Appellation Mountains

by FanOfMostEverything

Chapter 1: Imagine the Business Cards

At first, it seemed like it would be a fairly unremarkable day. It was taking a while, but I was getting used to my new home, even if I still hadn't thought of a name for it.

Don't get me wrong, I still miss the Golden Oak, but times have changed, destructive energies were cast, and I know from experience that nothing can change that. And if Tirek ever shows his face above ground again, I won't be responsible for what will happen next.

Anyway, I was still repopulating the library, now found in the lower levels of my palace, which had apparently grown rows of shelves for that very purpose. Today had seen the arrival of some especially elusive works, and my friends were kind enough to lend a hoof to my efforts. Well, most were. I frowned at the pair lounging at one of the reading tables. "Okay, Pinkie I banned from interacting with the Dewdrop Decimal System after she tried to file fiction under imaginary numbers. What's your excuse, Rainbow Dash?"

Dash smirked and waved a hoof across the shelves. "I'm supervising."

"Supervising." I took a deep breath and thought about this. I could spend hours arguing with Rainbow about her work ethic, or I could spend those same hours actually getting work done. "Fine. You do that."

She saluted me. She actually brought a hoof to her forehead and snapped off a passable salute. "Can do." I had no idea whether or not she was being sarcastic.

A familiar belch interrupted my contemplation. Spike walked out of the history section, holding a scroll and smacking his lips. "Huh. That's weird."

The others filtered into the reading area as I asked, "What is it?"

"I've never gotten a letter with an aftertaste before." Spike ran his tongue around his mouth. "Hmm. Rose quartz."

"That is weird," I said. Unprompted, my mind began positing a number of worrisome scenarios of varying plausibility. "Let me check this." I took the scroll in my magic and began analyzing it, feeling for any interference patterns from my telekinetic grip interacting with other spells. "I'm not picking up anything that might cause something like that. Just the usual traces of the transmission spell. Are you feeling alright?"

Spike smiled. "I'm feeling fine, and I've figured out what happened. Look at the seal."

I flipped the scroll around and saw a familiar faceted heart. "Oh. Well." I gave a brief chuckle. "Yeah, I guess Cadence using the spell for the first time might do that. Now, let's see what she sent." I unrolled the scroll, snorted, and passed it back to Spike. "It's for you."

He quirked an eyeridge and took the paper. "To the Great and Honorable Spike the Brave and Glorious…" There were a few more snickers. Spike looked around and scowled. "And what's so funny about that?"

I couldn't quite quash the last bit of my smile. "Sorry. You've earned the title. It's just…"

Applejack spoke up. "Them crystal ponies don't do nothin' halfway."

Spike shrugged. "Well, I'm not complaining. Anyway:

"To the Great and Honorable Spike the Brave and Glorious,

"You are cordially invited to the inaugural Crystal Ball in this new era of the Crystal Empire, held on the seventeenth day of yadda yadda yadda…" Spike grunted as he skimmed over the scroll. "Okay, it's kind of annoying when they're piling on formal boilerplate. Here we go:

"P.S. Tell Twilight and the girls they're all invited. The Ball's organizers insisted that you and only you receive a physical invitation. I'm sure Twilight has a load of questions; details are on the second sheet. Hope I managed the spell well enough.

"With love,

"Huh." I tilted my horn towards the scroll. "May I?" Spike nodded, and I enveloped it in magic again. The paper was thinner than I'd thought. I peeled the two layers apart and began reading through the second one.

By the time I finished, the others had gathered around, forming a circle with me. "So," said Rarity, "why haven't we heard of this Crystal Ball before?"

I took a moment to process everything before I answered. "Sombra left a lasting impression on the crystal ponies."

Rainbow Dash snorted. "Please. He went down like a chump."

I scowled at her. "He was literally inches from victory."

Dash shrugged. "Meh. Still lost."

I could see I wasn't going to get anywhere with her. "Regardless, between years of oppression and centuries of stasis, most of the crystal ponies' memories have been slow to return. The most important ones, the ones pertaining to the Crystal Heart and their special talents, those all came back fairly quickly. Everything else is still trickling in."

"So now we're invited to some fancy shindig." Applejack snorted. "Ain't we done this song and dance before?"

Pinkie nodded. "Yeah, this sounds like it's just going to be the Gala all over again."

I shook my head. "Cadence said she'll do everything she could to prevent that. The Grand Galloping Gala is about the only thing in the world she actually hates. The first time she went was as a filly."

That got winces from everypony. "For somepony as ebullient as Princess Cadence, at such a young age…" Rarity grimaced. "Yes, I could see how that would be a rather dreadful introduction to high society."

"But that means this is going to be an actual party!" cried Pinkie.

I nodded. "Good thing, too. I'd probably have to go either way."

"Why?" asked Fluttershy.

"Yeah, you're a princess," added Dash. "Since when do you have to do stuff?"

"It's because I'm a princess. I need to be seen every now and again or ponies start to wonder what I'm doing." I sighed. "One of the things Celestia never told me. It's been a while since the Maretonia summit and…" I shrugged my wings. "It's either that or have journalists swarm Ponyville again."

Fluttershy squeaked and shrank in on herself. Dash glanced at her, then nodded. "Yeah, I guess I can see how that'd be a bad thing."

"That being said, I want to make sure you all know what to expect. This will still be a formal ball." I looked at Pinkie. "That means a certain level of decorum is expected."

"Decorum? I barely—"

A half-dozen voices chorused, "No, Pinkie."

She crossed her forelegs and pouted. "Oh, fine."

Rarity gave a horrified gasp. All eyes turned to her.

"Come on," Pinkie protested, "it wasn't that bad!"

Rarity bolted to her hooves. "Not that, darling. I just realized, we're going to need ball gowns!" She turned to me, giving me an intense stare. "You said it was the seventeenth?"

I gave a slow nod. Sudden movements seemed like a bad idea. "Yes, but—"

"But nothing! A week. I have a week. What can I do in a week?" A worrisome grin spread across Rarity's muzzle. "Oh, I can do miracles in a week."

I tried again. "Rarity, that really isn't—"

She wandered off towards the stairs, heedless. "Yes, sing to me, o muse..."

"Well, we ain't gonna be seein' her for a while." Applejack sighed. "Somepony should prob'ly make sure she remembers to eat."

Dash nodded and stood. "I'll go find Sweetie Belle." She left the library as well, since there were no windows in this area. The walls were translucent, but thick to the point of being fortified. Whatever designed my palace clearly knew my friends well.

I had to smile. "Well, this is certainly going to be interesting."

Six days later, Rarity emerged from the throes of inspiration, frazzled but bearing half a dozen ball gowns and a hatchling-sized tuxedo. The gowns seemed almost understated for Rarity, but when the light caught them, it revealed the layer of powdered gemstones and magic that made them look as though they'd been transformed by the Crystal Heart.

The tuxedo was simply very well tailored. As Rarity told Spike, "I don't want the guest of honor sucking at his sleeve."

He'd protested, but the puddle of drool at his feet from when she'd unveiled the gowns had been a persuasive counterargument.

The next day, after Rarity had slept for a good twenty hours, we all arrived in the Crystal Empire. Spike dispensed plenty of autographs and clawshakes along the way to the palace. Once we were in and approaching the main ballroom, he looked up at me with wide eyes. "Can I go first, Twilight?"

I gave a hint of a grin. "Why?"

A voice came from just inside the ballroom. "Her Ladyship Sienna Tower, Countess of Toroanto!"

"That's why," said Spike.

I stifled a giggle. "Go right ahead."

Spike all but skipped to the entrance before composing himself a step away from it. That step was a purposeful stride that bordered on a strut.

"The Great and Honorable Spike the Brave and Glorious, Savior of the Crystal Empire!"

I didn't hold back this time. The others joined in. It was just so cute! "Well," said Rarity, "we can't deny that he's earned it."

Applejack nodded towards the ballroom. "Go on, Twi. Dragons an' princesses first."

"I don't know, that's a tough act to follow." I gave one last laugh, then centered myself. Breathe in calm, breathe out anxiety. Some level of royal dignity was called for. "Okay." I strode inside.

At my left was Flash Sentry, who gave me a quick little smile before taking a deep breath. "Her Royal Highness the Princess Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, Crux of Harmony, Cleanser of the Nightmare, Bane of Chaos, Wise in the Ways of Changelings, Purger of Demons, Queller of the Everfree, and Banisher of Lord Tirek!"

I stopped dead in my tracks. In hindsight, that smile had seemed somewhat apologetic.

Flash leaned in and hissed, "You, uh, may want to move, Your Highness. Your friends are right behind you."

"Right! Right." I looked at Flash. My face felt oddly tight. I had no idea what my expression looked like, but judging by his reaction, it wasn't pretty. I opened my mouth, but Rarity clearing her throat behind me spurred me away from the doorway.

I was only a few steps away when I heard, "Yeah, I want some of that!" As I turned, Dash pranced in, head held high.

"Her Ladyship the Baroness Rainbow Dash the Loyal, likewise vanquisher of evils!"

Dash gaped at Flash. Her incredulity quickly shifted to an angry glare. "What, that's it?"

Wisely, he just watched for the next pony to announce. "Her Ladyship the Baroness Applejack the Honest, likewise vanquisher of evils!"

Rainbow shot into the air, the better to loom over Flash. "Seriously? Twilight gets the full list and we just get cookie-cutter—Hey!"

Applejack had Dash's tail in her mouth and was dragging her away like a balloon. "C'mon, now," she said, teeth clenched, "let'sh not make a schene."

It seemed a bit late for that.

Three Her Ladyships later, Spike was off mingling with the adoring public while the rest of us had stuck together.

Dash glowered. "This is majorly uncool."

"Agreed," said Rarity, kneeling in front of Dash's hindquarters, horn aglow. "I knew I should've had you perform a test flight. Your petticoats are completely off kilter now."

Applejack ignored them and looked at me. "Twilight, what's all this 'Baroness' business?"

"How long have we had these titles?" Fluttershy scrunched into herself a little. "Do we have any responsibilities? Are there ponies depending on us?"

"We got them after defeating Nightmare Moon," I said. "Well, technically we were knighted after cleansing her and have been elevated in stature each time we saved the world. But don't worry, Fluttershy, they're purely honorary titles. It's not like any of us rule over any part of Equestria. Though there is my castle, Sweet Apple Acres, Carousel Boutique..." I thought for a moment. "It's not like Pinkie rules over any part of Equestria."

Pinkie gave a low chuckle. "Not that you know of."

"And you never told us?" Rarity pouted as she straightened up. "Twilight, how could you?"

I wingshrugged. "I only found out after I earned my wings. Luna insisted on bestowing the titles, but Celestia wanted us to live normal lives." I smirked. "Kind of hit and miss there. In any case, the only time I thought to mention it was during the Equestria Games, and I'd rather be in the bleachers with you guys than force you in the nobles' box."

Applejack frowned in thought. "So, why the introduction long as your tail?"

I frowned as well. "I don't know, but I'm going to find out."

Flash Sentry wasn't one of my closest friends. Part of that is simple distance, part is that it turns out having a crush on somepony's simian analogue isn't the strongest foundation for a relationship. Still, we recovered nicely after that first stumble, exchanging letters on a regular basis.

As such, I'm sure he understood that when I glared at him for the remainder of the introductions, I did it as a troubled friend. When I approached him as soon as the last guest moved clear, well, that was just concerned eagerness. And I did apologize to the Duchess of El Pinto for shoving past her.

Flash boggled at my approach. "Can I help you, Your—"

"No," I said in a very concerned and eager tone.

"E-excuse me?" Credit where credit was due, he didn't move from his post. Shining would be proud.

Still, I had other concerns to address. "For some reason, I don't feel like being referred to by anything other than my name right now. Can't quite put my hoof on why."

Flash's gaze darted about the room for a moment before he whispered, "You're here in an official capacity."

I rolled my eyes. "And I don't care. I'm just here to meet my social event quota. If you're worried about the court gossips, this will go a lot faster if you don't stand on ceremony. If you're worried about your commanding officer-slash-emperor, just mention the time he forgot to empty his flugelhorn's spit valve."

He relaxed a little. "What happened?" He was always a sucker for embarassing Shiny stories.

Still, I shook my head. This wasn't the time. "Doesn't matter; he'll shut up immediately. The point is, this is not 'Corporal Sentry and Her Sesquipedalian Majesty' time. This is 'Flash and Twilight' time, and Flash is going to tell Twilight what the hay that was."

Flash sighed. "I'm not the one who decides how to announce ponies, Twilight. I just say what I'm given."

I leaned in close. "Then who gave it to you? I know Cadence wouldn't pull this kind of thing."

"She didn't," said Flash. "It was Princess Luna."

Everything clicked into place. "I thought as much. Thank you, Flash." He might have said something. I wasn't paying attention, having already turned, focused on scanning the crowd. I mean, I didn't even realize my wings had flared open until I felt a hoof on one, gentle but firm. I blinked, and I realized that my friends had surrounded me.

"Told y'all Ah could herd anything," said Applejack. Thinking about it, there had been something orange in my peripheral vision for some time.

Fluttershy nudged against my wing, and I folded both. There was no fear in her eyes, just loving concern. "How did it go?"

I allowed myself to calm down a little before answering. "Luna set it up."

"What?" Dash gasped from behind me. "Why'd she sell me short like that?" A beat, and she added, "Uh, sell us short like that."

"I'm sure she has her reasons." Rarity frowned. "I admit I'm not certain what those reasons might be, but I have no doubt that she had only the best of intentions."

"Then let's go ask her!" Pinkie took a deep breath, no doubt to shout for Luna. I teleported one of the crystal berry pastries from the refreshment table right on top of her tongue. She bit down on reflex.

"Thanks, girls," I said, "but I don't want to disrupt your night anymore than I already have."

Dash's head peeked down from the top of my field of vision, wearing the sort of indulgent smile I usually use for Pinkie's antics. "Uh, hello? We're kind of your friends, Twilight. We don't mind helping you out. Besides, you're not the only one who's got a bone to pick with Luna."

Rarity frowned at her. "Are you really going to bother a princess for the sake of your ego, Rainbow Dash? And do land before you utterly ruin your ensemble!"

"It's not just for my ego!" I moved back so Dash could land face-to-face with Rarity. "It's for all of us!"

"Yeah," said Applejack, "when y' remembered us."

Dash scowled over her shoulder. "Okay, so I get caught up in myself sometimes, big whoop. Point is, Twilight didn't go out and do all that stuff on her own. We're a team, and we all deserve to be recognized for what we did. Saying 'Oh, I guess she was there too.' isn't right, not for any of us."

I nodded. "You're absolutely right."

"I am?" Dash shook herself out of her shock and smirked. "I mean, of course I am."

"I don't mind," said Fluttershy.

Dash rolled her eyes. "Flutters, you wouldn't mind if rats built a nest in your mane."

"Well, if they didn't have anywhere else to go..."

I held back a shudder. "The point is that Rainbow Dash is right about us all deserving equal recognition." Other than a few bits here and there, but I wasn't going to undermine my own argument. "Now, let's go talk to Luna."

Finding Luna was easy enough. Between her size, her personality, and her still imperfect volume control, she stood out in any room. She was speaking with a ruby-coated crystal stallion near one of the walls, which meant we could easily cut off her retreat.

Hey, I might have been calmer, but I was still pretty darn peeved.

Luna turned to us and smiled. "Princess Twilight, ladies. Always a pleasure. Have you all met Heavenly Sphere?" Well, that explained his cutie mark, which seemed to be a circular slice of the night sky. "We've been discussing the advances made in the astronomical sciences over the past millennium."

We all gave some polite greetings. He gave a nod, then backed away a few steps. "A pleasure. However..." He looked around for a moment. "Ah! I should go give my respects to the Great and Honorable Spike the Brave and Glorious. Your Highnesses, Your Ladyships." He moved back into the crowd as quickly as etiquette allowed.

Luna sighed. "Well, there's a delightful conversation gone." She focused on me, her eyes half-lidded. "To what do I owe this displeasure?"

I returned the look "Why do you think?"

Luna just stared at me for a few seconds. "The gifts of an alicorn are many, Twilight Sparkle, and you have yet to receive all of them, but if you're expecting omniscience, you're going to be sorely disappointed. You and yours look ready to unleash the unbridled power of Harmony upon me once again. What have I done to arouse your ire so?"

Dash thrust a hoof towards the ballroom's entrance. "What was that about?"

"Your introductions?" Luna frowned. "What about them?"

"What's the deal with Twilight getting the full rundown while we just get dittos?"

"You have all done so much for Equestria," said Luna. "Asking the herald to announce your full titles and lists of deeds at the proper volume would be quite taxing on his throat."

"And why did we need all of that?" I asked. "We've had those titles for years, but even we didn't know about them for most of that time. What reason did you have to ask Flash to employ them tonight?"

Luna quirked an eyebrow. "If you are expecting some elaborate stratagem, you will be disappointed further. I do not have my sister's love of guile. I sought only to give you the recognition you have always deserved. I fail to see how that is a problem."

"Because we all deserve just as much recognition as Twilight," said Dash.

"Do you?" Luna held up a hoof. "I do not mean to imply that any of you are undeserving of accolades and honors, but only one of you awakened the spark that unified the Elements and called Magic out of the æther. Only one saw through the ruse of the changeling queen, even when Celestia and I did not. Only one achieved so perfect an understanding of harmony that she transcended her physical form." She gazed down on us, dispassionate, and I couldn't help but notice that I was closer to her height than any of my friends. "There is no denying that you all are great mares, but there is also no denying that one of you is greater than the others."

I met her gaze. "Only because of them. If it weren't for my friends, I'd still be a sad little unicorn who'd care more about books than other ponies, who wouldn't realize how miserable she was." I narrowed my eyes. "Or I would be one frozen body among many, just another victim of eternal night."

"I would not have allowed—" Luna cut herself off. "I deserved that." This got six nods. "But the fact remains that you are a princess, and they are not."

"All due respect, Yer Highness," said Applejack, "but why's that matter any?"

"You have answered your own question, Lady Applejack, for due respect is exactly why it matters." Luna turned to me. "Tell me, Princess Twilight, why did you come to the Crystal Ball?"

I looked away from her. I could see where she was going with this. "Well, among other reasons, I wanted to make sure the Great and Honorable Spike the Brave and Glorious had adult supervision."

"I've been keepin' an eye on him all night." Dash pointed over at a massive clump of crystal ponies. Sure enough, I could just make out a green crest at the center.

"Clearly not your only reason," said Luna. "Otherwise, you would've merely had to dispatch Lady Rarity. She would be enamored with the festivities, and he with her." Rarity sputtered. Luna smirked at her, then turned back to me. "No, we both know your true reason for coming here tonight."

I gave a reluctant nod. "I was expected to."

"Precisely. Exhaustive titles and formal fripperies are as much a part of your royalty as your crown or castle." Luna sighed. "Speaking from experience, the alternative is worse."

"There's an alternative?" I perked up, eyes wide and ears pricked. "How could it possibly be worse than that?"

"Do you know my full title?"

I shook my head. "Sorry, I never thought to. I mean, it wasn't in any of the genealogies I studied, and when I moved to Ponyville—"

Luna held up a hoof. "It is alright, my friend. I did not expect you to." She took a breath that stretched for several seconds. "I am Her Royal Highness the Princess Luna Diana Hecate Regina Nox Alicor, Princess of the Night, Avatar of the Moon, Doyenne of the Stars, Warden of the Great Void, Mistress of the Tides, Overseer of Dreams," another breath, "and only then begins the list of all the great and terrible enemies of ponykind who I smote with gravity, darkness, and starfire. Trust me when I say that they are great in number. And yet, do you know what the ponies called me just before I succumbed to my long nightmare?"

After a moment's thought, I said, "Well, since you're asking, I'm guessing it wasn't all of that."

"They called me 'the other one,'" said Luna. "'Celestia's sister,' if I was lucky. To be an alicorn is to live for one's subjects. All we do, Twilight, we do for them. It is a terrible thing for them to take us for granted. I would not wish such a fate on anypony, certainly not you. And yet, when you were spurned by the Duke and Duchess of Maretonia, when you were reduced to a mere flag bearer, I could see you begin to walk that terrible path."

"Luna..." I took a moment to compose myself. "I understand your thought process, but I'm the Princess of Friendship. If I'm going to connect with ponies, I want it to be through friendship, and that requires a degree of equality, or at least approachability. Being saddled with all those honors and epithets isn't going to help."

Luna scoffed. "Anypony intimidated by a list of your great deeds isn't worthy of your friendship."

I glared at her. "You don't get to decide that!" I turned to Fluttershy. "Fluttershy, if we had met for the first time tonight, if all you knew about me was who I'd defeated, would you dare to say a word to me?"

Fluttershy swallowed and shook her head. "Somepony who'd done all of that? She probably wouldn't have any time for somepony like me."

"Truth be told," said Applejack, "Ah'd prob'ly think th' same. Don't know if Ah'd want t' spend time with a big shot like that anyway. What'd we have t' talk about?"

"She'd probably see me as some parasitic social climber," added Rarity.

Pinkie gave a little frown. "Somepony like that would need a smile, but I'm not sure if I could give her one. There are some problems sugar can't solve." After a moment where she thought and we all stared agog, she added, "Well, not a safe amount of sugar, anyway."

We all turned to Rainbow Dash. "Well," she said, "I mean, I have done a sonic rainboom. That's pretty impressive. But yeah, if somepony had done all that and I hadn't, I... probably wouldn't be at my best."

Applejack smirked. "Ya mean y'd be squealin' over how awesome she was like a pig in a fresh waller."

Before they could start bickering in earnest, I turned back to Luna. "Does that make them unworthy of me?" I drew myself up with as much authority as I could muster. "As I said, I am Princess of Friendship. I don't tell you how to raise the moon or patrol for nightmares. Don't tell me how to make friends!"

Luna nodded and smiled. "As you wish, Your Highness."

I blinked. "Wait, what?" Similar sounds of confusion came from my friends.

"Looking back with the clarity of hindsight, I have seen that the only reason I was so marginalized was because I allowed myself to be. The one who most believed me to be nothing more than Celestia's sister was me. If I had been snubbed as you had at the Maretonia summit, I would've seen it as only appropriate." Luna glanced away. "I... overcompensated. Considerably. Thus, I wanted to ensure your response to a slight would be neither quiet acceptance nor nightmarish overreaction."

My mouth worked silently as I processed this. When I figured it out, I blurted, "Then this was all a test?"

Luna waved her head from side to side as she considered this. "I suppose, if you wish to think of it as such."

"But I thought you said you had no love of guile!"

"I only said I didn't share Celestia's love of guile," said Luna. "My love of it is entirely different from hers. I do not devote myself to a plan with a lover's ardor. I wasn't expecting you to react so strongly to proper address, but I worked with the opportunity." She tilted her head and grinned again. "Good evening, Your Highness, Your Ladyships." With that, she turned away and waded back into the mingling crowd.

I wasn't sure how long I stood there trying to approximate how Luna thought. I wasn't sure if I ever blinked while doing so.

Eventually, Cadence's voice broke me out of the fugue state. "You just had the princess talk with Luna, didn't you?"

I blinked. My friends had moved, all standing behind Cadence with worried looks on their faces. After a moment, I registered the question. "Uh huh." I tried to shake the incredulity out of my head. It wasn't working.

Cadence moved to my side and lay a wing over my withers. "She did it to me just before the wedding. You certainly took it better than I did. No Royal Canterlot Voice, for one."

I smiled and leaned into her side. "Thanks." After a moment, I asked, "So, how long is your full title?"

Cadence laughed. "Oh, Twilight, we'd be here all night. And it's all in Istallion."

Author's Notes:

This has experienced some fairly major changes from the submission. For those who want to compare and contrast, you can see the original here.

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