Classical music hung in the air, travelling from the main rooms where most of the Gala-goers were, drinking and 'dancing' and talking to one another with hushed excitement. For many ponies, this was their first and only chance to see any bit of Canterlot Castle - most of which wasn't open to the public!
I shifted, and my slinky gold dress rippled across my body. I regretted the gold heels I was wearing tonight, as killer as they had looked... now they were killing my hooves. I just wanted something that would go perfectly with the dress: a sleeveless, über-elegant piece with a gorgeous gold color, like Auntie's sun. Wherever I walked, what was essentially a sweeping royal-quality cocktail dress swished with me and my mane that cascaded out from where I'd pulled it up moved gently. It was a major upgrade from the dress I wore to my first gala with Auntie: the dress I had been dying to wear to prom, if I hadn't had a witch stumble into my village and a horn on my head by the end of everything.
Whenever a pony called my name - my full title, usually - I was always sure to smile and wave and wish whoever it was a good evening. Being surrounded by ponies was what I needed! I was the Princess of Love!
...And I was currently the one rushing - but in a really princess-y way - through the halls trying to figure out where everypony was supposed to be since Auntie had decided to take over what was usually my job.
I was supposed to check in with Auntie if anything seemed amiss. The duty to making sure any mares heading in Blueblood's direction found themselves distracted fell on my withers because Bluebood still can't come out yet, though I've been encouraging him for years. When Twilight Sparkle and her friends arrived - I never thought I'd even think that, Twilight having friends - I was supposed to give her a hello from Shiny, who got stuck with patrolling the city.
I looked around at the crowds of well-dressed ponies. If I saw Twilight.
I pricked my ears forward and tried to listen to the numerous conversations swirling about. To me, all this noise was like a melody. I longed to join one of these conversations, but royal errand called for me to be running about every which way tonight.
I really hoped that I would see Twilight... My eyes flicked up to the gold engagment ring shining on my horn.
Everypony around me was having fun, whether they were a snobby socialite or a starry-eyed young mare chasing her special somepony, I watched as delighted ponies milled about. Singing, dancing, and smiling was everywhere. Laughter mixed with the music. Coursing through me was the desire to dance, and why wouldn't I want to?
All around me were ponies! Lucky Auntie was the one who got to chat with everypony at least a little bit. Sometimes I wonder if being a social butterfly is part of being the Princess of Love.
The Grand Gallopping Gala may be as formal as Tartarus, but there were so many ponies having fun! The decorations were extravagant too, but what could I expect from Canterlot Castle? Sure, there was a lot that had been put away to make room for everypony. For example, this year, ponies were allowed in the throne room, and there's this weird crystal that Auntie keeps under a bell jar that had to be put away... I don't really want to say 'hidden' because that doesn't really feel like my Auntie.
It looks as ageless as her, and nopony knows anything about it or what it does, but she won't even let the maids dust it, which is something that's so unheard of from Auntie to the point where it was almost downright hostile of her to simply and politely order it to not be handled by the maid whose wedding I helped plan three years ago - I mean, Spick and her twin Span are such nice ponies. When I first came to Canterlot, they were my age and had slumber parties with me.
Giggling at an old memory, I slip through large, stately wooden doors into one of the castle's many rooms were musicians were hired to play. Dusky tiles shine with the effort of the maids to make the Gala perfect this year.
Gathered below the stage were ponies of all kinds: unicorns, pegasai, earth ponies, and I even saw a horse or two, no doubt from Saddle Arabia or one of the other nations south of Equestria.
And then I saw her.
I mean, I shouldn't have seen her, but she stuck out like a sore hoof. Everypony was bright, happy, and warm as they enjoyed the gala. They mingled. They ate. They chattered excitedly.
But she was... weird.
She stood in the corner and off to the side, as though that were the most entertaining spot in the room, and the most comfortable... not that she looked very comfortable.
My own smile was slowly being replaced with a confused frown as I saw her frown. She looked away from everypony. Her cute cornflower mane hung over one eye, surprisingly more effective of a disguise than the masquerade mask I saw Fancy Pants wearing a few hallways ago. She didn't even look like she wanted to be here.
From where I stood, watching the weird mare, I could see that she was taller than even I was, which didn't make any sense... until I saw the 'unicorn' mare's wings and I understood.
She wasn't a unicorn at all, and her height - taller than myself or any horse was explained instantly. She wasn't wearing a shawl, like I had thought, folded at her sides were two wings that I knew would be a bit bigger than mine if I stretched them out.
Her ears were pricked forward and her willowy but strong body - I swear, she looked like she wanted to dissolve and fight somepony at the same time - was held vigilantly in a swaying sort of way that was slightly unnerving.
Her dress was pretty, a simple black piece that had a long skirt with purple trim here and there. For a goddess' dress it was pretty simple. Auntie either went in her regalia, in a fine gown, or followed a theme.
Luna - that was her name, and it was strange even in my mind - looked like this was the last place she wanted to be tonight, but who would want to be alone at the night of the gala? Or just away from all this fun?
I hope she didn't know I was watching.
All I could think about was bright, talkative Auntie, and how despite all the years that I've known her, this silent, mysterious, and strange mare - she barely looked like she was my age! - that was supposed to be her sister had said more than Auntie had ever said to me... by not saying anything at all.
Luna didn't even know I was in the room. Luna was a goddess somewhere around Auntie's age - however old Auntie was - and she commanded with silence over sound... while still looking like she wanted to erase herself from the entire celebration.
How was Luna anything like the gods in all the legends that I was raised on? She wasn't, not exactly.
I was more superstitious than most, but there were tales of gods and ghosts in the heart of everypony, Equestrian or otherwise, even if some ponies were reluctant to believe completely in the existence of the latter when they just had yet to meet them. Though, something tells me any ghost I'll meet is going to be a bit boring, like an old butler or somepony's nice grandmother.
Gods were different. Nations were ruled by gods. King Neptune ruled a nation underseas. Elysium had Paradise and Stolas had Tartarus. Auntie ruled Equestria.
...Luna ruled Equestria too. I was the third princess, like a top-tier royal errand filly, always learning to rule, attending functions, and being presented... but without any real authority. If Auntie had a consular or advisor of some kind, I would play a similar role to that, but for now, I was Princess #3, having previously been Princess #2, or Celestia Juinor.
Did I envy Luna for being a goddess? No. Did I envy her for just a little bit because she was more than the pony every filly wanted to be, and Princess #2? A little...
Somehow, she didn't droop in shadows. I'd rarely seen her around the castle, but who could blame me? She was weirdly reclusive and Auntie only told me what was barely bits and piece about Princess Luna, that made her sound like more of a mystery than before - when she was really mentioned at all. Equestria was abuzz about the 'new' princess, but maybe they weren't that excited about the mare behind the crown... she seemed too introverted. I mean, was it too hard to ask for even a cheery lie? I'd seen Auntie face petitioners like that, and they never had a clue.
Everything Auntie said about her made Princess Luna sound like some kind of shrinking violet: stressing a lack of friends like a worried hoofball mom, unable to socialize or something, antisocial, scared inside, and basically weird mom stuff.
It was honestly pretty weird. I've never thought of Auntie as all that motherly. She's a teacher, and I've met one of her Faithful Students other than Twily, but she's never been mom-like. Then, Luna appears and that mask softens a little. She's clucking over Luna when I'm not around like some kind of mother hen and can't stop talking about progress, like: 'Luna mumbled a greeting to one of the guards, isn't that so sweet?' and stuff like that, like how she 'convinced' Luna to show up... and here I am, seeing her for more than half a minute, being introduced to me by her big sister... Gosh, thinking about Auntie like that is so weird!
I swirl the martini glass I had picked up from a tray out of reflex a few moments ago, hoping to give myself an air of normalcy as I totally didn't spy on Luna.
Gosh, I felt like such a creep. Why don't I say something to her? It'd be like a bet from high school: talk to the weird mare. Except, there's no money and I'm not a jerk. She may have been Nightmare Moon... or Nightmare Moon was her... but I don't think she's super evil or anything, right?
Sucking in a breath discreetly, I glide across the dance floor and put on what dad always called 'Cady's winning smile' - the one I wore to every archery contest - and approach her.
Luna looks at me curiously, but with the same kind of size-up look I've seen from the guard and others many time before, but on this mysterious goddess, it's unsettling, and I have to look away. She's unfriendly seeming alright, but not really rude. Maybe she'd be okay to spend a bit of time with?
My heart flutters a little nervously. I make my smile look more natural, and use my free forehoof to push an invisible weight from my chest, exhaling as I do so and telling myself that I am calm. I feel calmer too. After that, I raise my forehoof in an awkward little wave.
Luna looked at me like I'd sprouted a second head for noticing her. She didn't wave back.
I almost hopped closer, and was lucky I didn't spill what was left of my drink. This mare was going to need some company if she was going to be the big ol' Second Esteemed Princess of Equestria. Maybe if I threw in the Gala towel and whisked this princess away from whatever was troubling her, I'd have better luck getting anything out of her. Even though I've never heard her talk, Auntie has told me that she's not good with speaking Modern Equestrian, and hasn't been talking to anypony to learn it! Perhaps all the old plays I that I had to read for school back in Wispgrove will give me some deep and meaningful insight to whatever goes on in her head... she looks a little bit on the gloomy side, so here's to hoping it's nothing tragic because I'm a comedy gal.
Now she's at a distance where I can converse with her. I give her an earnest smile. There's something in her owlish stare that seems soft-but-tough. Maybe this won't be a bad night? I wave again, and let the night truly begin with a few words: