Brrrrrrrinnnnnng! Brrrrrrrinnnnnng! Brrrrrrii-CRACK!
Celestia gave a sleepy glare at the remains of her alarm clock before turning over in her bed, yanking the sheets over her head as she nestled back into the drowsy warmth of her bed. With a peaceful smile on her face, the goddess yawned and let her eyelids sink shut as her mind chased after the dream that she had been so rudely interrupted from.
The morning could wait another five minutes.
Turns out, that was all it was willing to wait.
Celestia cringed as the piercing ringing of the alarm clock shattered the last remnants of silence. With a unwilling sigh to greet the new day, Celestia climbed out of the sanctuary of comfort that was her bed and trudged over to the dresser at the far end of the room. She opened one of the drawers and her hooves fumbled with the smooth surface of her back-up snooze alarm clock tucked amidst the folded clothing.
Ah. There. Blissful silence again.
Celestia pressed her hoof against her mouth as it stretched into another yawn. The goddess shook her head, tousling her pink locks in a vain attempt to wake up. It was pointless. With heavy lidded eyes she looked towards the still dark horizon. There was only one thing that could truly help her wake up now.
Her horn aglow with pale light, Celestia prepared her still tired body for the most sacred of her duties as princess. A breeze began to stir and tousled the curtains as the alicorn sought to bend the world around her to her whim. To reenact the same motion she had done so for countless mornings before. The very stability of Equestria hung in the balance from this holy routine, for without it, Celestia’s and every other pony’s morning could not begin. A flash of light filled the room as Celestia unleashed her magic, the cosmos obeying her touches and-
-the gentle sound of china clacking against each other as it landed was like music to the goddess’s ears.
Celestia gave a tired smile at would could only be the most beautiful thing in the world right now. On the rug before her, sitting on a small porcelain plate, was a mug filled to the brim with a steaming dark, almost black, liquid.
The goddess Celestia then sat on her haunches and picked the mug up with both hooves, bringing it close to mouth. As the warm, rich scent of dark roasted coffee reached her nostrils, the synapses in her brain began to finally turn on one by one in earnest. The scent alone elicited the craving even further, only to be finally satisfied as she pushed the rim of mug to them. Without further ado, she took a long, greedy sip of the drink.
Scalding hot coffee rushed over her tongue and down her throat. Her body barely noticed the heat. Instantly she felt the coffee beginning to take effect, and she gave a muffled moan of pleasure. She felt her magic return to her, warmth spreading through each of her white limbs. The effects were almost instantaneo-
Celestia’s eyes turned to her dresser mirror, curious to see her reflection. Her hair, merely pink strands of silk only seconds ago had once again exploded into it’s usual multi-hued ethereal form and was proceeding to gently blow in the solar wind her body was creating.
Finally, the need to breathe overcame her desire for the brew and Celestia was forced to come up for air. She gave an amused smile at the mirror once again, before turning her gaze back to her coffee.
Could anypony understand that the wellbeing and prosperity of Equestria was currently held firmly in the hooves of their princess?
She couldn’t understand it.
She had tried, oh, how she had tried. Millions and millions of bits poured into various research centers and projects to try to unlock its mystery. But still its secretes remained elusive.
Maybe this was one of the things the gods themselves weren’t supposed to know. But there was no denying the magic of coffee… and caffeine.
Celestia gave a wry look at the mug and stuck her tounge out. If only it didn’t have to taste so bitter.
Celestia walked over to the large windows that took dominance over the far wall. Sipping her coffee, the goddess quietly watched the sunrise, taking the rare pleasure of having this moment to herself. Said moment, like all others, was swiftly ruined.
The door to her bedroom opened almost impossibly quiet but Celestia could hear the nervous hoofsteps on the carpet. Celestia murmured a string prayers to her ancestors. Maybe she was just dreaming again. Maybe she was actually still completely asleep and this was a horrible nightmare and the actual thing was still hours away and-
“How are you doing this fine morning, princess!”
Ah. That would be the paperwork. The ancestors had failed her again. Steadying herself with another sip of coffee, Celestia braced herself and turned to face the beaming face of her maid.
“Same as before, Feather Duster. Last time I checked I was an old mare who was still single and working a thankless job.” Celestia remarked, and at the sight of the paperwork the maid had set before her, chose to finish the last of her coffee in a single gulp. “Oh, and the coffee is horrible, as usual.”
Feather Duster frowned. “Your highness, you say that every morning. If you’re unhappy with your coffee, why don’t you replace the Royal Coffee Maker?”
“Are you talking about the machine that makes the coffee, or the stallion who works the machine.”
“Soggy Grounds. We replaced the previous coffee maker last week.”
Celestia's eye twitched. Yet another piece of unnecessary paperwork she’d have to deal with.
“Why would I want to get rid of him?” she asked as Feather Duster used her magic to banish the mug away.
“Why do you keep him?” asked the maid. Celestia gave the same old response.
“Because he can make a terrible cup of coffee, that’s why.” Feather Duster could only blink in bewilderment at the princess.
‘Just let me gripe me about my cup of coffee. Just give me this one thing.’ Celestia thought to herself. She relaxed as her maid gave up trying to make sense of that, and began to list off what the day’s agenda would be.
Celestia wished she could complain about that. Part of her wanted to throw herself on the floor and flail her white limbs about in a temper tantrum, just so she wouldn’t have to deal with hours upon hours of paperwork, bickering between nobles, and of course... the Equestria Tax structure.
Celestia gave an involuntary shiver at that last horror.
But it got even better. Could she complain about it? Nooooo. Her life was perfect! The palace staff made it so, and obeyed her every whim above and beyond. She was treated like… well… a princess!
For Celestia, hiring Soggy Grounds was like finding a jewel in a pig trough. The pony’s special talent was making horrible cups of coffee for goodness sake! It didn’t matter if you had acquired the finest beans and spices from the trade routes of Saddle Arabia, or if you even used the finest microcarbon filter. If you gave it to Soggy Grounds to make, it always came out tasting like mouse droppings.
It at least gave her something to complain about in her life. That, alone, was a wonderful thing.
Somewhere in Celestia’s mind, it finally clicked that Feather Duster had stopped speaking and was looking at her expectantly.
“Yes… I ‘ahem’ will deal with them as soon as I am able.” Celestia feigned. The maid looked up at her with an understanding grin.
“…..you didn’t hear a word I said, did you?” Feather Duster asked.
“Not a single word.” Celestia said with a guilty smile. Feather Duster bowed with a small smile.
“It’s still early in the morning your highness. I’ll try again once you’ve eaten. I’ll be seeing you in the dining hall.” She said, as she bowed. She carefully backed out of the room, and it wasn’t until Celestia heard her door click shut that the princess let out an audible sigh. She sent a death glare to the mound of paperwork.
She had a brief fantasy about throwing it into the fireplace, dancing around and chanting as the fire consumed it. Oh if it was only that easy…
“At least it can wait till after breakfast.” Celestia said to herself as she trotted over to the side of her bedroom and opened her bathroom door. Or at least tried to. The handle refused to budge when she attempted to turn it. The goddess pressed her ear against the wood, the sound of running water reaching her.
‘Oh not again.’
“Luna.” Celestia called. No response. “Luna, open the door.”
Celestia tapped one of her rear hooves in irritation as her sister refused to even acknowledge her presence. She knocked on the door loudly.
“Luna, this isn’t funny. Open the door.”
“Who if zit?” Luna’s muffled voice came from behind the door. Celestia was just able to make it out.
“It’s me, Luna!” Celestia responded.
“Mmur not Woona. Ay em!”
‘Oh ancestors, it is too early in the morning for this.’
“Come on, I need to use the bathroom.”
“Mi'me using zit.”
“I don’t care if you’re busy, I need to use it now! At least shut the water off!”
“Saury!” There was the familiar squeak of the faucet as Luna turned the water on more. “Ay caff ear yu!”
“Luna,” Celestia said, her eye twitching as she spoke with every last iota of self control. “Get. Out. Of. The. Bathrooom.”
Something snapped in Celestia. Screw decorum. This was a birthright. The goddess pounded on the door with both hooves.
“LUNA, OPEN THE BUCKING DOOR! I NEED TO GET READY FOR THE DAY!” Celestia shouted, her royal voice echoing around her bedroom as she slammed her hooves against the door.
“GIFF VIE FIVUH MOAR MINTS!” Luna shouted back.
“YOU HAD ALL NIGHT TO DO THIS! ALL BUCKING NIGHT! NOW YOU ARE GOING TO LET… ME…. IN!” Celestia’s horn flared with light as she wrenched the door off it’s hinges, forcing it to fall inwards. Her eyes locked onto her sister’s form which was standing in front of the marble sink, a familiar toothbrush between her teeth the source of her mangled words.
“…and you’re using Mister Scrubby…” Celestia said numbly, and Luna dropped the toothbrush. Luna spit into the sink and wiped her mouth on a nearby towel.
“Thy device is most pleasant and hygienic on mine teeth, dear sister.” Luna offered weakly with a white smile.
She gave a small shriek as Celestia’s magic picked her up and flung her out into the bedroom. Luna landed with a gentle bump on the plush carpet and stuck her tounge out at her sister.
"I cannot be treated as such! I am a royal princess of Equestria!"
"Word of advice, oh sister of mine."
Celestia gave Luna the same look she had given to countless others right before she did something horribly unspeakable to them.
"One, I can treat you however I want. Two, my kingdom, MY bathroom. Use it again, and it'll be considered an act of war..." Celestia's eyes flashed white. "...and another thousand years on the moon."
Luna giggled at the empty threat and Celestia gave a snort of irritation. "Okay, on second thought. Not punishment enough. You're banned from my room. Again. Good Morning, Luna." Celestia trudged back into the bathroom.
Luna gaped at her. "Sister, thou ist being most unfair! I shalt seek my vengeance for this indeceny. The injustice--"
Somewhere in the back of Celestia’s mind, she faintly acknowledged Luna’s complaining, which was quickly muffled as the goddess fixed the door to her bathroom. She turned off the water which a certain alicorn had left running and stared down mournfully at her toothbrush.
Part of Celestia wanted to cry. Never again would she savor the minty flavor of its soft bristles. Or the rubber pick that she used to massage her gums.
The goddess’s eyes narrowed at the empty tube that lay next to it. That cursed sister of hers had even used to last of her favorite toothpaste! Well… that was at least another thing to gripe about today.
“No, it’s not like she has her own toothbrush, or can possibly use any other of the hundred or so bathrooms in this palace. Nope! She just has to use mine!” Celestia cursed to herself as she contemplated any way to save Mister Brushy.
It was a lost cause.
“You will be missed…” Celestia whispered gently as she dropped her toothbrush into the small trashcan by the sink. She would later have to have a conversation with her sister about personal possessions. AGAIN.
After a hot shower (which had surprised Celestia, who had expected Luna to drain all the hot water for the fifth time that week) and with a new Mister Scrubby out of its packaging and in hoof, Celestia found she was calmer and less likely to send her sister back to the lunar surface when she next saw her. The goddess finished the last of her bathroom routine and set her toothbrush back down onto the sink. Celestia gave herself one final look over in her mirror, her reflection returning her critical eye.
On second thought, maybe things weren’t so horrible this morning. Her coffee was still horrible. Instead of her sister bringing about night time eternal, she only had to worry about Luna hogging the bathroom... and contaminating her toothbrush. Plus, in the end, she was still the same eternally youthful and beautiful mare that would the envy of other fillies for centuries to come.
Celestia gave her reflection a glistening white smile, courtesy of her new Mister Scrubby. Thing were looking pretty after all.
She could even punish Luna by making her deal with today’s paperwork… oh that would be so worth all of this.
Just as the goddess was about to step out of her bathroom, something caught her eye near the door. A plastic step scale, just wide enough to accommodate a mare of her size and raised just a few inches up off the tile, sat gathering dust. Celestia walked over to it, a slight frown across her features and she wiped a hoof across the surface of the scale, taking immeasurable amounts of dust with it. The face of the dial was primarily white with tiny black numbers written on it, with just a tiny section of red at the very end.
Celestia wondered how all the dust had gotten here. Why, it was only yesterday that she had... no, she had been in a rush that morning and had rushed through her routine. Alright, well the day before that- no, that was when the Mayor of Stalliongrad had arrived. She barely had enough time for her coffee. Surely sometime in the last week... the last month!
The alicorn wondered when was the last time she had used it. Okay, maybe it had been a couple of months... but it couldn't hurt to check now. It wasn't like it would be a big difference.
Celestia made the fatal mistake of stepping on the scale.
They say when a pony's life is about to end, their life flashes before their eyes in slow motion. For Celestia, it was less of a flash and more of a feature length movie. A very very long movie.
Definitely bucket of popcorn worthy.
The moment her hooves settled on the contraption, Celestia realized how royally pissed the ancestors were at her.
“No. Nononononono No NO!” She watched the needle swing too far too fast to the right. But it couldn't land there. It wouldn't. It would stop in time, it would-
-the needle came to rest just a hairline within the red zone. A red light began to silently blink on the scale.
Celestia briefly wondered if it was too late to start jogging.
Equestria was screwed.
It is a dark and well-kept secret, known only by those who live and serve under the Royal Pony sisters. One that everyone, from the highest politician to the lowest janitor, knew of but never dared to breathe a word of to any outsider. It was a simple truth: Equestria was a country divided unto itself.
This knowledge wasn’t gleamed by these ponies listening in on any sort of secret war meetings the generals might have held. The princess never breathed a word of it to any pony, not even to her closest advisors except in simple passing. The only reason any of the castle staff knew of this rogue nation was for one horrifying reason: this rebel state was located within the bowels of the Canterlot Palace itself.
Its name was The Kitchens and it was ruled with an iron cloven hoof by none other than it’s God-King, Head Chef Ram Sea.
“NO! This is all wrong!” the chef shouted. He threw the skillet of burnt mush with a loud clang back onto the stove and directed his wrath upon the cowering cook before him. “What happened?”
“I-I-I…” the pony stammered, his eyes wide with fear.
“Ay-Ay-Ay Ah asked ye a buckin' question in Equestrian! Are ye tay stupid tae answer it in anythin' but useless gibberish?” Ram Sea sneered, getting into the pony’s face. The cook’s legs were quaking, frozen by the head chef’s piercing glare.
Around them, the royal kitchens were a hustle and bustle of activity, ponies dressed in white rushing around the kitchens. Some were pushing trollies and unloading crates of food, while other stood over cooking spits and simmering pots, preparing the day’s meal for staff and solider alike. Some of them sent glances of pity at the inexperienced chef before quickly returning to their own work.
It was a sheep-eat-pony world in these kitchens.
“Here, since ye seem tae ‘appen tae 'ave mair wool atween yer lugs than Ah do, lit me answer 'at question for ye.” Ram Sea swore, as he pressed his hoof into the pan of blackened crisps. “This pan is as hot as Celestia’s sun. No wonder ye burnt it. Och, and here’s a more important question: WHY ARE YE MAKING OATMEAL IN A PAAAAAAAAAAN TO BEGIN WI'?” Ram Sea bleated. The cook only let out a few unintelligible meeps. “Well? Are ye gonnae answer or am Ah going tae have tae send ye baaaaaaaaaa-ck to Cookin' Kindergarten ye useless glue-stick!”
Chef Ram Sea could only watch in disgust as the pony’s eyes swung to the top of his head before passed out. As though by unseen command, two nearby ponies dropped what they were doing to drag their comrade out the great swinging doors of the kitchen and away from the chef’s fury.
The ram readjusted his poufy hat to sit more comfortably between his curved horns, giving a bleat of contempt for the novice before yet another affront to cuisine assaulted his kitchen. His beady eyes found his next target.
An orange unicorn was hard at work whisking into a bowl, a variety of ingredients and cooking suspended in the air around him. Ram Sea silently took up his favorite position, just behind the pony, and cast a critical eye on the unicorn’s work.
“Copper Kettle, whit is this?”
“An eggplant omelet with caraway and coriander for a member of Parliament, Head Chef.” The unicorn answered promptly, not taking his eyes or concentration off of his work. The sheep behind him gave a steely smile.
“Ah. An omelit. I see.” Ram Sea said in a pleasant voice as he took note of the ingredients Copper Kettle had assembled. He then tilted his wooly head to the side and stared at the mixture in confusion. “Correct if I’m wrong, but don’t omelets usually have, Och Ah don’t know… EGGS in them?”
The whisk landed with a small rattle as Copper Kettle dropped it in surprise. Ram Sea pressed a cloven hoof to his own wooly forehead in disbelief.
“Dear Celestia… You’re makin' an omelit without onie eggs… Laddie, how is 'at e'en possible…“ he murmured, looking skyward. Considering the kitchens were located on the first floor of the castle, it was as close to as anypony begging heaven for a miracle could get.
“Fix it. NOW.”
“Yes, head chef!”
Ram Sea gave a small frown of disappointment before returning to his own station, picking up a knife in his mouth as he went. It was an amateur mistake that shouldn’t have happened. Infact, it was borderline idiotic. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was idiotic mistakes.
Copper Kettle had at least gotten the rest of the ingredients right.
Chef Ram Sea glanced at the clock and grimaced. Five after seven. The princess would be sitting down to breakfast as precisely quarter after seven, just as she did every morning. He still had time.
With an artists precision he neatly split his way through a small mound of strawberries, keeping his eyes at all time on the work in front of him, with occasional glances at the bumpkins working the rest of the kitchens.
They were nearly useless. Oh sure, they could stir up decent enough grub for the staff and soldiers and their own miserable faces, but none of them knew squat about cooking for royalty… and they were supposed to be royal cooks in the Royal Kitchen.
The hiss of the skillet was music to Ram Sea’s ears as he gently turned and tilted it to help spread the batter thin. When his intuition told him it was right, he peeled off the crepes and set them onto two warm platters, satisfied to see them perfectly browned on one side. A sprinkle of powdered sugar later, he had folded the pastries neatly around a core of fresh strawberries, and had completed it with a garnish of jam on the side.
It was perfection fit for perfection.
Ram Sea secretly hoped the Princesses would appreciate the dash of brandy he had snuck into the batter. The alcohol itself had burned off, but the chef was positive it would leave behind an almost caramel-like flavor. Mix that with a hint of vanilla and loads of fresh strawberries and you ended up with a breakfast fit for a princess. Or two.
If he had been a pony, it would be undeniable that Ram Sea’s cutie mark would be something related to cooking the food of the gods. Instead, only his pristine white wool served as his uniform for domination in the kitchen. How a sheep from Coltland became the one to wear the chef’s hat in these kitchens was anypony’s guess. But there was no denying that the ram knew what he was doing.
“You there!” Ram Sea shouted to one of the ponies. “Help me load these ontae th' trolley an' gie it up tae th' dinin' hall. Drop a single buckin' plate an' Ah will personally -“
AAOOOOOGGA! AAOOOOOOOGA! AAOOOOOOGA!
Ponies all around the kitchen were forced to press their hooves to their ears in a futile attempt to block out the alarm as it blared through the kitchen. Red lights flashed and spun, glinting off the white tile and counters as ponies tried to shout over the din. The only voice that could be heard was the tremulous roar that dwarfed all others.
“BUCK! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE BUCKING KIDDING ME! OF ALL TIMES?!” Chef Ram Sea shouted. "Ah haud yer weesht ye flashy piece ah junk. Yer maw was a flashlight an' yer faither was a whistle. Except yer maw cheated oan yer faither wi' anither whistle, an' eleven months later, ye waur born!" He picked up the plate of crepes and flung it at the flashing red lights. The plate shattered, sending strawberries flying in an explosion of fruit. "You've a face like a chickie layin' razors, ye clype."
Copper Kettle winced as he crouched under a table, glancing at the cook next time him.
“What’s going on?” he tried to say over the noise, “Did somepony set off the fire alarms?”
“Even worse!” the cook responded. He kept a wary eye as Ram Sea began flinging knives. “We’ve gone to Code Red! Operation Drop is in effect!”
“What are you talking you talking about?”
“It’s the end of the world!”
“It’s the Royal Diet!”
Hey everypony! Clueless writer Dawnscroll here. Normally I'd have something witty and clever to say here, but for the time being, I got squat. So in the meantime, just have this until the chapter after this, kay? MLP is obviously owned by Hasbro, and with moi being a fimfiction writer, I own zipdadoodle. Props go to the awesome Legacy and John Perry for being my prereaders and making this as least SEMI-Readable. Trust me, you didn't want to see the mess it was before. Cheers.
The Canterlot Palace, home to the equine deities Celestia and Luna, boasted the most luxurious dining hall in Equestria. Seats carved of precious cherry wood and linens filled with the finest down, sparkling crystal chandeliers that glittered like diamonds, and of course, solid gold silverware. Truly the most sensible use of Equestrian tax money.
It was this grand hall that had hosted any number of balls and galas, and should either of the Princesses ever wished to hold a feast, a long table capable of seating hundreds of nobles could be assembled in a manner of minutes. Princess Celestia, of course, had always sat at the head of the table.
She never used that room unless she absolutely had to. It was too big, too constricting, too… quiet.
Instead, the goddess of the sun had always chosen to dine in a small private dining room behind this massive hall. Here, she could sit in privacy and eat in peace.
Well, actually, privacy was a broad term if one included the presence of the waiters, the maids, and of course, the guards by the door, all of whom waited on her beck and call.
Still, it beat the social sniping game the nobility had set up for themselves. See a duchess twelve seats down with a hat you found ugly? Just make a snide remark to impress those sitting around you, take aim, and BOOM. Headshot. Ten points.
It was nice to get away from that once in awhile.
It was in this room that Celestia found herself staring dolefully at the lone stalk of green celery before her. She nudged it gently with her hoof, foolishly hoping the gesture could somehow magically make it appear more appetizing… or at least multiply.
Not surprisingly, it didn’t.
This was breakfast.
Celestia leaned back in her royal chair, her haunches settled on the plush satin cushion. There was none of her usual mirth on her face. This was serious business.
The goddess gave a hopeful look to Feather Duster, who stood attentively at her lady’s side.
“Can’t we start this tomorrow?” Celestia asked. She poked at the vegetable with her fork. “I mean, it’s not like I’m going to gain another five pounds overnight.”
Feather Duster sighed and nudged the plate closer to her.
“M’Lady, if we don’t start today, you’ll just keep pushing and pushing it off.” Feather Duster answered. Celestia groaned, knowing the maid spoke the truth. That had kind of been what she was looking for. “Besides, we can no longer dodge this. We need to act.”
“Do you know how ridiculous this is? I don’t have time for all this; I have things to do, ponies to meet. I have an entire country to run.”
“I have already moved around your schedule to accommodate the required time. You’ll be spending an hour in the afternoons with a personal trainer.” her maid answered proudly, magicking a schedule into existence. Celestia grabbed it, her eyes scanning over the times.
“You didn’t move anything around. You just cut an hour into my ‘Me Time’!”
“Yes. Now you’ll be spending an hour with a personal trainer. After all of your paperwork is completed.”
"Feather Duster, an hour is all I normally have! There's nothing left."
"Don't be silly your highness. You have some right before bed."
Celestia peered closely at the schedule, and squinted to see a tiny footnote wedged alongside the listed appointments.
~Princess Celestia's Leisure Time - 30 Seconds~
Celestia gave a look of disbelief to Feather Duster. “So let me get this straight. I’m going to wake up, raise the sun, step on that cursed scale, and proceed to be miserable until the second I close my eyes at night."
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t make any room in your schedule to be miserable. Would you like some?” Feather Duster peered over the paper, her quill at the ready. Celestia was unamused, and returned her displeasure back at the piece of celery in front of her.
She couldn’t exactly be mad at it of course, with it being a green stalky vegetable and all. Said vegetable would probably take no notice of her wrath. But being mad at it beat taking her unhappiness out on some hapless window-washer or butler who was just doing their job.
Maybe if she gave it life…. Yes, then it would cower before her. It would feel her pain as she bit down into nutritional body, her teeth ripping through stalk and leaf.
Celestia picked up half a lemon and crushed it between her hooves, squeezing the juice into her glass of water. Not fine Earl Grass tea. Not even milk. Just water.
Water and celery. Breakfast. Celestia should have probably been thrilled they had even given her the lemon.
She could give the celery a mouth too, just so she could hear it scream.
Celestia poked the it again with her fork.
Who in Equestria ever ate plain celery in this day and age? Okay, so maybe ranch dressing was out of the question, but would it have killed them to give her some peanut butter and raisins?
Celestia picked up the day’s newspaper, trying to prolong breakfast as long as she could. She could only hope that the Royal Kitchens weren’t getting too worked up over all of this…
Meanwhile, in the Royal Kitchens
AAOOOOGA! AAOOOOOGA! AAOOOOOGA!
“Yeah? ‘hink yer loud an' annoyin', eh? Well lemme tell ye, laddie, I’m stuck wi' these wet behin' th' ear whelps all day! I’ve dealt wi' cheese graters louder than ye!” Chef Ram Sea shouted, pointing an accusing hoof towards the flashing lights. “Infact, Ah can be jist as fancy as ye, ye half-watt excuse for a heart monitor! Och, look at me prancin' aboot on mah legs! Eh? How does it feel tae be stuck on th' ceilin'!?”
By now, things had returned moderately to normal in the kitchens. Cooking was once again underway in preparation of the day’s lunch, and it was the once again a whirr of activity in the kitchens. Chef Ram Sea was once again doing what he did best: belittling the thing that irritated him the most.
To the massive relief of most of the kitchen staff, said thing was the blaring alarm that hadn’t ceased since it was triggered. The royal unicorn maintenance crew had promised they’d fixed the problem as soon as they could.
That had been almost half an hour ago.
By now, most of the cooks had managed to get their hooves on sets of earplugs and learned to tune out the din. All but the Head Chef, who after disgustedly placing a piece of celery on a plate and giving a few choice words to the unlucky waiter, remained defiant, going tit for tat with the alarm system.
By now, hooves were exchanging bits as bets were being placed on if the Chef could outlast the machine.
AAOOOOGA! AAOOOOOGA! AAOOOOOGA!
“--Infact, Ah bit she doesn’t e'en need this diet! Ah bit it was ye bein' a useless broken hunk ay scrap metal 'at caused this! Did ye hear me, ye pimpled coopon backside of a goat turd? I’m callin' ye fat!”
Copper Kettle gave a low whistle of admiration as the chef launched into yet another tirade. There was something truly awe-inspiring about a pissed off sheep.
Next to him, his fellow cook Whisk was scribbling furiously in a notebook.
“I think Ram Sea was being nice to us before.” Copper Kettle said, with a twinge of dread in his gut.
“Are you kidding me? I’m getting all of this down. This is priceless.” Whisk said with veneration in his voice.
The two cooks suddenly froze as though a cockatrice was glaring at them. But it was worse… so much worse.
“An' whit are th' two of ye doin'?” Chef Ram Sea snarled. The pen dropped from Whisk’s magical grip and clattered to the floor. Both cooks turned to look at each other, terror stretched across their faces.
“N-nothing Head Chef!”
It was too late. While Copper Kettle made an admirable job of stomping on Whisk’s hoof and wrapping a hoof over his compatriot's mouth, he was a second too slow. The words had been said.
Chef Ram Sea’s beady eyes promised nothing more than pain and misery until the end of their days.
“Och, doin' nothin' eh? Lazin' aboot mah kitchen like a load of guid for nothin' slackers? Well, lemme tell ye somethin', laddies! Yoo’re both gonnae be peelin' taetters for th' next month… WI' PAPER CLIPS!”
AAOOOOGA! AAOOOOOGA! AAOOOOOGA!
“Don’t worry, Ah didn’t forgit aboot ye. Ah still have some choice words for ye, ye stoatin big-“
….yeah, Celestia couldn’t get that lucky.
She turned to the sports section of her newspaper. Oh, look at that. The New Yoke Giants had won the Super Trough last night. Part of Celestia regretted not seeing the game. It wasn’t that she actually liked hoofball… but those Clydesdales in the Buckweiser commercials were definitely worth sitting through the game for.
The door glowed a bright blue before swinging open, revealing the slouched form of Luna, who was dragging a blanket behind her.
“Good morning again, Luna.” Celestia pleasantly acknowledge to her sister as the blue alicorn plodded through the door. “What are you still doing up?”
“I find slumber doth elude me, sister.” Luna murmured as she sat down at the opposite end of the table. She made a brief dignified attempt of sitting up in her chair before quickly discovering that the table cloth was comfier to lay her head on. “It would appear that the curtains to mine room were removed to be cleaned. Also, the sun’s rays hast partaken a particular interest in mine bed.” She turned her head and rested it sideways on the linen surface as she cast a tired look at her sister.
“I have no idea what you’re implying.” Celestia raised her glass to her lips to hide the smirk that had stretched across her face took a sip of her water.
Revenge was a dish best served bright. Rest easy now Mister Scrubby.
Luna groaned and covered her eyes with her foreleg. “Servant. Juice. We require vitamins.” A servant hastily rushed to the night princess with a pitcher suspended next to him and topped off her glass.
Celestia unconsciously licked her lips at the sight of the sweet orange juice. Normally, she would have about five glasses of those in the morning.
She swore it tasted like liquid sunshine.
The alicorn took another sip of water and tried to imagine it was lemonade. Really, really watered down lemonade. She discreetly glanced around the table and- drat. No sugar packets to steal.
Celestia felt a tap on her side and turned her head to see Feather Duster looking at her anxiously, a pocket watch dangling from a chain held in her mouth.
“Forgive me your highness,” Feather Duster managed to annunciate, “But we’re running a bit behind schedule.” She managed to turn the watch around so it faced Celestia and held it up for her princess to see. “If you’d like me to, I can rewrite your time slots to-“
“Don’t touch that schedule!” Celestia cut her off suddenly, her voice louder than she intended. Luna raised an eyebrow in confusion at her. Celestia composed herself and offered Feather Duster a wary smile before turning back to her plate. “I mean… I’ll be finishing in just a moment.”
She’d chew her own hoof off before she’d give Feather Duster the chance to cut into her sleep time next.
Celestia offered her sister an apologetic smile. “You’ll have to forgive me again, Luna. I’m afraid I’ll have to finish up here and run. Hopefully we can have supper together.”
Luna gave her sister a tired wave and fought off another yawn. “I think I shall just indulge in an early morning snack before returning to mine room. It’s too early for mine presence here.” Celestia nodded and levitated her breakfast infront of her, just as Luna raised her own glass to her mouth.
Celestia bit down onto the celery with a hearty and audible crunch.
Luna’s drink had slipped from her magical grip and shattered against the table. A lake of orange juice flooded across the snowy-white plains of linen hilled by shards of glass as Luna stared at Celestia with an expression of abject horror. Celestia followed Luna’s flickering gaze between the half-eaten stick of celery in her mouth and the completely bare plate in front of her. Some of the servant ponies rushed over, cleaning rags in their mouth as they tried to clean up the accidental mess before it could spread.
“Luna, are you alright!?”
“Alright? Alright?” Luna managed to squeak out, her eyes transfixed on her sister’s empty plate. Before Celestia could even stand, Luna had already risen to her hooves, knocking her chair over in the process. “Y-yes… yes! Everything shalt be alright, Tia! We can still turn this around!” Celestia watched in bewilderment as her sister reared onto her hind legs and turned her voice up to the ceiling.
As the night princess galloped out of the door, Celestia could hear her sister’s repeating cries throughout the hallway, calling for guard and solider alike. The waiters and maids looked on the scene dumbfounded, the watch dropping from Feather Duster’s mouth with a loud ‘clink’ on the tiles.
Celestia chewed the last of her celery slowly, her molars pulverizing the stringy vegetable before swallowing. With the best poker face she could muster, she held her empty plate out to one of the servants.
“Look, if you want me to deal with this, I’m going to need some second helpings here.”
As the regent of the sun strode down the hallways of her own palace, she once again contemplated sending her dearly beloved sister to the moon.
Well… at least for a day.
With each step, the goddess could feel her precious snooze time slipping away, each minute meeting its end at the tip of Feather Duster's quill. She barely spared a glance at the servants and castle caretakers that were bowing and scraping as she walked past them. She had more important things on her mind than their usual appeasement.
She would have to deal with... well, whatever Luna was up to now before she could even start court and deal with the lovely job of reigning monarch. Then she would have to spend an hour doing whatever ponies in this day and age considered exercise. Oh boy, was she ever looking forward to that. This was merely yet another thing stacked onto her never ending plate.
Yes. Today was turning out to be a wonderful day.
There was, however, the one thing that had just about completely soured it for her.
"I can't believe it..." Celestia murmured to herself. "'No second helpings' my flank. It's celery! It has negative calories!"
"Umm... your majesty?" Celestia glanced back to see one of her ponies, a light pink colored filly, following her. "You seem a little distressed. Is there anything I can do to help?"
'Yes! Go fetch me more celery!'
"I'm looking for my sister. Has anypony seen her within the past hour?"
The filly practically beamed at Celestia and nodded her head eagerly, clearly happy she could help her Princess. "Yes your majesty! She's currently in the library holding War Council."
"War Council? Why would Luna be..." Celestia questioned before the impact of what the maid said clicked in her mind.
As you all know, I own nothing of My Little Pony. HOWEVER, turns out I DO own every single OC in here! Yeah, turns out US copylaws are in my favour! Woot! So yeah, I do own something. Just... not My Little Pony. Thanksagain to Legacy and John Perry. Trust me... the horrors I make them face...
On normal days, the Royal Library was a quiet place. A domain dedicated to the silent pursuit of knowledge. A sanctuary of tranquility and learning. Ponies would creep about and speak in hushed voices, lest they disturbed their neighbors.
Today was not one of those days.
"-and it was during this time that I saved my bunkmate from a savage who was going to stab him with a sharpened mango!"
'Click. Click-Click. Click.'
Celestia quietly shut the door behind her, not surprised to see her sister here. Luna sat at one of the reading tables, her attention heavily focused on the massive book opened in front of her. Other volumes were piled in tall stacks around her. Curious enough, there was also a stack of magazines sitting close at hoof.
It also seemed that Luna had company. Sitting to her right was a practically ancient stallion, his fur as dry and wrinkled as a sundried raisin. He had already gone bald, and wore a chipped and rusty set of armor, against which his grey wings were folded.
Luna frowned at the figures before her.
"I was not expecting their population to grow as much as it has in the past millennium."
"What-not? Qhat was that?" the stallion asked, holding a hoof to his ear.
"I said I wasn't expecting they would have so many troops!" Luna said louder.
"But of course, your highness. That's the way with griffons. Bred like flies they did. Why, in the last war, they were fancy as a swarm of gnats, and the sky was black with them. Jolly good show it was. I remember as I lead my squad on the dawn patrol..."
Luna looked up at the the abacus which floated in front of her, her hoof reaching out to adjust the wooden beads, when she caught sight of Celestia.
"Sister! So good of thee to join us!"
The librarians winced as Luna's voice echoed around the library and warily looked at each other. They looked like they were at their wits end, and rightfully so. Could they shush her? Revoke her library privileges?
"Luna... what are you doing?" Celestia asked carefully. Luna with her magic, Luna spread a nearby map across the table.
"Sister, thou dost not have to worry. I feel so horrible now! If thou had only told me of the situation... but of course, thou didst not wish to worry me..." Luna agitatedly stared at the map. "But thou needn't worry any longer! I am working on a plan as we speak."
"A plan for what, exactly?"
"About the upcoming war of course!" the stallion said excitedly. He wobbily rose to his hooves and saluted to the princess. "Princess Celestia, may I just say it is an honor to serve under you again. Fall back into the old rank and wot."
Celestia blinked in surprise, and let a rare and genuine smile stretch across her lips.
"General MacApple? You're still alive?"
"Old soldiers never die, ma'rm. We just fade away and languish in retirement till you need us." the stallion said good naturedly. With a tired groan he was forced to sit back down in the chair. "Although, I may be forced to admit, I've looked that old scoundrel death in the eye many times but this time I think he has me on the ropes."
"General, do understand that it is a pleasure to see you again, but I have to ask; why are you here?"
"Apparently, he was the commanding officer from Equestria's previous engagement. I require as much experience as necessary guiding me if we are to succeed." Luna answered. MacApple nodded , and smacked his withered lips.
"Princess Luna has just the plan, your highness. We strike first! A surprise attack! The griffons won't know what hit them this time!" he cackled.
Celestia looked at both of them. "Right. Maybe you explained it already, and I just missed you. But can one of you explain why we're attacking the griffons?"
Luna gave an appalled look at her sister.
"Tia, I know thou wish to do what is most beneficial to all, but neither of us can afford to be pacifists right now. Equestria needs to act! We need this land more than they do!"
Celestia gave a tired sigh and dragged a hoof down her face. It was still too early in the morning for this. She gave a pointed look at MacApple. "General, do you truly wish for yet another war to ravage this country?"
The old solider lifted his head up and met Celestia's gaze with distant eyes.
"It's all I ever think about, your majesty." MacApple whispered hoarsely. He closed his eyes, fondly remembering bygone days. "Just one last great conflict to partake in and fight for the glory of Equestria before I start pushing up daisies. In my dreams, I hear again the splash of water balloons, the taste of whip-cream pies, the uplifting, joyous laughter of the battlefield."
There was a pregnant silence afterwards. A very pregnant silence. Celestia wondered if she or Luna would be the one to- wait, never mind! The baby’s coming!
"W-water balloons? Pies?!" Luna stammered incredulously. "General, what is this that thee speaketh? Thou said thou was a trained veteran!"
"Darn tootin' I am!" MacApple nodded proudly. "Lead the Royal 16th Grenadier Battalion in the Battle of Grey Gulch. There we were, pinned in our camps as the griffons swarmed above us, their air support keeping us pegged with a torrent of water balloons. They flew up out of our range and let gravity do the work for them. It wasn't until some of the unicorns managed to hook up a hose that we manage to soak those griffons good!"
"That is not war! That is… that is child’s play! Hast thou never fought with sword or arrow?”
MacApple looked appalled at the thought.
“Swords and arrows? Heavens forbid it, Princess Luna! A pony could get hurt on those things.”
Luna’s jaw seemed to have unhinged itself and Celestia was quietly snickering to herself.
“Thank you for your time general, but it seems there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding.” Celestia apologized. The elderly pegasus looked all the much like a foal who had just been promised ice-cream only for it to be ripped away.
“No war?” he asked disappointedly.
“Oh, I never said no. I’ll see if I can’t arrange something with Griffhala. In the meantime, you’re dismissed, but I must insist we have tea one afternoon and catch up on… old times.”
This seemed to perk the ancient general spectacularly, if his wings were any indication, and he snapped into a salute, his lower lip trembling in excitement.
“I can’t thank-you enough ma’rm! Wait till the colts back at the home here about this. A real grand war it will be, no doubt about that!” The veteran gave his wings a little shake, giving a lecherous grin. “Hah, that’ll show those newfangled quacks. No real stallion ever needs a pill. Your presence always made the gentlecolts rearin’ and ready to go. Managed to get this old timer up.”
The librarians had turned a blush red at the sight of the Pegasus’s wings and had begun whispering amongst each other.
“It’s not a trouble, but it looks like I need to have a conversation with my sister.” Celestia said with a small giggle when MacArthur noticed the librarians.
“Er… yes. Righteo. Forward in the march and all that.”
As MacApple excused himself, Celestia turned her attention back to her sister, who was looking more distressed than ever.
Luna shook her head in disbelief, her eyes still fixed on the figures before her. “Celestia, how could thee have unwilling stallions to serve under our banner?” The sun goddess went and sat down next to her sister.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. MacApple was a good soldier who followed his duties to the letter. But boy, whenever he did get orders from a commanding officer, did he ever march… on… and on… and on…” Celestia trailed off, a silly grin stretched on her face as she thought of those soldiers from bygone years. They were the best of times, they were the worst—nah, they were the best of times. Good times… good times…
Luna’s voice snapped her out of it. “Sister, thou ist doing it again.”
Celestia shook her head, jogging her mind back on path. There would be time for reminiscing later. “Well, the point is, we live in relatively peaceful times.” Celestia remarked. “The last war… the kind you’re thinking of anyway, occurred about seven hundred years ago. That was the war of the Fire Ruby with the Diamond-Dogs. Since then, in order to ease any sort of tensions or hostility between our neighbors, we’ve sort of had ‘mock-wars’. Nopony has died of conflict or war for the past seven centuries.”
“Mock wars? What-?”
“Border disputes fought with pillows. Mid-treaty assassinations consisting of squirt guns. Massive engagements consisted of foam swords. Need I go on?”
Luna stared in awe at her sister.
“Thou has managed to accomplish all of this of this while I was gone.”
“What can I say? I gained a flair for diplomacy during your absence.” Celestia paused. “Also, something about controlling the sun and moon might have made my job a little bit easier.” Interesting how it didn’t work for the rest of her job. Celestia rubbed her sister’s back soothingly. “Talk to me… what’s all this about.”
“How… how can thou stay so calm while famine strikes Equestria and our ponies starve?” Luna whispered morosely.
Celestia froze up in shock. “Luna, what on earth are you talking about? Nopony is starving!”
“Then why is there no food for us to eat?”
The sun goddess gave a sister a funny look. No food? There was an entire kitchen full of food and the royal cupboards were always stocked.
What on earth could possibly make Luna think that they would-
Celestia rolled her eyes and sighed in relief, grateful that it was all this was about. “Luna, if you’re talking about breakfast--”
“I should have seen it sooner. All the information was right in front my face, and I was too blind to acknowledge what it was!”
“—look, this isn’t what you--”
“These celebrities… they are the new form of nobility, no?” Tears sprung to Luna’s lashes as she pushed the stack of magazines towards Celestia and gestured to the front cover of one. Cosmarepolitan. Celestia gently pressed the inside of her cheek with her tongue. She had read this magazine occasionally before for… for the makeup section. Yes, just for the makeup section.
This particular issue was graced with the slim form of Canterlot’s most popular fashion model, Fleur De Lis. Even Celestia had to admit, the mare was the very definition of beautiful. Apparently, she was also very flexible if the articles in the se-MAKEUP. Yes. If the articles in the makeup section were anything to go by.
Oh how she hoped she wasn’t blushing.
Celestia had met her and her husband Fancy Pants on a few occasions. They were one of the few nobles she actually tolerated, let alone liked.
The fact that Fleur merely naturally looked exactly like one of Equestria’s princesses added to her appeal. Part of Celestia believed it had helped in her swift rise to fame. The white unicorn could have doubled for Celestia herself if the goddess had been several centuries younger… and thinner…
Celestia suddenly felt very self-conscious.
“I was looking at the pictures in these tomes, and everypony in here is so unbelievably thin! Look at her, she has no fat whatsoever.”
“—this all just a silly--“
“But then I never thought it could be possible.” Luna plowed on, completely cutting off her sister as though she hadn’t heard her. “I thought the grand meals you had prepared for us were because Equestria had become more prosperous and because you were angry at the nobles for some cause or another. Never once did I think that you felt guilted to indulge even my slightest hunger!”
Celestia couldn’t really argue against that last bit. Ponies had gotten very creative with cooking within the last millennium. But she had to admit, Luna was absolutely adorable every time dessert rolled around.
There was a slight rumble from Celestia’s belly and Luna noticed this and lept upon the opportunity.
“Your hunger confirms it, dear sister. Now there is not even enough food left in the land to even feed us. We are-”
“Luna, nopony is starving! There is no famine! Equestria is fine!” Celestia suddenly snapped, trying to derail her sister. “There is more than enough food for everypony. Look…” Celestia looked through the stack of books that Luna had picked out. Sure enough, there were agricultural reports, farm taxes, something called The Great Big Encyclopedia of Earth Pony Agronomy. She doubted Luna even had a chance to touch them, but certainly had no doubt in whether or not Luna had planned on reading them. There was a reason the alicorn had pulled them out. With her magic, she quickly found the tribute information from that year’s harvest and opened it on the table.
“Equestria IS prosperous, Luna. There have been countless improvements to the farming method over the centuries leading to increased production, and the Pegasi have done a wonderful job managing the weather so we have the greatest possible crop. We grow so much that we actually have to export some of the perishables to our neighbors just so it doesn’t all go bad.” Celestia explained, as she gestured to the facts and figures on the paper to show her sister.
“Then none of our subjects are going hungry?” Luna asked. Celestia shook her head no. “Then why doest thou not eat? We should celebrate this good fortune!”
Looks like it was time to drop the bombshell.
“Luna… I’m dieting.”
Celestia instantly regretted opening her mouth. Luna looked to be on the verge of yet another panic-attack.
“What?! But sister, you look healthy! How couldst thou be perishing?” Luna exclaimed in fright.
Celestia sighed as her stomach rumbled again. ‘I have no idea, but it sure feels like it.’
“I’m not dying,” Celestia explained carefully. Luna looked visibly relieved at this news. “I’m on a diet.” Luna gave her sister a blank look.
Honestly, none of this should have come to a surprise to the sun goddess. One thousand years on the moon tended to keep one uninformed of the latest trends. Before that fiasco, when they had both ruled, Equestria had not always been so prosperous. Earth ponies had struggled to farm the untamed land, and many ponies went hungry. In the end, only the very wealthy and the nobility ever had enough to eat to satisfy their hunger, let alone grow fat. That was the Equestria that Luna remembered.
For Luna to see her sister, the Princess of Equestria, with next to nothing on her plate… well, Celestia could only imagine how scary it would feel.
“It means that I’m watching what I eat so that I can lose weight.” Celestia explained. Silenced passed between the two sisters. The librarians were grateful for the return to their normalcy.
Said normalcy promptly picked itself up threw itself headfirst out the window.
“That is the stupidest I thing I hath ever heard!” Luna seemed to be in a mix of disbelief and awe at the concept.
‘Finally! Somepony else agrees with me!’
“Well, ponies have found that being overweight is unhealthy and leads to all sorts of medical complications later in life. Ponies also find being fat to be physically unattractive and being thin to be more socially accepted.”
“Wait… so these mares, the one in these magazines…” Luna said slowly, trying to wrap her head around the idea. “Are starving themselves in times of plenty because they think that looking like a skeleton is beauty?”
“More or less, that is about the sum of it.”
“And you’re one of them?”
‘I don’t WANT to be!’
Celestia shrugged indifferently. “As Princess, it is our duty to be role models that all of our subjects can look up to and aspire to be. What sort of an example would I set for my subjects if I just let myself go?”
‘If I actually believed that, this would whole thing would be so much easier.’
“…besides,” Celestia added. “This is something I have to go through with.”
Luna tilted her head quizzically at her sister. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll show you.” Celestia said as she got out of her chair. She glanced over at the three librarians, who were attempting very hard to appear busy organizing books. In fact, Celestia would have been convinced had one of them not been putting the books upside down. “Excuse me, could one of you help us?”
Nary a second afterwards, all three fillies were standing infront of the princess, the stacks of books left to tumble to the floor. It had happened so fast, she would have sworn they had teleported. Did her academy have a student work program that she wasn’t aware of?
All three of them were smiling eagerly at the princesses.
“Yes your highness?”
“How may we-
“-be of assistance to you?” the youngest of the three finished.
Celestia nodded and pointed to a book at the very top of a nearby bookshelf that seemed to almost reach the ceiling. It was something she could have easily have gotten with her magic. “Could one of you get that for me?”
“Just one moment!”
Quick as they had come, the fillies dashed off only to come back with a tall ladder a split second later. Propping it up against the bookcase, one of them (by now, Celestia had given up trying to determine which was which) scurried up to the almost dangerous height and with a precision that would have made a surgeon envious, grabbed the book with her mouth, just as swiftly climbing back down and placing it in front of the princesses.
“Here we are!”
“Is there anything else-
“-we can help with, Princess?”
Celestia leant in close to Luna and whispered to her. “Watch this…” Celestia turned back to the Royal Librarians and brought herself to full height, towering before the fillies. With all the decorum and urgency she could muster, Celestia let the full weight of her position as Equestria’s monarch speak for her. She had used the same voice countless times before to issue royal decrees and bestow judgement on her subjects. But never before had it been used for something so important.
‘Please be new employees, please be new employees’
“I, Princess Celestia, decree that you bring me a foot-long hay and cheese sandwich. Spicy grain mustard, whole wheat roll, and cut it horizontally. And a side of hayfries!” Celestia bellowed, throwing a hint of the Royal Canterlot voice in there for good measure. She looked expectantly at the Librarians.
Celestia tried to not let her heart break to hard as the sisters took one look at each other, and slowly left to go back to what they were going.
“I order you to obey me! Bring it to me now or I shall banish you all from Equestria!” Celestia shouted. But her words only fell on deaf ears. After watching the librarians actually begin to reorganize the bookshelves, Celestia turned back to her sister. “See what I mean?”
Luna was stood there with a stunned look on her face.
“They can just ignore thee like that?” she asked. A slight chuckle emanated from behind the sisters.
“Not ‘can’. They have to. We all take an oath upon admittance to her majesty’s service to act as we must should this day ever arise.” The sister’s turned to see Feather Duster standing by the entrance of the library. “We are honor bound to serve her highness’s best interests… even if it means protecting her from herself.”
“Can you protect me just a little less?” Celestia asked with a strained smile. Oh how she wished she could just pick decorum up and buck it out the window. Just once.
“Conflict of mutual interest, your highness.” Feather Duster replied. She levitated the pocket watch she carried around and flicked it open for her to see. “Speaking of which, we’re about an hour and a half late for court.”
Celestia gave a small groan and trudged towards Feather Duster. She was not looking forward to this at all. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”
“Wait!” Luna galloped infront of her sister, blocking her path. “Thou truly plans to go along with this insane plan of thine? To starve thyself?”
Celestia gave a tired sigh and looked towards the ceiling. She seemed to be doing that a lot today. In fact, the whole wishing for a miracle thing was beginning to get pretty redundant. “It’s actually less of a plan and more of a tradition by now. There’s a whole slew of policies and protocols and other ridiculous nonsense in place.”
“This has happened before?!” Luna exclaimed. “When was the first time?”
Celestia averted her gaze from Luna’s and tried to walk around her sister. “Well…” she began hesitantly, “…there was about a hundred years of comfort food after… you know… moon incident…” Celestia trailed off sheepishly. She felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment. “I was an emotional wreck and… might’ve let myself go.”
“They had to cart her to her throne in a wheel barrel.”
Celestia shot a murderous glare at her maid, who seemed completely indifferent to future of pain and torment that the eyes held. “Yes… we really did not need to add that, Feather Duster.”
“Then there was the year the potato chip was invented…” Feather Duster added cheerily.
“…and the great decade of cheesecake!”
Celestia was beginning to grind her teeth as she watched a smile slowly creep across her sister’s lips.
“Yes, I think Luna gets the id-“
“And then there was the time you discovered ponies were experimenting with food in the bedroom. The guards couldn’t get the chocolate syrup out of their coats for wee-“
“OH! LOOK AT THE TIME!” Celestia shouted too loudly, using her magic to turn Feather Duster’s mouth into a zipper. She began walking to the door, dragging the maid by her tail. “I’m late for court! Fancy that! Come along, Feather Duster. Time to run Equestria!”
Luna giggled to herself, the idea of a very round Celestia coming to her mind. “I guess thou was really tubby back then, Tia?”
Celestia froze in her tracks. “Don’t. You. Dare.” She whispered harshly. Luna smirked.
“Tubby Tia. Tubby Tubby Tia.” Luna sang in a singsong voice.
The horseshoes were coming off.
“It’s going to be the moon for you!” Celestia shouted, dropping Feather Duster, as she bolted after her sister. Luna cackled and tried to dart away to hide somewhere in the veritable sea of books, but only managed a few steps before a white cannonball barreled into her. The combined momentum sent them both crashing into a row of bookshelves, sending tomes flying everywhere. After a minute of writing bodies, Celestia managed to pin Luna beneath her, and gave the moon goddess a sadistic smile.
“You know what’s next.”’
“Ack! No! No!” Luna screamed as Celestia’s hooves came down on her. Celestia gave a crazed manic smile. Revenge was a wonderful thing to abuse. Her hooves came down again and again, moving along Luna’s smooth indigo flanks. She knew all of dear Luna’s weak spots. Tears poured from Luna’s eyes. The princess was crying from how hard she was laughing, and clutched her sides as she tried to wrestle her sister off of her. “Bwahaaha-Cel-hahaha-Tiahahaha! I-hahhahaha-yield! I yield!” Luna tapped her hoof against the floor. By now, even Celestia was giggling.
After another several minutes of tickle torture, Celestia let go of her sister and rolled to the side, collapsing onto the mound of books. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she could hear the librarians on the verge of having simultaneous heart attacks. That stray thought was washed away in the warm after-glow of both of their laughter.
Luna finally found the capacity to breathe again and wiped her cheeks, stray giggles escaping her lips. She turned her head to look at her sister.
“Thou knowest thou aren’t fat, right?”
Luna could have turned into Nightmare Moon again right then and there and tried to take over Equestria, and Celestia wouldn’t have even thought of banishing her to the moon as she gave her sister the biggest possible hug.
“-so as you can see on this chart here, we’ve experienced a max growth in the financial department of-“
Celestia discreetly stifled a yawn, looking through half-lidded eyes at the pony standing before her. It was taking every ounce of her willpower to keep her eyes open. The unicorn had a voice that could put even a deaf dragon to sleep and he had been going on for the past two hours NONSTOP.
He was just another bureaucrat trying to impress her with… whatever it was he did.
She glanced at the clock on the far wall. Another five minutes… she just had to make it another five minutes.
“-and if you look at line six, paragraph twelve in section twenty-one, page four-hundred and eleven, you’ll see our policy for-“
The one good thing about this morning was she had finally gotten Luna to fall asleep hours ago. A filly with her work load had no business being up so late in the morning.
Celestia spared a glance at the phone book thick report in front of her. Did he really think she’d read this? It was written in size three font!
Her stomach growled. She was beginning to get anxious, her stomach crying out for something more than just crappy coffee, celery, and water. Almost mind-numbingly bored to death… yet still anxious. Celestia passed it off as another trait of a being a goddess and glanced at the clock again. Just another thirty seconds…
“-the next year, we’ll have reached ninety percent capabilities and-“
Celestia held up a hoof and rose from her chair, pausing the stallion in mid-sentence. She gave him a smile that he most likely mistook for approval of whatever he had been blabbering on about.
“I have listened to you proposal carefully and have decided it would be most beneficial to Equestria if it was implemented. Please, talk to the secretary out front to make an appointment for when we can meet again to iron out some areas and I’ll take a look at the work tonight.”
The pony had the biggest possible smile stretched across his face, and he bowed to the princess.
“Why thank you, your highness! Finally, somepony sees the importance of training hospital security to deal with the threat of zombie and ninja attacks.”
Wait, WHAT? When had that been in there? Did she really just tune out an interesting conversation for once and say yes to a harebrained scheme?
Eh, what was another million bits or so out of the royal budget.
Rubbing her forehooves against her temples, Celestia looked at Feather Duster, the orchestra in her stomach adding some percussion.
“It’s twelve o’ clock exactly. That means its noon. Noon means lunch, and lunch means NOW.”
“Of course! The royal chefs have prepared a delicious cup of celery soup…”
Celestia groaned and slid back in her throne.
“Thy appearance is absolutely ridiculous…” Luna told her sister from her bed, casting a critical eye on what the sun goddess was wearing.
“I’ll have you know, this was very fashionable two decades ago.” Celestia said as she slid the last of her work out leg warmers over her hoof. She had removed all of her royal reglia, and her multi-hued mane had somehow been pulled back in a scrunchy ponytail.
“I cannot imagine any century, let alone the current one, in which a mare would consider that ‘fashionable’.” Luna shook her head in bewilderment. It was only a few minutes before Celestia’s appointment with her new personal trainer, and the sisters were relaxing in Luna’s room.
“You should have been here for the seventies…” Celestia said with a small smile, as she turned around from the mirror. Said smile slid from her face and crashed to the ground, where it shattered into a thousand pieces. “Luna… is that a milkshake?”
Luna was laying on her back, her hair a waterfall of stars as looked at her sister upside down from the edge of the bed. A tall cup was in her hooves, the straw positioned delicately between her lips.
Celestia felt her stomach rumble again and tried not to think of the thick, sugary wonderland her sister was currently consuming.
Fortunately, Celestia’s attention was spared as somepony knocked on the door.
“Ah, that must be the trainer!” Celestia said with a weak smile, trying to sound more excited than she actually was. If there was one thing she was certain about, it was that she definitely was not looking forward to this.
The straw dropped from Luna’s mouth as Celestia opened the door and walked into what felt like a brick wall. “Woah…”
Before the pony sisters, towering above even Celestia herself was the largest stallion either of them had ever seen. Gargantuan muscles rippled across his red fur as irises the size of pinpricks stared down at the royal sisters. The pony was snorting like a bull, the veins in his neck sticking out like vines.
Celestia jaw hit the floor at the speed of a sonic rainboom.
Feather Duster poked her head out from behind the monster, grinning broadly.
“Oh good! I was hoping we’d find you here. This is Schwarzwälder, your new personal trainer!”
If I might also be so bold, I also ask that anyone who reads this please take a glance at my blog. It has a message for all the fans reading this and.... yeah... I feel silly now. But it needsto be said.
NOTE ONTHE BLOG: NO, Im NOT leaving or taking that much of a break.... just dont expect updates like, every 2 days or stuff.
Celestia stared down coldly at the monstrosity before her. It was impossible to tell where the paper ended and the pony began. Convulted flesh gave way to thin parchment, both torn and ripped where her horn and magic had gouged it. Crimson blood and black ink seeped from these cut to pool around her, turning was what loose pages that remained around him into soggy squares.
The goddess stared down with no love for the creature before it. Its very existence insulted her and all of pony kind. It had the audacity to take another's form, but couldn't even get that right. Half of its face was that of a pony, while the other have was merely page after page, carefully folded and molded to resemble the shape of a pony. Most of its mane still remained as countless sheets of prisitne white paper, marred only by the black calligraphy of a pony's handwriting.The mistake stared up with an almost pleading look, the golden glow of the beads that were its eyes slowly dimming.
It smiled up at her, a bubble of dark fluid forming at the corner of it's lips. Celestia wasn't sure if it was blood or ink anymore.
"So ThIs Is HoW i EnD?" the half pony asked softly. Its voice held no solid tone for more than a fraction of a few seconds. It Celestia met it eyes, her own red and sore. Her cheeks were damp, but at long last, there was no more tears to give.
Celestia's hoof came down onto one of the creature's soggy limbs. She ground it against the stone, shredding it into pulp. The monstrosity never once screamed or even made a noise. It couldn't feel. It wasn't real.
"You will suffer greatly for your crimes tonight." Celestia whispered. The creature stared at her for a few silent moments.
Then it laughed.
Celestia wanted to rip its throat out, but she didn't think that would even stop it.
"ThEn MaKe Me SufFeR. bUt KnOw ThAt ThOsE wHo SlUmBeR wIlL rEmAiN eVeR mOrE..."
Celestia looked to her throne, where Twilight and her friends lay curled up around it, smiled adorning their faces. Their chests rose gently and evenly with each breath. Their eyes refused to open. Luna lay near by them, in a similar state. The Scroll had fought unto its end to protect her from Celestia.
"ThEy ArE sAfE... aNd HaPpY iN... tHeIr DrEaMs AnD fAnTaSiEs..." the Scroll gurgled. It was beginning to choke on its own blood. "I wIlL pRoTeCt ThEm ThErE... uNtIl tHe NeXt Dawn Of TiMe...
ahsjfsldfjdjjhejekaknjejfuueueeajksjbjkrkjekjaljjljlldnmnmdHAHAH! I have control again!
WOW! I am so unbeleivably sorry about that. My computer, which as you all know, has been on the fritz, forcing me to rewrite this chapter, seems to be attempting to hijack my computer. Once again, we apologize for this non-Slice of Life piece of fiction.
Thanks once again goes out to the awesomeness that is John Perry for editing this trainwreck. As a thankyou to him, why don't you all pop over and check out his stories? Seriously, he's a better writer than me.
Without further ado, we now return you to your regularly scheduled pony fanfiction...
Celestia winced as the noise reverberated across the mountainside like a cannon shot. With butterflies floating in her stomach, she glanced upwards at the mountain peak which still loomed miles above her. It would be a miracle if today didn’t end with a landslide. With the way the ancestors had been treating her thus far, she highly doubted that things were in her favor.
“What are you waiting for?”
Celestia looked behind and gave a resigned stare at the pony behind her. “Mmpgh if best?”
“Schwarzwälder no understand fatty pony!”
Celestia’s spat out the wooden bit that had been shoved into her mouth, and took a moment to extract a stray splinter from her tongue. “Can I take a rest?”
The red stallion gave a disappointed grunt. “Hn. Now? When still have a quarter of the path to go?”
“Just… a few… minutes?” Celestia panted, her haunches slick with sweat.
Schwarzwälder grumbled but climbed off of the massive cube of cinderblocks he had been sitting on and walked over to the white alicorn. With all the delicacy of coarse sandpaper, he helped her out of the bridle she was attached to that had connected her to the building supplies. “Fine. Princess may take five minute break. Then we go back to path.”
Celestia took a deep breath and promptly collapsed onto the dirt path, his white limbs sprawled outwards. Her magic fumbled for the small canteen of water at her side, lifting the flimsy container to her lips. She took a sip of the life-giving water and was sorely disappointed at how little of it remained. It gave her just enough strength to lift her head up and stare into the sunset
Not her sunset. The sunset. Celestia suddenly found herself far too busy to lower the sun herself, completely preoccupied with other things.
Like dragging over a ton of cinderblocks up a mountain
She made note to send her court wizards a basket of muffins.
The goddess inwardly wondered to herself when her world had gone to the Diamond Dogs. Not just by being a princess and dealing with snooty nobles and foreign affairs, but what exactly was the fatal touch that had collapsed the whole house of cards? What indulgence was it that had done her in? Had it been the triple scoop of raspberry and chocolate ice-cream last Tuesday? That bucket of caramel covered popcorn at the opera the week before?
Had it been the second layer of chocolate syrup on that guard last night? Celestia was going to kill herself if it had been that.
Celestia growled to herself, feeling her face grow hot at the very thought. That couldn’t have been it, could it? Celestia silently bit her lip, the taste of bitter iron spreading across her tongue. If it was, she would find someway to travel back in time and slap that sugar-addicted succubus into oblivion and then stick her hoof right up her-
A mound of navy fur let out a tiny snore from where she was curled up on the mound of cinderblocks and shifted in her sleep, burying her face further into her forelegs. The white alicorn spared a small smile for her sister, purely because it took fewer muscles to smile than it did to frown. Or snarl threateningly. With every muscle in her body feeling like somepony had injected sulfuric acid into them, she felt it was best to exert herself as little as possible.
Of course Luna had to opt for the “free” ride up this lovely scenic mountain path, happily adding her own generous weight to Schwarzwälder’s iron bulk. After all, who wouldn’t want an all deluxe, bonefie princess-drawn carriage made entirely of cement?
Only recently had the night goddess fallen asleep, tuckered out after staying up for hours after her usual time. Celestia narrowed her eyes at the adorable filly. A lesser pony would have thought of nothing other than the aura of innocence the night goddess radiated. But Celestia knew that beneath that cherubim exterior was a mind that even now was filled with nothing but evil.
A butterfly gently settled on Luna’s nose. The night goddess’s nose twitched in her sleep, and let out a tiny sneeze. The butterfly calmly flew off, only to flutter around and resettle again onto of Luna’s hair.
“Break over,” Schwarzwälder shouted, tossing the bridle back to the goddess. “Hold this rope and PULL PRINCESS PULL!”
Celestia sighed and with a great reluctance, slipped her royal head back into the bridle and chomped down onto the wooden bit. With her feet feeling like lead, Celestia’s shoulders fell hard with each step, her haunches burning from the pressure. She could dimly hear Schwarzwälder pushing her onwards behind her with brief interruptions of Luna’s snores. Celestia lifted her head up, swallowing the thin mountain air, and cast her mind back to how this insanity started.
Earlier that day…
“…and one and two and one and two.” recited the trainer, a green filly with a light yellow mane as she squatted in place. “Bend those knees, fillies!”
The small army of elderly mares sluggishly picked up their paces, snippets of gossip moving among the crowd as they mimicked their instructor. A few other fillies jogged on some of the tred mills, and nopony was even touching the weights save for one mare who looked suspiciously like a stallion in drag.
With a grace that could only be achieved by thousands of repetitions, Slender Flank blew a bubble of gum. She settled more into her seat at the receptionist counter. The filly gave a brief glance around the gym.
Slender Flank hated to admit it, but it was a slow day. Heck, it had been a slow week. The number of ponies who showed up the gym anymore, let alone those who had purchased membership, had been steadily declining these last few years.
The pony had inherited the all mares gym from her parents when they finally decided to opt for retirement after almost thirty years of business. It was less of an ‘all mares gym’ now and more of a ‘please, somepony just walk through the door’ gym, since Slender had decided to open membership to both genders to attract more customers. Business had never been incredible, but it seemed less and less mares seemed to care about actually working out so much as they were counting the calories in their hay. As she watched the drag pony bench press half of his… her… its own weight, Slender began to truly consider scrapping the entire thing and selling the Haunches gym.
“Alright ladies, let’s begin bending exercises. Chin to your hooves.” said the trainer. The filly gracefully bent her back, managing to touch her chin to the tip of her hooves.
Slender winced as an audible ‘POP’ echoed throughout the gym. It wasn’t her gum, that was for sure.
“Consarnit, Mah hip’s done an’ gone out again!” Granny Smith cried, pressing a hoof to her back.
Slender’s eye twitched as another chorus of ‘POP’s joined the first. Once again, it wasn’t her gum.
She would have to have yet another conversation with Brisk Jog. Slender gave a sigh, increasing the size of the pink bubble attached to her lips, and turned a page in her Cosmarepolitan magazine.
No… she didn’t need to have a talk… she needed a miracle…
‘Ding-aling’ chimed the doorbell as someone stepped into the gym. As if on cue, Slender discreetly popped her bubble of gum and sat up in her seat. Slender put on her biggest smile and looked up at the newest person. “Welcome to the Haunches Gym, where we’re guaranteed you make you the leanest, meanest and most perfectly sculpted pony you can be- WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!” Slender screamed. She angrily got out of her seat, staring daggers at the giant red pony who barely managed to fit through the doorframe, his bulk completely obscuring it.
“Schwarzwälder is here to make ponies the leanest, meanest and most perfectly sculpted ponies they can be.”
Slender gave an angry growl and got walked right up to Schwarzwälder, poking him in the chest with her hoof. It was like an ant trying to punch a boulder. “I told you to get out and never show your face here again and I meant it! Get out of here!”
“Schwarzwälder is here for his old job back.”
Slender could only gawk at him, words failing her. Was he serious?
Yes… yes he was. Schwarzwälder probably didn’t have enough brain cells to be anything but serious.
Slender Flank furiously shook her head, tossing her lemon hair back and forth. “Absolutely not! Especially not after what happened last time!”
“It is not Schwarzwälder’s fault old pony’s limbs were made of tissue paper.”’
“I’m still paying his hospital bills! That pony was lucky that they were able to reattach his lower half correctly!”
“Old pony will be fine.”
“He has to drink his food through a straw!”
“Liquid diet give more nutrients to scrawny frame. He have skin of iron next time.”
“Don’t even get me started on all of the sexual harassment!”
“….Schwarzwälder is not apologizing for that.” the red giant grumbled, pushing past the tiny filly before him.
“I mean it! Don’t make me call the guard!” Schwarzwälder ignored her, and instead began rummaging around stacks of metal plates used for weight training. “What are you doing!”
“Excuse me. Is everything alright my little pony?” asked the graceful voice behind Slender.
“No, everything is not alright! I-I-I yai yai…” Slender Flank trailed off, her eyes becoming the size of dinner plates as she turned around. She had been so focused on Schwarzwälder she completely failed to notice (That pony was huge for ancestors’ sake!) the ponies that had come in with him. Immediately, Slender caught herself and knelt before non other than Princess Luna herself.
No, not only Princess Luna. Princess Celestia was here too. The princess looked as though she belonged in an eighties workout film.
“Your highness! W-what are you doing here?”
Princess Celestia didn’t exactly seemed thrilled at the situation she was in. “My sister and I would like to join your gym.” Celestia mumbled.
Slender’s mood perked up considerably, and the filly tried very hard to keep her face from spreading into a grin.
“Of…. Of course your majesty! For how… how long?”
“Just for about a month-“ Luna nudged her sister with her elbow. “-Two months-“ Another elbow in the ribs. “Three months! I’d like a three month membership here!” Celestia balked, sending a glare at her sister. Luna had a proud and smug look stretched out across her face as Celestia gingerly rubbed her ribs.
Both sisters looked back to see a massive smile stretch across Slender Flank’s face, threatening to encompass her entire face. The filly seemed on the verge of exploding with happiness. “Of course! Anything at all, your highness! Here at Haunches we boast the newest and most fitness equipment to offer you a workout regiment suited to your own special needs. We also have a wide selection of trainers who are always happy to work hoof-on with you-“
Luna gently interrupted Slender. “Schwarzwälder is going to by my sister’s trainer.”
Slender Flank’s brain decided at that point and time to go on holiday. “What?”
Luna smiled eagerly and waved a hoof towards Schwarzwälder, who was busy trying to straighten a barbell he had
accidentally stepped on. “Is he not magnificent! He has been hoof picked to help my sister bulk up!”
A cautious smile flitted across Slender’s face. “I’m… sorry, your highness. But I’m afraid Schwarzwälder no longer works here,” the filly said, her eyes glancing at the stallion who was now proceeding to bash the dumbbell against the wall. “But we have trainers just as qualified! Brisk Jog does a wonderful job! I’ll even train personally to ensure you get the best possible treatment here!” she quickly added.
“Nevertheless, it is Schwarzwälder we would like to work with. We can assure you, bits are not an issue.”
“I…” Slender gently chewed on her lip. This was a bad idea. “Alright. He can stay. Feel free to use any of our facilities… or any of our other trainers while you are here, your majesties.”
Luna thanked the filly and turned back to her sister. Celestia was staring morosely at the front cover of the Cosmarepolitan magazine on Slender Flank’s desk. Such beautiful ponies…
Her hoof gently touched her stomach. There was no doubt she could pinch more than just an inch.
Such thin ponies…
“We’re all set to go!”
Celestia looked up at her sister. The alicorn was trying to eagerly nudge her to the set of weights that Schwarzwälder had accumulated.
“Luna… I’m not sure about this…” Celestia whispered quietly. Luna gave a confused look at her sister.
“Why not ?”
Celestia nervously pawed at floor. “It’s… it’s Schwarzwälder,” Celestia lied, “Doesn’t he seem… off to you?”
Luna looked at beefy pony whose mane practically scraped the ceiling of the gym. “He seems a finer specimen than any of the ponies thou hast protecting us.”
“Normal ponies aren’t that big! He’s massive! That can’t be normal!”
“Thou surprises me sister.” Luna said softly. “Thou used to admire such stallions, who would sit with us in our feasting hall all those years ago. Those same warriors who would boast of having fought a manticore single hoofed, and then warm thine bed-“
“Alright, alright!” Celestia said quickly, a blush coming to her cheeks. “It’s just… something just doesn’t seem right about him. There’s no way he got that big without steroids.”
Luna gave a quizzical look. “Steroids?”
“I’m saying he has fake muscles.”
“Look, there is nothing wrong here. I’ll show thee.” Luna whispered to her sister. She tapped the trainer on the shoulder.
“Ya?” The beefy stallion rumbled, as he glanced back to look at her. There was a clink as he slid another disk of iron onto the bar. Celestia gave a whimper as she watched Schwarzwälder add more and more weight. The wooden floor beneath the dumbbell was beginning to sag downwards from the accumulated disks, but the trainer took no notice of this.
“What exactly is thy duties here at the gym?” Luna asked politely.
Schwarzwälder’s face stretched into a rather hair-raising smile, his pinprick like eyes fixated on the little moon goddess. Celestia suddenly felt a great urgency to grab her sister and get the buck out of there.
“Schwarzwälder lifts things up and Schwarzwälder puts them down.”
Luna frowned in confusion and titled her head. “Surely that is not all thou does here.”
“Schwarzwälder lift things up and Schwarzwälder put them down.” Schwarzwälder replied again, before turning fully around to face the royal sisters. What looked like a thick pillar of metal lay horizontally on the ground before him, almost as thick as Celestia was tall. He bent down on a knee and placed his great head underneath what remained visible of the barbell bar, letting the hoof long opening it slip over his neck.
Celestia looked on in disbelief. “There’s no possible-“
With a mighty guttural roar, the red giant’s entire body bent back up, taking the mass of weight with it. Veins stuck out like ropes alongside Schwarzwälder’s neck as the barbell settled evenly on the stallion’s mighty shoulders. His tiny eyes now practically bugged out of their sockets, looking ready to pop out any moment now.
“….way.” Celestia finished weakly. She suddenly found herself unable to properly realign her jaw, which seemed to have detached itself from its socket and now hung limply. Luna, on the other hand, beamed at the pony, her eyes shining in admiration at the herculean feat of strength.
Schwarzwälder nodded in approval at the weight, rolling in shoulders. The red giant bent and straightened his knees a few times, lifting the load with him. “This is good.” Schwarzwälder said. He then looked dead at Celestia. “Catch.”
Catch? What did he mean by-
Celestia’s eyes widened in horrified realization. The goddess desperately tried to backpedal away from the trainer. “Nonono no No!”
For the second time that day, Celestia’s life flashed before her eyes. Once again, she was sorely disappointed.
Her diet didn’t allow buttery popcorn.
Schwarzwälder bucked the dumbbell of off his back and into the air. With a precision that should have been impossible, it soared through the air with the fatality of a nuclear war head to land squarely onto Celestia’s back as she tried to scramble away.
Celestia was no stranger to pain. More than once she had fought in the front lines alongside her little ponies. More than once she had thrown herself carelessly infront of dangers of horrific nature to protect her subjects from them. She had bled as was flesh maimed by griffon claw. She had endured as entire body scorched and burned by dragon fire. Once she even had her horn snapped off. And she had persevered, night after night, from hours and hours of paperwork.
She had many words on the sacrifices she made for her little ponies…
…but for this? Well, only one word would suffice.
Celestia’s legs quivered, turning into jelly as the edges of the world around her went dark. It felt as though somepony had fused her spine together into a toothpick, and then had proceeded to smash said toothpick with a mallet. The floor groaned beneath her as it had with Schwarzwälder. Her brittle glass legs wanted so desperately to give out, but found themselves unable too, locked in place by the weight.
“Mmm, good. Princess can lift weight. Not too soft.” Schwarzwälder nodded in approval. He then bent down and pressed his face close to Celestia’s. The goddess’s stomach churned, struggling to keep her lunch down. The giant was an overwhelming combination of sweat and body odor. "I am going to PUMP YOU UP! Fatty princess shall have MUSCLES on her muscles.” Schwarzwälder shouted, his voice blowing back Celestia’s ethereal hair.
He reared back into his back hooves and struck a pose, his forehoof pointed to the ceiling. Schwarzwälder’s entire body seemed to double in size as the pony flexed every muscle in his body. Celestia’s could’ve sworn having triceps that big were unhealthy. “Lift those fifty times for warm up. We move onto cardio workout afterwards. Soon, Princess will have muscles like Schwarzwälder!”
“F-fu-fifty?!” Celestia groaned through braced teeth. She sent a pleading look to her sister. Equestria be damned. Just a flare of Luna’s magic and the sweet embrace of death would be hers at last.
Luna caught Celestia’s look and gave the briefest of smiles before a scowl of disapproval crossed Luna’s face. With all the weight of the night itself, the goddess approached the trainer.
“Schwarzwälder, this is absolutely ridiculous! How can you possibly think this is any sort of satisfactory warm-up?” Luna protested for her sister, stamping a hoof down.
Schwarzwälder raised an eyebrow at his sovereign. “Explain. Schwarzwälder do not follow.”
Celestia gave an involuntary shudder her lower body slowly began to grow numb to everything. She just to last another minute, nay, just another few seconds. Luna would be able to speak up for her. Luna was going to chew out the trainer and he’d make her do something a little more sane! Luna was-
“The weights are far too light!” Luna exclaimed, pointing a hoof at the mass of iron on her sister’s back. “Look at her! This is naught but a walk through the park for a pony who raises the sun each day. Surely you have something heavier at hand to put her royal limbs to work?”
--Luna was going to throw her sister under the bus.
The alicorn could almost hear the squeak of the hamster wheel in Schwarzwälder’s brain as the trainer Schwarzwälder stroked his boulder of a chin with his hoof, pondering this idea. Celestia’s look of hurt betrayal to Luna was returned with one of innocent confusion.
Celestia’s brain made a note to herself that if she survived this, she was going to have to find a new sister.
“Night Princess has point.” The trainer pony exclaimed suddenly, his voice booming throughout the gym. “Schwarzwälder has new idea! Better idea! Schwarzwälder will double, no, triple the weights! This will help get fatty princess back in shape three times as fast!”
…on second thought, scratch that prior note about finding a new sister. There was no bucking way Celestia was going to survive this.
Luna excitedly raised a hoof. “Oh oh! I have an idea! What if after this she adds a thousand pushups and a thousand sit ups to the warm up?”
That was it. Luna was getting written out of the will.
“Yes! But this is not workout for puny pony. This is workout for goddess. Two thousand pushup and sit ups!”
‘My wardrobe of gala dresses and evening gowns will go to Fleur De Lise. Sure, the nobility would flip their lids at the mere thought of a born commoner wearing the cloth of royalty, so I’m hoping they all have simultaneous strokes and better the gene pool when she actually does. They can go suck salt for all I care.’
“For her cardio she should run on hot coals! It will be like being in a sauna and a taking a run!”
‘-and I’d like to leave the contents of my private library to my beloved student, Twilight Sparkle. I sincerely hopes she enjoys and puts to use the things she’ll learn in my Cosmarepiltan collection and trashy romance novels…’
“When Princess is all done she can take a cool down swim of three miles upriver. Schwarzwälder knows butcher who will supply the steaks and piranha.”
‘-I’d also like for her to have my personal toy collection for her own pleasure. I have no idea where she’s going to find housing for the royal guard, but I’m sure that massive tree can house more than a few.’
“How does that sound sister? Soon, you’ll look just like you were years ago.” Luna asked her sister, with a wide smile, only for it to vanish in surprise at her sister’s appearance. Celestia’s limbs were juddering, her eyes vacant of anything but the strained expression of anguish stretched out across her ashen-hued face. “Sister, are you alright?”
This seemed to snap Celestia out of her daze and she feebly looked up at her Luna. Water began to collect at the corners of the sun goddess’s eyes. “I’m-“
“No time for chit-chat!” Schwarzwälder boomed from the other side of the gym. Several other ponies covered their ear from the deafening shout. “Start lifting. Schwarzwälder find heavier weights for fatty princess.”
Luna sighed and brushed a limp strand of hair out of her sister’s eyes. “Come now sister. You can do this.”
Celestia gave a timid nod. Time to meet the reaper.
With every fiber of power in her divine body, Equestria’s goddess of the sun attempted to stand back up.
Apparently, some things were impossible for even a goddess.
Celestia back muscles screamed themselves into an oblivion of pain as her spine struggled to lift the weight of the dumbbell. The wood flooring groaned beneath her as she braced her hooves for purchase against the crushing gravity that was working against her. It was bending downwards at a dangerous angle, and several ponies working out around
them were backing away. Celestia’s eyes felt as though they were ready to shoot out of her skull like ping-pong balls.
“Just a little more Tia! Thou art almost a quarter, nay, a third of the way there!”
By sheer divine providence (Luna’s cheering wasn’t helping at all), Celestia was able to lift the weight centimeter by centimeter, until finally she found herself back in the standing position from early, the dumbbell at the height of it’s ascent.
“One…” Celestia counted, her legs as shaky as ever. A bead of sweat rolled down the goddess’s white fur to her chin. Celestia’s eyes tracked it as gravity once more decided to flip her the middle finger, and the drop fell to the floor, splattering against the wooden panels.
There was a sudden groan of stressed sound and a rapid series of cracks as wooden began to snap. The sun goddess looked down at spider web of cracks which formed themselves in the floor underneath Celestia. The groaning grew louder.
Celestia looked back up at Luna. “Oh buck me in the-“
The floor suddenly gave way underneath the goddess, the wooden paneling shattering completely and dropping the princess into what Luna could only assume was the basement. The night princess winced as she heard the dumbbell hit something that sounded very… white…
Luna dashed over to the hole and stuck her head in, trying to see if her sister had survived. “Sister! Is thou alright?”
Schwarzwälder came back with a new series of weights stacked onto his back. He merely stared in silence for a few moments at the chasm that had appeared in the middle of the gym, before pressing a hoof to his face.
“Fatty Princess is truly is a tubby pony…”
Tears shimmered in the corners of Luna’s as she pressed a hoof to her mouth in shock. She leaned against the white marble railing of the balcony, looking down upon all of Equestria.
It was beautiful.
In muted hues of darkness and silver, the entire land seemed to glow beneath her. Awash with the light of the moon, the colors from the surface’s plants and rivers rebounded more vivid than they ever did before. There was something more substantial to them now, yet ethereal all the the same.
Shadowed trees rustled gently in the warm summer breeze, as silver brooks snaked their way across the green fields of Equestria. The leaves themselves seemed to glow with a pale otherworldly light.
Ponies frolicked and played and laughed and worked and lived across the landscaped. Towns and cities bustled with activity, bustled with life.
Luna turned her face up towards the sky, closing her eyes in sheer bliss as she felt the warm light touch her skin. As soon as she opened her turqoise eyes she, her breathe escape her once again. The moon, her moon, fresh and white, hung in the sky larger than she had ever seen it before. Shadowing it was the blackness of night and that was what took Luna’s breath away.
There were so many stars. Lna knew them all by name, and had crafted each and everyone of them by hoof. They were all here. Every star Luna had created for the night, every constellation she had carefully strung was here. The cosmos themselves were here in perfect quality. Not a single star was blocked, or dulled, or muted. She had never remembered a time when all of them could be seen.
The earth was lit and the sky was black, a more surreal sight would be hard to find.
It was the most beautiful thing Luna had ever seen.
“Does it make you unhappy?” her companion asked from alongside her. Luna shook her head, her eyes beaming as she cried.
“Is this nothing more than a dream?” Luna whispered silently, squeezing her eyes shut. “Will I wake in the morning and find this to be nothing more than a selfish desire? A foolish filly’s dream that-”
A white hoof placed itself upon her lips, silencing her.
“This is not a dream...” the white colt whispered back with a smile and Luna opened her eyes. There was such warmth in his yellow glowing eyes that Luna couldn’t help but feel safe around him.
“This is real... and this night of yours will never end...” the Scroll said gently, as he traced a hoof down the dark alicorn’s cheek, wiping away Luna’s tears. “It’s beauty will never be marred... and neither will their love for it...” His fur was warm against Luna’s cheek. “Or my love for it...”
Luna gave a content sigh as the Scroll pulled away, walking towards the window to her bedroom.
“Come on, I’ll race to you to the Astronomy Tower. Celestia’s setting up the telescopes so we can go stargazing!”
Luna giggled and chased after him, a smile stretched out across her face.
Tonight was the most perfect of nights.
The Scroll gently stroked the sleeping Alicorn’s back as Luna’s chest slowly rose and lowered in peaceful breath. Its paper hoof gently brushed against her starry mane, and the briefest flare of light appeared in its artificial eyes.
“So beautiful...” the Scroll whispered. It traced it hoof against her cheek, the touch of her warm breath against its fake limb lost on the creature. “Just like her mother was...”
Nothing could mar the content look its carefully molded paper face.
Not even the incessant pounding on the doors of the throne room. The Scroll quietly sushed the noise, turning it’s gaze to the doors. “Do not worry about them... nothing will end your happiness...” the Scroll promised, and the massive wooden doors were enveloped in a purple hue of magic. There was a splinter sound as they cracked majndnfn 38 83nb nkdkei93 4455# HAHA! Finally, the battery is working!
People, you would not BELIEVE the last two week’s I’ve had. If you’ve noticed on my blog, things have been crazy in my life. As a very fast recap, let me list some of the things. Four college exams, one right after another, two class projects, work, chores, one of my younger siblings (who is a piano player) absolutely destroying his finger bones/tendon (so he might not be able to play piano with his hand again), issues with a scholarship I’m trying to get, girlfriend driving me lovably nuts as usual and of course, to make my day tons better, a potential divorce (that's still a maybe it seems). So yeah, if I’m not ready to curl up and cry by the end of this, it’ll be a miracle.
So fun fun story about this chapter. It was actually a last minute thing because I had ANOTHER chapter written for this. Then I got an idea of an increadible scene I wanted to do, so I went and reworked later chapters for that scene. But by workin that scene in, I realised that I couldnt use that chapter for this! So on Sunday I had to write a brand NEW chapter just to get this my plot to work, only it gets BETTER. My battery overheated and died and the chapter was stored on this computer! So I held-off plugging anything up or doing anything until the problem was fixed!
So I wound up fixing it (I should start a charity with the funds going to fixing this laptop), and using what time I had today to finishing this. JohnPerry, as always, is a total BRO for editing this for me. Yet again All of you, and I mean it, should go check out his page.
Shoutout also goes out to my mare, Fine Plot-OWCH! *rubs his shoulders from where she punches him* Alright, alright, we won't use that name! Shoutout goes out to my mare, Darth Lolita, also for doing major editing for me. She's the one who drives me adorkably crazy. :P
He’s my inspiration you know. *nods nods* Oh, and by the looks of it, my computer hijacked my computer while the battery was out. Straaaaaaaaange.
Well, that’s a Slice of Life for yeah.
“The pain… I see a light at the end of the tunnel… the pain keeps me from going forward.”
“Sun Princess is also drama queen. Schwarzwälder did not know this. Schwarzwälder will be sure to bow twice next time we meet.”
Luna anxiously followed the trainer, her worried gaze never leaving Celestia’s prone form. The goddess had been unceremoniously flung onto the stallion’s back, unable to walk let alone move. No doubt all of Canterlot was laughing their pedigree plots off right now at their goddess’s expense.
Upon Luna’s back sat the massive set of weights that had defeated Celestia, a present from the ever considerate Schwarzwälder to help Celestia train when he was not around. Yet the goddess of the night was carrying them along without so much as a sweat, though she did have trouble keeping pace with Schwarzwälder’s long strides.
“Ow. Ow,” Celestia murmured, her eyes squeezed shut as Schwarzwälder handled her none too gently. Each step of Schwarzwälder’s hoof sent a twinge of discomfort through her prone frame. “Ow. Ow.”
“What’s wrong with her?" Luna asked, trying keep to pace with the giant. "Will she be okay?”
“Sun Princess will be fine. What Princess is feeling is lactic acid built up in her muscles. Sleep and rest good. By tomorrow, soreness will be gone.”
“Ow. Ow. Ow.”
The red giant turned his head to look at the princess on his back as he lumbered down the hallway. “Baby Princess should stop whining. Schwarzwälder knows Princess is stronger than this.”
“Those piranhas had dentures! Metal dentures! Where does a fish even find a dentist for that?”
“Bah. Those fish gave Princess love bites. Fish find Princess very attractive. Very easy. But wait till Princess sees sea bass from Oxtria. We work with them tomorrow.”
A look of relief adorned Luna’s face. She gently stroked her hoof along her sister’s back, in a vain attempt to comfort the sun goddess. Celestia cringed under Luna’s hoof, and the moon goddess whispered an apology. “That seems like an easier challenge for mine sister.”
Swarzewalde gave a mirthless smile. “Sea bass are from where Chernobull went kabloowie.”
Luna froze in her tracks.“I’m afraid to ask, but what-“
“They are very tenacious,” Schwarzwälder finished for her, “and they taste delicious.”
Luna appeared absolutely mortified while a look of disgust crossed Celestia’s face, and the goddess struggled to get off of the stallion’s back. The very thought of a pony eating any sort of creature turned their stomach. Celestia pressed a hoof to her mouth, struggling to keep down what little she had in her gut.
Schwarzwälder stared blankly at them for a few seconds until the hamster in his brain decided to come back from break and resume its jog. He suddenly looked as appalled as they did.
“Not that Schwarzwälder would know personally!” the pony quickly explained. “Schwarzwälder has never tried. Griffon friends at old job in Oxtria, they speak of fish. Schwarzwälder only eats the hay.”
“Is it also from near Chernobull?” Celestia asked dryly. The red giant grinned and nodded.
“Even more ill-tempered. Hay likes to bite back. Like Oxtrian sharks, except without the magic.”
Celestia decided that if she could get away with it this year, she would try to embezzle funds from the Grand Galloping Gala budget in favor of a construction project. After all, What pony in their right mind would waste bits on diamond encrusted napkins when they could be used to build a nice thick wall around the province of Oxtria.
“This is where Schwarzwälder drops you off,” Schwarzwälder said abruptly. Celestia had managed to lift her head off of his side to see that they had arrived infront of their bedroom door. With a moan, Celestia slid off of the stallion’s back without so much as a “Thank you” and threw the doors to her room open, shakily bolting inside.
Luna carefully levitated the barbell off of her back, setting it down gently onto the plush carpet.
"I found that surprising as well... I'll have talk to her about it. Thank thee for thine time today."
"Is no problem. Is what Schwarzwälder does," the trainer rumbled respectfully. "Now to come up with new regiment for tomorrow... and to apologize to Slender for floor."
Luna gave the giant a wry smile. “The royal treasury will take care of the damages. I have a feeling this will only be the first of many…”
The two bid each other goodnight, and Luna couldn’t help but stare after Schwarzwälder as the stallion lumbered down the hallway. She wondered if he had any boasts of slaying Manticores…
Luna sighed as she shut the door with her magic. Those days were long past for her. She then turned back to her sister. Celestia had just barely managed to drag herself over to her ornate bed, and now laid upon it. Her eyes seemed to be glazed over as she stared up at the ceiling, relishing in the comfort of her soft mattress. Somewhere in the time Luna had spoken with Schwarzwälder, Celestia’s hair, which bards had written poems on, had deflated back into the muted pink strands Luna was so familiar with. They hung limply around the white alicorn’s face.
Luna climbed onto the bed with her sister, and rested her chin on one of her hooves. She idly traced circles into the silk sheets with the other, avoiding her sister’s eyes. Luna had never seen her sister this tired.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There was the one time the two sisters had been forced to carry the weight of the sky. But that was another story for another day.
“So… about today…” Luna began, nervously.
“How can you possibly lift that thing?” Celestia asked, her eyes still not in the present. Luna gave a look over to where the barbell sat in the corner. It lay against the plush carpeting harmlessly like a child’s toy.
Luna gestured towards it. “How could thou not?”
“Luna, that thing nearly broke my back!"
“Tis but iron; weak metal cut from the earth’s womb and smelted by mortal hooves. How could it possibly best thee?"
Luna shook her head in disbelief. "Tia, thou hast worn battle armor that weighed nearly thrice it's load! Thou hast collapsed mountains onto the heads of dragons. How can thou consider such a weight to be heavy?"
"That was then, this is now!" Celestia grunted. "Alright, how did you stay in shape on the moon?"
"I spent every waking moment of my time in exile preparing both my mind and body for inevitable and glorious combat with thee. I felt assured that thou would do the same, especially since thou had a millennium to prepare for my return! What did thou do Celestia?"
"Well... see... about that..."
Fifty Years Ago...
"Here it is, your majesty." the archaeologist beamed, as his assistants wheeled the covered display in front of the princess. "It took us almost a year but we were finally able to override the arcane seals and recover your blessed armor from the ruins of the Everfree."
With as much flourish as a magician, the archaeologist Dig Site gripped the sheet with his teeth and unveiled his discovery.
Celestia rose from her throne and trotted over to the display case. Held within was one of Equestria's earliest creations. It was a suit of armor designed to be worn by Equestria’s sole solar princess. Celestia had been amused by the gift, something that the Arcana Council had forged centuries ago, but never thought she would need to actually put it to practical use.
Celestia pressed her hoof against the glass, the condensation of her breath fogging up the glass ever so slightly.
It was beautiful.
As it was deadly.
Forged out of enchanted red gold, the metal seemed to burn with all of the warmth of summer. Celestia could not help but marvel at the fine, almost invisible and impossibly small runes, etched along the metal seams. Celestia found herself silently mouthing the old tongue as she read the wide variety of incantations. She let a single tear roll down her cheek in remembrance of the ponies who had spent almost a decade forging and enchanting this armor.
She had laughed good-naturedly at it then. There were precious few things that could possibly hurt an alicorn, and with all of the power of the sun itself at her disposal, even less that could pose even the slightest danger to her. A suit of armor for the princess, no matter how well forged, had seemed like giving an extra set of wings to a pegasi; completely unneeded.
Celestia desperately wished she had a chance to go back and thank those ponies one last time. The armor had saved her life in the battle against Nightmare Moon, especially after Luna had crafted her own, using darker enchantment to enhance the armor.
She would need it soon for one final battle.
Celestia turned her head to look at Dig Site. "Open it."
The moment the key had turned into place, the princess's magic took hold. The case flew open, and with it came the armor. Pieces of plate mail began to hover around her as she strapped on the under-harness with her telekinesis. One by one, each piece snapped onto the harness, interlocking with every other piece.
The guards around Celestia marveled in awe of her at sight of their now warrior princess. Some even covered their eyes from the blinding glow. Even Captain MacApple, the sturdy young solider who seemed to the princess's new confidant let his ever present monocle drop from his eye. This was not the same pony who had spent hours with the bickering nobles with a smile on her face. This was a deity from time before legend, a golden centurion from an age long past.
"I desire to... spar... guards... to the courtyard..." Celestia's strained voice came from within the armor. It sounded as though she was in great discomfort.
"Your highness, is everything all right?" MacApple asked, a small frown crossing his face. The golden princess stiffly nodded.
"Just... dandy... fits... like a... glove..."
"Well... alright then." MacApple said with a weak smile. He then turned his gaze onto the soldiers standing at attention. "All right now stallions! Hup-to!" MacApple ordered. "Fall into line! Silence in the ranks! About face! Company march into the sunset, wot. Left left right right! Left left right right!" he continued.
As the soldiers filed out of the throne room, MacApple turned back to the princess, who had remained motionless. "Umm... forgive me for asking, your majesty, but aren't you coming?"
"I'll be... right... there..." came the high-pitched voice of Princess Celestia.
Some of the pegasi soldiers exchanged glances, confusion crossing their faces. There was the groan and squeak of metal against metal.
"Can't... move..." Celestia gasped as she attempted to lift the leg of the sardine can she was in. "Can't.... breathe..."
Slowly, little by little, MacApple watched as the golden goddess lift her magnificent hoof off of the palace's tile flooring. "Ha! Success!" Celestia cried as she managed to place it forward. There was another sudden groan from the armor. Celestia's somehow managed to lower her head and look down at herself. The bolts securing the armor were rattling in place. "Uh oh"
When MacApple recounted the story to his grandfoals years later, he boasted that it was the years of hard training in her majesty's service learning to dodge lemon meringue pies that gave him the swift reflexes that saved his life.
In reality, it was more than likely dumb luck.
"Hit the deck!" the officer shouted as he dove for the floor. He had just managed to cover his face with his hooves and fold back his wings before he encountered his first brush with death.
As if somepony had pressed a detonator, the armor had suddenly turned into a weapon. With a hundred tiny 'pings', the golden bolts and screws that had held together the armor plating shot out of their casings, finally free of the built up pressure. The bits of metal shot in all directions, and ponies just barely managed to leap out of the way in time as the shrapnel flew by them. Professor Dig Site himself dove behind the display case as a line of bolts came flying his way.
The metal dug into the stone walls and pillars around the throne room, causing bits of sharp stone to ricochets onto the cowering ponies. One of the bolts shattered a particularly elaborate (and undoubtedly priceless) stained glass window and sent a shower of brilliantly colored pieces of jagged glass on everypony.
The entire thing lasted maybe five seconds. For MacApple, it felt more like five hours. He kept his hooves firmly in front of his face, well after he thought the danger was over. It was only concern for his princess and his stallions that forced him to finally tentatively peel his hooves off his face and access the situation.
The royal throne room was a mess. Small hoof sized craters marked the floor, walls, and ceiling where bits of metal had embedded themselves into the stone. Pieces of broken columns and glass lay scattered around the floor, and dust from the said broken stone drifted through the air. Dozens of ponies lay trembling on the floor, still shell shocked.
MacApple shakily got to his hooves, brushing bits of stone off of his uniform. He gave a scowl at his broken monocle, now dangling useless by its cord after a rock shot through it. No matter, he had five more at home.
"Damage report! Is anypony hurt?" MacApple coughed through the dust.
Otherwise, there was a series of groans and negatives as everypony got to their hooves. Captain MacApple gave an exasperated sigh of relief that the non-immortal, non-rapid healing ponies were alright, and then proceeded to turn his worried gaze to his princess.
The goddess stood at the epicenter of the blast, still clad in the golden armor, the ground closest to her practically unscathed. Celestia turned to look at MacApple, raising her hoof to take another step far more easily than last time. "You know, it feels that it fits a lot more comfortable now that-"
The princess was interrupted as her chestplate fell from her body and clattered to the floor with a loud 'CLANG'. The noise echoed through the heavy silence that hung over the throne room. Flabbergasted ponies watched on as the armor fell apart around their Celestia, showing her white fur yet again.
Celestia sighed and took the golden helmet off her head, shaking her frizzled hair out of her eyes. She gave a half-hearted kick at a leg-brace before giving at a very shaky Professor Dig Site a hopeful look.
"...you didn't happen to find one of these in an XL, did you?"
Celestia gave the matter carefully thought. "Several centuries of pampering might've done me in." Celestia admitted charily.
Luna pressed her hoof to her face and shook head in disbelief. "Tia..."
"Well, a millennium was a really long time! I thought it didn't matter when I got in shape, so long as I was ready for when Nightmare Moon returned!" Celestia said defensively, her cheeks turning red.
"So thou decided that instead of meeting me in open combat, thou would use the Elements of Harmony against me?"
"Sure… let’s go with that…” A glare from Luna demanded further explanation. “They weren't my first plan due to their... previous history..." Celestia explained with a tinge of regret in her voice, "But yes, that was the route I ended up going for in the end. I had other things in place, just to be safe, of course.”
"So that explains thine absence at the Summer Sun celebration upon my return. Thou was preparing another one these plans had thy student failed."
Celestia laid back, snuggling into her pillow with a silly grin stretched over her lips.
"Well... not exactly," Princess Celestia, matron of Equestria and regent of Sun, said with a giggle. "See, there was this new guard who they just inducted into the ranks, so I was kind of busy with his glazing ritual."
"....surely thou means 'hazing ritual'."
Celestia licked her lips, her cheeks rosy with the memory. "He was like a fresh donut-"
Luna pressed her hooves to her ears, turning her eyes up to the ceiling. "I don't need to hear this! Lalalalalalalalala!"
"- and there were sprinkles everywhere-"
"-cream filling right up-"
Celestia burst out laughing at her sister's antics, holding her sides to keep her sore body from shaking. She wiped a tear from her eye. She hadn't even gotten to the best part where-
Celestia's stomach rumbled, yowling inside of her.
"Luna..." Celestia said with a sudden seriousness. "I want to go get donuts."
The night princess pulled her hooves from her ears, looking at her sister's face. There was no mirth, no amorous playfulness, or any devilish smile. Only complete earnestness.
"Right now?" Luna asked,
"Yes Luna. Right now."
"Celestia, everywhere is closed."
"I know. I know they're closed, and I know I'm not suppose to have any, but I really really want a donut."
"Then just call one of the servants to go make you one."
Celestia pressed her hooves against the mattress of the bed and sat up, her pink hair blocking her eyes from Luna's view.
"You know that's not going to work."
“Won’t work because of them, or because thou won’t let thyself go about this entire ordeal like a sane pony?”
“Celestia… thou is torturing thyself for no reason. “
“Luna, I already explained-”
Luna's horn shone brightly for a moment, before something fizzled and sparked into existence in front of the sisters. The blue alicorn caught it before it could fall onto the bed, and held it out to her sister.
"I know I'm NOT suppose to be giving thee this... but I talked with Chef Ram Sea earlier today and we both agreed that this is entire diet is a stupid idea... and thou really looks like thou need this right now."
Celestia's magenta eyes watered at the sight of the object in Luna's hooves.
It was a milkshake.
With shaky hooves, Celestia took the sugary drink from her sister. It was taking every ounce of her willpower to keep from instantly diving in. The sun goddess slowly raised the straw to her lips.
She stopped it only a few centimeters away, and gave a worried look to her sister.
"Luna... I really shouldn't..." Celestia began, but Luna raised a hoof, cutting her off.
"Thou hast worked hard today sister, and thou need the energy. I won't tell anypony if thou don't."
Celestia looked back down at the drink, feeling her heart tighten in her chest. This diet was necessary... she shouldn't... no couldn't stray from it.
'Luna has a point... you need this energy...'
But if any of the servants found out about this, then Feather Duster would find out. And if Feather Duster found out then-
'Nopony is ever going to find out. Luna isn't going to tell anyone...'
Celestia began to count all of the calories in her head this one cup contained. How long would she have to run to work all of them off? How many pounds of fat would this single drink put on her flanks?
'Just one milkshake can't hurt.'
Wasn't it better that she just dealt with this entire thing now? There would be plenty of milkshakes once she was thin again.
'One smooth... icy... sweet milkshake...'
“Thank you Luna…” Celestia whispered, and the smile her sister gave in return melted the sun goddess’s heart.
Celestia felt an overwhelming sense of love and compassion toward her sister. Luna was a savior, a hero, a paragon of all things virtuous. Warmth filled Celestia's chest as she knew that Luna cared, deeply, about her needs. Luna truly was the only one in the whole wide world who truly understood her.
Celestia smiled broadly at the blue alicorn in front of her and took a long draw on the straw.
Best sister ever.
Luna gasped in shock as Celestia spat out a spray of thick green something into her face.
“This is disgusting!” Celestia screamed, rubbing at her tongue. “Uuugh, I can’t get the flavor off of my tongue!” I thought you said that was a milkshake!”
“It is! Head Chef Ram Sea made it himself for thee!” Luna shrieked, magicking a towel in existence to whip off her face.
“What the heck is in it? Vomit?!”
“I believe he said it was broccoli, alfalfa, green peppers, garlic, tomato, cinnamon, carrots, and kale. It’s supposed to be a vegetable milkshake.” Luna recited, thinking back on what the chef had told her. “Why, what’s wrong with it?”
“Oh my god, Luna, it’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted!”
Five minutes ago in the royal kitchens...
Chef Ram Sea gave a critical eye on the target infront of him. The sheep's beady eyes were narrowed at his prey. The briefly flickered to the motionless doors of the kitchen, as if daring them to open, before returning their solemn vigil.
Behind the Head Chef stood the entire staff of the Royal Kitchen, patiently standing at attention. More than one pony had their breath held as the seconds slowly ticked by. Even at this late hour, they dared no step away for one moment. Cooking utensils were kept close at hoof. Stoves remained lit. They were chefs, and as chefs they would be ready for anything-
The minute hand leapt forward. It was 10:00 PM.
Chef Ram Sea smiled and took off his poufy hat. "Alright lads. Time tae wrap it up fur th' night."
There was a collective breathe of relief from all in the kitchens. The Royal Kitchens were finally closed for the night, and would be maintained by a small night crew until morning. It was time to go home. Amiable chatter began to pick up amongst the chefs as ingredients were carefully stored away, and the royal pantries secured.
One by one, ponies of all ages and genders made their way for the swinging doors of the kitchen. The closest, an orange filly by the name of Pumpkin Spice, reached out her hoof to open them.
"Hauld on a minute. Ah have somethin' important Ah need tae tell ye all." Pumpkin squeezed her eyes shut and groaned inwardly to herself. Freedom was so close... maybe if she was quick she could sneak out...
Pumpkin turned around and trotted back to Chef Ram Sea with a spring in her step. Self-preservation had won over freedom. She had no desire to be made into a pie today.
Chef Ram Sea gave each of the cooks gathered around him a good long look over. It was time to break the news...
"Tae begin wi', a couple of annooncements." the sheep said as he produced a notepad from somewhere on his wooly body. He flipped it open with a cloven hoof, and peered closely.
"First on mah list, Ah'd like tae wish a canty birthday tae our own French Loaf from th’ pâtissier department-"
Congratulations and well wishes sprung up directed to the young stallion, who smiled as the Chef acknowledged him.
"-yes, congratulations. you're anither year closer tae bein' gart intae glue, laddie." Ram Sea muttered as he turned a page. "Ah'd also like tae warn ye in advanced 'at due tae time constraints, our weekly disco competition thes Friday will hae tae be canceled-"
This elicited a series of silent groans and disappointed looks from the surrounding ponies, and Pumpkin Spice swore under her breath. She had been looking forward to that.
"-keep yer hooves on, ye stoatin buck toothed crybabies. There's aye next week... nae 'at Ah'd expect onie ay ye tae actually win against me." Ram Sea leered good naturedly. He flipped to another page in the notebook as the cooks chuckled amongst themselves. Chef Ram Sea was a chef who boasted almost godlike skills in the kitchen... the same could not be said for his dancing skills.
""Och aye... 'at…" Chef Ram Sea trailed off as he read the final bit in his notebook. He sighed and gently closed it, placing the book back inside of his wool. " Let's gie somethin' straight lads an' lasses. Ah’m nae guid at speeches sae I'll cut straight tae th' point. You're all aware ay 'at Operation Drop has gone intae motion, an' until Princess Celestia gi'es us th' green light-" here Chef Ram Sea shot a glare to the ceiling lights, as though daring them to go off again, "-Its your duty tae ensure that she is fed nutritional meals tae help encoorage 'er weight loss. Ah won’t bairn ye, thes isn’t gonnae be easy as bakin' a cake. 'at princess is a wily a body, sae we also ‘ave tae make sure SHE DISNAE ENTER THIS KITCHEN!" the sheep roared.
Some of the ponies closest to him took a few nervous steps back, if but o put distance between themselves and the chef's indirect anger.
"You're all guid cooks, coz if ye werenae, Ah wooldnae be standin' here discussin' wi' ye!" Ram Sea hollered. He swung his hoof out, hitting a series of pots and pans to the floor in the process. "You’re th' best ay th' best, an' that’s wa we can’t screw up! A single wayward pastry, one accidental scoop ay ice cream an' BAM! We're back tae squaur buckin' one an' we hae tae start thes ancestor's damned process all over again!”
One off the pony cooks tentatively raised his hoof.
“Yes laddie, speak up now. Ah’m nae gonnae chew yer head aff, ye stoatin lug.”
“Forgive me for being ignorant on this matter, Head Chef!” the pony quickly said, in an attempt to calm the Chef’s wrath before it came crashing down. “But how can we possibly keep Princess Celestia out of the kitchens?”
“It’s nae a bad question laddie. Th' guard has posted roon th' clock watches ootside th' doors ay th' kitchens, an' we’re gonnae keep a tight lock an' key on th' larder. Nopony goes in an' out 'at we don’t know an' teel me, Pumpkin Spice, am Ah borin' ye?”
Pumpkin Spice gave a small jump as her name was called and tried to look as though she had been following along. The truth was, she had been in her own thoughts since Ram Sea started talking, eagerly just looking forward to going home for the night.
“N-no Head Chef!” Pumpkin stammered out under Chef Ram Sea’s glare.
“Oh, good 'en. Well, Ah suppose ye can tell ay th' class th' answer tae thes question then: a patron orders a HLT piece, but th' kitchen is out ay hay. Whit dae ye dae, lassie?” Ram Sea asked icily.
‘Shit, I don’t know! I work the garde manger!’
“Umm…. Politely let the patron know the kitchen is out of hay, and perhaps substitute the hay for Munster cheese?” Pumpkin Spice guessed, her heart pounding against her chest.
Ram Sea smiled. “That’s th’ correct answer...”
Pumpkin felt relief wash over her, her legs threatening to buckle and collapse on the floor.
“…if ye worked at buckin’ Burger Queen!”
Pumpkin felt the blood drain from her face. Ponies around her quietly edged away, leaving the orange filly the face the Chef by herself.
There was a brief flash of blue magic from behind Chef Ram Sea as a tall cup vanished from existence on his station. The cooks in the kitchen knew that glow from anywhere: Princess Luna’s magic.
“So that’s yer solution tae everythin' is it? Drench everythin' in yer fancy magical cheese?” he asked nastily, his words as sharp as a ginsu knife. “It’s 'at sort ay fast-food grease mongerin' mind-set 'at got us in thes situation! Ponies like ye don’t deserve tae be called a royal chef!”
“I-I-I’m sorry!” Pumpkin spluttered, an impressive feet in itself with a wolf in sheep’s wool only feet away.
“I don’t buckin' care if you’re sorry or th' Bludy queen ay Sri Llama! It takes a refined palate tae nae fall for th' hoddin tricks of cheese!” Ram Sea poked a hoof at her chest. “We need tae focus on health now, or we’ll ne'er make true gourmet meals again for 'er highness! Ah don’t care if ye hae tae beg, borraw, steal, or kill, ye will fin' some buckin' hay an' put it oan 'at sand… wich?” Chef Ram Sea trailed off slowly.
Something was wrong.
His eyes grew wide.
Something was very wrong.
The sheep suddenly fell back on his rear, his hooves pressed over his heart. A look of shock passed across his wooly face, and his jaw moved up and down silently, gaping silently. Ponies worriedly rushed to his side.
“Someone call an ambulance!”
“Are you alright?”
Ram Sea angrily pushed them away from him, nonchalantly brushing a stray tear out of his eye as he did so. “Git out ay here! I’m braw ye thin-flanked ponies! That’s all for th' night. Go’en home, an' Ah better see ye here bright an' early…”
Copper Kettle watched the other cooks file out of the kitchen for the night from the corner of the kitchen of the kitchen. He sighed and dropped another peeled potatoe into the bucket next to him.
“What do you think that was all about?” he asked his companion.
“Mim furbalence.” Whisk muttered, trying to focus on finishing their nightly punishment as soon as possible.
“What was that?”
Whisk spat the paperclip out of his mouth and put his potato down. “Ptoooie. I sense a disturbance in the force. And you know what that means…”
“Boy, I wish…”
Dear Princess Celestia,
I cannot tell you how happy I am to be finally uploading this chapter. I know alot of ponies have been patiently waiting for it, and I am pleased to say it is finally here. Life, work, and school have been absolutely insane for my, your highness. At one point, I had to put down all Pony things to divert my attention to my studies. I am now happy to say I am doing well and have passed all exams with flying colors. To be perfectly frank, I have rewritten this chapter from scratch no less than six times, on account i wasnt happy how each of them were turning out. In the end, I felt it was best to split this chapter into smaller chunks due to its length. These finished chunks will be released, on time, over the weekend, as well as some smaller chapters, as an apology to everyone for making you wait so long.
To all my friends and fans, and of course, my younger brother who edited this chapter like a BOSS,
Your faithful archivist
Brrrrrrrinnnnnng! Brrrrrrrinnnnnng! Brrrrrrii-click.
Celestia’s hoof slid off the surface of her alarm clock as she blearily opened her eyes to the cool darkness of her room. One of the few benefits of raising the sun was that you never awoke to somepony yanking the curtains open and blinding you.
That was about where the benefits ended, however. It also meant you had to be up before the crack of dawn.
“Another day in paradise…”
With great reluctance, the alicorn slowly peeled herself out from between the two layers of heaven known as her bed and blankets. She used to think this was the hardest part of the day; getting out of bed. Now it proved to be one of the few moments of tranquility before her day began.
“I’m getting too old for this…” the sun goddess muttered to herself, as she stared at the mirror. Indeed, Celestia could have sworn that she looked more her age than usual. Her worried reflection pressed a hoof up against its cheeks. Her skin wasn’t sagging, was it?
Celestia uncertainly stepped away from the mirror, still eyeing herself. She had promised herself that if she ever started showing grey hairs, that was it. Abdicate the throne, toss the sun to Luna, hope she’d catch it, and then spend the rest of her eternity lounging on a tropical beach soaking up sunshine. After how the past few weeks had been the Ancestors knew she deserved it.
She wasn’t being vain, she was being practical. But there was no way in Equestria she would deal with a museum full of grey-haired self-portraits.
Her steps sluggish, Celestia pulled open the drawer to her dresser and fumbled for her now unnecessary fail-safe. It was still another hour until sunrise, but there was no possible way she was getting back to bed. She might as well get a fresh start on her day.
With a tired yawn, Celestia turned back the hands of her snooze alarm and carefully tucked the clock amidst the folds of clothing.
“Same time tomorrow?”
In a way, she envied the time piece.
Nopony bothered it.
All it had to do was activate once a day, do its one sole required duty, then it could climb back into its nice, warm, dark drawer and sleep the rest of the day away. Her snooze alarm was comfortable within its own metal skin. Why wouldn’t it be? She never made fun of it’s perfectly round figure.
Nopony called it fat.
The great glass doors opened and Celestia stepped out onto her balcony, the snooze alarm clock dangling from between her teeth. Her magenta eyes narrowed, peering out into the darkness. In the distance, her sister’s moon was hugging the horizon, merely waiting for the final push from Celestia to be lowered. Almost of all of Canterlot was still and quiet tonight. Some ponies had already begun to rise before her dawn tending to their wares and jobs. Somewhere, far away in the distance, the warm scent of fresh bread drifted up from some baker’s oven and reached the very edge of Celestia’s nostrils.
The goddess closed her eyes, trying to savor the rare extravagance. When was the last time she had smelt this? When was the last time she had tasted it?
It was whisked away a few seconds later, by the cool almost-morning air which blew through her pink hair. Celestia let the alarm clock drop into her hoof and released a disappointed sigh. Too short… like everything else in her life.
Her gaze swept over the grounds of her palace, looking for the most optimal target zone. Celestia smiled. The royal garden would do nicely.
Maybe this day wouldn’t be a complete waste. Maybe she could convince her guards to take her down Baker Street on the way to the Haunches Gym later today. Maybe the bakers and pastry chefs would be wide open today, the entire air filled with the scent of wholesome rye, fluffly Prench, spicy pumpernickel…
Celestia snorted to herself.
Yeah, and maybe she’d grow a pair of fins and a tail.
“The Fillies are leading 15 to 14. The White Fetlocks are up to bat. Seventh inning, bases loaded, two outs...” The white glow of Celestia’s magic took hold of the clock, suspending it in the air infront of her. She reared back onto her hooves, and the clock zipped back with her. It began to shake as the pressure built up behind it. “…and here’s the windup pitch!”
Celestia suddenly released her magic and the alarm clock shot off like a rocket, shooting out into the night. Celestia held a hoof to her ear, leaning over the balcony in eager anticipation.
Her face broke out into a grin as she heard the joyous sound of smashing clockwork. Celestia threw her hooves up into the air, basking in the non-existent roar of the crowd. “AND IT’S OUT OF HERE!”
With a smug look across her face, the white alicorn sauntered back into her room. Oh how she wished she could do that to all of her problems…
The Royal Gardens
It was a beautiful night, Private Hoplite decided as his eyes briefly flicked to the starry heavens above. A fraction of a second later, and they were refocused on the empty space in front of him. The guard kept his breath slow and steady, his ears primed to pinpoint even the faintest of sounds.
The early chill of the dawn had been creeping into his armor for the past hour or so, and it numbed his movements. So long as his reflexes were compromised, Hoplite knew he had to be constantly vigilant of his surroundings. Anything could come from around these hedges and bushes. The Royal Gardens were a dangerous place.
Okay, so Hoplite had to admit to himself that maybe the Royal Gardens weren’t the most dangerous of places. But it would be a start to his illustrious career.
In a half an hour, Princess Celestia would finally raise the sun and he could relax. Hoplite could almost feel the warm sunlight soaking into his feathers and porous bones.
The white Pegasus held his head proudly, nostrils flared. Constant vigilance. That’s what would raise him through the ranks. Yes sir, nopony would get by him on his wat-
“Well well, look who’s on guard duty again.”
It took all of Hoplite’s will power not to jump out of his armor in surprise and remain firmly planted where he stood. ‘Oh for Celestia’s sake, not again.’
The Day Guard raised his cerulean eyes to the heavens once more, and lo and behold, the bane of his existence. The grey filly flapped lazily in front of the guard, her body encased in the black armor of the Night Watch. He sent a stoic look her way
“What’s the matter big guy? Manticore got your tongue?”
Lethe pouted when Hoplite remained silent and snapped her bat-like wings shut, landing in front of the guard. She took her place next to him, and nudged him with her knee.
“Hoplite.” Nudge. “ Talk to me, Hoplite.” Nudge. “Hoplite.” Nudge.
Hoplite finally relented and sent a look to his companion, muttering through his gritted teeth “What do you want, Lethe?”
The grey Night Watch gave a broad impish smile at her counterpart.
“Ah! The stone decides to speak!”
“Go away. I’m on duty.”
“What? Can’t a gal give you some company?” Lethe asked, batting her golden eyes.
“No. She can’t. Go away.”
Lethe pressed her hooves against his cheeks, mushing his face together.
“Awww, Mister Fwwony face is being seewious.”
“I am seewi- serious! I am serious! You can’t be talking to me right now!” Hoplite stammered. “If the Captain sees I’m not at attention, I’m going to get in a lot of trouble.”
Lethe stuck her tongue out at the guard and tossed a hoof over Hoplite’s shoulders. “You’re being to serious. You’re watching plants. Not only are you watching plants, but you’re watching them grow. That has to be the second most boring thing in the world, beaten only by watching paint dry.”
“I swear, you have no sense of duty!”
“You have no sense of fun!”
“We’re not here to have fun! You’re a guard. I’m a guard. That’s it, that’s all there is to this job! Now go home for the day, will you?”
“No. You. Me. Right now. Fifty rolls of toilet paper ALL over the Arcana tower. I’ll even give you first throw. You KNOW you want to.”
“Lethe, if I leave, then-“
“What? You think the roses are just going to get up and walk away?”
“Oh, maybe the Butterfly Burglar is gonna sneak in and pick all the flowers?”
“You’re not being fun-“
“Or gasp! An uncertified landscaper might come in and mow the lawns!”
Hoplite gave her a flat stare. “Are you done?”
“Me? Heck no, I can go all day.”
Hoplite gently peeled her hoof off of him and resumed his stationary position. Silence passed between the two of them for a few minutes. Hoplite was grateful for the return to silence. Hopefully, Lethe would pick up the cue and-
“Look, I have a deck of cards back at my locker. How about I get them, and you and me play a few rounds of strip poker?”
Hoplite’s composure broke, and his jaw dropped ever so slightly. “You seriously did NOT just suggest that. I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”
“Yeah, you’re just saying that cause you know I’d win every hand.” Lethe moved her lips close to Hoplite’s ear.
“You know I always wondered if the curtains matched the carpet for you.” Lethe whispered, running a hoof through Hoplite’s buttery mane. He pulled away from her, scowling with tinges of pink around his cheeks.
“You’re unbelievable, you know that?”
Lethe bit her tongue and winked playfully at him. “Miiiiine does!”
The Day Guard sighed and pressed a hoof to his face, if but purely to hide his blush. “You know I don’t see mares as crudely as other stallions do, right?”
The Pegasus rolled her draconic eyes, smiling in disbelief.
“Why’s that? You keeping yourself pure for the Princess?” Her eyes lit up and her grin widened as she noticed Hoplite’s blush deepen. “Oh my ancestors, you are! You have a crush on Princess Celestia!”
“It’s not a crush!”
“Yes it is! You actually think you have a shot at her! Oh wait till the boys on the graveyard shift hear about this!” Lethe laughed. Hoplite’s scowl deepened, his face thoroughly burning with embarrassment. He pressed his forehead against Lethe’s, pushing her back. Leathe was still laughing, a smile on her face.
“Well, what’s wrong with that! Princess Celestia is perfect! She is the nicest, the most beautiful, and the kindest pony who ever lived and-“
The laugh died in Lethe’s throat as she watched Hoplite go down. Something smashed against the side of his head, shattering upon impact and showering her coat and armor with bits of metal. The guard was knocked several feet to the ground, and the Night Guard hit the deck, reacting on pure training as her body covered her companion’s. Her wing’s snapped shut over him and the Pegasus made herself as small as possible. If the next round landed anywhere close to them-
Lethe’s heart pounded in her chest, expecting an attack that never came. Once she realized this, she fell back onto her rump, her eyes wide and shocked. She pressed a hoof to her chest, feeling it pound against the ribcage. That had scared the crap out of her.
“See, now if you had just gone with me, none of this- Hop!” Lethe shouted, galloping over to the Day Guard’s side. His eyes were shut and he was unmoving.
“Hop! Answer me Hoplite!” Lethe said worriedly, smacking the guard gently with a hoof a few times. He gave an incomprehensible murmur before blacking out again. The grey pegasus gave a sigh of relief. Hoplite would live.
Lethe looked at the shattered mass of shattered metal, wires, and gears and felt the back of Hoplite’s head. Sure enough, there was a bump nearly as big as Celestia’s sun.
Lethe cringed. “Oh that has got to hurt.” She began to pick him up, when a thought suddenly crossed her mind.
“I wonder if he has his wallet on him?”
“Of all the times, why now?!” Celestia shouted in frustration. With a little more force than was required, she slammed her hoof against the faucet handle. The metal bent under her hoof, but it served her purpose. The stream of water that rained down on her was abruptly cut off.
She could only stand there in shock, her chest heaving, from experiencing the most vile of horrors.
She raised a giant ball of flaming gas each morning for her ponies. She had fought shadows that terrified even her, creatures long forgotten and now safely locked in Tartarus. She had sent her own sister to the moon for a thousand years to protect them.
How did they repay their princess?
By letting the pilot light go out again, of course.
Well, if Celestia wasn’t awake before, she sure as heck was now.
Her teeth chattering like castanets, the goddess made the bold decision the ponies of old once did; to venture forth from cold waste to warmer climate. Celestia snatched a fluffy white towel from a nearby pile with her magic and ran it across her body, swiftly removing it of the offending water. She shivered as she stepped out of her shower and onto the cold marble tiles.
How utterly typical. Out of the fridge and into the icebox.
With a mental note to have a few firm words with the royal plumber and a warming spell cast upon her body batted away the chilly advances, Celestia made her way over to her bathroom sink and prepared for the last of her routine.
He lay there on the sink like a faithful lover patiently waiting for her return. Celestia smiled, and ran her tongue over her teeth. His touch was as soft as pegasus down, and yet, firm enough to reassure Celestia of his strength. His massages were to die for…
Out of all of her inanimate possessions, she knew that at least he would remain true and faithful to her. She had many names for him. He was the staunch defender against decay. A paladin against plaque. The hero who fought daily with halitosis. He was Celestia’s royal knight of her pearly whites and his name was-
Her magic froze the brush in place a few inches from her teeth, and her eyes widened in disbelief. With a shaky hoof she held it up to eye level.
“Et tu, Mr. Scrubby?”
The cruel sting of betrayal pierced Celestia’s heart and her lip trembled from it. How could she not see the betrayal earlier, the evidence of his deceit? There, on the glorious white bristles, was the unmistakable smear of chocolate.
“You… you’ve been brushing with other mares, haven’t you?”
He remained silent, too ashamed of his transgression to even speak with her. No more words needed to be said between the two.
Without so much as a goodbye, Celestia swiftly banished the traitor to the depth of her bathroom wastebasket.
“Heal, oh my wounded heart...” Celestia whispered, pressing her hooves to her chest. The pang of sadness left her as she hardened her heart, and turned her gaze to the future. There would be other brushes. Ones more sensitive to the needs of her gums.
After a brief one-morning stand with one such brush, Celestia turned her attention to the last of her companions.
Celestia couldn’t deny it. It was a love-hate relationship. He brought out the worst in her and was the sole reason her life was miserable right now. But unlike the mirror who made her look old, unlike the alarm clock who selflessly lounged around, unlike the shower who found new ways to torture her and unlike Mr. Scrubby who would brush any willing mare, her bathroom scale was always honest with her.
Brutal... but honest.
Celestia squeezed her eyes shut in dread of what she would find when she opened them as she stepped onto the scale. The goddess’s heart beat once, twice in her ivory chest before she finally worked up the nerve to see the damage.
The red light on the scale was flashing again.
It was going to be yet another one of those days.
The Royal Kitchens
Copper Kettle brushed away the bead of sweat that rolled down his forehead. It felt unusually hot in here, even for a kitchen. With a shaky hoof, he wiped it away and made the fatal mistake of looking at the person across the table from him.
Head Chef Ram Sea face was inscrutable. The chef had already removed his traditional hat, and was patiently waiting for Copper Kettle to make his move. The kitchen staff were a hush of whispers, their eyes fixed on the two. Copper tried to block out their voices. He couldn't afford any distractions.
He couldn't postpone it any longer. The young chef nervously reached for a utensil.
The ghost of a smile appeared on Ram Sea's face.
'HANG ON! Wait! Wait wait wait a minute! Think this through!' Copper's mind screamed at him.
Copper Kettle immediately withdrew, his mind racing. Was the Chef playing him? Did Ram Sea have some sort of trap set up and was Copper falling into it?
'Things have been getting worse and worse since this began. Surely it can't be a series of unfortunate events! Every time I try to make things easier for myself, it just gets ten times worse! I really need to think this through before I start making any moves. But what do I do?' Panic slowly began to grip Copper Kettle. 'The Chef won't wait forever. If I try to go for something easy, it's bound to end bad! But maybe I should draw him in and make him react first... ' Copper Kettle wanted to punch himself in the face for such idiocy. 'NO! That's just asking for trouble! And if he didn't fall for it, I'd just get yelled at again.'
Chef Ram Sea began idily tapping his hoof against the table, an utterly bored expression across his face.
'What do I do what do I do what do I do? It's as though he has some sort of evil grip on me that I can't shake from!' The orange cook pressed his hooves to his head, staring with frustration at the wooden surface in front of him. 'I can't choose something too simple or he might think I'm trying to throw this! Maybe I can sabotage his recipe... No! He won't take too kindly to that! There's too much at risk! Unless he wants me to think that! Maybe this whole patience thing is just a front so he can have his own way! After all, that's the reason we're even doing this. But what if I'm wrong?! Think about how disastrous that would be?! I can't afford to go that far and-'
A tap on his shoulder sent Copper looking up into the face of his partner, Whisk. His partner in crime gave a solemn nod. "I got your back on this. He's not gonna get you this round." Whisk said, sending a dirty glare to Ram Sea.
The Chef smirked, and leaned back in his seat.
"Well, are ye gonna make a move or what, ye lumpish crook-pated puttock?" Ram Sea asked condescendingly. "How abit we make things a wee mair interestin'. Th' losers git tae clean pots an' pans for th' next week." It was enough to push Copper Kettle over the edge.
"Deal!" The unicorn grabbed the card from his hand and slammed it onto the table. "I play the Utensil Card 'Serrated Knife!' Now if you attack my Lilywurst it'll turn into three Deli Slice tokens!"
Chef Ram Sea smirked. "A Deli Slice wall. Nae bad, nae bad. But Ah'll tak' mah chances an' Ah'll have mah-"
"Not so fast!" Whisk interrupted, as he flipped a card over on his side of the table. "You just activated my Appliance 'Flaming Range'! Now all your food is burned and sent to the Trashbin, and with each one, you lose two hundred Kitchen Points!"
There was many gasps and 'ooo's from the audience. The cooks were awed by the brilliant play and necks craned forward to see the remaining cards on the table.
Soggy Grounds, a sallow brown unicorn with a stained apron, threw down his hand in disgust. "He's got me. I'm out of points."
Chef Ram Sea was furious. "Ah thought Ah tauld ye tae stop stackin' yer deck wi' so many of those damn Coffee class Foods!! They're weak as Apple Crumble's spaghetti!"
"Hey!" shouted the mare indignant from the crowd.
"Och, can it ye tart!" Ram Sea swiped the defeated cards off the table and pushed them to the side. "Ah swear, this is th' last time Ah ever tag team wi' ye, Soggy."
The Head Chef of the Canterlot Royal Kitchen sent a look to where Copper Kettle and Silver Whisk were high-hoofing each other. "Don't get cocky, lads. Ah'm nae out of th' game yet."
A feeling of power and control surged through Copper, and his grinned defiantly at his boss. "You have no Food on the table and only three hundred Kitchen Points left! There's no way you can win this! Looks like you'll be washing my dishes!"
The Scottish Sheep returned the grin with a devious sneer and leaned in close to the cook. "Wanna know a secrete laddie?"
"Ah'm Ram Sea an' this is mah buckin' kitchen." The sheep quickly placed a series of cards in front of him. "...an' in mah kitchen, th' Head Chef ne'er washes buckin' dishes."
A loud gasp echoed from the crowd. Copper Kettle's eyes grew wide as he looked at cards and Whisk groaned, burying his face in his hooves. "Celestia damn it..." Whisk muttered.
"Ah summon a filet mushroom, duxelles, an' a puff pastry! Ah think Ah'll just tribute those tae summon mah Wellington!" Chef Ram Sea said smugly. "Now, Ah suggest ye milk-livered sissies roll up yer sleeves. Ah think Ah'll be mixin' up mah famous maccaroni an' cheese for th' guard tonight. It sticks tae th' bowls like cement! Now kiss mah white fluffy bottom, ye beslubbering-"
AOOOOOOGAAA! AOOOOOOOOGAAA! AOOOOOOOGA!
There was a series of groans and shouts from the kitchen staff as the pressed their hooves over their ears as the sirens blared through the kitchen. A look of defeat appeared on Chef Ram Sea's face.
"Another day, another failure..." Ram Sea muttered to himself,as he pressed a hoof to his heart.
The irate sheep sent a glare to the red lights on the ceiling.
"Ye know what? Ye don't e'en get an insult from me. For the past month all you've done is wail, an' scream like a fussy baby. Well Ah'm done wi' ye. Whisk, get me th' biggest pan ye can find. The rest of ye better watch out for fallin' broken glass. There's gonnae be a lot of it."
Celestia was sincerely wishing she could have toast at this very moment. If anything so she could cut through the tension with a knife and spread it on said toast.
The palace guards stood at attention as the doors swung open and servers came in with silver-domed platters. Their eyes followed the dishes, ready to spring into motion at the slightest movement. There were at least a dozen of them, lining the walls of her private dining chambers.
"At the advice of your trainer, we're serving a light breakfast; watercress-and-mint salad with shaved apple with a side of celery.”
Celestia sat stone faced, her lips a tight unwavering line. Regardless, Feather Duster gave a small smile at the growls that escaped her princess’s stomach at the mention of food.
“I am pleased to hear that you approve,” the maid said, as she lifted the covering of the dish. At sight of the promised salad, and nothing more, the guards seemed to relax. “Since I spoke to you earlier this morning, there have been a few changes with your schedule. The Archduke of Saddleworth has requested an audience with you in regards to- "
Celestia tried not to let the disappointment show on her face at the sight of the subpar serving.
She could have sworn that the prisoners in the royal dungeons were far better fed than this.
Well… to be fair, nopony was in the royal dungeons. They had been pretty empty as of late. In complete and utter honesty, due to government programs and recent prosperity, nopony had ever been imprisoned in the royal dungeons for close to four centuries. So the iron cells and shackles and instruments of the Solar Inquisition sat down there collecting rust and dust in idle use.
Then Celestia went and turned the deep and dank dungeons into a tourist attraction.
Nopony expected the Solar Inquisition Gift Shop.
In the end, it turned out to be a rather decent field trip location for the local schools. Foals could get their own miniature Iron Mares, and the t-shirts were to die for. The profits it added to the royal coffers weren’t bad either.
The point was, however, was that IF Celestia did have any prisoners she would make sure they were better fed than this.
The goddess speared an innocent leaf with her fork , holding it up for examination. As the monarch of Equestria, her judgment had to be firm, fair, and absolute. With merely a shrug of her shoulders she condemned it to a swift death of chewing.
“-Lord Poppy Seed of the Canterlot Merchant guild has also come with an urgent-“
She silently wondered what exactly one would have to do to be to get imprisoned in this day and age. Would murdering the royal hoof maiden suffice? Celestia sincerely hoped so. The real question was would the guards stop her in time? Celestia slowly began to reach for the fork again. Feather Dusty was too busy reading from the long list in front of her to even notice her own death slowly creeping upon her, sharpening it’s scythe for-
“Do you feel that?” Feather Duster asked suddenly.
Celestia paused in her reach for the murder weapon. Curses! The mare would have to-
It was only when Celestia processed what Feather Duster had said that she became aware of what the maid was talking about: a faint tremor.
“What in Equestria is that?” Celestia asked aloud as the tremor grew stronger. The glasses on the dining table began to rattle against each other. Celestia exchanged a worried look to her maid and rose from the table.
“Feather, go quickly get one of the Arcana-oompf!” A sudden quake knocked the goddess out of her chair and robbed some of her guards of their balance, sending them toppling to the floor. Feather Duster’s reaction time was swifter than her liege’s, and the unicorn just barely managed to magic a mattress under Celestia before the goddess could touch the ground.
“Brace yourselves!” the hoof maiden shouted coolly to the guards as they tried to pick themselves up.
For Celestia, the room was still spinning. The castle itself seemed to be shaking. Inside every cabinet and servant cart came a delightful tinkling of glass as if a small party had broken out to toast her sunrise. A trickle of dust fell from the ceiling where the chandelier was whirling violently. Servants ran for cover in door frames, under furniture, anywhere they thought they would be safe.
“It’s an earthquake!”
“Get the princess to safety!”
“Someone get those damn mages up here to-“
Celestia could remember little of what happened next. She remembered staggering to her feet and herding Feather Duster to safety. Canterlot was precariously perched upon the mountainside. An earthquake would ruin the city. She remembered the almost dream-like state of disbelief she was in as she ran to the windows, images of screaming ponies and toppled buildings in her mind. The alicorn pressed her hooves and face against the glass of the window.
Horror reared upon Celestia’s face as she looked outside.
That was when the wave hit.
The window panes shattered as a flood of thousands of small boxes crashed into the dining room from the outside. Ponies were buried beneath the tide as it filled the room. In less than a moment, Celestia was knocked head over hooves, white cardboard filling her vision from every angle. She couldn’t read or tell what sort of images were on them. She just knew they filled her world at the moment.
Like a drowning sailor, the ivory mare made an educated guess as to which way was up and pushed her way to the top.
“BWAAAAAAAAAH!” gasped Celestia as her head breached the surface. Sweet fresh air filled her lungs.
The dining room was filled almost to the ceiling with thousands of rectangular white boxes, all tossed and heaped haphazardly together. All Celestia could see was the uneven surface of these boxes. Somewhere, buried beneath it, were the guards and servants.
Her sister’s head popped up nearby, sending several of the boxes flying.
“Tia!” Luna exclaimed in delight, throwing her hooves up. “We must celebrate! We must rejoice! We must… we must… thou does not look happy.”
“Luna…” Celestia said slowly, “…I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. There’s a perfectly logical explanation to all of this right? Right? Oh, I sure hope so.”
The biggest possible smile broke out across Luna’s face. “Yes! Indeed! It is the most marvelous of reasons! I had thought that mine presence here in Equestria was all but forgotten by our subjects! But they have shown their love for the Night! They have created a delicacy after me! Behold!” Luna picked up one of the thousands of boxes that filled the room and held it up for Celestia to see. Celestia was forced to shield her eyes with a hoof from the halo of light that radiated from the box. Squinting, she was just able to make it out.
On the cover of the white box was a picture of Luna lounging on a crescent moon, eating a dark brown circle.
It was a moon pie.
Luna hugged the box to her chest. “Such flavor! Such texture! Such chocolaty goodness! I just had to buy every single box the grocers had! Every bite sends my tongue into throes of delight! I must have more!” Luna squealed in happiness. In an instant, her magic had ripped the box open, sending the chocolate-covered wheels everywhere.
The Night Alicorn seized one and bit into it with gusto. A look of sheer bliss appeared across her face, and her jaw began to work overtime as she devoured it. “Nomnomnom! Are they not glorious? Tia, thou must try one! Nomnom! Everypony must try one! Moon pies! MOON PIES FOR EVERYPONY!” Luna shouted, her magic causing dozens of boxes to explode in a rain of moon pies.
Celestia’s eye twitched as several of the treats hit her in the face. With all the grace she could muster, Celestia climbed out of the sea of boxes and moon pies, crushing the valuable pastries underhoof.
With a shaky breath she shook out several of the wheels that had become trapped in her hair, tears brimming in her eyes. Luna had gone too far this time. This was too much of a tease. This was like dangling a red, juicy steak in front of a famished dog. Celestia anxiously chewed her lip .
She wanted one. Just one. And there were millions of moon pies here. Celestia loved moon pies. Loved the sweet chocolate. Loved the sticky marshmallow. Loved the crumbly graham cracker.
Loved them so much she even knew how many calories they had: 226.
But one is all it would take. Then it would be ‘Tubby Tubby Tia’ all over again.
‘It isn’t that bad.’ Celestia decided. ‘Luna flooding the dining room with moon pies has got to be better than Canterlot being hit with an earthquake. Lesser of the two evils. In fact, that ranks relatively low on what could have screwed my day up. Could’ve been something infinitely worse like Discord, or an evil Twilight Sparkle or-‘
Celestia watched as another of the chocolate-gramcracker-and-marshmallow concoction was slowly demolished by her sister, the chocolate clinging to the alicorn’s teeth.
The rich, dark chocolate.
“You…” Celestia whispered.
A horrible squeak filled the air. Luna paused in her feast, and turned to see her sister harshly grinding her teeth as a vein throbbed dangerously in her neck. Celestia narrowed her eyes in understanding at her. “You did it! You were in my bathroom again this morning, weren’t you?” Celestia accused. “You used up all of the hot water! YOU used Mister Scrubby!”
Luna knew that hellfire had nothing on the solar flare in the irises of her sister’s eyes.
Luna popped the rest of the moon pie in her mouth and hurriedly swallowed. “…moon?”
“Moon.” Celestia confirmed.
“You’ll never take me alive!” Luna screamed, as she dove into the sea of boxes.
“Luna, get back here!” Celestia shouted as she trudged through the boxes towards where she thought her sister was.
“Never!” came Luna’s muffled reply from somewhere under the surface. The goddess turned around to see Luna pop up behind her.
“I am going to murder you, Luna!”
“Evil boring nag! Return my sister to me at once!” Luna shouted, as she hurled a box of moon pies at her sister before plunging into the boxes again. Celestia growled angrily as the box hit her in the head. A moment later, Luna popped up against and repeated the process, pelting her sister with boxes of moon pies.
“Luna-“ whack “-you better-“whup “-stop-”crack smack fwump “-or else-” thwack “-I’m gonna-“ whack.
ENOUGH!” Celestia shouted with the voice of a titan. Her mane roared into a sheet of flame, incinerating several boxes around her. A wicked smile stretched across the goddess’s face, as she picked up dozens of moon pie boxes with her magic.
“If it’s a fight you want, dear sister… it’s a fight you’ll get…”
Dear Princess Celestia,
I regret to inform you that last night I was unable to see your sister's beautiful meteor shower. The peagsi of Cloudsdale have done a less than spectacular job, and all I was able to see where the bottom of rain clouds. Please inform her of all my apologies and the best of intentions to-
What the- Pinkie Pie? What the heck are you doing here? Your not suppose to show up till chapter-
Up up up! No spoilers! Now comeon! I have the biggest, most spectacular surprise party possible set up for you! We'll have cake and pin the tail on the pony, and drink sasparilla and there'll be streamers and balloons! AND CAKE! OMIGOSH THERELL BE CAKE EVERYWHERE!
Pinkie... its just my birthday, its not a big deal.
Yes it is! You've turned four today!
....don't you mean twenty?
Twenty? You don't look that old. *GASP* Are you an alicorn?
No Pinkie... I'm not. Now if you don't mind, I have a chapter for my fans I need to finish writing!
What, all work and no play on your birthday! Not for my friend! THere'll be games, and presents, and fanart, and tvtropes pages, and maybe someone even make a song, and there'll be remixes of that and-
Are you high? Can I buy a dime of whatever you have?
Always! And no! Of course not! Drugs are bad for you! The fan stuff could happen! NOW LETS GO! HOP INTO THE PARTY CANNON!
*manages to hit the submit button before the crazy party pony drags him off*
“Repair bill to fix a century old Veneightian glass window: eleven thousand bits.”
“Cost of the hospital bill and paid leave for over a dozen injured guards: forty-seven thousand bits.”
“Grocer’s bill for the purchase of over thirty-one thousand boxes of Moon Pies: one hundred and fifty-five thousand bits.”
Celestia smiled. “Having the greatest Moon Pie fight in the history of Equestria? Priceless.”
“With all due respect,” Feather Duster commented dryly, “maybe next time you could pick another, less expensive place, for your shenanigans.” With more force than was probably necessary, she slammed another stack of papers onto the desk. “That reminds me…” Feather Duster hefted another novel-thick stack with her magic.
“It’ll cost at least another million or so bits to fix the palace exterior.”
Celestia scoffed, her eyebrows raised high at the exorbitant amount. “That’s absolutely insane. The marshmallow isn’t stuck on there THAT badly. Can’t we, you know, have Luna just lick it off or something?”
Celestia looked to the side of her study, where Luna was lounging on a couch. Bits of white marshmallow and crumbs of graham cracker clung to her indigo coat, her lips smeared with chocolate. The sticky night goddess had a hoof dramatically draped over her forehead, the other pressed against her bloated stomach.
“I could not dream of another bite…” Luna said weakly. “…at least for another few hours. Give mine stomach time to digest…”
“After what I saw today, that may have been a viable option for us to use; had the damage solely been the mess of food you created.” Feather Duster shook her head in disbelief. “Did the two of you really have to give those pies a layer of explosive magic?”
Celestia had to admit that Feather Duster had a point. Celestia also knew that Luna was an incredibly fast flyer who didn’t play fair, and there was nothing better than a gooey explosion to keep her grounded.
Now if only her aim wasn’t so off…
“Okay… maybe that was overdoing it… but Luna started it!” Celestia pointed an accusatory hoof at her sister.
Luna acknowledged the claim with a low moan, and clutched her stomach. “I confess to the deed. May mine punishment be as delicious as the act.”
The frazzled Feather Duster gave a loud, frustrated sigh. “Itching powder in the guards’ armor. Buckets of tree sap and feathers in the noble quarters. Poison joke juice in the wine bottles.” She listed off, pacing in front of Celestia’s desk. “Your highness, you know my one and only purpose is to serve your interests, and so long as nopony gets hurt I have no intention of ruining your fun.” Feather Duster said, turning a pleading eye to her goddess. “You’ve pulled a lot of pranks over the years but I can’t turn a blind eye to this. Out of everything, this takes the cake.”
“Speaking of cake, any chance of convincing the Kitchens to whip something up? I heard it was the Royal Archivist’s birthday today and I’d absolutely love a slice of-“
“You highness, you know as well as I do that is impossible. I am bound by oath, and I’d appreciate it if you’d stop treating this as a joke and started acting as someone of your station! I mean, look at yourself!” Feather Duster fumed. The unicorn magicked a mirror in front of Celestia.
Celestia wasn’t much better than Luna was looking at the moment. Dark chocolate and bits of marshmallow smeared her snowy form. To her immense amusement, not even her ethereal mane had escaped unscathed, as bits of Moon Pie clung to the solar wind strands. The Sun Goddess hated to admit it, but it seemed that Luna was a better shot than herself.
“I think it’s a good look for her.” Luna quipped from the couch.
“You’ll be the laughing stock of Canterlot if the nobles see you like this.” Feather Duster urged, as she banished the mirror into oblivion.
Celestia pressed a hoof to her mouth to hide the smile she was trying to keep down. “You sound like my mother.”
“My apologies, your highnesses” muttered a less than sincere Feather Duster, bowing as she backed out of the room. Her pocket watch was slowly brought out and the maid sighed as she saw the time. “You wisdom is as sound as ever and your actions are a credit to the great nation of Equestria. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to go take care of tremendous amounts of damage control. In the meantime, IF in both your infinite wisdom and maturity, you decide see fit to NOT destroy half your kingdom with baked goods, I would suggest that Princess Celestia prepares for court. I think it goes without say that we are far behind schedule.”
Celestia thanked her hoof-maiden as she gently shut the door behind her, and with a feeling of dread, turned to the massive column of work in front of her. How she longed for the days of yore, when scantily clad stallions would feed her grapes.
Being an all-powerful goddess seemed so much more promising back then.
“Thy maid seems more concerned with thou being a princess than thyself.”
The white alicorn sighed. “Feather Duster means well and has been invaluable to me. I won’t hold her words against her. I think I can fathom her stress. We did get carried away.”
With great reluctance, Celestia began to tackle the work in front of her. Celestia silently chewed the tip of her quill thoughtfully as her eyes scanned the first page.
There is no requirement for CMIA to provide the parties with the amount due, or the amount they should set aside to cover future payments, before settlement so they can appropriately allocate and resolve these Equicare obligations during settlement. The end result is uncertainty for all parties involved. CMIA is unsure when it will receive repayment. The primary payer is unsure about its bottom line, and the beneficiary, who Equicare is meant to protect, is unsure if they will receive the coverage they were promised…
Celestia swiftly crumpled up the piece of paper and sent it flying into the fireplace. The flames quickly licked at the ivory surface of the page, the edges curling in black. The sun princess whole heartedly believed that the paper was now serving a better purpose as fuel. Something about the amount of trees cut down daily for the sake of bureaucracy ticked her off.
The forests of Everfree, her home, were already smaller than they were a decade ago. There was no reasonable purpose to cut into the sacred wood.
Slowly, Celestia made her way through page after page of proposals, treatises, and bills. Some were spared the flames of her fireplace with a quick signature, and carefully placed in a separate pile. But, as always, the humble fire in the hearth was being well fed today.
Celestia raised an eyebrow in disbelief at the signature of the document, a conflict of emotions tugging at her lips. She wasn’t sure if she should laugh or cry. “Luna… what is this?”
With a loud groan, Luna managed to prop herself up into a sitting position. “What is what, Tia?”
Celestia levitated the document in front of her sister’s face. “This proposal of yours… care to explain what it’s about?”
Luna’s eyes quickly sped over the familiar paper. “Just some recommendations about how Equestria’s space program could be improved. I see nothing implausible about it.” The princess made a grab for the paper, but Celestia lifted it just out of her sister’s reach.
“Luna, half of this document is a ridiculous idea to coat the moon in a layer of chocolate.”
“As I said before, I see nothing implausible about that.”
“Alright then, before I start about the logical flaws and implications of this plan, do you know how many bits this would cost?”
The moon princess gave her sister a flat look, and then turned her attention to a suddenly interesting blob of chocolate on her nose. “Sister, do I look like an abacus to you?”
“Probably over a billion bits.”
Silence passed between the two sisters for a small lull.
“Could I count on you turning the moon into marshmallow?”
“That depends, Tia. Does thou think Feather Duster would think highly of this plan?”
“Absolutely not.” Celestia brought the paper back over to her and scribbled her name on the document.
“Sister, I cannot find words suffice to state my love for thee.”
“I know, Luna… I know…” Celestia murmured tiredly, as she reached for another document.
With a grunt, Luna miraculously heaved herself off of the couch, and slowly trotted over to Celestia’s desk. “I shall deal with this, Tia. Thou should not waste thy time with such mundane frivolities. Clean thyself and do not keep our subjects waiting.”
“You sure?” Celestia asked, a surprised feeling of warmth moving through her. “Oh ancestors, Luna, you have no idea how much easier you’ve just made my day.”
Luna offered her sister a smile and sat down at the desk, levitating the quill with her own magic.
“Think nothing of it, Tia. Thou hast enough to deal with.” The moon-pie splattered moon goddess offered her sister a sly smile. “Now be off, lest I change mine mind.”
Her footsteps as light as a pegasi’s, Celestia practically pranced her way to the door of her study. It wasn’t until her hooves started to stick to the carpet that Celestia was forced to pause.
“Luna… you don’t think there’s hot water left somewhere in the palace, do you?”
Luna paused in her reading and looked up at Celestia with worry. “I don’t think so. Oh my… how does thou intend to get clean?”
A smile crept to Celestia’s face. “I have an idea…”
The sun goddess raised a hoof to her mouth and licked up the smear of chocolate she found there. A shudder of delight went through her body as the sweet flavor melted on her tongue. Luna’s lips curled into a smile that mirrored Celestia’s own, and gave her sister a wink.
“I won’t tell anypony if thou won’t.”
Special thanks to everyone whose wished me Happy Birthday today. It trully... trully means alot to me. And major thanks goes to the increadibly awesome Darth Lolita and John Perry. Darth for, what it seems, spamming everyone who reads Slice of Life, and John for the increadibly awesome Birthday Plug on his wall. Also thanks to my younger bro for editing again. Again, thankyou to everyone, and all of you guys rock. Best. Fandom. Ever.
As you've noticed, this chapter isn't as funny as the previous ones.Tried to do something a little shorter and different. Good things its only a small part of Chapter 6, right? My little birthday present to you all, till the next chappie comes out (which will be soon, I promise)
Your faithful archivist
I humbly present to you chapter 7. Ill admit, but its not a personal favorite. Feel free to skip it if you want.
If you've been wondering "Where the hay was Dawnscroll and why was this chapter so long?" there'll be a blog post later tonight explaining that, and a few other things about the future. Don't get worried but tune in all the same.
Blog post will be up in an hour or so.
Thanks goes to JohnPerry for editing, prereading, and helping me tie together a good part of the story. Almost couldnt figure out how to connect the pieces. As always, he rocks.
If there was one thing Celestia hated, it was parties.
Celestia’s entire body gave a sudden shiver as the temperature around her dropped several degrees. There was a sudden chill in the air that was not unlike somepony dancing on her grave.
No, Celestia corrected herself, this was more akin to somepony digging up her grave, rifling through her coffin, and then playing pin the tail on the pony with her rotting corpse.
Celestia had a sneaking suspicion that said ‘somepony’ had pink hooves.
The princess, however, had her doubts that her would-be grave robber would have taken the slightest interest in this party. Tonight was the eve of the Spring Equinox, and thus, Cherry Celebration. The holiday had many different names throughout Equestria. Her faithful student, Twilight Sparkle, had written to her about one such holiday; she had called it Winter Wrap Up.
Fortunately for the magical unicorns of Canterlot, there was no need for the manual effort to erase the last vestiges of winter.
It had once been one of Celestia’s favorite holidays. The Cherry Celebration had been a night of dancing, good food, and catching up with friends and family. At the end of the night, Celestia would say a few words to the gathered guests. Some profound tidbit of wisdom that would aid them in the coming spring and summer. Then, to the awe of everypony present, chosen members of the Arcana Council and their students would take the floor and begin to weave their spell. Like true artists, they would press their magic against the canvas of reality and brush away the last vestiges of winter chill. The air would warm, and with it came the blossoms.
That had always been Celestia's favorite part. Myrtle. Plum. Crabapple. There were many flowering trees in Celestia's garden, but the one that held dominance over them all was the cherries. Dozens had been planted centuries ago for her and now took firm and solid root in the carefully cultivated soil. As the Arcana mages changed the very air around them, the once bare branches would go through a burst of new life. The black skeletal branches would swiftly become laden with pink blossoms. For Celestia, the scent of the trees had always been the final proof that Spring had truly arrived.
It had once been a night of dancing fireflies, warm lamplight, and blossoms stirring on the warm breeze.
"-of course, the votes of the noble houses are up for grab, but the two candidates will have a tough battle wooing the pegasi voters amid calls from activists-"
"-publishing a book and posing for Playmare, the colt is struggling financially! Never would I have thought that-"
"-and so I said to the Secretary of State, 'Deary, you absolutely must let me do your mane’-"
It had once been her favorite holiday. But that had been many, many years ago.
Celestia found herself now mingling amidst the sharks of Canterlot, engaging in petty politics and rigmarole. No, it wouldn't be right to call them sharks. While it was true that if the nobles had smelt even the slightest bit of weakness amidst their own they would go for the kill, sharks at least had the decency to hunt by themselves. These were more like piranha, traveling in packs and looking for any scrap of meat they could strip clean.
“Doesn’t the princess look absolutely stunning in her dress tonight?”
“It fits her like a glove! Oh, it must be her new diet. I hear it’s all the rage these days.”
Celestia looked down at the garish white monstrosity she now wore. The silk ensemble had started as a gift from one of Twilight’s friends. It had been a simple white evening dress, stylish but not overly extravagant. Celestia had thoroughly appreciated the kind offer.
The royal tailors, however, had gotten their hands on it once they had received word she would be wearing it tonight. Finally, after dozens of alterations and what felt like a thousand feet of lace, they felt it would now be appropriate for her to wear to the Celebration. They had even boasted that they had shrunk the waist as to show her thinning and marvelous body.
Oh, if they had only known the truth…
Earlier that day
Celestia’s labored breath fogged up her bedroom mirror, her skin damp with droplets of sweat.
Feather Duster placed a comforting hoof on her mistress' back. "Please just hold on a little longer your highness. You're almost there."
Celestia bit her lower lip, squeezing her eyes shut. This was beginning to become almost far too much for her. She was going to reach her limit any moment now.
"Ngh... ah.... F-Feather Dustaaaaaaah!"
Celestia's legs quivered as Feather Duster gave another hard tug.
"Stop! Please stop! You're going to kill me!"
Feather Duster spat the cords out of her mouth and gave an irritated look at the princess. "I doubt anypony has ever been killed by a corset alone."
"Then I'm going to be the first if you keep this up!"
"Nonsense!" Feather Duster bit down onto the corset strings again and pulled them back away from the princess, forcing Celestia to arch her back in pain. She growled through her teeth. "You are going to fit into this dress even if it kills you!"
"Didn’t you just say- AAAAAHHH!”
…the good news was that her lower intestines were getting acquainted with their new neighbors, her lungs.
She at least had managed to fit into the dress in the end.
Celestia had to give her maid credit though. Things had thus far gone exactly to Feather Duster’s schedule. The guests had arrived exactly as the invitation had specified. As always, the guests were dressed to kill, each mare trying to outdo the other with the most proper, or glamorous, or in Celestia's holy opinion, most gaudy dresses Canterlot had to offer. For now, they all had about half an hour before dinner to rub elbows with the rest of the upper crust society. Waiters weaved in and out of the throngs of aristocracy in the garden pavilion, offering refreshments and hors d'oeuvres before the main course began.
At five minutes before dinner, the royal guards would double their presence on the grounds. Colonel Mustard, of the royal guard, was no doubt planning to assassinate Lord Strawberry as he did at EVERY social gathering. Or vice versa.
Because heaven forbid either of the eighty-something year old stallions try to butcher each other with a spoon.
She was actually looking forward to this year's attempt. The two curmudgeons seemed to become more creative each and every time they tried to snuff the other one. She had thus been most amused with Lord Strawberry's latest attempt, involving a rather large slingshot and a coconut.
Before Celestia could even begin to protest, an over eager waiter had topped off his princess’ glass. Well… there was another twenty calories under her belt tonight.
Resigning herself to another fifty of Schwarzwälder’s crunches, Celestia took a sip of her red wine. At the very least, it was good for her heart.
The hour was late, and the party was getting into its full swing. The richest, most powerful, most lazy ponies in all of Equestria whiled away their evening with small talk and idle gossip. Whether it was the prices on the commodities market or some rather crass remarks about a duchess’s wig, no topic was deemed too small in importance for the bored, idle rich.
Celestia traced the rim of her glass with her hoof, absently listening to a duke drone on and on about his third wife. For courtesy’s sake alone, she played the part of the concerned princess, nodding at all the right moments and smiling when it was required of her. She had repeated this process for each of her distant descendants who felt it was necessary to infringe on her personal space.
Whenever she was asked where the ‘most noble and beloved Princess Luna’ was this fine evening, Celestia deflected with a simple excuse of ‘royal duties’.
…or as the Princess of the Night liked to call it, buried beneath a foot of blankets and lost amidst a sea of pillows. Celestia wouldn’t begrudge her. Her sister had been burning both ends of the midday candle as of late.
When she was able to, she had managed to pull herself away from the Duke and collapse into the closest seat available, silently nursing her glass of wine.
“You can do this…” Celestia whispered to herself, closing her eyes. “Just a few more hours… its nothing new. Just get through this…”
Try as she might she couldn’t help but tune into the conversation behind her.
Celestia was familiar with that particular lot. A quick glance confirmed it. The two pegasi, one blue and one golden, were the Ambassador to the Zebricans and his wife. The unicorns, orange and grey, were undoubtedly two undersecretaries of her cabinet members, if their uniforms gave anything away.
All four had their eyes fixated on an unsuspecting white-and-pink mare on the other side of the field.
“So, did you see that Fancy Pants’ trophy wife seems to be… more generous than usual tonight?” asked one of the stallions.
“I doubt it has anything to do with her philanthropy.” The orange stallion sneered, giving a disdainful glance at the mare in question. “If you ask me, her curves have become more pronounced. In all the wrong ways.”
“By Jove, are you suggesting that the Fleur De Lis has let herself go?”
“Don’t act so surprised. I mean, just look at her. That’s her second slice of cake this evening. Clearly she’s been letting herself go.”
“That’s what I hear. Apparently rumor has it that she’s set to announce her resignation from her modeling career at the end of the month.”
All heads turned to look at the ambassador’s wife, a shocked “No!” leaving each of their lips.
The golden mare chuckled wickedly between sips of her wine. “Such a scandal for Fancy Pants; I suppose that just goes to show you that even a commoner’s form can only last so long.”
'It wasn’t parties,' Celestia thought venomously to herself. ‘It’s the nobility.’ She was truly beginning to regret putting down that Prench uprising. She had never considered how vastly their guillotine would have improved the royal bloodline. If she wasn’t so sure of Luna sending her to the sun, Celestia had half the mind to drag the old device out of retirement and put it into so much needed use.
Celestia began to walk away, desiring greatly to put as much distance between herself and the group. The alicorn felt her hackles rise at the crassness of their attitude, the ease with which they insulted one of the few decent ponies in this wretched upper class.
“She should take a cue from our Princess’ new trend and shed those unsightly pounds before he wises up and takes back that ring of hers.”
Celestia’s attention snapped back to her wineglass. Or rather, to the shards that had once been her glass. As her drink bled into her evening gown, a fatal wound on the immaculate silk, Celestia snatched a napkin from a nearby table and dabbed at the stain.
To her dismay, she knew there was no saving the dress. The alicorn let loose a stream of words that would have made even the saltiest of seadogs proud.
Celestia was suddenly aware of the noise. Or rather, the lack thereof.
Every head in the garden had turned to face their princess, and wide-eyed, slack-jawed looks of appall seemed to be the latest fashion trend amongst the Canterlot nobility. Even the musicians had ceased to play, and were now nervously glancing at each other.
Celestia regarded the crowd before her with a cold gaze. For a brief moment she considered apologizing for her outburst, but then she caught a glimpse of the nobles who had so casually slandered Fleur De Lis’ name yet now dared to act offended at hearing a few choice words.
No. She had been putting this off for far too long.
“Oh, go buck off.”
There was a collective gasp from everypony present. One particularly dramatic mare pressed her hoof to her forehead and collapsed in a dead faint.
Celestia was not amused.
With a little more force than was necessary, the alicorn passed the stub of glass that had been her drink to a nearby waiter and turned to get as far away from these charlatans as she could.
Due to her height, Celestia could see Feather Duster and several royal guards quietly trying to push their way towards her through the sea of faces. Celestia noticed the look of worried disappointment on her maid's face. Feather Duster did NOT look happy in the slightest.
The princess decided that now would be an opportune time for a stroll…
…and by stroll she meant quick escape.
Celestia lowered her head and pushed onwards through the bushes. Thorns and branches snagged at her mane and dress, tugging her back as if to bar her entry. Within a moment, the alicorn had succeeded in breaking free and stepped out of the bush, the sounds of the party far behind her.
She had led the guards and Feather Duster on what could only be described as a “Where’s Celestia?”-esque run around the garden. Using the various shrubbery and bushes as hiding places had been a small brilliance on her part.
Unfortunately, there was nothing inconspicuous at all about a tall, stark white alicorn leaping from between patches of giant petunias. Eventually, Celestia had resorted to booking it to the hedge maze which bordered the expanse of her royal gardens. It was with much satisfaction that Celestia realized that her pursuers had given up the chase after her.
At least for the moment.
For the first time since Feather Duster had shoved her into this ridiculous dress, Celestia felt as though she could finally breathe.
‘Actually,’ Celestia thought to herself, ‘I actually can breathe.’ Sure enough, a quick glance at her hide revealed a tear in the back of the dress, cutting loose several of the corset strings. She had little doubt it had occurred somewhere in her impromptu leafy escapade. It also revealed the number of twigs, burs, small pieces of leaves had caught in her ethereal mane and tail as well. With a sigh of resignation, Celestia began to clean herself, resulting in a few minutes of discomfort as she tried to extract the debris.
It was only when Celestia had tossed away the final bur that that she noticed she was not alone.
Of course her hooves had led her here.
“H-hey…” Celestia whispered shakily to the grove’s sole occupant. She took a deep breath, trying to press down the rush of adrenaline that was coursing through her limbs. Her eyes flickered up to the draconequus, forcing herself to stare into the creature’s empty eyes.
Idiot. How could she have forgotten him.
The statue had been moved to a plinth in the center of the clearing. Already the stone showed signs of wear and neglect. Soft beds of moss had begun their assault at the base of the pedestal, with tendrils of creepers beginning to push their way up Discord’s stone limbs. The undisturbed tall grass in the clearing showed that nopony, least of all the gardener, had breached the inner sanctum of the maze in a while.
Celestia looked around at her surroundings. Nopony had come near since Discord had last escaped. The maze of shrubs, while not the strongest physical barrier, proved an effective psychological one. Few ponies ever ventured into the garden maze, but few, it seemed, found themselves capable of reaching the center. They would wander for a few hours amidst the winding curves and dead ends, before finally giving up and working their way out. If there was something that Celestia had learned over the years, it was that sometimes the best defense was the simplest one.
She looked up at the statue again. Part of her wanted to recoil from its features. But that part of her hadn’t been getting its way very much tonight.
Celestia took several slow steps towards him, her mind protesting with screams for every inch closer she came to the statue. There was an itch; one that she knew she'd never satisfy even if she tried. It was as though thousands of ants were crawling under her skin. Every part of her was rejecting him and what he was.
It wasn’t hard to explain why. Her eyes ran over his body. Eagle’s claw. Lion’s paw. Buffalo hoof. Bat and Peagsi Wings. There was not a single thing right about him.
Everything about him was wrong. Her being this was wrong. Everything she was doing was wrong.
She took another step towards him.
Everything she was doing was wrong...
“This isn’t fun anymore.”
She had barely whispered the words but they had been said all the same. The admission came as something as a shock to Celestia herself, as though somepony had drenched her in ice water. A startled look came across her face as she shot a glare at the statue.
She was being ridiculous. Barely two sentences in, and this entire conversation had become ridiculous.
But how utterly convenient that she was being ridiculous right around him?
Celestia slowly mouthed the words again. They were almost foreign to her. Indeed, the very thought was alien to the princess.
Guiding and watching over the ponies of Equestria had never been about being fun. It had been about necessity. Ponykind had been so young and fragile. It had known little of the creatures that lurked within the Darkness, and even less on how to protect themselves from it. Windigos, Hydras, Timberwolves; these were only the tip of the iceberg. Ponykind had long since forgotten the rest, and in turn, forgotten their fear of the darkness.
There were things long forgotten and lost in the Deep and in the Shadows. Things that Celestia had ensured would never see the light of day again, bound in the runic adamantine chains of Tartarus and forced to futilely claw at the walls of the realm they were bound to until the sun turned to ash and the stars themselves died.
After that fiasco had been dealt with, Celestia had turned her entire attention to leading and aiding the ponies who revered her. True, there had still been insurmountable amounts of work on her plate. But ponies had been so much more… revering back in the day. Being a goddess meant being treated like one. Ponies of old had begged for her blessing for their foals. She waited with eager anticipation on her throne as one of her stallions returned from a quest, manticore tail in tow. Countless cold winter nights spent curled up by the fire, foals sleeping against her side after a story.
True, she still received satisfaction from outwitting and outplaying the nobility. Her tongue and mind was still as sharp as any knife, and received a certain fulfillment when she had outmaneuvered them. But that was not the same as having fun.
No, her only enjoyment in this era came from the occasionally prank she could pull on the unsuspecting members of her household staff. And even those were beginning to slowly grow old.
No… now she just raised the sun, worked, and lowered the sun.
Every day was… the same.
She no longer enjoyed being a princess.
“Suppose...” she began, speaking to nopony in particular, “Suppose I freed you.”
“Let’s just say,” Celestia repeated, now for her own pleasure, “That I freed you." Her heart skipped a beat at the very notion. “Hypothetically, of course,” she added quickly. “I’m not being serious. But let’s just say...”
She remembered the laugh he had. It wasn’t the phony tittering of nobility, nor was it like Luna’s chime-like giggle. It was deep and hearty. It was a laugh that he threw his entire being behind.
She wanted so desperately to hear that laugh once more.
“It wouldn't be very difficult, you know, to break the spell,” she told him. "If I really wanted to...”
It was true. The power of the Elements of Harmony had forged the perfect jail. Even the very embodiment of chaos would find his efforts to escape nigh impossible.
Jails were hard to break out of. Breaking in was surprisingly easy.
Even at this distance Celestia could feel the layers of magic stacked on top of each other, coalescing into a thick shell. Just like an onion…
…and for a clever alicorn, all she’d have to do would be to carefully peel away the layers.
If she wanted to of course.
“Would you make it rain for me?” Celestia whispered. She pressed a reverent hoof against the base of the statue, scraping away the moss that she found there. “Would there be cotton candy clouds…”
Those had been Celestia’s favorite trick of his when she was younger. She would sit under them and tip her head back, mouth opened wide. A downpour of rich chocolate milk would drip from the fluffy confines of Discord’s concoction and onto her awaiting tongue. The chocolate would run down her face and flank, and she would splash in the sticky puddle that grew around her.
Her mouth opened a fraction, the tip of her tongue on her lips. She could almost taste it from him. All it would take was to remove the layers…
“I thought I’d find you here.”
Celestia’s head snapped up to the entrance of the square, anger clear in her eyes. Of course she couldn’t get even three seconds of privacy.
She had been expecting Feather Duster, or perhaps a contingent of Royal Guards here to take her back to the palace. But she hadn’t been expecting this…
Her nephew’s horn glowed as he levitated a full glass of mead in front of Celestia, an offering for a distraught goddess. “I brought your favorite.”
Within a second, the glass was emptied and held expectantly in front of the prince.
Blueblood quirked an eyebrow at her. “You’re welcome,” he commented dryly. The prince gave a good natured sigh and topped off Celestia’s glass. “Things could be worse.”
Celestia raised the glass to her lips and took a slower sip to calm her nerves. With time for her brain to register, she gave a half-muffled moan as the warm honeyed-flavor of mead spread across her tongue.
“The only way this garden party could get any worse,” Celestia muttered, “is if Tirek himself returns from Tartarus.”
Blueblood raised the decanter to eye level and swirled the amber nectar inside with an appraising eye. “To be fair, auntie, don’t you feel you’re exaggerating that just a touch?”
The goddess scowled. “Not in the slightest. By now, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he showed up. If he does, he better do a better job of it than last time." She caught his look of surprise that she was being serious. "What? Tirek? Is he really that much of a surprise? I mean, let’s be honest. In the past year alone, how many of those old mares tales have become reality for you, nephew?”
Celestia blinked in surprise. “Five?”
“Permission to speak plainly, auntie?” With her nod of approval, the prince smiled teasingly. “The Mare in the Moon, your Sister Luna, and the Elements of Harmony make three.” Blueblood waved an idle hoof at the statue in front of them. “Discord here makes four. But Princess Celestia losing her temper and managing to tell ALL of Canterlot to sod off at once?” The prince gave her a look of admiration. “They’ll be telling that story for generations to come.”
Celestia groaned, firmly pressing a hoof against her forhead. How stupid could she be? No doubt she had made few allies amongst the nobles tonight. As much as she loved them, despite being idiots, she knew they could cause trouble for her somewhere down the line. At the very least she hadn’t gone and verbally destroyed everypony present. What she did would have required damage control… but that? That would have been fatal.
Thoroughly enjoyable, but politically fatal all the same.
“I’m a grown mare, Prince Blueblood. I don’t need to be chastised by a foal a fraction of my age.”
“As always, I yield to your infallible wisdom. Especially in lieu of the slight discord your outburst caused tonight.”
The two ponies looked up at the statue of the draconequus. Celestia regarded it calmly while her nephew looked upon it with disdain.
“I suppose if Tirek truly were to return tonight, he would at least be better than the spirit of chaos.”
“You know, even he was known for his own occasional gems of wisdom.”
“I find that a little hard to believe.”
“Oh yes,” Celestia allowed herself a bitter smile. “He once said that ‘the only things that truly matter in life are good food, good drink, and good company.’”
Blueblood gave a cautious look at the statue. Its petrified expression of abject horror did little to aid in swallowing this tidbit of news. “That seems… unusually tame for Discord.”
“Not unless you were there.” Celestia’s hoof reached out gently caressed the draconic leg of the effigy in front of them. “For him, and I guess, for me, it meant so much more. When one has the time to experience everything the world has to offer, those are the only things one can take any sort of pleasure out of."
"A life of doing good and being respectful is all fine and dandy," the princess offered, “but when you can live forever regardless of how you behave, these virtues seem to fade in importance.”
“Don’t get me wrong. We hated each other.” Celestia reminded her nephew firmly. “There’s nothing worse than building a castle other than to have the bucking god of chaos himself turn it into a deck of cards.”
“Wow, that is infuriating.”
“No, it gets better. The playing cards then became a horde of savage marshmallow bunnies that ate each other in an orgy of sweet cannibalism.”
Blueblood was now staring up at the staring with wide open eyes. Not the tiniest noise could be heard in the clearing at that point, not even from the birds. She could just tell that three simple words were shooting around in her nephew’s skull: What. The. Buck.
“I’ll admit, that’s one of the more extreme cases. I guess you could say we tolerated each other. He got under my nerves. For a long time, nothing he ever did was harmful in the long run.”
“Auntie, on the day he broke out, I woke up to find that the walls to my room were made out of six foot thick waffles. To make matters worse, he had turned my horn into an icecream cone! I couldn’t use magic!” Blueblood crossly admitted. “I had to eat my out the front door!”
“I figured as much. He was always had a weird habit of incorporating food into many of his tricks. I think it was his way of coping with things. We each had our own..."
“Gluttony. Intoxication. Lust.” Celestia recited. Blueblood noted how distant her eyes seemed to him. “You call them vices now. I called them opiates.” She caught her nephew’s worried look and could only offer a rueful smirk in return. “I guess you can say they kept us sane for a while.” She closed her eyes, letting herself get lost in her own thoughts. Blueblood began to open his mouth to ask, but Celestia beat him to the punch.
“You want to know why?” The prince could only nod numbly. “Immortality is a wonderful thing. There’s… so much freedom to it. It’s like… It’s hard to explain, properly anyway, to one who isn’t. You wake up each morning, and you have a choice. You can either get up and start your day or you can spend it in bed. Most ponies would choose the former, because you must make the most of your time on this world before you leave it forever. You hurry about, because you have to make every living day worthwhile. Tomorrow might not come. Tomorrow you die.”
“Unless you know, no matter what happens, tomorrow will come. You will see another sunrise, and it doesn’t matter if you get out of bed. The world will move on, and you can always get out tomorrow."
“Is that how you see us?” Blueblood asked quietly.
Celestia indifferently shrugged her shoulders. “It certainly gives you the chance to put things in perspective. Actual perspective. I’m going to blink, Blueblood, and when I do, you’ll just be a weathered tombstone with an epitaph nopony will pause to read. You, Feather Duster, all the ponies in the garden. You’ll all be gone, just like your grandfather, and his grandfather, and all the ponies before you.” The goddess opened her eyes, and Blueblood was stung by the pity he found in the tourmaline eyes. Pity for him. For all ponies who were born with the curse of mortality.
“We must seem so insignificant to you; a venerable mountain in the river of time. No matter how long or how far it flows, there you are. Immovable and impassable, all while we grains of sand are swept away with the tide.”
"Oh my young prince..." Celestia whispered. Blueblood flinched as she wrapped her hooves around him. Celestia gave him a paper-thin smile and ruffled his mane, causing the grown stallion to roll his eyes and grumble. "...nopony is ever insignificant. Least of all you. And that's why it hurts when they all go because the memories... those memories are all we have left in the end."
There was a pause as Blueblood considered her words. “That seems a harsh price to pay for immortality.”
“Indeed. And that was what our opiates meant to us. They helped us forget those memories up here...” Celestia touched a hoof against the prince’s head, “…and made us feel… well… more whole in here.” The hoof came down and light tapped against the unicorn’s chest.
“There was nothing like a berry tart, a tankard of ale, or a stallion to warm your bed to help get through the days… and the weeks… and the years…” Celestia trailed off as silence fell between the two once again. Finally, Blueblood looked up at the princess.
“Would you like to share some of those memories?” he asked, a small, hopeful smile crossing his face.
The princess was more than happy to oblige.
Ye Olden Times
The glorious castle of Everfree stood as a pinnacle to the elegance and refined nature of those who resided within. From here, justice and order presides as king, ensuring the prosperity of Equestria. It was a symbol to the highest ideals and virtues of ponykind.
Except tonight, of course.
"Chug chug chug chug!"
Knights banged their armored hooves onto the table, wonder and admiration reflected in each of their eyes as Luna's head tipped back one final time.
Perched precariously between her hooves was a massive barrel that had taken almost half a dozen servants to wheel in.
Her throat bobbed once, and then twice, and the barrel was lowered to reveal the Princess of the Night. The stallions at the table cheered and laughed, and bits were exchanged between hooves.
Luna wiped her lips and looked at the pegasi closest to her. “Time?”
"Twas naught but five minutes, m'lady!"
Her cheeks rosy, she slowly lifted herself up on her hind hooves, holding the barrel aloft above her.
With a feat of herculean strength, Luna smashed the barrel against her skull. The stallions closest to her dove for cover under the feast table as shattered wood flew everywhere. An absolutely smashed Luna wobbled in her hind hooves, a smile on her face. The iron rings of the barrel dangled around her neck like a pair of necklaces.
"Bring another! Ale! Ale for *hic* everypony!"
“Even Auntie Luna?”
“There’s a reason why they call it Moonshine.”
“…how did I NOT pick that up?” Blueblood groaned and pressed a hoof to his face.
Celestia picked up the crystal decanter with her magic and swished around the golden mead in it, eyeing it very much like Blueblood had done only minutes ago.
"You should have seen her back in the day. She could hold her liquor better than any one of our knights. Myself included.”
Blueblood tapped his chin thoughtfully. “I wonder if she’d still be able to best the guards. From what I’ve seen Shining Armor put away-“
“Oh I don’t imagine so. I think going dry for a millennium would sober anypony up. Besides…” Celestia finished the last of the mead in her glass, the sweet honey-wine vanishing on her tongue. “…after Discord went insane from immortality, it became more of a once in a blue moon sort of thing for her.”
Ironically though, Celestia noted, blue moons had been a bit more common back then.
“No,” Celestia corrected herself with a frown, “Discord broke. He broke before Luna and I did. He used to be tolerable but then... then he became dangeous. Unstable. That's saying something, even for him.”
“I see,” Blueblood responded with a thoughtful expression, looking up at the draconequus he had just inquired about. “And then Luna fell... It seems of all you three, only you haven’t wrought devastation upon our land.”
Celestia’s eyes grew hard. “Oh, don’t let the history books fool you. Nightmare Moon might’ve been the one who tried to usurp the throne, but I was the one who almost let Equestria burn afterwards… too busy finding happiness at the bottom of a bottle and pouring chocolate onto the chests of the royal guard.”
“And that makes six. I’ve heard rumors about your unique tastes in the bedroom. Never thought the guards were being serious.”
The ghost of a smile hung around Celestia’s lips at that.
Blueblood noticed this and looked down at the decanter in his magic. It would do his aunt no good to mope in bitter memories tonight or to be bothered with the present.
“Well,” Blueblood began, a rare twinkle in his eyes, “I may be but a mere mortal, but I cannot deny the wisdom in Discord’s words. Let’s see...‘ good food, good drink, and good company,’” he recited. “So, since the last one would be highly inappropriate between us, and your special diet prevents the first…” He bit down in the cork and with a 'pop,' yanked it out with his teeth.
“I say we take a page out of your sister’s book.” Blueblood held up the crystal decanter for her. “Your royal highness, would you care for getting happily tipsy with me?”
Outside the royal gardens…
When Diamond Tiara had somehow acquired a ticket for him for the Canterlot Cherry Festival, she had only seven words for him: “Get a story or don’t come back.”
Featherweight knew that there article worthy stories elsewhere, but Diamond Tiara had insisted that it was time he dug up something juicy on the nobility of Canterlot. The equinox festival was the perfect place.
At first, the guards had refused him entry, even laughing at how his wings had struggled to lift the weight of his camera.
The look on their face was priceless when he flashed the golden ticket.
The guard outside the palace grumbled as he took the form from Featherweight. Apparently, they were letting anypony in these days that had the right credentials. The pegasi next to him took a glance at the tag pinned to Featherweight’s hat. “Hey kid, aren’t you a little young to be a reporter?”
The lanky colt nodded eagerly. The guards glanced at each other for a moment before shrugging indifferently.
“Eh, works for us. Go right on in. Enjoy the party.”
Featherweight gave a small salute and buzzed past the guards, his camera flashing as he trotted down the paved garden path.
He was going to get his story tonight…
“-and that’s how Equestria was made.” finished Celestia.
“I had no idea…” A wide-eyed Blueblood only shook his head in awe. The unicorn lay on the grass, his tie undone and golden hair in complete and utter disarray.
“Yeah… the Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant is the foal-friendly version.” Celestia gently slid the decanter from Blueblood’s lax hooves and tipped the final few sips of mead into her glass. The bottle had been emptied between the two of them, leaving the relatives somewhere between “sober” and “probably-should-not-operate heavy-machinery”.
“Oh, that reminds me!” Celestia exclaimed as she set the now empty vessel onto the lush grass. “Have you met any nice mares yet?”
The smile slid off of his face.
“Auntie, I really don’t want to talk about-“
“-why not? Is what I’m asking really so hard of you?”
Blueblood muttered, dragging a hoof down his face. “Ancestors above, not this again.”
“Don’t take that tone with me!” Celestia shook her hooves at Prince Blueblood. “Grandfoals! I want grandfoals, Blueblood-”
The prince groaned and squeezed his eyes shut, pressing his hooves over his ears.
“-and to get those, you need to get married! To get married, you need a mare, and to get a mare, you need to get off your flank and look for one-!”
“-and YOU keep scaring away all the mares I set up-”
“-work is crazy and it’s just not-”
“-you’re beginning to make me wonder if you’re not playing for the other team-“
“-for the last time, I’m not gay!”
"-and I want lots and lots of bouncing, bright-eyed grandfoals that I can spoil rotten!”
Blueblood titled his head back to look at the princess, an incredulous look across his face.
“Spoil rott-? They’ll be princes and princesses! How much more spoiled could they possibly be?”
Celestia put on a playfully hurt face, pressing a hoof to her chest. “Are you suggesting that I spoiled you when you were younger? I’ll have you know I was a responsible and sincere grandmother to you.”
Blueblood gave her a flat look and raised his eyebrow.
“Well, that at least makes sense now.”
“What does?” Celestia asked, as she tipped back her glass.
“You being the sun. I had forgotten that it’s just a bunch of hot air.”
Celestia guffawed, barely managing to cover her mouth with her hoof in time to avoid spraying her drink everywhere. The mirth proved to be contagious as Blueblood joined her. The prince clutched his sides as he laughed, rolling around on the grass.
After a while, both alicorn and unicorn regained some semblance of their breathing and lay basking in the afterglow of the alcohol and their laughter.
The goddess looked up at the sky. Celestia had allowed the sun to long since sunk beneath the horizon, and the last pink and orange hints of her sunset were being swallowed by Luna’s night. No doubt Feather Duster was already rousing her sister from her slumber, badgering her about her scandalous older sibling.
“We should be going…” she murmured. “Do you think the chances of Tirek still showing up are any good?”
“No, but I do think you’re still being over dramatic.” Blueblood muttered. “Now, let me tell you what IS going to happen.” The prince placed a comforting hoof on his aunt’s shoulders and looked up at Discord. “No horrible eldritch Old God is going to come back from the gates of Tartarus and enslave us all. True, this garden party is most likely going to be a disaster.” Here, Blueblood’s voice took on a more serious tone. “You’ll be stuck to sit at the head of the table all night, listening to the myriad of petty troubles and requests unworthy of a mare of your station. Nobles will be vying for your attention and your approval. You’ll be forced to sit and watch as entre after entre passes you by, unable to indulge in the slightest bite, because if you don’t, the nobles will be offended by a repeat of your sudden absence in the middle of the meal.”
Celestia had the sudden urge to bash her skull in against Discord’s pedestal. That sounded like a far better execution than what Blueblood had prescribed for her.
Especially once Feather Duster got her hooves on her…
"And I truly, and utterly hate to inform you of this, your highness, but the nobles are going to be offended like they have never been offended before tonight.”
Celestia cocked her head at the prince, confusion spreading across her face. “What do you mean? Why would they be offended?”
“Because Her Royal Highness, the blessed Sovereign of Equestria and the Mistress of the Morning isn’t going to be at some frumpy garden party.” Blueblood’s eyes lit up and a smirk picked up at the corners of his lips. “She’s going to take the night off.”
“Are you insane? I can’t just take the night off!” Celestia exclaimed.
“Call it an emergency state of affairs then.” Blueblood dismissively waved his hoof and sat down on the grass next to Celestia. “I’ll tell them you’re handling some… super cosmic dilemma with the sun or something… and just… go spend time with your sister, or raid the royal pantry, or heck, curl up with one of those trashy romance novels you like-“
“Does everyone know about those?” Celestia growled.
“-my point is… get out of here. Go spend some time for yourself. Your dress is a mess, you’re covered in leaves, and you reek of mead. You’re in no way presentable for this occasion.”
“And what will you be doing?”
“I imagine I’ll be trying to stop the nobles from killing each other.”
“I SHALL ENDURE THIS NO LONGER!” Celestia ears perked up as the angry shout ripped across the gardens. Birds flew off the nearby bushes in surprise, cawing irritably as their rest was disturbed. “HOW DARE YOU INSULT ME WITH YOUR PRESENCE, LORD STRAWBERRY! HAVE AT YOU! EN GARDE!”
“…and that’s my cue.” Prince Blueblood said, offering his aunt a sympathetic smile. He rose to his hooves, staggering ever so slightly. He magically brushed his suit of any offending dust and straightened his tie. When at last he felt he was presentable, running a hoof through his golden mane to ensure it stayed put, bit his lip in thought.
“You know… I think Discord may have been onto something.” Blueblood turned his gaze up to the sculpture’s unseeing eyes. No longer was his gaze so laced with scorn for the statue. “Eat, drink and be merry. For tomorrow we die.” He flashed the princess a charismatic smile before nodding his head ever so slightly.
“Good night Auntie.”
Celestia gave a sad smile as the last of her nephew’s tailcoat disappeared around the leafy hedge. She sighed softly as she lifted her glass to her mouth.
The smooth sweet taste of chocolate hit her tongue like a bomb. She recoiled instantly, eyes widening in shock as she stared at what she was holding.
Where there was once golden mead in the crystal glass now was a glass of ice cold chocolate milk.
She quickly set her glass back down on the surface of Discord’s stone pedestal, and looked unwaveringly up at the statue. The draconequus remained in his permanent expression of alarm. All the same… Celestia could have sworn that the corners of his lips had moved ever so slightly upwards.
“Sorry…” Celestia apologized to him. “But I’m on a diet.”
The slapstick humor you know and love will be back in the next chapter, I promise. But this chapter was necessary to get out of my system.
The more I write this, the more I realize I am useless without John Perry to help get me out of the binds I work myself into. I'd sacrifice chickens in his name if I could for his help with editing and prereading this chapter. It went from being Hurricane Katrina mess to... I dunno. A really bad Noreastern thanks to him. That's saying a ton *opens umbrella* Enjoy.
Anyplace would be better than this, Private Hoplite decided as his eyes briefly flicked to the rafters above. A fraction of a second later, and they were refocused on the empty space in front of him. The guard kept his breath slow and steady, his ears pressed firmly against his head to tune out his companion.
“’See the world!’ they said. ‘Stallions love a mare in armor!’ they said. ‘Join the REF and meet Spitfire!’ they promised. And what do I get?” Lethe muttered. She gave a yawn and stretched her leathery wings. “Guard duty.”
The Night Guard lounged on the creaking floorboards, completely at ease.
Hoplite’s nostrils flared once to display his displeasure. He glared admonishingly from his position by the door. “You have a duty, soldier. Fulfill it and resume the position.”
“This isn’t a duty, this is punishment!” Lethe protested.
“We are on an assignment to watch over and protect this area of vital importance-”
“Vital importance my flank!” Lethe cut him off. She turned her head, allowing her dark face to bask in the beam of dying sunlight she was lying in. “We’re guarding an empty ruin!”
The Day Guard sighed, clinging desperately to the last few brittle strands of patience he had. Unfortunately, Lethe spoke the truth. This was punishment.
His commanding officer did not find “concussion by spontaneous flying alarm clocks” to be a viable excuse for falling asleep on duty. After a thorough berating, Private Hoplite now found himself ‘protecting’ a recruit’s worst nightmare; the Western Watchtower.
Centuries ago various guilds had used the tower to map the stars, or practice divination, or even just stargaze. Of course, that was years ago and this was now. NOW the tower proved to be an excellent place to send “irresponsible” guards.
The astronomy tower had long since fallen into complete ruin and disrepair. The ceiling was plagued with numerous holes, no doubt the cause from decades of rotten wood, weather, and termites. Patches of cold sunlight still peaked through the dirty glass panes, illuminating the golden dust motes that seemed to be the apex predator of this building. Every time Hoplite so much as breathed they attacked en-mass kamikaze, throwing themselves down his throat.
No. Hoplite knew that his real punishment was who they had paired him with.
“I’m booooooored,” whined a frustrated Lethe, flailing her limbs around briefly. She quickly rose to her hooves and stared at Hoplite by the door. “Let’s have some fun. Play a game with me, Hop.”
“Yes. I’m going to be a dragon and you can be a hapless guard.”
“I said no, Lethe.” Hoplite said firmly.
“Awww come on!” The dark mare pouted and stretched her leathery wings out for display. “I’d be the perfect dragon! I got the wings and the eyes and everything!”
Hoplite shot her a tired look. “Royal guards are supposed to be silent and dignified. Neither of which,” he shot under his breath, “you embody.”
“Wait, did you just call me immature?”
“That I did.”
“Okay, good.” Lethe faced forwards again, a grin on her lips. “For a second there I thought I was becoming an uptight sissy like you.”
“Hey!” cried an indignant Hoplite, “I am not uptight. Nor a sissy!”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not!”
Lethe’s gold eyes were full of mischief. “Run, Hop! A dragon is attacking the Western Watchtower and she eats uptight sissies! Raaaaawr!” she playfully growled at him.
Hoplite’s eye twitched but he- just barely -managed to keep his composure and allowed his body to settle back into autopilot. Truth be told, he too wished to drop this assignment, but all it would take was one of the officers to check on the recruits and he’d be shining horseshoes for the next week.
He was getting sloppy. He had almost caved at Lethe’s last offer for a card game to pass the time.
“Mmm, uptight sissy!” she said in a low voice, looking at Hoplite with a sly grin. “Why, this one looks filling!”
“I hate you. You know that?”
“I love you too, Hop.”
There was a screech of static over Hoplite’s ear piece before a panicked voice broke through. “Grah! Code Red, I repeat, Code Red!”
Hoplite swiftly pressed a button on his helmet, speaking into the microphone. “What’s going on, Theta?”
“Krrrztz…-ont gate is under attack! Requesting backup from all units! I repeat, requesting backup from all un- nonono! Not the face, not the face-“ A wet squishing sound filled the airwave. A few heartbeats later, only static remained on the airwaves.
A horrified silence passed between the two pegasi as they stared at each other with wide eyes. Alarm was evident on Lethe’s face.
“You don’t think...” she whispered, her dark coat several shades paler. Hoplite numbly shook his head, his mind racing. Front gate under attack. All units needed. Were they being invaded? Was it Discord again? How-
His thoughts were interrupted as their radios squeaked again.
“Krrtz- Awww man. I’ll never get this icing out of my mane...””
“...he’s fine.” A non-perturbed Hoplite switched off his radio and looked at the orange sky above. “Well, they asked for backup. We might as well-”
“FINALLY!” Lethe whooped. Her wings snapped out and she kicked off against the ground, springing into the air. Within seconds, she had broken out through the remnants of the ceiling, sending bits of wood raining down onto the stallion.
“-go help.” Hoplite finished. For good measure he flew up to the ceiling and kicked down a section that was still precariously held up, so it wouldn’t be a hazard should he have the misfortune to find himself back here. With at least something now accomplished, he followed Lethe.
As they flew closer to the South Gate, Hoplite could hear the voices of the guards ahead of him. What he heard was not reassuring.
“Somepony grab her!”
“I’m trying, I’m trying!”
“Halt... I said HALT!”
“Watch it, she's making a run at the gate!”
“Somepony get some pegasi here to help us catch her!”
TRISH!! THRONG!! STREEECHK!!!! TISH!!!
“That was me. My bad.”
“I got her!”
“That... that's it! We got her! We've got her surrounded.”
“No pony makes a fool out of us! You are under arrest for trespassing on castle grounds! Everypony, rush her on three... two... one...”
With a mighty roar, the circle of guards charged in on a pink mare; horns pointed at the pink filly. The pony, with a smile as wide as the day was long, watched on in innocent bemusement. The guards drew closer.
With a sort of grace most ponies could only dream of, the mare pranced into the air at the exact moment the guards closed in. And, with the tragic inevitability that typically defined Canterlot opera, the guards collided, their skulls impacting against each other where the pink mare had been standing but a second before.
The guards lay sprawled on the ground clutching their heads. The lucky ones had succeeded in knocking themselves out, while the less fortunate suffered everything from chipped horns and splitting migraines.
The mare, seemingly oblivious to the chaos she had single handedly caused in but a few seconds, skipped over to the nearest guard.
“Tag!” she said cheerfully, literally adding insult to injury as she tapped the stallion’s nose. “You’re still it! But that was a really, really nice try!”
The guard only groaned feebly, still clutching his head before he finally passed out.
“Oh,” Lethe winced, scrunching her eyes shut. “That has GOT to hurt.” The Night Watch closed her wings and dropped to the ground, landing squarely on her hooves. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
“Careful,” Hoplite warned. “This one looks tricky.”
“Oh, please,” Lethe chortled. “What could she-”
“Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie!” the pink mare said cheerfully, suddenly appearing directly in front of Lethe and causing the Night Watch to yelp in fright and leap back a couple of paces.
“What is your business here?” Hoplite ordered.
“Oh, I don’t have a business here! I work at Sugar Cube Corner down in Ponyville.”
“...I meant what are you doing here.”
Pinkie Pie scrunched her forehead together in thought, rubbing her chin.
“Hmmm. What am I doing here? Oh, I know!” A light bulb appeared above Pinkie Pie’s head and her face lit up. “I’m going to shoot Princess Celestia.”
A tumbleweed rolled through the courtyard. Hoplite and Lethe glanced at each other.
“You're going to... shoot Princess Celestia?” Hoplite repeated, his voice laced with disbelief. Was this mare being serious?
Pinkie Pie nodded eagerly. “Ahuh! In the face.”
“And how are you going to accomplish this?”
“With my cannon of course, silly.”
A broad smile stretched across Pinkie’s face and she pointed a hoof skywards. “This cannon!”
As if the ancestors’ themselves answered her called, a massive crate shot down from the heavens, crashing down behind Pinkie Pie. The pegasi were thrown back by the explosion, their coats showered with chips of wood. For a few precious seconds, their vision was obscured by the dust it had kicked up. They could only see the dark outlines of the mare. Then the smoke cleared…
Lethe’s eyes grew the size of dinner plates.
“By Celestia’s milky white teats,” she whispered reverently. Hoplite could only nod numbly in agreement.
There amidst the debris of planks, towering above them like a monolith, was the mother of all party cannons. It was at least five ponies tall and thrice as long, painted a bright baby-blue. Trails of smoke still snaked from it from the impact. Pinkie Pie dashed over to one of the wheels the cannon rested on and hugged the spoke.
“Yay! It’s finally here! This is going to be so awesome! At first I thought my regular cannon would work but then I remembered this is for Princess Celestia, so then I thought I should get a cannon fit for royalty and here it is!”
The only time Hoplite had ever seen a piece of artillery that big was when they fired the Pony Cannonball out of the big top at Barnem and Haybaley’s.
“It’s so big...” spluttered Hoplite as he took it all in.
“That’s what she said.”
Lethe could only smile sheepishly as Hoplite glared at her. The stallion turned his attention back to the war machine before them, dread filling his heart.
It was very rare that anypony racked up the nerve to attempt an assault on the throne’s life. Most ponies were stopped long before they got anywhere close to her Highness. But if this mare was telling the truth, there was no telling what something that powerful could do if it reached Celestia.
Hoplite wasn’t going to let this mare get that far.
Hoplite planted himself firmly in front of the massive gate, pawing the ground anxiously. The faithful guard stared down the pink mare. He would do his duty. For his lady’s sake.
“You cannot pass!” he bellowed, puffing out his chest to make himself seem more intimidating. “I am a servant of the Sacred Fire, her eternal Majesty Princess Celestia. While I still breathe, these gates will not yield to you, pink haired one! Go back to the shadow. You shall not-” The next thing Hoplite realized was Lethe’s black body tackling him to the ground as something shot by him. There was a small explosion as the gates were thrown off their hinges, spinning into the courtyard like ninja stars. The two lifted their eyes, taking in the smoking remains of the gate.
“-muffins?” asked a disoriented Hoplite, as his eyes tried to zone in on Luna’s stars floating around his head.
“Not just any muffins. Rocket Propelled Muffins,” explained Lethe as she rose to her hooves. She looked down at the still dazed Hoplite. “By the way, that’s twice you owe me. Next time, you’re a meat shield.”
Pinkie Pie began humming as she began pulling the cannon along like it was paper; strung along her back was said rocket launcher.
Lethe helped Hoplite to his hooves, a grim smile set on her lips.
“This is gonna be fun.”
Tonight was beautiful.
That’s what Celestia wholeheartedly believed as she skipped down the paved walkway back to the palace. Not a single cloud could be found in the night sky, leaving the heavens to be the perfect canvas for her sister to work her art on. As always, the mistress of the Night did not disappoint.
Pinpricks of stars framed the fat yellow moon that Luna had strung up tonight. The air was warm with the first touches of spring.
One by one, the lanterns that hung along the path sputtered to life from Celestia’s magic. All along the path in front of her, green shoots were beginning to rapidly push their way through the soil, as if reacting to her presence.
The princess nuzzled against one of the branches, the tender pink flowers tickling her nose. Their scent was intoxicating. She could honestly say that she had missed its presence. What was the point of even having a garden as beautiful as this if she never had any time to enjoy it? The princess, her gown long since removed, folded her legs under herself and rested her head against the tree trunk, enjoying the sight of her garden.
Indeed, life was truly beautiful right now.
Celestia could almost imagine that the Summer would not come this year, and neither the Fall after it, nor the Winter again after that. There’d just be here and now, and there always would be. This garden and its petals would last, and she would walk along its paths forever, the warm breeze playfully tousling her ethereal hair.
A firefly lazily drifted in front of Celestia, its golden glow illuminating her skin. Celestia watched as it drifted off the path, coming to rest on a rapidly growing lily.
Of course, it wouldn’t happen. Time only moved in one direction, as Celestia was very much aware of. There were reasons, very good reasons Celestia reminded herself, why there could never be an eternal Spring-- but she could imagine it anyway. If only for this night.
To the gentle sound of the trees rustling overhead, Celestia closed her eyes. The day and all its worries were beginning to take its toll on her. She promised herself she would rest them for only a few moments…
Sometime later, she was awakened from a pleasant dream by the sound of two voices going back and forth. Blearily opening her eyes, she gave a satisfied yawn, her senses rapidly returning to reality as the voices grew closer.
Celestia took a peek. Two chefs dressed in white were carefully pushing a series of trolleys down the garden path to the celebration that she had just escaped from. She was forced to duck down again as they came closer.
“-Sea? The poor guy is totally beside himself right now. This whole diet thing is hitting him really hard. You know he made these cakes specifically for Princess Celestia, right? He had them planned for months in advance. It must be killing him that she won’t be able to try them.”
“I dunno. He doesn’t seem like the type of guy to get choked up over something like this.”
“Totally. The guy is absolutely miserable right now.”
“You sure? I mean, we’re talking the same sheep right? About yay high? Belittles us constantly? Greatest chef who ever lived? Single-handedly beat Discord out of his kitchen with a can of whip cream?”
“Copper Kettle... he’s peeling onions right now.”
“Does Chef Ram Sea EVER peel onions?”
“…Holy horse flanks, Whisk, you’re right! This is serious!”
“Leave the cakes here. We’re right by where the waiters said they’d meet us. I got just the thing…”
Celestia waited until the galloping of hooves had faded into the distance and came out from behind the tree.
“Well... you’ve certainly have outdone yourself, my humble Chef,” Celestia whispered with a sad smile. Sitting in the middle of the path was a kitchen trolley with two of the most succulent cakes Celestia had ever seen. The cooks had not been lying when they said that Chef Ram Sea had created these cakes with her in mind. By aesthetic standards, they were not the most aweing, consisting of merely numerous layers of dark chocolate decorated with a pink icing. A halo of cherries adorned the top of the cakes, no doubt in accordance with the Celebration.
But if Celestia knew Ram Sea the way he knew her, she knew these cakes were the highlight of tonight’s meal. What they looked visually humbling, she knew the secret of his skill lay in the taste…
…and Chef Ram Sea never disappointed.
Celestia caught herself from taking another step towards the cakes. It would do her no good. There were only many broken bones, courtesy of Swarzewalder’s exercises, at the end of this particular slippery slope.
“This is ridiculous,” Celestia muttered as she made up her mind and ducked behind the tree again.
Coming down the path was a white-coated, pink maned unicorn, dressed for the occasion in a formal gown. She stood a good hand and a half taller than most other mares, and Celestia knew that some ponies sometimes mistook her as herself going incognito at first glance. But nopony could mistake her after they saw the triple fleur-de-lis cutiemark that was her namesake.
Fleur De Lis looked absolutely miserable. Celestia noted how red her eyes looked, and Fleur was practically dragging her hooves as she strode to the cart. Although, the nobles had been right when they said that Fleur seemed to be curvier than normal lately.
The pink-haired unicorn paused in front of the carts, as if she was appraising the delicacies they each held. After a moment she looked around shiftily around her, her eyes darting about as though somepony might catch her in some criminal act.
‘What could she possibly be doing?’ Celestia thought to herself. After a moment Fleur De Lis was… chewing?!
Celestia craned forward to a better look. Sure enough, a bite was taken out of one of the cakes and there was a smear of pink frosting around the mare’s lips as proof of her guilt.
Celestia gave a yelp as her hoof lost her footing and she crashed to the ground in a flurry of white. Well, she wouldn’t be breaking into any hospitals anytime soon. The goddess groaned and picked herself up off the ground, to find a stunned Fleur De Lis looking at her.
“Princess Celestia!” Fleur exclaimed in surprise, her voices wavering. Her lip began to tremble. “I… I’m sorry… I was just… I was…” The mare suddenly burst into tears, collapsing to her knees. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
Before Fleur could get out another word, a shadow came over her and she felt the touch of warmth down at her side. Celestia pressed her wing against her and pushed the mare closer. Looking up, she saw Princess Celestia next to her, concern practically written on the goddess’s face.
“I’m s-sorry about the cake,” Fleur hiccuped, looking all the much like a foal with their hoof in the cookie jar.
“Forget the cake. Just tell me what’s wrong.” Celestia asked as she tried to comfort the mare.
“I’m… I’m fine.” Fleur hurriedly protested, even though her face said everything but. She heatedly tried to brush away at the rivers, but they just kept coming. “J-just… just some senseless conversation at dinner… I shouldn’t have let it work me up…”
Celestia scowled, feeling her temper rise. Of course Fleur would have heard that dribble. She was less than fifteen feet away. The mare would have to have been deaf to miss it. Celestia vowed would be having some very choice words with the Ambassador’s wife. She was willing to tolerate the idiotic verbal jousting the nobles saw fit to play, but there were lines that had been crossed tonight.
“I normally just ignore them! I mean, I’m being ridiculous right now, I know I am. I’m never like this. But lately I’ve just been…” Fleur seemed to breaking with each word. “Fancy Pants told me I was still the most beautiful mare there. He thinks I’m getting refreshments right now. But I… I just… I’ve been getting really emotional lately… and when I get upset I eat… and recently I’ve been just absolutely dying for chocolate…”
Celestia looked at curves of Fleur’s body and put two and two together. “How far along have you been?”
Fleur seemed to shrink down into herself. “…a few months,” the mare whispered. Celestia couldn’t help but let out a few chuckles, prompting Fleur to look up at the princess in confusion.
“I was wondering why Fancy Pants was more high-spirited than unusual tonight,” Celestia remarked. She gave another smile and hugged the mare closer with her hoof. “Imagine that. Canterlot’s most sophisticated stallion and most beautiful mare having a foal together. Oh, the scandal!” Celestia teased in mock repulsion. The corners of the line that was Fleur’s mouth twitched upwards.
“It’s just…” the mare expressed hesitantly, looking at the cake she had violated, “I feel so hungry lately and when I saw it-”
“It’s completely normal.” Celestia assured her. “You’re eating for two now. Fancy Pants should be thrilled you're craving something normal, instead of like most mares. The flavor of ice cream they come up with… blech.” Celestia stuck her tongue out in disgust. “Although I’m just as guilty. The cravings with my fourth foal were the worst.” Celestia admitted with a smile. “I didn’t know what I wanted, only that I wanted it, and I drove the chefs to their wits end trying to figure it out. Three millennia later, I find out it was tacos.” Celestia shook her head, completely baffled. “Tacos. Can you believe it? How does that even work?”
Fleur laughed, and Celestia was relieved to see a spark of the mare’s usual vibrancy return to her eyes. The princess nuzzled her subject, gently wiping away the remnant streaks from Fleur’s cheeks.
Celestia then gave Fleur the something most ponies would pay in gold for: her time. Celestia knew it was something that all of her subjects cherished and longed for, and Fleur was no exception. Celestia allowed the mare to unburden herself of everything that was going on in her life. She consoled Fleur when the mare spoke of her worries about her career and family. Celestia laughed when the unicorn told story after story of Fancy Pants’s many goofs and mishaps in his factory when he tackled new aerial projects with an almost childlike glee.
When she was finished, it was the old, confident Fleur De Lis who was wrapped under her wing, her eyes free of any tears or worries.
“I just have to invite you and your husband for tea later this week at the palace. And once again…” Celestia gave the young mare another warm smile, rising to her hooves. “...congratulations.”
Fleur beamed and bowed her head to Celestia. “It would be our pleasure, Princess.”
“I’ll see you then, my little pony.”
After barely a step away, the goddess paused. Celestia turned her head back and gave a wistful look at the cake at the cake. A thread of forlorn longing tugged at her heart, but Celestia knew she would regret the rest of her immortal life if she did not ask.
“Yes your majesty?”
“What does it taste like?”
A look of understanding passed between the two mares. Fleur pushed the platter it rested on closer to the princess. “Why don’t you see for yourself?”
“No…” the princess hurriedly said. “I couldn’t. I mean…” Celestia bit her lip, looking at the towering dessert course. Nopony would notice if another slice was missing.
She had gone for so long without eating anything truly substantial. It was like a dam had suddenly burst open, and with it came the hunger. Celestia placed a hoof to her growling stomach, absentmindedly licking her lips. The goddess was feeling ravenous.
One little bite couldn’t hurt? Could it?
Under Fleur’s behest, the princess craned her neck forward and took a tentative bite.
It was glorious.
The closest thing she could compare the sensation to was an explosion of dark, rich goodness. Chocolate so smooth that it spread over her taste buds like a blanket. Syrupy raspberry layers between the cake gave off the faintest hints of the upcoming spring.
Celestia almost gagged on the sweetness alone. Weeks of nothing but celery, weak salads, and five-hour energy drinks had left the deliciousness of Ram Sea’s pastries nothing more than a vague memory. They came back in full force though.
Every dish, every plate full, every bite.
Fleur giggled and slid another slice onto her plate. “It is delicious, non? Your chef is magnificent.”
Celestia could not help but agree wholeheartedly, her whole being lost in the nirvana of the bite. He had once again reminded her that only he, a sheep from Coltland, was capable of creating the food for the gods.
Maybe it was that her inhibition was low from the alcohol she had consumed earlier. Maybe it was the euphoric high that she felt from the arrival of spring. Maybe it was the motherly warmth she had brought. In any event, no sooner had she licked the last of the crumbs from her lips that both Celestia and Fleur found themselves slicing another slice of cake.
One piece gave way to another… and another… and another…
“You don’t think they’ll notice, will they?” Celestia asked, as she looked at the damage inflicted. By the time the two had caught themselves, the top two layers of one of the cake had suffered significant damage. Fleur gave a nervous laugh.
“Er… no… I don’t think so. Not if we spread the icing around a bit…” The ivory unicorn picked up a kitchen knife with her magic and tried to conceal the cake. “…there…. No, that’s not working…” Fleur’s brow furrowed and she bit her tongue thoughtfully. “Here let me try… no... wait I almost… no.”
Celestia snickered, placing a hoof to her lips. “I don’t think there’s any chance of saving it, dear.”
“…actually…” Fleur admitted as she put down the knife. “You might be right. I think it would be best if we were never here.”
“One more for the road then.” Celestia said, as she scooped up another piece and raised it to her lips.
There was a click. A sudden burst of light and the sound of Fleur squealing in shock. The piece of cake was frozen in mid bite, only inches from the goddess’s lips. She knew that sound.
Celestia swallowed uneasily, the once moist cake now like a lump of cement in her throat. There, half-way coming out of a bush, was a cream-colored colt with a camera. He had gotten a picture of her.
Something snapped in Celestia’s brain.
He had gotten a picture of her eating cake. It was a picture of her breaking her diet!
If Celestia was a betting mare, said picture would result in Feather Duster’s wrath and Celestia would be safe nowhere. Not even on the moon.
She had to get that picture back.
“Hello there,” Celestia began slowly, inching her way towards the pegasus, “Are you enjoying the party?”
He nodded eagerly and snapped another picture of Celestia. The Princess nodded, her exterior the very definition of “cool and collected.”
“Well that’s good to-“ Celestia suddenly lunged for the camera, reaching out with her magic. “-hear!”
The pegasus, as if anticipating her, shot to the side to evade her hooves and magic.
The trolley was suddenly upended as the pegasus bolted under it. With a crash it toppled into Celestia, knocking Chef Ram Sea’s cake right into her face. The colt gave a titter of laughter and hurriedly buzzed off through the trees, his camera dangling alongside him.
“Oh,” Celestia whispered as she wiped cake from her face. Her eyes suddenly became ablaze with heavenly fire. “It. Is. On.”
Meanwhile in the courtyard
“Return fire!” Lethe ordered. A salvo of salvaged muffins was thrown back over the barrier by half a dozen valiant hooves. Lethe waited for the tell-tale splattering of pastry remains, and then galloped from her hiding place by a pegasus statue. Her hooves pounded the grass lawn, her helmet askew as she tried to make her destination before the next salvo. The black pegasi ducked and rolled up against a nearby rampart overlooking the battle. Beside her were stationed a group of guards including Hoplite, bravely fighting on and seeing to the casualties.
“Status report!” she cried.
“No good!” shouted another guard, who had ventured a peek. “She’s eating everything we’re throwing at her.”
“Drat.” Lethe ducked down. She looked over at the group’s impromptu medic. “How’s Pansy doing?”
Hoplite looked up at Lethe, shaking his head sadly. His hooves were stained red. “I’ve done everything I know how to. There’s no saving her.”
“S-s-so s-s-sticky...” whispered the afflicted mare, her eyes wide with shock. She had taken a direct hit of several cherry tarts, leaving her drenched in cherry syrup. “The horror...the horror...” she whispered softly, staring off into space.
“Still,” Lethe noted as she licked a trail of icing off her flank, “things could be worse. I mean, she IS giving us cake.”
“She’s not giving us cake, Lethe!” Hoplite rebuked, “She’s assaulting us with cake!”
His companion was about the retort but she heard the familiar click of a trigger being pulled. “DUCK!” Lethe shouted, diving for the ground. Every pony present hit the deck as another RPM (Raisin-Pecan Muffin) exploded behind them. A shower of muffins rained down on the besieged guard ponies.
“Argh!” Hoplite spat out a mini-muffin. “How does she have so many pastries?”
The pink pony tilted her head to the side and slid another piece of artillery into her launcher. “I work in a bakery.”
Spring had finally arrived.
Their duty finished with the return of the warm weather, the members of the Arcana had long since whisked themselves away from the party, once more leaving the nobility to socialize. Winter gowns and coats were shed in droves, revealing a myriad of looser and more comfortable, but no less gaudy, series of clothes. It was truly a sight to see.
However, one of the most aweing (or “utterly scandalous” as some mares claimed) attractions of the night, however, was the gargantuan red stallion and the young mare accompanying him.
“Schwarzwälder is going to go mingle.” Schwarzwälder began to drift away from Slender.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Slender bit down onto Schwarzwälder’s ear, dragging the stallion’s head down to her level. “Now you listen to me!” the trainer growled. Her eyes were practically throwing daggers at Schwarzwälder. “You are NOT going to mess this up for me. You are going to stay right next to me the entire night, and you are going to be silent.”
“Ticket was meant for Schwarzwälder. Slender can go home now.”
“The ticket was meant for Princess Celestia’s trainer, which means I. Am. Staying.” The yellow mare punctuated each word with a stomp of her hoof.
The mare fidgeted nervously in her blue sun dress, her eyes darting around the garden party. It was all so much more… fancier than she thought it would be. Various well-to-do ponies and nobles were clumped together in groups around the garden, chatting about everything and everything. Some had sent some disdainful looks towards the newcomer and her associate, but Slender wasn’t going to budge. She had received a ticket from the Princess like the rest of them and she had just as much right to be there. It paid to be connected. Or at the very least, have royalty drenched in divine sweat walk out your doors.
But of course, Schwarzwälder upon hearing about the Celebration invite just had to tag along. Not even the simple logic that there was only one ticket could discourage the diehard Haunches trainer.
Slender supposed that in the end, it had worked out. It had been a little hard for the guards at the front gate to say “No” to a stallion who bench pressed the moon goddess. Needless to say, they had both been allowed in.
“Slender can stay all she likes. Schwarzwälder is going to mingle among froo-froo ponies!”
Slender Flank cringed as several heads turned their way and hurriedly lowered her voice. “For ancestor’s sakes then, at least put on some clothes!”
“Schwarzwälder never wear clothes.” The giant reared onto his hind legs and flexed his muscles, his entire body on display for the ponies in front of him. Several mares outright fainted. “The equine body is beautiful and should not be hidden! Princess, though puny, knows this to be true as well! Princess’s pasty white flank is far more beautiful than fancy garb. Anypony else who think otherwise is crazy.”
“Quite right you are.” came a voice from behind the giant. The speaker was a white unicorn stallion sitting at a table behind the two. His tuxedo jacket was draped over the back of his chair and his tie was undone, resting on the tablecloth beside him. The first few buttons of his undershirt were undone, no doubt from the sudden warmth of the night, and a monocle was clenched in his eye.
“Besides, tonight is far too warm to be trussed up.” He fanned himself gently with a hoof. “Better to go eau natural, wouldn’t you say?”
Slender took note of the triple crown cutie mark he had. There was only one pony in all of Canterlot with that mark.
“F-F-Fancy Pants!” Slender stammered, dropping into a curtsy. The white stallion chuckled and rose from his seat.
“At your service,” he offered with a nod. “I’m hoping you two are having a pleasant evening. Although you seem to have me at a bit of a disadvantage Miss...?”
“Flank. My name is Slender Flank. And this is my friend, Schwarzwälder.” The red stallion grunted in response.
“Charming. So how are you two enjoying the party?” Fancy Pants asked, gesturing to the various groups of conversing nobles.
“Everypony here is weak and puny,” Schwarzwälder thundered. “Unicorns soft. Pegasi fragile like little birdies. Even earth ponies fat. If all nobility like this, is no wonder Princess was so soft.”
Slender tried to desperately elbow the red giant, but only succeeded in injuring her hoof. Quietly nursing it, the mare put on her biggest smile for Fancy Pants. “Please excuse my associate. He works at an exercise gym with me down town and-”
Fancy Pants’ eyes lit up in recognition. “Ah, so you must be the Princess’s special trainer.”
“Yes I/Schwarzwälder am/is.” Slender Flank and Schwarzwälder said simultaneously. The mare gave a pointed glare that was lost on the Oxtrian stallion.
“Absolutely fascinating,” Fancy Pants mused, “The Princess’s diet has been the talk of all of Canterlot. Why, she looks absolutely marvelous thanks to you,” he said, addressing them both. “I’ve even been considering stopping by the Haunches gym myself.”
Slender had to physically restrain herself from squealing in delight. Having the Princess attend her family’s gym had done wonders for business, even if a decent chunk of the profits went to repairing the damage a goddess and her brick-for-brains trainer managed to inflict upon the equipment. Dozens of ponies were now attending on a weekly basis, if but to claim they went to the same gym as her highness. If Fancy Pants would start using her though, every pony in Canterlot would flock to the Haunches.
She could even make her parents’ dream a reality and open up a second gym.
“I’m curious as to what your secret is however.”
A light blush sprung to Slender Flank’s cheeks at the compliment. The mare tossed her curled mane, flexing her body to show her physique. “Oh, nothing much. It’s really just the right morning stretches and fresh greens-“
“-Schwarzwälder begins each morning with five hundred crunches and three gallons of badger milk.“
“You’ll have to excuse my friend.” A mortified Slender Flank hurriedly explained to Fancy Pants. “He’s had a few drinks-”
“-Schwarzwälder then spends half an hour in vegetable garden.” At the stares from Fancy Pants and Slender, Schwarzwälder shuffled uneasily. “What? Gardening good for soul. Schwarzwälder always says ‘Healthy mind, healthy body.’”
Slender Flank blinked in surprise. “I didn’t know you were a gardener.”
The red giant nodded. “Yes. Broccoli, tomatoes, squash. All seeds imported from Schwarzwälder’s homeland. Unfortunately, cauliflower eat Schwarzwälder’s chainsaw, so Schwarzwälder cannot harvest crops this year.”
Before Slender Flank could think of a response to this, a sudden light chiming sound came from a stage overlooking the party. A white, well-groomed unicorn stallion with a compass mark on his flank was levitating a spoon and a champagne glass in front of him, lightly tapping them together.
“Fillies and gentlecolts,” Prince Blueblood announced in a refined tone, “I would like to thank you for coming on this lovely night. As always, we appreciate your attendance.
“However, I must regret to inform you that Princess Celestia will not be joining us tonight.” There was some scattered groans of annoyance and disappointment at this news. “I apologize, but there was an urgent development that required her immediate attention.”
The prince paused for a moment before continuing with his speech. “Tonight, we celebrate the return of Spring. The changing of seasons as our fair city is graced by the delicate beauty of-”
“GET BACK HERE!” a distant voice suddenly screamed out from the gardens just beyond the reaches of the party. Blueblood froze, fearing he recognized that voice, but decided to press on.
“...by the delicate beauty of the flowers which color our lives, bringing joy to our hearts-”
“I WILL LOOK FOR YOU!” the voice screamed again, even louder this time. “I WILL FIND YOU, AND I WILL END YOU!” Blueblood paused again and was just about to resume speaking before the sound of distant explosions and splattering sounds coming from the opposite direction caught his attention.
However, he didn’t get any time to think about this before a young, cream-colored colt with a short brown mane and a camera hanging around his neck whizzed past the prince before there was a bright flash of light and the stage he was standing on suddenly erupted, throwing Blueblood clear off. He was barely able to catch a glimpse of the figure of his aunt racing through the remains of the stage before the prince landed in a large cake that had been sitting untouched on the buffet table, coating Blueblood in bread and frosting for the second time in his life.
Pandemonium gripped the party. The attendees began running for their lives as the colt took advantage of the chaos to race across the garden, nimbly dodging the various nobles who ran across his path. Celestia tore through the party, her size and visibility giving her a clear path as the ponies dodged out of the way of their leader. “STOP THAT FOAL!” she screamed. “YOUR PRINCESS ORDERS YOU TO STOP HIM!”
At the edge of the garden, Slender Flank and Fancy Pants stared with their mouths agape, the latter with a monocle dangling, utterly forgotten, from his shirt pocket. Their large companion, however, watched on thoughtfully, a hoof placed on his chin.
“Hmm. Soft Princess run fast when chasing young colt. Schwarzwälder remember for next session.”
In the midst of the chaos and confusion that had gripped the party, nopony came to Celestia’s aid. The colt’s speed and agility was such that he passed each attendee before any of them could react in time, many not even noticing him to begin with. The guards stationed at the edge of the party - of which there were very few, owing to an ongoing situation outside the celebration - could not locate the small colt as he raced along the ground, out of sight in this crowd of adult ponies.
Regardless, Celestia relented pursued the intruder, following as he dove across a buffet table which shortly became the unfortunate victim of a fiery blast of magic from the princess’ horn. As she raced between the fallen pastries and the disfigured remains of elaborate food spreads Celestia fought back the regret that threatened to overwhelm her. No. There would be no tears shed for these casualties of war - at least not when they were inaccessible to her, anyway.
“I’ve got you now!” she yelled as the figure of the colt darted down a nearby garden path, away from the destruction and chaos that was left of the garden party. Celestia closed in as she grinned to herself. There would be no escape now. She whipped around a corner, readying a triumphant shout which promptly died in her throat as she caught sight of something massive sitting in her path. The princess skidded to a halt, just barely avoiding crashing into it.
It was a monolithic machine of modern weaponry. A monstrosity, mared by a pony who looked beside herself with joy. And it was pointed right at Celestia.
“Hoplite, wait!” a crumb covered black pegasus Night Watch in the distance screamed, chasing after a guard who was now barreling towards the princess.
“Princess Celestia!” Hoplite cried out desperately. He could see the mad, savage grin of the crazed pony threatening the pony he was sworn to protect. He narrowed his eyes. Even if it cost him his own life, protect her he would.
“Princess!” he yelled, throwing his hooves wide as he dove towards her. “Nooooooooooooooo-!”
Pinkie Pie ripped back the cord.
An explosion of color blasted out of the mouth of Pinkie’s cannon, hitting Celestia dead on. A blizzard of rainbow colored streamers and confetti snowed down around the bewildered mare.
Hoplite landed woefully short a second later, sliding into the dust face-down in front of the princess. His wings drooped pathetically. “Ow.”
“Um…. Thank You?” Celestia shook her head and rear, shaking the colorful pieces of paper off of her.
“No!” Pinkie Pie screamed. “This is wrong! All wrong!” The mare suddenly composed herself and pointed a hoof at Celestia “Except for you being here and me being here and my cannon being here! Those are right!” She darted around the massive piece of party artillery and examined the muzzle of the cannon, her eyes practically a good foot out of their socket as she peered in.
“…what just happened?” Hoplite asked numbly as he lifted his head up, taking in the confetti around him. Lethe sighed and nudged the Day Guard with her hoof.
“See, this is why I said stop. You would’ve made yourself seem like less of an idiot if you only listened to me. Hoplite, meet Pinkie Pie.” Lethe stated flatly. “You know. Pinkie Pie. Element of Laughter. Four-time savior of Equestria. Winner of the “Least-Likely-To-Assassinate-Princess-Celestia” award.” THAT Pinkie Pie.”
Said pink pony suddenly gave a playfully squeak as she leaned too far in, resulting in her head getting stuck in the cannon.
Celestia could only watch in bewilderment as Pinkie’s bottom and tail bounced around as she struggled to extract herself from the cannon. “This is wrong!” the pink pony shrieked. “The cannon was supposed to be loaded with cake batter!”
“Why were you trying to shoot me with cake batter?” Celestia ventured.
“Well duh!” Pinkie’s voice echoed from the inside, “because I was speaking to Twilight earlier and she told me that you were dieting, and I didn’t know what that was so I asked her! Then she told you me that it was when a pony didn’t eat and I was like ‘That’s silly. What pony wouldn’t want to eat their vegetables?’ but she told me that you weren’t eating at ALL!” Pinkie’s voice sounded as though she couldn’t believe the thought of it. “And I was like ‘Are you crazy? No cakes or pies or peanut butter or banana cream pie or-”
Celestia listened absentmindedly as Pinkie Pie went on, giving a vexed look at the cannon the mare had somehow smuggled in. She gave a tired sigh, reminding herself to have a talk with Twilight later about this.
“-or even star fruit! So I said to myself “Pinkie Pie, what’s the one thing that everypony loves?” and I said “Cookie Dough” but the launching velocity of cookie dough is kinda subpar, so I decided to bring you cake batter instead! You can get some really sweet air on it if you angle the cannon just right!” There was suddenly silence from the cannon.
Pinkie Pie’s head popped out of the cannon and she looked down at the guards, a puzzled expression on her face. “Wait a minute… if I put confetti in the party cannon then that means...”
In the Royal Kitchens
“PUSH!” Whisk shouted into the megaphone in front of him. There was a collective groan as a dozen or so stallions threw their weight against the metal monstrosity. With a horrendous screech it slowly slid into place against the wall.
“...and... there.” A satisfied Silver Whisk looked proudly at the device in front of him. Copper Kettle, as well as the rest of the cooks in the kitchen, could only stare numbly from his station.
“Perfect.” Silver Whisk smiled broadly and flung his hoof around Copper Kettle’s shoulder, gesturing to the appliance in front of them all. The machinery took up the entire stretch of one of the kitchen walls and had taken numerous shrinking spells from all unicorns present to make it capable of fitting through the kitchen doors.
“So what do you think?” he asked eagerly, a shockingly wide grin stretched across his face.
Copper Kettle gave a look of uncertainty to his friend. “It’s… a really nice oven?” Copper Kettle offered.
“R-really nice OVEN?!” Whisk spluttered, his eyes wide. “This is no mere oven! This is the apex of all ovens!” Silver Whisk reverently stroked a hoof along the flawless chrome surface. “Highly buffed stainless steel interior polished to an impeccable shine… capable of cooking 100,000 veggieburgers at once… goes from 0 to 365 degrees Fahrenheit in ten seconds… sixteen interior racks and turbovroom fans… fillies and gentlecolts, I give you…” Silver Whisk paused for dramatic effect. “THE OVENGER! The only oven fit for the ministrations of Chef Ram Sea!” Fireworks exploded behind Silver Whisk as he stood on his hind legs, forehooves tossed to the heavens.
There was a smattering of polite applause throughout the kitchen. Copper Kettle could only blink.
“This was your plan. You got him an oven-”
“OVENGER! Give it the respect it deserves.”
“-and that’s supposed to get him out of his funk?”
“Well, I was gonna get him just a regular oven. But I thought since we were getting one for the King of the Kitchen, we might as well get one fit for royalty.”
Copper Kettle was silent for a moment, scrutinizing. A grin slid onto Copper Kettle’s face. “Dude… totally sick…” he said as high-hooved Whisk. “Where did you find this puppy at?”
“I know a mare in Ponyville. Everything from salt from Marexeco to gelato from Bitaly, she’s your gal. I placed the order in this morning, and BOOM! It was here an hour later. Plus,” Whisk added with a grin, “for an extra five bits, she rigged it so that when we open the door for the first time, there’s supposed to be a massive burst of confetti.”
“I have to admit,” said Copper Kettle said as they walked to the pantry, “You are a genius. If this works, I am naming one of my foals after you.”
“Oh, it’ll work. There’s no way this can’t go wrong,” reassured Whisk. Amid the hushed conversation of his fellow cooks, he knocked on the pantry door. “Head Chef, we need you to come out here.”
There was silence in the kitchen for a moment. Then the gruff voice of Cher Ram Sea spoke up.
“Unless Lighter Fluid has screwed up again, an' th' entire kitchen is burnin' doon, go awa'. Can’t ye tell Ah’m peelin' onions?”
“We know chef, but we have something really important to show you! It’s urgent!”
“... fine.” There was the sound of numerous locks and bolts being slid out of place, and the door opened a crack to reveal the woolly face of Ram Sea. His eyes were red and he held a half-peeled onion in one hoof.
“Thes’ better be important lads. If it isn’t, Ah’m gonnae hae a body an’ yer guts for a new pair of bootts.”
“Oh trust me, Chef,” Silver Whisk said as he wrapped a black blindfold around Ram Sea’s eyes.
“Git thes thin' aff me! Whit do ye two think yer daein'? Is this some sort ay prenk?” the chef protested, wriggling between the grip of the two cooks.
“We just wanted to show you what we really think of you, Chef! Our intentions are nothing but sincere!” Copper Kettle said as he led Ram Sea in front of the OVENGER. At Whisk quickly took off the blindfold.
“SURPRISE!” shouted everypony in the kitchen as Copper Kettle threw the door to the oven open.
Everyone watched in horror, those cooks closest screaming as a tidal wave of a thick, yellow liquid exploded out of the other. Gallons of it splattered onto the pristine floors of the kitchen, and even more on the unlucky ponies who stood in front of the oven’s massive door. There was one sheep in particular however, who took the brunt of the force and was knocked head over heels by the torrent.
After what seemed an eternity, the gush finally ceased to a trickle. Ponies collected themselves from the sticky mess, looking around the kitchen in shock. The room was a disaster zone, but as they recovered from their surprise, everypony’s attention was drawn to the sheep lying in the middle of the kitchen, coated from horn to hoof in the sticky material.
Chef Ram Sea wiped the yellow goo from his eyes. He gave a steely look at everypony in the kitchen. “Who,” he began slowly, “is responsible for this?”
As one, every hoof in the kitchen pointed to the pale Copper Kettle and Silver Whisk. Chef Ram Sea opened his mouth, but Copper Kettle quickly raised his hoof, cutting off the sheep before he could speak.
“Allow us, Chef,” he muttered in a resigned fashion. He turned to face Silver Whisk, who was busy wiping the cake batter off of his uniform. “Silver Whisk, bah far ye are th’ most disgraceful cook te’ ever grace mah kitchen!”
Whisk turned to his compatriot and puffed out his chest. “Aye, and you, Copper Kettle can’t teel salt frum peppah! Ye’ mother was a diamond dog and ye fadder a Parasprite. They abandoned ye and ye were raised by Hydras you were!
“Auld cheil gum, pass th' bottle roon.”
“By th' kilts an' bags abune, ye ken whit we’re gonnae dae? We’re gonnae gang an' peel tatties wi' paperclips fur th' next month an' clean thes entire mess wi' uir toothbrushes until th' entire scullery sparkles fur thes crime against cuisine.” Whisk finished. Copper Kettle nodded in approval and as one, they turned and marched off into the pantry.
Chef Ram Sea rose to his hooves, wringing cake batter out of his wool. He stared up at the massive oven approvingly, and a smile spread across his lip.
“Ah was gonnae say thenk ye. But Ah guess 'at works too.”
The Next Morning
Feather Duster paced nervously back and forth on the carpet, having already achieved reducing it to a thread-bare patch. Her normally kept bun was frazzled, and if the bags under her eyes were any indication, she was running low on sleep. It was safe to say that the maid had run herself ragged over the last few hours.
“I can’t believe this is happening.” Feather Duster bemoaned, anxiously biting her hoof. “We were so careful, so diligent!”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. In a few centuries, nopony will remember any of it.” Celestia remarked, as she signed her approval on the mound of paperwork in front of her.
“I’m not talking about your actions at the party! I’m talking about this!” Feather Duster’s horn glowed and she brought a folded newspaper out of the saddlebags at her side. She tossed it onto Celestia;s desk. “We need to deal with this immediately!” Feather Duster insisted. Printed in bold large letters across the header was The Foal Free Press.
“…you’re saying a school newspaper,” Celestia ventured carefully “… is my greatest concern right now.”
Feather Duster urgently flipped open to paper, spreading it out on Celestia’s desk. “Look!”
Celestia sighed and adjusted the reading glasses perched on top of her muzzle. Fort he most part, it was mostly articles on school activities, sports schedules, and what was being served for lunch that day.
What really caught the princess’s eye though was the center image.
There for all the world to see, emblazoned in its pages, was the Princess of the Day with a slice of cake in hoof, gazing toward the camera with a mixture of surprise and guilt on her frosting-smeared face.
Celestia had to admit that it wasn’t her best angle.
“We managed to ‘convince’ all the Canterlot newspapers to bury your Cherry Celeration fiasco in a small article in the ad section of their prints,” Feather Duster said, leaning her head against the desk. The maid’s eyes drooped somewhere between ‘coherent’ and ‘out cold’. “With any luck, nopony will see it and what happened will be just reduced to noble gossip. But we couldn’t get ahold of the pony who took this shot. In a few hours from now, this image will be front and center on every newspaper in the kingdom!” The maid’s entire body trembled and she buried her face in her hooves. “It’ll be a scandal!”
Despite herself, Celestia could not help but be impressed with her hoof maid. She could only imagine what strings the mare had to pull in order to make last night’s “problem” go away. It had to be no small feat to cover up Princess Celestia telling off her own subjects and then trashing her own celebration. Feather Duster had worked tirelessly to ensure that the worst her Princess now had to deal with was an embarrassing photograph.
Celestia let the glasses drop onto her desk and closed the newspaper. The princess rose from her seat and walked to the balcony windows, gazing upon the spiraling towers that was Canterlot. She breathed in deeply. The bakers were at it again...
“Okay... okay we can fix this.” Feather Duster resolved, rising to her hooves. “We need to keep strong with the image that you’re devoted to your diet. We can double your sessions with Swarzewalder and we can make a press statement in which you endorse- Princess, are you even listening to me?”
The princess paid her maid no heed. The goddess remained facing the window.
The lingering taste of the Ram Sea’s masterpiece still danced on the edges of her consciousness, now nothing more than a memory.
A memory that was whispering to her, calling her in like a siren’s melody.
Celestia licked her lips eagerly, the gears in her mind slowly turning.
One way or another, she was getting into the royal kitchens.
"Oh JohnPerry / who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. \ Thy will be be done \ online as it is on paper. \ Give us this day a decent edit, \ and forgive us horrible mistakes \ as we work to make tolerable fanfiction. Amen" - Dawnscroll's prayer to his editor.
Have some Slice of Life.
Hoplite twitched nervously in his armor. The guard was coiled tighter than a spring as he stepped away from his assigned position. Silently tip-hoofing to the intersection, he poked his head out in the hallway, checking down both ends. Empty. He gave a sigh of relief and bolted back to where a certain ebony mare was waiting by a pair of great double-swinging doors.
“This is never going to work.” He repeated under his breathe. Lethe rolled her eyes and gave the guard a playful push.
“This is totally going to work. Just let me do the talking, hot stuff,” the Night Watch assured her friend.
“That is exactly why this is never going to work!”
"Awesome. Nobody asked for your opinion."
“We’re gonna get-”
“Umm, who's there?"
Hoplite folded his ears back. “But-”
“Let me tell you a little story about a stallion named ‘Shut up and let me work my magic!’”
Hoplite was truly wishing he had been put on something less degrading.
In all fairness, though they had been assigned somewhere normal to look over for once, Hoplite knew that this was actually a rather unique form of punishment. A sort of quasi ‘You-left-your-guard-duty-and-for-that-I-should-have-you-dishonorably-discharged-but-you-did-so-in-order-to-defend-the-castle-against-assailants-so-I-should-really-be-giving-you-a-medal-but-the-pink-one-got-a-bloody-cannon-through-Equestria’s-finest-so-again-honorable-discharge-but-you-did-throw-yourself-in-harms-way-to-protect-the-Princess-with-no-regard-for-your-own-life-so-you-can-stay-but-just-be-sure-to-actually-take-a-bullet-next-time-will-you?-cause-honestly-that-was-Celestia-awful-embarrassing sort of punishment. He had been willing to clean horseshoes for a year if it meant he could stay. Hoplite was happy to take it, so long as it meant he could remain a guard. Until he had learned the full details.
He had to guard the entrance of the Royal Kitchens. With Lethe.
In theory, what would otherwise seem as another menial duty for new recruits was now a location of extreme importance. Hoplite knew that under the effects of Operation Drop, Princess Celestia’s claim to everything beyond these doors was forfeit. Not even a single sugar cube was to pass her lips until the entire household staff was given the green light. And for that to happen, Princess Celestia needed to lose weight.
The plan of defense was very simple: Post two guards and keep anypony who was not white-listed from entering or leaving the kitchens. Not a very thorough plan, but it had worked thus far.
“Shh! I hear someone coming from the kitchen!”
Whoever had devised this brilliant plan, however, clearly had not factored a certain Night Watch into the equation.
Secretly, Hoplite wondered if there were any deities higher than Celestia and Luna. If so, he had no doubt that they loathed his existence and had made it their sole mission to make his life as miserable as equinely possible.
“Oh, I can’t wait to see the look on their face!”
In the next few moments, Hoplite knew that the midnight she-devil he once again had the misfortune to be paired up with was about to cost him his entire career. He’d be forced to spend the rest of his life as a mall cop because he couldn’t hack it with the Royal Guard!
It would be a happy day in Tartarus if he was going to let her win at her game. He was going to give her a piece of his mind. He strode up to her, a hearty dose of testosterone coursing in his blood. He was going to reaffirm his position as the alpha stalli-
Lethe stuck her hoof in his mouth the second he opened it, trapping her companion’s tongue at the base of his mouth. “Shhh! even before you start. That was a pre-emptive ‘shh!’” The golden orbs of Lethe’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Now, I have a whole bag of ‘shh!’ with your name on it, and by Celestia’s beard, I will beat you senseless over the head with it if you mess this up for me.”
Hoplite wilted under the assault, and meekly nodded. Lethe, satisfied that he no longer proved a danger to her designs, dashed back to her prior position, leavening him to sullenly stand in silence.
The doors to the kitchen swung open.
The ebony mare pulled herself up to full height and puffed her chest out. “Who goes there!” she thundered.
The cook in question halted the food trolley before the guards. “Just dropping off lunch to the Chancellor’s office,” he explained.
“None shall pass!” declared Lethe, as she barred the narrow hallway. “Not unless they offer tribute to those who stand vigil over the border of Equestria-”
“It’s just the kitchens,” muttered Hoplite.
“-for safe passage.” Lethe said. Her hoof tapped the food trolley dangerously. “It would be a shame if the Chancellor didn’t get his lunch, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Well then,” the cook said with a knowing smile. He reached under the trolley and brought out a covered dish. Lethe’s eyes grew wide in excitement and Hoplite’s jaw dropped that the mare was getting away with this. “I guess it’s a good thing I just so happened to bring a worthy offering for our realm’s staunch protectors.” He gave a wink to the mare and with much flourish whipped off the lid of the plate. Lethe’s mouth began to water at the sight. There, nestled gently between mounds of fresh raspberries was delicious, creamy, smooth, divine...
“YES! CHEESECAKE!” cheered Lethe. She soared past Copper, snatching the plate out of his hooves. With a tuck and roll that defied the laws of physics, Lethe came to a rest with the plate rattling infront of her, a bite already missing from the dessert. She gave a moan of pleasure as she swallowed, her wings flaring erect involuntarily. Without any further acknowledgement to the other stallions present, she began to dig in with gusto.
Hoplite could only numbly watch her in disbelief.
“Here, I brought one for you too,” the orange pony said, as he pulled out another plate of cheesecake.
“Uh, thanks, I guess.” Hoplite gave a defeated sigh and bit into the peace offering. He couldn’t deny it was one of the best cheesecakes he had ever had.
The cook chuckled good-naturally. “Not a prob,” he said, and he nodded his head
in Lethe’s direction. “You keeping her out of trouble?”
“Do I look like an alicorn?” Hoplite sighed. The cook laughed and proceeded past the guards with the trolley.
Lethe lifted her head from the plate, her lips rimmed with white. “It’s another masterpiece! A magnum opus to all things sugary, Copper!” she shouted down the hallway. The cook gave a grunt of approval as he disappeared around the corner. The mare lowered her head to continue eating, but Lethe caught Hoplite’s flummoxed look and blinked innocently.
The stallion didn’t even bat an eye. “Why do you do that?”
Lethe licked her lips, removing any trace of the cheesecake to oblivion. “Why do I do what?”
“That!” Hoplite impatiently narrowed his eyes. “Why do you do stuff like that!”
“Gonna have to be more specific than ‘that’.”
Thwop-pop. Thwop-pop. Thwop-pop. Thwop-pop.
“The cake! You just strong-armed a royal employee for cheesecake! Have you no shame?” Hoplite scolded.
Lethe checked under all of her hooves and her under body with scrutiny. “Nope,” she said finally, “No shame here.”
“We’re here to protect them, not demand gifts! Them, and both of their highnesses! How dare you abuse your position!”
Lethe let out a mirthful laugh. “The princesses don’t need protection.”
“What?!” Hoplite stammered, “Of course they do! That’s why they have us!”
“Nooooo,” Lethe corrected him, “We’re here to stand here and look pretty. Well, at least you are.” She rubbed a hoof over his breastplate. “So pretty with your cute shiny armor.”
“I can’t believe that you’d show such disrespect! We work hard to ensure that the castle security is impenetrable and that no possible harm can come to their highnesses!”
“Right. So you’re about to tell me what a stellar job the Day Guard did in protecting the Princess when Nightmare Moon came,” Lethe asked knowingly. Hoplite was silent. “Or how both the Day Guard, Night Watch AND the Arcana Council managed to overthrow Discord and restore harmony to Equestria. Yes, we were of such use against God-tier level threats.”
“…are you saying that they don’t need us?”
“Those aren’t quite the words I would’ve used. I mean, they wouldn’t have hired us if they didn’t need us for something.” Lethe could only grin broadly at him. “You just take this job way too seriously. Besides, look at it this way... Mares love a stallion in uniform,” Lethe said with a wink. “I mean, why else do you think that Princess Celestia has you all!”
“...I hate you.” Hoplite said dryly, his ears drooping as her words hit home. Lethe laughed long and hard, falling onto her back and kicking her hooves in the air.
Thwop-pop. Thwop-pop. Thwop-pop.
“I’m not some toy, Lethe,” Hoplite defended through gritted teeth. “Princess Celestia doesn’t see me or any of us in such a crude light. (Thwop-pop.) We serve them, life and body, and one day, mark my words, I will be noticed (Thwop-pop.) and have Princess Celestia’s-- what in the name of all that is hooven is that noise?”
All of a sudden, Lethe’s laughter cut short.
Hoplite followed her gaze to the ornate ceiling, and the alicorn mare there. The white princess gave an embarrassed grin down at the awkward couple, her multi-hued mane hanging down from her like a sunset waterfall. “Oh… hello there.” Celestia said. She looked at the doors to the kitchen with a scowl, and then back down to the guards. “I guess this looks really bad, huh?" She began to step away, the irritating 'Thwop!' of the toilet plungers tied to her hooves echoing in the corridor as she did. “I suppose I’d best be on my way then.”
A pair of dumbstruck guards stood stock still, their eyes glued on the goddess above him.
“What-- Who-- argh! My brain hurts!” screamed Hoplite as he grabbed his skull. “How is she up there?!”
Lethe raised an eyebrow. “Do you want me to explain the actual physics to you? Or are you just willing to accept magic and plungers as an answer?” Lethe turned back to the disappointed goddess. “What are you doing up there anyway?”
Celestia sighed dejectedly. “Oh, you know. Trying to sneak behind enemy lines and into dangerous territory.”
“Uh-huh,” Lethe answered, sounding unimpressed.
“So...” Celestia smiled awkwardly at the two guards. “Can I pass through?”
Lethe raised an eyebrow, remaining silent for a moment. “...No.” Hoplite flinched at the Night Watch’s blunt answer.
Princess Celestia frowned. How dare these mortals say no to her! They were Royal Guards, sworn to uphold her every command! They owed her their very lives! No, she would not accept such insolence!
“I demand that you move aside and allow me passage into the Royal Kitchens!” she commanded, her voice booming down the hall. She caught a glimpse of Lethe’s still unimpressed expression. “...please?” she added quietly.
“Okay then,” Celestia mumbled in defeat, looking up at her hooves as she began turning around to make her retreat. Hoplite stared after her, dumbfounded with his mouth agape. Lethe merely watched on, frowning and looking almost disappointed.
“That was...strange,” Hoplite muttered. He glanced down at the plate of cheesecake lying forgotten on the floor beside him. He turned to Lethe. “Say, do you want my cheesecake? I’m really not that hungry.”
Celestia screeched to a halt in mid-step. “Cheesecake? I want cheesecake!”
Hoplite’s eyes widened. “Oh no.”
The goddess’s slow retreat had unexpectedly turned into a full on gallop towards their position. There was a look of fierce determination on the goddess’s face as she charged headlong at them. If there was cheesecakey goodness behind those doors, than nothing could stop her from devouring it!
Hoplite dashed for the kitchen entrance. “Hold the doors! We can’t let her get through them!”
“More importantly, protect the cheesecake! Protect it with your life!” urged Lethe as she stood over her plate protectively. She gave a feral hiss at the inbound Celestia, baring her fangs.
Hoplite shot her a look of disbelief.
“So you’ll make the argument that we’re not here to protect the Princesses, but you want me to protect cheesecake?”
“I have my priorities, you have yours!” Lethe shot back.
The two could see the princess barreling towards them. This was it, Hoplite realized as he stood over the plate of cheesecake, closing his eyes shut as the sound of plungers attaching and detaching from the ceiling grew louder and more rapid. Lethe watched the maddened princess charge closer, realizing there was nothing she could do to stop the attack. She shut her eyes as she braced for impact.
There was a huge, booming crash as Celestia made impact. Hoplite and Lethe flinched, but strangely they didn’t feel anything. They weren’t lifted into the air and sent flying, or slammed against the door, or felt anything strike against them. The two carefully opened their eyes only to see they were still standing in the hall, which looked no different than before.
“What… just happened?” gasped Hoplite as he clutched at his heaving chest.
“I… have no idea. Just be happy that it did, or we’d be on the far side of the moon.” Lethe answered.
The two guards looked at each other. Then, as one, they looked back up at ceiling. Somehow, once again giving the middle claw to physics, the Princess’s ethereal tail had become snagged within the filigree of a chandelier, leaving the unconscious alicorn to dangle like an ornament.
There was a pregnant pause.
“I didn’t even notice that chandelier,” Hoplite finally said.
“Apparently, neither did she,” Lethe commented.
“How are we going to get her down?” he asked.
“You have wings, don’t you?” she asked incredulously, keeping her eyes on the hanging goddess. As if to prove her point, her own limbs snapped out, the leathery membrane taut.
“Help me carry her down, will you Hoplite? ...Hop? Are you even listen-”
Hoplite was laying on the floor beneath her, knocked out cold from where the mares wings had smacked him in the face. Lethe gave a groan of disbelief, and then muttered a prayer to Luna.
“Fine. I’ll get the ladder.”
Swish-Chinkchinkchink. Swish-Chinkchinkchink. Swish-Chinkchinkchink.
Celestia grunted as she hefted the trio of pick axes above her head. She swung them into the niche of stone in front of her, showering her fur with a spray of stone shards. With a doleful sigh, she looked back at the tunnel behind her, squinting into the darkness. The glassy surface of stray crystals trapped in the rock gleamed faintly from the magical grip on the tools.
Bit by bit, the rocks were yielding to her. With a small flick, she swung one of her axes and broke the stone before her into pieces, and those pieces into smaller pieces and smaller pieces and smaller pieces and smaller pieces-
Celestia had to admit that there was something rather therapeutic about the whole thing.
Once she had rubbed away some sweat on her forehead, she pulled out a map and began studying it. Her hoof traced the lines that denoted the boundaries of the palace, guesstimating her current position. If she was right, and Celestia knew for a fact that she had to be, she should be right under the kitchen pantry.
Celestia returned to her task, pressing her ear against the rocky ceiling above her. She could hear voices now. Good. That meant she was close. However, one sentence in particular caught her attention.
“I am not wearing a hoofball helmet!”
“Aww, come on!” pouted Lethe, sticking out her lower lip.
“No means no.”
“I am so sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Please accept my apology!”
“You’ve said that a thousand times already!” He readjusted the bag of ice strapped to his forehead, wincing as he did so. “I’m perfectly fine,” the guard stressed. “In all honesty, I’m kinda getting used to taking knocks there now.”
Lethe buzzed around his head, concern etched into her face. “Yeah, but that’s why I’m worried! We need to protect what few brain cells you have left! Wear the bucking helmet!” Once again, she tried to cram the monstrosity onto his noggin. It was a futile attempt, as Hoplite side-stepped the pegasus, leaving her to fumble in mid-air.
The past few minutes head been nothing short of utterly ridiculous as Lethe had chased the guard around the narrow confines of their post, drawing attention from staff and noble ponies alike. It was like a foalish game of tag, and no matter how many times he refused, she persisted with the Celestia-damned helmet. Where she had gotten it on such short notice, he hadn’t a clue.
“I have plenty of brain cells!”
“Could’ve fooled me.” Lethe said with a grin. She offered the helmet to him again. “Here, take it.”
“Keep it for yourself.” Hoplite said. He blew an exasperated sigh through his lips. “If Princess Celestia comes back, we might as well get all the protection we can get. There is no way we can stop her. We got lucky last time.”
Lethe flashed him a smile, practically bouncing on her hooves. Hoplite had resigned himself that Lethe was bursting with energy with every bound, giving one Day Guard an agonizing headache from keeping track of her. Or maybe that was just the concussion again. “Nah, we can take her.”
“Really?” Hoplite said, sarcasm lacing his voice. “I’m sorry, who was it who said earlier how useless we guards were against god-tier threats, or did I miss the memo? Is someone else raising the sun now?”
Lethe winked and tapped her nose knowingly. “Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. Princess Celestia has two vital flaws.”
Hoplite wasn’t buying it. “And what are those?” he asked, his voice laced in disbelief.
Lethe opened her mouth to answer, but the words died in her throat before coming out. She cocked her head to the side, her face screwed up in confusion.
“Do you hear that?”
“Oh, don’t change the subject just cause I’ve backed you-”
“Shush!” Lethe scolded him. Her bat-like ears flicked, and she suddenly knelt to the ground, pressing the side of her head. Hoplite shut his gab immediately. He knew that Lethe wasn’t doing that to mess with him this time. Those ears of hers weren’t just for aesthetics. The Night Watch closed her eyes, burrowing her brow in concentration as her senses picked up the vibrations in the stone.
“What?” Hoplite asked in a hush. “What do you hear?”
“I hear... something,” muttered Lethe. “Down... down below us... coming from the crystal mines beneath the castle...”
“...I swear, if the archeology guild delved too greedily and too deep again...”
Lethe let out a loud shriek and practically shot into the air, falling back onto her rear as the stonework began to crack in the exact spot she was listening. The tiles pushed up and outward, and part of the ground around the cracks caved in beneath the surface and fell into the expanding hole.
Hoplite stared on, dumbfounded as scuttling sounds could be heard coming from within the hole as it continued to grow. He spread his wings, getting ready to take flight if the hole expanded to the point that it swallowed him. It stopped far short though, and there was a moment of silence before something large and white suddenly broke through the surface.
“Hah!” Celestia cried, as her muzzle pushed free of the stone and dirt. “Fresh air! Light! Now just to... to...” she looked up, finally noticing the two guards in front of her. “...what are you two doing in the royal pantry?”
A pair of hooves, one black and one white, pointed behind her. Celestia followed them, coming face to face with the doors to the kitchen. The princess’s shoulders slumped.
“I messed up, huh?” she asked. The guards nodded silently.
“Wait...” Celestia dove back down into the tunnel.
The dark mare smirked at her guard companion. “She has no sense of direction and is horrible at trigonometry.” Lethe answered as she rose to her hooves. She caught Hoplite’s look at her and shrugged her shoulders. “What? That’s your answer!” she said, gesturing with a hoof.
After a minute of groping around in the dark, the sun goddess popped back out of the hole, and spread the map out on the tiles in front of her.
“Let’s see...” she said to herself, magicking a compass and marking her current position. “I made a left here... passed the royal barricades... and went forty feet to the right and four hundred feet forward!”
She looked back up. There was a good fifteen between her and the door. She looked back down at the map.
Celestia face hoofed. “I knew I had gone to far when I hit the pool.”
“This should be close enough.” Celestia gave a shrug of her shoulders, readying to surface after another couple of hours of digging. She suddenly burst out of the hole, showering the two guards in a shower of dirt. She extended her magnificent wings, shaking hours worth of dust from their plumage.
“HAH!” she cried, throwing her hooves into the air. “At last, I’m inside-”
“Hello,” somepony’s voice came from behind her. Celestia turned around to see Hoplite and Lethe standing in front of the doors to the Royal Kitchens. A huge hole, her previous attempt at surfacing inside the kitchens, sat in front of them. Lethe was waving cheerfully at her.
“THAT DOES IT!” Celestia erupted, flinging the pick axes on the ground beside her in frustration. She pointed a shaking hoof at the two guards, her voice quavering from emotion and exhaustion. “You will let me inside the kitchens this instant!”
Hoplite cringed in fear, but Lethe remained resolute. “I’m sorry Your Majesty, I’m afraid we can’t do that.”
“Actually, I can-” Hoplite began shakily, only to have Lethe shove a hoof in his mouth before he could finish.
Celestia towered above them now, staring down at them with a grim stare. She spread her wings wide, looking as massive and imposing as possible as she drew closer. Lethe stared back determinedly.
“I am your princess, and you will obey me,” she growled, lowering her head so that her muzzle was but an inch from Lethe’s. “Stand. Aside.”
“I don’t answer to you.” Lethe said, tapping her ebony Night Guard armor.
“I see,” Celestia said darkly. She turned to Hoplite. The pegasus, to his credit, only flinched as the goddess' burning gaze swept across and targeted in on him. “And I suppose you, my trusted guardian, now also stand against me?”
Hoplite gulped, trembling in his armor. Her eyes scared him. There was something deep within those magenta eyes. Something terrifying. Something primal. Something dangerous.
Hoplite realised it was hunger.
Oh yeah. There was no doubt about it. He was going to the moon.
“My lady, forgive me,” Hoplite mumbled, his eyes downcast. If anything, he could at least know he did his duty in the end. “But I must uphold the oath and-”
“You can bet your shiny horseshoes he does!” Lethe interrupted, butting heads with Celestia. “Hoplite’s not some flake that you can just push around!”
Hoplite cringed. “But I-”
The brazen Night Watch poked the goddess hard on her royal regalia. If Lethe had any sense of self-preservation, she wasn’t showing it. “So you can just march yourself back up to your room, and that’s that! You aren’t getting in!”
“I am Princess Celestia, harbinger of the Dawn.” Celestia’s eyes narrowed, a solar flare erupting within her irises. “And I’d like to see you try and stop me.”
His body was hard — not hard like Milosevic, the Oxtrian strongstallion, but hard like the marble on your shower floor, when you fall and bang your knee. With his broad shoulders and slim waist, he was a yield sign — yet she could NOT! Sunkiss was on him like a piranha on a corn dog.
“Oh Steel Shaft...” Sunkiss sultrily begged. “...ravish me.”
The construction worker leaned in, his lips only a hair-breadth away-
“What am I reading?” Luna wondered aloud, for what seemed to be the umpteenth time that day.
A very exhausted Luna gave a groan as she stretched her wings. It had been a tiring day at the Night Court, and the princess found herself utterly drained. Many of the ponies whose proposals and disputes that had been dismissed by her sister always chose to attend her Night Court just to have a second bite at the apple. Normally, these too met a swift end via Luna’s stamp, but there were a few gems that Celestia had overlooked.
For instance, a stallion had come to her tonight, highlighting the dangers that zombies and ninjas posed to current medical facilities, and proposed a training program to defend these buildings from ninjas, the undead, or any combination there with of. Luna was so impressed that she had granted the requested three million bits on the spot.
Luna's mouth tightened ever so slightly. Yes. A good decision indeed. The mare looked out of her massive bedroom windows at her creation. The city of Canterlot was abuzz tonight. Clubs, theatres, and businesses flourished in the night.
In truth, Luna couldn’t help but feel some slight envy for her sister’s position. Control one sun, and everypony goes crazy about you. Manage a million of them, and ponies can’t seem to handle the concept. They were almost like ‘Well done! You’re responsible for the entire night sky? You must get up very early in the morning.’
No, it wasn’t too disheartening. Things could be worse. She could be Celestia, plagued and harassed by servants and nobility all day. Nary a moment for her self or own pleasure. A luxury that Luna indulged in currently.
At the moment, said princess lounged on the silken sheets of her own bed, her hooves grateful for the reprieve. A glass of deep red wine, something Luna was more partial to, levitated near at hoof. The comforting crackle of a small fire in her fireplace was all the music and illumination that a night goddess could wish for at the moment.
“This is the life.” Luna murmured contently to herself, as she took a sip of her wine. She turned back to the book in front of her. The title of it was “Fifty Cries of ‘Neigh'”, and Luna had found it while organizing (aka: snooping and stealing socks) in the back of her sister’s closet. Luna had seen her sister reading it before and had seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. If Tia enjoyed it, then surely it had to be worth reading?
…then he kissed her, like a butterfly kisses the face of a pegasus when they collide as the pegasi is performing a sonic rainboom.
Luna didn’t understand what her sister saw in it. She just didn’t get it.
A knock at the door brought the alicorn out of her intent reading and back into reality. Luna sighed, no doubt some servant or guard checking up on her. The palace servants were endearing, especially her sister’s Feather Duster, but sometimes they could be a little... well... smothering.
“I bid ye entrance.” Luna called out, her horn glowing to lift the latch.
The door swung open to reveal a lightly charred, yet thoroughly glued and feathered Celestia, Tiny wisps of smoke trailed off her fur and the blizzard of white chicken feathers that clung to her still sticky hide. She had endured numerous bumps and scrapes, and her royal crown was askewed on her forehead. Despite her mane and tail being alight in various places, the goddess was thoroughly soaked, complete with a full grown alligator firmly clamped on her tail.
Luna took one look at her sister and returned back to her book. “Shall I even ask what happened this time, Tia?” the Night Goddess asked as she turned a page.
“I’d prefer if you didn’t.” Celestia said, trudging into the room. “Just know that we have a pair of very resourceful guards.” She collapsed onto her little sister’s bed, burying her feather-covered face in the sheets. Celestia pressed a hoof to her scalp, snuffing the tiny flames that were collecting there. She gave a muffled shout of frustration, her entire body slumping forward as it gave out. “You were right! I was wrong! These ponies are starving me to death!” Celestia wailed. “I’m dying Luna and I need food! I’m either going to die from hunger, or our own staff will be the end of me!”
Luna rolled her eyes. “Thou art being the dramatic one now, sister.”
“Did you know that our palace has alligators in the moat? I didn’t. I didn’t even realise we HAD a moat,” Celestia stressed, as she took off one of her royal shoes. She tilted it, letting a trickle of swampy water empty out of it and onto Luna’s carpet. Luna excused the gesture as nothing more than her sister being as exhausted as she was, and a spell from both princesses horns evaporated the offending stain, leaving the midnight carpet spotless.
“I had thy engineers construct one awhile back.” Luna admitted. It was something they had done shortly after her return, under the illusion that they could still be at war with the griffins. Not that a moat would’ve done squat against flying opponents, but honestly, what self-respecting castle didn’t have a moat? “I felt that our abode was lacking in proper defenses.”
Luna tried unsuccessfully to hide her smile behind the pages of the book. “They were half off.”
“By the way,” Luna added as she brought her wineglass to her lips again, “Thou seems to have brought an unwanted guest with thee.”
“Oh,” Celestia said, as she looked back at the gator. With a good strong kick the alligator was sent scurrying out of the door, whimpering. A few moments later, a maid screamed down in the hallway. Luna and Celestia ignored it, both perfectly content to remain lounging on the younger’s bed.
“So should I be worried that Discord hast escaped once more or...” Luna began, but Celestia cut her off.
“Like I said, we have a pair of very resourceful guards. Very resourceful.”
“So what thou art saying is that two mortals, who have lived perhaps one-billionth of thy overall existence, who posses no magic whatsoever, successfully barred thee entrance to thine own cupboard?” Luna asked. There were tones of amusement in her voice, and it infuriated Celestia.
“I didn’t lose!” Celestia emphasized, slamming a hoof on a pillow. “I did what any respectable leader should and tactfully withdrew my forces to strike them on their weakest flank. Which... just so happened to be here.”
“So thoust ran like... a chicken?” Luna offered, her eyes twinkling as she took in Celestia feathered body.
There was a deathly chill in the air. Celestia looked up at her sister. “Take it back, Luna. Take it back," Celestia ordered. She narrowed her eyes. She never thought that it would come to this.
"Make me," Luna dared her, a smirk on her lips as she closed her book. She finished her wine quickly, and banished the glass and bottle.
"That won't be hard." Celestia levitated one of the pillows on Luna bed.
Luna had no time to lose. She shot out of her bed, grabbing a pillow for herself with her magic. As she approached her sister, she pulled the pillow back and swung as hard as she could. The sun princess took the pillow directly to the face and went flying backwards, landing on the floor.
A dazed Celestia sat up, stars swirling around her vision, still keeping a firm grip on her own pillow. Shaking her head clear, she sent a dark look to her advancing sister. “Of course, you realize, this means war!” Celestia said, hefting her pillow.
“I would expect nothing less of thee, Tia,” Luna said with a savage smile. With a bloodthirsty battle cry, the night goddess pounced on her sister.
“I think... we should... call it a tie...”
“Why... are you... too chicken to keep... fighting?”
“Nay. It is because... we seem to be out of munitions...”
Celestia sat up from where she had been lying on the floor to see that her sister spoke the truth. Both sister’s pillows were now just thousands of feathers floating through the air. The tattered remains of their weapons hung around each others horns, now nothing more than loose rags. As it now looked, the room they were currently in would have to be reclassified to ‘disaster zone’. A hearty amount of feathers covered every square surface of carpeting and furniture.
“Alright then. We’ll call it a draw.” Celestia got to her hooves.
“It seems we must,” Luna said as she returned to her place on the bed and retrieved the book, levitating it before her. It was only now that Celestia noticed the familiar cover, which bore an illustration of a young, dainty mare resting within the forehooves of an exceedingly handsome, broad-chested stallion with a flowing blond mane.
“Where did you get that?” Celestia asked suddenly, looking at the book in Luna’s hooves. Her face hardened. “Were you poking around in my stuff again? I thought I told you to stay out of my room! For the love of us, don’t you know boundaries and-”
“Does Feather Duster know you were trying to skip your diet?”
“-I hope you enjoy the book. Really good novel. One of my favorites,” Celestia finished hurriedly.
Luna idly turned a page as her sister began pacing across the room. “This has gone on long enough,” Celestia fumed. “It’s time to change tactics!”
“Mmm,” the moon princess murmured, staring at the pages in front of her.
“Yes!” Celestia cried. “Those two are no match for the wisdom of thousands of years of divine experience!”
“Ahuh,” Luna responded absentmindedly, her attention now thoroughly focused once again on the book in front off her.
...his chest was her pillow, and oh, did she drool on it...
Celestia continued passionately. “I’ll show them!” she shouted, pumping a hoof in the air. “If stealth and brute force won’t get me past those two, then I’ll just have to outsmart them.”
“This is new,” remarked Hoplite.
He had seen many things in his short time as a guard to the Royal Sisters. Going into the job, Hoplite expected adventure and danger. After all, there was nothing normal about serving the bodily divine.
But now? Now Hoplite was only just beginning to understand that this was the weirdest career he could have picked.
Standing before them, its plume scratching the top of the ceiling, was a giant wooden chicken. It had been messily cobbled together with what looked like loose planks, tables, and what even looked like a dart board hammered together and rested on a rickety frame of wheels.
It was a miracle that the thing had so much as even fit through the narrow door frame. Though, Hoplite reasoned, when a divine being was pushing it into place, miracles tended to be a dime a dozen.
Lethe was not as easily impressed.
“Eh. I’ve seen bigger.”
Hoplite gave a tired groan. Only one mare could have been responsible for this. He was just surprised that a pony whose talent was raising the sun knew so much about carpentry. The princess’s antics were beginning to drain him. “Why does the crazy stuff always happen to me when I’m around you?”
“You know,” Lethe said with a small grin, “I actually ask myself that question sometimes.” She trotted up to the giant chicken and rapped her hoof against it’s side, nodding at the hollow noise it made. “I’ve heard that Princess Celestia always had a thing for big-“
Hoplite shot her a glare. “Finish that joke and I’m never speaking to you again.”
“…fine. Roosters,” Lethe finished lamely. So, what should we do with it?”
“Well,” Hoplite suggested hesitantly, “Maybe if we give it to Chef Ram Sea, he’d give us more cheesecake.”
Lethe grinned in response and flung a hoof around her comrade’s shoulders, hugging him close. “See that? That right there? That’s what I’m talking about.” Lethe ripped off Hoplite’s helmet and ruffled up his blond hair. “I am so proud of you.”
Hoplite grumbled something under his breath about ‘crazy bat-mares’, but couldn’t help but match Lethe’s contagious smile as he readjusted his helmet. He helped her grab a hold of the harness, and brought it into the kitchens.
Unbeknown to either of the two guards, they were being watched. Had either of them had the sense to look behind them, they would At the far end of the hallway, a pair of glowing magenta eyes took the whole thing in with glee. A certain white alicorn was pressed up against the wall, trying to be stealthy and failing pretty badly at it.
“Those little foals... do they not know who they deal with?” Celestia whispered gently to herself. She rubbed her hooves eagerly,her heart pounding in excitement. Everything was falling into place, exactly as she had planned. No variable was left unchecked, no possibility unexplored. For hours she had worked in secret, taking neither drink nor sunlight to sustain herself until all was ready.
“Clearly thou did not learn thy lesson before?” came a voice, and Celestia gave a bleat, jumping around to face her sister.
“Luna!” Celestia cried joyously, a far too wide smile stretched across her lips. “You’re just in time to see my brilliant plan unfold!” She grabbed her sister, and turned her head towards where Hoplite and Lethe were pulling the chicken. “Look!”
Luna took another look at the wooden chicken before it vanished behind the great swinging doors.
“The wisdom of this plan eludes me, dear sister. I entreat thee to enlighten me as to how a fowl construct will gain thee access to our cupboard.”
Celestia patted her sister on her head, beaming the whole while.
“Oh Luna, it’s really quite simple. Those silly guards have pulled the chicken right past the wards and into the kitchen. What they don’t know, however, is that I’m hiding inside of the chicken!” Celestia gave an unusually high pitched giggle.
Luna merely nodded. “I see. What of the rest of thy design?”
“Well now, the rest is really quite easy! I simply wait until nightfall, and then leap out of the chicken, taking the cooks by surprise - not only by surprise, but totally unarmed!” Celestia tossed her hooves into the air. “It’s brilliant! Foalproof! And nopony can stop me!”
Luna let her sister have a few moments of cackling triumphantly, impromptu lightning and thunder clashing in the background.
“A word, Tia?”
“What is it sister? Do you wish to tell me how brilliant my plan is?”
“Actually no,” Luna said gently with an apologetic smile. “I just wanted to point out that I might have noticed a teeny tiny flaw with thy plan.”
Celestia gave an offended gasp of disbelief, her face reddening in anger. “What do you mean, a ‘flaw’?!” Celestia growled, stomping a hoof on the carpet. “This plan has no flaws! That’s why it’s flawless! Flawless, do you hear me! What could possibly be wrong with it!”
“Well,” Luna began slowly. Perhaps the best approach to this was to point out the obvious. “To begin with... thou are not in the chicken.”
Celestia seemed to freeze in place. One of her eyes twitched dangerously, but other than that, she stood as still as stone.
“To be fair, it was a pretty good idea,” Luna said, trying to lift her sister’s spirits. “I mean, it did work for the Fleecians. Although I don’t think that anypony in this day and age would have fallen for it. By far not the most stealthy approach,” Luna admitted. “But you built it all by yourself,” she hurriedly added. “Which in the end, I guess, is all that really matters... Tia?”
Luna waved a hoof in front of her sister’s face, hoping for some sign of attention. She checked her neck for a pulse. She had even done an unspeakable thing. Something that would have normally warranted at least a week on the moon had Celestia been of sound mind. Luna had put her tongue in Celestia’s ear, but there was still no sign of life from her. Luna was beginning to worry that she had somehow broken her sister.
“I guess I’ll just see what else is in her closet...” Luna murmured to herself.
“No!” Celestia protested a few seconds later, her irises now the size of grains of sand. “I’m not here! I’m there!”
Luna gave a sigh of relief, slightly happy that she wouldn’t have to be in charge of the Moon and Sun today. She gently poked her sister in the chest, finding it solid. “Nope. Definitely here.”
Celestia recoiled in shock, silently gaping at her sister as hard reality came crashing down. She galloped back to the corner, and with wild eyes stared back down the hallway. Hoplite and Lethe had just left the Royal Kitchen, and were carefully balancing plates of cheesecake on their heads. The wooden chicken that she had spent so many hours labouring over was long gone, no doubt sacrificed to the great God-King that was her personal chef.
“But-” Celestia began, her eyes shimmering with water. She sank to her knee’s, unable to stay upright any longer. Celestia began to silently weep to herself. “I was so close... so close... so close... so close...” She punctuated each word with a pound of her hoof against the floor as she cried, cursing the madness of it all.
“So close... so close... so close...”
“I think that it would be best were I to leave thee-”
“So close... I was so close...”
“Thou art obviously busy-”
“-so I’m just going to go now...” Luna trailed off, slowly backing away. As she turned to leave her sister, Celestia noticed something about her. She took in her midnight hair, with the galaxies themselves contained within the strands. Her sister’s dark navy flank, a crescent moon held within a splash of black. But what she noticed the most was blue... blue everywhere...
That was when Celestia had an idea. A wonderfully evil idea. A cunning smile spread across her face as the plan wormed itself in her brain, its vile roots taking hold.
Princess Celestia couldn’t enter the kitchens.
But Princess Luna could.
“What fresh hell is this?” Hoplite asked himself.
As though it was the most common thing in all of Equestria, Princess Celestia trotted down the hallway, a trail of large paint cans following in her magical wake. How did they know it was paint? Neither of them could miss the small trail of dark blue drops leaking from the lids of the canisters. She gave a pleasant wave to the two guards as she walked by, as though she hadn’t been trying to subvert them for the past few days.
“She just doesn’t give up, does she?” Lethe remarked to Hoplite, admiration in her voice. He shook his head in agreement.
“I have got to give her credit though,” Lethe continued, “When the mare is on a mission, it doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot that can stop her."
“I can think of one mare who could pose a challenge.” Hoplite said, offering a small smile. Lethe found a rather shy smile gathering on her face, and turned to hide the pink of her cheeks.
“Wanna play strip poker?” Lethe asked suddenly as she brought out a deck of cards from somewhere in her armor.
Hoplite face hoofed, if but to hide his red face. “For the love of Luna, NO!”
“Somebody call for me?” came a merry voice from down the hallway. Hoplite and Lethe turned their head to see a certain blue alicorn heading their way.
Before Hoplite could open his mouth to call back a greeting, Lethe grabbed him by the cheeks and brought him close.
“Okay, listen,” Lethe said hurriedly, as she looked down the hallway. “We should get our stories straight, all right? If Princess Luna asks, and she’s NOT gonna ask, don't worry, but if she does asks, tell her as far as you know, the last time you checked, her sister looked pretty much in one piece. No glue, no feathers, and I didn’t, I repeat, didn’t-” Lethe stressed, “-throw her in the moat while yelling ‘Eat hearty!’ to the alligators.”
“Lethe,” Hoplite began slowly, his eyes locked on the approaching navy figure. “What was is that you said you saw Princess Celestia with?”
“Blue paint, why?”
“Because doesn’t it seem awfully convenient how Princess Luna decides to visit that kitchen only minutes after Celestia walked by with blue paint?” Hoplite asked, raising an eyebrow.
Lethe took a moment to digest this. “You don’t think...”
“I think we’re dealing with an impostor.” Hoplite finished, his blue eyes steely as he visually dissected the approaching goddess.
For the first time since he had known her, Hoplite was surprised to hear hesitation in Lethe’s voice.
“I dunno, Hop.” Lethe said, biting her lip. “Are you sure?”
Hoplite nodded an affirmative. “Positive. Princess Celestia has thousands of years of experience under her belt, and I’ve seen her change her shape. I’ve seen her become everything from a young filly to an old nag, and of each type of pony. She does it whenever she wants to go into Canterlot without getting harassed. No doubt she used the paint to help her look like Princess Luna.”
Lethe nodded. To a degree, it made sense.
“So what do we do?”
“Simple. We get rid of the paint.”
“....are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“It depends,” answered Lethe, “Does it involve the alligators in the moat again?”
Both guards quickly ended their conversation as the princess drew nearer, breaking apart and resuming their positions on either side of the kitchen doors.
“Greetings,” Luna offered, smiling at the guards as she approached. “We, your Princess Luna and not our sister once again attempting to sneak past you, request access to the Royal Kitchens.”
The two guards looked at each other for confirmation, and saw it in each others eyes. They nodded simultaneously. This was so easy, it was just sad.
Quick as a flash, Hoplite and Lethe had tackled the navy alicorn to the floor. Luna, caught in surprise by the sudden movement, swiftly found her wings pinned by Lethe’s hooves. Hoplite held down her rear hooves.
“Nice try, Princess Celestia.” Hoplite said. He almost lost face when he noticed that Lethe had a bucket of soapy water close at hand. Where in Tartarus did that mare get these things?!
“What madness is this?” Luna demanded, struggling underneath the weight of the two guards.
She gave a scream of indignant shock as Lethe poured the bucket of water over her head, soaking her completely.
“Unhoof us!” Luna screamed as she tried to remove Hoplite, who was frantically scrubbing at her fur with his horseshoes in a valiant effort to rub out the paint.
“Hop... the paint isn’t coming off...” Lethe said, a tinge of fear entering her voice.
“Scrub harder! She’s only trying to fool you!”
“Hop, I don’t-”
“Watch, she’ll turn white any second now!”
“There, you see?! White! Her fur is...wait, no, that’s just soap.”
“HOPLITE!” screamed Lethe, her eyes wide with fright. The stallion looking up from where he was trying to scrub off Luna’s cutiemark.
“What is it?” Hoplite asked with a frown. With a trembling hoof, Lethe pointed down the hall.
There, at the end of the hallway, was Princess Celestia-- and she was covered in blue paint. Not just covered in blue paint; the goddess was drenched in it. It still dripped from her hair and face, her flank shiny and wet. No attempt had been made to cover up her now green cutie mark, or the myriad of blue streaks in her mane.
“WE HAVE ARRIVED!” The goddess announced, as she tossed her mane back with her hoof. Stray droplets of wet paint flung themselves from her hair, splattering across the nearby wallpaper in an arc. “AND VERILY, WE REQUESTETH A CHEESECAKETH!”
“...I do not sound like that.” Luna said, pulling her wet mane out of her eyes.
Hoplite blinked slowly at the blue pony at the end of the hall. “Wait... if that one is Princess Celestia... than this one is...” He looked down at the wet mare under his hooves. She was angry. Very angry. He quickly scrambled to his hooves, fur whiter than it had ever been. “Oh. Oh my.”
When he looked back up at where Princess Celestia had been, there was nothing left but a trail of blue horseshoe prints leading around the corner, and the frantic running of a mare who knew she had been caught in the act.
Lethe looked back down at her liege, quickly removing her hooves and backing away.
“We... are not amused...” the goddess said ominously. With a glow of her horn, the water extracted itself from her mane and fur, dispersing into a mist that surrounded the angry alicorn. She gave a long hard look at the blue paint on the floor, and then turned her gaze on the two guards.“Explain thyself!”
Lethe whimpered, seeming to shrink on herself.
“Princess Luna!” Hoplite interjected, standing in front of Lethe. “I was the one who suspected you were an impostor. It was all my idea, Lethe had nothing to-”
“SILENCE!” The Princess of the Moon towered above the quailing guard. Lethe gently put a hoof on Hoplite’s shoulder and shook her head sadly. The Night Watch bowed her head, and stood before the Night Goddess. It broke Hoplite’s heart to see his companion's eyes misting over.
“I have given thee an unparalleled honor, Private Lethe. Under mine watchful eye, thou were inducted into the ranks of the fabled Night Watch. An honor not held in over a millenia!” The look of anger in the alicorn’s eyes was enough to send a dragon fleeing. “Thou hast become one of the smartest, strongest ponies in all of Equestria. I did this so you can serve this noble house, and uphold the safety of Equestria in mine name! Not so thou couldst assault me for attempting to get a midnight snack from my own kitchen!”
Lethe cringed, each word like a knife to her heart.
“There is only one punishment suitable for this offense!” Luna bellowed, white righteous fury present in her eyes.
Lethe and Hoplite looked up at the princess, at a loss for words. Luna leaned down, winked, and whispered in their ears.
“Get me a slice of cheesecake too, would you?”
For the past thousand years, the city of Canterlot had been considered the cradle of equine culture. Civilized culture to the views of some. Centuries of art, music, and architecture merged together seamlessly along the miles of maze-like streets that comprised the city. Bookstores, concert halls, and museums were all within walking distance of both places of business and residence. The city itself was an everlasting testimony to the glory of the kingdom of Equestria, having been carved into the side of Mount Avalon. But if there was one things that the ponies of Canterlot took pride in, it was that the mountain city was a center of knowledge.
And knowledge was power.
While many ponies thought that the Royal Archives found within Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns was the paramount collection of knowledge, this was not the case. Unbeknownst by many, and to the chagrin of the Royal Archivist, one greater library existed within the city’s walls. Located down Haybale Lane and on the corner of Alfalfa Avenue one would find the Shady Oaks Village; a retirement home for the veterans of the kingdom’s armed forces.
Within the building one could find nurses, doctors, as well as all the creature comforts a pony could ask for. But infact, its greatest asset was not its staff. They were well appreciated and well paid, of course. But they were merely keepers.
All a pony had to do was sit down with one of the many tomes that rested at Shady Oaks, and an entire life’s worth of experience could be recounted. Days gone by, each unique and rich in detail and variety, could be brought to the surface with enough coaxing. It took the books some effort to remember their tales, but in the end, they always did. Everything from the humblest of life lessons to the most magical of adventures to far off lands was there to be heard.
Not many ponies came to talk to the books. Not anymore anyway.
One particular book, understandably, was a touch fiery this morning.
“Quacks!” General MacApple shouted after the retreating doctor. “Charlatans and snake oil salesponies! Out I say! I’ll have none of it!”
The doctor, “Now see here-“ he began, before a bottle of pills sailed by his head.
“OUT!” the elderly pegasus ordered. “And take your blasted medicine with you!”
To his credit, the doctor held the general’s fiery gaze until the door closed behind him. As soon as he was gone, MacApple gave a blustering sigh and fell back into his armchair.
“Unbelievable,” he muttered to himself. He gave an annoyed look at the pegasus who sat silently chuckling next to him. “And I suppose you find this funny, Private?”
Thunder Smith gave his commanding officer a toothless smile. “Just a bit, sir. Oh, and that’s Colonel Smithers to you.”
MacApple raised an incredulous eyebrow. “What rot is this? Who in the right mind would make you a colonel?”
“You did, sir.”
The old general scoffed in disbelief. “And when the bloody tartarus did I do that?”
“Same day Princess Celestia made you a general.”
“Ah. So I did,” the grizzled stallion admitted. “But I still outrank you and I’ll have you court martialed, I will!” MacApple warned, “Disrespecting a superior officer! Siding with the enemy! Treason that is. Confined to quarters with half-rations!”
“I eagerly look forward to it, sir.” Colonel Thunder Smith, first class, smiled as he took the old stallion’s heat. The elderly unicorn was only a few years younger than his companion, still making him well into his waxing twilight years. The fur around his muzzle had already gone white with age, and the rest of the once sky blue body was faring no better.
But the general had not finished his tirade yet. “ What a load of nonsense! Wanting to shove a pill the size of my hoof up an old stallion’s caboose!” MacApple slammed a hoof down onto the arm of his chair, nearly upsetting the mug of tea that rested there. He winced and reached a grey hoof back to rub his pair of tender wings. “There was a medic back in the day... earthpony fella. Now there was a doctor... what was his name?”
Thunder Smith’s eyes twinkled knowingly behind his spectacles. “Soothing Syrup was his name. If I remember correctly, his cure to everything was a shot of bourbon. Once went into the medic tent for a sprained hoof,” the unicorn fondly reminisced. “Ten minutes later, I was back on the front lines and single handedly won the battle of Galloping Gulch!”
“Those were the glory days, Smithers,” MacApple said as he polished his monocle on his uniform. “The days when a stallion could be a stallion. Roughing it out in the trenches amongst brave comrades. Waiting in the dead of night for the next assault, with only a bandolier of whoopee cushions to keep me company. Gave me a sense of purpose it did.”
“Those days are long and gone, general.” The aged unicorn looked out the window at the beams of sunlight that had broken free of the marbled clouds above.
“Now look at us.” Mac Apple gestured around the room. A few elderly stallions slumbered on cushions or in their wheel chairs. “A bunch of sodding useless relics we are. Doomed to sit around and wither away while a bunch of colts barely out of diapers wear the armor and chase after fillies.”
“So you joined for reasons other than mares love a stallion in uniform?”
The general’s mustache twitched furiously. “Bah! You know exactly why I joined. Same as you, same as every other soldier who served with us! I wanted to glue and feather griffons, that's why! It's this new wet behind the ears generation that worries me. Where’s the patriotism these days?”
“You’re too old to be worrying about that sort of thing, sir.” Thunder said tiredly. A nearby nurse came and adjusted the blanket that sat on his lap, pulling it up to the old soldier’s chest. “Not that I’m old or anything,” he said with a playful wink to the nurse.
She smiled at him, but offered no words of agreement. Instead, she checked to make sure that his wheelchair was firmly locked into place, fluffed his pillow, and doled out a king’s ransom of pills in a small paper cup. The unicorn took the cup with his magic, looking at the mare hopefully.
“Any chance of a cuppa gin this time around?”
A glass of water was pressed into his magical grip, and the nurse wordlessly left to go help another stallion. Thunder Smith snorted mirthlessly, eyeing her flank as she trotted away. “We’re certainly living the life, general. Beautiful mares, peaceful quiet, and all the pills and tepid water a chap could ask for. What more could a pair of old fuddy duddies need?”
“Her majesty turning back the sun four decades is pretty high on my list.”
“To days gone by,” Thunder Smith agreed, offering his glass. General MacApple pulled a wry smile and gently clinked his mug.
“To the good old days.”
The two stallions took a long swing, knowing full well their bladders would seek retribution momentarily for it.
“Oh, that reminds me, sir,” Thunder Smith said as he placed his drink on the side-table next to them, “A message came in for you this morning.” Thunder Smith’s horn flickered to life and brought a sealed envelope out from his saddlebags.
MacApple snorted contemptuously. “Oh? And what is it? More advertisements for hearing aids or some other new age quackery?”
“Actually sir, it came in over the old CAV. Frequency three-one-one. The transmission specified it was for your eyes only.”
The pegasus frowned as he swallowed the last of his medication and set his mug down. “You still have that old radio?”
“I couldn’t call myself a communications officer if I didn’t, sir.” He tore open the envelope and pulled out the message handing them to MacApple. The general took it, his brow furrowing at this sudden development. He flipped the note open and he raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“ ‘Alto-stratus with a width of thirty-seven hundred feet located thirteen hundred above sea level. Direction north by north west. Cirrostratus with a width of-’ whole thing goes on like that.” Thunder Smith read, looking over the pegasi’s shoulder. “Looks like a load of jargon to me.” Thunder Smith rubbed at his weary eyes as the words began to blur. “You sure it isn’t meant for the weather officer?”
MacApple adjusted his monocle, shaking his head as he did so. “Not a chance, Smithers. There was only a handful of gents who even knew about that frequency, let alone any still alive who would use it. No, this is Cloudspeak. Nifty little code the pegasi came up with during the course of the war. Drove those griffins crazy trying to crack the dang thing.”
The next few minutes were permeated by silence as Thunder Smith watched the stallion silently mouth lines and words to himself, slowly piecing the message together. After a few moments of silent reading, MacApple removed his monocle with a trembling hoof, letting the glass dangle by its cord against his breast pocket. He rose from his chair and went to stand before the window, stretching his achy wings again. A single grey feather came loose, fluttering to the carpet.
“Well call me a mule.”
“Oh we’ve been doing that for years behind your back, sir.” Thunder Smith quipped with a smile. To his surprise, the gray Pegasus remained silent, his lined and aged face almost unreadable.
“Have you heard anything about ol’ Shamrock?”
“Married a mare right out of college last year, he did. Hot young thing. Old chap had a heart attack on the honeymoon.”
“Shame then. What about Waddles?”
“Waddles? He moved to Ponyville and became a minister, I think.” Thunder Smith peered at his commanding officer over his spectacles, a small frown on his face. “Why? What’s going on? What’s got you so worked up?”
“Tell me Smithers, how much of the old batch still remains?” MacApple asked, his eyes still glued to the paper.
“How much of the old platoon do you think you could contact? Quickly, Colonel.”
The unicorn scratched at his horn with a hoof, brow furrowed in concentration.
“Counting those of us already here in Canterlot… I’d reckon we could pull a solid six score.”
“How quickly do you think that you could get them back together?”
“In a heartbeat, sir. But for the love of the ancestors, what this all about?”
MacApple let the telegram fall from his hooves and drift to the ground. With a final huff of satisfaction he jammed his monocle back onto his face and turned to look at Thunder Smith with a fire in a set of eyes that seemed decades younger.
“We’ve been called back to active duty, Colonel. We’re going to war.”
Luna's throne room
Centuries of court dealing and negotiations before her banishment, as well as a few card games with a certain ebony mare, had left the night goddess with a poker face that could not be beat. It had also left her without a third of her wardrobe, as well as a few tiaras, but that was an entirely different matter entirely.
Today, that face was getting a lot of use. It was with great scrutiny that the princess looked over the mare. Her passive gaze washed over the mare's face, her hooves, her flanks, her withers. This was a pretty mare. Beautiful even.
There was just one problem.
Luna narrowed her eyes at the mare before her. “The drapes do not match your carpet.” Luna said at last. A chorus of dramatic gasps came from the lips of the ponies in the crowd. Such scandal! And to be revealed in public, no less!
The mare blushed the deepest possible red and bowed her head, slightly bowed.
“Now what am I suppose to do for the remodeling?” Stretched across her back were the ugliest swatches of fabric the princess had ever laid eyes upon. Polka dots of every color were molested by checkerboard rings. Luna vowed to the stars above to burn to the stake the pony who had conceived the design for witchcraft.
If she could get away with it, of course.
Luna tilted her head, a confused expression crossing her face. “Are thou sure thou are an interior decorator?”
“But of course, your highness.”
Luna had her doubts on this. For starters, the mare's cutie mark was a pair of smiling poinsettias. How that symbolized being fit to be the Royal Interior Decorator, Luna hadn't the faintest idea. Some ponies had such the strangest cutiemarks in this era. She remembered when they used to be basic things; a sword, a barrel of ale, a flaming trebuchet.
If there was one thing here that the princess was certain of, it was that her bathroom was not going to look as though a three-ringed circus had a one-night stand with a Neighties love van.
"Pick a different color combo?" Luna offered eagerly.
The mare's mood instantly brightened, and resumed her groveling. "Oh such wisdom your highness! Of course! I'll get right on it!"
The princess of the night resisted the urge to sigh as the mare simpered her way back into the crowd. It was not befitting a goddess to sigh at court no matter how frustrated she was. There were other things she could do, however.
“Leave us.” Princess Luna ordered, pressing a tired hoof against her face. Whispers broke out amongst the clusters of nobles. A few of the more daring nobles attempted to call out their own cases, but regardless, no pony budged from their spot on the court floor.
She couldn’t begrudge them their unwillingness to leave. Recently, more and more ponies had begun to show and partake in Canterlot’s Night Court, bringing with them their concerns, their questions, and their plights. Many of those present had already spent all day waiting patiently for her sister’s now brief Day Court, only to be shuffled here once that closed.
Luna felt a part of her curl up and die inside when she thought about all the valuable time she was wasting here. Didn’t these ponies understand their princess had an entire moon that needed converting to confections?
Though her face remained neutral, her eyes sent a plea to her stalwart guard. Private Lethe of the Night Watch, dressed in full guard regalia, stomped her hoof against the tile floor, the resounding cracks seizing the nobles’ attention. As one, silence fell amongst the gathered ponies.
The bat winged-guardpony cleared her throat before addressing the crowd. “The Night Court is now closed for the evening. If any of you still require petitions or audiences with the crown, we ask that you bring them at the dawn to the attention of the Day court,” Lethe said with a sort of finality that could not be argued with.
One after another, the throne room slowly emptied out leaving the princess with her guards. When the door closed behind the last pony, Luna's facade broke. She let out a great sigh of relief and collapsed backwards into her throne. There was brief woosh of air as her ethereal waves of hair deflated into a baby blue and obeyed gravity. It hung down around her in soft, frizzy little locks.
“That,” the princess muttered as she passed Lethe her tiara, “was utterly excruciating.”
Lethe gently took the tiara and gently placed it on a cushion next to the throne. Her ward Luna rose to her hooves, her diamond horseshoes tinkling as she stepped down the steps to her throne. Without a word, Lethe fell into step alongside the princess.
Together they walked silently through the palace. At this time of night, the corridors were mostly empty save for a few custodians who maintained the palace throughout the dark hours. Cool moonlight poured in through the stained glass and stretched across the marble floors in muted hues.
Lethe took pride in knowing she had a very open relationship with her employer. Most guards were expected to be seen, and not heard, but the princess welcomed the company of her guards. Normally Luna joked with her, or would chatter for hours about some new addition to the night sky or a quirk of modern times that she had just discovered.
Not tonight though. The princess was silent, wearily trudging beside her. A pair of dark bags under her eyes were one of the many indications that Luna was royally stressed and tired.
There was only one thing that could get her princess out of a funk like this.
"Moon Pie?" Lethe offered, breaking the chilly ice as she pulled a foil wrapped treat from her armor. The guard almost lost a hoof as it was snapped up by the night goddess. Luna held it between her hooves as though it was the largest diamond in the world. Stars sparkled in her eyes.
"Oh ancestors above, how I've needed this." Luna praised, before practically inhaling the marshmallow delicacy. Lethe smiled, but knew that business still had to be dealt with.
“Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?”
“Good news.” Luna answered as she trudged down the hall, wiping crumbs from her lips. “Give me something to lift mine spirits.”
Lethe produced a small clipboard from somewhere on her body. She took to the air in front of her princess so Luna could see as it as she walked. “Well, the good news is that your rating has gone up in the polls. Ponies’ opinion of you is the highest its been in the past millennia and the demand for the Night Court has reached an all time high.”
Luna was by no means impressed at this. “And what of the news that bears me ill?”
Her guard grimaced and flipped over a sheet on the clipboard, showing her a list of names and times. “The bad news is that the demand for the Night Court has reached an all time high. With the backlog caused by your sister’s new schedule, and the amount of ponies unfulfilled audiences tonight, the number of ponies approaching tomorrow night is going to be insane. There just is not space in the throne room. The line is going to be going out the palace doors at this rate!”
Ah. So there was the true cause of the problem. Her sister now spent more time lifting weights than she did ruling.
"At dawning, tell my sister's hoofmaiden of our plight. She will understand and give sister the chance to deal with this... overflow."
Lethe frowned and checked her clipboard again. "I'm afraid that's impossible. Hoofmaiden Feather Duster will be out of the palace for the most of the day to represent your sister at a diplomatic meeting with the ambassadors from Prance."
The princess paused before a window, and looked out over the sleeping streets of Canterlot. Not everypony was sleeping, though. Even at night, the city thrummed with life and lights. Her moon hung fat and heavy over the horizon, well into its descent. She looked down at the wide green expanse of the palace gardens, and an answer presented itself before her. "Very well. Then I suppose the only thing we can do is hold court outside tomorrow night."
"Outside? But I... yes your highness. I'll see what I can do."
Luna paused and looked up at where Lethe glided above her. Her guard seemed as though she was on the verge of saying something, but was biting her tongue her tongue out of respect. "Is there something else?" Luna asked.
“Have you ever thought-” Lethe began slowly. She had to tread- er, flap carefully here. “-about taking a vacation?”
The hallway itself seemed to darken considerably in Lethe's eyes. She shivered, as though somepony had dumped a bucket of ice over her and kept within the moon's light that splayed across the floor. The shadows in the hall suddenly seemed a touch more ominous.
"Nay," Luna said, her emerald eyes stern. "I have been gone for far too long. A thousand years has passed in my absence. Another second should not pass for this kingdom without I at least being present."
The guardpony winced, knowing she had accidentally hit a sore spot. “And what did you do during the course of that millenium?”
"Plotted the downfall of Equestria. Schemed on how quickly my power could overwhelm it's armies. Fantasized on how my sister would look, broken and defeated at my hooves as the sun set for the final time."
"That's... pretty dark."
"A thousand years is a long time. A mare has to keep a hobby."
Lethe chucked her clipboard out an open window. "You see, it doesn't really count if you're so much as even thinking about work." Lethe responded. Princess Luna gave her guard a look. "Fine. I guess in your case its 'plotting world domination'. Nevertheless, you came back and immediately picked up the workload again. But now your sister has gone out of action with this diet thing, and your running yourself ragged trying to pick up the slack. The whole system is falling apart!" The ebony mare threw her hooves up into the air, as if to demonstrate how ridiculous she was sounding. "You don't need to be the one to solve everyone's problems. Let somepony else take the stress for a little while."
“And I suppose that pony would be thee?”
The comment made Lethe freeze in midstep, “Well, I was gonna suggest somepony from the Arcana Council, or even just leave it the chancellor… but I like your idea a lot better. I accept,” the mare said wholeheartedly with a grin as wide as her face.
“Why do I suspect thou art planning a coup behind my back?”
Lethe rolled her eyes. “With all due respect, Equestria would survive on its own for a week or two while you soaked up some moonbeams.”
“Would the palace remain standing once my sister and I returned?”
“I can make no such promise.”
Luna pressed a hoof to her face to hide the smile that stretched there. “Then it seems the kingdom would be in better hooves than when my sister and I first started our rule.”
Private Lethe wings buzzed with excitement and she couldn't help but allow to them take her threw a giddy set of midair loops, spinning past the chandeliers above them. Luna chuckled and shook her head in bewilderment. She could always rely on Lethe to put her in a good mood again. Then, to Luna's surprise, with a precision that would make the Wonderbolts envious, she zoomed back down in front of Luna. Her hoof snapped into a salute, and Lethe puffed her chest out proudly. "Just leave it to me, Princess. The moon and stars would be in no safer hooves."
“Not just of the Moon and Stars, faithful Lethe, but I am also goddess of wine, sex, and magic.” The alicorn said with the subtlest of smiles on her lips. “Dreams and fantasies are my realms, and all the pleasures they contain."
“See?” Lethe asked, as she hovered above her princess, “Even more reason you deserve a vacation, m’lady! I have all of those covered!”
“Even the magic?”
Lethe gave a slight cough and glanced back at her wings, ruffling them with a little shake. “I’ve got a few tricks up my feathers, your highness.”
The dark pegasus gave a small jump as a deck of playing cards fell from her plumage, spewing onto the floor in a flurry. Stammering an apology, Lethe knelt and began to gather them, muttering curses the whole time. “I meant for that to happen.”
The night goddess found her young guard’s eagerness amusing and decided to humor her.
“Very well, Private Lethe of the Night Watch. Answer me this; if thou wore mine crown, with our domains and powers as thine own, and Equestria found itself under threat of dragon smoke, how would thoust deal with the serpent?”
“Get the Elements of Harmony and have them zap it,” Lethe answered without a beat, as she slipped the deck back beneath her wings.
“And if Discord were to break free from his prison?”
“Second verse, same as the first.”
“And Grogar the necromancer?”
Lethe waved a dismissive hoof. “Trick question,” she answered rapidly. “If Grogar is back, that means Tambelon has returned too. Large army would take too much time to assemble and to react. Time and speed are of the essence. Get a couple of pegasi guards to get up there to ring the Bell of Tambelon again and send the old goat back where he belongs.”
Luna nodded approvingly. “Very well thought out. While I should not condone thy first two answers... I must agree with them, given the circumstances of the times we live in. The third, I see thou have actually given some thought into.”
Lethe rubbed the back of her head, “To be fair, the Night Watch is sort of stuck with the graveyard shift. So sometimes we toss ideas back and forth to help pass the time. Apocalypse survival sorta stuff.”
Princess Luna nodded appreciatively. “Mayhaps in a few years, I may consider such a course.” A genuine smile began to stretch across Luna’s lips at the thought. Yes. The idea was truly beginning to grow on her. She could use some time with her sister that didn't involve politics or the running of an empire. "I would have to speak with my sister about this first of course. I fear that she would find such an venture to be insane-"
The rest of Luna’s words died in her throat as the two turned the corner in the hallway to Celestia’s room. As was typical, a pair of white pegasi guards stood faithful watch over the entrance to Celestia’s chambers. To both Luna and Lethe’s surprise, however, scores of the Day Guard were patiently waiting in a line extending from the golden doors of Celestia’s bed chambers.
“What in Equestria is this?” Luna asked incredulously.
“A convention?” Lethe’s dark head poked above a sea of white face. “Nope. Definitely not a convention.
“It is not that my sister should not enjoy the mortal pleasures, but now it has become absurd!” The princess fumed. She knew very well what was going on. “I must speak with her.” Luna said, and a pair of emerald eyes narrowed dangerously. “Immediately.”
Celestia's guards were pushed aside as Lethe stepped forward and began shoving her way through.
“Watch where you’re going!”
“ ’Scuse us. Goddess of the Night and world’s supply of awesome coming through. Off the side, boys. Move it!” Lethe ordered as she pushed through the sea of white bodies to make a path for her mistress. Princess Luna followed closely behind her, her mere presence enough to make the stallions part like water. In short time, they had reached the front of the pack.
Underneath the steady beat of the music, the sound of passionate clopping reached Lethe as she put her ear to the gilded doors. A tinge of pink crossed the mare’s cheeks. “Oh my… they’re really going at it.”
A scowl crossed the night goddess’s face. “I can’t believe that Celestia would do something like this!”
“Oh I don’t know,” Lethe said with a glance back at the line of guards. She brushed her tail under a nearby stallion’s chin, offering a small grin to him. “This isn’t the wildest of things that either of you has-“
“How could she have not invited me!”
Lethe looked up at Luna with nothing more than pure reverence in her eyes. “I’ll follow you anywhere m’lady,” she said quietly.
The dark alicorn pushed her guard to the side and rapped a hoof against her sister’s doors. “Tia! It’s me.” Luna called out, raising her voice to be heard above the music. “I don’t care what you’re doing in there, open the door!”
The music from Celestia’s room stopped abruptly, cutting off with a scratch sound. There was the quiet shuffling of bodies from beyond the door, as well as the quiet urgent whispering of Celestia’s voice.
The doors opened to let out a breathless, disheveled guard whose armor looked as though it had been put on in great haste. He made a rather feeble salute to Princess Luna, before trying to slink out through the crowd of fellow guards. The next stallion in line made to go through the doors, but was stopped by Luna’s outstretched hoof.
With a flick of her magic, the doors to her sister’s room swung open.
“Oh, hi Luna,” Celestia said with a lopsided smile from where she was kneeling on the floor. Luna wrinkled her nose at the overwhelming scent of sweat and stallion that drifted from her sister’s room. She bid Lethe to enter with her and the guard pony shut the door behind her.
Her sister’s room looked like a tornado had hit it: pillows and bed sheets were strewn everywhere, the contents of a table were strewn about the floor, and the curtain was now hanging from the chandelier. Celestia’s phoenix familiar, Philomena, roosted in the coal of the fireplace, somehow obtaining sleep despite the antics in the princess’ bedroom.
“Celestia, what are thou doing?” Luna asked, a neutral expression on her face. “It’s three in the morning. Doesn’t thou have an early workout with thy trainer?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Celestia answered. Her magic plucked a brush from her dresser, dragging it through her hair as she tried to straighten it. "I thought a little... exercise would be good."
“And for this thou needeth half of thy household guard?”
Celestia blinked in surprise, her lips turning into a troubled frown. “What? You mean I’m half-way through them already?”
"Answer mine question!"
"Fine," Celestia flicked her tail, a naughty smile on her lips. "I need them because the stamina of one stallion is not enough to match my own."
Luna's eyes grew wide in shock. "Thou could kill them! Thou know the exhaustion two mortals face afterwards. But to... with a being like ourselves... Tia its..."
“But did you know burns about four-hundred calories an hour!” Celestia said brightly. “And they're fine. We're all having fun!”
“But with this many stallions?”
“Oh don’t act like the idea doesn’t appeal to you!” Celestia teased her sister, her warm breath tickling her ear. The sun goddess leered at her sister with heavily lidded eyes. “Or need I remind of you of a certain alicorn going wild in the isles of Fleece?”
The alicorn of the night turned scarlet under her navy fur. “Sister! Let us not speak of such private matters in front of company, millennia ago or not as it was.”
“Oh don’t mind me,” said Lethe, her face brightening as she glanced at the bedroom door. “Personally, your Majesty, I think you could call the Night Watch up here and-”
“Please, private,” said Luna in a voice both gentle and chiding as she recoiled, a hoof half-lifted off of the floor, “please let us not involve my guard in this affair. It would be indecent.”
Lethe blushed brightly and then looked back down to the ground.
A blue aura of magic surrounded Celestia’s brush, freezing it in her hair and before setting it down on the floor. Luna sat down in front of her sister, her face stern and unreadable. Celestia silently fidgeted with her hooves, focusing on them as if they were the most interesting thing in the world. “Sister, look at me.” Two immortal eyes hesitantly met hers and the night princess softened her gaze. “Tia, I’m worried about thee.”
"What I do in my own spare time is NONE of your concern, Luna. Besides, I'm fine."
“No, thou are not!” Luna protested. Her voice carried an edge of hurt to it. “Thou have been under so much stress lately. First there was all those outlandish attempts to enter our kitchens, and now this?” Luna looked around at the state of her sister's room. Unlike herself, Celestia was meticulous, almost fanatical, about the state of her room. “I fear for thy mind sister.”
Celestia scoffed dismissively at the notion. Her, going crazy? This was coming from the one who almost turned the planet into a snow globe. "Now you're just the one whose being silly."
"Maybe your right... but I just want my sister back." A tear rolled the navy alicorn's muzzle.
The sun goddess instantly regretted her words, mentally smacking herself in the face. She WAS the crazy one. Crazy enough to brush aside Luna when her sister was merely concerned for her. Out of all the ponies and all the reasons to jeer at them, her own sister should be the last on the list.
Luna looked up into her sister's face in surprise as a pair of white hooves embraced her.
“Oh Luna,” Celestia said as she nuzzled her sister. “I swear to you, I’m good. Nothing is wrong with me. I'm done with all that stuff now.” Her sister seemed to melt into her embrace, the soothing words flowing like honey in her ears.
"And the guards?"
"I'll send them away after we're done here. I think I'm good for the night."
Luna gave a tiny sniffle and looked up at her sister. “Promise?”
"I promise." Celestia, released rose to her hooves and began to put her room back together. The sheets on her bed folded themselves neatly, and furniture began to straighten itself under the touch of her magic. A smile crept to her lips as she realized something.
"You're just sore that you couldn't join, aren't you?"
"YES!" Luna moaned, as she collapsed onto Celestia's bed, instantly ruining her work. All evidence of sadness was gone from her face. "Why didn't thou invite me! We used to do it all the time together when we were foals!" The sun princess rolled her eyes and plucked her sister out from beneath her sheets with her magic, depositing her near the bedroom door.
"I'm sorry," Celestia apologized with a wink, "Next time, I promise you'll be the first one to know about my midnight workouts."
Both sisters looked by the fireplace to see Lethe's wings fully extended. The mare smiled guiltily and slowly lowered them. "Hehe... sorry..."
"Besides," Celestia said, turning once more to her sister, "You should get some rest while you can. I took the liberty of having Feather Duster set up a few hours for you at the gym with Slender and Schwarzwälder."
Luna's eyes lit up at the mention of the red giant.“Now this I look forward too. I have been meaning to spend more time in his fair company." The night princess giggled like a little schoolfilly. "I must see if he may yet fulfill his promise of lifting me a million times!"
"I have little doubt that he can." Celestia added with a backwards glance. "I have to get to sleep. Its going to be a long day tomorrow. Goodnight, Luna."
“The sun rises in three hours. Do ensure it does so on time, Tia.” Princess Luna urged her sister as she stepped out, quickly making her way down the hall.
Lethe turned to follow her dark mistress out, but recoiled back in surprise when the doors suddenly slammed shut in front of her face. A shimmering wall of light winked into existence against the doors, magically barring the entrance shut. A white hoof spun her around, leaving the filly to stare up into the sun goddess’s eager face.
“I remember you,” Celestia said, her muzzle only inches away from Lethe’s face. The bat-guard hadn’t noticed it before, but it was strangely quiet in Celestia's room. Dozens of guards waiting outside, but there was nary a peep from them now. Her gut screamed 'silencing spell' and 'RUN'. “You’re the guard who caused so much trouble for me the other day.”
Golden eyes defiantly met magenta, and Lethe carelessly blew a strand of hair away from her face. “To be fair, I had help. And you weren’t exactly a challenge.”
Celestia extended her wings to their expanse, giving a small moan as she stretched them. Her magic dropped the phonograph needle back onto the record, picking the music right up where it left off. “That’s okay. I enjoy a challenge. There’s a fire in you I can appreciate.”
The goddess began to walk towards her, her ivory hips sashaying with each step. Lethe tried to step away, only for her to helplessly press back up against Celestia’s force field. A pair of white wings encompassed Lethe, surrounding the mare in a world of snowy feathers. “Its been awhile since I last had a mare for a partner… but let’s test that stamina of yours, shall we?”
Manehatten General Hospital
“This is absurd.” Doctor Flatline said, scowling at the ponies that stood before him in his office. He angrily slammed a hoof on the royal orders they had delivered to him. “For years, I’ve been urging with the Court to increase our budget. We’ve needed to money to improve on things. Important things might I add,” he said, his face flushed with resentment. “Things like better training facilities for our nurses, or to update our operating rooms. Not something as trivial as preparing for the undead.”
“We actually believe the reanimated subjects to be of the shinobi variety,” said the leader of the group.
“Or just shinobi,” added the mare behind her.
“Riiiight,” Doctor Flatline said sardonically, glancing at each of them in turn.
He had returned from a rather stressful operation only minutes ago, eagerly looking forward to a few minutes of peace and quiet in his office. Instead, the surgeon found a group of strangers in the room, one of them sitting at his desk no less, and handing him orders embossed with the royal seal. Each of the ponies wore a nondescript black suit and sunglasses which obscured their cutiemarks and eyes respectively.
“And I suppose I’m just supposed to take the word of…” he trailed off with a frown. “I’m sorry, you haven’t exactly told me who you’re claiming to represent.”
“You would have never heard of us. Technically our division of the Equestrian Military does not exist.” The leader of the group said, as she reached beneath his desk. She brought up a shot glass and his bottle of emergency whisky that he kept for more stressful days. Propping her rear hooves onto his desk, she poured herself a glass.“Chances are that after this meeting you’ll never see us again, nor will you ever hear mention of us. Our organization tends to work in such methods.”
“I think I’m going to get security because a bunch of crazy ponies broke into my office.” Flatline said, turning to leave. He gave a small ‘oomf’ as he walked into the chest of the stallion who barred the door. A low growl rumbled from the agents throat. “...on second thought... why would I want to leave such wonderful company?”
The mare smirked and downed her shot, smacking her lips appreciatively. “Its nice to take a break once in a while, wouldn’t you agree Doctor Flatline? A pause in the usual craziness our daily lives seem to be full of. Sometimes its necessary to just step away from everything and thing about the metaphysical things like life. Like how that wall will be breaking. Get down, Doctor.”
Flatline blinked in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“Get him down!” the mare shouted. One of the stallions roughly grabbed Flatline with his magic and flung him beneath the desk just as the door to his office exploded into fragments of woods and glints of metal.
“What the buck is going on?!” the doctor asked, trembling. He dared to poke his head out from beneath the desk and nearly had a heart attack. His office was destroyed. Dozens of throwing stars were embedded in the walls behind them. The repetitive moaning for brains echoed down the hall.
The mare gave a weary sigh and swung her hooves off of the remnants of the doctor's desk.
“It looks like we’re earning an early bonus,” the mare said, as the ponies in black began to file out of the room. “It’s been a pleasure Doctor. But it looks like it's time to get back to the action.”
Just outside of the Royal Kitchens
Hoplite narrowed his eyes, not even sparing his fellow guard a look. “I hate you.” He muttered through gritted teeth.
A thoroughly exhausted Lethe smirked triumphantly besides him.
Hoplite was having yet another a bad day. He was getting used to it.
When he had been told that morning that he was going to guard an area of great importance today, Hoplite’s chest had swollen with pride. He felt for sure that his ship had finally come in.
Now, he was struggling to understand his superior’s definition of ‘importance’. Hoplite, personally, would’ve defined “importance” as ‘the state of being of great value’. It would be used in sentences such as “Private Hoplite, you are assigned to protect a pony of great importance; watch over the chancellor,” or “Private, the tunnels under the city are of vital strategic importance.” An even better usage of it would have been “Private-” No. Wait. “Sergeant Hoplite, an issue of national importance has arisen. You must guard the statue of Discord with your life. Let nopony enter the vault!”
Yes. That sounded right. Sergeant Hoplite. Very nice ring to it. Befitting for a pony who had devoted his entire life to the servitude of Equestria’s royals and ideals.
Strange then, Hoplite thought to himself, that he found himself guarding the doors to the Royal Kitchen again alongside the very bane of his existence. Because he was the best stallion for the job.
Technically he was the ONLY stallion for the job. Every member of the Day Guard, his superiors included, had called in sick that morning. Something about “extreme fatigue” or some other nonsense. That left the Day guard with a skeleton crew of one private.
This would have been bad enough, if not for Lethe relating the events of last night to him. He prayed that the night guard's tale would come to an end. But the thrice-cursed mare would not shut up.
“It was incredible,” Lethe giggled and she flapped her wings. “It lasted hours and hours…”
Hoplite pressed his helmet further over his ears. “I’m not listening!”
“-and the princess is just so flexible. I never imagined she could bend herself like that. She just made me feel so alive, you know?”
“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”
“And the way she moved her hooves!” Lethe gushed, pressing her hooves up to cheeks. Her leathery wings burst out at her sides at the memory. “I’ll never forget that night as long as I live.”
“By the ancestor’s above… oh who am I kidding.” The white pegasus sulked , a veritable rain cloud hanging above his head. Lethe stuck her tongue out at him, giving him a playful wink.
“You should’ve been there when she called in the rest of the guards from outside! We all formed one big line, one right after another and-”
“Alright alright I’ve heard enough!” “How the heck are you even still standing?” Hoplite asked in bewilderment. Lethe raise a hoof and flexed her muscle.
“I guess I have a little more stamina than the stallions of the Day Watch,” she said, with a self-satisfied smirk. “That, and it’s something I’m actually sort of used to.”
“Oh that makes perfect sen-“ began Hoplite before he did a double-take. “Say what now?!”
“Mhm. Every Saturday I hit up the clubs, have some drinks, talk to some boy, and then we do it right there in front of everypony.” At the sight of Hoplite’s dropped jaw, her lips curled into a roguish smile. “If I don’t leave there with every part of me sore and achy, then its just a waste of my time.” She gave a tired yawn, hiding her mouth behind her hoof. The mare seemed to be practically falling asleep on her hooves. “Seriously, you should have been there last night. The stallion who was behind me really knew how to move his-”
"I GET IT!” Hoplite exploded suddenly, pressing his hooves over his ears. “You got to dance the night away with the most beautiful mare in the world! You did the world’s biggest conga line with my co workers! You've only told me five times now! Good for bucking you!"
Lethe pouted. “Well someone woke up on the wrong side of the bunk today,” she mumbled under her breath. She stood over where Hoplite lay on the floor. “What, do you not know how to dance? Here, I’ll teach you. Just step and step and shake… do the mumbo…” Lethe waggled her hips, bumping them into her accomplice’s.
“I just can’t believe you got to dance with Princess Celestia before I did,” Hoplite mumbled as he rested his chin on the floor.
“Oh there, there.” Lethe said as she stroked his buttery hued mane, “You’ll get your chance with her one day. After everypony else has had a dance first, of course.”
“Joy.” Hoplite buried his face into his forelegs. “Well I so look forward to when that day comes.”
The bat-winged pegasus rolled her eyes, gently bucking his side. “You are such a bore!” she groaned. She knelt down next to him, placing her head next to his. “By the way,” Lethe asked him, with a sideward glance. “Why weren’t you waiting with the rest of them? You would’ve loved it when the disco ball came down.”
Hoplite seemed to shrink in on himself further, averting his eyes from the mare’s pressing gaze. “I was sick.”
“Sorry, didn’t quite catch that!”
“I was sick.”
“Can’t heaaaaar yooouuuuu!”
“I said I was sick!
“Wow,” Lethe’s smile dropped at her coworkers misfortune. “Talk about horrible timing.” Hoplite shrugged his shoulders half-heartedly.
“Doesn’t matter,” Hoplite said, turning back to face down the hallway. “That’s not how’d I’d want my moment with her to be.
“So let me get this straight, you’ve never danced with anypony?” Lethe asked with a laugh.
Hoplite solemnly nodded, a dreamy look in his distant eyes. “The moment was to have been perfect,” he whispered to himself. “It would be the night of the Grand Galloping Gala, and it would be the most magical night of our lives. She would be greeting the guests like she did every year and she would be beautiful.” “I would stand by her side, in full uniform, as her silent watcher. Once she found the frivolities of the guests to be too much for her, I would whisper the suggestion to steal away to her gardens for some peace and quiet. It would be empty for save us, and everything would be just right. A warm breeze, fireflies, and of course, the most auspicious night Princess Luna had ever created. There I would kneel and confess my undying love for here. I would lay my feelings bare, oh the pure an unadulterated fervor that burns within me-"
Lethe made a gagging sound next to him. The male pegasus merely glared at her.
“And then, with only Luna’s stars as our witness, I would ask her to dance. And then our story... our story of love would begin.” Hoplite said breathlessly. Lethe gave him a deadpanned look.
“Seriously?” she asked, all trace of amusement gone from her voice. “That’s your big plan?”
“...you don’t sound convinced.”
“Hop, do you see that hallway?” Lethe asked, gesturing with her hoof.
“Yes, what about it?”
“If I counted all the ways that this fantasy of yours wouldn’t work, the list would be going down the hallway AND around the corner.”
“At least I have dreams!” Hoplite turned on her, a petulant sneer on his lips. “Go ahead, laugh at them. It must seem funny to you, doesn't it? Talking to somepony with ambitions higher than their next slice of cheesecake!"
"Hey, I have dreams!" Lethe protested. She rubbed a hoof against her eyes to fight off the tiredness that was making her bones feel like lead. "Except they're a ton cooler than just trying to get a dance. I mean, seriously? Genie pops up and offers to ask you one wish, and that's what you'd pick?"
"Yes." Hoplite answered proudly.
"Total waste of a genie if you ask me."
“Oh really? So if you could wish for anything in the world right now, what would it be?”
Lethe pursed her lips, thinking deeply. “Anything in the world?” she asked uncertainly.
“Anything,” Hoplite urged, angrily ruffling his feathers. He looked up towards the mosaic ceiling where only a few days ago he had helped her remove an entangled goddess from the chandelier. “Wealth, fame, power. What would make you happy right now?”
“I wish…” Lethe murmured, “that you’d shut up and stand still for a few minutes.”
Hoplite bristled with sudden indignation at the hypocrisy. “That’s not fair! You can’t expect me to just pour my heart out, make fun of me for it, and then just-” he stopped suddenly as he felt a weight press across his sides. Hoplite turned to see Lethe leaning against his body, asleep on her feet. She had draped her head across his back and the mare’s face was one of utter contentment.
“Actually,” Hoplite said awkwardly to himself, “It’s kinda hard to argue to with somepony who looks so happy.” He waited for a moment to see if any cooks or guards would come from behind them. Then he stretched a wing over the mare’s body. She gave a small snore and burrowed her face deeper into his neck.
“Why must you toy with me.” Hoplite asked the universe wistfully. He waited patiently for a reply.
The universe was a cruel, and bitter mare. Hoplite had a feeling she was currently resting on his back.
But wasn’t that just like the universe? Just dropped him in the in the warpath path of a starved princess, with all of his peers were absent-
Hoplite bit his lower lip.
Now THAT was something that had been nipping him in the back of his mind. Hoplite had been a guard long enough to know that everything the goddesses did had purposes. Albeit, recently it had all been rather silly and almost nonsensical, but a purpose nonetheless.
Tiring out the entire Day Guard by dancing with them. Normally Hoplite would have bought Lethe’s story that Celestia had done it burn calories. It certainly would. But after all the ridiculous things the princess had done to get by them...
No. The princess was playing a game here.
Hoplite was no stranger to chess.
All guards were strongly encouraged to play it with their peers regularly. It was believed to help improve their minds and give Celestia’s guards a taste for strategic maneuvers. It also gave each of their soldiers something invaluable; the ability to think on their feet if their commanding officers were somehow absent. A common guard who could think several steps ahead of any threat was worth more than a dozen who just blindly obeyed orders.
That, and Celestia was rather partial to the game herself and it helped to have several dozen potential players on hand.
Hoplite was no great master at the game. In fact, he ranked about average in the barracks, frequently finding his pieces chased around the board only to ousted in the end. In his short career of playing the game, there was one moment that the guard would remember for the rest of his life: the princess had once invited him for a round of it in the Royal Gardens.
It was a relatively short game, but it was one that Hoplite would remember for the rest of his life. He had been rather shocked when it had actually started to look like victory was in reach. He had lost only a few pawns; tradeoffs for more valuable pieces. A nice tidy pile of the princess’ pieces had been seized by him, leaving her Crown open for grab within the next few moves.
Then the princess had actually begun to play.
Pawn, Earthpony, Unicorn, Pegasus, Princess. Celestia had methodically removed his pieces from the board, one by one, casually deflecting any maneuver he threw at her. At last, the brutal game came to a close when Celestia had his Crown surrounded on all sides. Her laughter, bright and lifting his spirit like golden bells, stull rung in his mind as she slid his final piece from the board.
Hoplite had learned something that day; Princess Celestia was a master at the long game and was nopony to underestimate.
And the match had already started.
All of the palace staff was fiercely loyal to the princess. It was the same loyalty that would keep them from knowingly feed the Princess. But the Day Guard were the ones who posed the greatest resistance. But if they were too tired to move... In Hoplite’s mind, the white pegasus moved a chess piece and struck a whole line of pawns off of the board.
The princess’ hoofmaiden, Feather Duster, would be out of the palace until later tonight. That removed her piece from the board for the time being.
Princess Luna was out at a session of the Haunches Gym, kindly set up by her sister. She too would be gone for most of the day.
Guards, Hoofmaiden, Trainers, Sister. With all these gone, what remained to oppose Celestia?
The Crown was the kitchens, or at least the food inside of them. Which left only two pieces in Celestia’s path. A white and a black pawn that had inadvertently escaped the goddess’ maneuver.
But if both white and black were their side... then what color was Celestia playing?”
“Lethe, wake up,” Hoplite said urgently, shaking his partner. Lethe lifted her head with groggy eyes, staring uncomprehendingly at him.
“Who-whazzat? What’s going oooooooooooon?” she asked, pressing a hoof to her mouth as she yawned.
“I need you to wake up! It’s important!”
“Ugh, how much did I drink last night? Hoplite what… what are you doing in my room?” A switch seemed to go off in Lethe’s brain and her eyes grew impossibly wide. “Holy buck, did we… did we at least use-?”
“What! No, listen-” Hoplite exclaimed, instantly removing his wing from Lethe’s backside. He took one look at the mare’s watery eyes, her trembling lip, and knew that all hope was lost.
Lethe broke down, sprays of tears bursting from her eyes like faucets. Hoplite fumbled for words, his mind reeling as he tried to comprehend what Lethe was implying.
“What... have you done?” managed Lethe with a sniffle.
“Oh Luna, how could I have let this happen. With YOU of all ponies.”
“Uh, it’s not that bad,” mumbled Hoplite. Geez, that mare sure knew how to make a stallion feel welcome.
“I’m going to have your baby! Why didn’t you show some restraint? Why did you let me drink me much! I can't handle liquor!”
Hoplite blinked, too surprised to even correct her. “My WHAT now?”
Lethe’s gaze didn’t waver. “I will lose my rank. I will have to lose my relationship with Princess Luna. I’ll never be able to live down this shame. They’ll never let me stay in the Night Watch with a foal at my hip. I’m... I’m not ready to be a mother.” She gulped, and her golden eyes looked tragic. “Oh, Hoplite, do you love me? I’m scared.”
The question caught Hoplite off guard. Did he... love her?
Hoplite would have to be blind to not to think Lethe was cute, but... well, it was
easy to get frustrated with her
impossible to not like her
he wanted to kiss the girl
hard to keep up with her. He wasn't sure what to think. They never really covered 'Dealing with a Mares feeling' in boot camp.
Hoplite made to answer, but a pair of hooves wrapped around his neck. With a sudden grab, his air supply was cut short from the hold that Lethe had on him. Pure intent for murder glinted in the mare’s eyes. “You stupid colt! You did this to me on purpose!”
Hoplite’s vision swam before his eyes as he struggled for to breathe. He crumpled to his knees, his limbs hopelessly flailing about as he tried to shake her. His mouth silently formed words that his breath could not carry.
“What was that, stud?” Lethe relaxed his grip on him, allowing a smidgen of air into his lungs. "Any last words?"
“Look where we're at!" He coughed out.
Lethe’s mouth formed a small ‘o’ and took in their surroundings. Unless she had set up permanent residence outside of the palace kitchens, then this was not her bedroom. Her eyes went very wide. Then her cheeks went very red.
She dropped Hoplite.
“So...” she began slowly, “nothing happened? We didn’t-”
“No!” Hoplite rasped out, heaving on the floor. His mind tried futilely to keep the ceiling from spinning. “No, nothing happened! For the princess’ sake, we’re still on duty!”
Expressions raced across her face almost too quickly to interpret. Dismay, joy, shame, relief... then straight back to fury.
“Then why the buck did you wake me up?!” Lethe asked angrily. She cuffed her friend upside his head with her hoof, knocking his helmet askew and sending him falling to the floor again.
Once again, as Hoplite groaned and clutched his head, he came to the realization that there were no gods. None other than Luna and Celestia, anyhow. If he wasn’t worried about losing his job, he would have cursed their names for making insane mares.
"Princess Celestia... up to something," he muttered, as he pulled off his helmet. He gingerly poked the bump that was already forming. "Just check... the hallway."
"Oh. Well why didn't you say so?" Lethe trotted off with a small huff, her nose in the air, leaving Hoplite to pick himself up. There was a heartbeat of silence of silence as she poked her head around the corner of the hall. Then Lethe turned back to him.
“Are either of the princesses now running palace tours for the elderly?” Lethe called from down the hall.
A confused expression crossed Hoplites face. What the heck was Lethe talking about. “Um, no. I don’t think so.”
“Ah,” Lethe said. She peeked down the hall again. “Then I think we have a problem.”
Canterlot Palace Interior
The castle was in pandemonium.
That was not to say it was an average day. On average days, the castle was in chaos. This was pandemonium. Ranked somewhere above 'The princess is going through her pyro phase again' madness' but still well below the ever-feared 'Discord discord'. The castle was under attack, and thus, pandemonium ruled the staff. The normally vigilant members of the Day Guard were nowhere to be found, and the invaders had invaded with practically no resistance.
Within the span of a few hours, the hallways outside of the palace kitchens had turned into bustling army camp. Khaki colored tents fought for the limited space alongside rusted supply crates and outdated communication equipment. A whole matter of military paraphernalia had been tacked to the windows and marble walls. The flag of the royal sisters had even been strung up on a makeshift flagpole, hanging proudly above the whole encampment.
Everywhere Celestia went there was the elderly. Elderly stallions hobbled about touting an armory's worth of comical armaments on their person. Some carried sandbags for fortifications, or loaded pillows into giant rubber bands that were aimed at the surrounding hallways to dissuade the curious palace staff. But no matter what, when Princess Celestia passed them, each and every one of them paused in what they were doing and bowed to her.
And why should they not? Dressed in a plating of glowing red gold that emanated the death of winter, Princess Celestia, Harbinger of the Eternal Flame, once again walked the field of battle in all of her terrible glory. Sheets of rippling orange fire that would devour all it came into contact with extended from her helmet and backside, serving as a mane and tail. Her eyes, white and hot, burned from the depths of her golden visor and stared with satisfaction upon the preparations that had been made as she strode through the war camp.
It was more than the princess could have hoped for, given the short notice she had given these ponies. At long last she located the large tent that served as a command post. The commander she was looking for, a weathered grey pegasus who barked orders at his passing comrades, acknowledged her approach with a salute.
"Thank you," Celestia whispered fondly to the general, "Thank you for coming. Thank you for everything."
MacApple gave a good natured 'harumph' and pressed a hoof against his rusted breastplate. "I told you once before, your highness: old soldiers never die, they merely wait." A dry smile tugged at the pegasi's lips. Well now we're back, and at your beck and call. And might I say, you look smashing!"
"So you like it?" the goddess asked shyly, as she turned to display her armor. "How do I look?"
"Like victory!" one pony shouted from where he was setting up another tent. There was a ripple of light-hearted chuckles, and a stamp of hooves for approval.
"Just like I remember, all those years ago. A true warrior." MacApple agreed. "But eh... might I ask... how did you repair the blasted thing?"
"Duct tape," Princess Celestia said proudly displaying the strips of grey that crisscrossed the armor, holding it together.
The stallion on MacApple's left, a light blue unicorn in a wheelchair, nodded with sage-like approval. "Improvisation with what you've got in the heat of a crisis. Glad to see you still haven't lost the touch marm." To the surprise of everybody present, the unicorn rose from his chair, standing tall and proud, and saluted her. "I think its safe to say, on behalf of everypony, that it is wonderful to be back on the front, your highness."
Celestia blinked in surprise. “Colonel Thunder Smith? I thought you had been confined to a wheelchair?”
“Wheelchair? What a preposterous notion!” the unicorn none to discreetly bucked the chair down the hallway. MacApple gave a pleased smirk and turned back to the chalkboard that had been set up in the impromptu command post.
“Looks like a walk in the park, your majesty. Only one hallway in or out, and we have both ends of the hallway secured. No chance of anypony reinforcing the kitchens on our watch. We're ready to mobilize on your orders."
One of the veterans frowned as he stared at the map. “Doesn’t this seem a bit overkill for just a snack? Why can’t her highness just teleport into the kitchens?”
General MacApple looked to be on the verge of exploding. “How dare you question her highness’s judgment! She has called upon us in good faith for our assistance in her time of need!”
A touch of Celestia’s wing silence the fuming general. “Its alright, general. It’s a good question.”
“The answer is quite simple. Centuries ago, when the palace as we know it today was still being built, I commissioned the mages of the Arcana Council to craft wards into the very foundations of the kitchens itself. Part of my reasoning was to protect the castle’s food supply from any and all threat if Canterlot ever found itself under siege. The other reason…” Here Celestia winced at the brutal truth, “…was to prevent exactly what you just suggested. The spells are woven so tightly, layer upon layer, that not even an alicorn’s magic can circumvent them.” Celestia gave a rueful smile. The more she looked at the map, the more she was sincerely wishing she had paid those mages a little less. “A little something that the nobles wanted implemented after my sister’s incident. It is impossible for her, or me for that matter, to get through those walls by magical or physical means, leaving those doors as the only entrance. And they, in turn, are enchanted to resist my touch, meaning that they can only be opened by mortal hooves.”
In the ever glaring hindsight of the present, that too had been a stupid idea. That made it all the harder to skimp out on her diet. At the very least, she should have included a secret entrance to the kitchens. Preferably connecting the pantry to her bedroom.
“Which is where we come in.” MacApple answered, as he removed his monocle, turning to face the old-timers who had gathered around them. “Our mission, boys, is to get Princess Celestia through those doors anyway and every way we know how. Resistance is expected to be negligible, but if those cooks resist, we give them one-four. Any questions?” An earthpony in the back raised his hand. “Yes, Waddles?”
“Will grenades be permitted?”
Celestia and MacApple shared a look. “By grenades do you mean...?” Celestia trailed off hesitantly, not sure if she was hearing the pony right.
The stallion smacked his gums. “Sonic grenades, mum. As mentioned in the Good Book of Office Armaments, chapter 42, verses 13 through 37. ‘And Saint Haybale raised his hoof-' ”
“Yes, yes.” Celestia resisted the urge to facehoof. “All manner of nonlethal combat will be permitted. Joy buzzers are permitted for anypony without a pacemaker.” The last thing she needed was for anypony to get hurt in this little endeavour. She would never hear the end of it from the health insurance companies.
Oh. And Feather Duster. Feather Duster would probably have a few choice words for her after this was all said and done. By then, though, Celestia hoped to have emptied the palace fridge. That was a problem for future-Celestia to deal with.
“I will understand if any of you wish to back out and return home. I know this goes against everything you all swore when you joined the army, so I will understand if you do not go against your word.” Celestia said. She would not fault these stallions if they chose to leave now.
“Well then, it’s a good thing we’re retired, isn’t it, princess?” MacApple said gruffly. “I think its safe to say those oaths have reached their expiration date, wouldn’t you?”
Celestia gave the general a warm smile. "Very well then. The only way in is past those two guards."
“Then our best bet is a full frontal assault at the doors,” the general said. He plucked one of his feathers out with his teeth and embedded it into the map where the kitchens were. “Throw every stallion and everything we got at those doors and don’t stop till they’re open. We'll be in and out before afternoon tea.” MacApple nodded in satisfaction and turned to Thunder Smith. “What do you think, Colonel?”
The elderly tactician gazed over the map in silence for a few more moments. Then with a sigh, he pushed his spectacles back up his nose. “Permission to speak openly, general?”
“It’s a stupid plan,” Thunder Smith stated bluntly. “It’s stupid, and suicidal, and the chances of it succeeding are slim to none.”
MacApple gave a curt nod. “Duly noted. Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
“Yes, you old glue stick. I’m annoyed that I didn’t think of this plan first!”
The general clapped his hooves together, snapping the pointer shut. “It’s settled then, your majesty.” MacApple then turned to the gathered veterans. They had come for one purpose, and as Celestia as his witness, he would see it fulfilled.
“Who’s feeling hungry, boys?”
The Royal Kitchens
At the moment, Copper Kettle was bust trying to keep calm amongst the cooks. He wasn't having a lot of luck.
"That's my grandpappie out there!"
"Why do we not have an alarm for this! We have one for everything else?!"
"We could be here for days! Weeks!" a cook by the name of Snap Freeze grabbed Copper Kettle by his uniform and shook him violently. "I can't do it man! The walls are starting to close in! We're going to starve here and nopony is going to find our bones! We're gonna-"
There was a sudden CLANG and Snap Freeze's eyes rolled to the back of his head. He crumpled to the floor out cold. Behind, was a scowling sheep with an oversized frying pan held in his mouth. Chef Ram Sea gave the unconscious cook an appalled look. “Only 'at one could possibly be stupid enough to starve to death in a kitchen.”
"Thanks for that, Chef," said Copper Kettle with a breath of relief. Chef Ram Sea merely gave a snort and dumped the frying pan on him.
The sheep turned and navigated his way over to where Hoplite sat on a food trolley, pressing a bag of ice over the bump that had formed there since his arrival. Lethe fluttered nearby, wrapping a roll of white bandages around his head.
Ram Sea was not pleased.
Minutes ago, this pair of guards had come bursting into his kitchens, spouting some nonsense about the princess going crazy and an army waiting outside the kitchen. As expected, the kitchen staff reacted in a myriad of different reactions.
The casualties were severe. A broccoli frittata, ignored on the stove, was blackened beyond all recognition and a baked risotto was now dried out. Even more horrible, a Shepard's pie ordered for dinner by a visiting ambassador, something that the chef himself had personally been slaving away on since early that morning, had been neglected in making it into the oven on time. It would never be ready by dinner.
It was an unforgiveable travesty, one of which broke his heart.
"Where in th' name of Celestia's sacred Playcolt are the rest ay ye guards?" Ram Sea asked gruffly to Lethe and Hoplite. "You're supposed tae be th' ones takin' care of this stuff like this."
"Currently in dispose," muttered Hoplite as Lethe finished tying the bandage. "Thanks to the princess pulling some strings, Lethe and I are the only active guards on duty."
"In the next ten minutes, you're going to have over a hundred social security collectors come charging through those doors, with Princess Celestia leading them." Lethe added gravely. There was no mirth in his eyes or voice. Before, the princess' attempts to gain access had been nothing comical. Now Celestia was proving she meant buisiness.
“Like hell she will.” Ram Sea muttered angrily as he climbed onto the food trolley. He glared down at chefs gathered before him. "Now all ay ye useless sacks ay yankee dankee noodle bleedin' idiots, SHUT UP!" His voice boomed throughout the kitchens, all chatter immediately froze.
"Alright 'en. Now Ah don't need tae tell any of ye what's waitin' for us outside of those doors. As ye all know, th' guard won't be coming faer us onytime soon..." A whole kitchen full of eyes turned on the only two pegasi in armor there. Lethe waved back with a smile. "...so we'll have tae bail ourselves out of this mess. Ah know some ay ye are probably scared, quakin' in yer hooves. But Ah'ma gonna tae make one thin' perfectly clear: I'll be damned tae th' lowest bleedin' pits ay Tartarus afair Ah lit some flea bitten bampots intae mah sparklin' clean kitchens!"
"But Head Chef, we're not soldiers. We don't know how to fight!" Soggy Grounds said.
"Can ye all cook?" Ram Sea asked, narrowing his eyes. There was a unanimous 'yes' from the gathered cooks. " 'en ye can fight. Simple as 'at. Now what do we have for weapons? Silver Whisk, first thin' 'at comes to mind?"
"We just finished a batch of apple pies ordered for the Wonderbolts, but they're easy enough to make again." Silver Whisk offered, gesturing to where a line of golden pies sat cooling on the counter. "I've never known anypony to get back up after being hit in the face with one of those."
"Apple pies, eh?" Ram Sea rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Those sound perfect!"
Copper Kettle smiled brightly. "Thank you, Head Chef. Glad to be of help."
The sheep nodded, keeping his eyes keenly fixed on the cook. "Aye, those would be pefect... if we were surrenderin'!" Silver Whisk jumped back from the gunshot of Ram Sea's voice. "Pastries? Pies? Git somethin' in yer bawfaced mind an' make sure it sticks there; that's exactly what th' princess wants from us. She wants th' food in this kitchen and ye intend tae jist chuck it at 'er? Dae ye have it in min' tae tie some napkins on a stick and wave it aboot to make it official for us 'en?"
"N-no Head Chef, I never intended... My apologies Head Chef!" Whisk stammered, fearfully pressing his white hat to his chest.
"Ah've known wee bairn lambs with more common sense atween their fluffy ears. Don't apologize! Think!" urged Ram Sea. He paced back and forth in front of his staff. "Whit else dae we have toae chuck at 'em?" An orange mare in the back raised her hoof. "Go on 'en, Pumpkin Spice, call it out!"
"Whisk wasn't half off, chef." she said quickly. To her immense relief, the sheep was did not immediately explode on her, giving her his silent permission to continue. "We have a lot of pie tins in the storage closets. If we whipped up some cream and plopped it into the tins, we could use those pies as ammo."
Ram Sea nodded, and stepped down from the trolley. "That's more like it. Use skim-milk only, nae a cube of sugar in it. Make them as bland an' as tasteless as ye possibly can. Brin' out th' crates of lemons while ye're in th' pantry." He looked around at the ponies who still clung to his every word. "Well what are ye waiting for? Arm yersefs!" he barked.
The cooks scattered like ants, tripping over each other in their hurry to be the last one standing in the chef's presence.
Copper made his way to join the other cooks in making the pies, but a cloven hoof stopped him in his tracks. "Och, no ye dont, laddie. Ah have a special task for ye." Ram Sea said as he looked at the racks above the kitchen workspaces. A whole manner of cooking utensils were carefully stacked and hung. Pots and pans, ladles, rolling pins, a whole selection of culinary knives. They were all too small for his liking."Go'n git me a swordfish."
The orange stallion blinked in surprise."But chef, we only have one and that's suppose to be dinner for the Griffhalan ambassador tonight!"
Ram Sea scowled angrily and picked up a rather sharp carving knife in his mouth. "Ah'll make somethin' else for th' featherbrain. Jist git me th' fish before Ah decide tae swin' ye instead"
Copper Kettle gulped and scurried off to the pantry, lest the cook changed his mind. Chef Ram Sea solemnly took off his iconic hat and rung it in his hooves. He glanced at the unexpected asset that had been dropped in his hooves: the two guards.
"Where is Princess Luna at?" he asked, still speaking around the knife.
"She's currently out of the palace at the Haunches Gym." Lethe answered promptly.
Ram Sea nodded. "Which one ay ye is th' faster flier."
"I'm more maneuverable, but Hop here is the fastest in guard."
Hoplite blushed modestly. "I'm not really that good."
"Shut up, Hop."
"Listen now! We don't hae time for this. Ah need a body, one ay ye, tae fly as fest as ye possibly can. She's th' only one who can gang toe tae toe wi' 'er sister in a real scrap. Git 'er here on th' dooble, an' I'll make ye as much cheesecake as ye can eat!"
The next thing that Hoplite knew, Lethe was picking him up and punting him out of the kitchen doors. "Fly, you magnificent beast, you! Fly!"
Hoplite sighed and with a few steady flaps of his wings, took to the air, and shot threw the hallway and past the military camp.
Ram Sea felt a large weight lift itself from his chest with the knowledge that hope would becoming. He turned to see Copper Kettle struggling to hold a swordfish that was nearly twice his size. "Hurry up, lad. Git a firmer grip on 'at thin', We huvnae got all day!"
"But its cold and dead and just... uughhh," Copper gave an involuntary shudder as the clamy flesh flopped against his skin.
"Graw a backbain, laddie. Yer skin's as thick as mah grandmother's handkerchief. Give it here!" Ram Sea ordered as he pulled the fish from Copper Kettle's hooves. He hefted the swordfish, testing the weight of it. It would do nicely. With a satisfied smirk, he effortlessly tossed the fish onto his back. "Jist ye wait, we'll pit some wool on yer chest yet. After this, Ah'll teach ye mah auld family's recipe for makin' haggis."
Copper paled considerably. "I'm going to go get those lemons like you asked, chef. Oh, Whisk! Here, let me help you with that!" he called as he dashed off.
"An' somepony git me a jar ay blueberry syrup!" the chef thundered to the scurrying cooks. He climbed onto the food trolley, staring out over his domain.
Head Chef Ram Sea tested the point on his swordfish, his beady black eyes flashing dangerously. "Insult mah milkshake, will she? That mare is going tae learn that there can only be one tae rule these kitchens, and it isn't 'er." As the stallions and mares rushed about, preparing the kitchens for the inevitable onslaught, the sheep was sure of one thing.
Vengeance was coming...
...and it would be wooly.
Princess Celestia breathed in deeply through her nose and held it. Within that single cusp of air was the most heavenly of scents. Sweet sugar, flaky dough, and an autumn orchard. Her favorite. It was only with great reluctance that it was released, and she licked her lips.
“Do you smell that?” Celestia asked the stallion who stood patiently alongside her. “Warm apple pies. My chefs are celebrating the return of their princess.”
MacApple turned his nose to the air, taking a cautious sniff. “Honeycrisp slices. Pinch of tapioca, grain for filling. Touch strong on the cinnamon, though.” At the looks he received from the stallions around him, he gave a self-conscious cough. “The missus’s special talent was making pies that made your mouth water just at the smell of them. I know what a good apple pie smells like.”
“I always knew I loved your family.” Celestia said, beaming at him.
“And I’m sure they love you too, Your Majesty. Now, can you please hurry? We’re not exactly getting any younger here.”
“To be fair, we can’t exactly get much older either.”
MacApple and Thunder Smith, and a small collection of their crew each stood with a stack of paperwork on their backs and bored looks on their faces. Celestia sat at a desk inside the command tent, tirelessly filling out form after form. “I always hated this part.” MacApple grumbled under his breath, “Those bean counters ruin everything. Bah, there is no reason any pony should have to fill out a form in triplicate if he wants to truss up some birds. In my day-“
“When dinosaurs ruled the earth.” Thunder Smith added with a whisper. He whistled innocently as the general glared at him.
“In my day, they gave us whatever was needed to win, and that was that! Now its all about cutting costs. As if victory could ever be cheap!”
Thunder Smith pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, careful not to disturb the growing tower on his back. “You’re still sore about them turning down your request for that giant whoopee cushion, aren’t you?”
“It was effective! And we could have kept the war going for another ten years if it wasn’t for those bureaucrats!”
She offered him an apologetic smile and placed another finished page on his back. “I still have an entire kingdom to run, and I can’t let this get behind. Administration is the blood of the empire after all.”
“Yes, but why do we have to be involved?”
Celestia tried to hide her smirk from the restless general. “Don’t you want to help your princess in her endeavor?”
Thunder Smith averted his eyes. “In all honesty, Your Highness, this is why I left the army.”
Her attention turned to a weathered pegasus who swooped down with a weathered scroll in his hooves. “We retrieved the Mane-ga Carta from the archives like you asked, Your Highness.”
It was one of the more important documents . Celestia had spent well over a decade brokering with Equestria’s neighboring allies to bring it to reality. It essentially ensured that neither the Equestrian monarch nor her allies would muster an army in a pre-emptive strike against a bordering nation, as well as some nonsense about forming a parliament, representation of taxation, equal rights and other such rot.
Needless to say, it was a huge thorn in her side if she wanted to seize the kitchens with fire and blood.
The sun goddess flippantly waved it away, her focus on the paperwork before her. “Just shove it right in the shredder with the rest of them. I’ll draw up another once this nonsense is all finished.”
The stallion nodded and hobbled off to do her will. If she was going to break no less than fifteen treaties and made a provocative assault on a defenseless nation, then by the ancestors, she was going to be as thorough and as legal as possible about it.
“How soon can you have me in there?” Celestia asked.
“We’re just about ready to move. If we march immediately after you’ve finished rewriting half the laws in Equestria,” the general’s irritation at his predicament only thinly veiled, “and nopony breaks a hip in the next few minutes, you’ll be stuffing your face with those pies in the next ten minutes.”
There was a crash behind the stallion as Celestia watched a tower of ammo boxes come tumbling down onto the soldier at its base with a loud crash.
“Twenty minutes,” corrected MacApple without missing a beat.
Celestia winced as she watched the stallion be carted off to the medbay. Well, that was going to be a headache and a half from the insurance companies.
“I still can’t believe that not a single one of you thought of bringing food with you!” she complained. She pressed a hoof to her belly as her stomach gave a deafening growl. Didn’t these ponies ever hear that an army marched on its stomach? “You brought all these ammo crates, entrenchment tools, sleeping bags, and not a single bite? Nothing? No cakes or hard candy or even an MRE?”
“Oh, those things?” MacApple gave her an apologetic smile. “Oh, they went bad decades ago. You wouldn’t want anything from those packets anyway. Although…” he added, screwing his face up in thought, “I think we might have a jar of applesauce or two around here somewhere.”
That was a lie and Celestia knew it. Those meal kits were guaranteed to stay edible for over a hundred years if left unopened, and it was proven! The ones the government had given to MacApple’s bunch during his service had been from the war before his and had been well into their fortieth year. They had to have at least one of them somewhere!
“Princess, you’re stalling again,” MacApple gently chided.
“Just tell me where I have to sign,” Celestia surrendered.
“Ah, quite right, Your Highness. Just once more here... and here.” Celestia scribbled her name on the dotted line, only to have a yet another pegasi drop another stack of parchment in front of her. Celestia groaned and planted her face on her desk. She could practically feel the precious seconds slipping away till the universe decided to throw a wrench into her plans.
“General,” she announced suddenly, “I’m putting into motion the Clean Slate Contingency stratagem.”
This seemed to perk the two stallions up considerably. MacApple and Thunder Smith traded shared grins and nodded in approval. “Dually noted, princess. Proceed.”
In a brilliant display of administrative competence, she began stamping her way through the forms as fast as she could without even reading them.
Parliament’s request to double military spending? Done. Which color she wanted the new drapes in the guest wing to be? All of them. Proposal for the installment of a zombie ninja contingency plan in hospitals? While strangely familiar, it was funded without a second glance. Her nephew’s suggestion that all female guard’s should wear miniskirts? Completely plausible. Celestia flew through the pages in shortly, rubber stamping her seal of approval without abandon. With a final heave ho, she slammed her stamp down on the desk and sank back in her seat.
“Done,” Celestia said, with a satisfied smile. She’d clean up her mess later. Right now, it was time for-
A vein throbbed in her forehead as MacApple heaved his stack of papers onto the desk.
The general’s eyes twinkled beneath his monocle. “And these are city-zoning permits you told us to get from your office. Don’t worry marm. We’ll have you in there in a jiffy. Why, I remember when I was Seargeant-Major, I was in the trenches of Burro with the 52nd. It was so rainy, the mud was up to your knees. Hardly a place to enjoy tea, but we had orders to strike the Griffins hard with everything we had. It was Colonel Tulip who lead the assault-”
The alicorn rubbed temples with a weary sigh, doing her best to tune out the stallion. While she loved him dearly, she knew MacApple had to be handled like hard scotch. Infrequent shots, with a lull to recover afterwards.
Speaking of which, where was Medic Soothing Syrup when you needed him?
When she came back to the present, the old codger was still going at it. “-and then the lobsters came into the courtroom, where they proceeded to dance-”
Thunder Smith discreetly nudged the general. “Fast forward to the short version, sir.”
The general blinked owlishly behind his monocle. “Er, quite right. Anywho, afterwards, the CO told us that a little bit of hunger would make stallions out of us. Thickened the skin, it did.”
The sun goddess rolled her eyes and with a great flourish, finished the last of the signatures on the paperwork. “If hunger thickens the skin, then I must be a freaking armadillo right now,” Celestia muttered under her breath. Her horn glowed and she teleported the last of the paperwork to her room. The soldiers gave a collective breath of relief as the burden was lifted from their aged backs. Many spines (and hips) were popped back into place.
Celestia pulled her helmet back on as ponies scurried about to fall into rank. In a short moment, lines had been formed and weapons readied.
“Are we ready to wage war, general?” Celestia asked, as MacApple took his place alongside her.
MacApple thumped with armor with nod. “I was born ready, ma’am.”
Celestia then turned to the crowd. “Has anypony broken their hip?” Everypony shook their head. “And all the paperwork is done?” Once again, everypony in the crowd nodded. Little could ruin the excitement bubbling up in her chest. At last, things could begin.
“We have tarried long enough, so let us not waste anymore time.” Celestia announced. “I don’t know about you, but battle gives me a great appetite-” She paused with a smile as chuckles broke out amongst her ranks. ”-and there are a lot of bored chefs behind those doors! It’s been a long time since they last could apply their trade!” The golden clad goddess nodded to the stallion next to her. From the ranks behind her, a bugle sounded and somepony hoisted Celestia’s standard, a golden sun against a blue sky, high above the heads of the army.
MacApple gave a nod of approval and Celestia turned her back on them and towards the long hallway in front of her. Just around the corner lay her prize. “I say let’s not keep them waiting! Forward!”
A deep ‘boom’ echoed through the hall as five score hooves took a step forward. Then another boom, and another. It fell into a steady beat as the ranks advanced one by one behind her. Grim smiles lined each face as they marched in tandem. No doubt this would be their final battle. Each stallion was a gear, moving in slow, methodical time with the great war machine.
Then Celestia began to gallop, and the organized ranks behind her dissolved into a mad dash to keep up.
”Ride now!” Celestia shouted above the din, “Ride! Ride for glory! Ride for ruin! And the diet’s ending! Chaaaaarge!”
A single, unified voice rose in agreement from the horde in back of her. The army cheered as one living, breathing body and surged forward. Their hooves shook the floor with not the methodical beating of a single drum, but with all the fury of a thousand. For one, brief moment they were no longer world weary stallions. The exhaustion that clung to them was cast off and thrown aside like a heavy winter coat, and in their place stood stallions in the prime of youth. Patriots who volunteered to leave home for parts unknown and dedicate life and body to fight, to protect, and to die for princess and country.
They had a purpose once more.
For the briefest of moments, they were young again. Maybe not in body, but in heart and mind. They would do their duty, even if it meant to follow Her Highness to the gates of Tartarus and back.
Princess Celestia rounded the corner, a heroic shout on her lips-
-only to come to a screeching halt.
Half a dozen bodies collided into her rear as their momentum still carried them forward. It
threatened to knock the goddess over, but she barely held her ground as her troops fell into an
disorganized heap behind her.
“Well,” Princess Celestia remarked with a raised eyebrow, “This is entirely unexpected.”
“What’s going on?” MacApple asked, picking himself up off the ground. Several groans followed as his companions picked themselves up off the ground. “Where are they at? Did we walk into a minefield? Is it the griffins? Why, I’ll–“ His eyes widened as he took in the opposition. “Oh… oh my.”
There was a deathly silence hung in the air, nopony daring to speak of what they saw. Then, at last, Celestia turned to her general and bent her head down to his level. “I’m confused,” Celestia whispered, a grain of hope in her voice, “Are they surrendering? Because, they are ready to throw food at me.
“I don’t think its going to be that easy, your highness.” Thunder Smith answered, eyeing the defenses. Celestia pouted and added a whole slew of pieces to the chess board in her head.
She had expected minimal resistance from the two guards posted outside of the kitchen doors. The mare who served her sister would be a tricky one to put down, but she had been fairly confident her soldiers could deal with her.
What she did not expect was the whole of the kitchen staff to turn out in full force. A series of overturned food trolleys served as crude blockades to the kitchen’s entrance. Mares and stallions, pastry chefs and fry cooks alike barred the width of the narrow hallway, a blend of pots and pans cobbled together as crude armor adorning their bodies.
And each of them had a pie aimed at Celestia.
She… had not been expecting this. Celestia felt she had taken care of every obstacle in her path. Clearly, she had underestimated the tenacity of her staff and Head Chef.
But the most fearsome amongst them was the sheep who served as that role in the royal kitchens. Head Chef Ram Sea stood gallantly upon a serving trolley, a impetuous smirk spread across his face. Half of the sheep’s face and body was blue, the result of a jar of blueberry jam liberally spread across his wool. A checkered tablecloth was wrapped around his waist and across his shoulder, no doubt serving as an impromptu kilt. A stick of celery was clenched in his mouth.
“Well look at what we have here, lads. Th' stoatin' bairny Celestia has climbed down from 'er shinin' chair on th' sun tae visit us wee mortals beneath 'er castle,” the sheep said loudly so that Celestia could hear him from across the hall. “Ah wonder if she’s decided tae come join us for lunch. Ah’m sure there’s a stick or two of celery somewhere 'at ye can nibble on.” Every cook there chuckled and snickered at her, with Ram Sea’s being the loudest. “Ye can have 'em when ye come an' kiss mah fluffy white rump, you howpin tosser!” he shot with laughter. In a single motion, the sheep turned his back on Celestia’s army, bent over, lifted his tail, and gave every stallion and goddess a glorious view of said woolly posterior. MacApple’s jaw unhinged itself and his monocle popped from his eye.
“Oh my,” Celestia whispered, grateful that her helmet hid her burning cheeks. It didn’t rank up in her top ten, but she had seen worse.
“Just give the word, mum,” Thunder Smith whispered from Celestia’s side. A water-balloon was elevated and cocked back with his magic. “I can take him out from here. We’ll have them on the run in jiffy.”
The princess carefully removed her golden helmet, exposing her ivory face for all to see. “I will go to meet him. If the chef has words for me, I will hear them.”
“But your highness, are you sure you want to deal with this… savage?” MacApple asked, staring sternly across the hall at Ram Sea. The sheep was angrily hitching up his makeshift kilt with a hoof. “Allow myself or one of the other boys to represent you in case he tries to pull any funny business. Smells like a prime trap to me.”
The sun goddess shook her head. “Nay, Ram Sea is not one to surrender so easily. But he is not without reason… usually,” she admitted bleakly. “Besides, I believe I am fully capable of handling a single sheep and his fish, general.”
MacApple seemed taken back and hurriedly shook his head. “O-of course, Your Highness.
“Somethin' about this smells fishy.”
“Actually Chef, I think that might just be-“
“Don’t e'en finish 'at, Silver Whisk.”
“Yes Head Chef.”
Chef Ram Sea suspiciously eyed the alicorn who waited patiently for him a few meters away. Her helmet was pressed against her breastplate with her magic, and she gazed impassively at the sheep who opposed her. For a fraction of a second, there was an ounce of doubt regarding his chances of victory in Ram Sea’s mind. Then the rest of his brain pummeled that rebellious strand of grey matter against his skull, skinned it alive and then proceeded to slow roast it over the roaring inferno of righteous fury that coursed through his Coltish blood.
The mare wanted to play games with him? Then he would play games.
What could Celestia possibly be thinking, with her face a mask of cool dislike and her eyes so intent on him?
“Looks like our ruler wishes tae have a wee caw wi' us.” The last of the celery vanished through his lips. “I wonder whit she wants.”
“I can make three guesses, and all are probably served on silver platters.”
Ram Sea looked down from his trolley where Lethe crouched behind a barricade to his left. The mare had immediately volunteered her help and had turned out in full armor. It would have been an intimidating sight, had she not gotten whipped cream everywhere in the rushed attempt to fill her pie trays.
“Are ye sure about this, lass? It’s gonnae git wee bit dicey.” Ram Sea asked her.
“Are you kidding me?” The Night Watch picked up a pie tray from the countless rows stacked behind the staff. “This is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to me today. I mean, it’s either this or go home and sleep.”
“I wish I had thirty of you lot behind watching my back. Somepony who could actually aim instead of these milk-drinkers.” Ram Sea gave a blustering sigh and hitched up his kilt where it was beginning to fall down. “Well, Ah better nae keep 'er royal fat flanks waitin'.”
“They’d fight a lot better if you gave them an inspiring speech.” Lethe commented.
“A speech?” Ram Sea asked, The mare nodded eagerly.
“Yeah, you know. Something to rouse their spirits and get their blood pumping.”
Chef Ram Sea did not look so convinced. “Ah’m nae one for words, lass. What would Ah e'en say?”
Lethe wave a flippant hoof. “Just make it up as you go along. Speak from the heart. Just give them all something to think about while you’re tearing her highness a new one.”
The Night Watch mare gave the chef a smile that threatened to break her face. “Absolutely. Now get up there and knock them dead!” she urged.
Ram Sea gave a thoughtful nod and his mood lightened up considerably. “Och, Ah know just the words tae get their bluid a boilin'.”
The mare’s façade broke as soon as his back was turned, and she gave a blustering sigh. Oh, the things she put up with. She noticed two nearby cooks who were busy filling pie trays and trotted over to them.
“He’s going to do it.” Lethe said smugly to the two.
“Gesundheit.” Lethe said dully, before grabbing Silver Whisk’s head and turning him where Ram Sea was clearing his throat. “See for yourself.”
Silver Whisk let out a pained wail and buried his face in his hooves. “Are you kidding me?!”
Copper Kettle frowned and his magic tossed a small pouch to the ashen-mare. Lethe caught the bag with her teeth, and was happy to hear the musical jingle of the bits inside. “Well, there goes my paycheck,” he muttered.
Silver Whisk gave her a pleading look. “At least give me a chance to win something back! Double or nothing!”
“Sorry, boys,” Lethe said as she hid her winning beneath her plumage. “All bets are final.” She examined the two cooks up and down. They weren’t a half bad catch. “Of course, I might just let you boys try your hand at a card game.” She said, as she mentally undressed the two chefs.
“I’m broke, not foolish.” Copper said. “Besides, how in Equestria did you talk him into it?”
Lethe smiled coyly. “A lady never reveals her tricks.”
“Alright ye mockit jessies, listen up!”
A hush fell over the gathered cooks as expectant faces turned up to Ram Sea. An energy seemed to buzz through the crowd.
“Oh,” Silver Whisk said, eagerly rubbing his hooves together, “This is going to be good!” Then he caught the look his boss was giving him. “…or not.”
Ram Sea, for lack of a better word, was angry. Not his traditional ‘Ye burned a salad!’ angry, or more his occasional placid ‘Ye called in sick’ angry, but a never before seen ‘Ye insulted my mammy, ran off wi' mah daughter and spat in mah cereal’ type angry. Scholars would spend the next decade trying to give it a name. But in the meantime, Ram Sea was giving them all a stare that it would have curdled milk had it all not already been whipped and placed in tins.
“Don’t think 'at just ‘cause ye aw die today 'at ye’re gettin' out ay cleaning mah kitchen. Ah own ye, an' death isn’t gonnae tae change a thin'. So help me, Ah will have those blasted Arcana mages drag ye back from th' pits ay Tartarus an' shackle ye to the mortal plain for all eternity.”
Lethe gave the grey unicorn a blank look. “Wow. He sure knows how to keep the morale boosted,” she muttered under her breath.
Ram Sea gave a satisfied nod. Short and straight to the point. He clambered down from the food trolley and began to make his way across the hall, only to pause a few steps in. He glanced back at his cooks, and his eyebrows scrunched together into his trademark scowl.
“An' if Ah die,Ah’m gonnae to come back an' haunt each an' every one ay yer flanks till Tambelon returns,” he added for good measure. There was a mad dash to grab additional ammunition and straighten armor as the sheep walked to the no-mare’s land between the two armies.
“Speak for yourself,” Copper Kettle said to the stunned Lethe, snugly securing the pot on his head. “That’s all the motivation I need to make sure we win this.”
They stopped several paces from each other.
The nomare’s land was no great distance; both armies were only a couple of yards away from each other. But it had always been and still remained sacred ground since ancient times.
Celestia was the first to place her golden helmet on the ground before her. It was only after a moment’s pause that Ram Sea swipe his own white hat from his woolen head and likewise dropped it before him. If Celestia wished for them to speak as equals, then he would oblige her.
The princess looked the sheep up and down. He was certainly a ferocious looking thing, looking more than ready for this whole messy affair. A swordfish nearly twice his size was strapped to his back, its tail resting against his shoulder. A peculiar weapon of choice, but if Celestia had any criticisms, there was but one.
Her Head Chef was… shorter than she last remembered.
“Princess Celestia,” Chef Ram Sea said cooly.
Celestia dipped her head in greeting. “Head Chef Ram Sea.”
“You’re looking well,” Celestia offered as a verbal olive branch. Ram Sea’s eyes flickered over her golden armor.
“Aye, an' it seems that ye lost weight. How much did ye work off? Two pounds? Three?”
Ouch. That was a low blow if any. She didn’t have to use that much duct tape to get her armor on. Not a problem. Two could play at this game.
“You realize you’re using jam as war paint, right?”
Ram Sea snorted. “It was a spur ay th' moment decision. Leave me alone lass.”
Celestia looked up at where Lethe stared at her from behind the kitchen barricades. Of course that mare would be here. No doubt she was behind this. The ebony mare blew a loud raspberry in the goddess’s direction. Celestia snorted and looked back down at Ram Sea. “It seems that you’re keeping some less than desirable company about you these days.”
He smirked and stole a glance at the latest addition to his staff. “Wee Lethe? Och, she’s a sweet thin'. Ah think Ah might just have to ask yer sister if Ah can tak' 'er on as an intern.”
Actually, Celestia considered, that wasn’t a half bad idea. It would certainly give her more freedom with that maree out of the picture. Better to make her Ram Sea’s problem instead of constantly thwarting everything she came up with.
...then again, did she REALLY want Lethe having access to her food?
“As much as I enjoy the pleasantries, Chef, I can just as easily get my fill of them at court.” Celestia placed her hoof on her helmet to remind the chef just why they were here.
“Tae business 'en,” the sheep agreed, and he looked behind Celestia at the elderly stallions gathered. Slowly, they circled each other, eyes locked. It was a nervous sort of pacing, the kind that only forced a conversation to continue. “Would ye mind explaining tae me why an army is traipsing aboot along the border? If Ah were a bettin' sheep, Ah’d assume something absolutely bapit like… Ah dunno… ye were attemptin' tae break every treaty atween Equestria an' th' Royal Kitchens.”
“Just a tour of the palace, nothing more.” Celestia said airily. “But you know how it is with old-timers. They get hungry and thirsty from just climbing steps. So maybe you could do something for me, chef?”
“Allow unrestricted access to my kitchens and its contents for the next hour. For me and my stallions.” Celestia watched as the sheep’s eyes turned a defiant ‘no’. “It is a lovely kitchen, and we merely want to see the inside of it,” Celestia reminded him, absentmindedly admiring her armor clad hoof. “It’s just… wouldn’t it be such a shame if something happened to it?”
“Ah don’t know whit ye fancy Canterlot ponies call 'at in yer towers, but down here, we call 'at an invasion.” Ram Sea added dangerously.
“Call it what you will. My army and I intend to have lunch.”
“The' only lunch ye lot will be gettin' is a heapin' servin' ay my hoof!” Ram Sea peered behind her. “Ah’m nae sure if yer blind or gakkit, but yer army looks like it has two hooves in th' grave, an' th' other two just on the edge ay it.”
“It was either them or free Discord.”
“Now Ah KNOW yer just glakkit.” Ram Sea sputtered, “Or just plain delusional!”
“I take great offense to that!” Celestia protested. “I was tested thirty years ago, and I’ll let you know I have above average intelligence.” She did not mention, though, that the jury was still out on the delusions of grandeur part.
Ram Sea’s voice took on a more steely tone. “You really think you’ll get past these doors with that lot.”
A confident smirk crossed Celestia’s lips and she turned her gaze back to Ram Sea. “I don’t think so, Chef. I know so.”
“Ah was wrong,” Celestia’s chef remarked angrily. “Yer not just stupid. Ye're a blitherin', two faced, pansy flanked-“
On and on Chef Ram Sea went, using every stretch of his versatile brogue to describe exactly what he thought of the princess. Notebooks were brought out from both armies and a there was a mad scramble to get it all down. From the cook’s side of the hallway, however, the speech fell upon the deaf ears of a certain bat pony, who tapped her hoof impatiently.
“Come on,” Lethe whined, “Get on with it already! This is taking forever!”
Gravity seemed to have become the best of friends with Copper Kettle’s jaw, given with how low it was hanging. After a moment, Silver Whisk gently realigned his friends mouth, lest he accidentally swallow a fly.
“Where’s the rest of you guys?” Silver Whisk asked abruptly. “I mean, shouldn’t the rest of the Night Watch be somewhere in the castle? Barracks maybe?”
“We’re union,” Lethe said simply. Both cooks looked at each other.
“So wait, you’re trying to tell me,” Silver Whisk said, shaking his head as though he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “That you guys have things like sick days and benefits and-“
“Weekends? Overtime? Vacations?” the mare offered with a nod. Both of their eyes widened.
“They’re not still hiring by any chance, are they?” Silver Whisk asked hopefully. “I mean, this whole cook bit is really just sort of a temporary gig.”
“Look,” Lethe said gently. She kicked her hoof awkwardly. “I get what you’re trying to do. This whole back and forth thing? I mean, I appreciate it, but…” She offered him apologetic smile. “…I already have somepony to do that do that with.”
Silver Whisk’s ears pressed against his head in disappointment.
A chuckle came from Copper Kettle at his friend’s expense and he patted the grey unicorn on the back gently. “Better luck next time.”
“Couldn’t you just... pretend for a little while?” Silver Whisk asked hopefully. “I mean, I could die today.”
Lethe rolled her eyes in disbelief, gesturing at the scene around them. “I’m fighting alongside a bunch of cooks armed with fo-custard pies led by a sheep whose clearly watched Bravehoof too many times, against an army of Medicart recipients who will be firing water balloons at us and led by a carb-craving sun goddess who repaired her armor with duct tape,” Lethe said flatly to both cooks. “Newsflash: Nopony in their right mind should be taking this thing seriously.”
The two cooks looked at each other.
“She’s got a point.” Copper Kettle admitted his friend.
“Still, she could be a little nicer, all things consid-”
Both cooks got the opportunity to taste the bottom of Lethe’s hooves as she shoved them in their mouths. “Shhh!” Lethe whispered, peeking over the barricade. “I think he’s almost finished!”
“-boggin, hing-oot, shaan gadgie, lavvie-headed rooster who insulted mah cooking!”
Celestia blinked. “Excuse me?
“Are ye deaf in th' 'ead? Ah want tae hear an apology from th' horse’s lips herself! Now scrape and beg for forgiveness or I’ll beat it out ay you, your majesty!”
An absolutely flabbergasted princess stared at her chef as though he had sprouted another head. “Apologize for what exactly?” she asked.
“When ye insult a chef’s cooking, ye insult 'im.”
“My dear chef, when have I ever insulted your cooking?”
Ram Sea's eyes narrowed. “Vegetable. Milkshake.”
“Oh...” Celestia said nervously, “That milkshake.”
It took every ounce of Celestia’s willpower not to gag. The mere memory of that foul brew made Celestia want to buffer her tongue with sandpaper, and she shuddered under her armor. This did not go unnoticed by her Head Chef, whose mood fouled considerably.
“AH KNEW IT! AH KNEW YE INSULTED MAH COOKIN'!” Several unicorns on Ram Sea’s staff had to use their magic to keep the sheep from going for the alicorn’s throat, who had suddenly unsheathed his weapon and dove at her. “Take it back! Take it back or else so help me, Ah’ll tan yer hide an' turn ye into jello!”
Celestia gawked at him, not believing her ears. “You’re giving me this much trouble over a milkshake?”
“Just a milkshake?! It was a masterpiece!” Ram Sea fumed.
“Masterpiece?!” It was the most revolting thing I had ever tasted!”
The words were out before she could stop herself. By the time she had realized it, it was already too late. Ram Sea looked as though he had just been informed that a loved one had died.
“I’m gonnae tae make ye eat those words,” Ram Sea whispered at last. “E'en if Ah have tae cram a funnel in yer ugly mug.”
Celestia hissed and bared her teeth. “Brave words in the face of a goddess,” she reminded him.
Ram Sea’s grip on his fish tightened. “There can be only one god here, Celestia. An' in mah country, it isn’t ye.”
Celestia’s face grew red with anger at his audacity. “When I ceded the Kitchens to you, I had no idea the role would go straight to that fluff filled brain of yours.”
“Mah kingdom. Mah rules.”
That was it. Celestia was through with the sweet talk, the insults, the senseless back and forth bickering. Ancestors buck them all, she was the princess, not this oaf, and her word was law.
“You will open those doors for me!” Bitter magenta eyes stared down at the defiant sheep. “I will not be spoken down to by some foul-mouthed, fry-cook-”
Celestia’s face stung.
“Never,” Ram Sea growled threateningly, “call me a fry-cook.”
It took Princess Celestia’s brain a moment to register that she had just been hit with over two- hundred pounds of raw fish.
“How DARE you!” The goddess roared, her voice cracking like thunder in the narrow hallway. The stones themselves shook at her volume. Her mane and tail burst with broiling heat that Ram Sea could feel from where he stood. “You would strike upon your-“
There was another loud crack as Ram Sea swung his weapon, and the head of the fish smacked across Celestia’s face once more.
“Well,” Lethe noted dryly, “When I woke up this morning, I never expected to see that.” She donned her Night Watch helmet, her golden eyes never leaving the opposing field. “I guess it’s safe to say that negotiations are over.”
Ram Sea turned while the princess was still reeling and made a mad dash for the kitchen barricades.
“Fire at will!” he shouted, diving over the barricades. The cooks stood up and let loose a volley of pies at Celestia’s army.
The battle for the Royal Kitchens had begun.
Teeth and claws filled Luna’s eyes as the beast lunged at her. Her wings snapped to her sides and she dove beneath its maw. She reared back and kicked with all her might with her hind legs. She was satisfied to see the dragon’s head snap up at the impact, and flew away before it could retaliate.
Beads of sweat shined on the goddess’s body as her muscles burned from exertion. Luna rejoiced in it, commanding every inch of her divine being
“Vile serpent!” Luna spat. “Demon birthed from embrace of hellish flame! Dost thou realize who I am?” The dragon roared in defiance, now nothing more than rage incarnate. She once again evaded the creature’s attacks , dodging tooth and flame, though her eyes never left the dragon’s. “I alone know where Tambelon lies! I who once drowned the world in darkness and night unending! I am the blessed monarch of Equestria and mother of the stars and I am thy bane!” Luna shouted, teleporting in front of the dragon’s chest. With the swiftness of a lightning bolt she placed her horn against the creature’s chest and pierced it. “Now breathe thy last, for this world is not for thee!”
With a shriek, she pumped her magic into the monster’s heart. With a bright light, she had blown it to smithereens. The dragon gave a final shriek of agony before crashing down dead. The ground trembled at its falling, and Luna dislodged her horn, and alighted on its next.
With a gleeful cackle, she decapitated its head with a wave of her horn and sent it bouncing along the ground. It came to rest at Slender Flank’s hooves, who was watching nearby.
“And… time,” the trainer said, pausing the stopwatch she held. She looked at the time and raised an eyebrow in approval. “Very well done, m’lady. You beat your personal best.”
“Victory is mine!” Luna crowed, tossing the dragon’s innards into the air. She giggled as she rolled around the visceral remnants.
Slender Flank glanced down at the dragon’s head and nudged it with her hoof. It let out a half-hearted squeak before collapsing further on itself. With a straight face, she picked up the ruined toy and tossed it into the trash, before beginning to wipe off from her face the strands of cotton stuffing that Luna had gotten every everywhere.
In her short time with her, Slender Flanks had learned something very important:
Princess Luna had a very active imagination.
“Alright, princess, calm down.” The trainer said gently as she swept away the remaining stuffing with her magic.
“I cannot! I wait in eager anticipation for his return with my breakfast!” Luna stared at another training dummy, as though deciding what the next best plan to exterminate it. Slender blushed as her stomach rumbled at the mere mention of breakfast.
A simple egg and cheese omelet. Simple, easy, and nutritious with plenty of protein for pumping iron. Was that so hard to get?
Considering she sent Schwarzwälder four hours ago to get it for them… yes.
Had any of her other employees taken this long to do one simple chore, Slender would have given them the pink slip a long time ago. Of course, none of her other employees bench pressed the moon goddess, so it was a bit of adaunting feat to take him off the payroll.
“No,” Slender Flank reminded herself, “You can’t fire him. You need the money.”
And did she ever. Regardless of her countless protests, Schwarzwälder and Princess Celestia both did not realize the full extent of their strength. That, coupled with the stallion’s intensive workouts, lead to equally intensive damage to her business.
Since then, the Haunches Gym had received new tread mills, new weights, all brand new equipment, seven coats of paint, two front doors, a new floor, a whole new infrastructure, a new dental plan for Schwarzwälder’s piranha and no less than four lawsuits for sexual harassment.
Still, the Crown paid for all damages, so Slender was content to let them have free reign over her establishment. So long as her establishment was still standing when they were finished…
She had never seen her gym so busy! Ponies of all classes worked out on countless machines, all the newest and latest in the field of physical therapy (and all courtesy of the taxpayer’s bit). Business was good. This was the place to be, especially since the princesses came here.
Even now, at least a hundred eyes were on her and her charge. Slender kept her cool though; her attention needed to remain focused on Princess Luna.
For the next hour, all she had to do was worry about one destructive force of nature in her gym. Then she just had to pray her gym would still be standing after Schwarzwälder showed up.
Still, Slender Flank had to admit that Luna’s subtle hero-worship of the trainer was rather cute.
Subtle like a brick that was. The mare had been acting like a love-struck filly, sneaking glances at the door like the stallion was about to walk through it at any second.
“When shall he be here?” Luna asked for what felt like the millionth time that day. Slender resisted the urge to groan, and instead slapped on the same fake smile she had been wearing all day.
“Don’t worry, princess. I’m sure he’ll be back any moment now with our orders.”
“What do you think could be taking him so long?” Luna asked the trainer thoughtfully.
The Crystal Mountains...
Teeth and claws filled Schwarzwälder’s vision as the dragon’s mouth closed around him. He gave a savage grunt, and his hind legs bucked out sending the creature’s teeth flying into the abyss of the canyon. He clambered past the serpent’s gums and hauled himself out.
The stallion wound up his hoof and punched the dragon right in her snout, which crunched up from the force of the blow, dropping him. The Oxtrian stallion caught himself on the ridge of the dragon’s wing.
“Slender Flank and Moon Princess ask for omelet! Schwarzwälder will make sure they get it!” he shouted, ripping a hole in the wing’s membrane.
It bellowed in pain, collapsing against the canyon side and sending rocks plummeting hundreds of feet below.
He galloped along the dragon’s shoulder, heading straight for the clutch of ginormous speckled eggs in the nest behind the dame. He was so close…
“RAAAAARGH!” Schwarzwälder roared in frustration, biting down on the claw that swept him away.
“…I haven’t the faintest idea.” Slender answered truthfully, as she climbed out of the ring. Luna followed her, toweling off after the workout.
“I feel most energized.” Luna said, her eyes darting around the gym in excitement. “What shall we partake of now?”
“Well,” Slender rubbed her chin thoughtfully, looking around her gym. What did she need replaced next? “I suppose you can-“
The door at the front slammed open and a pony galloped to the front desk.
“Welcome to the Haunches Gym, where we’re guaranteed to make you the leanest, meanest, and most perfectly sculpted pony you can be,” the mare at the front desk chimed. “How may we help you?”
“I have… I have a… message for… oh jeeze…” Hoplite gasped for breath. He gave a heart wrenching wheeze and keeled over to his side. “Just… gimme a moment…”
Luna’s mood brightened considerably, and she swooped over to stand at his side. “Ah, fair Hoplite,” she greeted with a smile, “Rise, so that we may embrace cherished friend of most faithful guard.”
Hoplite was still failing to catch his breathe. He made a feeble attempt to rise, only to collapse back on his belly. “If it’s all the same to you, your majesty,” he said wearily, “I’m going to lay down for a bit.”
“Very well,” Luna said, as she sat down next to him. “Then do tell. What brings thee so far from thy post thee? Is it urgent?"
“It’s bad,” Hoplite admitted. He gulped looked up at the alicorn. “You’re sister is making another assault on the Kitchen. We need your help.”
“Oh,” Luna said with a snort. Her distaste was evident on her face. “This nonsense again. I have complete faith in both thee and Lethe to handle anything that she might attempt.” Luna said with a reassuring smile.
“She sabotaged her own guards and summoned an army of the almost dead to lay siege on the kitchens.” Hoplite said without batting an eyelash. “So yeah, we could really use your help right now.”
Luna gave an apologetic glance at Slender Flank, who waved it off, secretly relieved.
“We can always reschedule for another day, princess.” Slender Flank said with a shrug.
Luna drew herself up to full height, smiling. “Dear Hoplite, return and aid anyway you can in the conflict. Look for us on the dawning of the third day, for we-“
“We don’t have three days, princess!” Hoplite shouted frantically. “Your sister is probably breaking down the doors right now!”
The alicorn rolled her eyes. “Fine…” she grumbled, “Give me an hour or two. I will make sure that my sister keeps to this ridiculous diet…”
Hoplite gave a sigh of relief and rose on weary hooves. He gave a respectful bow and turned to leave. “As you command, your majesty.”
“Private,” Luna’s voice stopped him in his step. It was to the brim with curiosity, “Thou art my sister’s shield. Do you act against her for her own sake, or at the bequest of another?”
Hoplite couldn’t bring himself to meet Luna’s gaze, instead finding his hooves to be far more interesting.
“I don’t have courage of confidence…” Hoplite admitted, “But I know I just want her to need me.” He turned on his heel and sprinted out of the gym, taking flight once again to the battlefield.
The princess of the night smiled and shook her head. Her little ponies would never cease to amuse her.
Luna closed her eyes and a glow surrounded her horn. With a soft ‘pop’, a rather hefty sack appeared in front off the trainer. Slender peered inside, and nearly had a heart attack; it was full to the brim with gold bits.
“Princess, what is this for?”
“That is,” Luna said as she spread her ebony wings, “for thy roof.”
“What?” Slender’s eyes widened in realization. “No, wait, your highness, just use the-“
Princess Luna shot up with the force of a bomb, moving faster than the mare’s eyes could track. There was a horrible ripping noise as the alicorn blasted right through the roof. Slender Flank watched as the navy dot rapidly fade in the distance.
“…door.” The trainer finished weakly. She looked around at the debris and the ponies pulling themselves out from under the fallen beams. Her eye twitched as the rest of the gym’s ceiling slowly crumbled in on itself. Her hoof wrapped around the sack of bits and pulled it closer.
Well… the gym needed a new roof anyway.
There wasn’t a single space in the hallway that wasn’t smeared with cream, and tins littered the floor. Water balloons, pillows, and chickens were fired back with equal ferocity. Time and time again, Celestia’s forces pushed against Ram Sea’s, and each time the cooks held, though precious inches were lost with each assault. The air was thick with the cries for war, victory, and baked goods from the lips of those still drew breath. No passing concern was made for those fallen; not while the other side still resisted. Such was the mare known as War.
Celestia’s forces were both numerous and trained; the passing of years had left them with first hand experience of combat, and they threatened to overwhelm the defenders. But they were old, and the cooks were young and energetic, which gave the Kitchens a fighting chance. Pegasi on both sides bombarded enemy lines with their munitions, only to have their numbers thinned from unicorn marksmen. The unlucky spiraled out of the control, to crash against the floor in an explosion of cream or water. Pie and balloon was placed before those with hind-legs still strong enough to buck them, and as the two lines inched closer and closer together, it had rapidly devolved to hoof-to-hoof.
All this paled in comparison to the gods who warred amidst the lesser scuffles.
Everypony, whether elder or cook, mare or stallion, gave the two a wide berth lest they accidentally be drawn into the conflict.
He pushed back with his fish, forcing the goddess back a pace and followed up with a stab. She lazily deflected its point with the tip of her horn and lunged at the opening, hooves scraping to gain purchase. But Ram Sea was quick on his hooves, and slapped her away with his weapon’s tail. He kicked up a fallen pie, and swung the fish like a bat. With a successful hit, he sent the pastry towards Celestia, who teleported herself just out of its path. Her glee that her foes were using pies for their weapons had quickly soured once she tasted them. Cardboard had more flavour than the bland cream, and Celestia took note of the insult. The sheep was toying with her, depriving her taste buds of any satisfaction even now. Occasionally, he would produce vegetables from his person which he would chuck at her head. They thunked uselessly against her helmet, but each one only raised her ire.
Back and forth they had fenced across the hallway, and while on the surface the fight seemed to be equal, one thing was obviously clear to Celestia.
The goddess was beginning to tire.
“You’re better than I had thought.” Celestia had to grudgingly admit to herself that the sheep was giving her a run for her money. That, or Schwarzewalder was right and she was out of shape…
Nah. It was easier to pretend that Ram Sea was just really really good.
Which is the part that left the goddess utterly baffled. Ram Sea had no place being here on the battlefield. His place was in the kitchen, making her sandwiches-
The princess was forced to duck as her foe took a sudden swipe at her neck. If the scowl on his face was any indicator, the sheep had read her mind and did not take kindly to her thoughts of him.
Still, Celestia was no fool and the chef was quickly proving to her that he was not one either. He did not have a unicorn’s magic, a pegasus’ speed, or an earth pony’s stamina. What he did have, however, was a particularly lethal fish whose point had been sharpened to a razor’s edge, and a stubbornness to rival a dragon.
As soon as the conflict had extended to hoof-to-hoof fighting amongst their forces, the sheep had sought her out on the battlefield, knocking aside everypony in his path like bowling pins. Battles could be won without throwing an army at each other. If you cut off a snake’s head, the body would die; if the leader fell, so did their army.
Which Ram Sea had tried, with tireless gusto. He had scored her armor numerous times, and the scratches were beginning to show.
“I don’t suppose you can just let me by?” Celestia asked. She conjured a swathe of shimmering light to block a stab from Ram Sea, but it shattered under the force of his swordfish.
“Not a flaming chance in Tartarus!” he retorted. “Ah’ve waited long enough tae hear ye apologize!”
The goddess’s voice was quiet. “Long?” she whispered. A heavy silence lay in the air, as the runes along her armor began to glow. “Long?” she repeated again.
Then her entire body erupted into an inferno.
“LONG?” Celestia exploded, sending tremors through the hallway. Cooks and veterans alike held on for dear life as the ground beneath them shook like jello. Ram Sea plunged his swordfish point first into the ground and held on for dear life, barely withstanding the epicenter. Her Royal Canterlot Voice alone threatened to bring the ceiling down on their heads. “Do you puny ponies know what a millenium feels like? What a million years feel like? A billion years, just staring at rocks sometimes crashing into each other and black oblivion? These endless months busting my flank, sweating like a pig just so I can eat in my own home? YOU KNOW NOTHING OF LONG!” Celestia roared. Ram Sea back peddled as the floor beneath her melted into slag. The Chef threw another barrage of celery sticks at the princess. They were a flash of orange as they neared her, and only small tufts of ash remained to break against the brazen armor.
In the span of a second, Celestia was in front of him. A second too late, the sheep tried to react. A golden horseshoe smacked him across the face and sent him sprawling to the floor. Ram Sea slid against the tile, his sword fish knocked from grasp.
“Pathetic... even for a mortal."
A carrot suddenly appeared in the eye slit of her helmet. Its point had come dangerously close to her eye. Celestia snorted and looked down contemptuously at the sheep who had thrown it.
“You’re going to have to do a lot better than that.”
That was until another carrot appeared in the other eye socket, cutting off her vision. Celestia grabbed at her helmet, trying to dislodge them with her hooves. The vegetables stuck fast, despite her best attempts at removing them with magic.
With a snarl, she ripped off her helmet. “You think this will stop me?” Celestia asked, tossing it away. Her eyes burned white hot, flames licking at her lids as she stared down at the defeated chef. “Any last words, my little sheep?”
“Yeah,” Ram Sea muttered, reaching a hoof under his kilt. He brought out a tiny vial filled with clear fluid. “Thanks for bein' such an easy target.” In one swift moment he had yanked out the cork with his teeth and threw the vial’s contents into the princess’s face.
She recoiled in shock as the liquid hit her.
Celestia’s tongue snaked out briefly to lick at the fluid on her lips. As soon as she did, her stomach twisted into a knot and her eyes widened in horror.
It began as the tiniest of sensations. The lightest of tingles on the tip of her tongue, that spread swiftly to his nostrils and crept into her eyeballs. It was gentle, almost feather like, but all too familiar. “What did you put into that vial?” Celestia asked with dread.
Ram Sea was rising on uncertain hooves, using his weapon as a crutch. “Extract of a Trinidad Morgua Scorpion.”
As much as she wanted to stomp out that smug look on the sheep’s face, she couldn't help keeping the admiration out of voice. This was a master stroke. “Well played, Head Chef, well played,” she congratulated him.
Then the heat struck.
The tingle which had been ever so light on her tongue and eyes suddenly erupted into an inferno, robbing Celestia of her senses. She gasped in pain, but the sudden influx of air only served to fuel the fire raging in her throat.
Her eyes and mouth streamed, and Celestia knew there was only one course of action.
“HELP!” Celestia screamed. She turned tail and sprinted for her lines as fast as her hooves would take her. “I’m on fire! Put me out! Put me out!” The impossible spicyness of the peppers the consumed her every thought except for the desire of Death’s sweet release.
Unfortunately, she knew he was on vacation this week.
“Water! I need water!” She shouted, suffering from her melting insides.
“Help her majesty!” MacApple grabbed Celestia and pinned her hooves to the floor. Eight of his stallions answered, and eight water balloon broke against the princess’s mug.
Celestia sat there in incredulous awe, with water dripping down her face and rubber clinging to her armor.
“NOW IT’S BEHIND MY EYES!” Celestia thrashed on the ground with renewed vigor. She clawed at her eyes, rolling on the floor as if her body was physically burning.
Her magic knocked out a nearby cook and seized her pie. Celestia slammed the pie into her face, burying herself in its coolness. She slowly felt the burn melt away, and she cooed in relief. She tossed the now empty tin away and merely basked as the chill seeped in.
“That… that feels much better.” Celestia wiped the whipped cream from her face. The dairy was doing wonders to extinguish the burn. The cooks still looked up, struggling to keep the smiles off their faces.
“What?” Celestia asked obliviously. “Is there something in my hair?”
Her hooves reached back for her mane, expecting them to pass through the crackling flames, but only felt smooth scalp. She magicked a hoof mirror from her room and checked her face, eyes widening to the size of saucers.
She was bald.
“My hair!” Celestia wailed, grabbing at her empty head. “My beautiful hair! Do you know how long it took to get it like that?!” She banished the mirror and sunk her face into her hooves. “Tell me, how bad do I look?” she asked the nearby cooks.
“It looks good, your majesty,” one cook offered, with a scrutinizing eye. “Very fearsome.”
“Really?” Celestia asked hopefully.
Laughter rippled through the enemy ranks, with Ram Sea’s being the loudest. Celestia felt her face grow red, and she snarled at the sheep.
“I’m going to kill you!” Celestia screeched, charging at him. Her horn glowed with arcane power as she prepared to obliterate the chef.
Then Ram Sea did something completely unexpected. He reached into his wool and pulled out a tiny whistle and blew. At once, cooks and veterans froze in whatever they were doing. Even Celestia screeched to a halt in surprise.
One of his cooks came running with a dish towel and Ram Sea used it to wipe the blue jam off his face. “Alright, let’s make it quick.”
Ram Sea was the last to leave the field, turning his back on Celestia.
“Get back here!” Celestia furiously shouted to him, “This is a perfectly good time for you to throw your life away!” Ram Sea ignored him, and the kitchen doors swung shut behind him, leaving Celestia to gape at him. To her incredible disbelief, her own soldiers began sitting down to chat amongst themselves.
She strode over to where Thunder Smith and MacApple were passing a flask back and forth.
“What are you doing?” Celestia hissed angrily.
“Why, waiting for lunch of course.”
“Shouldn’t we be… I don’t know…” Celestia offered sarcastically, “be using this golden opportunity to attack?!”
MacApple gave her a look of appall. “Wot? Whatever gave you that idea?”
“The fact that they have no defenses now!” Celestia said, pointing to the Kitchen’s unmanned barricades.
“But your highness, we’d never do that!”
Thunder Smith nodded in agreement. “Poor sportsmanship to attack the gents who are feeding you, especially while they’re making your foods.”
The princess dead panned expression spoke volumes. “…you’re being serious right now, aren’t you?”
Celestia gave a frustrated scream and tried to grab at her absent hair.
She knew she should have gone with Discord than rely on veterans, no matter how well trained they were. Sure, Equestria would suffer an eternity of illogical hell, but she would be able to stuff herself silly. Fat and happy, just like ponies and goddesses were meant to be.
Actually, it wasn’t too late for that. If she left now, she could still-
She was thrown out of thoughts as the palace’s maître d' cleared his throat.
“What is it now?” she asked wearily.
“Your highness,” The waiter withdrew a small notebook from his vest and looked at Celestia expectantly, “Head Chef Ram Sea is wondering what you would like for lunch?”
“It is time for lunch, and Chef Ram Sea is still responsible for all of your meals. Therefore, he wishes to know what you’d like to dine on today?”
Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the princess figured a quick snack couldn’t hurt. Celestia thoughtfully placed a hoof to her chin as her eyes scanned the menu. “Depends. What would you recommend?”
“A light salad consisting of butter lettuce, watercress and parsley sprinkled with a lemon
“Sounds wonderful,” Celestia answered automatically. She wasn’t even going to try to wheedle out something more.
The waited nodded and vanished back behind the great doors to the kitchen. Soon, the regular hubbub emanated from beyond them; the hissing of grills, the chopping of knives, and Chef Ram Sea’s sharp berating.
Waiters came and went, carrying meals that would go out to every part of the caste. Some would occasionally come out into the kitchen hallway to take orders from Celestia’s ponies and deliver them lunch.
Ram Sea himself came out of the kitchen after some time, carrying a covered dish on his back. So it was to his surprise that he found the sun goddess sitting on her haunches and silently banging her head against the wall.
“…what are ye doin', lass?”
“Just wondering where my life went so horribly wrong,” Celestia answered with a final thud before turning to him.
Ram Sea removed the lid with great flourish. “Bon appetite.”
Celestia stared impassively at the plate before her. The first thing to run through her mind was the surprise that they even made plates that small. The next: she was getting really tired of eating salads. It was exactly as the waiter had described, a small pile of lettuce and herbs.
Still, Celestia could appreciate the effort that the chef had put into trying to make this look appetizing for her.
She poked the salad with her fork, checking underneath a leaf. “You didn’t spit in it, did you?” she asked warily.
An offended sheep pushed the plate forward, his voice betraying the irritation his face did not show. “Ah am a gourmet chef in service tae the royal house. So no, Ah did not spit in ye food.”
Celestia gave a smile of relief of relief and took a first bite. It was delicious, as always.
“Ah had Soggy Grounds do it for me.”
Celestia eyes widened in shock and she spat out the lettuce and scooting away from the plate. It was only when she saw the ghost of a smile hovering around Ram Sea’s lips that she relaxed.
“That wasn’t funny,” she muttered under her breath and put the salad away with gusto.
“Really? Ah thought Ah was hilarious.” Ram Sea shot back. He kept a close eye on her as she ate, his eyes following her fork’s path as it went from plate to mouth. Celestia finished it quickly given her hunger and the portion’s size.
Ram Sea took her plate back, and cast a critical eye on the scraps that remained. “The verdict?”
“It was good,” Celestia admitted, fidgeting with her helmet. She stole a glance at the sheep’s face.
Ram Sea face was unreadable for a moment. Then he merely shrugged uncaringly and went back into the Kitchen. Plates were collected, cleaned, and stacked away by the kitchen staff, and armor was adorned again.
Eventually, Ram Sea at last came out with a fresh layer of blueberry paint spread across his face. He glanced at his watch again, frowning at the time. “Alright we should be good. Let’s get back tae it.”
“Yes Head Chef!”
Ponies paired up with whom they were previously fighting, assuming the same stance as when Ram Sea blew the whistle. Those who had been defeated flopped down dramatically and pretended to be dead. Ram Sea raised his swordfish in a fighting stance.
Celestia overlooked the paused combat. “Everypony good?”
There was a chorus of nods and agreements. Celestia smiled and turned back to Ram Sea.
“Alright then,” a bolt of golden magic blasted her head chef in the face, “Begin!”
MacApple was a soldier.
One didn’t become a soldier in her Majesty’s army by being soft or gentle. Ponies did not go in foals and come out stallions. No, those pups were for the Royal Guard; a cushy, safe duty in MacApple’s opinion. No, to be a soldier, a pony had to be made of sterner stuff right from the get-go, and he was the sternest son-of-a-nag who ever set foot in the trenches. He was what was leftover when basic training and war had weeded out all inferior ponies. His rank and the stars on his lapel were a testament to that.
MacApple was old.
There was no shame in acknowledging the simple, irrefutable truth. He was well aware that he was no spring chicken. The pegasus had arthritis in the wings, two bum knees, and a catheter. He was at least thirty years out of shape, and hadn’t flown an inch in the past five.
That was why he was surrounded.
The old pegasus remained crouched at the ready, with his wings extended. An old habit that had been drilled compulsively into his brain since his cadet days. Keep the wings extended to seem intimidating, but don’t make yourself an easy target. Not that it mattered. At the distance the cooks were standing from him, it wouldn’t take a marksman to nail him.
They were four young and energetic chefs, all armed with an unreasonable amount of cooking utensils and pies. All MacApple had were the saddlebags at his side were filled halfway with water balloons.
It was hardly a fair fight.
“Just put the balloon down, gramps.” One of the stallion said, as they edged closer to the guard. “We don’t want to hurt you.”
MacApple kept careful watch on the two in his peripheral vision.
The elderly stallion held a hoof up to his mouth and gave a dry, hacking cough. He thumped his chest a few times to clear it, and winced slightly. The old ticker was acting up again on him. MacApple caught the cook’s look of concern.
“Funny,” MacApple acknowledged him with a small smile.
MacApple was Celestia’s general. He would not disappoint her.
The pegasus launched himself into the cook on his left, taking his foes by surprise.
The cook, in his surprise to the sudden movement, hastily threw his pie straight at MacApple’s head.
That was the cook’s first and only mistake. Without knowing if he had the range or the aim for a headshot, he had taken the shot. He had thrown away his only weapon. The cook would never reload in time, and MacApple would not make the same error.
MacApple hit the deck and rolled under the pie as it came flying to land smack dab in the chest of the stallion on his left. The cook fell to the ground, his weapon slipping from his grasp.
That was one.
The old general came up alongside the cook who threw it. He reached down and pulled a balloon from his saddlebag, tossing it into the air in front of him with his teeth. The cook made to turn around just in time to get a face full of latex and water as the balloon burst on contact.
That was two.
The third cook came charging at him, and MacApple grabbed ahold of his hoof, flipping him over his back in a perfectly executed throw. MacApple bucked the cook in the chest, throwing him into the body of the second cook. Three.
The last standing cook looked around frantically for a chance to escape, but there was none. MacApple had all the time in the world for him. The pegasus reached into the very bottom of his saddle bag and withdrew a colorful can. With a careless flick of his head, MacApple tossed it into the cook’s direction and the fool caught it.
The pony cried out as colorful snakes burst from the can as soon as his hooved touched, entrapping him in a mess of maniacal springs and tails. He tripped over his own hooves, landing ungracefully to the floor.
A twitch of movement caught the general’s eye. The pony who he had struck with the water balloon was still conscious and was trying to reach for the sole remaining pie left among them. MacApple was on him, kicking the pie out of the stallion’s reach.
MacApple reached beneath his wings and slid on a familiar device. He flexed his hoof before swinging it around and connecting it to drenched cook’s side. The pony’s entire body seized up as electricity shot through his body, and slumped back onto the floor.
MacApple gave a satisfactory nod and gave the joybuzzer an experimental tap. That was four.
To his distaste, he noticed that some specks of cream had landed on his armor and monocle. A quick wipe from his wings, and it was replaced with a satisfied nod. Far be it for him to be out of uniform in the middle of battle.
“It’s funny because I was about to tell you the same thing.” MacApple addressed the fallen cooks.
It had been an unfair fight. They should have brought more ponies.
MacApple’s ears twitched and he dropped into a stance. A hoof had stepped against the tile behind him. Apparently they did. Clever of this one, though. Striking your opponent when his back was turned. Underhanded, cowardly, but most of all, effective.
Quick as a manticore’s tail, MacApple spun around and lashed out with his wings, knocking the pony’s legs out from beneath them. He raised the joybuzzer, preparing to bring it down.
It took him a moment to register that the pony beneath was in fact a ‘she’. One of her leathery wings was bent at an unnatural angle from where she hand landed on it
Her eyes brimmed with moisture and she looked up at the general with aghast.
“Y-you’d hit a mare?” Lethe asked, her voice quivered with shock.
MacApple froze in mid-throw and the water balloon slid from his hooves. “N-no, of course not, ma’am. I can’t believe- I am so sorry!” the general stammered, clearly mortified at the implications. “Are you alright?”
Lethe nodded with a small frown, and took the offered hoof. MacApple helped her to her feet and Lethe dusted herself off, hesitantly extending her wings and looking furtively over them.
“Yeah,” she answered, her hoof still beneath the leathery membrane and out of McApple’s sight.
“I can assure you miss, that I’ll never do something like that again.”
The mare’s lips twisted into a smirk.
“No, you won’t.” Lethe told him.
The last thing the general saw was the two pies that appeared in Lethe’s hooves, to be brought together against his head a moment later.
“More tea, ambassador?” Feather Duster offered the pot.
“Why, yes. Certainly.” The speaker, an immaculately dressed griffin, offered his cup which the hoofmaiden topped off. “Now let’s continue with...” The griffin trailed off before blinking owlishly at Prince Blueblood. He stole a sip from his cup in his talons. “You know, I’ve completely forgotten what we were just discussing.”
“The tariffs for the import of Prench socks, sir,” the maiden gently reminded him.
“Quite right. Now as you can see on page seven-”
“Thank you,” Blueblood mouthed to her. Feather Duster smiled and refilled his cup, never once leaving the prince’s side. Blueblood smiled and turned back to the map on the table in front of them. The hoofmaiden had been absolutely invaluable to him, standing in for Princess Celestia with the same grace that his auntie possessed. More than once the griffin’s temper had been roused when Blueblood refused to budge, only for Feather Duster to disarm the situation with her gentleness.
The ambassador paused from his tea, his beak turned up. He took a cautious sniff. “Does anyone happen to smell smoke?”
Blueblood took a whiff, and grimaced at the acrid scent. Something was burning… surely not…
The prince leapt to his feet as the whole room suddenly shook. The griffin gave an indignant squawk as he was knocked out of his chair.
“Don’t be the castle, don’t be the castle,” Blueblood silently pleaded, walking to the windows. He groaned as a trickle of smoke snaked its way from a lower portion of the castle. There was another rumble; the teacups were practically dancing across the table at this point.
“I swear, if you just give me this, I’ll give up my playboy lifestyle for a life of piety...“ He paused, eyes glancing skyward “…on Tuesdays.”
“Prince Blueblood, is everything alright?” the griffin ambassador asked, leaning across the table to get a glimpse at what was happening outside. Blueblood hurriedly placed himself before the window in a vain attempt to block it.
“Yes, yes. Everything is perfectly normal!” he lied. As if on cue, there was another explosion and part of the castle caught on fire. A line of fire trucks and ambulances shot down the street, headed in the direction of the castle.
Nopony noticed as the teapot in Feather Duster’s grip shattered.
“Fire in the hole!”
Celestia’s ponies watched as a hoof reached over the barricades and lobbed a lemon in their direction. One of them tried to kick it away, only for his hip to give out. He landed face first near the fruit. Copper Kettle nodded in approval when the ensuing citrus explosion took out the clutch of soldiers manning a catapult. He slid back down to the floor, and threw away the wooden crate he had been holding.
“Well, that was the last of the lemons,” he said wistfully. “I don’t suppose we can throw pineapples at them, can we?”
“We’re looking tae maim 'em, nae kill 'em, lad.”
The sheep was sitting near the shattered remnants of a food trolley, letting the mare Pumpkin Spice treated his wounded eye. The skin around it was red and sore, making it painful for him to see. The battle had fouled considerably since Celestia’s underhanded shot at him. With their leader no longer leading the charge, the cooks took considerable losses to Celestia’s forces. Now, weary and tired, they were holed up near the kitchen doors while their defenses lasted.
“This is a braw piece ay work we found ourselves in, isn’t it?” Pumpkin Spice finished tying a wet dish rag around Ram Sea’s swollen eye. “Reminds me ay th' time Copper tried tae make pasta.”
The orange cook cringed. “I thought you promised to never bring that incident up again.”
Ram Sea smirked beneath his wool, and pressed a hoof to his bandaged eye. “Aye, but how could any pony forget 'at? Ah don’t think Ah’ve ever seen 'at much linguine in one place. In th' sink, in the ceiling, in th' freezer. And tae think it tried tae eat th' waiters!”
Copper’s ears dropped bashfully. “I said I was sorry.” The orange pony picked up another pie and threw it over the barricade. “I had no idea it was from Oxtria.”
Everypony, Ram Sea included, flinched as another pillow exploded nearby and shook against the barricade they were hiding behind. It would not last long if this kept up. Ram Sea drew his fish close, running a whetstone along its point.
Silver Whisk braced himself against the barricade as pots and pans clattered to the floor. He grunted, scraping his hooves against the tile. “You know, there’s just something I don’t get.”
Ram Sea didn’t even look up. “Not now, Whisk.”
“But this is really important-“
“Ah said not now!”
“Why don’t we have vacation days like the Night Guard?” Silver Whisk blurted out.
Ram Sea growled and waved his sword fish in a threatening manner at his underling. “So help me lad, Ah’m gonnae tae pit ye on a permanent vacation in th' unemployment line if ye don’t hold this buckin' line!”
“The Night Watch have vacation days!” Silver Whisk protested. There was a pause amongst the entrenched cooks as they mulled this over. All eyes turned to Ram Sea, who stared back impassively.
“Really? Ye lot really wannnae tae do this NOW?” he asked.
A bunch of nodding heads was his response.
“We’re a developin' third world country.” He admitted. “Also, how else do ye think we’re able tae have Disco night as often as we’re able tay?”
His cooks looked at each other and murmured in agreement. It was a fair trade, all things considered. The little gathering quickly scattered as another shelling of pillows burst over their lines.
They had been carpet bombing the cooks until Ram Sea had called another time out to chastise Celestia on her use of shellings. Rugs, and other carpet-related objects, could cause serious harm, and they had agreed to switch to the much gentler pillow.
They needed a plan, or this battle was lost. It just so happened that as Ram Sea sat and thought, one came to mind.
It was crazy, it was insane, and it was suicidal.
Ram Sea liked it.
“Time tay run decoy,” His hoof jabbed at five nearby cooks. “Ye lot are with me. Th' rest ay ye grab th' wounded and' git behind those doors. This isn’t over by a long shot.”
“What?!” everypony screamed out in once.
“Ye heard me, ye bamsticks! An' if somethin' happens, follow ye commander.”
The cooks looked at each other in confusion.
“But Chef,” Copper spoke at last. “Which one of us is the commander?”
Ram Sea wiped some of the jam off of his face with a hoof, then smeared it across the cook’s cheek. “That’ll be yee, lad.”
Copper just looked at shock at the sheep for a few moments. Then his hoof snapped into a salute and he nodded. “Chef… ye’re the' maddyest teutcher Ah’ve e'er known.”
The sheep gave his underling a savage grin. “Ah wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Ram Sea and his cooks vaulted over the remaining barricades, running pell-mell towards the enemy line. “LET ‘EM HAVE IT, LADS!”
It was glorious.
Celestia stood among the war machines, launching pillows enchanted with her own magic. She smirked beneath her helmet as she watched them zip through the air, only to come down on a group of hapless cooks. She watched them scurry like ants between the ruins of their defenses and the bodies of their fallen comrades. Their lines were beginning to break. Shame really. She was just beginning to get into her groove now.
“Run, little ponies…” Celestia whispered gleefully, her magic seizing another pillow. “Run!” She could not deny the twisted sense of pleasure at their failing, and she was quite finished with these insects.
Next time, she would have to bring a giant magnifying glass... now THAT would have been a sight to see.
Such thoughts would have once horrified her to no end. These were her subjects, after all. But things like remorse or mercy had been long since shackled deep within her. Left within the goddess was a snarling beast inside of it, and it stirred with a hunger to devour the sun.
Or at least every crumb in the palace fridge.
“What are the whereabouts of my sister and Hoofmaiden Feather Duster?” Celestia asked her communications officer. Her whole plan hinged on their absence from the castle.
“Word hasn’t come through from any of our agents.” Thunder Smith answered.
“Well get ahold of them!”
“I’m trying, your highness!” Thunder Smith fiddled with the radio knobs, frowning as only static reached him. He tried to wipe off his sticky hooves, disgust evident on his face. “They’ve jammed our signal pretty well. It’ll take me forever to clean up this mess...”
“What flavour is it?” Celestia asked, eyeing the jam covered radio hopefully.
“Schnozberry, your highness.”
Celestia shook her head in disgust and tried to hide her disappointment. Schnozberry was her least favorite. Curse that sheep for toying with her again.
“No matter,” Celestia said, as she looked on the battlefield. We’ll just have to finish this quickly then. Spread the word: we’re making the final push over their lines and-” Her eyes widened and the order died in Celestia’s throat.
Running pell mell at them was a group of cooks with blood thirst in their eyes and Ram Sea was personally leading the pack. To any other mare, it looked a suicide charge. One last final stand for a beaten force wishing to go out in a blaze of glory. Brave but utterly folly.
This was not that.
Celestia was not any other mare. Every hair under her armor was standing on edge.
Something felt horribly wrong.
They had already made it halfway across the hall before Celestia’s wits recovered. She grabbed a hold of Thunder Smith’s lapel’s, shaking him violently. “Take him down!” she ordered, sending pillow after pillow at the berserkers.
“Fire at will! Protect the princess!’ Thunder Smith shouted.
She watched a member of the kitchen staff fall, struck in the face by a water balloon. Another cook was slammed against the wall, courtesy of a pillow to the chest.
Soldiers flung themselves in the sheep’s path to slow him down, but it was all in vain. Ram Sea wildly swung his fish, clubbing every pony who dared to stand in his way. Celestia ripped away the pillow Thunder Smith had been about to throw and began charging it with as much magic as she could. But Ram Sea neared too quickly, and in her haste, she threw without thinking.
Ram Sea sliced the incoming pillow in two. An explosion of feathers erupted in Celestia’s face, obscuring her view. She looked around wildly for where he had vanished in this mess, but the cloud was thick. The ‘clickety-clack’ of his cloven hooves taunted her from all sides. Celestia snarled and lashed out with horn and magic, but struck at only air. Still his hooves kept clicking.
Then, without warning, it stopped.
Celestia looked up.
Ram Sea had leapt up, above her head, above the cloud, and was now bringing down his sword. “This is for my milkshake!”
There was no escape.
Her horn gored through the center of the swordfish, spearing through it cleanly. He twisted the fish, causing Celestia’s horn and neck to follow. The alicorn gave a whinny of panic as her legs collapsed underneath her and she fell to the ground.
Ram Sea dislodged his weapon from her horn stepped onto the chest of the goddess, raising his trusty fish high for all to see. “Remember what Ah said, Celestia?” He asked, spittle clinging to his lips. He poised the fish above her neck. “There can be only one!”
With cry he brought the swordfish down on Celestia’s neck. Her entire body locked up from the jarring impact, and she was still.
Ram Sea looked down at his defeated foe, heaving as the blood lust still coursing through his veins. He looked at the old ponies surrounding him, and gave a savage yell.
“RAAAAAGH! Come and get some, ye raisin faced, dust bunnies!”
The stallions merely stared calmly at him, completely at ease. At the lack of terror on their faces, he scowled. “What? Have ye all decided tae go senile ay the same time?”
Thunder Smith pointed at the pony he stood on. He looked down at the yellow glow of Celestia’s horn and the dozen water balloons she held.
Then he was blasted clear across the room.
The fleeing cooks watched as their Chef was launched high into the air, water clinging to his wool as he flew.
Lethe shot into the air, hooves outstretched. “I got him! I got him!” Her eyes widened as the sheep-turned-chef-turned-missle shot towards her faster than she had anticipated.
“Holy mother of-“ Lethe said as she was bowled over by a wooly projectile, knocking them both over the threshold. The doors to the kitchen slammed shut not a second too soon as dozens of water balloons made impact where they had been standing not a moment sooner.
“Somebody tell Princess Luna not to panic,” Lethe muttered as her eyes swirled in her skull. “I got her missing stars right here…”
Interesting fact about wool; it shrinks. If you wash a sweater, and then dry it with heat, it will be considerably tighter than before. Just like how if a soaked sheep is exposed to an overly hot kitchen, his own wool starts to choke the life out of him.
“For the last time, Ah told ye Ah’m fine!” Ram Sea gasped out, as he clutched his chest. The sheep’s face was screwed up in pain. Ponies crowded around where he lay on the kitchen floor. Copper and Pumpkin Spice knelt beside him.
Pumpkin Spice frowned and tugged at her boss’s wool. “We’re running out of time. It needs to come off, now. He’s not going to make it if we don’t.”
Copper’s face was grim. “Someone get me a knife. I’ll do it- urk!” he gasped out as Ram Sea’s hoof grabbed him by the throat. The sheep was furious.
“So help me, if ye so much as 'hink ay shearing one strand off mah body, Ah’ll turn ye intae haggis!” He barked, violently shaking Copper. It took three cooks to save the poor stallion from the sheep’s grip.
Ram Sea threw the stallion down with a look of disgust and hauled himself up to his hooves. He would not sit on his flank like a lamb. There was no denying this was the endgame.
His chest was beginning to feel uncomfortably tight. His cooks were tired, and if the banging against the kitchen doors were any giveaway, than those codgers had somehow rigged up a battering ram. Sure enough, he watched as cracks slowly began to spread along its surface.
They had lost, but they weren't going to make it easy. Ram Sea looked at the gateway to his realm. He knew what must be done.
“Use th' Ovenger.”
A deathly knell fell over the Kitchens as all heads turned to look at the Head Chef. A sort of shock permeated each of the fighters as their minds tried to process the impossible request that had been given to them. It was Pumpkin Spice, the baker, who spoke first.
“Are… are you sure, Chef?”
“Just do it.” It was not a request.
That seemed to snap them out of it. Copper Kettle leaped onto a counter, calling out orders. “Sever those gas lines! Take those cookies out to cool! Put your backs into it and PUSH!”
Together, every mare and stallion pressed their bodies against the block of steel and shoved with all their might. Inch by inch, the artisanal beast that was the Ovenger was slowly pushed into place against the kitchen doors. And not a moment too soon, the crack of boards being ripped out was heard a split second later. Celestia’s forces were tearing down the kitchen doors.
Lethe wiped a bead of sweat off her brow. She turned to face the kitchen staff. “There… that oughta buy us a few minutes.”
No sooner had the words left her mouth that she was briefly aware of the sudden burst of heat, the thundering crash of metal shattering, and the shockwave that threatened to knock her off her hooves. She saw the look of horror on the cooks’ faces and glanced back at the doors of the kitchen. Just as she had expected, where the Ovenger once stood, there was no nothing more than a scorch mark and a very big hole in the wall.
“Well, I spoke too soon.”
A horror-struck Silver Whisk sunk to his knees. “You animals!” He screamed, slamming his hoof against the floor. “You destroyed it! You destroyed it all!”
The smoke cleared to reveal Celestia, her horn aglow with whatever witchcraft she had just used to destroy an innocent appliance. There was a manic glint in her eye, and an army at her back. She lowered her horn “Checkmate.”
Ram Sea teetered to his hooves, bleating angrily. “To arms! Make 'em pay for every crumb! Avenge it!” He flung himself at the closest soldier, ramming his head into the stallion’s gut.
The two armies fell upon each other at the breach viciously, their hatred rekindled. Skillets were swung against canes, whisk against walker, dentures flew and strokes were had.
Thick in the middle of it all was Private Lethe. The mare would seemingly pop up around the kitchen at random, throwing globs of cream into the faces of unsuspecting soldiers, having abandoned the pie tins entirely. She took down a stallion who had been aiming at the wounded Ram Sea, only to alert her presence to his friends. One stallion lunged with a joybuzzer, and she narrowly dodged under his hoof, then stepped inside his guard. Lethe reached on the counter behind him for a weapon, and smiled as she bit down on a handle. With a grunt, she smashed the veteran in the face with a frying pan hard enough to send the pony crashing into some nearby boxes of produce.
Lethe grinned and turned around to rejoin the combat... just to see a cluster of water balloons zipping in her direction.
The frying pan slid from her mouth as she gasped. There was no stopping it. They were too close. Even with her training, she’d never be able to get out of the way in time. Lethe screamed and threw up her hooves, covering her face.
Then her breath was stolen from her.
Just as the balloons were coming down, something slammed into her. The whole room spun as she was rolled across the floor. At last, she came to rest beneath a pony who stood over her, shielding her form with their own. Lethe looked up at her savior in awe. A pair of blue eyes stared back at her.
“Hop,” Lethe whispered breathlessly, in complete and utter disbelief. Then she gave a cry of delight and wrapped her hooves around his neck. “You... you big dummy! I thought I was a goner!”
“...can’t... breathe...” Hoplite rasped out, his face an unnatural shade of purple.
Lethe released him with a sheepish grin, and Hoplite wheezed until his fur turned white again. “Sorry! But you’re here and... and... you saved me!”
“Well yeah,” Hoplite bashfully turned away and rubbed the back of his head. “I sorta owed you a few of them to begin with.”
“This only counts as one. You still owe me two.”
“I guess this means I’ll have to start saving you more often,” Hoplite said, looking down into Lethe’s eyes. “Of course, we can just call it even if you-”
Lethe never gave him a chance to finish. The mare grabbed his shoulders and flipped him over, rolling the two of them out of the way. Not a split second later, a rain of water balloons crashed down where the two had just been. Now, there was a flabbergasted (and embarrassed) Hoplite now beneath a smug Lethe.
“You’re back up to three.” Lethe pressed a hoof to his lips, silencing him. “And just remember this; I’m always on top.”
Hoplite nodded meekly and Lethe helped him to his hooves. The two looked to where the soldiers were storming the kitchen, and then glanced at each other.
Hoplite gave a good natured sigh as he put on his helmet. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“It depends,” Lethe pulled a pair of nunchucks from beneath her wings. She smirked at his slack jawed expression. “Does it involve copious amounts of flank kicking?”
“...I have one question.”
“You don’t want to know,”
“And that answers my question.” Hoplite grabbed an elderly stallion who had recklessly charged them, and swept his legs out from underneath him. Lethe beamed at her partner as she slammed a pie into the stallion’s face.
“I missed you so much.” Lethe whispered, getting back to back with him. She began to spin her nunchucks, gripping them between her fetlock and hoof. “It’s about time you joined the battle.”
Hoplite chuckled. “I was only gone for a few hours.”
“Too long. This job is boring.”
The nunchaku spun all around her body as she handled them effortlessly. Hoplite glanced back at her in surprise, only to receive a piece of wood in the face. He sank to his knees in pain, clutching his head.
“Well, at least you were wearing your helmet this time.” Lethe clucked, shaking her head before she leaped back into the fray. Hoplite gave a weary sigh and followed her.
Like he always would.
“The game is over,” Celestia decided, as she strode through the kitchens. Grease fires raged on stovetops, and fruit and vegetable alike were squashed under hoof. Her troops were dealing with the last of the Kitchen’s resistance. She would not lower herself to deal with such skirmishes.
Her eyes carefully appraised her spoils; delicacy upon delicacy had been made for tonight’s dinner. She would sample them all in turn but needed something worthy to begin her feast with. What caught her eyes the most was the tray of still warm chocolate chip cookies; the last thing to ever come out of Ram Sea’s Ovegner. Celestia licked her lips, her mind made up.
Yes, they would do quite nicely.
There was only one final obstacle in her way.
“Ah’m not… letting ye… get away with this…” Ram Sea heaved with labored breath. The battered and bruised chef had placed himself between the princess and prize. Celestia merely stretched out a hoof and poked the sheep’s chest. His knees buckled to the side and he collapsed. Satisfied, she stepped over his twitching body and to her prize.
Celestia snatched a cookie off the tray and held it to eye level. Bits of melted chocolate goodness oozed in the still warm delicacy. It was the most beautiful thing that Celestia had seen in a long time. She had lied, wasted millions of taxpayers bits, destroyed a significant amount of the castle interior and endangered the lives of dozens of ponies to get it.
Now she was going to savor every bite.
Victory, at last, was hers.
At least until Schwarzwälder smashed through the kitchen wall.
Bits of masonry exploded across the kitchen as the red stallion smashed Celestia across the room with all the gentleness of a wrecking ball. Celestia’s head cracked against the wall as he pinned her body against it. A bridle was fitted across his face, and her sister, astride the giant’s back, held the reins. Her sister was smiling gleefully as she snapped the reins, and Schwarzwälder gave a primal roar.
Flecks of spittle flitted across Celestia’s face as he bellowed at her. “PUT THAT COOKIE DOWN, NOW!”
The cookie numbly fell from her grasp as she trembled before the stallion. Her trainer gave an angry snort, and dropped the goddess to the ground. He reared up and crushed the fallen cookie with his hoof. Celestia felt her heart break that such beauty was so suddenly snuffed out from this world.
“B-but… h-how… Arcana…. enchanted… impossible…” Celestia babbled incoherently, as her mind attempted to process what was going on. But no matter how magical a race the alicorns were, some things were just impossible.
“Hah! Puny wall cannot stop Schwarzwälder,” the stallion boasted, flexing his forehooves. “It take more than brick and mortar to stop muscle!"
Hoplite leaned over to Lethe. “Weren’t those walls enchanted to be impregnable?” he asked.
The mare sighed and slung her hoof around his neck. “Hop... why are you still bothering to question the stuff that goes on here anymore?”
“It’s a legitimate concern that-”
“Shhhh,” Lethe hushed, “Just let it happen.”
By now, everypony in the kitchens had ceased fighting to stare at the sheer size of this newcomer. Celestia groaned and clambered to her feet, shaking off the dust that clung to her ruined armor.
Celestia’s eyes narrowed at the mare on Schwarzwälder back. “You…” she whispered dangerously.
Luna paid no heed of her.
“Hah! At last, something of the old world!” the alicorn proclaimed joyously, as she descended from the giant’s back. She took in the scenes of varied destruction that dotted the kitchen, and nodded in approval. Those ponies who were still standing bowed their heads respectfully in the presence of the night goddess. “This pleases your princess! Do not let our arrival interrupt thy revel! The day is still young and more blood yet needs to be spilled.” She caught the looks that everypony gave her, and her smile began to fade. “Oh dear... I did not arrive too late, did I?”
“Well you see,” General MacApple said from where he was helping Chef Ram Sea to his hooves. “The battle is sort of over, your majesty.”
“Oh... I see. ” Luna took in the scenes of destruction in the kitchen. She gave a petulant hoof stomp and her lower lip trembled. “This... this is not fair!” she wailed at last. “All I want to do is maim and pillage! Is it really too late to join?”
The sheep and the stallion looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. “Well,” Ram Sea offered, “Ah suppose we could always have a do over.”
MacApple nodded in agreement. “The boys and I wouldn’t be opposed to that. Provided, of course, dinner would be served.”
“Aye, Ah 'hink that could arranged.” Ram Sea said, still pulling at his shrinking coat. “Although we call dibs onnae th' big 'un an' Princess Luna.”
“Absolutely smashing. And the boys and I could help you dig some entrenchments!”
Celestia sat numbly on the floor, the conversation reduced to a din in her ear. She payed not attention to it, or the world around her. She could only think of one thing...
She had lost.
No matter how the goddess tried to move the pieces, the outcome was always the same. Her soldiers; defeated. Her plans; foiled. All her hours of scheming; wasted. To have come so far... so close...
No. It couldn’t end like this. She wouldn’t let it.
“It’s not over, sister.”
Celestia rose to her hooves, slowly spreading her snowy plumage. Then she cast her blade, conjuring a brilliant shaft of pure sunlight directly in front of her. Luna raised an eyebrow at her sister.
“Tia, what are thou doing?”
“Something that I should have a long time ago.” Celestia answered. Her eyes darted around wildly. “Enough games, enough tomfoolery, enough jokes. I’m going to stuff myself till I’m ready to puke and none of you are going to stop me.”
“Tubby princess should eat light meals before working out.” Schwarzwälder added from where he was still struggling to remove the bridle.
“Shut up you stupid oaf!” she barked at Schwarzwälder. Her horn glowed and the trainer’s mouth turned into a zipper, which promptly shut itself. “Do you know how infuriating it is to work with you bunch of imbeciles?! All I wanted was some bucking food! But all of you ‘Noooooooo princess, you’re too fat to eat like normal ponies.”
“Thou were the one who insisted to stick with this infernal diet,” Luna said.
Celestis said with a hysteric laugh. “And I’m through with it! I’m done! I’m done with all of you! All the ponies in this castle are bucking crazy!”
“Your highness, please calm down!” MacApple pleaded with an outstretched hoof.
“DON’T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN!” Celestia screamed, her mane and tail erupting into a blistering inferno once more. MacApple scurried back as fast as he aged legs could take him. The goddess slowly edged her way back to the tray of cookies, her eyes and limbs twitching spastically.
Luna placed herself between her sister and the tray of cookies. She spread her wings and lowered her horns, her eyes locked on her elder sister. “Tia... stop this madness,” Luna warned. “I can’t let you go through with this.”
The white alicorn blinked in surprise, and then cackled again. Celestia’s horn began to glow, lighting the twisted smile carved into her face. “So you want to get in my way? That’s fine with me. You were going to be first anyway, little sister. I’m going to bind each and every one of you into the pits of Tartar-YOWCH!” Celestia yelped, as her head was suddenly yanked down to floor level.
Feather Duster didn’t say a word. She didn’t need too; her furious eyes spoke volumes. Celestia made to open her mouth, but Feather Duster’s magic gave a firm tug on the princess’s ear and she was silenced. At last, she turned to give an even glare at everypony in the kitchen.
“I leave for one day… and this happens?” Feather Duster didn’t yell. Instead, there was merely quiet disappointment in her voice. Ponies hung their heads and kicked their hooves awkwardly against the floor. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves. I want all of you clean up this mess, now.”
She gave a hard look at the two commanders. “All of it,” she stressed.
The sheep and stallion paled considerably.
“Aye, what he says!”
With a satisfied nod, Feather Duster began to walk away, her magic still firmly gripping Celestia’s ear like a punished foal.
“Feather Duster I can- OW! You can just- AH! Stop treating me like a foal and let go of me– OWW!” Celestia screamed, as she hobbled along behind her hoofmaiden.
Everypony watched as Feather Duster disappeared around the corner, dragging Celestia with her.
A few moments later, Blueblood at the griffin ambassador peeked their heads through the wreckage of the door. The prince sighed as he took in the carnage. “Do I even want to know what happened?” he asked asked
Ram Sea was the first to recover. With all the grace of a chef befitting his status, he took a hold of his weapon and limped across the room to them. He plopped the now tenderized swordfish into the griffin’s claws and gave a satisfied nod.
The griffin looked down at the fish in confusion. “And what is this?”
Ram Sea smirked. “Dinner.”