• Published 14th Sep 2018
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Knight of Equestria I: Certainty - scifipony



Long before I took the name Songbird Serenade, I met Princess Nightmare Moon. It changed me forever. It revealed in me a strong—and I fear evil—certainty that has affected the lives of many ponies. This is a story of the aftermath.

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Certainty

Author's Note:

Songbird Serenade’s Playlist

I know not hope, but certainty. It's a scar upon my soul.

Though I discovered certainty the day I got my cutie mark—the morning of the 1000th Summer Sun Celebration—the story I'm going to tell you began the day before. That was years before I earned my Songbird moniker or took on my full stage name, but it was how I started to become the mare I am now, the pony who could write a song about having seen rainbows and pain in the teardrops of a princess.

Mum and Dad had founded their Ponyville cleaning business three years before. When I wasn't at school, or doing homework as I was that day, I swept, mopped, and dusted other ponies' homes. We were an immigrant family and, I'll tell you, grateful for every opportunity. Prior to that, we farmed for a tyrannical petty lord in a small village named Hasmirror—until the blight destroyed the borage harvest. Everypony who was anypony went to Trottingham, but Duster and Spinfluff were only peasants, two of desperate thousands. Worse, they were a pegasus married to an earth pony. Trotters frowned on that sort of cheekiness almost as much as they did class-climbing. Not wanting us to starve, Mum and Dad emigrated to what they hoped was a less-oppressive more-enlightened Equestria.

The mayor had hired them to clean the Town Hall overnight, but they had two houses to complete first. That's how, the afternoon before the Summer Sun Celebration, I found myself home alone doing maths. I wasn't totally alone. My tunes kept me company.

Blank-flank me earned her allowance—and spent all of it on audio kit, records, and turntables. I had all five spinning, Midnight Canterlot shrieking like a musical ripsaw on my Silver Tongue Elite III. The artistically muddy lyric went something like "Ahhhh-oh-e-oh!" over and over again. I'd arranged the players into a circle in the middle of which I lay—my heavily highlighted textbook in a beam of sunlight, a plate of caramel hay beside me, and a chewed pencil bobbing in my mouth—mastering poorly the art of the quadratic equation. My dormer room was my own peaceful little haven.

I needed music to think. The louder the better.

I didn't hear the knock at first.

I wing-flicked the needle up, thinking that nopony needed me until late evening and remembering that I had been told to nap after finishing my homework and after fixing myself supper. I fluttered to the door and opened it, expecting a flustered Mum.

A pink pony with a pink candy-floss mane bounced there.

"Yike!" I felt a tight grip around my heart as I jumped, striking the rafters.

She said, "You must be Flopsy Mopsy. Vinyl Scratch told me to call you Mop."

There is no wondering why Mum and Dad named me Flopsy Mopsy, I mean... look at me. On the best of days, my mane resembles the business end of a rag mop—a tool I wielded daily back then. I'd been born with a full mane of the clumpy tar-colored stuff. Poor Mum. And then there was that embarrassing foal photograph on the fireplace mantel of me in my crib, spread-eagled on my stomach, wearing my nappies, legs and wings splayed out, mouth open in a snore. Flopsy Mopsy indeed.

I landed in my circle of turntables (incidentally in the furthest corner of the room) with a clack of my hooves, certain I'd bruised my right wing. Everypony knew her. I'd met the frightening busy-body the moment we arrived in town, when she'd shown up exuberantly welcoming us. Like the scaredy-pony I was, I'd hidden behind my mop of hair and my parents' legs to watch what I feared was our next oppressor.

I mimicked her in my brain latch-up, "You must be Pinkie Pie?"

"You can call me Pinkie," she said, beaming and bouncing in.

With increasingly wide eyes, I watched the cheeky somewhat rotund pink party pony amble to the edge of my turntable fortification, reach out a hoof, and gently set the needle on the vinyl spinning there. She hit the mux switch. Run, Lulemoon, Run played, the swift-running-bass-beat booming over ticking stopwatch samples while the singer's voice ramped up towards a scream. Once you got the racing-against-time theme, you—well, I found it soothing. Pinkie sat and touched the speed ring below the record, increasing the beats per minute. She glanced at the other records, dropped a needle, then muxed it on, matching the beat with a pulsing, building, symphonic Slow Prance for Strings. A bit jarring, but she obviously knew the stick-and-snare drum line would work after Run. Or guessed, because I did have DJ Tortoise's Just Be Pony platter down and had cued the needle above his best cut. I had scribbled BPMs on all my discs in black marker, too.

The DJ cried, "Let's make some noise!"

Pinkie said, "Ooo. Sweet mixing setup you got there, Mop."

"Uh, thank you?" I said, darting out a hoof to hit the master mute.

"Awww."

"Y-y-y-you are in my room."

"Oh that!" She jumped up. "I've got great news. Well, okay, not great news because Vinyl Scratch is sick with the pony pox, but she said, or rather pointed at a picture of you, and she sorta said without, you know, saying, that you should take her place on the 1s and 2s dropping the sick tunes at tonight's o-ffical Summer Sun Celebration par-tee. So..." She reached out and booped my nose. "Tag, you're it."

I sneezed and tossed my head, covering my face with my fringe on purpose. Her blue-eyed gaze implied expectation, but her evaluating hoof-to-blank-flank glance had me wondering what desperation had forced her to accept Vinyl's judgement not to seek somepony actually qualified or experienced. I was an immigrant. A nobody. Not the pony to save something so important as a royally mandated function. Not to be trusted with it anyway because, like... shy. Shy was a pony who always threw doing-the-right-thing into the rubbish bin because Shy couldn't face a pony. I felt fidgety and queasy and unable to look her in the eye. My reflex to hide behind the dark mane that hung across my face but still watch any who made me nervous helped, as it always did.

You might guess that I'd kept to myself in class and you'd be right. I had few friends. My thick Trottingham accent could identify me as a peasant who cleaned other ponies' homes, but then Vinyl Scratch barely spoke at all. I sat behind her. As a no-talk buffer. I remember well that day Cheerilee had threatened to take Vinyl's headphones away; she put them inside her flip-top desk. That didn't stop her from hearing tunes in her head. The white unicorn's cyan and cobalt-blue mane bobbed with her head to a beat, which, as I thought about it and imagined the rhythm, matched something currently charting by the pegasus group Blank & Flank.

I remember my heart racing as I impulsively leaned forward and whispered, "Night Flying," into her ear.

She turned and, with a smile, lowered her red mirror shades to regard me with her magenta eyes.

I'd been right, and we became fast friends. She taught me the turntables and helped me gear up; we shared our vinyl collections and jammed together.

Unlike me, Vinyl Scratch had talent. Real talent. And the courage to follow her dreams. She'd already played prom, twice, despite our not being seniors until the coming autumn session. She'd landed paying gigs! She'd even earned enough to buy herself an iSing, a keen slide-wheel hoof-sized amulet that could magically store dozens of songs. She played tracks in her 'phones night and day until she lived and breathed them.

I played at DJing—rank amateur-hour, really. I read second-choice in Pinkie's eyes, which was more than peasant-me deserved.

Pinkie added, "Oh, yeah. The official party is moving to the Golden Oak Library. It's a secret. Be there before 5:00 PM. Twilight Sparkle is new in town, so it's a surprise Welcome-to-Ponyville party, too! I'm so excited." She squeed. "Are you excited? Twilight—"

"The Crown Representative?" I asked, trying to change the focus from me.

The gossip fillies I'd eavesdropped on over their delicious-looking noon-time sandwiches had speculated about a geeky tiny unicorn who'd arrived in a pegasus-drawn chariot outside Town Hall, mostly as to whether or not she knew Prince Blueblood. If Twilight Sparkle was preparing Ponyville for the arrival of the princess, Crown Representative was the title she deserved. Unlike most Equestrians, we Trottingham ponies closely followed the life and responsibilities, and the foibles, of our royalty, especially those of Queen Bliss More. I knew all the peerage titles (duke, earl...) and their stylings (honorable, highness, lord, grace...), and what it all meant, who was related to whom, how to bow. Especially how to bow. All the ways. All the words.

"No. The princess sent only Twilight Sparkle. And she's staying at the library."

"She's the new librarian, then?" I asked, then added with a shiver (and a whine), "I-I've never done this b-before... DJing live."

"Nah. You've got this." She bounced out of the room and to the stairs, singing "You've got this!" to herself. As she started down, I heard a big "Whoops!" then a crash-crash bang. I was instantly perched on the banister, wings a-flutter, looking down at her, hooves-up on the checkerboard linoleum, but Pinkie said, "I'm okay!" and left.

I didn't think I was okay. I didn't think I was okay at all. My stomach hurt, like I might puke. I didn't have a playlist or thoughts of a playlist. I looked at the formula in my textbook.

x = \frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2 - 4ac}}{2a}

Suddenly factorizing quadratic equations and advanced algebra seemed... attractive.

Vinyl Scratch thought I could do this.

Vinyl Scratch thought I could.

Vinyl Scratch. Thought. Thought it through. And she knew me well. Better than anypony...

I took a deep looong breath until my chest could fill no further.

Rrrright... I could at least try. Just stay small. Like a mouse. Do the work. It was important work, royal work, and I knew you always did the important work. It was what Mum and Dad said, and did, and I did.

Breathlessly, I threw together piles of records in boxes, sorting for BPM, and packed up my gear in baskets I flew downstairs to my miniature meadowbrook, the cart Mum had gotten to do family marketing and to carry my stuff. I'd learned early how to lift the whole kit while flying by imagining the cart as an extension of my hindquarters. Nerves, however, left me grounded, having to trot the whole distance.

Being in the library felt weird. Dozens of ponies milled around, talking. Head down, acting invisible, patching cords and leveling turntables—I surreptitiously listened as they talked about seeing Princess Celestia tomorrow or about the smaller parties announced around town. It felt even weirder because I often visited the Golden Oak Library. (Libraries in Trottingham rarely allowed peasants inside, but here I could read all I wanted, and, trust me, I wanted to read everything.) Sunburst, the bespectacled former librarian, wouldn't have approved of the noise at all. Most notable was that all the ponies were adults. I knew adults threw parties, but as a foal I'd never attended one.

I hoped Pinkie knew what she was doing hiring me.

I had one advantage over Vinyl Scratch. She used a hoof to spin the platters and her horn to change the records and place the needle. I could handle two or three records and the necessary speed controls at the same time with the stiff primary feathers of my wings, while using both forelegs to run the tables arranged in a horseshoe around me, and, in a pinch, I could poke with either hind-leg to press buttons or push sliders. Six limbs gave me reach.

I'd got everything plugged and all the distortion troubleshot by the time a commotion outside caused ponies to shut the lights. By the wane light filtering through the curtained windows, I held the needle in the barbs of the first primary feather of my right wing to precisely set the drop on two sound FX discs.

Twilight Sparkle (presumably) trotted in, mumbling something in a thick Equestrian accent about somepony called "Midnight Lune." An annoyed second voice said, "Rude much?"

Everypony cried, "Surprise!" with Pinkie leading as the lights sparked on. I played a kazoo chorus, then mixed in party horns from the other record with a sweep of a deft wing.

Twilight Sparkle stood mouth open, eyes wide, while her little green dragon pet clapped. The young mare had the uptight carriage and bowl-cut-bangs-style of a budding bureaucrat, and was—from the way she talked—not a happy camper. I spun a chill deep house beat, moderating the volume as Pinkie explained that the party was for Twilight, though that wasn't exactly true.

I concentrated on matching the BPM of the two nice dance records on the ones and twos with drum solos on the secondary pair so I could mix between the main players, leaving the fifth deck open for inspiration. I looked up, surprised, when Twilight shrieked that her mouth was on fire. From my position beside the drinks table, I saw a rolling brown bottle with a flame logo. The absent-minded professor had tipped it over.

After pouring herself a cup of hot sauce!

I snorted and spun the next record, ramping up the beat. And...

And ponies began to dance!

...including Twilight Sparkle's cute little dragon who did something odd on two legs. He walked by, snapping his claws. "So hip," he told me.

I shot him a look and cried, "You can talk!"

He rolled his eyes, but grinned anyway, pointing the smallest digit of each of his fore-claws upward, cutely imitating the pinions-up you-rock gesture we pegasi make with our primary feathers. In a mock deep voice, he said, "And I breathe fire!" He blew a green candle flame from his lips as he danced away.

I giggled—

—and dived into my records and had Chariots on Fire spun in ten seconds flat. I dropped the needle with a bang into the groove and the horns blared. The audience cheered the flaming dragon as he pirouetted. I rapidly mixed in my next track. I loaded all five turntables and began mixing in earnest.

I may well have been the youngest in the library, but everypony swayed and danced. To my music. I found myself bobbing my head, switching between my headphones, working hard to match the phrasing on tracks to make even the most familiar songs feel new, to bring up the energy of the room—to find what Vinyl Scratch called the vibe. I got the next song spinning and crossfaded with a track from a third record, feathering the bass pots so tympani on one and plucked cello on another overlaid and melted like butter and sugar into a yummy icing. I re-stacked my album sleeves by house, trance, vocal, ska, and stuff I could mix in, then fanned them down by mood. Uptempo, first, but light, to warm up for something to make everypony's heart race.

I spun the next and the next, soon dancing to my own mix. I looked up and gauged my sweaty pastel audience. Smiles all around... Everypony dancing in rhythm... Brilliant! It was my party now. I'd taken control—all the hooves. My eyes burned a little. I found myself wiping away tears.

Nevertheless, I brushed the fan of my bangs over my face. While these ponies had demonstratively granted me permission to make their musical choices, I wanted to discourage anypony from wanting to ask for a song or from criticizing. I didn't know what I'd do if that happened, or even if my voice would work!

Wary, I feathered the boards, my primitive equalizer, and the volume controls—sound processors were only a dream beyond my budget back in those days—and drifted into the finest of grooves.

Some point past midnight, I had this epiphany: You can do what you enjoy and get paid. Imagine that! I mean, stop and think. So good. You just have to find it—and I'd become certain I had.

As time would tell, I was even close to half-right.

I danced and drummed and flared my wings to the beat, barely feeling time pass at all. I pranced the evening through and into the early morning hours, but for two breaks during which I wolfed down pink and blue vanilla cupcakes and salty kale crisps, then crashed for half-hour naps while I tracked ambient so the audience could rest.

At one point, I wondered if Pinkie Pie had asked Mum and Dad for permission before tagging me for the gig. I'd forgotten to leave a note. They'd have been expecting me to help clean Town Hall overnight. At least my first professional gig paid plenty of bits—they'd definitely think it worthwhile. I earned those and plenty extra in the pickle jar that Pinkie plunked down on my table with a grin and a wink, primed with a jangling gold bit. I thanked pony after pony each time the glass clinked or clanked until eventually I was even able to smile at them! Unprompted approval truly fed my soul. The mug of strong black tea Pinkie kept constantly topped-up, heaped with sugar, kept me wired for sound. Ponies drifted in and drifted out all night, always dancing, often screaming in delight.

The sky lightened outside the windows from black to deep blue.

Ponies adjourned to Town Hall as I faded the last song into a final silence. Regardless, I continued dancing in place to the song playing in my head, appropriately named Pony In-Chanted.

The Crown Representative, Twilight Sparkle, stalked down the stairs, preceded by her baby dragon, into the vacated room. The staccato clack of her horseshoes and her stiff body language screamed that she was cross and, with her ears flopped down, a bit frightened. When she saw me stacking records as I danced, she nonetheless smiled kindly and lifted her ears.

She said, "You'd better come now. Celestia, I hope, will be there soon."

She trotted away.

I hope echoed in my head in her voice. I shivered and trotted after.

Ponyville was no small village. Thousands lived here, most of whom had camped out on the quadrangle, the west lawn of Town Hall that looked east to where Celestia would raise the sun. Inside the round building, through the window, I saw throngs of ponies flying and milling about. Gas lights glinted off bright bejeweled ribbons and royal blue drapery.

As I trotted in behind Twilight Sparkle, Dad snagged me.

He said, "Good." He was a blue earth pony with a purple mane and handlebar mustache. He didn't look worried, though the tone of his voice signaled relief. He pointed towards the back of the room at the edge of a red curtain, off beyond the podium at which Mayor Mare adjusted her spectacles as she reviewed her notes. "That bin's filled with rubbish. Take it out."

I nodded because the din of ponies was so loud I could barely hear, let alone be heard. I saw Mum, orange wings flapping near the rafters, as she fixed some errant streamers.

As I passed the podium, the mayor said, "Fillies and Gentlecolts..." I hustled the red barrel behind the curtain and down the hall beyond. I didn't really care that Dad had put me to work. I didn't care that I might miss the princess raise the sun, either, because my night had been brilliant, and I thought, Sorry, Princess, nothing's going to compare! I kicked the rear door open with a hind hoof and pulled the barrel down the stairs with three loud clunks.

I began dragging it back across the stone when I noticed something descending in the sky. I stopped and looked up. In the pre-dawn, I saw a golden chariot pulled by two white carriage guards in brass armor. Inside rode a white alicorn. Princess Celestia wore her full regalia, including her crown and a purple-jeweled breastplate.

I stared in shock. DJing was all about timing, but, really, talk about timing!

The pegasus guards had brought down the wheels of the chariot when flashes of light broke the dusky dimness. Before the guards could jump from their harnesses, the flash-bangs sent them tumbling, unconscious and smoking. They dragged the traces of the rig with them as they slid, causing the braking chariot to teeter on one wheel and fishtail. The Princess, caught off guard, flared her wings and found herself tumbling upward as the chariot decanted her abruptly. She somersaulted in mid-air but didn't land.

A great rainbow tornado of magic caught her. Her darkly mascaraed eyes went wide and she flapped her wings, desperately trying to claw her way up the rising enveloping magic.

She cried, "Sister! Don't!"

A darkly ominous voice behind me returned, "What? Sister, did you think the stars would fail to aid my escape? Your turn, Dear Sister!"

Like a curse, a midnight-blue pony in black armor landed in front of me with a clanking thump as her magic encased the princess. As it did, a bright light formed then reached out a rod of brightness towards the horizon where the sun lay below ready to rise. Like soda pop sucked through a straw, the rainbow tornado disappeared into the rod and shot into the distance.

The apparition faded to an afterimage.

Princess Celestia had vanished, but a bluish aura continued to sizzle and sparkle around me.

I stood there frozen, heart racing, having witnessed a murder—hugging tightly the smelly barrel I'd wrestled out of Town Hall through the service entrance.

The midnight-blue pony had wings and a unicorn horn. She, too, was an alicorn and in Equestria, by definition, a princess. That a black obsidian crown was integrated into her head armor kind of confirmed my deduction.

"Young Filly," the new princess said.

I gasped, unfroze despite my horror, and bowed as if I were in Trottingham.

Leg out.

Deeply.

I experienced a mental flash; I realized that every breath I'd taken had led to this moment... my last. My memories became those of another, more naïve, pony. All my mistakes were meaningless. My fears, more so. Instead of scrambled thoughts and terror, I found naught but nullifying silence. It let me look up, neigh, kept me from thinking why not?

I found the princess' glowing eyes and locked my gaze with hers.

My heart thundered in my chest. I ought to have hidden behind my bangs at least, or fainted, but I manifestly did neither. Her eyes were... amazing. Molten. Phosphorescent green. Vertically slitted. And steady. And purposeful.

Reflexively, I said, "Your Royal Majesty."

I wasn't struck dead...

Rather, the black-armored alicorn grinned widely, displaying sharp wolf-teeth that no natural pony possessed. She nodded with a swish of her wispy smokey tail and said, "You see that I am your monarch, young filly. You are strong. I shall remember you as the first to acknowledge me when I ascend the throne. You shall be my first knight."

With that, she stepped into Town Hall and disappeared into the dusky shadows therein. I heard the metal clatter of her pointy battle horseshoes.

"This isn't good," I whispered stupidly, holding the bow. "Mind you, being alive isn't bad."

The next moment, I got a cramp. When I stood upright, I heard voices and a shout. It was too late to warn anypony she'd arrived. She'd promised to knight me? What did that mean, or was it the obvious? Strong? Me? As a princess, her appropriate styling was Your Royal Highness, but my reflexive Your Royal Majesty styled her as a supreme monarch, like Queen Bliss More.

Think, think, think!

I weighed contradicting urges to fly until my wings couldn't support me and to buck and rear and bite, but instinct had lost its power. Shy had lost her power. I felt... unfettered. It was no longer that I thought somepony ought to do something or that I had to do something—it was that I could do something and wanted to. But, what? What could I do against such overwhelming strength?

How was I able to even think to do anything under the circumstances!?

I looked at the wide porch surrounding the Town Hall and thought of my father. I galloped towards the entrance.

I heard gasps through the open windows—it was summer and even the morning felt toasty. The suddenness was enough to startle me off the porch to flutter up over the lawn. As I did, I saw the audience out-front, and saw a dread realization flood across their faces like a wind wave across a wheat field. A thousand eyes glittered in the light of the moon.

From my high vantage point, I heard Mayor Mare cry, "Seize her! Only she knows where the Princess is!"

The advance guard sent for Princess Celestia flew to arrest Princess Midnight Lune. The armored alicorn stood on the second level stage where she shot lightning and swept them up with her magic. One, charred and smoking, smashed through a window, forcing me to dodge aside. Trailing a shower of tinkling glass, the stallion landed on the grass with a clash of metal, tumbling bonelessly until he banged into a tree. Every pegasus knew that an unconscious fall could be fatal. This looked like that as the downed bruiser smoldered, unmoving.

I blinked at the uncanny sight, but remembered Dad. I landed and trotted towards the front entrance, suddenly conscious of being watched. The entire outside audience, balanced on the edge of panic, focused on me alone. All the eyes.

Yeah, riiiight? Absurd to conclude that! I huffed and shook my head.

When I stood in the open double-doors, I saw various unicorns send a rainbow of fiery magic at the usurping sister, as well as an earth pony who tossed a lasso upward trying to grab her neck. (This wasn't reported in the "friendly" official story of what happened. Know this: Ponyville folk weren't pushovers.)

The magical royal mare might have been strong, but she wasn't stupid. She dove over the crowd, spreading her wings wide, face contorted in rage. When she spotted me, she smiled and flew my direction. Her wing span was enormous and she flew fast. She drew her wings to her chest and whooshed over my head, ruffling my mop-like mane as I turned to follow her progress. She rose, then flapped quickly right to shoot between buildings.

A gasp rose from the ponies outside, but with the nightmare gone, they again turned their eyes upon me.

I looked back, confounded for a moment until it dawned on me: It was because I looked completely, absurdly, calm.

And I was.

Bloody Tartarus! What's happening to me?

And why does it feel so good?

The weather pony called Rainbow Dash streaked outside after the princess, but the princess had disappeared. The sky-blue rainbow-maned mare shot skyward, but it was no use in the dim twilight.

Panting, she said, "Nighttime? Forever?" Her words verged on a whine.

Twilight Sparkle galloped out. "Excuse me," she said, going by me and through the parting audience of shocked ponies. Her cute dragon slept on her back.

Rainbow Dash said, "Where's she going?" and followed her.

"Flopsy Mopsy, what are you doing!?"

That was Mum, crying. As I turned to the open doors, she caught me in a suffocating hug with her wings from the left of the door. From the right, Dad came huffing up. They'd obviously realized he'd sent me where Princess Midnight Lune had entered the building.

He hugged me tightly, too. His mustache tickled my nose. Cider on his breath showed he'd been sampling the refreshments. He breathed, "Thank Celestia!"

Sandwiched between, I said, "Celestia? About that—" as I looked inside. My eyes widened.

I'd heard Mayor Mare say, "Now, nopony panic."

That was exactly the wrong thing to say. Shy knew. Four or five hundred ponies and pegasi, wound way too tightly, packed into a space meant for fewer, having just witnessed royal guards shot out of the air...? Flopsy Mopsy of an hour ago would have panicked before the word "panic."

Way too late.

Enough ponies spooked that a stampede broke out instantly. I saw the whites of too many pony eyes and heard the instant thunder of hooves on the wood plank floor.

The quiet inside me returned—like after Princess Midnight Lune had addressed me and I met her steady, purposeful eyes. Remembering how she'd stood dauntless like an unbreakable curse, I stood as she had, steady and purposeful, stiffened like I'd solidified into unyielding stone. I could have been trampled, but I did the other thing.

I flung out my wings, thrusting Mum and Dad away to either side. With my wings wide, I flared them, arching them over my head. I reared and yelled, "Stop!"

I didn't flinch, though anypony sane should have known she saw death. I stared into the approaching stampede, my eyes unblinking. Locked. Same as I had done with the princess.

(Inside me something increasingly distant screamed, desperately struggling to make my wings flap or my legs pump. Shy. But I stood steadfast. I could ignore the inner simpering voice because I'd uncovered this deeply-buried ridiculous certainty. It was as if a splinter of strong purposeful Princess Nightmare Lune had wedged in my soul, opening it. I cared about ponies, always had, but at that very moment I couldn't care less what they thought of me and do the right thing.)

And. They. Halted. Skidding into each other's flanks, heeding my command.

I stood there breathing hard, listening to Mum sobbing. Inside the building, a silence of sorts ensued as I heard other ponies whispering to the rest to be calm and to walk slowly, that everypony could leave single file.

I settled onto all fours and lowered my wings slowly as dazed ponies exited quietly to either side of me. Nopony seemed to notice my eyes upon them, other than to avoid me. I saw Shy in the face of every pony in the eyes-downcast herd; Shy was everypony else as I looked down upon them. I felt disoriented. Was I still me? I turned in the flow and looked out onto the sea of ponies who waited outside, at all those eyes glittering in the moonlight. Had the panic spread to them, it would surely have wreaked deadly consequences.

My jaw began ticking and my legs trembling. Okay, so I was me. I did care about what I did—

"Good work, pardner," a mare said. To someone else, she added, "and nice cutie mark." She was orange like Mum, but with a golden blonde mane far richer in color, sporting a cowgirl hat. One of the Apple clan, I presumed by her cutie mark as she trotted away.

Her words made me notice the incredible warmth that had flooded into me. My shakes dissipated. Self-doubt felt like somepony else's feeling; no, it was somepony else's feeling. Anypony could stop a stampede. No big. That I could—and did?

That tasted like revelation.

It felt good.

Four ponies including... er, her name was Applejack, trotted off in the direction Twilight Sparkle had gone, towards Golden Oak Library. Puzzle pieces began assembling in my head.

As the last ponies exited, I stepped off the porch after them. Mum said, her voice cracking, "We've got plenty of work to clean up after that!"

Dad said, "Come on, Flopsy Mopsy. Wait, what's on your flank?"

I wasn't really listening to anypony, but, eww—I brushed myself with a wing; something from the rubbish bin must have stuck there. My attention focused on the puzzling events, like why I felt Twilight Sparkle wasn't surprised by Princess Midnight Lune, her resonating word hope, and the ponies I felt certain followed her.

I mused aloud, "That was Princess Celestia's sister. I saw what happened."

"And you're a commoner."

"Not really, Mum. Not in Equestria." I stood blinking as the tone of my voice and my own directness sunk in.

"And what can you do?" Mum added. I noted when Mum stiffened, looking towards my tail.

I brushed both flanks with my wings and shook myself, snapped said tail, and reluctantly nodded. Her traditional commoner words resonated. I was an immigrant. If ever I thought I understood, I really didn't understand. Not really.

Not much you can do, either, I thought. Then I remembered I'd left my turntables and records at the library.

"My kit!" I cried and launched into the air, despite Dad trying to tackle me but doing little more than pull my tail.

As I suspected, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, the town's animal rescue pegasus, and that kooky white unicorn who made dresses had joined Twilight Sparkle at the library. As I sneaked in (feeling too insignificant to report what I'd learned thanks to my parents' admonition), I heard Pinkie Pie say, "It was under E," singing out the e sound.

I jogged left into an alcove and soft-pedaled to make sure my horseshoes made no clatter. The mares had adjourned to a sunken study area away from my records and equipment. I only half listened, but learned that I had met the mythical mare in the moon, Nightmare Moon.

Princess Nightmare Moon, I corrected, then hissed quietly. Twilight Sparkle had to have known something might or would go wrong, and she now sounded determined to rescue Princess Celestia and to find the tools to do that—alone.

So she thought Princess Celestia was alive?

I remained skeptical, having seen her so blatantly murdered along with her carriage guards. From the shouts and wheedling, the other five were having none of Twilight going it alone.

I sneaked my equipment out in three sorties. I silently loaded the stacks and baskets on to my meadowbrook and consequently was in the right position to hear the out-of-place sound of air flowing through feathers as somepony hovered in place.

Princess Nightmare Moon flapped near a round picture window, her smoke-like mane and tail swirling around her as she listened in. She turned and spied me, then smiled. I ducked my head while keeping contact with the alicorn's luminescent green eyes as she drifted down. Her calm filled me with warmth.

She whispered, "Don't worry, my little pony. It goes well." She too glanced at my flank before adding, "I shall remember you, my knight."

With a whoosh of her pinions, she streaked into the air toward the forest beyond the edge of town.

She would remember that I hadn't screamed that she was spying, something that surely would have started a hue and cry. She'd remember that I hadn't slammed the doors of Town Hall in her face, something that might have broken her neck. Maybe she thought I'd guarded the open doors.

My right eyebrow went up. Had I really done that?

I felt suddenly exhausted as my body remembered I'd been awake since this time yesterday, dancing maniacally all night to boot. Worse, I'd woken early, certain I was late for summer school.

The six mares exited the library, chattering. Well, five of them chattered. Twilight Sparkle's jaw bunched. Ears forward, she looked very determined. I opened my mouth to say something. Had any of them noticed me, I'd have rattled off the whole sister thing, but I focused on Twilight Sparkle.

When she had left the library for Town Hall with me in tow, she had said, "I hope."

I had sensed a certain, well, certainty. Purpose. Liege loyalty. Like I saw now in the set of her jaw, her deep purple eyes, her confident step, and her forward cocked ears. It was akin to the impulse that had made me stand in the doorway to shout "Stop!" despite the fact that I'd never been able to raise my voice at all around ponies without it cracking.

Nevertheless, I'd stopped a stampede.

Not hope. Certainty.

It felt like growing up.

I had nothing to contribute here. Even Rainbow Dash, who'd graduated this spring, was a couple years older than me. All were more capable than I.

I flew home.

#

I had been right to trust the petite purple unicorn. The sun rose at 4 PM that day. Somehow Twilight Sparkle with her new insistent friends had indeed rescued Princess Celestia, and had somehow transformed a self-assured and seriously evil Princess Nightmare Moon into a young blue-grey light-blue-maned Princess Luna who looked barely my age—and not half as much fun as Nightmare Moon would have been. The ingénue looked around with wide frightened eyes and twitchy ears. She swished her tail a lot. I had to look away when she nervously preened.

I saw in her the me from the day before (Shy), but I couldn't as simply look away from an embarrassing memory. I could only mourn the me I'd been.

Luna liked my beats, though. She hung out quietly near my boards at the impromptu party Pinkie had thrown. Vinyl Scratch was no better today than last night, so I'd snagged my second (paying) gig. Luna smiled sheepishly and bobbed her head as I worked, returning every time somepony called her away.

She had a crescent moon cutie mark surrounded by a black blot of what ponies called paint. She was a painted pony, very dissimilar from her sister.

Did she remember me as she had promised?

I looked at her. She met my gaze with big turquoise disappointingly-normal eyes as she bobbed and swayed demurely to the beat.

I didn't ask. She didn't volunteer.

Funny thing was... I now had a cutie mark! It had happened this morning, but bloody Tartarus if I knew when. Was it while I spun records, enveloped in the mists of euphoria? Or was it when I'd met and stood up to what I'd thought of as Princess Midnight Lune? Or, and I shuddered, was it when I'd flared my wings and stopped the stampede?

My mark was a cloud with hearts dangling on three balanced threads.

Somehow I doubted the colorful puppet hearts had anything to do with me spinning trance records. I felt confused, gobsmacked really, and quite worried. It felt like I had a lot more growing to do to fit into my hooves. My future seemed less musical and more... more of what made me stop the stampede—dangerous.

Dangerous as in what would I do if I saw something bad?

How could I feel scared about how I'd react and at the same time be okay with it?

How could I feel strong?

As you can guess, on my way to becoming Songbird Serenade, I did eventually learn all the answers. For, like, all the difficult lessons. The hard way. Bleeding always... the hard way. But those are stories for another day.

After Princess Celestia lowered the sun and Princess Luna first publicly raised the moon—forgetting herself and squealing as she pedaled her hooves,—Pinkie bounced over. She managed to fake-nonchalantly lean on the table with an elbow to loudly whisper out of the side of her mouth, "Cuteceañera. Tomorrow evening. Be there..." She even suggested I DJ the party, because, like, you know, DJ.

You might conclude from all my whingeing I'd have turned down Pinkie's offer.

Nah, uh. Certainly not! That would have been yesterday's pony.


Author Note

Knight of Equestria (4 Books)
Next Book: Discordant Harmony
Next Chapter: 1 - Alpha Mare

Comments ( 3 )

Did you make the cover art?

9358662
Yes. I did the compositing of a number of images and did the lettering. Compare with Discordant Harmony. I'm modifying it for each story in the series.

Fascinating, both the cultural disconnects that spared Flopsy from the Nightmare's wrath and the long revelation that even she didn't fully grasp for some time. Some of the ages involved are unexpected, but they do work. All told, a gripping read. Onto the sequel.

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