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~Princess Luna

X
Post in forum #1905 - An ongoing MLP Roleplay Thread, Rated PG-13.

The echoes finally faded away. Fantasy stared at the far wall of the common room without really seeing it. She had heard the phrase ‘deafening silence’ before but now she got to experience one. The ever-changing but ever-changeless hum of the city was something she rarely noticed. She noticed the absence now. Like a hat that had been taken off but felt like it was still there, the absence of the ever-present sound packed her ears like cotton fluff. It left her feeling unbalanced. Nor was she alone. The speech had sobered up an entire room full of drunken ponies faster than a long brown envelope from the I.R.S. At least urging the crowd out the door wouldn’t be as difficult as usual.

It was long past the two-in-the-morning official cutoff for selling alcohol, but there was a general understanding between the publicans and the police that the latter turned a blind eye and the former kept things from getting too rowdy. Umbra was unique in the Equestrian Empire. What with the eternal shadow of Aura above and the eternal light of the blue-burning lamps, ponies found it just as easy to work during the night as the day. Was it fair to deny a hard-working mare or stallion a drink after work just because their shift ended at dawn? That was a law just begging to be broken, and enforcing it would just mean the pay of those honest but thirsty ponies would go to unlicensed alcohol-peddling crooks that didn’t pay taxes or obey the public health and safety laws.

The police let it slide as long as the publicans didn’t abuse that slack, and everything worked. Fantasy surprised herself by yawning. It was a jaw-creaker, too. It was almost bedtime and she’d had a busy night. It somehow refused to seem quite real. Princess Luna arriving with the dawn. Just turning up unannounced and declaiming a speech in the notorious Royal Canterlot Voice. Luna arriving with the dawn seemed wrong, somehow, but after a moment she realized this was when Celestia was guaranteed to be busy. After another moment she realized that Luna was mostly on the ‘night shift’ and that it was her bedtime too.

That soothing sense of unreality started to show cracks. Arriving unannounced at what was her usual bedtime. Fantasy wasn’t quite sure what that implied but it didn’t sound good. Princess Luna was here for something urgent. Fantasy’s mind drifted to the warning Morhoof had given her, about it being a good idea to pack some bags and be ready to leave the city. Looking down, she realized the glass mug she polished was already sparkling. Setting it aside, she pulled another from the stack left upside-down to drip-dry after their wash.

Not all ponies tonight. A pair of diamond dogs had the corner booth Morhoof used to claim. She had chatted with them when she had a spare minute; they had just seemed so lonely and uncomfortable. Scratch and Sniff, a pair of brothers coming to the city to visit family. They worked further north in a mine, being understandably vague about the exact location and sort. They were rather nicer than most miners Fantasy had met. Rough around the edges but they were quiet and hadn’t gotten too drunk. She’d had to suppress an urge to give them scritches behind the ears. Yawning again, Fantasy wondered why everything was so quiet. Sure, during the speech everypony had kept still and listened. There should be speculation now. Discussion, if not arguments. Excitement, if not worry. The city should be humming again.

This…wasn’t right, was it? Fantasy frowned at the mug she dried. A pony left. It was Old Smoky. The faint sense of unease strengthened. Old Smoky was the first in and the last out, most nights. The door clicked shut behind him. Another pair of earth ponies shared a glance, then got up and left. That was the signal for a general move to leave. Less than half of them finished their drinks before they went. Fantasy watched them go, frowning. Nothing felt wrong. There were still details that seemed to add up to something being wrong.

“Miss?”

The diamond dogs hadn’t left. Fantasy looked over to see Scratch shuffling closer. He was a little smaller and a darker shade of grey than his brother. Neither was huge. They had a sort of terrier look. Scratch looked nervous. He kept fiddling with a gem dangling pendant-style from his collar. Most diamond dogs wore collars. Just a thing they did for fashion, it didn’t mean what some might assume. Fantasy found herself looking at the odd gem. A lot of diamond dogs kept gems on their collars. It was, as they put it, the best way to show them off while keeping them safe. This gem wasn’t odd because it was a gem but because it was glowing. A rather pretty bluish-purple.

“Is that amethyst?” Fantasy said. “Why is it glowing?” Scratch snatched his paws behind his back with a guilty expression. Fantasy smiled. “It’s pretty.”

“Tell her.” Sniff said. He stood by the almost-shut door now, looking out through the crack. “Nice to us, she was.”

“In a mithril mine we work.” Scratch said. He had the air of a creature admitting something he knew he shouldn’t.

“Well, that’s dangerous.” Fantasy said. The metal was only ever found in rocks that lay dangerously close to a leyline.

“Protects us, the gems do.”

“Wow. That’s…really expensive.”

Scratch fidgeted, grimaced, and then gave one pointed ear a vigorous scratch with a forepaw. “No. Natural magic crystal, not enchanted. No good against direct spells it is.”

“Umbrella,” Sniff said, “not armor.”

“Eat magic it does.” Scratch said. “A…lightning rod?”

“Ohhh. It keeps the wild leyline magic from affecting you so much. Hrm, so it’s glowing because it ate some magic?”

Both diamond dogs nodded as one, despite one of them peering at her and the other looking out the front door. Scratch fidgeted with his glowing gem again. “Nice you were to us. About us you asked and to the answers you listened.”

“Tell her.” Sniff said.

Scratch spun, bristling. “Go eat grass!” Sniff gave a snort. Scratch turned back, smoothing down his fur. “Magic here now. Like rain. Hits everypony. Makes them…”

“Sleepy?” Sniff said.

Fantasy stifled another yawn. “It’s so late it’s early.”

“Not sleepy.” Scratch said. “Is Luna. With her voice the stones glowed. Rise fall, bright dim. Not harmful magic. Luna is good. Calm, ponies are. Stupid, they are not. Not mind, mood. Making ponies calm she is, why? Calm they not be, otherwise?”

Fantasy leaned forward with her forelegs crossed and braced atop the bar. “So…you’re saying Princess Luna put a spell in her speech, a glamor that makes everypony who hears it feel all calm and peaceful. And you’re worried that she’s worried that we ponies have something to worry about.”

The brothers took a moment to work through that. Scratch nodded, fiddling with the gem. “Leave the city we will.”

“That’s a shame, what about your family?”

“With us they will come. Smart, sometimes panic is. See a dragon coming, run. Not sit there and watch.”

That got through. They weren’t talking about Smog. Miners north of Aura, in the rich volcanic mountains, had problems with dragons. Most of them saw no problem with letting them do the hard work before swooping in to take all the gems or precious metals. But his example had reminded her of Smog, and she had yet to have a thought about him that didn’t come with a wagonload of un-peaceful emotions. Once she seriously considered whether this might be a glamor, she sensed it. Like a beautiful moonlit spiderweb hung with dewdrops. Fantasy gave her head a shake so hard her ears flapped. The glamor had no force. Once she consciously rejected it, it withdrew.

Scratch studied her expression and gave a slow nod. “Awake you are. Good. Go we do.” Sniff slipped out. Scratch crossed the room, gave her a final over-the-shoulder look, and closed the door between them.

Fantasy realized she was breathing too fast, almost hyperventilating. She tried to slow it. Luna was here unannounced and dropping a city-wide glamor of gentle but incredibly effective…calm. Any extreme emotion was just too much effort to kindle or sustain. Rather nice, actually. Like those diamond dogs. Ugly-cute. Fantasy shook her head again and bit her lower lip until it hurt a little. If her concentration slipped, the glamor slipped back in. Luna was here and heading off any panic before it started. Therefore she appeared to think panic was a possibility. Fantasy was prepared to bet quite a lot that Luna was here because of Smog. Smog had known something was coming, too. Fantasy was sure of that. It explained the way Morhoof had acted and the things he had said. He hadn’t come back after giving her a little kiss and running away. She had sometimes thought she sensed him around, watching the Brass Hoof.

It was like walking a tightrope. If she let her emotions run free she’d start running around like a headless chicken. If she tried to calm down the glamor crept in to help her. It calmed her down so much she forgot why she was supposed to be upset. Most glamors stopped working on a pony after they stopped seeing or hearing the thing to which the magic had been attached. This ongoing glamor resonated with Fantasy’s memory of hearing the speech. That was sophisticated magic. Just thinking about that speech was enough to threaten her precarious mental balance. The wavering between too calm and not calm enough gave her the hiccups. She did a hasty cleaning-up, gathering all the mugs and stuff and wiping a cloth through the more egregious spills. Locking up, she trotted her hiccupping self into the back room.

Berry Jam stood at the sink. Not dreamy or sluggish, but industriously washing mugs was not the proper reaction to hearing one of the co-rulers of Equestria shout a speech from the rooftops. Fantasy opened her mouth…and slowly closed it again. She hated when her mind did this. Twisty, devious little flashes of inspiration. Insights into how to manipulate a situation for her gain. Her encounters with Smog had corrupted her muse, or maybe going dingbats had done it. She refused to let the darkness into her heart but she’d had her eyes opened to the dark. She could see possibilities in situations she never would have before. Not too many months ago, it never crossed her mind to shortchange a customer. Now she caught herself judging a drunken pony and working out how much she could get away with. No urge to do it, no desire, no temptation. Just…awareness.

“Mom?” she said. “I closed up.”

“Everypony cleared out without a fuss? That’s good, sweetie.”

Fantasy hiccupped. She would lie if she had to, but that didn’t mean she would lie if she could avoid it. “Punchy is in” hic “trouble.”

“He popped in for a visit, did he?”

Fantasy carefully avoided nodding. “He pulled a prank at school and got” hic “got caught. He wanted to get in his side of the story before the sch-” hic “school sent us a letter.”

“That little scamp.” Berry said. She sounded vaguely annoyed, mixed with a kind of exasperated fondness. “He gets that from his father. And he approached you instead of us? That’s understandable. What did he do?”

“The kind of prank that gets talked about for years.”

Berry Jam stared into the suds. “Oh…poo.”

“I can han-” hic “handle things on my own for a few days. You and dad should both go, yeah, but closing the tavern” hic “for a few” hic “days means lost profits. I don’t want to leave. Tradewind might come back. I think if he came back and found me gone…”

“Yes, yes. I’ll have your cousin Bubbles come over.”

“Oh.” Fantasy had predicted this, but being correct was not a pleasant experience. Bubbles Longhorn’s personality was bubbly as a bucket of suds, and her head contained the same approximate ratio of air. She also had a habit of using the word like improperly and far too often. “Joy.”

“Yes, sorry to do that to you but you’ll need help. Just don’t give her a job she doesn’t know how to do, okay? The poor filly’s…well, you know. What she can do, she does properly. That’s more than many ponies can say. You can at least trust her to sweep a floor or wash some dishes, and she’s an okay cook if you want it simple. And keep her away from the customers.” Berry gave a delicate shudder.

“Like, totally.” Fantasy said. Her mother turned to give her a Look. “Sorry, mom. I’ll” hic “I’ll be nice.” Barring snarky comments that would whiz so far over her perky blonde head that clouds could pass underneath. “You and dad should probably get go-” hic “going. I mean, before airship service gets interrupted.”

“Oh, you’re right!” Berry abandoned her washing-up. “That little mister is getting an earful about this, I tell you what.” She still only seemed mildly put out. “Get a good view if you can and take notes? Tell us all about it when we get back. You’re good at that.” Fantasy exchanged hugs and kisses with her mother, then watched her vanish up the back stairs.

Fantasy felt a lot less in danger of slipping back under the glamor. It didn’t work so good against things like intense guilt. She hadn’t had to lie, though it was possible she was a little premature. She had express-mailed her little brother a book of short stories. One of the stories involved a hilarious prank that demanded seven ponies working together. The result looked like a bizarre accident. It demanded a fair degree of coordination. Especially in the matter of timing. That book was the only volume of its kind in existence. She’d paid for a rush job with a vanity press. Not technically plagiarism: all but one of the stories listed their author. All of them were public domain now, the writers long dead. The last story was the one with the prank: she’d written it especially for this, in a frantic hour followed by two hours of obsessive proofreading. Though it was a pretty good story in itself. It suffered from…reverse plagiarism, she guessed. Attributing her work to another author.

They were exactly the kind of stories she knew would tickle Punctuality. Her little brother would read them all, probably just as fast as he could manage it. She knew exactly how to inspire his mischievous streak. The other stories would prime the pump. He’d read the final tale, love it, and want to top it. One of the seven pranksters blabbed and got them all in trouble. A proper ending with a nice moral in subtext that Punctuality would ignore. Seven ponies? Punctuality could do it all by himself, teleporting around. Timing was not a problem. And with no conspirators, as long as he didn’t blab he’d be safe.

It was a dirty trick, especially given that she’d also sent a letter to the headmistress of the school, implying she wrote it several hours after mailing off the book. A warning that Punctuality might get the wrong idea from one of the stories in her gift. Fantasy had added a request for the headmistress to wait and see if Punctuality actually pulled the prank. If he didn’t, that was good. If he did, she would know who to punish. But being accused of planning it would not be good, if he hadn’t actually been planning it. Worse, it might put the idea in his head when it hadn’t before. He might end up unjustly accused and feeling the need to avenge that. The headmistress might find herself the target, and Punctuality might use something far worse than custard. The closest thing to a fib in the letter was the suggestion that Punctuality might not actually attempt the prank.

A second letter to Punctuality warned him not to try pulling the prank in the last story of the book. Extra insurance that he’d read it from pure curiosity. Classic reverse psychology. It would work because he couldn’t imagine that his stick-in-the-mud older sister could ever want him to pull a prank. She had neglected to mention in the letter that she’d sent a letter to Headmistress Neighsayer. If asked about that omission, she would have said she couldn’t think of a way to do it without making it sound like a threat and that she had no trust in him. True: just not her true motive.

Fantasy wasn’t trusting to luck. She didn’t have to. Her plan depended on Punctuality and Headmistress Neighsayer doing what it was in their natures to do. Some temptations were just too much to resist. Pull an epic prank with a very high chance of getting away with it? Punctuality had no reason to suspect his sister was setting him up. The headmistress was a cagey old nag with a seemingly permanent poker face. She wasn’t the sort to tip Punctuality off that she was onto him. She was the sort to let Punctuality go ahead with it just so she could have a reason to expel him. That was her temptation. Punctuality had been a thorn in her side from day one. He brought down the tone of her hoity-toity little egghead factory. All the more irritating because he never did anything bad enough to justify expulsion. It was almost certain he’d already done the big prank and there was a letter from the school on its way here right now. Just not express mail.

Expulsion wasn’t in the picture. When Smog said he’d assure Punctuality’s schooling right up to postgraduate studies, he’d done it by setting up a totally legal trust fund that paid its profits to the school. A mere fraction of the money covered Punchy’s tuition. The rest was pure gravy. The money stopped when Punctuality stopped being a student there. Her brother would have to do something outright criminal before they’d expel the goose that laid the golden eggs. Not that anypony had told him that. You didn’t tell a mischievous colt that he had something not unlike diplomatic immunity. Or maybe tenure. Neighsayer hadn’t been told about it either. She ran the school like she owned it, but she didn’t. The extra money also dried up if it became publicly known about why it was being paid.

So Punctuality would be punished but not expelled, and he wouldn’t just get the prank of the decade but the rare glory of being publicly known as the prankster. That ought to help his social status with his peers quite a lot in the long run. Best, or worst, of all…Fantasy had set things up so she had solid plausible deniability. Even shown her good intentions all around in mailing those warning letters. It wouldn’t look like a devious plan where she moved ponies like pawns. Or she hoped not. Her parents would be out of the city when whatever happened, happened. They would be safe. That was for the best. No arguments, no insisting either she leave with them or they stay with her. No leaving something this important up to chance. Even if it meant manipulating her loved ones.

She still felt dirty in a way soap didn’t fix.