• Published 10th Dec 2015
  • 12,245 Views, 191 Comments

Anything But The Gala - Ponibius

Celestia has hosted the Gala for hundreds of years—and has hated every year of it. Now that her sister has returned to her, she hopes to share this painful royal duty. Shame for her that Luna wants nothing to do with the Gala.

  • ...

The Gala Trap

Anything But The Gala

Chapter 2: The Gala Trap

CR 1002

"Why are dungeons always such a mess?" Cadance asked as her horn caught on some webbing draping from the ceiling of the entrance to the Blackmoor Spire. Her face contorted with disgust, and she cast a spell to clear out the dust and cobwebs that had clogged up the stone-lined dungeon entrance. At least the webs had not been accompanied by unusually large spiders too. The odd adventurer or couple looking for a risque spot to make love probably did not provide enough succor for such creatures. That was usually something many stories of adventure and monsters tended to neglect, the ecology of how places such as these tended to actually work.

I stepped forward to take point as we continued down the passageway. "I suspect it has something to do with the fact they don't have a full staff to maintain them. Cherish the thought of what would happen to the palace back in Canterlot if not for the hard work of our staff."

Cadance sighed and nodded. "I suppose." Her head tilted as she looked at a one of the gargoyles that lined the hallway. "But why do people spend so much time and resources building places like this when they just let it fall into disrepair?"

"It depends on the specific ruin," I said to my niece, keeping a wary eye out for dangers. "Some merely fall into disuse due to no longer being needed. Then you have your tombs that are left to the dead. And then you have a place like Blackmoor here." I waved vaguely down the corridor. "A place intended to hide and protect some artifact best left undisturbed. Though I have found such methods to be ... unreliable, we will say." It always struck me as inevitable that someday someone would manage to delve into one of these foreboding places and manage to penetrate its defenses. Especially when those defenses tended to erode with time.

“I suppose,” Cadance mused unhappily. “Let’s just deal with this problem before I get spiderwebs in my mane. Actually, now that I’ve just remembered it...” She cast a retrieval spell, causing her body to glow for a moment before it was covered in a crystalline armor. “There, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to put on this armor.”

I looked her up and down. “It suits you. A creation of your subjects?”

She nodded. “The crystal ponies can do some wonderful things with crystals. It was a gift from one of the city’s guilds. Go figure, most everypony were happy when I outlawed slavery and had their chains melted.”

“King Sombra’s reign was one of nothing but misery and poverty.” Taking my niece’s example, I cast a spell to don mine own dark armor. Likely it would only become more dangerous as we pursued our quarry further into the dungeon. "I think a court fool would have been more popular than Sombra in the Crystal Empire, and probably have ruled better in any event." Little surprise, the crystal ponies had little love for the ruler that had enslaved them and whose only motivation to work was the promise of a lashing if they did not work fast enough. Likely there were several diseases that were more popular than Sombra.

"I can't really disagree with you in that one," Cadance said. "Why I want to make sure this warlock doesn't get her hooves on the Octahedron of Ka'alka'mah to try and resurrect Sombra." It was said that the Octahedron could amplify certain forms of dark magic. I was not certain if it could bring back Sombra, but it seemed best not to take chances.

"Yes, if we are lucky, we can catch up with the warlock before she gets into anymore trouble." Reasonably sure that the passage was safe, I proceeded down it, Cadance close behind me. "What was her name again? In our rush to catch up with her, I seem to have forgotten."

"Her real name is Pink Rose." An amused grin spread over Cadance's lips. "But now she calls herself Deathbringer, Master of Evil."

I chuckled. "Really? That is what she is going by?” From what I had heard from Cadance, Pink Rose was a passionate young unicorn mare from a local magic school near the Crystal Empire. She had taken to the idea that she was now a grand and fearsome practitioner of the black arts who would soon resurrect King Sombra with the Octahedron. Her teachers and parents insisted it was more of a case that she had read one too many bad novels where warlocks and monsters were really just tormented souls who just needed some nice and caring mare to make them better. Whatever the case may be, I had been near the area touring my realm when Cadance had asked me to assist her with preventing the return of an old nemesis and keep Pink Rose from getting herself hurt.

“Why must ponies always give themselves such ridiculous names when they turn to the black arts?” I mused. “'Tis always something like Ebony Doomhammer the Obsidian Hearted or Darksun Nihilist the Unforgiving.”

"Twilight has a theory that using black magic makes ponies want to give themselves awful names and wear too much black," Cadance said. "It's actually really interesting if you ever get the opportunity to ask her."

Considering I had taken to calling myself Nightmare Moon and what that had done to mine own wardrobe when I had fallen to dark powers, I had to wonder if Twilight Sparkle's theory had some validity to it. "Yes, that is perhaps true," I said tensely, not wanting to get into the specifics of that topic lest it come back to my own activities.

Cadance waved the issue off. "In any case, how have you been? We don't get to spend nearly enough time together. Especially since I started ruling the Crystal Empire."

A pang of guilt ran through me. I knew well the pain of being neglected, however much unintentionally, could hurt. "I have been well. Though I think you are right about something. I should try and make more time for my beloved niece."

"Oh, I didn't mean to imply you weren't making enough time for me," she was quick to say. "We've both been really busy, after all. I know I've been busy, busy, busy getting the Crystal Empire back on its hooves. Go figure, it’s a lot of work to modernize the city from an inefficient slave economy Sombra had set up.”

“Of course, I understand completely.” My niece had been most diligent in her tasks, and I could hardly lambast her for seeing to the happiness of her subjects. “We each have our duties, but seeing to family is also part of our duties and not one to be neglected. Something I have sought to improve upon for the future.” Certainly that was something I had been working on with my sister since my return. While it had not always been easy, it had been worthwhile.

“Well, I certainly won't complain if you come by to visit more often.” She gave me a sweet smile. “Especially if we can go on an adventure now and again like this. I know it’s important, but things can be sooo boring in the Crystal Empire. I could use a little bit of excitement in my life.”

I could not help but let a grin creep onto my lips. It seemed my niece had a bit of a heart of an adventurer in her. She no doubt knew that I tended to be more hooves-on with dealing with Equestria’s problems than my sister. Especially when it came to dealing with things like monsters. Tia would of course rise to the occasion when matters pressed, but she received little joy from crushing monsters. “I see little reason not to. I would treasure the odd adventure with my niece.” I held up a leg to stop Cadance’s progress down the tunnel. “Oh, and mind the spike pit trap there.” With a burst of telekinesis, I struck a section of the floor and the trap door swung open, revealing a pit filled with rusted spikes at the bottom.

Cadance craned her neck to see down the pit and the spiky fate that befell anypony unfortunate enough to fall inside. “Oh, thank you.” Her horn glowed, and there was a crackle as the pit was filled with crystals. Within a few moments, all that remained of the pit was smooth crystal floor. No doubt she had learned the spell from her new subjects, and a bit of pride swelled within me to see my niece so capably deal with the annoyance. Mayhaps ‘twould have been better to merely fly over the pit and save her magic for other trials, but I did not wish to dour our current bonding with such criticisms. Instead, I lead the way across the floor she had created.

“So, I trust you are settling well within the Crystal Empire?” I asked. “You have of course been in your aunts’ thoughts while you have been away.”

“Very well,” Cadance said, following after me. “The crystal ponies are wonderful.”

I spotted what I believed to be a pressure plate, accompanied by scores of suspiciously spaced holes along the walls. “And they are adapting to the modern age? I know from personal experience that can be difficult.” Not wishing to bother with being held up long by this trap, I created a layer of ice along the walls where the holes were. Just to be careful, I created a shadow clone of myself that promptly stepped onto the pressure plate. There was a crack, and I heard something jam somewhere within the walls.

“It helps that they have a full society, I think.” Cadance continued with me now that the immediate passage was safe. “Plenty of other ponies who know exactly what they're going through, so they can support one another. It helps that everypony else in Equestria has been really supportive.”

I hummed unhappily. “Yes, having company would help.” It was difficult to not let old memories of bitterness resurface, no matter how much I might try and put them to the side.

“I'm sure Celestia helped you with your transition, right?” she asked, detecting my sudden tension.

“She did, as well as she could.” I made a sour look as we reached a trio of pendulum blades that were swinging back and forth across the hallway, ready to slice anypony that walked past in half. Of course there were pendulums; why would there not be? My sour look of course had nothing to do with my sister. “Almost excessively, considering she planned out every detail of my... rehabilitation. I think a thousand years of worry caused her to overplan.”

“Huh, that's unusual for her.” Following my example, Cadance used her magic to create more crystals to jam the pendulums in place.

“You think so?” I asked. “I have always found her to be a plotter.”

“Yes, but she's usually a bit more...” Cadance searched for the right word, no doubt not wishing to find too much offense in her adoptive aunt and mentor. Most ponies usually tried very hard not to find fault with my sister. “Subtle. To be fair, Auntie Tia was very happy to have you back.”

“That puts it a bit mildly,” I groused, many of the trying memories after my return coming back to me. “Between the feast and celebration she had planned. Remodeling and redecorating my new room in the palace. A hundred tutors to help teach me about the modern world. And a dozen other things. She had drawn up a full schedule for the first year after my return. Then there were the ... what were they called? Ah yes, bonding exercises with my sister.”

One of Cadance's eyebrows queries. "Bonding exercises?"

I sighed. "Imagine if you had a somewhat overbearing sister who had a millennium to come up with things she wanted to do with you. A sister she loved very much but had not seen for all that time."

It took Cadance a long moment to fully absorb the situation I was presenting her with. She finally settled on a simple, "Oh."

"Aye, 'oh.'" Tia of course meant well, but she could be unintentionally domineering at times. "It has been slightly trying. Though not all of it has been bad. I really must tell you the story of when the two of us had to solve a series of puzzles in order to escape a room. It was quite entertaining. Mayhaps we could do so again with you next time?" I was about to say more when I heard the quickly growing rumble coming down towards us from a stairway. Looking up, I saw a boulder rolling down at us. It seemed whoever had designed this dungeon had decided to use all the classics. At the rate we were going, we would have to watch out for falling blocks and a slowly lowering ceiling.

“One moment please,” I said to Cadance, who had spread her wings as though to flee. Bringing forth my magic, I extended my shadow forth to cover the floor in front of us.

“Um.” Cadance shuffled in place and looked behind, no doubt feeling the urge to flee as the boulder rolled closer. “Shouldn’t we run? I like the idea of running.”

“Patience, niece.”

“I think patience is about the last thing we need when—” Cadance let out a short scream and covered her face when the boulder was about to strike us, but instead of rolling over us, it fell into my shadow as though it were a deep hole. My niece held that position for a long moment, her eyes closed in a wince as she waited for a boulder that would never deliver on its mission. Eventually, she said, “You did something to the boulder, didn’t you?”

“Aye,” I said simply.

Cadance slowly opened her eyes and saw that doom had not befallen us. She straightened herself and tried to salvage her dignity. “Well, um, that’s good.”

I grinned at her. “Indeed. I would never see you hurt if there is anything I can do about it.” I gave her a teasing prod to the shoulder. “And worry not, I will not tell anypony about the incident with the boulder.”

“Right.” Clearing her throat, Cadance stepped forward in a prim manner, no doubt hoping to put her minor humiliation behind her. “Now, what were we talking about before? I forget.”

“About my sister’s over enthusiastic love for me and her displays of affection,” I said, keeping up with her.

“Right, right. She means well,” Cadance said in Tia’s defense. “Even if she is taking it a bit too far. I mean, it’s not like she's doing anything too awful, like asking you to go to the Gala with her.”

“Nooo, not exactly,” I hedged. “More like she is asking me again to host the Gala for her.”

“Don't.” Cadance shivered as though somepony ran something slimey down her spine. “Just ... find an excuse to get away. Any excuse. It doesn’t matter what.”

That caused me to quirk an eyebrow. “It is that bad? I have heard rumors, but... And I thought you loved parties.” Like my sister, Cadance was a social butterfly at the grand balls and parties I had seen her attend. Though with the energy and flair that came with youth. A pit of worry was beginning to grow within my belly. If both my sister and niece despised the Gala, then I saw little hope that I would fare any better.

“I hated hosting the Gala,” she said with an acid that I had only seen her reserve for Queen Chrysalis herself. “The Gala isn't a party. It's—it’s a sick mockery of what a party ought to be!”

“Why do you think so?” I asked.

“It's just ... it's not fun at all.” Cadance rubbed at one of her forelegs. “It's the snootiest party of the year with a bunch of snooty ponies standing around being snooty. For hours. Nopony has fun at the Gala. It’s more about being seen at the Gala. Everypony's so busy looking good and worrying about their image that...” She groaned and rubbed at her face. “And then there’s greeting everypony. It’s the least enjoyable thing I’ve ever done. I spent hours and hours just greeting everypony that came and shaking their hooves. It never stopped, and I couldn't get away all evening. I swear, ponies were double dipping and getting back in the line to shake my hoof again. When I woke up the next morning, it felt like somepony had taken a mallet to my hoof. Repeatedly.”

I took a moment to think over what I had been told. “And nopony is enjoying themselves? Yet most ponies do nothing but glorify the Gala.”

Cadance rolled her eyes. “It's all about social obligations and looking good. Well, you can have some fun if you’re there with friends, but you don’t really get that option when you’re hosting. All alone. On the stairs. Shaking hooves. All. Night. Long.”

“Ah, I see ‘tis one of those types of events,” I said. “That would explain why everypony acts the way they do.” It also meant that I wanted nothing to do with the Grand Galloping Gala. The trick, of course, was how to stay away without overly offending my sister.

Cadance nodded. “Exactly. And I’ll tell you right now, we aren’t doing anything like the Gala in the Crystal Empire. Not if I have anything to say about it.” She grinned widely. “And as Princess of the Crystal Empire, I do. So there.”

“That strikes me as wise.” I grinned at her. “So, I suppose this means I cannot convince you to host the Gala in my sister and I's stead?”

“No. Nononononono.” Cadance shook her head vigorously. “Never, not a chance, not happening, not ever. I swear the only way you will get me to the Gala is to drag me kicking and screaming.” She blinked as her outburst ended. “Er, sorry.”

I smiled mischievously. I did have to admire her spirit, even if it had not been fully tempered by age and experience yet. “It is fine, my niece. I know how it is. Still, my sister wishes for me to host the Gala, and I seem to have few options if I am to ward off her pleas.”

“You could always say no,” she said, stating the obvious.

I hummed unconvinced as we approached a large double door. “It is not as simple as that. I do not wish to hurt her feelings, for one.” Studying the door, I saw that it was covered by a series of panels that looked as though they could be shifted around to make some sort of picture. A puzzle, then.

“Oh, of course not,” Cadance readily agreed, also carefully examining the door.

“And she has ways of ... manipulating others,” I finished carefully.

“I've noticed.” My niece moved one of the panels to an empty spot, confirming my suspicions that they could move. “That's how she got me to do it the one year. And now she wants you to host the Gala?”

“So she does. Take my hoof if you would.” I extended my hoof to her. “Though she has been circumspect about the details. Most likely because she does not wish to give me reason to reject her outright.”

Cadance took my hoof. “And probably because she knew ponies would warn you.”

“And that has been the case. Mine own advisors, however reluctantly, told me of my sister’s loathing for the Gala.” Seeing no reason to delay our quest with a trivial puzzle, I used my magic to turn the two of us into a star-filled cloud. I willed us forward and probed at the bottom of the door and found a crack. We pushed through and arrived at the other side of the door. There, I returned us to our material forms.

My niece blinked as she regained her bearings. “Nice trick. Mind teaching it to me someday?”

I gave her an impish grin. “Only if I can have a place to hide from my sister until the Gala is over.”

She rubbed her chin. “Go right ahead. Tell her that you want to spend some time with me, and that I would love to spend some time with you.” A pleased smile worked its way onto her lips. “Which would be true. We did talk about spending more time together just a little bit ago.”

“True.” Thinking over the matter carefully for any flaws in the plan and finding none, I nodded. “I believe this plan can work.”

Cadance’s smile became a sickeningly sweet one as she leaned towards me. “And of course you will owe me a favor afterwards.”

My niece's manipulation of events caused me to chuckle. "I see my sister has taught you well in the realm of politics. You have quite grasped when to seize what advantages you can. Though I ask that you take some mercy on your poor beleaguered aunt." I leaned my head until we were almost touching muzzles and gave Cadance a wolfish grin that made her swallow nervously. "For I will remember if you do me wrong, and I have a very long memory."

"Nothing too bad, I promise," she was quick to say. "Just a little something down the line, if that's okay."

I nodded, having teased my niece enough. "That should be fine. I am sure a fine young mare such as yourself will not abuse my goodwill, and I will owe you a boon for helping me avoid the Gala." Whatever favor Cadance was likely to ask in the future would have to be better. At least that was a risk I was willing to take.

The two of us traveled further into the dungeon until we arrived in a large chamber. From wall to wall was a grid of tiles with all manner of different creatures stamped upon each of them. The grid divided the room, and it was not a difficult guess that this was another puzzle of some sort. One had to wonder what type of person thought that this type of arrangement was best to keep out intruders. Mayhaps very bored architects.

On our side of the chamber stood a young mare with a dark pink coat. She was wearing a black robe and saddlebags and was cautiously levitating a staff near the tiles, bringing the staff down near a tile but only to pull the staff back up before committing to the act. As Cadance and I walked closer to her, I noticed that the mare was in a disheveled shape. Her azure mane looked as though a brush had not touched it for at least a few days, her attire was badly worn, and the strap to her saddlebags looked about ready to snap off of her. It seemed that we had found Pink Rose, and before she managed to find the object of her quest. That was much better than how these things normally went.

At last she finally committed to placing the end of her staff onto a tile and was paid for her action with a pillar of flame descended from the ceiling. It caught the staff on fire and the mare dropped it with a yelp of surprise. She backed away from the fire in a scramble, not looking where she was going until she bumped into me.

“My, ‘tis a good thing you did not attempt that with your hoof,” I said, not being able to keep myself from teasing the young mare.

She yelped again and whirled to face me and Cadance. “P-p-princesses!” Her pupils shrunk to pinpricks and she backed away from us in a hurry. Such a hurry that Cadance was forced to put up a shield between her and the tiles in order to keep her from setting off the trap again.

“Careful, Pink Rose,” cautioned Cadance. “You don’t want to hurt yourself.”

After a few seconds to think about the situation she was in, Pink Rose regained something of her composure. She widened her stance and her horn glowed as she drew upon her magic. “S-stay back! I k-know a lot of magic!"

I shot her an unimpressed look. "Child, I have defended Equestria for centuries. Over that time I have defeated numerous warlocks, thrown down terrible tyrants, cast demons back into their hell dimensions, smote demigods, and destroyed eldritch horrors that would shred the minds of mere mortal ponies who were to simply bear witness. Do you really think you can defeat me in battle? Much less with my niece and fellow alicorn by my side?"

The wheels in Pink Rose’s head rotated quickly as she considered the situation before her. Eventually her head drooped and her horn ceased glowing. “No.”

I shook my head. “Nooo.”

"Pink," Cadance said in a tone normally reserved for mad ponies. "Let's just stop all this—"

"My name is Deathbringer, the Mistress of Evil!" Pink Rose insisted with a stomp of her hoof, some of her fire returning.

Seeing her be so insistent on the ridiculous name made me cover my mouth as I snickered. The mare looked less a threat to the world than a young adult who was rebelling against her parents.

Seeing me find amusement at her attempt to be intimidating caused Pink Rose stare at me open mouthed as her ears fell to her head. Likely I had hurt her pride, a prickly thing with those her age. "W-why are you laughing?!"

"I am sorry." I cleared my throat and regained my composure. "But do you know how ridiculous that name sounds?"

"It is not ridiculous!" Pink Rose said with all the confidence of a young mare overly concerned with the opinion of her peers.

"I am reasonably sure it is." I looked to Cadance. "Cadance, your opinion?"

"It is a little silly-sounding," Cadance said with an apologetic smile.

Pink Rose's ears drooped all the more. "Really?"

“'Tis so,” I said with a nod. “My apologies, but 'tis far too dramatic, to be honest.”

She considered the words before saying, “So what do I change it to?”

I sighed, hardly believing I was discussing this with a would-be warlock I had been chasing down but a few minutes ago. “If you must rename yourself, it would best to pick something unique, a name that fits who you are, but not something that would incite ridicule.”

Pink Rose rubbed her chin. “Maybe ... Darkness Doom?”

“I suggested unique,” I said, feeling my patience fraying a bit. “Have you read nothing of the chronicles of warlocks?”

“Raven Blacksign?” she said, trying again and failing.

I rubbed my forehead, feeling a headache coming on. “Mayhaps we could discuss this outside of the foreboding dungeon? This hardly seems the place to have a serious discussion about changing your name.” Leaving the dungeon would also take Pink Rose from her goal of obtaining its foul artifact, and after talking with the young mare, I was convinced that she was more misguided in her goals than truly evil.

Cadance nodded in agreement. “I think that would be for the best. It would also keep us from accidentally setting off some trap.” She looked back the way we had come. “Though I have to wonder how many traps we’ll have to deal with on the way back. You know, the stories never really cover that topic.”

“Er ... okay?” Pink Rose shuffled in place before giving me a slight, nervous smile. “I ... I've always been a huge fan of yours, so I really appreciate the help...”

My muzzle scrunched up in confusion. “A fan?”

“Mhm!” Pink Rose nodded enthusiastically. “I just loved you as Nightmare Moon! You were so cool, and moody, and oooh, I’m so nervous I don’t know what to say now that you’re here.” She let out a delighted squeal. “You’re as dreamy as Sombra is hunky. I just know that deep down you’re both good ponies who just want a friend to talk to.”

I bit back my tongue to keep myself from losing my temper with the filly. To say the least, attempting to bring about everlasting darkness had not been the wisest of actions on my part. Much less that of a sane pony. “I am sure there is much we can cover once we are away from here.”

“Okay!” she exclaimed, hopping in place.

“Maybe we could go somewhere for lunch?” Cadance smiled in what I thought was an unhelpful manner.

Encouraging the young mare was not something I particularly wanted to do, but mayhaps some time spent with her could steer her back to the right path. She struck me as ultimately harmless, and quite capable to have gotten past all the previous lethal traps. Either that, or very lucky. Whatever the case might be, it was my duty to help my erstwhile subjects, and if it took a lunch with a mare who admired me for all the wrong reasons, so be it.

“That sounds like a good idea,” I agreed. “No doubt there is much we can discuss.”

Pink Rose let out another squeal of delight. “I'm eating lunch with Nightmare Moon!”

Suppressing a wince at the reminder of what I had previously called myself, I said, “My name is Luna, if you will be so kind.”

She gave me an eager smile, her desire to dine with me clearly evident. “Whatever you want, Luna!”

I sighed as I worked to maintain my patience. “Let us be away from this place then.”

“Alright!” Pink Rose trailed after me as I lead the way out of the dungeon, looking like a lost puppy as she did so. “Can ... can I shake your hoof?”

Cadance chuckled and whispered to me, no doubt enjoying my firm displeasure. “I think you have a fan...”

“So it seems,” I whispered back, shaking my ‘fan’s’ hoof. It was going to be a long meal. The things I do for my ponies...

CR 1003

"And these are my redecorated quarters, dear sister." I elegantly motioned at the refurbished room as we entered my quarters.

Tia took a long look about the room. "It's, um ... very you, Luna. Very different from how I had it set up after you had returned."

"I know!" A wide smile spread across my face. "Is it not wonderful?"

My sister took another analytical glance. As befit my tastes, the living room was now redone in dark blues, silvers, purples, and black. Motifs of the moon and bats were spaced all about the room. Along the walls sat shelves of dark wood with items such as skulls, books, and some items of personal value. In the center of the room sat some couches and cushions that had an air of sophistication but were still quite comfortable to sit on. About the walls were decorative weapons, a pair of armors made of dark metal, some taxidermied animals, and four gargoyles that sat high in each corner, staring down at anypony in the room. Overall, I was quite proud about how it had come together.

"I'm happy that you enjoy it, but it's..." My sister searched for what she wanted to say. "Very dark in here."

I frowned, not liking her tone. "I prefer it that way."

"I know," Tia was quick to say. "I'm just using a critical eye at the moment. Really, you should decorate your quarters in the way that makes you happy." She frowned as she stared at a silver and gem encrusted skull. "Though did you have to bring the skulls back?"

I puckered out my lips in a pout. "What is wrong with my skulls?" I levitated the skull she had looking at to my chest and I hugged it there. "I like my skulls. I find them endearing."

Tia spoke with careful deliberation. "They are a bit ... grim."

"Really?" I lifted the skull to examine it. "I did not think so."

“You always did have very different tastes from most ponies.” Tia next turned to the stuffed owlbear that stood poised against one wall and gave it a contemplative frown. Its owl-like head open in a silent screech, its large bear-body looming, and long claws outstretched to rend its hapless victim. “And I see that you’ve collected some new taxidermy for the room.”

“Oh indeed.” I placed myself next to the dead owlbear and smiled to my sister. “Is he not magnificent? You have no idea how long I had to hunt to find an owlbear sufficient to meet mine own royal majesty. Not to mention how difficult it was to find a taxidermist skilled enough to please me. Really, it is as though the craft has died out over the last few centuries.” While the hunt itself had been quite exhilarating, actually tending to it had been a far more tedious exercise.

Tia’s head tilted ever so slightly as she stared at the owlbear. “Yes, it’s something of a mystery, I’m sure. You know, we probably could have hired somepony to make an artificial owlbear that would have looked at least as good as this one, and then you wouldn’t have had to go through all the trouble of killing this one and stuffing it.”

“But then it would be a fake!” I scoffed. “How could ponies trust me if the animals I displayed were not slain by mine own hooves?”

“I think you will find that ponies’ sentiments have changed over the last few centuries there,” Tia advised.

“Mayhaps,” I grudgingly allowed. So much had changed over the last millennium that it could be difficult to tell exactly what all had changed. Especially where things like taste were concerned. “Though I still prefer displaying an owlbear that I slew myself.”

“If that is your preference.” Her head swiveled to turn towards one of the armors. “Did that armor just groan?”

I nodded. “Most certainly. It does that every once in awhile.”

Tia sighed and rubbed at her forehead. “Luna, did you get a haunted armor? Again?”

I frowned. She had always been a stickler about such things. Really, as royalty we were expected to possess at least a few eccentricities like possessing haunted armor. Not to mention such things made for interesting talking points for guests. “Of course, it adds character to the armor, not to mention it allowed me to buy it at a considerable discount. And really, it’s hardly dangerous. All it does it moan for some scotch now and again.”

Tia wasn’t willing to let the issue drop that easily, naturally. “That type of thing unsettles the servants.”

“They will get used to it, they always do.” I waved dismissively. “Really, you do not need to baby them all the time. They are grown ponies and can deal with anything that is not dangerous.”

“I just want them to be comfortable.” She pointed at one of the gargoyles perched above us. “I mean, I’m certain that one gargoyle has been following me with its head since I entered the room.”

“Oh, it most certainly has.” I gave it a contemplative look, thinking back to the art dealer I had bought the collection of gargoyles from. “It seems that one has been possessed by some sort of spirit, though I have not been able to determine what yet. I will figure it out later when I have some time.” After all, it had taken me nearly three years to get around to redecorating my quarters to start with. Between reacclimating to the modern world, coming to grips with my royal duties once again, and a thousand other pressing problems like the occasional monster attack, issues like what furniture I had for my rooms had not been a priority. “I did get them all for a bargain thanks to the one being unusual.”

“That’s going to be unsettling to some,” Tia said.

I rolled my eyes. “I think you are worrying too much.”

“They’re your quarters,” my sister hedged. “Whatever makes you happy.”

“And happy I am,” I said with a firm nod. “Though doing so would have been a lot easier if so many of my things had not been ... lost over the centuries.” Considering my sister’s disapproval of my tastes, it was not hard for me to imagine that she had somehow managed to deliberately misplace most of my things. Certainly my quarters had been done up according to her own preferences. It was much ... brighter than I was accustomed to. There had been a sense that Tia had attempted to accommodate what would please me, but it had an undeniable flavor to it that had been her touch.

She sighed, no doubt because we had covered this topic before in the past. “I already told you, things happen over the course of centuries. Not to mention some items just get too old and aren’t good to use anymore.”

“Oh? So what happened to my old stuffed animals?” I asked while pointed at my owlbear. “The preservation enchantments I had interwoven into them should have allowed for their survival.”

My sister shook her head. “They were lost in the Fire of 472.” She paused and tapped her chin. “Or was that the Fire of 534? I always mix those two up.”

I frowned, not liking the idea of my old hunting trophies being turned into kindling. “And what about my old brooch? You know, the one with the emeralds and interlocking bats that I loved so. That should have stood the test of time.”

“Stolen by one of the servants, sadly.” She shook her head in a regretful fashion. “By the time we found out objects were going missing in the palace, your brooch had long disappeared on the black market, and we were never able to find it again.”

I growled out several things under my breath that were more appropriate for a grizzled old soldier than a princess. It seemed that I might need to make an effort of finding some of my old jewelry someday once I found the time for it. “Then what happened to my some of my paintings? Like my Starry Night Over The Roam? Do not tell me all of them were lost to a fire too.”

“Mmm, not exactly.” Tia hesitated before speaking again. “You see, it turns out your Starry Night Over Roam was a fake and—”

What?!” A rage flowed over me. That painting had been among the pride of my collection of art pieces. “I bought that painting from a reputable dealer! It was supposed to be the original!”

My sister shuffled ever slightly on her hooves, looking like she would rather be in a great many other places at the moment to mine eyes. “Not as reputable as you or a lot of ponies thought. Turns out the pony you bought it from had been swindling ponies across Equestria with very convincing fakes at the time. When it was discovered what he had done a couple centuries after the fact, I had your painting checked by some experts and they determined it was a fraud. I couldn’t let you be showing a fake, so I had it quietly sold off during a minor auction for a charity.”

My ears wilted as my rage slowly subsided. Tia had probably acted as best she could considering the situation. It would not due for a princess to proudly be showing off a fake painting. “I swear, I have half a mind to bring that stallion back from the dead to give him a severe lesson about what he has done to me.”

“Luna...” Tia said in a chiding tone she reserved when she wished to warn me I was about to misbehave.

I let out a frustrated sigh. “Very well, sister. No necromancy to punish ponies that have done me wrongs in the past.” I grumbled under my breath. “No matter how much they might deserve it.”

“Thank you,” Tia said graciously. "And really, at the end of the day, we're talking about things, and most things can be replaced."

I sighed. "Aye, it is so." And it was not as though I did not have a budget with which to buy new things. My only real concern was for things of more sentimental value. That thought reminded me of something I wished to bring up with my sister. "By the way, I have been meaning to ask you something. You remember my favorite doll from when I was a child do you not? Batsy?"

Tia spoke with a reluctance I was not accustomed to hearing from her. "Yes, I do."

"Good, because I could not find him when I looked around in the palace's storage." I frowned upon the memory. The servants had rather exaggerated their organization of the odds and ends the palace had collected over the centuries. Due to the fact that the palace was built right into the mountain, it meant that there was quite a bit of room to build down, something our ancestors had taken full advantage of. While the old kings and queens of Unicornia no doubt had their purposes for the rooms they had carved from the mountain's stone, my sister and I had found a more mundane use for all the rooms: storage. As a result, there were rooms upon rooms filled with crates, racks of clothes that had been put aside due to the ever-changing whims of fashion, and all sorts of imaginable knickknacks that had been collected over our considerable lifetimes. It felt as though I had descended into a byzantine maze of the ages as I quested to find my beloved Batsy and other personal effects that might have survived the passage of time.

"It is something of a mess down there." Tia cleared her throat. "If you like, we can talk with the majordomo about having that seen too."

"Mayhaps we should." While there was wisdom in having an audit to see exactly what all we had collected, I sensed that what my sister really wanted to do was change the conversation from Batsy. That was one of her usual tactics for avoiding a discussion she did not wish to have. "Though at the moment I'm more concerned about Batsy. Would you happen to know what happened to him?"

"I..." Seconds ticked by as I scowled at her. Whatever she was thinking, I wanted to know the truth of the matter. Not fed some white lie to save my feelings. Eventually, she drew herself up, as though a pony about to admit something before facing the gallows. "Luna, I'm really sorry, but I gave Batsy away to one of my students a long time ago."

My eyes widened. "You gave Batsy away?! What gave you the right to give away the most cherished item of my childhood?"

Tia winced. “Once again, I’m sorry.” She looked away from me. “I was weak. If you had seen the adorable little smile on Stargazer’s face when she asked if she could have Batsy...”

I left out a huff and turned my back to my sister. “Well, it seems like there is nothing to be done about it now. My doll is gone, as are most of my possessions, and it seems you do not appreciate how I have decorated my rooms. It seems this evening is turning out to be a failure.” My choler was now up after all the humiliations I had just suffered. All I had wanted to do was show Tia my quarters and have her be happy for me, but it seemed even that was not going to work out.

“Luna...” Tia wrapped a wing around me and gave me a nuzzle. “There is so much I wish I could turn back the clock on to make better, I really do. But I’m not perfect. All we have is the present and the future, and I’m working very, very hard to make things right.”

I let out a long sigh. “I know, I know. Having discord with you is not my intention. In my heart I know you have done your best. It is just ... you can drive me crazy sometimes.”

Tia grinned and poked me in the ribs. “I could say the same about you.”

“I only wished for you to be pleased with how my rooms looked,” I said. “Though with it still being mine. Not ... something you had designed for me to try and make me happy.”

“I understand.” She pecked me on the forehead. “Now how about you show me your bedroom? I’m curious to see what you’ve done with it. Given some time, I think I’ll warm up to all of this. If I had to guess, I’ve grown a bit too used to having my way around the palace all the time. It would be nice to spice this place up a little bit, and add some variety to the decor.”

A smile returned to my face. I knew my sister was putting up a front for my sake, but that didn’t make it any less precious to me. “If you insist.” I lead the way towards my bedroom. “And ... did Batsy make your student happy?”

Tia nodded. “Very. The smile Stargazer gave me when I said she could have him made my heart melt. Batsy meant as much to her as he did to you.”

“That is good,” I allowed. “Batsy should not have gone to waste if he could make another child happy.”

“I’m happy to hear you agree.” Tia followed me into the bedroom, a room that looked much the same as the living room in decor, though filled with more of my personal effects that actually survived the passages of the last millennium. “Oh, and before I forget, I wanted to ask you something.”

“What is it?” I asked.

Tia lifted her wing from my back and folded it back to her side. “I was wanting to ask if you were interested in hosting the Grand Galloping Gala this year?”

I was very careful not to betray any emotions on my face when she asked that question. I had known that this question was coming sooner or later, but not exactly when. Thankfully, I already had a response ready for my sister. “Mmm, I am sorry, dear sister, but I think I will be visiting Cadance again in order to assist her with her duties. She was very thankful when I had visited her last year, and had asked that I please return again this year.” I smiled, feeling secure in having avoided attending the Gala for yet another year. “And naturally, I cannot turn down a visit to our beloved niece. I am sure you understand.”

The barest smile creeped up along the edges of her mouth, and it created a pit of dread in my stomach. “Oh? You didn’t hear the news?”

That pit grew within me. “Hear what?”

Though her face was carefully neutral, I could not help but notice a hint of mirth in her voice. “That Cadance is going to an international conference overseas, of course. At first she said that she was too busy to go on an international tour with so much work to do in the Crystal Empire. The problem is that we really do need a princess to go to that conference, and so I offered her the opportunity to host the Gala, allowing me to go to the conference myself. Though when I suggested that she all but jumped onto going to the conference, funny enough.”

She knew that I was intentionally trying to get out of the Gala. Not that she would say as much. The game had not progressed to that point yet, but the two of us were now playing, and playing to win. That meant I needed to think of a counter move and fast.

“I see...” My mind raced to think of something, any excuse not to host the Gala, but my mind was drawing a blank. That being the case, I switched tactics. “I will consider it. But first I need to talk with my advisors about it. I do not wish to spring such an important decision on them without their counsel on it.” A delaying tactic seemed like the best one at the moment. At the very least it would buy me time to think of another solution to this problem.

“That should be fine,” my sister relented, though I detected her unhappiness in her tone. No doubt she knew exactly what tactic I was using. Pity for her she could not call me out on it without revealing her own hand.

Either way, best not to dwell on the issue too long lest she find a way to turn the tide completely against me. “In the meantime, let me show you around my bedroom.”

Tia sucked in a breath through her lips as she took in the view. “And I see it’s even more you than the living room...”

Author's Note:

I would like to thank of editors Chengar Qordath, Comma-Kazie, and JakeTheGinger for all their great help in putting this story together, and to my prereaders Trinary, 621Chopsuey, Incidental Pegasus No. 5, Web of Hope, Swiftest, and Infinion for all their work to edit this story.