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The more I write this, the more I realize I am useless without John Perry to help get me out of the binds I work myself into. I'd sacrifice chickens in his name if I could for his help with editing and prereading this chapter. It went from being Hurricane Katrina mess to... I dunno. A really bad Noreastern thanks to him. That's saying a ton *opens umbrella* Enjoy.
Anyplace would be better than this, Private Hoplite decided as his eyes briefly flicked to the rafters above. A fraction of a second later, and they were refocused on the empty space in front of him. The guard kept his breath slow and steady, his ears pressed firmly against his head to tune out his companion.
“’See the world!’ they said. ‘Stallions love a mare in armor!’ they said. ‘Join the REF and meet Spitfire!’ they promised. And what do I get?” Lethe muttered. She gave a yawn and stretched her leathery wings. “Guard duty.”
The Night Guard lounged on the creaking floorboards, completely at ease.
Hoplite’s nostrils flared once to display his displeasure. He glared admonishingly from his position by the door. “You have a duty, soldier. Fulfill it and resume the position.”
“This isn’t a duty, this is punishment!” Lethe protested.
“We are on an assignment to watch over and protect this area of vital importance-”
“Vital importance my flank!” Lethe cut him off. She turned her head, allowing her dark face to bask in the beam of dying sunlight she was lying in. “We’re guarding an empty ruin!”
The Day Guard sighed, clinging desperately to the last few brittle strands of patience he had. Unfortunately, Lethe spoke the truth. This was punishment.
His commanding officer did not find “concussion by spontaneous flying alarm clocks” to be a viable excuse for falling asleep on duty. After a thorough berating, Private Hoplite now found himself ‘protecting’ a recruit’s worst nightmare; the Western Watchtower.
Centuries ago various guilds had used the tower to map the stars, or practice divination, or even just stargaze. Of course, that was years ago and this was now. NOW the tower proved to be an excellent place to send “irresponsible” guards.
The astronomy tower had long since fallen into complete ruin and disrepair. The ceiling was plagued with numerous holes, no doubt the cause from decades of rotten wood, weather, and termites. Patches of cold sunlight still peaked through the dirty glass panes, illuminating the golden dust motes that seemed to be the apex predator of this building. Every time Hoplite so much as breathed they attacked en-mass kamikaze, throwing themselves down his throat.
No. Hoplite knew that his real punishment was who they had paired him with.
“I’m booooooored,” whined a frustrated Lethe, flailing her limbs around briefly. She quickly rose to her hooves and stared at Hoplite by the door. “Let’s have some fun. Play a game with me, Hop.”
“Yes. I’m going to be a dragon and you can be a hapless guard.”
“I said no, Lethe.” Hoplite said firmly.
“Awww come on!” The dark mare pouted and stretched her leathery wings out for display. “I’d be the perfect dragon! I got the wings and the eyes and everything!”
Hoplite shot her a tired look. “Royal guards are supposed to be silent and dignified. Neither of which,” he shot under his breath, “you embody.”
“Wait, did you just call me immature?”
“That I did.”
“Okay, good.” Lethe faced forwards again, a grin on her lips. “For a second there I thought I was becoming an uptight sissy like you.”
“Hey!” cried an indignant Hoplite, “I am not uptight. Nor a sissy!”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not!”
Lethe’s gold eyes were full of mischief. “Run, Hop! A dragon is attacking the Western Watchtower and she eats uptight sissies! Raaaaawr!” she playfully growled at him.
Hoplite’s eye twitched but he- just barely -managed to keep his composure and allowed his body to settle back into autopilot. Truth be told, he too wished to drop this assignment, but all it would take was one of the officers to check on the recruits and he’d be shining horseshoes for the next week.
He was getting sloppy. He had almost caved at Lethe’s last offer for a card game to pass the time.
“Mmm, uptight sissy!” she said in a low voice, looking at Hoplite with a sly grin. “Why, this one looks filling!”
“I hate you. You know that?”
“I love you too, Hop.”
There was a screech of static over Hoplite’s ear piece before a panicked voice broke through. “Grah! Code Red, I repeat, Code Red!”
Hoplite swiftly pressed a button on his helmet, speaking into the microphone. “What’s going on, Theta?”
“Krrrztz…-ont gate is under attack! Requesting backup from all units! I repeat, requesting backup from all un- nonono! Not the face, not the face-“ A wet squishing sound filled the airwave. A few heartbeats later, only static remained on the airwaves.
A horrified silence passed between the two pegasi as they stared at each other with wide eyes. Alarm was evident on Lethe’s face.
“You don’t think...” she whispered, her dark coat several shades paler. Hoplite numbly shook his head, his mind racing. Front gate under attack. All units needed. Were they being invaded? Was it Discord again? How-
His thoughts were interrupted as their radios squeaked again.
“Krrtz- Awww man. I’ll never get this icing out of my mane...””
“...he’s fine.” A non-perturbed Hoplite switched off his radio and looked at the orange sky above. “Well, they asked for backup. We might as well-”
“FINALLY!” Lethe whooped. Her wings snapped out and she kicked off against the ground, springing into the air. Within seconds, she had broken out through the remnants of the ceiling, sending bits of wood raining down onto the stallion.
“-go help.” Hoplite finished. For good measure he flew up to the ceiling and kicked down a section that was still precariously held up, so it wouldn’t be a hazard should he have the misfortune to find himself back here. With at least something now accomplished, he followed Lethe.
As they flew closer to the South Gate, Hoplite could hear the voices of the guards ahead of him. What he heard was not reassuring.
“Somepony grab her!”
“I’m trying, I’m trying!”
“Halt... I said HALT!”
“Watch it, she's making a run at the gate!”
“Somepony get some pegasi here to help us catch her!”
TRISH!! THRONG!! STREEECHK!!!! TISH!!!
“That was me. My bad.”
“I got her!”
“That... that's it! We got her! We've got her surrounded.”
“No pony makes a fool out of us! You are under arrest for trespassing on castle grounds! Everypony, rush her on three... two... one...”
With a mighty roar, the circle of guards charged in on a pink mare; horns pointed at the pink filly. The pony, with a smile as wide as the day was long, watched on in innocent bemusement. The guards drew closer.
With a sort of grace most ponies could only dream of, the mare pranced into the air at the exact moment the guards closed in. And, with the tragic inevitability that typically defined Canterlot opera, the guards collided, their skulls impacting against each other where the pink mare had been standing but a second before.
The guards lay sprawled on the ground clutching their heads. The lucky ones had succeeded in knocking themselves out, while the less fortunate suffered everything from chipped horns and splitting migraines.
The mare, seemingly oblivious to the chaos she had single handedly caused in but a few seconds, skipped over to the nearest guard.
“Tag!” she said cheerfully, literally adding insult to injury as she tapped the stallion’s nose. “You’re still it! But that was a really, really nice try!”
The guard only groaned feebly, still clutching his head before he finally passed out.
“Oh,” Lethe winced, scrunching her eyes shut. “That has GOT to hurt.” The Night Watch closed her wings and dropped to the ground, landing squarely on her hooves. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
“Careful,” Hoplite warned. “This one looks tricky.”
“Oh, please,” Lethe chortled. “What could she-”
“Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie!” the pink mare said cheerfully, suddenly appearing directly in front of Lethe and causing the Night Watch to yelp in fright and leap back a couple of paces.
“What is your business here?” Hoplite ordered.
“Oh, I don’t have a business here! I work at Sugar Cube Corner down in Ponyville.”
“...I meant what are you doing here.”
Pinkie Pie scrunched her forehead together in thought, rubbing her chin.
“Hmmm. What am I doing here? Oh, I know!” A light bulb appeared above Pinkie Pie’s head and her face lit up. “I’m going to shoot Princess Celestia.”
A tumbleweed rolled through the courtyard. Hoplite and Lethe glanced at each other.
“You're going to... shoot Princess Celestia?” Hoplite repeated, his voice laced with disbelief. Was this mare being serious?
Pinkie Pie nodded eagerly. “Ahuh! In the face.”
“And how are you going to accomplish this?”
“With my cannon of course, silly.”
A broad smile stretched across Pinkie’s face and she pointed a hoof skywards. “This cannon!”
As if the ancestors’ themselves answered her called, a massive crate shot down from the heavens, crashing down behind Pinkie Pie. The pegasi were thrown back by the explosion, their coats showered with chips of wood. For a few precious seconds, their vision was obscured by the dust it had kicked up. They could only see the dark outlines of the mare. Then the smoke cleared…
Lethe’s eyes grew the size of dinner plates.
“By Celestia’s milky white teats,” she whispered reverently. Hoplite could only nod numbly in agreement.
There amidst the debris of planks, towering above them like a monolith, was the mother of all party cannons. It was at least five ponies tall and thrice as long, painted a bright baby-blue. Trails of smoke still snaked from it from the impact. Pinkie Pie dashed over to one of the wheels the cannon rested on and hugged the spoke.
“Yay! It’s finally here! This is going to be so awesome! At first I thought my regular cannon would work but then I remembered this is for Princess Celestia, so then I thought I should get a cannon fit for royalty and here it is!”
The only time Hoplite had ever seen a piece of artillery that big was when they fired the Pony Cannonball out of the big top at Barnem and Haybaley’s.
“It’s so big...” spluttered Hoplite as he took it all in.
“That’s what she said.”
Lethe could only smile sheepishly as Hoplite glared at her. The stallion turned his attention back to the war machine before them, dread filling his heart.
It was very rare that anypony racked up the nerve to attempt an assault on the throne’s life. Most ponies were stopped long before they got anywhere close to her Highness. But if this mare was telling the truth, there was no telling what something that powerful could do if it reached Celestia.
Hoplite wasn’t going to let this mare get that far.
Hoplite planted himself firmly in front of the massive gate, pawing the ground anxiously. The faithful guard stared down the pink mare. He would do his duty. For his lady’s sake.
“You cannot pass!” he bellowed, puffing out his chest to make himself seem more intimidating. “I am a servant of the Sacred Fire, her eternal Majesty Princess Celestia. While I still breathe, these gates will not yield to you, pink haired one! Go back to the shadow. You shall not-” The next thing Hoplite realized was Lethe’s black body tackling him to the ground as something shot by him. There was a small explosion as the gates were thrown off their hinges, spinning into the courtyard like ninja stars. The two lifted their eyes, taking in the smoking remains of the gate.
“-muffins?” asked a disoriented Hoplite, as his eyes tried to zone in on Luna’s stars floating around his head.
“Not just any muffins. Rocket Propelled Muffins,” explained Lethe as she rose to her hooves. She looked down at the still dazed Hoplite. “By the way, that’s twice you owe me. Next time, you’re a meat shield.”
Pinkie Pie began humming as she began pulling the cannon along like it was paper; strung along her back was said rocket launcher.
Lethe helped Hoplite to his hooves, a grim smile set on her lips.
“This is gonna be fun.”
Tonight was beautiful.
That’s what Celestia wholeheartedly believed as she skipped down the paved walkway back to the palace. Not a single cloud could be found in the night sky, leaving the heavens to be the perfect canvas for her sister to work her art on. As always, the mistress of the Night did not disappoint.
Pinpricks of stars framed the fat yellow moon that Luna had strung up tonight. The air was warm with the first touches of spring.
One by one, the lanterns that hung along the path sputtered to life from Celestia’s magic. All along the path in front of her, green shoots were beginning to rapidly push their way through the soil, as if reacting to her presence.
The princess nuzzled against one of the branches, the tender pink flowers tickling her nose. Their scent was intoxicating. She could honestly say that she had missed its presence. What was the point of even having a garden as beautiful as this if she never had any time to enjoy it? The princess, her gown long since removed, folded her legs under herself and rested her head against the tree trunk, enjoying the sight of her garden.
Indeed, life was truly beautiful right now.
Celestia could almost imagine that the Summer would not come this year, and neither the Fall after it, nor the Winter again after that. There’d just be here and now, and there always would be. This garden and its petals would last, and she would walk along its paths forever, the warm breeze playfully tousling her ethereal hair.
A firefly lazily drifted in front of Celestia, its golden glow illuminating her skin. Celestia watched as it drifted off the path, coming to rest on a rapidly growing lily.
Of course, it wouldn’t happen. Time only moved in one direction, as Celestia was very much aware of. There were reasons, very good reasons Celestia reminded herself, why there could never be an eternal Spring-- but she could imagine it anyway. If only for this night.
To the gentle sound of the trees rustling overhead, Celestia closed her eyes. The day and all its worries were beginning to take its toll on her. She promised herself she would rest them for only a few moments…
Sometime later, she was awakened from a pleasant dream by the sound of two voices going back and forth. Blearily opening her eyes, she gave a satisfied yawn, her senses rapidly returning to reality as the voices grew closer.
Celestia took a peek. Two chefs dressed in white were carefully pushing a series of trolleys down the garden path to the celebration that she had just escaped from. She was forced to duck down again as they came closer.
“-Sea? The poor guy is totally beside himself right now. This whole diet thing is hitting him really hard. You know he made these cakes specifically for Princess Celestia, right? He had them planned for months in advance. It must be killing him that she won’t be able to try them.”
“I dunno. He doesn’t seem like the type of guy to get choked up over something like this.”
“Totally. The guy is absolutely miserable right now.”
“You sure? I mean, we’re talking the same sheep right? About yay high? Belittles us constantly? Greatest chef who ever lived? Single-handedly beat Discord out of his kitchen with a can of whip cream?”
“Copper Kettle... he’s peeling onions right now.”
“Does Chef Ram Sea EVER peel onions?”
“…Holy horse flanks, Whisk, you’re right! This is serious!”
“Leave the cakes here. We’re right by where the waiters said they’d meet us. I got just the thing…”
Celestia waited until the galloping of hooves had faded into the distance and came out from behind the tree.
“Well... you’ve certainly have outdone yourself, my humble Chef,” Celestia whispered with a sad smile. Sitting in the middle of the path was a kitchen trolley with two of the most succulent cakes Celestia had ever seen. The cooks had not been lying when they said that Chef Ram Sea had created these cakes with her in mind. By aesthetic standards, they were not the most aweing, consisting of merely numerous layers of dark chocolate decorated with a pink icing. A halo of cherries adorned the top of the cakes, no doubt in accordance with the Celebration.
But if Celestia knew Ram Sea the way he knew her, she knew these cakes were the highlight of tonight’s meal. What they looked visually humbling, she knew the secret of his skill lay in the taste…
…and Chef Ram Sea never disappointed.
Celestia caught herself from taking another step towards the cakes. It would do her no good. There were only many broken bones, courtesy of Swarzewalder’s exercises, at the end of this particular slippery slope.
“This is ridiculous,” Celestia muttered as she made up her mind and ducked behind the tree again.
Coming down the path was a white-coated, pink maned unicorn, dressed for the occasion in a formal gown. She stood a good hand and a half taller than most other mares, and Celestia knew that some ponies sometimes mistook her as herself going incognito at first glance. But nopony could mistake her after they saw the triple fleur-de-lis cutiemark that was her namesake.
Fleur De Lis looked absolutely miserable. Celestia noted how red her eyes looked, and Fleur was practically dragging her hooves as she strode to the cart. Although, the nobles had been right when they said that Fleur seemed to be curvier than normal lately.
The pink-haired unicorn paused in front of the carts, as if she was appraising the delicacies they each held. After a moment she looked around shiftily around her, her eyes darting about as though somepony might catch her in some criminal act.
‘What could she possibly be doing?’ Celestia thought to herself. After a moment Fleur De Lis was… chewing?!
Celestia craned forward to a better look. Sure enough, a bite was taken out of one of the cakes and there was a smear of pink frosting around the mare’s lips as proof of her guilt.
Celestia gave a yelp as her hoof lost her footing and she crashed to the ground in a flurry of white. Well, she wouldn’t be breaking into any hospitals anytime soon. The goddess groaned and picked herself up off the ground, to find a stunned Fleur De Lis looking at her.
“Princess Celestia!” Fleur exclaimed in surprise, her voices wavering. Her lip began to tremble. “I… I’m sorry… I was just… I was…” The mare suddenly burst into tears, collapsing to her knees. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
Before Fleur could get out another word, a shadow came over her and she felt the touch of warmth down at her side. Celestia pressed her wing against her and pushed the mare closer. Looking up, she saw Princess Celestia next to her, concern practically written on the goddess’s face.
“I’m s-sorry about the cake,” Fleur hiccuped, looking all the much like a foal with their hoof in the cookie jar.
“Forget the cake. Just tell me what’s wrong.” Celestia asked as she tried to comfort the mare.
“I’m… I’m fine.” Fleur hurriedly protested, even though her face said everything but. She heatedly tried to brush away at the rivers, but they just kept coming. “J-just… just some senseless conversation at dinner… I shouldn’t have let it work me up…”
Celestia scowled, feeling her temper rise. Of course Fleur would have heard that dribble. She was less than fifteen feet away. The mare would have to have been deaf to miss it. Celestia vowed would be having some very choice words with the Ambassador’s wife. She was willing to tolerate the idiotic verbal jousting the nobles saw fit to play, but there were lines that had been crossed tonight.
“I normally just ignore them! I mean, I’m being ridiculous right now, I know I am. I’m never like this. But lately I’ve just been…” Fleur seemed to breaking with each word. “Fancy Pants told me I was still the most beautiful mare there. He thinks I’m getting refreshments right now. But I… I just… I’ve been getting really emotional lately… and when I get upset I eat… and recently I’ve been just absolutely dying for chocolate…”
Celestia looked at curves of Fleur’s body and put two and two together. “How far along have you been?”
Fleur seemed to shrink down into herself. “…a few months,” the mare whispered. Celestia couldn’t help but let out a few chuckles, prompting Fleur to look up at the princess in confusion.
“I was wondering why Fancy Pants was more high-spirited than unusual tonight,” Celestia remarked. She gave another smile and hugged the mare closer with her hoof. “Imagine that. Canterlot’s most sophisticated stallion and most beautiful mare having a foal together. Oh, the scandal!” Celestia teased in mock repulsion. The corners of the line that was Fleur’s mouth twitched upwards.
“It’s just…” the mare expressed hesitantly, looking at the cake she had violated, “I feel so hungry lately and when I saw it-”
“It’s completely normal.” Celestia assured her. “You’re eating for two now. Fancy Pants should be thrilled you're craving something normal, instead of like most mares. The flavor of ice cream they come up with… blech.” Celestia stuck her tongue out in disgust. “Although I’m just as guilty. The cravings with my fourth foal were the worst.” Celestia admitted with a smile. “I didn’t know what I wanted, only that I wanted it, and I drove the chefs to their wits end trying to figure it out. Three millennia later, I find out it was tacos.” Celestia shook her head, completely baffled. “Tacos. Can you believe it? How does that even work?”
Fleur laughed, and Celestia was relieved to see a spark of the mare’s usual vibrancy return to her eyes. The princess nuzzled her subject, gently wiping away the remnant streaks from Fleur’s cheeks.
Celestia then gave Fleur the something most ponies would pay in gold for: her time. Celestia knew it was something that all of her subjects cherished and longed for, and Fleur was no exception. Celestia allowed the mare to unburden herself of everything that was going on in her life. She consoled Fleur when the mare spoke of her worries about her career and family. Celestia laughed when the unicorn told story after story of Fancy Pants’s many goofs and mishaps in his factory when he tackled new aerial projects with an almost childlike glee.
When she was finished, it was the old, confident Fleur De Lis who was wrapped under her wing, her eyes free of any tears or worries.
“I just have to invite you and your husband for tea later this week at the palace. And once again…” Celestia gave the young mare another warm smile, rising to her hooves. “...congratulations.”
Fleur beamed and bowed her head to Celestia. “It would be our pleasure, Princess.”
“I’ll see you then, my little pony.”
After barely a step away, the goddess paused. Celestia turned her head back and gave a wistful look at the cake at the cake. A thread of forlorn longing tugged at her heart, but Celestia knew she would regret the rest of her immortal life if she did not ask.
“Yes your majesty?”
“What does it taste like?”
A look of understanding passed between the two mares. Fleur pushed the platter it rested on closer to the princess. “Why don’t you see for yourself?”
“No…” the princess hurriedly said. “I couldn’t. I mean…” Celestia bit her lip, looking at the towering dessert course. Nopony would notice if another slice was missing.
She had gone for so long without eating anything truly substantial. It was like a dam had suddenly burst open, and with it came the hunger. Celestia placed a hoof to her growling stomach, absentmindedly licking her lips. The goddess was feeling ravenous.
One little bite couldn’t hurt? Could it?
Under Fleur’s behest, the princess craned her neck forward and took a tentative bite.
It was glorious.
The closest thing she could compare the sensation to was an explosion of dark, rich goodness. Chocolate so smooth that it spread over her taste buds like a blanket. Syrupy raspberry layers between the cake gave off the faintest hints of the upcoming spring.
Celestia almost gagged on the sweetness alone. Weeks of nothing but celery, weak salads, and five-hour energy drinks had left the deliciousness of Ram Sea’s pastries nothing more than a vague memory. They came back in full force though.
Every dish, every plate full, every bite.
Fleur giggled and slid another slice onto her plate. “It is delicious, non? Your chef is magnificent.”
Celestia could not help but agree wholeheartedly, her whole being lost in the nirvana of the bite. He had once again reminded her that only he, a sheep from Coltland, was capable of creating the food for the gods.
Maybe it was that her inhibition was low from the alcohol she had consumed earlier. Maybe it was the euphoric high that she felt from the arrival of spring. Maybe it was the motherly warmth she had brought. In any event, no sooner had she licked the last of the crumbs from her lips that both Celestia and Fleur found themselves slicing another slice of cake.
One piece gave way to another… and another… and another…
“You don’t think they’ll notice, will they?” Celestia asked, as she looked at the damage inflicted. By the time the two had caught themselves, the top two layers of one of the cake had suffered significant damage. Fleur gave a nervous laugh.
“Er… no… I don’t think so. Not if we spread the icing around a bit…” The ivory unicorn picked up a kitchen knife with her magic and tried to conceal the cake. “…there…. No, that’s not working…” Fleur’s brow furrowed and she bit her tongue thoughtfully. “Here let me try… no... wait I almost… no.”
Celestia snickered, placing a hoof to her lips. “I don’t think there’s any chance of saving it, dear.”
“…actually…” Fleur admitted as she put down the knife. “You might be right. I think it would be best if we were never here.”
“One more for the road then.” Celestia said, as she scooped up another piece and raised it to her lips.
There was a click. A sudden burst of light and the sound of Fleur squealing in shock. The piece of cake was frozen in mid bite, only inches from the goddess’s lips. She knew that sound.
Celestia swallowed uneasily, the once moist cake now like a lump of cement in her throat. There, half-way coming out of a bush, was a cream-colored colt with a camera. He had gotten a picture of her.
Something snapped in Celestia’s brain.
He had gotten a picture of her eating cake. It was a picture of her breaking her diet!
If Celestia was a betting mare, said picture would result in Feather Duster’s wrath and Celestia would be safe nowhere. Not even on the moon.
She had to get that picture back.
“Hello there,” Celestia began slowly, inching her way towards the pegasus, “Are you enjoying the party?”
He nodded eagerly and snapped another picture of Celestia. The Princess nodded, her exterior the very definition of “cool and collected.”
“Well that’s good to-“ Celestia suddenly lunged for the camera, reaching out with her magic. “-hear!”
The pegasus, as if anticipating her, shot to the side to evade her hooves and magic.
The trolley was suddenly upended as the pegasus bolted under it. With a crash it toppled into Celestia, knocking Chef Ram Sea’s cake right into her face. The colt gave a titter of laughter and hurriedly buzzed off through the trees, his camera dangling alongside him.
“Oh,” Celestia whispered as she wiped cake from her face. Her eyes suddenly became ablaze with heavenly fire. “It. Is. On.”
Meanwhile in the courtyard
“Return fire!” Lethe ordered. A salvo of salvaged muffins was thrown back over the barrier by half a dozen valiant hooves. Lethe waited for the tell-tale splattering of pastry remains, and then galloped from her hiding place by a pegasus statue. Her hooves pounded the grass lawn, her helmet askew as she tried to make her destination before the next salvo. The black pegasi ducked and rolled up against a nearby rampart overlooking the battle. Beside her were stationed a group of guards including Hoplite, bravely fighting on and seeing to the casualties.
“Status report!” she cried.
“No good!” shouted another guard, who had ventured a peek. “She’s eating everything we’re throwing at her.”
“Drat.” Lethe ducked down. She looked over at the group’s impromptu medic. “How’s Pansy doing?”
Hoplite looked up at Lethe, shaking his head sadly. His hooves were stained red. “I’ve done everything I know how to. There’s no saving her.”
“S-s-so s-s-sticky...” whispered the afflicted mare, her eyes wide with shock. She had taken a direct hit of several cherry tarts, leaving her drenched in cherry syrup. “The horror...the horror...” she whispered softly, staring off into space.
“Still,” Lethe noted as she licked a trail of icing off her flank, “things could be worse. I mean, she IS giving us cake.”
“She’s not giving us cake, Lethe!” Hoplite rebuked, “She’s assaulting us with cake!”
His companion was about the retort but she heard the familiar click of a trigger being pulled. “DUCK!” Lethe shouted, diving for the ground. Every pony present hit the deck as another RPM (Raisin-Pecan Muffin) exploded behind them. A shower of muffins rained down on the besieged guard ponies.
“Argh!” Hoplite spat out a mini-muffin. “How does she have so many pastries?”
The pink pony tilted her head to the side and slid another piece of artillery into her launcher. “I work in a bakery.”
Spring had finally arrived.
Their duty finished with the return of the warm weather, the members of the Arcana had long since whisked themselves away from the party, once more leaving the nobility to socialize. Winter gowns and coats were shed in droves, revealing a myriad of looser and more comfortable, but no less gaudy, series of clothes. It was truly a sight to see.
However, one of the most aweing (or “utterly scandalous” as some mares claimed) attractions of the night, however, was the gargantuan red stallion and the young mare accompanying him.
“Schwarzwälder is going to go mingle.” Schwarzwälder began to drift away from Slender.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Slender bit down onto Schwarzwälder’s ear, dragging the stallion’s head down to her level. “Now you listen to me!” the trainer growled. Her eyes were practically throwing daggers at Schwarzwälder. “You are NOT going to mess this up for me. You are going to stay right next to me the entire night, and you are going to be silent.”
“Ticket was meant for Schwarzwälder. Slender can go home now.”
“The ticket was meant for Princess Celestia’s trainer, which means I. Am. Staying.” The yellow mare punctuated each word with a stomp of her hoof.
The mare fidgeted nervously in her blue sun dress, her eyes darting around the garden party. It was all so much more… fancier than she thought it would be. Various well-to-do ponies and nobles were clumped together in groups around the garden, chatting about everything and everything. Some had sent some disdainful looks towards the newcomer and her associate, but Slender wasn’t going to budge. She had received a ticket from the Princess like the rest of them and she had just as much right to be there. It paid to be connected. Or at the very least, have royalty drenched in divine sweat walk out your doors.
But of course, Schwarzwälder upon hearing about the Celebration invite just had to tag along. Not even the simple logic that there was only one ticket could discourage the diehard Haunches trainer.
Slender supposed that in the end, it had worked out. It had been a little hard for the guards at the front gate to say “No” to a stallion who bench pressed the moon goddess. Needless to say, they had both been allowed in.
“Slender can stay all she likes. Schwarzwälder is going to mingle among froo-froo ponies!”
Slender Flank cringed as several heads turned their way and hurriedly lowered her voice. “For ancestor’s sakes then, at least put on some clothes!”
“Schwarzwälder never wear clothes.” The giant reared onto his hind legs and flexed his muscles, his entire body on display for the ponies in front of him. Several mares outright fainted. “The equine body is beautiful and should not be hidden! Princess, though puny, knows this to be true as well! Princess’s pasty white flank is far more beautiful than fancy garb. Anypony else who think otherwise is crazy.”
“Quite right you are.” came a voice from behind the giant. The speaker was a white unicorn stallion sitting at a table behind the two. His tuxedo jacket was draped over the back of his chair and his tie was undone, resting on the tablecloth beside him. The first few buttons of his undershirt were undone, no doubt from the sudden warmth of the night, and a monocle was clenched in his eye.
“Besides, tonight is far too warm to be trussed up.” He fanned himself gently with a hoof. “Better to go eau natural, wouldn’t you say?”
Slender took note of the triple crown cutie mark he had. There was only one pony in all of Canterlot with that mark.
“F-F-Fancy Pants!” Slender stammered, dropping into a curtsy. The white stallion chuckled and rose from his seat.
“At your service,” he offered with a nod. “I’m hoping you two are having a pleasant evening. Although you seem to have me at a bit of a disadvantage Miss...?”
“Flank. My name is Slender Flank. And this is my friend, Schwarzwälder.” The red stallion grunted in response.
“Charming. So how are you two enjoying the party?” Fancy Pants asked, gesturing to the various groups of conversing nobles.
“Everypony here is weak and puny,” Schwarzwälder thundered. “Unicorns soft. Pegasi fragile like little birdies. Even earth ponies fat. If all nobility like this, is no wonder Princess was so soft.”
Slender tried to desperately elbow the red giant, but only succeeded in injuring her hoof. Quietly nursing it, the mare put on her biggest smile for Fancy Pants. “Please excuse my associate. He works at an exercise gym with me down town and-”
Fancy Pants’ eyes lit up in recognition. “Ah, so you must be the Princess’s special trainer.”
“Yes I/Schwarzwälder am/is.” Slender Flank and Schwarzwälder said simultaneously. The mare gave a pointed glare that was lost on the Oxtrian stallion.
“Absolutely fascinating,” Fancy Pants mused, “The Princess’s diet has been the talk of all of Canterlot. Why, she looks absolutely marvelous thanks to you,” he said, addressing them both. “I’ve even been considering stopping by the Haunches gym myself.”
Slender had to physically restrain herself from squealing in delight. Having the Princess attend her family’s gym had done wonders for business, even if a decent chunk of the profits went to repairing the damage a goddess and her brick-for-brains trainer managed to inflict upon the equipment. Dozens of ponies were now attending on a weekly basis, if but to claim they went to the same gym as her highness. If Fancy Pants would start using her though, every pony in Canterlot would flock to the Haunches.
She could even make her parents’ dream a reality and open up a second gym.
“I’m curious as to what your secret is however.”
A light blush sprung to Slender Flank’s cheeks at the compliment. The mare tossed her curled mane, flexing her body to show her physique. “Oh, nothing much. It’s really just the right morning stretches and fresh greens-“
“-Schwarzwälder begins each morning with five hundred crunches and three gallons of badger milk.“
“You’ll have to excuse my friend.” A mortified Slender Flank hurriedly explained to Fancy Pants. “He’s had a few drinks-”
“-Schwarzwälder then spends half an hour in vegetable garden.” At the stares from Fancy Pants and Slender, Schwarzwälder shuffled uneasily. “What? Gardening good for soul. Schwarzwälder always says ‘Healthy mind, healthy body.’”
Slender Flank blinked in surprise. “I didn’t know you were a gardener.”
The red giant nodded. “Yes. Broccoli, tomatoes, squash. All seeds imported from Schwarzwälder’s homeland. Unfortunately, cauliflower eat Schwarzwälder’s chainsaw, so Schwarzwälder cannot harvest crops this year.”
Before Slender Flank could think of a response to this, a sudden light chiming sound came from a stage overlooking the party. A white, well-groomed unicorn stallion with a compass mark on his flank was levitating a spoon and a champagne glass in front of him, lightly tapping them together.
“Fillies and gentlecolts,” Prince Blueblood announced in a refined tone, “I would like to thank you for coming on this lovely night. As always, we appreciate your attendance.
“However, I must regret to inform you that Princess Celestia will not be joining us tonight.” There was some scattered groans of annoyance and disappointment at this news. “I apologize, but there was an urgent development that required her immediate attention.”
The prince paused for a moment before continuing with his speech. “Tonight, we celebrate the return of Spring. The changing of seasons as our fair city is graced by the delicate beauty of-”
“GET BACK HERE!” a distant voice suddenly screamed out from the gardens just beyond the reaches of the party. Blueblood froze, fearing he recognized that voice, but decided to press on.
“...by the delicate beauty of the flowers which color our lives, bringing joy to our hearts-”
“I WILL LOOK FOR YOU!” the voice screamed again, even louder this time. “I WILL FIND YOU, AND I WILL END YOU!” Blueblood paused again and was just about to resume speaking before the sound of distant explosions and splattering sounds coming from the opposite direction caught his attention.
However, he didn’t get any time to think about this before a young, cream-colored colt with a short brown mane and a camera hanging around his neck whizzed past the prince before there was a bright flash of light and the stage he was standing on suddenly erupted, throwing Blueblood clear off. He was barely able to catch a glimpse of the figure of his aunt racing through the remains of the stage before the prince landed in a large cake that had been sitting untouched on the buffet table, coating Blueblood in bread and frosting for the second time in his life.
Pandemonium gripped the party. The attendees began running for their lives as the colt took advantage of the chaos to race across the garden, nimbly dodging the various nobles who ran across his path. Celestia tore through the party, her size and visibility giving her a clear path as the ponies dodged out of the way of their leader. “STOP THAT FOAL!” she screamed. “YOUR PRINCESS ORDERS YOU TO STOP HIM!”
At the edge of the garden, Slender Flank and Fancy Pants stared with their mouths agape, the latter with a monocle dangling, utterly forgotten, from his shirt pocket. Their large companion, however, watched on thoughtfully, a hoof placed on his chin.
“Hmm. Soft Princess run fast when chasing young colt. Schwarzwälder remember for next session.”
In the midst of the chaos and confusion that had gripped the party, nopony came to Celestia’s aid. The colt’s speed and agility was such that he passed each attendee before any of them could react in time, many not even noticing him to begin with. The guards stationed at the edge of the party - of which there were very few, owing to an ongoing situation outside the celebration - could not locate the small colt as he raced along the ground, out of sight in this crowd of adult ponies.
Regardless, Celestia relented pursued the intruder, following as he dove across a buffet table which shortly became the unfortunate victim of a fiery blast of magic from the princess’ horn. As she raced between the fallen pastries and the disfigured remains of elaborate food spreads Celestia fought back the regret that threatened to overwhelm her. No. There would be no tears shed for these casualties of war - at least not when they were inaccessible to her, anyway.
“I’ve got you now!” she yelled as the figure of the colt darted down a nearby garden path, away from the destruction and chaos that was left of the garden party. Celestia closed in as she grinned to herself. There would be no escape now. She whipped around a corner, readying a triumphant shout which promptly died in her throat as she caught sight of something massive sitting in her path. The princess skidded to a halt, just barely avoiding crashing into it.
It was a monolithic machine of modern weaponry. A monstrosity, mared by a pony who looked beside herself with joy. And it was pointed right at Celestia.
“Hoplite, wait!” a crumb covered black pegasus Night Watch in the distance screamed, chasing after a guard who was now barreling towards the princess.
“Princess Celestia!” Hoplite cried out desperately. He could see the mad, savage grin of the crazed pony threatening the pony he was sworn to protect. He narrowed his eyes. Even if it cost him his own life, protect her he would.
“Princess!” he yelled, throwing his hooves wide as he dove towards her. “Nooooooooooooooo-!”
Pinkie Pie ripped back the cord.
An explosion of color blasted out of the mouth of Pinkie’s cannon, hitting Celestia dead on. A blizzard of rainbow colored streamers and confetti snowed down around the bewildered mare.
Hoplite landed woefully short a second later, sliding into the dust face-down in front of the princess. His wings drooped pathetically. “Ow.”
“Um…. Thank You?” Celestia shook her head and rear, shaking the colorful pieces of paper off of her.
“No!” Pinkie Pie screamed. “This is wrong! All wrong!” The mare suddenly composed herself and pointed a hoof at Celestia “Except for you being here and me being here and my cannon being here! Those are right!” She darted around the massive piece of party artillery and examined the muzzle of the cannon, her eyes practically a good foot out of their socket as she peered in.
“…what just happened?” Hoplite asked numbly as he lifted his head up, taking in the confetti around him. Lethe sighed and nudged the Day Guard with her hoof.
“See, this is why I said stop. You would’ve made yourself seem like less of an idiot if you only listened to me. Hoplite, meet Pinkie Pie.” Lethe stated flatly. “You know. Pinkie Pie. Element of Laughter. Four-time savior of Equestria. Winner of the “Least-Likely-To-Assassinate-Princess-Celestia” award.” THAT Pinkie Pie.”
Said pink pony suddenly gave a playfully squeak as she leaned too far in, resulting in her head getting stuck in the cannon.
Celestia could only watch in bewilderment as Pinkie’s bottom and tail bounced around as she struggled to extract herself from the cannon. “This is wrong!” the pink pony shrieked. “The cannon was supposed to be loaded with cake batter!”
“Why were you trying to shoot me with cake batter?” Celestia ventured.
“Well duh!” Pinkie’s voice echoed from the inside, “because I was speaking to Twilight earlier and she told me that you were dieting, and I didn’t know what that was so I asked her! Then she told you me that it was when a pony didn’t eat and I was like ‘That’s silly. What pony wouldn’t want to eat their vegetables?’ but she told me that you weren’t eating at ALL!” Pinkie’s voice sounded as though she couldn’t believe the thought of it. “And I was like ‘Are you crazy? No cakes or pies or peanut butter or banana cream pie or-”
Celestia listened absentmindedly as Pinkie Pie went on, giving a vexed look at the cannon the mare had somehow smuggled in. She gave a tired sigh, reminding herself to have a talk with Twilight later about this.
“-or even star fruit! So I said to myself “Pinkie Pie, what’s the one thing that everypony loves?” and I said “Cookie Dough” but the launching velocity of cookie dough is kinda subpar, so I decided to bring you cake batter instead! You can get some really sweet air on it if you angle the cannon just right!” There was suddenly silence from the cannon.
Pinkie Pie’s head popped out of the cannon and she looked down at the guards, a puzzled expression on her face. “Wait a minute… if I put confetti in the party cannon then that means...”
In the Royal Kitchens
“PUSH!” Whisk shouted into the megaphone in front of him. There was a collective groan as a dozen or so stallions threw their weight against the metal monstrosity. With a horrendous screech it slowly slid into place against the wall.
“...and... there.” A satisfied Silver Whisk looked proudly at the device in front of him. Copper Kettle, as well as the rest of the cooks in the kitchen, could only stare numbly from his station.
“Perfect.” Silver Whisk smiled broadly and flung his hoof around Copper Kettle’s shoulder, gesturing to the appliance in front of them all. The machinery took up the entire stretch of one of the kitchen walls and had taken numerous shrinking spells from all unicorns present to make it capable of fitting through the kitchen doors.
“So what do you think?” he asked eagerly, a shockingly wide grin stretched across his face.
Copper Kettle gave a look of uncertainty to his friend. “It’s… a really nice oven?” Copper Kettle offered.
“R-really nice OVEN?!” Whisk spluttered, his eyes wide. “This is no mere oven! This is the apex of all ovens!” Silver Whisk reverently stroked a hoof along the flawless chrome surface. “Highly buffed stainless steel interior polished to an impeccable shine… capable of cooking 100,000 veggieburgers at once… goes from 0 to 365 degrees Fahrenheit in ten seconds… sixteen interior racks and turbovroom fans… fillies and gentlecolts, I give you…” Silver Whisk paused for dramatic effect. “THE OVENGER! The only oven fit for the ministrations of Chef Ram Sea!” Fireworks exploded behind Silver Whisk as he stood on his hind legs, forehooves tossed to the heavens.
There was a smattering of polite applause throughout the kitchen. Copper Kettle could only blink.
“This was your plan. You got him an oven-”
“OVENGER! Give it the respect it deserves.”
“-and that’s supposed to get him out of his funk?”
“Well, I was gonna get him just a regular oven. But I thought since we were getting one for the King of the Kitchen, we might as well get one fit for royalty.”
Copper Kettle was silent for a moment, scrutinizing. A grin slid onto Copper Kettle’s face. “Dude… totally sick…” he said as high-hooved Whisk. “Where did you find this puppy at?”
“I know a mare in Ponyville. Everything from salt from Marexeco to gelato from Bitaly, she’s your gal. I placed the order in this morning, and BOOM! It was here an hour later. Plus,” Whisk added with a grin, “for an extra five bits, she rigged it so that when we open the door for the first time, there’s supposed to be a massive burst of confetti.”
“I have to admit,” said Copper Kettle said as they walked to the pantry, “You are a genius. If this works, I am naming one of my foals after you.”
“Oh, it’ll work. There’s no way this can’t go wrong,” reassured Whisk. Amid the hushed conversation of his fellow cooks, he knocked on the pantry door. “Head Chef, we need you to come out here.”
There was silence in the kitchen for a moment. Then the gruff voice of Cher Ram Sea spoke up.
“Unless Lighter Fluid has screwed up again, an' th' entire kitchen is burnin' doon, go awa'. Can’t ye tell Ah’m peelin' onions?”
“We know chef, but we have something really important to show you! It’s urgent!”
“... fine.” There was the sound of numerous locks and bolts being slid out of place, and the door opened a crack to reveal the woolly face of Ram Sea. His eyes were red and he held a half-peeled onion in one hoof.
“Thes’ better be important lads. If it isn’t, Ah’m gonnae hae a body an’ yer guts for a new pair of bootts.”
“Oh trust me, Chef,” Silver Whisk said as he wrapped a black blindfold around Ram Sea’s eyes.
“Git thes thin' aff me! Whit do ye two think yer daein'? Is this some sort ay prenk?” the chef protested, wriggling between the grip of the two cooks.
“We just wanted to show you what we really think of you, Chef! Our intentions are nothing but sincere!” Copper Kettle said as he led Ram Sea in front of the OVENGER. At Whisk quickly took off the blindfold.
“SURPRISE!” shouted everypony in the kitchen as Copper Kettle threw the door to the oven open.
Everyone watched in horror, those cooks closest screaming as a tidal wave of a thick, yellow liquid exploded out of the other. Gallons of it splattered onto the pristine floors of the kitchen, and even more on the unlucky ponies who stood in front of the oven’s massive door. There was one sheep in particular however, who took the brunt of the force and was knocked head over heels by the torrent.
After what seemed an eternity, the gush finally ceased to a trickle. Ponies collected themselves from the sticky mess, looking around the kitchen in shock. The room was a disaster zone, but as they recovered from their surprise, everypony’s attention was drawn to the sheep lying in the middle of the kitchen, coated from horn to hoof in the sticky material.
Chef Ram Sea wiped the yellow goo from his eyes. He gave a steely look at everypony in the kitchen. “Who,” he began slowly, “is responsible for this?”
As one, every hoof in the kitchen pointed to the pale Copper Kettle and Silver Whisk. Chef Ram Sea opened his mouth, but Copper Kettle quickly raised his hoof, cutting off the sheep before he could speak.
“Allow us, Chef,” he muttered in a resigned fashion. He turned to face Silver Whisk, who was busy wiping the cake batter off of his uniform. “Silver Whisk, bah far ye are th’ most disgraceful cook te’ ever grace mah kitchen!”
Whisk turned to his compatriot and puffed out his chest. “Aye, and you, Copper Kettle can’t teel salt frum peppah! Ye’ mother was a diamond dog and ye fadder a Parasprite. They abandoned ye and ye were raised by Hydras you were!
“Auld cheil gum, pass th' bottle roon.”
“By th' kilts an' bags abune, ye ken whit we’re gonnae dae? We’re gonnae gang an' peel tatties wi' paperclips fur th' next month an' clean thes entire mess wi' uir toothbrushes until th' entire scullery sparkles fur thes crime against cuisine.” Whisk finished. Copper Kettle nodded in approval and as one, they turned and marched off into the pantry.
Chef Ram Sea rose to his hooves, wringing cake batter out of his wool. He stared up at the massive oven approvingly, and a smile spread across his lip.
“Ah was gonnae say thenk ye. But Ah guess 'at works too.”
The Next Morning
Feather Duster paced nervously back and forth on the carpet, having already achieved reducing it to a thread-bare patch. Her normally kept bun was frazzled, and if the bags under her eyes were any indication, she was running low on sleep. It was safe to say that the maid had run herself ragged over the last few hours.
“I can’t believe this is happening.” Feather Duster bemoaned, anxiously biting her hoof. “We were so careful, so diligent!”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. In a few centuries, nopony will remember any of it.” Celestia remarked, as she signed her approval on the mound of paperwork in front of her.
“I’m not talking about your actions at the party! I’m talking about this!” Feather Duster’s horn glowed and she brought a folded newspaper out of the saddlebags at her side. She tossed it onto Celestia;s desk. “We need to deal with this immediately!” Feather Duster insisted. Printed in bold large letters across the header was The Foal Free Press.
“…you’re saying a school newspaper,” Celestia ventured carefully “… is my greatest concern right now.”
Feather Duster urgently flipped open to paper, spreading it out on Celestia’s desk. “Look!”
Celestia sighed and adjusted the reading glasses perched on top of her muzzle. Fort he most part, it was mostly articles on school activities, sports schedules, and what was being served for lunch that day.
What really caught the princess’s eye though was the center image.
There for all the world to see, emblazoned in its pages, was the Princess of the Day with a slice of cake in hoof, gazing toward the camera with a mixture of surprise and guilt on her frosting-smeared face.
Celestia had to admit that it wasn’t her best angle.
“We managed to ‘convince’ all the Canterlot newspapers to bury your Cherry Celeration fiasco in a small article in the ad section of their prints,” Feather Duster said, leaning her head against the desk. The maid’s eyes drooped somewhere between ‘coherent’ and ‘out cold’. “With any luck, nopony will see it and what happened will be just reduced to noble gossip. But we couldn’t get ahold of the pony who took this shot. In a few hours from now, this image will be front and center on every newspaper in the kingdom!” The maid’s entire body trembled and she buried her face in her hooves. “It’ll be a scandal!”
Despite herself, Celestia could not help but be impressed with her hoof maid. She could only imagine what strings the mare had to pull in order to make last night’s “problem” go away. It had to be no small feat to cover up Princess Celestia telling off her own subjects and then trashing her own celebration. Feather Duster had worked tirelessly to ensure that the worst her Princess now had to deal with was an embarrassing photograph.
Celestia let the glasses drop onto her desk and closed the newspaper. The princess rose from her seat and walked to the balcony windows, gazing upon the spiraling towers that was Canterlot. She breathed in deeply. The bakers were at it again...
“Okay... okay we can fix this.” Feather Duster resolved, rising to her hooves. “We need to keep strong with the image that you’re devoted to your diet. We can double your sessions with Swarzewalder and we can make a press statement in which you endorse- Princess, are you even listening to me?”
The princess paid her maid no heed. The goddess remained facing the window.
The lingering taste of the Ram Sea’s masterpiece still danced on the edges of her consciousness, now nothing more than a memory.
A memory that was whispering to her, calling her in like a siren’s melody.
Celestia licked her lips eagerly, the gears in her mind slowly turning.
One way or another, she was getting into the royal kitchens.