Chapter Fifteen - Canterlot House
Twilight Velvet's favorite thing in the world was to cook. It was what she was born to do, and though her cutie mark was rather vague on the whole thing, it was the one thing that she could do above all else. It wasn't until years later, after meeting Night-Light, that she realized how beautifully her cutie mark matched his crescent moon. The stars and the moon. It was all very romantic to her mind.
Now a full grown mare with children and a life of her own, Velvet spent that vast majority of her time cooking, either at her award winning restaurant or for her small little family in her spare time. She loved to do it. She loved that moment when she would see ponies' eyes light up at the vibrant flavors and textures she loved to experiment with. It meant everything to her. Dancing around her kitchen, she was poetry in motion as she orchestrated a clutter of pots, pans, and ingredients with her magic as she kept careful watch over the meal.
Standing in front of the stove, she smiled as she listened to the quiet conversation between her husband and her son at the table behind her. She was only partly paying attention to them, humming to herself as she stirred the eggs.
"Dad, after school I'm going out with some friends," Shining said. His voice still held that awkward edge of a teenage colt, not quite sure if it wanted to sound like an adult or a foal. "I won't be home for dinner."
"That sounds fine." Night-Light answered. He was busy reading the morning paper. He normally couldn't be found awake at such an early hour thanks to his job at the observatory but he had been recovering from small cold and had decided to just take the week off. "It should be a quiet night anyway."
"We could go on a date tonight, Velvet." He caught Velvet's gaze, smiling hopefully at her.
"That sounds wonderful, dear." Velvet smiled back at him, giving him a wink and blowing him a kiss.
"Just make sure you're home tomorrow night." Velvet turned her attention to Shining Armor. "You know how much Twilight loves to spend time with you."
"I was already planning on it." Shining Armor nodded. He couldn't help but grin at the though of his little sister's excitement. The filly was so easily pleased. No matter how little time had passed since they had last seen each other, she was always overjoyed to see her big brother best friend forever (BBBFF she had named it).
"Mom, dad-" Shining Armor took a deep breath. He had been practicing the speech in his head for months, had written it down and rewritten it more times than could count. The moment had to be perfect. After all, it wasn't everyday that a son revealed they were dating royalty. He wanted the meeting to go perfectly.
A loud crash from outside interrupted him, drawing everypony's attention away. Shining let the conversation die. He had waited a long time, what was a little more?
"What was that?" Night-Light set down his paper, getting up from the table to peer out the kitchen window.
Joining her husband in looking out the window, Velvet felt her eyes widen in surprise. "It looks like we're finally going to get some neighbors!"
Shining Armor got up out of his chair, going to see. Together, they all peered through the kitchen window to the house next door. Moving stallions were unpacking boxes from several large Pegasus drawn cart, all wearing vests with logos from Cloudsdale.
"I'm going to go talk to them." Velvet quickly set out all of the food on plates before turning to Night-Light. "I'll be right back."
Before either of her two boys could respond, Velvet had already left the kitchen. Night-Light and Shining Armor turned to each other, shrugged, then turned and dug into their food with a gusto as only stallions could.
Velvet trotted out of her house and over to the moving ponies next door. Leaning over the face, she smiled up to a pegasus stallion floating nearby who looked like he was in charge of directing the organized chaos.
"Excuse me, sir," Velvet said. She waved.
"Yes, ma'am?" The stallion looked over at her, bored but not unkind. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Has somepony purchased that house?" Velvet gestured at the house, hopeful. The house next door had laid empty since before she and Night-Light had purchased their own home.
The stallion looked at her blankly for a moment before rolling his eyes. "Obviously."
"Right, stupid question." Velvet blushed, scuffing a hoof against the ground. "Do you have any idea who is moving in?"
"We got the job from the Wonderbolts." The stallions sighed, recognizing that Velvet was not going to be going away until she got her answers from him. Reaching back into his saddlebag with his mouth, he pulled out his work orders and offered it for Velvet to read. When he spoke, it was muffled by the papers. "Don't know anymore than that. They told us to pack up a house and move it here."
Velvet took the papers with her magic. She quickly read it over, her eyes widening in surprise when she saw the Seal of the Royal Sisters at the bottom of the page. Everyone on Equestria would recognize it immediately, the insignia of the sun and the moon. Next to it on the right was the Seal of the Wonderbolts.
"This didn't come from the Wonderbolts!" She looks up at the stallion in surprise. "It's from the Royal Family!"
"It's signed by Commander Easyglider." The stallion raised an eyebrow, pointing at the signature.
"That's the seal of the Royal Sisters." She pointed at the Royal Seal. Whoever was moving in was somepony important, and she couldn't even begin to fathom whom it might be.
"Don't know what to tell you, ma'am." The stallion shrugged.
He took the letter back, stuffing it back into his saddle-bags. "And I don't really care."
"Careful with those boxes!" He started shouting at his workers, turning away from Velvet like she had never even come up to talk with him. "If anything is broken, it's coming out of your paychecks!"
Velvet, ignored by all of the moving stallions, turned and walked back into her house.
Night-Light and Shining Armor both looked up as Velvet walked back into the kitchen, looking more than a little annoyed. They glanced at each other before Night-Light started talking.
"So..." Night-Light took a bite of his breakfast. "Who are our new neighbors?"
"They don't know." Velvet shrugged. "They were just told to move everything in, on the order of the Royal Family."
"Really?" Night-Light's eyes widened in surprise. "Huh... I wonder who could be moving in?"
He pondered over the idea of finally having neighbors. He thought about it for a moment, then another moment, then gave a mental shrug and decided that he would know when he knew.
Velvet sat down at the kitchen table, lifting her fork with her magic and started to eat. As she chewed, she pondered the possible futures that new neighbors could bring. She gasped suddenly, her eyes widening excitedly.
"Oh! Oh!" Velvet grabbed Night-Light with her forehooves and shook him so hard that he spilled his eggs onto the floor. "Night-Light, what if they have a little colt?"
"And what if he likes Twilight?" She leaned forward, just letting her imagination wander with all of the possibilities. "And what if Twilight likes him? He could be our future son in law!"
Night-Light and Shining glance at each other, and Shining shrugs, not really caring.
"Well, that might be thinking a little too far ahead, but I do think it would be wonderful if our neighbors had a foal that Twilight could play with. Celestia knows she could use a friend." Night-Light hoped that his wife was right. Twilight spent very little time with foal's her own age, with most of her time spent with her muzzle buried deep in a book.
"Oh!" Velvet clapped her hooves, a great idea striking her. "We'll invite them to dinner, welcome them to Canterlot!"
"Sounds like a plan." Night-Light smiled encouragingly at his wife.
"I'm heading out." Shinign put his plate in the kitchen sink before turning to walk out of the house. "I'll be home sometime later tonight."
The Rainbow family all sat close together in a corner of the observation room. They were arrayed around Riley providing as much of emotional and physical barrier between her and the rest of the people present in the room that they could.
Rainbow Dash sat at Riley's knees, rocking back and forth as she looked eagerly around the room, taking everything in. There were quite a few Ponies, two Gryphons, a Minotaur, and an assortment of Asari, Turians, Salarians, and Humans. Waiters mingled around the room, unicorns all of them, offering champagne and hors d'oeuvres to all of them.
Everyone was in the forward viewing room for one thing and one thing only, to view their approach and entrance through the Equestrian Sphere.
"I watched a movie in school about Chelsea before we left!" Rainbow wiggled in excitement, talking a mile a minute.
Firefly pats Rainbow on the head, having had to listen to her retell the story more than a few times by now.
"Who..." Riley leaned over to ask Prism and Firefly, her voice hushed. "Who's Chelsea?"
"Chelsea Hall." Prism answered almost without thinking. "She's something of a hero to Equestrian. If it weren't for her, we'd still be frozen in time with no idea that the rest of the galaxy was passing us by."
"She found the sphere and her arrival jump started the process of waking us up." Firefly explained, thinking back to that night that felt so long ago. Unfreezing, waking up, it didn't matter what you called it, it was still something that stuck with you.
"Waking you up?" Riley didn't know what to make of that.
Prism and Firefly shared a look. They had simply assumed that the story of the discovery of Equestria was known across the galaxy, that it was taught in every school on every world.
"How much do you know about Equestria's history, Riley?" Prism asked, stretching his wing under the bandages as an itch struck him.
"Nothing." Riley shrugged, smiling apologetically.
"A long time ago-" Firefly started to narrate, smiling expectantly down at Rainbow.
Rainbow giggled, recognizing the line instantly. "Star Wars!" She chirped, jumping up onto her back hooves and miming that she was waving around a lightsaber.
"Approximately two billion years ago from what the scientists are able to tell, Equestria and its entire star system was encased in a Dyson sphere without us knowing. It froze time on the inside of the sphere." Firefly was a little surprised that she remembered so many details. She hadn't actually done any further studying beyond what anypony else had done in the first few years. She had thought that most of the details had wandered from her mind a long time ago.
"If you want to get technical about it," Prism said. He grinned, bragging. "Firefly and I are older than everyone else on this ship combined. Two billion years frozen in a sphere will do that to a pony."
Riley said nothing. She had no idea what to even think about that. Her new parents combined were four billion years old.
"If Chelsea hadn't come along, well..." Firefly caught Riley's stunned expression. "We wouldn't be here."
"Equestria needs me!" Rainbow puffed out her chest, and unknowingly her cheeks as well. She was quoting her favorite movie, at least her favorite since she had just watched it in class. "Only I can wake them from their slumber!"
"It was really just a happy coincidence." Firefly giggled, leaning closer to Rainbow to tell her the truth. "If she hadn't miscalculated her jump, she would have never found us."
"Look!" Prism pointed out the viewing window with his hoof. "You can see it coming up now."
Nearly as one, everyone in the room turned their attention to the view screen. A massive dark shape blotted out the stars beyond, nearly invisible even in the black of space. Riley wasn't sure what to make of it. She couldn't see anything of the sphere itself.
Silently, the window lit up. Dotted along the surface of the ship's hull were thousands of sensors, looking out into the void and taking the hard to see and enhancing it for everyone to see. The surface of the Dyson Sphere lit up and showing the intricate engravings that covered every inch of its surface. Despite its name, it wasn't spherical, instead more of an oblong shape.
Beyond everything else though, the Equestrian Sphere was breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
"Oh my god..." Riley's nervousness fell away as she stared at hat would become her new home.
"Princess Celestia, when she learned of the sphere trapping us all inside, took her sun and smashed through it. She freed us." Firefly leaned forward, whispering what they were all seeing so Riley could understand. "Chelsea contacted her ship and a month later, returned with Alliance diplomats and support."
"You were there?" Riley asked.
"Yeah." Firefly nodded, understanding what Riley actually meant. "I saw her once after we all started waking up. The Princesses brought her to Cloudsdale to help the process."
"What do you mean still waking?" Riley felt the beginning of a headache. Equestrian history was turning out to be a whole lot more complicated than she thought.
"It wasn't instantaneous." The feeling of waking up, parts of her body still frozen had given Firefly nightmares for years. "Princess Celestia and Princess Luna where the first awake, and it spread out from there, surprisingly slowly though. It's theorized that whoever put the sphere there in the first place knew how hard it would be upon awakening. They think that the slow wake up spreading out was intentional, to help us through the wakening."
Outside the ship, the sphere grew ever closer as they rocketed towards at speeds not even the fastest pegasus could match. The horizon disappeared as the ship was gulfed by the ancient artifact.
Through the window, Riley looked on in amazement at the absolutely massive hole that lay before them. Even flying directly towards it head on and from thousands of miles away, she could still the edge of the hole easily.
Seemingly noticing her interest, the window shifted into two separate displays. One of them showed the same view that the entire window had moments before. The other showed an enlarged and enhanced view of the hole. It was almost perfectly round, and its edges had been seared shut.
Princess Celestia took the sun and broke the sphere. That thought boggled Riley's mind. She had been raised by spacers and she understood just a little bit of the power that was needed to move a heavenly body. That there was a single being capable of doing so, much less two, was so far beyond her comprehension that she didn't even know how to take it.
It took nearly twelve minutes after the window had split for the ship to even make it to the hole. It was during that time that Riley began to understand just how large it really was. A sun had made that hole, and it showed.
The ship passed through, and it took nearly a minute to pass through thickness of the sphere itself.
The wonder of the Equestrian Sphere had left Riley breathless, but afterwards she had returned back to her room with Rainbow. It was still a six hour flight to Equestria itself. There had been enough time for a dinner and a short show before the ship even began to slow for entry into Equestria's atmosphere.
Departing had taken longer than they had expected, but Prism and Firefly were both happy to find that nopony had leaked the news of their arrival to the press. A closed pegasus drawn carriage was waiting for them discretely at the entrance of the space-port, pulled by members of the Royal Guard without their regalia. The Princesses were doing everything to ensure that they enjoyed their privacy for as long as possible. Prism appreciated that more than he would ever be able to say.
"How does it..." Riley pointed at the carriage, her whole body radiating a nervous disbelief.
"Fly?" Firefly finished for her. "It's magic."
Riley looked at her like she was crazy, but when Firefly didn't make any move to show she was joking, she looked back at the carriage with far more worry than she had a few moments ago. "Magic... That's... comforting."
The carriage ride took almost half an hour, and Riley hated every moment of it. Knowing that the only thing keeping her from plummeting to her death were four stallions and a wooden carriage made her want to rethink religion. If there was a god, if he kept her alive she would do whatever he/she/it/they wanted.
The moment that the carriage landed, Riley practically threw herself to the ground and kissed it in relief. A moment later, the rest of her family followed after her. Prism gave his thanks to the stallions, who only gave a respectful nod in reply before taking off and leaving the family alone.
Looking up from the ground, Riley saw her new home for the first time.
"It's beautiful." Firefly murmured, mirroring the silent thoughts of the rest of her family.
"It's certainly..." Prism walked up to her, putting his good wing over her back. She leaned into his side, and Prism felt a warmth in his heart. "Impressive."
Prism was right about that. When Celestia had said that she would take care of them, they had no clue that she would give them a mansion. Well, not a mansion Prism acceded, but it was certainly a step up from their house in Cloudsdale. Several steps, actually. Almost a whole flight of stairs.
The house itself was two stories tall, with the front door directly in the middle. Eight large windows sat in the walls of both floors, looking out over the quiet street beyond. Tall, spiraling pillars supported a large balcony that also served as the roof of a wrap-around patio. Built from white stone, it very much looked like it would be naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It was a beautiful house, much more than Prism or Firefly had been expecting.
Prism looked up and down the street, something niggling him at the back of his mind. He recognized something about the houses, and it was just on the tip of his tongue.
He realized it with what felt like a jolt of lightning running down his spine. Celestia had given them a home in a district of Lords.
"We're certainly keeping some impressive company." Prism eyed the sigils above the doors of each house, all of them impressive in their own right. Together, it gave a great impact.
"Let's go look inside!" Rainbow was practically vibrating with excitement, her eyes wide and a massive grin on her face. She rushed up to the door and looked back at her family impatiently. "Come on! What are you waiting for?"
Firefly and Prism laughed quietly, following after Rainbow. Riley was still for a moment before following after them. She felt numb, so much rushing at her almost to fast to process.
The door proved to be unlocked, and Prism easily opened the door. The lights were already on inside, and they were all quick to see that while the outside was impressive, the inside was better. The floor of the entrance hall was lightly stained wood, leading off into what looked like a living room on the right and a library on the left, both whose floors were plushly carpeted.
Much to their surprise, instead of finding piles of boxes waiting for them to unpack, they found all of their stuff had already been set up and arranged. Just from a first glance of the front hall, neither Firefly or Prism could see any changes they would want to make. In fact, the house looked like it had been their home for years and the only physical sign they could find that that wasn't the case was the smell of fresh paint still lingering in the air.
Rainbow ignored all of that, instead rushing upstairs. She half flew up the stairs at the end of the front hall, eager to pick her room.
Landing lightly on the floor of the upstairs hallway, Rainbow wasted no time. She ran down the hall, peeking in every room until she found one that was just right. With a grin, she peeked her head back out into the hallway.
"This one's mine!" She shouted, her little voice seeming to shake the house with its volume.
The rest of the family followed her up at a much more sedate pace.
"Not so fast, Rainbow." Prism chuckled at her enthusiasm. Glancing inside the room that she had staked off as her own, he was immediately satisfied that it wasn't the master bedroom. He also saw that unlike the downstairs, the boxes had not been unpacked. He smiled at her pleading expression. "Alright, that's fine Rainbow. We'll get the bed set up tomorrow. For now, I'll gather up some clouds for beds for the three of us."
"Yes!" Rainbow punched the air in excitement, trotting around her room in a little victory lap.
"Do you see any room that you would like?" Sitting next to Riley, Firefly looked up at her daughter.
"What?" Riley startled, drawn out of the möbius strip that her thoughts had become since landing on Equestria.
"Do you see a room that you would like?" Firefly hid her giggle at Riley's befuddled expression behind a forehoof. Quickly schooling her face, she smiled at her.
It appears that the upstairs has more rooms than actual family members. Nearly twice as many. Riley has choices.
Frozen for a moment, Riley finally gave a short nod to Firefly. She started walking down the hall, peeking into each of the rooms. She stopped at the third, a smile falling over her face at the sight. Through a large bay window set into the wall opposite the door, she found herself overlooking Canterlot and the rest of the mountain beyond her. It was a beautiful sight, though it didn't take her breath away like seeing the sphere for the first time had.
"I like this one." She said, looking to Firefly, who gave her an encouraging smile.
"Than that's your room." Firefly said it firmly so that there would be no doubt in Riley's mind. The girl needed as much stability as she could get and Firefly was going to give it to her wherever she could. Peeking into the room, she took a look for herself, giving a hum of appreciation. "I think you certainly made a fine choice."
"Unfortunately you can't sleep on clouds, Riley," Prism said, walking into the room to stand next to his wife. "So we'll get your bed set up and then we can all go to sleep. It's been a hard few months."
Velvet and Night-Light woke to the sound of fillyish laughter. Velvet groaned and rolled over, but she knew that she would not be getting any more sleep. That ship had sailed as soon as the tinges of awareness had intruded on her mind. In the fog of her own mind, she frowned and hoped that Night-Light wasn't going to wake up over whomever that was outside. He had only just come home from another observatory night, and he needed as much sleep as he could get.
Sadly, her hope was not to be.
"Go tell Twilight to be quiet. It's too early for this," she muttered. Velvet might have been sympathetic to her husband's sleep needs but he had just come to bed and she was still so comfy.
"Twi's at the castle, Velv..." Came her husband's sleepy response. "She comin' back tonight."
"Then..." Velvet sat up in confusion, looking at him through crusty eyes, confused. "Then who..."
A peal of laughter streaked past outside their window, the sound doppler shifting as it suddenly shot up somewhere above their roof.
"Maybe it our new..." Night-Light took a deep breath, his eyes already drooping closed. "Neighbor."
Looking over at her husband, Velvet smiled as she saw his drooling face. He was fast asleep.
It took her five minutes to convince herself to roll out of bed. It took her another five to get herself into a state even approaching that which she would hold as appropriate to be seen by those outside her house. In the time it took for her to get ready, the laughter and shrieking did not quiet down. If anything, it got louder. The shouts of an adult had soon joined the shrieking, whom Velvet could only assume was a parent.
Velvet stepped out of her house to find a pink pegasus mare with a bright blue mane chasing after a sky-blue pegasus filly with a rainbow mane through the sky, trying to bring her back to the ground. It was a sight that she hadn't ever expected to see, and a part of her was happy to have neighbors again. Neighbors that didn't shun them at least.
The large part of her though was annoyed and tired.
Noticing that they now had an audience, the pink mare blushed and bled off her momentum through the air as quickly as she possibly could. She glared up at her daughter, who was performing a rather impressive set of loop-de-loops around a low hanging cloud.
"Rainbow!" The pink mare shouted, hissing through her teeth. "Behave, we have company!"
The appropriately named Rainbow stopped as soon as she noticed Velvet staring up at her. Tucking her wings tight against her sides, Rainbow dropped like a stone, laughing the entire way. She flared her wings at the very last moment, landing on the ground in front of Velvet with a flourish and then a wave, hopping on her hooves.
"HI!" The filly greeted. "I'm Rainbow Dash!"
Velvet blinked, taken aback. Her sluggish mind struggled to catch up with the turn of events that had just occurred. Still extremely tired and not quite sure how to take such an exuberant filly, Velvet gave her own hesitant wave back.
"I'm so sorry!" The pink mare landed next to her daughter, giving Velvet an embarrassed grin. "I'm Firefly, and this is my daughter Rainbow."
"I..." Velvet blinked again, giving a wobbly smile to Firefly. "I'm Twilight Velvet. I uh... I live next door."
"Would you like to come inside?" Firefly gestured back at her house, fluffing her wings before settling them more comfortably against her sides. "I have some tea brewing in the kitchen."
Velvet felt the gears in her mind slip a little before firming up, her grogginess just beginning to lift.
"I would love to." Velvet felt the words slip out of her mouth, but she found that she had no problem with them.
As a pegasus, Prism had grown extremely well versed at using his wings as fine manipulators, somewhere between the finesse of Unicorn magic and average everyday hooves. The kitchen had proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the entire house. He had thought that he would have to learn how to use his hooves thanks to his busted wing. Instead, he had found that the entire kitchen had been stocked with the top of the line technology for earth ponies and pegasus to cook as easily as a unicorn.
Prism was making breakfast, having gone out earlier in the morning to get food. Deep inside, he felt a little coltish thrill whenever he put a piece of toast into the device which would then proceed to toast it, butter it, and even add an egg if he so wished (which he did). Hearing Firefly walk back into the house, presumably with their wayward daughter in tow, he smiled but didn't turn away from the stove.
"Did you manage to catch our little daredevil?" He asked, calling over his shoulder.
"I did." Firefly sounded amused, which was often a mixed bag for him. It could lead to wonderful things, or lots of pain and suffering of the more metaphorical variety. "I also found a new friend."
Confused, Prism turned and found an off-white mare with the purple and white striped mane standing next to his wife. He glanced at Firefly, confused, but gave a welcoming smile at the same time.
"Hello." He might not know her, but there wasn't any reason to not be polite. He turned to his wife, who had yet to make any introductions. "Dear, who is this?"
"This is Twilight Velvet," Firefly said happily. "She's our new neighbor."
"Oh?" Prism took a longer moment to study Velvet. She was a little shorter than his wife, though her horn made her a few inches taller. She had bright blue eyes, and he could see the intelligence and curiosity behind them. He gave her a warm smile. "Well, it's good to meet you."
"Hi there," Velvet said, smiled welcomingly. "I just want to say, welcome to the neighborhood."
"Thank you." Prism glanced back at the stove to make sure nothing was burning before remembering that the stove was taking care of that for him. Sometimes technology was wonderful.
"I invited her in for tea, Prism." Firefly sidled up next to Prism, nuzzling his cheek.
"Right then." Turning, Prism reached out his wing to pull the tea kettle off the stove. He instantly regretted that decision as bolts of fire raced through his nerves and he shouted out. "Oh Buck!"
Firefly winced, gently helping refold his injured wing at his side. "What were you thinking?"
"Forgot." Prism grunted out through clenched teeth.
"Please, let me help." Stepping forward helpfully, Velvet lifted the tea kettle with her magic. Effortlessly, she took the tea cups from the counter as well and set all of them down on the table. She didn't notice Prism's blush, nor his embarrassment about not being able to do everything in his own house.
Velvet stopped, here eyes growing wide. She quickly set down the tea kettle, glancing back at Prism and Firefly. She blushed, practically tripping over herself to apologize. "Oh Celestia, I'm so sorry!"
"You must think me a dreadful rude mare," Velvet stammered over herself. She wished she could just melt through the floor, her blue eyes darting around as if she was trying to find an escape exit.
"It's not a problem," Prism said, waving away her worries, letting it all slide past. "Don't worry about it."
Velvet nodded but didn't stop blushing, but took a seat when Firefly offered her one.
Ignoring the embarrassment of moments ago, Prism stepped forward, using his good wing to pour the tea. Just as he was getting the cups, all three of the adults flinched when a massive thud came from the upstairs, following by what sounded like a stampede. Prism sighed, shaking his head in amusement.
"Please Forgive my daughter." Prism smiled apologetically at Velvet, who looked she quite understood what was happening. "She hasn't quite realized how loud she can be."
"My children are the exact same way." Velvet waved it away, her eyes slightly glazing over as she disappeared back into old memories. "Well.. Our daughter is... Well, I mean she is when she doesn't have her nose buried in a book..."
Prism and Firefly nodded in understanding as Rainbow rushed in from upstairs. She took a seat at the table, almost knocking it over with her speed, smiling gratefully as her dad set out breakfast for her.
"Where's your sister?" Prism asked, looking at his daughter with amusement.
"She was right behind me..." Rainbow looked back towards the hallway in confusion, only just realizing that she was the only kid at the table.
Jumping out of her chair, Rainbow darted back out of the room to see what was holding Riley up. A moment later they could hear some quiet whispering through the walls, a sigh, and then footsteps on the stairs.
Rainbow stepped back around the corner, Riley following behind her. Velvet didn't visibly react, but she felt a jolt of surprise shoot through her. She never expected that her new next door neighbors would be the ones to have adopted the human child.
"This is our daughter, Riley." Prism introduced, nuzzling Riley's side before he took his own seat.
Seeing the new pony, Riley froze up for a moment before seeing Firefly's encouraging look. She gave a hesitant smile and wave to Velvet.
"Hello..." Her voice was small, and Velvet almost had to strain to hear out.
Bumping against the back of Riley's leg, Rainbow pushed her older sister to the table. At Rainbow's urging, she sat down at the table next to Firefly, Rainbow scrambling up into the seat next to her and started to eat.
Seeing Riley's unease, Velvet stood. "I certainly don't want to impose so I'll be getting out of your manes."
She paused, unsure of how to ask what she wanted to ask. She didn't want to come off as an idiot. "Our daughter is coming home from her school for the weekend tonight. I am sure she would love to meet you all. Why don't you come on over for dinner?"
Firefly and Prism shared a look before deciding that that wasn't such a Bad idea. It sounds downright lovely, actually, and a perfect chance to make new friends.
"We would be delighted to!" Firefly said.
"Wonderful!" Velvet exclaimed. "I'll just see myself out."
There were few things that Princess Luna enjoyed as much as her time spent with her sister's young student. It was not often that she interacted with others outside of her Night Court, and she had gladly taken over the responsibility of seeing Twilight Sparkle safely back to her parent's house each weekend. The filly had an innocence about her that Luna found refreshing, having not been such a way herself for several thousand years, before even the founding of Equestria.
"Twilight Sparkle," the Princess called out, stepping into Twilight's tower.
Celestia made sure that her student always pushed herself just a little further than she ever knew was possible, but she never left Twilight floundering in the dark for answers. To that end, when the filly had made the switch of staying weekdays at the castle, Celestia had given her the use of an entire tower filled with books and scrolls and everything she would ever need to find an answer on her own. Twilight had instantly fallen in love and had since made the tower completely her own. To Luna's own surprise, even more books had come to name the tower as their home, littering nearly every available surface in ordered piles of chaos.
Glancing around the entrance of the tower, Luna immediately spotted Spike lying asleep under a pile of books, his little chest rising and falling as he snored away. A baby dragon, it was a miracle that Twilight had even managed to hatch him at all. His egg had been given as a gift to Celestia by his mother nearly two-thousand years ago, a stillborn egg. It had been used by Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns ever since, and in all of that time, not one student had even so much as made a crack.
Not even a student yet, Twilight had managed to breath life back into long dead fossil and hatched a baby dragon.
More than a miracle really, Luna thought to herself. A sign of things to come.
Smiling at the adorable sight, she made sure her steps were quiet as she ventured further into the tower.
"Twilight Sparkle?" Luna called out again, her head on a near constant swivel as she searched for any sign of the purple filly among the stacks of books, most of which were taller than the filly herself.
Hearing a small grunt, Luna smiled to herself. She should have guessed right from the start. Twilight Sparkle was hard at work on her whiteboards. It was a common enough place to find her after all.
"Twilight Sparkle." Luna spoke firmer this time, more sure of herself as she stepped around the last bookshelf between herself and the large array of whiteboards taking up one entire corner of the tower. What she found didn't surprise her in the slightest.
Twilight Sparkle stood several feet away from the boards themselves, an intense look of concentration on her face as she focussed on what was before her. Effortlessly levitating five pens, she was halfway through the process of scrawling out a headache inducing equation. Even as old as she was, Luna could not make heads or tails of it.
"Twilight." Luna made sure to speak softer, sure that Twilight would hear her. That wasn't always the case. Sometimes the filly got so caught up in her own mind that she forgot the outside world even existed.
Twilight startled, nearly toppling over as she heard the Princess for the first time. Looking up at the Lunar Princess, she blushed and scuffed a hoof against the ground. "Princess! I didn't hear you come in."
"I noticed," she said, not unkindly. Luna gestured up at the whiteboard, still trying to make sense of what was written upon it. "What is this?"
Glancing over her shoulder at the whiteboard, Twilight perked up with a large smile. She was always eager to explain her thoughts and theories to anypony willing to listen. "It's a theory I have! I was trying to figure out why only Equestrians can use magic and-"
"There will be time for that later, Twilight Sparkle." Luna smartly interrupted the filly before she could gather much more steam. If she had let her ramble on much longer, there would have been no stopping her and she would have to return back to her quarters with a headache the size of her moon. "Right now it is time for me to escort you back home."
"It's friday?" Twilight scrunched up her muzzle, confused.
"Indeed." Luna gave a short nod.
"Oops." Twilight blushed. "Let me go pack and I'll get Spike then we can go."
"I shall wake young Spike, Twilight." Luna enjoyed the young dragon nearly as much as she did Twilight. He was smart, inquisitive, and kind and she was eager to see just the type of dragon he would grow up to be. She had no doubt he would be strong and courageous, a credit to his species. "Do not worry."
"Thank you, Princess." Twilight gave a quick but respectful bow before she scampered off and up to her room to pack. Even on the first floor of the tower, Luna could hear her muttering as she tried to come up with the most efficient way to pack all of her belongings. It was a consistent thing that Twilight would always pack too much for a simple two day stay at her parents house.
Luna turned, striding back back to where she had seen Spike. She gently lifted the pile of books off of him before lowering her neck down and giving him a soft nudge with her nose. "Wake up, young Spike. It is time for you to go home."
"Mmmm..." Spike groaned, yawning as he stretched out his body. He arched his back like an oversized, his eyes half lidded. He was not fully back in the land of the living. "Home... Bed."
"Yes, to your bed." Luna could not keep the laughter out of her voice, and she was unapologetic about it.
Hearing the laughter of a grownup quickly brought Spike out of his groggy state. Cracking first one eye open, then another, he blinked when saw Luna standing over him with a wide smile. Sitting up, he yawned again.
"I'm ready!" Twilight called out triumphantly, trotting back down the stairs to meet them, her saddle-bags on and stuffed to the brim. A few spare books that she had not been able to cram into the already full bags floated after her.
Leaving the castle only took a few short minutes. Luna first had gather up her escort, whom she found waiting for her and her two young charges by the front gate. They fell in line around them without a word, silent guardians on the lookout for any sort of trouble.
Truth be told, Luna had no need of guards, nor for that matter did her sister. As Alicorns whom had been around for countless millenia, they were both practically invulnerable. There was nothing that any of the races of Equestria could do to hurt them without resorting to weapons that would leave massive swathes of land uninhabitable for the next million years or so. The Royal Guard had still managed to spring up though, and Luna found that they were certainly effective in keeping anypony away from her that she did not wish to speak with. For that reason, she tolerated the indignity of having her subjects believe she needed protection.
On nights such as these, she even welcomed it. If anything were to happen to Twilight, she would never be able to live with herself. Not after Aurora. Having another line of defense between her and the rest of the world was simply prudent thinking.
Trotting down a side Canterlot road, Luna took a moment to enjoy the cool night air, perfect for such a summer night. The Guards had faded away into the background. Spike was half asleep on Twilight's back, holding onto her mane so he wouldn't fall off.
"Do you have any plans for the weekend, Twilight Sparkle?" Luna asked, glancing down at her young charge.
"I hadn't really been thinking about it." Twilight said. She thought for a moment, but was quickly stumped.
"Too caught up in your studies once again?" Luna knew that this was often the case, and her tone was teasing. She hoped that as the filly grew into a mare she would learn to relax and take things at a more sedate pace, but she knew she would be there for her regardless.
Twilight blushed and gave a quick nod, but didn't elaborate any further.
"If you have nothing planned," Luna said, offering a suggestion of her own. "Might I say you should take the opportunity to go and play out in the sun. I know that the weather forecast is looking particularly pleasant this weekend."
"Maybe, Princess." Twilight looked unconvinced, looking back at her saddle-bags and the books that were still loyally floating after her.
Following her gaze, Luna gave Twilight a soft smile. "Reading is truly a noble endeavor Twilight, just remember to not let your foalhood pass you by. Try and take some time to act as a filly your own age, for it is something you shall miss when you are older."
"Yes, Princess." Twilight said, chewing on her bottom lip. Whether she took Luna's advice was up to her and nopony else.
Spike gave off a little snore, making both filly and mare giggle quietly.
The rest of the way to Twilight's house they spoke of other things. They spoke of Twilight's newfound love of the literary adventurer Daring Do, of the upcoming visit the next week by the Griffon ambassadors, and of their mutual love for chocolate cake.
Before either was ready for their time to end, they realized that they had arrived.
Luna escorted Twilight and Spike up to the front door of the house, the guards waiting behind the fence. Reaching up with her hoof, Luna knocked four times on the door.
A moment passed, and Twilight shuffled her hooves, studying the patterns in the stones underhoof. The door opened, revealing Shining Armor. A bright smile taking over her face, Twilight squealed, bouncing on her hooves. Her excited movement jostled Spike awake as she leapt forward to hug her B.B.B.F.F. "Shining Armor!"
"Twily!" The older colt was no less excited to see his younger sister. Though the time that they had to spend with each other was not as much as either would wish, they loved each other very much.
Catching his sister, they hugged. Spike, still half asleep, rolled right off of Twilight's back and was only saved from an intimate meeting with the ground by a quick levitation spell by Princess Luna. He stared confused at the upside down sight before him.
Neither Shining Armor or Twilight had noticed Spike's fall, too excited in their own greetings. Sensing that Twilight was about to go off on some long winded explanation about something or other that she had been learning, he laughed and puts a hoof in her mouth as she took a deep breath to start.
"We have company over for dinner tonight." Shining said, waiting for her reaction with a bit of glee. He might love her to bits, but he also got a lot of joy from Twilight's freakouts.
That stopped Twilight, and she looks up at him in confusion. "Company?"
"New neighbors just moved in." Shining nodded, smiling at her confusion, both glad and disappointed that she wasn't freaking out. "Mom met them earlier today and invited them over to dinner."
Twilight sighed, sad that she wouldn't be able to monopolize her parent's time. Seeing this, Shining nudged his sister.
"They have a filly your age." He offered. "Who knows, you could end up being best friends!"
"Treasure every friend that you can make, Twilight Sparkle." Luna laughed, a deep sound that startled the two siblings as they remembered that the Princess was there. "For they are the ones you can turn to when all you can see is darkness."
Twilight mulled that over for a moment before giving her a hesitant nod, meeting Luna's gaze. "Yes, Princess. Thank you."
"I wish you a goodnight, Twilight Sparkle." Luna bowed her head in farewell to her young friend. "I shall see you again Monday morning."
"Bye Princess!" Darting up to the Princess, Twilight gave her a friendly nuzzle and a hug. "Have a good weekend."
"You as well, Twilight Sparkle." Luna nuzzled Twilight back before turning and leaving with her guards.
As soon as the Princess was gone, Twilight looked nervously over at Shining Armor, starting to bounce on her hooves in panic. "Why didn't anypony warn me? I don't have any idea on what you're supposed to do at a dinner party! There are rules and protocols, and I haven't looked any of them up, and they're going to hate me-!"
Twilight was getting more and more panicked as she thought about the dinner. Every single scenario that shot through her head made her want to dive under a bed and hide until everypony left.
"Remember what Cadance taught you?" Shining put a hoof on her shoulder, cutting her off and drawing her attention to him.
Twilight nodded hesitantly, keeping her brother's gaze.
"Right. Do it with me." Putting a hoof to his chest, Shining took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Twilight copied him, taking in her own deep breath and putting a hoof to her chest. Pushing his hoof out, he let the breath out. Twilight sagged, as she did the same.
Shining just let the peace of the moment fall over them, putting a leg around Twilight's shoulders. "Feel better?"
"A little." Twilight took another breath, staring off into the distance.
"Don't worry, Twilight," Shining reassured her. "You'll be fine. You'll do fine. Everypony's going to like you, and it will be fine."
Twilight let out her breath, picked up Spike with her magic and she walked into the house, following after Shining Armor.
The Twilight House, as Night-Light had named it, was a place of warmth and family. As the only son of an ancient Noble family, he owned many houses and apartments across Equestria. The Twilight House was his favorite. He had purchased it after his marriage to Twilight Velvet and it reflected every part of his life that he loved. Family, friends, and warmth. The house was open, and every room had been designed to let them spend as much time as possible as a family.
Shining Armor, Twilight Sparkle, and Spike entered the Dining Room to find her mother and father, two adult ponies she didn't recognize, and a filly about her own age sitting around the table. There were three empty spots at the end of the table by Rainbow.
"Twilight!" Velvet got up from the table, cantering over to hug her daughter and youngest son (dragon though he may have been). "You're home!"
"Hi Momma," Twilight said, leaning into her mother's embrace, her heart warming.
Velvet turned, smiling proudly to the Rainbow family as she introduced Twilight and Spike to them for the first time. "And these are the last of our little family. Twilight Sparkle, our little prodigy, and Spike, the cutest baby dragon you'll ever see."
"Hello, Twilight Sparkle." The mare sitting next to her father gave a wave of greeting to Twilight. "It's very nice to meet you. I'm Firefly, and this is my husband, Rainbow Prism."
"This little ball of energy is Rainbow Dash." She puts a hoof on the filly's head next to her, who was looking at Twilight with a curious gleam in her eyes. "Your mother was telling me that the two of you are about the same age."
"Hey!" Rainbow gave a small wave to Twilight, who returned it, both of them nervous. Out of the two though, Rainbow was the far more outgoing, and it showed.
"Hello," Twilight murmured back, her own shyness coming back again.
Firefly looked at the third spot at the table, then back to Twilight. "My other daughter should be out any moment-"
Twilight's eyes widened when a human girl stepped out from the hallway. She gasped, all thoughts of nervousness and shyness fleeing from her mind as excitement and feelings of scientific curiosity replaced them. The only thing keeping her from darting forward and commencing with her studies was the sharp glare from her mother.
Firefly said. "This is my other daughter-"
"Riley Shepard!" Twilight knew everything about Riley. All of Twilight's nervousness had disappeared. Why was she even nervous to begin with, she was excited now, bouncing up and down in her place. "The Princess has been talking about you!"
"She does?" Riley glanced at her family, Twilight's nervousness having apparently jumped to the human girl.
Twilight gave a curt nod. "We watched the trial together, and she taught me so much, like-"
"Please, forgive her." Velvet muffled Twilight's voice with her magic, smiling apologetically at the Rainbow family. "Sometimes she speaks without thinking."
"Be careful tonight, Twilight," Velvet leaned down to whisper into Twilight's ear. "Riley is still incredibly hurt. You don't want to hurt her anymore?"
"I won't, Momma." Twilight whispered back, shaking her head and smiling up at her mother.
"Good filly." Velvet nodded in approval.
Straightening up, Velvet looked back at Spike with a warm smile. He was again nearly passed out on Twilight's back, having nearly fallen back to sleep. Velvet lifted him off her daughters back with her magic. "Oh, who's a tired little dragon?"
"Tired dragon," Spike murmured back, lolling in his mother's magic.
"If you would all excuse me for a moment, I should put this one to bed." Velvet gave a quiet laugh before placing Spike on her back and heading for the stairs to put the baby dragon to bed.
Twilight and Shining took their seats as close to their father as they could. Across the table, Rainbow patted the seat next to her for Riley to sit down in, grinning at her older sister.
Riley sat down next to Rainbow and across from Twilight.
Rainbow, being the rambunctious filly that she was, leaned over Riley and stuck her hoof out for Twilight to shake. "Hi! I'm Rainbow Dash, the fastest Pegasus ever born."
Riley couldn't help but giggle a little at Rainbows ignorance or perhaps her outright ignoring of manners. It would be the type of thing that the filly would do after all.
Twilight eyed Rainbows hoof carefully for a moment before taking it and giving it a careful shake. "Hello, Rainbow Dash. I am Twilight Sparkle, the Princesses personal student."
"Don't be rude, Twilight." Shining nudged Twilight, whispering to her.
"Sorry." Twilight murmured and blushed, ducking her head.
"Who's ready to eat?" Velvet walked back into the room, several covered dishes floating in her magic after her. Everyone at the table perked up at the sight of food.
"I am!" Rainbow raised her hoof, smiling wide, bouncing up and down in her seat. Velvet set out the meal, and they all started to dig, taking their own portions. The meal was a vegetarian lasagna, served with asparagus and garlic bread.
They all broke into their own conversations, adults and children. Shining Armor wasn't quite sure which group to join. He settled for the kids, thanks mostly to Twilight.
"Your ma said you're the Princesses student?" Rainbow said through a mouthful of food hastily stuffed into her mouth.
"Yes!" Twilight perks up, eager to have a conversation about the Princess (either one really). "Yes I am!"
"That's cool." Rainbow nodded her head, eying Twilight appreciatively.
"I'm learning so much from them," Twilight said. "And every day is a new chance to test the laws of magic and bend the world to my will!"
Rainbow, Riley, and Shining Armor all looked at Twilight, her tone oddly cheerful for such a strange statement.
"Bend the world to your will?" Shining Armor couldn't help but ask, wondering at what exactly his sister was learning from the two most knowledgable magic practitioners ever known. He cocked his head at his younger sister. "A little over confident there, aren't you Twily?"
"Well..." Twilight tapped her hooves together in embarrassment. "It's true..."
"Huh... Cool." Rainbow decided right then and there that she liked Twilight.
She looked at Twilight with a proud grin, not willing to let the other filly win the one-up-mare-ship contest. "Being the Princess' student is cool and all, but it's not as cool as bein' a Wonderbolt."
She nodded her head, as if nothing could be truer than that. "My dad is a Wonderbolt..."
Rainbow ducked her head, glancing at her father and his wing.
"Was a Wonderbolt..." She murmured. Rainbow perked up with fillyhood pride and love for her father. "He's the strongest stallion ever! I'm gonna be just like him when I grow up."
She puffed her chest out proudly. "I'm gonna be Wonderbolt too!"
"It must be strange seeing Equestria for the first time." Shining leaned over to talk to Riley, letting the two younger fillies continue on with their own conversation, smiling kindly at the human girl.
"Yeah." Riley nodded, meeting his gaze for a moment before looking away. "Yeah. It is."
"I can imagine." Shining Armor took a bite of his lasagna, humming as he appreciated the rich flavor of his mother's cooking. "They've briefed us all during training enough times about how other races might react to us. Apparently, we don't do a lot of things the normal way."
"Training?" Riley kept looking at him, interested.
"Yep." Shining nodded. "I'm in the middle of training to be a Royal Guard."
"And what does that mean, exactly?" Riley asked, glad that he was willing to take the burden of leading the conversation.
"Well, the Royal Guard are not so much a guard." Shining was more than alright explaining. Everyone else was having conversations around them. "The Princesses are pretty much invulnerable to everything save concentrated fire from a dreadnought, maybe a nuke."
"Then why do they have a Royal Guard?" Riley couldn't think of an answer to that.
"We act as the Princesses right hoof, going where they cannot to do what must be done." Shining was proud of the history of the organization he was entering. "Whether that's protecting an ambassador, giving out aid to those who need it, or preforming military action that nopony else can, we are there."
Shining's eyes widened and he smiled as he thought of a comparison. "We are a lot like your N7s, just with a broader mission outside of most militaries actions."
Riley nodded her head, only half understanding.
"What about you?" Shining asked, switching the tracks on the conversation. "Do you have any plans for the future?"
That stopped Riley in her tracks. She had to think about that for a minute. Shining waited patiently for her to answer.
"I... I don't know," She stammered out. "I've been trained as a dancer for longer than I can remember, but..."
"It doesn't feel right anymore." She glanced down at her plate, pushing her food around.
"Well, you certainly don't need to decide anything now." Shining nodded in understanding.
Riley glanced back down at her plate, unsure of what she should say. She hated that she couldn't think of anything.