Author's Notes: Redoing Chapter one of this story thanks to some constructive criticism from a rather talented writer whose opinion I trust. And because I reread it myself and it's SHIT.
Chapter 1: This is the beginning of the story
Golddusk enjoyed his work at the castle. It left him with time to think, daydream, do research on his favorite things. Working in the library (most of the time) led itself to a rather relaxed schedule, and a similar approach to one's daily schedule. He had quite a great deal of time to himself, as he wasn't one of the primary library staff, instead having taken a job that led to spending a great deal of time in said room researching his favorite things. Or, at least, that's what he did when his boss wasn't around.
Then there was the fact that he always worked the night shift, which led to a variety of advantages. One being, that he could spend inordinate amounts of time in quiet reading by candlelight as opposed to the glare of sunlight streaming through the windows. Golddusk had a fascination with shiny objects, specifically those that shone in the dark. The smallest of candle flames in an otherwise unlit library; a lone star or a series of constellations in a sky not besot by light pollution. It was a passion of his that even led to his Cutie Mark: a simple pattern of gold stars against an otherwise black coat. He took pride in the fact that the streaks in his hair and the tips of his pegusus' wings were accented the same color.
He was currently reading through texts on his favorite subject, Princess Luna herself. He'd all but lost his marbles when he found out she'd come back half a year ago. Flipping through the pages of an old recount of her previous contributions to early agriculture and rural development in ages old Equestria, he marveled at how even the youngest of the royal family could stand proud over the kingdom and lead them as a just and intelligent ruler.
'Her Majesty, Princess Luna's greatest achievements in this field could arguably be her development of the first government-run programs dedicated to the establishment and construction of housing for those in need, and-'
"Mister Golddusk?" said a light, feminine voice. Golddusk recognized it immediately, and shook his head vigorously. Nope, nope nope. Now I'm hearing her voice. Octavia said I'd start hallucinating if I spent too much time with my nose in a book. Bad.
'-these techniques would later lead to the development and evolution of the same financial assistance programs used today to-'
"Mister Golddusk," said the same voice of the Princess, a little more firmly. No. Nu-uh. I am not allowed to hallucinate. That would be very bad. Stop it, brain, I'm trying to read about-
His thought process was cut off as a blue hoof lay itself across the body of text he was currently trying to focus on. He followed the hoof, back up the leg, past the royal emblem, and found himself staring into the eyes of-
"-Princess Luna!" he sputtered, stopping just shy of falling out of his chair. Righting himself, he stammered out an apology and was about to slam his book closed when he realized her hoof was still on it. "Um, I don't... what can I do for you, milady?"
Luna smiled in bemusement. "Well, for one, I would advise that you not make the assumption that me talking to you is a hallucination."
Golddusk's eyes grew wide. "I wasn't hallucinating, why are you psychic?"
That yielded a laugh from the Princess, one that resonated lightly like a small series of stars blinking in tandem. "I'm not. Exactly. But you, apparently, think out loud. It's rather entertaining, I should say. But I wanted to take a moment and speak with you about less, or more, now that I think about it, personal matters. I was wondering if I could ask your opinion on something?"
Now, of all the advantages that the night shift, his current occupation, and all of the luxuries and other daily matters had given him, there was one rather inconvenient truth to it all: it left him with almost no exposure to other ponies. Ever. So somepony, rather, anypony, especially the Princess, coming to him for advice, was not a situation he had rehearsed before.
"...sure?" he responded after a few seconds, and even then in a rather small voice he wasn't sure was even his own.
"Excellent," she replied rather happily. "You see, well, I'm sure you're aware that the Winter Moon Festival is nearly upon us, yes?"
I've only been making plans for it for weeks, Gold thought to himself. Then stopped. "Did I say that out loud?" he asked in hesitation.
"Say what?" Luna tilted her head slightly, looking just a tad entertained by the exchange.
"Nothing. No, I mean yes, I'm aware. Is there something you needed help with?" he ranted, a little taken aback by her demeanor. In all the 'exposure' he'd had to Her Majesty, she was always prompt, not curt, but rather professional.
"Well, I've been going over most of the major events myself, and making quite a few arrangements. But my sister has also been providing some oversight, and according to her, my tastes are rather... well, I guess the best word for it would be 'old-fashioned'. So she advised that I go about asking members of my court what their opinions were. After all, a majority of them are going to be attending the festival, if what I'm led to believe is true. So I suppose the question would be: What do you think I could do to keep the Festival... current? More, what's the best word here..." she trailed off a bit, seemingly lost in thought.
"Modern," he suggested, a hint of trepidation creeping its way into his words.
"Yes!" She agreed with enthusiasm. "Modern! Excellent. What do you think would make it a bit more 'modern'?"
Probably a rave, he thought to himself. "Well, I'd guess... um... I'm really not the pony to ask, if I'm honest. I spend most of my time in books. And they aren't exactly current affairs," he added with a slight blush. They're mostly about you.
"I see," she said with a wry smile. At first he was afraid that he'd said it out loud, then he realized she was looking over his shoulder.
At the large stack of books with her name on them. Or, most of them. He hurried to make an excuse of some sort, but Luna raised a hoof. "No, don't worry about it. I'm well aware. But I can see your point. So, then I assume the next question would be, who would I talk to?"
Golddusk mused over this, trying to look around the shelves for a book title that might give him some inspiration. Good luck finding a book about current affairs and parties in the Lunar Archives you great dolt. "Wait, parties. Why not ask a party planner?"
Luna raised an eyebrow, then lit up in a smile. "That's a wonderful idea! Does Canterlot employ one? I know I don't have one on my personal staff, but Celestia might. Do you know who was the planner for the Summer Sun Celebration?"
"Well, I didn't attend, mind you, but I've heard it was a local to Ponyville, where it was held. I know for a fact the overseer for that celebration was Celestia's protege, Twilight Sparkle. I hear she lives in Ponyville, now too," he offered.
She seemed to mull this over for a bit and then decided, well, something. "Well then, I guess the logical thing to do would be to leave for Ponyville, wouldn't it?"
"I suppose," Gold replied. "I can't imagine either of them would be hard to find."
Luna nodded. "Excellent, then that should make your job a bit easier. Oh, feel free to take somepony with you, if you think you'll need help."
"Of course, I'll be sure to- wait, what?" he double-taked, his eyes going wide. "Me?"
"Naturally," Luna told him, rather certain. And seemingly proud of her idea. "I can hardly leave the castle with so much going on, and the entire point of me coming to you for advice was to get a more commoner-esque opinion on the matter. It would hardly work if I went down there myself and started handing out orders. So naturally, I'd like to ask you to go in my place. What do you think?"
I think that saying no is a very, very bad idea. "Of course. When would you like me to leave?"
Again, a contemplative look from the princess. "Tomorrow evening seems appropriate. It's still a few hours till the night shift is over, so why don't you take this time to go collect whoever it is you feel would be most beneficial? I can't imagine you'd want to make the journey to Ponyiville and spend all that time in a village you've, well, I don't think you've ever been to, by yourself."
Not wanting to reject an order from the Princess, or rather, raise conflict with the highest rung on his disciplinary ladder, he simply nodded, and told her, "I have a few ponies in mind."
"Excellent!" Luna cheered quietly. They were still in a library, after all. "Well, then I'll have some more instruction brought to you by night's end, so be sure to keep an eye out. And thank you so much for this. I'm glad you'll be in Ponyville when the celebration takes place," she added, turning to leave.
"I, um... run that by me again?" he squeaked. Ever so slightly, of course.
She paused on her way out. "Well, it'd hardly be productive to make a few changes and them come straight back. It's much more efficient to see this thing through to the end. After all, you did put in for leave for the celebration, didn't you? I'd hate to see weeks of planning go to waste," Golddusk heard her chuckle slightly as she left the Archives.
It wasn't until she'd closed the door behind her that he realized the implications of her closing statement. His forehead hit the table in embarrassment, sending the stack of books cascading over him. "I'm so doomed."
Following is a list of instructions for your departure and arrival, and subsequent list of tasks, involving your assignment in contributing to the preparations of the Winter Moon Festival:
Golddusk read over the list a few dozen times, pacing back and forth in his room. "Take no more than three additional ponies... be sure to arrive no later than 8 p.m. this next evening. Sweet horsefeathers, the stuff she wants me to do when I'm there. And the celebration is about a week away... I'm going to need some help. Scratch that, I need a cavalry."
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his door. Slow, steady, weary. "Coming, Artemare," he said. Then a cog clicked in his head. "Artemare!" he all but barked, rushing for his door and swinging it open. "Excellent, thank Luna you're here, we need to talk."
The older filly raised an eyebrow at him, then stepped past him into his living room. "What did you do this time?" she drawled, climbing up onto his sofa.
"Well, Princess Luna stopped by the archives this evening-"
"Like she does every other day," the mare interjected. A tuft of purple mane fell into her face, and she blew it away with a puff of breath.
"Yes, right, whatever," Golddusk pressed on. "And she asked my opinion on the Winter Moon Festival..." he paused, expecting a piece of dry humor, getting only a 'Well, are you going to go on?' stare. "And I'm not sure how, but apparently I'm being sent to Ponyville to help with setting up the Festival. And I'm supposed to take up to 3 other ponies with me, and I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing."
Artemare heaved a sigh, and lit her horn in a small glow of magic. A flask drifted out of a corner of the room, from which she took a swig. "You're going to ask me to go with, aren't you?" Golddusk blinked. "Wait, you weren't. But you are now, oh, for- fine. I can go with you. It's not like I'm accomplishing much here, anyway. You said three others? Who else are you going to take?"
"Who else do you think I should?" he posed the question as he made his way to the small kitchen ajacent the living room, rooting around for something to eat to steady his nerves. More to give him something to do than anything else, really.
"I think if you tell Stockpile that you're denying him an entire town of suckers that he'd ram a bag of bits down your throat and use you as his new money pouch," she said simply.
He raised his head back out of the fridge. "So we don't tell him."
"Basically. Also, even if you don't tell her right away, I'm pretty sure Octavia would be rather upset that you didn't ask her to go. Might as well consider it," she set the flask down on the floor, and relit her horn to catch a piece of fruit flung her way. She took a bite and thought to herself for a moment. "Might ask Kwan Do, as well."
"Are you serious?" Golddusk asked. "We're supposed to be planning a party, remember?"
"Heavy lifting," she said simply.
"Ah," came the reply, as Golddusk rejoined her in the living room. Without a word, she hopped off the couch, and onto the floor next to it, stretching out on her stomach. He took her place on the couch, and started kneading the muscles in her shoulder. "So I guess that's four. Think we should ask Stallius if one of the other two says no?"
"And leave Stockpile alone here? Even if those two are trouble together, Luna knows what they'd get up to by themselves," she stretched the last word to accentuate her point, then shifted her weight a bit to give him more room to work on her back. "I think it's best that we only talk to them if both of the other two say no. It's not like there's any shortage of bored ponies that'd jump at the excuse to hop over to Ponyville for a few days."
"Probably. Right, so that's the easy part. I guess we'll figure out the rest when we get there," he muttered, more to himself than anything.
"...hey Gold?" Artemare asked, after a few moments of quiet.
"Do you think it's weird at all?" she continued.
"That the Princess asked me to do all of this? More than a little. But I'm not exactly going to say no, am I?" he reasoned.
"No, I mean do you think it's weird that we've got this 'door open, get food, back massage' routine down pat? You'd think we were married or something," she added offhandedly. She felt him stop moving, and stood up to see him all but frozen in embarrassment. She took another bite of apple. "You know, you'd think you'd get used to me poking fun at you. I can't wait to see how you do in Ponyville. Especially if you do that 'talk-while-you-think' thing."
Golddusk shook his head vigorously, then gave her a worried expression. "Wait, you guys knew I do that? Does everypony know?"
"Yeah. You didn't? Wait, you didn't..." she trailed off, giving him an inquisitorial stare.
He buried his face in the sofa.
"Oh, you are doomed."
Golddusk paced up and down the hall, trying to think of a good way to bring the subject up with Octavia without getting her upset. She tended to get pouty when she was upset and he didn't deal well with pouty. He'd been pacing back and forth through the library, having glanced over a couple of books on the subject of, well, bartering, because he couldn't really think of a more effective way to get her to come with. And he really didn't want her to not come with.
Of course, being lost in thought as he was, he inadvertently ran into the other pony he was supposed to ask, and had completely forgotten about. "Oh, hello, Kwan Do."
The brown pegasus gave him what most would assume to be a flat stare from under his guard's helm. "Greetings."
"Um, I don't want to sound rude, but why are you patrolling the library?" Gold asked, not sure what to do yet. He'd never seen Kwan Do in the library before, at least, not in uniform.
"Artemare said you needed to speak to me, and this is the easiest place to find you during working hours. Speaking of which, shouldn't you be, well, working?" Kwan posed a question of his own, tilting his head almost imperceptibly.
"Well, see, I was quote unquote given the night off by Princess Luna, so that I could take care of another task..." he started, and gave Kwan Do a rough explanation of the night's events, leaving out most of the self-humiliating details. "And one of the ponies I wanted to ask to come with me was you, to be honest. I don't suppose you'd be interested?"
Kwan seemed to mull this over shortly, before nodding to him. "Why not. It's probably a more efficient way of avoiding my captain than trying to hide in your workplace, pretending to guard books."
"I thought you said Artemare sent you?" the black pegasus asked uncertainly, a little unsure of that last statement.
"She did. I took it as an excuse to take up post as far away from Poleax as I could. He has a tendency to make it look like he's working by yelling at other ponies. I prefer my work to be much quieter, unless there's actually something to do," he explained, almost deadpan. Of course, it could be said he was always deadpan, but Gold just took it to mean he was calm and relaxed. It was when his voice showed small bits of emotion here and there that Kwan Do had something going on.
"Right, well, I don't think there's a great deal I can say about that," he said, more to have something to say than anything else. He started packing up the books he'd taken down, getting ready to go visit Octavia.
Kwan caught a glimpse of them. "The Art of Bartering? Getting What You Want: A Guide to Easy Conversation? Who else are you planning on asking?"
Gold's gaze shifted back and forth a bit, before he answered, "Octavia."
The brown pegasus smiled slightly, almost amused. "Well, it was good to know you."
Gold swallowed hard. "Why do you say that?"
"Because Artemare was right. You are doomed."
Author's Notes: Much, much, much happier with this version of Chapter 1 than the old one. MUCH.