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What Happens Next

by TheBandBrony

Chapter 1: What Frightens me the Most


What Happens Next


I’ve never seen an entire nation utter a collective gasp of surprise before.

The whole thing was far too elaborate to choreograph, yet too simple to be anything less than a spur-of-the-moment reaction that snowballed into a roar audible for miles. In all my years, I’ve never seen something so drastic happen—and probably never will again, unless I decide to turn another one of my suspiciously close personal friends into an immortal demigod. The fact never occurred to me until now that such a decision might seem rather suspicious to the untrained eye.

The prized student of the Princess, the same student who has saved said Princess and her nation who knows how many times, gets the royal treatment—literally—as a “reward” for all of her hard work, leaving the world under the weight of yet another Royal Sister. How long can Celestia keep up this pathetic facade before ponies start to realize that this is so much more than a mere addition to the Crown? How long will it take before the underlying motives of the diarch flinch under the light of day?

I turn from the balcony overlooking the gardens and trot into the confines of the castle. Even through the stone walls, thickened in preparation of battles and sieges that would never come, padded with every sort of historical treasure and art a pony could find in one hundred museums, the sound of the hurricane entering the main foyer was still very much audible.

The question here is not of power distribution, but power consumption. Think of it this way: there is now a fourth alicorn pony in the world—four ponies that have the power to raze armies, to destroy nations, to blot out life itself like it is a flickering candle drowning in its own wax. With another goddess added to their ranks, their sphere of control does nothing but grow.

Perhaps it had been a bad idea to invite the press into the castle for the conference. Already, two rather expensive vases had toppled from their shelves and shattered, courtesy of a small group of reporters attempting to push and shove their way to the front. They had been politely excused from the event, of course, but to say that it dealt with the problem was like saying that removing a few buckets of water from the ocean would lower the world’s sea levels.

I hate to think of the poor guards down there attempting to restore order. Theirs is a noble, but hopeless, cause. Perhaps I should give them a medal for their bravery. I know as well as anypony that we could use some new heroes to latch onto, given how spectacular our latest addition to the sacred guild has turned out.

An aide, her normally stiff suit just as frazzled and worn as her mane from attempting to navigate the castle halls without being ambushed for precious information, scuttles up to me and motions wordlessly towards the corridor leading to the main foyer. One look at her eyes, darting furiously at the watch strapped to her hoof, tells me that I have taken too much time to myself.

I do not regret that time at all, as much as it may cost my schedule keepers a few more grey hairs—even a Princess needs to know when to curl up and let all her frustrations out on an unlucky pillow, after all. The real time killer, I’ve found, is the unfortunately noticeable tear stains which stick out like a sore thumb against a white coat.

The aide coughs into her hoof politely, willing me to stop staring at an old impressionist painting that has all but grown onto the wall for all of its time spent hanging there and get on with my next royal duty. That is how it will be for the next couple of hours, I suppose—passive-aggressive snide and impatience wrapped up in polite coughs and strained questions.

The press ponies will be sure to maintain some level of decency—they aren’t all muckrakers like that darn pegasus from the Chicoltgo Tribune that keeps violating the no-fly/no-press zone around the castle, hounding me for an interview about my supposed affairs with whatever celebrity happened to claw their way up to popularity that week—but I fear that, the way things are headed, my spirits will end up just like the vases from earlier.

A louder cough from the aide. I sigh. Time to smile and pray that nopony figures out what I’m up to. Or rather, what I’m not up to.

The sounds of what has to be a million ponies all attempting to shout over each other get louder as I march down the corridor, a prisoner to the public’s desire for sweet knowledge which I do not have. Cords of rope, braided by misinformation and tied by the sensationalists in fancy suits who drive the media enterprise, knot themselves around my hooves and try to trip me. A noose, formed of confusion and apprehension, choke me, turning my breathing into a farcical, forced affair.

For a moment, it occurs to me that they are probably just as scared as I am. They, of course, are allowed to show it, but it makes no difference to the fact. Their entire world has been shifted upside down in a matter of hours. They would have latched onto any information at all, true or false, even if it was just to try and wrap their heads around the sudden addition to their ruling class.

She has betrayed us as a ruler. This is a blunt, blanketing way of stating it, but I can think of no other way to say it. She has abused her power in a way that nopony could have expected, and has made a divine demigoddess out of a librarian. This is not a coronation—this is a catastrophe.

How else could I expect them to take the news, have them smile politely and bow mindlessly to their new leader without so much as thinking about the repercussions? I try to shut out the tiny part of me that still hopes they don’t think too much about the repercussions. Heaven forbid they find out the whole, unbridled truth. It just might mean the end of the monarchy.

Still marching solemnly towards the door, I chastise myself for praising ignorance, no matter how beneficial it may be to me. I raised my little ponies better than stooping to yellow journalism. I pray that their questions are thorough, and that I am able to answer them to the best of my abilities.

I just hope they don’t tear me apart when I can’t.

Two guards stationed at either side of a tall oak door connecting the hall to the foyer snap to attention as I near. They move in tandem, leaning into the door and losing the pent-up anxiety of an entire kingdom directly into its ruler’s ears.

“Princess Celestia!”

“Princess, Princess! Over here!”

“Princess! What is going on with your nation?”

Noise.

So much noise.

There couldn’t be more than one hundred reporters and staff in the hall, but when they are all imparted with the lunacy that they are the most important being in the room and should therefore shout above the rest, it makes them sound like a freight train, screaming next to my ears.

"Princess Celestia, what say you to the conspiracy theories that have arisen in the wake of your student Twilight Sparkle's alicornification?"

"Princess Celestia, how do you respond to rumors that you plan to turn members of your senior staff into alicorns as well?"

"Princess Celestia, is it true you have kept your plans for Twilight Sparkle from the public because of fears of a coup?"

I flinch as each of their questions strike me, not because of the severity of their tone or the mad, desperate looks in their eyes, but the knowledge that my answers will only enrage them further.

Who is next? Will Celestia's next move be to turn key members of her military forces into alicorns? Why not just turn the entirety of the Royal Guard into alicorns? Why not just turn everypony into alicorns? If one pony is good enough to be turned into an immortal Goddess and claim all the perks that come along with it, who is Celestia to judge which souls are or are not worthy to receive the honor as well?

I meekly raise a hoof to quell the shouting in the room, though I'm tempted to throw off the hooflet and massage my aching temples in the process. Gradually, the press stops their squawking and turn to me. Now or never.

"Thank you all, esteemed journalists, for coming to this conference. I know you all have many questions—" another clamor arises from somewhere in the crowd, but dies as I cast a stern look towards the offenders "—and I will inform you to the best of my abilities. I only ask that, even in the wake of such a momentous occasion, we maintain our civility and act like the professionals I know you all to be."

I pause, taking what is sure to be my last lungful of air for the next twenty minutes.

"Now, since I have already issued my official statement on the matter during the coronation, I will be happy to field any questions you may have regarding the issue."

Too late, it comes to mind that perhaps an open-style conference may not have been the best of ideas. One hundred hooves shoot skyward, each one accompanied by the blaring shout of, "Princess, Princess! Over here!"

All the noise almost makes me wince, though thankfully I manage to suppress it into an unnoticeable twitch of my ear.

"Ponies, please, calm yourselves." My voice unconsciously rises with that of the press. "I assure you that I will answer all your questions in a satisfactory manner—"

An all-too-familiar quiver rises in my throat. I clamp my lips shut just before my Royal Canterlot Voice slips out and turns the conference into a royal shouting match. My strained voice, still lost in the wash of the crowd, dies of its own accord. It finally occurs to me that I've been biting my tongue.

By the time everypony regains their head and settles down enough to be heard, another torturous minute has passed.

Not wishing to make this wretched affair last longer than it already has, I put on a stern face to scare any remaining dissenters into silence. "I hope that we are all able to hold our tongues and keep that from happening again. I would not want to have to evict any other ponies for unruliness."

Did that sound too much like a threat? Several of the ponies in the front row shrivel, as if those mere words were acid on their skin.

"Now, I will field questions from the crowd." Raising my hoof for silence, I add, "Quietly, please."

The first hoof I see shoot up comes from the second row, a robust hulk of a stallion with enough lanyards to give half of Canterlot access to the castle conference room. "Princess Celestia—Bleeding Heart from the Manehatten Sun Times—what exact duties will your former student, Princess Sparkle, take up now that she has ascended to royalty?"

Thank the Sun, an easy question. It can only go downhill from here.

"Miss Sparkle's new duties will be largely administrative in nature. While, like Luna and me, she is bound to the world around us by a strong magical connection, she will not be raising any of the LCBs save some unforeseen tragedy that leaves me or Luna incapacitated. She will for the most part remain in Ponyville at her request to work out of her home."

Another hoof rises.

“Princess—I’m lead editor Fine Print, Canterlot Eye—you said Princess Sparkle will be performing her royal duties from Ponyville? It it really a good idea to separate the administrative section of government between towns that are so far apart?”

“Again, there is no need to worry about that. Twilight has a faithful dragon assistant that goes by the name of Spike accompanying her wherever she goes. Should anything need to be sent between wherever she is and Canterlot, Spike will be able to send it directly to me via enchanted dragonfire. The time delay is virtually zero, so there won’t be any issue with one keeping the other informed.”

"Your Highness,” a slick voice cuts in, “Chief Journalist Ink Blot from the Fillydelphia Enquirer—you stated that Princess Sparkle is not actually bound to any of the Large Celestial Bodies that are at the moment controlled by you or your sister. If that is the case, then what is she bound to?"

"Twilight is bound to the force of magic, just like she was with her Element of Harmony. Similar to Princess Mi Amore Cadenza's ties to Love, Twilight controls an advanced domain over all things magic, be it spells or theory or leyline redistribution or any other major tasks that would normally fall to the Arcane Council."

"Then what will become of the arcane council?"

"They will eventually be downsized to only its core elements, but it will still maintain a presence in the Royal Court. Think of them as Princess Sparkle's version of the Astronomer's Guild."

I actually have to hold back a smile as a collective nod sweeps through the crowd, the only ones holding back their visual approval being those scribbling into notepads. Who knows? This might actually turn out alright.

Another waving hoof grabs my attention.

"Your Highness, I'm Smart Alek, from the Chicoltgo Courier. Forgive me if I sound rude, but why exactly do we need a fourth Princess? There was no faltering governmental function that required this change, nor was there any colossal disturbance in the stability of global leylines to necessitate a balancing force of magic to counter it. So far, the only official reason that you have given as to why you turned Miss Sparkle into a Goddess is that it has 'fulfilled her destiny'. What exactly do you mean?"

My dreams of smooth sailing falter, ripped and torn as if they have been hit by buckshot, not a mere reporter’s question. My mind falters, scraping for facts at the bottom of my conscience.

"You see Mister Alek,” I begin, “Twilight plays a very important role in the future of Equestria. This change has been a long time in the making, and I assure you that no possible option has been left unexplored. In the end, her alicornification was revealed not only to be the best path to take, but her ultimate destiny as well."

The lack of nodding in conjunction with the absence of quills scratching away on paper send a spike of worry into my chest. These press ponies may be clever, but they are easier to read than a book. They only disregard something like my previous statement when they know it will be worth nothing to their scoop. It's obvious—they've seen through my facade.

A cough, followed by a hesitant hoof, grabs me. "Yes, you in the back."

"Uh, yes, Your Majesty. You say—oh, I'm sorry, I'm Fresh Print from the local Gazette."

This Fresh Print—hardly a colt, now that I look at him—is sweating terribly, and all but shaking the castle from the mountain with his manic shifting and plodding. This must be his first time at a conference of this significance. I shoot him the most comforting smile I can manage, willing him to continue.

"You talk a lot of destiny, and how it was a deciding factor in all of this. Th-that being said, you have never really told us what her destiny is, specifically. Is she destined to rule the stars, or vanquish another King Sombra, or what?"

Had I attempted to answer his question from the get-go, I'm sure I would have sputtered and stalled just as much as he did. My smile vanishes from my face, replaced by a calculating look of poorly hidden scorn. It's always the quietest ones who ask the toughest questions...

"As I've said before, Twilight's destiny will play an important role in the years to come. It will be crucial to her duties as a newly minted Princess that she adhere to this destiny and allow it to guide her, just like it guided her to becoming a Princess. In a way, it is similar to the way a pony is destined to follow their cutie mark."

"But wait a minute," a voice pipes up from the front row. "You just stated that Twilight's destiny guided her to become a Princess. So was her destiny then to become a Princess from the start?"

"Not necessarily. Think of becoming a Princess as just one stretch of road on her predestined path. Like I have previously stated, we have done our best to chart this proverbial map and act accordingly to its revelations."

A chorus of whispers sweeps the room, foreshadowing some great and horrible realization. I am helpless to do anything but brace myself for the worst.

"But if that is true, why were we not informed of such a colossal shift in the nation's power balance until it had already happened?"

"If this is only one ‘stretch of road’, as you just stated, what lies beyond this?"

“What of the rumors—the whispers of abuses of power and rewarding ponies who serve you diligently with royal immunity?”

"Gentlestallions,” I interject, “one at a time please."

This admittedly halfhearted request manages to cow a blessed few into silence. In the vacuum, one voice finds purchase above the rest.

"Did you feel that a shift in the Hierarchy was not important enough information for it to be shared with the subjects who would be affected by this?"

“Informing my subjects was and still is a top priority, but I simply can not give ponies information that does not exist—”

“Did you even think of the backlash this would cause?”

“The implications of this are far more overarching than you let on, Princess Celestia.”

“Do you realize this all but dispels the commonly accepted belief that Equestrian royalty must be of divine nature? If anypony can become a Princess, what’s to stop Prince Blueblood from becoming the Grand Prince of Canterlot?”

Everything is going to the dogs. I have a terrible, terrible feeling that this conference has accomplished nothing but providing more new questions than answers. I raise a feeble hoof, as if mere waving could stop the avalanche rolling toward me.

“Ponies, ponies... please. Your questions are all valid, but you fail to see the simple fact that this turn of events was her destiny, and I can change that no more than you, or anypony else, can.”

“But you have eluded telling us the most basic and vital of information for days now!"

"It is of the utmost importance, I assure you—"

"We know that! What we need to know—and what you are obligated to tell us under the Equestrian Articles of Free Speech act, is what her destiny is, and how it justifies her coronation."

"The act of her ascension and alicornification fulfills her destiny—"

"But that doesn't make sense when put in context with your previous statements! Becoming a Princess can be a pony's destiny no more than being hired on to any other job of non-import. The only difference is the huge pair of wings that now sit on her back!"

“The decision violates several laws enacted by the general electorate—”

"Alicorn power overload could throw the Elements of harmony out of alignment—"

"You have betrayed our trust and our loyalty—"

"It doesn't make sense—"

"Why—"

Noise—so much noise. All the reporters shout and scream like banshees rushing in to ambush their weary prey, hammering tiny nails into my skull. Their shouts bleed into one great roar punctuated by the searing bolt of a photographer's flashbulb exploding in my vision, staining my sight a horrible, disorienting white.

I blink.

Willing my ears to just burst and plunge me into blissful deafness, I turn my gaze to the guard to my right and tap my hoof against the podium twice. The knocking, though drowned out effortlessly by the crowd, is not lost on the armor-clad stallion, who nods an unspoken order to his comrades.

Together as one seamless machine, they raise their hooves and crash down on the tile with a force that rattled even my own supposedly unflappable resolve. The audience staggers under the pressure and quiets almost instantly under the untold threat of forced expulsion or worse, until all that is left of the rabble is a faded echo clinging to my lungs like wet cement.

Princess Celesti—oh...”

All eyes in the room turn to find whoever dares to break the fragile silence. In the following silence, they find not some rogue conspiracy theorist ready to make headlines for his wild claims and even wilder spectacle of an entrance, but a miniscule, quivering husk of a colt, his wide eyes trained on the floor and his trembling legs glued to the square of tile beneath him.. As those near him begin to inch away, he mutters in a terrified tone, “Oh, shoot—you’ve gone and done it now. You’re such a dumb pony...”

I recognize that voice. Yes, this is the same colt from earlier—Fresh Print, his name is. Poor pony—he finally gets the nerve to jump onto the shouting bandwagon onto to find it thrown into reverse underneath him.

“I’m sorry, Princess—really, really, really sorry—I didn’t mean to talk out of line. Please don’t kick me out. My chief told me a million times that he was taking a big risk putting me on a story this big, and if I get kicked out and miss the rest of the interview I’ll be out on the streets.”

I really should have him thrown out to serve as an example for the rest, but something about those huge, trembling eyes of his compels me to hold my tongue. The day I lose the ability to forgive is the day I step down from the throne and give my crown to a cactus, and I don’t think that sunshine-gold would look good against cactus-green.

A guard breaks rank to escort him from the room, but I wave him off. The action is not lost on the unfortunate reporter, who plants his forehead on the floor and extols it as if it, not me, has saved him from public humiliation and probable unemployment.

While all the praise is flattering, to say the least, I must draw a line in the sand when he begins spouting metered verse heralding the “radiantly beautiful sunbringer” who “saved his soul from the jowls of joblessness.”

“Please, mister Fresh Print... your knowledge of improvised iambic pentameter is commendable, but I do insist that you stand up. Just... ask your question. I think we would all like to take a long recess and cool our heads.”

Most of the crowd seems to disagree with my sentiment. Their politely silent yet disdainful stares seem to say, “We’re just warming up, Your Majesty.”

The young reporter thankfully clears his throat, unknowingly pulling me back into reality. "My question, Your majesty, concerns your talk of destiny. You have ceaselessly told us how important Princess Sparkle's destiny plays into this, but you haven't actually told us what that destiny is. I believe you've been asked this question before, and have only answered it by saying..."

His eyes duck to his notebook, and he flips through the miniature pages furiously.

"Here we go. You only stated stated that, 'Twilight's destiny will play an important role in the years to come', and that her coronation doesn't necessarily fulfill it—we should, 'think of becoming a Princess as just one stretch of road on her predestined path'.

"You never told us what specific purpose turning her into an alicorn would fulfill, and you speak of some all-important destiny that only you seem to know. There are simply too many gaping holes in this story to count. Please, tell us the truth." His resolve seemed to grow stronger with each word he spoke, his pitch rising along with his volume. "It is your duty as a Princess to inform the public of things as important as this. What is the exact reason you turned Twilight into an alicorn?"

Oh no.

No, no no no.

This... this child is going to bring about the end of the monarchy with that question. All the reporters are staring intently at me now, their eyes bordering between anticipation and utter madness. A mere facade of an answer will not satiate them. I can see it in their faces—dancing around the question without really answering it will only invite calamity and mistrust. I am not sure which one is worse.

"You see—"

I cut myself off. I don't want them to hear my own panicked voice. Anxiety, white-hot and paralyzing, shoots through my veins and into my head, heralding the first throbbing ache of an impending migraine. A million ideas flare to life, only to shrivel under the cold, malicious eye of reason.

“It...”

I can't escape it this time. It's over.

"It was..."

When History remembers this day, let it remember me not with anger and resentment, but with pity.

"...It was her destiny."

There is a beat of silence. And then the world explodes.

I'm sure the reporters are screaming something at me other than infuriated white noise, but I can not bear to hear it. I have failed my ponies, and their cries would only serve to scar me further. A guard rushes to my side, eying the pool of ponies nervously. His lips move, and he nods towards the door. I nod and comply numbly.

Vaguely, I hear somepony take my place at the podium, attempting to shout down the mob I have created. The massive doors slam shut on my heels, though, before I can bother to focus in on him.

Silence.

Sweet, blissful, terrifying silence.

In the quiet that pervades the hall, unbroken save the frantic clip-clop of an approaching aide and the occasional shout worming its way through the cracks in the door, I am left alone with my flaw. My flaw that caused the debacle outside. My flaw that will cost me my subjects trust.

I am scared. There. I said it. I am scared. I am afraid of what will come next. Some psychologists say that the fear of the unknown is the most terrifying thing to the pony's mind. Fear was the driving force behind our coronation of the Princesses Celestia and Luna in the first place. They offered answers—answers to why those huge, terrifying orbs in the sky seemed to move of their own accord, answers to why some ponies could walk on clouds and move things with their minds and connect with the earth below them, answers to why we ponies existed in the first place. And now, ironically enough, that fear of the unknown is what will drive them from the very thrones they ascended.

An aide—the same one from before, no doubt—scrambles up to me, her hooffalls echoing against the high ceiling. Her eyes are wide with something akin to fear, hidden only by a thin veil of professionalism. Perhaps I should be sharing her less than optimistic attitude, given the disaster of a press conference that just transpired.

Then again, she will probably have much more to frown about in the coming hours than I. The backlash of all this—the inquiries, the questions, the letters—will surely come down on her head like the blade of a guillotine. Nopony would dare confront a Princess about the flaws in her judgement, no matter how miniscule. But an aide—a mere servant of the untouchable Princess? They, tragically, are fair game.

She, not I, will bear the brunt of my mistakes out there. Yet another pony who I have failed.

The poor pony moves to speak, but I shush her without even breaking my stride. Let come what may—I am long overdue for a nice, long stress nap. The aide grows an abject look of horror as I tell her of my intentions, as if I had just signed her death warrant in front of her (though, in all reality, I probably have). Her trot slows to a condemned pony's march as I brush by her towards my chambers. I will be sure to repay her for her service soon enough, but right now I must clear my head, lest these thoughts suffocate me.

My gold regalia is the first thing to hit the floor as I plod into the room. It is immediately followed by their former wearer. While the hardwood floor feels as soft and inviting as any cloud could ever be, I know better than to let myself fall asleep here and wake up with a crick in my back. It's a shame that the ground doesn't offer lumbar support.


Grumbling my misfortunes for not creating a world more accommodating to my needs, I flop lifelessly onto the bed and heave a sigh.

Attempting to organize the tattered flashes and shouts of the conference in my head proves to be worse than attempting to piece together a puzzle whose picture changes every other second. A bit of dialogue buzzes past my ear. A quote, faceless and screaming, sears my forehead. That damnable photographer’s lens flashes a hot white behind it all. Just thinking about it proves to be as painful as actually being there.

If half-truths and outright question-dodging become the norm for our current Princess, then what of the new Princess Sparkle? Will her mentor educate her not in the fine points of productive debate and proper, honest politics, but the dark art of misinformation and corruption?

I shake my head as a sudden thought stumbles upon me. All this—the sly, tasteless jabs, the answerless questions only meant to trip one up in their own words, the whispers that will follow her for years to come—is Twilight’s unofficial inheritance, a core of lead beneath the plated gold of her crown. The shouts I have heard today will eventually fade to whispers and perish on the winds of disinterest and acceptance—hopefully the latter—but until that day, they will trail her like an unwanted shadow, clinging to her and marring the brightest of days with a little touch of uncertainty.

I hope Twilight won't take the words of a few scared, angry ponies with the same salt she does those of her friends and confidants, but I know her well enough to understand that such thoughts are about as grounded in reality as the same ponies that start the rumors in the first place. We are all stranded on this island of misinformation together, yet one lone fact sticks out like an angry shard of rock just under the shoreline, lying in wait for an unfortunate ship to cross its path and strand its crew like it did us: the questions, the whispers of underlying motives and false pretenses will plague her for far longer than I would ever wish upon my enemies.

Too many questions have been raised in the past few days to be answered by the information at hand. We know that not all of them will be answered, nor do we expect them to be. By entertaining these points of concern, we merely hope to take a look at the whole situation from a different perspective. This reporter urges you to take a long, hard look at the reality behind this monumental decision and ask yourselves one question: Does Celestia love you? Or does she love the throne she has built on your backs?

This is all my fault. I can shift the blame to destiny and its courses all I wish, but in the end the villain of this tragedy is as easy to unmask as a mirror is to buy. I thrust Twilight into this. Twilight, my student. Twilight, my tether to reality. Twilight, my friend. My heart aches too much to think of it further, yet I slog on through the self-abuse motions, clinging to a hope that my own internal suffering will ease hers in the future.

And all for what? The fulfillment of some long-awaited destiny? What kind of destiny is that—foisted onto the throne only to find it built on shifting sand, bound to the dream of a lifetime only to find it rotten at its core?

But what else is there to do? Just ignore the universe's plan and hope that it doesn’t twist about like a snake in one's hooves and bite them for it? Even now, the mere thought of it elicits a bitter chuckle.

One does not simply ignore their destiny, even if the most powerful eternal force in the entire world—the same force that commands entire worlds and moves the heavens themselves about the sky like marbles—is unable to decipher anything more than a single sentence of it.

What happens next? I can not say.

And that is what frightens me the most.

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