To many, the Gala was not merely a party held every year in Canterlot. It wasn't just a place for the elite of Equestria's capital to socialize and have fun, and it wasn't just the place to see the hottest live music acts perform one after another. No, it was a symbol; it was a goal many sought to reach. If you stepped a hoof inside that palace on the night of the Grand Galloping Gala, you were either a staff member or a very, very important pony. A select few got tickets to the event; it was considered a once in a lifetime (if even) affair, and here I was, attending it once more. I had never really thought about how fortunate I was for being able to go, but then again, nothing ever really happened at the Gala, even though I always had a great time whenever I went; it was only in recent years, apparently, that it became known as a universal trainwreck that Canterlot nobles now feared to attend. Naturally, I was absolutely thrilled.
So it was kinda crazy to think that I had gone to it so many times, but I liked to think on that (at the time) quiet evening was that I had never gone with friends, with people whom I could enjoy the party together, so, in reality, this was my true first time at the Gala, because now, I wasn't alone; I was packed into a carriage meant for six with ten other ponies and a dragon, and that's what I call friendship.
I stared at the window as the carriage got inevitably closer to the Gala. I was always extremely nervous in carriages after what had happened to my parents, but tonight, my nerves were calm. The scenic suburbs of Canterlot flew by my vision as the carriage moved on, and despite the fact that it was night out, everything came in clear; the towering trees, the deep blue night sky, and the twinkling stars to cap it off. Everypony else on the carriage ride was doing something; Twilight took a liking to her human counterpart, who had been effectively disguised with die, now bearing a lime green mane and white fur; Trixie Lulamoon and Starlight Glimmer were playing a card game of some sort; the elements were all playing a game of "I Spy"; and, finally, Jennet Galloway and Spike the Dragon were arguing about whether the Cloudsdale Thunder or the Baltimare Minotaurs historically had a better defense. Not me, though; I was perfectly content with just looking out the window.
It seemed that everypony had some sort of reason to be at this event. The championship hoofball team of the previous year always attended, and so, for one more night, Jennet Galloway was a Canterlot Monarch again. Starlight Glimmer had never gone, and wanted to make a good impression. Trixie Lulamoon was actually scheduled to perform at the event, and so tonight she donned her wizard hat and cape (heavily modified by Rarity, of course). Pony Twilight wanted to make a better impression after last year's Smooze debacle, and Human Twilight was always eager to know about our world. The elements, quite frankly, just wanted a normal Gala, as boring as they had heard them to be.
Me? I would suppose I was there to have fun, but I knew that wasn't right. I suppose it was a means to an end; some sort of true sign that I could end this crusade of redemption I had set upon myself. What I was really thinking, that whole carriage ride, was how ridiculous that sounded; that Crusade ended long ago, and it was high time I had to convince myself of the fact. In truth, I was happier than I've ever been, and tonight...tonight, I wasn't going to care. About anything. I was there to have fun, dammit, and that would happen either way, normal Gala or hectic one. I broke away from the window to quickly scan the many conversations of the carriage.
"That's a full house! Trixie wins again!"
"So, how do you feel the language barrier has affected diplomatic relations with Griffonia?"
"That's absurd! The Cloudsdale Thunder had forty sacks that year, and that was without their All-Star linebackers!"
"No, Pinkie, we're not going to light anything on fire."
I couldn't help but smile. It was different, that was for sure--I was getting flashbacks to the Canterlot High proms when I ruled it with an iron fist--but it was a good different, the kind I'd be more than happy to get used to. I didn't have to be the center of attention, have all eyes on me; I could just have fun. Simple, I know, but for me, important.
"We're here!" I heard a voice say. I looked out the window again, and sure enough, saw a wave of gorgeous mares with their equally fancy coltfriends and marefriends walking forward towards a brilliant source of light. Both the doors on the carriage opened, and when I hopped out of it, a very familiar sight greeted me.
The Castle itself was a living fossil. It was constructed a long, long time ago, in the very beginnings of the Royal Sister's reign, and yet it always amazed me that it looked perfectly in place with everything else. Canterlot was old, too, but even in the modern age, it all made sense, even having seen the advanced marvels of human architecture. Under Luna's night, it seemed even more welcoming; the bright lights inside it emanating from the windows, the slight breeze running through my fur as I continually gazed at it. I could understand, now, why the elements were so disappointed everything had gone wrong; the castle itself gives off the impression that everything is right.
"Incredible, huh?" I heard a voice behind me speak. Since there were two Twilights with me now, I had to turn around to see who it was; it was Equestria's, and she was beaming at me. "You look lovely, Sunset."
"As do you. And yeah...I have a good feeling about this Gala, Twi. Can't say why, just do," I told her. Twilight chuckled.
"Celestia will be sad to hear it. Let's go!" she said, and with a cheer, we all headed towards the castle.
The nobles were all looking at us. It made sense--there was a princess in our midst--but I couldn't help but feel cruelly fantastic about it; here they were, all high and mighty, the richest in Equestria, and they were staring at us. I couldn't help but smile at that; I may have been reformed now, but my distaste for the Canterlotian Elite would always last.
Eventually, we entered the castle, and, of course, were greeted by the royal twins upon entry immediately. They smiled for every guest and gave a hearty "welcome to the Gala!", but upon seeing us, their smiles now touched ear to ear. Surprisingly, Luna was the very first of the sisters to speak.
"Goodness, Sunset, you look fantastic. I'd kill for that dress," she said, Celestia nodding in agreement. I turned my head towards Rarity, who had a smug look on her face.
"Well, it wasn't me who made it. You can thank Rarity for the dress. Well, you can actually thank her for all the dresses," I said. Rarity gave an exaggerated bow, which garnered laughs from everyone in the vicinity.
"Well, you've done a fantastic job. Now..." began Celestia, hushing to a whisper. "Could you spice things up again? The Gala has really been on a hot streak the last two years!" Twilight rolled her eyes and was about to answer her, but Celestia turned over to the mare next to her; it was Sci-Twi, of course, but in her green mane and white fur disguise. Celestia narrowed her eyes.
"And who is your friend here?" she asked. Sci-Twi began to turn red, but the Equestrian Twilight quickly came in with the save.
"Her name is Moonlight Butterfly, and she's an old friend of mine from the School of Gifted Unicorns. Isn't that right, Trixie?" she asked, turning to the mare in question, who had also attended the school with Twilight. In a way only she could, Trixie gave what had to be the most devious and knowing grin I had ever possibly seen before answering the question.
"Oh, yes! Trixie and Moonlight are great friends. Well, I should get ready for the show!" she said before strutting off past the rest of the group. I gave a bit of a scowl under my breath; I wasn't the biggest Trixie Lulamoon fan. Thankfully, no one really noticed, so as we walked forward into the main hall of the Grand Galloping Gala, I did not suffer a reprimanding.
It had not changed. Like the castle itself, the Gala was exactly as I'd remembered it; mostly reserved and quiet, the nobles all standing at the opposite ends of the room as they talked in order to preserve the purity of their ancient bloodlines. I could easily see where Celestia was coming from, but at the same time, there was a certain charm to it. Before I could think about it any further, Jennet Galloway trotted up next to me. When I looked at her face, I had to stifle a laugh; I don't think I'd seen anypony as unimpressed as she was in that moment.
"...This is it?" she asked me, turning towards me. The laugh could be stifled no longer.
"What, did you expect DJ Pon-3 or Guns and Roses to be playing as everypony gathered around in a mosh pit?" I asked her. Jennet's face twisted in confusion at the mention of the second musical act, and it was only then I realized that I had made yet another reference to the human world. I waved my hoof in dismissal before she could ask questions, and she seemed to have understood; I had told her everything the day she asked me to show her around town.
"Well...yeah! I mean, I was hoping it'd be at least a little bit more exciting, but I guess seeing my team again is nice. So, are you--" she began, though she was quickly cut off by a voice coming from behind her.
"Jennet!" it called. We both turned around, and we were greeted with the sight of professional hoofball quarterback Canter Magnum about ten feet away from us, a dumb grin on his face. Jennet's eyes lit up with and excitement, and just like that, the conversation was entirely over.
"Canter! Celestia, It's been so long..." she said as she waltzed towards him. I smiled as they began to walk off before turning to the general ballroom once more. I spotted a lonely table for two at the edge of the room and trotted over to it, sitting down one of the insanely comfortable fancy chairs with a sigh. It couldn't have been three seconds before a waitress rushed over to me and asked me if I wanted anything to drink; I told her to send me a glass of the best wine they had and she was on her way.
I had been sitting there lost in thought for a few minutes before none other than Princess Twilight Sparkle came over and took the empty chair right next to me.
"Thrilling, eh? It's a damn shame. Celestia's right," she began. I looked over to her and nodded.
"Yeah, it's a little dull, but it feels nice. Wait a minute...didn't you ask Flash to accompany you? I haven't seen him," I said, an eyebrow raised. Twilight's cheery demeanor immediately turned to disappointment, giving me the obvious hint that he either stood her up or could not attend the event.
"His got some sort of flu and he couldn't come. That's what he said, anyways; I doesn't matter all that much, because he's probably having more fun in his bed than he would be here," she said, causing the both of us to chuckle. The waitress came back at that moment, giving me the wine, and upon seeing Twilight next to me, nervously asked if she would like some as well; Twilight nodded the affirmative and the waitress hurried off. I took a sip of it and, as expected, it was absolutely fantastic.
"I think it's over," I said aloud. Twilight turned to me, a confused look on her face.
"What's over?" she asked me. I took another sip of the wine before my explanation.
"I had this whole quest of redemption; a crusade, if you will. This mentality that in order to be deserving of living in Equestria, I had to redeem myself of my past sins. And I've met your friends, and thus they've became mine; I met new friends in Jennet and Starlight, too. I've talked with the Lord of Chaos twice, and I've watched over you in a comatose state. I've been forgiven by everypony I've wronged, and now, in this moment, I'm at Equestria's biggest event casually chatting with royalty. I think...I think it's over. I've done it. I've won, if that makes any sense. I like to think I started this whole redemption thing when you told me that story under the stars the first night I came back, and I liked to think that it ends with us talking at the Gala. It's fitting," I told her. Twilight nodded thoughtfully, and the waitress came with the second drink; Twilight took a taste of it and immediately stared at it with curiosity.
"WOW. What is this?" she asked, turning to me. I shrugged.
"The finest they make," I replied. Mirroring my actions from earlier, Twilight took a sip from the glass before beginning her response.
"Luna told me about her visit to you, you know," she began. "I chastised her for coming to you so soon after your return, but she told me you had appreciated it, and I understood why; you both are very much alike, but at the same time, you both are very much different. Luna hasn't come out of her shell yet; as much as it may seem, she is nowhere near her true self in the eyes of the public. We started making steps during Nightmare Night a few years back, but she still has this part of her locked away, a part of her that we won't be able to see for a while. You, though? You've unlocked everything. I can tell when I look at you, Sunny, that you're back; it was in the past that you had locked yourself away. So yes, in that sense, you've won. You've also learned to help others...thanks for that, by the way," she said, turning to me. I gave her a warm smile.
"No problem, Twi," I told her. It was then that a shattering of glass caused a complete diversion of my attention, and as soon as I looked up to see what had happened, every fiber of my being told me that it wasn't going to end up very well.
It was Sci-Twi, and she had just bumped into one of the Canterlot Nobles, causing him to drop his beverage. He had this hardened look to him, surprisingly; light grey fur and blue mane and tail, with these piercing yellow eyes I couldn't quite explain. Naturally, Sci-Twi was currently cowering before him, and I immediately removed myself from my seat and began to head towards the area; I knew this wouldn't be pretty.
"Hey, watch where you're going, idiot!" he screamed, causing Sci-Twi to draw back further. In a throwback to my old ways, I felt a rising sense of anger boil through me, but I wasn't going to quell it this time; I had the full intent of letting it fly.
"I'm...sorry..." she muttered, but I knew perfectly well that it wouldn't be enough. The noble's face twisted even further into rage.
"Sorry isn't gonna fix my broken glass, filly!" he screamed again. My eyebrows narrowed, and it was clear to me now that another Gala will have been ruined, and likely by my own causation.
"Hey," I said forcibly; the stallion turned around. "Why don't you go back to one of your little tea parties with your nose in the air and leave this girl alone, huh?" I told him. I didn't think it was possible, but the stallion's face turned even more red than it previously had, and he turned around completely to face me.
"And what are you going to do?" he said, in a snarky tone. I gritted my teeth.
"You wanna see?" I said, anger rising in my voice.
He didn't get to see, because it was actually him who made the first move, which entailed shoving me into the statue directly behind me. It didn't really hurt all that much, because the statue fell over upon the impact; that, unfortunately, was not good for the rest of the Gala. The statue careened into one right next to it, causing a bit of a domino effect; that statue landed on the food and beverage table, causing the plates and everything on it to fly everywhere. This included a small chocolate fountain, which careened into a mare who had been holding a very small baby filly; this caused her to let go of the baby filly in question, causing the baby filly in question to be launched into the air at moderate speed.
Since the Ponyville Express were now an undefeated 4-0 at this point in the season, and Jennet Galloway currently led the league in receiving yards, she was finally getting the recognition she deserved. Because her 40 Yard Gallop was faster than anypony's in the league, the announcers had taken to calling her the "Fastest Mare Alive", and in this current moment, she absolutely proved it.
She had been at the complete other side of the room when the baby flew in the air, but as soon as she had a visual on it, she bolted towards it. I know this can't possibly be true, but it almost seemed like only a mere second when Jennet had made a dive and safely caught the filly in her two hooves as she slid across the floor. The baby began casually laughing at the excitement of what had just happened, and Jennet grabbed her shirt collar by the mouth and equally casually trotted to the mother. As she gentle gave the filly back, she uttered two words that would end up being the front page headline of the Canterlot Times the following day.
"Bad pass," she remarked as she trotted away back to her teammates. Of course, there was still quite a shock over what had happened, but once that wore off, everypony immediately directed their attention towards the stallion who had shoved me, including, much to my own amusement, the security guards, except they took it a step further by trotting over to him.
He quickly looked around and, seeing no other option, begin to run as fast as he could. Approximately four seconds after he had started running, a magical bar shot out from the wall next to him. He tripped, and sprawled into the floor face first. A jail cell promptly fell on him, much to my confusion; when I turned to my left, however, I saw Trixie Lulamoon and Discord standing next to each other, seemingly admiring their handiwork.
"Wombo Combo!" Pinkie yelled as she ran to the pair for some high hooves. They gladly obliged and it wasn't until I turned back the way I had been facing when I saw Jennet, Sci-Twi, and Twilight standing over me. I was still on the ground, so Jennet quickly brought me back on all fours as I began to dust myself off.
"Oh, Celestia's gonna love this one. Are you okay, Sunset?" Twilight asked me. I turned to her and gave her a sly grin.
"You know, Twi...I feel alright."