Shining Armor knocked on Blueblood’s door yet again, a dark grimace spreading across his face. Five times already had he pounded on the wooden barrier, and each time there was no response from the other side. Needless to say, the Captain’s patience was dissolving more and more with every passing moment. “Blueblood! Come out here and present your arms for inspection!”
Grumbling, the stallion pushed and pulled on the door, but it was apparently locked. Muttering a few terminable phrases under his breath, Shining Armor’s magic locked onto and lifted his master key from underneath his armor plating. The double-pronged shaft of metal slid into the lock with a perfect click, bypassing the physical and magical mechanisms keeping the door tightly closed, and turned to the right until he heard a loud click.
Now free from its chains, the door pushed open easily under the weight of Shining Armor’s well-muscled foreleg. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness that covered every inch of the room, he was quick to discover why Blueblood had been failing to answer his inquiries.
He wasn’t in the room.
Shining’s eyes widened in panic as he galloped up to Blueblood’s bed. Sure enough, the colt was missing, as were most of his bedsheets. That was when the chill of the night air seeped into the room itself, chilling the Captain to his very bone. As his mane rustled in the breeze, realization slowly crept into his mind.
He slowly moved his attention upwards, towards the one window in Blueblood’s prison. Sure enough, he had somehow managed to force the window open, tie his bedsheets into a rope, and then climbed down. Even after reducing the number of covers allotted after Princess Celestia apparently did the same thing, he had managed to slip out unnoticed.
Cursing to himself, Shining Armor leaned his head out the window…and his lips soon sprouted a smile.
It wasn’t exactly hard to figure out where Blueblood had run off to. His bedsheet rope only stretched down to the balcony of one of the old royal archives. Indeed, it was the only one in the castle proper to have any actual reading material inside; most of the books, charts, and other materials had been moved into the actual Canterlot Archives once it was finished. After verifying with the guards stationed outside that nopony had entered or left from the main entrance, Shining Armor unlocked the doors and pushed them open.
Sure enough, in the far corner of the tiny room, the former Prince Blueblood was sitting at a single table, looking over what looked like a massive book of some kind. The two standing guardponies moved to apprehend the fugitive, but froze as Shining Armor’s forehooves tapped their shoulders. “I’ll handle this. You two return to your post and keep watch in case he tries to slip past.”
“Understood, sir,” they whispered in unison before stepping back into the hall. Once they were out of the way, Shining willed the door to close slowly until it shut itself with a very silent click. Once he was certain Blueblood wasn’t bothering to look at the entrance, he crouched down and slinked through the room with all the grace of a cat. That is, save for the rustling and clanging of his armor, the scuffling of his hooves on the floor, and his heavy breathing from trying to remain balanced while hunched over in all this armor. It was a miracle the colt still didn’t hear what sounded like an entire kitchen’s worth of pots and pans sneaking up on him.
After about twenty seconds of sneaking like a common thief, Shining Armor stood directly behind his prisoner. The colt still wasn’t paying attention, instead seemingly content to scan through a massive text written in indecipherable letters. The Captain paused briefly in confusion at all this; not only did he never take Blueblood for the brainy type (as in, the type with brains to begin with), but he had never even seen this language before. It almost felt like something that Twilight would have smuggled out of one of the royal libraries when she was filly, if only because the book had to be more important than anything else on the shelf. After all, it was bigger.
In any case, however, the pony he was staring at was not Twilight, nor was he any part of his family. (At least, not yet.)
The Captain straightened his posture and gave a big harrumph. “You shouldn’t be down here, Blueblood. This room is strictly forbidden to unauthorized personnel.”
Blueblood shivered slightly, but still made no motion towards actually turning around. Shining Armor facehoofed himself in frustration, readjusted his helmet, and leaned over the colt. “This is your last warning, Blueblood. Keep going like this, and I’ll have to stick you in the stock-”
The words died in Shining Armor’s throat as his eyes caught a better glimpse of the open pages. The yellowing sheets now bore small water marks across the bottom of the binding. Hmph. Drooling on ancient books is hardly the way to get Celestia to like you. Boy, did I learn that the hard way.
He placed one hoof on Blueblood’s back and gave it a little shake. To his amazement, the response he got was not that of a colt snorting his way back to the waking world, but rather a few coughs and some frustrated moans. “What is it?”
Fighting back his frustrations with his charge’s behavior, Shining Armor cleared his thorat and continued. “Um…Blueblood? Is something wrong?”
“I…I was just…” The colt shivered slightly. “I was just reading something. That’s all.”
Shining Armor sighed in defeat. After spending around two-thirds of his life as the BBBFF of a socially reclusive Unicorn, he had considerable experience with this kind of behavior. In fact, one of Twiley’s favorite ways to rile their parents was to just free stick her nose in a book and not so much as look up for anything. It worked, too…until they decided to call her on the bluff and she went two days without any food besides what her brother snuck out of the pantry.
No, stop! Just…stop! This is not your little sis! This is the monster that tried to kill her!
The Captain took a deep breath. “Former Prince Blueblood, it’s time for your inspection. I want you out there in uniform in the next twenty minutes, or you will…”
“It’s all right,” Blueblood muttered. “I’m a terrible pony. I deserve to be punished.”
Shining’s entire body became as rigid and inflexible as a statue. Of all the comebacks he had expected to hear, this wasn’t one of them. “Wait…you want to be locked up for insubordination? I…I don’t think that’s ever happened before.” Through sheer strength of will, he forced his muscles to unlock and walked up to the colt’s right side. He could see some red around his eyes, but whether this was from crying or sleepiness was beyond him at this point. “Blueblood, is something wrong?”
Blueblood sighed and wiped the bottom of his eyelids, knocking out a few pieces of crust in the process. “Things…happened yesterday. I had a chance to look things over, and…I had to look up something in here. I wasn’t planning to run away from Canterlot or go into hiding somewhere. I just…wanted to see if it was true.”
Armor readjusted his helmet just enough to scratch his head. “If…what is true?”
“If the old ways really were better.”
The entire room went silent, save for the scurrying of the occasional spider. History was never one of Shining Armor’s best subjects in school, and he did have a sad tendency to zone his sister out whenever she went crazy over some minor bit of historical trivia she had just dug up, so he wasn’t quite sure what Blueblood was talking about right there. However, there was something in the way he spoke. That he had heard before, when one of his recruits began to doubt their ability or lose their confidence. If Blueblood was going through the same thing…
The Captain sighed. “I see. In any case, a tired soldier isn’t going to be of any use to me. Besides, Princess Luna told me you’re going to a party, so trust me, you need your sleep.” Blueblood nodded silently. “Now come on, I’ll take you back to your room.”
The colt shrugged and slid out of his seat, his every movement weighed down by a combination of despair and general fatigue. He barely even acknowledged when Shining Armor gave him Luna’s request that he actually dress up for today’s activity.
Mother…father…it was all wrong…
Blueblood sighed as he slipped his tiny bowtie on. It wasn’t because he didn’t like dressing up; far from it, in fact. One of the things he missed the most in his current situation was his fantastically wide wardrobe, including a suit for every day of the year and more than enough ties, bowties, and exquisite overcoats to ensure he was always the fanciest at any party. Just because it was a commoner’s birthday party didn’t mean a dress code shouldn’t be expected.
Nor was it because the order to dress up came from Luna. Formal attire was hardly an invention of the last millennium, and Princess Celestia herself had gone to great lengths in describing the many outfits she had worn during social events of the past. Apparently, they were so exquisitely designed that she swore off clothes for generations after that. There was also something about her feeling like a pincushion whenever she was being measured, and that one time her dressmakers insisted that lime green was the perfect color to go with her mane, but that was probably just her making light of her past again.
No, the problem was much simpler. In but a few moments, I shall be attending my first social function since…this. And right after I insulted the hostess’ best friend and thought of slaughtering her family. I…
He froze mid-tug. The undersides of his eyes were already beginning to burn again. I don’t deserve this. I shouldn’t be allowed to…
His brief moment of soul searching and self-condemnation came to a crashing halt as an unimaginably powerful being pushed his door open, sending the colt jumping in the air and yelping in surprise. At the other side of the room’s entrance stood Princess Luna, a big, fake-looking grin on her face. “Ah, Prince Blueblood. How wonderful to see you are properly preparing yourself for today.”
Blueblood scoffed and rolled his eyes, pushing back all the insecure thoughts for at least this moment. “I’m only doing this because you made me. I don’t see why I have to dress up for a foal’s birthday party. It’s not like they have any sense of fashion at these things.”
“Ah, but that is where you have made a mistake,” Luna said. “You see, my dear nephew, Equestria’s royal family must maintain some standards of appearance whenever they go out in public, and you are no exception. Even if you are technically without a birthright, I am still escorting you to this function, and as such what you do shall reflect on me.”
The colt’s lips curled into that little pout only a foal was truly capable of performing. “So in other words, you’re making me do this so you’ll look better.”
Luna chuckled an evil chuckle and patted Blueblood on the head. “I am so glad your brain failed to shrink with your body. And besides, a good appearance will help you once this sentence of yours is completed.”
Blueblood sighed, his tiny face twisting into a small pout. He kicked at the ground nervously as his face began to blush slightly. “Princess Luna…I have something I must ask you.”
Smiling, Luna sat down on her haunches and leaned closer to Blueblood’s face. The colt yelped and scuffled back in shock. At this angle, she looked less like a pony and more like a foal-consuming beast, the kind his mother used to warn him about to keep him quiet during one of her grown-up headaches. “Yes, my dear nephew?”
“W-Well…” Blueblood tapped his hooves together in an attempt to calm his nerves; all he accomplished was making the ends of his legs hurt. “I…I have been thinking about things and…I feel that…What I mean is…” He harrumphed the invisible ties off his tongue and started over. “Princess Luna, do you…”
The heart-to-heart (or whatever it was when it came to these two) stopped dead as a pink-coated Alicorn filly with a strangely highlighted mane came storming into the room, carrying a frou-frou pink dress on her back. Blueblood’s eyes widened in horror as he realized who this was, while Luna barely fought off the urge to giggle. “Y-Yes, my dear sister?”
“You…You fiend!” The filly pulled the end of the dress off with her mouth and tossed it onto the bed. “First you refuse to use a disguise, and now you’re making me wear something like this?!”
Blueblood’s eyes traced the fabric as it fell onto the bedcovers. It was certainly a pink thing, far pinker than anything he had seen even Cadance wear as a filly. There were little bows and fake roses sewn throughout, and there was even a big white bow right where the dress would be covering her tail. As for Celestia herself, she looked…odd. She almost looked like a knock-off of his cousin, save for the shape of her mane and the very different attitude she was carrying.
And then there was the problem that, even at this age, she was quite a big bigger than Blueblood.
“I thought you said we were all done with pranks!” Celestia said. “Why would you make me wear something that stupid?!”
Luna simultaneously giggled and sighed, her magic taking hold of the dress and levitating it over as she did so. “This is not meant as a jest, and I certainly do not wish to humiliate you, Celestia. But you are still a princess, and as such are still bound by our propriety. You must always make sure everything you do leaves the greatest impression possible on your subjects.”
She knelt down until she was eye level with Celestia. The newly-foaled Sun Princess recoiled slightly. “Just please, I want you to remain somewhat proper tonight. I know how much you hate dressing up for anything – and yes, I know about you going to the Grand Galloping Gala naked every year I was not there to force you to wear formal attire – but this is a special occasion. Lofty is your friend, and should you not try to look your best on her special day?”
Celestia sniffed, even as she fought back the urge to roll her eyes at her sister stealing another one of her speeches. “I guess you’re right. Just get it over with.”
Blueblood’s lower jaw almost snapped clean off. He had known his aunt his entire life, and she certainly had a silly and informal side to her, but not once had he ever seen her act as foalish as this. As an adult, she never threw fits or acted like a baby over something like a dress; in fact, she was the one that got him his first tuxedo, back when he wanted to pretend he was getting ready for the Grand Galloping Gala. Then where does this…
That was when he remembered what had happened back in the bathroom. Despite his years of refinement, he had completely lost control of his emotions, destroyed what ego he had remaining, and made a complete foal out of himself in front of his (current) peers. Perhaps that is a part of this spell. If it can remove all of my socialization experience, then it’s possible Aunt Celestia was affected the same way.
Celestia and Luna paid no heed to Blueblood’s hypothesizing; instead, the currently older pony was far too busy trying to get Celestia’s dress in place. As the neckline pulled itself over her head (pausing only to snag itself on her nub of a horn), the shrunken princess grimaced. “It still stinks, though. I doubt any other pony is making their kids wear something like this.”
“Aw, moooooom! Do I have to wear this?!”
Lofty’s hooves picked at the frilly purple dress, pulling at the wing holes and biting at the neckline in a vain attempt to remove the garment. All her struggled earned her was a gentle whap on the head from Ruby Dream. “That’s quite enough, little lady. I don’t want you shredding your clothes this year just because you don’t like your dress.”
“But how am I supposed to do anything in this?!” The filly’s biting and pulling grew ever more desperate as the dress continued to try and consume her dignity. “The stupid sleeves are chocking my front legs, the dumb back keeps getting caught on my back hooves, and why’d you have to make it purple and why are you doing this to me don’t you love me anymore mom mom mom are you…”
Lofty’s whiny cries ceased as a loud crash echoed from the direction of the family wagon. A Pegasus stallion slowly emerged from beneath a dozen metal boxes and barrels, his cream-yellow coat stained from leaking fruit punch. Once she was certain he was alive and relatively uninjured, Ruby facehoofed at her dear husband’s stupidity. “I told you, Vantage! We needed to fix the latch on that gate weeks ago!”
Vantage rubbed his bruised face, failing to even notice his daughter galloping up to him as best she could in this dress. “Daddy, are you all right?!”
The stallion shrugged, his back finally snapping back into place in the process. “Hmph, it’ll take more than a few stupid boxes to take down this old pony!” Lofty’s concerned frown turned into a gleeful smile as her super-strong father’s continued survival. He was even nice enough to fake a pulled muscle as he staggered away from the mess.
Sighing, Ruby walked away from the picnic tables and party decorations she had just set up (which consisted of a single cheap tablecloth, some party flags, and a few blowers and paper hats) and joined her still-groaning husband at the wreck. “I wish you wouldn’t use the same boxes from work, dear. There’s no need to carry chips and gummy worms inside metal boxes.”
“Nonsense!” the stallion shouted. “Wood can break with one bad bump, cardboard isn’t worth anything, and stuff would fall right through a cage! But solid steel is unbreakable, can withstand a fire, and could take out a rampaging manticore if need be!” He shrank back a little. “And besides, they were selling them cheap at work.”
The three ponies spun about towards the oncoming voices, the filly’s smile growing wide as she saw who was coming. A pair of Earth ponies, one a brown stallion and the other a peach mare, were trotting up to the small party area, a massive rectangular object on their backs. Beneath them, however, was the true cause of Lofty’s elation: a bouncing purple package tied with green ribbon.
Lofty barely managed to resist the urge to lick her lips in anticipation. It was the first present of the day.
Oh, and Ribbon was carrying it. That was nice, too.
The advancing family was soon upon the party grounds themselves, the birthday pony’s heart skipping with every clop of their hooves. Vantage quickly motioned the two adults towards one of the far tables, while Ribbon handed her gift over to Ruby for storage. “Happy birthday, Lofty!”
“Oh, it’s so great that you made it!” Lofty leaped onto her friend, grabbing her in an iron-tight hug and holding on for a good ten seconds. Ribbon exhaled a sigh of relief as her friend finally stopped trying to choke her. “So did you see the cake? What’s it look like?”
Ribbon shook her head. “Nah, mom didn’t let me near it. She said I’d spoil the surprise.”
A mischievous smile spread across Lofty’s lips as her eyes turned towards the far table. There, in the preordained “Adult” section of her party, sat what could only be her birthday cake. Her father and Ribbon’s parents, father Pumpernickel and mother Sourdough, were busy setting up metal kegs of some kind, no doubt filled with the mommies-and-dadies-only kind of cider they drank sometimes. Ruby, meanwhile, was taking the present with her to join them, no doubt to keep it well guarded from the filly’s desperate urge to discover what her friends gave her without having to deal with cake and ice cream.
Lofty and Ribbon snapped their heads around to find Buttons and Gusty standing next to them, having snuck across the grass like miniature ninjas. Behind them was Button’s mother Seamstress, a lavender Unicorn levitating a pair of gift bags next to her side. Lofty quickly repeated the same attempted ponyslaughter she had pulled on Ribbon only moments before with her new friends, who felt just as relieved to have survived their Pegasus friend’s judo grip. The filly’s elation soon turned to confusion, however. “Wait, where’s your parents, Gusty?”
“Dad had to go to a rehearsal, and mom decided Mrs. Seamstress could take me.” Gusty huffed. “She said my grounding won’t begin until I get back from here.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” said Seamstress. She leaned over and gave Buttons an affectionate nuzzle. “Today is a party, and you four should be having fun with your friends. The real world can wait a few hours.” In a flash, the mare’s smile turned into a pained grimace. “That bitter, cruel real world…”
“Um…mom? Y-You’re hurting me.”
Snapping back to reality at her daughter’s words, Seamstress gasped and lifted her hoof away in a hurry. Buttons rubbed the top of her head in aggravation, briefly crossing her eyes at her mother. “Oh…sorry. Well, you four have fun. If you need me, I’ll be sampling the cider.” And with that, she quickly cantered away to booze herself up.
“Well…that was strange,” said Lofty.
“She wasn’t always like that,” Buttons muttered sadly, “but after she lost her last job, she’s been really…different. Whatever her boss did to her must have been real bad.”
Lofty opened her mouth to speak again, but was silenced by the sound of fluttering wings. She peeked up over her friend’s heads just in time to catch a several Pegasi, Unicorns, and Earth ponies of all ages coming closer. She could recognize a lot of them from her class, as well as a few ponies she was acquainted with from her neighborhood, but that wasn’t important.
What was important were the big, shiny boxes and bags they were carrying with them.
Lofty’s smile only grew as sweet, sweet greed took over her mind. This is gonna be the best birthday ever!
Blueblood stared at the park in utter confusion. The party was obviously still gathering, with more and more ponies arriving with brightly-colored packages perched on their backs and in their mouths. At the same time, though, there were so many things missing. Where are the announcers and greeters? And what of the servants? Who will show everypony to their seats? How can anypony call this a party?
“Come on, Leon!” Blueblood shook his head vigorously enough for his eyes to rattle for seconds afterwards. Celestia was already standing several steps in front of him, the filly glowering and waving impatiently. They had already lost time thanks to Blueblood having to stop by the toy store to pick up his gift, and she seemed to not want to accommodate any further delays. Luna, meanwhile, was still hidden under her massive cloak in the vain hopes of avoiding a massive rush of curious citizens and bewildered ponies. Given the strange looks she was getting from everypony that passed, she wasn’t succeeding very well.
Celestia stamped her hoof in frustration, once again sending Blueblood’s heart skipping in surprise at her filly behavior. “We’re not gonna get our groove on all the way out here!”
Blueblood cocked an eyebrow, spat out the gift bag that was between his teeth, and groaned. “‘Our groove on?’ Where did a pony like you learn such language?”
Celestia shrugged. “Just something I picked up somewhere.”
Luna sighed and slammed rubbed her temples with one hoof. “Such language is fine right now, but please be careful once you get back to court. I highly doubt our advisors would understand your…modern vernacular. Now let’s get going.”
Blueblood nodded, picked up his gift, and resumed trotting towards the party.
By the time the party’s last attendees had arrived, things were in full swing. A few of the parents, Ruby included, were trotting about the crowd of fillies and colts, keeping an eye on the party’s proceedings. The rest of the adults had sequestered themselves in a corner of the park, sipping on drinks and chatting away about their daily lives, how wonderful their children were, and how hard it was to resist the urge to throttle their little necks from time to time. As for the foals themselves, they were simply running around, playing “Pin The Tale on the Donkey” on a board Lofty’s parents had set up, or just fooling around with their noisemakers.
The sight of so many ponies, many of whom probably hated him on principle, was enough to make Blueblood freeze up again. His eyes darted about, looking for any means of escape, but cold inevitability eventually reared its ugly face again. After what happened yesterday, he had to own up to his mistakes and be the better pony. And besides, Aunt Luna would probably turn me into a slug if I ran.
Lofty looked up from the most intense game of Go Fish ever devised by ponykind at the sound of the new arrivals, and the smile that followed almost broke her entire face. With a scream of pure glee, she jumped to her hooves, leaped over the play area and her friends, and galloped up to the party entrance. Celestia smiled back just as her friend plowed right into her like an out-of-control milk cart, sending both sharp-dressed fillies tumbling to the ground.
“Oh, I can’t believe you really made it!” Lofty said. “I mean, mom said you would probably be very busy and there was no way you could get over here but…” She paused to catch her breath. “Wow!”
The real filly and the temporary filly wrapped their forehooves together in a warm hug. “I wouldn’t have missed this for all the tea in Canterlot,” Celestia whispered.
Ribbon, Gusty and Buttons slowly walked over in confusion. “Hey…Lofty?” asked Ribbon. “Who is this?”
Lofty’s eyes suddenly burst open as she remembered her regular friends were still there. The yellow Pegasus turned about, one leg still wrapped around Celestia’s neck, and gave as big a grin as her two loose baby teeth would allow. “Fillies, this is…um…” She paused as Celestia whispered something in her ear. “Sunlight! And she’s come…all the way here from…far away to…um… Did I mention she’s a princess?!”
Somewhere within the party, a record needle scratched, several dozen ponies gasped in unison, a low-flying bird slammed into a bell after being distracted by shock, and a few million blades of grass seemed to shake in spite of their not being so much as a light breeze. Lofty’s friends in particular just stared at the newcomer, their mouths hanging open like they were in a dentist’s chair.
Celestia blushed and shied away. “Um…hello?”
All three of the stunned fillies had the exact same reaction. “P-P-PRINCESS?!”
“Yeah, we met back when mom took me to the castle!” Lofty finally released her last leg from around Celestia’s head and brought both forehooves up to mouth level. “She’s just about one of the most best ponies out there, and since she was back in town today, I…”
Lofty’s brain snapped at the new, male voice. With a look of pure consternation, she turned to face the utterly downtrodden Blueblood. “Um…hi. I…didn’t know you were gonna make it.”
“I didn’t, either,” he sighed. “But…really, it’s…well…happy birthday.”
“Y-Yeah,” Lofty muttered awkwardly. Ribbon and Buttons trotted up to the colt a bit more warmly, their happy faces and welcoming smiles standing in sharp contrast to the unsure coldness of the birthday filly’s own greeting. As for Gusty, she just looked more than a little ashamed at herself right now. “A-Anyway, I hope you both have fun, and…” She raised an eye at the recently-noticed adult pony standing behind them. “And who is that?!”
Lofty shuddered and spun around towards her mom. Ruby’s hooves were just pulling away from a large bowl of chips. “Is something wrong?”
“N-No, mom!” Lofty shouted back. “Sunlight just got here, and…”
To this day, nopony knows exactly how fast Ruby moved. Some say she could have pulled off another Sonic Rainboom if she had just stayed at it a little longer. Others say she seemed to just vanish for a moment, with only a red blur to note that she even still existed. The more sensible ponies, however, just skipped to the part where she was standing right in front of one of her bosses and shaking her tiny hoof. “Oh, thank you so much for coming! I just knew that you could find time for this party if we just let you know.”
Lofty scratched her chin. “Wait, that’s not what happened. Remember? You said she would be faaar too busy to come to my party and I shouldn’t even bother inviting her?”
“Um…well…” Ruby chuckled nervously as Celestia’s eyes narrowed. “I…I didn’t say it quite like that, but…well, I’m just really glad you made it!” She bowed to her shrunken monarch.
Buttons rolled her eyes towards Ribbon. “Can you believe this? She’s gonna steal the whole party, I just know it.”
Ribbon shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, she did screw up that one stallion’s life, but that really doesn’t count as a party.” She turned towards the still-distraught Blueblood. “Hey, Leon! You wanna go play ‘Duck, duck, goose?’”
“Leon?!” Ruby’s head shot up towards the small colt. “Oh, so you must be the new pony Lofty’s talked about! I have really been looking forward to…meeting…YOU!”
The mare’s eyes receded into the back of her skull as a tiny, almost inaudible squeak slowly ran up and out her larynx. Blueblood just shrank even closer to the ground as he watched Ruby’s coat grow paler from the sheer horror of it all. Apparently, she remembered him, too. “Um…hello?”
The hooded adult sighed and pulled back her hood, revealing the face of Princess Luna herself. Everything in the party stopped in an instant, as did Ruby’s heart and brain. The Night Mare blushed and rubbed her snout nervously. “Miss Dream, I believe I must explain a few things. If you wouldn’t mind accompanying me…”
Before Ruby could say anything, Luna had already wrapped her entire body with her magic and was escorting her off the grounds. Everypony else just watched the spectacle in silent awe.
“W-Wow…” whispered Gusty. “Two princesses and a fight already? This is the best party ever.”
Fortunately for Luna and her attendant, the Canterlot Central Park was surrounded at all sides by dark alleyways and alcoves, making their escape and angry whispers far easier to pull off. By the time the two had found a suitable alleyway, the rage on Ruby’s face was palpable. “Princess Luna, what is going on here? Are you telling me that…thing that attacked Lofty is the same student she was complaining about?”
Luna shrugged, readjusting the hood of her cloak as she did so. “I am afraid so. Celestia has been sending him to Kindergarten as part of a rehabilitation program. So far, I do not believe it is working as she had hoped.”
Ruby’s breaths became lower and deeper, her coat darkening until it almost took the consistency of dried blood. She bowed her head to the ground as her rage towards Luna, Celestia, and the entirety of the cosmos began to take hold over her mind. “Then I need to start working on getting her out of there! You have a seat on the city’s Board of Education! Just give me the paperwork and I’ll get her in a new school so fast that-”
The mare’s panicked ranting ceased as a single, starry-horseshoed hoof clasped down on her shoulder. Ruby looked up just enough to see her employer’s eyes. “Ruby Dream, I can promise you that your daughter is not in danger. Blueblood might me a fool, but he is almost completely harmless as it is.”
“B-But…” Ruby’s teeth clenched together so hard they resembled pearly white prison bars. “He…He tried to hit my Lofty. And what about when he tried to attack Princess Celestia when we were turning her back to normal. How can you possibly justify leaving my daughter in the same school as him?”
Luna nodded, and then motioned her head towards the party. Ruby slowly followed the invisible hoof to where her daughter was standing. Lofty was still playing with some of her friends and classmates, while Celestia watched excitedly and Blueblood just looked on in silence. “Like I said, Blueblood is harmless right now. He knows he has to remain on Celestia’s good side if he wishes to return to normal. Is it worth forcing your daughter to give up her friendships just so she can get away from a broken pony like my nephew?”
Ruby was silent at first. Then, she snorted and shook her head. “I…I guess not…”
“I already have plans in place to get him banished forever,” Luna said with a wink. “For now, however, please take my word when I say that Lofty is in no danger.” Her smile grew as she removed her hoof from her attendant’s shoulder. “The three of us are only staying until after the cake is served and presents are opened. We shall just keep an eye on him during that time, and should he do something wrong, you and I shall make him pay dearly. What say you to this?”
Luna extended a hoof towards her attendant. Ruby’s eyes locked onto the sparkly ungulate shoe as a thousand different voices burned their way through her mind. It all seemed so easy, and yet felt so wrong. Lofty was her everything, and yet she knew Princess Luna could be trusted. She was still new in Canterlot; all this political backstabbing and maneuvering wasn’t for another five or six pay grades. And yet, Blueblood had tried to attack her daughter, and bad colts deserved to be punished.
Her decision was made. She gently clapped her hoof against Luna’s, being careful not to try and cause the moon’s steward any undue winces. “We’ll see how he acts today. But if he does anything wrong, I will do anything I have to do to protect Lofty. Understood?”
Luna nodded. “Very well. Now, shall we return before they suspect us of wrongdoing? I can only see a wonderful experience from this party.”
“So…Princess Sunlight is your niece?” Sourdough asked while scratching the back of her head.
Luna nodded. “It is a rather lengthy relation, but yes, she and I are of the same blood.”
Seamstress slowly drank down her paper cup of cider, making doubly sure not to spill a drop lest she find herself rotting away in a prison for disturbing the mighty Luna’s sense of propriety. “And Leon?”
Luna sighed and rolled her eyes. “Like I said, his mother works at the castle. She was sick today, so I offered to escort him to the party and back. Just because I brought him here doesn’t mean he’s actually related to us.” She took another sip. “But…surely there is something else we can discuss here? I have answered the same two questions eight times already.”
The adults moaned and looked about each other like a pack of field mice about to be swooped upon by a passing owl. Luna, meanwhile, stretched her lips into a smile as best she could, even if her muscles felt more like thin wooden beams trying to hold up a stone ceiling. “I…suppose that qualifies as a ‘no,’ then.”
One of the Pegasus adults’ heads suddenly perked up. “Say, did any of you hear that one about the donkey and the mule on the desert island? So, a donkey and a mule…”
The joke died as quickly as it began as one of the other adults gave her a hard kick to the hips. The Pegasus recoiled, only to meet with a look of disgust and a zipping motion from the offending parent. Luna floated her drink down and walked up to the two, a look of pure confusion/disdain on her face. “What is going on here?”
The kicker froze in terror, with only the slightest chuckle to hint at the madness swelling within her brain. “Well..I…Ah…You see, that joke is rather…risqué for such an occasion, and with a pony like you attending, well…”
To the pony’s eternal surprise, however, Luna smiled and chuckled. “You have nothing to worry about. Bawdy humor was not invented during my thousand-year banishment. For example, my sister once told me a story about a…” She suddenly paused as a pair of foals came rushing by, blowing noisemakers in each other’s ears to see who could go deaf first. “…Actually, you were right. This really is not the right place for such talk.”
Everypony nodded, agreed, and then returned to the awkward silence. Luna sighed and sipped her fruit punch, but by this point the taste of mangos and strawberries mixed together brought her little joy. Yet again, she was at a party and nopony was willing to talk to her. Just like every other party in my…
“Excuse me, Princess Luna?”
The blue Alicorn’s ears perked up and twisted towards the source of this new voice. It didn’t take long for her invisible sonar to finally pinpoint the brave pony that wished to speak to her. It was a Pegasus stallion, with a coat of a similar color to Lofty’s and a jack-in-the-box for a Cutie Mark. A smile crept across her face. At long last, actual pony contact!
Sensing a willing audience, the stallion grinned and straightened the plaid saddlebags on his back. “I’m Lofty’s uncle, and would you like to hear about my thriving gag business?”
And in an instant, all of Luna’s newfound joy evaporated.
Blueblood stared up at the paper-and-cardboard dragon in bewilderment. “So, what is the point of this again?”
Gusty gave the one reaction she knew for that kind of question: she groaned and slammed her hoof hard into her face. “Are you seriously telling me you have never seen a piñata before? It’s the most important thing at any birthday!” She paused and scratched her chin. “No wait, that’s presents. Well, it’s the second most…no, that’s cake. I…I know it’s important.”
“It’s actually a fun game,” said Buttons. Gusty sighed as her more brainy friend took over the conversation, thereby saving everypony within the vicinity from her oncoming conniption. “We just take a big stick and try to break it open. There’s a whole bunch of candy in there, and once somepony smashes it, it’ll all pour out on the ground.”
Blueblood recoiled a few steps in surprise. “You mean…we’re eating off the ground?”
“I know!” shouted Celestia. “Isn’t it just exciting?!”
Vantage finished tying the piñata’s rope to the stake, double checked to make sure it was low enough for the younger ponies to reach, and then clapped his hooves together in victory. “Alright, kids! Everypony that wants a whack at the dragon line up behind the birthday filly!”
Lofty yelped out in glee and galloped up to her father so fast she left clumps of grass and soil behind in her wake. The other fillies and colts were quick to join in, save for a few that were forbidden from ever handling a club again, with Celestia and Blueblood taking up positions in the middle of the line. The Sun Princess was practically skipping from her excitement, while the fallen prince remained as sullen and withdrawn as he had been all day.
Vantage pulled out a black bandana, rolled it up into a blindfold, and then tied it around his daughter’s eyes. “Now, we all know the rules, right? Once I put the blindfold on and spin you around, everypony gets three whacks at the dragon. Now remember, no swinging at anypony else, no trying to sneak in a fourth hit, and above all else, have fun!”
His opening speech finished, Vantage grabbed Lofty by her sides and spun her three times in a perfect circle before placing the stick in her mouth. The filly, now completely disoriented and running blind, stumbled forward a few steps before jumping up and swinging with all her might three times. Her first blow managed to wing the papier-mâché beast underneath the left foreleg, but the other two attacks went wide and only served to lighten the tree by a few strips of bark. Her failed assault concluded, Lofty took off the fold, set down the stick, and trotted off to the sidelines to wait for the candy to fall.
Next up was a pudgy little Earth pony colt. He took a few swings, missed every time, and then trotted away in shame.
Then it was Ribbon’s turn to bat. She licked her lips, grabbed the stick, and swung like a madpony at that horrid monstrosity. Unfortunately, she was facing the wrong direction in all the confusion, and by the time she had finished her three swings, she had succeeded only in scaring away a few pigeons and causing a picnic table to nudge about one-quarter of an inch to the side.
Celestia barely held back a chuckle as the blue filly removed her blindfold, smiled proudly at her wanton destruction, and then trotted away to join the others. With much gusto in her voice, she leaned her head back until she was able to at least see the top of Blueblood’s head. “At this rate, it’ll be up to us to take this thing down! You up for a little dragon slaying, Leon?”
Blueblood’s only response was to give a disinterested shrug.
Celestia’s exuberance at reliving her days fighting fearsome beasts for the souls of all of ponydom were quickly washed away at the sight of her nephew’s frustration. He used to just walk things like what happened yesterday off like nothing happened. I don’t want to be mean here, but he needs to have a little fun…
“…And so you see, the novelty business is booming all over Equestria.” The Pegasus stallion took another sip of disgustingly non-foamy cider as Luna continued to feign interest. “In fact, I even brought one of my new items with me. I thought I’d give it a try during the party, see how the kids like it.”
“I…see,” Luna muttered. She took another long, slow sip of punch, taking extra care to extend how long it took her to actually swallow. Whatever it took to help send the message that she was not interested in showing favor to somepony’s business without yelling at him. “I suppose a juvenile audience would be the perfect market for such things. What, exactly, is this new item of yours?”
Gusty smiled as she witnessed the damage she had caused. The poor beast’s underbelly had been struck so many times that the cracks were beginning to show. Tiny pieces of candy trickled out like blood from an open wound, all of which she quickly scooped up in a paper bag Ruby and Vantage had provided. At the very least, it would help tide her over during her imprisonment.
Celestia clapped her hooves together as she finally took her place at the front of the line. She marched into position with all the pomp of a mare at her first Gala, tempered by the steel nerve of a master dragon slayer. Vantage gulped down a big ball of fearful air as he carefully tied the blindfold over the Princess’ face. “N-Now, are you sure Princess Luna won’t be upset with you swinging around a bat? It doesn’t really sound like a…princess-y activity.”
The filly grumbled at the sheer…stereotyping of it all. “She’ll be fine. Just spin me around and let me finish this thing off.”
The stallion dug into his saddlebags and pulled out a small, sealed cardboard tube, which he then set down on the Earth below. “It’s safe to assume you’re at least familiar with noise makers and firecrackers?”
Luna nodded as she slowly inched her head closer, if only to smack him with her horn and get him to leave.
“Well, firecrackers are wonderful and all, but they’re incredibly dangerous and, well, illegal in almost every corner of Equestria. So I figured, why not make something that makes the sound of those death sticks without any risk of blowing somepony’s hoof off?”
Luna sipped her punch again, her horn now inches away from his nose. “I see.”
Celestia staggered up to the dragon like a drunk and made her first swing. The bat slammed into the cardboard side of the dragon, widening the crack and causing more candy to start falling. Her second blow struck home yet again, sending even more sugary entrails sprawling on the dirty floor. The foals around her bit their hooves in anticipation, while Lofty bent over, wings extended, for the big rush…
“And now…” The stallion reared up on his hind legs, a scowl of determination on his face. “The sound of the first Thundercracker!”
In the approximately 1.3 seconds it took for his hooves to strike down, Luna had just barely enough time to realize what he had said, what this noise was going to be, and just in how many ways her sister was in trouble.
Celestia reared up for her last swing, pitched her head to the side, and finally began to twist her neck for the fatal blow…
And then she heard it. The one noise she could spend an entire lifetime without.
The sound exploded through her ears, rattling through her brain before nestling deep within the deep, dark recesses of her mind. Thousands upon thousands of years of horrible, terrified memories surged to the forefront of her imagination. She could feel the icy tendrils of cold, unrelenting terror slip over her body and worm its way around every inch of her being, leaving a cold, slimy sweat behind in its wake.
The darkness of the blindfold did not help matters much, either.
Celestia screamed and hunched to the ground, her tiny little forelegs wrapping around her head like a makeshift security helmet. So quick was her shutdown that she was still in the middle of her swing when the disaster struck, sending the bat flying from her opened mouth at a terribly fast speed. The club missed the piñata entirely, glanced its handle against the tree trunk, bounced off the tree trunk, and came right back towards the pony that had dared to toss it aside.
Unfortunately for the bat, its target was still hanging low to the ground. Even more unfortunately for the pony right behind Celestia, Blueblood’s head was still facing downward in his self-pity. Vantage tried to gallop up to catch it, but his initial shock at what sounded like an explosion from the adult’s area slowed him down just enough for the bat to make contact with Blueblood’s forehead.
If nothing else, the sudden jolt was enough to snap Blueblood out of his funk and back into reality. That is, until his hooves felt the massive bump now residing on his noggin. Adult and foal like immediately broke from whatever they were doing and raced to the scene of the assault, where Celestia was still cowering and Blueblood was still stunned from the pain.
“Oh Celestia, are you okay?”
“Leon, you alright?”
“It was an accident!”
Blueblood simply sat there for a few moments more, his features still frozen in catatonia from the sheer surprise of it all. After enough blood had flowed to his brain for him to properly digest what had occurred, he reacted exactly like an injured colt would.
He started bawling.
Blueblood winced from the sheer coldness of the ice pack pressing against his skull, prompting a sigh from Luna. “If you would not fidget so much, this would go much easier.”
The colt sniffled back a few more tears. Even now, with he, Celestia and Luna safely secluded away from the rest of the party, he could still feel the shame from his latest public humiliation. His now-regressed aunt pressed her hoof against the pack, turning her eyes to her sister as she did so. “If you don’t mind, Luna, I’d like a moment alone with Leon. Would you mind keeping an eye out in case anypony else gets too close?”
Luna started to mouth an objection, but finally gave in and trotted far enough away to remain out of earshot, and still close enough to watch for any onlookers and bystanders that might wander by. Once she was sure the coast was clear, Celestia sighed and gaze Blueblood a short nuzzle along the side of his face. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t expect anypony to bring something like…that to a party.”
Blueblood let out a sharp cough. “It’s…all right. I’ve been hit harder than that before.”
“Why didn’t you just try to dodge? It’s not like it was going a thousand miles an hour or anything.”
“Because…” He leaned his head low. “Because it doesn’t matter. I’ve already wasted my whole life. What’s a little more pain on top of that?”
Celestia’s brow creased in worry. “You might want to start at the top.”
“Yesterday, I started thinking…bad things.” Blueblood gulped and chocked back a few tears. “This morning I…I broke into one of the old archive rooms and…looked through some of the tomes you’d left behind.”
“You really shouldn’t have done that.” Celestia shook her head as she sat down on her haunches, her hoof still firmly pressed against Blueblood’s head bump. “You’re already in enough trouble as it is, and I don’t recall giving you permission to enter such forbidden chambers as that.”
Blueblood shook his head, sending Celestia’s leg swinging along with it. “I found something that went over the old Unicornia traditions, the same ones you had gotten rid of centuries ago. My parents told me that they were all wonderful laws and customs meant to make sure that everypony knew their place in society and dissent was punished. They wanted me to bring those same traditions back.”
Celestia looked down at the ground; no matter how hard she tried, she found it harder and harder to look her nephew in the eye. “Yes, I know. And their parents were the exact same. The past always does look romantic when you didn’t have to live through all that muck and mire.” With great effort, she turned back to Blueblood, who was on the verge of tears again. “But what does that have to do with today?”
“Do you know what I saw in that thing?!” He gasped and coughed as hot water streamed down his cheeks. “The book said that an entire village was slaughtered down to a pony because a noble said they owned the land the ponies lived on and he wanted to grow more wheat. It…It described everything! That…thing loved it!” Blueblood let out a low wail and hunched over, sending the ice pack sliding down to the dirty ground. “The land…wasn’t even his. He lied the whole time.”
“I know what you’re talking about,” Celestia said sadly. She leaned over, picked the pack up with her teeth, spat it into her hoof, and then placed it back on Blueblood’s head as best she could. “Baron Starlight was a monster. Were it not for Luna’s investigation, he would have never been found out.”
Blueblood’s sobs only intensified. His eyes were clamped so tight his entire face was in agony. “They didn’t tell me any of that. They didn’t tell me how those stupid laws could be misused! All they did was…was…I wanted to burn a village down! It was fine, because they told me we were free to do whatever was needed to maintain order! I…I…I wanted to kill an entire settlement because of a DANCE!”
At long last, the dam finally burst. Blueblood crumpled onto the ground in a fetal position, his body twisting in a pathetic display of broken tears and crushed spirits. Celestia gasped and bit her bottom lip, her eyes darting back and forth as she desperately tried to think of something, anything, she could do to calm her despairing nephew down again. It was right in the middle of his fifteen rack of sobs that she finally came up with something.
She laid herself next to Blueblood’s back, making sure to stay away from his hooves in case he started kicking. “I want you to listen to me. Just…please, listen to me.”
Blueblood’s tears and cries continued, but his convulsions at least seemed to cease at Celestia’s voice. Even with a much higher pitch in her voice, he could still pick out something calmingly familiar in her words. For the first time almost two decades, there was no sign of disapproval or dismissal. It was all so…comforting.
Seeing the positive feedback from her opening approach, Celestia continued. “Now, I know these last few days have been a shock to you, and it must seem like this was all my plan. But that’s not true. I wanted you to learn from all this, to make yourself a better pony. I never intended to…crush you quite like this.”
Blueblood’s nerves cooled even further, his sobs now reducing down to a few streaks of tears and some chokes. “B-But…if I wasn’t such a…”
“Your parents taught you a lot of half-truths and misinformed beliefs about those old beliefs and ideas they worshipped. And even after I told you they weren’t correct, you refused to break with them and turn yourself away from becoming the same pony they became.” She sighed. “You made a lot of terrible decisions, Blueblood, and you will have to come to terms with that, but that doesn’t mean you have to just close yourself off from the world.”
“Who cares?” Blueblood sniffed. “Nopony would even care that I’m gone. The ponies in court only tolerated me because I was your nephew! The foals out there all think I’m a crybaby! Even your friend Lofty wants to beat on my face because I’m such a monster!”
Celestia opened her mouth to speak again, perhaps even refute his assertions about Lofty and face-beating, but quickly shifted the subject. “Just…please, promise me you’ll…”
Blueblood and Celestia both tore their attention away from their private moment just in time to see Gusty emerge from the bushes, one of the candy bags from the piñata smashing clutched in her mouth. She slowly sat herself on her haunches and placed the bag on the ground, looking about as low as Blueblood at this moment. “Hi, Leon. I…thought I’d bring you some of the candy. Buttons…really tore into that dragon.”
Only because I did all the work. Celestia’s ears suddenly went erect with fear. “Wait…how much did you hear? What happened to Aunt Luna?”
“She went back to the other grown-ups,” Gusty said. “And…can I please talk to Leon alone? I really need to do something here.”
Celestia and Blueblood looked down at each other briefly. The colt’s eyes were wide and pleading, and for a moment Celestia almost relented. And then she got another idea. “Actually...I need to talk to Aunt Luna about something. I guess I’ll leave you two alone.” And with that, she galloped away before either pony could say anything else.
Blueblood reared up on his haunches and wiped his eyes. “Wh-What do you want?”
Gusty sighed. “I’m really, really, really sorry I broke your snow globe.”
Blueblood raised an eyebrow. “I thought we talked about that yesterday. You said you were sorry, I said I was sorry, and that was it.”
“No, it’s not.” Gusty shook her head sadly. “Mom told me last night that just saying you’re sorry isn’t enough. You have to really, really mean it. And I just wanted you to know that I really, really mean it. So…we’re still friends, right?”
“I…I think we are,” Blueblood said, his voice hushed. “I…I never really had a friend like you, so I don’t know if that’s how it works.”
Gusty gasped. She had never realized just how deep her friend’s problems really ran. “B-But you still sounded so sad all day. It looked like you didn’t even want to have fun. And that’s why Celestia invented birthday parties!”
Blueblood hung his head, just barely fighting off the urge to share the story of Luna’s first birthday party. “It’s…It’s not your fault. I just had a lot of things go wrong, and…”
“And were you crying just now?”
Blueblood’s head shot up so fast it almost became completely dislodged from the rest of his body. “Y-You heard that?”
“Well, not all of it.” Gusty hunched over even further, as if to bury her head in the dirt. “I heard something about you doing some bad things, but I didn’t really hear anything else.” She motioned her nose towards the bag. “Look, I brought some of the candy from the piñata. I even grabbed some of the jawbreakers before Lofty’s mom started hiding them.”
Blueblood just stared at the bag for a few more moments before finally walking over, his head still hunched over to cover as much evidence of his crying as possible. Once he was about a body’s length away, he sat down on his haunches, reached into the bag, and clumsily pulled out a single orange jawbreaker. Gusty did the same, only with a watermelon-flavored hard candy. After a few more tense seconds, both foals tossed their respective treats into their mouths.
In an instant, it all made sense to Blueblood. Sugar flowed through every inch of his blood, sending him off to a state of pure euphoria. Even better, he was with somepony that actually seemed to actually want to be friends with him, and not just so they could use him to pull themselves up the social ladder. For just that moment, his self-doubts and hatred seemed to wash away.
From the other side of the bushes, Celestia smiled. Congratulations, Blueblood. You’re starting to figure it out. Now it’s time I did something to help…
Luna glanced back at the bushes, just in case an angry Alicorn filly discovered a boomerang in the underbrush and lobbed it at her head. Granted, abandoning the two to their fate wasn’t the best thing she could have done, but she was still able to see them. Besides, Celestia is better qualified to console Blueblood. I will let her have her fun, and if need be will just return like nothing had happened and sort this matter out.
Luna turned slightly to her right to find Ruby standing there, slowly refilling her mug with cider. “Is ‘Leon’ okay?”
“He shall be fine,” Luna replied. “Foals always get scraped and minor injuries. Learning to work through them is just a part of growing up.”
“I know, but…when he was hit like that…” She sighed. “You know, I did kick him once, and I hated myself for it afterwards. I know he tried to hurt Lofty, but right now he really is just a colt.”
Luna shrugged and finished the contents of her drink container. “Nonetheless, he will be brought to justice for his crimes. I have no intentions of doing so while he is in this state, however. Trust me, your daughter shall be safe from monsters like him.”
Ruby’s mouth went slack. She couldn’t believe what was coming out of her princess’ lips. She had seen her unleash her wrath upon Blueblood only a few hours after assuming office, but that was when he was a slimy, manipulative adult. Now as a colt, he seemed…different. Nonetheless, she shrugged, downed her foamy cider, and wandered off to join the rest of the adults.
The Night Mare was just about to refill her cup when she felt something pull on her tail. Despite the sharp pain coming from her hindquarters, however, she still smiled as she thought of the pony that could be brash enough to perform such a thing. No doubt some brave little foal wants to speak to their fair princess, or they wish to prove their courage by confronting the fearsome Mistress of the Night. She took a sip as another tug came. Well, why leave my audience waiting?
She turned about…and her smile soon vanished as she saw Celestia spit out the tip of her tail. The befuddled stares of the other adults certainly failed to brighten Luna’s spirits. “Yes, Sunlight?”
Celestia opened her mouth to speak, only to stop briefly to cough out the mouthful of stars she had accidentally swallowed. “Auntie Luna, would you please let me see my present? I think I misspelled something.”
Fillies and colts of all ages and sizes lined up at the table at the siren’s call of cake. Lofty herself took her position at the head, her wings extended and her mouth beaming like a devil at the thought of her oncoming treat. Behind them all, Ruby and Vantage lifted the cake up with heads and began to precariously carry it over, each hoof step being made with the upmost care and consideration. Luna, meanwhile, just sipped her fruit punch in consternation. I could have simply levitated it over. Why must our little ponies insist on doing things the difficult way?
Once they were both in position at the table, the mother and father slowly lowered themselves down until the cake platter was resting on the table itself. With every passing moment, Lofty’s anticipation for the sweet confection swelled, but it had nothing on Celestia’s. Indeed, were it not for Luna preemptively standing right above her and shaking her head, the Little Princess would have been the first one with her plate out.
Blueblood, on the other hoof, simply stared perplexed at the cake. He had seen plenty of such treats in his life, and had even been known to enjoy such sickeningly sweet treats on occasion. And yet, there was something decidedly different about this one. It’s so…square and plain. Where are the multiple layers? Why does this frosting look so flat and simplistic? I’ve never seen a cake like this.
Ruby reached down into her bags and pulled out a large candle shaped into the form of a number “6.” With a fast twist of the head, she plopped the candle into the center of the cake, while Vantage struck a match and lit the wick. After successfully putting out the burning stick in his mouth before he singed his tongue (again), everypony clapped their hooves together and broke into song:
♫ Happy birthday to you! ♫
♫ Happy birthday to you! ♫
♫ Happy birthday, dear Lofty! ♫
♫ Happy birthday to yooooooooou! ♫
Sensing her hidden cue, Lofty took a deep breath and blew hard on the candle. The flame’s brief moment of existence vanished like, for lack of a better term, a candle in the wind, and her successful victory over the stationary candle elected a round of stomps and claps alike. Pumpernickel and Seamstress started cutting away at opposite sides, trimming the cake into perfect squares for Sourdough, Vantage and Ruby to start placing on plates and passing out. Before long, every filly, colt and adult had a slice, with a couple of pieces still left for later.
Blueblood stared at his piece for a few moments, weighing his options for handling this new dessert he was being handed. All it took was the sight of his aunt’s plate, now completely empty of cake save for the massive blob of frosting and crumbs sticking to the fur around her mouth, to finally solidify exactly what he should do. He took in a deep breath, leaned over, and started munching as politely as he could, taking off a small chunk at a time until the whole slice was gone. By the time he was finished, every single other pony had long since swallowed theirs, leaving everypony to stare at the colt as he took his sweet time.
Once he was finally done, the party finally shifted to the most important part: the gifts.
Lofty’s squeal of glee echoed throughout the entire block as the adults slowly ferried the pile of presents over to the table for all to see. By the time Ruby handed her the first brightly-wrapped box, she was almost ready to start flying circles around the park. Her mouth was literally inches away from the box’s papery surface when her mother’s hoof plopped itself right in front of her face. “Not so fast, dear. You have to read who it’s from, first.”
Her greed temporarily stopped, Lofty groaned and turned to the small tag. “It’s from Ribbon.”
The blue Unicorn broke out a big smile at the sound of her name, along with some affectionate nuzzles from her parents. Now free to indulge in her vices, Lofty gripped the wrapping paper in her teeth and shredded every inch of it. Not even a ravenous Timberwolf could match the speed with which she revealed her illustrious, rectangle-shaped gift. She gasped with sheer joy as she stared at the cover. “The Amazing Amethyst Board Game?! This is so AWESOME!” She shook the box a few more times just to make sure it wasn’t a hallucination, then hugged it tightly against her. Everypony let out a stomp, even Blueblood, if only to belong.
And so the process continued. From Gusty, a baseball helmet. From Buttons, some colored pencils and coloring books. A few children’s books. A sweater. A few records. Some action figures. And of course, aviator goggles and jackets. Lots of aviator goggles and jackets. The snickers from the non-Pegasi was testament enough as to who thought that idea was funny.
Finally, the last two gifts remaining were Celestia’s and Blueblood’s. Despite her previous zeal, Lofty scratched her head in confusion as she tried to decide between the two. I can get Princess Celestia’s open first, but then I’d have to end it on stupid Blueblood’s. But if I open his now, I have to suffer through whatever dumb thing he got me.
“Um…Lofty?” asked Vantage. “You still have two presents left.”
Snapping back to reality, Lofty finally made her decision. She reached out and grabbed Celestia’s gift bag. She stuck one hoof into the top, sliding it along until the tape was all undone, and then turned the whole thing over. Once the tissue paper had finally fell out, a collection of various Daring-Do action figures slid onto the table. Lofty’s eyes lit up as she sifted through the various figures, ranging from the Super Action Derring to a few from the short-lived Hockey League series. By the time she turned to Celestia, her face was practically beaming with joy. “Oh, thank you thank you thank you! These are great!”
Blueblood, meanwhile, just watched the scene in total confusion. When he could take no more, he finally leaned towards Celestia and whispered, “Wait, I thought I got that for her.”
“You did,” she whispered back, “but after what happened back there, I switched my present with yours.”
All Celestia did was nod and wink, which usually amounted to, “Shut up and watch. It’ll all work out.” Sighing, Blueblood pulled himself back to his usual sitting position, if only to get a better view of Gusty giving Celestia the evil eye.
“And finally, we have Leon’s,” Lofty said in a low, unenthused voice. With all the muster of a tranquilized pony just about to have a root canal, she pulled the top open and lifted out a small, golden-framed photograph. “Oh look, a picture. How…”
Then she actually saw the photo. It was of a yellow, pink-maned Pegasus surrounded by a cadre of woodland critters, all of whom looked far happier about the picture than she. And there, in the very far corner, behind some wall-eyed pony that was hiding in the chicken coop, was her signature.
Every single nerve in Lofty’s brain went crazy instantaneously. She let out the happiest scream a newly-minted six-year-old could muster and fell straight to the ground. Her fanfillyism was so great that she couldn’t even keep her wings tucked in, and her parents’ attempts to calm her down only added fuel to the fire in her soul.
Blueblood’s jaw dropped as he saw the reaction to “his” gift. Celestia, meanwhile, just smiled and leaned back in smug victory. I’m so glad Twilight was able to convince her to do that. It was really wonderful that such a shy pony was willing to let herself be photographed for her princess’ friend.
Finally, after about three minutes of unrestrained insanity, Lofty calmed down enough to canter up to Blueblood and hug him. “Oh…THANK YOU! THIS IS THE GREATEST PRESENT ANYPONY HAS EVER GIVEN ME!”
“H-Happy to…oblidge…” Blueblood croaked.
The entire table exploded into a chorus of cheers, claps and stomps. Even Ruby and Vantage seemed to smile at the colt’s thoughtful gift, even as the mother of the family still regarded him with a small measure of suspicion. In fact, the only pony that wasn’t celebrating was Luna, who just knew that her letting Celestia look at those presents caused this.
Celestia smiled and winked at Blueblood again. Another job well done.
By the time they had reached the palace, Celestia was just barely coming down from all the sugar she had consumed, as she succumbed more and more to the oncoming hangover with every passing step. Luna, meanwhile, was simply happy to be out of that awkward situation and back to far simpler tasks like ruling a country. Blueblood himself was just so tired that he trotted off to his room without even being asked.
The colt let out a small yawn, then climbed onto his bed and stared out the window. He couldn’t make out much of anything from this room, especially after the Pegasus guards had bolted new bars to keep him from escaping again, but through just a tiny corner of the frame he could see the ponies of Canterlot trotting about their merry business like they had not a care in the world. Well, they obviously had something in the world to care about, or they wouldn’t have been out and about like that, but all that was beside the point.
Blueblood leaned down against the windowsill, his thoughts inevitably returning to the day’s events. Well…that wasn’t too bad, besides me losing it again. But what did Aunt Celestia think that picture would…
His eyes widened as realization slinked its way through his brain. Wait…that’s it! I have to abandon the ways of my parents! I must be the EXACT OPPOSITE of the Blueblood of old! THAT will get me back to normal!
He slinked back on his bed. But that won’t solve everything. I need to find something to get me started. Somepony that can show me how to grow beyond the pony I am…
Luna was about halfway through the latest reports from the Royal Treasury when a wisp of smoke slowly made its way through the window. After a few seconds of twirling in front of her, the sparkly construct merged together in a bright flash before transforming into a scroll. Her telekinesis went to work almost immediately, snagging the scroll before it could touch the ground and unfurling it in one swift motion:
“Your Royal Highness Princess Luna,
I simply cannot express how overjoyed I am with your request, and have already finished a whole ensemble for your approval. I know you only ordered one dress, but a royal pony such as you cannot possibly have a wardrobe that does not match perfectly, right? I even managed to procure some wonderful shadowsilk from all the way in Neighpon, and hoofmade the gold silk myself. I have followed your exact measurements to the letter, and I am certain you will love these.
I shall be bringing the dresses to Canterlot by train tonight, and should be at the castle mid-tomorrow morning. I cannot wait to show you everything I have created.
Carousel Boutique of Ponyville"
An evil grin spread across Luna’s face. She could tell from their last encounter that Rarity and Blueblood had a history, one that she could exploit, and all she had to do was put the two together. I hope you enjoyed the party, Blueblood, because after tomorrow you will be wishing you had never been born.