Chapter Seventeen - New Friends
July 13th, 2170
Firefly and Riley did not stay long at Pony Joe's after their conversation, the weight of matters Riley was unwilling to broach weighing heavily upon them both. They made their way back to those, though Firefly did stop at a few of the shops that caught her eye to buy a few things that she was sure they would need in the coming months.
A map of Pegasus flight areas was probably the most helpful thing that she had purchased. Equestria was unique among all the other races in the fact that a large percentage of its citizens could fly without the assistance of machines. With the introduction of flying machines that could kill those very same citizens if there was ever an accident had led the Princesses to create strict flight paths for all ships to follow. To fly outside of them without approval from a very select few in the government would mean an extremely lengthy stay in jail. Teaching the areas that were allowed for Pegasus flight was a crucial duty, and Firefly knew that she would have to have several long talks with Rainbow to ensure she understood the severity of the situation.
They made the trip back to the house in near silence.
The only words that passed between them were spoken by Firefly whenever she had to stop, and Riley would dutifully follow along with anything that the pegasus mare needed to do. She raised no complaint, nor did she give her approval.
By the time they stepped back onto their street, Firefly knew that it would take a miracle to salvage her mood from the dumps they had fallen into. It had definitely been far too early to bring up the matter with Riley. She should have waited. She should have found a way to bring it up far more delicately.
Firefly sighed. As the author of one of Equestria's highest selling series, she was more than aware of the way that the world worked. She knew how ponies interacted with each other and understood the subtle politics that occurred in every conversation. The only problem was that that knowledge only ever applied to her writing. In real life, Firefly was absolutely useless. She never quite knew what the right thing to do was, and she often followed Prism's lead to ensure that she never offended any pony.
It appeared that that trait would now be coloring all of her interactions with her new human daughter. She despised that part of herself, and Firefly wanted nothing more than to make sure that Riley understood her.
She did nothing, instead just walking slowly next to Riley as they got ever closer to their new home.
They both stopped as Twilight Velvet burst out through her front door, galloping towards them with the most hopeful look on her face. Following behind her at a more sedate pace was Twilight Sparkle, grumbling under breath as she trailed after her mother.
"Firefly, thank Celestia I saw you!" Velvet practically slid to a stop in front of Firefly and Riley. "I've been trying to find some pony all day, and you're the first!"
Firefly and Riley shared a glance before turning back to the other mare. Velvet looked absolutely frazzled, her mane starting to go absolutely wild as stress tore her down bit by bit. Her eyes were bloodshot, and the panic was clear behind them. She hopped up and down on all four of her hooves, smiling just a little too widely to be comforting.
"Is there something you need, Velvet?" Firefly watched the other mare carefully, ignoring the instinct to run at the back of her brain. "You look kind of... worried."
"I am." Velvet bobbed her head up and down in what could charitably be called a nod. "Shining Armor broke his leg out in the Everfree Forest, and I have to go out to the hospital with Night Light. We've run into a bit of a problem, though."
"What was he doing out in the Everfree?" Firefly couldn't quite understand why the colt on the edge of stallionhood would be out in such a dreadful place. "Why would he be out there?"
"It was a training exercise," Velvet explained. "He's part of the Royal Guard Officer Training program. He wants to join the Royal Guard as soon as he graduates school. He had this week off for an exercise a lieutenant was conducting."
"Alright." Firefly nodded. "What's your problem?"
Stepping aside to reveal Twilight Sparkle, who was hiding behind her mother, Velvet smiled at Firefly hopefully. "Princess Luna is coming to pick Twilight up tomorrow morning, and I have nopony to watch her for the night. Night Light and I are going to stay the night in Ponyville, but we won't be back until sometime tomorrow night."
"And you're asking if we can watch her?" Firefly asked, fairly sure that was what was happening, but she still wanted to be sure.
"Yes." Velvet said with a single nod, almost a punctuation.
"I have to speak to Prism first." Firefly was fairly certain that there wouldn't be any problems, but Prism had made plans out of the blue before while forgetting to tell her. It would be best just to double check. "Let me make the call real quick."
"No problem," Velvet said, taking a slight step back to give Firefly room to access her omni-tool.
Accessing her husband's phone number, Firefly made the call, sitting back on her haunches as she held up her left hoof to project the video call.
Prism picked up on the second ring, and he smiled as he saw his wife. "Hey there, sweetheart."
"Prism," Firefly said, smiling back at him. "I'm here with Twilight Velvet, and she has a question for us."
"Hi, momma!" Rainbow bounced into view in the video, waving her hoof furiously before disappearing when she fell again.
"Quiet, Rainbow. Your mother and I are talking." Prism patted Rainbow's head off screen, and Firefly giggled at the sound of Rainbow's huff of annoyance. "What was that, Firefly?"
"Velvet is wondering if we could watch Twilight Sparkle for the night. She has to go to Ponyville overnight because her son broke his leg. Twilight has to be here because Princess Luna is coming in the morning to take her back to the castle." Firefly glanced at Riley, wondering what she was thinking about the whole matter. She didn't find any clues though, and Riley was busy looking at everything but her. "I wanted to make sure you hadn't planned anything."
"Right." Prism winced, glancing away from Firefly's gaze. "I sort of promised the Captain of the Royal Guard that you and I could meet him for dinner tonight. He's eager to talk to both of us about where he sees me fitting into the Royal Guard."
"And we have nopony to watch..." Firefly stopped, glancing back at Riley as a thought shot through her head. She turned her attention to Velvet, who was looking on with hopeful worry. "Would you be okay if Riley watched Twilight until we got back from dinner?"
"Yes." Velvet nodded her head rapidly. She wasn't quite sure about letting the human girl watch after her daughter, but she didn't really have any other choice. "It's fine with me."
"Riley." Firefly glanced back at her human daughter, who was following the conversation with far more interest after hearing her name. "What do you think about that? Are you alright with watching Twilight and Rainbow tonight?"
Riley glanced over at Twilight, who was grumbling to herself as she glared at the brick road beneath her hooves. She had to strain to hear what the filly was saying.
"I should be there for my BBBFF," Twilight murmured under her breath. She scuffed at the ground with a hoof, pouting. She wasn't truly angry, but she felt that she was failing her duties as Shining's LSBFF. She knew that there was no way she would have been able to make it back to Canterlot in time for Princess Luna's arrival, and that made her even crankier. "Stupid ponies making me stay with strangers..."
Riley looked back at Firefly, a hint of nervousness racing through her. She had no idea if she would be able to watch after one filly, let alone two. She had only ever watched her little sister Jane when her mother had to run next door to borrow ingredients, or when she ran to the store. If she could barely keep an eight year old girl under control, then how would she be able to watch after two fillies, one who could fly and another who could use magic?
'Yeah." Riley gave a short nod, looking both Firefly and Velvet in the eye. "I can do that."
"Excellent!" Velvet clapped her hooves together, sagging in relief. "I can't thank you enough. This means so much to me! You are an absolute blessing. Both of you. Thank you!"
"Now, Twilight," Velvet said, turning to look at her daughter. She took Twilight's chin with her hoof, lifting it so the filly was looking her in the eye. "I know that you can sometimes forget yourself, but I want you to be on your best behavior for Firefly, Prism, and Riley. Do you understand me? They are watching you out of the kindness of their hearts, and I want you to remember that."
"Yes, mom." Twilight said, sighing. "I'll be on my best behavior."
"That's a good filly." Velvet kissed Twilight's cheek before standing up on all four of her hooves. She gave a thankful smile to Firefly and Riley as she started to back away towards her house. "Thank you again. I have to go pack if I don't want to miss the train."
Turning on her hooves, Velvet galloped back into her house, the door slamming shut behind her.
Out on the street, Firefly, Riley, and Twilight stood still. None of them were sure quite what to do next. Twilight glanced back at her home with longing, but she knew that there was nothing she could do. Instead of running to follow her mother, she instead checked her saddle-bags to make sure that she had everything she needed. It wouldn't do if she had to go back to the castle with some of her books missing! She wouldn't be able to get them again until next weekend, and that would be a disaster!
"It's nearing lunch time." Firefly said, getting an idea of what she should do. "Have you had anything to eat yet, Twilight?"
"No." Twilight shook her head.
"Well, that's good then." Firefly nodded. "Is there anything that you don't like to eat."
"Nope." Twilight shook her head. There was no need to cause problems by being picky. "I like everything."
"Good." Firefly gestured to the house. "Why don't we see what we can order in. I'm sorry that I can't make anything more home-made, but we haven't had a chance to go shopping for food yet."
Firefly started walking back to the house, and only a moment later, Riley and Twilight followed after her.
Despite her own frustrations about the situation, Twilight was intensely interested in seeing the inside of the next door house. It had always been there, sitting empty for as long as she could remember, nopony allowed inside. She had asked Princess Celestia about it when she had first become her apprentice, and the answer had surprised her. The house had become property of the crown after the former inhabitants who had willed it to the Royal Sisters had died. It was all up to Celestia to choose what to do with it.
Stepping through the front door, Twilight took the entirety in with eager eyes. A tall long hall led through the center of the house, leading to a back room that opened up to a spiraling stair case that led up to what Twilight assumed was the second story of the house. Four large passageways sat along the corridor, two on either side, leading to all of the rooms on the first floor. The two nearest the front door led to what looked like a living room on the left and an absolutely enticing family library with floor to ceiling bookshelves wrapping their way around the entire room, only making way for a comfy fireplace that had two plush looking chairs in front of it.
"Am I in heaven?" Twilight murmured, her eyes going wide at the sight of the countless book spines before her.
"What?" Twilight startled, looking over to see Firefly leaning out from what was probably the kitchen. The unicorn filly blushed, rubbing the back of her mane. "Sorry."
Trotting after Firefly, Twilight entered the absolutely most amazing kitchen she had ever seen. Signs of the effortless automation were evident everywhere, from the Haptic Adaptive Interface that she assumed was there to input the instructions for the machines that would end up making all of the food. There were rails set into the ceiling that she could only surmise were the means by which the automated arms that cooked the food moved.
Firefly and Riley sat at the table, both of them looking at Twilight expectantly.
"We're new to the neighborhood," Firefly said, sounding as friendly as she possibly could. "Are there any places you know, any insider tips, that are an absolute must in Canterlot?"
Twilight blushed under their looks before actually thinking through the question that Firefly asked her. Being the center of cultural growth and development, the best chefs across the face of Equestria always found their way to the capital city to show their stuff and learn from the best. With such an abundance of wonderful food, there was an almost overwhelming amount of choices to order from.
As a unicorn who thrived with lists and organization, Twilight felt the sudden need to collate a chart, maybe with graphs if she was lucky. She couldn't resist the little squeal of glee that escaped her lips, doing a happy little dance.
The resulting briefing took over an hour, and it took Firefly and Riley over thirty minutes to even grasp what was happening. They were thrown even deeper into their confusion when the little filly pulled out a flip chart and made a show of the pros and cons of the top fifty delivery restaurants in a fifteen mile radius of the neighborhood. Price vs Food quality was a large majority of her discussion, and by the end of it, both Firefly and Riley had the inkling that they could break in as the cities up and coming food critics.
"Okay," Firefly finally said, feeling her stomach grumble in annoyance and hunger. "Let's just order a pizza."
"-and as you can see, the..." Twilight trailed off as she realized that Firefly was ignoring her and making a call to a pizza house (though she was pleased to note that it was the top of her list of suggestions in that category). "Okay."
She slid into a seat at the table, tapping her hooves together in embarrassment as she realized that she might have overdone it just a little. Once again, she had forgotten who she was around. Princess Luna had spoken to her about that, and she tried to remember to restrain herself, but she found that she didn't always remember.
What was she supposed to do? Did she annoy them? Did they hate her? Twilight hated when the thoughts started pouring through her head, but she didn't know of anyway to stop it. She had tried, and others had tried to help her, but nothing worked. The thoughts would come and tear her down, piece by piece. She wanted to do nothing more than curl up in a tiny ball and hide under her covers, away from the entire world.
Instead of doing that, Twilight shuffled her hooves on the chair, staring intently at the grain of the wood on the table. She hated the way that she could feel the gaze of Firefly and Riley on her, shutting her eyes tight as she tried to control her breathing as subtly as she possibly could.
Twilight knew that she wasn't succeeding.
She didn't care.
Above all of the nervousness and anxiety Twilight could not wait for it to be tomorrow, back in her tower where she belonged, surrounded by all of her books and lessons.
The pizza arrived within thirty minutes, and though Firefly made some attempts to get a conversation going, both Riley and Twilight were reticent, their mouths firmly shut.
All three of the females at the table turned towards the sound of the male voice at the door. Twilight didn’t recognize the voice, but she clearly saw that Riley and Firefly did. Her mind quickly supplied the most likely answer and landed on Rainbow Prism.
She slipped out of her chair, following the lead of Firefly and Riley. Nervous, she had no idea what she was supposed to do, shuffling back and forth on her hooves. Firefly left the kitchen, presumably to go and greet the rest of her family Twilight guessed. Riley just stood next to her seat, though she looked far more comfortable than Twilight felt.
In the front hallway, Firefly trotted out of the kitchen with a welcoming smile on her muzzle. Prism and Riley stood just inside the entrance, and Firefly couldn’t help but giggle at the sight she found before her.
Rainbow had somehow managed to find a way to completely cover herself from head to tail in mud, her muzzle turned down in a grumpy frown. Prism was trying his best to clean her off with a towel, but all he was managing to do was to push the mud deeper into the filly’s coat.
“Well, well, well. What happened here?” Firefly asked, wishing that she had a camera with her. “What did you get yourself into, silly filly?”
Sighing, Rainbow looked away, her head hanging low.
Spitting the towel out of his mouth, Prism looked at Firefly with a complete sense of relief.
“It’s a long story.” His voice sounded tired, but there was an underlying tone of thankfulness. Out of the two of them, Firefly was far better at wrangling Rainbow Dash than he was. “A really long story.”
“Right.” Firefly gave a quick nod. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what series of events had led up to a mud covered Rainbow Dash. She turned her gaze to her daughter, “Well, you can tell me all about it as I get you cleaned up.”
Leaning down, she gestured with a wing for Rainbow to climb up onto her back. “Get on. We don’t want little muddy hoof prints through the house.”
Jumping up onto her mother’s back, the mud in Rainbow’s fur squished uncomfortably into Firefly’s own coat. She groaned at the feeling, certain that she would have to join her daughter in the shower to make sure they both got clean.
There was a lot of squirming and struggling from Rainbow’s end as Firefly did her best to wash off all of the mud from the filly’s coat.
“Ugh.” Rainbow’s disgust from having to take a second shower that day was palpable. Her mane drooped down over her eyes, and she looked absolutely miserable. “I hate this.”
“Yep.” Firefly couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the over-dramatic way that Rainbow reacted to getting clean. “If you hate it so much, you should try to avoid mud.”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Rainbow protested, stomping a hoof for emphasis. “Dad did it. He pushed me!”
“Dad pushed you?” Firefly was one-hundred percent sure that there was more to the story than what Rainbow was telling her. “Really.”
“Well…” Rainbow shook her head, droplets of water flying from her mane. “I might have pushed him first.”
“And he pushed you into a puddle of mud?” Firefly smirked at the very tall tail she knew Rainbow was giving her.
“Well…” Rainbow winced, shaking her head back and forth. “I might have jumped into the puddle after he pushed me to try and get him into trouble.”
“Thought so.” Firefly felt vindication. She knew the way her daughter acted, and she was a prankster to the very core of her being. Sometimes the ‘pranks’ she tried to pull were not very well thought through.
This being one of those times.
By the time that they had finished, the entire shower would have to be cleaned of the mud and debris. Thankfully their new house had a self-cleaning machine for that.
The marvels of technology, making ponies lives easier across all of Equestria.
Cleaning dirt from tile with hooves was not an easy task.
Rainbow jumped out of the shower and before she could simply shake off all of the water, Firefly shot her a meaningful look. Grumbling, she grabbed a towel off of the rack, scrubbing it over her coat just enough to go from dripping to extremely moist. At least she would just be leaving behind little wet hoof prints instead of muddy hoof prints.
“Go on.” Firefly took a much more careful approach to drying herself off, making sure to pay special attention to her feathers, taking the opportunity to do a quick preen. “I can see how eager you are to get back downstairs to do… whatever it is you want to do.”
“Yeah!” Rainbow was out of the bathroom like a shot, and she could only barely hear her shouted words as she darted down the staircase. “Thanks, mama!”
“That’s what I’m here for,” Firefly murmured, setting her own towel back onto the rack. It was good for a few more times. “Cleaning up after little fillies.”
“Riley!” Rainbow was happy that she would finally have a chance today to hang out with the best big sister in all of Equestria! “Rile-Humph!”
Rainbow’s rush into the kitchen was halted immediately by a rather soft and furry object, which seemed to have jumped out of nowhere. She crashed to the floor along with said soft and furry object, and all that she could do was lay there for a moment as she tried to regain her bearings.
The first thing she realized was that her father was laughing at her. The second thing she realized was that Riley was quietly giggling at her as well.
The third thing that Rainbow realized was that her muzzle was firmly planted in the rump of one Twilight Sparkle.
“Gah!’ Rainbow pushed off with all four of her hooves and flapped with her wings to extricate herself from her situation as quickly as she possibly could. “Blech!” She scraped at her tongue and muzzle with her hooves, spitting and dry-heaving. “Gross!”
Twilight Sparkle’s cheeks were completely red as she sat up, looking anywhere but the two ponies and the human in the room. As a near permanent resident of the Royal Castle, she had never been in such an embarrassing position before. To have been bowled over and another filly’s face in her rump was nothing short of disastrous.
Still snickering, Prism edged out of the room, heading upstairs to get ready for the dinner.
“Uh…” Rainbow stammered, and she couldn’t think of a single thing to say. “Well… uh… um… I meant to do that.”
Rainbow’s eyes shot open wide when she realized what exactly she had said. “Wait! No. I didn’t mean to do that. I mean… I meant that I… uh…”
Twilight simply stared down at the floor, shuffling her hooves. She could not imagine a more horrible event happening to her, and she wanted to make a quick escape next door to her safe, warm bed, where she could hide under the covers away from all of the laughing voices of the world.
“Right.” Riley made herself known, stepping forward and drawing the two fillies attention to herself. “That’s a thing that happened. We should… move on. Do you want something to eat, Rainbow?”
“Yeah.” Rainbow blushed as her stomach grumbled at the mere mention of food. A moment later, Twilight’s stomach did the same.
Riley sighed in relief. One disaster averted through the power of between meal snacks. Hopefully the rest of the night could go as simply.
Prism was nervous, though he was hopeful that it wasn’t showing on his face. He was sitting by the bed as he waited for Firefly to finish getting ready in the bathroom. The time for the meeting was fast approaching, and there was a pit growing in his stomach. Unlike his wife, who was able to meet with anypony and easily talk with them as if she had known them her entire life, he seas a much shier pony. He tended to keep to himself, and while he was thankful for his upcoming meeting, he wished that it was already over with.
“Do you think that…” Firefly’s voice trailed off from inside the bathroom. A moment later, she peeked her head out, looking at Prism worriedly. “Do you think that the girls are going to be alright tonight?”
“Yeah.” Prism admired the gold feathers that she had attached all throughout her wings, loving the way that they glinted in the light. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s just that, this is the first time that Riley is ever going to watch Rainbow on her own.” Firefly hated that she was even having this conversation, but she couldn’t help but think that it was needed. “She’s still incredibly hurt, and I don’t know how smart it is to let her watch after the two fillies.”
That made Prism pause. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Firefly was right. Riley had seen things that made surprised she was still even able to function normally.
A moment later, he shook his head. She was his daughter, and he trusted her. “She’ll be fine. Riley is more than capable of watching after the two fillies.”
Firefly was quiet for a minute, leaning against the doorway deep in thought. Finally, she nodded her head, though the worried expression didn’t leave her face. “You’re right. She’s a responsible young woman and we can trust her.”
“Yes.” Prism cantered forward, nuzzling against his wife’s side. He smiled encouragingly at her, giving her a wink. “We can. Everything will be alright, you’ll see. Riley is going to be perfectly fine, and she’ll watch after Rainbow and Twilight, and they’ll all be in bed at an appropriate hour.”
He laughed as another thought entered his head. “The girls will all be fine… The house though…”
“What about the house?” Firefly’s worried expression was back all of a sudden, her eyes wide. “What’s going to happen to the house?”
“Well.” Prism chuckled to himself as he thought about his rambunctious youngest daughter. “You have met Rainbow Dash, haven’t you.”
“Oh, Celestia!” Firefly’s forehooves flew up to her mouth as she thought of all of the possibilities. “We’re not going to have a house when we come home, are we?”
“Well, Riley is going to be watching after them, so hopefully the house will still be here.” Prism wasn’t completely sure about that, but a stallion could dream. Thankfully, they did have an absolutely amazing insurance plan, so it wouldn’t be disastrous.
Firefly and Prism met Riley, Rainbow, and Twilight downstairs in the kitchen as the two fillies finished up what looked like a snack of apples and peanut butter.
“Alright, so it looks you girls are all set.” Prism stepped over to the table, wrapping his good wing around Rainbow in a hug. She laughed, leaning into his side. “Please try not to tear the house down while we’re gone, Rainbow. We just got it and we’re starting to like it.”
“Dad!” Rainbow protested, her voice squeaking. “I’m not going to tear down the house.”
“Well, you say that…” Prism laughed at her indignant face as he stepped around the table to hug Riley goodbye. “Now, try to get in bed at a reasonable hour, Riley. I don’t know when we’ll be home, so I wouldn’t worry if we’re not back before you three are all in bed.”
Firefly cantered over to Riley, giving her a hug of her own before pulling out her money purse from under her wing. She pulled out a number of bits, and placed them in Riley’s hand. “That should be good for dinner for the three of you.” She leaned in an hugged Riley again. “Have fun tonight.”
Riley, Rainbow, and Twilight followed Prism and Firefly out of the kitchen and to the front hallway. The five of them lingered momentarily, unsure of what they were supposed to do. Finally, Prism coughed awkwardly and opened the front door. “Well, we’re off. You can call us at any time if there’s a problem.”
Putting his good wing over Firefly’s back, the two of them left the house, shutting the door behind them.
Rainbow, Riley, and Twilight stood there for another minute, quiet and unsure of what they were supposed to do. Without her usual bravado, Rainbow sidled closer to Riley’s side before spreading her wings and taking a giant leap to perch on top of the girl’s shoulder.
“What are we supposed to do?” Rainbow whispered into Riley’s ear. “Twilight’s kind of boring.”
Rainbow wasn’t exactly as quiet as she had meant to be, and Twilight easily overheard her. Hours of being uncomfortable and nervous in a strange home surrounded by ponies she had only met once before finally boiled over and she snapped.
“I am the student of Princess Celestia, Emperor of all of Equestria!” Stomping a hoof against the ground, Twilight glared at Rainbow who was still perched on her older sister’s shoulder. “By extension, I am also the student of Princess Luna. The immortal Alicorns of Equestria spend their days ruling the planet and teaching me how to break the laws of physics with magic beyond all mortal comprehension!”
Rainbow and Riley glanced at each other, completely unsure of where all of this was coming from. They had never taken the unicorn to be one for bragging.
“I have learned more in the past year than you ever will during your entire life.” Twilight paced back and forth, practically growling from her agitation. Hereditary horn lit up and she scrunched her eyes shut in intense concentration.
Riley and Rainbow watched in amazement as a purple glow slowly surrounded Twilight before the unicorn disappeared with a pop, air squeezing in to fill the void she once occupied.
Half a meter away down the hall, Twilight reappeared with a crack, grinning proudly at Riley and Rainbow. “I have learned things that no other unicorn in history has been able to accomplish, and I do them with ease.”
Rainbow glanced at Riley, who had no idea what was happening, before turning her attention back to Twilight. “Big whoop. You can teleport. That’s not anything amazing. You’ll never be able to fly, and that means you’ll never be as awesome as me!”
“Big whoop?” Twilight’s eyes widened in amazement at the gall Rainbow had in not acknowledging the awesome superiority of a unicorn’s greatest achievement. “Not anything amazing? Do you have any idea how much power it takes to teleport?”
“No.” Rainbow shrugged her shoulders. “Fifty… Sixty… thingamajigs?”
“Fifty or sixty thingamajigs?” Twilight shook her head. “Now you are just spouting nonsense!”
“No!” Rainbow glanced back and forth, biting her lip. “Maybe.”
“I bet you don’t even understand flight mechanics.” Twilight grinned, looking way too smug for her own good. “A Pegasus who doesn’t even understand how she can fly.”
“I totally understand all of that.” Rainbow pshawed, waving a hoof at Twilight. “There isn’t a Pegasus out there who knows more about flying than me.”
“Really?” Twilight raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Prove it.”
“Right… Prove it.” Rainbow gulped, feeling a lot less unsure of herself than she had a moment ago. “Uh… First you start with flapping your wings, and the harder you flap, the faster you’ll go.”
“Wrong!” Twilight pranced happily for a moment, ducking inside of the living room. “You couldn’t be more wrong!”
Riley and Rainbow followed after the unicorn into the living room to find her standing on top of the couch, head held high in preparation of delivering a lesson. “Pegasus flight would be absolutely impossible without the use of magic. It’s not simply a matter of flapping your wings and you fly. A Pegasus’ wings are too small to attain flight in any other way. Like a unicorns horn, the wings are simply conductors of magic.”
“Magic?” Rainbow felt completely confused.
“Yes! Magic.” Twilight shook her head, pacing back on forth on the couch. “It says a lot about the Equestrian education system that you don’t even know that much. I will be taking the matter up with Princess Celestia tomorrow, because this state of ignorance cannot be allowed. The fact that curiosity and awe has been so stripped away from our society is something that needs to be changed.”
Twilight stomped her hoof against the cushion. “Nopony is curious anymore. Nopony wonders why it is that we can use magic and no other species in the entire galaxy can. Why is it that the entire galaxy runs off of Element Zero, and we would have never even learned about it if it weren’t for Chelsea. Without a human coming to save us all, we would have never learned about anything!”
Striding forward, Twilight stared at Riley like she was an anomaly. “What makes humanity so different? Why can you all function without magic? Why was it you, and not the Turians, or the Asari, or even the Hanar?”
Riley glanced down at Rainbow, an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of her stomach at the way Twilight was staring at her.
“What makes humanity so special?” Twilight spoke softly, stepping forward on the cushions, never letting her gaze leave Riley.
Riley watched the expressions playing across Twilight’s face with concern. It looked like she was fighting against herself, and Riley was more than a little concerned that the little filly might strain a muscle.
“Are you alright…” Riley reached forward, ready to snap Twilight out of whatever funk she had gotten herself into.
Whatever she was fighting against, Twilight clearly gave into it as the strain turned to peace and she jumped up onto the couch.
“It was simply momentous!” Twilight sang out, a melody seeming to appear from everywhere around her, and nowhere, all at once. “When I became Celestia’s Apprentice.”
Riley glanced at Rainbow, wondering what in the world was going on, but her little sister didn’t seem at all surprised that Twilight had broke into a musical number out of nowhere.
“But while my days are always sunny.” Twilight continued, taking a few steps forward to stare meaningfully into the distance. “I have a growing need to study.”
“I have always found it tragic.” She did a strange little hop skip across the cushions and stopped in front of Riley. “That other species can’t do magic.”
“But despite the impossibility,” Twilight sang, jabbing a hoof at Riley almost accusatorially. “You exist despite all plausibility.”
Riley found her grasp of the situation falling even further away at the seemingly fully formed song springing out of Twilight Sparkle from absolutely nowhere. She knew that the filly was brilliant, but she had no idea that she was such an accomplished word-smith as well.
“I must learn all about their biology,” Twilight sang turning away from Riley to dramatically pace the length of the couch. She looked back at Riley, staring directly at the small bracelet that held her omni-tool. “And disassemble their technology.”
Riley moved her arm, not wanting go through the hassle of getting a new omni-tool because Twilight took apart her old one.
“Even with their System Alliance.” Twilight continued on, unaffected by Riley’s worry. “I cannot help but want to do SCIENCE!”
“Not a single pony could have foreseen.” Pointing a hoof at Rainbow, Twilight shook her flank and bounced up and down. “The way that humans use machines.”
“Even if I must be forceful.” Turning her attention back to Riley, a large, unsettling grin overtook her muzzle. “I must know why you are so resourceful.”
“I must learn all about their biology.” Twilight jumped off the couch, strutting around the room in time with the melody. “And disassemble their technology.”
“Even with their System Alliance.” She rushed forward, doing a jump and slide across the floor as she gave her big finale. “I cannot help but want to do SCIENCE!”
The room lapsed into silence after Twilight finished, and the three girls found themselves sitting in the awkward quiet. Riley shifted uncomfortably, not sure how she was supposed to take that spontaneous song from the filly that she had only met once before. Why a little unicorn filly wanted to do science on her, she had no idea.
It was more than a little creepy after all.
Glancing at Rainbow, Riley looked at her little sister, hoping that she had any clue about what had just happened. Rainbow simply shrugged in confusion.
Turning her attention back to Twilight, Riley took a moment to look over the filly. Twilight was looking at Riley with wide eyes, seeming to have realized what exactly she had just done and wildly wishing that she could take it back.
“Um…” Riley scratched the back of her neck, unsure of what she should say. “Uh… what… what was that?”
“What was what?” Twilight asked with a small voice, looking anywhere else but Riley’s eyes, a blush showing through the fur on her cheeks.
“What was what?” Riley repeated, not quite believing Twilight. “What was what? What was that? The singing. The dancing. What was that?”
“Right.” Twilight nodded, looking like she was about to bolt for cover behind the couch. “The singing… and the dancing. That was… uh… That was…”
Shuffling her hoof against the floor, Twilight ducked her head in embarrassment. “It was a harmony song.”
“A harmony song?” In all of the talks that Firefly and Prism had had with her about adjusting to life on Equestria, harmony songs had never come up. “What’s a harmony song?”
“You’ve never heard of a harmony song?” Twilight lost the look of embarrassment, though it was mostly just forgotten in place of her sudden curiosity and disbelief. “Harmony songs are… they’re harmony songs! How else are you supposed to explain them?”
“Still never heard of them.” Riley glanced over to Rainbow, who looked equally befuddled. “You?”
“Nope.” Rainbow shook her head. “Never.”
“How could you have never heard about a harmony song?” Twilight looked like she wanted to start hopping up and down in confusion and disbelief. “I can’t seem to go a week without having to take place in one! They happen all the time. How can you never have even heard of them?”
“Don’t know.” Rainbow edged closer to Riley, not liking the sudden madness that had entered Twilight’s eyes. “What’s a harmony song?”
Twilight took a deep breath, shutting her eyes as she gathered her thoughts. “Right. A harmony song is an expression of the magic of friendship and harmony that covers all of Equestria. When the magic of any single pony gets too big for them to contain the magic leaks out and spreads to all of the ponies surrounding them. It starts a harmony song!”
“But…” Riley still had no idea what that meant. “What is a harmony song?”
“Well.” Twilight bit her lip, her nervousness and embarrassment returning. “When the magic gets too much for them to contain, they break out into song. Anypony surrounding them will generally join in, with the magic of friendship guiding them all in harmony.”
“Actually,” Twilight murmured, turning to look at Rainbow. “You didn’t join in. Why didn’t you join in? Nopony ignores a harmony song.”
“This pony did.” Rainbow still felt incredibly confused. She had never heard anything about harmony songs. She had never heard her parents even bring it up before, and she couldn’t help but wonder if Twilight was just making all of it up. “And this pony wonders if you pony is crazy.”
Twilight growled, but a small little fact that flittered through her mind stopped the rant she was just about to go on in its tracks. Cloudsdale rarely ever experienced harmony songs. All pegasus exclusive settlements were the same, though nopony had any clue why that was the case. Earth pony exclusive settlements experienced them, and unicorns couldn’t get away from them, but the Pegasus were the odd ones in the bunch.
“Oh…” Twilight blushed, sinking down. “Um… I just remembered that the Pegasus… uh… they don’t really… you wouldn’t have… Cloudsdale doesn’t experience harmony songs.”
“Right.” Riley nodded. She had no idea where to go from there.
Twilight felt a panic attack building within her. She had done exactly what her mother had told her not to do, and with her ‘harmony’ song, she had pretty much spat in Riley’s face and probably ruined any chance of becoming her friend. She hated when she was unable to do anything to stop herself from her own freak-outs.
Running on instinct, Twilight idly felt her horn ignite, her saddle-bags zipping into the room beside her. Moments later, she was clutching onto Smarty Pants like her life depended on it. Her foalsitter, Cadance, had given her the doll after she had met her. It was a ratty little thing, a little filly made from scraps of cloth, but it was Twilight’s most prized possession. It was a lifeline, and it kept her from completely collapsing in onto herself.
Riley and Rainbow watched as Twilight’s breathing began to speed up, nearing the point of hyperventilation.
“What’s she doing?” Rainbow leaned over, asking her older sister. The other filly was a complete enigma to the Pegasus, and she had no clue how she was supposed to respond to her.
“I don’t know.” Riley shrugged, feeling sure that she was as confused as Rainbow felt. Leaning forward, Riley kept her gaze firmly on the purple unicorn. “Twilight… Twilight, are you alright.”
She didn’t respond, instead rocking back and forth. Twilight started to mumble to herself, and both Riley and Rainbow had to strain to her what she was saying.
“No. I’m gonna get in trouble, and the Princess will send me back to magic kindergarten. No! Worse. Magic preschool. I’m so bad that I have to go to the school where they teach you how to do school!”
“Um…” Riley shuffled forward on her knees, reaching a hand out tentatively to touch Twilight, maybe drawing her out of her funk. “Twilight, are you alright?”
Glancing back at Rainbow, Riley finally decided that enough was enough and took matters into her own hands. Picking Twilight up off of the floor, the filly squeaked in surprise at the sudden sensation of flying. In her surprise, she dropped Smarty Pants as she looked up to find Riley cradling her like a baby in her arms.
“It’s fine, Twilight.” Riley gently stroked Twilight’s mane, even as the filly clenched her eyes shut. “You’re fine. You’re not in trouble. No one is mad at you. Relax, and don’t worry about it. You’re fine, you’re safe. Don’t worry.”
Cracking open one of her eyes, Twilight peered up at Riley’s face, surprised to find the older human girl smiling down comfortingly at her. She leaned back into the absolutely wonderful feeling of her fingers through her mane.
“What…” Twilight’s mind felt sluggish, and she struggled to figure out what was happening. “I don’t understand…”
“You were freaking out, and neither of us know why.” Riley nodded her head towards Rainbow, who looked nearly as confused as Twilight felt. “The singing might have been a little strange, but you’re fine. You didn’t do anything bad enough to get yourself sent back to… magic kindergarten, so… pony up and don’t worry about it.”
“Right.” Twilight nodded. “Sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize.” Riley reassured her.
“Sorry.” Twilight blushed, realizing that she had done it again. “Sorry.”
When Riley stood, Twilight felt strange but also safe in the girl’s arms. Riley sat down on the couch that Twilight had just spent the last minute or so dancing across, but she didn’t let the unicorn filly out of her embrace, still running her fingers through her mane.
“Hey, Twilight.” Riley smiled as an idea flitted through her head, a way to get the filly’s thoughts away from her perceived mistake. “What is a Cutie Mark? I’ve heard a lot about them, but no one has told me what they actually are.”
“Oh?” Twilight perked up, straightening up in Riley’s lap. “Well, a Cutie Mark is something that everypony receives after they discover their special talent that sets them apart from everypony else. It represents a ponies destiny.”
“How did you get your Cutie Mark, Twilight?” Riley was genuinely curious. She had not heard any of her families stories yet.
Twilight squealed in excitement, all of her worries and fears from moments before forgotten as she bounced onto the couch cushions. Her Cutie Mark story was absolutely her most favorite story in the whole wide world, and she barely managed to restrain herself from going into her bouncing excited ‘yes’ dance.
Taking a deep breath, she sat down on the cushions and looked at both Riley and Rainbow with a wide smile.
“When I saw Princess Celestia raise the sun at the summer sun celebration, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I was going to be the best unicorn ever, and learn as much about magic as I could.” Twilight doesn’t realize how narcissistic that sounds, but she was too excited to care. “My parents enrolled me at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns!”
With the amount of joy that Twilight was expressing at that, Rainbow and Riley shared a glance.
“Is that… good?” Riley asked. She had no frame of reference for anything Equestrian related. She had no idea what that even meant.
“Good?” Twilight stopped her bouncing, staring at Riley with disbelief. “Is that good?”
Twilight huffed, stomping her foot. “Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns is only the best school in all of Equestria! The best and most talented unicorns in history were taught there, and only the best of the best can get in!”
“So it’s good then.” Riley didn’t really know if that was the case, but she didn’t want to antagonize the clearly passionate filly any further.
“The entrance exam is one of the toughest tests than any colt or filly could make!” Twilight jumped, her eyes wide and the need to make the pegasus and the human understand just how impressive her achievement was. “That’s without knowing the last test.”
“What’s the last test?” Rainbow asked, only half-interested. Nopony had as cool of a cutie mark story as she did. Sonic. Rainboom. Bam. Instant awesome.
“The professor’s bring you into a final room and make you hatch a dragon egg.” Twilight sat down, nodding thankfully.
“And you hatched Spike.” Rainbow nodded. “How did that make you Celestia’s student? What’s so special about you if every pony goes through that same test?”
“No!” Twilight couldn’t find the words to express to Rainbow Dash how utterly wrong she was. Instead, she let out a little growl of frustration. “No! That’s not how it works at all.”
“Well, then tell us how it works.” Rainbow rolled her eyes, leaning back against Riley who idly began scratching between her ears. The pegasus filly had to resist the urge to start purring. Cats purred. Ponies did not purr. Nope. Nada. Not one bit.
“That dragon egg has been with the school for nearly eight-hundred years.” Twilight had begged Princess Celestia to tell her what she knew of it, and it had surprised her at the time. It still did whenever she actually took a moment to think about it. “Its mother gave it Celestia as a gift after realizing that the baby dragon inside was still-born. When she started her school, the professors eventually learned of it and decided to use it as a test for all the new students, to see how they reacted to their magic not being able to accomplish what they ordered it to do. They never expected that anypony would have been able to actually hatch it.”
Twilight took a deep breath, having practically spewed all of that out at once. Rainbow was only half-listening, but Riley’s full attention was on her, so Twilight continued.
“The egg had fossilized over the years. It was nothing more than stone.” Twilight felt a little bit of sadness at that. Spike had once been nothing more than a fossilized egg, his birth mother long dead and forgotten to time. “I didn’t know any of that. I thought it was a test that every student was supposed to pass, and that I was failing.”
“Well, what happened?” Riley asked, still scratching Rainbow as she leaned forward with interest.
“No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much magic I pushed through my horn, nothing happened.” Twilight shuddered at the memory. She hated how helpless she had felt. “The Professors were looking at me like I was such a failure. I had to do something.”
Twilight wasn’t quite sure how to explain the next part. She had spoken to a lot of ponies about the events of that day, and as far as she was able to tell she was the only one to have seen the event in the sky above. Nopony else remembered it. She shrunk in on herself for a moment, wondering if she should actually continue the story. She didn’t want Riley and Rainbow to make fun of her. That wouldn’t be any fun at all.
Looking over at them though, Twilight couldn’t help but suspect that she was alright. She would be more than alright actually. Her entire soul seemed to be singing to her that everything was just as it should be.
Who was Twilight Sparkle to argue with her soul?
“Right as the Professors tried to tell me that my time was up, something happened.” Twilight shut her eyes, not wanting to see the other girls’ reactions. “It was some type of atmospheric event. There was a flare of refracted light, followed by a shock wave, traveling faster than the speed of sound. I was so scared by it, that the next thing I knew there was a full-sized dragon standing inches before me with its head bursting out of the roof, and my parents were potted plants, and I just didn’t know what had happened.”
“Wait.” Rainbow held up a hoof, looking at Twilight with a raised eyebrow. “You’re saying that you saw a burst of rainbow, followed by a large boom?”
“Yeah.” Twilight nodded. She would have described it differently (a flare of refracted light accompanied by a shock wave traveling faster than the speed of sound), but Rainbow was correct. “Why?”
“Well, uh…” Rainbow glanced back at her own cutie mark, a cloud with a blue, yellow, and red lightning bolt erupting from it. “That sounds a lot like how I got my cutie mark.”
“What do you mean?” Twilight asked, looking at Rainbow’s mark.
“I wasn’t taking any sort of test.” Rainbow’s face screwed up in disgust at the idea, sticking her tongue out. “It was a race! I was defending a friend from a bunch of bullies, so I challenged them to a race.”
Stepping away from Riley, Rainbow pushed out her chest and flared her wings dramatically, unknowingly puffing out her cheeks as well. “There I was on the starting line, against two bigger colts. There was no way I was going to let them win! Fluttershy’s honor was on the line.”
“We took off like a shot!” Rainbow jumped into the air, miming their movements with both of her hooves. “I’d never flown like that before! That freedom was unlike anything I’d ever felt. The speed. The Adrenaline. The wind in my mane! I liked it. A lot.”
Rainbow’s eyes went a little wide and glassy at the memories, and a wide smile overtook her muzzle. “One of the bullies cheated, knocking me off the course.”
“No!” Twilight stood up indigently at that, hooked onto every word Rainbow was saying. “Cheating is wrong!”
“It didn’t matter.” Rainbow grinned cockily, strutting forward. “I learned that the only thing I liked more than going fast was winning! I flew so fast that I made a Sonic Rainboom.”
“What’s a Sonic Rainboom?” Riley asked. To her human ears, it sounded more than a little ridiculous.
“A sonic rainboom is a magical event that begins with the breaking of the sound barrier.” Twilight’s eyes widened in excitement at her chance to explain anything related to magic. “A pegasus who can attain such speeds is much wore in tune with their magic than most, and that magic is what causes the so called rainboom effect.”
“Right.” Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Well, that Sonic Rainboom is the only thing that you could have heard.”
“Wait.” Twilight stopped, her mind racing as new connections formed at the speed of thought. “That means…”
“Means what?” Rainbow raised an eyebrow, looking at Twilight in concern as she trailed off, staring into the distance. “You alright there, Twi?”
“That means that we were fated to meet!” Twilight sprang forward, grabbing Rainbow with her forehooves. “You helped me gain my cutie mark! Without you, I never would have become Celestia’s student. Thank you.”
She pulled Rainbow into a hug. The Pegasus pony protested for a moment before sighing and giving her own tentative embrace back.
“Yeah.” Rainbow patted Twilight’s back, looking at Riley who simply shrugged in response. “I guess so.”
“Friends!” Twilight pulled back away from Rainbow, looking at her new friend with a face of wonderment. “Fate itself wanted us to be friends.”
She paused, studying Rainbow’s face for a moment longer. “We are friends… aren’t we?”
Rolling her eyes, Rainbow finally shrugged. “Yeah, why not. Friends.”
“Yes!” Twilight squeaked, pulling Rainbow back into another hug. “I’ve always wanted a friend!”
Opening her eyes, Twilight saw Riley watching their hug with an amused look on her face. “We can be friends too, if you want… Riley.”
“As long as you don’t go dissecting me…” Riley shuffled forward, wrapping both fillies in a big hug with her much longer arms. “I think I’d like that.”
The three girls ended up giggling on the floor, new friends.
“I can’t believe that just happened.”
Firefly giggled, snuggling deeper into her husband’s side as they walked up the path to their new house. It was late, nearing one o’clock in the morning, and she couldn’t quite believe how long the dinner meeting had turned into. Captain Lucky Spirit had been enamored with the idea of having Prism working for the Royal Guard.
“You better believe it, dear.” Firefly nuzzled her husband’s cheek, smiling. “It sounds like you’ve still got a good career ahead of you.”
“I guess so.” Prism was still stunned. They had met at a fancy restaurant near the castle with Captain Lucky Spirit and two of his Lieutenants. All three of them had been extremely eager to meet with him, and they had done their best to make sure that Prism understood that. As the dinner went on, he had learned the shocking fact that the majority of the Royal Guard consisted of Unicorns and Earth Ponies. They simply had no idea what to do with Pegasus. The tactics that they still taught the few Pegasus guards had already become shockingly outdated, and as ground-based ponies, the leaders of the guard had no clue on how to utilize the few they had left.
As a trained Wonderbolt who had actually seen battle, Prism represented an opportunity for the guard, one that they were not willing to pass up. The Captain and his Lieutenants had only stopped short on romancing Prism to get him to accept a job as a “Training and Tactician” Consultant. A job that would also come with the rank of Major, just underneath Captain Lucky Spirit himself. If he had still been a part of the Wonderbolts, it would have taken him ten years to reach that rank naturally.
He was sure that one of the Lieutenants wanted to take it all the way to asking him out on a date to get him to say yes.
He was also really happy that the stallion never got up the courage to take it so far.
“I am beat.” Prism wanted nothing more than to crawl into his bed, curl up with his wife, and sleep until noon tomorrow, though he not before he checked on the girls. He was a responsible adult after all.
“Mmm.” Firefly hummed in agreement.
“Do you think the girls are still alive?” Prism asked, wondering if there had been a clash of personalities while they had been gone.
“Maybe.” Firefly shrugged, pulling the house-key out from her money pouch under her wing. Unlocking the front door, she held it open for Prism to enter and then closed it behind herself after she stepped in herself. “It all depends on how bull-headed Rainbow was.”
“Yep.” Prism nodded, looking around the darkened front hallway. Everything looked intact. “So… not a whole lot of a chance there.”
“Nope.” Firefly listened for any sign of fillyish laughter, or any hooves stomping around upstairs. Hearing nothing, Firefly twitched her ear worriedly. “I don’t hear anything.”
“It’s…” Prism checked the clock on the wall. “It’s one in the morning. Why would you be hearing anything?”
“There are three fillies in the house.” Firefly knew that her husband grew up in a home with no females and two older brothers, so he might not understand the concept of a female sleepover. She was perfectly willing to explain it to him, so he could share her sudden worry. “The house is silent. The fact that it is one in the morning only means that they should be louder than normal right now, causing our neighbors to make noise complaints to the Royal Guard.”
“The Royal Guard.” Prism raised an eyebrow at Firefly, only seeing her outline barely illuminated from the moonlight seeping in through the windows. “Rainbow maybe, but I don’t think that Riley is the type to allow her to get out of hand. From all appearances, she’s a responsible young woman.”
“Have you met Rainbow?” Firefly snorted. Riley might be responsible, but Rainbow was the type to completely ignore that. “For all we know, Twilight could the type to egg Rainbow on. I’m more than a little surprised that the house is still standing to be honest.”
“Still standing?” Prism took note of the house with much more interest, searching for the sign of anything out of place. He didn’t see anything that stood out of place. “Right. Where are they?”
“That’s what I’ve been wondering.” Firefly peeked into the living room, finding nothing there other than pillows and blankets scattered across the floor, the remains of what looked to have been a pillow fort. An empty pizza box lay nearby, and she had to snort at that. Riley and Twilight had had that for lunch and dinner. With a huff, she promised to herself that she would make her oldest daughter eat healthier meals.
“They’re not down here.” Prism had already checked all of the other rooms on the first floor. “They have to be upstairs.”
“Upstairs.” Firefly nodded, trotting out of the living room towards the staircase. “Well, at least the ground floor looks relatively intact, though they’re going to be doing some cleaning in the morning.”
“Better them than us.” Prism did love that aspect of parenthood. Giving chores to children on the grounds of character building.
“You have that right.” Firefly peered into Rainbow’s room. They had managed to set up her bed and gotten almost everything into its right position, her desk, and her single bookshelf, filled with comic-books and the occasional novel that had never been opened (gifts from relatives mostly). As she put it, ‘Rainbow Dash doesn’t read’. “Rainbow’s not in here.”
“That’s probably not a good sign.” Prism made sure to keep his voice quiet, not wanting to wake anyone if they actually were asleep.
Peeking into the guest room that they had hurried set up for Twilight, they found no sign of the little unicorn filly. Checking their own room, all that they found was a clean bed and nothing else.
“Riley’s room,” They both said at the same time. If they weren’t there, it was going to be time to call the Royal Guard and inform them of missing children.
Cracking open Riley’s door, Firefly and Prism peered inside. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the darker room. The moon was on the other side of the house, and very little light made it into the large window on the opposite side of the wall.
When their eyes did adjust, Firefly and Prism were met with a sight that made both of them want to coo and laugh at the same time.
On top of the queen sized bed, Riley was sprawled out on top of the covers. Twilight Sparkle was stretched out on her stomach over Riley’s legs, a ratty looking earth pony doll clutched tightly in her hooves. On her back, Rainbow Dash was spread out over Riley’s chest, her head resting on the human girl’s forehead. Murmuring in her sleep, Rainbow flapped her wings lazily and kicked her hooves at the air.
“Oh, Celestia!” Firefly murmured, resisting the urge to squee. “That is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Take a picture.” Prism nudged Firefly.
“Why can’t you?”
“Already took my omni-tool off,” Prism explained.
“Fine.” Firefly relented, lifting up her left-hoof. The holographic interface automatically dimmed, sensing the darkness of the room around them. She marveled for a moment at how the camera was able to peer into the near darkness to take a picture that looked like it had been taken during the day. From time to time, technology still marveled her. She knew that Rainbow (and possibly Riley) would make fun of her later for her amazement, but Firefly knew that they would never understand. Going from trains being the height of technology to being able to travel the width of the galaxy in a little under a week was something she was never going to be used to.
“Come on.” Firefly ran a wing along Prism’s side as she shut Riley’s door. “Let’s get to bed. We can deal with those three tomorrow.”
“I’m following right behind you.” Prism trailed sleepily after his wife. Never before had his bed sounded so good. Getting into that bed with his absolutely marvelous wife… well, there was nothing better in the galaxy.
Swinging her moon around to the opposite side of the world, Princess Luna felt a satisfied smile on her muzzle. Sitting on her haunches on her balcony, Luna looked out at the horizon, waiting patiently for her sister to begin her own work.
It started small, with a thin band of brightening sky across the horizon. Moments later, brilliant bands of purple and orange played out across the thin scattering of clouds hanging in the sky as the first edge of the sun peeked up and greeted the world for a new day.
Luna smiled at the sight. Celestia was outdoing herself again. Today’s sunrise would be going into her journal as soon as she had a chance.
Such artistry needed to be recorded by somepony after all. The moment might be lost in time, but it would endure in Luna’s memory.
With her morning ritual complete, Luna turned and stepped off of her balcony and back into her room. It was time for her own day to wind down, and she had just a few things left to do before she could retire to bed. Her bed looked warm and inviting, and there was a very real pull in her mind to just doff her royal vestments and jump into her bed.
She had many long years of practice of resisting such thoughts.
Instead, Luna stepped out of her room and into her hallway. She paid no mind to the Lunar guards standing watch outside of her door. The would be relieved soon, and the Solar Guard would take their place. It didn’t matter to Luna. As the goddess of the moon, on of the immortal rulers of the nation of Equestria, there was nothing she feared. She was far more capable of defending herself than any of the Royal Guard could. Hers was the fury of the void after all.
She made her way through the halls to a small room that sat between the two largest towers of the castle. Like her bedroom, it too was guarded by two attentive stallions with expressionless faces. One Solar Guard, and one Lunar Guard. It was always so, and those charged with guarding this door kept a different schedule than the rest of the guard forces.
They paid her no mind as she opened the door and stepped inside.
The room that greeted her was one of the closest guarded secrets on the entire planet. There were only the barest hints of its existence, and both Luna and Celestia had worked hard to keep it at just that over the centuries.
The room was a place of privacy, one of the only places the immortal sisters could retreat to and simply be themselves. Few ponies were ever allowed entrance, and it was for a good reason. The rooms main purpose was to allow Celestia and Luna to spend their breakfast and dinners together. With such backwards schedules and the inconvenience of almost never being awake at the same time, the sisters had realized long ago that by ruling a kingdom in such a way would leave them very little time for each other.
They had purposefully designed the room back when the castle was first being built to allow them to take their meals together at the only real times that their schedules aligned, for when Luna had her dinner, Celestia had her breakfast. When it was time to lower the sun and raise the moon, those positions would be reversed.
Over the past century, only four beings could rightly claim to have been invited into the room. Chelsea Hall was obvious, and it was only fitting that the savior of Equestria be allowed to dine with the sisters. Princess Mi Amore Cadenza was another. Though few knew of her existence, she was the rightful ruler of the Crystal Kingdom, even if the kingdom hadn’t been seen for a thousand years. Of course, the other two beings were only to be expected. The students of Celestia were treated as family by both sisters, and though one of them had gone astray and run away, there would always be a spot at the table for her, for both of them. All of them.
“Luna.” Celestia greeted Luna with a tired smile and half-lidded eyes. The sun raiser was not a morning pony. “Good morning.”
“Good morning, sister.” Luna took a seat across from the larger Alicorn, smiling at the young unicorn mare who served as their personal waiter as she poured her a cup of water. “Thank you, Seabreeze.”
Seabreeze gave a quick bow, smiling at Luna. “And what would you like for dinner, Princess?”
“I think…” Luna glanced over the castle’s menu for the day. It was customary that all forms of meals would be served at all hours of the day and night, thanks to the conflicting schedules and times kept by the ponies who worked there. “I think that the seafood lasagna sounds wonderful.”
“Very well.” Seabreeze took the menu and gave another bow before leaving the room. She would never understand how the Pegasus’ could enjoy seafood so much. It was a near universal quirk of the flighty race of ponies, one that had transferred over to the Alicorns as well.
Luna turned her attention back to Celestia, whom was busy downing what looked like her third cup of coffee.
“I do not think that caffeine is going to help you much,” Luna said, taking a sip from the glass of wine that Seabreeze had just poured for her. “I believe that a nice glass of orange juice would be better.”
Celestia’s only response was an angry growl as she pulled the mug of coffee closer to her side of the table. “Mine.”
“Alright.” Luna held up a hoof in placation. “The coffee is indeed yours, sister.”
“You’re damn right it is,” she muttered, lifting the mug with her magic to pour herself another cup of the steaming liquid.
Before Luna could say anything in response to that, Seabreeze returned to the room pushing a small cart with a silver tray on top of it. Lifting the cover on the tray, she placed the warm meal in front of the Princess of the Night, her own nose wrinkling slightly at the smell of cooked fish. She bowed to the two Princesses. “Your Majesties. If you need anything else, I shall be right outside.”
Seabreeze stepped outside, leaving the two Princesses alone.
Luna took in a deep whiff of her meal, thankful once again for the wonderful chefs that graced the kitchen’s of the castle. Every meal was a wonderful bit of deliciousness that exploded on her taste-buds, though they were carefully portioned out by the Royal dietician to ensure that the Princesses stayed at their ideal weight. It had been found over the millenniums that both Alicorns had a problem with saying no to an extra plate of cake.
Cutting into the lasagna, Luna levitated her fork up to her mouth. Chewing the morsel, she reveled in the wonderful flavors of fish and sauce that played out on her tongue. Once again, the chef’s were outdoing themselves. Swallowing her first bite, Luna turned her full attention to Celestia, who was busy poking at a plate of eggs and chopped potatoes.
“Are you enjoying your breakfast, Tia?” Luna asked, slicing off another bit of her lasagna.
“Meh.” Celestia swallowed her food unenthusiastically. She looked up at Luna, rolling her eyes before sitting up straight and shaking her head, as if she wished to clear out all of the fogginess of her mind. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath before schooling her features into a look of civility and poise. She had long ago learned how to make it look that she was calm and collected no matter the circumstances, and it was a skill that Luna envied, having been unable to ever replicate it.
“Thank you, Luna.” Celestia set her fork down, looking over at Luna with kind eyes.
“You’re welcome, Tia.” Luna paused, a small smirk forming on her muzzle. It was a part of a familiar ritual that they had gained over the past few years. “Why are you thanking me?”
“For going to retrieve Twilight Sparkle.”
It was a little ritual that had grown between them after the schedule for Twilight’s stays had been finalized. Celestia’s mornings were often the busiest time of day for her, and she had been afraid that she would have had to send a guard to go and retrieve her young student every weekend. It was much to her surprise when Luna had volunteered to take up the task.
“I need no thanks, Tia.” Luna spoke the truth. She loved the time that she was able to spend with the little filly. All foals were special in her eyes, but as a Princess she had so few chances to spend with them. When Celestia had chosen to make Twilight Sparkle her student, it had offered her a chance to finally spend a considerable amount of time around a little filly. It was something her heart longed for, the chance to be a mother, and she took every opportunity to spend time with the little purple unicorn. “You know that I love her, that I love spending time with her.”
“Of course.” Celestia did know that. “Still, thank you. I know that Twilight enjoys you just as much.”
Celestia knew that her faithful student was definitely one of the luckiest fillies in all of Equestria. She not only had a loving family, but she also held the attention of the two immortal rulers of all of Equestria, whom couldn’t help but come to think of her as one of their own as the years passed. There were few in all of history that could claim the same. Her previous student… Well, her life had been much harder.
Both Celestia and Luna had been extremely hurt when the filly they had thought loved them had in turn betrayed their trust and run away. There had been no sign of her for the past twelve years. Wherever Sunset Shimmer was, Celestia hoped that she was safe, and that she was happy.
“What is your schedule for the rest of the day?” Luna asked, finishing her glass of wine.
“I have meetings with the Griffin Prime Minister and the head of the Zebra Nations. I am overseeing a dispute concerning colonization rights between them.” Celestia rolled her eyes. It was nothing new. As both Emperess of the planet and Princess of Equestria, she had to step into affairs that she wished others could solve on their own.
“That sounds… engaging.” Luna did not envy her sister for the extra roles that she sometimes had to see to. Even though she had felt jealousy and indignation all those centuries ago when she had watched her sister become the ruler of the planet, those feelings had long since passed. She understood far better than she did then just what such a role entailed, and she did her best to ensure that Celestia never took it too far. It was her duty as a little sister to make sure that Tia smiled at least once a day, and that she never took herself too seriously.
That path lead only to madness and despair.
Luna knew that intimately. She would never let her sister tread the same path she had a thousand years ago. Tia was better than that.
She had to be.
Not just for Luna, but for all of Equestria. Without Celestia, Equestria would fall to pieces, one more civilization disappearing into the ethers of time, like so many before them.
They finished their meals in what felt like far too quick of a time and bade each other goodbye before going about their respective tasks.
Luna left the room, heading to the guard barracks on the first floor of the castle. The shift between the Lunar and Solar guards had already taken place and all of the ponies were wearing the golden armor of Princess Celestia.
“Princess Luna.” A unicorn Lieutenant bowed to her, stepping close. “How can we assist you?”
“I need an escort.” Luna didn’t recognize the Lieutenant, but that wasn’t uncommon. Over the centuries, those who guarded her had become a blur. She respected all of them, but recognizing them by sight had become an insurmountable task for her. “I am going to retrieve Twilight Sparkle from her home.”
“Yes, Princess.” The Lieutenant bowed again. “Give us one minute and we will be ready to depart.”
“Very well, Lieutenant.” Luna sat, making herself comfortable as the Lieutenant rushed off to gather up a complement of guards. She was earlier than she usually was and obviously her normal guards were not ready yet.
One minute later, just as the Lieutenant had promised, ten guards arrived, dressed in their finest golden armor. “We are ready, Princess.”
“Good.” Luna stood, stretching her wings as she did so. “Let us depart.”
They left the castle, the guards flanking Luna on all sides. They travelled through the streets of Canterlot, the guard easily making way for the Princess through the slowly growing crowds as ponies started their day.
The path was familiar, and Luna had walked it many times over the past several years. The businesses and restaurants of Canterlot gave way to the homes and apartments of the cities residences, and Luna and her entourage entered the Noble district.
Walking to the front door of the Twilight house, Luna knocked four times, waiting patiently for Twilight to throw open the door. She would have her saddle-bags on and a massive smile on her face at the idea of learning even more after returning to the castle. The filly was certainly predictable, but there was a charm in her excitement that warmed Luna’s heart every time she had a chance to witness it.
As the seconds passed, Luna shifted uncomfortably, wondering what was taking the filly so long. Raising her hoof, she knocked again.
She never needed to knock twice. There were times were she didn’t even need to do it once, the filly waiting just inside the door hearing her walking up the sidewalk.
This time, there was no filly. There was no sign of life inside of the house, and Luna felt a sense of unease, glancing back at the guard waiting patiently behind the fence of the yard. “Lieutenant.”
Perking her ears up, the Lieutenant trotted to the Princesses side. “Your majesty?”
“There is something odd happening here.” Luna looked around the front of the house, searching for any signs of something out of the ordinary. “Have the guards check the perimeter of the house. Search for any signs of a struggle.”
“Yes, your majes-“
Both Luna and the Lieutenant turned at the sound of an exuberant filly’s voice. What Luna found made a shock of worry strike at her heart. Twilight Sparkle, practically the daughter of Princess Celestia, was standing with an unfamiliar Pegasus mare across the street.
“Twilight Sparkle!” Luna did not let any of her concern show on her face, though the Lieutenant picked up on her edginess. “Are you alright?”
The Lieutenant signaled the guards silently through the sub-vocal microphones around her throat. The guards were instantly on alert, though they were careful not to make any sudden movements, to alert whoever the strange mare was that they were aware of something being wrong.
“I’m fine, Princess.” Twilight looked a little confused at Luna’s confusion, but she still gave the Alicorn a beaming smile. “I’m ready to go to the castle!”
Luna crossed the street, the Lieutenant faithfully following along at her side. The guard slowly spread out across the street, tense and ready to burst into action at a moments notice, and the Pegasus mare standing next to Twilight shuffled nervously, realizing just how dangerous a situation she had found herself in.
“Very good, Twilight.” Luna gave a warm smile to the filly before turning a colder gaze on the mare next to her. Scared thoughts rushed through her mind as every single possible scenario occurred to her. Twilight herself might have no idea about what was happening. It could have been blackmail, or a show of power by some group wanting to show the crown the power they held. Whatever it was, Luna vowed to herself that she would keep Twilight safe. “I do not believe that I have met this mare before Twilight. Why don’t you introduce us.”
“Oh.” Twilight glanced over at the mare, noticing just how nervous she looked. “This is Mrs. Firefly.”
“Hello.” Firefly waved nervously at the Princess of the Night. She had never met either of Diarchy before, and to have one glaring at her with an icy look was extremely worrying. “I mean, greetings, your majesty.”
“Indeed.” Luna stepped closer to Twilight, giving her a friendly nuzzle as she also placed herself between the filly and the mare. “How did you come to watch over Twilight Sparkle? Where is her family?”
“They’re in Ponyville!” Twilight chirped, looking excited to be able to answer a question before realizing why she wasn’t with them. Her face fell in disappointment. “Shining Armor broke his leg during a training exercise, so mom and dad had to rush off and they left me with Mrs. Firefly and Mr. Rainbow Prism.”
The names niggled something at the back of Luna’s mind, but it wasn’t coming to her. She eyed Firefly, looking over her pink coat and blue mane, and she just couldn’t help but think that she looked familiar. “Do I know you?”
“No.” Firefly shook her head. “No. We’ve never met.”
“I could swear that I know you from somewhere.” Luna leaned closer, studying Firefly’s face. “Have you ever visited the castle?”
“No.” Firefly shook her head. “I can’t say that have.”
“You haven’t been in charge of any Royal functions. The Summer Sun celebration? The Winter Moon Feast?” Luna simply couldn’t place her. “How do I know you?”
“Uhh…” Firefly rubbed the back of her head with a hoof, glancing down at the ground. “I don’t know if you had anything to do with it, but my husband and I just adopted Riley Shepard, a human girl.”
“Ah!” Luna’s eyes widened as she made the connection. “You are the Firefly that Celestia talked so much about.”
“Yes, Princess.” Firefly gave a tentative bow. “I… guess I am.”
“I apologize.” Turning to the Lieutenant, Luna gave her a nod. “It is alright, Lieutenant. This is simply a misunderstanding.”
“Yes, Princess.” With another gesture, the Lieutenant and the rest of the guards stood down, backing off from their confrontational positions.
“I must say,” Luna said, turning her attention back to Firefly. “Welcome to Canterlot. It is truly a marvelous thing that you and your family are doing.”
“Thank you, Princess.” Firefly glanced back at her house. “I have to thank you and Princess Celestia for the house. It is absolutely beautiful.”
“It was not a problem. You are a kind pony, and it is the least that we could do to help you and your family transition to a more land based existence.” With the Pegasus’ ability to cloudwalk, they had built a large portion of their existence around the sky. They built their very homes from the clouds, and that meant that only Earth and Unicorn ponies who had had the cloud-walking spell cast upon them could visit the great Pegasus cities, and the spell only lasted for a couple days. Pegasus families who adopted an Earth or Unicorn pony, or gave birth thanks to genetics had to move to terrestrial based homes. With the adoption of a human, the Rainbow family was no different in that regard. “If it would not be a bother, I would love to meet Riley Shepard.”
Firefly blinked for a moment, the Princesses words working through her mind. Her eyes shot open in surprise as soon as she processed all of it. “I… don’t know, Princess Luna. It would be up to her, if she said yes.”
“Of course.” Luna nodded in understanding. “I have no wish to bring any difficulties to her situation.”
“If you’ll excuse me, Princess,” Firefly said, standing and backing up towards her house. “I’ll go and ask her.”
Firefly left, heading back to her front door and bounding away, leaving Luna and Twilight alone.
“I’m sorry, Princess.” Twilight nuzzled up against Luna’s leg, smiling apologetically up at her. “I didn’t mean to make you worried.”
“It is alright, Twilight. It was only a misunderstanding.” She had spent a considerable amount of time with the filly (for a mortal pony at least) and she understood how flighty the thoughts of the entire Twilight family could be. It was not surprising that they would forget to inform the crown when they left in a hurry and dropped their daughter off with a foalsitter. “I hope that your brother heals quickly. I hear that he is making quite a name for himself. The guard is extremely interested in him, and I imagine that he will have quite the future waiting for him when he graduates school.”
“Shiny will be glad to hear that.” Twilight was proud of her BBBFF, and she was even happier to learn that the Princess thought he was as awesome as she did. “He’s been working really hard.”
“Another trait that he shares with you, Twilight.” Luna took a moment to study the house that her sister had gifted to the Rainbow family, and she decided that her sister had made a good choice. it would be a nice fit for the growing family. “You are lucky to have such a wonderful family.”
“I know.” Twilight smiled widely, her eyes staring off into the distance as her thoughts turned towards them. “They are the best.”
“Indeed.” There were times that Luna regretted having been born an Alicorn, but she would always return to the simple truth that there was no other sister that she would rather have than Celestia, no matter the problems that being part of the Diarchy brought. She had regrets, but there was no one in the galaxy who didn’t. “Family is something to be treasured Twilight. Never take them for granted, because you never know when they will be gone.”
Twilight didn’t respond to that, chewing her lip as she mulled over Luna’s words.
Before she could say anything, the door opened and Firefly stepped back outside, followed by a little blue Pegasus filly, and moments later, a human girl that Luna was fairly sure she was safe in assuming was Riley Shepard.
The girl paused at the sight of Luna. It was a very regular response which she had seen countless times before, though much more often in the past twenty years or so. It was strange to be sure, but she had long ago gotten used to the fact that as an Alicorn, she radiated a sense of power like no other creature in the galaxy could. It was something that every being could sense, regardless of whether or not they could use magic.
Riley followed behind Firefly and the blue filly, and it seemed to Luna as if she was regretting the fact she had been adopted by a species that only came up to her hip. It left very little opportunity to look dignified while hiding behind one’s parents. Instead of doing that, she clutched one arm and tried to look anywhere but Luna’s gaze.
“Hello, Ms. Shepard.” Luna greeted her formally, unsure of how comfortable the girl would be speaking with the ruler of her new world. “I want to be one of the first to tell you, welcome to Equestria.”
“Thank you,” Riley murmured, her voice barely carrying far enough for Luna to hear.
Out of the corner of her eyes, Riley studied Princess Luna as much as she could. The ancient mare still looked like she was in the prime of her youth, but her eyes held a weight of years that even as a teenage girl she could feel almost like a physical force. Her coat was a dark blue that shone in her older sister’s sunlight. Her regalia was forged in a matte black metal that fit perfectly with her astral flowing mane full of sparkling blue stars. She looked every inch the goddess that Riley had heard she was.
Luna was much less subtle about her studying of Riley. There was something about the girl that she couldn’t quite put a hoof on. Even with the timid way she held herself, Luna could see the potential for a will of iron and a strength that all others would give way before. This girl was going to become someone, and that thought made her proud for reasons she couldn’t quite explain.
“How are you finding Equestria?” Luna broke the silence that seemed to have lasted an eternity while still feeling like only a second. “It must be a change from colony life.”
“Ye-.” Riley’s voice cracked for a moment, and coughed. “Yeah. It is. There’s just so much… more. I’ve never seen so many people… ponies together in one place at once. Everypony is trying their hardest to be friendly, but it’s still,” she glanced down, crossing her arms over her chest. “Difficult.”
“I can understand that.” Luna truly could. As the Princess of the Night, one of her largest duties was to watch over the dreams of the citizens of Equestria. She had seen more than her fair share of ponies trying to climb back up onto all four of their hooves after unimaginable tragedies, and she did her best to make sure that their nights, their dreams, could be a place of refuge.
Unknown to Luna, Riley’s thoughts were mirroring her own. Firefly and Prism had spoken to her at length about the Princesses and all of the ways that they were different from the politicians and rulers she had met before. Her own dreams had been fraught with terror and hatred, and no matter how much she heard about the Princess who soothed nightmares into calm rest, there had been nothing. If anything, her dreams had gotten worse. She felt more than a little anger at the Princess, at the promises she had been told, and how none of them had come true.
Riley said none of that, instead just keeping her gaze firmly planted on the ground.
As a Princess of Equestria, Luna heard the stories of hundreds of ponies. So many times, she could do nothing to ease their pains. Looking down at Twilight, Luna realized that this was not one of those situations. She could reach out and touch lives, actually change them for the better, not just in dreams. With one simple act, she could make things better.
“Yes, Princess?” Twilight had to crane her head up to look Luna in the eye.
“What would you say to having these two girls stay at the castle with you tonight?” Luna smirks at the shocked expression that played over Firefly’s face. “A sleepover, I believe that they are called.”
“Really?” Twilight’s entire bearing brightened, and her smile could have blinded armies. “You would allow that, Princess?”
“If Firefly agrees, then I do not see why not.” Luna had known for a long time that Twilight was lonely. The filly had very few chances to interact with others her own age outside of her older brother and foalsitter. Even after what appeared to be just one night, she could already see the bonds of friendship forming between the three. It would give Twilight a chance to grow as a pony, and hopefully it would give Riley a chance to begin to heal in a safe environment (not to mention an opportunity for herself to try and peer into the human’s dreams). “What say you, Firefly?”
“I…” Firefly still looked shocked at the fact one of her Princesses was openly offering for her daughters’ to have a sleepover at the Royal Castle. It was unheard of. There was absolutely no way she was going to refuse, not when one of the god rulers of ponykind asked it of you.“I uh… I don’t see why that would be a problem.”
“Excellent!” Luna whinnied her own acceptance of circumstances working in her favor. “Bring the girls to the castle at four o’clock. They shall be well looked after.”
Without waiting for another word from them, Luna turned and started walking away. “Come along, Twilight. Your lessons await!”
“Yes!” Twilight cheered, galloping to catch up to the longer strides of the Princess.
Firefly, Riley, and Rainbow just sat there, trying to figure out what had just happened.
"Are you alright with this, Riley?" Firefly asked. Princess or not, she would call it off it was going to cause problems.
"I guess so." Riley shrugged.
"If there's any problem, you can call us and we'll come and pick you up." Firefly didn't know who she was trying to reassure more, Riley or herself.
"Hey!" Rainbow protested, realizing something. "Princess Luna never even asked for my name!"