The light conversation between the pages died down instantly when the door of the reunion room opened, letting in a strict looking older unicorn mare in a page uniform. Her coat was grey and her mane, done up in a bun, was light baby blue. She surveyed the room while adjusting her black-framed glasses.
"At attention ladies!" she barked.
The six pages in attendance all lined up perfectly. This was the time of the day were the various assignments would be distributed to the ponies on the team. This time however something was different, as the grey mare led in another pony. This one was an earth pony mare with a dark indigo coat with aquamarine eyes and mane. Her cutie mark was that of an equally aquamarine eye opened wide with a dilated pupil. She also wore page uniform, as well as the discreet blue lapel pin that marked her as a trainee. She smiled shyly at the group.
"Ladies, this is Night Vision, she is a new page and will be training with you for the coming weeks."
A young unicorn bounded up to the newcomer with a big smile on her face. "Hi! My name's Paperweight! This is Inkwell, Coffee Break, Offilia, Bellemane, Orchid Moon and Lithograph, but we just call her Lita! I hope you'll enjoy working with us."
The other pony smiled back a little more openly at the display.
"I hope we can be friends," said the disguised Princess Luna
It had all started the previous night after a particularly boring meeting with Vicereine Wallflower.
"The poor dear always has good ideas, but she is quite terrible when it come to presenting them," commented Luna, stifling a yawn, as she walked down a corridor with her secretary.
The secretary absentmindedly nodded in agreement as she checked the schedule.
“I’m afraid I have bad news your majesty,” began the secretary, “you have a meeting with Viscount Blueblood next.”
Luna rolled her eyes. “I need a break.”
The Princess and her secretary approached a fork in the corridor, one direction leading to Blueblood, the other leading to another part of the castle and, hopefully, something fun to do. As they arrived at the split, Luna seamlessly split off into two identical copies of herself, one going left, and the other going right. The secretary followed the one going right without missing a beat.
The Luna that didn’t have to waste her time with a boring meeting turned into a dark blue mist at the next window and flew off into the cool night air. There was rain scheduled to fall all night, lending to the normally hectic pace of Canterlot’s night a much more calming quality, like that found in other parts of Equestria. Sometimes Luna missed the days before the Night Court, when the night was her domain alone and the sycophants and courtiers all slept during that time. Those times were followed by the memory of how crushing the loneliness had been, and then the courtiers seamed like a small price to pay for all this.
Once the mist was outside the castle ground it turned into an indigo earth pony mare with aquamarine mane and an eye for a cutie mark. The mare stared upward into the night sky, an invisible umbrella apparently shielding her from the rain. She smiled and a grey rain cloak appeared over her. Once the cloak was in place Luna dissipated her force field and left the rain to fall on her. She giggled softly as a raindrop tickled her nose.
The disguised Luna went down the street with a spring in her step, enjoying the sound of her hooves in the puddles. This identity had been named Night Vision. Night Vision had been given a backstory, a job and a few character traits, including a friendly personality and a juvenile tendency to appreciate some of the smaller things in life, like acting like a foal under the rain. Luna might be of unknowable age, but she too enjoyed acting young and carefree every once in a while, and Night Vision was the perfect excuse. Night Vision made her way though the rain soaked street until she saw a familiar sign.
Cheddar Wheel’s Snack Bar had opened roughly thirty years ago in what was then a military district filled with barracks and warehouses. This area, so close to the castle, had recently seen a boom in fancy restaurants and high-class cafés, but Cheddar Wheel’s place was still standing. Luna had made a habit of coming to this establishment every few days in various disguises, of which Night Vision was the fifth, to enjoy their specialty: the Supreme Grilled Cheese Sandwich!
It was just such a heavenly meal! Cheddar Wheel made every single ingredient in the sandwich, even going so far as to make his own butter for the grilling. As such his Earth Pony magic was infused into every bite, transmitting his passion and happiness to the pony eating the sandwich.
“Hello Mister Wheel!” she greeted loudly as she entered the restaurant.
“Hello kid,” replied the stallion behind the counter, rather dejectedly.
Mister Wheel was an older earth pony stallion with an orange coat and bright yellow mane that was turning grey on the temples. He was wearing a pair of glasses and going over papers while at the counter, and he didn’t look thrilled. The restaurant was otherwise unoccupied.
Luna walked up to the counter and looked at the stallion in confusion. “Is something wrong?”
Cheddar Wheel took a long sigh, “I guess you have a right to know kid, you’ve been such a good customer for me over the last few years… truth of the matter is I’m not making ends meet lately… and if things don’t pick up soon, I might have to close shop.”
Luna gasped. “How is that possible? Your food is incredible!”
“Thanks kid,” said the old stallion, smiling softly “but this is a fancy restaurant street now. All the servants, pages and guards, the ones who used to come here to buy my food, they go where all those coffee shop opened on the other side of the palace. Only the nobles come around here nowadays and none of them care for my cuisine.”
Luna took a look at the empty restaurant and understood what he meant. “Can’t you move over there? Or somewhere else in Canterlot?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I can’t afford to move even if I sell this place, especially since some of my cheese making equipment is practically built into the building itself. I would need to buy a lot of that stuff… but first I would need to settle my debts and then I wouldn’t be left with enough money to afford a new restaurant space at today’s price…my brother is offering me a job at his cheese factory in Hoofington, I might go there for a while, maybe save my money and open again over there.”
The stallion was startled when Night Vision stomped her hoof down.
“No! I won’t let it happen! You told me this restaurant was your dream!” she declared loudly.
“I did?” he asked in confusion.
Luna realized she had let slip a piece of information only a previous disguise had known. “You told me with your food!” she boldly added to cover up, “You can feel it in every bite! Your dedication, your passion for food, your love of sharing what you make with others! Your grilled cheese sandwich is the best I ever tried in my life! It’s the best EVER! I won’t let Canterlot lose you!”
“What do you intend to do?” asked Cheddar Wheel, confused.
“I intend to find you new customers! I won’t stop until everypony in Canterlot will want some of your food! You can trust me on that!”
And with that the earth pony mare stomped toward the exit and left. She returned a few seconds later, looking rather sheepish.
“But before that I’ll take one grilled cheese sandwich with a glass of lemonade please.”
Cheddar Wheel smiled fondly. “Coming right up!”
Later that night Luna had returned to her room to merge back into a full Princess. She was currently pacing back and forth trying to figure out how to best bring ponies to Cheddar Wheel’s Snack Bar.
She briefly considered going there as herself, and, after a nice meal, awarding the Equestrian Medal in Gastronomic Excellence to mister Wheel, but she dismissed it entirely. Last time she did that, the restaurants ended up being overrun by all sorts of sycophant and fanponies, to the point it became impossible to casually walk in, and the added pressure had caused the owner to cut corner on the food. This wasn’t going to happen to Cheddar Wheel.
Asking Fancy Pants to speak on the behalf of Cheddar Wheel would have a very similar effect, except that the type of ponies wanting to sucker up to Fancy Pants (voted Most Interesting Stallion in Equestria five years in the row by the readers of Mares Magazine!) would probably be much worse.
She then considered Octavia, her court musician, who had quite a lot of influence in certain circles. This again led nowhere. Octavia would only accept to speak in favor of a restaurant if she had tried the food herself, lying was not, or at least no longer, in her vocabulary. Problem was that Octavia followed a very strict diet and would never indulged in the type of food Luna loved at Cheddar Wheel’s.
It was when she considered Octavia that an idea got into her head. Octavia had a friend named Paperweight, one of the young pages working at the Night Court. From what Luna had gathered she was a very friendly pony, and had lots of friends amongst the servants of the castle…
And that is how Luna found herself, in her Night Vision guise, working for her own Night Court and training under Paperweight.
Working for a salary was a rather novel experience for Luna. She wondered why she had never tried it before? Splitting into pieces and getting a job should have been something she did long ago. Maybe when this was done she might just keep Night Vision working as a page. Paperweight showed her how to operate the hole-punching machine and how to place the various reports into binders, and then showed her in which bookshelf to place them.
“That should keep you busy for a little while, I’ll be back later!” declared Paperweight, leaving the room.
Luna hummed to herself softly as she worked her way through the various reports Night Light wanted archived. She knew very well that Night Light was a perfectionist so she did her best to keep everything as smooth as possible. About halfway through one of the other page, Bellemane, walked in with a pair of coffee mug.
“Coffee newbie?” asked the older page, handing Luna the hot beverage.
“Sure! Thanks a lot,” replied Luna with a smile.
The disguised Princess took a sip and immediately realized something was wrong. The taste was very subtle, probably too subtle for a mortal pony, but she could tell there was something in the coffee. A second sip confirmed her suspicions: laxatives! This page was trying to haze her or something, maybe get rid of competition? She decided to see if Bellemane intended to play more pranks on her and simply render them ineffective. Luna had to admit this pony would be good at poker, there was no disappointment shown on her face when her laxative failed to have any effect. Instead she went to inspect the work already done.
“You’re doing great Night Vision!” commented Bellemane with faked interest.
“Thank you, I’m doing my best,” simply replied Luna.
“But,” the other mare began, “there’s a slight problem. You see you’ve filed them in alphabetical order, but the Viceroy prefers his reports filed by date in ascending order.”
Luna feigned surprise at the comment, which she was certain was a lie, “Oh dear! It’s a good thing you were here Miss Bellemane. I need to fix this immediately.”
As Luna went about to ‘fix’ her filing method, Bellemane headed for the door, holding in a giggle that Luna only managed to catch thanks to her divine hearing.
“Well I’ll be going back to my task. In the meantime, in case you need it, bathroom is the second door on the left down that way,” explained the mare, pointing to one end of the corridor.
Luna knew very well that the bathroom was the third door on the left on the other side of the corridor. That was already three strikes against Bellemane. Any other and she might just end up working for Blueblood’s office or something.
“Thank you but that’s quite allright, I went before starting this,” simply answered the Princess as she put back folders into the bookshelf.
Once Bellemane was gone, Luna used her magic to place the files back into their correct position. For the rest of the job though she worked only with her hooves and mouths like a proper earth pony would. It was always one of her rule to stick to her role whenever she would hide out as one of her little pony, and thus not use abilities from other tribes.
It didn’t take that long, at least from her point of view, to finish the work. About an hour later Viceroy Night Light himself came by and she made sure to curtsy properly. She almost giggled at the absurdity of the situation. Bellemane was also along with Night Light.
“Well done Night Vision. Everything is where it should be,” he commented.
Bellemane couldn’t resist a gasp. “What? But…but…”
“I’m sorry Bellemane, after you left I realized you got this shelf confused with that one over there,” interrupted Night Vision, pointing to a different set of binders, “It’s those ones who are archived by date, these ones are indeed ordered alphabetically.”
“Good sense of observation, unlike you Bellemane, you show great promise. Well carry on,” added Night Light, leaving the room.
An angry Bellemane turned toward Night Vision, who only gave her a beaming smile.
“Thanks again for the coffee!” she said.
It was a bit later the following night and Luna, still in her Night Vision costume, was walking back toward the viceroy’s offices, after delivering documents to another part of the castle, when she suddenly felt observed. She kept walking but silently extended her magical sense and realized that somepony was using a scrying spell to keep an eye on the corridor. Extending her senses further she realized that Bellemane and one of her colleague, Offilia, were hiding behind the partially opened door to the office. Offilia was the one using the scrying spell. After Offilia’s signal Bellemane placed a bucket over the door and the two began to fight to hold their giggling. Luna rolled her eyes. These juveniles prank were getting rather pathetic. Thankfully she knew how to deal with such prank. She kept walking and put a hoof on the doorknob before suddenly halting.
“Oh! I forgot something…” she said to herself, stepping back and closing the door.
The sound of a bucket falling on somepony and the shriek of a suddenly wet Bellemane echoed through the corridor as the smiling Luna walked away.
It was at the end of the third night that the breakthrough Luna was waiting for occurred. A bit faster than she had expected, but Paperweight had turned out to be remarkably friendly. Night Vision was walking toward one of the gate leading outside the castle walls when Paperweight called up on.
“Hey Night Vision! Want to play Hoofball with us?” the unicorn mare had asked.
Along Paperweight were Inkwell, Lita, a few off duty servants and even a couple of pegasus guard. Paperweight was holding a ball afloat with her telekinesis. Night Vision beamed and walked up to the other workers.
“Sure thing! Which ruleset?” she asked.
“We’re playing with the Trottingham rules,” answered Paperweight.
Luna liked the Trottingham rules. She herself had invented them after all, but they were missing something important for this variation.
Luna put a hoof to her muzzle, “I don’t think we’re allowed to bring kegs of ale on the castle grounds.”
Paperweight shook her hooves in front of herself, “Not those rules! I meant the Trottingham Pro-League rules.”
Comprehension dawned on Night Vision’s face. “Oh! Those! Of course, it’ll be fun!”
Lita walked up the pair, looking a bit concerned, “We’ll still be short another player.”
“I’ll play!” suddenly came the voice of Bellemane.
Luna blinked a few times, seeing the anger in Bellemane’s eyes.
An exhausted Paperweight and an apparently (but not really) equally tired Night Vision laid down on their backs in the cool grass of the castle ground. They were both panting and smiling broadly. Around them the rest of their team was still cheering from their hard fought victory and the opponent, even the reluctant Bellemane, were congratulating them.
“This was fun!” commented Luna.
“Especially when you tackled Bellemane,” added Paperweight, giggling.
“I swear I didn’t see her pass it!” replied the disguised Princess with a giggle.
The rest of the team settled down while everyone caught their breath and took a moment to freshen up at the nearby fountain.
“I’m famished!” commented one of the pegasus guard, while the rest of the group made their agreement known.
“We should go to Donut Joe!” suggested Inkwell.
“We went there last time, I say we go to that Mexicolt place!” said Lita.
“You only like to go there because the mare at the counter is cute,” grumbled one of the maid present, “I can’t stand their food.”
This was it! Night Vision took this as her cue and stood up and spoke up.
“Well if you want to try I know a place that’s nice. It’s a bit out of the way but it’s not any more expensive than Donut Joe. It’s called Cheddar Wheel’s Snack Bar.”
There was some interest in the crowd, some added their own suggestion, Bellemane didn’t feel like following her opinion. Finally it was Paperweight, with the full power of her friendly personality, who changed everypony’s mind.
“I always love to try out new places! Let’s go to that snack bar!”
Luna smiled as everypony, even Bellemane, decided to try the new place. Just for that she decided not to transfer Bellemane to Blueblood’s office.
A month later Night Vision, still in her page uniform, walked into Cheddar Wheel’s Snack Bar and was pleasantly surprised to find it filled to the brim with maids, pages, guards, journalists and even Baron Mounty Max, all enjoying the high quality food of the establishment.
“Kid! It’s been a week since I last saw you!” said Cheddar Wheel, walking up to her, “I can’t believe how much work I have now! You saved my business! I don’t know how you did it.”
Luna smiled. “It was nothing, just a little friendship,” she said, waving to her page friends by the corner, smiling at Paperweight.
“Still, how could I ever repay you?”
Night Vision hugged him. “Just keep following your dream and making good food, it’s all I ask.”
Once she broke the hug Cheddar Wheel shook his head.
“How can a kid so young be so wise?” he mused outloud. “Well I still want to thank you for what you’ve done…” he added, rubbing his chin while deep in thought. “Oh! I know!”
“I’m officially renaming my Supreme Grilled Cheese Sandwich into the Night Vision Special Sandwich!”
Luna laughed happily, “I couldn’t dream of a more perfect monument!”