Chapter 71

I watch the masses of ponies enter the gala excitedly, and I share in their excitement. Luna asked that I go ahead of her, for both precautionary measures, and so that she and Jasmine could get ready. Maclura and I are already done with our attire; it only made sense to scope out the scene while waiting for our respective mares, so to speak.

I look over at the blue stallion in question. Like me, he dons a tailcoat, but his is a deep, nearly midnight blue to add to his natural theme of all blue. Underneath his, however, are his trademark knives. Though tonight is a night meant for peace, harmony, and more often than not, dancing, we've received no end of threats from the Moon Killers. The spring thus far has been stressful, angering, and annoying. Luna decided against abiding their words and requests, but I'm on my guard, regardless.

I don't hide my sword, not like Maclura can stash his knives. The belt has been switched out for a black faux-leather one, to match the grey suit and my black coat, but the sword, with it's pommel back in place, hangs diligently by my side. The others are all around the Gala, some in disguise, some not. Our ranks have increased, thankfully, but I look mostly for the leaders, the first few to have joined. They've matured into their roles well, and when I spot each of them in turn, I see behind their happy complexions there are eyes searching for trouble, dissent, anything that would ruin the night. There's been nothing so far.

I scan the room, again, again, and this time I see someponies I recognize.

"No… Damn it, I should have known." I shake my head, distressfully.

Knights, I feel concern. Is something happening I should know? Luna asks over our mental link.

My, ah, parents, are here. I haven't gotten close, don't want to, but I see them. I don't think they see me, but knowing they're here is… off-putting.

I see. We will avoid them. They will likely not be in my wing of the party, after all, for very long.

We'll see about that. I certainly hope you're right. I suppress a shudder and turn around, walk away from the balcony's edge. Nearly ready?

Yes, I do believe we are ready to come out. Worry not, we will be on time for the true start of the Gala. I must stand with Celestia for the speech, before she greets everypony coming in, remember? It would be most embarrassing for me to miss such a well-announced event.

Just hurry along, silly. I hear her giggle but she remains otherwise silent after that. Maclura walks with me in the hall as we head to the stairs. We're to meet them downstairs, on the main floor.

"Excited, sir? I know I am. First time to the Gala, and third event we're officially guarding."

"For those reasons, I am indeed excited. I just hope we don't actually have to do much beyond typically party-steering. I also hope I don't run into my parents."

"Did you see them?" He looks at me with not quite shocked eyes, but surprise and worry is evident.

"Yeah. I'll handle that myself if I need to."

"Many apologies, sir, but I'm sure that they won't bother you. The princess is an imposing figure to the weak of heart." He snidely insults my indeed treacherous parents.

"Let's hope they stay away for their own good then. She's been rather explicit about how she feels about their… opinions." I chuckle.

"What is so funny, Knights?" I turn at her voice. Indeed, there she is, resplendently dressed, poise perfect, everything about her makes the world right. Her mane flows backwards tonight, her tail hidden under her dress, the color of which is only barely lighter than her own color. There are comets on the dress, dancing inbetween black, stitched patterns. The edges of the dress are a fuschia-ish color, adding just a bit of contrast, but not unbecomingly.

"The thought of my parents hearing a lecture from you."

"I find that thought to be amusing as well." She says after a moment's thought. "I shall go to my sister, but we will have all the eve to our own interactions beyond that." I watch her go, so soon after arriving, but head out to the crowd anyway. I notice Jasmine walking with Maclura already. She looks fantastic as well, in her own way. Her green coat is contrasted by a deep burgundy red with black accents. The style is a bit old, but it suits her, as it is very eye catching. Her mane is tamed, in a similar fashion to Luna's, with a red-stained copper crown and it is trapped in curls that bounce cheerily as she moves her head.

"Good evening, Jasmine. Mightn't I say you look extraordinary tonight?" I say, smoothly.

"Thank you, Knights, you look rather fetching yourself. Happy, excited for the night with the princess?" She blushes, leaning into Maclura, but regains herself to reply.

"As always. I've not seen her at a party since… well, you get the idea, I'm sure."

"Ha, indeed. I think I'm going to slip into the crowd to see Celestia's opening speech." Jasmine starts to edge for the mass, and Maclura prepares himself to follow.

"I'll be here, waiting for Luna. You two have fun, but meet up with us later, eh?"

"We'll see you later." Maclura nods as he follows his now official marefriend into the sea of ponies.

I stand by myself on the edge of the large stairs room. I see Luna finally join Celestia, and together they walk to the top of the stairs, peering down at everyone. A hush fills the room as they all see the sisters stand before them. In the Canterlot voice, Celestia addresses them, us.

"Greetings, fillies, gentlecolts, mares and stallions alike! Tonight we join under yet another equinox's moon in harmony and peace and good nature! Tonight, on this bright spring eve, we gather to celebrate another year of peace in Equestria, and to propagate that peace by sharing our joy and hope with ponies from many parts of our wonderful nation. We are joined by ambassadors of our allied nations, and we welcome them with widespread hooves and open hearts and minds. Let us all remember the virtues of our nation this evening, hold them in our hearts as we celebrate, and keep them in our minds as we go forth from here. My little ponies, I give you the Grand Galloping Gala, in the first year of my sister's return! I dismiss you now to the main event of the gathering, and I will now give greetings while my sister, Princess Luna, walks among you. May we all have a perfect night!"

Ponies cheer as they make their way up the stairs, and as Luna makes her way down. She spots me and soon joins me.

"A well made speech, I think." She nods, complimenting her sister.

"I bet you would have done better."

"Mayhaps." She giggles. "Let us go to my wing of the party." She leads me back the way I came, but instead of going up the stairs to the right, we head to the smaller party hall down the way. There are ponies already here, those who were too eager for the party to begin to wait and listen to Celestia's speech. Many pause and dip their heads to Luna and, sort of, I but most just scoot out of the way. To those who bow themselves, Luna respectfully does the same, and I nod to those who make contact with me.

"Do we have a table to ourselves? I forgot to put a sign on one of them before they started admitting ponies in, if we don't already have one."

"No, no, we do. It is in the back of the hall, past the food stations. The 'deejay' will be near us. I asked her to play the classics, but I am not certain she will listen. She gave me a look that gave me the impression she had other ideas." Luna smiles gently.

"Who did you hire?"

"After asking for popular names in music spreading, an artist who goes by the label "Dee Jay pon-three" was chosen. Her real name is Vinyl Scratch, though I am not sure what a vinyl is and why one would wish to scratch it, nor why one would name one's children after such an action. I am still getting used to such ideas as radio and telegraphs."

"She plays… pretty modern music, but I'm sure at your request she won't play anything too wild, especially considering the occasion."

"I see. I have made a good choice, then?"

"I should think so." As we get to the table, I magick a chair out for Luna to sit on. I pull one out for myself after she makes herself comfortable. "What do we do now?"

"Now we shall talk amongst ourselves, perhaps go out to see the common ponies, perhaps dance or partake in the refreshments. The ambassadors are all restricted to Celestia's hall, as she is more knowledgeable on Equestrian laws and customs than I, though I am getting better. My point being that we will not have to entertain any foreign visitors. This is truly a night of relaxation and celebration."

"It was bound to be anyway."

"You are such a silver-tongue."

"My color spectrum is nothing but black and white." I smirk.

"You know that is not what I mean."

"But it so much more fun to take things out of context." I smirk a little more.

"Yes, well." She rolls her eyes, and we fall into a silence. The hall is empty of sounds beyond that of talk, chatter. For a few minutes we stay quiet as we are prone to do, but we keep amused by watching the many Canterlotian ponies move about, with the odd Manehattanite or Trottingham goer interspersed throughout. They're easy to pick out. The voices are so different, the style attitudes have their own flavor. Even though most of the styles are wrapped around Canterlot ideas, each city has it's own take on the base model. I turn my head away from their idle, mundane topics when I hear a few test bumps on a microphone.

"Hello? Hello? Hey, everypony, it's DJ pon3, monitoring this year's Grand Galloping Gala, Lunar Wing! I'll be taking requests all evening, but for now, I'll play some popular tunes! Ready to rock some sweet jams, my friends!" She calls out as she places a record on it's turntable. The music starts, a modern, but relatively laid-back up-beat tune. I don't recognize the words, but I do remember the tune. I bob my head to the beat as Luna listens closely.

"I admit, while this music is strange, I recognize this one, and am most fond of it." Luna closes her eyes and hums along. "Yes, yes, this one is fine." I watch as she hums the entire song, perfectly in time and pitch with it. Near the end, Red Shield, who I recognize only because of his cutie mark, what with the uniform spell on his barding, comes up to us.

"Enjoying yourself, sir? I wanted to make a report." He says, poking fun at us.

"Quite. What is it, then?" I lean closer.

"Everything is going rather smoothly, no bothers or such to speak of. Everypony is following directions quite well. I thought you should know that everything is going quite well for us."

"Good. Are the outdoor patrols doing as they should as well?"

"Quite. The pegasi are keeping a close watch."

"Fantastic. Continue on then. From now on, only report in if something important happens or failing that, every two or so hours. I'll be with Luna likely all evening; you know where to find me."

"Yes, sir." He salutes and trots off.

"It is good to know they are doing so well with their jobs. You have done so very well in training them, Knights. I must admit that I am not surprised, and very pleased."

"I am quite glad, then." I nod in thanks for the compliments. As we settle back into silence, I feel slight, gnawing boredom from Luna. Her face hides it well, but her mind carries it like the tiniest of rings in a lake; small, but there nonetheless. "Should you like to hear a story? I was an avid reader in this youth."

"Knights, I shall forever appreciate a story from you, at any time."

"I liked mysteries, and the odd romance novel, but mostly adventure novels. There is only one book that springs to mind that has quite a fantastic fusion of all three: The Phantom Pony of the Opera. It's set in Prance, a few centuries ago. At the time, for entertainment, they'd host huge musical plays, called operas. One opera house, the famous Paddockville Opera House, was under the secret control of a very secretive pony, known mostly as the opera ghost. Well, the house came under new management, and they had some issues with following his usually small and helpful requests, and incurred his anger on several occasions. Anyway, he had secretly been teaching a young mare with huge talent but little education to go with it how to really use her gift of voice.

Her name was Belle Voix, and her voice was indeed beautiful. With the legendary knowledge of her secret tutor, her true talent was quickly found out by casters and stage management. When another lead singer, Forte Volonté, fell mysteriously ill, she was the obvious replacement. She took to the stage like a bird to the sky, like a true performer. The opera house enjoyed full houses for a long time after that, so many hoping to see the newly discovered talent.

In fact, a young stallion, having heard her talent, and suspecting something, traveled across the sea from continental Equestria. The stallion was a navy pony, as was a familial tradition, but he was to return home soon. He instead travelled to the countryside city where the newly famous Voix performed. He was Cœur Fidèle, a stallion who knew Voix from their foalhood. He'd loved her for forever, but as per his family's tradition, had had to leave Prance at a young age. When he'd heard her name again, his heart soared with renewed hope of a relationship with her. Voix remembered him as well, but instead of being happy to see him, she shunned him. See, the opera ghost, the Phantom pony, was so terribly in love with Voix that he could not stand to think of her with somepony else. When Fidèle greeted Voix in her dressing room after a performance, the Phantom saw, and was worried that he would lose his love. He told her that if she wished to be with the young stallion, she could go, of course, but she would never hear her beloved teacher's voice ever again. Voix loved the Phantom, as a friend, a teacher, and as what seemed to be a fantastical angelic presence in her life. That was what made her decide against being with Fidèle at all.

This, of course, caused him problems, because he loved her just as much as the Phantom, and it hurt him to see her not want him. He sought out the reason, and upon learning it was another stallion who kept her from him he became quite outraged! He kept pursuing her, much to the Phantom's ire. It drove him to feel quite possessive of her, to the point that he took her with him to his home, underground, many miles beneath the Opera House. Voix found that her mysterious teacher, whom she'd not seen until then, was actually a match for the infamous Opera Ghost who guided the house with his knowledge of music and threats of disaster! He was tall, perhaps as tall as you, but thin, terribly thin, gaunt, even. He always wore a dark, shadowy cloak to hide his frail form, and a similarly shadowy mask. His coat was just as dark as the moonless night sky, and so whomever saw him feared him and his innate and frightening knowledge of the Opera House.

Voix went with him though, because she knew him better as her teacher, her friend. He showed her his home, a lavish and wide space built to look and feel just like a house. The next evening, he requested her to sing with him, which she did, for she had always enjoyed doing so. But something had nagged at her mind the whole time she'd been there. Why did he wear the mask? The cloak was obvious, but the mask was not. A gaunt face was hardly frightening, she thought, if that was all the problem was. When he wasn't looking… she tore away the mask!

He screamed and fell back, a horrified, betrayed look on him. She screamed and fell away as well; his face was horribly gaunt, yes, just like the rest of him, but most of his face was horribly scarred and twisted too. She ran, afraid. He chased her down, took her back, insisting that she stay. Voix didn't know what to do. He told her that she must stay because she had seen his face, because she had broken his trust and so he could not trust her to leave again. Eventually, he did let her go again, on the promise that she would come back with him, when she finally regained his trust. However, she had every intention to leave with Fidèle. Still, she'd loved him so long, and had come to feel bad for his isolation and deformity that she decided to sing for him on stage one more time before leaving. She made the mistake of discussing this plan with Fidèle inside the opera house and so the Phantom heard every word.

When she sang, and the end drew near, he manipulated the lights and took her from the stage right before everypony's eyes! Fidèle of course went after her, and upon finding them so far below the earth, attempted to fight the Phantom. However, the masked pony knew his rival would come for Voix, and set a trap. Fidèle fell for the trap, and soon found himself very nearly hanging. The Phantom then bargained with Voix; if she wanted her chosen to live, she would marry, live with, and sing for the Phantom for the rest of their lives together. If she could not bear the thought of being with him, he would indeed hang Fidèle and set her free to live with her guilt. Horrified, it seemed like she could not possibly choose. Eventually, though, with tears in her eyes, she walked to her captor, her tutor, and kissed him squarely on the mouth. Shocked, he pulled away, but she pulled him back into a powerful kiss to prove that she would be faithful and love only him. When she ended the kiss, he shook his head, said that her love was too powerful for him to be worthy of. He release Fidèle and let them go, telling them that he gave his blessing for their marriage, and-"

"You always forget that that isn't how it ended, young stallion." I look up, horrified to be interrupted, to find the cold stares of my parents.

Shit.