• Published 16th Nov 2011
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My(stara's) Little Ponies: Friendship is Adventuring - JohnBiles



The Mane Six. Typical D&D Adventurer Hijinx. As told by an adventurer rescued by them.

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Short Story 4: A Proper Lady

“Fluvia Grace must have the *finest* dress in all the lands of human, pony, or elf,” the strange pony in my shop said to me; she was overdressed for the season with a black furry rounded hat on her head, trimmed in white fur, a huge black shawl around her neck, and a long black dress trimmed with white fur which was elegant but baggy, not well fitted to her body. “Fluvia has heard that Rarity is the finest of all seamstresses, who can make a dress for *anyone*.”

Fluvia Grace was an Earth Pony, her coat pale yellow with a long blue mane that flowed in long locks around her neck and shoulders. She constantly shivered as if eager to spring into action but holding herself back.

“You have come to the right place,” I told her. “Black is really not your color, but let’s see…”

“Fluvia always wears black, it is her signature!” she said proudly. “Like a magnificent Orca!”

I have never had a customer who wanted to appear like a whale. Well, I can suggest alternatives at least, though I now feared this would end badly.

“Also, it must handle water well,” Fluvia continued. “And match my hat.”

Hmm, I am loaded with felt, but the hat has a fur outer layer, and I am short on black and white fur. The hat actually is nice, so perhaps I don’t have to replace it.

“What sort of fur is this?” I asked curiously, touching the white fur trim of her current dress.

“Polar Bear, of course!” she said proudly.

Of course.

Polar bears and whales.

Where am I going to get polar bear fur in Equestria? Unless… Idea!

If you shave a shapeshifted druid, they’ll grow back, right?

I wouldn’t want to leave Fluttershy naked, but surely a druid can trivially repair such a thing.

In fact, so many kinds of fur…

It was hard to wipe the bits from my eyes. I couldn’t let Fluttershy shave me for something like this, so I can’t ask her, but now the idea won’t leave my head.

I’ll figure out something.

“Where did you buy this?” I asked her curiously. “I don’t recognize the style.”

“Kaarjala! It’s a long trip, but the cool waters of the north are very relaxing in the summer,” she said. “And my beloved loves to go there to train!”

I’ve never even heard of it. “I will do my best, but I must regretfully inform you that I am not used to Kaarjalan fashions,” I told her. It galled me to admit it, but there is normally little call for such styles here. But I will learn! I must be ready for the next time.

There *will* be a next time if I do a good job here.

“Stargazer assured Fluvia you are a great fashionista, so Fluvia has confidence in you! Stargazer is always well-dressed,” Fluvia said firmly.

And it all gets destroyed by the end, then she has to buy more clothing from me. That’s Stargazer. She’s a Unicorn adventuress who summons constellation spirits. And gets into dangerous adventures which leave her clothing in tatters on a regular basis but give her the money to buy more. “Oh, you’re a friend of Stargazer,” I said warmly. Stargazer’s purchases paid for my new bed, the last repairs on my roof, and a new oven, among other things.

Oh, I should get Marcus to study those gems she paid me with last time and determine if they’re safe to use! Wherever I put them.

“She is my wicked rival in love,” Fluvia wailed. “She is a terrible person.” She dramatically fainted, crashing into my model-horses, which fell on her.

Best not to stick my head into this. I began magically lifting my modelhorses back into place as she got up. “I will create some mockups today but I have to see about getting the right kind of fur for you, and that may take a while.”

“Fluvia has to go visit the local druid, so she can stick around town a few days,” she told me.

“Oh, you know Fluttershy?” I asked; she’d never mentioned Fluvia.

“That’s her name, yes! Her… Fluvia doesn’t know the right word… Fluvia has been sent to help her practice elemental forms,” Fluvia said. “And seeing your shop, I thought I would try it out, since Stargazer is always so well dressed.”

Ahh, she seeks to outdo her rival. I will have to put some extra effort into this. I understand how she must feel. Not that I have a romantic rival at present, but I have been there.

I gave her the directions and was busy with a tentative design when there was a loud crashing noise, followed by a scream and the sound of my mailbox dying again.

Fluvia was outside before I could go check, and as I came out, I heard her yelling about mimics. Everything was now wet, my mailbox was smashed into tiny bits and Ditzy, Sweetie, and her friends were all tangled into a knot on the ground as Fluvia jumped up and down on the remains of my mailbox. “It will never menace the innocent again!” she said, then struck a heroic pose.

My mail was now sopping wet, though one of the items was a scrollcase sealed with both the Aendyr seal and Lady Aendyr’s personal seal! I secured that, then helped everyone up. “Should I even ask?”

“No, never ever ask,” Scootaloo said bitterly.

“I’m sorry,” Ditzy said. “Dinky dear, no fogbanks at ground level!”

“Sorry, Mom,” Dinky said, hanging her head.

I could tell this would be a long day; I would save the letter to be dessert to wash the aggravation out of my mouth.

******************

A Proper Lady

A Rarity Story by John Biles

Part of the Mystara’s Little Ponies: Friendship is Adventuring continuity.

*******************

“Blue is a good color for you,” I told Berry Punch. “So what’s the occasion?” I asked curiously; she’d come in and wanted a very fancy dress. More expensive than anything I have ever seen her wear.

She mumbled something incoherent, then said, “I may also end up needing one for Ruby, but she’s starting her growth spurt and I’m wary to buy anything that won’t fit her in a few months.”

“I know, Sweetie is the same way,” I told her, shaking my head as I measured her. “Is this for show or will you need to move a lot, such as dancing?”

“Show, to look respectable and wise,” Berry said, licking her lips but trying to hide she was doing it.

Making Berry look wise will be a challenge, I thought. She tends to be ‘lively’, more than wise. “So this is for your business?”

“Yes,” she said, shifting on her hooves.

A stallion? No. She does not have the look of love, and yet something more is going on here.

Well, I will do my best for her. As I do for everyone.

I took her measurements and idly began planning out ideas I could show her tomorrow, while she took off.

Eventually, Sweetie showed up with a dozen pinecones stuck to her and I had to help her get clean of them. While we were doing that, Marcus came home and began making us dinner.

I had to take a bath myself once Sweetie was clean, and I read the scroll while luxuriating in my bath. The writing was clear and precise with a steady hand, the sort I pride myself on. Twilight can write much faster than me, but it’s sloppy and she relies too much on dictation to Spike.

My writing is precise and beautiful, like my correspondent’s style of writing. It was enjoyable even to look at.

Dear Countess Rarity,

I hope you are well. Darien and I must attend to some business for Prince Aendyr in Canterlot, so I thought we would come to visit you and Marcus if that is acceptable; we’ll bring Samantha, of course; she’s eager to meet her uncle. Darien would like to see your friend’s museum; he has an interest in Blackmorian era history. I understand it’s in Canterlot?

I would like to commission some clothing for Samantha and myself by you; the tailors here only know one style of clothing for nobles and I cannot wear twelve minutely different versions of the same dress without feeling quite strange. Darien grew up with it but I did not.

We will be coming in a week; please reply as soon as you can. I look forward to meeting you face to face.

Yours in Wizardry,

Lady Helga Aendyr.

The second page was a new spell she’d sent me, but this… oh this…

I had to restrain myself from a total frenzy of joy, or else the bathwater would slop on the floor. But you should imagine it as if I bounced around inside my own mind in the way I expect Pinkie would if she could fit into my mind.

Making clothing for nobles, a visit from foreign nobility to *my* store. Time spent with a *real* lady. I love my friends, but Fluttershy, who could be so elegant, foreswears it to dodge attention and the rest of them… they simply are not elegant. They have many fine features, and I love them dearly, but I was already imagining a pleasant tea with a lady of quality who will not stuff cupcakes in her mouth or belch or have to suddenly run away to help a squirrel or get distracted by a book she’s reading or…

I hope I do not sound ungrateful for my friends. But this is something I have always dreamed of. To be part of noble society, if only for a little while. With a real lady!

I will have to dress up Marcus appropriately. And I need to know her colors, her coat… skin tone… Fabrics must be ordered, so much to do.

But I was happy to do it!

*****************

“Kaarjala is a magical place,” Lyra said excitedly to me; I’d found her on a bench, strumming her harp and singing strange fragments of lyrics, as if time was somehow skipping over bits of the song. She had looked frustrated, but now she smiled.

Bon-Bon was hard at work in one of the town gardens, feeding the flowers, even though it will be running of the leaves time soon and most will have to be replaced as it gets colder and they die.

I know the basics of gardening; it is a hobby fit for a lady of refinement. Such as myself.

“They raise herds of reindeer, who pull sleds for them and migrate around; they grow crops near volcanic outlets, hunt, and fish along the half-frozen sea. During part of the year, the sun *never sets*. I would love to see that,” Lyra said excitedly.

“You’ll be seeing a hoof to the posterior from the Mayor if you don’t finish your song for the Running of the Leaves,” Bon-Bon said, then dug in her saddlebags.

“I wrote this awesome song… but it’s totally wrong for the Running of the Leaves,” Lyra said, flopping onto her side and splaying out on the bench. “Also, Princess Luna sealed part of it to the throne.”

“I… what?” I asked in confusion.

“It means Lyra can’t perform the fourth verse without royal permission; it has secrets,” Bon-Bon said. She now began to sprinkle a blue powder and work it in with her hooves; some wilted flowers now perked up.

“The best verse, so exciting,” Lyra moaned.

She always says that.

“Why not compare the falling of the leaves to the start of a new school year as students move forward and so do the seasons?” I said. It was my only idea. Terrible, but I felt I ought to help.

“Hey! Yeah! I’m teaching!” Lyra said. “Man, it’s a pity this isn’t when they graduate, it would strengthen the metaphor…”

“Do you know what Kaarjalan clothing looks like?” I asked her.

She tried to describe it, but it was like asking Scootaloo, but with more syllables. All enthusiasm and shouting.

I will have to consult with Twilight. Which means seeing Spike, which is likely to be awkward.

“Bon-Bon, can I buy a few of your candies? The strongest flavors.” Spike favors strong flavors in his food.

“I’m not fully stocked but…” She dug out a dozen candies, sang their praises, and I bought two for myself and four for Spike and two for Twilight. Then I bought the rest for the next time I see Pinkie, since she loves candy.

Okay, time for the library.

*****************

Kaarjalan fashion is all designed around furs for the cold weather and tends to be dark so it will absorb heat. I was surprised to find Twilight so versed in it; she is normally no fashion buff.

“I did a paper for Humanics II on the Kaarjalans and how they adapted to their cold environment,” Twilight said. “I have it somewhere… SPIKE!”

He’d not been out and about when I arrived.

Dinky, who was shelving books high above us, shouted down, “He’s hiding in the basement!”

Distantly, I heard Spike say something angry and I sighed.

Twilight pulled down a book. “I’ll check my files myself, but it may still be in my tower in Canterlot.” She galloped off and I began studying the pictures; the book was titled ‘Adventures in Norwold’ and dealt with Far Northeastern Brun’s regions.

I heard a creaky noise and Dinky said, “Rainbow Dash, you don’t have to come in the window, you know.”

Dash, her mouth full of the strap of a saddlebag, didn’t say anything, she just flew down towards my table, saw me looking at her, stopped, then said, “I was just passing by and found someone abandoned these books.” This caused her to drop them.

Towards Twilight; I reached out and stopped them in time. “Dash, darling, we all know you read now. And Lady Aendyr wants to see your museum with her family.”

“Oooh, cool!” Dash said, rearing with excitement. “Not tomorrow, I hope. I have to help whip up four days of hideous rain.”

“What, now?” Twilight said, frowning.

“The zapapples need zapping, I think,” Dash said, waving a hoof vaguely as I lowered the books down to the table. “Hey there, Twi.”

“I hear the Mayor always orders bad weather this time of year because it’s when an ex broke up with her long ago and she wants to *brood*,” Dinky said from high atop a ladder. “And the first game of the hoofball season always gets rained out.”

Father would not be happy, I thought. But he’s still off on the frontier as usual.

Wait, I am going to need to make *everyone* suitable outfits for meeting a lady!

Dash eyed me warily. “Rarity, I don’t need rain clothing or whatever.” She began to back up.

“I… wait, what?” Twilight said, confused. “Oh, you done with these books?”

“I just fou… yes,” Dash mumbled.

“I have the next set ready,” Twilight said, lifting a loaded saddlebag to her. “Good luck with your class!” She laid out her paper on the table. “Read this, Rarity. Why do you need to know about Kaarjalan fashion, anyway?”

“Stupid reindeer, think they’re so big,” Dash grumbled.

“It’s for a client; she has friends who pay me well, so I want to do my best for her, but it’s all fur and black and she wants to look like a *whale*,” I said mournfully. “Everyone in Canterlot will think me a fool if I let a customer look like a sea mammal.”

“A whale?” Twilight said, stunned.

“Well, Orcas look kind of they’re in tuxedos,” Rainbow Dash mused thoughtfully, now coming down to land by us. “But whales don’t have fur.” She paused. “Right?”

“It’s for the weather,” I told her. “The fur keeps you warm in the very cold weather there.”

“Well, I guess she has to learn the hard way like we did,” Twilight said hesitantly.

Maybe Fluttershy will have some insight on how to do this and make it look good.

Or at least she’ll know what Orcas are like.

“STAY IN THE SADDLEBAG,” I heard Pinkie shout outside the library.

We all turned, looked, and waited, but Pinkie did not come inside.

I may never know what that was about, I suppose.

“Oh yes, I need a book on Blackhill cuisine and anything on customs,” I told Twilight. “I suppose you wouldn’t have any recent on Glantrian fashion.”

“Not much call for it here,” Twilight said apologetically. “But I *can* help you with the former!” She dragged me off to the geography section and soon gave me more books than I had time for.

But Twilight is nothing if not thorough. “Thank you, dear,” I told her. “You always very helpful.”

“I just love to share knowledge,” she said with a happy sigh. “So I take it Helga is coming?”

I blinked. “Did she write you too?”

“Well, she lives in Blackhill and is close friends with Marcus, so I assumed it had to be connected,” Twilight said.

“Dinky, I don’t need a book on the care and feeding of evil twins,” Rainbow Dash said distantly to Dinky.

“Trust me, *everyone* should read this book,” Dinky said urgently.

My twin is not evil, just a little vain and a little too greedy for her own good. To be honest, I am a little jealous of her, she’s been so successful…

Except that was all imaginary, it suddenly hit me. I don’t know for sure where she is or what she’s doing, and I suddenly felt guilty. She is my sister, whether we chose it or not, and I should watch out for her.

I ought, at the least, to put her in contact with Rainbow Dash’s mother, who could help her get started. And I should help.

So much to do, so little time, I don’t know how I ever make it work.

“So how exactly does the couch just appear when you need it?” Twilight asked curiously.

I hadn’t even realized I was *on* my fainting couch!

Instinct, a magical thing.

I got up and made it vanish. “It’s magic, darling. An old instinctive trick of mine.” That reminded me. I passed her the candy I got for Spike. “This is for Spike, when he comes out of hiding. You should probably tell him it’s from someone else, though.” I sighed. I have no idea what to do. I let things drag on too long because I was flattered. “The two blue ones are for you.”

Maybe Lady Aendyr will have some idea; a fine lady of distinction likely has had many suitors.

So have I, but it was different; I was young, they were young, we were all foolish and… to be honest, many of them certainly were less noble than Spike at his best.

But so was I, sometimes.

“I’ll tell him I bought it,” Twilight said. “It was very nice of you to get him some.” She pocketed hers in her saddlebags and I prayed she wouldn’t forget it existed for weeks.

Especially because she would eat it without thinking about it. She’s rather used to Spike vetting her food.

“Bon-Bon and Lyra helped me out some and I wanted to repay her,” I told Twilight. “Okay, I have lots of reading to do and other things, so I fear I must go.”

“I was glad to see you,” Twilight said.

“I don’t need to know about Cone People!” Rainbow Dash said distantly.

“And I think Dash needs you,” I continued.

“Yes, Dinky means well but can be overenthusiastic,” Twilight said ruefully, then raced to Dash’s aid as I headed out to see Fluttershy before going home.

**************

I should, of course, have foreseen that Fluvia would be at Fluttershy’s, so I was unable to make my inquiries as I had hoped. We did have a nice tea party which was quite relaxing and I now know what an Orca looks like and acts like.

In great detail.

Then we went outside into the yard near the river and Fluvia said, “Behold, the power of water!” She transformed into a huge water elemental, spinning in place like a tornado. Fluttershy tried to do the same but ended up just falling on her face and looking frustrated.

“You must be a very powerful druid,” I said to Fluvia.

“Fluvia specializes in water, of course,” she told me.

Hence the love of Orcas, I suppose.

“Fluvia has been kind enough to come help me train,” Fluttershy said to me, then sighed. “Turning into elementals is hard.”

“You can do it,” I told her.

“If Stargazer can walk twenty feet without tripping over her own hooves, you can do this,” Fluvia-elemental said firmly. “You are far less wicked and prone to tempt innocent young colts.” She then turned back to normal. “Perhaps we should spend some time in the water, so you can learn its soul.”

“And I will bid you farewell. Thank you for the party, Fluttershy.”

She smiled at me. “I am no Pinkie, but I do think I throw a good party.”

And then they jumped in the river and turned into sea ponies and began swimming around. Seaponies are rather like mermaids but the front half is a pony front half. We don’t see them much here, though at times, they have come up the river.

Anyway, I had things to do, which included buying white fur; I will likely have to have it shipped from Canterlot.

A woman’s work is never done.

***************

As I headed home, hoping Marcus had already started dinner, I saw Sweetie suddenly crash out her bedroom window and into the sky, howling.

I reached out with my magic and seized her, straining; I am very nimble with my magic but not so strong; Twilight would have caught her without even trying, I fear. I could feel a powerful breeze pouring out of the window and I sighed.

“Sweetie, did you *read my mail* again?” I asked as I lowered her to the ground.

“She always sends you cool spells,” Sweetie mumbled. “And Marcus didn’t need help cooking.”

More precisely, Marcus likely didn’t want Sweetie’s help. I love my sister dearly but she cannot cook her way out of a wet paper bag.

I’m surprised she didn’t talk him into it, but probably the lure of new magic drew her to read my mail.

The spell in question lets you call up powerful winds. For battering your foes in combat, I think, though you could also power a ship with it.

I haven’t dared to try it, as I would need time to go somewhere that I would not, for example, break my own windows. “Sweetie, go to the glassware shop and get a new window and we’ll install it after dinner. Then we’ll discuss how you’ll pay for it.”

“No, my precious allowance gone!” she wailed, rolling around on the ground.

Now she was muddy and covered in twigs, yet still in trouble. “That only works on Father, dear,” I told her. “Best you hurry, or dinner will be cold when you return.”

Wailing, she headed out.

*****************

“Oooh, broccoli,” I said. “How do you get it to not overcook?” It seems like it goes from stiff and rubbery to mushy in five seconds. Five seconds you can’t predict. For some reason, Scootaloo was on the counter near the stove, flapping her wings at the broccoli.

“Constant monitoring,” Marcus said as he stirred the noodles. “We have a carrot salad thanks to Scootaloo, who will be dining with us, if you don’t mind.”

“I’m controlling the heat precisely,” Scootaloo said proudly.

I hope the counter can hold her; she’s starting to grow, though she hasn’t grown too large for the counter yet.

“Did Sweetie talk you into cooking so she could go monkey with magic she wasn’t ready for yet?” I said sternly to Scootaloo.

“I volunteered, since it means not eating carrots! The salad is *all yours*,” Scootaloo said, making a face. “Is Sweetie okay?” she asked, worried.

“I’m surprised you didn’t check on her,” I told Scootaloo.

“I can’t leave until this is done and Marcus said she would be okay,” Scootaloo said. “She is okay, right?” Now she sounded worried.

“I knew she was okay,” Marcus said. “I know the difference between a scream of surprise and a scream of pain.”

I winced at that; my darling has had a rough life. “Anything I need to do to help?”

“If you can scramble two eggs for me, I’d be grateful,” Marcus said.

“Easy,” I told her and went to work, telling them about my day.

“We learned about heat control today,” Scootaloo then said excitedly. “My pegasi weather course is REALLY cool.”

She and her friends are back in school now. It does feel weird being alone during the day sometimes, when the house is so full at night now.

Oh yes!

“Lady Aendyr is coming to visit,” I told Marcus. I told him everything and then had to fan myself to calm down. “I’ll have to make you something suitable for a noblewoman’s visit. Oh dear, where will they *stay*? I suppose if Sweetie stays with my sister… but then they’d have to sleep with their daughter, which might be crowded…”

Plus, my house is basically a hovel compared to how she must live.

I would hate to make her stay at the hotel and really even our hotel would be a hovel by comparison.

“Samantha could sleep in Sweetie’s room and they’ll both fit in the bedroom and if I get Twilight to lock Darien in at night, he might not find a way to try to kill me in my sleep,” Marcus said thoughtfully.

“I can pick a lock with my tongue now!” Scootaloo said proudly.

“That would be a useful skill but human tongues are not very flexible,” Marcus said regretfully. “Or I would have to ask you to teach me.”

“You can do it in your pony form!” Scootaloo now began demonstrating on an invisible lock and I tried to get control of this conversation.

“I am sure he will act with honor and dignity. He sounds a fine fellow from her letters,” I told Marcus.

“He hates me with all the hatred Orcus has for everything that exists,” Marcus said mournfully, then drained the noodles. “Okay, as soon as Sweetie returns, we can eat.”

“Dear, you are exaggerating. Why does he hate you so much, anyway?” I asked; it’s something I’ve never understood.

“Darien is made of pure liquid hate, frozen into hate-ice by the cold winds at his command,” Marcus said mournfully as he prepared four plates of food. “I would think he was Loki, but Loki has fashion-sense.”

“Honey, you are exaggerating,” I said as we headed over to the table.

Sweetie stumbled in, still needing more grooming, which I began providing. “The window is in my room.”

It’s most annoying because it’s a new room. Marcus and I needed our own space, so I finally broke down and added a few new rooms. The hard part was ensuring my home stayed round and conveyed the right look.

Marcus cut his eggs and mixed them into his pasta, which seems strange to me but he does need his protein. He now gave Sweetie a lecture on responsible magic use, while Scootaloo snickered the whole time and wolfed down food like crazy.

I’d thought he made too much but Sweetie and Scootaloo each ate enough for two mares.

Then we had to install the window. Scootaloo was kind of enough to help, so I will have to do something nice for her later. Once *that* was done, Marcus went over the books with me and drew a rough picture of Lady Aendyr and her husband I could use to think of ideas, though I’ll need… surely she can send me her measurements.

I am just so excited about this.

“But why does Darien hate you?” I asked after all this. I still had no straight answer.

“He is a giant asshole and thinks I endanger his wife and daughter by simply existing,” Marcus said wearily, flopping out on the bed.

“Well, this trip should show him not to worry,” I told Marcus.

“I hope so,” Marcus said. “I’m sure Helga will enjoy it. I know she wants to meet you.”

“And I am eager to meet Lady Aendyr,” I told him, carefully lying down on the bed as well. It wasn’t bedtime yet but we deserved a rest after hard work.

“Just call her Helga. She’s no fancy lady,” Marcus told me.

“She is a noblewoman of Glantri,” I said a little chidingly. “And deserves to be treated as such.”

“So are you,” Marcus pointed out. “Well, of Equestria. Countess Rarity.”

It’s not the same; I don’t… I can’t live like a countess. Not with my income. But maybe one day…

Which reminds me, I need to check on Clarity. Later. I am tired and must rest.

****************

The next day, I got up and went to work as usual; part of my time was spent on my customers of the day and part on Fluvia’s dress and part on planning for the visit, exchanging letters with Lady Aendyr and visiting stores. Lady Aendyr has these wonderful scroll cases; a very simple spell will teleport them between us, which is good because I can’t possibly ask Spike to send mail for me now and conventional means would take weeks.

By around four PM, I was exhausted, lying down in front of effort twelve to create a whale-themed dress and flailing my legs in the air in frustration. I was too tired to even summon my fainting couch, hard as the floor is.

“A Drellbian fang beast!” Ditzy shouted and now pounced on the dress; she soon was tangled on it, rolling around the floor as letters and scroll cases spilled out of her saddlebag, half-covering me and everything else.

I didn’t care. This project is a failure and I might as well *die* buried in mail. They can pour bronze over me and display me as a warning to overly ambitious ponies in the future.

Ditzy made a noise like the end of time and burst free, shreds of black cloth and faux fur flying everywhere; this was only a test, so I was saving the good fur for when I figure out how to do this.

If I *ever* figure out.

There is nothing less fashionable or elegant than a *whale*.

Nothing.

Also, Kaarjalan fashions are hard to adapt to ponies. And none of the books indicate *at all* how their reindeer dress. Surely they can’t go naked in weather that cold.

“The fangbeast is fallen,” Ditzy said proudly. She paused and studied the scraps of cloth. “Oh dear, was this a fangbeast costume?”

“Yes,” I said. I don’t know what it is but it can’t be as bad as a *whale*.

“I am so sorry!” she said frantically, and then began gathering her mail, hoofing several letters over to me and knocking others off me. Then she tossed me several bits. “Does this cover the damage?”

It is nice to see someone responsible. “Yes,” I told her. While it didn’t fully cover the damage, I know she’s trying to raise a filly on her own and doesn’t make a huge amount of money.

She gave a sigh of relief. “Okay, I can beg Carrot Top for some carrots tonight instead of buying that soup,” she said softly; I don’t think I was supposed to hear it and now I winced.

But if I say anything, she’ll be humiliated. I made myself get up. Once she took off, though, I headed over to Twist’s family’s restaurant to have them deliver some sandwiches to Ditzy. Hopefully, she won’t be too proud to take them.

I didn’t realize she was riding the ragged edge so closely. I’ll have to see what I can do about that.

Later, as I had to meet Berry Punch and Ruby so as to get Ruby’s measurements for *her* dress. At least that would be straightforward.

******************

“So what is your Cutie Mark for?” I asked Ruby curiously as I took her measurements.

“I’m super-lucky!” Ruby said cheerfully. “I won Mom the money for these dresses in a poker game!”

“You weren’t supposed to tell anyone!” Berry Punch said frantically, flailing her forelegs.

Better keep her away from Marcus, I thought.

Other than that, everything went smoothly and I was busy showing cloth samples to Berry when suddenly my storage room was full of screaming and the sound of everything falling down.

“I didn’t do it!” Ruby said desperately.

“Of course not, dear,” Berry said, though she now studied Ruby suspiciously.

I galloped into my storage room and found that Ivan was here, buried in rolls of cloth; somehow everything had fallen off the shelves and a roll of blue cloth was half unrolled on the floor with his foot tangled in it.

“Dammit,” he mumbled.

“What happened?” I asked, confused and beginning to tidy up.

“This was the closest large shadow to you but there was a roll on the floor and as I appeared, my foot landed on it, it moved and everything went down on me,” Ivan said, helping me to clean up, though I had to reposition everything after he tried to put it away.

This room has a *plan*, you see.

“Marcus will be home in an hour or two,” I told Ivan. I must admit I am a little jealous of his cutie mark trick. Power. Whatever the right word is. It’s a gift from his sponsor, I know that. Being able to go to Glantri or Canterlot with a thought and a shadow would be quite useful.

“Luna will be coming to our little shindig when Helga gets here,” he told me.

This was both thrilling and absolutely terrifying.

A *princess* coming to my party! To my home. I mean, I’ve met Luna before but I haven’t been in charge of entertaining her.

I don’t even know how to entertain a Princess, specifically.

I immediately threw out all my plans for everyone’s clothing because it would not do with Luna coming. Fortunately, some of the designs, I could just upgrade cloth quality… Where can I even get samite in Ponyville?

Ivan can go get it and BRING IT, I realized.

“Rarity, why are you looking at me like that?” he said warily.

“Ivan, I need you to run a few errands for me and...” He was wearing a white cotton shirt, leather pants, leather jacket… he looked like he was going to star in some musical about rebellious teens. “Ivan, that outfit is completely unsuitable for a party of this caliber! How can you possibly wear something like that when a princess is coming?” I asked frantically.

“I wear this with Luna all the time,” he said hesitantly.

“This will not do *at all* for a party of this quality!” I said. “Come out and get naked. We’re going to have to start layer by layer!”

His jaw dropped. “What?”

My brain then remembered he is human and getting naked casually is a huge social faux paux with them. “I am sorry, Ivan, I forgot you were not a pony.” I tittered nervously. “But we will have to take measurements and start fresh so you will fit in. Just come out and sit down; I’ll finish Berry and Ruby and then we’ll get you started.”

I can’t believe I even told him to get naked. I sound like Applejack.

I am going to have to have a lie down after this, I thought.

Oh my Celestia, I have to do outfits for *everyone*. Surely they’ll all want to come and I will have to wrestle down Applejack to get her to dress up and… Why is the door not opening?

“Rarity, why are you walking into the wall over and over?” Ivan asked me, standing at the door.

I definitely cannot have any more coffee today.

*******************

There’s probably no way to add a ballroom to the house in only five days. But where am I going to find one for rent *here*?

Lyra is going to rustle up some friends to play music but… Samantha! She’s going to need kids to play with or she’ll destroy everything. I know how fillies are.

Well, I can rope Sweetie and her friends into riding herd on her.

I should ask if her unicorn friend, Sugar Sparkle, is coming with her.

Maybe Big Mac could make me a pavilion, yes, there’s space behind the house and then we could fold it up and store it for later use. There’s plenty of room… I had best go check with Big Mac *now* if he has free time.

“Rarity, are you going to run off without finishing dinner?” Sweetie asked, surprised.

I suddenly realized I was about to run off without actually eating most of my stew. Karameikan stew, made by Ivan; it’s all garlic and potatoes and tomatoes and very tasty but I can’t stop thinking.

“I am so sorry,” I said. “Maybe… no, no, I must eat.” So I made myself eat delicately like a lady like Mother when I wanted to wolf it down like Father and run off to consult with Big Mac… “Ivan, have you ever made a pavilion?”

“I am a decent carpenter but you’re better off with a real expert,” he said hesitantly.

EXCELLENT.

Calm down, calm down, I told myself. Eat like a lady.

“Rarity, you’re eating from my bowl,” Sweetie said chidingly, telekinesing hers out of my reach.

“Honey, count to ten and calm down. It’s going to be fine. Just a little visit by friends,” Marcus said, patting my back. Normally that soothes me but I have *so much work* to do!

“A Princess of Equestria and a Lady of Glantri are coming to my home! It is not *just* a little visit by friends,” I said frantically. “This is not something which happens every day.”

“Neither is you eating my food, but you just did,” Sweetie said, going and getting herself more stew. “This is really good, Ivan.”

“We ate this three, four times a week when I was a kid, so I kind of learned it well,” Ivan said. “My folks probably still eat this three or four times a week.”

“Creatures of habit, I take it,” I told him.

“Well, it’s cheap, so they can save money for fancier meals on special times. We usually had rabbit or fish in it,” Ivan said. He and Marcus both had fish in their bowls, in fact. Ivan had done up a fish for Opalesence as well, who was at her dish, eating daintily.

*Opalescence* will need a nice outfit or three also!

“And the other days of the week?” Sweetie asked.

“We typically had mushroom and garlic soup with fish on church days, garlic and weasel sandwiches every time father caught one of the damn things, garlic omelets once a week if the hens were laying, and every so often, we had venison, even though it was illegal,” Ivan said.

“Why was it illegal?” Sweetie asked.

“They were on the lord’s land, which he wouldn’t let us clear so we could grow more crops. He had deer and other things he hunted in his woods. Lord Antonius loved hunting,” Ivan said angrily. “More than he loved people. Still does, I expect.” He sighed. “A few times a year, we got to have beef or pork. Especially harvest time; you ate until you were sick then.” He smiled a little smile at the memory.

“You ate a lot of garlic,” Sweetie said.

“It kept the vampires away,” Ivan said and launched into a long story about vampires which soon had Sweetie hiding under the table. I ate, trying to maintain my decorum.

‘You okay, dear?’ Marcus asked me with a spell to link our minds. ‘You seem jumpy.’

‘I just want everything to go well and I have to see Big Mac before it’s too late,’ I told him.

‘I’ll clean up so you can go after you finish eating,’ he told me.

‘You are a dear,’ I told him.

Finally, I finished eating and ran off to Applejack’s.

*****************

“The line to hit on mah grandson starts behind the… oh, hi, Rarity, I didn’t recognize yah through the door,” Granny said to me, peering at me; it was dark now so I can see how she might mistake for someone less glamorous. Though my coat does usually shine in moonlight.

But also shows dirt far too well, which is among the reasons I hate dirt.

“Applejack’s in the living room, havin’ a tea party with Filthy,” Granny said. “Is that Sweetie with you?” she peered at me.

I looked down and saw Winona panting next to me. “That’s Winona, Granny Smith,” I told her.

“I reckoned her mane didn’t look quite right,” Granny said. “Come on in.”

I was somewhat stunned to find Applejack with Silver Fork (our town’s silversmith and cutlery producer) and Filthy Rich, despite the warning; she was wearing a blue dress which I know I didn’t make but had to come from *somewhere* and had her hair done up and was trying to be mannerly and I briefly feared her possessed. Or was this actually Apple Blossom?

They had tea and sandwiches and a similarly dressed Apple Bloom was helping her out, serving tea with her tail. The sandwiches weren’t even all apple-themed, and now Twist came out in a fancy dress, bringing more tea.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said. “I need to hire Big Mac’s services.”

“You already have a coltfriend,” Apple Bloom said accusingly.

“To build me a pavilion!” I told her.

“What in tarn…” Applejack began, then made a choking noise. “Dearest Rarity, whatever do you need a pavilion for?”

“I think the Town Hall has one,” Twist said hesitantly.

“That’s a carillon, dear,” I told her. Then I told her about the upcoming visit of Lady Aendyr. And Princess Luna.

“The Princess is coming?” Silver Fork said, stunned. “Has the Mayor been notified? We must arrange something properly grand for her!”

“Exactly,” I told him and we soon began exchanging ideas. This will be so much easier with some help.

*****************

I dreamed of whales circling me, mocking me with my inability to make a pretty dress like theirs. Then the sea ponies joined them and began singing counter point.

I awoke, sweaty and terrified, knowing Fluvia wouldn’t stay in town forever, and I had to solve this problem before the festival; I talked to the Mayor before bed; it will be GRAND.

Suitable for a Lady and a Princess.

I should probably invite Celestia… once you have one Princess, it’s hardly more work to have *two*.

Big Mac will need a suit… he still has one, right?

Right?

“Honey, go to sleep,” Marcus said from the floor.

“Why are you on the floor?” I asked him in confusion.

“You were flailing and I couldn’t wake you, so I had to get out of range,” he said.

“I’m sorry, come to bed,” I told him. I don’t normally flail. I sleep *gracefully*.

Normally.

Warily, he got back up into bed. “Have you ever seen anything whale-themed that was elegant at all?” I asked him.

“Whales are really one of the least elegant things in the world,” he told me.

Perhaps a giant storm will hit and blow us away to Skothar or something, buying me time…

But I would miss the party.

I am so doomed.

******************

“I have to teach. Just relax, I am sure Helga will be happy with any reception, it doesn’t have to be the grandest thing ever,” Marcus said to me.

I clapped my head with my hooves and immediately regretted it. “I have a reputation to uphold and Princess Luna is coming!” I said frantically.

“It’ll be okay,” he said, rubbing his forehead. “I’ll be back after school, so you know where I am if there is an emergency.”

Knowing, yet unable to get him, is not much help. I am going to need an assistant. Someone elegant… or at least sensible…

Twilight! She is good at organizing and this totally needs to be well organized. I think I hired a mangoon band and I don’t even know what that is or where I hired them but it’s on my done list.

When did I get a done list?

Sweetie nuzzled me. “Calm down, Rarity, it’s going to be fine.”

The sound of hammer and saw behind my home didn’t help. Someone… Did I actually hire Big Mac or was that just a dream?

I tried to kiss Sweetie’s forehead and nearly put my eye out with her horn. She’s getting taller. So fast, really. In fact, she tripped on the threshold and took Marcus down; once I dusted them off, I rolled around on the floor, then realized what I was doing and galloped to the back.

Big Mac, Caramel, and some other stallions were hard at work. But now I don’t need a pavilion, since Mayor Mare… I can turn it into a place for Lady Aendyr to stay! Brilliant!

Especially with all this rain we’ve been having lately. I hope it will end before the party. I should consult with Dash.

But first, time to go see Twilight!

****************

“Perhaps you meant ‘bassoon’?” Lyra asked; Twilight had called her in, since Twilight hadn’t read anything on musical styles in over a year.

“Would I hire an entire band of them?” I asked, frowning.

“Buffoon… Maroon… Mandolin? I really have no idea,” Lyra said. “You must have been distracted and written the wrong thing.”

“Are you getting enough sleep?” Twilight asked, worried.

“I am fine,” I said firmly. “I merely have many responsibilities to… why are you looking at me like that?”

Twilight and Lyra were looking at each other in a way which said to me ‘suspicion confirmed’.

“Hey, Twiley, how’s it going?” a voice said. Was that West Wind? But he doesn’t sound like that.

“BROTHER!” Twilight said and bounced off to him.

“Ahh, the mysteriously missing from Canterlot Shining Armor,” I said. Twilight had wanted us to meet him during our recent Canterlot trip… trips. But he had been gone on a mission.

And now he was back. They nuzzled each other happily and then Twilight said, “Brother, this is Rarity and you know Lyra. Rarity, this is my brother, the Captain of the Guard, Shining Armor.”

He bowed to me. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Rarity. Twilight gushes about you all during her letters, but she didn’t make your beauty half as clear to the eye as it is.” He turned to Lyra. “Good to see ya, Greensleeves.”

Then he and Lyra launched into song together.

o/~ Alas, my love, you do me wrong,
o/~ To cast me off discourteously.

o/~ For I have loved you well and long,

o/~ Delighting in your company.

I stared, wondering if I was imagining things; why was he singing a love song to Lyra when she has a marefriend?

Twilight, however, was laughing and I concluded something mysterious was going on.

o/~ Greensleeves was all my joy
o/~ Greensleeves was my delight,
o/~ Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
o/~ And who but my lady greensleeves.

The song went on and now Twilight sang with them to my surprise. I listened, not familiar with the song.

“Now I wish you had your unit, so they could sing backup and dance in a line behind us,” Lyra said mournfully, when they finished.

Shining Armor laughed loudly. “Anyway, where’s Spike? I gotta see my main man!”

“I’m here!” Spike said, surprising me; he came charging right at Shining Armor, who charged him and they crashed into each other and fell down laughing.

Stallions are so strange sometimes.

“I have something for you,” he told Spike and dug out a small onyx statue of a dragon. “He’s an amethyst dragon and don’t ask me why he’s not made of amethyst or at least something purple and green. But Cadence saw it in a shop and thought of you.”

“She’s so sweet,” Spike said, smiling.

I felt I should say something.

I felt I should vanish, never to be seen again.

Twilight suddenly sidled over to me and BAMF, we were up in her bedroom… bed platform… I would be nervous sleeping next to a drop but I guess she’s used to towers.

Owliscious turned and studied me silently.

“I don’t know if this is the right thing but I know… probably best you and Spike avoid each other a while, right?” Twilight said weakly.

“Yes,” I told her.

“I will happily help you with the party, but I’d better check on my brother, as he wouldn’t come here for nothing,” Twilight said.

o/~ Love is a plunging gold dragon

o/~ That falls down into your wagon

Lyra and Shining Armor were singing again and it made even less sense. Also, I felt a little dizzy, so I decided to flop down on Twilight’s bed. “Okay, I will nap,” I told her.

But nothing can sleep through two powerful singers.

“What brings you here, brother?” Twilight asked.

“Cadence heard there was going to be a giant festival here in Ponyville and sent me to help out, since she is busy doing research and can’t come herself. I… well, I don’t know how much help I can be, but I’m glad to have a chance to actually spend some nice quiet time with you for once.”

“I wish I’d known about this in advance; I could have tried to get my musical finished so we could perform it,” Lyra said mournfully, ceasing to sing.

I’m sure Lady Aendyr would enjoy a musical but the time is growing short, and I am lying on a bed, hiding from Spike for no good reason.

Beyond not wanting to break his good mood.

“I’m telling you, the Dragon’s March would be a perfect topic!” Spike said to Lyra.

“Hmm, maybe if I got enough singing pegasi… they could actually fly easily…” Lyra mused.

“Twiley, you know the hallucinatory terrain spell, right? Wouldn’t that be perfect for setting up a stage?” Shining Armor said.

“Oh, yes, that’s in Bingo’s Book of Spells Volume 3,” Twilight said. “I don’t know it by heart but I know where to find it. Anyway, you should talk to my friend who is in charge, though I am helping her. Lyra, entertain Spike!”

I felt a pulse of magic and Shining Armor appeared with Twilight, while Lyra and Spike… it sounded like a song and dance routine.

I made myself sit up and be presentable. “I am glad to see you, Shining Armor. I can use all the help I can get.”

“I am at your service,” he said, bowing to me. What a gentlestallion. “I am not the organizer Twilight is, but I am pretty good at it.”

“And better than Cadence,” Twilight said mournfully. “Remember my eighth birthday party?”

“I had to bathe for three days to get the smell out,” Shining Armor said, rubbing his forehead. “Anyway, all I know is that it’s some sort of holiday or royal visit or something and I am supposed to help and to make sure Spike isn’t setting himself on fire.”

I glanced downstairs and laughed nervously. “He wouldn’t burn,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. He was a really great Fire Elemental for Nightmare Night that time. Twilight’s Water Elemental costume started out great,” Shining Armor said. “Until it got wet.”

I laughed at that and he smiled and Twilight buried her face in her hooves.

“Okay, let’s get down to it,” Shining Armor said. “I’m sure the three of us will throw the greatest festival EVER!”

It has to be! With two assistants, I can do three times as much work and *make this work*.

Other than I still don’t know what to do for Fluvia, which frustrates me. She was *recommended* to me. I have to help her.

Maybe I could make a dress and just put whales *on* it.

It wouldn’t be elegant but it might, at least, be cute.

Worth trying. If I have time.

****************

“Marcus, darling, don’t look at the gemstones like you might eat them,” I said chidingly as I took measurements for a proper outfit for him for the ball. Which needs a better name… a name at all.

Maybe call it the Wind Ball, since the Aendyrs are air elementalists. I could get some Pegasi to make a nice breeze… Yes!

“I will eventually get used to you having so many and using them so casually but not today,” he mumbled.

“It’s okay, I am glad you like gems too,” I told him. “Hmm, these onyx should go well here…”

We played seamstress and clothes horse for a while as I tried to focus on this and not endlessly worry about the parties and the dance and everything. With Twilight and Shining Armor on the job, I have more time but I worry.

“Shining Armor?” Marcus said with the tone I know means he’s about to run for the hills.

“Relax. I am sure that being Celestia’s agent means he will not try to smite you for… whatever it is,” I told him. He’s been a lot calmer these last few weeks, and I am glad, so I do not want him to spend Lady Aendyr and Princess Luna’s visit freaking out over Twilight’s brother.

Who seems far too gentlemanly to cause Marcus trouble.

I love Marcus but I do wish he would panic less.

“OWW.”

“Sorry, dear, but if you twitch while I have pins around you, even my skills can’t save you,” I told him, though now I felt bad he’d gotten jabbed. “Stay still.”

“I had totally forgotten he was out there with reason to kick my ass until now,” Marcus said; I could see tiny vibrations as he held himself back.

“Just calm down. It’s going to be fine. He is a gentlestallion, not a mad killer.” I told her. “And he’ll be joining us for dinner with Twilight.”

His breath sped up and I could smell his fear, but it did not touch me, for I knew his fear unjustified. Tiny tendrils of doubt uncurled in my mind but I pushed them aside.

It would be fine.

*******************

“Otiluke’s Resillient Sphere! I can never get it to work right,” Twilight said mournfully as my coltfriend rolled down the street inside it; he was yelling but you couldn’t hear anything. He was encased inside a roughly six foot diameter sphere of shining purple force and rolling along at a good clip, tumbling inside it.

“Well, any kind of defensive magic *is* my forte,” Shining Armor said proudly.

“Marcus!” Sweetie galloped after him, trying to catch up with it.

I frowned. “You just attacked Marcus for no reason after Twilight told you *not to*.” I was sorely disappointed.

“*Now* we’re even,” Shining Armor said, frowning at the swiftly retreating Marcus, who I would have been chasing but there was nothing I could do to help him, to my frustration.

“He didn’t do anything to you and it’s between him and Twilight,” I said irritably. “Twilight, please save Marcus.” It galled me that I had to ask. “I guess you don’t take the duties of a guest very seriously, Shining Armor. I am *very* disappointed in you.”

Twilight reached out with her power and stopped the sphere, bringing it and Sweetie back. I’m glad I am not closer to the bazaar or anything. “Brother, it was pretty mean to do that.”

“I didn’t do it to be mean, he has to know he can’t mess with my sister,” Shining Armor protested.

“I already handled it!” Twilight protested.

This may well end up the worst dinner I have ever hosted.

****************

Sweetie looked like warmed over death; she hates when friends and family fight. So she silently ate her Prancian Onion Soup Gratinee, which was excellent if I say so myself. It’s one of my specialties, using four kinds of cheese and the finest red wine. The crust formed perfectly and I was very pleased, but Marcus and Shining Armor had flanked Twilight and each was trying to pretend the other didn’t exist, while Twilight looked ready to die.

“I made a duck in school today,” Sweetie said weakly.

“A ceramic duck?” Marcus asked curiously.

Sweetie nodded hesitantly.

“I remember the time Twiley was supposed to make pots to bring home and she was still researching pot types the night before and then we had to go get mud from down at the river and those frogs got *all over* her,” Shining Armor said, then laughed. “We were bathing forever after that.”

Twilight laughed. “I was so scared.”

“Of frogs?” Sweetie said, surprised.

“I’d never seen one for real and I was little,” Twilight said. “I mistook them for bullywugs. And I was afraid I was going to blow everything and totally panicked over that.”

“You’d already packed your bags for being exiled to the Moon, yes,” Shining Armor said. “Mom unpacked them, you know.”

“I know, I was being a silly little kid, scared of everything,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “Rarity, this is wonderful soup.”

“Thank you, darling. I learned a lot of Prancian cuisine when I was Sweetie’s age and I still eat it frequently.” Part of my desire to rise in society; Prance leads the way in fashion and food. I guess I am a countess now but I don’t feel like a countess.

Which is why it’s so important this all go smoothly and…

“You never had to be scared of anything with me there,” Shining Armor said proudly.

“But then you were gone and she had to face beholders and dragons and angry Immortals without you,” Marcus said, then stuffed his face with soup.

Sweetie choked on her soup and I wanted to choke on mine. “Enough,” I said sharply. “No sniping.”

Shining Armor opened his mouth and I made a zipping gesture and he frowned and ate more soup.

‘He’s not normally like this,’ Twilight told me, frowning as she ate, using magic for covert communication. ‘I’ll talk to him later.’

At least Twilight is being sane and rational, other than when she freaked out because she’d been dictating to Spike for twenty minutes and he hadn’t been there because he was hiding from me.

And I still don’t know what a ‘mangoon’ band is and I cannot remember talking to any such thing. Lyra is assembling a crack team of musicians for us, bless her.

‘And I will talk to Marcus,’ I told Twilight.

**********************

“He started it,” Marcus said sullenly, sitting on the bed.

I paced in front of it. “You shouldn’t respond in kind. He went far too far, and I am sorry for that, but you are a teacher and have to be better than that. We both do. We are nobles.” In theory. “And must act as such with grace and dignity.”

And eat handmade soup and…

Do not be vain, I told myself. True nobility is of the heart.

“You always act with grace and dignity as a lady should, which I admire,” he said warmly and I couldn’t help but smile, but I made myself frown.

No buttering his way out of this.

“I need you to promise no sniping at him or at Lord Darien Aendyr. I want this to be a wonderful festival.” I told him sternly.

“You really didn’t need to turn it into a giant production just for Helga and Darien and Samantha,” Marcus said. “I think she was just expecting a quiet dinner with us, maybe a tour.”

“I can’t ask a real Lady to eat out of a plain bowl in my kitchen because I don’t even have a dining room,” I said frantically. “Princess Luna is coming! And Countess Cadence and only Father Time knows who else. Princess Celestia may decide to come with Big Mac and… mattresses! I bought bed frames for them but no mattresses!” I said in sudden horror.

“Check with Twilight; she probably took care of that,” Marcus said, then sighed. “I met Helga in a bar brawl as she beat down this idiot from Ylarum with a bench. Then he hit me in the face with the Nahmeh. I used to have a little cheek scar from it when I was Cufen.” He touched his cheek and his eyes looked distant.

“I just want to feel like a lady too,” I said, flopping down on the bed beside him, so tired from the day.

“You are always a lady to me,” he said firmly and I smiled a little. He rose and went to the jar on the shelf near the bed and plucked one of the shifting candies, ate it, and became a stallion, then came over and awkwardly embraced me. I have only in recent weeks come to understand how awkward some things we do are compared to how humans do it. But there are things where we are more graceful. Or at the least, better. Running as a pony feels so much more natural than doing it as a human even with the candy giving me human instincts.

“You didn’t have to,” I said softly.

“I did,” he said and held me and I felt a little better.

But hugs cannot solve every problem.

Or Pinkie would rule Mystara, or at least fix all its problems.

“I did ask Pinkie to make cakes, right?” I said, tensing to run to Sugar Cube Corner if I had to.

“Yes,” Marcus said. “You did.”

“Can I come in?” Sweetie asked, knocking on the door, probably with her head from the sound of it.

“Knock with a hoof!” I told her.

“It’s fine,” Marcus said.

Sweetie came in and smiled. “Hi, big brother, big sister,” she said warmly, then nuzzled both of us. “My card reading says the ball will be a grand success!”

“Do you have someone to go with?” I asked her. “Your dress! I have to make you a dress!”

“But we…”

“Honey, I think…”

I have to do it *right now* before I forget. And she needs someone to go with. And where am I going to get enough lilies at this time of the year?

So much to do!

****************

“I’m twice her age,” Caramel said to me. “And I have a fillyfriend, anyway.”

I facehoofed. He is. I don’t know anyone Sweetie’s age really, who isn’t part of her gang. All the stallions I know are too old and I don’t know how I even forgot this.

But if I wait for Sweetie to do it, it may not get done or she’ll blow him up with an ill-advised attempt to… well, that’s more Apple Bloom’s thing now.

So I took the candied apples back home and contemplated how to ensure a proper escort for my sister, among a million other things I have to do.

Twilight galloped past me with Spike on her back trying to hang on and didn’t even notice me as she shouted about crepe paper.

If we’ve run out now, we’re in trouble.

But she’s actually headed into the sofa and quill store.

The sound of Twilight ramming into comfy cushions ensued and I hesitantly came in. “Dear, what’s this?”

“We need one more ream of crepe paper to finish the Elemental Plane of Air theme for the ball and everyone is *out*,” Twilight said frantically, hoofs flailing about.

“Because you wasted an entire ream trying to get the clouds to look right when you could have gotten *real* clouds from Rainbow Dash,” Spike said, still clinging to her as she wobbled about and poor Mr. Davenport looked at her crossly.

“I can’t put real clouds inside a building,” Twilight protested.

Trumpets blared outside. “All hail the most fashionable Pegasus in Equestria!” a voice cried out.

“Don’t blare a horn in the town market!” Daisy shouted angrily. “I’m trying to sell flowers here!”

It could be Clarity or perhaps Dash’s mother. Either would be a huge boon to me.

Distantly, I heard Pinkie sing-songing. “Look, up in the sky! It’s an Aendyr riding a pie!”

I bolted into the street, horrified that Pinkie had thrown a pie at Lady Aendyr, but I couldn’t see Pinkie anywhere. Rather it was Rainbow Dash Senior and… was that Dash? In a fancy dress with her hair done up nicely? No, her hair… was that Crash???

In fact, Clarity and Spikey were on the other side of them, while a half-dozen unicorn stallions in matching blue and gold outfits surrounded them, clearing a path for them. They had a shield of flying umbrellas keeping the rain off them; it was pouring down *again*; the scheduled rain should end before the festival, but… I worry. “Rarity, darling,” Clarity purred.

“Hey, Rarity,” Spikey said cheerfully; he wore a nice tuxedo and wasn’t in despair, but he reminded me of Spike. Sigh.

“Crash wrote me about your party, and I had to come help,” Rainbow Dash Sr. said with that voice of hers. So rich. So elegant. Oh yes.

Thank Celestia!

“I don’t suppose you have a ream of crepe paper by any chance,” I said hesitantly.

“What color?” she asked curiously. “I can have my dear daughter whip you up some real clouds though, if that’s what it’s for.”

How did she KNOW?

“I’d demonstrate but the sky’s full,” Crash said, looking up.

“Oh, I trust your skills,” I told her, remembering that horrible winter storm inside White Plume Mountain. If she can pull it off… oh yes!

Twilight now came out and said hello to everyone and Spike stared at Spikey, who waved cheerfully, then he fled back into the store. I sighed. I can’t worry about Spike right now when I have eight other apocalypses to worry about.

“On *three*,” I heard Pinkie distantly say.

Possibly nine.

*******************

“She wants to dress like an *orc*?” Crash said in shock back at my place.

“Orca, dear,” Rainbow Dash Sr. said. “A kind of whale.”

“It may be the greatest challenge I have *ever* faced,” I told her, then poured her more tea. Twilight was off dealing with Spike, while Spikey, Clarity, Crash, and Rainbow Dash Sr. joined me in a little tea party with cakes and my fine china; I had thrown it together hastily but I felt it was coming off quite well.

It was nice and relaxing and I needed to relax.

“Can’t you just make a black dress with white trim?” Crash asked hesitantly, then spilled tea on herself and looked frustrated.

Rainbow Dash Sr. gestured to one of her attendants and I wondered if she normally travelled with so many unicorns. It did strike a rather impressive note. I could never afford it. The attendant began a spell which sucked out the tea and I studied it as this could be *very* useful until Sweetie and her friends finally grow up enough to eat more delicately.

“She already has one and clearly expects something which says ‘Orca’ and not just ‘formalwear’,” I told Crash. “But thank you for the suggestion.” Manners are important.

“Perhaps formalwear with some embroidered orcas,” Clarity mused. “Put with other sealife for a sea theme?”

We began trading ideas while Spikey stuffed his face and I gradually relaxed. Surely with this many good minds we will find a solution!

*****************

I stirred as Marcus threw a blanket over me; I now realized we’d worked ourselves to the point of collapse, trying to get various outfits ready in time. I tried to decide if the prepared clothing was real or just a wishful dream as my eyes wobbled. Only now did I realize I had nowhere for my guests to stay. Where would I ever put all those unicorns??? I do have the pavilion, but is it big enough for this many?

I certainly can’t make them all sleep on the floor.

I tried to rise and Marcus said softly, “I can carry you to bed.”

“Can’t leave… guests on the floor…” I mumbled, yawning.

“I suppose not,” he said. “Maybe Fluttershy has space.”

I hated to impose, but once I woke them up, some of the problem resolved itself, as Rainbow Dash, Sr. had arranged hotel space for herself and her followers. Marcus and I let Clarity and Spikey have my room and we just curled up on some blankets in my workroom.

He didn’t want to, but I insisted. I am a good hostess.

Even if it meant dreaming of wallowing in mud in the Malpheggi and waking up wrapped in one of my rolls of cloth.

*********************

I had almost everything ready. Except the dress for Fluvia, though we had some prototypes. But the day had come and the festival was ready… maybe… and I was ready and everyone was dressed up even if Sweetie somehow put her dress on *backwards* the first time.

Spikey and Spike had run off together to do *something* the last few days. No one was sure of what, but they were hidden in Fluttershy’s backyard, working on some sort of project. A Dragon Thing was all they would say.

I drank just a small amount of wine to steady myself. I can’t afford to get drunk but my nerves were jangling. I tried to work on projects but I couldn’t focus. I could hear Marcus in the kitchen, doing grading and being *too calm*. Normally, I am calm and he panics and this felt unnatural.

I admit, Marcus has been a rock through this but he doesn’t even seem excited by it! How can he be so calm?

“Calm down, it’s going to be fine!” Dinky shouted in the distance.

I could hear hoofbeats; someone was galloping towards the Carousel. Probably Twilight, as Ditzy would fly and Dinky’s been assisting Twilight while the Spikes are doing… something…

Twilight galloped in. “I can’t find Pinkie ANYWHERE,” she said frantically. “We have to set up the welcome food and the Cakes don’t know where she is. I have… had the food… where is the FOOD?”

Dinky ran in the door, tripped on the doorframe, and fell down. “Slow down,” she mumbled. “You left the wagon in front of Sugarcube Corner. You teleported out of the hitch.”

“Hey, Twilight, I hope I’m not too late!” someone said from the doorway, a pink pony… not Pinkie… given she was a unicorn… with a multi-colored mane. “I’m supposed to meet Spike and help him with something but I can’t find him!” She wore a silver tiara set with a very finely cut emerald.

“He and Spikey are at Fluttershy’s,” Twilight said. After a second. “Which you have never seen.” Frantic direction giving ensued while I wondered if Twilight was going to introduce her friend or not.

Dinky said, “You’re Countess Cadence, right?”

“That I am!” Cadence said cheerfully. “You must be Dinky.”

Dinky looked surprised, then strutted over, looking more confident. “Nice to meet you.” They shook hooves.

“Oh, Rarity, this is my old tutor and friend, Countess Cadence,” Twilight said cheerfully. “Cadence, this is my friend Rarity, who organized this festival. Shining Armor should be down at the town hall,” she told Cadence.

A huge breeze blew in through the front door, starting to build in power. Dinky tumbled across the room into one of my mannequins, which fell on her and the rest of us, our hair blew about wildly. The wind grew stronger and now Twilight stumbled and fell on Cadence and I felt myself pushed towards the wall as everything in my shop began to fly everywhere.

“There’s powerful magic at work, very powerful!” Twilight said as she and Cadence tumbled and ended up buried in mannequins, half-finished dresses, finished dresses, thread and cloth. They burst out of it, while I just got buried and Dinky vanished completely under yet more of my things.

Distantly I heard Pinkie shouting about presents.

PINKIE! She must have tried to wrap the North Wind in a box to give to Lady Aendyr or something!

Now I felt jealous I hadn’t thought of that, but jealousy is unbefitting a true lady so I let the wind blow it away and… my hair is going to be a disaster!

“Rarity!” Marcus said, opening the door from the kitchen, then blowing away across the kitchen. I heard a crash and the sound of pots and pans falling out of the upper cupboards on him.

o/~ And the bow comes last / ‘cause my wrapping is always fast o/~ I heard Pinkie chanting distantly, carried in by the wind.

What?

And then the winds drew in on themselves, spinning faster but more densely and formed into four people. There was a very tall and muscular blonde woman with long hair tied into a braid and pulled up into a bun, wearing… a really terrible white dress that was essentially a sack with sleeves, which sort of gathered under her breasts but basically had no decoration beyond the green thread of the gather and along the end of the sleeves and at the bottom. There was a shorter, but not short man with black hair cut very short, piercing blue eyes and a very strong nose and jawline, wearing a loose white jacket with black trim over a white robe even more shapeless than the woman’s, though his was more translucent with the degree of translucence ebbing and flowing around it, creating an effect of roiling clouds. Next to him stood a young human filly… I was not sure of her age; I have not met many child humans. She wore a shapeless dress like her mother’s, though I noticed the green was the color of the coat of the white-maned filly unicorn who stood next to her; the unicorn was dappled in white, wearing a dress rather like the other two women, and she was clearly substantially younger than Sweetie and her friends. I recognized them as Lady Aendyr, Lord Aendyr, their daughter Samantha and her friend Sugar Sparkle.

Lady Aendyr held a staff of rough oak and looked at the mess in horror and embarrassment, while Samantha now said, “I didn’t do it!”

“Wow, Mom would spank me forever,” Sugar Sparkle said.

“Hey, Helga, Darien, Samantha,” Marcus said from the kitchen, then moaned; there was a crashing sound, of someone trying to stand among pots and tripping on them.

All I could think about as I rose was that I now understood why Lady Aendyr wished me to make her family better clothing. This is fashion in Blackhill??? I was covered with loose threads, a long piece of cloth was impaled on my horn, hanging down over the right side of my face, I had completely forgotten to put on my first festival dress, inks were spattered across my left side and I had my right front hoof stuck inside the skull of one of my mannequins.

But all I could do was mourn for Blackhill’s clothing fashions.

Until I realized how I looked and then I fled howling in a panic to my room, right past Marcus, who fell among the pots a third time. I’m sorry, dear, I’ll make it up to you; that one was my fault.

“Welcome to Ponyville!” I heard Twilight say and then she teleported into my room. “Rarity, are you okay?”

“I could not have possibly made a worse first impression if I covered myself in tree sap and tiny statues of orcas!” I wailed, flopping down on the bed. Twilight pulled the ‘skull’ off my foot, for which I will be eternally grateful.

“Welcome to Equestria, I am Countess Cadence,” I heard Cadence say. “Why don’t you come into the kitchen and we’ll get you something to drink and eat; you must be exhausted from that.”

“I can cast magic longer than anyone else in the family, if not as strongly,” I heard Lady Aendyr said proudly. “Samantha, Countess Rarity’s supplies are not toys. No, Sugar Sparkle, don’t try and build a mountain out of the rolls of cloth!” Her voice grew ever more frantic. “That unicorn is not a toy! DARIEN!!!!”

Surely Darien is not using a unicorn as a toy.

I felt powerful magic in the kitchen or maybe my workshop… I don’t know. I couldn’t think. At all.

What a total disaster, and this is just *hello*.

“Samantha, I told you not to bring your golems!” Darien shouted; more magic.

Carousel Boutique is going to burn; Ponyville will be destroyed and everyone will shun me forever!

“Rarity, breathe!” Twilight said urgently, shaking me.

“Rarity, I’m coming,” Marcus said.

“Help entertain my guests!” I shouted to him. I just want to die of shame in peace.

o/~ Your timepiece ain’t lagging / you’re just seeing an awesome dragon o/~

That doesn’t even rhyme properly, Pinkie. Perhaps o/~ your clock didn’t fall off the wagon o/~, though I fail to see what timepieces being slow has to do with a dragon.

Admittedly, watches can’t drink either.

I wanted a drink.

“Windy, no! Down! Bad elemental, bad!” I heard Lady Aendyr shout.

“Fine Unicorn ladies do not use their horn as a pogo stick,” I heard Candace say with something approaching sternness. From a great distance.

“Rarity, BREATHE,” Twilight said, poking my gut so I had to breathe.

This set me to hyperventilating instead.

“It’s ready! It wasn’t easy!” Apple Bloom said from the workshop. “Uncle K was a big help, though!”

Twilight’s eyes widened. “What?” Now she began shouting at Spike to take notes and began trying to draw a map of White Plume Mountain on my wall for some reason. I am not even sure… it had to be magic but all I could see was the world spinning and at the center, Marjorie and Keraptis were laughing at me and eating tasty cakes like the ones SITTING IN A WAGON IN FRONT OF SUGARCUBE CORNER, GETTING STALE.

“Children, calm down! Why are there dolls on the ceiling?” I heard Princess Luna shouting.

“Holy shit,” Ivan said.

o/~ Groove to my steps / Bigger than the Great Cow of the Atlan Tepes! o/~

This is the end. I am going to die with Pinkie’s voice echoing in my ears.

No, wait, I think that was Spike.

“I knew the cow was real!” Dinky shouted triumphantly.

At least someone is happy.

“SPIKE!” Twilight shouted and vanished.

Better I die alone, really.

“Marcus, this is all your fault!” I heard Lord Aendyr shout.

At least… if he and Spike and Shining Armor team up, I may have to move to Prance forever.

And ever.

I may have to move after this anyway.

The door opened. Dash ran in and slid under my bed. “If anyone asks, Celestia asked me to take a message to the South Pole for her!”

“Don’t hide from your mother, dear,” I said wearily. “You may wish to get to a safe distance before I explode of frustration.”

“She’s brainwashed my sister and now she’s after me,” Dash said.

The sound of the death of all my hopes echoed through my home from the workshop.

“Uh… Rarity… what’s going on?” Dash asked.

“We’re all going to die,” I pronounced. Of shame.

Dash somehow curled around one end of my bed, half of her under it, but her forelegs and head sticking up over the side. “Rarity, is there a riot in the workshop?”

“Yes,” I said mournfully.

“SWEET!” She rushed out of the room and I rose, chasing her. I do not need Dash adding to chaos!

Marcus and Lord Aendyr had Sugar Sparkle and Samantha slung over their shoulders respectively, while Cadence made tea in the kitchen and Dinky and Lady Aendyr were trying to clean up the workshop but clearly didn’t know where *anything* went.

And where is Sweetie Belle? I don’t see Apple Bloom anywhere or…

“Dammit, the riot is over,” Dash said and slumped.

My workshop was a disaster. And I still have to… if my outfits for them are destroyed, I may have to move to the Moon.

Twilight can banish me, I’m sure.

At this point, Sweetie yelled from her room, “Dinky, we need you!” and Dinky ran off to join her… okay, she’s in her room. One less worry.

“I can’t wear this thing!” I heard Scootaloo shout.

“You’ll wear it and LIKE IT,” Apple Bloom insisted.

Did I make them outfits? Did *someone* make them outfits?

Is this what Spike and Spikey have been doing?

Where is Clarity? Did she leave for something? I can’t remember her assigned job, I can’t remember when the dance starts… I had a list but… it was now in bits around my workshop; Countess Cadence had been kind enough to sweep it up into a small, tattered pile shaped like a heart.

It strangely matched her cutie mark, in fact. Except for not being made of crystal.

Instead, it was made of failure.

There are gems embedded in the walls… well, with a better arrangement, it might actually fit well. It would match my cutie mark.

“I’m a big pony, I can stand on my own hooves!” Sugar Sparkle protested.

I am naked around humans and they’re all going to get the wrong idea and people are *looking at me*! I fled in a panic, clambered into my closet and pulled down half my clothing on top of me.

I can just lie here until I die, which will be soon, I think.

“Rar… Rarity?” I heard Marcus shout.

“Rarity, come back here!” Dash said; I could hear her coming. “Your guests are here and… aargh, I’m infected with manners!”

I heard a noise which might have been Dash shoving her head into running water for some reason.

I began trying to decide which of the dresses now lying on top of me would go best with my funeral. I’m thinking the red one, though black is traditional but my black dresses are a little too intended to show my beauty, which is not the idea at a funeral.

Even mine.

“Honey, it’s okay, no one is angry and the tea will get cold,” Marcus now said to me from the doorway. “I can help you put on the blue dress.”

“Sky blue or royal blue?” I asked weakly. He remembered! I did a little fashion show yesterday.

“Royal blue so you don’t look too much like Dash or Mama Dash,” he said, then began picking up dresses. “Helga is really embarrassed, so please be kind to her; she feels terrible she wrecked your workshop.”

She’s such a great wizard and I just run this store, I thought. Even though I am a *unicorn*, born to magic.

I found the royal blue dress and he began helping me into it; I could do it all with magic, but it feels better if someone helps me. I could feel my nerves ceasing to jangle, or at least playing pianissimo.

It was like putting on armor for battle. Marcus patiently buckled and tied everything into place, then carefully brushed my hair until my hairstyle reasserted itself… how did all that glitter even get into my hair? I had a horrible flashback to the day I foolishly gave Sweetie a Glitterator as a present.

I let out a great sigh. I can face the world, maybe.

Everyone was in the kitchen, though I noticed that Lady Aendyr was standing by the table instead of sitting, a hand on her daughter’s shoulder as the daughter sat at the table, eating a chocolate chip cookie.

Because all the snacks are sitting in a wagon in front of Sugarcube Corner while Twilight is off freaking out.

Not that I have any room to complain.

The tea smelled wonderful and Cadence poured two more glasses; she had been talking about her recent visit to Aalban in Glantri with Lord and Lady Aendyr. “Yes, my cousin is married to Prince Jagger,” Lord Aendyr said to Cadence. I now felt even *smaller* and more backwoods than before.

“Helga, this is Rarity,” Marcus now said. “Rarity, this is my old friend Helga, her husband Darien, her daughter Samantha and Samantha’s friend Sugar Sparkle.” He studied Cadence. “I’m not sure who you are, but I am Samus Marcus of Thyatis, educator and Special Agent of Queen Celestia.”

“I am Countess Cadence, an old friend of Twilight’s and also a Special Agent of the Crown of Equestria! A pleasure to meet you!” she said cheerfully and passed Marcus a glass by magic. “Enjoy!”

He began sipping from it while I fretted because sitting in my kitchen and eating whatever I have lying around was NOT how this was supposed to go at all.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Lady Aendyr said warmly despite this being a total disaster of a first meeting. She will likely have nightmares of how I looked when I rose out of the mess. “I enjoy our letters, but face-to-face is always better.”

“I keep saying we should get a crystal ball,” Lord Aendyr said to her. Then he looked at Marcus as if Marcus had eaten the crystal ball he planned to buy. Marcus was too busy grabbing a cookie to notice. Where are the SNACKS? If we all fill up on cookies, they will be *wasted*.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. We shouldn’t load up on cookies; Twilight is bringing snacks to last us until dinner and the dance tonight.” If she ever makes it back. “There will be food there.” In theory.

“There’s a dance?” Lady Aendyr asked, looking at her sack-dress.

“Oh, yes, I need to get you all to try on the clothing I made you so that I can make any corrections,” I told them. I had nearly forgotten and where is Twilight?

“Clothing?” Lord Aendyr asked in surprise.

It now hit me I had totally forgotten to send the schedule of festivities to the Aendyrs! They must have no idea of everything planned.

“Were you planning to run naked and free, Darien? Like after the green slime incident?” Marcus asked, snickering.

Marcus, I do not need you provoking him!

Lord Aendyr’s eyes narrowed and Lady Aendyr very loudly said, “Rarity kindly volunteered to make us some nice outfits, so let’s go try them on!”

I was busy making adjustments when Sweetie and company *finally* resurfaced. Clarity led them in, wearing a tan and brown wraparound, her bow out and quiver slung over her back, wearing a sturdy fur cap with a spike on top and something… had I seen this outfit somewhere? She had leather pants and I should know this…

Sweetie wore a fancy green and pink dress with her cutie mark worked into it in a black and white outline in various ways, all lace and satin and probably causing her to overheat if she moves much but it was quite lovely. Apple Bloom wore this marvelous conical white hat with two curved wings on the side and a navy blue dress embroidered with white flowers, with wooden clogs on her hooves, which she used to do a little dance as she came in. Dinky wore this huge fur hat which projected high above her head like a kind of mountain outcropping, a white blouse with a black jacket over it with gold buttons and a plaid skirt in red and black. She had bagpipes for some reason. Twist wore a sea green toga in the Thyatian style with a wreath in her hair and a bag of candies slung by her forehip on the left side. Finally, Scootaloo was sharply dressed in a white military style suit with a sword buckled on and… a monocle?

Then it hit me. Each of the outfits is based on a different region of Glantri, where Lord and Lady Aendyr and their daughter live!

I should have thought of that!

“Presenting part of my new line, they all were kind enough to model for me,” Clarity purred, then showed off each of the outfits while I worked on finishing the adjustments to the outfits I did for the Aendyrs.

Only now did I realize I had put Cadence.. a Countess… to work helping me out. I realized this when she dropped everything and said, “You are all so CUTE!”

“I am *badass*,” Scootaloo said irritably but Twist and Sweetie smiled brightly.

Dinky said, “Oh, hey, it’s YOU!”

“It’s me!” Cadence said proudly. A second passed and she said, “I don’t remember meeting you but it’s nice to meet you!”

Dinky laughed nervously but then curtseyed as did the others. “Thanks a lot, Clarity.”

“My dear little sister asked me to help and our interests dovetailed perfectly,” Clarity said, basking in the praise. “Everyone who is everyone will see my line in action tonight!”

I wondered… is her outfit part of the line? It’s rather martial.

Though well made, of course, as I would expect of my sister.

“When you say everyone…” Lady Aendyr began.

“Princess Celestia and Luna will be attending the ball with many other luminaries. And then there is *so* much else. We have to get your outfits ready so we have time to tour the town before dinner.” Did I actually buy the food for dinner? I did get meat… Where is Ivan?

“When’s Ivan coming in?” Lady Aendyr now asked as Cadence checked over Lord Aendyr’s outfit.

There was a sudden whoosh of shadows boiling out of the corners which formed up into Ivan and Princess Luna, though both were dressed as Belcadizians and looked like Belcadizians as well. I was surprised Luna was in disguise and Ivan too. But it was a *grand* entrance.

“Carlotta, is that you?” Lady Aendyr asked in clear surprise.

“It’s Ivan in disguise and not Dona Carlotta,” Lord Aendyr said. He eyed Ivan suspiciously.

“I am Princess Luna, but I do not wish to be recognized yet,” Lunette said. “I will assume my normal form when it is time for the ball.” It would be a better disguise if she wasn’t wearing a broach which resembled her cutie mark, mind you.

But then, so is Ivan and no one would think him Princess Luna.

Except Pinkie if she thought it funny.

“Uncle Ivan!” Samantha said, running over and hugging him; she now trailed threads back to where I was, which I began to quickly fix. “I didn’t know you were an elf!”

“I turn into all sorts of things,” he told her, ruffling her hair and looking awkward; he glanced at Lord Aendyr, but Lord Aendyr just eyed him warily.

This is going to be *very* awkward.

Does Lord Aendyr hate every stallion in the world?

Surely he doesn’t think they’re after his wife. Though I am still not sure what humans consider attractive besides me as a human.

Which came out more vain than I intended.

“Sweetie, if you help me get everything done, we can go around town faster,” I told her.

“I will help,” Clarity said and we soon got down to business while Marcus and Lady Aendyr and Ivan talked and Princess Luna and Lord Aendyr discussed Glantrian politics.

Twilight arrived with the snacks just in time for me to both realize I had ordered far too many and for it to be time to go.

Life is like that and I…

“Lord Aendyr, Lady Aendyr, have you ever been to Kaarjala?” I asked.

“Isn’t that north of Norwold and thus unfit for man or beast?” Lord Aendyr asked me; he looked quite good in the nice white suit I had made for him with grey clouds embroidered on it, though it meant he was closer to Scootaloo’s outfit than I would have done normally. If anyone had *told* me about this.

“Didn’t the Red Reaver come from Kaarjala?” Lady Aendyr asked Marcus.

“Yes,” Marcus said, burying his face in his hands. “I had forgotten he ever existed until now.”

“Being trampled by reindeer looked pretty bad,” Ivan said, shaking his head.

“Don’t remind me,” Marcus said.

“They don’t normally dress like whales, right?” I asked hesitantly.

“The Red Reaver wore mostly white and red and green, so not really,” Lady Aendyr said, now looking very curious.

I suddenly realized Dash had vanished. Gone to hide from her mother, I guess.

We have some draft dresses, but I fear Fluvia won’t find them to be enough like a whale.

Why did it have to be *whales*?

****************

The problem with a tour is that Ponyville doesn’t have a lot of points of interest. However, when we reached the Library, Twilight and Lord Aendyr and Marcus got into a long argument about… things I have never heard of, I will confess. Clarity and Cadence had gone off with Sweetie’s friends to do something… show off her line, I suppose. Lunette and Ivan began showing the kids around the children’s section and I *finally* had a chance to talk to Lady Aendyr for five seconds without a disaster. Beyond worrying about Spike and Spikey.

“Hans Vanderhooven was *not* a myth,” Twilight insisted. “His brother destroyed the records to try to cover up that he ever ruled Bergdhovern.”

“He most certainly was a myth,” Lord Aendyr insisted. “Made up by the rebels in the early 900s, to try to paint the current line as illegitimate.”

“Gretel Vanderhooven was the real ruler, who had to pose as a man in order to establish her ability to rule at that time,” Marcus said, waggling a finger at Lord Aendyr.

I tried to ignore the argument and was going to sit down at a table with Lady Aendyr, then realized there were *no chairs*. I could not ask a real lady to sit on the floor, so I just stood near the table awkwardly. “Sweetie and her friends are *supposed* to take care of your daughter and her friend, but they ran off with my twin sister… I have told you about Clarity, right?”

“As long as she’s not a doppleganger-elf-troll,” Lady Aendyr began hesitantly.

Marcus made a gurgling noise but the other two were too busy arguing to notice. I, of course, could not help but notice. ‘Marcus, darling, gurgling is not done in polite company. Especially not in front of nobles.’ This little spell is *so useful* especially when I have to correct Sweetie when she grazes in polite company.

‘I’m sorry, my love,’ he told me and returned to arguing. Something about forged art. Anyway…

“No, she is…” I never found out… let’s hope Apple Bloom got material for the dresses or… Dresses made with material from Keraptis… Focus. “My dear sister, created by one of the Immortals. Hasn’t Marcus told you about that adventure?”

“Marcus is not a great letter writer,” she said and sighed. She glanced at her husband, then whispered, “We have to do something or they will chew on each other like dogs with a bone if the bone was another dog.”

Marcus is normally a delight, but when he gets petty…. He can be so petty. I see her husband is the same way. Why are stallions so silly sometimes?

“I don’t even understand what the problem is,” I confessed. “Beyond typical stallion jealousies.”

“He and Marcus… did the opposite of hitting it off from the start. Darien is very much… he charms me but not most people. He’s quiet and bookish normally; his mother and I have to drag him into social things, really. He’s kind of shy but I don’t understand why.” She smiled at him brightly. “Samantha is more like me.”

She is most definitely a lively child. “He sounds like Twilight, who Marcus gets on with quite well.” I laughed a little nervously in my head, wondering how much she knew about that.

“I don’t know,” Lady Aendyr said, then looked around and sighed. “I suppose Ponyville isn’t big on chairs.”

I know Twilight has some around… or benches or something! I began… ahaha! I flopped over, summoning my fainting couch, then got up and let her sit on it, while I curled up on one end. I felt quite brilliant.

“There is no town named Maastricht,” Marcus insisted in the distance.

“Well, it’s debated,” Twilight said. “It may have been a giant Hallucinatory Terrain spell which somehow became temporarily permanent.”

Temporarily permanent?

I now told her about my ongoing issues with Spike, which took a while. “So I don’t know how to settle that either.”

“I know Darien wants to meet him but I fear it’s to plot revenge,” Lady Aendyr said, sighing and twining a lock of her golden mane around one finger. Golden hair. For a human. “Oh, I have to tell Marcus… Carlotta finally eloped with her boyfriend; I hear that’s part of why they went to Canterlot a while back. Princess Carnelia is enraged. I fear things may be ugly between Aalban and Belcadiz for a while.” She paused. “Does Ivan go around a lot as a Belcadizian now?”

“Luna likes it,” I told her softly, glancing around. “I am not sure of their relationship but they are close.” I do not know Ivan as well as I should given he is my love’s closest friend. Along with Lady Aendyr. Though he and Dash seem quite good friends now too.

I did my best to sit well and straighten up as Lady Aendyr leaned over close to me as we whispered. “She is an Immortal and her uncle is sponsoring Ivan.”

“So it’s true,” Lady Aendyr said, looking distracted and glancing off towards the children’s section.

“I can’t read you {Fast Runner and the Giant Black Pudding}, it’s too scary,” I heard Lunette say.

“I like rice pudding with currants,” Sugar Sparkle said. “And I like scary stories!”

“Me too!” Samantha said but her voice wobbled. “I’m brave like Mama!”

She didn’t *sound* quite so brave.

Ivan made weird noises, then said, “I can be the Black Pudding.”

That certainly won’t make it into his future scriptures. “It’s true,” I told her. I didn’t say anything about Twilight or us… it’s a secret… but now I felt bad for not saying. But I wasn’t sure if it would be okay. “And Marcus too. He did tell you right?”

She studied her staff, leaning against the couch. “Yes,” she said softly. “It explains many things.”

Now I was wondering what was wrong but not sure I could ask. “I am sure that Luna and Asterius and Celestia will guide them well,” I told her.

She sighed. “I am sure they will.” But now she fiddled with her staff. “I am so sorry about your workshop. I study very hard, but I have a hard time controlling my power. Darien has as a lot more fine control than me.”

“I am like that with Twilight. She has power and I have focus. I’m sure she would be happy to help you,” I told her. “And I as well.”

“You are a true lady,” she said, smiling, but then looking at the books and looking kind of guilty, almost.

“No, no, I do my best, but I am not a lady of refinement like yourself,” I told her. Even if I don’t like Blackhill fashions, all our interactions have shown me she behaves as a true lady should. And now I have her dressed to match her interior refinement. She lives the dream I always had.

Lord Aendyr may hate my coltfriend but he is no Blueblood and she is lucky in that.

Though now I understand even less how they get along so poorly. Twilight and Marcus get on very well, as long as they forget about their past.

“There is not one shred of solid evidence for the Maastricht Incident!” Marcus insisted.

“I agree with Twilight, it was at least temporarily real; there’s independent confirmation in the Rhoona chronicles,” Lord Aendyr said triumphantly. “I’ll get them!” He began a spell.

“Those were in another country on the other side of the Steppes and prone to making things up!” Marcus protested.

Books began floating down to the arguing trio, but there was an odd bumping noise like some sort of scuffle in front of the library doors. “Hold on, I think we may need to break up a fight,” I told Lady Aendyr. Since Twilight is busy with Lord Aendyr; I don’t want to break up their discussion.

It turned out to be Lyra and Bon-Bon, both dressed up fancily, trying to push an equally dressed up Berry Punch through the door; she was hitched to a small cart full of bottles of drinks. “Oh, hello,” Berry Punch said, then looked at Lady Aendyr and tried to curtsey and banged her face nearly into the ground.

Also, for some reason, Lyra was wearing a monocle. Are they in this season? She was dressed rather like Scootaloo, in fact… surely this isn’t Scootaloo in disguise.

It is a *great* one if it is.

“Lady Aendyr, this is Berry Punch, who is supplying the drinks for tonight and some future events,” I said. Then I introduced everyone to Lady Aendyr.

“I met your cousin-in-law, the Princess of Aalban recently,” Bon-Bon said, studying Lady Aendyr with an odd look on her face. “It is nice to meet you.”

Lady Aendyr had an odd look herself which then changed to a smile. “OH,” she said. “Of course you are Lady Bon-Bon of Ponyville, a pleasure to meet you. I heard about what happened at Jagger’s castle.” She shook hand-to-hoof and I suddenly wondered what exactly had happened on Bon-Bon’s trip to Glantri that she couldn’t talk about.

She shook with Lyra as well and then said, “Thank you so much for helping Roderick. I tried, but I couldn’t help him either.”

Distantly, Ivan made horrible noises which shouldn’t be made in public and the children squealed. They’re just… what little kids like, I guess.

“Is that a giant black pudding?” Lyra said excitedly, suddenly producing a floating sword. “I know how to deal with those!”

“It’s Ivan pretending for children,” I said quickly, not wanting Twilight’s library to be destroyed like that poor feeble dress Ditzy destroyed the other day.

“Lyra,” Bon-Bon said, embarrassed.

Lyra laughed nervously and put the sword away.

“It only has 248 pages because someone ripped out the last 8,” Marcus said very loudly.

“Burned, to be precise,” Twilight replied quickly. “Which doesn’t mean it HAS to have burned during the fire of 983, but it does seem likely.”

Berry Punch laughed really loudly, then looked like she wanted to die and tried to just titter and failed. “Rarity, I thought you might want a final sample or something for your guests before I go… would you like to try something, Lady Aendyr?” she said hesitantly, like walking on verbal broken glass, trying to dodge it.

“I could go for a red wine but I don’t have a glass,” Lady Aendyr said, reaching for a bottle and stopping herself.

“Twilight has many fine glasses,” I said. “Twilight, may I…”

FLASH, five glasses appeared in the air by us and then Twilight resumed arguing about book binding and glue types and their reaction to various kinds of flame.

Lady Aendyr’s breath caught; she looked ruefully at Twilight, then carefully took a bottle and began slowly, delicately pouring wine for each of us. Lyra and I could hold ours with magic, but when she got to Berry Punch, she hesitated. “How do you drink?”

“Oh, I know the taste of my own vintages,” Berry said modestly.

“I would feel bad drinking in front of you without offering you any,” Lady Aendyr said firmly. Now that is manners.

“I will assist Berry if Bon-Bon will… if *Lyra* will assist Bon-Bon,” I said. I could probably help everyone but I expect Lyra will want to help Bon-Bon.

Soon everyone was having some fine wine; it was *very* good, better than what she gave me to pay for her dress, in fact. Well, I paid well so I am glad she did not hold back. Berry drank very slowly, clearly unused to flying glasses, then looked expectantly at Lady Aendyr.

“Da…” Lady Aendyr began, then swallowed and seemed to stared off into space a few seconds. “A mix of blueberry and red grape, I think, though the aftertaste reminds me of cinnamon. Good… body…” Her voice seemed to go into slow motion; she swirled the glass as if studying it… well, clearly checking the sweetness, of course. To see if it tears quickly or slowly. “I rather like a crisp wine like this.” She corked it. “Very good, thank you, Lady Berry Punch.”

“I’m no Lady,” Berry Punch mumbled, then smiled. “The cinnamon is the tricky part; just a tiny little bit or it becomes far too hot. The sweetness isn’t too bad?”

“No, no, I like it,” Lady Aendyr said, relaxing.

“Is it true dragons prefer more tannin in their wine?” Berry Punch asked.

“Yes,” I told her. “However, they typically have to drink something with a very high alcohol level or it’s basically just fruit juice to them. Sugar, on the other hand, hits them hard.” As I learned, never give Spike an entire bag of candy.

Bon-Bon’s eyes crossed, and I see she knows that too.

I now talked business quickly with Berry as we all sampled the wine; I didn’t want Lady Aendyr to have to stand there and listen, though she and Lyra now began a discussion about her… she is the cousin-in-law of a PRINCE. No wonder she is such a fine lady.

Though she does seem a little stressed. But I’m sure she just wants everything to go smoothly or she wouldn’t have panicked over the wine. It’s the sort of thing a true lady knows backwards and forwards.

I guess Bon-Bon and Lyra were helping Berry as they took off with her once our business was concluded.

“AAAAAAA!” There were sounds of crashing in the children’s wing and we rushed over to find books falling everywhere as Samantha and Sugar Sparkle tried to hide themselves from Ivan, who was oozing around making monster noises with an aura of shadow around him.

“Ivan, you are scaring them too much,” Lunette said chidingly.

“Scare us more!” Sugar Sparkle shouted, laughing.

Lady Aendyr dug Samantha out from under a pile of books while Lunette pulled out Sugar Sparkle. Lord Aendyr began lecturing both of the children about making a mess, ESPECIALLY in a library, while the rest of us helped Twilight reshelve the books; I noticed Lady Aendyr called up an air elemental to carry groups of books for her and felt jealous. I can summon an elemental but I have to spend time negotiating a deal with it; she can just casually call them up; I assume she has a long-term contract.

“Air Elementalist,” Twilight now said, studying the elemental.

“It’s a not very secret secret that Blackhill’s mages usually study this art,” Lady Aendyr said, smiling a little. “Glantri’s magic revolves around secret arts to a large extent.”

Marcus clasped her on the shoulder. “Now we just have to get Ivan to learn magic too.”

“That would require him to read something,” Lady Aendyr said ruefully.

Ivan now made shadows drift around Lady Aendyr’s head as Lord Aendyr eyed them warily. “I am learning magic, just not like you two do it. And I certainly know more about the Immortals than you do. And I’m reading a bunch of things Luna has loaned me.” Then he stuck his tongue out at Lady Aendyr. Ivan, don’t be gauche!

“I want pudding,” Samantha said, eying the shadows.

“I do have ice cream, but not pudding,” Twilight said. “Your daddy can show you where to shelve those books there and if you do them all, you can have ice cream.” She paused and looked at Lord Aendyr. “If that’s okay.”

“Do you have strawberry?” he asked, smiling. I relaxed a little. I can’t tell what he thinks of me at all… he’s been fussing over his kids or arguing with Marcus and Twilight or looking paranoid ever since I met him. His *kid*; Sugar Sparkle is not his kid. But he seems fond of her.

“We do,” Twilight said and soon we got the kids in motion again.

I could do with some ice cream, really.

*******************

The ice cream was good but then we had to chase the kids around as they got even more hyper. Especially since Samantha can apparently fly with a spell and got onto the ‘roof’, so Ivan and Lunette had to climb the tree to get her down.

We got our tour back in motion and went almost everywhere; we’re dining at Applejack’s tomorrow, so that could wait, and Fluttershy wanted us to wait until tomorrow for some reason. So we headed back home to have dinner and get ready for tonight.

I’d arranged for delivery of food because I could not cook something nice and be out around town; our Prancian cuisine place is not really up to snuff but would have to do as it would at least be high class as I know they’re used to.

“Oooh, Averoignean cuisine,” Lord Aendyr said appreciatively. I know there are similarities but I am not sure of the connection.

“New Averoigne and Prance are strangely similar; it remains a mystery because one was settled by people from another prime plane and the other is strongly influenced by Griffon culture, but is mainly ponies,” Marcus said as I got everything arranged. I had made sure to *have chairs* for my guests. Marcus always uses one anyway. “This is actually Prancian cuisine, which normally doesn’t use meat.” I had arranged, however, for a large amount of grilled fish for my guests.

Because I am a good hostess who thinks ahead.

I was quite surprised when Sugar Sparkle took a fish as well. But I didn’t say anything, worried I would look ignorant. Did Glantrian ponies normally eat meat, unlike us? Or was she just copying her friend?

There was a loud knocking at the front. “Hello, is anyone there?” Fluvia shouted.

No… I have the prototypes, but haven’t… but she must want it for the dance.

“I have to go help a client,” I told them.

“I promise I won’t eat your food,” Samantha said solemnly, making some sort of sigil over her heart, traced in the air with her fingers. Her father smiled at that.

I hate to leave Marcus and Lord Aendyr… well, Ivan, Lunette, and Lady Aendyr can keep them in check, I hope.

I galloped off to let Fluvia in and try the outfits on her, praying she would like one of them. They all have far too much whale, but she pranced about in front of a mirror in the one which Rainbow Dash Sr. had designed, a black layer over a white layer, cut away in places to expose the white to match the distinctive patterns of orcas, while still being a well-made elegant dress which would only really say ‘Whale’ to Orca lovers like her.

“I need one cut for a stallion as well for the dance,” she said.

Tiny wafts of steam came out of my ears. “I would need to see him to measure him and…”

“It’s a surprise present for him!” she said excitedly. “So I can’t have him come in, but he loves orcas, so we’ll match!”

It is two hours to the dance. “But I can’t make it fit without measuring him,” I told her. Or have time to dress up and to help dress everyone up and who is going to run herd on the children? Ivan will stay but I’m sure Lunette has other things to do too.

Now she looked at me with desperate eyes like a sad dog and I shivered. She wants this so much… it must be someone she is in love with. But how can I possibly make a suit for someone I have no measurements for???

I could smell my Salade aux Lardons, sitting on the table, taunting me by being so near and yet so far. Endive lettuce, mustard, shallots… And everything else… I do not have time for this.

But I could not break her heart. “I need something to model him with.”

“Let’s go to the bathroom.”

There, she called water out of my sink, formed it into a pony body and we marched it back to the workshop. As I worked, I could heard Marcus and Lord Aendyr bickering and my nerves tensed. Also, *where is Sweetie*? She’s supposed to be here by now to get ready and I got food for her!

We were still working when Ivan came out with a plate of food. *My food*. “Helga and Marcus are doing the dishes while Lunette and Darien are trying to get the kids to change into their outfits for the ball.”

I heard things rattle in Sweetie’s room and winced, so did Ivan.

Lady Aendyr is *washing dishes* in my house.

Which Sweetie is *supposed* to handle!

I am a terrible hostess. I would have exiled myself forever if Fluvia didn’t need me to finish this suit.

A noblewoman from Glantri is having to wash *my dishes* because I am a terrible hostess!

Fortunately, my fainting couch is always handy, even though I had left it at Twilight’s by mistake.

“Breathe!” Fluvia said and began shaking me.

Ivan laughed nervously, then brought the plate over. “I guess I can hold it for you or something if it helps.” He fidgeted aimlessly.

“You should go help Marcus wash dishes and ask Lady Aendyr to join me,” I told him.

“I think they’re trying to catch up on old times,” he said hesitantly. “But I’ll go get her.”

I winced, feeling bad, but I cannot let Lady Aendyr *do dishes* while she is my guest.

She soon came out and I began eating and working at once with her help. Having air elementals carry food to your mouth is kind of strange and I nearly choked myself at one point. But with that food, I got more strength back and frantically, I tried to get the suit ready.

I was impressed by how easily Fluvia could hold her druid magic for so long and wondered if Fluttershy could do this. We finally finished and I complemented her on it. “Glad to… Fluvia could have shapeshifted INTO HIM,” she said, now embarrassed.

“I am so sorry,” she said and now shaped the water into a ball. “Should I just dump this down the sink?”

“Yes, please,” I said weakly.

She now paid me and sprinted off in her new dress with the suit in a nice package. Lady Aendyr watched her go. “You are really a great seamstress,” she said softly.

“I am so *sorry* about the dishes. Sweetie and her friends were going to handle it and supervise the kids and they ran off with Clarity and…” I felt increasingly frantic.

Only thirty minutes to get ready.

“It’s okay,” Lady Aendyr said. “I washed dishes all the time in my childhood and on the road. Especially after we broke too many of them in inns when we got drunk.” She rubbed her forehead.

A wild youth. “Yes, but now you are a noblewoman and should not have to do dishes, *especially* when you are a guest.” I felt mournful. “We must go to my bedroom and get dressed up. Everyone’s eyes will be on us.”

Lady Aendyr laughed nervously, then said, “Lead on, Countess Rarity.”

Where is Sweetie???

****************

Lady Aendyr looked at my makeup collection as if it was all the gems in the world. I can’t help it, an artist cannot paint without all the colors of the rainbow. “My goodness, even Arielle doesn’t have that many.”

“Who is Arielle?” I asked curiously.

“My maid. I didn’t bring her as I assumed that us alone would overcrowd you.” She laughed nervously.

How very thoughtful. “She normally does your makeup?”

“Yes,” Lady Aendyr said, studying my huge array of lipsticks, powders, rouges, clearly lost.

She is fortunate to have me, an expert in all matters of grooming. “Do not worry, I know just what to do.” I felt guilty she had to travel without her staff; I barely have room, though, even for me and Sweetie and Marcus. As it is, I will be sleeping in the workshop so they can have my bed.

I began working her over; I’ve learned more about human makeup since I sometimes take a human form now. She has a nice even coa… skin tone to start with, which is good. So I worked her over while she watched what I did, no doubt committing it to memory.

“The children, is someone suiting up the children?” I asked in a sudden panic. Sweetie is *still* missing.

“Lunette and Ivan were going to make sure they got dressed and then she has to go but he’s going to run herd on them,” Lady Aendyr told me. “Thank you, Countess Rarity.”

“I am glad to help you, darling,” I told her and continued my work, listening for chaotic child noises.

“I guess your mother taught you all this,” Lady Aendyr said softly as I worked on her.

“She taught me some of it, but I continued my studies on my own. Mother knows enough to be respectable; I know enough to be *fabulous*.” I preened just a little and Lady Aendyr smiled, relaxing a little.

“You know about Carlotta, right?” she asked hesitantly as I worked on her cheeks. Not too much base needed, but what’s the right amount of rouge? I studied her face like the paintings I did in school.

“She is a fine lady and a friend of mine,” I said and Lady Aendyr visibly relaxed. “What a tragedy,” I said. Her loss is my gain.

That sounded far too much like my sister.

I began gently applying rouge; too much and I will have to wash her cheek off and start over. Just a touch. But my touch is very delicate. “Do you know about Twilight and him?”

“I’d like a less garbled version,” she told me, so I did the whole story as I worked over her face, then tried to decide on eyeshadow.

“And you two can still get on okay?” Lady Aendyr asked, pursing her lips, eyebrows coming down.

“Relax your eyebrows,” I told her but now she made her socket too wide; I fought the urge to giggle. “Her twin is dating his,” I told her softly and now she winced, eyes closing, and I was glad I hadn’t put the eyeshadow on yet or been in the middle of it. “The problem is largely theirs; I did not know her then and it is all history to me.”

“Good. I really thought Carlotta would be the one for him,” she said softly, hands on the sink; we were in the bathroom, using the mirror. “He started seeing her around the same time I met Darien. And there was this woman… but it never worked out with her and Ivan either and in the end, she tried to turn him into a kumquat. I’m not even sure what that is.”

“A kind of small citrus fruit, very tasty,” I told her. I then began applying eyeshadow carefully. “You must miss them a lot.”

“Very much sometimes,” Lady Aendyr said, trying to keep her eyes still as I worked on them. “So I’m glad to have a chance to see them again. It’s been years since we were last all together.” I nearly drew a purple line across her face at that. Years.

But that can happen to friends. I haven’t seen most of my friends from high school in ages. And the ones I do, I’m not very close to any more. I have new friends now.

Nothing guarantees that will last, though I cherish them all and do not wish to lose them. But then, I can tell Lady Aendyr cherished her friends and lost them.

Though I am sure she has new friends in Glantri too; a lady of refinement will always have friends.

“Then let us make this a night to remember.”

Sweetie might even remember to show up!

*********************

Since there will be dancing, Marcus and I decided to alternate forms for the ball. I would be human first and then he would be a pony. Only after I changed forms did I suddenly realize I had not told the plan to my guests. Lady Aendyr seemed unsurprised, but Lord Aendyr stared at me in surprise, then rubbed his forehead. “Sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t stare but you caught me off guard.”

Marcus kissed me and took my hand. “We’d best hurry; I can hear music already.”

Very faintly I could hear soothing tunes of Prancian chamber music, just as I had requested of Lyra and her band. I felt my nerves soothe. All would go smoothly now.

Except…

“Where are Ivan and the children?” I asked.

“He went to… something something, and Fluttershy took the kids,” Marcus said.

Oh good, Fluttershy loves children. That should be perfect.

Even if it is *supposed* to be Sweetie’s job.

*****************

The hall looked *perfect* with a mix of real and crepe paper clouds; the whole floor was fluffy clouds somehow treated so everyone could walk on them, just to get that feeling of being high in the sky. Dinky had assured me she could make the clouds work and they *did*. Now I owe her something nice.

Later, when the party is over.

For a moment, I thought DJ Pon-3 had somehow been turned into an Alicorn, but then I realized that all of Lyra’s band had fake wings on. Then I realized it was Lyra, the Royal Orchestra, along with a few other ponies I didn’t know, and DJ Pon-3, who I didn’t think *did* this kind of music. She looked bored out of her skull but was somehow producing violin music by scratching records, which *must* be magic.

She looked at me and got this wicked grin which made me twitch but nothing happened, so I relaxed and began looking for people to introduce the Aendyrs to; Mayor Mare and her family descended on us and a long series of introductions began; I must have shaken half the hooves in Equestria. Everyone wanted a piece of the Aendyr’s time and I mostly listened to them talking politics or business briefly with many of the hand-shakers, though Lord Aendyr made sure to move crisply; the line was too long not to.

I saw Twilight; she waved to me and looked rueful, then began dancing with West Wind; I’m glad she invited him. I wish them luck. I glanced at Marcus and he was smiling brightly, so I smiled too. ‘They’re cute.’

‘Yeah. I hope we don’t have to shake hands all night, though,’ he said ruefully. ‘I want to dance with you.’

Me too, but this sort of thing is an important part of the noble life and I know they have business to do in Canterlot soon; this should help; I recognized many Canterlot notables who were busy eating the snacks, dancing, and mingling.

While I shook hooves and tried to keep track of names. But now they probably think I am one of the Aendyrs. I didn’t think about that. But this is for them, not me.

Lord Aendyr handled it well, a smile on his lips unlike his usual scowl, greeting each of them; many he knew already to my surprise, or at least recognized them, while Lady Aendyr just shook hooves and kept saying, “Wind’s blessing on you,” over and over and over.

Marcus also had to keep fielding questions about Celestia coming, since he kept being introduced as her special agent. I don’t see Big Mac or Celestia. Or Luna, but I expect they have a grand entrance planned.

*********************

I finally got to actually dance with Marcus, who is a wonderful dancer, spinning me around with ease as Lord and Lady Aendyr did an elaborate dance with a lot of jumping; despite her being taller, they somehow could both leap the same distance easily and then spin around together to leap again. At one point, they spun in the air; I think they were on an air elemental. That got them applause; many hooves stomped the floor and I clapped with Marcus and a handful of other humans present.

SWEETIE WAS… deep breaths, Rarity. Still missing.

*Still* missing.

I was starting to worry now.

But it was all nice and soothing and then I switched with Lady Aendyr and waltzed with Lord Aendyr, who waltzes beautifully, while Lady Aendyr danced with Marcus. “I hope you’re having a good time.”

“I didn’t expect anything this fancy, but thank you,” he said, smiling, and I wondered again why he and Marcus get along so badly. I glimped Rainbow Dash Sr. and Crash dancing with some stallions and I wondered if Crash was still seeing Cruisin’ or not. But Crash looked *wonderful* in that dress.

“Only the best for my dear Marcus’ dear friend and her family,” I said warmly and now his smile wobbled. “It is nice to spend some time with elegant company as well. People of distinction.”

Now he had an odd look on his face but the smile came back, more pasted on this time, though, which worried me. “From what Helga tells me, you and your friends are definitely ponies of distinction. Certainly worthy of respect.” His head started to turn towards his wife, who was… lifting Marcus over her head? It was some sort of dance, not very dignified but certainly she is impressively strong. I couldn’t lift Marcus over my head in human form.

I think.

“We have had some good adventures. But a lot of it is for the crown and I can’t talk about it too much,” I told him. “But thank you.” How very gracious of him to want me to feel better. So why do he and Marcus clash so much? “I want you to meet everyone but I can’t see anyone but Twilight here. Though Fluttershy will be with us tomorrow.” Dash is off hiding from her mother for *no good reason* and… well, this isn’t Applejack’s thing. But I’m surprised I haven’t seen Pinkie.

Or Spike or Spikey. They love parties like this.

He opened his mouth, then shut it and sighed. “So how long have you lived in Ponyville?”

We talked awhile about my life here and the more we talked, the more convinced I became that his feud with Marcus makes *no sense*. He had good manners, was polite, intelligent… what is it with them? Why doesn’t he trust Marcus?

Then I saw Dona Carlotta, Herr Otto, and Herr Sigismund off across the party talking to Bon-Bon and Berry; I hadn’t realized that they were still in Canterlot; they must have come down with Celestia… wherever she is.

Herr Sigismund saw us and came our way, leaving the others behind and bowed to me, which was flattering, given he is the son of Prince Jaggar and his heir. “Uncle, it is good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, Sigismund,” Lord Aendyr said. He twirled around in his suit. “How do you like it?”

“Father would like that outfit,” Herr Sigismund said, studying it.

Ka-ching! I smell opportunity!

“Countess Rarity made it,” he said. “You should see her about getting one made for Jaggar before you have to go home.”

Thank you so much, Lord Aendyr. That should boost my business!

I am hoping to make some contacts, though my concern, of course, is to spend some time with my guests and get to know them better.

It was at this point that DJ Pon-3 announced, “We now have a special fashion show of Mistress Clarity’s new line of Glantrian Fashions,” and they switched to a spritely tune as Clarity put the Crusaders and various friends of theirs through their paces. They’re mostly terrible models, though Sweetie will be a beauty one day and Shining Star looked great in her Belcadizian dancing dress. But I would have loved this opportunity but I had too much to do, too much to do.

But I didn’t invite them here to make money. This is for my guests and they enjoyed watching it, laughing and applauding… you shouldn’t laugh at a fashion show but the kids didn’t mind, they ate up all the attention.

“Very impressive,” Herr Sigismund said. “A relative of yours, Countess Rarity?”

“My sister,” I told him. This should… it now struck me that she doesn’t *have* an actual fashion business yet… it was all imaginary. This is her chance to actually set herself up as a real fashion mogul.

I could tell everyone was impressed by her designs, though. Those watching, anyway; a lot of people had scattered to eat, drink, and talk during the show.

I chatted with Herr Sigismund and Lord Aendyr as we watched and then the kid models and Clarity cleared out and DJ Pon-3 grinned again. “And we have a special guest! Time for the special song.”

“Do we have to?” one of the orchestra ponies said, grimacing as he sat at the piano.

“By request of the PRINCESS, here’s HOWL AT THE MOON!” DJ Pon-3 shouted.

I stared in absolute horror; that’s not the kind of song you play at a shindig like this *at all*.

Lyra was laughing her head off and I wondered how you even played that song on a lyre. But the band gamely launched into it, and Princess Luna, back in her normal form and in full royal regalia, descended from the roof on a giant crescent moon, *singing it*. I could see the Crusaders and other fillies and colts their age busy dancing to it and enjoying it while most of the guests stared mindlessly.

I am pretty sure that I fainted at that point, overwhelmed with horror.

*********************

The song had ended but now Sweetie was up on the moon with Luna, busy singing Fly Me To the Moon. People could dance to that, thankfully and Lord Aendyr offered me a drink which I consumed as fast as manners allowed. I could see Princess Celestia had arrived, but in her ‘Vanilla Surprise’ form; she was dancing with Big Mac, Cherilee, and some stallion I didn’t recognize.

I could see Apple Blossom and the Orange family as well, circulating among the crowd, and I regretted Applejack wasn’t here. Lady Aendyr was talking to another tall blond human I didn’t know, who had a wreath on her head and a fancy green dress that… it looked oddly familiar. But the other woman now turned to me. “How do you fare, my friend?” she said. “Or were you fainting for dramatic effect?” She stumbled slightly, then sighed.

Her voice… “Do I know you?” I asked in confusion.

“It’s me, Applejack. I figured… I thought I would see how the other half lives, since I kind… since I promised I would and never got around to it,” she said. Her voice kept wobbling.

I could see Marcus now, talking to Carlotta while Otto tried to destroy Marcus’ head with his gaze. I sighed at that. But one problem at a time.

I saw Fluvia now dancing with a grey-maned purple Earth pony stallion, wearing the suit I made for her for… he must be her love. He looked somewhat trapped, though. But I wished them well.

“You look marvelous, Applejack, though you could use some makeup as well,” I told her.

“One step at a time,” she said firmly. “Hey, want to dance?” she asked Herr Sigismund.

“I would love to,” he said to her, smiling. They were soon dancing, though Applejack clearly didn’t know what she was doing.

“Well, I think this is going to be a grand success,” I said. Despite Princess Luna deciding… why did she *do* that?

But no harm done, I think. So now…

I felt a huge surge of magic; every unicorn in the place turned and stared at an open space by one wall and though Princess Luna kept singing, she moved so she was between Sweetie and the surge.

“Oh fuck,” I heard Marcus say and he moved between Carlotta and the surge of magic as well.

Shadows and ribbons of light intermixed and then collapsed into the form of an Belcadizian elven woman of great beauty with long black hair and an elaborate white and black dress, white layers over a black base with various cuts which looked like runes to me. She wore a golden crown set with rubies and emeralds and four other Belcadizians, two women and two men stood around her in a box formation.

One of them announced, “All hail Dona Carnelia de Belcadiz y Fedorias, Princess of Belcadiz, Vice-Queen of Monteleone, and Marquesa de Alhambra! She who cast down Grazzt and Igwwilv, slayer of the great beast Harambas, and heir to a thousand year dynasty! The rightful queen of Glantrian elves, you are honored by her presence!”

A few Belcadizian elves who had come down from the capital applauded, a few ponies politely stomped their hooves and Don Diego, who I had not seen before, shouted, “Hello, sister! It’s good to see you!”

Mayor Mare emerged from the crowd and said, “Welcome to Ponyville, your highness.”

Dona Carnelia coolly studied Mayor Mare, then said, “Thank you, Mayor.” Then she pointed at Luna. “We must talk. *Now*.”

That set off a wave of whispers, though Marcus actually relaxed a little to my surprise; I could see Otto and Carlotta still looked very tense.

I could see Sweetie whipping her cards out and trying to do a reading as Princess Luna coldly said, “You have no right to give me orders, Carnelia. This is not Glantri, and here, you are no different from anyone else. Whereas I am one of the Diumvirate.”

I… didn’t think she disliked Carnelia, given she was going around as a Belcadizian earlier. Lord Aendyr was whispering frantically to Lady Aendyr, who had her eyes warily on Princess Carnelia.

For a second, I thought Carnelia was going to hurl a lightning bolt across the room, but one of her elves whispered to her, and now with a voice like she was gargling glass, Princess Carnelia said, “I request an audience with Princess Luna of Equestria in private over a matter of one of my subjects who is in your land.”

“I’m not going back, Mother!” Dona Carlotta shouted and I winced. Her aunt’s eyes moved to study her and I could now see that Carnelia hadn’t actually *seen* her before. Marcus, who was in the middle of this line of sight, looked ready to drop dead, but didn’t move. “I won’t back down a second time!”

Otto took her hand and said, “We are under Prince Jaggar’s protection!”

Spitting in the face of an angry queen is not wise. Marcus, at least, had the sense not to shout defiance.

“Granted,” Luna said, flying down to Princess Carnelia. Then shadows enveloped her and the five Belcadizians. Then the shadows faded and they were gone.

Lady Aendyr now ran over to Marcus and company and the rest of us trailed after her. “Does she know?” Lady Aendyr asked Marcus.

“I know he was Eric,” Carlotta said softly. “Hello, Helga. It’s good to see you.”

“It’s my job to protect her,” Otto said angrily to Marcus.

“I am not a wilting flower,” Carlotta said irritably, frowning now and looking more like her aunt.

Twilight had teleported up onto the moon. “Okay, let’s get this party going again!” she said as it wobbled under her. “How about the Moonlight Sonata?”

That clearly made the orchestra happy, though DJ Pon-3 had a weird look on her face like she knew something.

Oh dear.

“Marcus, darling,” I said, then couldn’t even remember what I wanted to say.

“So you’re Herr Otto,” Lady Aendyr said softly to Herr Otto. “You must be a brave man.”

His eyes narrowed. “Of course I am. I am a lord of Aalban, after all.”

Countess Cadence and Shining Armor now galloped across the room and out a side door. I wondered where they were going so fast.

Lady Aendyr winced and buried her face in her hands. “She means that anyone who is willing to risk Carnelia’s wrath must be brave by definition, unlike some people I know who run away from her, abandoning alleged lovers,” Lord Aendyr said, his voice moving from gentle to angry by the end.

“It would have only gotten Eric killed pointlessly or trapped in eternal nightmares,” Dona Carlotta said, frowning. “And we agreed on it.”

“Has anyone seen Ivan?” Lady Aendyr asked, clearly trying to change the subject. “I wanted to dance with him.”

“Probably trying to pick Princess Carnelia’s pocket,” Lord Aendyr grumbled.

“He went off with Luna before the party and I haven’t seen him since,” Marcus said, then sighed deeply. “Hopefully, this won’t blow up into a giant fight that levels the ball.”

I *desperately* hope that. I didn’t invite them here so they could get caught in a brawl.

It was time for some elegant dancing.

*******************

I was dancing with Herr Sigismund while Otto danced with Lady Aendyr, Marcus with Applejack, and Dona Carlotta with Lord Aendyr. The music was elegant and the ball was a grand success despite interruptions.

Then I heard DJ Pon-3 laugh to herself and I felt the icy hand of *doom*.

Worse, nothing bad happened. Vanilla Surprise and Big Mac and Cherilee and the stallion… I *still* don’t know his name… all danced past us, waving, and I waved back, though it was easier for me with hands. I could see Twilight and West Wind but no sign of Dash, though I had invited her and Soarin’.

Then I saw…was it Dash? A pony who looked just like Dash, except her colors were all different. Khaki coat and her hair was various shades of black and grey in stripes; she wore an olive green shirt and a pith helmet and had a compass rose cutie mark. Daring Doo, but Daring Doo is a fictional character, which means… it has to be Rainbow Dash in disguise, HIDING FROM HER MOTHER. She’s shorter than Dash normally is now, but there’s magic for shrinking as well as getting bigger.

I was both impressed by her ingenuity and frustrated at her running away like this. Especially since I could see Crash was here with her mother, dancing with two stallions. Dash’s father was off talking to two nobles… from the Dacoatas, I think. I recognize their heraldry.

When the music ended, I bid my farewell for the moment and went to confront her about being silly; she didn’t notice me as she was watching Ditzy and Dr. Smith dancing with an oddly wistful look. I probably imagined it because Dash would not care. “Dash, stop being ridiculous. Did you make Soarin’ dress up as Clarion?” Clarion is the son of Daring Doo’s mentor, and a sometimes rival, sometimes would-be coltfriend of Daring Doo. It’s complicated, which makes it interesting.

Daring Dash started and looked at me. “What?” She even disguised her voice… It had never hit me before how much Daring Doo looks like Dash but she does.

“You know what I mean, darlin’,” I told her. I pointed at Rainbow Dash, Sr. “There is your mother. Don’t hide from her.” I began trying to herd her.

“I don’t know this person!” she protested as I pushed her, but I couldn’t move her. My human form isn’t strong enough.

Distantly, I heard Pinkie chanting about fine linen but I could not see her anywhere and I chalked it up to nerves. Why would Pinkie chant about fine linen, anyway?

“I am not whoever you think I am!” she shouted and now Rainbow Dash, Sr. and Crash both looked at us, along with the stallions they were dancing with and I suddenly wondered why Rainbow Dash, Sr. wasn’t dancing with her husband, though he did seem wrapped in an argument with people.

I felt… I could see the Crusaders looking at us in unison and starting to come my way, looking determined and I suddenly felt I had stepped into some sort of quicksand.

Daring Dash saw them, facehoofed and bolted, taking to the air, but now Dinky did something magical and one of the clouds dropped and they all got on and began cruising after her. “Come back here! We know you’re an Oard!” Dinky shouted.

“That’s just Dash hiding from her mother!” I shouted.

Dash’s mother saw this and took to the air after Daring Dash, Crash following her. “Young lady, you can’t dye yourself sepia and expect to fool me!” she shouted, flying after her.

A small part of me admired the sheer effort. Dash had covered her cutie mark, evenly dyed her coat and dyed each of the shades of her mane an appropriate sepia-scale color. With utter, perfect precision. My inner artist saluted her.

The rest of me saw clouds and elementals starting to be knocked around by the chase and cringed, doubly so when Ditzy took to the air. “Daring, come back!” she shouted. “Don’t run away!” Roseluck now trotted up to Dr. Smith and they began yelling at each other about something.

I stared, wondering if she was just caught up in the moment or thought this was Daring Doo for *real*.

It began to rain on everyone as more pegasi took to the sky, trying to contain the weather chaos and some of the crepe paper clouds became sodden, falling on people, as Unicorns tried to fend off the falling objects and everyone else began running for cover.

Pinkie chose this moment to arrive, even as Lyra’s band either scattered or began using magic to shield themselves. DJ Pon-3 announced, “The band will now take a break so they can rest and hydrate.” She now broke down laughing at her own wit.

I heard an odd noise as if someone in the audience was very excited by the idea of hydrating.

I resisted the urge to look as I did not want to know.

However, I noticed some of the rain now began falling upwards and reforming into clouds. But some of it turned into FREEZING SLEET. I could hear ponies yelling at each other about ice and water and others just screaming.

Daisy went past me, howling as if the end of the world had come.

“And in their stead, we have a guest appearance by MC 300 Hand Tall Pale Red Cobbler and the Dragon Princes of Ponyville,” DJ Pon-3 said with an almost insane glee as Spikey, dressed like some sort of street thug, now came up to take over her equipment; she galloped off over to Octavia, who looked in horror as Pinkie, wearing a black hat, a clock on a gold chain, a blue jacket and black pants now came out with a thugged-up Spike onto the stage. A dozen dragons in golden baggy pants shuffled in behind them.

The audience stared in absolute shock and I stared with them, with a slowly swelling sense of the apocalypse coming.

“This one is dedicated to my friend Rarity, who is always elegant even when she’s covered with whipped cream and sprinkles!” Pinkie shouted, pointing at me.

I have *never* been covered with whipped cream and sprinkles!

But everyone looked at me as if I had.

The worst part was Lady Aendyr looking at me in surprise; I wanted to just *die*, and I fell onto my fainting couch.

o/~ Rarity is the best mare in town / Rarity will make you a gown o/~ she began to chant as Spike sang backup and the dragons… where did she get all those dragons???? They danced in eerie unison behind her. o/~ Now it’s a party / Time for Rarity to get down! o/~

Then she began chanting about how I was as tasty as chocolate mixed with strawberry and something about Marcus and I began to hope the whole place would just collapse and bury me. It could be my monument for the day I died of embarrassment.

Lady Aendyr began blowing clouds around with magic, joined by her husband; I could see the melding of their magics, working to calm the chaos in the sky, even as the Crusaders began opening up with… where did they get all those wands? How are Twist and Apple Bloom *using* wands? Why is Scootaloo spinning around on her back on the cloud and chanting along with Pinkie???

I couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything but panic and despair for the doom of my party. I could see nobles covered in cake to the left and Crash yelling at Scootaloo to the right and Daring Dash knocking clouds around like tenpins trying to escape them.

At this very moment, I could see Marcus trying to get to me as lightning rained down around him; he dodged desperately with Applejack, until she just hefted him and threw him to my side, then began running towards Twilight, shouting about trees. Then she hit an ice patch and slid, crashing into Fluvia and her friends and…

Marcus embraced me, shivering, then relaxed. “I think if we join our power, we can start yanking the Crusaders off the cloud and end this mess.”

Then I saw Spike looking ready to burn the place down as Pinkie began a particularly poorly thought through chant about how much Marcus and I love each other, which would have been sweet if it was MARCUS singing to me and Spike was *not right there*.

Spike now launched into a song about the evil deeds of Eric of Vestland, notorious breaker of women’s hearts and abandoner of them when they most trusted him. I winced and Marcus grimaced and Pinkie… Pinkie stared; this clearly was NOT part of the plan, for which I was grateful. Pinkie can be thoughtless but not THAT thoughtless.

“Spike, I told you we couldn’t do that one!” Pinkie said frantically.

Luna and Carnelia now entered with her followers and stared at the rising chaos. Luna began shouting orders, but no one could see her, while Carnelia… began singing along with Spike, counterpointing his song with her rant about how Eric had seduced her innocent niece and how Herr Otto was clearly Eric in disguise!

Marcus made a gurgling noise of disbelief.

Spike opened his mouth wide and Spikey tried to block him speaking; fire went everywhere, crepe paper went up in flames and then the dragon backup dancers went berserk and began to rampage even as Pinkie began chanting about how… Carnelia was the real Eric of Vestland???

At this point, trumpets blared and Manuel of the Plains rode in on Platinum. He began saving people from the chaos and now Carnelia saw him. “YOU!!!!!”

“I am indeed myself!” he shouted as he pulled Daisy out of a trashcan and sent her on her way.

At this very moment, Fluttershy came flying in; I could see Samantha riding Sugar Sparkle behind her, floating in the air. “I can’t find Sugar Sparkle or Samantha anywhere!” she shouted to me.

...

“She’s right behind you,” Marcus shouted. Fluttershy spun and the kids moved; one of them must have done some kind of spell to move themselves whenever she turned around.

“I am never playing Hide and Seek again!” Fluttershy wailed.

“Samantha!” Lord Aendyr shouted at her, clearly unhappy with her prank. With good reason.

Rain poured down on the fire. Fluvia shouted something to Fluttershy, who now noticed the chaos and the flames. Fluttershy breathed hard, then suddenly exploded into a huge water spout. Which flung *everything* around, dousing the fire but also flinging people everywhere, including flinging us right at Princess Carnelia, who went down with us on top of her, sending Applejack and Herr Sigismund up into the air and crashing through the Crusader’s cloud and then crashing onto Ditzy, who plummeted down into the punch bowl with them, and totally dousing Princess Luna.

Marcus picked me up and ran, screaming, while I screamed, both of us utterly panicked as Carnelia shouted curses at us and hurled spells we could barely dodge, until Shining Armor caught us both in a glowing ball of force and rolled us out the door to safety. And on down the street because he used too much force. We headed for the river as I saw the grand hall seething in chaos.

I began to wail, instinctively summoned my fainting couch and now we were both pinned to the walls and utterly discombobulated by it all.

It could not possibly get any worse.

********************

It’s amazing how fast this sphere can float down a river. Even our combined strength couldn’t break it either, and I began to think the party would crash and burn without us. But then Dash dove out of the sky, out of her costume, wearing an orange flight suit and Soarin’ was with her in his Wonderbolt uniform. They crashed into the sphere and it popped, dumping Marcus and I into the water to cling to my fainting couch, though Dash and Soarin’ went flying into trees in the process.

Then they pulled us out of the water and I leaned on a tree, wet and miserable. Marcus leaned by me, an arm around me.

“What the hell happened? We were out flying and saw you come tumbling out,” Dash said.

“That wasn’t you at the party disguised as Daring Doo?” I asked, eyes narrowing. I’d assumed she’d found some way to shrink herself to complete the disguise, but apparently not.

“What? Damn, that would have been awesome and Soarin’ could have been Clarion! Hmm, could have made the Amulet of Rarashishboomba, too…” Dash was now lost inside her own head.

I could see hordes of bat ponies descending on the distant pillar of fire, smoke, and steam which had once been my grand ball. “Just bury me here,” I said, moaning.

“We can’t die, we have to save our guests,” Marcus said. “You two mind giving us a ride?”

“You’ll have to boost Soarin’,” Dash said.

Marcus cast the spell and rode Dash while I rode Soarin’. The wind blow-dried me but now I was an utterly frizzled mess. Hands made holding onto Soarin’ a lot easier, I have to say.

We approached the ruins of what had been a ball. Applejack had hogtied the Crusaders. Manuel of the Plains galloped off with Carnelia and her flunkies chasing him. Shining Armor was reinforcing the walls as Twilight did magical repairs. Pinkie was crumpled up in a ball, looking frustrated. Spikey was patting her on the back and Clarity stood by them, looking stunned and drenched. I couldn’t see Spike anywhere to my surprise. Ditzy, Daring Doo or whoever it was, and Dr. Smith had all vanished. Vanilla Surprise and Big Mac were helping to do repairs and West Wind was working with other pegasi to herd clouds around.

Fluttershy was on the ground, apparently passed out, while Fluvia stood guard over her protectively and Lord Aendyr lectured Samantha and Sugar Sparkle. Lady Aendyr was busy assisting with repairs and cleanup. Much of the nobility had fled the site, probably never to return. Luna was busy directing batponies and Ivan was helping Lady Aendyr.

“Never ever do that to someone again,” Lord Aendyr said firmly to his daughter, waving at me with one hand without looking as Samantha and Sugar Sparkle stared at the ground. “You scared poor Fluttershy to death.”

“I just always lose at hide and seek,” Samantha mumbled. “I thought she’d dispel it once she realized she was there.”

“She can’t feel magic like you and I do,” I told her sternly. I think. I know she can do Druid magics, but I think that’s a different power source. “Not arcane magic. She was terrified that you got hurt; she lives right near the Everfree and that’s dangerous.”

The candy wore off now and I turned back to pony form and sighed.

“Where is Spike?” I asked.

“Off with Countess Cadence,” Lord Aendyr said. “Getting a stern talking to, I think.” He made grumbly noises and turned back to his daughter and her friend. “I think it is time for us to go home and put these two to bed.”

I went to check on Fluttershy, who now recovered as I nuzzled her gently. “You okay, dear?” I asked her.

“No but I’ll live,” she mumbled. “Thank you, Fluvia.”

“Just keep practicing,” Fluvia said firmly to Fluttershy, who nodded. “Rarity, thank you for the dress. It’s perfect.”

I smiled weakly. At least one thing went right.

“I’m sorry I wrecked your party,” Fluttershy said weakly.

“It was wrecked long before you arrived,” I told her and leaned on her. “It seems like every time I dream big, it blows up in my face.”

We leaned on each other a while until we both felt better.

****************

“Thank you for the nice party,” Lady Aendyr said as we took the kids home. “I assume the brawl wasn’t planned, but I enjoyed that.”

Lord Aendyr said, “At least there were no undead this time. Never going to a party in Klantyre again.”

“Not until Samantha is much older,” Lady Aendyr said.

“Good candy there, though,” Marcus mumbled.

Lord Aendyr glared at him and I said sharply, “Get over it, Lord Aendyr. I am sick of you two glaring at each other and I am *not* going to put up with it.”

He started and blinked at me.

“And don’t you say anything either, Marcus. I didn’t invite them here so everyone could chew on each other’s heads.” I was being far too blunt but my patience was gone. At least they didn’t attack each other.

“He…” Lord Aendyr began.

“NOTHING,” I snapped.

The rest of the trip was in miserable silence, though at least Marcus put his hand on my back, which was a little comfort. But now Lady Aendyr wasn’t happy either and… this just can’t get any worse.

*********************

“You go back to Canterlot to see Dash’s museum and everything tomorrow, right?” Sweetie said at breakfast. “So you’re still here today?”

“Yes. I planned this as a day of rest and recovery. Then tomorrow we go to Canterlot, since you’re back in school the day after that,” I told her.

“Perfect. You can try the dungeon we built so you can have an adventure together!” Sweetie announced.

They built a dungeon.

“Oh that sounds fun,” Lady Aendyr said before I could shut things down. “Someone who can actually handle Samantha and Sugar Sparkle will need to babysit them, though.”

“I want to go in the dungeon!” Samantha insisted. “I’m a big girl!”

Sweetie blinked, then laughed. “I’m sorry but this is for adults only.”

“You’re not an adult!”

She and Sweetie now had a long argument about adulthood while I felt my peaceful day slip away and die. Still, it’s not like…

Then I remembered the Moonraker and laughed nervously. “It’s not another flying warmachine, right?”

“It’s in one of the hills under Sweet Apple Acres. There were already some caves, so we just improved on that,” Sweetie said.

How did they find time to build a dungeon???

On the other hand, hitting things until they fall down might get rid of my stress.

“I do…” Lord Aendyr looked at Lady Aendyr and sighed. “Okay.”

“It will be fun. And the kids must have worked very hard to get this done in time,” Lady Aendyr said to him, patting his hand.

“You ever been in a dungeon, Darien?” Marcus asked him.

“No head chewing,” I said firmly. What is it with stallions?

“I have a GD from the Great School, unlike you, and thus passed such tests for my Basic through Companion level tests, thank you,” Lord Aendyr said sullenly. “My wife got her GD as well. Unlike you.”

“Congratulations,” Marcus said warmly to Lady Aendyr. “That should shut up anyone whining about your status.”

“I wish,” she said wearily. “I’m going to be proving myself until I die with some people.”

Marcus patted her hand. “I’m sorry. You’re probably a better wizard than me at this point.”

“Mommy’s a great wizard,” Samantha said proudly.

“I’m not on a level with your friend Twilight, but I am good,” Lady Aendyr said proudly.

“Hardly anyone’s on a level with Twilight,” Marcus said, shaking his head. “There’s no shame in that. She will be one of the great wizards of our age. I don’t think she knows any secret arts, but otherwise, she could probably easily match any of the Princes of Glantri.”

“We asked Pinkie and she volunteered to play with your kids,” Sweetie now said.

“I think we’re going to need a unicorn,” Lord Aendyr said, sighing. “Who can’t be hornswoggled by simple tricks.”

“Pinkie babysits a baby unicorn, she can handle it,” Sweetie said. “And she’s a Bard.”

I now had a good idea.

*****************

Pinkie and Lyra clapped hooves. “Bard sisters forever!” they shouted. “We’ll musically educate as we babysit.”

“I’m so sorry about your band,” I told Lyra. I still don’t know what a mangoon band is and nothing showed up claiming to be it; I must have been flaking out when I wrote that.

“It’s okay,” Lyra said. “It wasn’t your fault.” She turned to Samantha. “You can ride me back to Pinkie’s if you want.”

“YEAH!” They soon galloped off together, singing a song.

Okay, that should go smoothly.

I hope.

******************

I carefully pinned Lady Aendyr’s hair into a bun. “Why a bun?” I asked.

“My ‘air armor’ spell… kind of blows all of your hair straight up the whole time,” Lady Aendyr said, laughing. “You should spray this on yourself.” She passed me a perfume bottle.

“What does it do?” I asked.

“Keeps small vermin off you; my air armor blows them away but I have this for situations where I can’t use air armor. Otherwise, you may end up infested by the time you leave a dungeon,” she said.

I made sure to spritz myself thoroughly; it has a pleasant smell of cherry blossoms.

“So what made you decide to take up wizardry?” I asked her curiously as we continued suiting up for the dungeon; I could hear the men in another room and prayed they were not trying to kill each other. Sweetie was supposed to be helping them. I could feel her cringing through the wall.

“It’s the only way to get any respect in Glantri. There’s some things I love about it and some I hate and the dumping on non-wizards is the big hate thing.” She sighed. “So I used my share of a Ring of Three Wishes to get the potential and then I could learn. Marcus taught me the very basics, and then I studied.”

“You each got one?” I asked curiously. Marcus had never told me about this.

She paused and laughed nervously. “Yes.”

He could wish for anything… what did he wish for?

I raised an eyebrow. “Did he wish for something foolish?”

She sighed, then picked up a large axe with runes on the blade and swished it, moving away from me. “Marcus found out what it was by accidentally wishing for a sandwich.”

“Ivan used his to make his parents’ farm more fertile,” she said softly. “I wanted to help my parents too, but it took me a while to be able to do so. My parents farm on our estates now. And my siblings too. I convinced them all to move and now they have four times as much land and won’t get shot if they do a little hunting.”

“Ivan… I’m not sure *what* he plans, but he wants to change things in Karameikos,” I told her. “Some kind of big change.” Does she know about the Immortality quest? Should I tell her?

“I don’t know if going head to head with Petra, Halav and Zirchev is very wise, but then Ivan always dreamed big and got in over his head. We grew up a few miles from each other; our fathers are brothers,” Lady Aendyr said softly. She touched the axe and it shrank down and became an earring which she donned. “I’ve never been good at politics, which makes my life hard sometimes, because Glantrian nobles are knee-deep in it. I just stand next to Darien and look terrifying and back him up because I still… A lot of Glantrians look down on him because he married me and it doesn’t help that Marcus looks down on him too.” She was wearing leather armor now and reached into a pocket, pulling out her staff. “I think Twilight likes him; he really enjoyed meeting her. He’s a scholar more than a politician, though he has no choice but to do the latter. I just hope Samantha won’t face a lot of prejudice.” Then she sagged. “But she will. She’s too young to get it, but I see it already.” Her voice was now very bitter. “But no one here cares about that. So I envy him that.”

Him? Oh, Marcus, I guess. “My father hates Marcus.”

“All fathers hate Marcus,” Lady Aendyr said, smiling ruefully. “Mothers too, usually. But especially Fathers. I remember that mob that chased us out of that little village… we had to jump in the river and then that giant turtle attacked us. I never found out why there was a giant turtle hanging out in a river in Darokin.” Her eyes were far away now. “It would be a lot easier if I could just solve everything by hitting it like the old days.”

I heard Lord Aendyr’s voice rise and we both winced. “But those days are gone,” she said softly, staring at the wall.

“But why do the Glantrians look down on you? You are a Wizard after all. It’s not like they were born Wizards the way I was born a Unicorn,” I said hesitantly. I felt I wasn’t grasping something.

“Upstarts are never taken well by nobles, doubly so in Glantri if they were originally just a warrior like me. And I look like a barbarian to them.” She touched her hair and her arm, which looked very strong to me, especially in the leather armor. “I do my best to fit in, but I am still rather awkward. Being noble doesn’t come naturally to me like it does to you,” she said to me.

I had no idea at all what to say to that. I don’t feel natural, though I try very hard. I have worked hard to be this elegant and noble. And it still feels fake sometimes.

“You looked so natural at the ball,” she said wistfully. “Knowing all the dances and being so graceful and speaking like a high-born lady. I can speak Alphatian now but I sound terrible. Samantha… she’s good. But kids learn easier.”

“Samantha speaks Alphatian?” I said in shock.

“Well, only as well as a kid her age, but she has the right accent. Like Darien. His house is descended from Alphatian settlers from centuries ago. They’re kin to the House of Aalban, which was founded by a mixture of Thyatian and Alphatian refugees. It’s why I’m now Prince Jaggar’s cousin-in-law-by-marriage, which is… I would never have imagined that.” Now her eyes were very distant. “I was only a touch older than Sweetie when I met Marcus. He was Cufen then. He drifted into town, looking barely older than us. He and Ivan became friends and he came with us when we went on our Shearing. I expected to have a few adventures, come home with enough money to buy more land and get a good husband, like most women did on their Shearings. They go and serve as a maid or learn a craft, build a dowry and come home. I never thought of the things I would see or the places I would go or who I would become.” She studied her hands, rough hands and worn; the beautiful rings she wore looked like they’d wandered in from somewhere else. “This ring is worth what my parents used to earn in a decade,” she said softly, idly stroking it with one finger. The amethyst gleamed brightly in the lamplight. “One of Darien’s kin gives me a ring like this twice a year, once for my birthday and once for Arcanium, which is both the national holiday of Blackhill and one of the biggest in Glantri as a whole. Each one is different. I don’t know what he’ll do when he works through every kind of gemstone. But he’s some kind of gem wizard.” She glanced at my cutie mark. “Which I guess your Cutie Mark relates to, right?”

“I have a knack for finding and using gems, though I am not a jeweler,” I told her. “But I would enjoy sharing notes with him; I am trying to learn more magic.”

She touched my horn, froze, and pulled her hand back. “I’m sorry, that was terribly rude of me.” Her shoulders slumped. “Does Marcus really have an invisible horn now?”

“Celestia gave it to him,” I told her. I am not entirely clear on why, given he could use magic before. “It’s only visible in his pony form.”

There was a soft chime; I wove the reply spell and Twilight teleported into the room. It’s a unicorn protocol which Twilight often forgets. “The Crusaders haven’t really kidnapped your children in order to make you go into a dungeon after them, right?”

We both stared at her in surprise.

“I got a garbled message from Cadence. Someone tried to send Spike a message in the middle of him eating and it got messed up,” Twilight said hesitantly.

“The Crusaders built us a ‘dungeon’, so we’re going to explore it,” Lady Aendyr said. “It should be cute.”

Twilight rubbed her forehead with a hoof. “They built a flying treehouse which is now used by the Equestrian SkyNavy as a warship, full of traps. And Apple Bloom is training under *Keraptis*, which I think is really not wise, but they won’t listen.” Twilight shifted back and forth on her hooves. “I’d better go with you. I can’t finish my current experiment with Spike gone, anyway. He’s going to Canterlot with Cadence for a few weeks to cool off.” She sighed. “I suppose I could get Dinky to help but she always starts putting her weird cosmological theories into everything.”

“We’ve handled dungeons much worse than what kids can make,” Lady Aendyr said and I wondered now again if this was wise. But she wanted to do this so much… I felt I couldn’t say no.

And I have survived worse too. “I’m sure everyone would love to have you, Twilight.”

“I’d better go.”

We could hear Marcus loudly through the wall and Twilight sighed. “So what exactly is up with those two?”

“I don’t know,” Lady Aendyr said. “If I knew, I could stop it. They don’t like or trust each other at all. They both expect the other is going to fail at everything all the time. I do know Darien worries because Marcus tends to be surrounded by disaster all the time. And it probably didn’t help that Darien mistook him for a servant the first time they met.” She rubbed her forehead. “I hoped they would get over it, being away from each other.”

“Marcus is kind of unlucky but…” Twilight sighed. “He likes West Wind, so it’s not like he hates any guy who gets close to one of his female friends.”

I had a coltfriend like that once, which is part of why I’m not seeing him anymore. It drove me crazy. He freaked out if I talked to any colt about anything at all.

We have to find some way to get them to trust each other. Maybe they will learn some respect for each other from this.

*******************

The entrance to the dungeon was obscured by vines, which Ivan pushed away with a ten foot pole. He’d insisted on bringing it for some reason, though Lady Aendyr had a staff. Thankfully, the children had thought to scale the entrance for humans so everyone could get in; given my own boost in size since our quest in the Broken Lands, I can use a larger entrance myself. We’re all big enough for a human to ride without magic now, though still smaller than Celestia.

It was well cut and dressed stone inside to my surprise; how did they possibly carve all this out so quickly? I was impressed. Though I know Earth Ponies are good at this kind of thing. They work wonders with the Earth. And its products.

The walls were covered with odd images of huge green devil faces with gaping mouths, oddly stylized lightning bolts and mummies… running away from goats? All had a thin layer of dirt on them which Ivan rubbed at with his pole.

“Don’t touch the devil faces,” Marcus said, frowning. “I assume you all are listening in?”

“We can hear you!” Sweetie said proudly. “We’re watching you all on a crystal ball.”

Lady Aendyr blinked. “Is this the new thing in dungeons these days?”

“Well, it was at White Plume Mountain,” Marcus said. “Did you consult a book on famous dungeons to decorate the place?”

“Oh wow, you recognize it!” Dinky said proudly. “I checked out Volumes I through VIII of Famous Dungeons Quarterly.”

Twilight facehoofed. “Aargh, I could have brought that.”

“Not with it checked out,” Dinky said. “I’m afraid a lot of this isn’t as pretty as the entrance hallway, because most of it is natural caves we just added stuff to.”

Ivan continued to sweep ahead of us with a pole as we advanced; he made us all stop and disarmed a set of plates so we could pass. It was getting darker and I made my horn glow as did Twilight, so we could see.

We advanced with Ivan in the lead, Lady Aendyr behind him and to the right, Marcus behind him and to the left, sword in hand. Twilight was between them and Lord Aendyr and I were the rear guard. He looked rather tense, which was my own feeling too. The Crusaders have a knack for getting carried away with things.

Weird noises began to come from the ceiling, like someone was moaning rather hammily. “You okay up there?” Lady Aendyr asked, sounding worried.

“Sorry, we couldn’t figure out how to get the noise machines to work, so we’re having to do the wailing of the damned ourselves,” Sweetie said apologetically.

“Don’t undercut my wailing!,” Scootaloo said, sounding irritated.

“Ghouls wail like this,” Dinky said and began a really horrible loud wailing that made it hard to focus.

Which is how Ivan stepped on a pressure plate. “Dammit!” he said and now a series of panels slid open and a half dozen shambling figures stepped out of hidden wall niches. They felt intensely magical to me, and looked like sickly humans with claws instead of fingernails.

“You could let them do their own wailing,” Marcus pointed out and now the three of them levelled sword, axe and hammer at the oncoming ghouls. “Don’t let them touch you.”

Twilight fired a barrage of lightning balls which left the ghouls staggering and twitching and then I fired arrows into the eyes of two of them. Lord Aendyr was studying them even as Lady Aendyr, Ivan, and Marcus fell on them. Marcus’ sword took off the outstretched arms of one foe and Ivan smashed in the skull of a second one even as Lady Aendyr felled a third with a series of axe blows. She was laughing as she kicked that one into a fourth and then hacked him as he went down, while Marcus narrowly dodged the fifth and then kicked him down and stabbed him from behind over and over as Twilight blasted him with glowing darts in the face. “Sorry, Twilight, I left you open,” Marcus apologized.

“It’s okay, he would have gotten you,” Twilight said.

The last ghoul tried to flee but Ivan threw his hammer at him, knocking him down and then Lady Aendyr hacked his arms off and he died. All of them crumbled into darkness and evaporated.

“Shadow creatures,” Lady Aendyr said hesitantly.

“I’ll just ca… oh, it’s over,” Lord Aendyr said, then looked embarrassed. “Yes, shadow conjurations. I would imagine young ponies would have a hard time rounding up a lot of real monsters.”

“The stupid will-o-the-wisp lured us into quicksand,” Twist grumbled.

“That’s what they do,” Lady Aendyr said. “Lure their prey into terrain which traps them so they can feed on your despair.” She began cleaning her axe and Marcus his sword. “Man, I remember the first time we met ghouls, we had to run for our lives.”

“You two ran, carrying me, because I got hit,” Marcus said, laughing softly. “Then we got lost in the woods for a *week*.”

Ivan began carefully poking the ground ahead, Twilight sallying forward with him to give him enough light. “Don’t go too far forwards,” Lord Aendyr said.

“I know,” Ivan said. “Just doing this while the slowpokes clean up.” He grinned a little.

“I’m ready,” Lady Aendyr said.

Marcus finished, but his sword didn’t have a proper sheen, so I polished it as well, while Ivan slowly drifted further and further forward. “Come on, slowpokes,” Ivan said. “Twilight and I will take all the treasure if you don’t keep up.”

“Ivan, that wouldn’t be nice at all!” Twilight said frantically. “We’re not going to steal all the treasure!” she said, turning back to face us.

I wonder if there will be any real treasure; shadow conjuration treasure would fade away with time and the Crusaders don’t have piles of it lying… where does Keraptis get his treasures? Beyond the gems, which I know he mines.

“Oh, so is this really Scootaloo in disguise?” Marcus said, laughing and starting forwards.

“I’d disguise myself as someone way cooler than Twilight,” Scootaloo said. “Like Rainbow Dash! Or Princess Luna. Or Daring Doo.”

“That wasn’t you at the party, was it? Someone disguised themselves as Daring Doo for some reason and… I thought it was Dash,” I said, embarrassed.

“Of course it wasn’t me, I was CHASING the Oard, but it got away!” Scootaloo said, frustrated. “Our best lead ever and we blew it, dammit.”

Of course it couldn’t be her. Think clearly, Rarity, I told myself. I can’t afford any mistakes.

“These devil faces… they have really strong magic,” Twilight said hesitantly.

“Don’t touch them, they either destroy anything that goes in the mouth or teleport you somewhere naked,” Marcus said. “I think it’s an imported Alphatian tradition.”

“It’s generally thought to have been brought back by adventurers who visited a Parallel Prime Plane,” Dinky said. “Back in the time of Blackmoor. From an alternate Blackmoor. The Nithians revived it as an image of Thanatos and his all-devouring maw. Various other civilizations then found Nithian ruins and copied the concept.”

Twilight grumbled about research materials and short notice.

“Looks kind of like that time Albinus had that intestinal disease,” Lady Aendyr said, then laughed.

Ivan laughed too, but Marcus gagged. “Don’t remind me. We couldn’t… dammit, we don’t have a healer in this party. And I don’t have any potions any more.”

“I have a half-dozen in this nifty jacket,” Ivan said, sticking his hand in a pocket and pulling out a blue liquid. “Luna was kind enough to arrange to have the pockets turned into bags of holding for me.”

“And I brought a couple of disease cures and healing potions on the trip, just in case,” Helga said, touching her backpack.

I have a full load of material for clothing emergencies myself, but I should see about having things for this sort of situation. I felt rather underdressed.

“This is why staying out of the reach of monsters is better than rushing in to get yourself eaten and need healing,” Lord Aendyr said gruffly.

“Easy to say when we’re up here ensuring nothing rushes you,” Ivan said, frowning and then turned back towards the direction we were going. “Anyway, let’s get going.”

Honestly, given it’s just the Crusaders running this, if the first fight is any indication, nothing is going to hurt us really anyway.

*********************

“AAAAA!” I screamed. We had reached the first natural cave, which like all limestone, looked far too much like hardened snot. There were stalagmites and stalactites and places where they grew together and we had to walk carefully on slick stone because it was very wet. We were gradually circling the cave to get a feeling for how many exits there were; in places, patches of fungus grew somehow despite the lack of light. Unfortunately, the first tunnel was full of bats and now they had rushed us, not trying to hurt us but panicking all over us as we panicked; Lord Aendyr was screaming about bats and staggering and I kept crashing into pillars and I could feel bats using me as a toilet or snagging on my clothing and Marcus kept shouting ‘Camazotz’, whatever that means and I couldn’t see anything but Twilight chanting and how could I see her chanting?

Lord Aendyr tried to cast a spell but the magic went wild and I felt knots of power crashing into everything and then exploding into spiders. Giant purple spiders the size of a normal pony. One jumped onto Twilight, who began rolling around with it. One tried to jump onto Lady Aendyr, who grabbed it by the front legs and began bashing it into a pillar, shouting angrily. A third knocked down Lord Aendyr, who was digging desperately in a pocket and screaming. And the fourth appeared under Marcus and fled with him stuck on top of it, yelling as it carried him into the darkness; I could hear him trying to cast a spell and shouting my name.

“Rarity, save dumbass,” Ivan shouted but I couldn’t see him and I wasn’t sure who he meant. Probably Lord Aendyr but sometimes he does call Marcus dumbass and then they wrestle and… I couldn’t find Marcus, anyway and I’m guessing Ivan sees in the dark now, though maybe I could follow the screaming.

Twilight teleported out from under her foe and lifted it into the air and began to spin it in place as it made odd, frantic chittering noises, then began to spew a purple liquid out of its mouth which stuck to things and turned into goo. This stirred me to action and I tried to flip the spider off Lord Aendyr; this only rocked it gently to my frustration but it did distract it long enough for him to pull a wand and jam it into the creature’s underbelly; lighting washed over it, spreading in tendrils along its carapace and it stumbled off and now couldn’t move coherently at all while Lord Aendyr rolled over and threw up breakfast, kneeling over his own vomit like he was going to… I hated that biology lesson.

I had forgotten it.

“Thank you,” he said weakly to me even as Lady Aendyr took her foe, hit the one which had been on her own husband and knocked that one into Twilight’s foe and they all crashed into the wall and blew up in a puff of smoke.

“Rarity, I need a clean up,” Ivan said; he and Marcus stumbled out of the dark, covered in purple goo. “When this hardens, we won’t be able to move.”

*That* I could do. “You’re welcome, Lord Aendyr,” I said, then washed the gunk off Marcus and Ivan with my magic. The bats had fled, I noticed. I guess all the magic and violence panicked them.

Then I heard a rattling noise in my saddle bag; three bats came out when I opened it as I stared. They circled me once and fled into the darkness.

“Twist, you put the wild magic zone in the wrong room,” Scootaloo grumbled.

“It’s in the right room! Look!” Twist said.

“Thanks for the warning,” Lady Aendyr said, grinning a little, then turning to her husband. “I’m sorry I didn’t come help you quicker, honey but I had a dance partner.”

“It’s okay, I somehow summoned them with a burst of wind spell,” he said, frowning. “I’m not sure what went wrong.”

“Your casting got disrupted and the magic went wild,” Twilight said, patting his arm with a hoof. “Happens to everyone.”

“Never got attacked by spiders before, though,” Marcus said, looking around and peering into the darkness though I doubt he could see anything. “Not from a spell misfire.”

“You can’t get wiped out until you get to where my genius will wipe you out,” Scootaloo said urgently.

“You okay, Rarity?” Sweetie asked me.

“I’m fine, thank you,” I told her. I don’t think Sweetie is suited by nature to run a dungeon, which is for the best, really.

“Press on! We gotta finish this before our curfew,” Apple Bloom said urgently. “Uncle K says it’s rude to leave your guests unwatched and alone.”

“Sometimes a lady does want her privacy, but I think we’re ready to go on,” I said, looking at everyone.

“I’m ready,” Lord Aendyr said, sighing as he and his wife brushed him off. “I should have brought something darker.” He was in traditional Blackhill robes, which is to say, they started as white and we may be cleaning them for a week after this.

Soon, we were ready to start exploring the rim some more.

************************

The cave had five tunnels leading away from it. I guessed that likely each of the Crusaders dreamed up what’s down each tunnel; this central cave really didn’t have anything dangerous or exciting once the bats were all gone. Hopefully not swarming across the countryside.

We ended up letting Lady Aendyr pick the first one; she choose the furthest left one. The tunnel began to slope down and became slicker. Twilight and I could handle it with our horseshoes, but everyone else had to slow down some to avoid slipping on the wet stone. Lord Aendyr had to grab stalactites several times and at one point, Marcus stopped moving, Twilight crashed into him from behind and he went sliding down in front of everyone, then Ivan tried to sprint up to help him, tripped and they crashed into each other and both tumbled as Lady Aendyr ran after them until Twilight lifted them both into the air just shy of an underground stream. Lord Aendyr began laughing, then nearly fell on me in the process.

“I am sorry, Countess Rarity,” he said, bowing to me.

“I think you should ride me,” I told him. “Until we get to where the footing is easier.”

I heard Marcus make the ‘disapproval but I think no one can tell’ noise. When he just barely is containing his disapproval of something, he makes that noise. I’m sure sometimes he does hide it but I am getting good at seeing through his feints. Anyway, he may not like it, but it is only logical for me to do it; I am stronger than Twilight and we need to stay in the back. So I chose to ignore it because otherwise this would turn into a stupid argument.

I just wish they would get along!

I had a sudden moment of intense sympathy for Sweetie, who just wishes this all the time.

Lord Aendyr glanced at Marcus, Marcus frowned at him, then he said, “I accept your gracious offer if it will not get in the way of you performing your duties.”

Lady Aendyr licked her lips, then pulled Marcus aside and talked to him quietly. Marcus sighed and nodded and Lady Aendyr nodded to me.

“It will not,” I told him. “I should practice, anyway, since Marcus and I will likely want to do this together in the future.”

He did not grimace as I feared, but Marcus smiled a little smile and I relaxed. One crisis averted.

But I am going to go mad if they keep wishing each other ill.

*********************

We splashed across the stream into a cave full of pools of water and even more stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the pools looked very deep, though the water tended to be kind of milky and hard to see through. Ivan kept poking away with his pole, then stopped and pointed at a stalactite. “Light that up, please.”

Twilight made it glow and he studied it. It looked like an ordinary stalactite to me, but he said, “Piercer, go around it.”

“If you go around it, it can’t fall on someone!” Scootaloo said, sounding aggravated. “I was counting on a good laugh!”

“Don’t go confirming guesses!” Apple Bloom said irritably. “Rule eight, right here, don’t confirm guesses!”

I heard a hoof strike paper.

“Did Keraptis give you a Dungeon Master’s Code of Conduct?” Marcus asked, amused.

There is a code of conduct? That’s somewhat reassuring, really. Every profession needs standards.

“How did you know?” Apple Bloom asked and Marcus laughed more. “Don’t laugh at me! I’m a big pony now!”

“Yeah, and you still haven’t told us all the adult secrets even though we’re grown up now,” Scootaloo said.

Sweetie made an odd noise and now I could hear them all badgering her about whatever exactly she was thinking about. While they bickered, I turned to my friends. “Marcus, what makes a piercer fall?”

“They sense prey by heat, I think,” Marcus said hesitantly. He looked at Twilight.

“I don’t know, I got drafted at the last minute and didn’t research AT ALL,” she said miserably. “I am completely unprepared for this. I don’t even have Spike.”

“Cadence will take good care of Spike,” I told her. “She seems like a very nice lady.”

“Oh, she will but I guess I am used to having him here,” Twilight said. “I’m going to fret about him a lot.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you out all I can once you’re out of the dungeon. When I’m not in school or hunting Oards or … family stuff,” Dinky said, suddenly trailing off at the end.

“Hmm…” Marcus said, then fired off a burst of flame under the piercer. It dropped down to the ground, WHACK, then dissolved away into shadows which evaporated.

“It attacks by killing itself in a fall?” Lord Aendyr said, as confused as I was.

“I’m guessing the shadow material can’t handle the impact well,” Marcus said. He fired bursts of flame under all the stalactites, which took a while but about half of them fell down and killed themselves.

“I HATE YOU! You ruined it!” Scootaloo said angrily. “You were supposed to run around in terror and keep running under new ones so you would get attacked again and run more! I had music ready to go and everything.”

Lively saxophone music began to play.

“That was not the cue, Sweetie!” Scootaloo said irritably.

“And now I need a little rest after casting that over and over,” Marcus said weakly, leaning on a stalagmite.

“I’m not Sweetie!” Twist said and now more command chamber bickering ensued.

“A real wizard wouldn’t be tired from that,” Lord Aendyr said cheerfully.

“A real noble wouldn’t rub it in,” Marcus said.

“Enough,” I said firmly. “No more fighting.” I looked them both in the eye as best I could.

“You’re right,” Marcus said, sighing. “Just give me a minute.”

Ivan scouted around a little with Twilight while the rest of us stayed with Marcus. Lady Aendyr didn’t quite sit down by him, just… I’m not sure how she balanced down so low, kind of doing this thing with folded legs but not sitting… They talked quietly, so I said to Lord Aendyr, “Your wife has been teaching me some magic of your people.”

“Yes, not many Ponies have been initiated into our arts, though Sugar Sparkle’s father is. A lot of my family is very… insular,” he said after a long hesitation. “We are Alphatian in descent and our ancestors were quite sure they were the greatest of all wizards. And passed that on to their children. There’s a lot of conflict between those more stuck in their ways and those who recognize that if we stay locked in our shell, the world will pass us by,” he continued, then sighed. “I opened my eyes to new places and things at the Great School of Magic. But I’ve seen lots of new things on this trip too.” His voice dropped and became soft. “Equestria is very different from my homeland, even from the Pony part of it.”

“So you’ve been to Dream Valley?” I asked.

“Sugar Sparkle’s father, Honey Crunch, went to school with me at the Great School of Magic. There was some sort of messup in records and we ended up as roommates.” Lord Aendyr laughed loudly. “That was a shock for both of us.”

“Did he have some kind of honey magic?” I asked curiously.

“His cutie mark let him command bees. Mostly to make him honey. Which he ate on everything,” Lord Aendyr said. “And still does. He has this ultimate spell where he calls up a huge air elemental and fills it with bees.”

I shivered at the thought.

“Anyway, I invited him and his wife to come but they had too much work. He normally vacations in the winter, when there’s nothing to help fertilize or raid for pollen to make honey,” Lord Aendyr said. Then he glanced off at Twilight and Ivan. “And he seemed… He wanted Sugar to see Equestria but seemed afraid of coming himself.”

“He would have been most welcome,” I told Lord Aendyr. “I understand your wife has had some problem with people who can’t accept her in your land.”

His face darkened and his eyes flashed. “Yes, and it angers me. Moreso because there is only so much I can do about it.” He paused. “Do the different kinds of Pony intermarry in Equestria?”

“It’s less common but does happen,” I told him. “Scootaloo has a Pegasus parent and an Earth Pony parent. But also sometimes, though it’s rare, Ponies will give birth to a different kind of Pony because of past intermarriage.”

He nodded, but now Ivan said, “Dammit, I’ve seen this door before.”

We could see him and Twilight off in the distance; I could vaguely make out a door in the wall by Twilight’s horn glow. “Should we come?”

“Yeah,” Ivan said and we all came over, splashing through the cave.

“That’s just like the door you made for testing lockpicking,” Marcus said, studying the wooden door which looked… lost, really, set into a wooden frame in the wall of the cave.

Ivan raised an eyebrow and then got out the Lockpicks of Asterius and touched them to the door, which clicked and unlocked. He poked it open with his pole.

“HEY! You’re supposed to have to unlock it! After HOURS of effort!” Scootaloo said angrily.

“I *told* you,” Dinky said. “I knew that would happen.”

“Please, let’s not have another fight!” Sweetie pleaded.

Ivan tapped the ground beyond it and now a giant pie fell into the wooden hallway beyond.

“So I added that,” Dinky continued and sighed. “Stupid pole.”

“Rarity, if you will?” Ivan asked.

“I can’t eat pie which fell on the floor,” I said.

For a few seconds, he stared at me, then said, “I meant your cleaning magic.”

“Oh,” I said, now embarrassed. I soon had the mess cleaned up and we headed into the wooden hallway.

*****************

This hallway led us to a thirty foot cube room with the exits halfway up the walls and strange bears with mantis heads rappelling down the walls to attack us.

Our staring at the strange sight let the first wave hit the floor and then the battle began in earnest. Lady Aendyr charged one of them, battering him back with the flat of her axe, then hacking at him as he stumbled around. Ivan smacked a second in the head, knocking him back and Marcus held off his foe with his sword, each alternately stabbing and dodging. Twilight seized two of them with her magic and hurled them back the way we came in; I heard them land in a pool and then they began yelping and running around as that music played again. I shot the antenna off two of them and they began to wander around, disoriented and I nudged them to wander back out into the cave with the others.

“Well, at least someone is getting hit in the head,” Scootaloo muttered as I heard one of the creatures get hit by a piercer we must have missed.

Lord Aendyr finally finished the spell and sent a glowing blade flying around the room, cutting ropes and causing more of the strange insect-bears to fall down and dissolve away. “A definite weakness.”

“Dammit, Uncle K’s monsters don’t die from a short fall,” Apple Bloom grumbled.

“I’m pretty sure bugbears aren’t mantis-bear hybrids, either,” Twist said.

“The ones on Epsilon Kappa are,” Dinky said firmly.

“How do you know what they’re like in another star system?” Twilight asked as she set Marcus’ foe on fire with his own spell and it dissolved away.

“I’ve been there,” Dinky said.

Dinky makes many wild claims like that but has no proof. I think it’s the imagination of youth.

That was easy but then, the Crusaders aren’t really trying to kill us. At least in theory. I hope they know what they’re doing.

“Hmm, Ivan, you can climb up to one of the doors and pull me up, right?” Lady Aendyr said to him. “Then I can lift everyone up.”

“I can get us up there,” Lord Aendyr said proudly. “Everyone get close to Countess Rarity and myself.”

Everyone gathered around us; I noticed that Marcus didn’t protest this, and gave a sigh of relief. Maybe it’s a good sign. Then he began a long rite and the air under us began to swirl and then we lifted a touch off the ground and the air seemed to almost solidify and the platform lifted us up to one of the three exits.

“Almost as good as my spell, almost,” Dinky said like a father clumsily praising his child. A mother, given Dinky is a filly.

Ivan checked out the tunnel and we stepped into it, once he approved.

“I can never make that work,” Lady Aendyr said ruefully.

“With time you will,” Lord Aendyr said. “I could only lift myself originally.” He let out a great sigh. “That’s the most weight I’ve ever lifted, in fact.”

He and Twilight now began a technical discussion which flew over my head. But which I could not avoid while carrying him. So I listened politely and watched for trouble as Ivan and Lady Aendyr and Marcus led us on.

****************

The hallway soon began to be decorated with pictures of fire elementals doing things like burning the homework of Ponies, forcing them to grow carrots, making them go to bed when the adults stayed up, and other such themes. I had to fight not to laugh very hard at it.

“How… Does this happen often here?” Lord Aendyr asked hesitantly.

“Sweetie made us censor it,” Scootaloo grumbled.

Marcus, Ivan, and Lady Aendyr froze in unison. “STOP,” Marcus said urgently. They stopped advancing.

Twilight crashed into him AGAIN and he fell down. “Marcus! I’m sorry!”

“Do you think…?” Lady Aendyr asked Marcus.

“Can you light up the end of the hallway?” Ivan asked Twilight as he helped Marcus up.

“Yes,” she said and the end of the hallway glowed brightly, showing doors of beaten brass, inset with fancy inlaid red, yellow, and orange jade, showing a huge bonfire. If you looked carefully, you could see salamanders dancing in the fire.

Marcus’ left hand clenched and unclenched and Ivan began to laugh softly, while Lady Aendyr buried her face in her hands. “The Temple of Elemental Evil was in those magazines, I take it?” Ivan said.

“Sal… oh dear.” Twilight said, looking at Marcus.

Lord Aendyr began to laugh loudly.

“There’s going to be braziers past this door, ten of them and EACH of them is going to spawn a damn Salamander. The firey elemental kind,” Marcus said. “There may be a priest by the altar at the far end and there’s a chest which is trapped to hell and BACK.”

“That was a sweet sword in it, though,” Lady Aendyr said appreciatively.

“Yeah, I guess Faisal still has it,” Marcus said. “I… didn’t forget him dying, right?” he said weakly.

“He died twice but we had him raised,” Lady Aendyr said. “But no, he retired once he had enough money for the coffee shop he always wanted.” She sighed. “He probably uses Frostrazor to chop carrots or something.”

“DAMN CARROTS!” Scootaloo shouted.

“Did you have too much coffee?” I asked her. She’s jumpier than usual.

“No, I’m drinking lemonade,” Scootaloo said.

“I got rid of the coffee,” Twist said. “Lemonade’s tastier anyway.”

“Wait, Frostrazor was a sword?” Apple Bloom said.

Marcus rubbed his forehead. “Yes, a two-handed sword made of enchanted ice which froze things it hit. So chopping carrots with it wouldn’t go too well, I think.”

“But I bet you could make some great ice cream with it,” Ivan said thoughtfully. “Which in Ylarum would sell like crazy.”

“I can make ice cream if I had some milk and sugar,” Lord Aendyr said. “Honey Crunch and I worked out a spell for it to combine our powers back in school.” He sounded oddly sentimental.

“So this place is going to be full of fire magic,” I said thoughtfully.

“And damn Salamanders,” Marcus said, shivering.

“Assuming they copied it perfectly,” Lady Aendyr said.

“Well, I have some fire protection magic,” Twilight said, giving a happy sigh. “It’s one of the first things I learned after getting Spike.”

“Did he set something on fire?” Lady Aendyr asked.

“The laundry. He was still a baby and he burped and it all burned,” Twilight said ruefully. “He hasn’t set the laundry on fire in a long time but I am surrounded by flammables all the time. I regret it isn’t a permanent effect, so I could treat the library with it and stop worrying about it.”

She then proceeded to cast a spell on us; I tried to watch her but I couldn’t quite keep up with it despite seeing the flows of magic. Twilight really is a great wizard.

Each of us glowed a soft red now from our protection as Ivan poked at the door. A half dozen times and it wouldn’t open until Lord Aendyr reached out and… pulled the door open. It opened towards us.

Lady Aendyr laughed and now we could see into a long grand hall with many images of fire on the walls; ten huge pots of fire went down the middle of the room in two rows of fire; at the far end, a huge red sandstone altar squatted below a statue of a humanoid figure made out of fire. There were three red gold knives on the altar, next to a large copper bowl.

But no sign of Salamanders, though Marcus said they would be in the braziers.

And no sign of a priest or a chest.

“Hmm, I think it’s time to put out the fires before approaching the altar,” Twilight said.

Lady Aendyr studied everything, studied her aura, breathed in and out, then said, “I can try and put out the fires with some wind.”

“We’re going to be ass-deep in salamanders as soon as we attack the braziers,” Marcus said. “I can try hurling water balls into them. I think I have that spell down.”

“If Rarity and I combine our abilities, I think we can rain down water on all the braziers at the same time,” Twilight said. “While Marcus and Ivan and Lady Aendyr stand ready to fight and… Lord Aendyr can work with us.”

Lord Aendyr looked worried but then he breathed out. “Agreed.”

Marcus shifted back and forth on his feet. “Damn salamanders.”

“It’ll be okay,” Lady Aendyr said, patting his shoulder. “You ready, Ivan, Marcus?”

“Always,” Ivan said, taking his hammer by the strap, ready for throwing.

Twilight and I reached out with our horns; Lord Aendyr cast a spell I did not know and it connected him to us. Ten balls of water, ringed by winds, rushed at the braziers dousing them; ten red-scaled humanoids… sort of humanoids… Salamanders are like the snake equivalent of a centaur with the rear half a red-scaled snake and the front mostly human in shape, though with big pointed ears and red scales.

They were armed with strange spears, red and slightly shiny but not metallic, twisted in a tight spiral like a corkscrew with a half-dozen javelins of the same style in quivers on their backs.

And the air smelled like wet licorice.

“Feel the power of fire-hardened candy!” Twist said proudly.

I now wondered if they were edible.

“At least Brannart is unlikely to show up,” Marcus mumbled and then the battle was joined.

The ten angry Salamanders threw a barrage of javelins at us. I shot four of them out of the sky and felt quite proud, even as Lord Aendyr extended his wind armor to shield both of us; I began to feel a little cold from constant rushing wind but now we were quite safe inside it. Two more came at Lady Aendyr and skidded off her wind armor spell and crashed into the wall, shattering. Marcus desperately dodged two which came at him and now was running around the room, yelling as two Salamanders chased him, hurling javelins. Two hurled javelins at Ivan, who dodged them and counter-threw Whelm, smacking one of them in the chest and knocking him down; he still had his spear but his javelins shattered on the impact with the ground. Then the hammer came back to Ivan.

Twilight paused and began casting some spell, frowning, while Lord Aendyr began thinking hard. I began aiming counter-battery fire at the four who were hurling at Lord Aendyr and I, keeping them on the run so they couldn’t fire at us. ‘What are you two trying to figure out?’

‘None of them attacked me and I don’t know why but it makes me suspicious,’ Twilight told me.

‘Trying to remember if they have any special weaknesses beyond water, but I took that class many years ago,’ Lord Aendyr said, brows furrowed.

“MY ASS!” Marcus shouted as he got knocked into the altar by a hurled javelin. Which.. well, you can tell where he got hit.

I shot the straps of one of his foe’s quiver, causing it to fall off his back, while missiles at us bounced off our wind shield and Lord Aendyr tugged his ears and mumbled under his breath, eyes unfocused.

Lady Aendyr launched herself in a charge at the two who were shelling her. Things didn’t go as well as she planned, though, as one dodged to the side and whacked the back of her knees, knocking her down as the other parried her axe attack barely. She tumbled towards Marcus.

Ivan now nailed his other foe in the chest; he fell and broke his Javelins but now the first one slithered at him on the ground and rose up around Ivan, twining him in its coils, knocking aside Whelm when it tried to return to him.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Lady Aendyr said as she crashed into the altar. It shook and the bowl flipped off, landing on her head like a helm.

“Very stylish,” Marcus said, rising with her as four salamanders closed in on them and they stood… not quite back to back but making a triangle with the altar as their rear guard. It would protect them from attack from behind. Clever.

“DESECRATORS OF MY ALTAR, YOU FIVE WILL PERISH IN FIRE,” the statue announced.

“SIX! SIX!” Twilight insisted. “I’m here too.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were coming and I think I programmed them too rigidly, I’m not used to this, I’m really sorry,” Twist said frantically. “I didn’t mean to be rude and leave you out.”

“I REMEMBER HOW YOU TURNED MY HIGH PRIEST INTO A DUCK AND THEN PUT ON HIS ROBES AND MOCKED ME IN MY OWN TEMPLE, CUFEN,” the statue continued.

“He was evil and trying to kill us! He had it coming!” Marcus protested. “Evil Immortals don’t get to complain when they lose!”

Lord Aendyr made panicky noises and cast a spell, then said, “It’s not the real Imix, just a shadow creature.” But he still eyed it nervously.

Twilight teleported onto the altar. “Time for your BATH!” She began hurling balls of water and Imix… Shadow-Imix counter-fired with balls of fire and soon thick steam began to engulf the far end of the room.

Four salamanders began to close on Lord Aendyr and I, having abandoned throwing things at us.

Ivan concentrated, then cursed. “There’s too much fire, I can’t touch the Plane of Shadow here!” Then he made gurgly noises as he got crushed, his arms pinned. The other Salamander stood by, ready to attack Ivan but unable to do so because his friend’s body was in the way, crushing Ivan.

“Darien, save Ivan!” Lady Aendyr said, then began fending off her foes even as Marcus did the same and hot steam flowed over both of them, hiding them from us.

“HELGA!” Lord Aendyr shouted in a panic.

“Spike, take a… dammit, Spike isn’t here!” Twilight said, turning from excited to angry. I couldn’t see her in the fog but I could hear the chaos within it.

I bolted towards Ivan, away from our onrushing foes and tried to think of a spell or way to get him loose before it was too late. ‘Can you cast a darkness spell?’ I asked him.

He tried but the fire and light dispelled it in a moment and he cursed. He tried a wind blast but it just knocked them both around, making it worse for Ivan and now Lord Aendyr gave a cry of frustration. And now we had FIVE salamanders after us and I was running out of room to move as the battle raged on in the growing fog.

If Ivan had some darkness, but magical… ahah! I felt proud of myself as I yanked a long length of red cloth out of my saddlebags, lifted it into the air and dumped it down over Ivan and his foe, hiding them from all the glittering surfaces in the room. Creating… DARKNESS. Totally mundane but it was enough; when the cloth burned up, there was only the Salamander and now Ivan appeared in the doorway from the hallway. “Thanks, Rarity,” he said.

“Now you can help us,” I told him. Neither of us are really hand-to-hand fighters and without anyone to cover us, we were in trouble. I can scrap if I must but not with a rider.

Another door now opened and a red-robed priest, armed with a long blue-ice blade, charged out. “CUFEN! THIS IS MY REVENGE!”

No, not more foes! I could hear Scootaloo and Apple Bloom making excited noises, while Sweetie sounded worried. And I could hear pages flipping. “Don’t go adding more foes constantly,” I protested.

“Just doing a little research,” Dinky said calmly over the com system.

Lord Aendyr snapped off a spell; a whirlwind hit the priest, who lost control of his blade; it flew through a Salamander, who dissolved away into quickly vanishing shadows. Then Lord Aendyr seized it with more magic and began rotating it around us; our foes kept a wary distance, clearly afraid of it, as the priest now tried to rush at us to grab it. I used my magic and tied him up with his own robes, then sent him rolling back the way he came.

Ivan now charged to our aid, bashing down another salamander and breaking his spear and knocking him out; he evaporated and now we had four. Two of them came at him while I shot arrows at a third and the fourth tried to duel Frostrazor but Lord Aendyr now made wind rise under him and slammed him into the ceiling. “Yeah!” he said proudly, then re-directed Frostrazor to aid Ivan. Soon all our foes were down.

The steam now dispersed. Marcus, Twilight and Lady Aendyr were all dripping wet and their clothing was in tatters. Well, Twilight only had her saddlebags. But Marcus was down to mere scraps of clothing and Lady Aendyr was basically in her underwear and backpack, except that the neck of her shirt was still intact. They also looked somewhat baked, though Ivan threw Marcus a potion and Lady Aendyr got one from her pack; they chugged them down and their skin returned to healthier tones. Lord Aendyr dismounted and ran to his wife and I nuzzled Marcus.

“Are you okay?” Lord Aendyr asked.

“I’ve had much worse,” Lady Aendyr said, kissing him and embracing. “However, I need new clothing.” She looked at me.

“Me too,” Marcus said.

“Of course, we can take a break here and I will make new outfits.” That was ugly.

“There’s a chest hidden inside the altar,” Ivan said, pointing Whelm at it. “Twilight and I can crack its defenses while Rarity dresses you two up.”

“I will help if I can,” Lord Aendyr said hesitantly.

Ivan studied him, then said, “Be careful, this thing is trapped to hell and back if it’s like the original one. And you’re not experienced in this kind of thing and if you blow up, Helga’s going to be pissed at me.”

“If I can’t go where she goes, I can’t ask her to go where I go,” Lord Aendyr said, studying the altar now.

Ivan stared at him, made an odd noise, then said, “Done much work with wards?”

I nuzzled Lord Aendyr. “You’re doing fine,” I told him reassuringly, then worried I had been too forward.

He blinked, then patted my head weakly. “Thank you, Countess Rarity.” He turned back to Ivan. “I am versed in keeping Elementals out of things and using Air Elementals to ward things, along with basic magical security.”

“If you can circle the altar with some kind of anti-Elemental ward, that would be a good start,” Ivan said.

He began slowly etching the symbols with Twilight while I turned to making clothing for Marcus and Lady Aendyr. It would have to be a rush job. But I perform well under pressure.

“Hurry up and blow up, watching people scratch the rock is *boring*,” Scootaloo said.

I had all of the whale dress prototypes… but I couldn’t inflict those on Lady Aendyr. I would have to modify them anyway.

But black and white… yes…

I was half finished when they finished ringing the Altar; you could see everything inside the circle stop glowing with fire energy and now Ivan borrowed Marcus’ sword and began cutting the Altar open.

“The door’s on the side,” Twist said hesitantly.

“Which is why I’m avoiding it,” Ivan said, removing the panel of stone. Twilight now pulled the chest out and set it atop the Altar. The three of them disarmed it as Lady Aendyr and Marcus traded memories of the old days and got suited up by me.

“Tell me we didn’t leave Allistair as a statue forever,” Marcus said, rubbing his forehead.

“That was the start of the series of quests to pay for the last quest’s ending,” Lady Aendyr said, shaking her head. “Finally, we were all okay, and then Cindi lost all our money gambling.”

Ivan made grumbly noises; something began to glow near him and Twilight burned it. “Thanks, Twilight,” he said. “Don’t reminisce so loudly when I’m dealing with stupid numbers of traps.”

“HAHHAHAHAHA,” Scootaloo began to chortle. “Now you know how it feels.”

“So you’ve forgotten a lot of it,” Lady Aendyr said to Marcus.

“It’s easier to remember with you here,” Marcus said, studying the floor as I fitted his new shirt. “I’ve missed you a lot, you know.”

“Me too,” Lady Aendyr said, then sighed. “Of course, you *could* visit.”

“Maybe next summer or during the winter when school is out,” Marcus said, lifting his arms at my command. “While I’m teaching, I can’t really go anywhere.”

“School is totally boring,” Scootaloo said.

“I like school,” Twist replied and they all began bickering about school while I tried to avoid jabbing my coltfriend with pins and Ivan finally asked Twilight to cast a silence spell around them so he didn’t have to listen.

“You should be grateful. There are no schools in Karameikos for children,” Lady Aendyr said loudly to the kids. “I couldn’t read at your age, I’d never been more than ten miles from home and I didn’t know *anything* except how to grow potatoes and wheat.”

“And chop things,” Marcus pointed out, smiling a little.

“And how to cut wood and burn it, yes, but who doesn’t know that?” Lady Aendyr said.

“I’ve never cut wood,” Twist said.

“Me neither,” Sweetie said.

“Or me,” Scootaloo confessed.

“That’s because you all are lazy town people,” Apple Bloom said irritably. “I had to chop wood today. With my tail!”

“I’ve seen wood chop itself,” Dinky said proudly.

“I can burn it, though! I help run the ovens and everything at home,” Twist said proudly.

Ivan finally finished the chest and opened it with his lockpicks. Carefully he opened it and found…

Several dozen candies, carefully wrapped. Very tasty but… well, candy.

Ivan stared, mouth open.

“My finest candy! There is no greater treasure!” Twist said proudly.

Ivan buried his face in his hands and Marcus made choking sounds, while Lady Aendyr laughed loudly. “Thank you, Twist.”

But then, it is the Crusaders. They don’t have great treasures to hand out, though… “Where did you get Frostrazor?”

“Uncle K threw it in with some of the dungeon building gear, and some other neat stuff too. A real dungeon needs real treasure, he said,” Apple Bloom said. “Also, I gave him ten barrels of cider for it all.”

“I hope AJ knows you did that,” Marcus said.

Apple Bloom laughed nervously. Oh dear.

******************

We were somewhat lost, having had to run away from a pack of Leucrotta, strange badger/stag crossbreeds with an added power to subvert your mind with their whisperings, which is why one of them is now wearing Marcus’ hat, much to his aggravation. But there were too many of them and now we were running through room after room; luck or maybe the pity of the Crusaders kept us from being killed and when we fell down a chute, the Leucrotta finally lost us.

We now landed inside this giant spinning chamber full of clothing and proceeded to tumble around inside it while it tried to bake us alive. Twilight managed to cast her fire protection spell again or we would have been in serious trouble. Finally, though, it stopped tumbling and began making this awful buzzing noise.

The clothing was quite odd; it was all full body suits with shirts and pants attached to each other and weird clamps to hook on… footwear, I assume. None was present. It had many pockets and was made of shiny material of various colors: blue, black, green, red, white, and yellow.

When the top of the huge spinning box we were in opened, giant golems began taking out the clothing and sorting it into huge baskets. We managed to ride out by clinging to clothing, which was easier for everyone who was not me. However, Twilight just lifted me out.

The whole room was a giant mechanized laundry run by golden golems; the chute we’d fallen into now discharged more wet laundry into the machine.

“These look like the suits from the Beagle,” Twilight said, eyes wide.

“Beagle, darling?” I asked, confused.

“Holy shit, this is duplicating part of the Beagle?” Marcus said, clearly shocked.

“It’s from the Warden, to be precise,” Dinky said. “If you were on the Beagle, you’d have its rearing dog logo, whereas you’ll notice the shield symbol over the heart.”

Each outfit did have such a logo but also a second log; each color had its own logo, I soon noticed. I snagged some of the outfits for later study; they gave me ideas.

There was a loud chime and now voices began to speak in a language even Twilight didn’t know. Not well, anyway. “Something about intruders,” she said hesitantly.

The golems all turned and looked at us.

“That is US,” Lord Aendyr said and soon had us all flying towards the door on a pillar of air as giant golems fired at us and we dodged desperately. Twilight began firing lighting at them, but they seemed resistant and fire and water balls rolled off them too.

However, the door into this room was only ten feet tall and we flew down and ran out it; the golems, I noticed, could not fit through the door. Or the giant laundry baskets.

We fled down a long metal hallway; I was impressed by how much the Crusaders had built and a little worried how they could build it all so quickly.

But for now, I focused on running as more but smaller golden golems poured through the doorways after us.

*********************

We managed to lose the golems by jumping through a portal, which put us in a long ten foot wide hallway which led into a ninety foot by ninety foot square room with a twenty foot ceiling; another hallway led out of the room via the left wall of the room and by the far wall was a sarcophagus of some long dead Nithian pharaoh; he’d inscribed himself into the lid, holding his staff and… the other thing. Crook? A flail? Anyway, Twilight said, “I doubt that’s the real Jozer, but it looks like him.”

In addition, there were sixteen bugbears (the normal ones, not half-insect/half-bear monstrosities), all in various combat poses, not moving at all, sprinkled randomly around the room.

“Could be a chess puzzle,” Ivan said thoughtfully.

“But they don’t have any accessories to indicate which is which piece and there’s no grid,” Lady Aendyr said, studying the whole thing. “Probably they all just come to life and attack when you disturb the sarcophagus.”

“Not a place you’ve been?” Lord Aendyr asked her.

“We haven’t been everywhere, though I guess we did get around a lot,” Lady Aendyr said, sighing. “Sorry, honey.”

“There were no bugbears in Nithia,” Twilight said, frowning. “It breaks vermillisitude.”

“Well, I just copied the journal,” Sweetie said apologetically. “This isn’t one of my better ones but we were in a hurry.”

“The one where you have to sing your way out is much better,” Twist said.

“Don’t go dumping spoilers!” Scootaloo protested. “Rainbow Dash never dumps spoilers.”

“Rainbow Dash spoils EVERYTHING the second she learns it,” Twist said chidingly. “The second she reads one of the Daring Doo books, she tells everyone on Mystara what happened. Before I can read it myself.”

Twilight felt out the room and said, “Ahh, they’re in temporal stasis. Each time someone passes through the doorway, four of them wake up.”

“I have the perfect idea. If everyone rides in my saddlebags, we can all enter at once and only wake up four,” I said, feeling proud of myself.

“Hey! That’s not the answer!” Sweetie protested.

“Well, what is?” I asked.

“You have to…” The sounds of Sweetie being prevented from talking now broke out over the PA along with a lot of shouting.

We decided to follow my plan, though Lady Aendyr just rode me in so she could deploy to cover the others climbing out. The four charged us, but she took one out with her first swing and pinned two more in a duel but I had to dodge the fourth with Ivan hanging half-in and half-out of my saddlebag, making motion sickness noises as he whipped out; Twilight teleported out and hurled the one charging me away so I could stop and let the others out, then flung the two on Lady Aendyr at a wall.

They all now charged at the doorway for some… oh dear. Before we could stop them, they ran through the door in a line, waking up all the others.

I will never remember the rest of that fight clearly; someone shoved a sack over my head and I panicked, flinging things everywhere and shouting about monkeys and kicking anything that got too close. I heard a lot of thumping and shouting and bashing and Lord Aendyr screaming about morningstars have nothing to do with the morning.

Finally, Twilight pulled the sack off my head and I calmed down and there were evaporating bugbears everywhere and Marcus and Lord Aendyr were lying on the ground breathing hard, next to each other until they saw the other and rolled on their sides to not look at each other. There was no body in the coffin, just thousands of copper coins and several thousand silver. Four gems caught my eye: a ruby, an agate, a moonstone and an amethyst. There was also a flat piece of metal with a circle at one end, just the right size to lie flat on Ivan’s palm.

Ivan began slowly shoving coins in his left pocket and then Twilight helped him with magic; I took the gems and Ivan passed the flat metal object to Marcus who studied it with Lady Aendyr.

“Magical key,” Marcus said. He looked at Lady Aendyr, who nodded. “Probably to the exit from the dungeon.”

“Collect them all!” Apple Bloom said proudly.

I watched Ivan dump coins; it’s going to take forever to stack all those to take to the bank. At least I can buy some nice cloth with my cut; I used up a lot of my best fabric on the outfits for the visit.

And then it was time to move on.

*****************

I began to wonder how long we’d been in here. We do need to get enough sleep for the trip tomorrow. “Sweetie, honey, what time is it?” I asked her.

“Granny Smith’s calling us for dinner, but we’ll be back soon as we can,” she said.

“I am starving,” Lord Aendyr said. “I think it’s time for us to go home and have dinner.”

“Well, umm.. we kind of teleport blocked it so you’ll have to make your way back unless you get the keys,” Sweetie said, laughing nervously. “I think we may have overdone it.”

“We’ll be back as soon as we finish dinner,” Apple Bloom said. “We can save the rest for another time. I’ll figure out something.”

And then we heard them gallop off.

We were in a room which had been full of traps but now was just a stone room with three exits. “Hmm, I can try and summon some food,” Twilight said but to her frustration, it didn’t work. Probably the same reason she can’t just teleport out.

“I’m surprised they have wards which work on my level of power,” Twilight said and reached out with her magic studying it.

A chime went off. “No cheating,” the voice of Keraptis now said and suddenly the floor opened and we all tumbled down three different chutes; I went rolling along with Lord Aendyr, and saw Ivan and Twilight go down one and Marcus and Lady Aendyr. We tumbled until we landed on a pile of mattresses in a room full of abandoned mattresses. It wasn’t very dangerous but it was hard to get around because my hooves kept driving through the mattress covers. Lord Aendyr finally lifted me with his magic and got me to the nice stone hallway which soon opened into a natural cave.

“Great, my wife’s stuck with the doombringer,” Lord Aendyr grumbled.

“Marcus is not a doombringer,” I said sharply. “He is not going to let her get hurt if he can help it. She’s important to him, you know. And him to her.”

“I know,” he said, staring off across the cavern. “She’s been very excited to make this trip ever since you invited her. She really likes you.”

“I like her too. And we both… would at least like you and Marcus to not chew on each other. I know you can’t just will yourself to like someone but this constant hostility is driving us both crazy.” I tried to be firm without being too pushy, since I have… he doesn’t have to listen to me.

You’d think after being apart for so long, they’d get over it. I hope Spike gets over it while he’s off with Cadence, but if these two can’t let go after years… But I won’t give up. I can at least try here in ways I can’t with Spike, since it’s all about me with him but not with Marcus and Lord Aendyr.

I hoped I might have more luck with him than I did with Marcus.

“How can you love someone who is always surrounded by death and devastation?” Lord Aendyr asked me, sounding baffled. “Chaos follows him everywhere. I met him when I was trying to go buy some dinner and he comes running down the street, screaming, being chased by a half dozen cockatrices. Even in Glantri City, that’s unusual. I didn’t react fast enough and I would have been turned to stone if not for Helga picking me up as she ran by and saving me. It’s how we met.” His voice was distant and hard to read. “He and Ivan ruined our first date by first following us and then getting themselves busted for some kind of expired license problem and Helga worried about them the rest of the night and had to go bail them out.”

“I met Marcus when he and Ivan were about to drown in a river in the Malpheggi Swamp and we pulled them out,” I told Lord Aendyr. “I never expected to fall in love with him. He was not at all the sort of stallion I had fallen for before.” I paused, rethinking. “Well, he had one thing in common with the best of them. He was hugely charming. He treated me as the lady I had always dreamed of being. He looked rough but he was a gentleman. Still, it gradually crept up on me. It was only around the time we returned to Equestria that I could admit it to myself fully.”

I stepped into the cave finally and we talked as we began to circle the walls, trying to see what ways led out and if we could find a tunnel back the ways I think the others went.

“I was mad for her within minutes of us meeting. That smile… she has the most natural smile. There is no pretense in anything she does. When she loves, she loves and when she hates, she hates and her smile is never pasted on and neither is her anger. My family… we tend to all be tightly controlled and we’re always acting, even with each other a lot of the time. Being what nobles must be, doing what nobles must do.” His hand trailed along the wall as we went. “Helga is my truth in the middle of lies and fronts and posturing.” He sighed. “I suppose I must sound as if Glantri is hell. It’s not, or I would leave. But it makes demands and with her, I am freed of those demands.”

My hooves splashed in little puddles. These natural caves are all so wet. And filthy. I suddenly became keenly aware that my forelegs were rather filthy from splashing water and I forced myself clean with magic, knowing it would soon get dirty again.

Why must the world be that way?

“She loves you very much; just from her letters, I know that,” I told him.

“I still don’t know why,” he said softly. “Why me, of all people.”

I nearly tripped at that. “You’re married and you don’t know why she loves you?” How is that even possible?

“A woman like her could have any man. I mean, she’s told me why she loves me but there’s a million people like me and only one of her,” he said urgently. “I am not someone who women normally fall in love with.” Then he mumbled something about Marcus.

“If she wanted him, she could have had him long before she ever met you or he met me,” I told him. It can’t just… Do they just never talk about how they feel to each other? She practically gushes in her letters to me.

“I… what? No, I have no fear of that,” he said firmly, hand still trailing on the wall, though his fingertips had to be stained with fungus and mold by now. “It’s that he’s going to get her hurt or killed. Everyone around him suffers disasters and he sails on, untouched and uncaring. He’s a bird of ill omen, a dead albatross, a disaster, a… I can’t think of the right metaphor,” he said in frustration. Frostrazor, floating along in the air after him, carried by a little whirlwind for him, now bobbed about as if mirroring his emotions. Maybe it was. “I fear he will doom you one day and run.”

“Marcus never abandons those he cares about,” I said firmly. “He is afraid sometimes, so afraid.” I shivered in memory. “But he would not abandon even you, who hates him, for Lady Aendyr’s sake. He loves her, I know. Like a sister.”

“I wouldn’t drag my sister into deadly situations and I don’t even like her very much,” Lord Aendyr said, frowning. “Haven’t you heard all their stories this whole trip about people turning to stone and getting eaten and having to be rescued from the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Ice?”

“She wants to be here,” I told him. “I think she misses it sometimes. The old days.”

I think I missed the Plane of… there’s a Plane of Ice?

I fear I will have to find time to study more metaphysics, especially if we become Immortal. The very idea boggles me, I will confess. I cannot let Twilight go alone or Marcus too but I never dreamed that large.

But there is no Immortal dedicated to fashion, so I definitely know what my niche will be. Some of the Immortals dress as if Snips and Snails picked out their outfits. While drunk and half-asleep. Not that colts their age should ever be drunk.

Admittedly, it’s a lot harder for Ponies to get drunk than humans. I believe it has to do with body mass. But I never seek to get drunk, anyway. It isn’t elegant.

He gently rapped the wall with a fist, and then sighed deeply. “You’ve done a lot of this sort of thing, right? Dungeons?”

“No, I have had some adventures, but I think Lady Aendyr and Marcus have had twenty times as many. Or more. I had never been in a full-blown dungeon until I met Marcus,” I told him.

Now he made a noise and rapped the wall again. “Well, we’re doing fine so far.” But I could feel his legs tense up, though his face was calm.

“Do not worry. I have survived White Plume Mountain and this place was created by children.” It’s hard for me to be sure how dangerous this place really is. More than I expected, but we’ve handled it. But still, I am ready to go home and just have a quiet evening and get ready for tomorrow in Canterlot.

Or at least eat, as I didn’t bring any food and now I am starving.

It doesn’t help knowing the Crusaders are eating right now.

“Created by the children to challenge five of us at a time,” he said softly.

My nerves jangled but I put on my war face. I have to be strong for both of us. “We can handle it. We are nobles and wizards.” I am sort of noble. Sort of a wizard. I have a title, but I don’t feel noble.

He sighed and straightened up. “Yes, but you know as well as I how much of nobility is a front. Inside, you know better. I am not indestructible. I don’t know everything.” He paused. “Now I cannot help but remember the time Dona Carlotta tried to be a waitress.” He began laughing loudly.

“Why?” I asked in confusion.

“She and Marcus were seeing each other when I started seeing Helga. After Marcus turned my poor Monsters’ Fair party into a travesty, they and Ivan tried to make it up to me by ensuring that Helga and I would have a perfect date. Which they completely destroyed by their efforts to help.” He grumbled to himself. “I *told* him it was a costume party, but he panicked anyway… Lady Jerbat will probably never forgive me or him for throwing all that holy water on her.” He buried his face in his hands.

“This happened on the date?” I asked, confused.

“No, no, we went to Helga’s favorite restaurant, a wonderful sea food place in the style of Sind. And Dona Carlotta tried to disguise herself and be our waitress, to ensure we got the best service. But she had no experience waitressing and became completely overwhelmed and then one of the customers… well, he touched her posterior and Marcus, who had been… I don’t know where. He freaked out and everything went to hell and none of us are allowed within 100 feet of it now.” He sighed.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “A lady’s posterior is something not to be touched without permission,” I said. “And I know he loved her deeply.” I wish he would be nicer to Herr Otto, though. “And don’t say it.”

“She’s only angry with him because he didn’t tell her who he was when he first saw her again. Not because he left her and I can’t understand that,” Lord Aendyr said, sounding confused.

We finally reached a tunnel; it seemed to go the right way, heading upwards; it was… I think someone widened a natural tunnel. “Shall we?” I asked him.

“Sure, I have no idea where to go,” he confessed.

“They chose to break up for fear of her mother,” I told him. “He didn’t abandon her. But he didn’t have to lie to her later. That’s why she’s angry.” I understand why he did it. He lied to all of us but… his fears were too great. But I understand them. He was so hurt when he met us. Slowly worn away like the rocks under a waterfall. He is stronger now.

And having Lady Aendyr here makes him stronger. I can see how they had so many adventures together. I wonder if Twilight and Fluttershy and I and everyone come off like that too. I know we’ve all changed from our adventures. Grown closer. They are sisters to me now, dear to me. Even when we fight. But sisters do that sometimes.

We started up the tunnel, him still trailing a hand on the wall, me moving carefully because the stone was wet. “If only we had some way to track them, but my divination magics aren’t really good for finding people. If they were books…” He laughed softly.

“Books… Twilight must be carrying some,” I told him. “Do you have to have a specific title?”

“I need a topic,” he said.

Hmm… “History.”

He chanted and waved his arms and I felt the spell go off. “Hmm, the way we’re going. So it could be her or a trap.” He sighed.

“Keep it up; we’ll see if it guides us.”

We’ll see.

***************

It led us to a room with three more tunnels leading out and a high vaulted ceiling. There was a chest by one wall, apparently unguarded but probably locked and trapped. I assumed.

No sign of magical wards. Sending a small air elemental didn’t trigger any traps. Warily, we drew closer to it; I wondered if ‘paranoia’ was one of its traps.

I opened it remotely with telekinesis; nothing happened but you could see a jumble of gold and silver coins in the chest. “It has to be a trap but it’s not an illusion or anything,” Lord Aendyr said, frowning.

We slowly grew closer and I lifted a few coins out and still nothing happened. We crept closer and then…

The wall smashed open and a huge ochre creature broke through the wall; it was like a cross between a human, a lobster, and an ant with huge segmented eyes, huge manibles around its mouth and a hideous roar. Multicolored light rushed out of its eyes at us and I panicked, fleeing down one of the tunnels with the creature in hot pursuit as Lord Aendyr shouted about crumpets.

There was a curtain of beads, huge beads the size of an apple… the shape of apples too, but clearly made out of various colors of pearl. But I didn’t care, just shoved them out of the way and fled through the room, crashing into a barrel being used for a dice game by six hyena-headed humanoids with spears and a seventh, taller one armed with a strange set of three metal rods, connected by short lengths of chain. They would have attacked us, but by the time they hefted their weapons and the dice stopped flying around the room, the huge lobster-ant-man crashed into the room and we left them to fight each other as I fled on screaming and Lord Aendyr cursed someone named Margle for stealing his crumpets.

******************

There was a room like a chessboard, full of human-sized chess pieces but I just raced through it as things blew up and the ground tried to zap me and the pieces tried to attack me and Lord Aendyr randomly blasted everything that caught his attention; wind whipped through the room and I leaped THROUGH the door at the far end.

A hallway led us into a jungle, where weird purple-faced monkeys threw cocoanuts at us with their minds. Twilight would have been fascinated, I was just terrified and I ran and dodged and parried with my magic and threw a whale dress prototype in the face of one of them and Lord Aendyr shouted about how the trees were full of evil elves and they wouldn’t have his sugar.

Then we tumbled down a slope into a lake and finally snapped out of it as we rose, sodden, in the water, which came about halfway up my torso. “Please forget everything I just did,” Lord Aendyr said, trying to squeeze out his clothing.

“I agree that we will never speak of this again,” I told him, looking around the cave. It stretched maybe a hundred feet out to three exits, two of which were rivers feeding into the lake. I decided to head for the dry one.

However, of course, electric eels decided to attack us and we soon were running around desperately dodging them, though once we got across the room, we managed to fling them into the walls with our magics. There wasn’t even any proper treasure. And still no sign of the Crusaders coming back from dinner.

We pressed on to a spiral staircase; four other corridors went on and there was writing on the wall. ‘Ivan and Twilight were here, we went up.’

Finally! Lord Aendyr gave a huge sigh of relief. “We should have marked our trail.” He now carved the wall with Frostrazor and we headed up the staircase.

Halfway up it, however, I felt something cold and strange and Lord Aendyr shivered. “Something’s lurking. Show yourself!” he shouted angrily. “I AM SICK OF THIS SHIT!”

Then he froze and covered his mouth and looked mortified, while I tittered nervously. I was a filthy mess and still rather wet and exhausted and hungry and there had been a distinct lack of gems.

“Hey, ya’ll,” I heard Applejack say. “I’m gonna get you all out of this silly thing as soon as I can. Apple Bloom’s in big trouble for trading cider without asking me.”

“Maybe you can turn it into a tourist attraction and make back the money,” Lord Aendyr said. “I know Ierendi is full of this kind of crazy thing.”

“Hey… that might work,” Applejack said excitedly. “It ain’t like we wuz usin’ these caves for nothin’.” Her accent got thicker as she spoke. “Apple Bloom, how the hay do these controls work, anyway?”

you are not the one, I heard a voice whisper and then the cold retreated.

“Did you hear that?” I asked Lord Aendyr.

He frowned. “I definitely heard something,” I said.

“Scootaloo, quit your bitchin’,” Applejack said to Scootaloo, who I hadn’t heard at all.

“We could send a shadow construction crew to remove the wards, but until the teleport wards go down, there ain’t no way in or out but walking and falling,” Apple Bloom said. “I think we kinda overestimated how much they could cover in one day.”

“We got split up,” I said. “And some creepy invisible thing was whispering about how I wasn’t the one, whatever that means.” I frowned. Clearly it has no taste.

“I’m gonna be pissed if the Oard’s hidin’ in my dungeon,” Apple Bloom said darkly.

“Oards are myths,” Lord Aendyr said firmly.

“They’re real! Cunning Thought wouldn’t lie to us, she’s Celestia’s mother,” Sweetie said. “And people pretended to be Oards at the club, so they have to be real or you couldn’t get anyone to believe your lie!”

Lord Aendyr rubbed his forehead and whispered, “Did you understand that?”

“Twilight, Ivan, Marcus, Helga, any of you hear us?” Applejack asked.

I didn’t hear them but Applejack said, “Okay, that’s Marcus and Helga checkin’ in. What about Twilight? Ivan?”

“I’ll call Uncle K, see if he knows some quicker way to take the wards down,” Apple Bloom said.

“No more puttin’ up wards without my say-so,” Applejack said sternly to Apple Bloom.

We reached the top of the stairs, found the ‘Twilight and Ivan were here’ marker and I said, “We’re on Twilight and Ivan’s trail, so we’ll keep following it.”

“You two okay? Marcus and Helga are kinda’ freakin’,” Applejack said.

“We are filthy messes, exhausted, and hungry and I regret my own birth,” I said miserably. “But other than that, we’re fine.”

“Tell her I miss her,” Lord Aendyr said plaintively. I smiled at that.

“I will,” Applejack said.

We began following a trail of destruction; everything was blown up or smashed up, from traps to golem remnants to the room which was strewn with pine sap and pine branches; Lord Aendyr flew us over that, to my gratitude.

After a while of this and periodically leaving our mark and seeing Twilight and Ivan’s, Applejack said, “Hey, Rarity, you carryin’ any rubies?”

“No,” I told her.

“Well, that won’t do no good and I still don’t know why we can’t reach Ivan and Twilight either,” Applejack said, sounding aggravated.

“Well, they’ve more or less destroyed everything in their path,” I said.

“Wait, don’t the Crusaders have a map of this place?” Lord Aendyr said. “We could probably figure things out better with a map.”

“I can’t find the map! We had this big fancy map and now it’s vanished,” Apple Bloom said, sounding frustrated.

Delightful.

“That was very irresponsible, young lady,” Lord Aendyr said sternly. “No recall mechanism, no map… what kind of Dungeon Master are you?”

Apple Bloom said weakly, “It’s my first dungeon.”

“We just wanted to do something fun for you,” Sweetie said weakly.

“I know y’all meant well but you shoulda asked someone to look over your plans,” Applejack said sternly. “We’ll have to fix all that before we turn this into a tourist dungeon.” I could almost hear coins jingling in her voice. It was odd, more like I’d expect of Clarity.

“Whatever you heard, it wasn’t an Oard; I scanned the entrance to the dungeon and there were no traces of temporal energy,” Dinky said. “It might have been a Shadow that decided you weren’t tasty enough.”

“I’m kinda worried we can’t hail Twilight and Ivan,” Applejack said. “Scootaloo, go find Clarity. Maybe she can magic something up.”

“It had glowing red eyes, I think,” Lord Aendyr said. “But I might have imagined that.”

“Lord Aendyr, your kids are in bed, at least in theory,” I now heard Bon-Bon say. “Lyra sent me to tell you.”

“Thank you, Lady Bon-Bon,” Lord Aendyr said. “I hope they weren’t too much trouble.”

“Once Lyra sleeps for a few days, she’ll be fine,” Bon-Bon said.

I laughed softly, then heard a distant explosion. “I think we’re getting closer,” I told her. Oddly the smell of pine sap was getting stronger.

I heard the sounds of pages flipping. “I am pretty sure there’s some kind of X-ray vision scanner thing around here somewhere…” Apple Bloom said.

We passed a destroyed giant snake statue and smashed up altar and the explosions got louder. We were closing in. I had a bad feeling Twilight had gone berserk and was just destroying everything. Which could be hard to calm her down from. Either that or she was just overreacting to the various threats.

But I was worried about that weird shadowy thing. Who was it looking for? Given the Crusaders didn’t seem to know what it was… what was it and why was it here?

Applejack said something but I couldn’t understand it. “Can you repeat that?”

But now I couldn’t hear her at all, just a staticky sound. Maybe Twilight’s using so much magic it’s frying out the communications?

“We’d best retreat to where we can hear them,” Lord Aendyr said.

I didn’t want to retreat; I had a feeling Twilight needed us. “I think they need us. If nothing else, I may need to calm down Twilight. She wouldn’t do this much damage if she was calm.”

He eyed the scorch marks on the wall, clearly worried about how much damage Twilight could do. I was worried too, but Twilight needed me. I have to help her. “Okay, forwards,” he said hesitantly and we pressed on.

*****************

We could hear Ivan and Twilight shouting and some kind of something howling and then a loud chime went off and I cursed, then tried to cover my mouth and nearly fell down, since I had a passenger.

I tried to press on through the remains of a tunnel which was a tube with metal walls but now there was an odd shimmering field, softly rose colored in front of us. I now realized the field didn’t quite fit the tube… it was square and the tube was round.

It slowly drifted closer and I could see bones floating in the air behind it, though there was something odd about them…

“Well, that is certainly creepy,” Lord Aendyr said.

And now we heard the sound of many feet striking the ground at once behind us. Trapped between foes.

“Let’s try and push it back,” I told Lord Aendyr; it resisted, but we pressed forwards, shoving it out of the tube and into a hallway it fit more closely, whatever it was. But now the foe behind us was catching up.

It was a strange creature, maybe thirty feet long with a draconic head and many legs and a long snakey body. Its scales were metallic blue and lighting crackled around its mouth and nose. We threw ourselves flat when it spat lightning at us, and it blew away the field which dissolved into a gooey looking puddle of liquid.

“Forward, I’ll lift us,” Lord Aendyr said and we sailed over the gunk; the creature briefly froze up when it splashed through the gunk, giving us more room to move. Until we reached a great chasm; the bridge was blown up and I could see flashes of light from a room beyond it. And the creature was closing in.

“I can…” Then Lord Aendyr grimaced. “There’s a huge downdraft; if I try to fly, we’ll likely get pushed into the chasm.”

The creature stalked towards us and I tried shouting for help, but no one could hear us.

“Hopefully the Crusaders were sensible…” Even as I said it, I knew I was foolish to hope that. This thing was intended for *all* of us to fight it.

“If I was a better elementalist, I could get us past the downdraft or turn into an Air Elemental and take this thing out,” Lord Aendyr said ruefully. “Countess Rarity, should this be our tomb, I can at least say I am glad to have met you.”

“Don’t give up,” I told him. “While there is life, there is hope.” Why hasn’t it spat at us again? I could see the lightning around its mouth. “Marcus never gives up.” This was… not entirely true, though he doesn’t give up when it’s important. But my job was to light a fire under his feet.

He winced at that and straightened up. “At the least, it isn’t blasting us again for some reason. It must need time to recharge its power.”

It has to support itself with its legs, so it won’t…

Then I had an idea. I whipped out a length of cloth, flew it at high speed and blindfolded the creature. As I hoped, it couldn’t lift its legs enough to work the blindfold and now it couldn’t see and began to thrash wildly at nothing.

Lord Aendyr studied the chasm and the draft, which I couldn’t see but he could. I haven’t gotten that far in my studies yet. “Do you have any of your shapeshifting candy?” he asked.

“I always carry a few now,” I told him.

“I am trying to think of something we could turn into in order to get across,” he told me.

We were still discussing this when our foe gave a great roar and managed to scrape off his blindfold on the wall. I have rarely been this scared in my entire life. Certainly not since I had to watch Marcus die for us at the gateway to the Hells.

I could feel the air shift as if in anticipation of blasting us to hell and gone, as if a road was somehow building itself in a line forward from the creature’s mouth. I probably imagined it, though I think Pegasi can actually feel that kind of thing and even produce it.

This was the end; if the lightning didn’t kill us, it would likely send us over the edge or it would just rush in on us and eat us. I was readying arrows instinctively but it was too late. We were doomed.

“Oww, dammit,” I heard Lady Aendyr curse and then she grabbed the creature’s head and forced its mouth shut.

She’d somehow grown so tall she couldn’t stand up in the hallway and jumped onto the thing from behind and was now grappling its mouth, even as Marcus hacked away at the creature. The good news was that it couldn’t blast us. The bad news was that we were running out of space because the wrestling match between Lady Aendyr and the monster pushed it towards us and left us between a monster and a long fall.

But I had a plan. “In my saddlebags now,” I told him and he clambered in as quick as he could, even as the creature thrashed and got ever closer.

And then I prayed I could make this work. I’ve seen Twilight do it many times, but I never have done it. I know the teleport protocol for replying to a request to teleport in but I could never make teleporting work. But it was our best hope here.

It is a complex weave of magical energies but I do excel at complex work.

And I had to protect Lord Aendyr; he is my guest and it would be unmannerly to let him die.

Ahaha.

This would be so much easier with my element but it was locked away securely. Artifacts should not be used lightly.

I knew where I wanted to land. I reached out and wove the spell, praying that I was not dooming myself and Lord Aendyr to wander the planes or to die. He was counting on me and I would not fail him. For the heart of nobility, the heart of being a true lady, is to live up to your obligations and those who depend on you.

I may not ever be the lady I once dreamed of being. I can see from talking to Lord Aendyr and Lady Aendyr that there are aspects of nobility which would gall me if I had to live them. But true nobility is being someone others can rely on. And aiding others with your abilities.

Even if they want to look like a whale.

I *had* to do this. And so I assembled the spell and released it and felt the world whirl around me; I could see my target destination and where I left at once and then they became one and I felt magic in my veins.

My legacy as a unicorn.

And then the world returned to normal and I was behind Marcus, who was a mess and once again *nearly naked*. His new clothing was reduced to basically a pair of shorts. What is it with this place?

Lady Aendyr now threw the monstrosity into the chasm and it fell out of sight, blasting the side of the chasm with lightning as it fell. “Oh shit, Countess Rarity! Darien!”

“We’re back here,” I told her and helped Lord Aendyr out; Lady Aendyr was so tall she couldn’t actually stand in the hallway, so it looked like her hugging a doll until Marcus dispelled the spell and she shrank down to normal. Her clothing was shredded as well; I felt bad for her as I know that’s very embarrassing to humans.

And painful to me that my work was destroyed so quickly.

Marcus hugged me tightly as well. “Tell me you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” I told him. I was exhausted from the teleport, though; I may have the finesse for this now but I don’t have Twilight’s raw power. Still don’t.

“Countess Rarity, thank you,” Lady Aendyr said to me warmly. “For protecting Darien.”

“He did his part to protect me as well,” I said and *looked* at Marcus.

Marcus and Lord Aendyr looked at each other. Then Marcus said to Lord Aendyr, stiffly, “Thank you for helping Rarity. When I couldn’t be there for her.”

Lord Aendyr looked stunned, then said, “Countess Rarity is a woman… a mare of many fine qualities.” His lips quirked into a little smile. “I regret you do not live closer to us, Countess. Helga could use a friend like you who she could see more often.” He sighed, then stiffened as if forcing himself to something. “Marcus, you have likely saved my life or at least prevented hideous injury and you have stuck by my wife’s side when she needed you here and brought her back to me as safe as anything in this madhouse can be.” For a second, I heard his teeth grind. “Thank you, Marcus.”

“I have to assume that someone helped them out with this, though they did build the Moonraker really quickly…” Marcus said, looking around. “You’re welcome, Darien. And yes, we’re both very lucky men.”

“You certainly are,” Lady Aendyr said, slapping him on the back; he nearly fell down. “Now we have to go save Ivan and Twilight.”

“Or possibly save the dungeon from them,” Marcus said. “I can hear faint explosions even with the wind howling ahead.”

We then began brainstorming on how to get past said howling wind.

******************

Our combined magical ability and Lord Aendyr and Lady Aendyr’s air magical knowledge enabled us to re-direct the downdraft enough to leave a gap; then I built a rope-bridge out of my remaining clothing supplies and we crossed, then I rolled it up and stored it for later use. We followed the sound of explosions and finally found Twilight and Ivan busy smashing up crystals set into the walls of a cavern. “Twilight, calm down!” I shouted to her. “We’re here, we’re okay, we need to work together to get out.”

Twilight saw us now and galloped over, Ivan barely hanging on; he was riding her. “Rarity!”

We hugged as best as Ponies can, and then I stood close to her, letting her share my calm; I could feel the tug of her panic, but I fought it off. Ivan and Lady Aendyr were embracing and I could see him calming down.

“Rarity figured out how to teleport,” Marcus said proudly to Twilight.

“It’s so exhausting,” I said. “And I am SO hungry,” I continued. “And filthy.”

“Hey, we do have that candy,” Ivan said. “We shouldn’t eat too much or we’ll get sick but it should take the worst of the edge off, right?”

I had some taffy, Marcus took a redhot, Ivan tried a white candy, Twilight took a green hard candy, Lady Aendyr took some licorice and Lord Aendyr tried a black candy. “This is deliciously like good ice coffee,” Lord Aendyr said approvingly.

Frost began to drift out of Ivan’s mouth and Marcus stared at tiny tendrils of smoke coming out of his mouth. My taffy was quite delicious, but… Then Ivan breathed out a freezing cloud. “I… does this give you a breath weapon?” More frost came out.

“This must be magic candy… which she said it was her finest…” Marcus said weakly, flames coming out of his mouth. “TOO HOT.”

Twilight shoved a waterball into his mouth and now he spat up water on her and himself but the fire went out. “Thank you, sorry,” he mumbled.

Ivan began freezing crystals and laughing.

“We need to figure out a quick way to get out.”

There was a sound like ice breaking and then I heard the voice of Cunning Thought. “There you go. Can you hear me now?” She sounded hugely amused.

Oh dear.

“I can hear you, Cunning Thought,” Twilight said wearily.

“You’re fortunate that Sweetie called me,” Cunning Thought said cheerfully. “Don’t worry, dear Sweetie, we’ll have them right out now.”

Twilight now teleported us right to the control room, which surprised me; did she know where it was? It was full of odd magical gimcracks and… it was up inside their new treehouse. Which flies but they’re not allowed to cruise around unsupervised.

Cunning Thought was here, along with Clarity, Spikey, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash. But no Pinkie. Most of the Crusaders were gone, except an exhausted Apple Bloom and Sweetie.

“You all okay?” Dash asked, clearly worried.

“I am miserably hungry and filthy and I think I smell of dead monster,” I moaned, flopping onto my fainting couch.

“Rarity!” Fluttershy said, then whipped grapes out of her saddlebags and began trying to cram them all into my mouth. Too many at once, but I was so hungry, I didn’t care.

Cunning Thought began fussing over Twilight.

“Are you okay?” Sweetie asked Marcus.

“I’m fine, but you all need to think these things through,” Marcus said, ruffling her mane. “Applejack, I hope you have something we can eat.”

“Grannie and Big Mac will whip up a ton of pancakes and we can test my new apple bacon,” Applejack said.

“You have bacon?” Ivan asked, surprised.

“It’s fake-bacon but should be right good,” Applejack said proudly.

“Does it smell like Marcus?” Ivan continued, grinning a little.

“Shut up,” he mumbled, but now ruffled my mane gently and smiled and I smiled at him and tried to not spew crumbs in his face.

“I’m afraid I don’t know you, but thank you,” Lord Aendyr said to Cunning Thought.

“I am Celestia and Luna’s mother, Cunning Thought,” she said grandly.

“LOKI,” I heard Marcus hiss to Lady Aendyr, whose eyes widened.

“She’s our good friend,” Sweetie said and nuzzled her.

Right now, I could accept anyone who got us out of that as our good friend.

“Mother!” Princess Luna said, now appearing. “What are you doing… Ivan?” She stared at Ivan, who was covered in ashes and glowing with random magic and still making frost come out of his mouth.

“Luna, there was a Shadow Pony; I think Twilight drove it off, maybe blew it up entirely,” Ivan said, turning serious. “Mumbling about crystals.”

Princess Luna’s eyes narrowed and I could see fire in them and Cunning Thought turned to study Ivan. “Mumbling what about crystals?”

“I don’t know, but he said he’d found something and something about crystals and then he kind of blew up,” Ivan said.

“I was too busy destroying things to listen,” Twilight said, laughing nervously.

“Did he do anything beyond lurk and explode?” Princess Luna asked, frowning.

“We saw him,” I said. “He studied us and left, saying we weren’t who he was looking for.”

“You had best all go rest,” Princess Luna said. “Mother and I are going down to look around.”

“If you need us…,” I began.

“It is probably nothing,” Princess Luna said but she clearly didn’t believe that. “But you are all worn and torn and I know Celestia is expecting you in Canterlot tomorrow. Go, rest and recover. I will see you later.”

Cunning Thought sighed. “Well, this is the perfect chance for me to tell you about your new siblings. They’ve already burned down the artificial womb Rathanos made for them! I’m so proud of them!”

Lord and Lady Aendyr stared, eyes wide.

I would have stared but I hardly had any energy left.

“Mother!” Princess Luna protested, hiding her face with her wings.

“Anyway, when are you and Ivan going to give me grandchildren?” Cunning Thought grinned.

“MOTHER!” Princess Luna shouted.

Ivan buried his face in his hands.

“We’re going NOW,” Princess Luna said and she vanished with Cunning Thought.

It was time to go home before I die of hunger.

***************

Applejack fed us very well, so well I fell into a food coma and didn’t wake up until the next morning. (I can tell you that apple-bacon has the look and texture of bacon but smells and tastes like apples. I have no idea how it works.) I still don’t know how they got me home but I woke up at sunrise to the sound of Marcus screaming in his sleep; I shook him awake. “Honey, it’s okay, it was just a dream.”

“Everyone was eaten by slime monsters,” he mumbled and sat up. “Oh good, we did get out.”

“We need to get dressed, have breakfast and get ready to head to Canterlot.”

Sweetie hugged me very tightly when I came out and found her and Lady Aendyr making breakfast. “I’m so sorry! We just thought it would be fun!”

“It was fun,” Lady Aendyr said, stretching. “I haven’t gotten to do that in forever.”

“I can’t let you cook,” I said, mortified. “You’re my guest.”

“It’s okay, I could tell you would sleep in,” Lady Aendyr said. “It’s kind of nice to do this myself.”

“Where’s your husband?” I asked. He should be helping her.

“Talking to the kids and Pinkie,” Lady Aendyr said. “And Lyra. Who both basically passed out on the floor by the kid’s beds.” She laughed at that.

“Thank you, Lady Aendyr,” I told her. “How can I help?”

“Please, call me Helga. After everything we’ve been through, we ought to be able to use each other’s first names,” she said hesitantly.

“Okay, Helga,” I said, feeling a little embarrassed. But I thought about all I’d been through.

To be noble… to be a lady… is more complicated than I’d always thought. And it’s nice to have people you don’t have to put up a front with. And from what I have heard, she doesn’t have many. I feel terrible for her. So I will be the best friend I can.

“We will have a grand time in Canterlot. Dash will be coming with us, since we’ll be visiting her museum,” I told Helga.

“Tell me all about it,” she said. “I understand you all took a trip to the North Pole.”

“But they wouldn’t let us go,” Sweetie said mournfully.

So I launched into the tale as we made breakfast.

******************

Princess Luna and Ivan showed up as we had all assembled to take off (joined by Rainbow Dash), then she took Marcus, Ivan, Dash, and I aside into my room. “We’re not entirely sure if something got loose from the Wandering Monster Generator to cause trouble or if a real Shadow Pony infiltrated the place. If it was real, it should have left a body, so probably it was either a construct or something the WMG made. We think the amount of magic Twilight was slinging jammed communications around her, but it’s not impossible the creature was doing it for some reason.”

“Who do the Shadow Ponies serve?” I asked. I have heard legends of them but no one I know has ever seen a real one.

“Many different immortals of Entropy,” Princess Luna said. “Including mother, but I believe she is innocent. This isn’t her style and I do not think she would deliberately ruin something the Crusaders did. Give them the tools to blow themselves up… yes. But she’d make sure they loved her more for it.” Princess Luna tried to pace but my room doesn’t have enough room for proper pacing.

I’m sorry, Princess. I should fix that.

“He had some kind of Thanatos connection but something else too, something I didn’t recognize,” Ivan said, frowning and trying to pace as well, which now caused him and Luna to collide, then laugh weakly.

Marcus laughed loudly. “We could go out back if you need space to move.”

“You should not have any trouble in Canterlot,” Princess Luna said. “Enjoy your time with your friends.”

“So we have no idea what this Shadow Pony wanted,” Marcus said, frowning.

“I think he wanted some kind of crystal thing,” Ivan said. “That’s why we were kind of smashing those crystals when you found us.”

“They were all mundane or only very mildly enchanted,” Princess Luna said. “Mother has a theory but I can’t talk about it.” She sighed. “Immortal business.”

“I understand,” I told her. “I just want our trip to go smoothly.”

“So what’s this business with Loki claiming she and Rathanos had babies?” Marcus asked hesitantly.

Princess Luna buried her face with her wings for a few seconds, then sighed. “Mother is busy shoving her face into a lion’s mouth again. If it causes trouble for us, I will be very cross.”

“So at this point, you don’t need us to do anything,” Marcus said.

“Ivan and I will be doing some investigating later, but for now, just enjoy your vacation and your work. Celestia and I will let you know when and if further action is needed,” Princess Luna said.

That was a relief. I just don’t want anything *else* to go wrong on this vacation.

******************

Much as I feared it might be trouble, I invited Dona Carlotta and Otto to join us at Dash’s museum. She is friends with Darien and I hope she and Marcus can get past everything and he has to get over his issues with Otto. Her father, Don Diego, joined us as well. Sweetie came with us, but not the other Crusaders, having volunteered to run herd on Samantha and Sugar Sparkle. Marcus had a new hat… bought for him from the gift shop by Darien and Helga; it showed Rainbow Dash flying over the North Pole; he bought a second for Scootaloo, which I’m sure she’ll appreciate.

Dash was utterly excited as she roamed around the museum with us, showing everything off. “This is Cherry Blossom, the first Unicorn to break through the…” Dash’s face screwed up. “O c t y llic barrier.” She had to slowly make her way through the word.

“Octyllic,” Darien said. “You can think of magical potential in terms of how much energy you can channel. To pass the Expert level test at the Great School of Magic, you must be able to break through the Octyllic barrier and cast spells which require power beyond that level. It’s unclear if there’s a real barrier or if it’s a purely intellectual concept for us to organize degrees of power.”

“Right,” Dash said. “Her generation was the first to begin showing the modern range of colors of Ponies; you can see her parents were brown and dappled.” She pointed them out. “The researchers were baffled by the color changes and never did figure out the basis of them.”

“What was the basis? Beyond magic?” Darien asked.

“They never figured it out,” Dash said nervously and Marcus laughed softly. “You don’t know either!”

“My slime breeding experiments have shown a set of combinations which always result; is Pony coat and mane color predictable from the parents?” Don Diego asked.

“Well… sometimes…” Dash said. “Mom and I don’t have the exact same Mane colors but we have the same kind of a striped pattern.”

“Rose breeding is very predictable,” Dona Carlotta said. “As long as you have a good idea of the geneaology of the roses and they’ve been bred true for several generations. But they don’t have the full diversity of Ponies.”

“I expect there’s some kind of destiny component, given how Cutie Marks work,” Marcus said.

They now got into a long argument which didn’t interest me much but no one I liked was trying to kill each other with their eyes, and I considered that a step forwards. You can’t just get rid of enmity in a day but I felt there was hope for the future.

To my surprise, Princess Celestia now approached us, having somehow gotten in unannounced. “Rarity, thank you for that nice party in Ponyville. It was nice to be a guest instead of the hostess for once and just enjoy myself.”

I smiled warmly. “I’m glad you enjoyed it. It didn’t end the way I hoped, though.” I sighed.

“I had a grand time,” Celestia said.

Then I had to introduce her to my guests. She patted Samantha and Sugar Sparkle on the head and shook hand-to-hoof with the adult Aendyrs. “I will ensure your stay here for your business is smooth,” she told them very seriously. “I have been considering your uncle’s offer, Lord Aendyr; we can discuss that tomorrow, though. For now, I just would like to see Dash’s masterwork here, and get to know you better.”

I could see Helga was breathing hard, nervous, while Darien seemed totally comfortable. “Don’t worry, she’s very nice but likes to tease,” I told her softly. “Just be yourself and I’m sure she’ll like you.”

“I just don’t want to mess this up,” she said softly to me. “Diplomacy is not my strong point.”

“Can I ride you?” Samantha asked.

“Samantha, you can’t ask a Princess to carry you,” Darien said chidingly to her.

“I would love to carry you,” Celestia said warmly. “Marcus, won’t you help her up?”

Marcus did so and Sugar Sparkle said, “I want to go next!”

Darien buried his face in his hands, but Celestia said, “In a little while, young lady.” Then she looked at me.

“You can ride me if you like,” I told Sugar Sparkle kindly.

“Okay!”

“I understand you are an old friend of my special agent, Marcus,” Celestia said to Helga. “From his adventuring days.”

“I’m Ivan’s cousin; the two of us went adventuring with him for a long time,” Helga said. “We’ve known each other a long time.”

“You must know some good, embarrassing stories you can tell about him, then,” Celestia said cheerfully.

Marcus buried his face in his hands.

Helga perked up. “Most definitely.”

“Ahh, you shouldn’t tell embarrassing stories about your friends!” Sweetie said urgently.

“They’re the best people to tell such stories about,” Helga said and launched into a long story about the time Marcus tried to be a model. By the end of it, Marcus had to launch into a story about Helga in revenge. By the time we finished our tour, Helga had relaxed around Celestia.

And I think that’s what she wanted.

Celestia is a true lady, a true noble. We follow her because we love her and she understands us and how to make us happy. With her, you can always be at your ease. That is a model I aspire to.

****************

Eventually, we had to go home; we had to catch the train home, so we couldn’t stay too late. I hugged Helga goodbye. “Drop by for dinner when you finish here; we’d love to see you one more time,” I told her.

“You should move to Glantri,” she told me. “I’d like to see you all more often.”

“When Ivan conquers Karameikos, we can all move in with him,” I told her, smiling.

She rubbed her forehead. “Please keep him from getting in over his head.”

“Of course,” I told her.

This time, we got a big open space for them to teleport home in, so nothing got messed up, and then it was time to go home and collapse. I work tomorrow and Marcus has school to teach and Sweetie school to go to.

I think I have much to think about with regards to my future. What it means to be noble. Our future as Immortals… something I had never dreamed of, and yet, that is the road we walk now. That Twilight needs us to walk with her.

I am a dreamer, a creator at heart. An artist. And sometimes I have to confront the reality behind my dreams. But I will not turn aside. This will help me to be better in the future. Even when people want me to help them look like a whale.

I need to stop whining about that. But I haven’t reached perfection yet.

Yet.

The End.

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