The Royal Opera House was packed that night for the performance of Pomane, which told the story of a unicorn who loved an alicorn and used illusory magic to take on different forms to try and win her favor. Each time he was spurned until he tried the appearance of her hoofmaiden, to whom the alicorn could not refuse a kiss, and he settled for that much.
As always, Lyrica Lilac stole the show as an unrivaled, perfect soprano, but to Crystal's delight the show was augmented beautifully by the Royal Ballet of Equestria. The orchestra, the opera, and the ballet were all in perfect harmony that night. Once the curtains had fallen, however, was when the real show began.
Although they were three of the topmost ponies everypony should know, the entourage that frequented Fancy Pants's company were a bore to be with when he wasn't around. Silver Frames always fiddled with something to hide her nerves, Swan Song's gaze kept wandering to judge ponies that walked by, and Golden Gavel hardly ever had anything of real substance to say at all.
"Dobby Canter truly put himself out there with that composition," Silver Frames finally said, her gaze darting around the circle of ponies while she nonchalantly fluttered a silver-colored fan.
"Indeed." Golden Gavel nodded. "Truly a statement indeed."
Swan Song chuckled softly. "Well, after all, it is the first Prench opera-ballet. So avant-garde."
Crystal strangled a sigh that threatened to escape her. It was the usual song and dance: skirt around making any actual value judgments, positive or negative, until somepony else makes one first, then immediately agree with their assessment. She lifted the corners of her lips into a smile. "Lyrica can always make an opera shine regardless of language or composer."
"Indubitably," Fancy Pants's voice came from behind her before the others could jump in with their praise. They all turned to see him approaching with Au in tow. "I'll be certain to let her know you—oh, my!" His eyes widened. "Crystal Wishes, belated congratulations are in order, it seems!"
Au leaned around her father to stare at Crystal with one brow raised. Silver Frames cleared her throat and fanned herself with renewed vigor. "I thought something seemed different about her," Silver muttered.
Crystal flushed and tried to keep her smile within polite parameters. "I only just recently became engaged, actually."
Fancy Pants smiled wide and clapped a hoof against the floor. "Is that so! Who is the lucky stallion?"
"I'm not sure if—" She coughed behind one hoof to interrupt herself. No, starting off his introduction with uncertainty of him being known was certainly not proper. With a light toss of her mane, she corrected, "I'm not sure if I would call him lucky, or myself." She giggled. "My fiancé is Silent Knight, Commander of—"
"Princess Luna's House Guard, yes, yes," Fancy Pants finished, nodding. "I had heard that you were perhaps dating him. What a pleasant surprise! That will make you the wife to a very important pony, then!" He reached out a hoof and winked. "Be sure to give him my congratulations, Miss Wishes. He certainly has good taste in mares."
Crystal gently placed her hoof on his and couldn't help another giggle as he leaned down to give it a gentle kiss. "Thank you, Fancy Pants."
"Fancy Pants," Golden Gavel cut in, "what did you think of the opera-ballet?"
Fancy Pants rose to his full height, turning his attention to the stallion, one brow raised. "I thought it was an enchanting rendition of classical mythos."
Swan Song clapped her hoof to the floor. "Quite right, my thoughts exactly!"
"That is exactly what I was attempting to say," Silver Frames chimed.
While Crystal tried not to roll her eyes, she saw Au orbiting Fancy Pants to position herself beside Crystal. "You're engaged, then?" Au asked, not looking at her.
Crystal swallowed, but kept her head firmly upright. "Yes, I am."
"Well, not all of us can have careers," Au said with a throaty chortle. "The world does need housewives to raise the next generation."
The hairs of Crystal's coat stood on end around her neck and shoulders. "Excuse me, Au, but I do so have a career that I will keep through marriage!"
"Do you?" Au finally looked at her, a light smirk on her lips. The ice in her eyes and in her tone sent a chill down Crystal's spine. "Who even are you?"
"I—" She choked and averted her gaze. Who even was she? C.W. Step? A romance novelist of only mild success within her genre? She was no Flora Sorbets, whose nigh countless books were found in the romance section of every bookstore. Even ponies who didn't read Flora's books knew who she was.
Slowly, Crystal's ears drooped. Who was she?
Au reached out to pat Crystal on the shoulder. "There, there. You'll make a wonderful little housewife."
Crystal didn't respond, nor did she try to push Au's hoof away. The question kept circling her mind, growing heavier and heavier with each pass. Who was she?
"Darling!" her mother's voice called, snapping Crystal out of the sudden funk and into a small panic. "So good to see you!"
Before Crystal could turn to face them, Fancy Pants cheered, "Upper Crust! Jet Set! Congratulations!"
Upper Crust came to a halt. Jet Set stopped beside her. "What?" her mother asked. "Congratulations? For what?"
"On your daughter's engagement!" Fancy Pants gestured at Crystal. He looked between Crystal's frozen form, Upper Crust's wide eyes, and Jet Set's gaping mouth. "Oh." His hoof slowly lowered. "Oh, dear."
Crystal very slowly turned to face her parents, wincing when they both gasped. The three stood in stillness and silence until Fancy Pants cleared his throat and said, "Well! We should leave these three alone to, ah, celebrate. Come along, everypony."
Fancy Pants, Au, and his entourage walked away, though that did nothing to relieve the tension hanging in the air. Crystal chewed on her bottom lip, trying to think of something to say, but Upper Crust found her voice first.
"Darling, you're... engaged?"
"Yes, Mom." Crystal nodded. "I was going to tell you, I—"
Jet Set stepped forward and looped a foreleg around Crystal's neck. "That's wonderful news, dear! When did he propose?" He paused, then quickly added, "It is Silent Knight, right? The one we talked about last year?"
Upper Crust huffed. "Nevermind who it is! That is exactly the problem! He couldn't take the time to so much as ask your father for your hoof? Or at least introduce himself to us? Darling, I'm afraid this stallion of yours has no manners at all."
"Upper Crust, dear," Jet Set cut in, one brow raised. "These are different times. Ponies don't do that anymore."
Crystal swallowed. "Mom, Dad, I—"
Upper Crust jabbed a hoof at him. "That does not make it right! Etiquette is not simply tossed aside because the average pony doesn't use it."
"This is no cause for alarm, dear." Jet Set kept gaze firmly focused on his wife. "Crystal will surely allow us a proper introduction to this Silent Knight of hers before the wedding day. Speaking of!" The smile returned to his face as he looked down at Crystal. "When is the date?"
"We just got engaged!" Crystal exclaimed, wincing at the volume of her voice. "I haven't had time to tell either of you because there hasn't been time. There is no date yet."
Upper Crust eyed her with a mixed expression between irritation and curiosity. "And when will we meet him? How do I know I even approve of him until I meet him?"
Crystal clenched her jaw as she bit back her first response. She shoved her own irritation down to replace it with a smile. "I don't know yet, Mother. He is awfully busy."
"Too busy to meet the parents of his fiancée?" Upper Crust scoffed. "Is he busy or just ill-mannered?"
"Busy, Mother." She shrugged Jet Set's foreleg from her shoulders. "And speaking of being busy, it does look awfully rude for us to be segregated from the rest of the ponies here. If you'll excuse me." She turned and started toward the nearest face she vaguely recognized.
Someday, she'd have to decide if she was going to cross or burn that bridge. That was future Crystal's problem, however. She had enough on her plate as it was. Having Silent meet her parents could absolutely wait.
"Wait, wait, hold on." Velvet pawed one hoof at the air while the other rubbed a circle against her forehead, her eyes closed. "So who said what?"
Crystal sighed. "Au."
"Okay." Velvet opened her eyes halfway. "And why do we care what she thinks?"
"That isn't the point!" Crystal rose from her pillow and started pacing their living room. "Whether she says it or my mother says it or you say it, the validity of the statement is true." She stopped pacing to instead hang her head. "Who am I? I write behind a pseudonym, I keep these parts of my life separate because I want to be anonymous. But you cannot be anonymous and be a somepony at the same time."
Velvet frowned. "Okay, then just tell everypony that you're C.W. Step."
Crystal sighed, flopped onto a nearby pillow, and draped a leg over her face to shield her eyes from the light. "But who is that? Who is C.W. Step? I won an award two years ago. Nopony cares about somepony who won an award two years ago, attends one convention a year, and has only written two books."
"All right, then what? You write more books and hope one really takes off?" Velvet leaned back against the couch, her shoulders rising and falling in a lazy shrug. "I mean, that's how authors become popular in the first place, right?"
Crystal didn't say anything at first. She just stared at the darkness until she slowly lifted her foreleg. "I'm not sure, to be honest, but I do know somepony who would know."
Velvet tilted her head. "Who?"
"Sunset Coffee." Slowly, she sat upright, a smile taking over her frown. "I'm taking a train to spend a few days in Manehattan next week. I was just going to ask him what the market wanted, but I'm sure he won't mind a longer conversation."
Velvet clapped her hooves and rubbed them together. "Great! So now that that's settled, I think that was everything on your list, right?"
Crystal blinked. "My list?"
Velvet's lips curled into a grin. "You said once you were done with the opera, you'd be ready to start planning your wedding. And from the sounds of it, you could use a distraction until you get to talk to your agent! Sooo..."
"Oh. Really?" Crystal glanced at the door to her bedroom. "I didn't think you were serious about that."
Velvet gasped and put a hoof to her chest. "My best friend in the whole of Equestria is getting married and she thinks I wouldn't be serious about planning?" The hoof dropped and her brow raised. "In seriousness, do you remember how much work you had to do planning and re-planning things for Horsey and Raven? The sooner the better, right?"
"I suppose you have a point." Crystal pushed herself up onto all hooves and trotted into her bedroom to retrieve what she had kept: a drawer full of magazines, two boxes of samples, and another box of flyers and brochures for vendors. Carefully, she levitated them all out of her room and back into the main area, prompting a bout of laughter from Velvet.
"Sweet Celestia, you weren't kidding when you said you kept everything!" Velvet slipped off the couch and trotted over to the nearest box. "Okay, well, first, let's rule out all the Ponyville-specific stuff." She paused, then glanced up. "Wait, where are you going to have the wedding?"
Crystal settled down beside another box and looked at brochures as her magic raised them up one by one, sorting them into neat stacks. "Canterlot, of course, unless Silent has a different idea. It's where the majority of our friends and family are, after all."
Velvet nodded. "Got it. Then first thing's first. Remove Ponyville, then focus on Canterlot."
Crystal looked over at her with a playful grin. "You sound like some kind of villain with that talk."
"Who said I'm not?" Velvet replied a little too casually.
Slowly, Crystal blinked and returned her attention to sorting brochures. It took about an hour to get everything out of the boxes and drawer, at which point Crystal looked around in dismay. "Velvet!" she cried.
"Hmm?" Velvet lifted her gaze from the magazine she had in her lap. "What?"
"Where is the floor?!"
"What?" Velvet repeated, then, after taking a quick glance around them to see they were surrounded by magazines and papers, she laughed. "Wow, you're pretty terrible at making neat and orderly stacks!"
Crystal squinted at her. "You were supposed to be helping me!" She raised a bound package of different tablecloth swatches and chucked it at Velvet, who dodged and laughed again.
"I was! But then I saw this magazine and, well, then I stopped." Velvet held out the magazine in question. "Can you blame me? This article is really interesting."
Crystal batted at the magazine with one hoof. "Help me clean up! I need—" Three knocks interrupted her and she gasped. "Silent Knight?!"
Velvet snorted. "Yeah, you do."
"Hush!" Crystal jumped to her hooves and looked around with wide eyes. "What is he going to think if he sees all this?!"
"Well, you don't have enough time to hide it, so I guess we're going to find out!" Velvet sprung from her spot, sailed over two boxes, and landed right by the door, which she opened before Crystal could protest. "Hi, Silent Knight!"
Silent blinked. He looked past her to see what looked like the results of a wedding hurricane. Everything had been unpacked without any semblance of order at all. "Hi?"
"Welcome to the madness!" Velvet giggled and jumped back over the boxes, nestled against the coffee table, and picked her magazine back up.
Crystal tried to make her way over without stepping on anything. "I'm so sorry! It's not what it looks like!"
Silent blinked again. "It looks like..." He trailed as his gaze scanned the nearest magazine covers, at which point his expression relaxed. "You're planning a third wedding?"
"Well, all right, so it is what it looks like." She made a pathway through the disarray to the couch for him to come inside and sit down. "I'm just using it as a distraction. I'm not serious about planning. It's just for fun."
"It looks like fun." On his way to the couch, he paused to place a kiss on her cheek. "What can I help with?"
Crystal shook her head. "Oh, no, nevermind all this. What did you need?"
His brow furrowed as he sat down. "Need? Do I have to need something to want to spend time with you?"
"What? No!" Heat rose to the tips of her ears. "I just, you don't usually drop by unannounced. Not that it's a problem!" She sighed, looking around. "It's embarrassing right now, but not a problem."
"Yeah, yeah," Velvet interrupted. "Hey, this says the first thing you should do is pick a dress. Getting it ordered in the right size, hemmed, and making sure that you actually want it in ivory versus silk white versus champagne with time to change your mind, it's apparently the longest process."
Silent picked up a nearby magazine and idly flipped through it while he asked, "Aren't those all the same color, though?"
Velvet rolled her eyes. "Not even. They're way different. It's a mare thing. You wouldn't understand!"
Crystal puffed out her chest and smiled. "Not to worry! I've already picked out my dress. More or less, anyway."
"More or less?" Velvet asked, grinning. "What does that mean?"
"Well." Crystal's pride deflated. "I saw it in one of these magazines. I'm not sure which one. But it's in one for certain." She sat down and levitated a magazine over, starting to flip through it. "I just have to find it again."
Velvet flipped a few pages ahead. "What did it look like?"
Crystal didn't say anything at first, her gaze locked on Silent sitting unaware of her attention. If she described it, then he would know, and that would spoil the wedding day reveal!
Velvet followed the direction of her eyes and snorted. "Okay, well, is it a merpony silhouette like this?" She flipped her magazine around to point at an example of a ballgown dress with one hoof, the other tapping her nose, and she winked.
Crystal flashed a grateful smile, then nodded. "Yes, something like that. With tulle." She glanced at Silent, who was still focused on his magazine. "And"—she gestured at her upper torso—"lots of beading and fancy stitching on the skirt."
"Got it." Velvet started flipping through the pages. "We'll find it."
They all fell into a companionable silence, interrupted only by the sound of rustling pages and the occasional false alarm of discovery. After a while, Silent piped up for the sixth time, "Is this it?"
Crystal glanced up at the page he was showing, then shook her head. "No."
"Oh." He shrugged. "This one's nice, though."
Velvet giggled and looked over at him. "It's a mare thing. You—"
"Wouldn't understand," he finished with a soft chuckle. "Okay. I give up. You two are on your own."
Crystal swallowed and rose to her hooves. "Listen, we can do this another time. Why don't you and I go out for a walk or some such activity that you might actually be interested in?"
Silent shook his head. He set the magazine on the stack of ones he'd been through and stretched out on the couch. "Actually, I'm honestly fine like this. Work has been busy and I wouldn't mind just taking a nap for a while."
Slowly, Crystal sat back down, her expression still muddled. "If you're sure. That seems like an awful waste for you to come out here just to nap on our couch."
"Hey, if he wants to nap here, let him nap." Velvet grinned and stole a glance at the stallion. "I certainly don't mind."
Crystal frowned. Though she didn't know what it was, she knew Velvet was certainly up to something. Without any indication of what, however, all she could do was just go back to looking for the dress. "Well, all right, then."