• Published 26th May 2020
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Tales from Everfree City - LoyalLiar

Princess Platinum and Celestia's first student face changelings, a magical curse, the specter of war with the griffons, and the threat of arranged marriage in early Equestria.

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Two Best Sisters Play

Gale arranged to meet Typhoon over a private dinner at Everfree's premier Cirran fine dining restaurant, Nimbus. Despite being named after a city so harsh and devoid of comforts that its name became synonymous with militaristic minimalism, the restaurant of Nimbus was a lavish structure that loomed in the sky just outside the city's southeastern wall—well separated from (and below) Cloudsdale.

Gale approached not with a private chariot, but instead availing herself of the restaurant's chauffeurs, three teams of pegasi whose sole purpose was to fly patrons up the restaurant for their reservations, and then back down when their meals were finished. The restaurant was exclusive ('exclusive' here meaning obscenely expensive) enough that the carriage the employees brought for her was utterly empty. She found herself grateful for the space; the road had brought more than a few judging eyes.

As she pulled herself up into the floating carriage, in her solitude, her thoughts turned to Sir Gauntlet whose aid she had spurned so callously. Perhaps the protection of the royal carriage wasn't simply a matter of weary joints and diseased horns.

The rich purple calla lilies she'd purchased—slightly blueberry flavored, as the florist had demonstrated with a free sample (in between stammers at having the queen show up in-pony to the tiny stall on Ventral Avenue)—were the first thing she held aloft as she stepped out of the carriage and onto a wooden platform at the side of Nimbus. The polished planks offered a treated magical surface for ground-bound ponies who, while perfectly capable of standing on condensed cloudstone, often found the experience unnerving.

A maitre'd waiting to greet the visiting royal was flabbergasted as the flowers lead Gale's way. "Y-your Majesty, I… that is, the house had not dared to assume you were on a date this evening. Should I fetch some candles? Perhaps a private balcony instead of a room—"

Gale rolled her eyes, and yanked the flowers away from the pegasus stallion's extended wing. "I'm meeting with my sister, not a date."

"Ah, my mistake. Your sister—wait, you mean Commander Typhoon?" After swallowing nervously, the stallion adjusted himself back into formal posture as if he hadn't at all been taken by surprise. "Well, Your Majesty, let me be the first to welcome you to Nimbus."

"I've been before," Gale answered, before catching herself and sighing. "Sorry; it's been a shitty day. Thank you for the warm welcome, and the short-term reservation."

"Our door is always open to any of the three crowns," the maitre'd answered, using that curious expression for the early Equestrian triumvirate, given Gale's office was the only one of the three that actually came with a literal crown, rather than a hat or a helmet. "Now, would Your Majesty prefer to wait for the Commander in our waiting room, or to be seated at your table? We've set aside the looking glass room for you."

"The table will be fine," Gale answered, quietly curious that Typhoon hadn't yet arrived.

Nimbus was built rather like an enormous tiara, taking the shape of a substantially wide but relatively thin arc of rich dark wood and cloudstone. In place of analogous gem fittings, the structure's face was covered in enormous windows. Behind them, tables were arranged in arced rows of what would in a more modern day be likened to stadium seating, guaranteeing that each and every guest had a view looking down on Everfree City.

The looking glass room was, to continue the tiara metaphor, the centerpiece of the restaurant. Rather than relatively squared corners to its windows, the wall of the chamber was constructed with a massive oval window, four ponies tall at least, set in a gleaming silver frame. It had been polished to the point that only the early evening sun's angled rays gave any hint there was glass in the setting at all.

Compared to the majesty of the view, the square table for two seemed utterly quaint. A small bouquet had been provided by the restaurant, though by Gale's judgment and her recollections of florist lessons she'd been forced to sit through as a foal, it was entirely for decoration—the flavor combination of rhododendrons and tulips alone would have been disgusting, to say nothing of the addition of a hibiscus.

The maitre'd pulled out her chair for her, and Gale found herself curious that the restaurant-provided, cushioned and objectively comfortable seat gave her the same chilling feeling as she observed when her mother had first placed her on the Platinum Throne. She contented herself not to think of the issue when the host provided her with a pair of menus, bound in leather like they were invaluable tomes of magic.

"Would Your Majesty like a drink before the Commander arrives? I can give you a moment to peruse the options, or—?"

Even as he started asking the question, Gale had flipped open the skinnier of the two menus, read it at a speed to make book-bound Archmage Diadem jealous, and placed it shut on the table near the host. "A cocktail, with the Braymen twenty-one year. Make it medicinal, if you would."

In the modern day, the drink Gale ordered would be referred to as an 'old-fashioned', made with stronger, alchemist-produced bitters instead of the increasingly more popular blends that were designed solely for their inclusion in alcohol. And, though I am by no means an aficionado of whisky myself, it is worth nothing that no few ponies I have met throughout the long years of my life would consider the use of a twenty-one year single malt whisky in a cocktail to be something akin to a war crime.

The maitre'd blanched at the order, though for a different reason than the aforementioned whisky snobbery. "Your Majesty, I should warn you, that is the strongest earth pony liquor we carry. It is… exceptionally potent."

"Yeah, that's why I led with it; that way, I can have something lighter once Typhoon gets here."

"O-of course." With a forced smile that, Gale reflected, would not have gotten him ten feet in politics, the host disappeared to place the order. Her Royal Majesty, Queen Platinum the Third, was left to look down on her home and reflect.

Beyond the looking glass window, the grand 'X' of Everfree's twin rivers dominated the view. Tracing the skyline from overhead, she occupied her mind naming the city's districts. The palace sat so close to the crossing of the two rivers that it might have been the buried treasure on a map, its blended architecture dominating a district of elaborate but otherwise low-roofed structures. Not far away was the temple of the rising sun, 'Aunt Celestia's most loathed structure, and the grandest of the religious structures in the temple district, all done up in stained glass and oriented to trace the path of the sun even though it wrought havoc on the otherwise grid-aligned streets. Next to the temples was Riverward, modest in its ambitions but, for its low roofs and ample street space, appearing perhaps the most alive when viewed from overhead. Then came the Markets, with its huge flat squares and warehouses. Though the markets had their famous sites: the Broad Bazaar, the Gray Market, the Gilded Guild guildhouse; from overhead the roofs were so similar, it was almost impossible to tell which was which. From there, Gale traced her eyes to the Gates district—not that Everfree had only one gate, but that those were the most elaborate, and also the most well traveled (since the eastern portion of Equestria was relatively well settled, with settlements like Lubuck and Platinum's Landing contributing considerably to Equestria's economy, while the western side of Everfree was still mostly uncharted frontier). Then came Down Town, amusingly featuring the tallest height of its average buildings—albeit because they were stacked atop one another like balancing blocks or pick-up-sticks or whatever other dexterity game you care to imagine being blown up to the size of buildings. After that came the docks, pretty much exactly like any other river docks you've seen in any other city in the world, and upriver from them, the district ponies simply called the Bridge for what are presumably obvious reasons. On the city went, past Little Lubuck, the Guilds District, Horntown, the Ridge, and Gale might have commented on all of those and the smaller, more informal districts still, had her gaze not been pulled away by the door to the room swinging open on the opposite side of her.

Commander Typhoon walked like somepony had fed her soul through a laundry wringer, but nopony had bothered to tell her bones. Her posture was, as ever, starched-uniform stiff, but her eyelids (and the subtle bags beneath them), along with her wings and her ears, suggested a horribly long and trying day. She nodded to Gale silently, and allowed the maitre'd to seat her, and only then actually took in the room—first with a flare of her nostrils for a breath of the restaurant air. "That smell… are those calla lilies?"

"I asked the florist what tasted good today," Gale lied, smiling across the table at her older sister. Gale noticed that, as Typhoon rested her prosthetic hoof on the tabletop, the perpetual mist surrounding it was thicker than usual. "Could you tell just by the smell?"

"A… well, an old coltfriend of mine used to get them for me." Ty glanced away. "It ended badly. But they're still tasty. Let's just talk about something else." When Gale's mind filled in the name of the stallion who had recommended the flowers, however, she couldn't help but wince—gasping as she did. And the noise pulled Typhoon's sharp, military eyes instantly from her memories. "Something wrong?"

"No, I just… I thought you always preferred mares." It wasn't the perfect cover for her reaction, and Gale couldn't help but suspect Typhoon would call her on it. Gale knew she would normally have been curious, not shocked. So she decided the best thing to distract from the issue was putting her hoof back in her mouth, just like it had been the last time she spoke to Typhoon. "Especially after I heard..."

"Hmm?" Typhoon cocked her head, not following.

"Ty, I wanted to apologize to you. For two things, I guess. First, I know what I said last time we talked hurt you. It was cruel. I was being a bitch. On purpose; I'm sure you know. But I didn't mean to cut deep like that."

"Water under the bridge," Typhoon insisted, waving her wing dismissively. "Besides, you had no way of knowing."

"No. But… well, the second thing I need to apologize for is that I do now."

Typhoon winced, and then her eyes simply didn't widen again, glaring daggers at Gale. "Dad thought your apology was worth my secrets?"

"What? No!" Gale shook her head and her hooves fervently. "It was Sir Gem. And before you get mad at him, he tried to tell me it was a bad idea. But… well, you know how knights get when the Queen gives an order."

Typhoon's expression withered from a scowl to a tired frown, and she massaged her temple with a feather. "What all did he tell you?"

"He told me about you, and his son. What… what happened to you during Cyclone's uprising. And that he's Tempest's other grandpa, besides Dad. Does Tempest know?"

Typhoon shook her head. "I told him his father died in River Rock. But I'm pretty sure he assumes it was another loyal soldier. Don't tell him."

"I wasn't going to," Gale insisted. "I promise, Ty, I would never tell anypony." Then she swallowed. "Is that your… what did Frostfall call it? Your 'wing memory'?"

"One of them," Typhoon answered coldly, reaching forward to take a calla lily between two feathers. Frost spread from her feathers to cover the flower, and she bit off its head with a notably icy crunch, before letting out a small sigh of comfort. "I forgive you, Gale. But I hope you can see now, Gale: not every secret is about power." With a sharp intake of breath, she added "Digging them up is like ripping off a scab. What are you drinking?"

The sudden change of pace gave Gale just a moment of pause. Then she grinned. "A whisky cocktail. The strongest earth pony stuff they had."

"Didn't Dad teach you anything? We're at Nimbus, and you ordered an earth pony drink?"

"If I want a beer that tastes like it's from a country nopony younger than Dad has even fucking seen, I'll drink something he brewed himself. Then I can suffer through hearing how he grew up on that little farm in Zephyrus, and bla bla bla… but sometimes, I just want to take the edge off the fast way. You know? It's why I hide real liquor instead of beer in the royal carriage."

"You hide alcohol in the royal carriage?"

Gale broke into a wide grin. "Of course!"

"How?" Typhoon pressed.

And so they continued a deeply personal and utterly banal series of conversations which bear little value in repeating, except to remind you once again that Typhoon and Gale were family, and that Gale looked up to her older sister in every regard except the physical. They joked about Hurricane, discussed the most minor of inconveniences and shared struggles of leadership, and even (briefly) touched on the subject of romance—though Frostfall was such a lovely mare, I won't be so rude to her memory as to share how that actual comparison turned out.

At last, though, after putting away what should easily have been a feast for four—a steak each (Cirrans…), a salad that the waiter had warned them normally served six, three baskets of bread, a small cauldron of rich carrot soup, and a honeyed spongecake, all washed down with three bottles of wine, two cocktails, and despite Gale's objections, two bottles of 'Old Cirran' ale—after all that, the conversation slowed.

When the maitre'd entered the room to check on his increasingly lucrative table, and to offer post-meal comforts—a second desert, further drinks, perhaps a smoke—he found Gale running a hoof down the bridge of her muzzle, a look of consternation dominating her expression.

"You're wanting to settle what we were talking about earlier?" Typhoon asked, steepling her wings in a posture I always assumed must be uncomfortable for a pegasus. "If so, Your Majesty," Typhoon chose that term carefully, and though she did not emphasize it by her tone, she did pause a moment to draw attention to the title. "Then even though I forgive you, my position hasn't changed."

"I didn't expect it to, Ty." The shortened name earned a brief but pointed frown, which Gale promptly ignored. "I'm not going to blame the Legion. And I'm not gonna blame you in particular either… well, except I guess as much as I'm also gonna blame Mom and Puddinghead for not having set up your guard idea in the first place."

Typhoon cocked her head. "You're going to set up a domestic guard force for Everfree City?"

"Everfree first," Gale nodded. "But if it isn't a complete disaster, we'll spread it all over Equestria. I'm calling it the 'Royal Guard', because I need to play up that it was my idea—I have to come out of this with some kind of win. But for it to work at all, I need your help."

"I'll say whatever you need."

Gale shook her head. "Not 'say', Ty. I need votes. Pegasus votes in parliament, for two things."

"Okay?" Typhoon leaned back in her seat and lowered her wings, a bit disarmed by the proposal. "Name your price."

"Exactly," Gale agreed, and when that reply confused Typhoon further, she clarified with another single word. "'Price'. I need votes in Parliament to either raise taxes, or to reallocate some money from the Legion to move it away from the forces you're paying to do guardwork right now. Probably both if we can manage it."

At the mention of the loss of money to the Legion, Typhoon frowned, but she gave a slow nod. "I… can probably do that."

"I also need those votes to allocate our new frontier territories into noble domains; that comes with the usual trade of Iron Rain getting a noble title, and the promise of more to come with time."

At that explanation, Typhoon outright cocked her head. "You got the unicorn votes to pass that?"

"I don't yet. But between you, me, and the wall, I have the earth pony votes. So…" Gale took a deep breath and grinned. "So tomorrow, I'm gonna go talk to Aunt Chrysoprase, and tell her I got the settlement bill without the tax increase, and I'm gonna get to appoint whoever the fuck I want to noble titles in the Stable. So the only choice she really has is whether to whip the unicorn votes for me in Parliament, or look like a complete godsdamned moron when my bill passes using only earth pony and pegasus votes."

Typhoon blinked slowly, and then asked "How?" And before Gale could answer, she continued "I hope this doesn't come across as rude, but… I didn't think you were that good at politics? That's the kind of a coup I would have expected from your mother or Aunt Twister."

Gale shrugged. "Peanut handed me most of it on a silver platter. The only catch is I have to put an earth pony in the stable first—but I hope you trust me that I'll get Rain in too."

"Who'd he ask for?"

Gale caught herself from blurting out a spy, and stared at Typhoon for a notable moment before bringing herself to answer "Grainwood. The merchant from Lubuck."

"Huh… Any idea why?"

"Trying to play nice with the Horseatic League. Or at least, that's what he said when I asked." Despite the technical truth, Gale's gut twisted itself in imitation of a fine Lubuck pretzel. "If I had to guess, he's trying to make a play to get in bed with me… or well, pretend to anyway. But you get my point."

"Making nice since not being a unicorn puts him at a handicap?" Ty chuckled. "Alright, Your Majesty. I can't promise unanimous, but you've got a deal."

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