On a clear spring night (and an unauthorized clear at that), Twilight meets Rainbow on a hill, towing along all the stargazing equipment which the pegasus rather surprisingly asked her to bring with no explanation whatsoever. Twilight thinks Rainbow has taken up a sudden interest in astronomy a theory which seems to receive confirmation when Rainbow starts calling off initial viewing coordinates for the Commander, a constellation within the band known as The Barding Of The Ancients. But the third direction takes them outside those bounds, and an increasingly-confused Twilight completely fails to see what Rainbow (who just thinks she's shown Twilight the coolest thing ever) is trying to do. A frustrated Rainbow finally shows Twilight what she's been working from: a shoddily-drawn star chart showing a representation of Rainbow's own mark within the stars one which co-opts some of those from the Commander. And according to Rainbow, this constellation is an official one. Because the agency who drew it for her registered the pattern with the government.
By recording the chart in a book, filing said book with the Copyright Office, and storing a copy in the Canterlot Archives.
And Rainbow wants to do the same thing with the marks of all her friends, preserving them in the sky forever. For a cost of two hundred bits each. (It would have been fifty-five, but Rainbow wanted a frame.)
Twilight, knowing Rainbow has been conned, manages to explain how that book would truly be filed under Fiction and with the following day available due to town holiday library closure, decides to visit the agency's offices in Canterlot, with the intent of getting Rainbow's bits back.
Only... she can't. Once she manages to locate the agency, she finds the owner willing to help her because the charter broke a house rule through using any part of the Ancients. A new chart can be sent to Rainbow. But there are no refunds. And as it turns out, the Registry hasn't actually broken the law. They do exactly as they promised: create and record the chart. Everything else, ponies choose to infer on their own. They have been taken to court over and over again, never losing a single case, because there is no law to dictate what ponies should believe.
And so Twilight, through a day (and very partial night) of wandering through Canterlot, is forced to confront the power of The Lie including the ones ponies tell themselves.
Read the story here.
Tropes found in this story include:
- All of the Other Reindeer: Averted. One of the reasons Rainbow wanted to bring Twilight in on the group registry plan early is because of Spike — who doesn't have a mark, and so isn't as easy to chart as the others. She wants Twilight's advice on an appropriate pattern for him.
- A Rare Sentence: Referenced by name, with the sentence in question voiced by Rainbow: "Did I screw up?"
- Badass Creed: Luna's Moon-raising is so powerful, the resonance of emotional residue registers in Twilight's soul as words....the safety of the day is a lieMonsters walk under Sun, and some wear pony skinsTo guard against them, one stands readyBut other monsters move under Moon, seek their prey by starlightDark things travel through the nightI know, for I am one of themAnd to all those who journey beneath my sky to prey upon my charges, bewareFor I stand against youAnd in time, you will meet me coming the other way...
- Bilingual Bonus: The owner of the ECMCR (for the current generation) is named Psev̱deis Asterismo. It's Greek for "false constellation."
- The Bus Came Back: Fajr returns for the first time since Blessing: he mistakes Twilight's depressed planetarium stargazing for that of a mourner seeking out a loved one's constellation, and spends some time trying to bring her into his quasi-therapy group by telling her about his own experiences.
- Call-Back: Rainbow may now understand what "azimuth" means. We don't know if Pinkie's worked it out yet.
- Following Celestia's rejection of the idea in Blessing, we see the emotional resonance of dismissal being used to try and make a pony forget something. The security spell is just too weak to work on Twilight.
- Call-Forward: Twilight reassures Rainbow by telling her that the Princesses will remember them. This isn't all that long before Twilight becomes one herself.
- Double Standard: Painfully averted. It's heavily implied that Luna is reluctant to go after the Registry because they're providing a false comfort which she is personally still seeking: the chance to gaze at the sky and remember the lost. Word Of Fanfic Author is that this is also supposed to Call-Back to A Mark Of Appeal. "So — why do you believe I could ever hate you so much as to take away a dream?"
- Emotion Bomb: The effect of Luna's resonance from Moon-raising on any unicorn with sufficiently-acute feel, and one of the reasons she tries to get Twilight out of the area before the duty is performed.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The Registry will not use stars from any of the constellations in the Barding when they draw their charts, because those are the oldest recognized constellations in the sky, and the Registry honors their history. (That, and they're the only constellations most ponies would recognize at all.)
- Exact Words: How the Equestrian Cutie Mark Constellation Registry even stays in business. They promise to create the chart, register it with the Copyright Office, and place the resulting book in the Archives. They do exactly that. Everything else, ponies choose to perceive on their own.
- Godzilla Threshold: Twilight is normally terrified of asking the palace for help on anything. (Because the relationship was student and teacher, and at the near-top of the checklist for Twilight's many terrors was that the best way to break that connection once and for all would be by turning it into wielder and weapon.) Viewing the sheer number of documented charts plus piles of failed lawsuits in the Archives finally pushes her over that edge.
- Hope Spot: When Twilight finally decides that the number of ponies being hurt justifies going to the palace. I can go right over your mane.
- In Memoriam: How the majority of ponies seem to use the Registry, placing the marks of the lost in the sky for eternity. It's also the real reason Rainbow used them: she's afraid that she and the others will be forgotten. And it turns out to also be the reason why the Barding exists at all.
- The Reveal: The constellations within The Barding Of The Ancients were originally charted by Luna. Those patterns are the last surviving public record of the others within the sisters' group of Bearers. A line in A Mark Of Appeal seems to indicate that the constellations represent their marks.
- Running Gag: This isn't the first time Rainbow's fallen for a con.
- The Sacred Darkness: Firmly establishes this as Luna's role, minus the divinity.
- Shout-Out: The ancient section of Canterlot known as the Tangle — winding, oddly-shadowed streets with twisted buildings warping to match the curves, where what exists of the city's criminal element likes to take up residence — is one for The Shades.
- Single Tear: How the story ends, shed by Luna.
- Take That!: The entire story is one towards the International Star Registry.
- Unwanted False Faith: Luna directly tells Twilight that ponies should never believe in her or Celestia, something Twilight doesn't understand — and part of Luna hopes Twilight never will. Unfortunately, once Twilight becomes an alicorn, that hope is lost.
- Villain Has a Point: Ms. Asterismo recognizes the reason why most ponies hire the Registry's services: in memory of a lost loved one. To her, that makes her business a noble cause: she brings comfort to the survivors. And it would seem Luna at least partially agrees with her, given that the Princess seems to have invented the practice.
- There's also no such thing as a real constellation. Like ghost stories, they're all made up — something Twilight doesn't understand until the very end.