• Published 17th Nov 2014
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Crystal's Wishes - Crystal Wishes

Crystal Wishes thought she was content just writing about ponies falling in love. While her career takes off, her love life is somewhat... lacking. Can she be happy living vicariously through her stories or will she find her own happily ever after?

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At the Gala — First Dance

The door to Crystal's bedroom abruptly opened, sending a wave of rushing air through the room and scattering the papers she had strewn about.

"What the hay?!" Crystal jerked her head up to frown at Velvet, who was standing in the doorway. "You could have knocked! Or—"

"Crystal, I'm sorry, but this is getting way beyond ridiculous," Velvet interrupted, stomping one hoof to accentuate her point. "You've been cooped up in this room for weeks! I thought you were going to go out more? How many times do we have to have this fight?"

"Fight?" Crystal scowled, though it was a reaction more of shock than anger. "When have we fought? We've debated! You have one opinion and I have another. What's wrong with that?"

Velvet shook her head with a frustrated jerkiness, as if a fly were in her ear. "Fight, debate, whatever! Either way, you know it's not healthy for you to do this. I'm amazed you still go to classes, honestly, because we haven't hung out since you got back from Manehattan."

"Well, I don't know what you want from me! I have to finish this novel, find a cover artist, make whatever edits I have to, and prepare for a convention in an almost impossibly short amount of time." Crystal dropped her gaze down to her working manuscript. "I'm under a lot of stress, and finding time to get some social exposure isn't a priority right now. I'll get to talk to a lot of ponies at the Equestrian Writers Convention; isn't that good enough?"

Velvet waited for the silence to grow heavy between them before she finally relented with a grunt. "Fine. But you can't agree to another crazy deadline like this again, okay? You look terrible."

Crystal blinked. "I'll keep that in mind. Anyway, I've still got a lot of work left, so if you don't mind—?"

Velvet snorted and started to shut the door, backing out of the room. "I'll have dinner ready in an hour. Please try find a spare moment to join me this time, okay? I didn't ask you to be my roommate so I could eat alone."

The door clicked shut, giving Crystal no chance to respond. She tried to return her attention to her writing, but she was already out of the zone. She sighed and got up, releasing a pained sound that almost rivaled the groaning of her stiff joints. How long had she been curled up on the floor? It felt like she hadn't moved in days.

She winced. Perhaps she hadn't. Though she knew she went to classes each day of the week, it certainly didn't feel like it. The obligation of attending school was a blur washed away by the storm of writing, so much so that it was hard to remember when she had last stood up. With a tight limp in her gait, she hobbled over to the vanity and tentatively peeked at her reflection. It was almost comical how tired the mare in the mirror looked! Her lids were dark and droopy, her eyes were bloodshot, and her mane was a frizzy mess.

Velvet was right. She looked downright awful. Her gaze returned to her papers and a small pang of guilt gripped her chest. The manuscript absolutely had to be finished. All of the effort had to be worth the lost time, otherwise she'd really be letting Velvet down.

For that evening, however, she would have a proper dinner with her friend rather than absentmindedly eating while the quill worked furiously under the pressure of her magic. She washed her face and put herself together: foundation, mascara, and beauty mark were all carefully applied. Once her mane had been brushed into silky submission, she walked out into the main area.

Velvet looked up from the stove and over at her with a bit of surprise. "Oh, hey!" The surprise lifted into a sheepish grin. "Look, Crystal, I'm sorry for yelling at you. I know you're working really hard." She rubbed the back of her neck and returned her attention to the pan cooking on the burner. "I was just feeling crabby and took it out on you."

Crystal blinked. She walked over and hopped up to sit on the empty counter space beside the stove. "What's wrong?"

Velvet idly stirred the vegetables that were in the pan. "Some of the girls in the company have tickets to the Gala and have been talking about it nonstop. I'm downright sick of hearing about it."

"The Gala?" Crystal's ears fell and her eyes widened. "Oh, sweet Celestia, is that soon?"

"Yeah?" Velvet snorted. "It's less than a week away. Are you really not paying attention to anything at all outside of your room?" She offered a weak but playful smirk. "How do you plan to even pass your exams for school if you don't even know the Gala is next week?"

Crystal waved the question away. "Forget exams! This is worse!" She slid off the counter and started to pace just outside the kitchen. "My parents will expect me to go, but I have no time for that!" She stopped pacing to frown at Velvet. "They're going to show up any day now to pester me. You have to tell them I'm sick. Or dead. Whichever lie is easier to tell."

Velvet laughed softly. She transferred the sautéed vegetables to a plate and took the pan to the sink. "Oh, yeah, because the second one'll go over real well. I'll just tell them you're busy; I'm sure they'll understand." She paused for comedic effect, then said dryly, "Wait, this is your parents we're talking about. I don't think you being dead would stop them from dragging you to the Gala."

"You're right, of course, but—" Crystal slumped against the wall. "But I really, really have no time."

Velvet paused, this time out of sincere hesitancy. "It's just one evening, isn't it?"

Crystal shot her a withering stare.

Velvet offered her hooves in a peaceful gesture. "I'm just saying! It's one evening. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to get out and cut loose."

The withering stare intensified. "Velvet, what do I say every year when you ask me how the Gala was?"

Velvet raised her voice in a playful mimicry of Crystal's. "How would you feel about being surrounded by all the worst examples of Canterlot society for hours?”

“Exactly.” Crystal crossed her front legs over her chest. “So, when my parents come over, and they will soon, you’re going to say what?”

“Don't worry, Mrs. Crust and Mr. Set!” Velvet chirped excitedly, shoving her shoulder against Crystal’s and knocking her off-balance as a distraction from the off-script response. “She’ll definitely be there!”

Upper Crust smiled. “Thank you for your reassurance, Velvet Step.” She levitated the envelope containing the golden ticket over and onto the table. “I see you understand that the Gala, of all events, is the most important to Crystal’s well-being.”

Jet Set cleared his throat and put his wife’s hat back on her head. “We have somewhere to be, don’t we, dear?”

“Quite right.” Upper Crust straightened the drooping sleeves of the sweater tied around her neck. “We should do lunch sometime, darling.” She paused, then added cordially, “And Velvet Step, too.”

As Upper Crust let herself out, Jet Set lingered behind. He turned his gaze on Crystal and smiled softly. "Your mother and I are very proud of your accomplishments, Crystal."

Crystal ducked her head. His tone and words sounded sincere, but she could only believe half of his statement. "Thanks." She shuffled her forehooves. "It's working out pretty well for us."

Jet Set nodded slowly. He seemed to hesitate, but instead shook his head and started for the door. "We'll see you at the Gala, then, dear. Always a pleasure, Miss Step."

"Yup! Have a great night!" Velvet waved him off.

When the door shut, Velvet continued waving, purposefully not looking at Crystal.

Crystal, on the other hoof, was looking directly at her. "Velvet."

"Yes?" Velvet responded, still waving, though the motion was slowing down.

"I thought we had an agreement." Crystal tapped a hoof against the floor. "You realize that if I don't go, they'll blame you."

"Exactly!" Velvet turned to face her with a sly grin. "Which, in turn, means you're now obligated to go for my sake. And I'm doing this for your sake, so really, you're doing it for you."

Crystal made a few unintelligible sounds of irritation before she finally settled on groaning, "Velvet, I swear to Celestia—"

"Hear me out." Velvet put a hoof on Crystal's shoulder. "You're pretty far along with the manuscript already, right?"

Crystal eyed her warily. "Yes, but—"

"And you're probably going to make the deadline, right? Don't respond just yet. Think about it seriously."

Crystal did and, after a moment, she gave a small nod. "Probably."

Velvet smiled, moved closer to Crystal and nuzzling her cheek. "Plus," she whispered in her ear in a playfully coy voice, "you might run into Princess Luna there." Velvet jumped back, laughing while Crystal gasped with realization.

"I didn't even think about that!" Crystal started to trot in place as excitement overtook her. "Oh my gosh, I need a dress! And what am I going to do with my mane and tail?"

Velvet laughed even harder. "That's the spirit!" Her laughter calmed down to intermittent giggles. "Why don't we go shopping? You just got your royalty check for this month, right?"

Crystal's excitement faltered, her eyes closing halfway as she did the math. They were cooking with fresh produce now, and she certainly wasn't going back to eating Hungry Mares. If she took out the usual cost of groceries, how much did that leave for a dress? What about accessories, if she didn't already have shoes or jewelry that matched?

Her lips moved to silently mouth the numbers zipping through her head. "Yeah. As long as we don't go over budget, it'll be fine."

"Then let's go shopping!"

It was a beautiful night. Crystal stood on the road that led to the castle, which was lined with red rope held up by silver stands. The blue-purple hues of the sky above were glittering with stars. The night sky was more wonderfully and carefully arranged than Crystal had ever seen it before Princess Luna's return. She truly was a Princess of the Night.

"At the Gala!" several voices suddenly cried out in unison, nearly startling her right out of the silver shoes on her hooves. Just as the sky was filled with stars, the space around her was filled with ponies marching together and singing.

The Gala was notorious for repeating the same traditions every year with no surprises or deviations from the established norms. The ponies of high class society knew what to expect and reveled in that constancy, as it guaranteed their idea of a great event.

The refined mares and stallions, who were all dressed to the nines, marched past her in step and in song. She rolled her eyes, counted the beat, and joined in.

"At the Gala!"

Then, for the first time that she could remember, a voice sang out of place.

"At the Gala, in the garden, I'm going to see them all! All the creatures, I'll befriend them at the Gala!"

She glanced at the mare to her left and was met with a look of confusion that matched her own. Enough ponies chimed in with another "At the Gala!" exclamation, so Crystal shrugged and continued with the synchronized marching. By the time a third voice had broken out into its own song, they had found a rhythm of carrying on without losing tempo. In total, there were six unexpected verses, but they seemed to at least try to match the song's cadence, more or less. The song finally drew to a close.

"And we'll have the best night ever, at the Gala!"

After the melodious parade to the castle, they all formed a line to shake hooves with the princess before entering the Gala proper. Of course, every year prior that Crystal had attended, it was only one princess. Perhaps this year it would be plural! She could barely keep from bouncing up and down before the line moved forward one pony.

Her excitement deflated when the queue progressed enough that she was inside the main hall and could see up the grand staircase. At the top of the stairs stood Princess Celestia with a purple unicorn at her side that was distinctly not Princess Luna. Crystal sighed and tried to occupy her time by looking around the hall.

It wasn't as magical as it had been before she had started working with Raven. Now, all she could see was the hidden truths behind everything. The stained glass windows, for example, were cleaned three times a day to ensure that they always caught the light as perfectly as possible. Instead of admiring the way the stars could be seen shimmering behind the semi-translucent colored glass, she wondered how recently a castle servant had been by to wash them.

She stifled a yawn. There was more shuffling forward, waiting, then shuffling again. Finally, she had reached her turn at the top of the stairs.

"Good evening," Princess Celestia said and bowed her head, just as she did every year to everypony. "Welcome to the Gala."

"Thank you, Princess." Crystal bowed in return before proceeding past her, but not before stealing a quick glance at the purple unicorn. She felt like she knew her face from somewhere, but where? Being at the princess's side was a prestigious spot only for a special pony.

She made a note to ask Raven about it when she ran into her. The Gala was an opportunity for Raven to relax and enjoy the party, as Princess Celestia had a well-practiced schedule that never changed and didn't require an aide keeping her to it. For the time being, however, Crystal just wished she could see Princess Luna, even if only from a distance.

Unfortunately, the Princess of the Night was nowhere to be found. Crystal had searched all of the areas accessible to her, leaving only the VIP section. Standing just on the standard attendees' side of the rope, she did her very best to nonchalantly peruse the crowd of very important ponies, which consisted of Wonderbolts and their esteemed guests.

Just as she gave up and started to walk away, a rainbow-colored blur shot past her, sending a gust of wind through her mane and the ruffles of her dress. She gasped and threw a hoof to her carefully tiered braids to ensure they were still in place before she looked around to discover the disturbance.

A mare with a rainbow mane and dress seemed to be the most likely culprit. Just like the unicorn at Princess Celestia's side, this mare seemed distantly familiar somehow. From what Crystal could gather from the scene, the mare had dashed as quickly as she could to catch a pie before it hit the ground.

One of the Wonderbolts that stood near the mare exclaimed, "My pie! You saved it! Thanks!"

Crystal rolled her eyes and sighed, then did a double take at the stallion. He was furiously devouring the supposedly rescued pie with no sense of decorum or shame. She had been so determined to find Princess Luna that she had nearly forgotten there were eligible stallions attending the Gala! A flush started to crawl up her neck and to her cheeks as she glanced around, suddenly very aware of the several stallions in the crowd.

As if on cue, her mother's voice rang out sharply against her own thoughts. "Crystal, darling! There you are!"

Crystal looked over to see Upper Crust walking toward her with an unfamiliar blue mare. "Good evening, Mother." She glanced between the two, smiling pleasantly. "Would you care to introduce me to your friend?"

Upper Crust laughed in that awful, goose-like manner. "Oh, darling, I hope she'll be your friend. This is Four Step. She's a dance teacher. Isn't that nice?"

Crystal turned her forced smile on the mare and offered a hoof. "Nice to meet you."

"No, no, the pleasure's all mine!" Four Step beamed at her and accepted the offer with a solid shake. "Your mother mentioned you have a friend in the Canterlot Ballet. Velvet Step, right? How funny, another Step who's a dancer! I wonder if she and I are related?"

This lifted Crystal's smile into sincerity. "Yes, she—"

Upper Crust cleared her throat, interrupting, "She is, but I'm sure you're more interested in talking about how you are also a dancer yourself."

Four Step giggled. "Oh, I don't—"

"She knows all the latest trends in dance so that her students are always the best," Upper Crust interrupted again. "In fact, I dare say she knows the trends before they become trends."

The smile fell into a barely lifted line. "Mother—" Crystal tried to regain her practiced composure, but her emotions were showing too much. "May I speak with you for a moment in private?"

"I'll go get some punch," Four Step suggested before trotting away to give them space.

Upper Crust looked down her nose at her daughter. "What's wrong, dear?"

"What are you trying to do?" Crystal returned the look with a frown. There was no pretense of civility as she continued in a seething voice, "You're scheming something. I thought you were through with this?"

"Nothing of the sort, darling! I'm simply trying to expand your little social circle. After all, you prefer having dancer—" She paused, then finished in an oddly lilting tone, "friends, don't you?"

For a moment, Crystal simply had no response. She finally shook her head to clear her head. "What? Are you—Do you—" Her brow furrowed. "Do you really not like Velvet that much?"

Upper Crust waved a hoof. "That's not it at all! I promise, darling, I am not trying to force anything on you; I'm simply showing you options."

Crystal sighed through her teeth and turned away. "I'm fine, Mother. I can make my own friends without your meddling."

Upper Crust didn't say anything further, nor did she try to stop Crystal from leaving. Instead, she simply stood there, watching her daughter's retreating form with a neutral expression.

Crystal groaned as she wound her way through the sparse crowd to the private gardens. She had learned several years ago that most ponies stayed away from there. While beautiful and well-maintained, they provided too much risk of stray leaves in one's mane or a mischievous branch to snag one's dress.

As they were every year, the gardens were a tranquil scene of magnificent flora and exotic fauna. Every once in a while, she could hear a distant bird in the trees and, when she was lucky enough, would actually catch a glimpse of a bright color moving among the foliage. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted something large and red.

Hoping to sneak up on a bird, she walked as quietly as she could across the grass, nearing the red figure. When she was close enough, she froze. The figure was definitely not a bird.

An earth stallion sat in a small clearing off the main path, his head lifted so his gaze could drift across the branches above. Crystal carefully moved to get a better look at him from the side and spotted a sketchbook resting in one hoof, a pencil in the other.

An amused smile played across her lips as she watched him for a few moments. He was a big, strong example of a stallion, with black fetlocks and a white mane and tail. He also clearly didn't belong at the Gala. His features were much more suited to labor with his muscles and hooves which—judging by a quick glance at his cutie mark—had something to do with carts. However, there he was, somehow in the Gala and sketching birds.

Finally, she stepped forward, careful to make just enough noise with her movement to alert him without startling him too much. He tensed and pulled the sketchbook in toward him to hide his work, turning his head to look at her.

"Hello!" she said in a quiet voice. "My name is Crystal Wishes. Who are you?"

He eyed her with nervous suspicion. When she simply smiled back, he said low and cautiously, "Axel."

She waved a hoof to try to dismiss his concerns, but a mere gesture was hardly enough for that. "I saw that you were sketching the birds." She tilted her head. "I've been attending the Gala for years and hardly see any of them. How many have you seen?"

Axel clutched the sketchbook tighter. "Not a lot. I've only been sitting here a little while. This is—" His mouth clamped shut and he visibly tensed.

"Your first time 'at the Gala'?" She giggled. "How did you get in? No offense, but I don't believe you received a ticket." When he glanced away from her and hesitated, she added, "It's honestly all right. I know you have no reason to trust me, but I'm not going to turn you in."

He rubbed the back of his neck and relented. "I came to repair a cart that broke down, and, well—with all of the Gala preparations and distractions, nopony was really keeping an eye on me, so I just didn't leave."

"Really! Oh, gosh." She shook her head. "That's a little lax on security's part. When I just want to have a lunch date at the castle, I have to jump through so many hoops! But good for you, I guess?" She glanced at his sketchbook.

He looked between her and the book before he slowly held it out. "I'm not very good at it, but if you really want to see—"

"I do!" Her magic took the sketchbook from him with utmost care and gingerly flipped through it. Some of the sketches were rougher than others, likely having been based on a brief glimpse at a passing bird. One, however, gave her pause.

He took note of her stillness and asked nervously, "What's wrong?"

"Huh?" She blinked up at him. "Nothing's wrong, it's just—" Her gaze returned to the drawing. It was of some kind of parrot that, in black and white, would seem ordinary, but the amount of varying shades of grey the stallion had sketched in alluded to at least a few different colors. "I've never seen the bird this is of."

A smile broke out across his face. "Oh, that one was amazing! They're rainbow lorikeets. They're actually very friendly if you sit still long enough."

"Rainbow lorikeet? So it really is all sorts of colors!" She tapped a hoof to the page. "Anyway, these are really good. I like this one the most, but I guess that's just because you had more time to finish it." After closing the sketchbook, she held it out to him.

Just as Axel took it, a delicate voice chimed from somewhere nearby, "I'm so sorry to have scared you, my friends! But I'm leaving now, so you can all come out!"

Axel looked around, startled. Crystal stood, brushed off the dirt on her dress, and glanced at him with a smile.

"I'll make sure whoever that was heads in a different direction so you can enjoy your evening, Axel." She waved. "Good luck bird watching!"

"Thanks." He returned both the wave and the smile. "It was nice meeting you."

"You, too!" she called over her shoulder as she headed off in the direction of the voice.

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