Week 52, Tuesday-Sunday
The Bureau was a bustle of activity, though instead of the usual stream of prospective converts it now played host to nearly a hundred ponies. Everypony was working hard, a well-oiled machine preparing the towering structure for a purpose as important as any it normally used.
It had been chosen as the site for Princess Cadence and Captain Shining Armor’s wedding.
Twilight nodded as she skimmed through the latest report. “Okay, so that’s the last of the Hearth’s Warming Eve decorations packed away, we did save the silver trim, right? That’ll let us avoid having to order any more. How is the catering coming along?”
Flare saluted. “Ma’am, Applejack instructed me to inform you that she had matters well in hoof, and that this would be one of the best jobs she’s done. As for the silver trim, it’s stored down in the basement out of the way.”
Twilight nodded. “Alright, and what about the reception? Pinkie and Spike understand that it needs to themed toward adults right?”
“Yes, it was made clear to Pinkie, and she swore what she called a Pinkie Promise.”
“Alright, that’s wonderful.” Twilight scanned the next item on her list. “Rarity’s coming along nicely on the dresses, so that’s good... Fluttershy’s songbirds are learning their routines as well... How is Rainbow Dash’s training going?”
“I understand that it’s going very well. The Royal Guard pegasi will be ready to fly as her wingponies for some of her stunts.”
“Excellent, and you have the fireworks prepared?”
Flare grinned at that. “Ma’am, the fireworks will be spectacular, on that I can assure you.”
Twilight nodded. “Alright then.” She smiled as she stood up, looking out the window as the sun made its way toward the top of the sky. “Well, let’s get some lunch, shall we?” She trotted out the door, Flare following after her.
“I just don’t know Shining; I was just thinking that our wedding would be taking place here in Canterlot,” Cadance said as she paced back and forth in Shining’s bedroom.
“I know sweetie, I know,” Shining said, stopping his packing and trotting over to hook a foreleg around his fiancé. “But look at it this way. We can have this wedding in San Francisco for the entire world to be able to see, and then we’ll have another one in Canterlot, just the way you envisioned it.”
Cadance perked up, and she leaned into the hug. “Are you sure dear? Can we even afford something like that?”
“Well, it’ll pinch things for a few months, but I’ve got enough bits saved to be able to swing it. But even if I didn’t, I’d still make it happen for you,” Shining said with a soft smile, darting in for a quick kiss. “Now, let’s finish packing, we’re going to the Bureau tomorrow morning.” He started to pull away, only for Cadance to wrap a wing around his shoulders and pull him back.
“Oh no, you don’t get off that easy...” She murmured with a throaty chuckle before her lips met his. “There’s plenty of time to pack later...”
The rest of the afternoon passed by leisurely for the two lovers, the bags left forgotten on the floor.
The loading dock was a bustle of activity, men dressed in overalls and wearing heavy duty gloves hefting specially crafted fifty gallon drums into the back of the tractor trailer. A short distance away, a man in a doctor’s robe double checked a clipboard, while beside him a deep blue unicorn watched the process carefully.
“Now be careful with those barrels; I know they’re specially sealed, but we don’t want to risk direct exposure!” Azure Shine called out.
Walter smiled and put a hand on the pony’s shoulder. “They know their job Azure, don’t worry.”
The unicorn sighed, glancing over to where a group of eighteen soldiers were inspecting weapons and packing bags into two armored trucks. “I have to admit, I don’t like that we need to have people with guns here.”
Walter sighed, putting the clipboard down on the nearby table. “I know you don’t like it, I honestly don’t either. But you know what happened in San Francisco, so we have to take measures to make sure that this shipment gets to Washington safely.”
“I guess...” Azure trailed off as the door to the trailer was pulled shut, the soldiers climbing into the trucks. With a dull rumble of engines, the lead truck pulled out, followed by the tractor trailer, then by the last truck.
The convoy of trucks made their way down the road, trees framing the stretch of pavement as the sun climbed into the sky. The soldiers in the front truck were quiet, eyes alternating between looking to the sides of the road, to checking the other cars that passed them.
It was as the convoy found itself alone; rounding a turn in the road that something started to go wrong.
“Obstruction ahead, looks like trees down. What do you think?” The driver asked the others.
“Stop here, I’ll radio it in.” The passenger replied, reaching for the radio.
The three vehicles came to a stop, their engines idling as the soldiers started to finger their weapons nervously as they scanned the forest nearby.
“That’s weird, the radio’s not working.” The soldier said as he clicked through the different channels, a hissing static the only thing he could make out. “Alright, something’s wrong, let’s turn these trucks ar-”
He was cut off as the Suburban suddenly lurched, the soldiers shouting in alarm as the multi-ton truck was flung like a toy into the trees, smashing through two before coming to a stop on its side. The tractor trailer driver jumped, starting to reach for his radio when he heard a similar crunch from behind him. Shooting a glance back, he could see the other Suburban coming to a stop on its roof. He undid his seatbelt and was reaching for the door handle when his skin started to burn.
“What the fu-” he managed to get out before the door was wrenched clean off. Looking out the now open driver side, he could see an amber unicorn with a grey mane staring levelly at him.
“Please exit the vehicle now. If you attempt to resist, things will get... ugly.”
The driver slowly raised his hands, edging out of the truck and off to the side.
“Go, the men in the trucks will require your help. Besides, would hate for you to get a lethal dose of magic, wouldn’t we?” The unicorn said plainly, as if he were discussing the weather.
The driver thought over his options. He had a riot baton on his belt, and could definitely get a hit in before the pony could hit him with a spell. But before he could start to reach for it, he spotted movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning his head slightly, his mouth dropped open a little as a few dozen ponies rose from concealed positions and trotted onto the road. His eyes darting, he counted the hostiles at about fifty, including the one who’d yanked the door off, all of them unicorns.
“I must insist, now move.” The unicorn’s voice was now cold, and the driver could tell he was being serious. He hurried toward the closer wrecked truck, managing to get the door open. He could see the nine soldiers inside, most unconscious, though a few were groaning and trying to get their bearings.
He felt his back beginning to burn red hot and turned, seeing something that he’d remember for the rest of his days. The unicorns had surrounded the truck, all of their horns lit as they carved a series of shapes into the road and the sides of the truck. The shapes glowed brighter until he had to put a hand to his forehead to shield his eyes. Then, with a flat bang of displaced air, the unicorns and the truck disappeared, leaving a perfectly rectangular section of road missing.
Wiping at his forehead, the driver suddenly realized he could hear voices coming from the radio in the Suburban.
“-Convoy Two-Twelve, what is your status? Respond at once, that’s an order.”
He scrambled over the unconscious body, grabbing the handset. “Um, this is Convoy Two-Twelve, we were attacked. We’re near...” He fumbled for the GPS and cursed as he saw it was broken. Looking back out the window, he could see the ubiquitous mile marker signs. “We’re at mile marker 140.
“Understood. What’s your current status?”
“The truck is gone...” he trailed off, realizing the shitstorm he was about to unleash, “the truck is gone, a group of approximately fifty unicorns ambushed us. Destroyed both escorts and forced me from the truck. We need help here, some of these guys look pretty bad!”
“Roger that, help is on its way, remain at the site.”
“No problem there,” The driver replied shakily, helping one of the injured soldiers sit up.
“So... would anyone mind telling me how the hell this happened?” Foster asked quietly, his knuckles white as he gripped his pen. Two days had passed since the attack, and the lack of information was aggravating.
“We’re still assembling details from the soldiers who were in the trucks, but the gist of it is pretty clear. This attack was carried out by Equestrians.” SecDef said plainly.
“That much was obvious from the get-go! Have we heard from the Equestrian Embassy yet?”
“No sir, we sent them a message as soon as the attackers were confirmed to be ponies. We’re expecting a reply from them shortly-” SecState said, only to be cut off by the sound of hooves on floor.
“Indeed, we received your letter. My apologies for taking so long, I wanted to come to grips with the information first.” Fancypants said as he entered the Situation Room, General Cloudhammer and General Amber Dusk following. “Sorry for not informing you we were coming, but time is of the essence in this case, is it not?”
“Very well, care to explain why the convoy was ambushed?” Foster asked sarcastically.
“Given what the driver described, it seems that the unicorns involved in this attack used some ancient runes from Equestria’s history. Unfortunately, without seeing the exact array they used, there’s not much we can do now. However, there are some things we know based on the area around the attack. First, that some of the runes they used destroyed the signature of their magic, and its trail on top of that. On top of that, they used runes to contain their magic so that the soldiers and the driver wouldn’t be hurt.”
“So what does that mean?” Foster asked, tapping his pen on the table.
Fancypants smiled. “Well, obviously this group is very well connected to be able to learn those runes from the books in the Canterlot Archives. And if they were willing to attack humans like this, why take such precautions to prevent them from taking harm?”
“This is all intriguing, but it doesn’t tell us who did this, or where they took the serum.” Foster said, his anger returning.
Cloudhammer took a step forward. “I’ve initiated a full inspection of the pony staff that worked at the CDC within the past three months, and we can’t find one Aqua Glimmer. He was one of the unicorns who worked on the mass-production spell that we used to generate that batch of serum. He had the day off the day the serum was shipped out, but if he was involved with this group, he could have told them when it was leaving the facility.”
Amber Dusk chimed in at this point. “We’ve had a team inspect the area where the truck was stolen. Unfortunately, Ambassador Fancypants is correct in that we cannot trace the teleport spell used. However, given that fifty unicorns were involved, and the likely runes used, they can’t have left this continent.”
Foster gaped at Amber Dusk. “You’re serious? Are you kidding me? There’d be no finding them if they can be anywhere on this continent!”
Amber Dusk sighed heavily. “Regrettably, it appears that way, yes.”
Cloudhammer straightened his head resolutely. “However, rest assured President Foster, we will not rest until this group is found and brought to justice. Their actions shame Equestrians everywhere, and when we find them, they will be punished accordingly.”
Foster glared at the trio of ponies. “How can we trust any of you? If one pony could infiltrate our efforts like this, what’s preventing other ponies from infiltrating your ranks?”
Fancypants cleared his throat, gently pushing the two generals back a step. “Your questions are indeed valid ones President Foster. However, we are just as vested in locating this group as you are. As General Cloudhammer said, their actions are most deplorable, and given the strengths we bring to the effort when we work together, we must not allow this group to splinter our nation’s relationship.”
Foster leaned back in his chair. “Let’s say I agree to allow things to continue. What would you be willing to offer us in exchange?”
Fancypants met his gaze levelly. “What do you have in mind?”
Foster set his pen down on his desk. “Alright, I’ll lay it out for you. First, you will replace this batch of serum yourselves. Once it is completed, you will turn it over to US custodianship at San Francisco. From there, we will be solely responsible for its transport. Second, Celestia will appear on public television, offer her condolences to the wounded, and swear to devote all that Equestria can to support US efforts to locate the ponies responsible. And finally, the ponies responsible will be prosecuted on US soil subject to our laws.”
“Deal.” Fancypants said without hesitation. “Furthermore, I will ask my friends back in Equestria to begin looking around; see if we can turn up any information on this group from that angle. And lastly, if I may be so bold, we will pay the medical expenses of your injured. After all, a nation does at least owe some responsibility for the actions of its citizens, does it not?” He said with a sarcastic twinkle in his eye.
Foster stared for a second, trying to decide if the unicorn was mocking him or not. Finally, he shook his head in mild amusement. “Very well, if you’re so damn eager to make up for it, we won’t stop you. Now, there is one other matter, this wedding that is planned to be held at the San Francisco Bureau...”
Fancypants tilted his head. “Do you wish to cancel it? It was my impression that it was serving as an occasion for all nations to witness the affirmation of Princess Cadance and Captain Shining Armor’s love for each other.”
Foster waved a hand. “No, as much as I’m sure some people will want the government to; this can serve as Celestia’s chance to give her public appearance. If you think that she could join me at a press conference after the wedding concludes, that is.”
“I’m sure that she would be more than willing to do so. Now, if there’s nothing else, I will take my leave. Need to put the wheels in motion and all, you know,” Fancypants said with a graceful bow of his head. “Generals, shall we go?” The three ponies turned and trotted out of the door.
Once he was sure they were out of earshot, Foster turned around, rubbing his face tiredly.
“Mr. President, are you sure that trusting them is a good idea?” SecDef asked.
“Curtis, I want you to get word to our ‘friends’ in the Guard. Tell them to keep an eye out for any movement by the Equestrians to actually keep their promises.” Foster said firmly. “My gut tells me that the Crown honestly doesn’t know anything about this, which is worrying in its own right.”
“Yes sir.” Curtis said, scribbling a few notes onto a piece of paper.
The forest clearing was quiet, the birds chirping happily and the sun shining on the nearby lake. However, the peace was disturbed by a sudden hard bang of air as the tractor trailer forced its way into reality, the unicorns surrounding it breathing hard as they extinguished their magic.
“Alright, no time to rest. Knight Summer, Knight Dew, give me a hoof here.” The amber unicorn ordered as he trotted toward a large rock formation. Two other unicorns made their way over, and together their horns lit once more. Gripping a section of the rock face, they actually pulled it free, revealing a perfectly rectangular tunnel that sloped down into the earth. Light stones glowed brightly in sconces set evenly along the tunnel, providing plenty of light to see by.
“The rest of you, get a grip on that truck, let’s hurry. Knights Summer and Dew, bring the piece of road after us.” The unicorns scrambled to obey their orders, the majority grasping the truck and slowly rolling it forward and into the tunnel. Once the road section was inside the tunnel, the three unicorns dragged the rock back into position, soon concealing from the outside world that anything had been here at all.
The tunnel sloped down for about a thousand pony-lengths, before opening up into a large cavern. The cavern itself was empty, while off to one side was a series of doorways leading to dormitories. Ponies cantered back and forth across the room, stopping as they watched the trailer making its way out of the tunnel.
An earth pony mare trotted up to the amber unicorn with a warm smile on her muzzle. “Good to see you made it back safely sir, are the contents safe?”
“Yes, and even better, there were no pony or human casualties.” The amber unicorn replied with a relieved smile.
“Grand Master Sky Shimmer will be pleased to hear it.” The earth pony said, gesturing with her hooves for other ponies to come over and begin unloading the truck. “Oh my, there certainly is a lot of it isn’t there? This is wonderful!”
“Yes, and since we were able to safely retrieve Aqua Glimmer, we will be able to mass-produce serum of our own, once the alterations have been made.”
“Alterations sir?” The earth pony asked curiously.
“Yes. Not to the core principle of the serum, but to its delivery system. It wouldn’t be very efficient if we have to have a clean needle for every person who we give the serum to. That’s where Evening Dew had the idea to layer another enchantment into the spell matrix, so that it begins the transformation on contact with exposed skin. It can even be ingested or simply injected like normal.”
“But don’t they need to be sedated first?” The mare asked worriedly.
“They will be, we can mix the serum and the anesthetic together, they will be asleep long before the transformation begins to take place,” the unicorn said with a calm smile. “Now, let’s get to work, there is so much left to do.”
“As you wish, Grand Knight Amber Dream,” the mare said as she joined the other ponies in unloading the truck.
Amber Dream took a moment to admire the sight before him, before rubbing his forehead with a hoof and making his way to the dormitories. Such a long range teleport was taxing, but worth it in the end. Nopony would even think to look this far north, and even if they did, they’d have to know exactly which lake and rock face they were looking for. So they were as safe as they could be.
The big day had finally arrived, and the Bureau was in an uproar as ponies raced about making the last minute preparations. As expected, news of the attack in Atlanta had spread, sparking some protests, but thankfully none of them had turned violent. However, neither the US government nor the Equestrians were taking any chances. The number of visible Royal Guard present had been tripled, a significant number of them pegasi who were tasked to fly overhead patterns. The San Francisco Police Department were deployed as well, every officer not working vital cases found themselves doing work from securing streets from traffic to walking foot patrols. SWAT teams were on standby in case they were needed, and there were several Army units on standby as well should the unthinkable happen. Diplomats from the world over were attending, as well as the British and Japanese Prime Ministers, President Foster, and of course Princesses Celestia and Luna.
For Shining Armor, most of his morning had been spent trying to get rid of the headache that he had from the bachelor party the night before. He was still trying to figure out how some of the native Guards had snuck salt into the cider, or why he’d agreed to try the drink some of the newfoals called whiskey. It had been good, but by the Sun had it sent him pitching over the edge. Most of the night was a blur, but he distinctly remembered somepony talking him into trying to race some of the serving carts down the stairs.
“Are you sure you’re feeling alright Shining? You don’t look so good,” Twilight remarked as he trotted into her room.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine... just remind me never to drink that much cider again...” he groaned as he lay down on her bed, pressing his hooves to the base of his horn.
Twilight sighed in resignation. “After today it’s not my job anymore, that’ll be Cadance’s responsibility. Now stay still, I’ve been brushing up on some of my healing magic and could use a practice dummy.”
“Practice what?” Shining shouted in alarm before Twilight’s spell enveloped his head, the headache beginning to ebb away steadily. “Ooooh yeah, that’s so much better. Thanks a lot little sis.”
Twilight scowled in mock ferocity. “Now don’t let it happen again or I’ll tell Cadance on you.”
Shining threw up his hooves in equally faked terror. “No, please not that!”
The siblings fell into fits of laughter, both enjoying the last moment of peace either of them were likely to have for the rest of the day.
Shining finally took a deep breath and got to his hooves. “Alright, I think I should get dressed, mind making sure everything is on straight? Would hate to be standing in front of Cadance and the entire world with our uncle’s badge out of place.”
Twilight giggled. “Sure thing Shiny.” She laughed as her brother snorted and followed him out of the room.
Meanwhile, down one floor, Rarity was fussing over Cadance’s dress, making final adjustments now that she had the alicorn in it.
“Alriiight... and I think that we are finished! Tell me, what do you think darling?” She asked as she levitated a large mirror into position.
Cadance gasped as she finally got to see herself in the dress, instead of a mannequin. It had been beautiful on the mold, but now it seemed to almost become a part of her, some of the lace fluttering slightly as she extended her wings to get a better look at the sides. “Rarity... I just don’t know what to say. It’s beautiful...”
Rarity tsked as she finished picking up the last pieces of fabric and her supplies. “Your reaction speaks volumes my dear. I was overjoyed when you asked me to help design the dress, and am proud to say that this is my finest work yet. Now, I’ll need to go get my dress on and meet with the girls for the ceremony. You remember where you’re supposed to wait, yes?”
Cadance smiled. “Of course. I just can’t believe the day is here already...” A small tear began to trail down her face, only for Rarity to delicately lift it away with her magic.
“Now now, don’t want to get tears on your dress before Shining Armor gets to see you,” she said with a small smile. She stuffed the last of her supplies into her saddlebags, hurrying out the door. “And of course I shall see you at the reception my dear!”
Cadance waved back, before turning back to face the mirror, inspecting herself to make sure that everything on the dress was holding up.
The Bureau didn’t have a conference room big enough for the affair, so a team of unicorns and earth ponies had worked diligently to take down the intervening walls and install a new entrance at the far end. The floor was covered in a sea of folding chairs and cushions, and at the end of the aisle an ornate stage had been assembled, forged from actual gold and wreathed in flowers and silver trim. Princess Celestia stood in the center of the stage, looking every inch the ruler she was. Shining Armor stood in his designated position, resplendent in a rich red suit, his uncle’s badge proudly displayed in the center of his chest. Twilight stood next to him, an ear to ear smile on her face as she waited for Cadance to make her entrance. Spike stood next to her, the rings resting gently on a silk pillow. Her friends stood opposite her as the bridesmares, each wearing a gown of their own, courtesy of Rarity. Beside Twilight were Shining’s groomstallions, Second Lieutenants Flare, Evergreen and Ruby Glow. She swept her gaze out over the crowd of ponies and humans who were invited, pausing as something caught her eye. She could have sworn that stallion’s eyes were amber, yet she’d seen a green shine to them. But focusing closer, she saw the same amber shade watching the stage patiently. She shook her head slightly and dismissed it as a trick of the light, making a mental note to research it later.
Shining saw his sister’s motion out of the corner of his eye, and started to whisper to her, but with a chorus of chirps Fluttershy’s birds began to sing, and the guardponies at the door pulled them open slowly. Everyone present got to their respective limbs and turned to face the doors as Cadance began to enter the room.
Her dress was a simple affair, yet the eye was drawn to it nonetheless. A large lace flower adorned her chest, secured by a gold band that ran around the top of her shoulders. Her dress started just behind her withers, and flowed across her back and down her flanks. Rarity had chosen a soft cream color to accent her coat, and edged to upper part of the dress in gold silk for the contrast. Her train stretched out behind her, held delicately by five more songbirds, eliciting a few murmured ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the humans observing. Her mane had been very carefully styled to resemble wings sweeping back from her horn.
She slowly ascended the steps of the stage to stand next to Shining, the two looking at each other tenderly for a long second before looking up to Princess Celestia.
“Mares and Gentlecolts, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here today to celebrate the union between Princess Cadance and Captain Shining Armor. True marriage is more than joining the bonds of marriage of two ponies; it is the union of two hearts. It lives on the love you give each other and never grows old, but thrives on the joy of each new day. Marriage is love. May you always be able to talk things over, to confide in each other, to laugh with each other, to enjoy life together, and to share moments of quiet and peace, when the day is done. May you be blessed with a lifetime of happiness and a home of warmth and understanding. The couple has written their own vows, which they will now recite to each other."
Shining nodded to Celestia and turned to face Cadance. “I, Shining Armor, take you Cadance to be my wife, my partner in life and my one true love. I will cherish our union and love you more each day than I did the day before. I will trust you and respect you, laugh with you and cry with you, loving you faithfully through good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles we may face together. I give you my hoof, my heart, and my love, from this day forward for as long as we both shall live."
Cadance smiled gently, trying hard not to start crying. “Shining Armor, I promise to always be there for you, to shelter and hold your love as the most precious gift in my life. I will be truthful and honor you. I will care for you always and stand by you in times of sorrow and joy. For so long as the Sun is raised and lowered, for so long as the Moon crosses the sky, I shall stay by your side, your anchor in the dark times, your buoy in the light.”
No one noticed one of the stallions in the audience sigh a little in contentment.
Celestia smiled gently, then turned to Spike. “Spike, if you would please?”
Spike nodded solemnly and stepped forward, holding up the pillow to Shining Armor. With a nod and a wink, Shining took the ring delicately in his teeth, carefully lifting it and settling it on Cadance’s horn. Sliding it into position with a hoof, he smiled awkwardly at her while she rolled her eyes. Spike them turned to her, and she repeated the gesture.
Once the two rings were settled, Celestia spread her wings to their widest and raised her voice so everyone in the hall could hear. “With their vows spoken, and rings exchanged, these two ponies have declared their dedication to both themselves and to the world. By the power vested in me by the Sun and the ponies of Equestria, I now pronounce you mare and stallion. You may now kiss the bride.”
Shining Armor and Cadance hardly needed the permission, already starting to move forward as Celestia finished speaking. Their lips met as the world faded away for the two of them, punctuated by claps and the thunder of hooves on the floor.
Nimbus stood by her post as the night dragged on. After the wedding ceremony had ended, everyone had been invited to the outdoor courtyard for the reception and for the Year’s End party. Her eyes, colored a cold blue by the armor’s enchantment, swept across the throng of humans and ponies as they partied. They’d been briefed on the usual threats that the humans... she caught herself at that. Had she really just thought of her own former species like that? She certainly didn’t feel any different from how she’d felt before undergoing the conversion. Was it a sign that there was more to the conversion than they’d been told? Or was it merely a by-product of the nearly one hundred days of training she’d spent learning to live and fight as a pony? She wrestled with it mentally for a few minutes while her eyes continued their slow, methodical scan. Every so often, her eyes would twitch back to the clock to keep an eye on the time.
Across the room, Twilight stood next to the refreshment table with a smile on her face, watching the other ponies party. The wedding had gone off without a hitch, and everypony was having a good time. She picked up a glass of cider and took a small sip, savoring the taste as it slid over her tongue.
“Howdy Twilight, Ah gotta admit, this here shindig turned out bigger than Ah thought it would.” Applejack said as she trotted over.
“It certainly did. I’m really glad things worked out for Shining and Cadance.” Twilight said as she watched her brother and his wife dance in the center of the crowd.
“Alrigh’, Ah ain’t standin’ for this.” Applejack said as she took the glass from Twilight. “This here is a party, and you’re standin’ here on the sidelines. Git on out there and have some real fun! Maybe meet a nice stallion here, some of them guardponies could probably use a little loosening up.” She gripped Twilight with a hoof and pushed her out into the crowd, ignoring Twilight’s protests. “Ah, she’ll be fine.”
Rarity, in the meantime, was having the time of her life. The vast majority of the attendees for the wedding were either from Canterlot high society, or from the various human governments. The opportunities to make a name for herself were literally limitless. She was saying her greetings to an elderly human named Wright when she bumped into somepony, knocking them to the ground.
“Oh my goodness, I am so terribly sorry!” She cried out, turning to help whoever she’d knocked over back to their feet when she froze at the sight of who was in front of her.
“Quite alright my dear, no harm done,” Fancypants assured as he got back to his hooves.
“Y-y-you’re Fancypants... I just ran into Fancypants...” Rarity stammered, trying her hardest not to feel faint for her transgression.
“Indeed so. And you must be Rarity. Your work on Princess Cadance’s dress was absolutely exquisite.”
“H-how do you know that?” Rarity asked, feeling another rush of lightheadedness come over her. Not only did Fancypants know her name, but he had complimented her on her work!
Fancypants tilted his head in confusion. “Well of course my dear. Not only could I not fail to recognize the Element of Generosity, but your name is mentioned with honors in the program.”
Rarity blinked, mentally kicking herself for forgetting such a detail. “Of course, you’re right. However, I must apologize for bumping into you in such a rude fashion. Allow me to make it up to you. I shall repair any damage incurred to your ensemble, and design you a new one.”
“Well, that was actually what I wished to speak to you about my dear.” Fancypants carefully lifted his monocle with a hoof, polishing it on the front of his suit. “You see, I recently acquired a new clothing chain in Canterlot, and while it caters predominantly to mares, I know there will be a significant number of stallions that will be entering the market soon,” he inclined his head toward some of the male diplomats, “and would like to be able to get a head start on the market. Your designs are certainly inspired, and if you can work up something for stallions as well as mares, I would certainly be interested in purchasing them from you.”
Rarity’s mouth hung open for a few seconds . “Y-you mean... you’d really do that?”
“Why yes, you are a visionary after all. Once I’d asked around, you come very highly recommended,” Fancypants said with a smile. “Now, I do believe my assistant is around here somewhere... Ah, there she is. If you don’t mind, we can lay out a rough arrangement for the time being, and finalize it after we recover from this wonderful food and drink.” He hooked a foreleg around hers and gracefully escorted her towards a tall white unicorn with a pink mane who was receiving several appraising glances from some of the stallions present.
Rainbow Dash noticed Rarity as she weaved her way through the crowd, but her focus was elsewhere. She’d seen her target and knew they hadn’t left yet. Pushing aside a pair of mares, Rainbow spotted them near the buffet table and made her way to a spot further down, taking a few bites of the food while glancing to the side every so often. Finally, her patience was rewarded as she heard a voice call out her name.
“Hey, aren’t you Rainbow Dash?” The owner, a pale blue pegasus stallion in a darker blue suit and black tie, tilted his head curiously.
“Heck yeah, glad to see you recognize me!” Rainbow said proudly.
“Well yeah, you performed the Sonic Rainboom at the last Best Young Flyer’s Competition, and saved my pie at the Gala. Not to mention your stunt routine an hour ago.” Soarin’ said with a smile.
Rainbow laughed a little. “So, there anypony else from the team here?”
Soarin’ shook his head. “No, everypony else came down with a nasty case of the featherflu. Honestly surprised I didn’t get sick too, but the docs said I was fine to come.”
Rainbow winced despite herself. She remembered having the featherflu from her foalhood, and didn’t want to think about having it as an adult. “That stinks.”
“Yeah. They’ll be fine; they’re just grounded for a week or two.” Soarin’ gestured with a hoof. “So, this is some party huh? When I first heard all the news about ‘humans’ and all those new countries they lived in, I didn’t believe a bit of it.” He shook his head in amusement. “Guess the world never stops tryin’ to surprise you huh?”
Rainbow laughed. “I guess not.” She was still awestruck that THE Soarin’ was right in front of her, just talking with her like any other pony would.
Soarin’ flicked an ear as a new song started playing, the discordant notes ringing out across the dance floor. “I’ll give it to them though; they certainly know some interesting music.” He struck a humorous bow and extended a hoof. “You wanna?” His green eyes had a mirthful twinkle to them in the artificial lights.
Rainbow Dash tried hard not to squeal in delight, and took his hoof in hers, grinning from ear to ear. The two pegasi wove their way onto the dance floor as the music continued to fill the air with its oddly catchy rhythm.
Pinkie Pie twitched her right ear in time with the music, the earth pony enjoying the pounding of the many feet and hooves on the ground, and the sight of so many beings lowering the barriers of self- even if only for a few fleeting moments. Her other ear suddenly swiveled in a circle, while her hindquarters twitched briefly and her front right hoof started tapping a staccato beat on the ground.
Somepony wasn’t having fun.
With an almost predatory grace she was off, her eyes narrowed as she wove through the crowd, following her Pinkie Sense as its intensity waxed and waned. Eventually, it led her to a darkened alcove that at first appeared empty, but then Pinkie saw a single lock of pink mane sticking out.
“Fluttershy, what’s wrong? What are you doing all by yourself?” Pinkie said as she sat down next to her timid friend. Fluttershy was hunkered down behind the edge of one of the supports for some of the VIP guests, her ears flat against her skull.
“Well, I’m just not a fan of these kinds of parties. I’m just going to stay over here.” Fluttershy said meekly.
Pinkie shook her head. “If somepony’s not having fun at one of my parties, then I’m not doing my job right!” She looked around, her ears perking up as she spotted what she was looking for. “Follow me.” She led Fluttershy along the perimeter of the area, coming to the entrance of the Bureau. In a blur of motion she scaled the support for the entrance, motioning for Fluttershy to follow her.
The pegasus carefully fluttered up to join Pinkie, her ears still flattened from the sound of the music. However, as soon as she settled down next to her friend, the music seemed to get quieter. She perked her ears up cautiously and looked around in confusion. “Pinkie, what’s going on? Why is the music so quiet here?”
“Oh, it’s just the orientation of the speakers relative to this overhang.” Pinkie said absently. “It is a lot quieter up here, huh?”
Fluttershy nodded quietly, the two friends enjoying the island of serenity for a few minutes before Pinkie got to her hooves. “Well, I’m going to go see how everypony else is doing, are you really going to be okay up here?”
Fluttershy nodded happily. “Oh yes, this spot is much nicer, thank you Pinkie.”
Pinkie nodded before she hopped cheerfully off the roof, making her way through the packed crowd like a fish through water. Her Pinkie Sense had subsided, and so she allowed herself a quick break from her observations to enjoy the party on her own, beginning to dance enthusiastically in front of the DJ station.
At ten minutes to midnight, Nimbus glanced upward and flicked her ear at one of the circling pegasi. With a sharp dive and a flutter of his wings, Willow landed next to her. “What do you need Nimbus?”
“Permission to take a break sir, for... personal reasons.” Nimbus couldn’t help but glance at the clock. Eight minutes to midnight.
Willow glanced at the clock too, then smiled knowingly. “Permission granted. I expect you to come back before the night is over Second Lieutenant.”
Nimbus saluted. “Sir, thank you sir.” With that, she spread her wings and took off, spiraling upwards over the party towards her destination. She finally cleared the roof of the building and came in for a landing, scuffing her hooves on the gravel that coated the flat roof.
Flare turned his head at the noise. “Oh, hello Second Lieutenant, what brings you up here?”
Nimbus paused for a minute to compose her thoughts, forcing her wings to stay furled at her sides. “Well, First Lieutenant Willow allowed me to take a break for a few minutes, and I wanted to see you start the fireworks for midnight. I always liked fireworks when I was growing up” She looked over, seeing a simple clock set up for Flare to use that wouldn’t short out when he cast his spells. Five minutes to midnight.
“Well, I’ll be sure to put a little something extra into it for you.” Flare said with a smile, glancing back to the clock. Four minutes to midnight.
Nimbus swallowed nervously. This was it; she’d been rehearsing this moment in her head all day. “Well, that’s not the only thing that I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve been having some... thoughts lately. About how I feel about myself and people, now that I’m a pony...” She trailed off looking at the clock again. Two minutes to midnight.
Flare began to concentrate, his horn glowing with a fiery orange light as he prepared his spell. “Well, I’m honestly not surprised. It’s gotta be tough getting used to being in a new body.”
Nimbus nodded and scooted a little closer, so the two ponies were sitting next to each other. “Yeah, it’s certainly been that...” she muttered under her breath, her wings starting to unfurl despite themselves as she glanced at the clock. Forty-five seconds to midnight. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that I want out of this... y’know, not just the Guard but...” she trailed off, blushing furiously under the armor’s enchantment.
Flare turned his head to look at her, his horn glowing brighter as he prepared to launch the initial fireworks. Five seconds to midnight. “Well, what did you decide?”
It was then that Nimbus couldn’t take it. The warring sides in her brain froze her up, and the feelings in her heart surged to take control. She leaned forward, planting a kiss squarely on Flare’s muzzle.
Flare’s eyes snapped as wide open as they could, and the light surrounding his horn shone blindingly before rocketing skyward. The orange sphere arced to approximately five hundred feet into the air before exploding spectacularly, forming a multitude of shades ranging from bright yellow and green to deep reds and purples.
The crowd below ‘ooh’d’ and ‘aah’d’, but for Nimbus and Flare, neither one of them even noticed, both focused solely on the other pony in front of them. After another second ticked by Flare pulled back, shock etched across his muzzle. “What in Equestria was that for?”
Nimbus just sat there, frozen. Her brain finished re-asserting dominance over her rebellious emotions, and she blinked rapidly a few times. “I... I...” She suddenly found herself at a loss for words and spun, spreading her wings in preparation for takeoff. She leaped, getting a foot into the air before an orange light enveloped her, gently pulling her back to the roof and turning her so she could see Flare looking at her. “I’m sorry; I don’t know what came over me. It’s just that... ever since the exam, I’ve been having these feelings and I didn’t know what to do about them or even how to feel about them...” She was rambling, trying to scoot free of the magic holding her down, when Flare sighed and got to his hooves, the flashes of the other fireworks being launched illuminating the roof.
“Nimbus, shut up. That’s an order,” he said before kissing her gently. Nimbus felt her wings snap out straight, but no longer cared. Flared pulled away after a few seconds. “You could have said something to me, you know.”
Nimbus flattened her ears. “Well, I didn’t know whether I even should be having these feelings or not. I mean, I used to be a completely different species not four months ago and-” She stopped as Flare gently put a hoof on her shoulder.
“Regardless of what species you were, you’re Equestrian now. You’re an outstanding officer and a great pony too.” He smiled gently. “Now, why don’t we watch the fireworks, and once the party’s finished up, we can talk about us.”
Nimbus found herself smiling widely. “O-okay.” She shook her head inside, trying to get herself under some semblance of control. She was acting like it was high school all over again. Flare let the magic holding her fade, and turned back to his original position, inclining his head for her to join him. Tentatively she scooted closer until they were sitting side by side, heads tilted back as they watched the multitude of explosions overhead. Slowly, Nimbus extended her wing so that it was lying across Flare’s back, and Flare leaned in slightly so that their shoulders were touching.
Overhead, Dawn Breeze shook her head and muttered a good-natured curse under her breath. “Certainly took her long enough. Looks like Willow’s won the bet on this one.”
Princess Celestia smiled as President Foster joined her in the VIP pavilion, two glasses of sparkling cider held in his hands. “Thank you very much Tyler.”
Foster smiled, having honestly enjoyed the party despite his reservations about holding it in spite of the attack a few days ago. “You’re welcome Princess. Now, as much as I dislike dragging business into a party like this, have your investigations into the attack yielded anything?” He held out one of the glasses.
Celestia sighed as she took it from him. “Unfortunately, no. There are still a few areas of Equestria remaining to be searched, in case this group was able to make a second teleport back. However, the odds of finding them remain scarce. The zebras and Canids have not located anything, and the Ambassador to the dragons has not given any indication either. Have your satellites had any success in finding anything?”
Foster shook his head, idly swirling his glass. “We’re still looking, but there’s a lot of undeveloped land in the north, and that’s even assuming their location was above ground. If it’s far enough underground, short of visually inspecting every square foot of this continent, we won’t be able to find them.”
“And given they were able to infiltrate our contribution to the CDC effort; they may have others listening in to warn them of any attempt on our part. I’ve directed Cloudhammer to review our security procedures to attempt to prevent this from happening again,” Celestia said with a small smile. “Perhaps in the future, instead of pushing apart, we should integrate our forces. After all, having the ability to cancel out unicorn magic and pegasus reconnaissance would benefit your forces immensely.”
Foster chuckled a little. “And you gaining a means to help defend against human weaponry certainly wouldn’t hurt your forces either.”
They shared a laugh before Foster looked up at the fireworks. “It’s been one hell of a year, hasn’t it?”
Celestia looked up as well. “It most certainly has.”
They stood there, two leaders, two different species.