As Twilight Sparkle walked into Princess Luna's chambers, she reminded herself that the decor wasn't meant to be intimidating, even though it easily pulled the effect off anyway (much like Princess Luna herself, in that regard). The deep blue tapestries and wall hangings did little to soften the appearance of the black marble facing along the walls, while the massive desk and bookshelves dominating the opposite half of the room were carved from wine-dark mahogany. A faint pang of longing coursed through Twilight's chest as she laid eyes on the untitled books (well, “tomes” was likely a more accurate term)-- though her vaguely covetous thoughts trailed off once she spied the yellowed reptilian skull that Luna had re-purposed as a bookend. Silver lamps set in the ceiling cast the whole of Princess Luna's study in an eerie, otherworldly light. The whole of the decor's effect was that of a stone monument in miniature: stubborn and enduring.
The battle-axes hanging on the wall behind Luna were a little much, though.
Twilight shifted her wings and coughed softly as a way of announcing herself. Luna looked up from the maps she'd been poring over on her desk, and smiled.
“Ah, friend Twilight. It's good that you're here.” The Princess of the Night gestured to one of the high-backed chairs in front of her desk. “Please, sit. We have much to discuss.”
“We do?” Twilight blinked, then eased herself into the surprisingly comfortable chair, its cushions incongruously plush in comparison to all the stone and hardwood Luna seemed to favor.
“Indeed.” Luna's horn glowed as she neatly rolled up her map and tucked it into a desk drawer. “I know your time is valuable, Twilight, so I shall get to the point forthwith. My sister has taught you well-- you are well on your way to mastering the skills necessary to come into your own as a true Princess of Equestria. Friendship. Diplomacy. Etiquette. Even your skill at battle-magic is coming along nicely.”
“Thank you? But I'd much rather be known as a friend and a scholar than, you know ... a warrior or anything.” Twilight glanced up at the crossed axes mounted on the wall behind Luna's desk and noted scratches and notches in the steel that could only have come from hard use.
“Wouldn't we all?” Luna shook her head. “Sadly, ponies of our stature rarely get such a luxury. But that is not why I have asked you here today. As there is an aspect of your education that my sister has ... overlooked.”
“There is?” Twilight blurted. “Wait-- hold on, it's not something about having to take on a royal consort, is it? Or concubines? Or having to get married to some foreign dignitary for political reasons?”
“That is the first thing that comes to mind?” Luna arched a brow. “I find this ... concerning.”
“Eheh.” Twilight scratched at the back of her neck, feigning casualness. “I guess it's just because Princess Celestia's done so much to teach me everything else, right? That, and, uh, I've been hanging out with Fluttershy a lot lately.”
“I see.” Luna said. “But, no matter. Matters of consorts and marriage-pacts are trivial in comparison to what you've yet to learn.”
“And what's that?”
“The Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice.”
It was at that moment that Twilight realized just why all of Luna's furniture was so solidly built. Anything less would've been shaken to pieces long, long ago.
“That's ... that's definitely something Princess Celestia never taught me.” Twilight rubbed one of her now-ringing ears. “But are you sure it's ... necessary?”
“Of course it is. I would not have brought it up otherwise.”
“But don't you think the Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice is a little ... antiquated? I mean, sure, I know ponies will expect me to give speeches because I'm a princess. But I'm already good at public speaking-- so long as I have time to make some notecards first. And, you know, with modern microphones and acoustic design, it's not as if I have to shout at everyone--”
“Shout?” Luna narrowed her eyes. “I do not shout, Twilight. I project.”
It was at that moment that Twilight realized just why her chair had such thick cushions. The plush upholstery served as a kind of primitive acceleration couch, holding her in place beneath the force of Luna's ... projection.
“And, I admit--” Luna continued at a thankfully lower volume, “the modern technologies which you list certainly do have their uses. However, it is unwise to depend on them entirely. As there will no doubt be times when you will lack the time or resources to rely on microphones. What would you do if you had to rally your troops on the battlefield? Or if you had to cow a rioting mob? In such eventualities, the Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice is essential.”
“That's ... one way to look at it. But it's not like I've got any troops to rally, or mobs to, ah ... cow.”
“Not yet.” Luna said with absolute, regal certainty.
“And hopefully not for a long time. If ever.” Twilight sat up straighter in her chair. “So ... as flattered as I am, I'm going to have to respectfully decline. I'm sure there's a lot you can teach me, Luna, it's just that I have more ... pressing concerns, you know? We're both busy ponies-- wouldn't it be better if you taught me about something I could use ... um ... indoors?”
“Indoors.” Luna said, deadpan. She leaned back in her chair, then steepled her hooves in front of her nose. “Perhaps, friend Twilight, we should make a wager.”
“A simple one. If I can show you a proper use for the Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice within the confines of Canterlot palace-- with no crises or emergencies, I should note –then will you consent to learn? And if I cannot prove my point, then I shall teach you about a subject of your choosing. Even, concubinage, if that's what you desire.”
“But I don't desire!” Twilight blurted, if a bit too quickly. “Er, concubines, that is. Unless we're talking about looking at the practice from a wholly historical perspective, as a matter of academic study. Seems most ponies these days just get weird ideas from badly researched romance novels, and ... that honestly could explain a lot of the questions Fluttershy asks sometimes.”
“Then tell me, Friend Twilight-- what would you like to learn?”
“Oh! Well, that's a pretty loaded question, right there. Although, now that I think about it, your comparatively recent return to Equestria combined with your resumption of your old duties as the Princess of Dreams does have the potential to revolutionize modern psychiatric theory. Or, your ability to raise the moon does offer some intriguing possibilities in the study of tidal physics ... “
“So we are agreed, then?”
“I, uh, I guess so?” Twilight said. “Seems like kind of an obtuse way of doing things-- I mean, can't I just pick now? Skip the whole 'royal wager' process?”
“You are confident.”
“I guess so, yeah?”
“Very well then. Let us adjourn to the east ballroom, and we shall settle the matter forthwith.”
Twilight had been in the east ballroom plenty of times-- typically for the Grand Galloping Gala (and the inevitable post-gala disaster response). This time, however, was different. This time, the enormous room was empty. The ballroom's furniture had been completely cleared out, leaving the high-vaulted hall empty save for a hoofball-pitch-length table stretched across the middle of the room. A chair was set at either end of the enormous banquet table-- the closest had Twilight's magic-burst of a cutie mark carved into the back, while Luna's crescent-moon sigil decorated the other.
Luna met Twilight at the door, and gestured airily towards one end of the table. “Please, Twilight. Sit. I've already sent for refreshment.”
“Oh, um, thank you?” Twilight said, and settled in her designated chair. This done, Luna spent the next few minutes strolling to her end of the enormous table. Teleporting would have been quicker, but also terribly, terribly gauche. Finally, Luna settled down in her own seat, then rung a small, silver bell-- the tinkling sound barely audible at such a distance.
Still, the staff must have been expecting it. With ninja-like silence and machine-like efficiency, Canterlot Palace's kitchen staff materialized at either end of the table, laying out identical table settings. A unicorn in a chef's hat set a dome-covered platter in front of Twilight-- and with no small degree of fanfare, removed the cover to reveal its gourmet contents.
Though to call it a 'cookie' was much like calling Princess Celestia 'a big horse with some extra bits on.' Technically correct, if terribly inaccurate. What sat on the plate before Twilight was a hoof-sized disc of golden-brown dough, spotted with large chunks of gourmet, mostly-molten chocolate. The sweet scent of caramelized sugar wafted up directly into Twilight's nostrils, eliciting an instinctive rumble in her stomach. When had been the last time she'd eaten, anyway? And, while not as sweet-obsessed as her friend Pinkie Pie, Twilight knew how to appreciate a properly prepared pastry when she saw one.
At the opposite end of the table, half a league away, Luna recieved an identical platter with an identical cookie. Presumably identical, at least-- it was impossible to tell at this distance. The Princess of Dreams and Darkness waved a cheery hoof in Twilight's direction, and then started to devour her own cookie.
At seeing Luna dig in so enthusiastically, Twilight followed suit-- albeit at a slower, more refined pace. She broke a chunk of the cookie off and popped it into her mouth-- only to nearly choke as the sweet, warm deliciousness took her off guard. Still oven-warm, the cookie was nearly liquid, bathing Twilight's tongue in chocolatey goodness. And as if that wasn't enough, the center of the cookie was made from peanut butter-- adding just a hint of thick, creamy resistance to her palate. Despite herself, Twilight let out a faint whimper of pleasure-- thankfully, with Princess Luna sitting at the other end of the table half a league away, there wasn't anypony to hear it. Pinkie Pie would have to meet whoever baked this cookie, Twilight decided. Heck, Pinkie Pie would probably marry whoever baked this cookie. Twilight smiled, then opened her mouth to say as much--
Between the chocolate and the peanut butter, the cookie clung to the inside of Twilight's mouth in a thick, even layer. Twilight blinked, and held a hoof up to her mouth for politeness' sake as she looked for something to drink ... when the realization hit her.
There were no glasses in front of her.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, Luna daintily sipped from a small glass of milk. She glanced up, arched a brow, and then smiled.
“I trust you are enjoying the baked delicacies, Twilight? Is there anything else you require?”
“My apologies, I cannot hear you. Perhaps you might speak louder?”
“Ynnh plhhnd dsh.”
“Ah! I see the staff has failed to provide you with libations. I shall remedy this..” Princess Luna clapped her hooves together, then turned to bellow in the direction of the kitchen. “Garcon!”
Within moments, a bow-tied waiter appeared with a glass of milk, tall and cool to the touch. Twilight tried not to look too desperate as she chugged it down, washing the delicious (if uncannily sticky) peanut butter cookie dough down her throat. A quick run of her tongue along her gumline cleared the last bits of dessert out of her mouth, and she finally found herself capable of speech.
“I said, you planned this.” Twilight tried to put some extra volume behind her voice, but the high vaulted ceilings and empty space of the ballroom swallowed the sound up just as surely as she'd swallowed that cookie.
“One moment, friend Twilight.” With that, Princess Luna disappeared in a blink of magic, reappearing next to Twilight in a short-range (if slightly impolite) teleport.
“That was kind of a dirty trick.” Twilight grumbled, and dabbed at the corner of her mouth with a napkin.
“I apologize. But sometimes a lesson must be learned in rather ... unorthodox manner. But now, do you not see the utility-- the necessity –of the Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice?”
“Kinda? I guess?” Twilight sighed, and rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “But ... I can tell this is very important to you, so I guess it couldn't hurt to work on my ... projection.”
“Huzzah!” Luna perked up, surprisingly bright for somepony typically associated with darkness. “Then prepare yourself, friend Twilight, for your training shall commence on the morrow!”