• Published 20th Mar 2012
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My Choices: Twisted Tales Through Time - koolerkid



Twilight goes back in time to prevent Luna's transformation into Nightmare Moon.

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Chapter Five

A/N: I’d apologize for this chapter being about twice the normal length, but I doubt anyone really minds.

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Chapter 5

Posey stood outside the new Lady’s room, trembling. On her back, clinking as it trembled with her, was a precariously balanced tea set. She knew she should go on before she spilled the Lady’s tea, but she was nervous. Actually, she was flat-out terrified.

Posey was mostly happy with her job as a royal hoofmaiden - an Earth Pony in Canterlot, born to a poor servant family, rarely could hope for such a prestigious post. However, more than once, Posey found herself waiting on noblemares who... Posey would never dare to say anything bad about anypony, especially a noblemare. But there were some noblemares she would happily never see again.

Nopony knew anything much about the new Lady. However, news traveled fast in Canterlot, especially amongst the servant class. If there wasn’t any news, servants would happily swap rumors and gossip, and the gossip about the new Lady made her out to be some sort of monster. They say she did battle with Mr. Starswirl - one of the few kind unicorns in the castle, and a very powerful wizard - and that she defeated him with a display of magic so terrifying she frightened even Princess Celestia. They say she glowed like a star when she worked her magic, and that she would have crushed Mr. Starswirl like a bug had he not yielded.

Posey knew better to trust rumors, of course. She kept telling herself that.

What’s worse, this wouldn’t be as simple as merely delivering the Lady’s tea. Princess Celestia herself had arrived at the kitchens to speak to Posey. The Princess was a common sight around the Castle, so it wasn’t so surprising to see her - she often visited the kitchens to request specific meals, preferring to arrive in pony rather than send a servant. However, she spoke directly to Posey - the daisy-yellow pony’s knees still went weak at the thought - and requested that she serve as a personal hoofmaiden to the new Lady. Permanently.

Posey had wanted to refuse, but nopony refused the Princess. Not ever.

Finally, Posey sighed and approached the door. There was nothing to be gained from standing there terrified. It was time to get this over with. She hid behind her bright pink mane as she knocked timidly on the door.

Silence.

Posey’s brow furrowed. The Princess had said the Lady was in her room. She had requested tea. Was she sleeping? Posey didn’t dare rouse the fearsome Lady if she was sleeping. Still, the tea was getting cold, and she knew from experience how much noblemares despised their tea getting cold. Never mind a simple spell could heat it back up; it should never have gotten cold to begin with.

Summoning all her meager reserves of courage, Posey knocked again, harder this time. She heard a shuffling inside, and a distant voice saying, “Come in.”

Taking a deep breath and willing herself to stop shaking, Posey pushed the door open and entered the chamber.

The Princess had spared no expense in her newest advisor’s room. Posey remembered the rumor that even the Princess was frightened of the Lady as she looked around. The floor was richly carpeted, with fine silken drapes on the window. The walls were decorated with several fine paintings and tapestries, as well as several spell-lanterns that kept the room brightly lit. There was a fine bed with silken bedsheets and a canopy, and a fine dresser with a silver mirror. On top of the dresser sat what appeared to be an ornamental helmet of some kind and a mildly scorched book. Posey supposed they belonged to the Lady.

A short distance into the room, just past the bed, was a small sitting area populated by fine plush couches and sitting-cushions. On one of these cushions sat the Lady, and immediately Posey forgot the terrible rumors and gossip about her and her supposed terrifying magic.

The Lady had been crying.

She tried to hide it, of course. She wiped at her eyes with a hoof and forced a smile, but Posey had experience telling when ponies had been crying. As a senior hoofmaiden, she often comforted a younger servant after a noble had been particularly mean or cruel to them, and she recognized the signs. Puffy, bloodshot eyes; a catch to her breathing; a certain curl in the fake smile that indicated the pony wearing it was trying not to sob. The Lady was quite clearly distressed.

The Lady peered at her curiously. For a second, there seemed to be a glimmer of recognition in her eyes, but she said nothing. Nervously, Posey curtsied as best she could with the heavy tea set on her back.

“M-my name is P-P-Posey, my Lady,” she whispered. “I-I’m your new hoofmaiden. U-um... I have your t-tea.” Silently she cursed her stammer. No matter what she did, she’d never managed to rid herself of it, and it made her seem even more timid than she was.

The Lady was silent for several moments, before a warm smile appeared on her face, quite surprising Posey. “Thank you, Posey.” Posey gave a quiet gasp as the weight on her back suddenly vanished, thinking she’d dropped it, but breathed a small sigh of relief as the tray floated over her head, encased in a purple magic glow. It landed gently on a nearby table. “Do you know, you remind me of an old friend?” the Lady continued. “It’s funny, I was just thinking about her. It was something of a surprise seeing somepony who looks so much like her.”

“I’m s-s-sorry to have startled you, my Lady.” Posey said uncomfortably, as she approached the table to pour the tea. “Umm... w-what was her name? I-if... if you d-don’t mind my a-asking. I m-might know her; I have a b-big family.”

The Lady smiled. “I doubt it. Her name was Fluttershy.” Posey glanced at the Lady; she was smiling, but it was a sad, distant smile. A light clicked on in Posey’s mind.

“My L-Lady, m-may I ask a q-question?”

“You just did,” the Lady quipped. “But yes, you may.”

Posey breathed in deeply. “Where is my Lady f-from?”

There was silence in the room. For a minute, Posey was terrified she’d said something wrong, and the Lady would begin glowing and crush her like an ant, like the rumors said. Finally, the Lady sighed. “Far away, Posey. Far, far away. And I don’t think I can go back.”

“It is always hard to l-leave home, my Lady,” Posey said gently as she gently lifted the tea kettle in a hoof. She’d gotten very good at using her hooves to pour; many nobles found using your mouth for such a thing repellent. “I i-imagine it’s harder if you c-can’t go back.”

The Lady peered at her curiously. “You’re very wise for a hoofmaiden, Posey.”

Posey allowed herself a small smile. “Thank you, my Lady.”

“Please, don’t call me that.” The newly filled teacup floated into the air and towards the Lady. “It’s so... formal. If you’re to be my new hoofmaiden, I’d rather have you treat me as a friend than a superior. Please, call me... Star. Blue Star if you must.”

“Th-that wouldn’t be very p-proper, My La... Lady Star,” Posey said nervously, hiding further behind her mane. Often she wished she could grow it out more, to hide her face better, but it wasn’t proper for a servant to have a long mane, so she kept it short. “I can c-call you L-Lady Star, if you prefer.”

“It’s a start, I suppose,” Lady Star said with a light chuckle, already looking more cheerful. She took a sip of her tea.

“My Lady!” Posey cried, forgetting herself as Lady Star began to sputter and cough, barely able to put the teacup on the table without dropping it. Her eyes watered and she doubled over in apparent pain. Posey’s mind raced. Had the Lady been poisoned? Oh no, her first day as her personal servant and she’d already been poisoned, Posey just knew she was going to be blamed for this... “My Lady, are you okay?”

Lady Star already seemed to be recovering, thank Celestia. “I-I’m fine, Posey,” she said with a smile. “Somepony, it appears, likes to put... pepper in their tea. Very, very spicy pepper.” She sighed as she righted herself. “Interestingly, this is not the first time something like this has happened to me.”

“I am so, so sorry, Lady Star!” Posey said, wide-eyed. “I-I d-don’t know what c-could have happened... I d-don’t know how a-a-anypony c-could have...”

“I already know who did it,” Lady Star interrupted. Posey’s eyes widened in surprise. Had she cast some sort of divining spell? She hadn’t seen her horn light up. “Don’t worry about it, Posey. I have a feeling it was... somepony’s way of welcoming me to the castle.” Her horn lit up, and a scroll and quill floated over to her. Lady Star muttered something to herself as she scribbled something on the scroll.

Posey frowned, thinking that was an awful way to welcome somepony, but said nothing. If the Lady said not to worry, then she wouldn’t worry. She glanced at what the Lady was writing; it appeared to be some sort of schedule or to-do list. Her brow furrowed in puzzlement as she read one of the items. “Mane dye? Why does Lady Star need...” Posey’s eyes widened as she realized she was speaking aloud, and clapped a hoof over her mouth. It was too late, though; Lady Star had heard her, and turned to look at her curiously.

“Posey...” Lady Star began slowly. Posey’s heart began to pound. “Who taught you to read?”

Posey immediately threw herself to the floor at Lady Star’s feet, much to the unicorn’s surprise. “I am s-so sorry, m-my Lady! I-I know it’s n-not proper for an earth pony to r-read, e-especially not a s-s-servant. O-oh, p-please don’t be a-angry, I’m sorry I r-really am, I won’t r-read again, I p-promise...”

“Stop that!” Posey froze at her Lady’s irritated command. “Stop begging! And stand up!” Posey scrambled to her hooves. “I hate it when ponies beg.”

“I’m s-sorry, my Lady!”

“I told you not to call me that. And stop apologizing!” The Lady appeared more exasperated then angry, and Posey allowed the knot in her chest to loosen a bit.

“I’m sor- er, yes, L-Lady Star.” Posey shrunk back and hung her head, hiding behind her mane. She gave a sudden start as she felt a gentle hoof on her shoulder.

“You don’t need to apologize, Posey.” Lady Star’s voice was kind and gentle. “I’m not angry.”

Posey looked up at Lady Star’s compassionate face. “Y-you’re not?”

“Of course not. I think it’s wonderful that you can read!” Posey blinked in surprise at Lady Star’s enthusiasm. Most nobles would be furious at a earth pony, a mere servant, being able to read. Reading was the province of the learned and the nobility, not servants. “Knowledge is something to be shared, not hoarded like... like a greedy dragon. A scholar who gets angry at a pony for being knowledgable has no right to call themselves a scholar.”

“T-thank you, Lady Star!” Posey managed to stammer out.

“If you ever want to read anything, a particular book or something, just ask me and I’ll fetch it for you,” Lady Star offered, to Posey’s growing amazement. “You can read it here, if you like, so nopony gives you a hard time about it.” She chuckled at Posey’s disbelieving stare. “I told you, Posey. I’d rather treat you as a friend than a servant. This is something I’d do for any friend.”

“Th-thank you, Lady Star. Th-thank you! I-I’m honored!” Posey said, nearly bouncing for joy. Books! Free, unrestricted access to any book she wished! She hadn’t been allowed to set hoof in a library in many years, not since she was a little filly.

Lady Star smiled at her overjoyed hoofmaiden. “I’m glad you’re so pleased. Though I would like to meet the pony who taught you. I’d like to thank her.”

“O-of course, Lady Star! I-I’ll introduce you right away!”

Lady Star smiled. “I have quite a lot to do today, actually.” She waved her to-do list in the air. “But I’ll see if we can work it in.”

-----------------

In the outdoor training ground, the pegasus guard went through their drills with the furious energy of soldiers who knew somepony important was stopping by. The castle was abuzz with the news of the new Magical Advisor, which was normally a boring post filled by a boring scholar. However, the news had gotten around that this particular scholar was, in fact, some sort of powerful warrior-mage who’d defeated Starswirl the Fifth in pitched combat.

One pegasus, in particular, could hardly contain her excitement. Firefly quivered with eagerness, which unfortunately threw off her drills a bit. She hardly cared, because out of all the pegasus guards, the Princess had chosen her to be this super-awesome wizard’s personal bodyguard!

The commander gave a thundering yell for the pegasus guard to assemble, and they all dove in formation to land before him. The commander spun about to face two ponies Firefly didn’t recognize. In the lead was a youngish looking unicorn mare with a bright blue coat and a starburst Cutie Mark, with a timid-looking yellow earth pony in tow, probably a servant. Firefly vaguely recognized the flower Cutie Mark on the servants flank; she was probably castle staff. With a start, Firefly realized that the unicorn was probably Blue Star.

“Lady Blue Star!” the commander greeted enthusiastically, confirming Firefly’s suspicions. She grinned broadly in excitement. “Nice of you to pay us a visit. I wasn’t sure you would take us up on our offer.”

“Of course I would!” the new arrival answered cheerfully. Firefly frowned. She sounded... young. And... well, kind of normal. She’d been expecting booming, impressive tones, sort of like the Princesses when using their Royal Voices. “I’m a very important pony now, or so they tell me. I’m as concerned for my safety as anypony else.”

“Of course, of course,” the commander said agreeably. Firefly rolled her eyes; the commander had always been a suck-up for the nobility. “A great wizard like you can hardly be bothered with every little thing that comes along, right?”

“Er, right.” Firefly noticed that Blue Star actually looked a bit uncomfortable, which clashed even further with her previous mental image. Still, the commander was enough of a toad to make anypony uncomfortable.

The commander didn’t notice Blue Star’s discomfort, or at least chose to ignore it. “Private Firefly!” he bellowed, turning to the assembled guards. “Front and center!” Firefly zipped to the front, saluting smartly. The commander turned back to Blue Star. “My Lady Blue Star, this is Private Firefly. She’s a bit deaf in the ears when it comes to orders, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more loyal pony. She’s a strong fighter, and fast enough to travel from one side of Canterlot to the other in the blink of an eye.”

Firefly grinned at the praise as she inspected her new boss. Blue Star was less and less what Firefly expected with each passing moment. She was a bit on the short side, clearly too young and too soft to have seen many fights. She had a cheery, open expression and the studious eyes of a scholar. Either the rumors had exaggerated, Firefly decided, or this unicorn had gotten very lucky. Still, no backing out of the job now.

As Firefly inspected Blue Star, Blue Star was simultaneously examining her new protector. As with a surprising number of ponies she’d met recently, Firefly was achingly similar to one of her friends from the future, in this case Rainbow Dash. They had similar tomboyish manecuts, similar expression, similar belligerent stance; even the two blue lightning bolts on Firefly’s flank reminded Blue Star of her rainbow-maned friend.

However, the similarities ended there. Firefly’s coat was a bright, bubblegum pink that reminded Blue Star more of Pinkie than Rainbow, and her mane was a dark blue. Where Rainbow Dash had been slim and petite, Firefly had several inches of solid muscle that made her a taller, more imposing figure. There was a small array of scars on her front legs and chest, likely from battles and sparring matches. Most telling, though, was the way she moved. Rainbow Dash had always been a hurricane of motion; she was everywhere at once, twitching and fidgeting and racing about. Firefly was in full control of every movement, not a single motion was wasted. There was no doubt; Firefly was a soldier.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Firefly,” Blue Star finally said, breaking the silence.

Firefly put on a grin and stuck out a hoof. “Nice t’meetcha too!” Then she remembered herself, and hurriedly switched to a bow. “Er, my Lady.”

Blue Star laughed. “You don’t need to bother with the formalities if you don’t want to, Firefly.” She gestured to the servant filly behind her. “Like I told Posey here, I’d much rather have friends than servants.”

Firefly stood up, a real grin on her face this time. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. “Heh. Thanks. You’re alright, Blue Star.”

“Thank you.” Blue Star turned to the commander, who looked uncomfortable at this breach of protocol. “Thank you very much, commander! I’m afraid I have a great many errands to run, so I must be on my way.”

“Of course, my Lady!” the commander said with a forced smile. He was determined to stick to protocol, even if nopony else would. “If you ever need anything, you need only ask!”

“Thank you,” Blue Star said sweetly. “Alright, come on Posey, Firefly. We have a lot to get done today!”

Firefly took to the air, flying low as she followed behind the Lady and her hoofmaiden back into the castle and down a long hallway. She came up beside the yellow earth pony, and whispered to her quietly. “Hey. Posey, right? What’s the deal with her?” She gestured with a hoof to Blue Star.

The hoofmaiden looked confused and slightly intimidated. “The d-deal?” she whispered back. “What d-do you m-mean?”

“You know! What’s she like? You must’ve heard the rumors! Are they true?”

“Oh!” Posey thought for a minute. “I d-don’t think so. She’s very n-nice and not s-scary at all. She was very k-kind to me. B-but then, I’ve only j-just met her.”

Firefly frowned. That wasn’t the answer she’d been looking for. After a moment’s hesitation, she decided to go straight to the source. Blue Star seemed to be the easygoing sort; Firefly doubted she’d mind.

Firefly flew ahead and drew level with the unicorn. “So, where we going, boss?”

“Oh, just a few simple chores,” Blue Star answered with a shrug. “Nothing interesting, really. You’ll probably find them boring.”

Firefly gave a mental sigh of frustration, but outwardly she just nodded. After another moment of hesitation, she spoke again. “Soooo... there’s a lot of rumors going around about you.”

“Are there?” Blue Star looked curious, but behind her Posey’s eyes widened in alarm. “What kind of rumors?”

“They say you pummeled that wizard Starswirl in a duel!” Firefly exclaimed enthusiastically. “They say you’re so strong you scared Princess Celestia!”

Blue Star’s eyes widened. “They... they really say that?”

“Mm-hm! Any of it true?” Firefly grinned eagerly at the smaller pony.

Blue Star cringed. “I think it may have been exaggerated a bit... but I did defeat Starswirl in a duel.” She paused, cocking her head to the side in thought. “I’m not sure ‘pummel’ is the word I’d use, but I can see how it might be appropriate here...”

“Hah! I knew it!” Firefly preformed a triumphant loop in the air. “You don’t really look like the warrior type, though.”

“Oh, I’m no warrior!” Blue Star assured her, much to the pegasus’ disappointment. “I don’t even like fighting. I prefer learning to fighting.”

Blue Star paused to look at Firefly. The pink pegasus looked heartbroken, as if Rainbow Dash had gotten turned down at Wonderbolts tryouts. Blue Star decided to throw her new guardian a bone. “Besides, it’s too dangerous for me to learn to fight.”

Firefly looked up at Blue Star curiously. “Dangerous? What do you mean?”

“Well, I could hurt somepony!” Blue Star said with exaggerated concern. “With my magic, even if I only tried to restrain them I could cause serious injury. I’m very lucky Starswirl was so talented; otherwise, I might’ve killed him by mistake!”

Firefly chewed this over in her mind. She’d been expecting a battle-hardened warrior-wizard, a grizzled veteran with mighty combat magic and a general’s keen mind for strategy. Blue Star hardly fit the image. No, she was more the unassuming young mare that nopony suspected, the one who pleaded with her enemies not to fight - not because she feared them, but because she was so strong she might kill them by mistake. She was the young filly that got attacked by foolish muggers in the alleyway, assuming her to be an easy mark, only to leave them broken and aching by the side of the road.

Firefly felt a grin spread across her face. No, Blue Star wasn’t at all what she expected. She was better.

-----------------

Blue Star had already met an unusual number of ponies that bore an uncanny resemblance to her friends in the future. So far, however, there had been little differences, variance that made them unique. Surprise was a pegasus and lower-key than Pinkie; Posey had her stammer and was more likely to beg forgiveness than run when panicked than Fluttershy; Firefly was more controlled and hardened than Rainbow Dash. These differences, while small, had reassured Blue Star that it was nothing more then a coincidence.

Then she met Sparkler.

"But darling!" Sparkler moaned melodramatically, while Blue Star marveled at how closely the royal beautician resembled her friend Rarity. If not for her light blue coat and mirror Cutie Mark, they'd be indistinguishable. "Why in all Equestria would you want to dye such a lovely mane? It's such a delightful shade of blue..."

"W-well..." Blue Star took a deep breath. She wasn't a very good liar, but then, Rarity was never very good at noticing things when focused on a conquest of fashion. She had a tendency to jump to conclusions, and half the time provided the lie herself without realizing it. Blue Star only hoped that her new and old friend were as similar as they appeared. She glanced behind her to see if her entourage was listening. Firefly was loitering in the air, looking painfully bored, while Posey hovered at the doorway, clearly uncomfortable with entering the opulent beauty parlor. "That's just it. This... isn't actually my actual mane color." Technically true. "I've been hiding it with magic, but I'd much rather change it physically... it'd look better, and be easier to maintain." Also true.

Sparkler's eyes lit up. "Oh, of course, darling!" she gushed. "I understand entirely. There are plenty of ponies whose manes simply don't match their coat; why, just last week I met a poor mare by the name of Golden Harvest with a bright green mane and an orange coat. Green hair, can you imagine? Naturally I helped the poor dear, and I'll do the same for you." She rummaged around in a nearby basket of beauty supplies. "Now where did I... aha!" She pulled out a small bottle. "Here you are, darling. Just apply this to your mane once a week; it'll keep it a wonderful shade of blue and it'll match your coat splendidly! And feel free to come for me if you ever need any more."

Blue Star smiled as she took hold of the bottle with her magic. "Thank you so much Rar- Sparkler. I really appreciate it. How much do I owe you?"

"Oh no, Blue Star, dear! I wouldn't dream of charging a personal guest of the Princesses a single bit for such a small service." Sparkler smiled cheerfully. "Just promise to come and visit every so often. Deal?"

"Deal." Blue Star said, smiling back as she stowed the bottle in her saddlebags. "Oh, and don't mention this to anypony else, if you don't mind. It would be... embarrassing."

"Oh, I quite understand." Sparkler said with a sympathetic smile. "Now do go on, dear. I'm sure you have lots to do."

"Actually...” Blue Star said, causing Sparkler to give her a curious look. “There was something I wanted to discuss with you. Posey?”

Posey still looked uncomfortable, but she trotted into the parlor, coming to stand beside her Lady. “H-hello, Sparkler,” she said shyly.

“Why hello, Posey!” Sparkler greeted her enthusiastically. “So wonderful to see you again! Do relax, dear; I’ve told you before, you’re always welcome in my parlor.”

“Posey has been assigned to be my hoofmaiden,” Blue Star interjected. “And I was a bit surprised to discover she had a... unique skill. One she said you taught her.”

Sparkler blinked slowly, before forcing a wide grin. “Why, whatever do you mean, darling? I may have taught her a thing or two about styling manes, but...”

“I’m talking about reading,” Blue Star interrupted. “Posey told me you’re the one who taught her to read.”

Sparkler’s face went from feigned confusion to horror in moments, and she cringed. “W-well, I wouldn’t say I taught her... she may have... picked up a thing or two b-but I...”

“Sparkler, please.” Sparkler looked up in surprise as Blue Star heaved an irritated sigh. “Why does everypony behave like it’s illegal for an earth pony to read? It’s ridiculous!”

It took Sparkler a moment to register that she was not, in fact, in trouble. “It’s not illegal, perhaps, but it’s certainly improper,” she explained to the unicorn. “If anypony were to discover I taught an earth pony to read, my reputation would be ruined!”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Blue Star reassured her with a smile. “I find it admirable that you were willing to teach a less privileged pony to read. Why did you do it?”

Sparkler smiled distantly at fond memories. “Posey’s mother served as my mother’s hoofmaiden, back on our estate. It was a small place, and isolated; there weren’t many ponies there aside from my family, and Posey’s family.” She directed her smile to Posey, who shyly returned it. “As such, Posey was the only pony anywhere near my age growing up, so we became friends of a sort. Though I never could make her stop calling me ‘Lady Sparkler.’”

“I’ve been having the same trouble,” Blue Star chuckled, winking at her hoofmaiden. For her part, Posey just blushed and hid behind her mane, smiling softly.

“Posey would let me practice mane-styling on her - she has such a luxurious mane, you know - and in return, I taught her to read. You’d think her Cutie Mark was a book, the way she went through our library.” Sparkler sighed sadly. “Unfortunately, my mother believes very strongly in tradition, and threw Posey and I out of the house when she discovered what we’d been doing. Fortunately, we were old enough to care for ourselves. I had some contacts here in Canterlot, so I used them to get the two of us jobs here, so we could start over.”

“I see.” Sparkler started slightly as Blue Star lightly patted her shoulder with a hoof. “That was a beautiful story, Sparkler. Posey is very lucky to have a friend like you.” From behind her mane, Posey nodded eagerly in agreement.

“Thank you,” Sparkler said with a tiny sigh. “It... actually felt good to tell somepony about that. It simply isn’t fair that an earth pony cannot so much as open a book without a great scandal.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I intend to do something about that." Sparkler gave Blue Star a curious look, but she’d already turned back towards her entourage. “Come on, girls, we have a few more stops to make!”

Sparkler stared after her for several long minutes. "What an... interesting mare," Sparkler mused, as she returned to her sketchpad, designing new manestyles to try.

-----------------

Starswirl was in his lab, very pointedly not moping. Wizards did not mope. What did he have to mope about, anyway? There was no shame in losing a duel to a superior wizard - and Lady Blue Star was clearly superior. If her uncanny grasp of magical formula wasn’t proof that she was the better wizard, the amount of raw power she brought to bear in their duel was. Even when he was backed into a corner and forced to use his strongest, most dangerous non-lethal spell, Blue Star revealed she had been holding back throughout the entire contest.

These thoughts did little to cheer up Starswirl, who stared glumly at his alchemy equipment. The fire-sending spell was to be his moment. It was when he would go from just a ‘known face’ in the Princesses’ cadre of Royal Magicians, to a prominent figure. Perhaps even a Court position. From there, he could exert influence to change the whole of Equestria for the better.

It was not meant to be, it seemed. A young sorceress from nowhere, whom nopony had heard of ever before, appeared from thin air to snatch away his triumphant day. The worst part was, he couldn’t even be angry with her, because she clearly had no ill intent. Aside from the insult she’d accidentally dealt him, Lady Blue Star did nothing wrong. She fought a duel that had been forced upon her, and accepted the Royal Court appointment like any sane pony would. Starswirl almost wished she’d done it purposefully, if only so he’d have somepony on whom to lay blame.

Starswirl was roused from his torpor by the sound of hoof-steps and voices outside his door. Normally, his lab was so alive with experiments that he couldn’t hear an approaching pony until they knocked, but today the lab was silent.

He approached his door, listening carefully. He heard two voices, one of which he didn’t recognize. The other, however, was clearly Lady Blue Star. Starswirl frowned. His laboratory was at the top of a tall, lonely tower; nopony would climb it unless they intended to speak with him. What did the newly appointed Lady want with him? Revenge? Starswirl’s last spell of the duel had been potent and could permanently cripple a pony; perhaps she wanted recompense for nearly doing her such damage.

An icy cold fear gripped Starswirl’s heart. What if she took his lab? All of Starswirl’s lab equipment was on loan from the Court; as Magical Advisor, Lady Blue Star was technically a court official and had the right to revoke his access to it, or commandeer it for herself. Even if she bore him no ill will, she might claim his lab anyway, as it was extraordinarily well-equipped and had some very rare and valuable regents and equipment.

Without his lab, Starswirl would be out of a job. Oh, he’d technically still be a court magician, but his real passion, arcane research, would be beyond him. Even if he gained a replacement lab, this lab had materials that were nigh-impossible to find elsewhere. Losing them would cripple his research indefinitely.

Starswirl realized, finally, that all this worrying and panicking was doing little good, and was not founded on any logical basis. He resolved to put his worst fears on hold, and listen to the Lady’s conversation with what appeared to be a servant of some kind.

“Come on, Firefly. I really need this delivered before sundown, and it’s getting late!” That was Lady Blue Star, sounding... rather petulant, actually. Starswirl was reminded of her youth; astounding that such a young unicorn would be so skilled.

“No way!” replied a brash voice that Starswirl did not recognize. A servant disobeying an order? From a Lady of the Court, no less! Oddly, Blue Star did not appear to be outraged, merely put out. “The Princesses’ orders were to guard you; I ain’t leaving your side for a minute!” Ah, that explained it, then. The servant was in fact a bodyguard, and answered to a higher authority.

“At your speed, you could get this to Surprise and be back before I’m even done talking to Starswirl,” Blue Star argued. “What could possibly happen to me; between me and Starswirl there aren’t a lot of creatures out there that could be much of a threat to us.” That was surprisingly trusting of her. Perhaps she didn’t come to antagonize Starswirl at all. “Please, Firefly, it’s really important! I don’t have time to deliver it myself.”

There was silence for a minute, then the bodyguard - Firefly, groaned. “Ugh, fine. But you better be right here when I get back!”

“Thank you!” Lady Star chirped. There was a brief pause, then a gentle knock on the door. Starswirl quickly hurried away from the door and to a nearby spellbook, trying to look busy.

“It is unlocked!” he called out. The door opened slowly, and as Starswirl suspected, Blue Star poked her head in. “Ah, Lady Blue Star. How may I help you?”

Blue Star stepped into the lab, while a yellow earth pony servant remained respectfully outside. She looked too meek to have been the brash Firefly, so she was probably a different servant. Firefly had likely already left on her mistress’ errand.

“Hello, Starswirl!” Blue Star said with suspicious cheer. Was she truly not angry about the duel? Or at least wary of him? It seemed the Lady Blue Star grew more peculiar the more he observed her. “I hope I’m not bothering you.”

“Not at all,” Starswirl said, closing the spellbook he was pretending to study. “I am at your service, my Lady.”

Blue Star winced. “Please. I’ve been ‘My Lady’ied all day. If anypony has the right to use my name it’s you.”

“As you wish, Miss Star.” It felt awkward to be so informal with her, after seeing the amount of power she could muster when motivated. All the instincts Starswirl had cultivated over his (relatively brief) academic career were screaming at him to start groveling before this mighty wizard. He restrained himself. “Is this a social call, then?”

“Something like that.” Blue Star fidgeted uncomfortably. “I... um... you’re not angry at me, are you?”

Starswirl blinked in surprise, before he gave a soft, amused chuckle. “Why in Equestria would I be angry at you? I was the one who challenged you to a duel.”

Blue Star looked equally surprised. “Well, yeah... but I messed up your presentation by trying to corre- er, change your formula. And, well... I won that duel.”

“There’s no shame in losing to a superior wizard,” Starswirl said with a shrug. “And in winning that duel, you won your right to correct my formula if you so wished.” I only wish you hadn’t done so in front of Princess Celestia, he didn’t say, because that wouldn’t have been proper. “I was honestly worried you’d be angry over my... last spell.”

“Oh.” Blue Star looked away. “Well... I was, at first. But then, I realized if you hadn’t done that, I probably would have lost the duel.” Seeing Starswirl’s confused expression, she continued. “I’m not normally that strong, not unless I concentrate really hard. That last spell of yours panicked me enough to scare all my power out of me, so to speak.”

“I see...” Starswirl said, turning this over in his mind. It made a sort of sense. Ponies could do all kinds of things when panicked enough. It was like that old tale of mothers lifting chariots off their foals. Still, Blue Star implied that she could always conjure up that much power, it was normally just harder. It was still a frightening prospect. “Well, I suppose it’s comforting to know you weren’t merely toying with me during our duel.”

“And it’s comforting to know you’re not angry with me,” Blue Star replied. “I’m actually quite a fan of your work. I... I came to Canterlot to meet you, in fact.”

Starswirl’s eyebrows shot up. “A fan... of my work?” he parroted dumbly. “I don’t believe I’ve ever met anypony who’s even read my work, much less approves of it.”

Blue Star looked mildly surprised herself. “Really? Nopony? That’s odd. Your works are some of the most brilliant pieces of magical theory I’ve ever read.”

The sheer honesty and earnestness of her voice was what got to Starswirl, more than her mere words. She really, truly meant it. Humbly, he bowed low, sweeping off his hat and pressing it against his chest as a sign of respect. “Coming from a magician of your caliber, Miss Star, that means more than a commendation from Princess Celestia herself.”

Blue Star smiled warmly, in a manner that suddenly made Starswirl aware that she was not, in fact, that much younger then him. “I don’t know if I deserve that much praise, but thank you.” She inclined her own head in acknowledgement, and Starswirl stood again. “The real reason I came here, actually, was to offer my support. Your ideas are magnificent but they’re relatively obscure. With my position as Magical Advisor to Princess Celestia, I could endorse your works to the Princess. And I don’t just mean your magical works; your treatise on the Magic of the Three Races was one of the most... enlightened works of literature of it’s... I mean, our time.”

Starswirl had to concentrate to stop his jaw from falling open in a most unseemly manner. His Three Races treatise was a very recent work, one he was certain nopony would ever read. He had no idea on how this strange filly had even gotten a copy.

Nevermind how, Starswirl chided himself. She’s offering to sponsor you! To endorse you to Princess Celestia herself! Even if Starswirl never obtained the Court position he’d hoped for, with that kind of support he could alter the face of Equestria. It was as if he’d received every Hearth’s Warming present he’d ever be entitled to, all at once.

“I... I don’t know what to say, My Lady!” he said, bowing deeply again, much to Blue Star’s embarrassment. “Thank you! Thank you so much! I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you, but I-”

“Stop that!” Blue Star said, with good-natured irritation. “I told you not to call me My Lady.”

“I’ll call you My Lady whether you like it or not, My Lady,” Starswirl replied stubbornly. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a title you deserve. Not just by magical talent but by dint of your character. You are, in fact, the very first pony I’ve met who truly deserves the title.”

Starswirl took a small amount of pleasure in watching Lady Blue Star’s face turn bright red at the compliment. “That’s not... I mean... I’m not really... Thank you,” she stumbled over her words before settling on a simple response. She turned and made a beeline for the door. “A-anyway, it was nice meeting you again but I really have to go now just send me anything you want me to endorse gottagobye!” She dashed out the door at a speed that would put a pegasus to shame.

Starswirl chuckled to himself and turned to his spellbook. Fresh ideas were already churning in his head. He had work to do.

He couldn’t disappoint his new Lady, after all.

-----------------

Posey observed her Lady’s bright red face as she hurried from Mr. Starswirl’s laboratory. “C-come on, Posey!” the Lady said hurriedly, as she led the bewildered earth pony down the tower’s steps.

“Is s-something wrong, Lady Star?” Posey asked worriedly. Had something gone wrong? Did Mr. Starswirl threaten the Lady somehow?

“No, no, everything’s fine!” Blue Star said a bit quickly. She slowed down in her mad dash, and sighed. “I guess I’ll have to get used to... that kind of treatment, now.”

Posey inspected her Lady’s expression, and understanding dawned. “You’re a v-very important L-Lady now, Lady Star. And very p-pretty.” Posey blushed slightly; it was a bit improper to comment on her Lady that way, but she doubted Lady Blue Star would mind. “And Mr. Starswirl is a v-v-very handsome s-stallion. Very k-kind, too. He always th-thanks the s-servants for t-tea.”

Blue Star smiled wistfully. “Yes, I suppose he-”

SURPRISE!” Blue Star was interrupted by a sudden impact from a white-and-yellow missile. If not for said missile’s wings, she likely would have fallen down the stairs.

“Surprise!” Blue Star exclaimed angrily, glaring at her pegasus friend. Sheepishly, Surprise lowered Blue Star back to the stairs. Behind her, Firefly flew up the stairs, looking slightly out of breath. “Be more careful! You could hurt somepony!”

“Sorry!” Surprise said, not looking very sorry. “But I haven’t seen you since that super-awesome duel! I never got a chance to congratulate you! Or give you the super-stupendous celebration cake I got you!” From nowhere, Surprise pulled out an exceedingly decadent cake and held it out for Blue Star.

“Surprise... this must’ve cost a month’s wages!” Blue Star said, firmly taking hold of the cake with magic. “You shouldn’t have.”

Surprise shrugged. “I hardly spend my money anyways!” she chirped. “I had a whole bunch of bits saved up, and what better to spend them on then my bestest friend becoming a Lady!” She bounced up and down, wings flapping excitedly. “Oooh, I’ve never had a Lady for a friend before! This is gonna be so cool!

Blue Star shook her head, giving up on talking sense into her friend. It was about as futile as trying to make sense of Pinkie Pie. “Surprise, on another subject, did you bring the stuff I asked for?”

“OH! Yeah, I almost forgot!” The excitable pegasus pulled a small bottle from her mane. “Here it is! Who are we going to surprise with it?”

Blue Star grinned as she gently levitated the cake to Posey, letting go of it to take the bottle in her magic instead. “Oh, that’ll be a surprise in itself. Come on, girls; let’s go eat that cake and I’ll tell you what I have planned.”

-----------------

Princess Celestia eyed the package suspiciously. A very nervous servant had delivered it to her room, handed her a small card and ran away in a hurry. Celestia for the life of her never could figure out what all the servants were so scared of all the time.

The package was a fairly normal-looking box, wrapped in red ribbon. On the top was printed ‘For Princess Celestia’ in very neat hornwriting. It wouldn’t be the first time one of the Princess’ enemies had sent her a package in an attempt to assassinate her. They all failed, of course - it took a lot more than a simple exploding gemstone to kill an alicorn - but it was a painful, unpleasant experience that panicked her guards and was to be avoided.

After checking the box for any traces of magic, she sighed and finally opened the box. Inside, neatly packaged, was a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Princess Celestia was taken quite by surprise; it had been a long time since she received such a simple gift. An admirer, perhaps?

She levitated the flowers into the air. Of course, she thought distractedly, it could be an elaborate delivery system for a poison, but then she was immune to most poisons anyway. She resolved to treat it as the gift it appeared to be.

She pulled the flowers close, taking a deep whiff. They smelled magnificent.

Princess Celestia’s face twitched. Her nose itched.

She was suddenly overcome by a great sneeze, dropping the flowers. She blinked, and her brow furrowed. Since when did an alicorn ever need to sneeze? She was distracted from her thoughts by another sneeze. Just as she was recovering, she was overtaken by a third sneeze, this one so strong it knocked her off her hooves. As she was struggling back to her hooves, another sneeze knocked her down.

This went on for about a minute, the Princess sneezing uncontrollably on the floor of her room. Thank myself, she thought, that none of my subjects can see this. It would quite destroy their faith in me. And Luna would never let me hear the end of it.

Finally, with one final sneeze that rivaled the Royal Canterlot Speaking Voice in volume and shook the walls of her room, the sneezing fit ended. Celestia remained still for a minute or so, before climbing back to her hooves and inspecting the harmless-looking bouquet.

Determined to discover the cause of her mysterious fit, she cast a vision-enhancing spell, narrowing her sight to the microscopic level. It didn’t take long to discover that the flowers’ petals had been coated in a white, powdery substance. No doubt the cause of her sneezes.

Celestia remembered, abruptly, that the flowers had come with a card. Gently placing the flowers aside, she levitated the card up from where it lay on the table and opened it. Inside were four simple words, and a signature.

Thanks for the tea. Blue Star.

Princess Celestia stared at the card for a long, long time, uncomprehending. Slowly, her look of puzzlement morphed to one of amusement. A small, genuine smile crossed her face for the first time in a long, long time. The smile grew, and a small chuckle escaped her lips. The chuckle swelled to a chortle, then to a full belly laugh.

Princess Celestia, whose only relief from the terminal boredom of being an immortal monarch were harmless pranks on her unsuspecting subjects, had her first real laugh in centuries.

Outside, the royal guards wondered nervously what Her Majesty was laughing about.