked over to Dipper who had practically made Twilight wilt under the table. "Now she's acting like a mare. Knock it off sis, you're scaring the normies." He ignored the ruffling of Luna's wing, or Celestia's snort.

Dipper turned back to Thunder Evening. "I don't know what you mean."

"Behave, or I'll take off my hat off and nopony'll notice you if you were on fire," Thunder said, then leaned close, "Dad forgave her," he whispered, "You weren't even there for most of it."

Dipper frowned and turned back to Celestia. "I apologize for bringing dissonance to your table."

"I accept, although I do wish you'd brought Discord," Celestia said, "He'll be so put out he didn't get to meet you again."

"Oh, he talked with us after we left the pyramid," Thunder said, "Something about boomsticks and pinheads. You did give him that box we found, didn't you."

"Not exactly 'give', but he's got it," Dipper said, "As I was saying, the joints they used for the stonework were wedges with inset bronze keys installed to hold the corners together." Dipper called up an image of the structure. "They had iron, but the keys were bronze. Maybe they knew the seas would rise and cover their buildings, so they wanted them in good condition when the seas receded."

"Any idea who they were?" Celestia asked.

" 'They've always been there', so they predate the seaponies' civilization," Dipper said, "The archways are open, although not so much as Canterlot's halls, so they were either huge, or they wanted the space."

Celestia munched the salad that was the second course.

"So, is your family well?" Luna asked, and got the implacable stare from Dipper.

"Dad hasn't gone crazy and murdered anypony," Dipper said sweetly, "If that's what you're asking."

"Behave," Thunder whispered to her, "Yes, your Highness, the disgronification of Nazca brushes has reached an penultimate plenipotentiary level considering the quantum flux and uncertainty principles inherent in the dynamics of all involved. As long as the neutron flow polarity doesn't reverse, all should be well."

Luna's and Twilight's eyes had crossed as he'd `explained`. "How do you polarize a neutron flow?" Twilight said.

"Trottingham United or Manehatten Maulers? That's quite a polarizing question," Thunder said and struggled to keep a straight face as Luna and Twilight facehoofed.

"So are you staying the night?" Luna asked.

"We've got rooms at the Academy, on the promise they'd get first crack at the artifacts we scanned and diagramed," Dipper said, "The local dragon wants to `consider` if their people built the pyramid. The dragons are the only race with legends about its construction, and even those don't imply they had a hand in it."

"I was so hoping for a slumber party," Celestia said, pouting as cutely as she could.

"I'll go to the Academy," Thunder said, "You two can catch up." He stopped and considered. "I still haven't figured out what a Poppins is." He ducked and covered his head as Dipper looked aghast and Celestia like she wanted to bop him on the head.

Thunder didn't mind the Princess' company, although he tuned out most of her questions, since she never paused enough to actually allow him to answer them. But one followed by silence penetrated his aura of indifference.

"Your sister doesn't like me very much, does she?" the despondent princess had asked.

"She hates your guts," Thunder said, "She takes what you, Upper Crust and Princess Luna did to our dad very personally. She'll eventually grow out of it. Or figure out a way for dad to safely go home."

He rushed forward to prevent her reply. "When dad visited Queen Novo last year, your name and deeds never came up, they were more interested in figuring out how to cook in their new environment. Privately, he may have discussed her anger and her forgiveness, but that was private. You see, he's forgiven you, mom is neutral, but Dipper took what you've never apologized for, and what Princess Luna did subsequently, very hard. I don't think she'll ever forgive either of you, but she may learn not to rub your faces in it every time." He stopped and looked at his fellow alicorn. "Neither mom, nor Dipper will ever be your friend, so quit trying. Celestia learned that by leaving dad alone, she won the game. You could learn a lot from her."

"I was her student," Twilight pointed out.

"My teacher was Discord, and you don't see me making chocolate rain or making it rain orange-frogs, so just because X was your teacher, that doesn't make you mini-X," Thunder said, "As soon as you refuse to admit you made a mistake, you cut off that path from all learning. If someone did something to you, and you refuse to learn from it, then you are trapped at that point. Even if all you learn is that person cannot be trusted, at least you've learned something and you can move on."

"Your cutie mark doesn't look like a thunder or an evening," Twilight said to change the subject.

"Thunder comes after the flash of lightning. In the evening it can't be seen," Thunder said, "My power is sensing things that aren't obvious to the eyes, how they are put together, and how they can be taken apart." He looked at Twilight. "That's why I can't hate you. But I do pity you," he said, knowing that would burn more than hatred would, not immediately, but over the long term.

Celestia snuggled against the adult mare who'd made such a difference in her life. "You should forgive them, it helps," Celestia said, "You and Discord helped me learn to forgive myself."

"I want to, I know dad adapted and overcame, I know without him, my life and mom's would have been a lot harder. But he's my dad," Dipper mock-wailed and snuggled against Celestia who hugged her tight against her with a wing.

"I know it hurts, but it does help," Celestia said to the smaller mare.

"Did you ever forgive them?" Dipper asked, once again seeing to the heart of the matter.

"Eventually, yes," Celestia admitted, "Then I had to forgive their shock at the idea that they needed to be forgiven. That took a bit longer. They aren't bad ponies, they just . .. "

"Worship the ground you walk on," Dipper said, lifted her head and nuzzled Celestia, "I am glad I was an Archduchess when I finally understood meeting you. Mom's right, nobody deserves being constantly put on a pedestal. That always used to confuse me, some people seemed so good. Then I realized they don't deserve being trapped on the pedestal. Everyone needs the right to mess up, learn, and be forgiven."

"And what do you need to be forgiven for?" Celestia asked, and was hit on the back of the head with a pillow.

"No respect for royalty," Dipper said, and got a pillow in the face.

"Sister, I -" Luna said on entering Celestia's quarters, and she looked at all the feathers floating through the air like snow flurries. Instincts honed in many battles told Luna to withdraw and close the door. The twin thumps on the door told her she had been correct. She felt a twinge of jealousy that the last pillow fight she'd had with Celestia had been before they'd faced off against Discord.

Whose fault is that? Luna reminded herself, Is it so amazing that with a nominal equal, she'd be willing to stop being the dignified paragon?

Luna gathered her courage, marched up to the door, raised a hoof to the handle, and held there. As paralyzed with indecision as if she had been struck in stone like Discord. She stared at her hoof, uncertain whether her inability to move was a betrayal of herself, or her sister.

Finally, she lowered her head as she lowered her hoof. She didn't slink away, but she was deep in thought.

When did I lose the ability to have fun, to simply play? Luna asked, She is my sister, she would welcome me. Why can I not allow myself to let go?

She returned to the throne room to ponder the question.

Thunder Evening wondered what the mares' problem was. He knew his sister had `let slip` he'd never marry somepony who didn't understand his cutie mark.

Unfortunately, the idiots removed both negatives and changed it to I'd marry someone who understood it, he mentally lamented, There are times I wish she'd followed Celestia more than Discord. Another giggle and the door closed. If they keep peeking in, giggling and retreating, I should just sleep on the couch in the Common Room, he thought as another mare cracked the door, stared for a few moments, then closed the door and retreated.

Stupid mares, Thunder Evening thought as he checked his horn was still disguised and his cutie mark was covered by the blankets, so they were `only` peeking at an Archduke, not an alicorn.

He was asleep, and was dreaming when he stopped the pensive alicorn trying to unknot, literally, a trio of ponies. "First cover them in grease, then let them relax," he told her, "They'll untie themselves."

"How did you become an expert?" Luna asked as she conjured a tub of butter.

"I'm an expert at untying them," Thunder said, "Figuring out why they are tied in knots is something I haven't a clue in. Why I showed up is to deal with another pony whose knots are considerably harder to see."

"I don't need your pity," Luna told him.

"Too bad, because it is the ultimate solvent for you and Sparkle. I already gave her a dose, now you've got one," Thunder said, "You don't give me a grade, you don't sign my paycheck, and you don't service me in bed, so I don't give a minotaur flop what your opinion is."

"I should wash your mouth out with soap," Luna replied.

"If you'd seen some of what we had to eat on this trip, you'll realize what an empty threat that is," Thunder said, "As for your `authority`, do your worst, I certainly can't stop you here."

"You can't use your helplessness as a weapon against me," Luna told him as she coated the ponies in butter.

"I just did. And if you want me to hit you," he said, "Here's one: do you know what the collective term for Equestria's junior royalty is among foreign rulers? 'The White Mare's Burden'."

Luna froze, the trio of ponies disentangled themselves and fled. Luna briefly glanced at them, then at the colt. "That is - disturbing."

"Now, I'll have my say. What you did was worse than wrong, it was flat out stupid. Stupidity is the inexcusable crime in someone with your level of authority. Without knowing more than their reputation, I would have put Applejack and Pinkie Pie as the interrogators. It isn't that he was ripped from his home to never return that was the problem, it was that it never yielded the results you needed," Thunder said, "Councilor Oleaginous' son is my best friend, but his dad despaired that he'll ever pass on his legacy to him, because he isn't interested. But when I bribed the Councilor to tell me his secrets, suddenly they became interesting. Subsequent lessons, for the two of us, came at a greatly discounted price. Do you know what the real secret is?"

"I can hardly imagine," Luna said sourly.

"Always keep someone you can confess your sins to, and always serve something far greater than yourself," Thunder said.

"I serve Equestria," Luna said.

"No, you and Sparkle serve Princess Celestia, that graven image of perfection you two have constructed out of your hopes and fears. While the real Celestia, at the end of the day, is just a powerful pony, no different from either of you. No matter how you polish the pedestal and god-icon you two've put her in, she's just a lonely mare trying to do her best. Mom did that figurine thing for Celestia, princess or no, didn't matter, the mare mattered, not the crown. When was the last time you had a chance to just have fun with your sister, and instead walked away because 'princesses don't do that'?"

Luna nearly jumped back from him and stared at him suspiciously.

"Thought so. You know all those ponies in the shiny armor with the long sharp sticks? They're what decides what a ruler does and does not. You and Celestia decide to have a pie eating contest, and someone makes a stink, a dozen, armored ponies with spears escort them out of town. Sure they can come back, but the message has been sent, and while they're getting hoof-sore, you revoke their access to the court. You'll only have to do that once or twice and people get the message."

"It would be an abuse of power," Luna countered.

"So they're free to abuse theirs, but you are above it all," Thunder said and shook his head, "No wonder you're miserable."

"I have responsibilities," Luna countered, "How odd you decry the fate of your family, yet encourage my use of force on others."

"I decry that you acted without thinking of the consequences, in this case, the consequences are you'd get a reputation of one who does not suffer fools gladly," Thunder said, "That's not always a bad thing. The key is balance. 'Suffer the children to come to me', but not suffer the childishness of adults."

"And you learned all of this - how?" Luna asked.

"As I said, I paid for lessons most children my age would not be interested in," Thunder said, "But being the student of Discord and others who are not standard ponies has changed me. And while friendship is an important part of me, like anypony, but it had a huge difference from my father's genetic and cultural influence. The humans are better at making friends with `outsiders` than ponies are. On their world, they encountered the apex predator of the planet. The humans were clever, but much weaker, so they offered a deal, putting their cleverness and other skills at the disposal of the apex predator so both could prosper. Half of the apex predator species agreed wholeheartedly, others swore to exterminate the humans. As the partners grew in power, the former apex predators were less and less called upon to act in their role as hunters and guards, but they could still do it. The refusers went from hunters to hunted. Only the humans' pity stayed their hand from exterminating those who had vowed to destroy them and their children, and perhaps that they did not want the extinction of their most faithful allies diminished cousins."

"Are you telling me that 'I can be friendly, I can be neutral, or I can be dead'?" Luna asked.

Thunder shook his head. "It means you have my and my father's pity, we will not harm you," Thunder told her, and withdrew back to the waking world.

He woke to the door opening a crack. "Would you knock it off!" he shouted, showing that thunder was not just philosophical, but concrete. The door slammed and galloping faded into the distance.

"Mares," he commented before returning to sleep.

Breakfast was just Thunder and Celestia. "I've heard you take after your mother in some respects," Celestia said, pointing her nose at the placarded, empty spaces at the table.

"I figured if they needed a revelation, I was happy to provide one," Thunder said, "The good news is that they sought out Shining Armor and Princess Cadence to talk with. So they are learning."

"It was also reported that you said Discord was your teacher," Celestia said and put a hoof to her chin, "I seemed to remember you favoring a different teacher."

"To avoid an 'I was a better student of X', I shaded the truth," Thunder said, "I never said he was my exclusive teacher, just that he was my teacher."

Celestia nodded and sampled the breakfast. "I miss the oatmeal," she said quietly.

"You could demanded split second meal changes those months ago, just let everyone know about your condition," Thunder said, then wiped the sprayed orange juice off his face, "Your triplets are doing fine by the way, although I hope Dipper regaled you with tales of all nine of us."

"She admitted to running away from being outnumbered," Celestia said, as she dabbed at her chin, "Can you imagine the absolute insanity that would have resulted if my condition had been revealed, and who the father was?"

"Considering what Multicursal did to that Storm King guy, I doubt we would have had anything to worry about," Thunder replied, "How's Ms. Fireworks doing anyway."

"Settling in," Celestia admitted, "It was an interesting transition. She couldn't imagine how she lost."

"If you can't dodge snowballs in the Winter Festival, they don't dig you up until springtime," Thunder said, "I'm just glad we kept him pinned down while you three were rescued."

Celestia winced at the pun. " 'Pinned down'," she said and shuddered, "What was it your dad said, 'Metal scrap from 60,000 feet is still effective', more like barrels of nails from what I heard."

"I can neither confirm nor deny," Thunder said, and resumed eating, missing Celestia's swiftly hidden grin.

"So what plans do you have for today?" Celestia asked.

"What are you planning?" Thunder asked.

Celestia did her best to try to look innocent, then realized it was just fanning the flames of his suspicions. "I was wondering about you meeting some mares who would raise your opinion of them."

"I already know a mare who's raised my opinion of them," he told her.

"You say things like that and wonder why you're chased?" Celestia said.

"I'm seriously underage," Thunder said, "That's why I wonder about being chased. I don't think they remember that the title goes through my sisters. My kids will be commoners, like their grandfather. And as for the penumbra of being an Archduke, it doesn't mean sitting around bossing servants. In the ancient pegasus kingdoms, princesses had larger servant groups than the ruling Archdukes and Archduchesses."

"Oh, saying I'm lazy," Celestia said, "I've never been so insulted."

"So the 'Sunbutt for World Overlord' thing has already been forgotten?" Thunder asked.

"That was 237 years ago," Celestia said, "I should never have told you that story."

"Not my fault you got competitive with Discord," Thunder said, then glanced to the door, "Cheese it, the cops."

The trio of young, caped mares seemed both uneasy, and excited about the situation. The vaguely welcoming Celestia, and the polite but indifferent colt.

"They know," Celestia told Thunder.

"About the Nazgul?" Thunder asked and waited for Celestia's nod, then asked, "About how the six became the Nazgul?"

"They aren't that bad," Celestia said while blushing.

"You never tried to baby-sit them," Thunder said.

"But you are one of them," the pegasus said as she and her companions tilted their heads to look at his cutie mark.

"Then I should know," he told then, and stared at them as they withdrew to converse, "So are the Crusaders being punished, or am I?"

"Escorted," Celestia said, "I know how you've been treated, at the Academy, let's just say they'll keep trouble away from you."

"Aww, that's no fun," he took off his hat, exposing his horn, and pulled a band of cloth out of the inside. He slipped the hole in the band over his horn, and tied the ends under his chin. The result was a pegasus wearing an obvious 'fake horn'. "It even lights up." The horn lit not like the glow of magic, but like a piece of frosted glass lit from the inside.

"How are you going to explain that?" Celestia asked.

"I lost the bet," he replied, then looked at the approaching Crusaders.

"It's an ink-blot test," Sweetie Belle told him, with Applebloom and Scootaloo nodding.

"Congratulations, you guessed it," he said.

" 'He'd never marry somepony who didn't understand his cutie mark'," Applebloom said, "We aren't after your royalty, we're here as a favor to a friend."

Celestia seemed extraordinarily interested in her breakfast.

Thunder nodded. "Welcome to the club. We're going to need a secret hoof-shake or something." That got a laugh out of the Crusaders.

Dipper looked at the four who were meeting her for brunch. I knew I shouldn't have slept in, she thought as she looked at the rulers of the Crystal Empire and the other two alicorn princesses.

"Princess Cadence, I hope Flurry Heart is well," she said, trying to focus on the two she admired, rather than the two she wouldn't miss if parasprites ate them.

"She's back in the empire," Armor said, "Raising a ruckus. I'm afraid you're a bad influence, she's been exploring the castle. After years of us searching the place, she's still finding Sombra's leftovers."

"If she finds him, don't hesitate to call for help," she replied, "I've got some wonderful ideas I'd like to try out." Dipper grinned.

"No doubt," Cadence said with a raised eyebrow, "So what's for brunch?"

"They laid out a buffet," Armor said, letting Dipper lead, and staying between the Archduchess and the princesses.

"Why haven't you two taken the title of Emperor and Empress," Dipper asked, "It's not like the ranking of the title would be more than ceremonial. Sombra was king, the ruler of the griffons is an emperor, and nopony would think titles would overturn the real hierarchy."

"Says the Archduchess," Cadence replied as they arrived at the banquet hall.

"I always thought this used to be an indoor bowling alley," Armor said.

"We could reinforce the doors and make it a swimming pool, aren't the laundries directly beneath this floor?" Dipper said, feeling like the pleasant conversation was a placeholder for the main event.

"Don't give Celestia ideas," Cadence said, glancing at the two silent members of their group, "Or she'll talk to Discord and use it for indoor skydiving."

"I hope your brother has some good, tree sap repelling spells," Armor said, "Celestia teamed him up with the Crusaders."

"I thought they were over that phase," Dipper said, "At least they aren't likely to believe the entirely false rumors."

"Rumors you spread," Cadence replied.

"I spread the opposite, someone else reversed both terms," Dipper said.

"Sometimes that knife twists in your hooves and cuts someone else," Armor said quietly.

"If I have caused you, your wife or child such trouble, I sincerely apologize, and would beg your indulgence in how to make amends," Dipper said.

Armor nodded. The proud drill sergeant with a new recruit. "Just remember that just seeing someone else do it doesn't mean you understand everything, even if that is your special talent," Armor said, "And, you're still a kid, sometimes adults do things for inexplicable reasons, that to adults make perfect sense."

She'd grown too used to her two favorite teachers talking like that to be confused. She fitted the puzzle pieces together and replied, "It is when adults act like foals that worry me. Are you saying that even they don't understand what they are doing?"

The sudden alert by the other two royals told Dipper she was laying down the barrage right where Armor was directing.

"I'm saying that childhood and its mistakes and foibles don't leave us when we get our cutie marks," Cadence said, "And that while correction is needed, so is understanding and acceptance that sometimes the child rules the day, to everyone's detriment."

"I'll keep that in mind your highnesses," Dipper said and bowed, "Thank you."

Thunder held the timber against the door. He'd been around Discord too much to ask where Applebloom had gotten the 2" x 4" 's they were nailing over the doors to keep the monsters inside.

"Okay, I admit, a family reunion was a bad idea," Thunder said as Applebloom showed that construction would have been a good second choice for her cutie mark.

"We got the other doors," Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo announced as they charged around the corner of the family's home, "But they won't hold for long."

"Yeah," Thunder made sure his top hat was secure, "Running away would be a good idea not."

"Why don't we teleport?" Scootaloo asked.

"I'd be fine, you three wouldn't like it," Thunder asked as they galloped onto the street and headed back towards the palace.

"At least there wasn't -" Sweetie Belle began.

"Don't say it!" the others interrupted.

"I thought you had to be a Crusader to understand that," Applebloom said as she galloped.

"My dad's people talk of the god Finagle, and his mad prophet Murphy," Thunder said as he kept pace, "Even Discord fears them."

Dipper closed the last `slide` of the pyramid and looked out over the audience of explorers. "Any questions," she asked and then understood what it would be like as a cake locked alone in a room with Celestia.

"Dapper Daring," she said and picked one of the more senior researchers at the academy.

"To what would you attribute the flooding that submerged the pyramid? If your dating is correct that would have been right before the end of the Three Kingdoms Period, where the ice sheet over the former continent would be forming thus sequestering more water out of the oceans and lowering their levels."

"Considering the number of entities faced by the Pony Sisters, our Princesses Celestia and Luna, it is not out of the realm of possibility the land lowered rather than the sea rising. The other possibility is this." She generated a undersea topo map of the mountains and canyons around the pyramid. "In extremely low tide it is possible to walk between these islands. It there were a break in that wall further afield, the catastrophic flooding of this basin could have occurred. That would have submerged the entire town and the pyramid along with it."

She knew that would be controversial, but it would spur more exploration.

"Yes, Feather Gantry," she called on another upraised hoof.

"Is that why they used bronze for their keyways rather than iron?" the fussy bookworm asked.

"Speculating on motives of people long dead is beyond my expertise," she said, "But if I was building in a place that faced potential inundation, and rediscovery, I would certainly have built either for easy replacement, or extreme durability against salt water. Salty Dog, yes?"

"Aye, them seaponies mebee made the whole thing fer tourism," he began and raised his voice over the catcalls, "Thousand years late but it's havin' that effect."

"Please, it is a fair question!" she raised her voice and waited the brief time for the academics to quiet down and put away their knives literal and figurative. "A three-thousand year old tourist trap would still be of interest to the techniques and psychology of the builders." She looked at the assembly. "Agreed?"

There was grudging agreement that the age gave weight to such an undertaking, no matter the motivation. Not that they agreed with the old captain, just that it was less important.

Satisfied she'd gotten the meeting back on course, "Belle Hood."

"Why were no artifacts recovered from the town site?" the old matron asked.

"The town is assumed to be a burial site, and the seaponies didn't want that disturbed by us. Our agreement was to investigate the pyramid only," Dipper said, "And I thought it necessary to stick with the strictest interpretation of the agreement. To pave the way for future investigations."

"The puzzlebox, why did you give it to Discord?" came a voice from the back, with an upraised paw, that shot out fireworks.

"Because Discord asked for it," Dipper told Discord as the draconequus put his hand back on.

"Oh, yeah," Discord said, "Oh, if any of you were planning on taking a trip, forget about it."

Dipper facehooved. "What did you do?"

"Moi?" Discord asked as he put his paws together.

"Et tu?" Dipper said and started tapping a hoof.

"Ah, they needed it back," Discord said, "See, they were trying to do some exploring, and they . . . kind of missed."

"They were aiming for the islands?" Dipper asked, "And we'll talk about 'they' later."

"They were aiming for another planet," Discord said, his cheery tone couldn't hide his nervousness.

"And something brought them down here?" Dipper said, giving him the implacable stare, "And when they all bailed out, that someone was laughing too hard to even offer to fix it?"

"Ah heh heh, yeah," Discord said, then brightened up, "But Queen Fish did agree to restitution and they'll be getting another one just like it, well, an older one with a few billion more light years, and the guts removed, and it needs some paint, and I'm just digging myself deeper aren't I?"

Dipper turned to the audience. "Well thank you all, I believe we've solved the mystery. Dr. Quaterhorse, I think you can tell Dr. Jenny-Son that it's a wash, they weren't landing pads, they were the ships themselves."

There was grumbling among the audience as excuses to get out in the field and 'get some work done', likely paid for by somepony else, in a beautiful tropical setting, all evaporated.

The guards had been doubled, but with Discord and four princesses present, the odds of an attack grew spectacularly, while the odds of a successful attack dropped dramatically.

"I'm glad you could provide the solution to the mystery," Celestia said and hugged Dipper, "Even if the mystery became the solute."

Dipper shrugged. "There'll always be more mysteries."

"We can get a van and a dog and . . . shutting up now," Discord said.

"I wouldn't mention dogs while in the dog house," Thunder said out of the side of his mouth to Discord, then to Celestia, "And I apologize for having stirred up some of the nobles." He bowed slightly, and smiled slightly at the discomfort the ease of offering an apology to a nominal inferior elicited in a couple of the group.

"Oh, it just saves me the trouble of coming up with a surprise for the next Grand Galloping Gala," Celestia said.

"Point of Order," Discord offered timidly, "Let this one run straight. The anticipation and paranoia will be much more fun. Crazy is best in small doses and the suggestion of the disaster will be much worse than the actuality."

"Thank you." Celestia nodded to Discord. "Maybe if I send out one invitation."

"You know the answer," Thunder said, "But I'll deliver it."

Celestia stared at Luna and Twilight.

"That's a clue boy," Discord wearing a red-headed, white-bodied rooster costume told the two princesses, "Ya missed it, went right by you. Ya gotta, I say ya gotta keep on your toes, toes that is. Try it again." He whispered, loudly, to Celestia, "Nice kids but about as sharp as a bag full'a bowlin' balls."

Twilight pulled an envelope from her saddlebags. She hooved it over to Thunder. "I, uh . . ."

"You know the answer," Thunder said, "But I'll deliver it." All eyes turned to Luna, who reluctantly hooved over an envelope of her own.

Thunder nodded and placed both letters in his saddle bags. He stared at Dipper.

"Thank you," his sister ground out.

Celestia was smiling, so Thunder smiled back.

"Ready to head home?" Thunder asked, when Dipper nodded, they vanished from Canterlot.

"Do you think he'll read them," Twlight asked.

"No," Discord said, as he looked out the window of the Friendship Castle, "The important thing is that you wrote it." He looked at Twilight. "Do you want me to tell the others, or do you want to?"

Twilight started at offer, but bowed her head. "No, better I do it."

"I'll come with," Discord said, "After all, you forgot to tell them that Dipper and Thunder were in Canterlot."

Twilight facehooved.

Author's Notes:

I didn't want to put this out yesterday (Apr 1), for fear that it would be misinterpreted.

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