"I think you've used up all your sick days." Velvet stared down at Crystal, who was sprawled on her back and draped over one of the sitting pillows. "I don't want to get a note from your teacher and have to go to a parent-teacher meeting about your absence."
Crystal groaned. "Why? What's the point?" She rolled over and scowled. "I'm not learning anything. It's not required for what I do. We're doing just fine on what I'm making now."
Velvet scowled right back at her. "Because you're a part of society."
Crystal pointed at her. "J'accuse! So are you, and you dropped out!"
"Nuh-uh. I live in Canterlot, but I'm not part of its society." Velvet dropped down onto her haunches to cross her forelegs over her chest. "For better or for worse, you are. Ponies talk about you. Do you really want them to start talking about how you're a dropout?"
Crystal gave another groan, this one exaggerated and drawn-out. "I…" She hedged. Her lips pursed into a tight scrunch until she finally stood up. "Fine, I'll go to school, Mom."
"That's a good girl." Velvet grabbed Crystal's face by her cheeks and squeezed. "Now go be Mommy's little star and get all the good grades!"
Crystal rolled her eyes, but she smiled and nodded. "Yes, Mom." She waved Velvet's hooves away and trotted into her bedroom to retrieve her saddlebags, then returned to the main area to head to the door. "I guess I'll make dinner tonight, since I'll be home before you."
"Sounds good! Have a great day at school!"
"Yeah, yeah." Crystal sighed and walked out into the corridor.
The walk to Canterlot Academy was uneventful, which paralleled what the next six hours of her day would be like. Teachers taught topics completely irrelevant to her interests. Students pretended to listen but instead whittled the time away by sneaking in a few naps.
She tried to survive the only way she knew how: by writing instead of taking notes. However, that day, her mind wasn't in it. Every time she tried to guide words into ink, her quill kept writing the same scenes.
Eyes in the darkness.
Hisses from the shadows.
Crystal took a deep breath and released it through her nose. Focus, she demanded of herself. She couldn't get into another dry spell. An image flashed through her mind and the quill lifted, dancing across the page with ease while she melted into her seat.
His silver eyes caught in the moonlight as he gazed down at her. "Good night, Crystal," he said in a low, smooth voice.
He leaned down to place a kiss on her cheek, but she had a different plan in mind. Quickly, she tilted her head to the side and caught his lips in hers.
Before she knew it, her face felt hot and she glanced around to ensure nopony was staring at her while she furiously scribbled out what she had written. "Not that kind of dry spell!" she hissed under her breath.
The day crawled by and finally three o'clock rolled around, the bell resounding with cheer at her regained freedom. She trotted down the front steps, yawning, and started for home.
Halfway there, she stopped when she realized she was outside of Runic's shop and turned her head to look at it. The windows were back in place and displayed a bright, colorful sign that read: 'Grand Re-Opening: 50% off all mare care products!'
"Hello?" she called as she walked in the door. "Runic?"
She was a little surprised to see the store back to its original state. Ponies wandered the aisles and tried on perfume. The back door was whole and without a hole. It looked as though nothing had happened at all, and it gave her chills.
"Hey there!" Runic smiled from behind the counter, just like always. "Whatchya need today?"
"I just came to check on you and see how you were." She pawed at the ground. "So, how are you?"
Runic gestured at their surroundings with his forelegs spread wide. "Great! I had a repairpony come by. You unicorns and your magic work wonders!"
"Oh, only those gifted with a better grasp on their magic," she corrected, smiling. "But I am glad to see the shop back in order." She took a look around, then back at him. There was an awkward moment of hesitance before she leaned in and lowered her voice to ask, "You and Silent Knight are good friends, right?"
Runic smiled. "Cousins, in fact!"
Crystal nodded slightly. "Mm." She hesitated again. "How is he?"
"How is he how?" His smile fell to a flat line.
"What I mean is, you know about his… situation?" she pressed.
Runic shook his head. "Can't say I do."
Crystal sighed. She looked around once more, then finally said outright, "Luna mentioned that he recently went through a breakup."
Runic's eyes widened and his mouth hung open for a moment. "What? He broke up with Iridescence?"
"No, he—" She choked on her sentence to instead repeat, "Iridescence?"
Runic looked down at the counter between them and tapped his hooves together, shaking his head. "I had no idea! I wonder why he didn't say anything to me?" He sighed. "I guess that does explain why she just suddenly up and left. I assumed he was just sad that she was gone, but now…"
The hairs on the back of her neck bristled and she scowled. "She left after breaking up with him?" When he lifted his gaze, she snapped back to a more somber expression. "I thought that perhaps her schedule changed and that was why I hadn't seen her lately, but—"
She shook her head. "That's not the point," she muttered both to herself and to Runic, who was staring at her with a furrowed brow, and she raised her voice back to a normal tone. "The point is, you are the only pony I know who is close friends with him, so I wanted to make sure you were there for him."
"Absolutely!" His coltish smile returned. "If I'm bummed out and I wasn't even the one who went through a breakup, can you imagine how he feels? I'll have to throw him a bachelor party to help remind him that it's not so bad being single."
She blinked. "Runic, a bache—" She laughed and shook her head. "Yes, that sounds like a good idea."
He rubbed his hooves together. "A great idea, even! I know just what I'll do!" He grinned. "Silent Knight'll be feeling better in no time!"
A wistful sigh escaped her. "Oh, I hope so." She blinked a few times, straightened up, and cleared her throat. "I suppose I'll head home. Good luck with the bachelor party!"
"Thanks!" He waved her off.
Crystal waited for the door to shut behind her before she released an irritated groan. Her hooves scuffed the cobblestone street as she walked, her posture weak from her slouched shoulders and lowered head. The day started off sour, and it seemed it was going to continue that way.
When she crested the top of the stairs to her floor, a familiar mare standing outside her door caught her eye.
"Raven?" She perked up and trotted the rest of the way. "I'm sorry, how long have you been waiting?" Her magic worked the lock and opened the door.
Raven smiled. "Not long. I assumed you would come home straight from school, given how much you complain about it." She followed Crystal inside.
Crystal rolled her eyes, walking into the kitchen. "Would you like some tea?"
"A small one, please. I can't stay too long." She settled down on a pillow. "I just came by to give you the name of a counselor I found for you."
The cup clattered against its saucer as her magic dropped it a little too soon from surprise. She kept her back to Raven, staring down at the kettle that sat on the stove. "Oh."
"Don't sound so excited," Raven said with a small laugh. "I actually think I found you a perfect fit! I saw her name and knew she was the right one."
Crystal glanced over her shoulder. "What makes you so certain?"
"Well, I believe it will help that you already know her."
Crystal's ears twitched and perked. "I suppose that might help. Who is it?"
Raven smiled, looking very much like a self-satisfied cat. "Your cover artist Painted Wave apparently works as an art therapist. You should talk to her and see if she can help you."
"Really? I didn't know that about her." Crystal poured the rosemary-infused tea into two cups and carried them over. "But I'm fine, honest."
Raven regarded her with one brow raised, though she accepted the cup and sipped from it. "Princess Luna seems to disagree, and unfortunately for you, I take orders from her. I'll schedule the appointment myself if you don't." Her tone lowered to a softer, more concerned level. "In seriousness, Crystal, you're not alone or strange. A lot of ponies are suffering after the attack. It's okay to reach out for help."
Crystal didn't quite meet her gaze. "Mm." She sighed. "I'll think about it."
"Good." Raven took another sip and smiled. "So, how are you doing otherwise?" She waited and finally prompted, "What happened?"
"It's a little complicated. Not much has happened, per se, other than—" She sighed again. "I think I found the right stallion for me."
Raven nearly dropped her teacup in sudden excitement. She squealed and hopped forward to the edge of the pillow. "Crystal!" Her excitement deflated as quickly as it had swelled. "But why are you sighing like a lovelorn filly?"
Crystal shook her head. "He's been through a recent break-up, which is only a temporary issue of rebound concern. But the mare that he dated is so different from me that I'm not sure he'd be interested in me once he's over her." Her head dropped down to rest on her hooves. "She might as well be a model for punk fashion."
"Oh, pfft." Raven rolled her eyes. "Stallions don't only like one type of mare, you know. Moore dated a model before me. Can I compare to that? Certainly not, but I got him in the end. That's enough for me, and it will be enough for you."
Crystal shifted, still not looking at Raven for a moment longer before glancing up at her. "I suppose I'll cross that bridge when I know he's over her. After all, she broke up with him, so there is still a chance…" She trailed off and shook her head. "Oh, I'm not sure why I'm so hung up on him!"
Raven smiled. "That's how it is. Love is sudden and wonderful."
"Love?" Crystal's cheeks turned bright red. "Raven! That's a rather strong word! I barely know him—Well, I do, but he barely knows me! It's far too soon for the 'love' word!"
Raven laughed, standing up and setting her teacup on the table. "Maybe it is. There's only one way to find out!" She winked. "I expect to hear all about it as soon as you make a move on him. Who is the lucky stallion, anyway?"
Crystal swallowed. "I'm not sure if I'm ready to say just yet."
"So it's somepony in the castle, then?" Raven chuckled with an almost devious grin. "I'll be watching you, Crystal."
Crystal stuck out her tongue. "I didn't say it was!"
Raven opened and trotted out the door. "You didn't say it wasn't!" With that, she pulled the door shut behind her with one final, triumphant laugh.
Crystal stared at the door for a while, her face red and hot. She buried her face against the pillow and let out a small, muffled cry of exasperation.
"We're going out," Crystal stated, her nose high in the air so she could peer down at Velvet.
Velvet furrowed her brow and squinted. "Um, where exactly are we going with you dressed like that?"
Crystal huffed in mock offense. She wore copious amounts of glitter around her eyes over bright pink eye shadow, and her lips were colored the same shade of neon pink. Her hindlegs were wrapped in fuzzy green and pink legwarmers while her forelegs were adorned with bangles of every color of a rainbow on steroids.
"Clubbing, of course," she said, flicking her tail. "Where else?"
Velvet responded with loud, boisterous laughter. She fell over onto her side to clutch her stomach. Crystal rolled her eyes and tapped a hoof, waiting for the mare to catch her breath.
"Have—Have you," Velvet managed between gasps for air, "ever been to a club before?"
"No, but I've read about them in magazines, and this is clearly how clubbers dress. So get ready and let's go!"
Velvet took another moment to try and even her breathing. "Why are you so eager to go to a club all of a sudden?" When Crystal glanced away and hesitated, she pressed, "Crystal, what are you up to?"
"Oh, I need your help, but I thought if I told you, you might say no," she replied with a pout. "Don't make me say it."
"Fine, fine." She dropped her rump to the floor. "I'm utterly out of ideas for a new romance, and I thought, hey! I just need to be inspired by somepony around me! And, well, since Horsey is doing so well with Sav, but she doesn't want me to write about her…" She trailed off.
"Uh-huh. So you're going to take me to a club in hopes I find my special somepony there and you can write about it?" Velvet raised one brow. "This sounds really self-serving for you, but—" Her face lit up with a grin. "I'm in!"
Crystal's ears perked. "Really? Oh, great! Because I heard about the perfect place yesterday!"
Velvet trotted to her bedroom, leaving the door open so she could call, "And what's that?"
"It's called 'Mare Contraire' and—"
"What?" Velvet slowly leaned back through the door. "Crystal, you know what that place is, right?"
Crystal blinked a few times. "Um, a club?"
"Oh my gosh." Velvet laughed and went back to dressing up. "Well, you're in for a surprise tonight."
Crystal tilted her head one way, then the other, then just shrugged.
When they walked into the Mare Contraire, Crystal squeaked, gawked, and froze in place.
Velvet patted her on the back, grinning so wide it must have hurt. "I told you!" she whispered.
The club was full of mares, and the way a lot of them were cuddling or kissing gave away the club's target demographic. Crystal kept staring until Velvet bumped their shoulders together and started forward. She shook her head to clear it and followed Velvet toward the bar.
"Well, hi there!" the pink bartender said in a cheerful, friendly voice. "I've not seen either of you here before. I'm Dolly. Welcome to my little place!"
Velvet smiled. "Hi Dolly! I'm Velvet, and this is Crystal."
Dolly glanced between them, nodded, and leaned against the counter. "What can I get for you two buttercups?"
"Ooh." Velvet tapped her chin and looked at Crystal, then back at the bartender. "Well, Crystal likes roses. Can you make anything with rose water?"
"I sure can. And what about yourself?" Dolly smiled.
"An appletini for me, please."
"Coming right up, sugar!" Dolly moved away to begin mixing the drinks.
Velvet sat on one of the stools and turned it to rest her back against the bar, looking out into the club space. "So now what?"
Crystal squeaked. She scrambled onto the stool beside Velvet and glanced over her shoulder. "I don't know! I just thought we'd dance and maybe a stallion would come over and I would talk them into dancing with you. Or something. But everypony here already seems to be paired with somepony, and I don't know how to be a wing pony to a mare!"
"I guess just treat them like a really sweet stallion?" Velvet shrugged. "Anyway, we can stick to your plan of dancing and see what happens. That is, assuming you even know how to dance at a club?" She grinned at Crystal. "It's pretty different from your high class waltzes and foxtrots."
The song changed to one with a lively tempo and Crystal tried to bob her head with the beat. "I'll be fine as long as you lead, I think."
"Okay! But first—" She turned her head when Dolly set two glasses nearby. "Drinks!"
Crystal smiled at Dolly. "Thank you!"
"No problem, sweetie." She winked. "You two have fun while you're here and let me know if there's anything else you need, ya hear?"
The mares nodded and turned back to the dance floor with their drinks, Velvet holding hers with one hoof and Crystal levitating her own.
Velvet swung her hindlegs and sipped her green concoction. "So, have you decided what you're going to do about your knight?"
Crystal nearly choked on her own drink. She coughed, thumped her chest with a hoof, and glanced around. "Um, no. I haven't," she replied in a quiet voice just above a whisper. "I'm not even sure if there's anything to decide."
"Oh yeah? What happened to 'I felt the spark I've been looking for all my life'?" She took another sip. "You were super excited a week ago, so what happened?"
Crystal shook her head. "This isn't about me. This is about finding you a special somepony so I can write about it!"
Velvet laughed and tossed back the rest of her drink, then hopped off the stool and trotted toward the dance floor. "Okay, okay, then let's dance!"
Velvet was able to find the rhythm fairly easily and, though she certainly wasn't the best dancer in the room, she was much more coordinated than the spasms Crystal produced. While she bobbed her head, swayed her hips, and bounced from one hoof to another just like the magazines described, but on the whole looked more like she was shaking off ants than dancing.
A few moments later, Crystal gasped at the sight of what looked like Golden Pants out of the corner of her eye, but when she turned her head, a bright orange mane quelled that mistaken identity.
"Hi there!" the mare nearly yelled to try to be heard over the music as she approached them. "I don't think I've seen either of you here before! You both new?"
Velvet smiled and toned down her movements, limiting herself to a light bobbing and swaying. "Yeah! First time here! I'm Velvet, and this is Crystal!"
"Hi!" Crystal yelled somewhat dumbly before returning to her awkward dancing.
"My name's Sunny!" the mare replied. "Do you wanna go to the bar so we can hear better?"
"What?" Velvet tilted her head to angle her ear at the mare. When Sunny just pointed, she looked at Crystal and nodded her head in the bar's direction.
Crystal smiled. "Okay!" She followed them to the bar where they all sat down, and she leaned around Velvet to smile at Sunny. "Sorry, I didn't—" She cleared her throat, her raised voice still compensating for music that was no longer as loud. "Sorry again," she said, quieter. "Anyway, I didn't catch your name?"
"Sunny Day." The golden mare offered a wave. "I just wanted to introduce myself to a pair of cute little mares I haven't seen here before."
Crystal giggled and Velvet glanced at her, then shifted slightly to keep herself between them. "Do you work here?"
Dolly, who had sidled down to stand near them, laughed. "She might as well for how often she comes here!" She looked at Sunny. "You better cool off, hot stuff. These two came in together."
"Oh, she doesn't have to do that!" Crystal nudged Velvet with her elbow. "We don't mind."
Velvet swallowed and looked at Dolly. "Another appletini, please." While the bartender went about making a drink, Velvet cleared her throat and offered Sunny a lopsided smile. "So—"
Crystal interrupted, "Are you here alone, Sunny?"
Sunny giggled. "I am right now, but I won't be for long if I have any luck tonight." She glanced out into the sea of mares, an almost predatory look in her eyes.
Crystal nudged Velvet again. "I'm sure we can help with that."
"Crystal," Velvet hissed, glaring at her. Her drink was set in front of her and she took a quick gulp of the green liquor. She shot one more stern look at Crystal, who sighed, slumped forward, and drummed her hooves on the bar.
Sunny glanced between them, her head tilted and brow furrowed. "Well, then." She laughed, albeit a little awkwardly. "So, Velvet, I guess you're the wing pony, huh?"
Crystal rebounded with a perky smile. "Oh, no, I'm the wing pony, but don't mind me! I'll just be back over there rocking the dance floor. You two have fun!" She winked and slid off the stool.
As she wandered back toward the throbbing sounds of electronica, she heard Sunny ask, "Wow, she's rather open-minded, isn't she?"
"Yup," Velvet replied. "So, anyway, um, hi."
The rest of their conversation was drowned out by the music and Crystal returned to her full-body wiggling. She glanced at the potential lovebirds every once in a while until a pretty mare approached her and asked, "Hey there, cutie! Can I buy you a drink?"
Crystal blinked a few times, then chirped in response, "Sure!"
"Okay. Whoa there. Easy girl. One more step and"—Thump!—"and that's the floor." Velvet sighed, looking down at the sputtering and giggling Crystal.
"Oh my gosh." Crystal squirmed from her spot sprawled on her side, her hindlegs dangling over the edge of the stairs. "The world is, like, fuzzy."
Velvet shook her head. "That's the alcohol. Why in Equestria did you drink so many?"
Crystal stuck out her tongue and rolled over onto her back. "Is rude to say no! Pretty mares wanna buy me drinks? I say, pfft!" Her coherence degraded into an extended raspberry, then more giggling.
"Uh-huh. You know, you have classes tomorrow, and we just curbed your whole 'not going' habit." She pressed her hoof gently to Crystal's forehead. "You're going to have one hay of a headache tomorrow, but you're going, got it? Now, get up, 'cause I totally can't carry you."
Crystal groaned. She flailed one foreleg haphazardly in an attempt to swat Velvet's away, but ended up hitting the railing beside her. She whimpered, groaned again, and rolled over onto her stomach. With her rump hoisted in the air, she pushed her front half forward and scooted toward their door.
Velvet rolled her eyes. "Celestia, I'm never letting you drink again."
"Rude!" Crystal chided, stopping when she bumped her nose into the closed door. She waited for Velvet to open it, and when she did, she pushed herself to the nearest pillow and flopped over onto it. "G'night!"
"Uh-huh." Velvet retrieved a blanket from Crystal's room and draped it over the heap of a mare. "Remember, you're going to school whether you're hungover or not."
A snort and a giggle were the only responses Crystal could give. Velvet turned off the lights, shook her head once more, and started toward her room. "I'm going to write about this in my diary, you know. You'll never live this down!"
Crystal waved a hoof aimlessly in the air in Velvet's general direction. "Rude."