One week later:
In the dimming purple haze of dusk, the city of Canterlot filled with an excited buzz as the most magnificent ball of the year, the Grand Galloping Gala, officially began.
Canterlot was always stunning, but tonight it was simply resplendent. Pennants bearing the crests of the various noble houses draped from every palisade and promenade, adorning the pristine, white walls like blooms of colorful flowers. Strings of lights hanging between the multitudes of towers and hundreds of enchanted, floating lanterns created a second set of twinkling stars that illuminated the castle grounds in their warm, flickering glow.
Yet despite all this grandeur, the decorations of the palace still could not compete with the regalia worn by the evening’s guests. There were fur-lined cloaks, rippling satin dresses, crushed velvet coats dripping with lace, and even a gown made from what seemed to be a hundred diaphanous silk scarves. True, the city was marvelous, but it was these guests, these attendees in finery that ranged from classically elegant to exotically beautiful, that made the evening such a wonder to behold.
It was amidst all this pomp and pageantry that a coach of a pale, robin’s egg blue and neatly gilded with golden vines arrived at the palace. The pair of footmen who waited at the red carpet eyed one another curiously: almost every arriving vehicle bore some sign of nobility, but this one was completely unmarked. Even more curious, the coach was being driven by a green-haired lad in a tailored tuxedo who gave them a cheeky grin as he reigned in a team of oddly mouse-like, white horses. Curious indeed.
All curiosity, however, quickly gave way to stunned silence as the coach doors opened.
It was a rainbow. A beautiful, prismatic rainbow formed by six of the loveliest young ladies the footmen had ever seen in the most amazing dresses they could ever have imagined. From the wild hurricane of a girl clad in the bright blue of a summer sky, to the blonde beauty, whose warm smile could only be matched by the fiery tones of her autumn-hued dress, each gown was a clear and wondrous celebration of the lady's individual persona and character.
Yet as breathtaking as each of the young women looked, she did not detract, but rather seemed to enhance the beauty of her friends as well. The giggling girl in the dress of pastel pleats and ruffles fashioned like a fabulous, confectionery delight somehow formed a perfect complement to the demure maiden who blushed in a gown reminiscent of warm spring mornings. Like the colors of a rainbow, each girl stood stunning on her own accord, yet came together to make something truly magical.
“Well, girls, here we are,” Twilight smiled, stepping off the carriage and straightening the dusky gloves that went with her dress of deep evening shades,.“Back at the Grand Galloping Gala. Who’d have thought we’d be coming in for a second round?”
“Whoo nelly, you can say that again,” Applejack whistled as she nearly tripped over the heels of her new, formal boots. “I still can’t believe the Princess invited us back after all the ruckus we caused.”
“I know, isn’t it exciting?” Pinkie Pie beamed, hardly able to contain her excitement now that it was so close to party time. “It’s totally a chance for us to have the best night ever! Again!”
“It certainly was nice of Princess Celestia to give us a second chance,” Fluttershy murmured with a small but happy smile. “I just hope we don’t make things difficult for her.” Off to the side, Rainbow Dash blew a loud raspberry in response.
“Psh, don’t worry about it,” the flyer scoffed as she threw a bracing arm around the pink-haired girl. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Aside from us starting another riot that destroys half the palace?” Twilight Sparkle added with an innocent smile. “Not much, but I doubt we’ll run into any trouble. It’s not like we're a bunch of marauding orcs, now is it?”
“But of course not,” Rarity laughed, the clear, crystal tones ringing through the courtyard. “We’ve all come to have another go at the best night ever. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
Twilight frowned. Even though the pretty seamstress had said this with her usual confidence, the young scholar couldn’t help but feel that there was something slightly off about her fashionable friend’s whole demeanor. Nothing major or anything that she could really put her finger on, but something, something about Rarity tonight just wasn’t quite normal.
“You sure you’re okay with this?” the purple-haired librarian asked in hushed tones as Spike drove off to park the carriage. “If you’re not feeling up to it–”
“Twilight, please,” Rarity lightly chuckled. “Just because things didn’t work out perfectly doesn’t mean I’m going to let the whole evening go to waste.”
“You sure?” Twilight repeated as she narrowed her indigo-shaded eyelids – courtesy of Rarity once again – suspiciously before transitioning to a much more helpful tone. “Because there’s still time to make some adjustments. I’m sure the Princess could get Graves off for just one night.” Her friend returned a grateful smile but still shook her head.
“The marshal has his duties.” With an air of clear finality on the subject, Rarity rejoined the rest of their group to head down the carpeted walkway. Twilight, pursing her lips slightly, shrugged and trotted along to catch up with her friends.
However, before they had moved ten feet, the strong hum of magical energies heralded the descent of two winged guardsmen before them, which brought the entire party to a halt.
“Excuse me. Are you Twilight Sparkle and company?” the soldier on the left called out. He was an imposing figure, what with his gleaming armor and massive, translucent spell wings of the same golden hue. His deadpan expression that might have made a rock seem malleable didn’t help either.
“Er, that’s me,” the young scholar nodded hesitantly as she stepped to the forefront. “Is something the matter?”
“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” the other stern-faced sentry added, “but you and your friends are going to have to come with us.”
Six pairs of eyes went wide in alarm as the girls glanced at one another with expressions ranging from stark puzzlement to outright panic. After all, when a pair of fully armored soldiers comes to escort you elsewhere with nary an explanation, one could only assume that the reason was nothing good.
“Is... everything all right?” the first guard asked hesitantly as he eyed Fluttershy, who seemed like she couldn’t decide whether to start hyperventilating or burst out in tears.
“Fine. Everything’s just... fine,” Twilight answered with a queasy smile as she placed a reassuring hand on her frightened friend’s arm. “She’s just a little tense. Big night and all.”
“Er, do you need a moment?” the second sentry asked, a touch of concern creeping into his voice. “You can sit down for a bit if you need to.” The first guardsman shot him a quick frown, but at his companion’s earnest look, returned a wry grin and said nothing more. I mean, they may have been soldiers on duty, but it didn’t mean they had to be jerks about it, right?
“No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Twilight said in as bracing a tone as she could muster. “It’s probably best if we just go and... get this over with.”
The two guardsmen exchanged curious looks at the obvious tension crackling amidst the young ladies. After all, it wasn't like they knew that this was the group of girls that had caused the most infamous debacle of any royal event in Equestrian history, barring invasions and returns of ancient, tyrannical beings of unholy might, of course. In any case, the two soldiers knew their orders, so they merely shrugged and powered down their wings, allowing the runework frames to retract into grooves on the back of their armor with perfectly slotted precision.
“Right then. If you’ll please follow me,” the first guard gestured, leading the way. The whole party followed after with all the joy of heading to their own execution.
Led away from the main thoroughfare that headed towards the palace, the girls instead went down a small side path leading to one of the castle’s smaller entrances. Opening the door, the guards escorted them into an expansive sitting room where a collection of comfortable looking sofas bordered a floral patterned rug. Quite nice, all things considered.
“Don’t suppose you’d mind tellin’ us what all the fuss is about?” Applejack asked with just the slightest trepidation. The guards shook their heads.
“Don't rightly know ourselves,” the first guard replied with just a hint of an apologetic smile. "Sorry."
As they stepped back out and shut the door behind them, the pent up anxiety finally burst forth and a wave of nervous babbling began.
“It’s gotta be the Princess, it’s just gotta be!” Rainbow Dash moaned as she sank onto a couch. “Oh man, Pinkie Pie was right. This was a really, really bad idea.”
“Now Rainbow, it’s probably nothin’,” the blonde cowgirl replied, fiddling with the apple-shaped brooch at her neck and trying to sound reassuring."Maybe she just wants to give us a… a little warnin’ or somethin’. You know, jess tah remind us to behave this time.” Her efforts were not well received.
“Oh really?” Rainbow retorted, her dangling golden earrings flashing as she snapped around to eye her freckled friend. “If it’s just a friendly reminder, why’d she send armed guards to escort us here?”
“Omygoodnessomygoodness,” Fluttershy breathed in a panic. “We’re not going to be arrested, are we? If we get locked up in the dungeon, who’s going to take care of Angel? He might starve!”
“Nobody’s going to starve,” Twilight said soothingly before Fluttershy started panicking in earnest. “And nobody’s going to get thrown in any dungeon. Those haven’t even been used since the imprisonment of Lusitano the Loony nearly three hundred years ago.”
“I dunno, Twilight,” Pinkie Pie interjected with narrowed, suspicious eyes. “Luna’s pretty into the whole traditional Canterlot thing. Maybe she’ll push for an extra special exception and bring it back so she can boil us in oil and gobble us all up like a bunch of–” Pinkie’s demoralizing tirade was abruptly cut off as she discovered a grimacing Twilight’s fist stuffed in her mouth.
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to continue with portents of doom and gloom, but just then, the sound of a clicking lock came from the interior door. Everyone froze and watched as the gilded door knob turn, with lead to a swinging door, which soon revealed…
“Twiley! You made it!” Shining Armor beamed.
“… Big brother?” Twilight blinked in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“Er, what do you mean?” he asked, his smile slipping away and quickly replaced by confusion at the rather unexpected greeting. “The Princess asked me to bring you here.”
“I knew it!” Rainbow Dash cried out as she leaped up from the sofa. “You’re here to arrest us! Well, good luck with that: you’ll never take me alive!” Vaulting over the couch and lunging for the outside door, Rainbow Dash hiked her dress to her knees to hasten her mad dash for freedom. Fortunately, she collided with Pinkie Pie and both went down in a tangled heap before the overenthused flyer could make it any farther.
“Arrest you? What are you talking about?” Shining Armor asked again, blue eyes now completely bewildered. “I’m just her because the Princess wanted to ask you all for a favor.”
Silence reigned again.
“… So, you’re not here to throw us in the dungeon and boil us in oil so Princess Luna can chomp on us as punishment for messing up the gala last time we were here?” The guard captain stared blankly at Rainbow Dash as his brain tried to sort out her creative and rather disturbing tirade. He scratched his head.
“Um... no?” he offered hesitantly. “Celestia’s been looking forward to your visit all week. Why would she do that?”
It took a moment, perhaps two, but the tension finally broke and the girls burst out into fits of ringing laughter. In all their worry and panic about decorum, royalty, and propriety, it seems they’d forgotten about one very important fact: Princess Celestia had a very ‘interesting’ sense of humor to say the least.
“Whoo nelly,” Applejack hooted as she pulled her embroidered hat off and fanned herself. “An’ here I thought we’d be locked up tighter’n Granny’s stash ah special cider.”
“So, I take it everything’s good then?” the navy-haired captain smiled uncertainly.
“Yes, Shine, everything’s good,” Twilight giggled. Now that the frantic worrying was all over and done with, she caught up her brother in a big hug and squeezed him tight. “Wow, it’s good to see you again.”
“Sorry for being so out of touch, little sis,” Shining Armor smiled as he fondly patted her on the head. Carefully though: he didn’t want to accidentally mess up her very stylish do. “After the honeymoon, things just got out of hand. Cadance had her royal duties to attend to, and I was busy with work as well.”
“Oh yeah, where is Cadance anyway?” Twilight asked, looking around for signs of her favorite babysitter. “Are you two going to the Gala too?”
“Well, we were,” the crimson-clad captain began, “but she was feeling a little sick, so she’ll be staying in her room tonight.”
“Oh my, is she okay?” Fluttershy chimed in, now sufficiently recovered to begin directing her worry towards others once more.
“Don’t worry, it’s not that kind of sick,” Shining Armor assured, though now his face began to match the color of his scarlet coat. “It’s actually more along the lines of, er... feeling sick in the morning. That, plus other stuff, you know. ”
“Sick in the morning?” Twilight asked with a scrunched up face. “Why would she only be sick in the… morning…” The young scholar’s mouth fell open as the news really hit home. “No way,” she gaped. “You’re not saying…”
It started as a twitch at the corner of his mouth, which grew into a trembling of his lips, before finally exploding into the biggest, goofiest grin of all time. Shining Armor positively beamed, thoroughly red from a healthy dose of embarrassment, yet even more flushed with uncontainable pride and pure, distilled happiness.
“Looks like my little sis is about to become Aunt Twiley.”
Outside, the two guards standing at the doorway jumped at what sounded distinctly like a bomb exploding beyond the door behind them. After peaking in however, it became clear that the sound not a terrorist attack, just a bunch of very excited girls squealing with unabated enthusiasm upon discovering that a baby was on the way.
“Oh my goodness, this is so exciting!” Pinkie Pie cheered as she, quite literally, began bouncing off the walls. “I’ve never been so excited in my life, not even that time where Mrs. Cake let me lick the batter for her triple chocolate chewy chunk cake! When did you find out?”
“Only about a week ago,” Shining Armor replied, his big, goofy grin growing even wider, if that was even possible. “Cadance wasn’t feeling too good – had trouble keeping down her breakfast a few days running – so we went to the doctor to get her checked out, and he... told us the news.”
“Well I’ll be, ain’t that sumthin’,” Applejack breathed. “Y’all know if it’s a feller or a filly yet?”
“We’re not sure. The doctor said a month along's still too early to tell,” the young captain admitted. “But Cadance says she wants a little girl though: she said she liked taking care of Twiley here so much that she wants to do it again.” The aforementioned bookworm blushed a deep red at the compliment, an action which made her look very much like her big brother indeed.
“Do keep us informed, won’t you?” Rarity beamed as she approached the captain. “I’ve always wanted to make some darling, little baby clothes, but I’ll have to know whether to prepare blue or pink, you know.”
“Come on, it’s just a baby. Who cares?” Rainbow Dash said, blowing a raspberry in an attempt to act cool and nonchalant. However, not even the most awesome flyer in Equestria could keep a straight face for long. At the thought of the soon to arrive little bundle of joy, Rainbow Dash’s facade quickly crumbled into school girl giggles and delighted squeeing. Deep down, she was a girl, after all.
“Don’t worry,” Shining Armor chuckled. “If anything comes up, you’ll all be the first ones to know. After all, what kind of brother would I be if I kept my baby sister out of the loop?”
“The same forgetful big brother he's always been,” Twilight said with a roll of the eyes. “I didn’t find out about your wedding till a day before, did I?”
“Oh yeah. Again, sorry about that,” he sheepishly grinned, to which Twilight could only sigh with a warmly exasperated smile. Shining Armor, still the same, goofy brother he always was.
As she thought this, the large bell in the Canterlot clock tower tolled, chiming the advent of the ninth hour.
“Oh, that’s right,” he said, smacking himself on the forehead as he remembered. “Back to the reason I'm here. Like I said, I was sent to see if you guys could do the Princess a little favor.”
“What kind of favor?” Fluttershy inquired, returning to her ever kind-hearted and helpful self as the tolling bells roused her from the baby-induced euphoria.
“Well,” Shining Armor began, scratching his head in thought, “it seems like there’s a certain dignitary or something that’s supposed to be attending the Gala.”
“A dignitary?” Rarity asked, curiosity aroused. “Of what?”
“That’s the thing, I don’t really know,” the guard captain shrugged. “All I heard was that he’s supposed to be pretty young and rather new to these kinds of fancy parties."
“So what are we supposed to do about it?” Rainbow Dash asked, ever the one to get straight to the point.
“Seeing as how he’s new to the whole formal scene, the Princess was hoping you guys could give him a hand? You know, show him around and help him have a good time.”
“Why us, exactly?” Applejack asked. “No offense, but we ain’t exactly fancy party kind of folk ourselves. Wouldn’t someone more, ah… uppity be better?”
“I asked the same thing,” Shining Armor nodded, “but the Princess insisted it’d be the best with you. Assuming you say yes, of course.”
“Let’s do it!” Pinkie Pie beamed. “I’m always up for making new friends. Can we girls? Huh? Can we? Can we?”
“Heck yes!” Rainbow Dash called. “It’d be a crime not to share my awesomeness with more people. Which reminds me, where is this guy anyway?”
“Yeah, about that,” Shining Armor paused, “I was kind of hoping I could introduce him to just one of you at first and then bring the rest of you in after he’s warmed up to the idea.”
“Well, why in sam hill would you wanna do that fer?” Applejack asked.
“No offense,” the young officer answered as diplomatically as he could, “but you girls are so friendly that it can come across just a bit, uh... strong, and I wouldn't want him getting overwhelmed with too much excitement, you know.”
“… It would be terrible if we startled him,” Fluttershy nodded slowly. “Maybe it’s for the best after all.”
“Meh, whatever.” Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Why don’t you do it, Twilight?”
“Why me?” her bookish friend questioned with an arched eyebrow. The multicolored flyer replied with a roll of her eyes.
“ 'Cause you’re an egghead, duh. Now come on, hurry up and go find this guy so we can get to the party!”
“Ugh, fine,” Twilight grumbled, not so much at the request – which in all honesty seemed like a fine idea – but more at the dubious logic behind it. “Well then, big brother, lead the way.”
“Great!” Shining Armor grinned. “Let’s do it!”
The crimson-garbed captain led Twilight out of the room and through the carved marble corridors till they arrived at another chamber just off of the main entryway. Even through the thick stone walls, the strains of music and babble of voices could be heard from the evening’s festivities.
Taking the chamber’s carved silver knob in hand, Shining Armor paused and turned back to his little sister.
“As I’ll ever be,” she grinned nervously; it wasn’t every day you were made an official envoy of the Princess to a dignitary, after all. Shining Armor gave her a reassuring smile in return before he opened the door.
It was another sitting room, much like the one they’d come from, but furnished instead with large leather chairs placed around a heavy, dark wood table that rested on a rug of intricate geometric patterns. From one of these chairs, a tall young man in a long coat stood before making an elegantly formal, if somewhat stiff bow.
“Good evening,” he said. His voice was a deep baritone, rich yet somehow rough and stilted, as if he were unaccustomed to the words he spoke. “On behalf of myself and the general,” he began as he straightened up, “I wish to thank you for–”
The man abruptly stopped. Completely frozen except for his slowly rising brow, he stared in utter amazement at the girl who stood before him. Why he stared, Twilight couldn’t understand until she met his wide-eyed stare. His wide, silvery, grey-eyed stare.