Trumpets sounded in a grand fanfare. The brass section gave way to the upbeat waltz of the string section in the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra. Pinkie Pie’s smile could not be wider as she stared in wonder. Princess Celestia had spared no expense in making this party as grand as possible, which came as no surprise. The Changeling incident had put the Canterlot citizens on edge and Celestia was eager to give them an excuse to forget their fears. There was no better way to do so than to throw a party for national heroes even if their actual participation in the resolution of the last crisis was minimal. The public did not need to know the exact details. Twilight reflected on all this as she pushed her way through the crowded ball room. The room was list by a soft golden glow that reminded her of the sun, and it came as no surprise that Celestia herself was using her magic to light the party. Outside in the gardens and streets, fireworks were raining down providing entertainment to those who could not make the guest list proper. Celestia had been clear that she wanted the party to be open to all citizens of Equestria, unlike the Gala, however the ball room could only hold so much. Judging by how much shoving Twilight had to do to move just a few feet, it was obvious that perhaps the inclusion of an official guest list would have been a good idea.
Several guests approached Twilight as she and her friends tried to make their way through the sea of ponies just to get a chance at the refreshment table. Each guest would express their appreciation for the incidents involving Nightmare Moon and Discord. A few even thanked Twilight her help in resolving the Changeling incident. While Twilight was aware Celestia had been careful with precise information regarding the resolution of the incident, Twilight was not about to take credit for her brother and sister-in-law. She would politely correct them on the true set of heroes behind the Changeling mishaps, not that this would get her any less praise. They would simply comment on either how her whole family was a gift to all of ponydom or praise her modesty. Frankly, Twilight was getting annoyed with the attention.
After the third blue Unicorn to thank her (she had been counting), she noticed that she had lost track of her friends. She saw Rarity trot off to meet someone she recognized, some fancy trouser-ed fellow or something. Pinkie Pie had dispersed into the crowd, but was easily spotted jumping high above everypony’s heads. Fluttershy had sequestered herself off in one of the corners of the room, whimpering under one of the tables. Applejack had found Blue Bazaar, one of the influential ponies in the Canterlot fruit marketplace. She was trying to convince him to leverage more Apple family products in the market. Rainbow Dash stood at Applejack’s side and sighed out of boredom. The cyan Pegasus had considered zipping around the room, flying dangerously close to the chandeliers, but the guard at the front door had informed her it was not that kind of party. Until then she would just wait for Applejack to finish her business conversation so she could have a moment alone with the orange Earth pony, and perhaps, if she was lucky, a dance. As for poor little Spike, he was probably getting trampled on in the crowd. Still Twilight had to admit, it had been the most fun she had had in weeks. The lavender pony dipped her cup into the punch bowl, opting to not partake in the cider.
“Enjoying yourself, my dear student?” A melodious voice caught Twilight’s attention. The Unicorn spun around to see the regal form of the elder Alicorn sister. Twilight did a slight bow in the princess’s presence. Not that she needed to with how familiar she was, but it was a little joke between the two ponies. Celestia chuckled and gave Twilight a warm smile. Celestia levitated a glass of punch to her lips, “I think the punch was the right choice. Not that I mean any ill will to Applejack and her family, but I think getting inebriated on cider isn’t the way to enjoy such a fine party.”
“I think pretty soon though there won’t be a choice, the cider’s going fast.” Twilight smiled. It had been quite some time since she and the princess had just talked about little nothings. They really had not had the chance for such small talk since she moved to Ponyville. “Still though, this is shaping up to be a much better party than the Gala.”
“That was the intention. Without all the, shall we say, selectively minded guests filling the attendance roster, I was able to plan a more comfortable soiree. One I might actually enjoy myself for a change.”
“Didn’t you plan the Grand Galloping Gala, as well?”
“A very long time ago, but my tastes have changed since then. Unlike my sister, I prefer to keep up with the times.” Celestia chuckled, “Tradition-minded aristocrats however do not.”
“No they do not.” Twilight refilled her glass. “How is everything at the castle? Are things all cleaned up now that the wedding is over? The castle looks better than ever!”
“Repairs have gone ahead of schedule. Which, I’ll admit was a surprise; I left Luna in charge of overseeing them. Not that she can’t handle the work; it’s just that she’s always so distant. Even worse than usual lately I’m afraid.”
“Where is Princess Luna? It's late enough for her to be up, right? Is she attending tonight?”
“No,” Celestia sighed, “She opted to work on some overdue paperwork instead. This is fine, I suppose. It’s good to see her start to take a passion back in ruling the kingdom. But enough about my sister, how are you Twilight? Are you receiving enough funds for the library and personal expenses?”
“You don’t have to buy my friendship, Princess; I will always be your faithful student.” Twilight said a bit nervously. True she indulged in Celestia’s generosity more than once, but she was always afraid she would overstep her bounds one day. Celestia had practically financed all of Twilight’s life since the day Spike was born and the only thing Twilight had done to repay her was do some silly research on friendship. Well that and use said research to save her sister from eternal despair. Well then there was the time she returned the kingdom from the clutches of a mad god. Perhaps she should not feel so guilty. “Thank you for the offer, but I’m doing just fine in Ponyville and the library is well stocked.”
“Just checking, dear. Your letters as of late have been a bit curt.”
“Oh, that. I’ve just been having some trouble sleeping lately. Nothing major.”
Celestia raised an eyebrow, “Have you tried Wizen Darkmagic’s charm for curing insomnia? That was one of the first spells I taught you.”
“Oh it’s not insomnia. I’ve just been having some nightmares recently.” Twilight waved her hoof in the air in an attempt to dismiss the topic.
Celestia looked pensive for a moment, “Interesting, what kind of dreams, Twilight?”
“Oh, Discord’s just been on my mind lately,” Twilight laughed uneasily, “Sometimes I think I can hear his chortle every now and then when I get sleepy. But it’s nothing.” Celestia looked worried for a brief second. Twilight knew that Celestia’s love for her was about as close to unconditional as possible, but still she did not like to be seen so weak in her mentor’s presence.
After an unnaturally long pause in the conversation Celestia finally spoke, “Well, do let me know if things get worse. I’m sure the two of us can figure out something to do about it. If you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to and the regular meet and great that’s expected of me at the party. We’ll talk again after the toast. Have fun my little pony!” Celestia’s goodbye was a bit less cheerful than normal, and Twilight could tell that the Alicorn had something on her mind. Meanwhile she went back to staring at the punch bowl.
While it was true that ever since the Nightmare Moon event she had become quite a bit more social, she still never knew what to do at large parties. Dancing was always an option she enjoyed, however the current song was a waltz and she for the life of her not keep time with anything based off of three beats. Odd, as her books had always touted the standard waltz as the easiest dance to learn. She yawned absentmindedly as she took another sip of her punch. She glanced back down at the punch bowl and watch the pretty lights of the chandeliers dance in the reflection of the ruby red liquid sloshing around in the bowl. “Are you going to just stare into my eyes all night, Twilight?” Twilight blinked several times, confused as to why the punch bowl was talking to her. “Seriously, this is a p-a-r-t-y. Go do something fun.” The face of a draconequus faded into the reflection.
“Oh, it’s you. What do you want, Discord?” She said, with less surprise than before. She was beginning to get used to these little daydreams.
“I don’t want anything. I’m swimming in punch! Honestly, how much more could anypony ask for? You, however, might want to check on the pair of eyes that are staring at you from the balcony.” With that statement, the image faded as Twilight was bumped rudely by a slightly inebriated stallion.
I guess Celestia was right about the cider. She thought. Even awaken from her little impromptu nap, the draconequus’s words echoed in her mind. She glanced up at the balcony that wrapped around the two story high ball room. It was an over look for those who wanted to watch the ball from above, but it had been closed off for tonight’s celebration. Perched in the darkness of the second story was a silhouette of a tall pony. Upon noticing that Twilight had spotted her, the shadowy form seemed to startle and disappeared from the balcony. Twilight hummed pensively to herself before deciding to discard her punch glass and make her way up to the second level.
All around the room the party was in full swing and Pinkie Pie was having the time of her life. The only way this party could have been possibly more fantastical was if she had thrown it herself. “I’m having the time of my life!” She screamed, “The only way this party could possibly more fantastical is if I had thrown it myself! Whoa, I just had the weirdest sense of déjà vu.” Pinkie Pie looked around to see if she could spot her friends, after all a party was all about friends. Her leg twitched slightly. Not a back and forth twitch, but a more of a wiggly up and sideways twitch. That could only mean one thing, “Somepony isn’t having fun!” It did not take her long to find the source of the twitch. Fluttershy was nervously trying to get back under the table after her brave adventure three feet away from the table. The pale yellow pony was trembling trying to figure out how to politely ask the ponies standing in front of the table to move so she could resume her hiding. Pinkie popped up next to Fluttershy and placed her leg around Fluttershy’s shoulder. “Somepony needs to loosen up and have a good time. I mean this is a party! You’ve gotta dance! You’ve gotta mingle! You’ve gotta stand on your head and balance pastries on your back hooves!”
“Oh, that sounds nice Pinkie Pie. But I don’t think I’m the kind of pony that does those kinds of things…”
“Well even I can’t make you the kind of pony that acts like it. But I know of a certain kind of drink that that can help! To the cider bar!”
“Oh, Pinkie, I’m not one for drinking… oh my!” Pinkie Pie pushed Fluttershy across the floor over to the drink table. Fluttershy tried to dig her hooves into the floor, but the dance floor did not leave much to grab on. She tried for distraction instead, “Oh look, there’s Rarity over there.” Pinkie ignored the shy pony’s plea and continued on her quest to liven up the poor mare.
Rarity waved gracefully at Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie as they past her. She would have said something to them but she was currently in a riveting conversation with Fancypants and his wife, Fleur de Lis. He was nodding in approval with what Rarity was saying. “I still would like to apologize for not recognizing you when we first met, fair Rarity.”
“Oh, Fancypants, you needn’t apologize so profusely. Actually go ahead.”
“I just feel positively foolish not knowing who I was talking to. As I was telling Fleur, I knew I had seen your face before. I wish you had simply told me you were the Rarity from Ponyville.”
Meanwhile, Applejack was attempting to get Blue Bazaar to taste a sample of the cider she had supplied for the party. Rainbow Dash sighed to herself, board out of her mind. “That’s very nice Miss Apple, but I really must be going now.” Blue Bazaar said as he tried to escape the orange pony.
“Now wait just a hog tyin’ moment! I haven’t told ya about our special spice blend!” Applejack said as she moved closer to Blue Bazaar.
“Actually, why don’t you let the poor pony go, Applejack. I would like a word with you.”
“Princess Celestia!” Rainbow Dash announced.
“Hello, my little ponies. I have a request for you.”
“Well, what can we do for ya, Princess?”
“I have a small request for the elements of honesty and loyalty. I regret to ask this of you during the party, but I assure you it will only take a few moments of your time.”
Twilight found herself in a dark hallway. This area of the castle was unlit and vacant. It was obvious that pretty much everypony was at the party, which was precisely why Twilight was so interested in who the shadow figure’s indent was. She glanced around the hallway. From the balcony where the figure had been standing, there was a pretty good view of the party. The pony who had been spying on her before, however, had long since left the area. Twilight let a noise that could best be described as a cross between a sighed and yawn. She glanced around; her eyes caught the outline of a head peeking at her from behind a pillar on the other side of the hall. Just like earlier the figure was startled by Twilight catching her eye and retreated behind the pillar. “Wait!” Twilight called out. She galloped after the pony, rounding the corner and following the shadow into one of the many rooms. Actually Twilight knew which room it was, it was the west conservatory. A miniature library and reading room she had often visited during the time she had lived at the castle. “Alright, now who’s been spying on me?” As Twilight entered the conservatory she used her horn to light one of the candles. “Oh….”
“It is I, Twilight Sparkle. Forgive me. I have a penchant for lurking in the dark.”
“Princess Luna, your sister said you were buried in paperwork.”
“She lied for me. I decided against attending the party. I… haven’t been feeling well lately.”
“I know what you mean,” Twilight sighed. Luna looked intrigued, so Twilight continued even thought she had not planned on elaborating. “I’ve just had some nightmares lately. Lack of sleep.”
“I noticed.” Luna said as she sat down on one of the many cushions, “Would you like some help with that?” Twilight looked at Luna sleepily. She shook her head at the princess.
“I don’t understand.” She said. Luna stood up and walked over to Twilight. Her horn glowed a dark blue, she leaned down and tapped Twilight's snout with the tip of her horn. Twilight did her best to conceal her blush. There was a small tingling sensation that flowed through Twilight. Suddenly she fell completely awake. Not jittery as if she had just drank a large amount of caffeine, but well rested and alert. “What was that?”
“A rejuvenation spell. It makes your body act as though it has just slept for nine hours in the most comfortable way possible. It’s a bit complex to perform but it takes only a small amount of magic. It can be performed repeatedly to effectively avoid ever sleeping again.”
“I’ve never seen a spell like that.”
“Because it’s illegal.”
“What!? Oh my gosh! I’m going to be in so much trouble! Why did you do that!?”
Luna chuckled, “Relax, it’s alright if I was the one to perform the spell.” Luna placed her hoof on her chin, “Well I think so. Celestia doesn’t really approve of me using in on myself. But I’d have a hard time being the princess of the night if I couldn’t cheat sleep once and a while.”
“I’ve never done forbidden magic before; Celestia is going to be so mad at me. I can hear her voice now! ‘Oh, Twilight, I am so disappointed in you. Guards! Take her to the magical dungeon!’” Luna laughed. “What’s so funny?" Twilight was breathing heavily.
“I’m sorry. But your impression of my sister is quiet accurate.” Luna chuckled. “I assure you that I will vouch for you and take the fall if Celestia questions the use of the spell, Twilight Sparkle.” Luna placed a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. Twilight looked up at Luna and smiled.
“You may call me Luna, Twilight Sparkle.”
“Um. That’s a bit informal. Are you sure? Celestia still prefers I call her Princess and we’ve known each other for a really long time.”
“No offence, Twilight Sparkle, but you know nothing of ‘long times.’”
“I didn’t mean any disrespect, Princess Luna. Um, I’ll call you Luna if you just call me Twilight.”
“Those terms are acceptable.” Luna smiled. It had been a while since she had seen Twilight, and while she hated to admit it, Twilight was just about her only friend.
“So, Luna, why aren’t you at the party?”
“You know me and crowds. Ponies find me too… forceful. It’s better for everypony if I just stay up here.”
“I am… accustomed to being alone. I’ve had over a thousand years of practice.” Luna said mournfully. “More importantly, why are you away from the party? Are you not the guest of honor? You should get back down there.” Luna turned to face the window to stare at the moon.
“I could stay here with you for a bit if you want. There are so many ponies at the party no pony will notice if I’m gone.”
“That would be pleasant.”
Shining Armor levitated a torch as he led Applejack and Rainbow Dash down the labyrinth of dark hallways underneath Canterlot Castle. He smiled at the two mares to try and ease the tension, but all three ponies disliked being in such an eerie place. As they walked down the corridors the passed by empty jail cells, all that remained of the once great dungeon of Canterlot Castle. “This place doesn’t get much use anymore. I’m told it was heavily used back when Canterlot Castle was first built. Shortly after Nightmare Moon’s destruction of the old capital, this dungeon was the first thing built in Canterlot. It was needed to house all of Nightmare Moon’s supporters. Nowadays though Celestia doesn’t use imprisonment anymore, she finds the punishment too barbaric. Most crimes are punished with civic service or banishment if it’s severe.”
“Well, just like apple bucking runs in mah family, it’s not hard to see what runs in your family.” Applejack smiled. Rainbow Dash yawned. In the distance there was somepony humming a song.
Shining Armor lit a second torch for extra light, “Sorry, just trying to keep our attention off the creepy hallway. I always hate coming down here.”
“Do you guys hear that?” Rainbow Dash asked. The humming became louder as they ventured further into the dungeon.
“Oh, that. Yeah. You’ll see that in a bit.” Shining Armor chuckled uneasily. “Here she is, just keep walking.”
From behind the bars of one of the cells a voice rang out, “Wait, you can’t just leave me here! There’s been a mistake!” A pony with a bright yellow coat and green mane reached out a hoof between the bars. “Help me!”
“Oh here we go again.” Shining Armor sighed. He gestured for Applejack and Rainbow Dash to continue walking.
“Please listen to me; I’m not supposed to be here! I’m Garnet Reader! Tell my father that the guards have placed me in here by mistake!”
Rainbow Dash glanced back at Shining Armor, “Is she telling the truth? She can’t be right? She’s supposed to be here, right?”
Shining Armor chuckled, “Look at the sign above the cell.” The stallion moved the torch so it better lit the placard above the cell. Rainbow read it then spit on the ground at Garnet’s hooves. The yellow pony hissed and was engulfed in shadows. She grew in size gained wings and a horn. Her coat turned a sickly black while her eyes turned to that of a monster. Shining Armor smiled, “Don’t mind us your highness, we’re just passing though.”
“You know, we could have made a great couple.” Queen Chrysalis hissed, “It’s not too late. Just let me out of here, Shining Armor.”
“How’d you end up in here?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“The Princess sent practically all of the guards on a crusade to find where my shield spell had flung her. When she was located, Celestia herself had a rematch. Without my love for Cadence to fuel her magics, the queen here fell rather ungracefully I’m told. Would have like to have seen it. But me and the misses were uh, indisposed at the time….” Shining Armor coughed loudly. “Anyway it’s just a bit further down this way.” Shining Armor led the two mares down the tunnel further, Rainbow Dash did take a moment to stick her tongue out at the Queen before leaving.
Eventually they came to the end of the tunnel. What sat before them was, for lack of a better description, a bottomless abyss of nothing. Shining Armor levitated a torch into a sconce. He tapped his hoof nervously. They were standing on a small metal platform. There was a large lever off to the side, Shining Armor gestured to it, “Well you pull that there and this elevator will take you straight down to where he is. Just push it back up when you want to come back.”
“Uh, beg pardon, but aren’t you coming with?” Applejack asked.
“No. I don’t go anywhere near him.”
“Some big tough Captain of the Guard you are!” Rainbow teased.
“I’ll fight a whole Changeling army for my nation. I’ll personally hoof wrestle Nightmare Moon, if I had the chance. But I don’t mess with gods. I was by Celestia’s side when he only snapped his fingers and she was pressed against the floor unable to move. I’ve never seen Celestia so distraught. She was stuttering in her words, and seething with hatred. Anything that can get the Princess that mad is a force. Chrysalis and everything else out there can be beaten with enough force and skill. That thing down there can only be beaten one way. I’m not going near it. I’m not a bearer of an element. That’s where you fillies and my sister come in. You just do what you need to do and get back here. I don’t like being so close.”
“I understand, SA.” Applejack said, tipping her hat to the captain.
“Nothing personal, I just have a family of my own now. My life isn’t completely my own anymore. Though I have to say I like that SA bit.” He chuckled. Rainbow pretended to gag at the mushy sentiment. She reached her hoof up and pulled on the lever. There was a sudden jolt and the platform began to lower at a steady pace. Rainbow looked over to Applejack.
“So, once we get down there, AJ, what do we do?”
“I reckon we do just what the Princess said we do, RD. We test the seal.” The elevator rumbled at bit, getting caught on some uneven section of its track.
“Yeah but how do we do that?”
“She said that we’ll just know, either way.” As the elevator came to a sudden stop a large blinding light seemed to ignite from the floor with a sizzling sound. There in the center of the pit was Discord in statue form, a look of terror on his face. The same look he had taken when he realized far too late that his plan had failed. The statue towered over them as the two ponies approached it. It had not really hit them before, but Discord was tall. Far taller than most creatures they had interacted with before save maybe a dragon. Then again Discord could probably change himself into anything, so height was probably not an issue. Even in his petrified state, the draconequus had a terrifying presence locked away in the pit.
Rainbow stared up at the statue, “Well… there he is. What a nasty piece of work he was, really. Like a proper wacko. Think the seal is holding?”
“Well he’s still here, isn’t he?”
“What do you feel?”
“I don’t know. Celestia said we’d feel somethin’ if somethin’ was wrong. I don’t feel anything in particular.”
“Then we came all the way down here for nothing?”
“Well not nothing. We can tell Celestia she’s got her apples mashed up all for nothin’. So what now, sugarcube?” Applejack smiled.
Rainbow Dash returned the smile, “Wanna make out?”
“Let’s just get back to the party, sugarcube.” Applejack stepped back on the lift and pulled the lever.
“Aw come on, why do you keep shooting me down?” Rainbow Dash flew back up to the lift, sounding a bit hurt in her voice.
“You wanna start a ruckus in front of Discord? You think that’s a good idea?”