"Late, late, late," Crystal chided under her breath and trotted down one of the many halls of the convention center. "Sorry, excuse me!"
All of her convention supplies floated behind her, and her worried, distracted thoughts made their path unsteady. She repeatedly excused herself to ponies that were nearly bowled over by boxes wobbling through the air.
She narrowly avoided losing her balance when she stepped from the carpeted hall to the polished, smooth floor of the east wing. Booths were set up to form a labyrinth through the large, open room. She looked around at the numbers written on the nearby booths to get her bearings before she figured out which direction to go.
Most authors had already arrived and put their books and other merchandise out onto their tables. If she weren't close to passing the deadline to get set up, she would have loved to walk slowly and take it all in. Instead, she just did everything she could to not knock anything over in her hurry.
She skidded to a halt in front of the empty booth marked '1205' and breathed a sigh of relief. Her boxes lowered to the ground on her side of the table and she started to unpack them. Things had been so close to not working out that she hadn't even gotten to see the banner for The Princess of the Knight yet. Obviously, it was just an enlarged version of the cover, but as she unrolled it, she realized it was so much more.
It was a big, bold display of her accomplishment. Her chest swelled with pride as she hung the banner on the wall behind her seat. She took a step back to look at it in all its glory.
"Wow, that looks great!" a neighboring author commented.
"Thanks!" She beamed a smile at them, then returned to setting up her station.
Once all the copies of her two books were carefully arranged, she dropped her rump onto the seat and finally looked around. The 1200 row consisted solely of romance authors, so the displays within her view ranged from playfully coy to outright raunchy. One in particular made her flush and she jerked her attention back to her own booth.
There were only a few minutes left before the doors were opened to convention attendees. Her heart pounded, but she momentarily distracted it by straightening the quills resting behind the propped-up books.
Why was she so nervous? After all, she was in disguise. The pink streaks in her mane were tied up to hide under a beret, leaving only the blonde tresses exposed. She wore a black sweater with the proven-lucky pink scarf tied around her neck, but most importantly, she also wore a skirt that was just long enough to ensure her cutie mark remained out of sight.
The sudden and rapid click-clack of hooves against concrete filled the air like an approaching stampede. Before she knew what was going on, there was noise and bodies everywhere. The fans had descended upon the feast of trapped authors.
Many ponies were dressed up to resemble characters from their favorite stories. She recognized a few here and there, but for the most part she felt like she had been transported to a whole new world.
"He—Hello," a mare stammered as she approached Crystal's table. "You're C.W. Step, right?"
Crystal straightened up and smiled. "Yes, I am."
The mare pulled out a book from one of her saddlebags and set it on the table between them. Her face turned a bright red. "Could you please sign this for me? I've read it three times!"
Crystal's smile widened further. "Absolutely!" One of her trusty quills lifted and the book flipped open to the inside cover. "What's your name?"
"Oh, you can call me—" She hesitated a moment. "C.W. is fine. Just C.W." Finishing the message of gratitude and her well-practiced signature, she offered the book back to the mare. "Thank you for being a fan!"
Gossamer gently touched a hoof to one of the copies of The Princess of the Knight lying on the table. "Is that an alicorn?"
Crystal swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. "Yes, Princess Selene is an alicorn."
With an almost guiltily pleased look in her eyes, Gossamer glanced between the book and Crystal before asking, "Would you sign a copy for me?"
The simple question soothed her worries in an instant. Her magic brought one of the books to her and she signed it, then exchanged it for bits. "I hope you enjoy it, Gossamer!"
Gossamer squealed as she bounced out of the way and Crystal was startled by a pony stepping up to take her place. Crystal blinked, then looked past the new pony to see a line. There was a line forming just for her. She did everything she could not to jump out of her seat with excitement.
"Hello!" she chirped to the pony that set a book on the table. "What's your name?"
After the rinse-and-repeat of meeting and greeting her fans—a few of which were stallions, much to her surprise—Crystal's stomach started to rumble. One fan wanted to discuss the details of her book, including their likes and dislikes, and though she earnestly wanted to pay attention, hunger was drawing her focus away from the conversation.
Her prayers were answered when a brown paper bag dropped onto the table. It smelled distinctly of hay fries and toasted oat biscuits. Crystal looked over to see Painted Wave standing at her side, grinning. Her saddlebags were nearly bursting at the seams with books, art prints, and other assorted merchandise.
Crystal smiled. "How is the convention on the other side of the table?"
"Fantastic!" Painted grinned. "It's a shame you're stuck here, though—" She glanced at the line formed for book signings. "—it seems like you've got quite a fantastic experience yourself."
Crystal opened the bag and magically grabbed four or five of the fries. They were hurriedly ushered to her mouth, which she hid behind a hoof so she could eat with some sense of decency. "Thank you so much," she said after swallowing.
Painted stared at her incredulously. "Who said that was for you?" When Crystal stared at her in wide-eyed horror, she laughed. "I'm teasing, I'm teasing. Of course it's for you."
"You are so cruel," Crystal muttered, albeit smiling. She turned her head to smile at the mare across the table. "I'm so sorry! Hello!"
The mare offered a copy of The Mare's Temptation. "Please make it out to Serendipity Doo!"
"Absolutely." She simultaneously signed the book while retrieving another fry. "Thank you for being a fan!"
"I'm just so excited that you wrote another novel. I'd like to buy a copy of that, too, please!"
While Crystal ate in between attending to ponies in line, Painted made herself a little nest on Crystal's side of the table. She rummaged through her haul with her ears swiveled back to listen in on the conversations. Once she had entertained herself both with her convention swag and with hearing anonymous feedback on her art, she stood rather abruptly.
"Do you mind if I leave my stuff here with you?" she asked as she started to unload her things into a neat pile.
Crystal glanced between Painted and her hoard, one brow raised. "It looks like you already are!"
Painted grinned. "I didn't ask if I could, just if you would mind it." She set her emptied saddlebags onto her back.
"Oh, you." Crystal sputtered a laugh and dismissed her with a wave. "Thanks again for the food!"
"Yup!" Happily, Painted trotted off into the crowd.
Crystal returned her attention to the waiting pony, sliding the signed book back to her. "Thank you!"
"No, thank you!" The pony hugged the book to her chest and stepped out of the way. Another pony took her place.
Crystal rubbed her aching neck. Her posture needed work if she was going to survive the convention; leaning over to sign books for hours on end was putting quite the strain on her muscles. She took a moment to glance down the row to see how many ponies were left and nearly jumped out of her coat.
Just three ponies back stood the very Princess of the Night herself. At her side was a royal guard—and not just any royal guard. The fates had to conspire against her even further. It was the very same royal guard from Quills and Sofas. Not many pegasi had long, tufted ears, and even fewer had blue primary feathers in their wings. They were standing, together, in her line. Her gaze darted to the books sitting on the table around her, each one boldly emblazoned with their likenesses.
"Hi! Can I get you to make it out to Fortunate Heart, please?" The mare picked up a copy of The Princess of the Knight and set it on the table between them.
Crystal offered her the best smile she could handle while her heart struggled just to beat normally. "Of course!" Her quill lifted while, simultaneously, she started to levitate books off the table, setting them out of sight on the ground.
"Thanks! I can't wait to read it!"
"I hope you like it," Crystal responded cheerfully while hiding the rest of the copies of said book.
The suddenly empty table garnered her a curious look from the next pony in line. Crystal returned it with a smile. "Hi! What can I do for you?"
"I was hoping to buy a copy of The Princess of the Knight. Are you sold out?" The mare's ears fell.
"Oh, certainly!" Crystal swallowed. Her gaze darted to Princess Luna and her guard. They were next. She was doomed. However, keeping her cool on the outside, she raised one copy and moved it across the table to the mare. "Thank you for your interest."
The mare put her bits on the table. "Can you sign it, too?"
One of her ears twitched as the panicked adrenaline rush made it hard to focus, but she tried to smile. "To whom should I make it out?" Crystal's quill lifted and wrote a courteous note of gratitude with the name given, then closed the cover. "Thank you!"
The mare squealed and bounced out of line, leaving her face to face with the princess, who was looking past her.
Horror was most certainly plastered on Crystal's face. She had written a romance novel about an alicorn princess of the night and was trying desperately to hide it. She had also completely forgotten about the large banner standing behind her with an enlarged version of the cover. "Princess Luna!" she said in a weak but calm voice, hoping to sound as though nothing was wrong. "What a wonderful surprise. I didn't know you attended conventions such as this."
Princess Luna simply stared with her mouth hanging open. Crystal stared at her with growing horror and dread. The guard stared at nothing in particular, his expression rather blank. Finally, the princess glanced between Crystal, the banner, and the guard.
The guard seemed to notice the eyes on him and inquired, "Princess?"
"Dost thou not see, Silent Knight? 'Tis clearly thou and I!" She pointed a hoof and glanced between them again.
Crystal started to sink into her seat. Was writing about the princesses considered treason? Well, perhaps prison wasn't all that bad. She just hoped prison was the worst thing she had to fear.
The guard followed her hoof and stared at the banner. Silence held them all still for a moment before he said with a raised brow, "No, Princess." He looked back at her. "That stallion has violet eyes. Mine are silver."
Crystal cracked under the pressure, not even acknowledging the guard's odd comment. "Princess, she is loosely modeled after you." She tapped her hooves together nervously. "I hope you don't mind. I—" Her gaze fell, then raised back up. If she was going to go down, she was going to do so with no regrets. "I just, I had to write about a princess of the night! I'm so tired of the same story over and over about the princess of the sun, and nopony was giving the night any attention. You and your night are beautiful and mysterious! I felt like it was your time to shine, so to speak!"
"What? Thou art a fan of ours?" Princess Luna put a hoof to her chest, blinking a few times before her expression grew soft and her voice gentle. "We—I mean, I am a fan of thou. I brought a book for thou to sign. Silent Knight?"
He retrieved a copy of The Mare's Temptation and set it on the table. Crystal's horror was washed away with a heavy mixture of disbelief, relief, and elation. It was not only a copy of her book, but a limited edition hardcover. She glanced between the princess and the book before she took it and opened the cover.
"This is a real honor, Princess," she said in a soft, sincere tone as she levitated a quill. She dipped it in the ink, then slowly began to write on the inside of the cover with the book tilted so that the words were private. The situation called for no ordinary message of gratitude, and she knew nopony in line would begrudge extra time being taken for the princess. "I cannot believe this is happening," she mumbled to herself.
A question from Silent Knight pulled her completely out of her thoughts. "What does C.W. stand for?" he asked.
She looked up just as the surrounding ponies within earshot gasped. His expression and his tone held no malice, but the innocent question garnered all eyes on him. The mare directly behind them in line fainted.
He looked around, the muscles visible that weren't covered by armor tense at the sudden attention.
Crystal couldn't help but laugh softly, shaking her head and returning her gaze to the book in front of her. "It's all right, Silent Knight. I'm sure you're not aware, but it isn't normally appropriate to ask an author what their real name is, especially in a public setting." She glanced up briefly and gave him another reassuring smile while he and everypony else started to relax. "It helps protect our anonymity."
He tilted his head. Not seeming to learn from the first time, he asked yet another naively and gasp-inspiring question. "Anonymity. Like an alias that a criminal might have?"
Princess Luna's hoof quickly raised and pressed to his muzzle to muffle any further words he might have. She laughed nervously, glancing around. "Nay, Silent Knight. Authors are celebrities and they do not have overzealous house guards to protect them." With her other hoof, she tapped on the book. "If thou couldst just make that out to Luna."
Crystal nodded. She finished the rest of her gratitude and signed it with her pen name, then added to the very top in her best calligraphy, To Luna. It made her blush just to use the princess's name so casually, even if only in writing. She closed the cover and levitated the book toward the princess.
"I thank thee," the princess said. She turned her head to look at her guard. "Come along, Silent Knight. We would like to see some more booths before we leave."
As quickly as she could, Crystal retrieved a copy of the new book and penned out Thank you for being a good sport. This will be our secret. — Crystal Wishes on the inside cover. She leaned across the table before Silent Knight had departed from the booth. He saw her movement and turned his head to assess the potential threat.
"Just for you," she said softly, levitating the book to him.
He nodded and said nothing. He simply put the book in his saddlebags, then followed after the princess.
Crystal slumped into her chair with a heavy sigh. She stared down at the books lying around her. "The princess is a fan of my work?" Her cheeks heated up and a small giggle escaped her. "The princess is a fan of my work!" she exclaimed louder.
The ponies near the table squealed, then resumed their line formation. Crystal cleared her throat and similarly resumed her signing duties and polite conversation as she returned the books to her table. The rest of the evening was a blur, as nothing could compare to the encounter with the princess.
When the convention hall was finally closing, Crystal was exhausted. She sold every single copy of her new book two hours before closing time, which meant she spent the last bit of the show disappointing some fans. Nonetheless, the whole day had been an amazing experience.
She gave her area one more look-over, packed up her things, and waited for Painted to return for her loot. She showed up not long after and the two of them headed off to their respective homes. When Crystal arrived at hers, Velvet was still awake.
"Welcome home!" Velvet looked up from the book in her lap. "How was the convention?"
Crystal yawned as she dumped her belongings rather unceremoniously on the floor, then with a similar lack of delicacy, she dropped down onto the floor beside Velvet. "Absolutely great. Who knew sitting all day would be so tiresome, though?"
Velvet reached out and stroked Crystal's somewhat frazzled blonde and pink mane. "You didn't come back with as many boxes as you left with. Did you get robbed or sell a lot of books?" She giggled.
"I sold all of them." Crystal stared up at her with wide eyes. "But that's the least exciting news. You won't believe who stopped by my booth!"
"Princess Luna?" she asked with a playful grin. Crystal just stared at her and she gasped. "Wait, really?!"
Crystal nodded. "Really! And as a cherry on top, the guard with her was the same one I saw at Quills and Sofas!"
This prompted a gleeful laugh. "Oh my Celestia, what are the odds?!"
"I don't know. Somewhere between unbelievable and embarrassing?" She rolled over onto her stomach. Looking around, she spotted a brush and levitated it over to start working on her mane. "Princess Luna seemed shocked at first. I mean, I was as well, but she had a better reason for it. And Silent Knight said the oddest thing, he—"
Velvet's ears perked. "Silent Knight? Where have I heard that name before?"
Crystal paused. Her brow slowly furrowed and she looked up at Velvet. "Wait, where have I heard tha—oh my gosh!" Her hooves flung to her mouth. Her focus was disrupted just long enough to cause her to drop the brush. "He was the hoofball player that I did the Romehorse lines for when we were freshmen! How did I not remember that the first time I saw him?!"
"If I remember correctly, you were a little busy with your obsessive fanmaring," Velvet teased. "So is he still handsome?"
Crystal was silent as thoughts whirled around until she shook her head to clear it. "What? Oh." She blinked. "Well, yes, but that's beside the point. The real point is, Princess Luna is a fan of mine. Do you realize how amazing that feels?" She resumed brushing and sighed wistfully. "That alone makes me feel like a success."
Velvet smiled. She took the brush from Crystal's magic. "Well, from the sounds of it, the convention was a success."
"It was. It really was." Crystal smiled softly. "It was a wonderful opportunity to jumpstart The Princess of the Knight. I couldn’t imagine it working out more perfectly."
A week later, Crystal was riffling through the daily stack of mail and discovered one that stood out from the rest. The sight of it caused her to gasp loudly.
"What's up?" Velvet asked from the kitchen.
"Le—Letter," she stammered. Her hooves trembled as she raised an envelope with the official seal of the palace for Velvet to see.
Velvet squinted. She turned the stove burner low to break away from her cooking and walked over. Recognizing the seal at a closer distance, her eyes widened. "What did you do?!"
"I wrote a romance novel about Princess Luna, that's exactly what I did!" Crystal practically wailed. She dropped the rest of the ordinary letters to put all of her focus on the special one. "This can't be good news."
"You don't know that! Open it and see what it is!" Velvet grinned as she bounced up and down.
Crystal moved with quivering hesitation. She slowly peeled the wax seal so as not to damage it or the envelope in the process.
"Oh my gosh, could you move any slower?" Velvet chided, interrupting her focus.
Crystal glared at her. "This could be a summons to go to court, you know!"
Velvet rolled her eyes and flopped down onto a pillow. "Crystal, I swear. There are tons of stories about Princess Celestia, right? Have any of those authors been tried for treason or executed? No? Then read the darn letter already!"
"All right!" Crystal finally pulled the letter out and unfolded it. "Crystal Wishes: It is our honor to inform you that you have been selected for…" She trailed off, her eyes going wide. The trembling started up again and she felt a tight, gripping sensation at the pit of her stomach form as nerves collided with excitement.
"Selected for what?" Velvet tilted her head.
Crystal raised her gaze to look at Velvet. "For an Equestrian Authors Award at the nomination of Princess Luna herself," she said in a monotonous voice, too many emotions battling inside her to vocalize one over the others. Her eyelids fluttered in an effort to clear her blurring vision. "I—I have to give a speech." She tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
"Crystal, that's amazing news!" Velvet cheered, throwing her hooves in the air. "Forget what I was cooking. We have to go out and celebrate!"
While Velvet went back to the kitchen to clean up, Crystal looked at the letter once more and muttered, "I'm not so sure this is better than being tried for treason."