Celestia vs. Time
Inspired by 'Progress', by Andrew J. Talon
Catching up on a thousand years' worth of missed history is not an easy task, by any means. Yet, it is one that Princess Luna had, in the end, managed quite well. Of course, if you look at it from another angle... She had it easy.
Consider how much history has changed over a millennium. Beliefs are re-written, borders shift, empires rise and fall, and somewhere in the middle of it all are the little ponies who struggle on with their everyday lives.
Princess Celestia had seen all of it. She had the misfortune of being able to remember all of it. Not just the important details; the inventions, the treaties, the great heroes and heroines, but every last detail. Such was the 'blessing' of being an immortal goddess. When she looked at her faithful student, Twilight Sparkle, she could see, in the mists of her memory, those same features, that same purple coat, repeated a hundred times over.
She remembered them all. She looked upon Twilight and saw not only the young unicorn mare striving in her studies, but also the many stallions and mares that had come before her. She remembered clearly when the first Sparkle had taken the name, well before Nightmare Moon's banishment.
Celestia kept a library in the palace. She didn't need to.
In fact, one odd detail that Celestia could not clearly recall... was the last time she had sat down and read a book. Much like genetics meant that the hue of a pony's coat, or the colour of their eyes, would come up again and again in successive generations, the Princess found the same to be true of literature.
She dimly recalled some decades ago when one of the many students in her School for Gifted Unicorns had written a thesis on the subject. Trope's Library of Literary Tools was now well into its hundredth edition, spanning several score volumes, and found its way onto library shelves all across Equestria.
That was another problem with being immortal. Things got predictable. There was an old saying; "There's nothing new under the Sun." Celestia knew this to be true from experience alone. It was precisely for this reason that she delighted in subverting the expectations of her subjects with her little games, jibes and pranks.
Yet, she never tired of Equestria and its subjects. She took endless solace and pleasure in one simple fact of life:
No two ponies are ever the same.
… But from time to time, they can certainly share similarities.
"Celly, are you alright?"
Luna's voice broke Celestia out of her thoughts. She blinked, realising she'd been staring for Sun knows how long at the salad in front of her, and gave a small, reassuring smile to her sister.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine. Just... Preoccupied, I suppose."
Luna looked across at Celestia with a mixture of concern and curiosity. "Anything in particular?"
Celestia opened her mouth to reply, but paused for a moment. She looked at her little sister searchingly for a few seconds.
"Luna... Would you believe that, in a way, I envy you?"
The Moon Princess blinked, unsure how to react.
"Since you've returned, you've been so eager to learn about everything that's happened in your absence... So much so that I had to forcibly drag you out of that library more than once." Celestia continued, smirking. "... I envy that passion... Though I don't begrudge you of it! I just mean..."
She sighed, returning her gaze to the salad bowl. "... It's nothing, forget I said anything."
"No, no, go on. You've piqued my curiosity now." Luna retorted, leaning forward.
"... I remember every single moment of the time you were gone. Everything that happened. Everypony I met. … For me, there's very little left to learn. It... makes me feel my age, I suppose." she said, staring at a piece of lettuce.
"Well... you don't look a day over seven hundred." Luna smirked at her sister.
Celestia snorted, smirking back. "Thanks. But it's not that, so much... Sometimes I feel like I'm the one stuck in the past."
"... At least you haven't made a complete foal of yourself over every new change you've encountered." Luna replied, sighing a little. Celestia looked over at her sister again, and grinned.
"Well, I wouldn't exactly say that..."
"You see, the problem with remembering all the little details is that you start to overlook the big ones..."
A century or so ago, when the city of Manehattan was still new and Ponyville was a small village, Princess Celestia sat in her bedroom, staring out of the window at the moon. At her sister.
It had been almost nine hundred years since it had happened. Ponies no longer looked up at the night sky in fear of the darkness it held, and the meaning of those strange marks on the moon's surface had been forgotten. Just an Old Mare's Tale.
All Celestia could see as she stared up at the moon was the face of her beloved sister, smiling down on the land and bathing it in her light. There were nights when Celestia was angry at it. There were nights when Celestia was jealous of it. But some nights, she was just lonely.
A little chime rang, bringing the Princess out of her thoughts. She turned her head and watched with a smile as the little figures on her clock danced, their hooves striking the small bells to announce the hour.
Celestia's stomach growled. She had refrained from eating much at dinner, not then feeling particularly hungry. Now she was beginning to regret it. Muttering to herself, she rolled off the bed and onto the floor in a manner most unbecoming of royalty.
Of course, there was nothing stopping her from just ordering the palace cooks to make her a midnight snack, but there were times when she tired of being waited on hoof and fetlock. She knew her servants' intentions were kind and well-meaning, but they fussed over her like a newborn foal, and she deeply resented it. She was several thousand years their elder, yet they wouldn't even let her take a walk in the palace gardens alone lest the royal hoof tread on an errant thorn.
Silencing the creaking of the doors with her magic, she opened them a crack and peered out, smirking to herself to find both guards fast asleep. She tip-toed past them, taking care not to make a sound, and made her way slowly and carefully down the palace corridors. The gentle tap of her hooves on the marble floor was inaudible to all but the mice, who watched with mild amusement as the supreme ruler of Equestria sneaked through her own palace like a trespasser.
Celestia breathed a quiet sigh of relief as she reached the palace kitchens, having encountered no servants or guards along the way. Carefully opening the doors, she peeked inside. No one around. She slipped into the room and drew the door closed with a soft click.
Moonlight streamed through the windows of the palace kitchens, reflected off the white tiled floor. Celestia peered around, momentarily a little confused. She would swear blind there used to be a grand fireplace and roasting spit where that little row of white ceramic boxes now stood.
She approached them cautiously. They each stood about the height of a pony's back, with two doors on the front, both with transparent panels, and four black metal discs on the surface. They bore a vague resemblance to an oven, but there seemed to be nowhere to put the wood or coal.
Celestia opened one of the oven's doors, seeing racks of wire grills stacked up inside it. Understanding dawned on her features.
"Ah, it must be a new design of oven. I put the firewood in the lower compartment and it cooks the food in the top." she thought to herself, levitating out the grills and placing them neatly on the central table. She turned her head to where the basket of firewood used to be, only to find it conspicuously absent.
Frowning, Celestia paced around the kitchen, checking in cupboards and pantries for any suitable fuel. Her search proved entirely fruitless. She was about to settle for a cold meal when a thought arose that she could easily borrow the firewood from the great hall, next door.
Minutes later she was back in the kitchen, floating a large wicker basket of chopped wood beside her. She stacked the wood in the oven quickly and efficiently, with enough space between the blocks of wood that it was sure not to choke the flames.
She peered at the oven again. There didn't seem to be any vent or chimney attached to the lower compartment, so she would have to leave the door open to prevent the fire going out. Satisfied with her deduction, she leant down and touched her horn to the wood, which sparked and immediately burst into bright yellow flames, quickly spreading to the rest of the pile.
Placing a few extra pieces of wood on the merrily burning fire, Celestia went back to the pantries. Peering at the generous stock of fruits and vegetables on offer, she selected two cobs of corn and floated them beside her. She peered intently at the shelves, looking for something else, and frowned again as she couldn't find it.
"Where have they put the butter? I do wish they'd stop moving things around like this, I swear it used to be kept in here." she muttered in the recesses of her mind, going through the routine of checking all the cupboards a second time.
Finally she came to a tall white box. It was about twice the height and width of the ovens, had only one door, and hummed ominously. She had overlooked it in her first sweep of the room, since she didn't identify it as either a cupboard or a pantry. She wasn't entirely sure what it was.
Opening the door cautiously, she recoiled at the sudden icy blast, losing her grip on her magic and dropping the corn to the floor.
"Oh. Yes. Refrigerator. Insulated box continually channelling a freezing spell to keep perishable goods cold and preserve them for longer periods of time." she reminded herself, picking up the corn and taking the butter from a shelf. She took care to close the door properly, and quickly made her way back to the oven to warm up.
Throwing a few more pieces of wood on the fire, she opened the top compartment of the oven, placing the corn on a metal tray within and adding a slice of butter to both cobs. She closed the door, and waited.
… And waited.
Ten minutes had passed before Celestia came to the conclusion that she'd done something wrong. Peering through the tinted glass, she could clearly see that the corn wasn't cooking. Judging by the fact that the butter on top hadn't melted, it wasn't even warm.
Scowling now, she took a closer look at the oven. On the top, next to the four metal discs, was a series of dials with numbers around them. Four were numbered from 1 - 6, and the other two were numbered from 0 - 9. She pondered this for a moment. According to the little diagrams accompanying the dials, the first four corresponded to the metal discs, therefore the other pair must have something to do with the upper and lower compartments of the oven.
"It couldn't possibly be temperature or the numbers would be higher," she reasoned. "... perhaps, then... Ah! Yes, I know, it must be like those solid fuel heaters. The numbers on the dial correspond to the strength of heat reaching the top compartment! So if I turn both to nine..."
A light hissing sound disturbed the silence, punctuated by the crackle of the fire as its flames suddenly turned blue. Celestia looked at this with some interest.
"... It must be an effect of the design. Heat is channelled to the upper compartment by magic, hence the blue tint to the flames." she thought, nodding. This made perfect sense. There was no direct means for the heat from one compartment to reach the other, so it had to be magic. Clearly.
Any further thought on the subject was interrupted by the soft clop of hooves outside the kitchen door. Celestia froze, instinctively.
"Don't come in don't come in don't come in..."
The door edged open.
A head peered into the kitchen, looking around curiously. Its owner quickly spotted the Princess and burst into the room, clattering across the floor and screeching to a halt in front of the royal alicorn, face down on the floor.
"Your royal majesty forgive me I didn't hear you call I swear I would have been here to serv-" she began, barely pausing for breath, before Celestia placed a hoof on her shoulder and loudly shushed her.
The servant looked up at her ruler and employer with a mix of shock and utter bewilderment.
"Keep it down!" Celestia hissed, glancing around nervously. "I'm just making myself something to eat, I didn't want to bother anyone."
The servant nodded, biting back the instinct to offer to prepare a five course banquet. Celestia saw that she was a young mare, barely old enough to be considered one. Her coat was white, and her mane yellow. Her cutie mark was currently hidden under her uniform.
The Princess smiled, trying to ease the unspoken tension between them. The servant mare smiled back, nervously, and glanced at the oven. Her eyes widened in horror.
"Y-your majesty, that's... That's..."
"Oh, it's quite alright. I think I have it all figured out now."
"But... It's... That's..." she stammered, half of her brain screaming to run, and fast, and the other half frantically trying to think of a way to explain to the goddess that you don't operate a gas oven by setting fire to it.
Celestia peered through the glass window of the oven door again, glaring at the completely untouched corn within.
Her horn lit up.
The glow enveloped the handle of the door.
The servant made the connection and immediately abandoned all other mental tasks.
In the palace gardens, a pair of guards had taken a moment to stop and rest on their patrol around the grounds. They sat admiring the stars and the beauty of the gardens themselves, even under the moonlight the flowers would open in bloom, as if greeting the absent Princess on her nightly journey.
"Say, Irons..." one began, peering up at the sky.
"Mmh?" his companion grunted in response.
"D'you reckon that out there, somewhere, there's another world like this one, but, like, different?"
"... How d'you mean?"
"Like, all the colts are mares, an' all the mares are colts. An' there's a Prince instead of a Princess."
His companion pondered the implications.
"... So y'mean, me an' you, we'd be mares?"
Irons stared up at the night sky.
"... Nah, tha's daft."
The other guard shrugged.
"If yer say so. Come on, we'd best-"
An explosion tore away the rest of that sentence.
The guards looked up to see the rapidly expanding fireball coming from the palace kitchens, their ears ringing from the deafening noise of the blast.
Irons mouthed something.
"I said we should go see what happened!"
"I SAID, WE SHOULD GO SEE WHAT HAPPENED!"
"ISN'T THAT A JOB FOR THE GUARD?"
"WE ARE THE GUARD!"
He looked down at his armour.
"... OH YEAH. RIGHT!"
Celestia sat, stunned, in the middle of what had once been a kitchen. Fortunately, she had had just enough time to shield herself and the servant before the built-up gas in the oven ignited, taking much of the oven and the gas tanks with it.
Two cobs of corn, miraculously intact, lay directly in front of the princess, cooked to perfection. Celestia blinked.
"What. Just happened." she managed to say, after half a minute.
The servant mare peered from behind Celestia's wing at the remnants of the oven.
"I think you... Uh. Blew up the oven, ma'am."
She took a look at the devastation surrounding her. "... and the rest of the kitchen."
They shared another half a minute of silence.
Celestia looked down at the corn.
"... Remarkably, I no longer feel hungry."
Luna stared at her sister incredulously.
"... You blew up the palace kitchens!" she said, at length.
"Fortunately nopony was harmed... Although the servant mare politely recommended that the next time I felt hungry in the middle of the night, please summon the cooks immediately." Celestia replied, grinning.
"What happened to her?" Luna asked, shaking her head in disbelief.
"Oh, I gave her paid leave to recover. She was very good-natured about the whole affair, she told the inquiry that I had discovered a gas leak in the kitchens and that we were attempting to fix it when it ignited. I have to admit I was too ashamed to tell them the truth." Celestia looked out of the window, smiling fondly in reminiscence. "... I think, in the end, I appointed her head of staff. Sundance is her great-granddaughter, you know."
Luna smirked, herself. "And you needle me about how I reacted to microwaves."
Celestia grimaced. "Well, actually, that's another story..."
Luna raised an eyebrow at her sister.
"Celly... don't tell me you mistook that for a fuel-burning oven, too?"
Celestia paused, looking embarrassed.
"... I may have..."
Her sister tried to stifle a laugh, but ultimately failed.
"It wasn't very funny at the time!" Celestia protested. "The guards thought it was an assassination attempt and I very nearly had a national incident on my hooves ... I've given the kitchen a wide berth since then..."
Luna raised a handkerchief from the table to dry her eyes, still laughing.
"Hah, well, I can see why you didn't tell me that earlier."
"Just... Keep it to yourself, would you?"
"Oh, of course." Luna giggled. She took another bite of her sandwich, musing as she chewed.
"... It's a shame I missed all these innovations." she said, after swallowing. "I would have loved to have been there and... seen it all unfold."
Celestia smiled again, looking at her sister. "Personally, Luna, I think you got the better deal. After all, you get to learn about it all, and you have all the tools at your hooves to do it with. I've had to sit here and drudge through it."
"Besides... You have the blessing of hindsight. You can see how history unfolded." She placed a hoof on an internal palace memo resting by her plate. "... Without any of the boring bits."
"Well, when you crack under the strain and I have to seal you into the sun for a thousand years we'll get a chance to see, won't we?" Luna replied, smirking.
"What I wouldn't give for a thousand year's break from parliament..." Celestia grinned back. "Speaking of matters of state, I'm slated for a three hour long meeting with the Mayor of Trottingham. What have you got planned for the afternoon?"
"I believe the girls are planning a trip to Whitetail Woods, Twilight invited me to join them there. It was barely Whitetail Copse the last time I visited."
"Well, try to avoid the maples. Believe me, it'll take hours to get the syrup out of your mane." Celestia rose from the table, bowing to Luna as one ruler to another. Luna returned the gesture with a giggle and a wave of her hoof.
"I'll see you this evening, then, Luna. Have a good afternoon with the girls!"
Luna nodded in reply, and Celestia strode out of the great hall to attend to her duties.