Chapter Eighteen - Royal Sleepover
Royal Castle, Canterlot, Equestria
July 14th, 2170
The cracking of the sphere had brought about a lot of changes for Equestria. Solar Ace still marveled nearly every day at the path his life seemed to have miraculously taken. He was by no means an old unicorn, and to find himself in such a position of power so early in his life gave him a sense of pride.
Not that the pride helped when he had to read through a thousand page budget document for all of Equestria. When that was his task for the day, the only thing that helped was a vast supply of coffee and pain pills for the inevitable headache.
He had been hired to fill the new position of Chief of Staff to Princess Celestia nearly ten years ago. The work load that the Princesses found themselves straining under was unlike anything they had experienced before, having to deal with thousands upon thousands of requests from across the galaxy for absolutely everything imaginable. They were no longer able to hold court and act as they had before they had learned of the sphere. The government had simply become too large for them to handle alone.
The Princesses looked through the Galaxy, and they were quick to build a system that would work for Equestria. They needed a staff to handle matters for them, to bring things down to a manageable size they could govern on, to parse down thousand page documents and give them their meanings in a couple sentences. One staff for Celestia, and an identical one for Luna. Solar Ace was proud that Celestia considered him fit enough to head her entire staff, and it was a job he took very seriously.
It was also why he had worked through the weekend and had already been in his office (nice though it was) for five hours already, and it was only just nearing lunch time. Briefing reports didn't read over themselves after all.
He sighed, taking a sip from the bottle of Apple Family Apple Juice he had pilfered from one of his secretaries earlier. He turned a bleary eye towards the monitors that he simply left on all the time, several news programs from across the galaxy playing constantly, a vein attempt to keep up on galactic events on his own. Asari, Turian, Salarian, and Human, as well as several Equestrian programs, they often just became a blur of talking heads he tuned out entirely.
"Matriarch Ceyrta Mereli, CEO of the Baria Frontiers is meeting with Empress Celestia later this week to discuss matters of colonization." The Asari news program was the loudest, and it was already several hours old. That was the consequence of trying to watch the news through a relay of comm buoys. The Asari, a matron if he was not mistaken, took on a look of thinly veiled annoyance. "The acceptance of her offer of a meeting has made many wonder if this means a policy shift from the enigmatic and withdrawn Equestrian Empire. Before now, all attempts to build ties have been rebuffed."
"No." Solar Ace muttered to himself, rolling his eyes. He didn't bother changing the channel as he kept reading through his reports. "It just means she has colony rights we want."
"What was that?" A worried, familiar voice piped up from his door.
Solar looked up to find the Press Secretary, Cherry Blossom, standing in his doorway glaring at him. She was a Pegasus with a deep violet coat and a blonde mane, a beauty that the cameras adored, even if they sometimes had a love-hate relationship with the amount of information she was allowed to divulge.
"What was that?" Unscheduled meetings often meant big headaches for him, and Solar was already feeling on edge.
"That thing you muttered as I walked in." Cherry Blossom looked at him suspiciously, her eyes narrowed. "What did you say?"
"Don't worry about it." He already knew where this was going, and he wanted nothing else then for it to be over with. While she was good at her job (that was why he had hired her after all), Solar could do without a lot of the confrontations he had heard she caused. "It was nothing."
"Damn right it was nothing." Cherry seemed to take him at his word, though she did fire off one last warning shot. "You have to be more careful. I could have been a reporter!"
"Reporters aren't allowed back here." Solar said the only real thing that he felt he could.
"Doesn't really stop them, does it?" Cherry smirked triumphantly. She had won an argument and he could already see her gloating in her mind.
"No," he grumbled, turning back to his briefings. He didn't hear any sign of her leaving. Looking up, he indeed found her still standing there. With a sigh, he stared at her, waiting for Cherry to reveal her purpose of being there and wasting his time. "Did you need something?"
"We need to change our message. We're falling behind and just accepting any label that the media wants to paint us with." Cherry huffed in annoyance, stepping further into Solar's office. The gleam in her eye told him that she had been thinking about saying that for a long time. "They're treating us like we treated Griffonia seven-hundred years ago."
"Yeah." None of that was new to Solar, and he had heard it time and time again from nearly everyone on the staff. He waited for what she would say next, wanting to see if he had made a mistake in hiring her.
"You know, Griffonia?" She stomped a hoof, pacing back and forth in annoyance, building herself into a rant. "Right before the Princesses annexed the whole country and installed Celestia as the Emperor with a Parliament to run the country."
"I am familiar with Equestrian history." If there was one thing that Solar hated, it was getting lectured by ponies who worked for him.
"I'm just saying that we should really get on that." She dropped back onto her haunches, slightly out of breath.
"What do you think we pay you for?" Solar Ace glared at Cherry Blossom, making her shrink a little under his gaze. "Get on it like you're supposed to, like I hired you for, and quit bothering me about it."
"Oh…" She blinked, biting her lip. "Right… Sorry, sir."
"Are we done here?" Solar asked again, watching her carefully.
"Yes, sir." Cherry nodded, looking a little embarrassed.
"Good." Taking another sip from his apple juice, he started to read again.
Cherry Blossom lingered for a moment in his office before darting back out into the hallways.
Cherry Blossom stepped out into the hallway, closing the door to the office behind her with a shaky frown on her muzzle. She took a moment to catch her breath, glancing up and down the hall to see if there had been anyone close enough to hear her scolding (luckily there was not) before starting to head back to her office at a slow trot.
Cherry stopped, looking around to try and find whoever had called her.
"Hey Cherry, wait up!"
Cherry turned her head, glancing over her shoulder to see Lucky Wing, the Director of Communications, rushing up after her. She didn't stop walking and Lucky Wing matched her stride, flaring her wings.
"What do you need, Lucky?" Cherry knew what Lucky was there for. They had talked about earlier in the day.
"Did you ask him about it?" Lucky asked eagerly. She had been working there half as long as Solar had been, and she knew all of the problems just as much as Cherry did.
"Yeah." Cherry frowned, shaking her head. "I did."
"… Yeah, and?" Lucky Wing paused in her step and Cherry stopped the moment she noticed the pale yellow Pegasus wasn't still next to her.
"And he wants me to take care of it." Cherry nodded, trying to ignore the pit of embarrassment in her stomach. "Told me its my job and that I should get to it."
"Well…" Lucky gave her a grin. "That's just great."
They continued walking in silence down the hallway. The ponies going about their business made way for the two mares, neither of whom noticed. It didn't really matter anyway. Cherry Blossom and Lucky Wing were part of a very select group in the administration whose jobs actually got them sympathy from those working under them. That fact alone really helped smooth over a lot of moments that would have caused problems in other jobs.
The gears in Lucky's mind spun, gaining speed as the ideas started to come. "We need to start putting out more, getting it out to the media outside of Equestria."
"It's going to need to be good." Cherry grunted at the thought. So much of the news had been nothing but fluff pieces, and she was getting sick of it after only having worked there for a week.
"That's my job." Lucky shrugged. She knew just how much work that was going to be, but she was used to it. You had to get used to stress in the castle, or you weren't going to make it.
"Well, I'm going to need your help." Cherry was good at her job. She had worked at several of the news corporations that now hung on her every word in the briefing room, and she had been good then. Still, she was nowhere near as gifted a speech writer as Lucky Wing was. The mare had a way with the written word that made her want to stop writing altogether.
Lucky Wing has to think about that for a moment, several aides stepping around her. She furrows her brow as she thinks it over. "We are still transitioning our population to galactic standards, and we don't have as much time as we would all like to play around in politics. We are taking the time to get our priorities sorted."
"Yeah." Cherry Blossom snorted in amusement. She could imagine just how the rest of the species would take that proclamation. "Time meaning at least another decade."
"On the plus side, the Asari will understand," Lucky Wing rather unhelpfully said. The glare from Cherry quickly wiped the smirk off her face.
"It's good for a first try, but we can do better." Cherry knew that it was simply better to ignore the stupid things that Lucky Wing sometimes said. "It needs to grab the headlines."
"Yeah." Lucky thought for another moment, but stopped as they came to a halt outside Cherry's office. "I'll work on it."
"I'm going to need it before Matriarch Mereli arrives." Everypony who worked in the castle had been quick to tell Cherry that Lucky worked better under a deadline. She decided that it was a good idea to test that rumor for herself.
"So by tomorrow." Lucky groaned dramatically, slouching lower to the ground on all four legs.
"Yeah." Cherry nodded in confirmation, ignoring the dramatic pose Lucky had taken.
"Wonderful." With a sigh, Lucky straightened up, smoothing back her blue mane with a hoof.
Cherry Blossom gave an awkward final nod before stepping into her office. Lucky Wing just of lingered outside for a moment before heading off in another direction.
Taking a deep breath, Cherry Blossom took a moment to steady herself. The past week had been unlike any other time in her entire life. Her hiring by Solar Ace had completely changed her life, and she was still getting used to the changes she was only just starting to become aware of. She walked to her desk, plopping down into her seat with a tired, embarrassed sigh. It was going to be a long day.
It had already been a long week.
A knock at the door made her look up in surprise.
"Come in," Cherry called out, leaning back as she tried to gather her emotions together.
The door swung open with pale blue magic, revealing Dancing Star, the Deputy Chief of Staff standing there, smiling at her with a grin that promised headaches in her future.
"Guess what!" Dancing Star danced lightly on her hooves, trotting forward with a happy grin on her muzzle.
"If this is another of your stupid pranks or jokes on the new mare, I'm really not in the mood." Cherry leveled a sharp glare at Dancing Star, and it had absolutely no effect. The two mares had known each other nearly since birth, and it had only been natural that romantic feelings emerged into their relationship as they matured.
"Guess what." Dancing Star said again, practically leering at Cherry with lustful blue eyes. The light shone off her pale blue coat in such enticing manner that Cherry had to restrain herself from jumping her then and there.
"What?" Cherry asked, snapping her mind regretfully away from the delicious thoughts of Star beneath her. "Tell me."
"No, really." Dancing Star loved to play little games with ponies, which Cherry had long ago accepted as her marefriends way of amusing herself in a world she felt was intellectually inferior. It wasn't that others around her weren't intelligent, it was just that she was so far above every pony else. "Guess."
"I hate you." Cherry Blossom groaned, glaring at Dancing Star. It was a half-hearted look at best, and she couldn't muster any real force behind it. "Hate you."
"Whatever." Whether Dancing Star had even heard what she had said, so focused on her goal that she was even thinking straight through her own conversation. "You love me, and we both know it. Guess!"
"I don't know…" Cherry sighed, giving in. There were times where it was simply easier to let Dancing Star have her way on the little things. It was the big things that mattered, and she was more than willing to butt heads on those. This though, this was a little thing. "The sky is falling?"
"That's just stupid." Dancing Star rolled her eyes, trotting forward to teasingly circle Cherry, pulling her away from her desk. "Try again, silly filly."
Cherry sighed, leaning back in her chair. It started to spin to the left, forcing her to turn her head to the right in a vein attempt to keep Star in her vision. With an annoyed grunt, she grabbed her desk with a hoof and pushed her chair back so she was looking at her. "The castle has run out of cake and the Princesses are preparing to go on an unholy rampage?"
"Funny image, but no." Dancing Star rolled her eyes, letting out a huff. "You've got one more guess, than no kisses for you."
"What?!" That drew Cherry up for a pause. No kisses made this suddenly one of those big things, the big things that she butted heads with Star over. Kisses were worth a lot, and she had a feeling they were soon going to be one of few normal things in her life the longer she stayed in her job. "You never said anything about a limit!"
"I don't mention a lot of things." She grinned sultrily, shaking her flank and waving her tail. "One more guess. You shouldn't waste it."
"Cheater," Cherry Blossom muttered, her ears laying flat against the back of her head. She thought for a moment. "I don't know, the Citadel Council has declared us friends of the galaxy and sent us a fruit basket?"
Dancing Star snickered, leaning forward to kiss Cherry Blossom right on the lips, much to her surprise.
"Wait? I was right?" Cherry felt the sudden need to check the news. "They sent a fruit basket?"
"No." Dancing laughed, shaking her head. "Not even close."
"I thought you said you weren't going to kiss me." Cherry felt confused. She had trouble sometimes understanding the mysterious ways of Dancing Star, the genius unicorn.
"Meh." Dancing Star shrugged, pursing her lips. "So I lied."
"That just means I can't trust you." It didn't, but Cherry wasn't going to tell Star that.
"I'm spontaneous." There was absolutely not worry on her face about Cherry being hurt by her playful ways. "You never know what I'm going to do next. It's a gift."
Leaning against Cherry Blossom's side, Dancing Star levitated a folder onto the desk for her to read. It was laughably skinny, unlike the monstrous tomes that often graced her desk. If she had to guess, it was a single piece of paper, maybe just a scrap of one. "Our marvelous Princess Luna has decided that it is time for little Twilight Sparkle to have a sleepover."
"A sleepover?" As much as she loved Dancing Star, the mental shifts she had to manage in their conversations could be maddening. "Like… with pillows and pizza and giggling about colts? That type of sleepover."
"Mmm hmm." Dancing Star nodded, her eyes twinkling with completely unhidden mirth.
"And this is important… why?" Cherry could feel a headache starting to form. This was absolutely what she didn't need, especially during her first week on the job. "We've got important things we should be doing. Things like, I don't know, running the country. Why does this matter?"
"Well, it really shouldn't matter." It wasn't really a prank on the new mare, but Dancing Star was still getting quite a bit of pleasure from her sudden consternation. "It would make a nice piece to close out the day, sure, but there's something else."
"What?" Cherry Blossom almost felt afraid to ask.
"Riley Shepard was invited."
There it was.
"Shepard?" The name sounded infinitely familiar to Cherry, and the answer came to her almost immediately. "The human girl?"
"Yep." Dancing Star nodded, a wide grin on her face. She looked entirely too pleased with herself, knowing just what Cherry was going to have to go through over Princess Luna's whims. "Apparently Twilight Sparkle is now next door neighbors with the family that adopted her."
"Oh, this is just wonderful!" Cherry only barely restrained herself from blowing into a rant, her anger and frustration starting to boil over.
"Really?" Dancing Star looked a little confused at that proclamation. "Cause I was thinking this was going to cause us some headaches."
"That was sarcasm." Cherry Blossom leveled her glare on Dancing Star, completely unamused.
"It didn't sound like sarcasm."
"I have a very dry wit." Cherry Blossom rolled her eyes.
"Oh, Celestia." Cherry Blossom sighed, pulling her chair forward so she could drop her head against her desk. "This is really going to cut into our news cycle."
"You probably shouldn't use your bosses name in vein." Dancing Star shrugged. "It's not like we have anything else going on."
"We're trying to change that." Cherry Blossom accepted that as truth, but one she was reluctant to take. It might be her job, but she reserved absolutely every right to complain about it when she wanted to.
"How?" Dancing Star raised an eyebrow, leaning against Cherry's desk. "By making headlines that 'Nothing is Happening At the Royal Castle'?"
"We'd word it better than that." Cherry rolled her head over to look at Star.
"Right." Dancing Star nodded before leaning forward and kissing Cherry again. "I just thought you should know. The reporters already have it."
"Dammit." Cherry lifted her head up before letting it drop back down with a thump.
"Have fun." Dancing Star gave Cherry Blossom another kiss. "Try not to kill too many brain cells while I'm gone."
"Yeah, whatever." Cherry sat up in her chair, rubbing her sore head. She was already regretting doing that. "Get out of here."
"Whatever." Dancing Star smirked at her the entire time as she sauntered out of Cherry's office, shutting the door behind her.
Cherry Blossom groaned. She took a deep breath, before straightening her mane. There were so many things that she was going to have work out. All of the problems she would need to get around in the next press briefing bubbled up in her mind.
"Ah, clop it."
Lucky Wing paced back and forth in her office, glaring at her computer at every other turn. Grumbling under her breath, she ignored the urge to break something. The blinking cursor glared right back at her, the only thing on an empty page.
"Stupid machine." She growled, turning again. The soft carpet under her hooves did nothing to quell her mood. "Stupid brain."
On the next turn, Lucky Wing sighed in relief when she found Princess Luna's Director of Communications, Dark Snow, a unicorn around her own age standing in her doorway.
"Oh thank Celestia!" Lucky Wing darted forward, pulling him into her office. "I called you an hour ago!"
"Luna." Dark Wing said. It was a personal quirk of quite a few of the Lunar Princesses staff that they ended up using her name nearly exclusively as a curse. They tended to try and convert their fellows in Solar staff, though all they usually received were stares and confused blinking.
"Huh?" Lucky Wing stared, blinking in confusion.
"It's nothing." Dark Wing shook his head, rolling his eyes. It was a familiar song and dance to him, and it would play out again, and again. He held out hope that one day somepony would see the merits of his argument.
"Whatever." Lucky Wing shook her head. She stepped around Dark Snow and shut her office door. It was a well known fact among the staff that both writers could get rather vocal when they collaborated together, and both of their offices had been sound-proofed for that very reason. "I need your help."
"The mighty Lucky Wing needs my help?" Dark Snow took a seat on Lucky Wing's couch, taking a glance over the blank page on her computer.
"Really, don't give that to me right now." Lucky Wing leveled a glare at him, flaring her wings ever so slightly in agitation. She shook her head, resuming her pacing. "We're all in trouble, and I think you know it too."
"What do you need?" Dark Snow settled in, getting comfortable. By the looks of things, he was going to be there for awhile.
"We need to come up with a new message." Shaking her head, Lucky Wing stopped and turned to look at her counterpart hopefully.
"Alright…" He waited for her to continue, and was more than a little confused when she didn't. "A message for what?"
"Equestria," was all that Lucky Wing said. There was a weight behind the word that Dark Snow could immediately hear. It sounded like the herald to one of those career defining moments that he would remember for the rest of his life.
"What about Equestria?" Dark Snow asked. There were a lot of things could fit inside of that statement.
"We need to come up with a message about Equestria's plans moving forward and we need to get it done by tomorrow." Lucky Wing said all of that with nearly one breath, eager to move forward and get started with writing.
Dark Snow blinked, popping his lips. He was silent for a moment before asking. "A message about Equestria."
"Yes." Lucky Wing nodded her head, biting her lip.
"About plans that we currently do not have." Definitely a career defining moment, deciding the future of Equestria without anypony actually in charge of the government present.
"Yeah." Lucky Wing nodded. It was crazy. It was impossible.
They didn't really have a choice.
"By tomorrow." He turned his thoughts to the bottle of whiskey in the bottom drawer of his desk that he had bought during one of his visits to Earth. A glass sounded amazing.
"Right…" He turned his attention to Lucky Wing's computer, the blinking cursor suddenly looking a whole lot more intimidating than it had a moment before. "Well, we should probably get on that."
After Luna had left their house, the Rainbow family had flown into overdrive, worrying over every single detail. Well, Firefly had worried. Riley and Rainbow sat and watched as their mother descended into the depths of madness, wondering just what a Royal Sleepover would entail? Would they need clothes? Riley definitely would, but Rainbow? Would the Princess be offended if Rainbow showed up naked? Would she be offended if she didn't?
It wasn't until Prism had returned from his morning exercise that Firefly was able to calm down.
The walk to castle had only taken about twenty minutes, and it had only taken that long because Firefly had dragged her hooves the whole way with worry. The mare had no problems with talking before a crowd of five-thousand ponies during a book release, but the thought of going to the castle to drop her daughters off for a sleepover was just far enough beyond her that she was having trouble accepting it.
The castle towered over every other building in Canterlot, though that was as much by design as it was respect for the Diarchy. The castle was such a familiar sight that it was easy for ponies to forget just who lived within it and what they represented. Never before had Firefly been cognizant of the fact that she lived in a world ruled by two immortal goddesses who controlled the sun and the moon.
None of the other races had to deal with that, and she wasn't sure whether or not that was a bad thing.
"Why aren't you freaking about this?" Firefly glared at Prism, wondering how he could be so calm.
"I was here yesterday." Prism shrugged. He loved his wife, but sometimes she could freak out over nothing, her own thoughts building up inside of her until they became too large for life and overwhelmed her.
"So?" She looked at him with wild eyes, panicked. "You weren't there at the request of the Princess! This is a whole other level, and… and I don't know how I'm supposed to deal with this!"
"You deal with it like you do with those silly editors." Prism laughed, sharing a look of humor with Riley and Rainbow at how ridiculous their mother was being. "You walk in. You don't let anypony look down on you. You take charge."
"Right!' Firefly waved a hoof dramatically, hobbling forward for a moment for the sake of a dramatic gesture. "Princess, you hurt my girls and I'm going to have to hurt you back!"
"Probably not the best thing to say." Prism suddenly couldn't the image of his wife shouting down Celestia and Luna from his mind, and he blushed, suddenly very turned on. "You might get banished to the moon or something."
"Right." Firefly rolled her eyes, sagging against Prism's side. "Like the Princesses would ever do that."
Before she knew it, they had arrived at the foot of the castle. Firefly, Prism, Rainbow, and Riley stood there for a moment, staring up at the castle from the bottom of the path leading up to the front entrance. It was a grand sight, a modern take on the ancient fortresses of old.
On Prism's left side, Riley took special interest in the castle. Her room had a beautiful view of the castle, but she ad never taken anytime to actually study it. Now that it was before her, she realized just how truly different Equestria was from Mindoir.
She saw all of the Royal Guard making their patrols of the castle itself, gleaming in their identical golden armor and brilliant white coats, a show of force that would have been unthinkable and undoable on Mindoir. There simply hadn't been enough men of eligible age to have even dreamed of forming a defense force. That's what the mechs had been for, for all of the use those machines had been.
Riley made a mental note to never purchase anything from the Hahne-Kedar Corporation. Personal reasons and all that.
Not that she would ever have any reason to buy anything from a weapons manufacturer…
Despite how intimidating and regal they looked, she wondered just how effective their armor would actually be against even the primitive rifles the Batarians had wielded when they had attacked her colony. As she looked, Riley saw that only a few of them were wearing gun-saddles and those that were had been hidden as effectively as they possibly could be from the public. The rest of the guard were wielding the ceremonial weapons from before the Awakening.
"Are you alright, Riley?" Prism asked her, looking up at his daughter as he noticed her silence.
"Yeah." Riley nodded, an unsure movement as she looked down at Prism. "I guess so."
"Do you still want to do this?" He asked.
"It's fine." Riley shrugged.
Prism studied Riley for a moment, looking for any sign that she was silently trying to tell him the opposite. He had tried that with his own parents, though they had never seen his attempts. He didn't see any of that on his face.
"Alright." Prism nodded, nuzzling against her side more for his own reassurance than hers.
Together, the four of them started up the path. It had been recently repaved within the past twenty years, Prism was sure. He remembered learning somewhere in school that the road had been laid down with stone from across Equestria, representing every nation under Celestia's control.
Which was all of them.
There had been new stones added, Prism was sure, representing the friends of Equestria. African red granite from Earth. Blue Marble from Thessia from off the shores of Irik sands. Luster Ore from Palaven. Diamond Rock from Sur'Kesh, assembled in their finest labs.
The castle was a sign of the power and material wealth of Equestria. It had been built of the finest materials, made by the greatest artisans to have lived over the many centuries, leaving their mark on the seat of power of Equestria for all to see, attaining their own form of immortality.
As they neared the entrance, two of the guards step forward to meet the Rainbow family.
"Are you Firefly and Rainbow Prism?" One of them asked, his voice even and undistinctive.
"We are." Firefly nodded, all worry and indecision from even just moments before now hidden behind a mask of civility and poise, utterly false though it may be.
"Please, right this way." The guard gestured for them to follow him, before leading the Rainbow family inside the doors of the castle.
The guards take an immediate right once they were inside, down a side hall that was practically invisible unless you already knew it was there. One moment they had been walking down the grand front hall, the next, the Rainbow family found themselves in a inside of a waiting room.
It was extremely comfortably furnished and from a first glance, Firefly guess that it was made for dignitaries and ambassadors who arrived without a scheduled meeting, to keep them comfortable while the Princesses decided on whether they would be granted that meeting or not.
"I am going to have to ask you to wait here please." The guard gave a respectful bow, while the other was already waiting outside. "One of Princess Luna's staff shall be along shortly. If there is anything that you need, please ask the aide outside."
The guard turned and walked out of the room, leaving the family alone.
"They're making us wait?" Firefly turned to Prism, confusion written across her face. It quickly turned to annoyed anger. "They're making us wait!"
"I noticed." Prism shrugged. Being part of the Wonderbolts, a military organization, had taught him patience for these types of situations.
"It's strange." She stared at the door, as if willing whomever they were waiting for to step through immediately.
"Not really anything that I can do about that." Finding a comfortable spot with a view of every possible entrance.
Paying no mind to her parent's conversation, Rainbow rushed around the room, sticking her nose in everything in a quite literal manner. She was acting a lot like a dog, checking everything out before running back to her family to excitedly tell them about it.
"It smells like flowers in here!" The filly chirped, hopping up and down in her spot in front of Riley.
"That's probably the flowers everywhere in the room." Riley pointed at the flower vases that were everywhere in the room. They were filled with beautiful bouquets of rare and exotic flowers from across the galaxy, all of them grown in the Princesses garden. Of course, they were as much decorations as they were a snack.
"Oh…" Rainbow noticed them for the first time, sitting stupidly next to Riley as she actually looked at the room for the first time, not just relying on her sense of smell. "I didn't notice those."
"We noticed." Sitting down cross-legged beside Rainbow, Riley stroked the filly's mane.
"That feels good." Rainbow loved the feeling of fingers running through her mane. She glanced up at Riley with half-lidded eyes. "Where did you learn to do that?"
"Uhh…" Riley blushed and glanced away, memories of the border collie Hannah Shepard had managed to smuggle onto Mindoir playing through her mind. That dog used to wake them all up at the crack of dawn, barking and hollering and being a general nuisance, lovable though they could be. Firefly and Prism, having listened in on the conversation, started laughing. Rainbow glanced at them, embarrassed.
"What?" Rainbow had no idea why they were laughing at her.
They kept laughing, unable to stop themselves.
"What?!" Rainbow asked again, her voice cracking in embarrassment.
"She's…" Firefly tried to answer her youngest daughter, but she was barely able to draw enough breath.
"Um." Riley, still blushing, stopped the petting. "Uh… Rainbow…"
"Yeah?" She turned pouting eyes at Riley, trying to guilt her into petting her again.
"I… uh…" She blushed, biting her lip as she tried to keep from laughing herself. "There were these dogs that someone smuggled in on one of the supply ships…"
"So…" Rainbow's eyes went wide and she frowned, playing with her lip.
"Yeah." Riley nodded, ducking her head.
"A dog?" Rainbow whined, looking extremely put out.
Riley nodded, biting back her own laugh.
"Great! Wonderful…" Running a hoof through her mane, Rainbow tried to smooth it down, failing rather spectacularly. She glared at Riley, before staring down at the ground.
"I didn't say for you to stop," Rainbow finally muttered.
Riley giggled at that, Firefly and Prism gasping for air, but she started petting Rainbow again, feeling more relaxed than she had in a long time.
"Mrs. Firefly. Major Prism."
Nearly as one, the Rainbow family turned to find a dark blue Earth pony mare with a bright blue mane standing in the doorway, smiling at them with friendly eyes. Rainbow jumped away from Riley, blushing brilliantly through her sky blue coat.
"I am Blueberry, the Chief of Staff for Princess Luna," the mare said. "Welcome to the Royal Castle."
Prism and Firefly stepped forward, shaking Blueberry's hoof. Riley couldn't help but watch that with interest and wonder just where the gesture had originated from. She knew that in humanity, shaking hands came from extreme mistrust and wanting to check strangers for hidden blades or something like that. Where ponies had picked it up, she couldn't fathom.
She did think that it was one of the most adorable things she had ever seen. Ponies shook hooves by just touching them together and raising them up and down several times. It reminded her a little of video she had seen of cats pawing at a mirror.
"Hello." Prism smiled at Blueberry. "I'm Rainbow Prism, and this is my wife, Firefly."
Blueberry didn't react to them pretty much repeating what she already revealed she knew. She realized that both Firefly and Prism were nervous and had never been a part of something like the Equestrian government. From the amount of time that she had spent with Princess Luna in the situation room, she knew that not even the military could compare.
"Are there any questions that you have for me?" Blueberry asked, smiling calmly at the two adults before her.
"I had no idea that a sleepover would involve having such high-level government officials watching over my daughters." Flustered, Prism wondered if this was a normal thing for the Lunar princess, or if she was simply pulling out all of the stops just for them.
"Having two entire staff's working on the same job certainly lightens the load, and it often leaves us time that the Princesses fill with strange jobs." Blueberry gave a slight grimace at that. That extra time had been filled with nearly every task imaginable, from taking care of unexpected dignitaries to contests the Princesses sometimes held between the staffs. Still, she had won the past four cake-eating contests (Princess Celestia had been forbidden from taking part by Princess Luna). She did enjoy collecting trophies.
"Still…" Firefly looked incredibly uneasy, the calm and collectedness beginning to wear away from her.
"The Princesses like to keep us on the tips of our hooves," Blueberry reassured. Compared to some of the beings that Blueberry had had to work with over the years, Firefly's and Prism's reluctance was almost a joy to work through. Nothing was hidden there except for the love and concern of good parents.
"You must be Riley," Blueberry said, turning her attention to the light blue pegasus. Glancing at the human whose lap the filly was sitting in, she offered the girl a smile. "And you must be Rainbow."
"My name is Rainbow Dash!" The filly protested, looking utterly confused and put out at not being recognized. She was Rainbow Dash after all, the most fastest awesomest Pegasus in Equestria.
"Really?" Blueberry put a hoof up to her mouth, ignoring the eye rolling from their parents. It was so rare that she got to work with children, much less even spend time with them. "Are you sure."
"Yeah!" Rainbow stomped a hoof on Riley's leg to make a point, not noticing the girl's sudden whimper of pain. "I'm Rainbow Dash, and my big sister is Riley!"
"Well." Blueberry did her best to look unconvinced, but she was disappointed at how hard she found it to keep the edges of her mouth from turning up in a grin. "If you're sure."
"I am." Rainbow Dash gave a snort, showing her filliest best that she was indeed sure. She gives a little snort and a stomp of a hoof to punctuate herself.
Blueberry giggled as she turns her attention back to Firefly and Prism. "Princess Luna has already come up with a rough plan for the night, and I can assure you, your daughters will be in the best hooves."
"Wait." He raised a hoof, a little bit in disbelief. He wasn't there when Luna had come to pick up Twilight and instead heard the entire story second hand from his wife. Truth be told, he was more than a little disbelieving that it had played out just as Firefly had told him. "You're telling me that the Princess of our land is coming up the schedule for a filly's sleepover?"
"Yes." Far be it from Blueberry, the Alicorn's Chief of Staff, to tell her Princess just what was worth her time. The Princess did whatever she wished. "Is that a problem?"
"Not really a problem…" Prism searched for the right words, struggling to find them. "It's just kind of… It's a bit much, isn't it?"
"Not really, sir." It was, but there was no reason that he actually needed to know that. It was all part of Blueberry's job, chaotic though it occasionally could be.
"Oh." That was all that Prism could really think to say.
"Do you have anymore questions?" Blueberry asked.
"Will they be able to contact us at anytime?" Firefly had the sudden image of her daughter's stuck in a complete disaster, with no way to actually get in contact with them.
"Definitely." Blueberry was careful to keep her eye roll internal. "We could get them a line with the Citadel Council if need be, so an in city call is not a problem."
"Alright." Firefly didn't sound alright, but that wasn't Blueberry's job.
"When should we pick them up tomorrow?" Prism asked
"We can have a guard escort them back to your house if that would be more convenient."
"Really? Well, in that case—" Firefly fumbled with her omni-tool, having to look up their new address. She still hadn't had the time to memorize it yet.
"We have your address, so that isn't a concern."
Firefly and Prism glanced at each other, before turning to Riley and Rainbow. They didn't really have any clue what to do, so they made it up as went along. Rainbow never had sleepovers back in Cloudsdale, and they had never had to deal with any of that. Suddenly having to deal with a new situation, with the involvement of the crown was one way to jump right into the deep end.
"Well… Umm…" She shuffled on her hooves, ears flicking as her own feelings of awkwardness welled up inside her. "I guess I'm wishing both of you a good night.
She trotted forward, wrapping Rainbow in a hug, giving her a kiss on the cheek that Rainbow frantically tried to wipe off, spitting and coughing in over exaggerated disgust. "Don't cause too much trouble for the Princesses. Try and get into bed at a decent hour."
Firefly lets Rainbow go, turning to Riley, who had already got down on one knee to be at the same height of her mother. They hugged, and Firefly also kissed her on the cheek. "I love both of you."
"Really." Prism followed Firefly's lead and hugged his daughters. "You can call us at any time for any reason. You don't have to worry about it. One in the morning, I'm out of bed and coming to get you if you want."
Seeing that the goodbyes were over, Blueberry stepped forward. "Is there anything else?"
"No." Prism shook his head. "No. We're good."
"Alright then." Blueberry turned to Riley and Rainbow, pointing a wing towards another door than the one they entered through. "If you would follow me this way, girls."
Firefly and Prism watched as Blueberry led their daughters away, wincing a little when the door closed behind them.
The door they entered through opened a second later, and the guard stepped through. "Sir, Ma'am. Is there anything I can get you?"
"No." Prism shook his head. "Thank you."
"Very well." The guard nodded his assent, leaving the door open.
After a moment, Firefly and Prism left, a bit saddened by the sudden freedom of not having to look after their daughters. They weren't quite sure what they should do next.
The press briefing room was arguably one of the top three most important rooms in the Royal Castle, after both the Solar and Lunar throne rooms. It was where Equestria's most public face stood, informing the galaxy of just what the Crowns would be doing. Like a lot of things, it was a recent addition, though it already felt to more than a few ponies that it been around for an eternity.
The press was already seat when Cherry Blossom entered the briefing room. Practically instantly, the room was abuzz with noise as she was hounded by dozens of questions from ponies representing every major news network across Equestria. She ignored all of them and instead took her position behind the podium with the seal of the Diarchy of Equestria.
"Well, you're all certainly excited to see me." She looked over them, taking a moment to match up the faces with all the names she had been memorizing.
A slight chuckle rolled through the crowd of reporters.
"Good afternoon." Cherry did her best to project an aura of calm superiority. "I don't actually have any announcements for today, so I'll open it up to the questions that I know all of you are bursting to ask."
The reporters instantly started clamoring to be heard and called upon. Her name was called in ever increasing volumes by nearly everypony (though she noticed that a few of the more seasoned reporters sat quietly in the back).
"Swift Moon." Cherry called on the mare from the Equestrian Times. According to the last Press Secretary, she could always be counted on to ask the most obvious question.
"Thank you, Cherry." Swift Moon didn't actually sound thankful. She eyed Cherry with a predatory look. If she were any other race than a pony, Cherry might have felt scared. Shifting in her seat, Swift made sure that her omni-tool was recording. "Are the rumors true?"
"You're going to have be more specific than that." Just because Cherry called on her to ask the obvious question didn't mean that she was going to make life easy for her. They had to learn who was in charge after all.
"Is Twilight Sparkle having a sleepover with one Riley Shepard?" Swift Moon restated her question, rolling her eyes.
"She is indeed." Cherry met the other mare's eyes.
"Isn't that a bit… strange." Swift Moon waited eagerly for the answer. From the sudden hush that fell over the rest of them, Cherry guessed that they were eager too.
"Strange?" Cherry Blossom turned her full attention on Swift Moon, her eyes cold. Though she was new, she was going to make sure that they all knew she was a force they did not want to reckon with. "You're going to actually have to ask the question you want answered if we're going to get anywhere today."
"Isn't it a little bit strange that Twilight Sparkle is having a sleepover?" Swift Wing firmed herself up, asking the question she felt needed to be asked. "She is Princess Celestia's student. Shouldn't she be focusing on her studies?"
"Twilight Sparkle? Little filly, seven years old." Cherry took a moment to gauge the temperature of the room and found that they were definitely not on her side. "No. I don't think it's odd that a girl her age is having a sleepover with her friends. I'm sure her mother and the Princesses are relieved she finally has her nose out of a book."
"Next question." She turned her attention to the rest of the reporters. Once again, the reporters started going wild, a barely restrained mass of ponies ready to turn feral at the slightest hint of blood. Cherry picked her next reporter. "Yes. Caramel Bee."
Blueberry led Riley and Rainbow through the castle hallways, paying no mind to the reactions of the girls to the sheer impressiveness of everything surrounding them. Riley was awed by the sheer artistry of the building, elevating it from a simple seat of government to the very heart of Equestria. Great pieces of artwork, paintings, sculptures, and stained glass windows hinted at the sheer breadth of history that Equestria held.
Rainbow was impressed by the towering ceiling. Any building that was large enough inside to hold a Pegasus race was cool with her. Ponies are working about, dressed in their finest, but they give the small group a wide berth.
As Riley took in all of the art and wondered just how much the castle had cost to build and maintain, her thoughts returned to Mindoir. Would things have been different if Mindoir had the wealth that Equestria so easily flaunted.
Of course it would have been different. Money meant an economy. An economy meant business. Business meant civilization, and civilization meant protection.
Mindoir had had none of that.
She felt more than a little jealous. Why was Equestria so lucky? What gave them that right?
Those thoughts lasted only for a second, and she quickly felt a pit of guilt building in the pit of her stomach. Rainbow and Firefly took her in for no other reason than she was a child and she needed a home. Princess Celestia had thrown her entire support behind the move for no hidden political reasons other than the simple fact that every being in the galaxy should be afforded a safe home and a happy family.
It was thanks to the Alicorns who had made this castle their home for a thousand years that she now had a family, and she hated that she felt that jealousy for even a moment.
Needing to reassure herself, Riley reached down and scooped up Rainbow, who protested for all of a second before settling in on Riley's shoulder, putting her wing comfortingly around her big sister's other shoulder.
"How long have you worked for Princess Luna?" Riley asked Blueberry, breaking the silence for the first time since they had left the waiting room.
Blueberry was a little startled that she was even being spoken to, Luna had told her of Riley's quiet shyness, but she was more than willing to talk to the girls. "I've been with her for nearly five years now. It's been quite a ride."
"What do you even do for Princess Luna?" Rainbow looked at Blueberry curiously. "Isn't she like, a Princess and she does all of the work herself?"
"That's how it was fifteen years ago." Blueberry laughed, a light, airy sound. It was how most visitors often thought that the government was still run, and they were often disappointed to learn that that was not the truth any longer.
"What changed?" Riley asked, genuinely curious.
"You." Blueberry flinched at the sight of Riley's shocked face and was quick to tell her just what she meant by that. "Well, not you. I meant you as in the rest of the galaxy."
"The world was a whole lot smaller back then." She sighed, thinking back to her own childhood. She had been so incredibly naive then, they all had been. She sometimes wondered just what the world would have looked like if they had never learned of their prison. "There wasn't any need for Chiefs of Staffs and Press Secretaries and Ponies in charge of shaping the way that everyone views the Diarchy. The Princesses used to be able to just hold court and listen to petitioners."
"They certainly can't do that now." She laughed, leading them down another hallway. The ponies that had filled the halls they had passed through had disappeared, though Riley suspected that it might have been that they were just out of sight, using hidden hallways to give the Royal Wing a semblance of privacy.
"They can't do that now," Blueberry repeated with a sigh.
"Why not?" Riley had heard stories of the way the castle had been run, and it had sounded perfect, like something out of a fairy-tale.
"There's too much even for them to take care of in a day." Blueberry knew that to be the truth first hand. She still heard rumors of the first several years as Equestria struggled to adjust to galactic politics before they had changed everything. "Delegation has become the name of the game, and our way of governing needed to change just as much as everything else that was shifting. It was a lot to take in."
Blueberry led them to a stop outside of a large doorway that obviously led to a large tower, the walls on either side of the doors curving inwards on the hall in a semi-circular manner.
"I'm only the second mare to hold the title of the Lunar Crown's Chief of Staff. It's a lot of weight to bear." Blueberry finished up her explanation before she gestured at the door. "And we're here. Go ahead, I'm sure that the Princess is just finishing up with Twilight."
Riley and Rainbow both turned the gaze on the door, suddenly looking at it with a whole lot more respect and trepidation than they had a moment ago.
"Go ahead." Blueberry gestured to the door, her mind already moving onto other matters.
Glancing at each other, Riley and Rainbow did their best to prepare themselves for whatever they might find behind the door. Riley reached out and took the door handle, turning it slowly on silent hinges.
Opening the door, Riley stepped inside, Rainbow still riding on her shoulders with all the ease of a cat or a bird. They paused in the doorway for a moment when they saw just what is on the other side, not even noticing as Blueberry shut the door behind them and continued on about her day.
Books. The tower was filled with more books than it seemed even possible to count, filling bookshelves that climbed up multiple stories, all built around a monolithic six story tall window opposite the doors, with enough space it seemed to fit two of their new house between the two. The floors above them were built in horseshoe shapes with the ends stopping at the window.
They stared for what felt like an eternity, trying to drink the sight in until they slowly became aware that they were hearing an extremely familiar voice. Two voices in fact. One of them was obviously Twilight Sparkle, her small voice barely carrying from wherever she was hiding. The second voice was older, stately, refined. It was both motherly and all-powerful at the same time.
"You have to remember Twilight. Magic is not constrained by the laws of physics. You can do things with it that would anger scientists. Wonderful things. Can you think of a few?" The second voice asked. She sounded eternally patient, a kindness carried in her voice that made even Riley and Rainbow feel warm just from hearing it.
"Um…" Twilight sounded unsure, her voice echoing oddly through the bookshelves. "I could create rain for a world in a drought."
"Yes, What else? Push the bounds, Twilight. Magic is only ever limited by our imaginations." The owner of the second voice obviously had a lot of experience teaching.
"But what about our power levels?" Twilight didn't sound unsure, more confused now.
"That certainly plays a part, but even a unicorn who can only summon the barest amount of magic can still do amazing feats that would astound others with near limitless potential. Can you guess why?"
Riley and Rainbow glanced at each other, realizing just who the other voice was. Sure, Blueberry had told them that she was there, but it was entirely another thing to experience it first hand.
"Creativity." Princess Celestia said, with all the wisdom and certainty of a pony who had seen it all a thousand times before. "They have to make do with less, and that leads to clever solutions that are often more elegant and useful than the blunt methods a more powerful unicorn may use. Now though, it is time for our lesson to end."
"Aw." Twilight Sparkle gave a sigh of disappointment. "Why? I could do more, really!"
Princess Celestia laughed at Twilight's sadness. The filly was truly something else. Others her age would be ecstatic that their lessons were over.
Not so with Twilight Sparkle. She was truly unique.
"There is no need for such a pitifully sad face, Twilight. You're going to have fun, and that's better than any stuffy old lesson with a stuffy old Princess."
"Never, Princess!" Twilight gasped at that, hurt and saddened even by Princess Celestia's fake self-deprecation. "I love every lesson with you!"
"And I love all of the time that I spend with you, Twilight, but don't be so overdramatic. You're better than that. Now, your friends are waiting for you."
"Really?" Twilight sounded utterly confused at that, and they could practically hear her eyebrow being raised.
"Indeed." Celestia laughed again. "I am sure that they are quite confused by now. Why don't you go greet them."
Riley and Rainbow heard a clopping of hooves on the floor and Twilight emerged from the labyrinth of bookshelves on the first floor. Her eyes went wide and stared at the two of them open-mouthed in astonishment.
"Rainbow Dash! Riley" Her face lit up with excitement and she rushed over to greet them. "You're here! I wasn't sure that you were coming."
"You were there when Princess Luna organized the whole thing, remember?" Riley giggled at Twilight's seeming disbelief at their presence in her tower. "This morning?"
"I just wasn't sure that you'd actually like to come." Twilight blushed, scuffing a hoof against the floor. She sounded happy and unsure all at the same time.
"Why not?" Rainbow cocked her head in confusion. Rainbow hopped off of Riley's shoulder, flaring her wings to land gracefully on the floor in front of the unicorn. "We said we'd come. We'd never leave a friend hanging, right Riley?"
"Yep." Riley nodded in agreement with her younger sister.
"I guess that I've just never had friends before." Twilight's voice turned small, and the filly ever so slightly hunched in on herself, blushing. As Celestia's personal student, there wasn't a lot of time for her to socialize with anypony, at least that's what she had told herself many, many times.
Riley and Rainbow didn't quite know how to respond to that, the unicorn filly looking like she wanted to sink into the floor and disappear.
With her knowledge of magic, Riley wasn't sure that that was beyond Twilight.
It turned out that she didn't have to worry about that at all. Princess Celestia stepped out from between the bookshelves, smiling serenely.
"Hello," Celestia greeted the two newcomers to her castle.
Riley and Rainbow could only look upon Celestia in awe. Princess Luna had been impressive, taller than nearly ever other pony on the planet, but she was nothing compared to the Royal Sun, the Dawn Bringer.
The Alicorn's coat was a gleaming white, seeming to glow with an unseen light, every bit the goddess that so many thought she was. Her mane and tail flow in the solar winds, forming what looked like a shimmering aurora. Her horn was at least a foot and a half long, coming to a deadly point, but even without it, the Alicorn stood taller than Riley.
"My sister was quite excited to have set up a sleepover." Celestia looked over the two girls, and Riley felt as if the Princess saw straight through to her soul, her entire being laid bare for the immortal to see. "I haven't seen her so energetic since… well, since she was a filly."
"She was a filly?" Rainbow seemed utterly enraptured to learn that, having to crane her neck almost painfully to look at Celestia. "How long ago was that?"
"Rainbow Dash!" Twilight looked traumatized that Rainbow would ask such a brazen question of Princess Celestia. Turning to the Princess, Twilight bowed, giving a timid smile. "I apologize Princess, she didn't mean it!"
"It's alright, Twilight. I am not some pony that any pony need fear asking such a simple question." Celestia just laughed, her eyes twinkling. She turned her smiling gaze on the young Pegasus, who still felt no shame. "We were both fillies once, a long, long time ago, before recorded history even."
"Whoah…" Rainbow tried to throw her mind back to such a long time ago and failed quite spectacularly. "That's a long time."
"Indeed it is." Celestia nodded, enjoying the innocence of filly in a way that Twilight seemed incapable of preforming.
"Before recorded history?" Twilight's eyes went wide, understanding just what that meant. "But that would mean you're…"
"Older than the entirety of Equestrian civilization?" Celestia's memory was long, but even she still had problems remembering just what her own life had been like so long ago. She had been there for everything and she remembered all of it. All of it, it seemed, except for her own early years. "Yes."
"That's really old," Rainbow Dash said in a hushed, awed voice.
Now that the question had been asked, Twilight saw her opportunity to know the the answer to the question nopony (save Rainbow Dash) had ever dared to ask. She hesitated for only a second before timidly asking, "How old exactly are you, Princess?"
"I don't really know, Twilight," Celestia admitted. It was something that she had tried to actually figure out a century or two ago, to no avail. "It was before we started keeping track of the years in any sort of meaningful way. Even my memories of that time are dull and faded."
"Wow…" It wasn't the answer she had been expecting, but Twilight was still amazed, having to fit this new fact into her view of her favorite pony princess.
Princess Celestia looked over at Riley and Rainbow before turning back to Twilight. "Why don't you introduce me to your friends, Twilight."
"Yes, Princess." Twilight blushed in embarrassment, realizing that she had been rude. "This is Rainbow Dash and Riley Shepard."
"Princess." Rainbow gave an incredibly formal bow that was completely uncharacteristic of her, which Riley awkwardly repeated, not sure what the protocol exactly was.
"Princess," Riley murmured, cracking an eye open to make sure that Celestia wasn't offended by her.
"Please, there is no need for that," Princess Celestia waved off the formalities. "I try to save all of the titles and bowing for the dignitaries and ambassadors. Around my little ponies, there is no ned for that."
Princess Celestia turned to look at Twilight Sparkle, smiling calmly at her. "Twilight, why don't you give Rainbow a tour of your tower? I would like to have a moment to speak with Riley—"
"— If that is alright with you, I mean." She turned to Riley, giving her a hopeful look.
Riley had no idea how to respond to that. Crossing her arms, she rubbed her shoulder as she stared down at the ground. "Alright… That's fine, I guess."
"Have fun, Princess." Twilight turned to Rainbow Dash, an eagerness in her eyes that suddenly made the Pegasus feel a lot more wary than she had a moment ago. "C'mon! You'll love it here."
Rainbow Dash looked back at Riley as Twilight grabbed one of her forelegs, dragging her away from the other two. Rainbow gave could only shrug at Twilight's behavior, before trotting after the rapidly retreating form of Twilight Sparkle.
Riley turned to look at Princess Celestia, who was still smiling serenely at her.
"Please, walk with me." Celestia gestured forward with one of her wings.
Princess Celestia started walking, entering into the veritable maze of bookshelves, and Riley followed after her silently. There were more books than Riley had ever seen in her entire life, and there was almost no rhyme or reason to the way that they were shelved. She was sure that she a Turian cookbook next to a textbook on quantum mechanics.
They stayed silent until they emerged from the shelves. Riley found that Celestia had led her before the massive window, into a reading area that was filled with couches and chairs that all faced out towards the window.
Stepping up to the window, Celestia looked out at the view of Equestria spreading out before her. Riley hesitated only for a moment before joining her. The sight that she was met with took her breath away. From this angle, it gave the illusion that the castle was floating thousands of feet up in the air, an impenetrable fortress of safety and knowledge.
"How are you finding Equestria?" Celestia asked, breaking the silence.
Riley didn't answer right away, too enraptured at the view, but she finally pulled herself away, turning her attention to Celestia. "It's… nice."
"You certainly don't have to hide your true feelings of my nation from me." Celestia was careful to not let any of her true power show through. The last thing that the girl needed was to be overwhelmed by the true power of the eternal sun. "I won't get offended. I know that we are quite different from what you are used to."
Riley stayed silent however, unwilling to answer that question. She wasn't sure that she knew the answer herself. It had felt like so much of herself had slipped away since… since the attack. She wondered if she would have even been able to recognize herself if none of this had happened.
Princess Celestia frowned, a move so subtle that only the extremely observant would have even noticed. "If it is not too bold of me to ask, what did you think of Mindoir?"
Riley, startled at that question, looking over at Celestia. No one had bothered to ask her that question yet, and though they all had the best intentions, they were all focused on getting her settled into Equestria.
"I… Uh…" She stammered, a blush spreading across her cheeks.
"If you do not wish to speak on it, that is alright with me. I don't want you to think that I'm trying to pressure you." Celestia watched as Riley did absolutely everything she could to not look in her direction. "I was just… curious."
Riley thought about it for a moment before turning herself to fully look out the window. "It was… different. Earth was big and loud and filled with people. Equestria is… old and cultured… but Mindoir was calm. Nothing really happened, and it was home."
"Hm…" Celestia nodded. That was how she had pictured it. "I remember when Equestria was still like that. That was a long time ago."
"I helped out wherever I could, but everybody had a lot of free time." Riley fell back into her memories. She started to forget that Celestia was even there, remembering better times. "There was this tree just outside of town. It was big, and when I was a little girl, I used to think it was the tallest thing ever. I spent days in its branches, reading and thinking…"
Riley fell silent, and Celestia watched her carefully, waiting for what she would say next.
"Jane used to try and climb up with me, but she was never able to reach the first branch." Riley giggled at that. She had made fun of her little sister constantly for that. "She was too tiny. I wanted to share that with her, but… well, there's no more time for that now."
Stepping forward, Celestia sat on her haunches next to Riley. She wrapped a wing around the girl, and Riley collapsed into tears, grabbing Celestia desperately as her emotions crashed down around her.
"Celestia and Luna gave me this tower after I came to study under them." Twilight led Rainbow through the bookshelves towards the stairs leading to the next floor with all of the pride of a new mother. "I don't really know what they were using it for before me, but it's nice. I like it. It's home for me and Spike."
"They just up and gave you an entire tower?" Rainbow wondered if there was any way she could get Luna to make her her personal student. The Princess would be impressed by the fastest most awesomest Pegasus in all of Equestria, she was the Princess after all!
"Yeah!" Twilight held her head high, her eyes twinkling at the thought of all of the knowledge that she still had to pour over, so many new things to learn. "I've filled it with all the books."
"All the books?" Rainbow wondered how she was able to do that. She could have sworn that she still had a couple of comic books somewhere in all of the boxes she had yet to unpack. Twilight couldn't have gotten those too… could she? "Where did you get all the books?"
"Some of them were gifts," Twilight said looking around what was possibly the most eclectic library on Equestria. "Some of them came from the hidden archives—"
Twilight halted, her eyes going wide and a hoof flying to her mouth.
"Hidden archives?" Rainbow didn't know what to make of that.
"Nothing! Archives? What archives? What are you talking about? You're crazy!" Twilight shouted the last part, looking over her shoulder like she expected somepony to grab her and haul her away to jail.
"Right." Rainbow watched as Twilight took a minute to catch her breath. "What about the rest of them?"
"The rest of them I bought." Twilight looked inordinately pleased to move on from whatever mistake that she had made.
"You bought them?" Rainbow Dash's eyes went wide, and she gave up trying to calculate just how much that would cost after only a few seconds. "That would take like, all the money!"
"Yep." She nodded, having absolutely no understanding just how privileged she was. "I get a stipend from the treasury every month."
"A what?" There were definite disadvantages of being friends with an egghead, Rainbow thought. Only understanding every third word was one of them.
"I get paid for being Celestia's apprentice."
"Whoa. That's like, the coolest job ever. You get money for doing nothing."
"No." Twilight knew this from the conversation that Celestia had given to her when she had first revealed she would be getting the stipend. "I get money to help my studies."
Rainbow Dash blinked in surprise when she tripped over the first step of the staircase they had finally reached. "Whoah!"
"Are you alright?" Twilight helped Rainbow back up onto her hooves.
"Yeah." Rainbow blushed, darting up the first little bit of stairs. "Come on. You're supposed to be showing me your tower."
"Alright." Twilight quickly joined Rainbow, and they continued up the stairs.
"Where do you sleep?" Rainbow asked, searching for any sign of a bedroom. "You don't sleep on a pile of books, do you?"
"No. Don't be ridiculous Rainbow Dash." Twilight pointed up at the ceiling. "My private apartment is up at the top of the tower."
"You have your own apartment?" Was there anything that Twilight didn't have, Rainbow wondered. "Lucky."
"I have everything that I could ever need all in this tower." She was oblivious to Rainbow's amazement and jealousy. "It's pretty awesome."
She grinned at Rainbow Dash.
"Want to see it?" Twilight asked, crouching ever so slightly to prepare to run up the stairs as fast as she could.
"Can a Pegasus fly? Yeah I do!" Rainbow's wings flared out in excitement.
Twilight and Rainbow Dash galloped up the next six floors, barely even out of breath at the end of it. They were ponies after all, and they were much better suited for running long distances than humans, though not so much on the endurance part.
The final staircase led up to a small landing that was hidden from below, with a large locked door at the very top. Stepping forward, Twilight used the retina scanner next to the door. With a buzz, the door opened with an air of massive weight supported on massive hinges and they both stepped inside.
Rainbow was instantly amazed, staring at Twilight's home away from home with absolute amazement. "You are so lucky."
"So you like it?" Twilight asked, a little afraid to hear Rainbow's response.
"Like it?" Rainbow looked at Twilight with a raised eyebrow. The filly flinched a little under her gaze. "I love it!"
The apartments were incredibly comfortable, and it was immediately obvious that Twilight had not been in charge of decorating. It would have probably been crammed full of bookshelves as well if she had been. None of that occurred to Rainbow though as she took a tentative step forward onto the extremely plush carpet.
The largest part was a main living room area that sat looking out the opposite side of the tower, over the Royal Castle. The living room was basically a smaller version of the reading room on the first floor. There were three couches in a horseshoe shape facing out towards the windows, a little table between them with a vase full of lilies. Set into the wall opposite the door was a kitchen, pony-sized, though it was obvious that it got very little use from its gleaming cleanliness. Behind the living room were three more doors, leading presumably to bedrooms, one of them clearly marked as: TWILIGHT SPARKLE'S ROOM, KEEP OUT!
"Come on." Twilight waved for Rainbow to follow after her. "I'll show you my room."
"You're room? Like this isn't enough already?" Rainbow rolled her eyes at Twilight, still she trotted after Twilight to her room.
With an elegant flare, Twilight ignited her horn and moved to open her door with her magic, only for it be thrown open from the inside. With a squawk of surprise, Twilight toppled over backwards, quickly springing back to her hooves to investigate.
Rainbow Dash was confused and startled, unable to see into the room around Twilight, but what the unicorn filly did next confuses her even more.
"Oh my gosh!" Twilight gasped excitedly before dropping the front half of her body closer to the ground. "Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!"
Rainbow eyed Twilight strangely as the filly did a silly little dance, ending with her shaking her flank at the door.
"What are you doing?" She sat back on her haunches, still not clear what she was supposed to do with what she just saw.
Twilight completely ignored Rainbow, instead squealing as she darted inside her room. Rainbow Dash peered in to see that Twilight is hugging a pink alicorn just on the verge of marehood, and that Shining Armor was sitting on Twilight's bed with a broken leg in a cast, Spike sitting next to him, looking at Twilight and the unknown Alicorn with an air of acceptance, if not understanding.
"Cadance! What are you doing here?" Twilight looked at the alicorn, presumably Cadance, with a look of happy confusion.
"Auntie Luna invited me to a 'sleepover' she decided to throw." With a smile as large as Twilight's, Cadance settled back on her haunches, throwing a leg around Twilight's shoulders. "A little weird, considering she's older than nearly everyone on Equestria combined, but sure, I love spending time with my favorite little filly!"
Wiggling free from her grasp, Twilight hopped around Cadance, excited beyond all belief. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!"
"Twilight, who's this?" Cadance noticed Rainbow Dash still standing extremely confused in the doorway.
"Oh!" Twilight paused mid-hop, looking overat Rainbow. "This is Rainbow Dash. She's my new friend."
"New friend?" That was certainly a development, one that Cadance was a little disappointed that she had missed witnessing.
"Yep." Twilight happily nodded. "Her family moved in next door, and she is really 'awesome' as she puts it."
"Yo… " Rainbow cocked her head to the side, wondering just how much she had missed in her school. She could have sworn that there were only two Princesses. "Why are you an alicorn?"
"What?" Cadance blinked in confusion before she glanced back at her wings, then up at her horn. "Oh! Alicorn. Right. Uh… It's a whole… thing."
It was indeed a "whole thing" as Princess Mi Amore Cadenza described it. When the Citadel Council had learned that it was possible for an immortal alicorn god to manifest itself through the form of a normal pony (that was their words, not Equestria's), they had had a collective psychotic break. Having two all-powerful alicorns was bad enough, but it had appeared at first that they had been around since the beginning of time.
They could live with that. They didn't like it, but they could live with it.
When Cadance had ascended without any outside power but her own, the Council had been ready to start a war that would have made the Krogan rebellions look civil.
Fear could do a lot to strip away all of the rationality of even the most logical being. Cadance was just glad that it was all behind her, for the most part. Thanks to Auntie Tia and Luna's wise words, they had talked the Council down and cooled their tempers. She still wasn't allowed on the Citadel itself though, by special order of all three Councilors.
Ignorant to all of that, and he would have been uncaring even if he had known, Spike hopped off the bed, rushing forward to hug Twilight. "Twilight! I missed you."
"Hello, Spike." Twilight giggled, hugging him back. Their parents had taken Spike with them to Ponyville in their rush to get to Shining Armor. "I missed you too."
Spike chortled happily, glad to have been remembered, then wandered out to the kitchen to find something to eat.
"Have fun snacking, Spike," Twilight called after him.
"I will." Spike shouted over his shoulder as he made his way into the kitchen.
Twilight turned her attention to her brother, gasping at the sight of his broken leg. She suddenly felt guilty that she wasn't able to have been there for him at the hospital. "Does it hurt, Shiny?"
Glancing down at his leg, Shining shrugged. "I'm on a lot of painkillers at the moment, so… not really. Everything just feels really… fuzzy."
"That's alright." Cadance laughed in that guilty way you do when you find something funny but know that you shouldn't. She trotted over to his side, nuzzling against his neck, ending it with a chaste kiss on his cheek. "You don't have to do anything other than just sit there and look handsome."
"Sounds good to me." Smiling dopey at the three girls, he purposefully fell over and collapsed gratefully into Twilight's comfy bed. Cadance turned to Rainbow and Twilight Sparkle, stepping to the door.
"Come on girls, let's let the big tough stallion get his rest." She ushered them out of the room, smiling at Shining on the bed.
"Ha ha, Cada… Candy… Candyace." Shining waved a hoof at her in dismissal. "… I'm lonely."
"Oh, don't be such a big baby." She rolled her eyes.
"I'm not a…" Shining Armor fell asleep mid-sentence, and all three of the girls giggled at the sight. His unbroken leg twitch, kicking lazily as he started to dream. They stepped out of the room and shut the door.
As they were doing so, Princess Celestia and Riley stepped into the apartment, and Celestia had to quickly cover her surprise at finding her niece standing there.
"Cadance." Celestia's voice cracked ever so slightly "I thought you were in Manehattan. What brought you here?"
"Auntie Luna," Cadance said, like it was the only thing that needed to be said for understanding. It just so happened that she was correct, and that it did answer Celestia's question. "She has all these big plans for a sleepover tonight and she thought it would be more fun if we were here."
"We?" Celestia took a quick glance around the room, wondering if there was someone that she had missed.
"Auntie absconded Shining Armor away from the hospital in Ponyville when she picked me up." It had been a rather hilarious sight, and Cadance had been sure to get as many pictures as she discreetly could of the Immortal Moon sneaking through a public hospital in a black cat-suit. "We should probably alert his parents actually. I'm sure they're worried about him disappearing from the bed."
"Luna…" Celestia face-hoofed. Older than all of civilization and still acting the filly. She wiped her annoyance away and smiled at the ponies before her. "Please excuse me for a moment. I have to go clean up my sister's mess."
Without any further declaration or ceremony, Princess Celestia turned and left the apartment.
"You must be Riley." Cadance gave a friendly wave to the girl, offering her a warm smile. "Auntie was telling me about you."
"Oh. Well… Hello." Riley waved back, wondering if she had missed something about there being a third alicorn. It seemed like something someone should have brought that up.
A loud CRASH from the kitchen startled all of them, and the four of girls all turned to see what had happened. A sheepish looking Spike stepped around the counter, fiddling his claws.
"Uh, I could use some help over here," he said, gesturing over his shoulder with a claw.
"What did you do, Spike?" Twilight asked, sighing.
"I might have…" Spike twiddled his claws together, a sheepish smile on his face. "I might have broken the pickles."
Sure enough, a moment later the strong smell of dill hit all of them. Their noses all scrunched up at the pungent smell, Twilight trotted over to help him clean up.
"Come on. Help me clean it up, Spike."
Sitting in her chair and spinning in lazy, Dancing Star wondered if anypony would notice if she just went home for the day. There was nothing for her to do, and nobody had stopped by her office all day. She had filled out all of her paperwork, made all the calls she had needed to, and she had even had time to make a pretty flower out of her paperclips.
A knock at the door ended all thoughts about heading home. Dancing Star stopped spinning and looked hopefully at the door. If there was something for her to do, then she wouldn't have to go home and sit waiting for Cherry to come home.
"Come in," she said, straightening herself and the few items still on her desk to a presentable state.
The door opened, and Dancing Star felt her eyes go wide as Princess Celestia stepped inside. This wasn't right. Maybe she was dreaming. She went to the Princesses office, not the other way around.
"Princess Celestia!" Dancing Star nearly fell out of her chair in her haste to get up. "Your Majesty."
Dancing Star bowed after stepping out from behind her desk, though Celestia waved it off with a hoof.
"Please, Dancing Star." Celestia took a further step into the office. "Are we really going to go through this every time you see me?"
"Sorry, Princess." Dancing Star blushed, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof. "It's kind of… a habit. Is there something I can do for you, Princess?"
"There is." Celestia took a seat in front of Dancing Star, making the mare realize just how small her office really was with such a larger than life being inside of it. "I am sure that you've heard of Twilight's sleepover by now."
"I have." She couldn't help the snicker that escaped her, imagining just what a headache it was causing for Cherry.
"I know the day has been slow, and I've already checked with Solar to make sure I wouldn't be taking you away from anything," Celestia said, in that manner she so often used when she was about to give an order that she knew the other pony wouldn't like, but they would still have to do it anyway. "So I was wondering if you would be willing to watch after them and make sure that nothing to crazy happens while I go and have a 'chat' with my sister."
Dancing Star didn't really know what to say that right away, blank faced for a moment. She plastered a smile on her face. "No" wasn't really something that you could tell Celestia. "Sure! Sure, Princess."
"They're up in the apartments in Twilight's tower," Celestia helpfully supplied.
Dancing Star got up, ready to go and check everything out, but Celestia raised a hoof, stopping her. "I just want to warn you. They're all fillies, and if you know Twilight…"
"They're all just as crazy as she is!" Dancing Star came to the realization, nodding in understanding.
Princess Celestia leveled a flat glare at Dancing Star, who immediately cringed, realizing how her wording sounded.
"Right… uh… I didn't mean it like that." Dancing Star had the sudden urge to be anywhere else but in the Royal Castle, possibly even continent itself.
Princess Celestia didn't say anything, still flatly glaring at Dancing Star. A moment later, she leaned forward. "A word of warning."
"Yes, Princess?" Dancing Star readied herself for a Royal berating.
"Be careful for the griffin. She's a biter. I think she has the taste for flesh."
Dancing Star paused, processing that bit of information. It certainly wasn't what she had been expecting.
Princess Celestia stood and left, leaving Dancing Star standing there confused.
"The taste for flesh?…" Dancing Star muttered to herself, wondering if she had heard the Princess correctly.
She trotted in place for a moment, nervous, before looking at the door. "I… uh… I guess I should get going."
She left her office, stepping tentatively out into the hallway. She took a moment to look at all of the ponies still going about their work, wishing that she was any of them beside herself.
"I hate my job," Dancing Star whined.
She started trotting down the hall, not noticing as Lucky Wing trotted up beside her, grinning as wide as she possibly could.
"Hey, I think I've got it!" Lucky Wing was excited, practically floating through the air. As a Pegasus, all she had to do was flap her wings to do so.
"That's good." Dancing Star wasn't really listening to anything that Lucky Wing was saying.
"We are pretty much in a state of pseudo isolationism, right?" Lucky Wing continued, keeping pace with Dancing Star as she trotted down the hall. "We didn't really want that label, but its been put on us by the rest of the galaxy. That means we need to put out the message that we're ready to join them. We need to send out ambassadors and emissaries. We need to show the galaxy that we're a crucial part of the system."
Dancing Star stopped, the words breaking through her fog of confusion, looking at Lucky Wing in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"What?" That confused Lucky Wing. "I'm talking about the message… You know, the message."
They both looked confused.
"Right, lets back up a moment," Lucky Wing held up a hoof. "Cherry didn't tell you anything about this did you?"
"Tell me what?" Dancing Star had no earthly clue what Lucky Wing was talking about. She also didn't really care.
"Guess not," Lucky Wing murmured to herself.
"Whatever." Waving her hoof, Dancing Star moved on. "I've got no bigger problems."
"Like what?" Lucky Wing wondered what could be bigger than changing the galaxies perception of her homeworld.
"A griffin with a taste for flesh."
Whatever she had been expecting, that had not been it. "What?"
"I know!" Dancing Star exclaimed, waving a hoof, half-panicked. "How am I supposed to take care of that?"
"What are you talking about, Star?" Lucky Wing realized at that moment that they were on completely different pages, and she wasn't sure they would be getting together there anytime soon.
"Princess Celestia wants me to watch after Twilight's sleepover. There's a griffin chick, apparently she has a taste for flesh! I'm not getting paid enough for this," Dancing Star explained, still wondering just what she had done to Princess Celestia to deserve such a punishment.
"Huh…" Lucky Wing didn't even want to try to understand what Dancing Star was talking about. "That's new…"
"Right…" Lucky Wing gestures towards her office. "I'll just be over there… Not getting roped into… whatever you're doing."
Scampering away, Lucky Wing high-tailed it away from Dancing Star as quickly as possible.
"You're some friend!" Dancing Star called after her.
"Thanks!" Lucky Wing called back, laughing.
Dancing Star started grumbling under her breath as she turned and headed for Cherry Blossom's office. Knocking on the open door, she stepped in without waiting for an answer.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
Cherry Blossom looked up, startled by the sudden presence of another pony in her office. "Star! Hey! What are you doing?"
"Are you doing anything important?" Star asked again, hopeful beyond all measure that she wouldn't have to go through this trial on her own.
"Not really?" Cherry said, raising the pitch at the end in a question.
"You should help me with this thing the Princess asked me to do." Dancing Star smiled, a toothy grin that should have been a warning sign to Cherry to run aways as quickly as possible.
"Yeah, alright." Cherry nodded, shrugging. She didn't really have anything left to do, and spending time with Dancing Star was always a good thing.
Getting out of her chair, she trotted around to the other side of the desk. She kissed Dancing Star before they both headed out of her office.
"What exactly is this thing?" Cherry asked, only half curious.
"Princess Celestia wants me to look after the sleepover." Dancing Star shrugged, trying to make it seem like it was no big deal.
"Princess Celestia wants you to look after the sleepover?" Cherry felt immediately incredulous. "She has met you right? You are horrible with kids. Sometimes, I wonder if you're a kid yourself."
"Hey!" Dancing Star protested, pouting at Cherry. "I'm a responsible adult. I can look after children just fine. Even the Princess trusts me."
"Are you sure it's not the other way around?" Cherry asked, grinning.
"What, the kids watching after me?"
"Seems like the more responsible thing to me." Cherry laughed at the look on Dancing Star's face.
"Yeah, laugh it up." Hanging her head close to the ground, Dancing Star rolled her eyes. "I'm going to watch you eat your words as I babysit the shit out of these kids."
"You might want to start with toning down your language." Cherry couldn't stop giggling.
Dancing Star just growling as they started walking towards the Royal Wing of the castle.
"I'm great with kids."
"Of course you are, dear."
Celestia had long ago learned that it was wise to always make time for tea. There were calm days and there were crazy days, but nothing outside of a war was dire enough not to take just a moment to clear her mind with the calming drink. The very act of doing so had prevented many catastrophes in the past, and now, the castle's kitchen was sure to always have a fresh pot should she desire a cup. It had become as much a part of castle life as the politics.
Sitting in her office, Celestia looked over a few reports that had inevitably made their way to her desk while sipping at a cup of tea. Paperwork was always better with tea. There was no reason that she couldn't get a little bit of work done before returning to join her student and her friends.
Solar Ace hurriedly trotting through the door put that idea to rest.
"Princess, Matriarch Mereli is early," Solar said with a quick bow of his head.
"What do you mean?" Celestia felt confused. The Matriarch was scheduled to arrive tomorrow.
"Her ship is descending from orbit, and its not responding to any of our hails." Solar frowned. "It's breaking from designated flight paths. You're needed in the Situation Room."
Riley, Rainbow, Twilight, Cadance, and Spike sat arranged on the couches in the living room, playing a game of Risk that Rainbow bought from Hyland-Sorah back on Earth, thinking that it had looked fun. The ponies were having some trouble with it, though Riley is doing better, and surprisingly, so is Cadance.
"And you say this is a game that kids play?" Twilight asked for the third time, utterly curious.
"Yep." Riley nodded, rolling the dice.
"Fascinating!" Twilight wished that she had a notepad. There were so many things that it could mean, and she wanted to know more.
A knock at the door drew all of their attention. Twilight stood up, confused. "I wonder who that could be?"
"Wouldn't it be a Princess?" Rainbow asked, frowning as Riley proceeded to take half of Russia away from her.
"No." Twilight shook her head. "They're both keyed into my lock."
Twilight trotted to the door to answer it.
Opening the door, she found Dancing Star and Cherry Blossom standing there. Wincing, Dancing Star was half hiding behind Cherry Blossom, as if she was expecting to get mauled at any moment.
"Oh!" Twilight blinked in surprise. "Dancing Star, Cherry Blossom. What are you doing here?"
Dancing Star was still too frightened to look. Cherry Blossom rolled her eyes and started talking. "Princess Celestia asked Dancing Star to look after your sleepover. She's worried about, and I quote: 'Watch out for the griffin, she's a biter'."
Twilight had absolutely no idea how to respond to that. Cherry Blossom looked around Twilight to see just who was there, and as soon as she did she rolled her eyes, slapping Dancing Star.
"There aren't any griffins."
"How do you know?" Dancing Star hissed back.
"Because I don't see any," Cherry said, her words dripping with the obviousness.
"They're hiding." Dancing Star trembled, resisting the urge to flee.
"I don't… I can't… What?" Twilight cocked her head, her mouth hanging open, words escaping her at the behavior of her teacher's staff.
"Open your eyes, dear," Cherry kicked Dancing Star out from behind her. "You look like an idiot."
Dancing Star opened her eyes, peering into the room. Cadance waved at her, and Dancing Star waved back, realizing how much of a fool she looked like. "Right. No griffins."
She leaned into Cherry Blossom's ear, whispering to her. "I think I was just punked by Princess Celestia."
"Absolutely awe-inspiring, isn't it?" Cherry rolled her eyes. The Princesses could be quite foalish at times, and it was usually their staff that suffered.
"And we're supposed to trust her not to crash the sun into Fillydelphia."
"I'm certainly comforted. Aren't you?"
Schooling her face, Dancing Star turned and smiled at Twilight. "Hello, Twilight. Would it be alright if we came in?"
"Sure," Twilight said, eying the two mares like they were crazy.
She stepped out of the way, letting the two ponies in. She shut the door behind them and then the room fell still, no one quite sure what they are supposed to do next.
Like all of the technology in Equestria, the trains were the best of the best. Where the old trains used to have been pony-drawn, the updated models only barely resembled the machines that they replaced. They were simply the quickest, easiest way to travel Equestria in comfort. A trip around the planet only took a little under a day and a half. Other races had shied away from what they viewed as an outdated form of travel, but none of them had to deal with worrying about whether or not a passenger plane would kill any Pegasus during its transit.
Trains simply made more sense for Equestria.
Gilda Blackwing had never been so happy to step onto hard earth as she was right then. She practically galloped off the train, clacking her beak in celebration of her new freedom. She had spent the last two months in Griffonia with her grandparents, suffering their prying and overall grandparentish behavior with all the grace of a young griffin, which was none at all.
She was followed moments by her parents Tyra and Voss, and her younger sister Sofi, who was only two, riding on her father's back. A family of griffin's, they stood out in the predominately earth pony town.
"Mom, why are we in…" Gilda looked around in disgust at Ponyville as she clawed at the dirt with her front legs. "Ponytown?"
?Ponyville, Gilda," Tyra told her daughter, giving the seven year old chick a cursory glance. The little griffin looked annoyed and bored, her wings in desperate need of a good preening, and her coat was ruffled and sticking up every which way. "I told you on the ride here, we're going to meet some friends here and then, if there's still time, we might go visit your friend Rainbow Dash at Canterlot."
"There should be time," Voss grumbled as they all started walking towards the center of town.
"You don't know that." Tyra said. "Who knows how long we'll be spending with Ruby Love and her herd."
"There will be time." Voss rolled his eyes, sure of himself and how much he was wiling to put up with. "There will be time."
"You like Ruby." Nudging Voss, Tyra huffed, clacking her beak at her husband. She loved him, even when he didn't always like her friends. "Come on, don't be such a grump."
"Yeah, Ruby's fine." Shrugging, Voss glanced back at Sofi. She was nearly half-asleep, too out of it to notice anything happening around her. Her eyes were half-lidded and her black and fold feathers rustled in the soft breeze coming down from Canterlot. "It's the rest of them that are the problem."
"Mommm," Gilda whined, slowing to a near stop as she canted her head at her mother, staring at her with ridiculously pitiful eyes.
"What is it, Gilda?" Tyra sighed, her daughter's look doing nothing to sway her towards whatever it was she had deemed extremely important in her mind.
"I'm hungry." She turned her pitiful eyes from hopeful to full on crushing sadness and hunger.
It didn't work.
"In a minute, Gilda. Don't worry, you'll get food soon."
Gilda just sighed, following after her parents, glaring at her little sister who was just chirping happily at all of the new sights. The sun might have been descending down towards the horizon, but because of their superior eyesight, the darkness was not a problem for the griffins. They excelled in the night as much as they did in the day, the perfect predators.
"I'm just saying, I think it would have been better if we had just reversed this whole trip." Voss liked Rainbow Prism and his entire family. He shared a lot in common with the stallion, and spending a dinner with them was not something he would complain about. "See the Rainbows first, then come visit Ruby."
"You would like that, wouldn't you?" Tyra clacked her beak and glared at him. Voss just shrugged his wings, completely unfazed by her annoyance.
Voss paused, tilting his head as he heard something. "Do you hear that?"
"Here what?" Tyra listened for herself, turning her attention past the still active Ponyville street life to beyond. She heard it, a dull roar in the distance, though it is quiet and no one else was paying any attention to it.
"That." Voss turned, searching for the source of the noise. "What is that?"
"Augh!" Gilda plopped down to the ground between her parents, her eyes half-lidded. "So bored. And hungry. Hungry and bored."
"Shh, Gilda." Tyra hushed her daughter, focused on trying to figure out what the strange noise was, with very little luck.
It wasn't long until everypony in Ponyville heard it too. They all looked up as the dull roar turned into a deafening thunder coming from the engines of an Asari pleasure yacht that hurtled towards the town from Canterlot. It slowed to a hover above the town-hall, and Tyra was already trying to figure out just what it was doing. It had to have been breaking numerous Pegasus flight laws. She didn't even want to think about just how much the fines were going to cost the owner.
Tyra and Voss looked at each other in confusion.
"What is going on?" Tyra stepped closer to Voss, sandwiching Gilda safely between them.
"I have no idea!" Voss laughed, his interest in the evening becoming much greater. "It's certainly exciting, isn't it?"
Dancing Star and Cherry Blossom had joined the others on the couches in the living room. They both stared dubiously at the game of Risk.
"And you say… this is a children's game?" Star asked.
"Yeah." Riley shrugged, not really sure what the big deal was. "Kind of."
"Well, that's certainly illuminating." Cherry Blossom suddenly understood so many of her past interactions with the humans that she had met.
They all turned to look as Shining Armor emerged from Twilight's room, and they all got up as he stumbled towards the couches, collapsing down next to Cadance. He grined goofily at her, leaning in to give her a big wet kiss. Her eyes widened, startled, but she certainly didn't give any protest.
"Shiny!" Twilight shouted at her brother, scandalized that he was kissing her foalsitter while under the influence of drugs. It was an entirely irresponsible thing for him to do.
"Oh, the wonders of love!" Cherry leaned over to Dancing Star, grinning lecherously at her. "Remember when we were that young?"
Twilight stopped, her ears flattening against her head as Cadance ducked her head, blushing.
"Love?" Twilight's muzzle scrunched up in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"Your brother." Cherry Blossom didn't notice the intense waving coming from behind Twilight as Cadence tried to signal to her to cut it out. "He and Cadance make such a cute couple."
"Cute couple…" Twilight dropped backwards against the couch, her mind-blown.
Cadance face-hoofed, before sliding off the couch and putting a fore-leg around Twilight's shoulder. "We were going to tell you, Twilight, we just wanted…"
"I was afraid that you wouldn't like it, Twily," Shining Armor murmured quietly, looking deeply focused even with the drugs fogging his mind. "What if you got mad, and turned me into a frog?Or worse, told mom and dad?"
Twilight couldn't help but giggle a little at his slurred speech.
Riley stood up, jostling a suddenly surprised Rainbow Dash off her lap.
"Hey!" Rainbow glared at her from where she had fallen on the couch. "I was sitting there."
"Sorry. I…" Riley shook her head, feeling overwhelmed suddenly. "I need some air."
Riley practically fled from the apartments, heading down to the first floor of the tower.
Rolling his head towards Twilight, Shining Armor tried to focus on the two separate images of his little sister. "What's wrong with her?"
Celestia and Solar Ace stepped into the Situation Room to find that it was already packed with ponies from the highest level of government and the military. Luna and Blueberry were already there, listening to what several of the generals were telling them. Seeing her sister, Luna gave her a nod.
"Tia," Luna greeted.
"What's happening?" Celestia gave a nod to her sister even as she looked over the rest of the ponies before her.
"The Matriarch's yacht is currently hovering over Ponyville," the highest ranking General in the room said to her, speaking for all of the officers.
"Have there been any attempts to contact us?" Celestia asked, taking a seat next to Luna at the head of the table.
"No, sister." Luna shook her head, no sign of the playfulness she exuded in front of the fillies present in her stance now. "The Matriarch is silent."
On the screens all around them were satellite views of Ponyville and images of the ship were playing in realtime on over half of them. It was currently hovering over a building that looked strangely like it was made completely out of gingerbread.
"What are our options?" Celestia asked the General.
"If there wasn't such a risk, I would say that sending a squad of Pegasus to make contact would be the best bet."
"What's the risk?" She studied the ship, taking in the smooth lines of Asari craftsmanship.
"The Matriarch has her ships barriers activated," the General simply said.
That certainly changed things. Barriers from a supposedly friendly ship were a puzzling factor. There was no reason to activate them in atmosphere if there wasn't any fear of being shot down. It was an incredible drain on a ship's generator. If any Pegasus, or living being for that matter, tried to get through the barrier, they'd be instantly disintegrated by the field.
"Then what—" Princess Celestia started to ask, but stopped, watching in surprise as the Matriarch's ship exploded.
"General, order relief to Ponyville!" Luna immediately ordered, jumping to her hooves and following after her sister as they burst through the doors.
At the closest and largest window, Celestia fired a blast of magic, bursting the glass. With a leap, Luna and Celestia took flight through the remnants of the window, flying as fast as they possibly could towards Ponyville, a pillar of fire rising from within it.
Her ears ringing, Tyra could hear nothing. She was lying on the ground, her wings crumpled uncomfortably beneath her, and it took the griffin female a moment to remember how she had gotten into such a position. She coughed, struggling to get back onto all four of her feet. There was no time to lay around and gather her wits. Ponyville was under attack, and she would protect her family at all costs.
Dimly, she could hear screaming over the roar of fire and the ringing in her ears. Frantically, she looks around her, relieved to find Voss and Sofi only a few feet away. Voss was still struggling to get up, and she more felt Sofi's wails than heard them.
Buildings were burning around them, ponies stumbling out of their homes as they tried to figure out what had just happened.
Worry grew in Tyra's chest as she found no sign of Gilda. She looked harder, blinking away the blackness tinging the edge of her vision. Weakness was not something she could afford, not when one of her daughter's was missing.
She could easily hear the sudden retort of gunfire through her own hearing problems, and she lowered herself closer to the ground, unable to hear the curse she spat out. Whatever was happening, it was not just an accident. This was more than an accident.
It was an attack.
Turning towards the sound of gunfire, Tyra watched as bipedal beings shrouded in heavy armor rushed from the explosion, assault rifles clutched in their hands.
"Gilda!" Tyra called out as she grabbed Sofi, pulling a groggy Voss up with her, dragging them away from the danger. She hoped that wherever her oldest daughter was she was listening to her. "Gilda, baby, come on out, don't hide!"
Another explosion rocked Ponyville, and Tyra covered her loved ones with her body. She quickly realized that it wasn't another attack, but it came from the air. All movement paused to look up at the night sky, and everyone found the enraged forms of Luna and Celestia overhead, their eyes glowing white with rage.
"ENOUGH!" The calm guise of the Princess Emperor was gone, and in its place was the wrath of the sun. Celestia's voice shook the Earth, and the battle began anew.
The change of the Solar and Lunar guard had only taken place a little under an hour ago, and Golden Moon was already sure that this night would be start of many changes to Equestria. The flames engulfing Ponyville so far away in the distance could be seen all the way from Canterlot, and the city itself had seemed to fall silent after the explosion had rung out.
Golden had a feeling it was the calm before the storm.
Shifting is spear in his fetlock, he glanced over at his fellow guards and friends nearby. All of them had the magically changed grey coats and blue tails that came with wearing their enchanted armor, making them all completely identical, but he was able to pick them out. It was the way they each held themselves that nopony could replicate.
Silver Shadow, the strange mare that she was, stood the closest to the edge of retaining wall on the castle. As much as she tried to focus on her duties, she couldn't help the constant glancing at the massive tower of smoke rising into the unusually bright night sky. The moon shone as bright as Golden had ever seen it before, providing sight for those who were most likely helping in the aid effort.
On the opposite side of him, closer to the city, Sweet Eyes nervously glanced around at the shadows. He wasn't the bravest unicorn that Golden had ever met, but he was a good friend. How he had decided to actually become a guard was something that Golden had never actually managed to suss out of him, but he was committed to his work, no matter how much it frightened him.
Golden respected that.
Nopony was really paying attention to their surroundings. If they had been, they might have been able to survive the night.
Out of the corner of his eye, Golden saw Silver drop to the ground. Turning to look, he found himself paralyzed in fear as soon as he fully processed what he saw before him.
Silver Shadow's body lay on the ground, headless, dark pools of blood forming around her body.
A cry of pain forced him back to reality, and he realized that it was his own. Looking down at his chest, he found a utilitarian looking knife sticking out of his chest. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't move, he couldn't call for help.
With a lurch, he toppled to the ground as a figure pulled the knife from his chest. His vision was to blurry to make out any details, but the figure was bipedal, which didn't mean anything in the long run. Most species in the galaxy were.
Golden wondered why he wasn't in more pain.
From the way he had fallen, he could see another figure standing over the body of Sweet Eyes, but it looked all wrong to him. There were two of his friend. Two pieces, one right next to the other.
That wasn't right. There was only one Sweet Eyes. He should know after all, they had just talked earlier that day.
Why was it getting so hard to think?
Golden tried to take a breath, and he started to panic when all he heard was faint wheezing. No air filled his lungs, and his mind clawed to hang on to reality.
The last thing that Golden saw were blurry bipeds moving past him towards the castle. The last thing he thought was, 'I should warn the Princess.'
Standing in front of the window on the first floor, Riley, looked out at the burning flames that rose Ponyville. The blast had caught her like a punch to the gut, and she was suddenly struggling to breath. Horrified, memories of Mindoir played in her mind. What was she supposed to do? Where was she supposed to go?
Where they coming back for her?
The doors to the tower crashed open, snapping Riley back to reality and she spun around. She couldn't see any of what was happening, the bookshelves hiding her view, and she felt in the back of her mind that that might have been the best possible thing.
"To the top!" A male voice called out, sounding filtered through armor speakers. "Target is the human girl."