Crystal pushed carefully through the bushes in hopes of finding the owner of the voice. Luck was on her side, it seemed, when she spotted a yellow mare and an old grey stallion—the former of which she didn't know but felt like she should, and the latter she recognized as Mr. Greenhooves, the royal groundskeeper.
They were an odd couple, but she did her best not to judge too much. They seemed preoccupied with one another and not with venturing deeper into the gardens, so she gave them a wide berth as she made her way back to the party.
Just as she left the gardens, she slapped a hoof to her forehead. She had a golden opportunity for a private, secluded encounter with a stallion that was definitely her type and she had simply walked away! Her preoccupation with letting him sketch in peace had completely blinded her to the fact that he might have been an eligible bachelor.
She glanced over her shoulder, but shook her head and walked away. It was too late. He hadn't seemed interested in her, anyway; he was there to see exotic birds and she was neither. Her attention returned to the mingling crowd ahead of her.
Among the ponies, she spotted Raven all dolled up with shimmering jewels in her mane and a sparkling dress. Crystal inwardly squealed before walking over. "Raven!"
Raven squinted at her for a moment and Crystal realized the mare was missing something. "Raven, where in Equestria are your glasses?"
"Crystal?" Raven paused, then nodded to herself with recognition. "I—I wanted to try going without them." She blushed and continued in a lower voice, "I wanted to stun Moore with this ensemble, and the glasses were detracting from my effort. At some point, they fell out of my pocket, though, so—" The blush darkened, now with embarrassment. "I've been standing here for maybe half an hour trying not to bump into anything or anypony."
Crystal did her very best not to laugh. "Really?"
"Stop it! I can hear you thinking about laughing." A small pout tugged on Raven's lower lip. "Could you help me find him? I've given up on the return of my glasses at this point. I just want to find Moore."
"All right, all right." She giggled and started toward the castle. "Follow the blur."
Raven huffed as she walked just behind her. "From what little I can see, you're a very lovely blur tonight."
Crystal giggled. "Thank you, but I'm nothing in comparison to you. Has Moore seen you yet?"
"No," Raven replied with a small sigh. "We were supposed to meet up, but I'm sure he's been trapped in conversation. He can't go very far without somepony wanting to talk to him."
"Speaking of wanting to talk, I have a few questions for you." Crystal slowed her pace. "What is going on with the Gala this year?"
"What do you mean?" Raven's tone grew serious and she stopped entirely. "What happened?"
"Well, the parade had some—interesting additions." Crystal stopped as well, turning to face Raven. "And I noticed there was a mare beside Princess Celestia at the royal greeting."
Raven raised a hoof to her temple. She rubbed a small circle there and groaned under her breath. "Princess Celestia saw fit to invite her protégée, which of course involved inviting her friends, as well. They are the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, but they are also—well—"
With a sigh, Raven shook her head and continued in a mumble, "They're not all quite accustomed to Gala customs. I tried to warn Princess Celestia that they might disrupt the normal order, and all she said in response was, 'I know.'"
"Huh." Crystal blinked. "I thought I recognized her. She's the one in the newest stained glass window, isn't she? She and her friends?"
"Correct. Twilight Sparkle is her name." Raven sighed and gestured for Crystal to continue onward. "I hope Princess Celestia truly does know what she's doing."
"You know her better than almost anypony. If you're doubting her, then I'm really concerned." Crystal laughed softly and held the door open into the main ballroom.
Conversational noise bombarded them from all angles when they stepped inside. It sounded as if there were three times the amount of ponies in the room, and there were already a lot of voices without the echoing. She rubbed her suddenly ringing ears, shook out the pain, and scanned the crowd.
A stallion stood out from the others: Prince Blueblood. At his side was yet another vaguely familiar mare dressed in a gown fit for a princess. They were standing beside a puddle of punch that had been spilled and seemed to be debating.
Raven squinted, though it was no use.. "Do you see him?"
"Not yet." Crystal glanced at her, then back at the prince.
The mare at his side looked utterly offended as she raised the shawl from her shoulders and laid it over the juice. Blueblood walked over it and she neared a snarl as she picked it back up. Unceremoniously, she tossed the wet cloth over her back, then scowled at the prince walking on without her.
"I guess Blueblood is still up to his usual games?" Crystal sighed.
"Huh?" Raven blinked a few times. "Oh, I'm sure. The Gala is when he has more eager mares chasing his flank than at other events. Is he being pestered right now?" She grinned, a small hint of mischief lurking in the corners. "Good for him. Now, stop looking at him and find my Prince Highborn."
Crystal laughed a little too loudly at that. "All right, all right. Come on; maybe he's on the other side of the room. Stay close so you don't get lost and end up following nothing into a wall!"
"Very funny," Raven muttered and walked behind her.
Crystal craned her neck to try to spot his light blue coat among the crowd. Finally, she found the stallion in question surrounded by three other ponies, seeming to be deep in conversation. "Ah-ha! Wait right here."
"Oh, okay." Raven glanced around, but stayed in place as instructed.
Crystal approached the group and cleared her throat. "Excuse me, ladies and gentlestallions," she said in her best airy voice. "I found something that belongs to Sir Pony Moore and it requires his immediate attention."
Moore looked at her with a vaguely, secretly thankful smile. "Is that so?" He glanced at the others. "I'm terribly sorry to cut our conversation short, but this does indeed sound important."
"Certainly, Sir Moore," one of the ponies said, nodding politely.
Crystal led Moore over to where Raven waited and explained, "She lost her—"
"—glasses," Moore finished without a hint of surprise or concern in his voice. He reached into his tuxedo vest and pulled out Raven's unmistakable pair of large glasses—the thick lenses were a tell-tale giveaway. "I found them on the steps outside the ballroom." He held them out for Raven to take. "Here you are, my Canterella."
Raven blushed. She reached out a hoof to grab them, missed at first, and found them on the second try. "Thank you," she mumbled.
Moore waited a moment, then asked, "Aren't you going to put them on?"
Raven froze, so Crystal answered for her, "She's embarrassed to wear them because she thinks they ruin how she looks tonight."
"What?" He glanced between them. "Raven, don't be silly." He took the glasses back from her and gently forced them onto her face. "There. Now you look perfect."
"But they're so big and bulky," Raven muttered, raising a hoof to straighten them. "I wanted to look nice for you tonight."
"And you do." He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
Crystal smiled, trying to contain the squeal that was resounding in her mind. She would have to remember that moment and use it in her next story. She started to turn away to leave the two alone when she caught sight of a bright pink mare pulling out a large blue cannon.
In a frantic effort to look around for some kind of explanation, Crystal noticed a guard standing up on a balcony, overlooking the party. To her, the guard's presence overshadowed the cannon's for two reasons.
The first reason was that she or he was in the distinct armor of Princess Luna's House Guard. In an instant, she remembered her original quest and was going to turn to ask Raven regarding the princess's whereabouts; however, the second reason momentarily froze her in place. The guard was aiming a small crossbow at the pink mare.
"What?!" Crystal finally squeaked, backing up and nearly bumping into the happy couple behind her. "Do you see that?!" She pointed up at the balcony.
By the time they looked up, the guard had moved out of sight.
"Very funny." Raven huffed. "I have my glasses now, Crystal, so I can clearly see there is nothing there."
Crystal stared at her, wide-eyed. "There was a guard! With a crossbow!"
"A crossbow?" Raven paused to consider the notion. "Unusual, but not unheard of. Perhaps—"
"C'mon, everypony!" the pink mare shouted loud enough to be heard throughout the whole ballroom. "I know what will make you shake those groove thangs!"
A scowl darkened Raven's expression. "Pinkie Pie."
"Who?" Crystal asked, glancing up at the stage.
"Another one of Twilight Sparkle's friends," Raven grumbled, rubbing her temple again. "The guard was probably startled by—that." She raised the hoof she had been using to nurse her sudden headache to gesture at the mare dancing on the stage and singing the Pony Pokey. "She's harmless, but, well, excitable. I knew inviting them was not a good idea."
Crystal bit her lip. "Speaking of, well, I don't have a good segue, but where is Princess Luna tonight?"
"Not attending." Raven shook her head. "And now I don't blame her."
Crystal's heart sunk a little.
Moore chuckled. "Relax, Rav." He put a foreleg around her shoulders. "If things truly do get out of hoof, the guards will take care of it. How about I treat you to an apple fritter?"
"Apple fritter?" Raven whined. "That's not served at the Gala! This is not a county fair!"
Moore gently coaxed her to walk with him. "Aren't you the one who gave, ah, Applejack, I believe? Yes, Applejack. You approved the permit for her stand."
"I—I know, but—" Raven sighed and looked over at Crystal. "If I lose my job for this disaster of a Gala, will you hire me as your assistant?"
"Certainly!" Crystal giggled and waved. "Enjoy your apple fritter!"
Another sound of dismay escaped Raven, but it was soothed by a kiss on the cheek from her special somepony.
Crystal watched them leave with a light smile and a heavy heart. There was no Princess Luna, and she was alone. She shook her head and tried to raise her spirits by looking around. There were plenty of stallions nearby! They were also, once she thought about it, likely the kind of pony she hated the most.
"Crystal, is that you?"
Speaking of the kind of pony she hated the most! Crystal turned to offer a smile to the golden mare standing just a few paces away. Golden Pants casually closed the distance between them.
"My word, it is!" Golden flashed a brilliant smile that was much too white. "It's been so long!" She tossed her head to acknowledge the three mares following behind her with a glance over her shoulder. "Girls, this is my old classmate, Crystal Fishes."
"Wishes," Crystal corrected as politely as she could.
Golden laughed behind a hoof. "See? Proof that it has been much too long!" She pawed at the air. "What have you been up to these days?"
Crystal shifted somewhat uncomfortably. She masked the movement as simply facing the mare completely. "I'm a bit of a writer."
"Is that so? And that is clearly working so well for you." She laughed again. The gold earrings adorning her ears jingled and shimmered when she shook her head. "I'm sure you know about me."
"Oh, yes, Golden. You—"
"Golden!" She looked at the mares behind her. Their attention had wandered, but the moment she looked at them, they laughed on cue. "How cute! Nopony has called me 'Golden' in years." She looked back at Crystal while the other mares rolled their eyes and amused themselves by whispering to each other. "It's Au, sweetie."
Crystal tried not to bristle, but the hairs of her coat started to stand on end. For all of her fame and pompous attitude, Golden was in the worse position, and Crystal so desperately wanted to point that out. The mares behind Golden were hardly paying attention when she wasn't looking at them.
Before Crystal could finally formulate a response, Pinkie Pie screamed "Stage dive!" and flung herself into the crowd.
It was like watching a masterfully planned arrangement of dominoes. Having no interest in catching her, the posh ponies below fled, leaving an unsuspecting orange mare wheeling a giant cake to fend for herself. Pinkie hit the cart, flipping the cake and sending it soaring through the air. Ponies, Crystal included, followed the cake's journey over their heads and saw it aiming straight for Blueblood.
True to his nature, Blueblood grabbed the mare that had been following him with irritated patience and used her as a pony shield. This seemed to be the last straw, as she turned on him and began to yell her true feelings.
It was more than amusing to watch—until the mare shook like a dog. Pieces of cake and frosting splattered onto his white coat. He shrieked and fell over backwards, bumping into a large statue that then started to wobble.
The rainbow blur shot through the room and caught the statue just before it landed on a group of ponies too stunned to simply move out of the way on their own. However, though she saved them, the statue seemed to be too much for her to handle, as she lost her balance. She stumbled one way, then leaned the other and hit one of the decorative columns with one end of the statue.
It toppled over into another, which toppled into a third, and so on until all the columns that had been set up around the statue's original resting place came crashing down. To add insult to injury, after the dust settled, the statue on the mare's back broke in several places.
Everypony stared in shock. Everything had fallen apart in less than a minute. She wouldn't have believed it if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes.
"Well, this Gala is certainly the worst event I've ever attended," Golden said with a sneer.
Suddenly, the whole room began to rumble and shake. Golden, along with Crystal and several others nearby, cried out in surprise and fear. The doors to the gardens burst open with a loud bang and animals of all shapes, sizes, and kinds poured into the ballroom. The yellow mare from earlier stood in the doorway and panted before she screamed, "You're—going—to—love me!"
Screams filled the air. Ponies and animals alike ran, terrified of each other and of the uncertainty from the whole situation. It was absolute chaos, and as Crystal ran from the ballroom, the first thought that echoed in her mind was: "Raven is definitely going to have one hay of a fit over this."
When Crystal finally arrived home that night and opened the door to their condo, Velvet snorted awake from her spot curled up on one of the sitting pillows. Her ears twitched to different states of perkiness, one almost upright and the other drooping at a midway point. She yawned and said with a tired smile, "Welcome back! How was—whoa."
Crystal froze in the doorway. Her mane was disheveled and her dress was crumpled, even torn in a few places. She blinked slowly, then stepped all the way inside and shut the door.
Velvet blinked just as slowly.
Finally, Crystal said, "It was, um, different."
"That good, huh?" Velvet giggled. She got up off the pillow and stretched before she started to head to her bedroom. "Well, you can tell me all about it in the morning. Looks like you've got quite the story to tell."
"Yeah." Crystal remained where she was, staring at the door to Velvet's bedroom after it clicked shut. "It was," she continued to nopony in particular, "probably the best Gala ever."