"You seem awfully happy," Twilight Sparkle said as a unicorn bellpony levitated their bags.
Desert Brush grinned. "It's a quarter to midnight and our reservation was still open. Why wouldn't I be pleased?"
"Why wouldn't it be still open? It's a reservation, isn't it?"
"Why, indeed. Let's just say I'm happy to be here." He grinned. "Uh, where exactly is here?"
"Welcome to Fillydelphia," said a passing staff member. "How long will you be staying?"
"Two days," Twilight answered. "Then east to the coast."
The staff member bowed. "We are at your command day and night, Your Highness." He bowed again to Brush. "And yours also, sir."
Three flights of stairs brought the newlyweds to room 402, the Ambassador Suite. The bellpony popped open the door, and Brush, glancing about, put on his Seriously Puzzled expression. "If this is the only actual room on this floor," he said, "why is it 402 and not 400 or even 401?"
The bellpony turned his way. "I can tell you that, sir."
"Please do," said Brush.
"There once were three rooms on this floor: 400, 402 and 404. A ... high-born pony of some notoriety arrived here one week, and complained that his room was far too small for somepony in his position. Management decided he was right, refunded the price of his room, and later combined these three rooms into one single suite, which you see here."
Brush nodded. "Makes sense to me. How much was a single room back then?"
"Fifty-five bits," the bellpony replied. "Same as it is now."
"I do so enjoy the lack of inflation here," said Brush.
"Inflation, sir?" asked the bellpony.
"Never mind. It's something you're better off not thinking about." He stepped back for a moment, then thrust his muzzle into the room. "Twi, what are we paying for these sumptuous quarters?"
"Two hundred bits a night," Twilight replied. "Why do you ask?"
And Brush burst into the sort of hearty guffaw that apparently alarmed sophisticates from Fillydelphia; the young unicorn recoiled in fear. "Gotta love it," Brush said. He reached for a hoofful of bits, but the bellpony waved him off. "No need, sir."
"Oh, come on. You've earned it. Just having to listen to me ought to earn some kind of recompense."
At that moment, Twilight appeared at the door. "What’s going on out here?"
"We're negotiating the amount of his tip," Brush said, looking back at the bellpony.
"Standard is five bits," Twilight said curtly, and retreated back into the room.
Brush looked toward the bellpony, looked at his eyes, looked at the space where Twilight had been, and suddenly he understood.
"I remember the first time I saw her. Like nothing — like nopony — I’d ever seen before." Brush smiled. "I'll see that the desk gets something with your name on it. In the meantime, cherish the memory."
"I shall," said the bellpony.
And they slept.
As always, they'd occupied positions on the bed scientifically proven by Twilight Sparkle to provide the maximum available space for each of them, allowing for occasional involuntary movements and maintaining the coolest, therefore healthiest, body temperature. And as always, within half an hour they'd migrated to the very center of the bed, clinging to one another for dear life. The first time it had happened, Twilight awoke puzzled: hadn’t she set things up correctly to begin with? Of course, she had; what she had failed to take into account was that Brush apparently thrashed a bit in his sleep, and whatever motions he made changed the topology of the top of the bed. In the most extreme cases, he came up near the middle, and his weight being somewhat in excess of hers, she was drawn to him by the sheer force of gravity acting on the no-longer-flat surface on which they slept.
So when Twilight awoke, just before dawn, she was unsurprised to see Brush's face barely a hair's breadth from her own. But inexplicably, she'd relocated to the center of the bed; he hadn’t budged at all. It must have been a dream, she thought; but she didn't remember any particular dream taking place, certainly nothing exciting enough to move her body about while she was sleeping. She vowed to think about this some other time, rolled over, and began snoring softly.
After breakfast, the happy couple set out to see the town. The town, however, wasn't going to be seen for a while: a very long parade occupied the full width of Broad Street.
"Funeral procession," Twilight explained. "Must have been somepony important to draw this kind of crowd."
"This is one of the times I'm glad I'm not all that important," Brush said.
Twilight stared at him. "You are a Prince of the Realm. You'll get full Equestrian honors. All of Ponyville and most of Canterlot will come to say goodbye."
She shrugged. "Not everypony gets time off to attend state funerals." She looked down the street. "This is almost as big as a state funeral, right here. Must have been a local dignitary. Maybe a former Mayor."
"Can we find out?" asked Brush.
"We can certainly try," Twilight said, inserting a one-bit coin into a metal box near the hotel entrance. Below the fold on page one of the Daily News was a story about a pony "who spent her three years in Fillydelphia making friends and teaching other ponies how to get along.” She put down the paper. “Sounds like somepony I might have wanted to know."
"Did ponies have trouble getting along in Fillydelphia?" Brush asked.
Twilight laughed. "You don't want to know."
Just then, a mare clad in formal black detached herself from the parade and approached them. "Princess Twilight Sparkle." The mare bowed. "I am Penworthy, Mayor of Fillydelphia. On behalf of the city, I welcome you and your consort."
Twilight smiled. "We are honored to be here." Gesturing toward the funeral procession, she added: "I only wish we could have come at a happier time."
The Mayor nodded. "We will miss Light Flyer greatly. She was the one member of Council who could unite both earth-pony and unicorn factions." She dropped her voice to just above a whisper. "It's not something we like to brag about, but the city is almost evenly divided, and getting ponies to agree to anything is more difficult than I think it ought to be."
"Like Canterlot," said Twilight. "Though there it's mostly noble houses and tradesponies who can't get along."
"We lived in Canterlot when I was a filly," Penworthy said. "They used to go to a lot of trouble to reassure everypony that things were all right, even when they weren't."
"They still do that." The two mares laughed. Brush forced a grin, and Twilight, just for a moment, looked mortified.
"How rude of me," said the Princess. "Madame Mayor, meet Desert Brush, my darling husband, who will glare at me if I introduce him as a Prince of the Realm."
"I would, you know," he said.
"I don’t think we've ever had an earth pony as a Prince of the Realm." Penworthy smiled. "But breaking down barriers is a good thing. We learned that from Light Flyer."
"If you don’t mind my asking," Twilight began, "what happened to her?"
Penworthy shuddered. "This is … not something I can discuss." And she hurried back into the street to rejoin the parade.
"I'm guessing," said Brush as they turned onto North Avenue, "that this trip to the library is not just for funsies."
Twilight looked at him. "Didn't you think it was odd, the way the Mayor could say all those things about what Light Flyer did, and couldn't say anything about who she was?"
"Maybe a little," he admitted. "But politicians always have to walk a narrow line. It comes with the job."
"I don't think it's politics," said Twilight. "There's something very strange going on here."
"Stranger than politics?" Brush laughed. "Not much chance of that."
They reached the great oak doors. "Did you know Light Flyer was a pegasus?"
Brush pondered. "I didn't know it, but it was reasonable to think so."
"And why is that?"
"One," said Brush, "because the Mayor said she brought the earth ponies and the unicorns together, which implies that she wasn't either of them. Two, because 'Light Flyer' is so obviously a pegasus name."
"But this is what you didn’t know. That procession was headed east on Broad Street."
"So the nearest mountains are on the other side of town."
Brush looked blank for a moment; then it came to him. "And you never, ever bury a pegasus."
"Right. Their remains are committed to the sky." Twilight snorted. "Except for this pegasus. It makes no sense."
"Okay, answer me this," Brush said. "How do you know she was a pegasus?"
"That's why we're here," answered Twilight.
It was easy enough to find Light Flyer in the census database. "Immigrant Granted Equestrian Citizenship, one thousand two," Twilight read.
"Big deal," said Brush. "That's what mine says, except for the year. And surely there are pegasi from outside Equestria."
"There are," Twilight said, "though pegasi are seldom migratory. Maybe once in a lifetime they'll move. After that, unless they’re really unhappy, they tend to stay put."
"From what the Mayor said, I suspect she wasn't exactly morose. So where do we go from here?"
"To the death record," said Twilight, pivoting to another screen. "And ... nothing. Sealed by order of Princess Celestia, yesterday’s date."
"You don’t think she was carrying the plague, do you?"
"Even the plague doesn't warrant Royal-level secrecy," Twilight replied.
"So maybe we should be minding our own business, then?"
"You don't get it, do you?"
Brush grimaced. "Get what?"
"Think back," Twilight said. "Back to when we were still talking about turning you into a pony."
"I remember. I think I was there at the time."
"And I said that this had only been done once before: to a pegasus who used to be a changeling.”
"You're saying Light Flyer was that changeling?"
"It fits the known facts," Twilight said. "She didn't receive a proper pegasus funeral, and her death record was sealed by the highest authority."
"Okay, let's say all this is true. As a practical matter, what does this mean?"
"Some days you are just so dense," she said. "She gets turned into a pony, and three years later, she’s dead." Twilight looked him straight in the eye. "How long have you been a pony?"
The last trace of a grin vanished from Brush’s face. "I, uh, see your point."