"Lady Twilight Sparkle!"
That night had been dreamless for Twilight, almost mercifully so. It had allowed her a peaceful, uninterrupted rest. This morning, however, wasn't about to give her the same courtesy.
"Grmph... Who are you and what do you waaa- What in the name of-" Twilight unleashed an uncharacteristic string of obscenities as the unknown name-caller ripped open a pair of drapes, flooding the room with bright sunlight.
"Princess Luna may have ordered me to let you sleep in, but enough is enough, Lady Sparkle. You missed breakfast, you're late for your next appointment, and the Princess even raised the sun for you today!"
Twilight rolled over to glare at the clock on the wall; it was barely 9. This mare was beginning to get on her last nerve. "Fifteen hours ago I was in the hospital."
"A Princess does not make excuses, Lady Sparkle. If you are to be a Princess, you should begin acting like one immediately."
"Who are you again?"
"My name, Lady Sparkle, is Sound Mind, I am-"
"The Deputy Minister of the Interior, I know the name. Why did you wake me up?"
"You are to be coronated tomorrow afternoon! Do you realize how much we need to do before then?"
"Oh right..." The still groggy Twilight rolled out of bed and immediately began walking towards her private bathroom.
"Ugh, why do you keep calling me that? I'm not Princess yet! I'm not even royalty!" Twilight spun around, growling at her
"I know that! If you were I would be addressing you as Princess Sparkle," the lime-green unicorn snapped back. "But as I remember, when your older brother married Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, he was elevated to Lord status, thus you are a Lady."
"Right..." Twilight turned back around towards her bathroom.
"Lady Sparkle, where are you going?"
She is really asking for it. Twilight stopped walking, but didn't bother turning around this time. "I haven't taken a bath in a week, so that's what I'm going to do."
"Lady Sparkle, your laziness has made us late enough already! If you had wanted to bathe, you should've gotten up earlier. We do not have time for this!"
"And this is not negotiable," Twilight shouted back, slamming the bathroom door shut and placing several complex locking spells on it. Unsure of Sound Mind's magical prowess, she checked her work over before turning around. She felt her jaw immediately drop.
It's as big as my bedroom in the library!
As Celestia's student, she had been in the Princess' personal chambers hundreds of times over the years, but the bathroom was a different story. The entire thing was crafted out of a flawless white marble, every fixture plated with gold.
Twilight inspected a nearby towel rack, tapping it with her hoof. Correction, the fixtures are solid gold.
She walked over to a highly-detailed mosaic depicting the celestial sisters covering an entire wall. The piece captured Celestia's elegance perfectly, placing her before a brightly-colored sunrise, an equally vibrant rainbow arcing overhead. Luna, on the other-hoof was placed ardently against a starry night sky, in no less detail. Twilight gently touched a hoof to the mural, struck speechless at what she saw.
"These are real rubies! And sapphires! And Celestia is made of pearls! Is this whole thing made of gemstones? I have got to show this to Rarity." She trotted down to the other end and ran her hoof over the midnight tourmaline that was Luna. "This was done way before Luna came back... Celestia, did you make this yourself?"
She wiped a tear from her cheek and turned around, electing to admire it more later when she had the time. Next stop was the window.
"Facing west? I could watch the sunset from here," she giggled to herself before realizing that that was probably the entire point of placing the window there in the first place. Something was bugging her about it though. She scanned it with her magic quickly. "Enchanted so that you can see out, but not in. Very nice, Princess..."
She sighed to herself and turned to the bathtub. She really wanted to just spend the entire day in here just admiring the craftsponyship of the room, but Sound Mind was probably angry enough with her already. She used her magic to spin the faucets on and started to inspect the tub itself as it filled. Like everything else in the room, it too was solid gold, encrusted with gems of every shape and color. Its most striking feature, however, was its sheer size.
My friends and I could all fit in here with room to spare... Giggling at the thought, she poked her head over the rim and looked inside. Several hooves deep in the center, it could almost be described as a miniature pool. A bench-like shelf ran around the outside, providing a seat where a normal-sized pony could sit comfortably with their head and shoulders just above the water.
She reached in and prodded an odd fixture she guessed was a water jet. "Its almost like a hot-tub," she muttered to herself. She pictured in her mind Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie splashing around in the deep center while Rarity, Fluttershy, and herself gossiped along the edges. "Heh, maybe someday... Oh wow, that filled quickly."
She turned the water off again, and deciding that she had waited long enough, jumped right in. A shiver ran up her spine as the hot water released all the tension she hadn't realized she had built up and she let herself sink into the liquid with a content sigh.
Then she heard a knock on the door.
She let loose a loud, frustrated groan, knowing full well that only she could hear it and magiced a nearby brush and bottle of soap over to her. She squirted a generous portion of soap onto her back and scrubbed herself all over vigorously, making a mental note to ask Rainbow exactly how she should be caring for her new wings.
Actually, scratch that, ask Fluttershy. Dash isn't exactly the cleanest pony I know.
Honestly, Twilight wanted to spend the rest of the morning in the bath, but the annoying mare on the other side of the door had a point; there was a lot to get done today. Still, feeling clean again had done wonders for her mood. Maybe she'd take a longer bath before bed...
She opened the drain to let the water out of the tub and climbed out, making for a cabinet with a large selection of towels. She picked a fluffy pink one and began drying herself off when she tripped over it. "What in the world..."
She used her magic to spread it out and held it up to its full height. "It's as big as a quilt! This was definitely Celestia's." She quickly finished drying and steeled herself to face Sound Mind.
She thoroughly expected the unicorn to be angry and she was thoroughly not disappointed. Sound Mind was scowling derisively at her through her pair of black horn-rimmed glasses. "Well, it took me the entire time you were in there to reorganize your schedule, but I was able to do it. I hope you're quite happy."
"I am, thank you. So, what's first on the list?"
She continued to glare at Twilight as the future Princess trotted past. "Well, first things first, we're heading down to meet your new personal trainer. A Princess must lead by example, thus keeping in shape is a must. Due to the late hour, we will be skipping breakfast to make up for lost... Or we could pick something up from the kitchens to go!"
Twilight continued to give Sound Mind the most menacing glare she could muster for a couple seconds to drive her point home, then turned back around towards the door. "Yes, let's do that."
Five minutes later, she pranced behind of the Deputy Minister, happily munching on a blueberry bagel, listening intently to the slightly older pony drone on about the day.
"Alright, now that we have that out of the way, we can get started. Like I said before, the first order of business is to meet with your new trainer so that we may set up a satisfactory exercise routine. That was supposed to be be from approximately 9:45 to 10:50, however we're five minutes late, so it will be a bit shorter than planned. After that, we are to meet with the kitchen staff at 11:00 to inform them of your culinary preferences. That will-"
"What? But what about-?"
Twilight rolled her eyes and interrupted the vexing mare for a second time. "I used to live here! The head chef's daughter used to foalsit me when Cadance was busy! They already know what I like."
"Fine," Sound Mind groaned, "instead we will go over this year's budget. Don't groan at me! Managing the national finances is an integral part of the duties of a Princess. Now, at noon we will break for a quick lunch in the Royal Dining Hall. At 12:30, we will be meeting with the Head Royal Librarian who would like a word with you about an overdue book. One we're finished there at 1:00, we must meet with the Royal Decorators to discuss updating the palace's upholstery and such. For 4:00, I have scheduled a meeting with Guard-Captain Bladewing to-"
Sound Mind stopped in her tracks and wheeled around on Twilight. "The more you interrupt me, the longer this all will take, Lady Sparkle! You will be meeting Guard-Captain Bladewing, who as of tomorrow morning will be replacing Shining Armor."
"On who's orders?"
"Mine," Sound Mind proclaimed haughtily. "I understand that you might prefer your brother remain in his position, but allowing such a thing creates a conflict of interest. Should his performance slip, you might turn a blind eye to his negligence, thus creating an atmosphere of nepotism!"
Deep breaths, Twilight. Just take deep breaths and don't think about banishing her to the moon. Just deal with this rationally and she can't touch you. "You may have a point, but the Ministry of the Interior has no, I repeat, absolutely no authority over the Royal Guard. If you have a problem with the way the Guard is run, talk to the Minister of the Army."
"I did," Sound Mind sniffed, "but he dismissed me offhoofedly. He told me to 'just drop it.'"
"I see," Twilight muttered, holding back a smirk. "Then I suggest you do just that, unless of course you think you can convince Luna to come over to your point of view before tomorrow afternoon." Sound Mind looked at her and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Because, frankly, once I've been coronated, you have no chance of removing Shining Armor from office."
The Deputy Minister glared at Twilight for a moment, her face scrunched up in a scowl. "Fine, I will re-schedule your appointment to be with Guard-Captain Shining Armor. That will be from 4:00 to 6:00, after which you will be attending a reception in the West Courtyard with several high-ranking government officials for the rest of the night. Any questions, your highness?"
"No questions, but if you don't keep that tone in check then I might have a few for your boss," Twilight grumbled back.
"Yes, Lady Sparkle."
Really, Twilight? You're pulling rank already? Sure she's a pain in the flank who woke you up early and hasn't stopped whining at you since, but be more patient. Like Celestia was.
Twilight continued to follow her in silence, hoping that doing so would also keep Sound Mind quiet. Thankfully, her luck held out; Sound Mind didn't speak again until they emerged into one of the castle's many courtyards.
"This trainer comes highly recommended. When I contacted him, he accepted the position immediately and actually refused any offered payment. As such, I would consider it a personal favor it if you treated him with respect," she whispered to Twilight, for once speaking with an air of sincerity.
No snark? Maybe I was wrong about her...
"At least as much respect as is befitting for a Princess to show somepony of his position. It wouldn't do for someone of your future stature to go treating a common laypony as an equal."
There it is.
"Alright, Sound Mind. I'll make sure not to make a fool of either of us," Twilight replied, not bothering to hide her sarcasm. Glad to leave behind her guide, she approached the pair of pegasi standing in the courtyard chatting amongst themselves. "Ummm, hi? I'm Twilight Sparkle, I take it you-"
"HA! I knew it was you!" the mare of the two shouted out when she heard Twilight speak.
"Wait, you're... Spitfire, right?" Twilight asked, taken slightly aback. "The Wonderbolt?"
"That I am! Nice to meet you again!"
"You remember me?"
"Of course!" Spitfire chuckled with a bravado that strongly reminded Twilight of another pegasus she knew. "You impressed me when you were helping Rainbow Dash get Ponyville's water up to Cloudsdale. Not too many unicorns even understand the importance of getting the water up there, let alone how to do it."
Twilight could feel herself blushing at the praise. "Well, it wasn't really that hard to understand. I'm, that is, I used to be Ponyville's librarian, so all I had to do was read up on how weather is created and maintained."
"Exactly!" Spitfire exclaimed as she clapped Twilight on the back. "We would all be so much better off if more ponies would just sit down and learn something every now and then... What's that look for? Just because I'm an athlete doesn't mean I can't enjoy a good book, you know!"
"That's not it," Twilight replied with a giggle. "Its just that somehow I'm actually not surprised that you read a lot. Still, I can appreciate that."
"Anyway, point is that if somepony has to take over for Celestia, I'm glad it's a bookworm like you. Equestria needs somepony knowledgeable about everything and anything to lead it, so for what it's worth, I had the word sent out that the Wonderbolts officially endorse you. That being said, the whole team wanted to do something real, so we're lending you our ground trainer."
"Your ground trainer?"
"Yeah, some of the stunts we do require more than just strong wings, so we do a lot of earth pony exercises to keep our legs and core strong. Stormrider here was planning on retiring in a couple months anyway so he offered to retire early and spend his time here!"
"Oh, wow! Thank you, Stormrider! That's really generous!"
"Just call me Storm, ma'am," the older, graying pegasus replied with a gravelly voice. "I used to be a guard, so it's actually really nice to be back at the palace. Sort of like a vacation for me."
"Well, I'll let the two of you get to it," Spitfire said with a wide grin. "Let me know if there's anything else we can do for you, Princess. And don't you be a stranger Stormy!"
Twilight craned her neck to watch Spitfire as the Wonderbolt took off like a rocket. A tap on her shoulder brought her back down to Equestria. "So, Twilight, is it? I know you're technically not Princess yet, but I always give my people nicknames anyway. so I'm just gonna start calling you 'Princess,' if that's alright with you."
"Sure, so what's on the agenda for today, Storm?"
"Since our goal is mainly to keep you in shape, we'll be focusing on cardio and endurance training, as opposed to strength and agility. I'm guessing you've already bathed today, yes?" He smiled to Twilight as she nodded. "Well, than there's no point in getting you all sweaty. We'll just go over the basics today and get to the hard stuff tomorrow. How's evening workouts sound? Get you all nice and exhausted so you can just jump in the bath then hop right into bed?"
"Sounds good to me!"
The pair spent the next hour going over various stretches and workouts before Sound Mind finally dragged a very unhappy Twilight away to the treasury office to discuss Equestria's finances.
"You know, I was actually enjoying myself out there."
"Well that's nice, Lady Sparkle, but you of all ponies must know the importance of sticking to a strict schedule."
"Well, yeah, but I also know the importance of having fun."
"You may have all the 'fun' you want to later, for now, we must bring you up to date on our great nation's monetary concerns. Now, the most important thing to remember is that we must always keep the budget balanced. This means avoiding frivolous spending whenever possible and raising taxes when necessary..."
When she was a filly, Twilight disliked accounting. The math she didn't mind, in fact she even enjoyed it somewhat, but for some reason when it came to checks and balances, it suddenly just became mind-numbingly dull. She also honestly believed that she could bring herself to be able to at least bear it now, had she been required to do it on her own. The way Sound Mind presented it, however, made it worse than ever before. An hour later, she left the office at a full gallop, more eager to just get away from her lesson than to actually get to lunch.
Wanting to dodge Sound Mind for at least a few minutes, she skipped the Dining Hall and went directly to the kitchen, sneaking up on a familiar earth pony stallion hovering over a large pot of soup.
"Hey, Simmer Steam! What've you got this time?"
"Oh! Twilight, I told you a long time ago not to surprise me like that!" the sous-chef grumbled, holding a hoof to his chest. Chuckling, he continued, "and wipe that smirk off your face, one of these days you'll give me a heart attack! Then what'll you do?"
"I'll just use your cooking revive you! The amount of garlic you use could wake the dead!" she replied with a teasing grin.
"Oh, ha-ha. Nopony ever said you had to eat my food. The soups not ready anyhow."
"Oh, really?" Twilight whined back. For all her goading, she really did like Simmer's cooking. The simpleness of everything he created was elegant in his own way and had quickly elevated him to his lofty position. Even so, he had always refused the post of Head Chef, preferring to be able to just focus on his cuisine rather than run the kitchen. "Well in that case, can I get a daisy sandwich?"
"The usual, than? Coming right up!" With nearly blinding speed, he whipped up a sandwich, plated it, and slid it down the counter to her with a wink.
"Hey! You always make them too thick for me!" she giggled, lifting the plate with her magic.
"Yet you keep coming back."
"Any time. I'll let the boss know you stopped by."
She trotted back out to the Dining Hall and plopped down in the nearest seat, immediately filling her mouth with her prize. It had been far too long since she had last done this. In fact, the last time had been the day before Celestia had sent her to Ponyville for the first time. She was so deep in her nostalgia that even the reappearance of Sound Mind couldn't spoil her mood.
"The Princess should be sitting at the head of the table."
"We're the only ponies here."
"And just what are you eating? Is your palette really that unrefined?"
"Your sarcasm is unbecoming."
"It never bothered Celestia."
Sound Mind flinched as if Twilight had struck her. "Fine. If you're going to be like that, I'll just stay silent."
Twilight suppressed a giggle at the irony of the situation. If Sound Mind thought that being quiet was punishing Twilight, she wasn't going to correct the mare. Instead, she finished her sandwich in peace, taking the time to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, as soon as she had swallowed the last bite, Sound Mind was up and dragging her to the library where the head librarian spent the full half hour lecturing her in no uncertain terms that the rules would not be changing for her after the coronation.
"Alright, Lady Sparkle, next we're reviewing the castle decor with a Mr. Hoity-Toity in the Throne Room. Or at least you're reviewing the decor, I have some paperwork that needs filing, so I'll be back at around 4 to take you to your next appointment. Again, please be on your best behavior."
"Right." Twilight rolled her eyes as soon as Sound Mind turned her back and continued into the Throne Room to meet with the fashion designer. She took a few cautious steps into the throne room, expecting a passionate verbal assault from Hoity-Toity. Yet again, she was not disappointed.
"AH! And this is the Princess-to-be? The Miss Twilight Sparkle?" The earth pony designer appeared next to her as if he had teleported.
"Indeed! You are every bit as lovely as the newspapers describe." He started to inspect every inch of her with a speed and enthusiasm reminiscent of Pinkie Pie. "Such a gorgeous coat, I love the color! Wings, absolutely sumptuous! Mane, very simple, inelegant, and unassuming yet it suits you perfectly! And the way you hold yourself! Well, I've never seen anything like it!"
"Errr... All that's good, right?"
"Oh, absolutely!" He stomped a hoof on the floor and a half-dozen assistants materialized. "Now, to discuss the adornment of this place! Celestia will be missed, but a new Princess means new furnishings."
"Actually, Mr. Hoity-Toity, I did give that a little thought..."
"Oh, marvelous!" he lauded. With a wave of a hoof, yet another assistant appeared next to him brandishing a clipboard. "Do tell!"
"Well, I kindda like things the way they are..."
Hoity-Toity visibly wilted. "Oh, no, what won't do at all!" His assistants disappeared and reappeared, each bearing a different outfit with a different color scheme. "Now, take your time and appreciate each arrangement!"
"Don't like them? I don't blame you, none of these are even remotely acceptable!" He turned to his assistants and waved them off. "Just like we discussed, everypony! No mistakes!"
Suddenly, Twilight's world was awash in a veritable rainbow of colors and patterns. Every design she could imagine (and quite a few she couldn't) danced before her eyes!
...For three long, excruciating hours.
Twilight's eyes hurt, her head ached and every trace of patience she had was gone by the time Hoity-Toity finally said the magic words.
"And that's a wrap!" He turned to Twilight, grinning from ear-to-ear. "And that is what I have for you! Please, tell me what you think!"
She lifted her head up from the floor where she lay. "Well, I've made my decision," she murmured.
"I'd like to keep the decor as it is."
Hoity-Toity fell over.
"What do you mean!? How can-" he caught himself mid shout and took a deep breath. "I apologize, shouting at a pony of your standing is just criminal." He rubbed his chin with a hoof. "Why don't we do this: rather than replacing anything, we'll simply add a few banners! We'll match them to the color of your coat and emblazon them with that gorgeous Cutie Mark of yours!"
"Were you even listen- ...Actually I like that idea."
"Yeah," Twilight chirped, actually smiling. "As long as you leave everything else, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to put up a few extra decorations."
"Finally! Brazen? Oh where is that mare?" A pegasus appeared at his side before he had even finished speaking. "Ah, there you are! Please run over to Silky Thread's place and order two hundred yards of his violet #26, sixty yards of his violet #43 and fifteen yards of the purest white he has!" He glanced back towards Twilight, then turned to his assistant again. "Also: ten yards of his best pink #5! All to be delivered immediately! Chop chop!"
The pegasus was off like a shot. Hoity-Toity gave the rest of his assistants a single glare and they too left, just as quickly. He turned back to Twilight, took her hoof in his and gently brushed his lips against it. "The pleasure has been entirely mine! I'd love to stay and chat, but there is so much work to be done!"
He made to leave, but before Twilight could word a farewell, was back in her face. "Wait! One more thing, an idea I had while we were showing you the wares! A dress collection inspired by the dusk! An assemblage of garments celebrating that special hour after the sun sets but before the moon rises! I would call it 'the Twilight Collection,' and base it off of your own fabulous natural color scheme! What say you?"
Honestly, that wasn't really Twilight's thing, but how could she say no? "That sounds nice! Go right ahead!"
"Excellent! Now I just need to find the perfect designer..."
"How about Rarity?"
"OH YES! How did I not think of her first? Her designs always have such poise! Such grace! This will be the best collection yet! Why I think it would surpass..." he continued to mutter to himself as he trotted out of the palace, lost in his dreams.
"Rarity is going to freak," Twilight giggled to herself. She left through the side door she came in through, actually pleased to see Sound Mind waiting there to take her to the one meeting of the day that she was looking forward to. Knowing exactly where to go this time, she cantered ahead of her guide, ignoring whatever words of reprehension Sound Mind threw her way. She bounded into her big brother's office, leaping over the desk to give him a hug before he had even realized she had arrived.
"Lady Sparkle! This meeting was scheduled to discuss security concerns, not for personal business!"
"Hey, Twiley!" Shining Armor chuckled, returning his sister's hug. "Deputy Minister, you are dismissed for the moment, you can come pick up Twilight at the end of the meeting."
"With all due, respect, Guard-Captain, you have no authority over me!" Sound Mind replied with her nose in the air.
"You are in my office, in a meeting that does not involve you. Now, please leave so I can talk to my sister."
"Fine," the mare replied with an over-inflated air of indigence. She turned around and left, nose still high in the air.
The pair watched her leave, then turned back to each other.
"You look much better than you did last night, sis. How're you feeling?"
"Much better. Even better now that we get a chance to catch up. Luna told me that things have been hectic around here. What kind of things have been happening?"
"Where do I start?" he groaned, taking a seat and motioning for her to join him. "Well, thankfully, all the problems have been domestic. No foreign disputes, yet. That being said, the nobles have been worse then I ever imagined."
"Well, almost as soon as Celestia's death was announced, every noble house in existence lost it. Each one accused every other one of assassinating her, completely ignoring the fact that every source stated that she died of 'natural causes.' Next they filed to have every member of Celestia's cabinet fired, along with every high-ranking official."
"Oh, yeah, about that: sorry about Sound Mind. She completely crossed the line."
"Somepony tries to get me fired every week, Twilight. Usually some noble who crossed the line, got caught, and I had to lock up. Way I figure, if they don't hate me then I'm not doing my job right."
"That sounds awful!"
"Yeah, but it keeps the peace. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah after the succession announcement, things only went downhill. Instead of their normal skullduggery, the nobles practically rioted! Even worse, a few of the ministers joined them! Prime Minister included"
"I wish I was. They started protesting outside of the palace. Most of them were angry that somepony they saw as a commoner was being made Princess. Others were accusing Celestia of nepotism, which is ironic considering how they'd like things to be. Blueblood even went so far as to start spreading rumors that you had poisoned Celestia, thankfully nopony believed any of those. I still had him arrested for slander though."
"Well, what happened?"
"Luna happened. She just stood out on the balcony and just shouted them all down. She threatened sanctions on any noble house who didn't shape up. After that, the protesting ministers threatened to resign and she just called their bluffs without batting an eye! Told them to send her their resignations immediately. They all took back their threats, but Luna forced the Prime Minister to resign anyway. I think she just wanted to make an example of him though, she was furious!"
"That's just crazy! What about everpony else? The non-nobles?"
Shining Armor perked up at the slight change of subject. "They were easier to handle. The fact that Celestia had hoof-picked you was good enough for most of them. As for the rest, well, let's just say I love my wife."
"Yeah. She went to some of the nearby towns and villages and spoke on your behalf. She's one of the most well-loved nobleponies in Equestria, so her reassurances brought over almost all of the detractors. And this being Equestria, word of her outreach spread like a wildfire. Long story short, everypony but the nobles supports you. The endorsement from the Wonderbolts didn't hurt either. You were still in that coma when that came in! How'd you pull that off?"
"Oh, you know... I have my ways."
"Right... Oh, you'll get a kick out of this! Those same nobles who were rioting about you have also been asking dad for your hoof in marriage."
"They... You mean... What?!"
"Yeah. Twelve stallions and, well, two mares..."
"They asked dad to marry me?"
He nodded gravely. "I think they were hoping they could convince him to accept an arranged marriage, but he told them to ask you about it. That stopped most of them in their tracks, but I'd expect one or two to approach you anyway."
"That's... I don't even... ugh!" she stuttered with a grimace.
"Don't worry too much about it," he chuckled, "they're all wimps when it really comes down to it. Now, on a brighter note..." With his magic, he brought a bottle and a pair of glasses out from behind his desk. "Some Sweet Apple Acres cider. I bought it a while ago and was saving it for a special occasion. I think this qualifies." He poured her a glass and floated it over to her. "To you, sis. I know it'll probably be rough going, but I also know that you're going to give it your best shot. I believe in you."
She took the glass in her own magic and gingerly 'clinked' it against his. "Thanks. At least you'll be here for me..."
"You don't know the half of it."
They shared a laugh and sat in silence with their drinks for a few minutes.
"So, am I going to be an aunt soon?"
"I can't believe you just asked me that!"
"Don't avoid the question!"
"Am I going to be a brother-in-law soon?"
"...Okay, point taken."
More silence, broken only be the sound of occasional sipping.
"Twilight, listen, I'm worried about you. I think you might be getting in over your head."
Twilight turned to look at her brother and noticed that his expression was every bit as troubled as his voice.
"You're probably one of the smartest ponies alive and I don't doubt you'll be a great leader, but you're still too empathetic and naive to be a good politician. I don't want to see everypony walk all over you."
"Hey! Celestia was probably the most empathetic pony in history!"
"Yes, but she wasn't naive, she had thousands of years of experience ruling a country.You on the otherhoof are my little sister who didn't even have friends until two years ago!" he replied, barely below shouting. He went to continue his tirade, but stopped himself when he noticed tears in the corners of her eyes. "I'm sorry, Twiley, I shouldn't be yelling. I just don't want to see you miserable or hurt and my guards and I can't protect you from everything, as much as I'd like to."
"Please, just promise me you'll be careful. And that you'll stand up for yourself. You know how it works, there's going to be a lot of ponies telling you to do a lot of different things."
"I know, and most of them will be trying to get me to do something that'll make them happy at the expense of somepony else. I'll be careful, Shining. I'll do what I think is right, even if it makes everypony hate me. I promise."
"That's what I wanted to hear," he whispered, breaking into a broad grin and pulling her into another hug. "There's one more thing though. Something we have to do before the horn-rimmed hardplot drags you off." This time, he produced an aging chessboard from behind his desk.
"Seriously? You never beat me. There was that one time when you were teaching me how to play, but you haven't won since!"
"That doesn't mean I can't keep trying!"
Four victories for Twilight later, the 'horn-rimmed hardplot' showed up with an almost nauseating punctuality, demanding Twilight leave for her next appointment. After extracting a promise from her BBBFF to come see her as soon as the coronation ended, Twilight relented and followed Sound Mind out. The pair had barely stepped into the corridor outside of the Guard-Captain's office when they were stopped by one of Luna's personal guards.
"The Princess wishes for Twilight Sparkle to join her for dinner. There are things she would like to discuss," he said, his speech as crisp and clean as his armor.
Before Twilight could speak up, Sound Mind jumped in, "Well Twilight is quite busy this evening. I am afraid she'll have to decline. We have a formal gathering to attend."
Not at all happy about being spoken for, Twilight scowled at Sound Mind. The guard, however, seemed completely unfazed. "The Princess has also stated that this is not a request and that Twilight Sparkle is to come alone."
"Fine," Sound Mind sniffed. "Lady Sparkle, I will leave you for now, but I implore you not to arrive at the reception any later than 7. An open invitation was sent out to every Minister and noblepony in Canterlot, skipping this event or even arriving any later than that would be very unwise."
"I'll be there," Twilight sighed, trotting after Luna's messenger. Something felt wrong to Twilight. What was this about?
Instead of taking her to the large Dining Hall, he led her to a much smaller room that she had always vastly preferred: the Princess' private dining room. Barely the size of her bedroom, the private dining room was largely unfurnished, with only a small round table and a half-dozen chairs. It didn't even have a door leading to the kitchen, having only one entrance, but was still one of the most comfortable rooms in the palace. At least among the rooms Twilight had been in, that is. Which, now that she thought about it, was nearly all of them...
She entered to see Luna sitting at the other size of the table, facing the doorway and sipping from a glass of water. The Night Princess gave Twilight a small smile and motioned for her to take the seat to her right.
"Good evening, Twilight. I'm glad to see you up and about."
"Hi Luna," Twilight replied tepidly, "what did you want to talk about?"
"Nothing actually," Luna said back with a mischievous smirk. "Knowing you and knowing the Deputy Minister, I just thought you might desire what you'd call 'a break.'"
"Oh!" Twilight let out the breath she had been holding and frowned at the giggling Luna. "I thought something was wrong!"
"I apologize, Twilight. It was a little joke."
"Yeah, I get it. 'Make Twilight worry then laugh at her,'" she grumbled, her face giving away the fact that she wasn't actually angry with Luna. "And, well, I just kindda had a break. My last meeting with with my brother. But then again, I wouldn't mind taking one with you, especially if it means getting away from Sound Mind again."
"I'll admit that she is aggravating, but she's one of the best at what she does. No pony would be willing to keep her around, otherwise."
"I'll take your word for it."
"And about your brother. While Sound Mind's concerns are certainly valid, you are the last pony I think we'd have to worry about engaging in 'nepotism.' Besides, guarding 'his sister, the Princess,' as opposed to just guarding 'the Princess' makes things far more personal for him. I know your brother, he'd die a thousand times for you. He is hooves-down the best pony for the job"
"Well, thank you! So, what's on the menu for tonight?"
"I felt like something simple, so carrot soup and a small salad," Luna murmured, motioning for the food to be brought in.
"So, Luna," Twilight muttered as she dug in to her salad, "with Celestia watching over the day and you watching over the night, I'm guessing breakfast and dinner were the only times you two had to bond?"
"Unfortunately so. And while I would most enjoy spending time with you, duty says that I must guard the night, so after presiding over your coronation tomorrow, I shall be returning to my normal schedule."
"Oh..." Twilight murmured, hanging her head slightly. She knew very well that it had to be done, but that didn't mean she liked it.
"But that doesn't mean we can't continue the tradition!" Luna said back quickly, seeing Twilight's distress. "I would love for you to join me for meals! If you wish it."
"Every day that I can," Twilight replied, perking up a little. She took a bite of her salad and decided that it'd be best to change the subject. "So I heard you yelled at some of the nobles."
"Oh, do not get me started on those cretins, Twilight Sparkle," the Princess growled. "'Tis one thing to insult me, but to insult Celestia? To insult you? That is another matter entirely. A matter I take very personally."
"Well, they couldn't of been that bad, Luna."
"They plainly stated that you were unworthy of the throne, as if they, themselves were! The mare that my sister preened for years to take her place was not good enough for them, simply because of her lineage? If you were even just 'good enough' for Celestia, then they should be scrambling to bow before you! But you were not 'just good enough' for her, you were her favorite student! Her favorite student ever! They should be treating you as a goddess!"
Twilight heard Luna's tirade, but only retained one piece of it. "I was really her favorite student? Out of everpony she ever taught, I was her favorite?"
"What?" Luna stuttered, slightly taken aback. "Well, yes, of course! She may have had plenty of students, but you were the youngest she took on. Young enough where you became more like a daughter to her than a student. At least that's what she told me."
"I... I did always sort of see her as a second mom, but I didn't know she felt the same way."
"So, do you see now why their actions made me so upset?"
"I guess so."
"I just find it insulting. It's as if they are insinuating that they all should get some form of promotion just because my sister died. They barely gave me time to grieve."
"About that, Luna. We've talked about how I am, but what about you? How are you handling all this?"
"I am fine," Luna said with a sigh, "just exhausted. I'll feel better when I get back to my normal routine."
"I'm serious, Twilight. I miss my sister, but I can't let my grief control me. I owe it to her to press on."
"...Alright, Luna. I trust you."
"Should you not be eating, Twilight? It is my understanding that you have somewhere to be."
"Yeah," Twilight groaned, "and I really want to go! These things were awesome when I was just the bookish little filly that never left the Princess' side, but now I get to be the center of attention!" she proclaimed, dripping with sarcasm.
"I know what you mean," Luna chuckled, "but think about it this way: come tomorrow, you can simply reschedule such events at your leisure. Being the Princess means that everypony has to do things at your convenience."
"I suppose," Twilight snickered back. "That seems like an abuse of power though."
"Being the Princess is probably the most stressful job in Equestria. Nopony can blame you for making full use of the privileges that come with it. After all, even royalty must... 'unwind' every so often. Tia did it all the time!"
"I get it," she muttered back, "if I'm having a rough day, no use in making it any rougher. Still, I don't think I'll be doing that too often."
"Admirable. However, you are not Princess yet, so this one you must attend. Besides, the sooner you get there, the sooner you can shake everypony's hoof and leave."
"I guess that's true as well," she giggled, picking up the pace of her eating. She did want to spend more time with Luna, but she couldn't deny that her friend was right. She finished her meal, said her goodbye to Luna and left, eager to finish her last chore for the day.
She made for the West Courtyard, but had only made it halfway there when a sharp throbbing in the back of her head made her double over.
A burning sensation in the back of her mind was pulling at her consciousness, trying to draw her in. She started to fight it, but quickly relented when she realized the futility of it. She felt herself partially ripped from her body and for the second time, found herself floating before the sun.
Oh... Errr, hi? You didn't have to be so aggressive, I would have come if you'd had just asked nicely.
The sun burned. It had provided Equestria with a balmy spring day and it was ready to be put to rest.
Seriously? Yesterday you all but refused to set, now you want to go down early? The sunset isn't supposed to happen for another half hour!
You are a real hoof-full, you know.
Fine, but you owe me for this one!
She slowly reached out with her spirit and nudged the fiery orb. With almost unexpected ease, she felt it slip below the horizon, making way for Luna's night. As the felt herself being pulled rully back into her body, she felt a small sting on her flank. "He just zapped me! Again! Ungrateful little..."
She continued grumbling to herself all the way to the courtyard, remembering to put a smile on just as she arrived on the scene. All-in-all, about two dozen smartly-dressed ponies milled about in groups. Far less than Sound Mind had described, but still far more than Twilight had hoped for. "Might as well get this over with..."
The instant she stepped out into the courtyard proper, everypony there turned to look at her. "Um, hello?" When she spoke, most of the ponies reacted turned back towards whoever they had been speaking to before. "Well that's weird..."
"Believe it or not, its a measure of respect," said a voice from over to her right. "They're not supposed to approach you, you're supposed to approach them.
"Quill-Pen?" she gasped, recognizing the voice. She turned to the older unicorn mare and gave a hug to Celestia's old seneschal. "I didn't know you would be here! Didn't your job end when Celestia died?"
"Well, I've still got a few things to take care of before I head off into parts unknown. As the Princess' right hoof, I'm supposed to make sure her Will is followed down to the last word. First bit of which is finding and training you a seneschal of your own! Given it any thought?"
"Actually," Twilight replied sheepishly, "I had kindda been hoping you would stay. I mean the seneschal is supposed to be a pony that the Princess trusts more than anypony and you were always so nice to me..."
"Ah! Say no more, kiddo. I'll stick around for ya!"
"Wait, really? Weren't you going to retire?"
"I'm only fifty-three, Twilight!" Quill-Pen said with a boisterous chuckle. "I've got plenty of time to make sure things go smoothly for the next few years and will still have plenty of time after that to train my own replacement!" She put a hoof around Twilight's shoulders and continued in a quieter voice. "Now, I want you to relax while you're here. You know Ironside? The Minister of the Army? He and I let it slip that anypony who came here to harass you would find their lives becomming very difficult for a very long time, so the only ponies here are you supporters!"
"That can't have gone over well..."
"No, it didn't, but I learned a long time ago that my job wasn't going to make me any friends. As for Ironside, well that old horse has never cared what anypony thinks of him."
"The way Shining and Luna put it, I didn't think I had any support among the nobles or ministers."
"Well, most of them are being foals about everything that's happened, but there are still some of us who remember you as little Twilight, the filly with a million questions who wanted to know everything about everything. You're young, but you're a good kid, with a little coaching you'll do just fine." The amused look on Quill-Pen's face quickly snapped to a startled realization. "Oh! Speaking of the ancient hard-head, he wanted to attend tonight, but had a few 'fires to put out,' as he said it. It told me to give you his regards and his regrets."
"Really?" Twilight asked, raising an eyebrow. "I always thought he didn't like me."
"He doesn't, but then I don't think he likes anypony. He does, however, think you're the best pony for the job. Don't ask me why he does though. I may agree with him, but he has his own reasons for everything and he doesn't share them with anypony."
"I guess I should still thank him."
"Yes you should. Now, I should probably tell you who's here so you know who exactly you need to speak to. First off, the four ponies I was chatting with are all professors at Celestia's school. You might know a few of them, but you don't really need to chat with them tonight. Next up," she quipped, steering Twilight around to face the largest group, "that big gaggle over there has some of Equestria's ambassadors and ministers, as well as a visiting foreign dignitary. If you do nothing else tonight, speak to our guest. Last thing we need is to kick of your reign with an international dispute because you ignored somepony important."
"Now, over there," she continued, pointing at a group of five or so ponies, "are some nobles. Now I know I said there are only supporters here, but they still might give you some trouble just because they can. Lastly, those two over in the corner there are the former Deputy Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff, who as of three days ago became the new Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, respectively. Speak to them if you can."
"No, that's it. Try to relax and at least look like you're having a good time though. Remember, while you're here you're a star among cheap gems.".
"Uhhh, where's Sound Mind?"
"The Minister of the Interior conveniently 'forgot' to file a very important report and sent her off to do so, if you get what I mean. She'll be gone the rest of the night," Quill-Pen said with a wink.
Twilight gave a nervous giggle and made her way over to the largest group. Might as well get the important stuff out of the way first.
As she approached, the group opened up, allowing her a path right to the center. What she saw astounded her. Most of the ponies around her wore sincere smiles, each one greeting her with a bow and a chorus of "Lady Twilight." She in turn smiled back and nodded her appreciation at them. She made it to the center of the gathering and found herself face-to-face with something even more unexpected.
"Ah, Miss Twilight Sparkle. I am Chief Elder Abebe. The honor is mine," the striped stallion said to her in a deep voice.
He's almost as big as Big Mac... She returned the bow of his head and greeted him, "It's always nice to have visitors. I wasn't aware that your people had sent anypony to us."
"When news of the late Princess' death reached out lands, the Elders gathered in council. Princess Celestia was a friend of the zebra. Her replacement, however was an unknown entity to us. We had originally decided to wait and watch. Shortly after, I received a missive from a mutual friend of ours explaining who you were and what this meant."
"Indeed," he replied with a nod. Using his teeth, he pulled a scroll from his cloak and allowed Twilight to take it in her magic. "It was then that we realized what we must do. The Elder Council of the Zebra people have officially endorsed you as the new Princess of the Sun. I realize that domestically it is mostly a symbolic gesture that does little beyond provide moral support, but hopefully it will shout a message to the other nations that Equestria does not stand alone and is not to be trifled with. I hope you will take it as a gesture of friendship between our peoples."
"Of course I will! This is perfect! I really appreciate this." She rolled the scroll up again and tucked it under one of her wings for safe keeping, like she had seen Fluttershy do in the past. "So, if you don't mind me asking, how do you know Zecora?"
"Zecora is my daughter," Abebe said with a proud smile. "Thus why the Elders support you. A friend of Zecora's is a friend of all zebra."
"Alright, I've got one more question. Sorry about that, it's just that Zecora is the only other zebra I've met. Anyway, why does she speak in rhymes, but you don't?"
"Zecora has written to me of your inquisitive nature and mind like a dry sponge. Such admirable traits are nothing to apologize for!" the zebra chuckled. "But Zecora speaks in rhymes because she is one of the few zebra shamans. Their ways are strange, even among zebras. Even so, their odd speech endears them to us has become as much a part of our culture as their herbalism has."
"Oh! I never knew that! Thank you!"
"Teaching is its own reward, child. But alas, I will not keep you. You have many ponies to see tonight and little time to see them in. But before you go, I wish to state that the Elders are currently in the process of appointing Zecora as our people's first ever official Ambassador to Equestria."
"That's great! If there's anything you or the zebras need before you head back home, please come see me right away!"
He gave a grateful bow of his head. She said her goodbyes and trotted over to the next group, the nobles. She could tell right away that none of their smiles were genuine.
"Hello, everypony," she called out, hoping that they'd keep their charade going at least until she could get away from them.
"Princess!" a lithe, greenish unicorn mare half-shouted, sauntering over to Twilight with a wine glass aloft in her magic.
"I'm actually not the Princess yet..."
"You are closer than any of us have ever been!" she said, gesturing to the rest of the group. "But where are my manners? I am Golden Plains. My family owns most of the land between Appleoosa and the Everfree Forest. Charmed."
"Pleased to meet you as well," Twilight replied as she shook the mare's hoof. "What Noble house are you from?"
"Well, actually I'm not a member of a Noble House. However, my family is wealthier than most of the real Houses, so we are hoping for that to change very soon," she said almost dismissively. She took a sip of her wine then looked at Twilight. "Now, my Lady Twilight, as to why I am here. I would like to ask for your hoof in sacred matrimony."
Internally, Twilight slapped a hoof to her forehead. Externally, she did nothing of the sort, but only for appearance's sake. "On behalf of whom? Your son?"
"No! On behalf of myself, of course!" she exclaimed, giving Twilight a look that Twilight suspected Golden Plains thought was an alluring manner.
Is she serious? She's almost old enough to be my mother! "Uhh, thank you, but I'm going to have to decline."
"Oh, come now," Golden Plains whined, putting a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "Surely you can see the benefits of counting a family such as mine among your allies."
Twilight shrugged the mare's hoof off of her. "It's not happening."
"Well. I can see that my time here was wasted tonight!"
Golden Plains finished the rest of her drink in one gulp, then stormed off, nose in the air. Twilight turned to the rest of the assembled nobleponies. "Alright, I'm saying this once. If any of you are planning on asking me that same thing, don't. I'm only going to end up giving you the same answer I gave her. Understood?"
There was a grumbling of agreement, so she decided to leave the nobles to their own twisted devices before more damage could be done. The final group along the gathered ponies, the last ponies she had to speak to before she could have some 'me time,' were the new Prime Minister and his Deputy. This time around, she decided to just throw routine to the wind and just greet him like she would her friends.
"Hi! I hear congratulations are in order?"
The Prime Minister, a proud, blue earth pony stallion turned to greet her with a smile. "Twilight Sparkle! Thank you for your words, though it's my understanding that I should be the pony congratulating you. I take it you remember me?"
"I do, Sterling Sea. You were always in the library when I was a filly and I thought it was weird because you had graduated before I even started school. You were always studying law, if I remember correctly."
"You do! I was hoping that it would help me advance in the government. I'd say it worked."
"Now, on to business. I would like to personally apologize for the actions of my predecessor."
"What? Why apologize? You didn't have anything to do with that," Twilight replied with a confused frown.
"True, but his actions were extremely shameful. It may be the Prime Minister's job to privately butt-heads, so to speak, with the Princesses now and again, but to openly defy her? To commit seditious acts? It's a disgrace to the Office, for which I deeply apologize."
"Oh, I get it. Well apology accepted than."
"Well, I've got to run. There's still a lot to get done before tomorrow, but I wanted to at least say 'hello' now that you are awake. I'll let you get yourself acquainted with Scrolls here," he said, gesturing to the tan unicorn mare next to him. He then gave a quick bow and trotted off.
Twilight noticed that 'Scrolls' had been staring at her with an appraising eye the whole time. "Hi! Scrolls, he said?"
"My name is actually 'Edifying Scroll.' He calls me 'Scrolls' to annoy me," the mare said gruffly in a deep, yet still feminine voice. "If I may speak openly?"
"Sure! Go ahead!"
"I don't like you, Twilight Sparkle," Edifying Scroll said plainly, much to Twilight's bewilderment. "I never have. Your first year at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns was the year I graduated, so you probably don't remember me, but I remember you. Back then you were aloof, unattached, and smug to everypony but the Princess. Frankly, you don't seem to have changed much." Edifying Scroll let out a frustrated sigh. "Honestly, I don't think you're ready for this. But all that being said, I did trust Celestia and she trusted you, so I'm willing to give you a shot."
It took Twilight a few seconds to find her voice again, but she decided that if the Deputy Prime Minister was going to keep it somewhat cordial, so would she. "I can't say I like you very much either, if that's the way you're going to introduce yourself to me. You seem like a smart pony though, so if you're willing to be a bit more tactful and give me advice instead of just criticism, I think we'll be able to get along well enough."
Twilight extended her hoof to Edifying Scroll. The older mare stared at it for a few seconds before taking it with a smirk crossing her features. "I think I can live with that. Who knows? Maybe I'll find out that you're not so bad when somepony just sits down and talks to you."
Twilight felt herself smiling back. She may not have been in the best situation of her life, but she believed that she had made the most of it. "Well, thank you. I'd love to stay and get to know you, but I've had a really long day. I'm really sorry, but I sort of want to make my way to bed. Anytime you want to talk though, just let me know. If you're going to be helping Luna and I lead the country, then I can definitely make time for you."
"Even Princesses need sleep, eh? Alright, I'll take over from here, this party's about run its course anyway. You sneak out the side door there and head up to bed, I'll get Quill-Pen and we'll send the rabble home."
Hoping that this was the start of a new, if strange and somewhat confrontational friendship, Twilight followed Edifying Scroll's advice and made her way back to her chambers at a full canter, stopping only to politely greet the guards standing outside her door. She burst in and immediately flopped down on the bed. Several minutes later, she sat back up and scanned the room.
"I wonder if Celestia kept any wine in here... Well I'll look later, I think it's time for another bath."