Here it is, Chapter 2! I hope you guys are enjoying the story - there's a little more romance in this chapter, and more to come as well!
The Most Chaotic Life Ever!
Tea for Ten (…Plus One?)
Sunset was almost upon the Everfree Forest. In Luna's room, the pony sisters were lounging on the bed together. Luna had a pillow between her forelegs, and Celestia lay on her side at the end of the bed while her mane flowed onto the floor.
Luna glanced at the sun's low position in the sky through her window. "Our guests shall arrive soon. We should get downstairs and prepare to greet them."
Celestia smiled at her, not lifting her head. "I know we haven't hosted a party ever since our reign, and I know we're in a castle, but we don't have to provide them with a full formal greeting, Luna. The room and table are all set. When the time comes, we can just head downstairs and let in creatures as they arrive. Besides," her smile grew, "I want to know more about your intentions today."
"Just to observe," Luna assured, trailing her hoof over the pillow. "It has been a while since I witnessed a teacher and student together, as you and Twilight were. So seeing Luster Dawn and Twilight together today should be informative. But I don't want to make any requests or bring up the situation to anyone else yet." She sighed, her look a little dry. "You truly don't think this is just a strange midlife crisis on my part, right?"
Celestia sat up and touched her sister's foreleg. "I think it's you caring about your life and others, and making a choice to expand and share all the wisdom you possess. Trust your instincts, Luna; they're good ones."
Luna's smile softened, and she blushed lightly at the compliments. "I have doubts, yet I return to the desire: me with a student…" She sighed. "Even if I decide to take one on, finding the right creature may be a challenge. You know I'm not comfortable around children, Celie. Flurry Heart was an exception as a child, but she had a particular liking for her Auntie Woona." She blushed and rolled her eyes. "With most foals, though, I'm never sure what to say or when to smile or when I'm being too harsh or not paying enough attention."
Celestia's smile grew. "Your student doesn't need to be a child; you know that. Starlight wasn't a child when Twilight took her on. Find your own path that works, Luna. And you'll know when the right creature comes along."
"And you're sure you and Discord won't mind a young creature around the castle often? Or possibly living here with us for a while?" Luna raised an eyebrow.
"Are you kidding? It'll be fun!" Celestia's eyes brightened. "I love little ponies who are just starting out. And you would have someone to spend more time with at night when you're awake. And Discord loves any element of chaos that gets added into our lives." Celestia glanced at the door then back to her sister. "By the way, he's finally caught on that there's something on your mind lately. I told him you'd prefer to keep it between sisters for now."
"Thank you." Luna nodded. "I'd rather discuss it as a family once I've come to a final decision. And a student would be a nice personal project for me to focus on just like you and Discord have your marriage."
Celestia blushed a little. "Speaking of which, do you think Discord's keeping something to himself lately?"
Luna eyed her sister with an eyebrow raised. "Such as?"
Celestia raised an eyebrow at the look. "Truly…with the master of chaos, I've come to accept it could be anything."
A small smile came to one side of Luna's mouth, and she held back a slight chuckle. "Well, if you're asking, then I'm quite sure you already know he must be keeping something to himself." She considered. "On my end, I've noticed he has sheltered his dreams even more than usual lately. But I haven't sensed any nightmares."
Celestia nodded. "And I don't think it's anything bad; just one of those things that occurs to him that he gets very flustered about. Then, like usual, he'll let it it spread a little chaos in his mind and in our relationship before we finally talk." Her smile grew. "Figuring him out when he has a problem is always fun."
Luna chuckled. "You two have odd ways of keeping your matrimony interesting."
"We are an odd couple." Celestia smirked. "And Discord is very cute when he's preoccupied. And he says the same about me. He always has the advantage over me though; whenever something new is on my mind I never realize quite what it is or how much it's effecting me until one day he suddenly points it out." She rolled over, gazing at the ceiling. "He's knows me too well; he's my best friend."
Luna snuggled close. "And mine too. When you and I have sisterly tiffs, I can hang out with him. And when you and he have marital tiffs I get to remind both of you to stop being so stubborn. You two have given each other something special in this new part of your lives. And now I want my own special thing. My ambassador duties are rewarding but few and far between these days. Now I want a clearer purpose for myself; to share the magic of the night with someone who can bring it to a new generation and to other creatures."
"You will be remarkable with whatever path you take as a teacher, Lulu." Celestia turned and hugged her. "And if you need support, Discord and I will be here for you."
"Thank you." Luna hugged her in return.
The two sisters rested their foreheads together with smiles.
"Ladies!" Discord's voice sounded from the bottom floor of the castle. "Wherever you are, I can see our parade of guests making their way into the Everfree Forest, so they should be here soon. Come on, time to host some serious chaos!"
Luna and Celestia separated and climbed off the bed. "Come on," Celestia opened the door with her magic, "the food Twilight sent us should be excellent."
"And I will enjoy having a formal party once more in our lives," Luna added as she joined her.
The pony sisters headed out of the door walking side by side.
Flurry Heart sat across from her mother in their chariot as it soared over Equestria, coming in sight of the Everfree Forest. The trip was a long one, and Flurry Heart had spent most of it looking out of the window and imagining all of the turns this day could take and trying to get comfortable with a gold and crystal yoke and shoes on her body to go with the crown on her head. She didn't like the formal dress, but her mother had insisted on it as a show of respect for all the guests and to represent the Empire. Flurry Heart just tried to think of the metal garments as potential pretty armor.
Cadance, meanwhile, had tried to smile Flurry Heart's way and talk to her during the trip. But eventually in response to her daughter's lack of eye contact, the love princess had settled on reading. Finally though, as the forest neared, she sighed and closed her book. "Flurry Heart, you can just enjoy today and visit with your Aunts. You don't have to do anything else—remember, this isn't a quest or a test."
Flurry Heart finally looked to her mother. "I know. But I think a good soldier and a good princess should always be prepared just in case." She sighed. "Equestria and the Empire have both been at peace for a long time. It's nice, but it also means we might be due for some trouble. So I'd prefer to wait and see."
"We'll have the strongest powers in Equestria, including the power of love, on our side at the tea party." Cadance grinned. "I think we'll be okay."
Flurry Heart was unmoved. "I won't assume everything will be fine as long as love is on our side."
Cadance pouted. "It's okay to just enjoy life sometimes, sweetie. And love has a strength all its own, Flurry Heart. Just like friendship. And the day and the night."
Flurry Heart just sighed and looked out the window again. She was tempted to point out that she wasn't a princess of any of those things. She didn't know exactly what she was a princess of, really. Instead she merely replied, "Okay, Mom…"
Cadance frowned and opened her mouth to speak again. But, at a loss for what to say next, she grew silent once more and looked out of the window too. The Everfree castle was in view.
"Luster Dawn!" Twilight had just teleported onto the path leading up to the Everfree Forest castle right in front of her favorite student.
Severely surprised at her arrival, Luster Dawn stopped pulling a covered large carriage and fell to the ground. She got standing quickly and managed a smile. "Oh, Princess Twilight, hello!"
"Sorry…" Twilight smiled sheepishly and brushed off Luster with her magic. "I didn't mean to startle you. It's just so good to see you." She wrapped a foreleg around Luster Dawn and gave her a hug then pulled back. "Did you decide to invite your friends from the school?"
"Heh…" Luster Dawn made her smile as convincing as possible, "I, uh…I didn't want to bother our hosts by adding so many extra creatures to their guest list." She cleared her throat. "Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow are here and accounted for though." She gestured to the carriage.
Twilight raised an eyebrow. "They're making you pull them?"
Luster Dawn's smile became sincere. "I wanted to pull them. I think they're a little nervous about seeing everyone, so to help them I created this carriage. This way they can see everyone when they're ready." She leaned up close to Twilight and whispered. "Besides, walking together for a while can make them a little fussy with each other. This way it's contained…for now." She pulled back.
Twilight considered then replied with a hesitant smile. "Well, all right, Luster. I'll…go on ahead to give them privacy and you can meet me at the castle. I'm very proud of you." Her smile warmed.
Luster Dawn blushed but nodded, rubbing the back of her neck. "Thank you, Princess Twilight."
Twilight nodded in return then trotted on ahead.
Luster Dawn let out a deep sigh and followed after her. With the castle indeed in sight, she gulped but held her head high and plowed onward with determination.
Inside their carriage, the evil trio had felt Luster Dawn stop and had heard Twilight's voice.
Chrysalis rubbed her temple and scowled. "I still find Twilight Sparkle to be the most vexing pony on the planet. She just…does something to me, I don't know what." She quickly slipped her favorite purple stick out from under her crown, squeezed it in a rage then hugged it close then quickly tucked it away again.
"Oh Luster, they're making you pull them" Tirek mocked with a growl. "Of course not—Luster Dawn just offered to take us in style. Is it so hard to believe we're worth making an effort for?"
"I wish I could see her…" Cozy Glow tried to peek outside at Twilight, but the curtained windows didn't offer much view of the front of the carriage. "Probably that same stupid, twerpy little princess she's always been." She crossed her arms and sat down with a pout. "The scrimpiest princess of all the princesses…" She mumbled.
"As long as we have a final moment together, let's go over the signal again," Tirek suggested.
"We already know it." Chrysalis hissed. "Once they announce dessert is being served, Cozy will drop her fork, fly under the table to get it, and then she'll tap her hoof once when she's ready for our magic."
"And then you get the amulet off me quick after I cast the spell," Cozy Glow reminded them. She grinned evilly. "And then the fun begins."
They all smirked at each other.
Waiting for the pony sisters by the door, Discord sighed. He didn't think today would be an epic villainous attack, but he didn't think it would go very smoothly either. So many delightfully chaotic variables… And they would all get to meet Luster Dawn. A genuine little pony. Discord was excited for Celestia since she really did like having young people in her life.
At the back of his mind he was nervous though about a current personal issue of his, but it was a subject that could certainly wait for another day. Not tomorrow though—that day was already more than taken up with a certain special event regarding himself and Celestia. So right how the chaos master did his best to clear his head and just prepare himself to witness a great reform and whatever unique route it would take.
The pony sisters entered the room and trotted over to him. "We are here, Discord," Luna announced, her head held high as she came to stand on one side of him.
"And we're ready," Celestia added. She came to his other side, took his paw in hers, and kissed his cheek.
"That makes three of us!" Discord grinned and glanced back at the set table (magically filled with food platters from a special delivery by Twilight earlier) then to the front door. "Now we wait. But when they knock, let's just be very casual."
"Perhaps we should be neither casual nor formal but rather humble," Luna added, a hoof at her chin. "After all the last time we saw Tirek, Chrysalis and Cozy Glow, we had turned them to stone."
Celestia and Discord's eyes widened, and then they smiled awkwardly.
Luna glanced between them and sighed.
They all braced themselves.
Somewhere in the dark ether, a light of green and red and shadow stirred. Something was coming. Something was close. One last chance for something more.
There was a knock on the doors—which Celestia and Luna opened instantly with their magic—and there stood Twilight Sparkle. She did her best to keep her smile worry-free as she came forward to the three hosts and hugged each of them. "Discord, Luna, Celestia… thank you again for having all of us." She pulled back with a swallow. "And in case, well…" she glanced over her shoulder then lowered her voice and quickly added, "in case this is a disaster, I am so very sorry. I mean, I don't think it will be, because it's nothing like the 'reform' party I threw for you, Celestia, where I was trying to control things too much and was having a fight with Starlight. But still there are a lot of moving pieces here, and I'm not sure what some of them are capable of. Heh, is it warm in here?"
Celestia put a hoof on Twilight's shoulder and looked into her eyes. "Twilight, it's going to be okay. Nod with me to show you agree." Celestia nodded and Twilight did too.
"Just relax," Luna offered with a small smile. "Whatever happens here is really okay. There is no judgment, only support."
"Though it's interesting to see you almost Twilighting again," Discord chimed in with a grin. "But seriously, what the pony sisters said. Besides, this castle is overdue for a little drama."
Twilight almost laughed. She let out a deep breath and resumed some of her usual ease. "Thank you—all of you."
There was another knock on the door, and Twilight stepped off to the side as the doors opened to reveal Cadance with Flurry Heart walking behind her.
Cadance's eyes brightened at the sight of her fellow princesses (and her uncle-in-law). "Celestia, Luna, Discord. It's so good to see you. And Twilight!" Cadance hugged her and chuckled as she pulled back. "You're even taller now. I remember when you were my favorite little filly to babysit."
Twilight rolled her eyes with a grin. "It's good to see you too, Cadance."
Flurry Heart stepped forward, her head held high. "Auntie Celestia," she nodded, "Auntie Twilight," she nodded again, "Auntie Luna…" she smiled a little as she nodded, and Luna did too. "And…" Flurry Heart's eyes brightened, and she couldn't help teleporting right up to him, "Uncle Discord!" She beamed.
"There's my little star chaos student!" He scooped her up in one arm and noogied her head with his paw. "Made everyone in school speak backwards for a week—that final project of yours was legendary!" He put her down with a smirk. "But I wonder, have you still got it?"
Flurry Heart smirked back, and a burst of magic left her horn: Discord's body became tied into a pretzel shape with his body parts rearranged. The chaos master laughed and snapped himself back to normal. "Ah, the next generation." He snapped up a polka dot hanky and faked a few tears with a grin. "Warms my heart." He snapped the hanky away.
Luna looked on with a smile of interest; another teacher and student for her to behold for a moment.
Smiling proudly, Flurry went to stand alongside her mother by Twilight. "Thank you for having me along, Auntie Twilight. I never encountered any hardened villains growing up, and I wasn't born until after Uncle Discord reformed. I can't wait to see the effects of the justice system here." She glanced around then added, "Will there be guards stationed around the castle?"
Twilight blinked. "Er…no, I'm afraid—"
"Flurry," Cadance whispered, "we don't need guards, it's just a tea party. And I think our guests of honor are about to arrive." She sighed. "I can sense at least one creature desperately craving a lot of love."
There was a knock on the door and it opened again, this time to reveal Luster Dawn pulling her cart. She set it down as the doors closed behind. Her eyes widened at the prestigious lineup of guests before her. Then she cleared her throat. "Hello, everyone. I'm Luster Dawn. Of course Princess Twilight already knows me, heh, but I don't know most of you so…hello! It's nice to meet…you…" Her eyes had been scanning the crowd starting with Flurry Heart and ending on Discord. A tone of awe quickly overtook her words.
"Hello, Luster Dawn." Cadance smiled. "I'm Princess Cadance of the Crystal Empire, and this is Princess Flurry Heart—my daughter, and Twilight's niece."
Luster Dawn bowed, then managed a smile again. Even if Flurry Heart was an alicorn and a princess, at least she was someone close to her own age. "A pleasure, Princess Cadance. And Princess Flurry Heart, Princess Twilight talks about you all the time. She's very impressed with your magic."
Flurry Heart smiled more. "She talks about you and your magic too."
Luster Dawn blushed humbly.
"Hello, Luster Dawn." Celestia smiled. "I'm Celestia…"
"The pony sister of the sun…" Luster Dawn mumbled before clearing her throat. "I-I mean, legend and history books precede you. And you were Princess Twilight's mentor of course. Wow…" Her head tilted at the sight of the large pony with flowing rainbow hair.
Celestia chuckled. "Yes, all of that sounds like me. And this is my sister…"
Luna finally managed to take a step forward, eyes shining in excitement. "Luna. Tis a pleasure to meet such an important student of our Twilight."
"The pony sister of the moon. Bearer and self-conqueror of the nightmare forces!" Luster Dawn blinked and blushed again. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to bring up… But I've read all about your life, and it's fascinating. The idea of what you overcame was actually really helpful to me for reforming Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow. You're inspiring."
Luna blushed and smiled, her eyes down humbly. "Indeed. Well, thank you very much." Celestia smiled more at her sister.
"Now the million dollar question." Discord grinned. "Do you know who I am, little student of our little Twilight?"
Luster Dawn grinned back at him. "Oh yeah, Twilight talks about you a lot—and so do the students who get into your chaos program. Discord, master of chaos, aid to the throne, clever trickster extraordinaire."
"Oh, I like you already." Discord chuckled.
"Thank you." Luster Dawn bowed her head then cleared her throat. "And I suppose that just leaves our guests of honor, who are very, um…very looking forward to having this celebration of reform as an accomplishment to look back on."
She took a deep breath, walked over to the carriage, and turned to everyone. "Your majesties and others, please welcome the newly reformed Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow." She opened the door.
There was silence.
Tirek stepped out first.
He looked like his old self: somewhat strong, somewhat powered. His mane was brushed back and he had formal black cuffs with gold buttons on his wrists. He walked forward and surveyed the crowd with interest, with confusion, almost with suspicion. He didn't look at Discord.
Chrysalis came out next. She still had her holes and fangs. But her mane and tail had been brushed and didn't look so stringy. She held her head high and came to stand beside Tirek. She surveyed the room with a dry look—eyes avoiding Cadance. Though when she caught sight of Twilight, her level gaze broke and her eyes widened for a moment. She quickly got herself under control and looked forward.
Cozy Glow came out next. She was still a sweet little girl with her perfect curls and a bow in her hair. She also had a large matching bow at the base of her tail today. She pouted but held her head high. She didn't look at the pony sisters… but when her gaze got to Twilight she froze. Cozy Glow's look grew absolutely black for a moment. But then Chrysalis nudged her, and a neutral look returned…though when her gaze found Flurry Heart, she tilted her head slightly before looking away.
For just a moment, Celestia, Luna, and Discord were frozen. They kept glancing at each other, almost like they were trying to decide who should start, but then they would each forward in uncertainty again.
Twilight decided that even if her three dear friends were the hosts, she was still Equestria's Princess so it might not be inappropriate for her to begin. She stepped forward. "Lord Tirek, Queen Chrysalis, Miss Cozy Glow… it's good to see you again." The trio blinked at being addressed with so much decorum. "I'm glad we could all come together." She looked at her student. "And I'm grateful that Luster Dawn could help you want to join our happy nation. You've been missed."
The trio's gazes hardened a little. Then they shared glances and moved forward.
"We're sure there are indeed many things we missed…" Tirek started, levelly.
"But we are happy for Luster—she's a good teacher," Cozy Glow added.
"And we don't want to be together alone anymore," Chrysalis added, looking distinctly at Twilight's hooves and not her face.
Twilight kept on her diplomatic smile.
Luster Dawn came alongside the villains and put on her best confident look.
Discord finally got himself together and stepped toward them. "Welcome to our home. Long time no see."
"Your home?" Chrysalis raised an eyebrow at him. "I thought you were but a visitor today: this is the castle of the two sisters."
"The two sisters and one draconequus now, I'm afraid," Luna replied with a small smile. "He spends more time here than not."
"But we're all happy to share our home with you today." Celestia moved closer alongside Discord.
Chrysalis smelled the air then her look went dry. "Oh, tell me that the little fling between you two is still going on."
"Oh, no," Celestia shook her head, "all flinging is over."
"Yeah," Discord nodded. "Over two dozen years ago I finally just up and married her."
He and Celestia hoof bumped.
Tirek's jaw fell.
Cadance giggled, and Flurry Heart rolled her eyes with a small smile.
Cozy Glow rubbed her temple. "Please—can we just sit down and have the tea. Please?"
"Of course." Luna nodded and used her magic to light the candles. She held out her hoof to the table set with finger sandwiches and royal snacks and steaming pots of tea. "I'm sure we'll all feel better once we eat."
"Yes, good, eating is good. Come on, you three." Luster Dawn pranced forward with a too-big smile, the trio following in her wake. Twilight followed after her with concern. Cadance followed next with an easy smile while Flurry Heart followed with her eyes narrowed in suspicion. Celestia and Discord followed holding hand and hoof. And Luna followed last with a sigh.
The villains and Luster Dawn sat together on one side of the table. Luna and Celestia sat on the other side across from Cozy Glow, Discord sat across from Tirek, and Cadance sat across from Chrysalis. Flurry Heart sat at the head of the table closest to her mother. And Twilight sat at the other head of the table ready to oversee what she suspected would be one of the most interesting evenings of her reign.
Discord snapped his fingers, and the teapot began dancing down the table, filling everyone's cups. The cream and sugar holders followed, offering their contents to each guest. And the plates holding sandwiches and other foods switched places randomly to allow guests to sample everything.
Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow looked on at the display with wide eyes. Then Cozy Glow shook her head, Tirek rolled his eyes, and Chrysalis just sighed deeply, her look dry.
Luster Dawn tried to smile a lot. Twilight gave her an encouraging glance.
Flurry Heart eyed the table while Cadance sat with her usual smile of equanimity.
Celestia put her hoof in Discord's paw under the table, and he squeezed it reassuringly.
Luna cleared her throat. "So, Tirek, Chrysalis, Cozy Glow—I recall when I returned to Equestria after a long absence, I found it difficult to catch up on all the changes that had occurred while I was away. I'm not sure how much Luster has told you…"
"Er, we didn't get to cover too much about history and current events," Luster Dawn admitted, letting the sugar bowl put way too many lumps in her tea and not noticing. "Mostly just what had happened to them and what was next for them."
"Ah," Luna nodded, "then allow me to provide you with some details. As you know, Twilight is now Princess of Equestria—she was coronated shortly after our battle." Twilight gave the villains a small wave with a sheepish smile then bit her lip and glanced in Luna's direction. Luna blushed a little but cleared her throat and went on past the mention of the 'battle'. "Cadance and Shining Armor have ruled the Crystal Empire over the years. But next year they shall retire too and cede rule to Princess Flurry Heart."
Flurry Heart cleared her throat. "Actually I'm both Princess and Captain of the Guard." She spoke looking at the trio.
"That's Flurry Heart…?" Cozy Glow's eyes widened.
Flurry Heart raised an eyebrow. Then she squinted and looked closely at the little pony. "I almost remember you—all three of you—but the image is hazy. I was quite young before your petrification."
Cadance took a deep breath at her daughter's bluntness.
Cozy Glow blinked, pouted, and looked down with a deep blush…though she kept glancing at Flurry Heart between sips of tea.
"Yes, well," Luna went on, "then there's Discord: he has semi-retired as a teacher at the school of magic. Many of his students from his early days of teaching have returned to teach chaos classes themselves. Now Discord visits for lectures there and at other schools of magic all over the world."
"And I do some stand up—you know, a nice little hobby," Discord added, giving the teapot a pat on the head as it passed him by. "Plus it gets Tia and I out of the house for some fun nights and lets us make new friends and visit old ones."
"Tia?" Chrysalis raised an eyebrow. When Celestia gave her a small, sheepish wave to indicate herself, Chrysalis let out a deep breath and gave a long, hard look down at her tea.
"Yes," Celestia nodded, keeping up the conversation. "Ever since I retired, Discord does two shows a week and I go to both. I like to sit in the front row and encourage him. Just last week we did a show at the changeling hive actually."
Chrysalis looked up and scowled.
Celestia swallowed, blushed, then sighed deeply.
Discord held back a chuckle at the awkward topic she'd let slip out and squeezed her hoof. A little bit of her smile returned.
Luna cleared her throat again. "Erm, and then there is me. I'm retired as a princess, but for many years I have acted as an ambassador to other lands, extending Equestria's friendship, love, and compassion." She considered then looked to Tirek. "I was actually in your homeland recently, Lord Tirek. I saw your brother Scorpan."
Tirek froze, eyes a little wide.
Luna, who felt like she had already gone too deep into the admission to back out now, added encouragingly, "He has reigned as a peaceful king for a long time. He was happy to hear of your release and potential reform."
Tirek looked down, his face hard and unreadable. He took a breath. "Indeed." And then he stabbed a sandwich with his fork and ate it in one bite.
Luna looked at the trio for another moment, hesitated, them furrowed her brow in determination and addressed the table more seriously. "Every one, perhaps it's awkward to broach this topic so directly, but then again this is my home and I am no longer bound by the constraints of royalty."
"Luna…maybe…" Celestia started.
"Wait, Tia, please," Discord whispered to her, eyeing his sister in law. "I want to see where she's going." Celestia hesitated but then nodded.
Twilight watched Luna with interest, as did Cadance and Flurry Heart.
Luna went on. "Obviously there is tension at this table. We have all experienced conflicts amongst each other in the past; some of us not just with the three of you but amongst ourselves. You have feelings about your punishment and release, we have concerns about the future, and all of us are nervous to varying degrees about this meal going well. And in truth it could be one of the most awkward tea parties we ever attend. But I think that if we all come away with at least one good thought about each other, that is something—that is progress. We want you here, Tirek, Chrysalis, Cozy Glow. Sincerely, welcome back: you were indeed missed for there are no other creatures like you in the world. You all have something of value."
There was a pause, and Luna blushed slightly, realizing everyone's eyes were on her.
But then the trio's looks softened. They glanced at each other then looked forward again at the creatures sitting across from each of them.
Chrysalis started. "Luster Dawn has been very persuasive in her talks of reform. And we're here because she asked us to come, and because she made sure our requests were honored to have certain other creatures present." The changeling held back a snarl but managed to look Cadance in the eye and speak (the words a little forced but steady). "Princess Mi Amore Cadenza; I regret the changeling invasion of your wedding. It was not the soundest course of action for having my people encounter modern ponies for the first time."
Cadance's smile was a little stiff, though it softened as she replied, "Thank you, Queen Chrysalis. I appreciate your words."
Flurry Heart's look was dry. "If you really mean you're sorry, then why are you still full of holes like the changelings used to be before they were reformed? Uncle Thorax told me all about that."
Cadance's eyes widened—she slowly turned her head to look at her daughter.
Chrysalis actually smiled a little, a gleam in her eye. "This one isn't ruled by decorum. She seizes the information she wants; a commendable trait, especially for a pony…and especially for one so well acquainted with a flimsy creature like Thorax."
"Uncle Thorax is the strongest changeling there is because he's loving. And you still haven't answered my question," Flurry Heart replied, unphased.
Cadance brought a hoof to her forehead and closed her eyes.
Chrysalis chuckled. "Those changelings changed forms because they chose to give and take love evenly rather than taking all the love that is their right. I'm not giving love here, just a statement. One step at a time, Princess."
Flurry Heart surveyed her a moment longer then nodded. "Fair enough." Her gaze remained a bit steely though.
Cadance just tried to put on her best diplomatic smile again.
Tirek cleared his throat and looked to Discord. "Discord…you have my apologies for betraying you during our evil partnership all those years ago."
"Best mistake of my life actually," Discord replied without missing a beat as he ate a bite of sandwich he was holding in his tail. "Made me realize how valuable my real friends were. From that point onward I was fully reformed instead of semi-reformed."
Tirek blinked then scowled. Celestia gave Discord a gentle nudge with a nervous grin. He held back a chuckle but did go on. "Of course, your apology is accepted."
Tirek half smiled. "And that little friend of yours you were so crazy about—the yellow one who ate cucumber sandwiches. Is she still around or…?"
Discord and Twilight said the single, stiff, commanding word at the same time with their eyes narrowed at Tirek. They glanced at each other then back to Tirek, Discord scowling and Twilight with a stern look.
Tirek held up his hands. "Of course, of course. I didn't mean to imply. Just curious about her." He raised an eyebrow. "Also, you seriously married Celestia? You two are husband and wife?"
"Yes, I seriously married Celestia," Discord replied dryly—he snapped then held up his tail with the ring around it while Celestia's horn glinted with her ring—then he snapped them away. "And as for Fluttershy, she's practically my sister and family to all of us," Discord finished smoothly, his head held high. "And she runs a beautiful animal sanctuary and helps any creature who needs it. And if Luster Dawn has been half as kind and understanding to you three as Fluttershy has always been to me, I sincerely hope you appreciate her thoroughly."
Luster Dawn blushed.
"We appreciate her more than anypony else," Cozy Glow announced. "She cares about us." Tirek and Chrysalis nodded.
Luster Dawn smiled a little.
Twilight smiled a little too.
Cozy Glow looked across the table to the two pony sisters. "Princess—I mean Miss Celestia, Miss Luna…" She pouted. "Sorry for destroying the Canterlot castle, and for trying to destroy you, and for making myself an alicorn when I wasn't supposed to be."
Luna and Celestia glanced at each other then back to Cozy Glow with gentle smiles. Celestia started. "You were young, Cozy Glow—you still are. Ponies make mistakes."
"We thank you for your apology," Luna added. "We hope to see you grow into a fine pony."
Cozy Glow's eyes widened but then she looked down, her face scrunched into a frown again. "Sure. Thanks." She swirled a spoon in her tea.
Luna and Celestia raised eyebrows.
"You did really well, guys." Luster Dawn spoke gently to the trio. "Watching you move forward from the past like that was inspiring. I'm proud of you three. And, even though I'm sorry you were stone for so long, I'm glad you're here now so I get to know you."
The trio's looks softened considerably.
"Thank you, Luster Dawn," they quietly replied together.
"Thank you all for trying," she replied back.
The other ponies at the table marveled for a moment.
Then Discord smiled a little more. "Say, you know, this is a tea party, but I just realized you three haven't had a quality meal in a while…"
"Well, now that you mention it, I was going to ask if I could snack on the buffet of love you and Celestia have going on…" Chrysalis asked with a smirk.
Celestia and Discord gave her blank looks for a moment.
She rolled her eyes. "It was a joke. Honestly, retirement has dulled your humor, Discord."
Discord blinked and then actually snorted through his nose in laughter and Celestia smiled a lot too. He went on. "Yes, well, why don't we add some more filling options to the table." He snapped and added a few platters of hay burgers, pizza, and tacos. "Dig in, everyone!"
The trio looked on with wide eyes, exchanged another look amongst themselves, then with hesitant smiles added some of the new food to their plates.
"And don't worry about dessert," Discord went on, "Celestia already made a lot of fun special requests for that part of the meal." He glanced at Celestia with his eyes hazed.
"And Discord added some flair with his chaos," Celestia replied, her eyes hazed as well. They finally brought their held hand and hoof up from under the table.
Luna laughed and looked to the trio. "They flirt mercilessly once they get comfortable around you—just so you're prepared."
Discord and Celestia rolled their eyes, blushing slightly, but then laughed along with Luna.
Cadance smiled very much, and even Flurry Heart's gaze softened at her Aunt and Uncle.
Twilight's gaze, meanwhile, was on Luster Dawn who was looking at the trio with some nervousness underneath her encouraging smile.
"So, Twilight," Cozy Glow started, pulling Twilight's gaze away from her student, "is the school still there or whatever?"
Twilight smiled again and nodded. "Oh yes—Starlight and Sunburst run it now with Trixie. It's grown very popular. You…could re-enroll if you wanted, Cozy Glow—"
"Pass." Cozy Glow said instantly, her eyes low and her tone angry. Tirek gave her a small nudge. Then she blinked and cleared her throat, "I mean, no thanks. I don't want to go back there."
Twilight considered. "Well, if you'd prefer something quieter, the Cutie Mark Crusaders could give you some private lessons. Ever since they grew up, they've gone from tutoring at the school to teaching classes themselves."
"Pass again thanks," Cozy Glow quickly replied, and when Luster Dawn reached out to her she just turned her attention to her food.
Tirek spoke up now. "I'm surprised your little group of friends isn't at this party, Twilight Sparkle." He put on a half smile. "Has time separated you a bit?"
Twilight replied with confidence. "Our lives and dreams brought all of us in different directions, but we still meet regularly. They're my Council of Friendship."
"And you still find having so many creatures involved to be a wise division of power?" he continued.
She nodded. "We are stronger together, and at the same time there is so much strength in each of us."
Chrysalis sipped her tea, her eyes in Twilight's direction but again not meeting Twilight's eyes. "And has there been any trouble since we were so suddenly taken out of the equation of Equestria?"
She shrugged sheepishly. "Problems arise from time to time, but there has never been a severe threat yet, no."
"Sounds a bit boring…"
"It's given everyone a chance to live their lives in their own best ways." Twilight glanced around the table.
"Almost everyone…" Chrysalis added in a mumble.
Luster Dawn was about to sink under the table, she was slouched so much in her seat. "Er, guys, heh, I know you're upset about everything that happened the last time you saw Princess Twilight. But I'm sure everyone regrets that things turned out the way they did—for them and for you."
"I didn't regret my punishment," Discord said, and the full table looked at him. He explained. "Being in stone kept me from hurting people. And then when I got out, I met the right friends and learned to live a better life for myself. I learned to love. And now I'm happy. I regret doing things that made me need to be punished, but I don't regret being stopped." He was met with blank stares (and some hoof clapping from Flurry Heart, which Cadance quickly silenced).
"I suppose I feel similarly…to an extent," Luna finally added. "My banishment kept me from harming others and allowed my sister to rebuild Equestria. And I got out when the right creatures were around to help me by befriending me. I do regret falling to the nightmare powers most of all. But I also regret some…difficult times afterwards, rebuilding my life. I love my life now though, and the opportunities I've found." She frowned. "But I think I understand your feelings..but also those of Discord." She blushed and looked down.
Since she was part of their little group, all eyes went to Celestia next. She blinked. "What? I've never been punished, I don't know what to say."
All eyes went to Cadance. She blinked. "Same."
Then to Flurry Heart. "Uh…I got grounded for a month last year for 'borrowing' our snow chariot to visit Yakyakistan and do heavy combat training with their troops for two weeks instead of taking debutante lessons." She furrowed her brow. "I mean, I don't really regret what I did, but I didn't like the punishment or think it was fair. So I get how you feel, kind of."
Cadance sighed, pouting. "You went on a joyride for a fortnight. How can you still not think you deserved to be punished?"
"Because I had told you I wanted to do the Yakyakistan training instead of the debutante stuff but you didn't listen! And because I'm an adult! When you were my age Dad was throwing you off a castle balcony to save the Empire from Sombra with the Crystal Heart and Uncle Spike!"
"Flurry, we'll talk about this later…"
All eyes finally went to Twilight (who had been expecting the table's attention to finally get around to her but who still didn't feel prepared for it). "Well, er…I've never been punished, but, er…" She took a breath and looked at the trio. "Are you saying you'd like an apology for being turned to stone?"
The nodded in unison.
Twilight's brow furrowed. "You spread fear among the ponies, you sabotaged my coronation, you destroyed the Canterlot castle, you imprisoned my friends, you stole a lot of magic, and you threatened to hurt every creature in Equestria."
"And you made us miss out on living for the last twenty five years." Chrysalis snarled. Tirek and Cozy Glow nodded.
"You had already defeated us," Tirek continued, "there were other options besides changing us to stone. Discord only got changed to stone because there was no way to stop him besides that one."
"We even worked together to get that stupid bell!" Cozy Glow pointed at Twilight. "Maybe you just didn't like the fact that bad guys could use friendship too."
Twilight scowled and her wings spread. "I will not apologize for punishing you after all the pain you caused. I'm sorry if you suffered, and I'm sorry if you have regrets. But you're free now, and I hope you'll make the best of your lives going forward instead of lingering in the past."
The trio's eyes narrowed.
"Hey!" Luster Dawn stood up, her smile almost manic-looking. "So, uh…maybe we could table this conversation for a later point in the reform process, okay?" She glanced sheepishly at Twilight (who finally pulled her wings back in and softened her stern gaze with a slightly embarrassed blush), then she looked to the trio. "Guys, it's okay. We all want you to have a new chance and to feel like the slate's clean. Especially me. There's no need to keep being enemies. Now come on—group hug?"
Everyone's eyes widened. Discord leaned over to Celestia and whispered in her ear. "Oh, this I've gotta see."
The trio pouted and looked away but finally sighed and nodded. Luster Dawn stood up, got behind them, and hugged the three of them close together using her forelegs. They reluctantly let themselves be embraced. She let go and sat down again. "There now—remember, no challenge is too much as long as you have your friends."
The trio glanced at each other then looked at Twilight.
"Perhaps we could agree to disagree, Princess," Chrysalis mumbled.
Twilight nodded. "Yes, I suppose we can."
Discord looked down at his plate, his brow furrowed in thought. Celestia noticed and caught his eye with her gaze. He tried to put on a smile but ended up frowning. She glanced in the direction of the trio and shared his expression. Luna had been frowning with her head down for some time now.
Then Discord cleared his throat. "Tia, darling, will you come check on the dessert with me in the kitchen for a moment?"
Celestia tilted her head. "Oh, er…yes, of course, Discord."
Luna blinked and looked at them, an eyebrow raised.
Discord quickly whispered to her. "Stay here and make sure this table doesn't get any more loony than it already is."
Luna nodded as they departed.
After they entered the kitchen, Discord and Celestia just stared at each other with wide eyes.
Celestia bit her lip, considered, then spoke. "Is all of this…as weird to you as it is to me?"
"Thank you! Yes! Yes it is!" Discord held out his arms. "I'm chaos, and what's going on out there is… I don't even know what it is." He leaned back on the counter. "It's a minefield out there, and half the mines are explosives, half of them just make a pie hit you in the face, and half of them make everyone around you go a little bit more insane."
"That's three halves, Discord."
"That's chaos, darling."
Celestia smiled a little and shrugged. "Well, at least the tea party's not going 'bad'. It's just going oddly."
"True." He floated up, making his body into a loop as he twirled his beard. "And we don't seem to be in danger. I've just never been at such a loss for how to read a room before."
"Hmm, if we feel like this I can't imagine how Twilight's student must feel."
Discord crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "That dinner Twilight mentioned she threw for you to celebrate reforming Starlight—was it really that bad?"
"Nightmare." Celestia sighed. "But much simpler than this."
Discord finally smiled a little too. But then his eyes went down. "So..those three made a point, you know…"
Celestia knew what he meant right away. "Discord…"
"You turned me to stone because there was no other way to stop me. We turned them to stone after we had already stopped them. It was more like revenge than punishment. And I suggested it." He curled his body in close together.
"Yes, and they were also let out in barely more than a couple of decades," Celestia assured. "They can go back to their lives. And by being in stone, they couldn't rally for another attack like they might have in Tartarus or another prison. Stone also gave Equestria a chance to heal from the trauma of their attack, and it gave Twilight a chance to stabilize her rule."
Discord looked into her eyes, his brow furrowed, his voice quiet and level. "They only attacked because I taught them to work together."
Celestia hesitated. She took a breath. "Tirek and Cozy Glow had already learned to work together. Chrysalis was used to having the hive, she was bound to seek out help eventually…"
"I didn't just throw all of our lives into turmoil, I ruined theirs." Discord was sounding panicked now—his breaths were quicker and his eyes darted around. And then he closed his eyes. "What was wrong with me back then? Stupid 'handsome safety net' plan… How could I—"
Celestia came closer and put a hoof on his shoulder—she tried to meet his gaze. "You made a mistake. We've all made mistakes. Now we need to move forward and learn from them." She swallowed. "And you weren't the only one who turned them to stone, Discord. And you weren't the one who advised Twilight to leave them like that for a little while. And you weren't the one of us who agreed to that punishment without having any clue what being turned to stone or banished is like."
She wiped a tear from her eye then looked down, flushed and frowning.
Discord opened his eyes, landed, and put a hand on her shoulder. "You just wanted Twilight and your little ponies to be safe, Celestia. You meant well… And I guess you're right—we all do make mistakes…even if I started it." Their gazes met again, and he took a deep breath. "I'm getting really uncomfortable around those three."
Celestia's brow furrowed. "Me too… "
He held out his arms. "Then what does that say about what we did? This new Equestria is supposed to be beyond such arcane punishments, but maybe we should have started even sooner."
Celestia took a breath, her head down. "It says that sometimes when you're a ruler—like how I was a princess back then—you have to make some very difficult decisions for the sake of your people. Like when I turned a certain chaos master to stone even though he was the only villain who had ever made me smile."
Discord blushed a little but still pouted. He considered… "Do you remember a talk we had in your library before our first gala? You said you'd had one with Luna too. You sat down and told me that you were sorry for everything I'd been through and everything that I'd missed out on and for all the bad feelings I'd kept inside for so long. Maybe we should tell that to those three too…"
Celestia blushed. "I apologized to Luna like that because she's my little sister. And I apologized to you like that because we'd become dear friends." Her brow furrowed. "Those three did so many things to hurt us though; it's hard to remember they have feelings too even if they bury them deep down. I don't feel the same need to comfort them…" Her eyes widened. "But I should want to comfort all of my little ponies, even if they aren't mine, and even if all of them aren't ponies anymore. Have I really forgotten so much about what it means to be a princess?"
"Hey." He lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. "You were a quality princess, and none of that quality is gone. And crown or not, you're always my princess to me."
Celestia blinked away some tears. "We need to be better friends even if we don't consider Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow our friends. Don't we?"
Discord nodded. "I agree. Do you think Luna will too?"
Celestia smiled a little. "Luna's kindness and emotional compassion are deep. We'll talk to her, but I'm sure she will."
"We apologize for what they missed out on, for what they suffered, for what they lost, and for our roles in deciding their fate."
Celestia and Discord shared a nod. Then they hugged each other, smiling.
When they pulled back Discord quickly wiped away the last of Celestia's tears and his own. He gazed down at her with a half grin. "That only leaves one more matter to resolve." She raised an eyebrow, and he went on with a smirk. "Am I really the only villain who ever made you laugh?"
Her eyes hazed, and she chuckled. "Yes, and not only that, you're also the creature who makes me laugh the most." She gave his chest a light nuzzle.
He grinned. "Tia, we can't canoodle in the kitchen while we're hosting a party in the throne room. That's just improper."
She giggled. "You're cute when you worry about little orderly things when you're flustered."
His eyes narrowed playfully. "Ugh, and you're cute when we help each other be the best versions of ourselves we can be."
She pressed her lips to his. He kissed her back, hugging her close, one hand in her hair while one of her hooves touched his chest.
"Celestia, Discord? Are you two actually in here or did you teleport somewhere else? Oh!" Twilight, who had just entered the kitchen, backed up against the wall. "Sorry! Really sorry…"
Celestia and Discord separated with blushes. "No, we're sorry, Twilight—we didn't mean to stay away for so long," Celestia replied.
"And for the record, we did leave to have a serious talk," Discord added with a goofy grin and his arms crossed. "The necking came up purely accidentally. We really shouldn't be left unsupervised."
Twilight held back a laugh. "Well, if your'e free, er…do you think the tea party is…?
"Weird?" Discord's look went dry. "Yeah, we went over that already. But no one seems in danger ,so we settled on just rolling with it and looking forward to when this evening is just an awkward memory. Also, Celestia and I had a long, emotional, slightly guilt-ridden talk. " He blushed. "We agreed to apologize for their experience as stone. We'll let Luna know when we can. How's she doing out there anyway as the only remaining host?"
"She's asking Flurry Heart about her coronation, and Cadance and Flurry Heart keep giving different answers about different aspects of it." Twilight's look went dry. "Looks like we'll have another awkward event coming up soon."
Discord and Celestia chuckled.
"She really came here to protect Cadance?" Celestia asked, amused.
"Hey, don't underestimate Flurry," Discord replied. "I mean, I don't underestimate Cadance, but definitely don't underestimate that littler princess. She's got moxie."
Twilight smiled more. "Well, let's save them all from getting even more worked up." She turned to the door and blushed a little. "And I guess, thinking about it, I'm inclined to agree with you about the apology. I think I'd like to be part of it too."
Celestia and Discord smiled more and nodded to each other then to Twilight. She smiled and headed out through the kitchen door.
Discord and Celestia held hand and hoof and walked after her. Discord half smiled and whispered lightly to her, "You know, it'll be nice to have this whole thing off our chests for tomorrow. A clean slate; then we can just enjoy ourselves with something special. And maybe talk…" He blushed a little.
Celestia raised an eyebrow, her eyes bright with curiosity. "You're finally ready to talk about whatever secret thing has been on your mind?"
Discord's eyes widened. "How did you—"
"Wives get pretty good at picking up on things about their husbands after a while, Discord," she replied with ease and a slight smirk.
He smiled a little and shrugged. "Guilty, then, I suppose. Yes, there's something small I wanted to touch on. Do you want to do it before or after everything else?"
"Everything else?" Celestia raised an eyebrow. "I'm sorry, Discord - do we have special plans for tomorrow?"
Discord raised an eyebrow back at her for a moment, but then his grin grew. He pushed open the door for her. "Oh, why would we? It's just one more day in paradise…"
She opened her mouth to question the mysterious statement when he silenced her with a quick kiss. Then Discord guided them out of the door, Celestia blushing considerably but also very intrigued.
When Celestia and Discord made it back to the table and resumed their seats, they noticed Luster Dawn was sitting up very straight, observing the table like she had something to say. And the rest of the table seemed to be at attention as well (though Flurry Heart's feathers were a little ruffled, and a few of Cadance's hairs were out of place—clear signs that the 'coronation' debate had indeed escalated and might have been momentarily tabled but not resolved).
Upon seeing Celestia and Discord back now, Luster Dawn smiled nervously and addressed the table. "Er…I don't mean to monopolize our tea party, but could I talk a bit about what helping reform these three meant for me?"
Twilight smiled. "Yes, Luster, I'd like that. I haven't heard a lot of the details. Maybe you could tell me the role your friends played too."
Luster Dawn blushed and rubbed the back of her neck. "Well, details might take a while. I just want to give some broad strokes, heh." She cleared her throat. "When I first met Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow they were pretty confused…and pretty mad…and pretty ready to storm Canterlot. Heh…" The trio actually cracked some smiles. Luster Dawn went on. "But, I sat down and explained everything to them about what had happened and why they were free now. I asked them their stories because the history books were vague. And when we were done talking I realized friendship can come in all forms and can have all different effects. I realized how challenging it can be to rule Equestria with friendship. And I realized that reforming these three was going to be hard work, but I was excited about it. I wanted to help them feel better. And I hope I have. And I hope you'll all like getting to know them better too."
Every creature at the table smiled. The trio smirked.
"Oh Luster Dawn, a speech? Your cliche pony side is showing." Chrysalis gave a hiss but still smiled.
"And you've left out a lot of details how we struggled against you," Tirek added, nudging her.
"Luster, you're presenting us like a homework assignment—you are so Twilight's special little student." Cozy Glow rolled her eyes and held back a laugh.
But then Luster Dawn laughed, and so did the trio. "You guys, come on, you can tease me later."
Twilight tried to smile along with her student but then stood up. "Luster Dawn, I'm so proud of everything you've learned from this experience and everything you've done. And, er…to help make sure the rest of our tea party goes well, would you join me in the kitchen for a moment? I want to get your opinion on something."
Luster Dawn blushed, her eyes wide, then glanced at Tirek and Cozy Glow then back to Twilight with a too big smile. "Oh, sure!" She turned to the former villains. "I'll see you guys in a bit!" She stood and followed Twilight, who guided them both forward.
In the kitchen, Luster Dawn stood before her mentor and waited with her heart pounding. Princess Twilight was the smartest pony in Equestria—had she figured out everything? Would she kick Luster Dawn out of school? Would she be disappointed in her for failing to live up to the legacy of her mentor as a young mare? Would she want to put the villains back into stone (a fate which Luster Dawn had sort of promised them wouldn't happen again)? She waited.
Twilight paced a few times in front of her then turned to Luster Dawn. "Luster… I'm a little concerned…"
"I've got everything under control, Princess Twilight, promise!" Luster Dawn quickly assured, holding her head high.
Twilight smiled. "I'm sure you do. But my concern is about how Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow…treat you."
"Treat me?" Luster Dawn tilted her head. "I don't understand."
"The way they teased you just now," Twilight explained, "and how they made you cart them here. And how much of your time they've been taking up—you've been working with them privately for almost two weeks. I know they're going through a difficult transition, but you know it's not right for them to use you, right?"
Luster Dawn blinked then blushed, looking down. "They're not using me, trust me." Her eyes hesitantly came back up. "They're a bit…demanding, I'll admit. But they need help right now, and I want to give it."
"And the teasing?"
Luster Dawn frowned. "Princess Twilight, with all due respect, those are three very angry creatures. If they wanted to be mean to me, they'd insult me. Teasing is the closest thing they know to giving someone a genuine compliment—even amongst each other. I'm hoping they'll learn to be a bit gentler soon, but for now they're really trying. I know it's not what we're used to, but it's what they can give." Luster Dawn hesitated then added, "Didn't Discord ever tease you?"
Twilight thought about many instances over the years where Discord had teased her—about her speeches, her wings, her books, most recently her height. They hadn't been insults, just his way of showing he cared. And he'd gotten gentler in the end. She smiled again and nodded. "Okay, Luster. And they do seem to admire you in their own way." She touched her shoulder. "I'm really proud of the effort you've put in here. You are a very special student. I knew you were the right choice for this assignment and for moving to Ponyville to study friendship."
Luster Dawn smiled a lot. But then she swallowed and stepped back with a sheepish look. "Thank you, Princess Twilight. That means a lot to me." She cleared her throat. "Well, we should probably get back to the table—I don't want Tirek and Chrysalis and Cozy Glow to feel like I've abandoned them." She blinked. "Not that they have abandonment issues because of what you and the others did, I just…"
Twilight leaned closer. "It's okay. And I understand. And Discord and Celestia and I talked, and once we confer with Luna, we'll talk a little more to Tirek, Chrysalis, and Cozy Glow. Okay?"
Luster Dawn nodded, smiling in relief. "Thank you, Princess." She hugged her mentor, then Twilight guided them back to the throne room.
At the table, some further discussion/debate about Flurry heart's coronation had died down to Flurry Heart pouting and not looking at her mother while Cadance sipped a lot of tea and took an occasional deep breath. Discord and Celestia were sharing little glances and eyeing the trio, waiting for the right moment to talk to Luna and then to them.
"I think I'll go to the bathroom." Cozy Glow flew up out of her seat.
"Oh! Very well." Luna dabbed at her mouth with a napkin. "I'll take you."
"Can I take her, Auntie Luna?" Flurry Heart asked, her big eyes pleading. She still wasn't looking at her mother.
Luna hesitated but nodded. "Of course, Flurry Heart."
Cozy Glow rolled her eyes and crossed her forelegs. "I don't need someone to take me, I'm not a baby."
"Thanks, Auntie Luna." Flurry Heart smiled and stood up, then addressed Cozy Glow. "And it's not that; it's just this castle has a lot of complicated ways of getting around. If you don't know which booby traps to take, you could get lost for a while." Flurry Heart pulled on a tapestry, and a secret wall opened up with a staircase. "Come on, this way."
Eyes wide in curiosity, Flurry Heart followed after her; the door closed behind them.
Twilight and Luster Dawn reentered the room and took their seats. Twilight blinked and Luster's eyes went wide.
"Where is Cozy Glow?" Twilight and Luster Dawn said at once.
Twilight blinked and quickly added, "Er, and Flurry Heart?"
"Bathroom break," Cadance explained.
"So," Discord started, ready to fill the time until all of the reformed trio was present and accounted for at the table again, "anyone want to hear some fun tales of Equestria over the last couple of decades? Oh, or Celestia and I could pull out the photos from the wedding album."
"You two did an actual full wedding?" Chrysalis raised an eyebrow.
"Oh sort of," Celestia blushed a little. "We eloped and had a few of our dearest friends with us. Then we had a party later for everyone else."
Chrysalis blushed a little then looked down at her food. Then at Twilight then back down to her food.
"And this is definitely an official thing—something I could look up in the Equestrian history books?" Tirek asked.
Discord rolled his eyes. "Yes, we're really and truly married." Discord snapped and made a photo album appear. He held it open on a page of pictures. "See, here's us eating cake after saying I do! Or, we were feeding each other cake…actually smashing it into each other's faces. We like food fights. Ah, fun times."
Celestia laughed. "Many fun times." They held hand and hoof again.
Luna had only been partially noticing their actions. Most she was looking at Cadance whose eyes were down, her brow furrowed in a little distress. Luna considered then stood. "Cadance, would you come with me for a moment? I forgot to tend to something in my room."
Cadance blinked. "Me? But…I should really wait until Flurry Heart gets back."
Chrysalis rolled her eyes. "She's fine. Cozy Glow isn't the one of us who bites." She bared her fangs.
Cadance flinched a little but observed the two powerful alicorns and the powerful draconequus at the table who would still be there for her daughter. She stood. "Okay, Luna."
"Besides," Tirek mumbled, taking more food, "watching you ponies pop in and out in all of your dramatic fluster is amusing."
With a dry look at the comment and a deep breath, Luna teleported herself and Cadance away.
Once in Luna's room, Cadance let out a very deep breath and collapsed sideways onto Luna's bed. "Luna, raising a young adult is the hardest thing anypony has ever done. Ever."
Luna smiled. "And I thought you could use a moment away from your charge and our colorful guests to let out that feeling, which is why I brought you here."
Cadance looked at her gratefully then flipped onto her back and held up her hooves. "Flurry Heart disagrees with everything when it comes to me! She's even started disagreeing more with her father. She trains like we're preparing for a major war. She barely wears her crown. I don't know what to do."
"Having a child is sort of like having a long term student, is it not? Someone whom you're responsible to mold and shape…" Luna suggested.
"Sort of," Cadance's look went dry, "except I don't get to send mine off to the next town over to write me colorful letters like Celestia did with Twilight." She rubbed her temple. "And I know it wasn't as simple as that for either of them, and I love having Flurry Heart with me, but I'm just really tired. This tea party is a lot more stressful than I thought it would be. I—" Cadance inhaled deeply then sighed in peace—Luna had just placed a bouquet of lavender next to her.
Luna sat on the bed and smiled. "Lavender will soothe anyone in dire straits." She shifted, looking down. "Cadance, despite the challenges of raising Flurry Heart, there are also rewards, yes?"
Cadance sat up and nodded. "Of course. Watching her grow up and learn has been a joy…even if it hasn't always been easy or predictable." She hesitated then blinked and raised an eyebrow, looking at Luna. "Luna! Are you thinking about having a—"
"Ladies!" Discord knocked.
Luna, blushing immensely, turned to the door. "Er, come in!"
Discord teleported inside. "Luna I need a quick meeting of the 'banished for 1000 years club'! I only have a second—I told everyone I was just popping away from the tea party too see if I had any spare Gin-Sing tea around. I do, but I doubt this is the right crowd to try it on. Anyway though, back to why I'm here…" Luna nodded for him to go on, and Discord continued. "Celestia and I were talking and we were thinking of apologizing to Chrysalis, Tirek, and Cozy Glow for everything they endured while stone: you know, thoughts of revenge, being isolated, being imprisoned. Everything they missed." He frowned again. "I mean…they needed to be punished, but I'm wondering if we went a little far." He looked down, his brow furrowed, wringing his hands. Then he looked back up at Luna. "Anyway, would you be okay joining us for something like that?"
Luna nodded, smiling. "Oh…yes, of course! It's a lovely gesture. I was considering it myself actually, and I'm so glad to hear you and Celestia agree now too. I had my support from Celestia when I came back and you had Fluttershy. Those three deserve to feel some support from us as well. We can do it before the party ends."
"Thank you, best sister-in-law." Discord glanced at Cadance. "And congratulations on your challenging daughter, best semi-sister-in-law. She is a true tour de force of pony chaos."
"I'm sure she would be very proud to have your approval, Discord," Cadance chided with a grin. "We'll see you downstairs."
Discord waved then teleported away.
Cadance turned to Luna with an eager look. "So—are you considering have a—"
"Nay!" Luna blushed profusely and looked at Cadance. "I mean, nay, no, not that—to answer the question you were about to ask. I have no intention of…foaling." Her look went dry. "For starters my sister and I saw the wingspan of that child you brought into this world."
Cadance shook her head. "Don't remind me."
"And besides, I have no such desires." Luna went on. "But I am thinking of taking on a student in my retirement. So I am trying to gain various perspectives on the matter. Twilight's view, of course, since Luster Dawn is here. But your perspective would be valuable too."
Cadance's smile warmed, and she put her hoof on Luna's. "Guiding a pony is fulfilling, Luna. And if you want to do it, any pony you choose will be very lucky for all the wisdom they'll receive from you. Just take it one day at a time. And if you need a break, I'm always around…usually in the kitchen at three in the morning eating chocolate." She laughed.
Luna laughed too. "Thank you, Cadance."
The love princess looked down in thought for a moment."A student challenges anyone, Luna. But it's the best challenge in the world. You'll never regret trying to guide another creature."
Luna's eyes brightened. She hugged Cadance then pulled back. "I appreciate the observation. You have helped my decision a great deal" She powered her horn. "We can return to the party now if you wish."
"Just two more minutes with the lavender. Please." Cadance laid back down and inhaled deeply. "Then we'll go back to my rebel daughter and the others."
Luna settled in on the bed to smell the lavender, and felt much better too.
"That was a ridiculous way to get to any bathroom. I'm complaining to Discord." Cozy Glow pouted.
"Actually, it was Celestia and Luna who put in all of these secret passages when the castle was built. But Uncle Discord did add some of the decorations and also that part where you get blasted with glitter and a banana cream pie." Flurry Heart laughed.
Cozy Glow raised an eyebrow as they headed back through the maze of stairs and passages to return to the throne room. "Okay, Celestia and Luna were never cool enough to build something as crazy as these tunnels and passages."
"They definitely were. And they still are cool. And so is Auntie Twilight and Uncle Discord."
"What about your mom?" Cozy Glow smirked a little.
Flurry Heart pouted then shrugged, her look blank. "My mom and I are different types of princesses."
"Your mom seems like she's the same as the other princesses, and you're the one who's different."
"Don't try to get into my head. I've had too much military training to let you," Flurry Heart replied flatly.
"I'm not." Cozy Glow held up her hooves. "Just giving you a chance to gripe about older ponies who boss people around. Sheesh, there's no one here to judge you—you can relax."
Flurry Heart hesitated then scowled, eyes still forward. "Of course I'm different. It's obvious; I'm the youngest…and other stuff. You're the youngest in your group—don't you feel different?"
"Yeah." Cozy Glow's face hardened, her gaze forward. "If you mean that everyone treats you like they can boss you around and like you're just a little kid no matter what you do."
Flurry Heart's eyes widened. "Actually that's exactly what I mean."
Cozy Glow eyed her hesitantly. "At least you're big and tall."
"But I'm still the smallest princess. I'm still the baby to them." She pouted. Then she shook her head—she had to hold her ground even if this little pony did understand something that none of the other princesses seemed to understand.
"You have no idea what it's like to still be the baby…" Cozy Glow mumbled, ice in her words.
Flurry Heart glanced at her—Cozy Glow had a dark look.
But then Cozy Glow took a deep breath and something like a smile returned to her features. "You don't trust the three of us very much, do you?"
"No." Flurry Heart replied without hesitation, her military calm returning. "And I'm not so caught up in trying to be polite that I'm not going to say so."
Cozy Glow nodded. "That's probably really smart. None of us knows if this new 'reform' thing is going to stick, after all. But if it doesn't, I'll try to make sure no one attacks you—you sound like you've got enough trouble on your hooves. Or maybe we'll attack, and you can have the glorious battle victory you want."
"Do not joke about things like that." Flurry Heart narrowed her eyes at Cozy Glow. "Now come on, we're back." She pulled a lever and opened the wall. The throne room was beyond it.
Cozy Glow flew past her, and Flurry Heart followed.
But as Flurry Heart went and took to her seat, Cozy Glow hung back for a moment and adjusted something against the back of the bow in her hair…an item that she'd had hidden in the large bow on her tail until now. The item gave off a purple and red gleam. Tirek and Chrysalis noticed as Cozy Glow finally resumed her seat.
Cadance and Luna returned as well now and took their seats. As Luna sat down though, she grimaced and brought a hoof to her forehead. A strange image had flashed through her mind—darkness and red and green. She realized she was reminded of her nightmare last night. But a glance around the table revealed no nefarious forces—just their awkward company all reunited. Hesitantly she took a sip of her tea and resumed her place among them. But she was wary now.
Celestia gently tapped her teacup with her spoon. "Well, sunset is coming. I think it's about time for dessert after that. Twilight, will you do the daily honors first."
Twilight nodded then powered up her horn. Her eyes glowed, and the sky through the windows changed from the fading light of day to the pale blues and purples of night. As the sunset finished, Luna used her magic to light several wall sconces with gently glowing flame.
But in that moment between the sunset and Luna's lighting, when the room had been mostly shadows, Tirek, Chrysalis and Cozy Glow had exchanged a look and three wicked smiles. Once the lights were back though they looked just as mildly discontent as ever.
Discord snapped to send away all the dishes and leftovers. Then dessert in the form of pies and cakes and cookies descended from the ceiling to the table along with fresh pots of tea and cups.
It was time for the final part of the tea party to begin.
A way out of the shadows was growing clearer. Very, very soon now. Just one more chance—revenge on everyone. And then, everything for the taking.
That's all for now! I hope you guys are enjoying the story! Writing ten characters at a table together is a lot, especially this group lol. There's a lot of drama coming up in the next chapter, some misunderstandings, maybe a little battle. More romance will follow after that ^_^
I'm working on this in bits and pieces when I can. Next chapter hasn't been started yet but there shouldn't be too much of a delay in getting it up. Thank you guys so much for reading and reviewing! I hope you're all doing well and staying safe!
Take care of yourselves!