Fraternizing was risky business for a royal guard. It was acceptable for enlisted guards to mingle but it was often looked upon as unprofessional if it was done within the same unit. This was especially true with partners.
The officers would worry that we’d look after each other more than our duty. It was because of that fact that Iridescence decided we would not actively discuss our relationship with others. We wouldn’t lie, but we wouldn’t advertise the situation, either. Those were her instructions to me. That made it seem wrong somehow, but I trusted her.
It was our first time off together since we decided to be more than friends. Of course, as my punishment for being so oblivious, we went to the Phial and Filly Alchemist Supply. Iridescence loved that store and its curious, eccentric owner.
Our shopping was taking longer than usual and the heavy scents were starting to get to me. I could feel my eyes watering.
Runic Phial came out of the back in a cloud of smoke. He had a pair of goggles over his eyes and was covered in soot. Wiping the grime from the lenses, he wandered over to us.
Iridescence smiled at him. “Good afternoon, Runic. Another failure?”
Runic Phial coughed and shook his head. “Complete success! I turned some quartz rocks into other rocks.” He looked at me and saw my discomfort. He stuck his hoof into a bucket of white goo on the counter, and then plastered me right on the nose with it.
Anything that resembles a punch isn’t always a wise thing to do to a guard. My reflexes started to kick in, urging me to fight back, but then I realized the smells had subsided. I wiggled my nose and then nodded at him. He nodded back.
“Do you have anything new, Runic?” Iridescence asked, which was always a dangerous question.
Runic reached behind the counter and produced a purple vial. “I do! This new potion is excellent.”
I was skeptical.
“What does it do?” Iridescence asked cautiously.
“That is a great question,” he said with confidence, though it didn’t sound like he actually knew the answer. “You see, I mixed together several things, including some great flowers that I found in the country. I’m pretty sure this combination will—oops.”
The potion fell from his hooves and shattered on the floor. A plume of purple smoke filled the back of the shop and sent many a pony scurrying out into the street.
I lightly coughed as the mist overpowered my senses.
Iridescence sneezed and looked at Runic, wide-eyed. “Are we going to die?”
Runic shook his head and replied, “Nooo… Maybe!”
I took Iridescence by the hoof and started to drag her to where the potentially fatal purple cloud was not lingering thickly. Most of the sales floor was now inundated with the mist and everypony else had scattered.
I knew I should have been more concerned but this was a pretty normal day for this shop. Thus far, the worst that had ever happened was me being transformed into a mare for six hours. I was pretty. It was weird.
Runic came through the cloud looking unconcerned. He took his goggles off and coughed. “Well, if it was going to kill us we’d probably be dead by now. We’re safe again!”
Safe was a relative term, of course. With Runic, I followed a 24 hour rule but, in this case, I didn’t think I’d have to wait that long. Looking outside, I noticed the clouds were pink and it had started to rain some sort of brown liquid. Pointing a hoof, I asked, “Do those clouds look pink?”
Iridescence looked, nodded, and then glared at Runic. “Why do the clouds look pink?”
The pegasus alchemist glanced outside and then paused in thought. “Mild shared hallucination. Happens all the time. Say, do you want to see my new rocks?”
“For how long?” Iridescence asked.
Runic shrugged. “I don’t know, until you get bored of looking at them? I never do but you might. Silent Knight understands, though. We didn’t have rocks in Cloudsdale.”
“She meant, how long will we be hallucinating,” I said. He was right about not having rocks. I just wasn’t as into them as he was. “Also, please define ‘happens all the time.’”
It had started raining pretty heavily now. Brown-looking water fell from the sky and pooled on the Canterlot streets. The smell of chocolate wafted in but surely that was part of the side effects.
“Oh, that,” he said, clearly sad about our lack of interest in geology. “Not long. A day or two, tops. Are you sure about the rocks? They were quartz this morning.” There was no answer for my second question.
“We’re sure,” I said and patted him on the shoulder. “Maybe next time when we’re not seeing things. For today, though, I think we’re going to go and potentially see the medic. Take care, alright?”
Runic nodded. “Well, okay then, if you’re sure. I’ll see you next time! Please come again.”
We left and for some reason I knew we’d come back. Iridescence always said the risk was worth it. Runic made the best mare care products in all of Equestria. By accident, I could only assume.
Walking out into the rain confirmed my suspicion. It was indeed the cause of the chocolate smell. I stuck my tongue out. Yup, chocolate. We started to head back to the barracks.
“It tastes like chocolate,” Iridescence said and I nodded.
“He really got us this time,” I replied. “Although I could think of worse things.”
Once we reached the palace grounds, we walked in and headed to the showers. After all, we probably just looked wet to other ponies, but as far as we could tell we were covered in chocolate. Sticky, sweet-smelling chocolate. That kind of thing is murder on the coat and mane.
I sat by our window, looking out at the insanely different world my potion-addled brain had created. My body was fine and there were no other effects. Just the crazy hallucinations.
“Anything new?” Iridescence asked from her bunk. She had decided reading was the way to go. Less visual.
“The sun has come up and gone down sixteen times and a house just floated by,” I stated matter-of-factly.
Iridescence quietly closed her book, set it aside, and slipped under the sheets. “DONE!” she exclaimed and went to sleep.
She had the right idea, so I followed her example.
Shining Armor laughed from behind his desk. “Seriously, you thought a potion could do all that?”
Honestly, I did. “Have you been to the shop before, sir?”
The captain’s expression went serious. “Once was enough. Cadence loves it, but it is no place for stallions. Nonetheless, I’m glad you’re well. Only you would show up to duty under the effects of a potion and not complain.”
“I didn’t think it would impact my performance.”
“I guess I can’t argue with that. Pink clouds, chocolate rain, and floating houses aren’t necessarily security risks. Just be sure you keep me posted in the future if you’re feeling like you’re under the effects of something.”
“Yes, sir. Should I assume everything is now handled?” I asked.
He nodded. “Thankfully yes. My sister and her friends took care of the situation with the Elements of Harmony and things are back to normal. Discord is safely encased in stone and we don’t have to worry about floating houses.”
“It seems strange to me that all of our major problems are now handled by civilians,” I said frankly.
Shining Armor nodded. “I won’t disagree with that. It has been odd. Here I am, a Royal Guard officer, and my little sister is off defeating Equestria’s villains. The worst we get are overexcited ponies that want an autograph or something. Still, somepony has to keep the law and order on a daily basis. Six mares can’t protect the whole nation on their own.”
He had a good point there. We might not be heroes, but heroes didn’t have time to help little old ponies across the street. They also couldn’t be everywhere. That was our job. “Is that our new recruitment line?”
The captain waved a hoof across the space in front of him. “Join the Royal Guard: we’re not heroes but we’re almost as good.”
“I’ll let the ponies in the press ministry work on it,” he replied with a chuckle. “Anything else to report?”
In my mind I was fidgeting. On the outside I’m sure I looked the usual calm, cool, and collected that I always did. Was the captain asking specifically about my relationship? How could he know? “Nothing of consequence as of yet, sir,” I replied and then paused. “But if you return to the shop with Lady Cadence, the shopkeep has a vat of goo by the desk. Rub some on your nose and it dulls the sense of smell.”
“That might save lives,” Shining Armor said in a serious tone.
I nodded gravely and then just stood in silence.
I left him alone in his office. In general, you had to be careful around officers, but Shining Armor wasn’t like that. He always seemed to be interested in what his ponies were up to and that was going above and beyond. The Captain of the Canterlot Guard had a lot of responsibilities. Taking the time to check in with individual guards wasn’t one of them.
It made not telling him the truth feel even worse. He had not asked specifically, though, and I decided that it wasn’t exactly a lie of omission. If things got serious I’d tell him myself. That is what an honorable pony would do.
Miley Hooves stood in my barracks room, dressed in her armor. I was looking it over before a routine inspection.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“You’ll pass. If you want I could give you some tips, though.”
“Please! I need all the help I can get.”
That wasn’t entirely true. Miley got on well enough but she wasn’t an exceptional guard. She tried really hard at everything she did. It just didn’t always work out well.
“You polished your armor in long strokes, didn’t you?”
She gawked at me. “How can you tell?”
“The streak marks. It looks good, but if you want to get that high gloss shine, you need to make small circles on each plate. That will eliminate all the streaks.” My eyes shifted to her sword. It hung just slightly below her armor. “I’d have the armspony take a look at your scabbard, too. If you take an inch off the belt, your weapon will be better concealed.”
She turned a circle trying to see it for herself. After three turns, she gave up and just nodded.
“Other than that, you’re in good shape. Certainly good enough to pass routine. Those suggestions are just for you to go the extra mile.”
Miley smiled. “Thank you! Where did you learn all of this stuff, anyway?”
“From my dad. When I was a foal, there were weekly inspections.” Punishments were also a lot more severe than a minor citation, but she didn’t need to know that.
“That is cool! My dad is a farmer, so he doesn’t know anything about guard stuff. He knows a lot about farming, though. If you ever need tips on raising pumpkins, I’m your filly!”
With a shrug, I replied, “Everypony has their own talents. I’ll keep that in mind if I retire from the Guard to farm instead. You’re all set, though. I’ll see you out on the parade grounds later, okay?”
“Okay!” she chimed before heading out.
It was time to get my own kit in order. Just enough to pass wouldn’t do for me. It certainly wouldn’t do for Dad. Everything had to be perfect. The model guard. An example to others. Those are the ponies that make sergeant quickly.
Of course, if I made sergeant that would also make my situation with Iridescence all the more difficult. Dating your subordinate was strictly prohibited. But that was something I could worry about later. For now, all I had to do was be certain that my armor was the best looking out of every other pony on the parade ground... and it would be.