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9w, 5dI Am Technically Not Dead8 comments · 138 views
So, new story. My first since 2013, actually. It might be my last.
I've been trying to find the right balance of how much effort to put into fulfilling my personal goals, and how much to put into improving the world. And the thing about writing is that you get out of it what you put into it—so yes, it's been unspeakably rewarding, but it also takes much more energy than, say, going out to a party. That's energy that hasn't gone into my larger goals. I've known this intellectually for approximately forever. A while ago, this started making sense on an emotional level, too. (My guess is that it's because I gained the ability to express my emotions without first writing an entire story.)
I'd been in the middle of revising this story with my prereaders. And then I sort of... stopped. I didn't feel great about leaving them hanging, but there was stuff to do, you know?
Well, I've had time to take stock lately, and I want to tie up some loose ends. The story may not be 100% perfect forever, but the important stuff is all there, and it's more than postable. And people have been asking if I got hit by a bus or something, so it seems wise to let everyone know what's up.
Maybe I'll be back, if I gain the ability to balance writing and working in a more stable way. But for now, at least, it's not my highest priority.
12 comments · 254 views
“An Imaginative Performance” Or “Expectations”: Apple Bloom has the lead role in her school play, and her performance will be perfect. No matter what.
The Tyrant And The Detective: Fetlock Holmes attempts to prove that Discord was responsible for sabotaging the Tree of Harmony. With the exemplar of deductive logic pitted against the draconequification of chaos in an epic battle of wits, only one thing is certain: There is absolutely no sexual tension. None whatsoever. Move along.
Tired From Chaos: I'm Worker. I can make anypony smile.
The Colour Quixote Bleeds In Their Highnesses' Clandestine Corps: The RCL decides to publish only Blueblood stories from now on.
Five Hundred Little Murders And What Came After: Now that the invading deer have been driven back, somepony needs to make sure they never threaten ponykind again. But when it comes time to do what must be done, no one has the courage to go through with it. No one except the strongest pony in the world.
Lost Cities Are Where The Harp Is: North of Canterlot, in the far marches of the Equestrian lands near the border with the Griffon tribes, there is a mountain that flies. It is covered in Smooze.
West of Canterlot, beyond the Galloping Mountains and a desert painted in the pastel hues of a faded rainbow, a tower sits at the edge of the world. It is covered in Smooze.
South of Canterlot, past the Everfree forest and the desolate badlands, a city of gardens waits to be born. It is covered in Smooze.
That's Allabaster: An aging Pinkie Pie forgets where she put Applejack's hat.
It Is My Fate To Fight For Cranberry Hill: It's winter, when snow covers the earth like frosting and the days are short and bright—the perfect time for a snowball fight! The Cutie Mark Crusaders tussle with Diamond Tiara and her accomplice, Typhon the Father of Monsters.
The Arbitrage of Monsters: Twilight Sparkle has a really bad day.
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Thanks to Chris, I've been thinking about writing style recently. What is a style? Do I have one? Do I have more than one? How can I tell? “Thinking really hard about these questions” doesn't seem like a good way to get answers, since my most common problem as a writer is that I don't communicate the ideas I mean to communicate.
The thing I care about is what you, the reader, experience. My best idea to find out is to ask. So I'm doing that! Right now!
If you're familiar with at least a couple of my stories, then please let me know what you think my style is, or any other broad feedback you have on my writing. I've put hundreds of hours into writing these stories for you, and if you can take a couple minutes to give back, it would mean a lot to me.
You can leave feedback in the comments to this post, put them in a PM, tell me anonymously at this shiny page, track down my physical address and send a singing telegram, or whatever you like. I declare Crocker's Rules on everything I get this way. Please write feedback before reading this page's comments, to avoid accidental priming and conformity effects.
Since I'm asking you to do me a favor, it makes sense that I should do something for you, too. I will write a 500-1000 word story for one randomly-selected person who provides feedback. (Example, example.) Anonymous messages are eligible only if they include the prompt in the message itself, since obviously I can't get back to you. I'll pick the winner on Thursday, Dec 19, and try to have the story finished by Jan 1.
Thanks for helping me become a better writer!
2 comments · 304 views
I’m trying something a bit different with my latest story. This one is meant to stand on its own, but it’s also the first installment in a longer series I have planned. If I stick with it, I expect the whole project to be roughly novel-length. Just in case I don’t stick with it, each installment will be a self-contained story of its own, so you won’t be stranded at an awkward non-ending. (I don't read incomplete stories, so I tried to write something I'd want to read.)
I’m currently about a third of the way through The Weather Merchants, in which Bonfire learns a lesson about trust and I get to introduce you to Starling. Those of you who are following me will, of course, be notified when it gets posted.
Lodestar cracked open the heavy wooden door and paused to calm her nerves. Working directly for Princess Luna was a big promotion. Lodestar took a moment to dispel idle thoughts of hobnobbing with the rich and famous at the princess’s side, squared her shoulders, then pushed the door wide open. A wave of hot air flowed out, catching her loose mane and brushing the pure white strands back against her dark gray coat.
She entered the workshop beyond, carefully stepping over the unfamiliar tools strewn about. “Hello, Your Highness?” she called. “Radiance directed me here. My name is Lodestar. I’m to be your new attendant.” In the center of the workshop sat a furnace which bathed the room in a fiery glare. The light made Lodestar’s cutie mark, a tiny four-pointed star, appear a pale red-orange rather than its usual white.
In front of the furnace, Her Royal Highness Princess Luna of Equestria stood facing away from Lodestar. The princess’s horn glowed faintly with power as she concentrated upon some spell. If she had noticed Lodestar’s arrival, she gave no sign of it.
Lodestar approached close enough to see that the princess was holding a long blowpipe in one hoof and examining a red-hot bubble of glass on its end. Her pale blue mane shone with beads of sweat that reflected the hot glare of the furnace and the softer shine of her horn’s magic.
She tried again. “Excuse me, Your Highness. My name is Lodestar. I’m−”
“Indeed. We heard thee the first time,” said the princess without looking up. “Well met.” She returned the glass to the heat of the furnace.
Lodestar stood quietly in the workshop’s stuffy heat. When it became apparent that Princess Luna had nothing else to say, Lodestar asked, “Is there anything I can do for you, Your Highness? Stoke the fire, maybe?”
“This is no fire,” said Princess Luna.
Lodestar looked closely at the furnace. No smoke rose from within, she saw, and the glow that poured forth was too steady to be any natural flame. “But then… what?”
“A simple spell,” said the princess. She still had not so much as glanced at Lodestar. “Our magic heats the furnace itself, without combustion or any such crude methods. The barest change in temperature can affect the work, and no mere fire is so reliable. And as thou wilt surely ask, yes, we could simply heat the glass itself. Yet, altering the glass so grossly would be too easy. Such a thing would not truly be art.”
Lodestar’s eyes darted back and forth between the princess and the furnace. “You mean all the heat in here is from you? You’re keeping that hot enough to melt glass?” The princesses were supposed to be powerful, but this went well beyond that. A talented unicorn could maybe create that much heat for a minute or two before collapsing from exhaustion, but the princess barely seemed to be exerting herself.
“Yes.” The princess peered carefully at her glass bubble inside the furnace, then hissed in displeasure. “Yet still the heat is too irregular! It must be this blasted atmosphere. There is naught else that could interfere. Very well, there is only one thing for it.” Her eyes half-closed in concentration, and the light from her horn flared up, nearly rivaling the furnace for brilliance.
Lodestar reflexively took a step back. “What could you possibly−”
Lodestar couldn’t breathe. In the span of a heartbeat, what air remained rushed out of her lungs, leaving her feeling much like she had sucked down a breath of water. Lodestar was vaguely aware that her whole body hurt, but it paled in comparison to her burning need for oxygen. She tried to inhale, but her heaving chest drew in no air. She tried to scream, but there was no sound−in fact, she couldn’t hear anything at all.
Princess Luna continued to putter about the furnace as though nothing were amiss, completely oblivious to Lodestar’s plight. Whatever was happening to Lodestar, it didn’t seem to affect the princess.
Lodestar felt herself hit the ground. She hadn’t noticed herself falling, but now she was lying flat on her side. Her vision was beginning to blur. In her panic, Lodestar’s only thought was to reach out to somepony−anypony. Desperately, she flailed in Princess Luna’s direction. The princess was slightly out of reach, but although her limbs felt like clumsy sacks of flour, Lodestar managed to drag herself across the floor until she was close enough to grab onto Princess Luna’s back leg.
Princess Luna tensed, then turned to look at Lodestar for the first time. She wore an expression of annoyance that quickly turned to surprise, then just as quickly to horror. The light from her horn vanished, there was a brief but tremendous noise, and Lodestar could breathe again. She sucked in deep, shuddering breaths as she clung to the princess’s leg like a drowning sailor.
“Our sincerest apologies,” said Princess Luna. “It is difficult to remember that other ponies require air.”
With an effort of will, Lodestar tried to speak. “Hhhhhh,” she wheezed.
“Have no fear.” Princess Luna gently tried to pull her leg away, but Lodestar only tightened her grip. “All is well, now.” She tugged her leg again, harder, to no avail. “Thou canst release us.”
As oxygen returned and adrenaline faded, Lodestar began to remember where she was and whose leg she was clamped onto. The pain in the rest of her body, which had seemed trivial compared to her need for air, was starting to become serious. “Of course,” she said between gasps. “Only I’m not certain I can move my hooves.”
“Ah, yes,” said Princess Luna. “The damage from the lack of pressure. No matter, that is simple enough to fix.” Lodestar flinched as a wave of bluish-white light sprang from the princess’s horn and spread outwards. It washed over Lodestar, erasing the pain and fatigue in her muscles as it passed, before it faded into nothingness.
Lodestar quickly peeled herself off of the princess and stood up with a polite grin plastered on her face. “Eheheh, yes, that’s much better. Thank you, Your Highness. Well, I suppose I’ll leave you to your art now that that’s all settled.” Lodestar broke for the door before she even finished talking.
“There is no need,” said Princess Luna. “Thou art most welcome to−” Lodestar didn’t wait around to hear the end of that thought. Instead she slipped out of the workshop and hurried away. Royalty or no, Princess Luna was dangerous. As soon as she thought herself far enough away that Princess Luna wouldn’t hear her hoofbeats, Lodestar broke into a gallop.
“Radiance! Miss Radiance!” Lodestar called when she spotted the palace steward’s distincive chess castle cutie mark in one of the palace’s crowded hallways. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
The cream-colored earth pony looked over with a frown that stretched her face as tight as the bun that confined her dark green mane. She didn’t slow her swift pace down the hallway. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be attending to Princess Luna. After everything you told me about how thrilled you were to move out of the palace kitchens, I must say I’m surprised to see you.”
Lodestar hurried over to Radiance and fell into step half a pace behind the steward. “I was with the princess, but then−” Lodestar tried to think of a polite way to explain. “Well, she− that is, she nearly suffocated me!”
Radiance frowned. “Mm, yes, the princess does have her little mishaps from time to time. It’s why she goes through attendants so quickly. You should be grateful for that. It’s why you got promoted to your current position.”
“To be blunt, Miss Radiance, I’m no longer certain I want this position. I could have died!”
“Don’t be absurd,” said Radiance. “Princess Luna has never seriously hurt an attendant. Well, except for that time with Dawn Darling, but even princesses slip up now and again. In any case, the thought of you leaving the princess so soon is out of the question. I am responsible for overseeing the entire palace, and I spend far too much of my limited time finding new attendants for Princess Luna as it is. My other duties suffered when I tracked down you to replace the previous attendant, and it will take me some time to catch up before I’ll even consider finding another pony to replace you.”
“I appreciate your difficulty,” said Lodestar, “but I’m afraid I really wouldn’t be comfortable in the princess’s presence anymore.”
“Let me be plain.” Radiance stopped walking, and Lodestar followed suit, forcing everypony else in the hall to squeeze around them. “It is less than a week until the first Grand Galloping Gala since Princess Luna’s return. The event must be perfect, and as such I cannot spare the time to replace you until afterwards. I can’t force you to stay, but if you don’t last at least that long in this position, I’ll see to it that you never work in Canterlot Palace again. I have no need for ponies who completely lack dedication.”
Lodestar’s face fell. “A week? But I could never−”
“On the other hoof,” Radiance continued as though Lodestar hadn’t spoken, “should you last at least a month, you will have proven yourself very valuable indeed. In that case, I would be happy to transfer you to a more appropriate position−say, in Princess Cadence’s personal staff.”
Lodestar swallowed. A position with Cadence would be perfect, but a whole month... “I’ll try,” she said.
“Princess Luna? Are you in here?” Lodestar stepped tentatively across the threshold into the princess’s chambers. The glass furnace had been deserted when Lodestar returned, and this had seemed like the best place to try next. The first room was a richly furnished lounge decorated in dark blues and violets. There were several plush pillows arranged around a pair of fine mahogany tables, a tall bookshelf filled with cracked leather tomes, and a number of abstract sculptures spun from delicate glass. A hallway led deeper into the princess’s suite, but there was no sign of Princess Luna herself.
“This way.” The soft voice came from a half-open door within the hallway. Lodestar hurried over.
The room beyond was dominated by an enormous canopied bed hung with satin curtains. Atop the plush mattress, Princess Luna was sprawled on her back with her head hanging off the edge of the bed. Her pale blue mane cascaded to the floor as she stared upside-down at Lodestar. One of the princess’s back legs kicked idly at the air.
“Ah! Our new attendant!” Princess Luna’s eyes lit up. “We had not expected to see thee again. Few come back, after once fleeing.” She chewed her lip. “We would apologize for asphyxiating thee.” The princess’s face was sober and contrite, although the effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact that she was still upside-down.
“Think nothing of it,” said Lodestar. “It was an accident.” In truth, she wasn’t feeling nearly as forgiving as she acted, but Lodestar saw no reason to antagonize the princess if she was going to be stuck here for a whole week. Princess Luna had nearly killed her out of sheer carelessness, and Lodestar had no desire to see what she would do if she were actually angry. She seemed harmless enough, lying there in a decidedly unprincesslike position, but she had seemed harmless at the furnace, too.
Princess Luna gazed at her wordlessly. When the silence became uncomfortable, Lodestar asked, “Is there anything I can do for you, Your Highness?”
“Not now. Stay close, please.”
Lodestar stood in the doorway, trying not to stare too much. Princess Luna continued lying upside down on her bed. After a few minutes, she stopped kicking. Lodestar kept waiting. The only sounds she heard were the noise of her own breathing and the ticking of the grandfather clock that stood against the far wall. Time passed. Occasionally Princess Luna fidgeted.
When the clock said forty minutes had passed, Princess Luna stood up. Lodestar tensed. The princess stretched, then crawled back onto the bed, on her side this time.
Lodestar kept waiting. This was driving her mad, but she kept an impassive face. A princess wasn’t supposed to do… whatever this was.
After an hour and a half had passed, she couldn’t take it any longer. “Um, excuse me, Your Highness?”
Luna rolled onto her front. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry, Your Highnes, but… what are you doing?”
“Doing? We are doing nothing. Why must ponies here always be doing things?”
Lodestar didn’t know what to say to that, but she had to respond somehow. “Can I get you anything? You’ve been here a while.”
“No. Thou just asked me that.”
“That was over an hour ago, princess.”
Silence reigned. It was half an hour later that Princess Luna spoke up.
“Is that a long time?”
“Er, what, Your Highness?”
“An hour. Is that a long time for a pony to do nothing?”
“I suppose so, Princess.”
“Oh!” The princess sat bolt upright. Lodestar managed to stop herself flinching away before it became too apparent. “Thou art bored, then! We apologize, we forgot about boredom!”
“I… it’s quite alright, Princess. This is my job.”
“Never mind that nonsense! We were rude.” Princess Luna slipped off the bed and began pacing. “We hate being rude! There are simply too many things to remember and every time we get nine things right there is always a tenth thing that remains forgotten and argh ‘tis insufferable!” Princess Luna’s voice rose to a shout, and Lodestar took several hasty steps away, fearing the worst. “All these stupid rules about what a pony can say and what a pony must do until we cannot decide anything at all!” She stopped abruptly and glanced sheepishly at Lodestar. “We fear we are being rude again.”
“Not at all, Your Highness,” Lodestar said automatically. “I suppose that...” She trailed off as she realized she had no soothing lie available.
“Bah. It would appear we cannot even complain properly.” Princess Luna flopped back onto the bed. “We would be alone for a time. Leave us.”
“Hey sis! I heard the big news. A promotion! Congrats!”
Lodestar looked up from her copy of Cantertainment Weekly as a pale yellow unicorn with a cutie mark of a spotlight’s beam strode into their house’s living room. Moonlight caught in his shaggy orange mane as it streamed through the room's oversized windows.
Lodestar was curled up on a small green sofa in front of a hardwood coffee table on which rested a half-finished glass of caberneigh. “Thank you, Sunspot,” she said.
“You look pretty beat.” Sunspot sat down on the far side of the table. “Luna running you ragged?”
Lodestar bit her lip. “I suppose you could say that. Radiance has made it clear that I’m stuck with her for now, though.”
“Well, that’s good, right? I figured you’d be all over this. I mean, she’s a princess! It’s basically like living in one of your Fluttershy magazines, yeah?”
Lodestar sniffed. “I’ll have you know Fluttershy’s been old news for months.”
“Yeah? Let’s see.” Sunspot snatched Lodestar’s magazine from her hoof and began to read. “‘Blossom Orange’s Fashion Fiasco: What She’s Wearing To The Gala And Why She Shouldn’t.’ I swear, these ponies. Somepony should show up to their Gala naked. It’d be worth it to see their faces.”
“Even Princess Celestia couldn’t get away with that.”
“Too bad, that’d be priceless.” Sunspot put down the magazine. “Hey, think you’ll get into the Gala, now that you’re working for a princess?”
Lodestar scooped up the magazine and flipped to a different story. “I’m sure I will. Princess Celestia’s attendants always get in. Even if I’ll be stuck with Princess Luna at the time, getting to see the actual Grand Galloping Gala… it’d be pretty great.”
“Well, I’ll miss going to High Noon’s post-Gala review party thing with you. It’ll be a shame to give up on tradition, but there’s no reason for you to miss the actual after-party for that.”
Lodestar raised an eyebrow. “I thought you hated the Gala-watching scene.”
“Yeah, but I like doing stuff with you. Anyway, what’s the problem with Princess Fancy?”
“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest,” said Lodestar. “She’s not at all like anypony else I’ve met. Actually, I think you can help me figure it out.”
“Can you talk to Starlight Song for me? You told me she used to be Princess Luna’s attendant a while ago, and I’d like to find out more about the job. I’m especially curious as to why she quit.”
“Aw, by the Sisters, that’s bad timing.” Sunspot rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry, I can’t help you there.”
“Why on Equestria not? You are dating her, after all. You ought to be able to ask her a few questions.”
“Correction: I was dating her.”
Lodestar winced. “Ooh. I’m sorry. What happened?”
“I guess it just stopped being fun. She was getting kinda clingy, like how she wouldn’t stop trying to get me to go to that hoofball match together. I figured I’d cut it off before it went too far.” He shrugged. “Oh, well. I’ll find somepony else.”
“You always do.” Lodestar rolled her eyes. “I don’t suppose you parted ways on good terms? I really would like to talk to her.”
“Not so much. I think she had the wrong idea about where our relationship was going, and, uh, certain things were said.”
“Yeah, she said I had no idea what love really was. I may have said some unkind words about her parents, after that.”
“Wonderful,” Lodestar sighed. “That was remarkably fast, even for you. How long were you together? A week and a half?”
“Hey, come on. It’s no worse than the ponies in your magazines. We’d fit right in with Fleur and what’s-his-face.”
“Fleur de Lis and Hoity Toity divorced after three weeks, and now everypony makes fun of them. You and Starlight Song lasted half that long.”
“What can I say?” Sunspot shrugged. “It was time to move on.”
Lodestar stood stiffly in Princess Luna’s lounge. The princess was staring intently at one of her sculptures, a sinewy cord several feet tall formed from dozens of strands of blue and green glass, as she had been for the past two hours. Lodestar’s second shift was proving to be much like the first. The only excitement had come when she had fetched the princess a glass of grape juice.
Lodestar cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Your Highness. Your meeting with the Minister of Trade starts in ten minutes.”
Princess Luna looked up, startled. “That is tonight? Then we must depart.”
Lodestar held the door open for the princess. The two of them left Princess Luna’s chambers and started off down the corridor.
“Thou never callst me by mine name,” said the princess.
“Should I have?” Lodestar fought down the urge to panic. She couldn’t have screwed up by her second day! In front of the princess, no less! Not only was this the last pony she ever wanted to see angry, but being rude to one of Equestria’s rulers was simply not done.
“Thou shouldst call me whatever thou thinkst best. I forgot so much about etiquette when I was on the moon. I’m sure thou knowst what thou shouldst call me better than I. I merely wonder why thou speakst as thou dost.”
Lodestar wondered why the princess had stopped using plural pronouns to refer to herself, but decided it was an issue to tackle later, when she wasn’t busy justifying her own diction. “Using your title is a way of showing respect, Your Highness,” she said.
Princess Luna let out a sigh of frustration. “Alas, this is all more complicated than I remember. A thousand years is a long time.”
“I suppose I never gave that much thought. It must have been very hard, being away so long.”
“Not especially. Or rather, it was difficult at first, as thou canst likely imagine. The beginning was… it was…” The princess’s voice grew smaller and trailed off, and she slowly stopped walking. She stood still, staring at the floor, while Lodestar waited. Abruptly, Princess Luna raised her head and set off again. “That is not the story I meant to tell thee,” she said evenly. “It took perhaps seven score years, but I grew accustomed to solitude. I enjoyed it. To have all the time there was to do whatever I wished…” She smiled distantly. “It is difficult to describe how peaceful it was, or how liberating. I am most glad it happened. Do not misunderstand, I am pleased to be back in the world once more. There are so many things I missed, and so many new things that did not exist before.”
“There must be a lot to adjust to.”
“Indeed. But that is enough about me. Tell me about thyself, Lodestar.”
“I suppose there isn’t much to tell, Princess. I’m just a common pony.”
“Perfect. Our sister says it will do us good to learn more about the common ponies.”
Lodestar suppressed her disappointment. That was supposed to be the part where the princess told her she wasn’t common at all. “Well, I grew up here in Canterlot. I’ve worked in the palace ever since I finished school. Um, I live with my brother, Sunspot. He’s an actor.”
“Interesting, but that is not what we wished to know. It would please us to hear about thy sesguin, not thy circumstances.”
“Sesguin, Princess? I’m not familiar with that word.”
“Discord’s teeth, not again! We thought we had done away with that infernal problem!” Princess Luna kicked the wall in frustration. Hoof-sized chunks of marble broke off and skittered down the hallway. Lodestar shied away, but Luna continued on as if nothing had happened. Lodestar had no choice but to keep following her.
The princess heaved a sigh. “When I was on the moon, I would create words. There are ideas I needed there that I had never encountered on Equestria. Since my return, it has been most difficult to remember which words are part of the lexicon and which are my own inventions. A thousand years is a long time.”
“Sesguin is one of your words?”
“It must be, if thou hast not heard it. I was certain I had overcome this curse!”
“As long as you’re making progress, you shouldn’t worry too much, Your Highness. My brother likes to say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.”
“He sounds like a most clever pony. Now, let us go to the library. I wish to be sure of whether sesguin is a word. There are yet other words I need to look up, as well.”
“Have you forgotten your meeting with the Minister of Trade, Princess?”
“I shall meet him some other time. As thou sayst, I must needs continue making progress with my vocabulary. Is ‘velleity’ a word?”
“It’s not one I’m familiar with, Princess…”
Lodestar closed the ancient copy of Mareiam-Webster’s dictionary and set it neatly in a stack with the other books. She paused to wipe away the dust left behind on her reading desk. When she accepted this job, Lodestar had had no idea that it would involve looking through a dozen different dictionaries and cross-referencing to account for spelling variations over the past thousand years. Apparently this was what Radiance had meant by “other duties as required.”
“Okay, Your Highness,” said Lodestar. “I think I’ve got it.”
“Hmm?” Princess Luna looked up from her own dictionary. The princess had insisted on helping in the search, then promptly begun to read through a dictionary from the very beginning. At least, she acted as though she were reading. The two of them had been in the library for somewhere north of three hours, and Princess Luna was still only as far as “adept.”
“It appears that ‘inamorato,’‘velleity,’ ‘unked,’ ‘goniolatry,’ ‘mamelon,’ and ‘ravelin’ are all words,” said Lodestar, “but I’m reasonably sure that ‘sesguin’ and ‘parsenar’ are not.”
“Oh! My thanks. That is good to know, and yet it is a shame that I shall have to do without ‘sesguin’ and ‘parsenar’.”
“To be blunt, Princess, I think you can safely do without all of them. When would you possibly need a specific word for the worship of angels?”
“Thou shouldst read more carefully,” said the princess. “It refers to angles, not angels.”
“Are you sure?” Lodestar reopened the dictionary to the entry for goniolatry. Sure enough, Princess Luna was right. “But that makes even less sense! Nopony would ever need to use that word!”
“I am immortal, am I not?” Princess Luna returned her attention to her dictionary. “I am sure I shall use it at least once,” she added without looking up.
Lodestar was trying to come up with some way to respond to that when she caught sight of Princess Celestia approaching through the shelves of books, wearing a disapproving frown. Lodestar’s mind froze up at the sight of the pony who had ruled Equestria for longer than anypony could remember. Being in Princess Luna’s presence was one thing, but this… it was all she could do to remember to bow.
“Luna,” said Princess Celestia, “the Minister of Trade just asked to reschedule your meeting, since you didn’t show up.”
“Oh, yes,” said Princess Luna. “Tell him the same time tomorrow night.”
“Luna… why didn’t you go to the meeting?”
“We were researching vocabulary with Lodestar.”
Princess Celestia sighed. “We’ve talked about the importance of keeping schedules, Luna. When other ponies are expecting you to do something, you have to follow through.”
“And follow through we shall. Did we not say we will meet him tomorrow?”
“It’s still not okay that you made him wait this evening and never showed up. How would you feel if somepony did that to you?”
Luna shrugged. “We would feel little enough. ‘Tis merely a day.”
“Most ponies here don’t think a day is a trivial length of time, Luna. I know the minister well. He’d never say it, but he was hurt when you weren’t there.” Celestia turned to Lodestar as though noticing her for the first time. “What’s your name, my little pony?”
“Lodestar, Your Highness.”
“Lodestar, please go to Minister Subtle Gloaming in the Luminous Tower. Tell him that my sister will see him at the same time tomorrow, and that I am quite sure she will be there on time.”
“Yes, Your Highness.” Lodestar was glad of any excuse to leave. The two princesses were supposed to rule Equestria in harmony. It was more than a little disturbing to watch the two of them disagreeing. She all but galloped out of the library.
When Lodestar returned to Princess Luna’s chambers after delivering the message, she found Her Highness stomping back and forth, fluttering her wings in agitation. The princess glanced at Lodestar as she came in, but did not interrupt her pacing.
Lodestar cleared her throat. She waited for the princess to acknowledge her, but soon it became clear that nothing of the sort was going to happen. Lodestar pressed ahead regardless. “Are you quite alright, Your Highness?”
“I cannot stand this!” Princess Luna’s voice was just below a shout. “I cannot and will not do all that she wishes, and yet when I fail to meet her standards, it hurts nevertheless. I had forgotten how much it hurts.” She stopped pacing and faced her attendant. “Tell me, Lodestar. Thou art accustomed to this world. How doth a pony deal with all these, these expectations?”
“Expectations?” Lodestar repeated. That was somewhat more than she had been prepared for.
“Yes! Expectations! All ponies expect certain things of their Princess of the Night. Some wish me to be well-spoken, some wish me to be learned, some wish for things I can only guess at. None say as much, some even attempt to hide it, yet I can tell from the way they look at me when I do not act as they wish. I can ignore them, but it is difficult, and doubly so when she does it.”
Before Lodestar could formulate an answer, the princess had started pacing across the room once again. “Thou art the first pony I have met who does not judge me in this manner,” continued Princess Luna. “Why is this? Why art thou different?”
Lodestar thought furiously. I’m better at hiding it when I disapprove was clearly not what Her Highness wanted to hear. “You’re the princess,” Lodestar said carefully. “It’s not my place to judge you.”
“I would that other ponies felt as much,” said Princess Luna. “This constant judging is inescapable, here in the world.”
Lodestar was thoroughly exhausted by the time she returned home. She shoved open the door and took a step towards her favorite sofa, then stopped when she realized it was already occupied. Her brother was curled up next to an unfamiliar sky blue earth pony. The unknown mare looked up, although Sunspot continued toying with her deep violet mane. “Hey, sis,” said Sunspot. “I’d like you to meet Morning Glory. Morning Glory, Lodestar.”
Lodestar sighed. Even for Sunspot, this was a remarkably fast rebound. She resisted the urge to say something unkind; there was no need to do that in front of the mare. Besides, she was too tired to get into it now. Lodestar spared a glance at the new girl’s cutie mark and saw a blooming flower in the same shade of violet as her mane. That probably meant another empty-headed ditz, although this one was older than Sunspot’s usual companions. “A pleasure,” Lodestar said. “I’m sorry, but I need to get some rest. I’m still not used to these night shifts. I’ll leave you two alone.” She changed course to her bedroom.
“Oh, do you have to go?” called Morning Glory. “It’s still early.”
“Yeah, stick around,” said Sunspot. “You’ll like her. She writes for one of your Fluttershy magazines.”
Morning Glory rolled her eyes. “I keep telling you, the National Equestrian hasn’t run a Fluttershy story in months.”
Lodestar stopped. She could certainly make time for one of the National Equestrian’s reporters. “I suppose I can wait a minute,” she said as she turned back towards Sunspot and Morning Glory. “I don’t need to be back attending to Princess Luna again for some time.”
Morning Glory untangled herself from Sunspot and pushed herself more or less upright. “You’re close to Princess Luna?”
Lodestar considered the question. “I suppose I am,” she said. “I don’t think there are many ponies closer, anyway.” Lodestar swelled up with pride at the realization and the respect she saw in Morning Glory’s eyes. Still, it seemed sad that Luna had so few ponies closer than her servant of two days.
“You know,” said Morning Glory, “we’ve been trying to do a feature on Princess Luna, but we can’t get any good sources. All we’ve got are the usual horrible rumors. If you could confirm those, though, we might have enough to publish.”
“I don’t know about any horrible rumors,” said Lodestar. “Princess Luna is an upstanding member of the royal family.” Well, maybe she wasn’t exactly upstanding, but Lodestar didn’t like Morning Glory’s angle. Whatever she thought of the princess, Lodestar’s job was to look after her. If that meant defending her from the press, that was fine.
“Really?” Morning Glory frowned dubiously. “I mean, these are persistent rumors, here. I’ve been around long enough to know when there’s at least some truth to these things, and this is one of those times. If you could tell me what the real story behind the rumors is, I’d be grateful.”
“Hm?” said Sunspot. “What rumors?” Lodestar noticed that her brother was gazing up at Morning Glory with a decidedly un-Sunspotlike expression of peaceful contentment that verged on adoration.
Morning Glory shrugged. “Oh, you know. Princess Luna is still secretly Nightmare Moon. Princess Luna doesn’t know anything about us common ponies. Princess Luna once set fire to a servant.”
“None of that’s true!” said Lodestar. “The princess isn’t evil, she’s just… she has trouble interacting with ponies sometimes. Or rather, all the time, I suppose.”
“Well, if you ever want to set the record straight, I’d be happy to hear it. An article about Princess Luna’s side of things would almost certainly get published.”
“I’d love to!” Lodestar almost burst at the thought of seeing her name in the Equestrian.
“Great. Let’s do that sometime after the Gala. I’ll be working my tail off until then, and your article would get lost in all the Gala gossip anyway.”
Lodestar nodded. “I look forward to it,” she said.
“If I can ask, Your Highness, what are you planning on wearing to the Gala?”
Princess Luna looked up from the glass paperweight she was studying. It was a heavy piece of blue and white, blown in the shape of a seashell, and it had held the princess’s attention for well over an hour. “Thou art referring to the Grand Galloping Gala?”
“Yes, Your Highness. I’m sorry to interrupt, but you haven’t mentioned it at all, and, well, it’s less than a week away.”
“Is it indeed?” The princess shrugged. “No matter. I will not attend.”
“But it’s the biggest event of the year! Everypony who’s anypony will be there!”
“Precisely. It is difficult enough learning to interact with one pony at a time. I do not wish to manage an entire crowd of my subjects. Perhaps next year I will be prepared, or perhaps the year after that, but not now.”
“So we’ll be staying here, then? Like any other night?” Lodestar did her best to keep the disappointment out of her voice.
“Indeed.” The princess peered closely at Lodestar. “Doth this trouble thee?”
“Of course not, Your Highness.”
“You alright in there, sis?” The door to Lodestar’s bedroom muffled Sunspot’s voice. “Breakfast’s getting cold.”
“I am not alright!” she called from atop her bed. “I finally get a job personally attending one of the two ponies in Equestria who doesn’t need so much as an invitation to get into the Grand Galloping Gala, and she’s not even going! This was supposed to be my chance to finally see it!”
Sunspot cracked open the door, spilling light into the room. It was a fastidiously clean space that would have been bright if the heavy drapes weren’t pulled closed against the rising sun. Shelves and end tables displayed countless keepsakes, knickknacks, and mementos, leaving barely enough room for the canopied bed on which Lodestar had thrown herself.
“That’s rough,” said Sunspot. “You can’t get in without her, can you?”
“I can’t even get away from her. She’s still the princess and she still needs an attendant. The only bright side is that now I can go to the review party with you, afterwards.”
“Aw, horsefeathers. I actually told Morning Glory I’d go with her to the Equestrian’s party thing, since you were busy. Sorry, sis.”
“It figures.” Lodestar rolled onto her back and cast her eyes at the ceiling.
“Look, I know how much the Gala means to you. If you want, I can tell Morning Glory that I have something else I have to do.”
Lodestar sighed. “Thank you, but no. If past experience is any guide, the two of you don’t have long together. Best if you enjoy it while it lasts.” She paused. “Hey, wait. Since when do you go to actual events with your girlfriends? Didn’t you break up with Starlight Song because she wanted to do something more than hang out at the bar with you?”
“Yeah, it’s weird! I’ve never felt like this before.” Sunspot hopped up on the edge of the bed. “She’s just such a fascinating pony, you know? She loves what she does so much, I can’t help but get interested too.”
“You mean now you’re actually following the Fluttershy magazines?”
“Hey, Fluttershy is old news, remember? But no, not really, it doesn’t work when she’s not around. When I’m with her, though, it’s just… if she’s talking, then in has to be important, right? It’s not just the Fluttershy stuff, it’s also when she talks about her carpentry stuff or her garden. I swear I spent two hours last night listening to her talk about weeding, and it was the most fun I’ve had since I don’t even know.”
Lodestar smirked. “Oh, my. I think you’re actually starting to care for somepony. If I didn’t know better, I might actually think she could be more than another one of your three-week inamoratos.”
“Hey! What’s wrong with my three-week whatsits?”
“Well, have they ever made you feel like this before?”
Sunspot sighed. “I guess not.”