By Featherwings, for Happy Luna’s Super Magically Fun Storytime Adventure Challenge
Currently revised Sept 4; I’ve got the original around somewhere if somepony’s strange enough to want to see it as it was entered in the contest.
The first rays of Celestia's morning sun fell towards Canterlot, streamed through a dark window, and came to rest gently on a sleeping alicorn. She stirred, a yawn coalescing into a smile, as if the dawn was her personal wake up call and the sunrise a brilliant morning greeting just for her.
Today, it might actually have been for Luna specifically.
It had been three months since the return from her banishment, and Luna was trying to make up for a thousand years of lost time. After so long, the smallest joy was a miracle. Life was magic; each day was brighter and better than the last.
Luna was certain today would continue the pattern. After all, today was going to be her return to society! Celestia and her favorite student had planned a special day with Luna’s saviors: the bearers of the elements of harmony.
Today, Luna was going to Ponyville!
"I don't know Twilight, do we really need a banner?"
Rainbow Dash examined the currently-levitating cloth as it edged closer to her perch on top of the town library. Dark purple, with white letters exclaiming "Welcome Princess Luna!" (an easier fit than previous royal visitation banners.)
"I mean, are you sure it's the kind of thing we want to announce to everypony?"
Twilight frowned, a thought forming: Rainbow can be so lazy sometimes. Why is she complaining when she's not even helping? "We had one for Princess Celestia, didn't we? What will she think if we don't have one for her sister?"
"Besides," the sweet voice of Rarity chimed in, "It's especially important that this guest feels fully welcome." Her own horn flared brighter as she tied one edge of the banner to the roof of the library. "If I were her, I'd be feeling so awful about what happened. I'd just love to show up and know everyone had put it behind them."
The idle pegasus frowned at the rising banner, making sure to move to insure her displeasure was still visible. "I guess it can't hurt to warn everyone who's coming to town..."
"Would you rather let everyone be surprised?" She gently shoved Rainbow away, then attached the banner in her place. "Honestly, it's like you don't want to meet Luna." Several deep purple ribbons began floating towards the library.
The second unicorn turned back to her own task: pruning the tree that made up her home. "She just doesn't want to have to get ready. Don't you have something to do?"
"Come on, the sky's clear, what do you want?"
"Wasn't it already clear this morning?"
"Details..." She leaned back against a branch and shut her eyes.
A quick snip of Twilight’s pruning shears and the faux-napping pegasus plunged to the ground in a rush of shock and feathers. "Then help us! Everything has to be perfect, this is the first time Luna's visiting since..." She grasped for a polite term to describe Luna's last visit. Rarity was quicker: "Her redemption."
"And we don't want to disappoint her or her sister!" A few more telekinetic snips of the shears sent branches falling threateningly close to Rainbow Dash. "You could at least help us. There's a pile of books that still need to be returned from the last time you felt the need to fly about inside."
"Hey! I put those books back! Faster than you could ever do it, too."
"That's because you're supposed to put them back in order!" Twilight was usually more patient with her flightly friend, but today her patience was wearing thin. It was almost as if Rainbow didn't understand how important the princess' visit was... And how angry Celestia would be if her sister came back with anything but glowing praise.
"Besides," Rainbow continued, ignoring the latest complaint, "My job for today doesn't start 'till the guest of honor gets here."
"Oh, and what job exactly is that?"
The pegasus stood straight, her wings flaring out in a pose of pride. "Security!"
Rarity shook her head. "Dear, I don't think anyone is going to attack Luna. I'm certain everypony has gotten over her transgression and wants to help her put it behind her."
"I'm not worried about protecting her!"
Twilight stopped trimming her house to stare down her friend. "Oh no. No no... you are not honestly worried about Nightmare Moon. Don't even think about it. Celestia says we don't have anything to worry about, so we aren't!"
"It won't be obvious or anything. I'll be, you know... subtle."
"You couldn't be subtle if your life depended on it!"
"Hey! I'm easily the most subtle pony in all of ponyville."
Twilight sighed, shook her head, and returned her attention to pruning.
Across the town, a whole flock of delicious smells were filling the air. If one were to follow them, and indeed several ponies already were, they would find themselves led to Sugarcube Corner where Applejack and Pinkie Pie were baking.
"Alright, that bunch of pies are set and lookin’ delicious. What's next?"
"Rhubarb muffins!" The pink pony bounced. "Rhubarbrhubarbrhubarbrhubarbrhubarbrhubarb..."
"Don’t get too excited, now.” Applejack busied herself washing bowls from the most recent dish. “Where'd we get rhubarb anyway? I don't reckon either us nor the Cherries grow it..."
Pinkie Pie continued bouncing around the kitchen. "Last season I found a recipe for Rhubarb Jam and I was all, 'OhmyRHUBARB' and the name was just so funny I just had to grow it! But then it turned out to be a vegetable!"
Applejack stared, silently hoping that her excited friend wouldn't knock everything over.
Her wish was granted; Pinkie Pie halted in mid air. "A VEGETABLE! Would you believe it?" The pink pony drifted down to the ground. "It's like pink celery, and as much as I like pink I can't stand celery!"
"Well some of us happen to like it quite a bit. Nice and crisp, celery is. If you don' fancy it, why are we makin' rhubarb muffins?"
"Because everything tastes good in a muffin! Except worms, those don't."
Applejack muttered a guilty apology and changed the topic. "So... Muffins! What's first?"
Pinkie Pie squinted at the open book in front of her. "'Preheat the oven to 350...' Do you think they had ovens a thousand years ago?"
The farmer pondered as she fiddled with the oven knob. History hadn't been her worst subject in school, but she still could only hazard a guess. "Ah don't think so. Open fires, that's what they probably used for cookin'."
"It'd be like camping all the time!" Then, after turning back to the open recipe book: "'Now mix one cup brown sugar, half a cup of oil, and an egg in a bowl...' But if they didn't have ovens... how'd they bake?"
"They probably didn't. Ya' don't need bakin' to live."
"No baking?!" Pinkie Pie stared at her friend, wide eyed with fear. "But... that's terrible! It must have been so bleak and sad without pies or cupcakes or strudels or cookies or muffins or tortes or tarts or turnove--"
AJ shoved the mixing spoon in Pinkie's mouth, cutting off her panicked cries. "I reckon ponies did just fine without all our fancy modern gadgetry." She slid the mixing bowl towards her friend.
Pinkie continued speaking as she was mixing the contents of the bowl, somehow ignoring the fact that her mouth was full. "But they had no cake! You can't have a party without a cake? It's just not allowed!"
"That ain't true! You can celebrate with just about nothin' but you and your hooves."
"It's against the rules! Parties must have cake. No cake, no party. And if they didn't have cake, that means..." She paused, as the realization hit her.
"They didn't have any parties!" She broke down completely, tears somehow flying across the kitchen.
Applejack was amazed at her crying friend’s ability to overreact. "Ah'm sure they had fun somehow. Yah can just ask Luna when she gets here, I'm sure she knows all about it."
"But Luna's even sadder! She spent a thousand years on the moon! There are no parties on the moon Applejack, no parties! That means... she hasn't ever been to a party!" Pinkie Pie curled up on the floor, rocking back in forth in what Applejack hoped was only fake shock.
"Now hang on just one minute..." Her protests fell on deaf ears.
She sprung up. "I can still fix it! There’s a princess in need, and I’ll make her the best party ever!" She posed, beaming with duty. "We have got to make up for lost time! Failure is not an option! Failure means she might think she doesn't like parties and that would be the saddest thing of all!"
"Now I don't think-"
"I've got to prepare!" And with that, she dashed out of the kitchen, leaving Applejack alone and shouting out the now-open door. "Ya know, I bet she ain't had rhubarb muffins either! So ya really oughta help me finish bakin’ first!"
Head shaking, she muttered under her breath, "That pony's off her rocker. But still... I suppose it's a good point. Luna been gone for a thousand years, so all this must be mighty new tah her. We'll all have to be very patient, I suppose. Now what's next... Milk, half a cup."
She turned towards the icebox when Ms. Cake's clock - one of those strange cats, with the moving eyes and a pendulum tail - struck ten. Luna was arriving at eleven.
Oh horseapples... at this rate I'll be the one needing Luna's patience.
Twilight stared out her window, watching the distantly approaching royal chariot, her mind a stream of worry.
How could her friends be late for a royal visit? It would be so shameful to make the princess wait! She might even turn around and go home out of offense. Celestia would be so angry! I can’t even imagine what she’d do if I disappointed her little sister like that...
She glanced at a clock and groaned. Of course Luna would be early... but still...
Almost on cue, there were an impatient rapping her window. Twilight dashed up the stairs and answered her balcony.
It was Rainbow Dash, naturally. She had no excuse for being late; and Twilight's irritation showed. "We have a door."
"Yeah, and then you have a another one on your second floor for awesome people who can fly, like me!" The pegasus pushed past her into the library, and then stopped. "Where's everyone else?"
"They’re all late! You're the first one here!"
Rainbow couldn't help but smile. "First like always!"
"Don't give me that look! Argh, you know how bad we’'ll look if everypony's late!"
"Relax, she's just early. I bet she won't even care. Just act like you wanted to meet her personally first."
Twilight almost snapped at her friend, but had to pause. A a glimmer of an idea formed. "That might actually work... Get everybody and tell them to meet at Sugarcube Corner instead! Make sure everything is ready for lunch!" She didn't give Dash a chance to respond, only pushed her back outside before galloping down the stairs to greet Luna.
Two golden-clad pegasi were bringing the royal chariot down to Ponyville's streets. There was the slightest of clatters, then it halted in front of the library. Luna looked around from her seat, as if uncertain if she had arrived; it took her a moment to find Twilight, who was deep in a bow of respect. Awkwardness flashed across Luna’s face, to be chased away by a bright, childlike smile. She took her time thanking the pegasi, then turned back towards the still kneeling unicorn.
She giggled. "Are you more comfortable like that?"
Twilight stood uncertainly. "Princess Luna! Welcome to Ponyville!"
Luna bowed her head in response. "Twilight Sparkle!"
There was an awkward pause, as both were unsure of what exactly they were supposed to say.
Their worries were unfounded, as neither would hear what they said next. They spoke in unison:
"I've been looking forward to-"
"We are honored by-"
Another awkward pause, broken by another of Luna's silver-bell giggles.
"Oh stars, just how does Celly stand all this?" Luna shook her head. "Please relax? I've been so excited to visit and have fun, and I'd hate to know everyone else was too busy being nervous about offending me to enjoy themselves."
Twilight gave one of her nervous smiles. She wasn't so worried about offending the moon princess... She was worried about offending her sister! Twilight knew bad things would happen to her if things didn't go as planned. She felt herself being banished to the moon already, a lifetime of cold and loneliness. When she returned to reality, all she saw was Luna's eyes.
Twilight jumped back as more giggling ensued. Luna had taken advantage of her daydream to edge close and stare at Twilight, wondering exactly what was going through the unicorn's head.
"Ah! Sorry!" There was still more giggling.
"I hope your friends aren't all like this!"
A pang of guilt. She didn't want to lie to princess Luna. But she didn't want to make her friends look bad, either. At least, not until they got the opportunity to do that on their own. "They're... getting everything ready for lunch! Yep, a lot is being prepared and we decided that maybe you'd want a bit of quiet first. They're all bit much, nothing like me, honest." Twilight nodded a few times to make it sound more believable, but was sure it had an opposite effect.
"I've heard so much about them from Celly, I can’t wait to meet them!"
They began the short walk to Sugarcube corner. Twilight perked up at the sound of some common ground, and they began to talk.
"So, what does Princess Celestia say about me?"
"Oh, that you're really boring and stuffy!"
Princess Luna stuck her tongue out, obviously enjoying the joke at her sister's expense. This new princess was so different than both princess Celestia and Nightmare Moon, Twilight was still completely unsure of how to react.
It was like she wasn't a princess at all!
"No, she only says good things! She's been reading me your friendship reports."
"She has?!" Twilight was a little shocked; she hadn’t realized they served a greater purpose.
"Yeah! She says learning about friendship is the most important part of my return to Equestria. So meeting you is like meeting my hero too!”
Twilight chuckled nervously. “I’m no hero.”
“Don’t be silly! Everyone's got people they look up too. Even Celly's got people she's awkward around."
"No way! She's always so dignified and... and royal."
Luna's smile widened, excited to be able to make fun of her sister. "It's all an act. She's just been practicing for forever, and she just loves being the center of attention. She's been that way since she was a filly!"
"Celestia as a filly?" Twilight struggled to imagine a young sun princess, but failed.
"Yep! And she was always showing off. I used to joke that she made all the ponies just so she'd have someone to show off for!"
Just when Twilight was at risk of forgetting the pony walking next to her was a goddess. "Did she really... you know, make us?"
"Aw, I can't tell you that! We promised to keep it a secret... But I can tell you a different story about little Celly."
With that, Luna launched into a myth Twilight had read before. When Celestia was just a foal, as the story went, she was showing off to all the ponies when the clouds had rolled in and blocked the sun. She was so upset over missing her chance to shine, as it were, that her tears fell as the first rain. However, she cried so much that some of the first ponies began to worry about Equestria flooding, and went to Luna to ask for help. Luna gave these ponies wings, so they could fly and move the clouds out of the way so Celestia could shine the sun again.
Twilight was amazed. The way Luna told it was as far from mythic as possible; instead it was like a little filly tattling on her sister. She realized it basically was. Not sure if she should laugh, she settled for a skeptical, "No way, she really almost flooded the earth with her tears?"
Luna had no hesitation about laughing. "Well, you ponies have exaggerated things quite a lot since then! But she was really broken up about it."
"So you made pegasi." Twilight was still a little unceartain.
Luna nodded, grinning.
"Then what happened?"
"Well, she couldn't let her little sister outshine her, so she gave away some of her power and made the first unicorns!" The alicorn broke down into even more laughter, pausing in their walk to enjoy the laugh. Twilight could only stare, not sure if she could believe her guest.
"No way... I can't imagine her like that.”
“Yep! Celly’s just a big showoff.”
“No matter how long I've known her, I can’t help worry she'll get upset and banish me to the moon or something." Twilight halted, turning red as her faux-pas dawned on her. Just as she had been warming up to Luna, too.
She was saved by the arrival of the best distraction ever: Pinkie Pie, excited.
"TWILIGHT! LUNA!" There was a rush of pink, and Pinkie Pie materialized in front of the princess, gave an elaborate, formal bow, fell on her face, and sprung up, all in about a second and a half.
“I'm so glad I made it in time! I heard you were early and I was like OH NO and you wouldn't believe how hard it is to find good grey rocks!"
"Rocks?" Luna looked at Pinkie Pie quizzically, backing away from the pink pony.
"And sand! I lived on a rock farm you know, so I know my rocks!"
Twilight forced a laugh, wishing her friend didn't have to be so loud all the time. Loud in every sense of the word. But much to her surprise, Luna didn't seem to mind. The princess didn't look annoyed, just shocked. And confused. The default reactions upon meeting Pinkie Pie.
"A rock farm." Luna said, dryly.
"Yep! But that's not important. What is important is lunch!” and with that, Pinkie Pie pushed the princess into Sugarcube Corner, leaving Twilight to get over her panic and catch up.
Much to Twilight's relief, the message had gotten to all of her friends, and four ponies and a dragon were waiting for the Princess' arrival. After the requisite bowing and Luna’s requests not to bow they sat down to a table loaded with a great array of baked goods. It was clear Applejack and Pinkie Pie had totally outdone themselves.
Almost instantly, Applejack began lecturing an interested Luna on the difference between a cobbler and a crumble as she helped some of both onto Luna’s plate.
With Luna distracted, the excuses began to flow to Twilight.
"I am really terribly sorry Twilight, but you know important it is that my mane was just right for the royal visit."
"Um... I was... sorry... a little scared..."
Applejack continued the trend, only without her constant explanation on the history of baking, it was loud and clear to everypony. "Ah would’ve been there, but somepony had t’ leave me for no good reason!"
"Hey, it was too a good reason! If I'm throwing a party I'm going to need all the dust I can get my hooves on!"
Twilight froze. now Luna was going to know I lied to her, AND that everyone was late! She forced herself to turn towards Luna, ready for her rage, already figuring the power draw of an air-generation spell in her head for when she was introduced to the depths of space.
Luna's eyes opened wide.
"A party? I've never been to a party before!"
Pinkie Pie gasped and, with her best Rarity impression, pretended to faint. The image was slightly interrupted by the fact that she also continued talking. "See Applejack? I told you they didn't have parties a thousand years ago!"
"That don't mean you can just run off like ya did, though!"
Twilight interrupted. "Eheheh... You finished and it all looks delicious so if everypony’s been served, let's eat!"
Everypony began helping themselves to the delicious spread, and for a moment, there was only the sounds of eating. It was broken by Applejack, who began giving a running commentary on everything Luna touched. Strangely enough, she was nodding enthusiastically around bites of deliciousness.
"Those there are muffins, they're like little loaves of bread, only sweeter. We bake 'em in an oven, which is like... well, it’s a box we put fire in so we can cook things easily."
"That there's a pie. They're filled with fruit and covered in a crust. Now, those there are apple pies, which are fresh from sweet apple acres, the growers of best apples in all of Equestria."
"Here, try a sandwich. They're normally eaten alone for lunch, and they're a bit bigger, but these are like... samples or somethin’. They're not so respectable. They're like bread, with a salad inside it... A salad..."
"We all know what a salad is, AJ." Rainbow Dash interrupted. "I'm pretty sure salads have been around since some pony decided to put two different vegetables in a bowl."
"Yah don't have to be so rude. I'm not sayin' it for yer benefit. I'm sayin' it for someone who'se been gone for a thousand years.”
"Actually, I invented the sandwich..." Luna spoke up, quietly, for the first time since she had sat down at the table.
"You did?" Spike perked up, excited.
"Well, no. They've been around since bread. Muffins are new though, but I had one a day after my return."
"Well, why didn't ya stop me then?"
Luna thought for a second, then brightly said. "You seemed to be enjoying yourself!"
Rainbow Dash slunk into her sandwich. "You could have spared the rest of us."
"Also, we did have ovens." Luna seemed a little defiant.
"If you had ovens how come you've never been to a party?" Pinkie Pie's logic was understood only by herself.
"We had celebrations and festivals. But I think a party's a bit different?"
"Was there cake? And hats? And pin the tail on the pony?"
Luna shook her head in exaggerated sadness. "I don't think I've played that last one, so, I guess I really haven't?"
"Of course not! It's not a party without pin the tail on the pony!" Pinkie Pie darted next to Luna and threw a reassuring hoof over the princess's shoulder. "Don't worry though, you're talking to Ponyville's resident licenced, certified, accredited party expert!" Pinkie flashed a badge from nowhere. "And I've got you covered!"
"I feel safe in your hooves."
Rarity edged in. "I've been most curious. What does someone from a thousand years ago think of modern fashion?
Luna was taken aback slightly. She looked around, noting the rather naked appearance of everypony gathered. "I can't say I've seen much of it. To be honest, I haven't gotten out much."
"Oh darling, I simply cannot let this pass! After lunch you simply must come to my boutique! I would love the opportunity to work my magic for a princess! I’m simply brimming with ideas already!~"
Luna shrunk into her chair. "If you insist..."
Twilight sighed. Rarity probably had been brimming with ideas since she heard of Luna’s visit. She had budgeted some time for Luna to spend with Rarity, but she hoped the princess would have been more excited.
Rainbow Dash spoke up. As Luna’s 'security', she had decided it was her duty to avoid any and all threats to her charges's mental sanity... and a Rarity makeover was just the thing to drive one insane. "Don't let her do it Luna! She'll make you stand there, and the pins... The pins!"
She found herself on the receiving edge of a double-barreled glare from the fashionista. The unicorn gently mocked Rainbow with a royal chuckle, and responded, "That's simply because not only is fashion above you, you could not stand still if your life depended on it."
"It's torture! Luna, listen to me... It will drive you crazy!. I mean, if I'd been cooped up for a thousand years and then three months in boring Canterlot, I'd want to get out and fly!”
"I'm sure someone as cultured as Princess Luna would appreciate the finer things, unlike you." Rarity spoke with the authority of someone who had already won the argument.
An hour later, the gang had relocated to Rarity's boutique. Two were lucky: Applejack had excused herself, citing a pressing need to return to her farm temporarily, and Pinkie Pie simply yelled something about "needing to ask some favors" and vanished.
Now, Luna found herself posed in the middle of everypony, still somewhat uncertain how she had been convinced to play model. Rarity flitted around, talking mostly to herself and her dragon aide. She paused, looked over Luna, and finally came to a realization.
"Dearest, what ever is the matter? You look so uncomfortable, it's making me nervous." She chuckled lightly, as if making a joke - perhaps in the hopes that she was.
Luna slouched. If she had been in a corner she would summon some shadows to hide behind. "I'm really not too fond of being the center of attention like this.."
"Nonsense. Everyone wants - no, needs to be the center of attention sometimes." Rarity began sorting through her fabric. "Especially you!"
Luna responded with silence. She could feel the implication behind Rarity's words: It had been her desire to be recognized that had caused her fall. But that was exactly why Luna had been avoiding the public eye since her return.
"She is just like Twilight!" Spike interrupted. "Remember what it took to get her to use her magic when that Trixie came to town?"
Luna saw a way to change the topic from herself, and scrambled for it. “Who?”
"Well, there was this total showoff who came to Ponyville a little back--"
"Bragging about Twilight will have to wait for another time." Rarity cut off Spike, returning everypony’s attention to Luna. She levitated a black fabric over towards Luna. "What do you think of this, dearest?"
Luna's eyes widened in joy when she saw the fabric in the light. It wasn't black. It was a deep violet, so deep it threatened to consume her, and adorned with sparks of light - diamonds smaller than any she had seen, woven into the pattern. She stared as it flowed before her, entranced. It reminded her of the night.
It folded up and flew behind Rarity as the unicorn smiled to herself. "Only the very best for royalty. I thought you would appreciate it."
"It was a lot of work grinding those diamonds down to the right size!" Spike interrupted, only to be pierced by a bespectacled look.
"No, it was a lot of work making sure you didn't eat any more than you were supposed to while you were chewing!" She turned her attention back towards Luna. The measuring tape began snaking its way around her, appearing to move of its own volition, while Rarity began her own probing. "So, tell me, of all the modern fashions... what's caught your eye?"
"I really haven't been paying that much attention..."
"Really? Nooothing?" Her voice rose in pitch, the slightest threat of become a whine.
"Uh... uh..." Luna was backed into a corner. "I've always thought socks were cute, I guess."
Rarity crashed forward. "Ugh, no no no! That simply won't do! I can't stand the thought of socks on someone as majestic as you! And cute? No, you need something graceful yet powerful, elegant yet commanding, something to give you the courage to take your place next to Celestia!"
Luna looked towards Spike helplessly, speaking under Rarity's nonstop chatter. "Is she always like this?"
"She is when she gets inspired... it's best not to worry about it."
"I mean, every filly wants to look cute, but it simply won't work for you! You have a duty, a role! A need to take up command after so long an absence!"
Luna's stomach turned, half from fear and half from guilt. Rarity continued. "You're a princess, darling. Now, I'm thinking strong teal lines, to match those beautiful eyes of yours. And silver. Lots of silver."
A deep part of Luna did enjoy the attention... and all the talk of command and rule and power. She told it to go away and tried to focus on Rarity’s rambling.
Near the entrance to Carousel Boutique, a trio of ponies waited. For once, Dash wished she had more responsibilities, just to have an excuse to leave. Her only responsibility - weather duty - was shot down by a look outside and a glare by Twilight, so instead she was slumped against a chair trying to fend off boredom.
She looked over to Fluttershy. She had chosen a yellow cushion, and was trying her hardest to blend into the seat. "Hey Fluttershy, you've hardly said a word since Luna showed up today... You're quiet, but not usually this bad."
"Uh... I'm sorry Dashie..."
"You shouldn't be apologizing to me. I was just wondering..."
"You have been really reserved, is something wrong?" Twilight was just noticing how quiet her friend had gotten. She had been distracted by Luna, but now she could return her worries to Fluttershy.
"Uhm... well..." Her voice turned even softer... "I've been worried..."
Dash flipped over, her head hanging off the edge of the chair to stare at Fluttershy. "About what? Luna?" Her voice was a conspiratory whisper now.
"Don't worry, Dash here's got you covered! If anything..." She loaded the word ‘anything’ with a look at Luna "goes wrong, I can handle it." Twilight was glaring, but Rainbow invoked obliviousness.
"That's not it...”
"Well, what’s got you worried?" Twilight asked.
"Do you think Luna's... sad?"
Rainbow and Twilight exchanged questioning glances. Rainbow Dash sent an upside down shrug.
"Why would she be sad?"
"She seems fine to me."
"Well... she's been gone for so long, she probably doesn't have many friends anymore..." She paused long enough to make a furtive glance at Luna, who was busy talking with Spike. "And she probably feels really bad about everything that's happened."
Rainbow Dash righted herself. "Well, you being quiet probably isn't helping her."
Fluttershy struggled to blend even more into her cushion. "I want to help her! I just don't know how... and you know how shy I can be, so I just get even more shy and quiet..."
Twilight leaned against her pastel friend encouragingly. "I'm sure you'll warm up to each other."
Dash looked back towards Luna and Rarity, thankful the seamstress worked so remarkably quickly. The dress was almost entirely pieced together. Spike wrestled a trifold mirror into place.
Luna drew a double take at the reflection. Her jaw dropped a little.
It was a masterpiece of fashion. It radiated dark style. The diamond-studded fabric and flowed almost like a continuation of her mane, embraced her wings, and leapt off her flank like a cape made from the night sky. A border of teal streaks evoked an alien sunset while a silver trim spoke of the moon itself. Her usual short black tiara had been replaced with a full crown, jet-studded and seemingly made of cirrus clouds. She was adorned with a silver chestpiece, holding a single black crescent.
But more than being beautiful, it transformed Luna. She had always felt smaller than Celestia, and not just because of her size. Now, she looked like a proper ruler. She had gone from the somewhat gangly Luna into a sleek embodiment of darkness.
She looked a lot like Nightmare Moon.
Luna stared into the mirror sadly. It was such a beautiful ensemble, and she was ecstatic to be given such a work of art...
She turned. It commanded attention from every angle.
Her heart sunk.
It just wasn't her. Or rather... it was the old her. The one she was trying to forget.
Rarity glowed, holding her breath,
Luna shifted. "I'm so... honored to model for you..."
She swelled, almost tittering, on the edges of her hooves.
"But it's just not who I'm trying to be.
Luna winced. Rarity deflated.
"Of course it's not, dear. I suppose I've simply been woefully ignorant this entire time, haven't I?"
The princess cowered as Rarity moved to unpin the fabric. Rarity had gone on an awful lot about her old self... but she couldn't bring herself to say anything.
Both she and the dress were saved by - of all ponies - Rainbow Dash. She threw a hoof over the offending pin. “Sorry Princess Luna, but we are not going to go through this again.”
"Look, Luna, Rarity knows dresses better than anypony else. Now, I don’t have much fashion sense, but even I can see how awesome you look! So here’s a lesson all the rest of us had to learn the hard way:” Rainbow paused, long enough to flick her mane out of her eyes and flash a ridiculous grin. "Fashion's not supposed to make you feel awesome. You've gotta know that deep in your heart. Clothes are for letting other people know how awesome you are. And this dress, in particular, is awesome."
Spike applauded. "Yeah, if there's one thing I've learned, it's Rarity is always right."
Rarity herself frowned, at least partially because of how little Rainbow Dash actually knew about fashion.
The princess smiled, trying to decide if she understood Rainbow Dash. She decided Rainbow was right about one thing: "This is, honestly, more beautiful than anything I own..."
Rarity brightened. "I was worried about that! You can't just take Celestia's policy of showing up with the same old jewelery at every occasion. She has the magic hair to pull it off... not that there's anything wrong with yours... But you need something!"
“I think I understand... and besides, I really don’t want Celly’s hair. You really don’t want to know what she goes through every morning...”
There was a pause as Rarity began carefully removing the dress pattern from Luna, making sure she would be able to sew it together later.
"So, are we all set?" Rainbow stood near Luna, tense. Luna couldn't figure out why.
"Yes, although sometime I'm going to have to make you an outfit that is really you."
"I'll let you know when I figure who exactly that is."
And then, when the last wisp of fabric and mote of silver was removed, Rainbow Dash sprung into action.
There was a whirl of color, and the last thing before Luna met a rush of air was a cocky,"You can thank me later. Princess."
Rainbow Dash knew Rarity wanted to get right to work making Luna's second outfit. She knew Twilight had something planned, something boring and possibly educational. She also knew wasn't fair to their guest to subject her to such tortures.
Hence the ponynapping, and post-ponynapping surprise skydiving lessons.
In Dash's defense, it was quite difficult to carry someone Luna-sized. Especially when Luna was instinctively fighting it. She had only gotten the far more powerful Alicorn off the ground with the aid of surprise, and once they were about twenty feet up Luna wrestled free of Dash.
Luckily for our princess, she had regained her reflexes before her fall began, and almost instantly summoned a cloud of mist to stand upon.
Her voice was still on the ground, however, and Dash had hers. "Good! Well now that I've kidnapped you... I'm thinking we test out those wings of yours."
Luna’s voice finally caught up. "Erm... what are you doing?"
Rainbow borrowed part of Luna’s cloud and made herself comfortable. "Kidnapping you! I couldn't possibly let everyone sit through another of Rarity's dressmaking sessions. Thousand-year old patience or no, once is enough."
A giggle burst from Luna as she finally began to understand Dash's intent. She couldn't help but agree with it, either. "Well, thank you. What about your friends, though?"
Rainbow Dash peered over the edge of the cloud at her friends. "Well, Twilight's going to be angry. Rarity'll be upset too, but I waited until she was done taking everything off, so she might not be totally miffed... Anyway, here they come! Don't move or they'll make you do more boring stuff, like take a tour of ponyville's historic district."
"That doesn’t sound so boring..."
Her words went unheard. Dash had swung down and planted herself between the advancing Twilight and Luna's airspace.
"Rainbow Dash, just what are you doing?!" Twilight was definitely angry.
"Kidnapping Luna, so we can go do actually something fun!" Dash was defiant.
Rarity interrupted both ponies. "I'll have you know, Luna was enjoying herself."
Before the three could fight, Luna's cloud decended. A voice spoke from within. "Erm... I'd really rather you friends didn't fight amongst each other for my sake." There was that tinkling giggle again, as if she was amused at all the fuss caused by her presence. "I’m really excited to do anything with any of you..."
"Rainbow Dash probably just wants to show off, though!" Twilight's complaint triggered a guilty smirk.
"Hey, my aerial maneuvers are the most awesome thing this town's got!"
Luna nodded. "I wouldn't mind stretching my wings a bit..."
Dash's mind flashed back to her earlier conversation, and only just now found the pastel pegasus, hidden behind Rarity. "You should join us, Fluttershy!"
"Uh... It's really alright... I'm not much of a flyer and..."
Rarity shifted aside, and Fluttershy found herself face to face with Luna, who had gotten on her knees to be eye-to-eye with the shirking pegasus. "It's okay... I'm a little out of practice too. We could go together."
"Yeah, come on Fluttershy! It'll be awesome!" Rainbow Dash did a quick flip, landing next to her friend. "And I know you want to get to know Luna better~" She whispered.
"We'll be fine down here," Twilight conceded, knowing that perhaps Rainbow Dash was onto something, and would be less likely to pull something stupid and get Luna hurt if the calming presence of Fluttershy was around. "We'll meet up later and do something fun all together."
"Sweet! Come on! Ponyville's so much better from the air, and you wouldn't believe how long I've wanted to show someone the sky tour. And there's this new double-spin skyjet I’ve been working on..."
As it turned out, the main draw of touring Ponyville from the sky was its brevity. Rainbow Dash, who was giving mostly a constant stream of exposition, didn’t seem to think it short enough, and exaggerations began creeping in.
"That's the Library, where Twilight lives. You might not know this, but scientific study has proven that it’s the most boring place in Equestria."
Another tinkling giggle crept away from Luna. Dash continued. "You might be surprised to know that the scientific study was also very, very boring."
"That's the central pavilion. It might not look it, but it covers a secret entrance to a giant shrine to our mayor. She requires every one of us to pay our respects every spring in the 'we all love Mayor Vanilla Bean" festival."
"Dash, that's not a very nice thing to make up!" Fluttershy scolded her imaginative friend.
Dash continued regardless. "And under that is where we sacrifice everyone who doesn’t offer our mayor enough muffins!" She stuck her tongue out at Fluttershy, who returned a disapproving frown. Luna laughed.
"On the left is Quills and Sofas. I'm not making that one up, it's all that place sells. It's even the manager's cutie mark."
Luna was skeptical until a knowing nod from Fluttershy confirmed her doubts.
At that moment, Pinkie Pie descended into the pegasi's midst via hang glider. "Hi Rainbow Dash! Hi Fluttershy! Hi Princess Luna!"
"Hey Pinkie Pie." Dash did a doubletake, flipping around to stare.
"Dashie, do you know where I could find a good supply of grey paint? I already checked with Applejack but they only use red..."
Dash knew not to question it. Luna didn't. "What do you need paint for, Pinkie?"
The earth pony lifted a hoof to her mouth in a universal symbol for silence. "I can't just blab it to you right now, silly! But it's really really important..."
"I bet if you caught some of Dash's rainbow fall, and mixed it all up... it'd probably be grey.” Fluttershy had used the distraction to finish catching up. “if you don't mind, Rainbow..."
"Oh, thanks! That's really clever!" Pinkie dipped her glider, beginning her return to the surface of Ponyville. " But now I need to find a bucket..."
Luna sent her guide a questioning glance.
Rainbow Dash shrugged and responded with a smile that plainly said, "I've got nothing."
Luna tilted her head, as if to say, "Nothing?"
Dash shook her head: "You really don't want to know."
Fluttershy just stared at the hang glider as it descended, wondering where Pinkie Pie had launched from.
"So, where were we?
"You were showing me what might be the strangest town in Equestria..." Luna looked down, then added sadly, "But it looks like we're out of town. It's not very big, is it?"
"Nah, still pretty lively though! But wait, I’ve saved the best for last." She darted ahead to pose in front of a particular cloud - the only one with a tower.
"The finest architectural masterpiece, rated by eleven out of ten ponies as 'I wish I lived there', my house."
"It's very..." Luna paused for a moment. "Impressive." It wasn't, not to someone who lived in a spectacular castle carved into the side of a mountain, but she felt the need to be diplomatic. Besides, it still made a very nice rest stop.
"So, now that we're done..." Rainbow Dash was grinning. "How about we answer a question I've been wondering for a while..."
"Rainbow..." Fluttershy had seen that grin. It would only lead to trouble.
"How fast does an alicorn fly?"
There was a moment of silence as Luna looked at her wings quizzically. "You'd have to ask Celly ... This is the most I've flown since my return, actually."
"We could find out! Wanna race?" Somehow, her grin managed to widen.
Luna was taken aback. "I haven’t raced since I was a filly. I'm afraid it's not a very princessly thing to do.”
"Hey, you're the one with the power! If I was a princess and someone told me I couldn't do something, I'd be all, 'somepony's asking to meet the dungeon!'"
“Exactly, the only pony I could race would be sis; everyone else would let me win.”
“Rainbow wouldn’t.” Fluttershy said with an smirk.
“It’s okay, really.”
Rainbow slumped to the cloud, but quickly picked herself up. "Aww... What about stunts? I bet you could do all sorts of crazy things with your magic!"
Fluttershy edged forward. "I don't think that's such a good idea..."
Luna shook her head. "I don't mind! It's nice not to be treated like a princess for once. This is so much nicer. But I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you again...”
She was worried Rainbow Dash would lose that crazed grin, but realized she wasn't going to get out quite so easily.
"I guess it's come to this... I've got to teach the great princess Luna how to fly with style!"
Fluttershy couldn't imagine a single good thing resulting from this. She had a dozen well reasoned arguments and a host of gut feelings. She couldn't let this continue. She took a deep breath...
Several moments later she realized she had forgot to breathe. She exhaled, and pleaded a barely-audible "Rainbow..."
Her friend paused, wings stretched and ready for takeoff. "Oh! Yeah Fluttershy, of course I'll teach you too! Come on!"
Rainbow Dash leapt into the air, pulled a quick loop, and lifted her friend from the safety of the clouds. "Alright students, Rainbow Dash's awesome class is now in session! Lesson one - speed!” She rose slightly higher, still carrying a frightened Fluttershy.
“Every maneuver costs speed. To gain speed, you will need to overcome... fear!" Suddenly, she released her grip and sent Fluttershy plummeting downwards.
One of the first lessons at any flight school was conquring one's fear of falling. The fear of falling is both deeply ingrained in a creature with their roots on the ground, and deeply silly for one with wings. Learning that one has the power to save themselves, no matter what happens in the air, is one of the most liberating experiences for a pegasi.
Even those, like Fluttershy, who were completely paralyzed by fear and couldn't get their wings open learned a second important lesson: their instructor is also fully capable of pulling them out of a freefall.
Luna had never been to flight camp. She didn’t notice Rainbow Dash closely trailing Fluttershy. All she could think of was saving the falling pegasus. Her horn flashed a deep purple light...
It took Fluttershy several moments to realize she was no longer falling, and several more to open her eyes.
She was glowing.
She recognized the magic from when Twilight had tried to end her fashion career, only that had been aggressive. This was comforting, like a perfect bed and perfect hug together.
Luna spiraled down to the two hovering pegasi. "Are you both alright?"
Dash covered for Fluttershy while she found her voice. "Of course she is! You think I would just drop her and not be ready to catch? I've been waiting for this opportunity for forever!"
"To drop your friend?"
“Yeah! I’m trying to break her fear of heights! I was right behind her.”
“It still doesn’t seem very safe.”
“Relax, I saved four ponies before! All at once.”
Luna gave up on the argument, and instead brought Fluttershy closer. “Fluttershy, are you okay?”
“Yes! Thank you, Luna, it was... nice!” The two made eye contact for an extended second - the first since Luna's arrival where Fluttershy didn't back down "It was like when I got my cutie mark!"
Rainbow interjected. "Hey, before you tell that story lemme say I've already apologized."
Fluttershy continued. "Well, when I was a little filly I could barely fly, so I got made fun of constantly."
Luna leaned in closer, trying to catch every quiet word.
"One day, Rainbow Dash decided to stick up for me!" Rainbow posed, and gave her "I'm so awesome" grin.
"So she challenged the bullies to a race... Only she knocked me off my cloud during it. And I couldn't stop myself from falling... but a swarm of butterflies caught me."
"And she's been scared of heights ever since!"
"Hey... that's not true..."
"Yeah... I've always been scared of heights..."
"Then what happened?" Luna asked, expectantly.
"I discovered how wonderful the ground was... Dash's first sonic rainboom scared all the animals, and when I went out to reassure them all I realized what I wanted to do for my life." Fluttershy was almost glowing, recalling that first moment of wonder.
"That's beautiful, Fluttershy."
The pegasus blushed as she returned to reality, and began studiously examining Rainbow Dash's residence out of a desire to avoid eye contact. Someone had stolen all the rainbows, it seemed...
Before she could follow the observation to its natural conclusion, Rainbow broke the silence. "Hey, Luna, I know you wanted to learn some awesomeness, but I kind of want to ask a favor..."
Far beneath the soaring pegasi, a unicorn and her pet dragon were watching.
“You know Twilight, Luna really seems to be enjoying herself. All three of them, actually.”
“I know... I just still have a bad feeling.”
“You have a bad feeling about everything any time Celestia’s involved. I don’t get it.”
“I just don’t want to make her angry! She could do any number of things!”
Spike frowned; he’d had this conversation before and knew he’d probably have it again. “And when was the last time Celestia did any of those things?”
“I know, Spike. It’s why I had everything planned out. A full day of activities both fun and educational. Watching Fluttershy almost get hurt was not on that list.”
“She was fine.” They watched as Fluttershy went plummeting through the air a second time, only to stop and hover just above the ground. “She doesn’t seem to mind.”
Twilight raised her binoculars, trying to figure out exactly what was happening away from her management. Spike busied himself digging through Twilight’s saddlebags, looking for another piece of quartz.
The silence continued, broken only by the sound of crunching sillica.
“Ah-hem! Twi, you really should trust your friends a bit more.” Applejack trotted out from the bushes behind Twilight, who panicked and tried to hide her binoculars behind Spike.
“I trust Rainbow Dash... I just trust her to mess something up.”
“That pony’s a might bit hasty, sure, but she ain’t the type to ruin nopony’s day on purpose.”
“It doesn’t hurt to keep a careful eye on them. What are you doing over here, anyway?”
“I wrapped up my work right quick, to get back to y’all. I guess Rainbow Dash went through with the ponynappin’?”
“How’d you know--”
“Dash isn’t as hasty as you think, Twi.”
They paused as Fluttershy dropped from the clouds again, again stopping to levitate above the ground.
“Ah, so that’s what’s been falling!” Both ponies looked over to see a Pinkie Pie happily munching popcorn and watching the skydiving pegasus, tail twitching away.
It took three more tries before Fluttershy had enough faith in Luna that she could conquer her fear long enough to open her wings and come out of a dive, and Dash was keeping close to her as well. Everything was going so wonderfully: Dash had finally gotten her chance to teach the landbound pegasus, Fluttershy was flying without checking the ground every second, and Luna was simply enjoying the excitement of the two friends - that Dash still felt a pang of guilt over the fact that she didn't fully trust Luna.
She watched carefully as Fluttershy unsteadily rose, then dove downward, picking up speed. She's just too... happy.
Fluttershy leveled out and turned upward. From her cloud perch, Dash could hear Luna shouting, "Keep turning up! You've got it!" Maybe Twilight is right... but I can't risk anything happening.
Then suddenly, after eight tries, and with a minimum of flailing, Fluttershy managed to flip completely over in what could actually be called a loop. Dash cheered as loud as she could get - knowing the power of a good cheer - and was matched in volume by Luna.
Fluttershy darted towards Dash's cloud and fwumped into it. She was wildly wide-eyed and talking excitedly. "Did you see it? I actually did it! I didn't need help or anything and..."
The reality seemed to catch up to her, and she suddenly turned silent with a quick "eep."
Like a shadow, Luna joined the pegasi. "That was wonderful! Do you want to go again?"
"Oh no, I think I've had enough excitement for a while... I want to see you two!" She smiled and nodded cheerfully.
"I think I just don't have so much to show..." Luna turned to Rainbow Dash. "Perhaps you could show us a few of your stunts and then meet up with everyone else?"
"Sounds like a plan!"
She leapt into the air, flipped backwards and spun towards the ground. She pulled up mere feet from the ground, flying upside down. She threw a grin and a wave towards her audience before turning upwards. Pumping her wings, she began flying in a spiral, her rainbow-trail coalescing into a spinning tunnel. She flew faster and faster, whipping up her tornado into an angry beast; right before it got out of control she slipped into the center. It grabbed her and threw her, straight up, her rainbow contrail making a twisting spiral to the heavens.
Cheers burst from her friends. Both of them, even.
She gently guided herself back to her friends on the cloud, a plan coming together as her dizziness faded.
Alright Luna. Hate to do this...
She landed, trademark grin at full power. "I'll need a volunteer for this next one."
Fluttershy gave Luna a few nudges. The alicorn stood, and with mock drama, announced, "I will be brave enough to assist you with your next feat, oh daring Rainbow Dash."
Rainbow Dash swallowed her guilt.
"Alright, all I need is for you to fly in a straight line. Think you can manage that?"
Luna nodded. "Somehow..."
Rainbow Dash swallowed, pushing back a trace of fear. "Alright then. Shall we?"
With grace, Luna unfolded her dark wings and returned to the air. She was flanked by Rainbow Dash, who was flying wingtip to wingtip. Suddenly, she rolled out of the way, to return on her opposite wingtip. She repeated this several times, until she was rapidly circling Luna, brushing pinions with each pass.
Rainbow Dash shifted, gained altitude, and swooped up and under Luna. She rose, characteristic rainbow trailing her. Luna flew right through it, splitting it in two. Dash began to roll, and Luna's entire vision filled with colors. Abruptly, Dash dropped away, leaving Luna flying... with rainbow contrails coming from her otherwise dark wings. She gave them an experimental flap - the contrails followed suit. She couldn't help but burst into laughter with delight.
If she had been performing the trick normally, now was when Dash would gather wind and use it to set Luna spinning, with her borrowed contrails neatly creating a double helix.
Instead, Dash rose up, pulled a flip, and barreled headfirst into Luna, sending them spiraling towards the ground and a rapidly approaching treeline.
She felt the impact of magical force - A counterattack already? - but it was interrupted by the impact of the ground. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Fluttershy descending. She forced herself to her hooves. If anything happened to Fluttershy --
Dash couldn’t complete the thought. She just charged ahead, towards Luna’s crash site, and came face to face with terror.
Luna had transformed. The thing Dash faced was no longer like any pony. It had giant, elk-like horns, and was covered all over in patches of slick green scales. Spines stuck out in every direction. It slowly rose to its feet.
Rainbow Dash dug into the ground, getting ready for a battle. "I can't let you hurt Fluttershy, Nightmare Moon! I'll fight you even if I have to do it alone!"
From her hidden spot on the ground, Twilight gasped. She swore she had heard the impact all the way from the ground, and even before the two flyers had reached the ground, she darted out of hiding and galloped as if Celestia herself and the full vengeful fury of the sun was behind her.
To her right, Applejack was having the same reaction, and the two kept pace. To her left, Pinkie Pie was galloping with them, uncharacteristically serious. They crossed into the woods, then halted.
The first thing they saw was a quavering Fluttershy. Her expression was half shock, and half terror.
Next was Rainbow Dash. She was scratched and bruised, with feathers out of place. The shimmer of magic still flickered around her, and between rasping breaths of air, she was yelling at a yet-unseen opponent.
Twilight sparkle added an extra burst of speed, and found Luna.
"Rainbow Dash, what the hay is goin' on here!?"
“Girls! Get back! It’s Nightmare Moon!”
Twilight looked at Luna. She was struck with worry, enhanced with sympathy. The poor alicorn had gotten utterly covered in thick, yellow sap. Patches of leaves were pasted on her hide, and twigs were intertwined with her wings. But worst of all was a giant, crooked branch that had somehow gotten speared by her horn and was now fixed to her head quite firmly.
Twilight hurried to her side while Applejack leapt between Rainbow and Luna, desperate to stop her fiery friend from attacking.
“Princess! Are you alright?”
Luna rose unsteadily to her feet, unbalanced by the presence of antlers. “It’ll take quite a lot more to hurt me... Is Rainbow alright? I managed to shield her as best as I could, but... She still seems confused...”
“Don’t mind Rainbow Dash, she’s the one that endangered both of you with her recklessness!”
“Hey!” Rainbow tried to sidestep Applejack, but the farmer wasn’t about to let her pass. “I was being safe! What if Nightmare Moon had come back, huh?”
“Nightmare Moon ain’t comin’ back, and all you’re doin’ is a mighty fine job at offendin’ the princess!”
“Yeah, well how do you know that? I had to be sure! It was the only way to be safe!”
“You were fixin’ to fight! Ah bet you was lookin’ fer it!”
“Did you see her?! I was trying to protect you!”
“Ah don’t need no protectin’!”
Behind the continuing argument, Fluttershy stepped up to Luna. She watched as a mirror shimmered into existence, and Luna peered at her reflection. Her face twisted into a grimace, then burst into laughter. Not the tinkling giggle she had heard before, but the full-body, no room for breath laughter.
“Are you alright, princess?”
Between gasps for breath. Luna panted out, “It’s no wonder Rainbow Dash was so concerned... I look ridiculous! I can’t believe it... Nightmare Moon’s coming back, and this time... she’s a moose!”
“Moose!” Pinkie Pie agreed.
Fluttershy looked at the laughing Luna, and back to her arguing friends.
“Girls...” She tried to interrupt, but was drowned out by the noise.
“GIRLS! STOP FIGHTING!” Fluttershy’s voice echoed through the woods. In the distance, a flock of birds rose from their perches. Every pony turned towards Fluttershy, the quiet only broken by Luna’s continued laughter. “Uh... please? ”
Luna steadied herself. “Honestly, I'm not hurt... it takes a lot more than that to damage an Alicorn, But I could use a nice bath... And this sap is going to take forever to get out. So if I could have some peace..."
“My cottage isn't so far from here. If that would be alright...”
“So, if all of you don’t mind, we’ll be off.”
The two retreated, leaving four angry ponies.
Well, three. Pinkie Pie would swear it had been the funniest thing she had seen, ever.
An hour of soaking and scrubbing later, and Luna was just about clean. She was still a bit hesitant to emerge from Fluttershy's bath, though. It felt divine after her fight with the tree. Fluttershy had added some special salts; the rising fragrance reminded Luna of the baths at home.
For once, Luna didn't mind being treated like royalty.
She had been worried that her size was going to be an issue, but upon seeing it she realized it had probably been built with bears in mind. It didn't look like it had seen many bears, however - it was spotless, like everything else in the house.
"You must spend a lot of time cleaning. Your house is so neat, but you have so many animals."
"I have help."
"Only my most favorite rabbit. I helped him when he had a broken paw, and he hasn't left since! I'm surprised you haven't seen him, usually he... greets everypony who visits."
There was peaceful quiet for a moment, broken only by the sound of water as Luna sunk deeper.
"Cleaning sounds... nice."
"It is. I enjoy it. If you think about your blessings, it's supposed to bring you luck."
"I wonder where today came from then. I haven't cleaned in more than a thousand years." Luna giggled. She wasn’t making a joke, but it felt like the right thing to do. "It's been really wonderful today. I'm glad I could meet all of you."
Fluttershy blushed and spoke even quieter. "I'm happy you came, Princess."
Luna shook her head, sending a swarm of angry water droplets after Fluttershy. "Don't you start with the princess thing."
Fluttershy let out a small "eep." Dipping her hoof in the water, she tried to splash Luna - but not too hard. It wound up making a small ripple that lapped at Luna's neck. "But you are. You're Princess Luna."
A sigh. "I guess. I do enjoy tax law more than I suppose I should." She stuck out her tongue in a flash of mirth.
"Taxes? How could you?" Bright laughter from both ponies.
Fluttershy retrieved a brush and began the difficult process of untangling Luna's hair. She had been so worried about Luna she could barely speak to her, and now here she was, in Fluttershy's very own bath tub. Luna had been so happy all day, but... Fluttershy couldn't shake the fact that there was some deeper sadness.
She gathered up all her courage. "What was it like, on the moon?"
Luna gave an instinctual shrug, then paused. A lot of ponies had wanted to ask - Luna could tell. But this was the first time somepony had genuinely wanted to know. "Lonely... There was so much anger, I don't remember much of it, thankfully. It was more like a bad dream than anything. But everything before seems so long ago, like it happened to a different pony."
“So you don’t remember any of your friends?”
“I never had many friends to begin with...”
Looking up, she saw her gentle friend on the verge of tears. A quick hoof through the water shocked her out of her empathy. Luna laughed. "Don't be feeling sorry for me now! Because you and your friends saved me, I've been a new pony! I’m making sure each day has been better than the last.”
Fluttershy could understand that. They sat in silence for a while, letting the swish of the hairbrush speak to both of them.
“You know... I would love to be your friend.”
Luna stared at Fluttershy for a moment. She wasn’t sure if the pegasus had always been so... pink. There was more giggling, and then a delighted, “I would love that, Fluttershy.”
The two ponies were interrupted by an angry crunch coming from the door, followed moments later by furious rapping.
"Oh... Let me get that."
They were greeted by a sight previously unknown to Equestria.
It had been a small tank for water, but it had been transformed. In its bowels, several rabbits ran on top of wheels, driving the contraption forward. Another stood ready next to a blowgun driven through the forward wall: the tank's main cannon. It was loaded with 20mm slugs, still alive, for maximum disgust. Across the back, some rabbit had scrawled: "First Mechanized Rabbit Battalion” and finished with a painting of a slug - on fire - taking a bite out of the moon.
Angel himself poked out of a hatch in its top. He wore a camouflage helmet at a rebellious angle, carrot dangling from his mouth, and driven glare that screamed: "It. is. on." He was ready for any punishment Fluttershy might send his way, and had made peace with his maker if she brought out the Stare. He knew his sacrifice would be worth it: word had spread among the animals that the dark goddess who had delayed the day was with his Fluttershy.
Only he wasn't ready for the fury of the dark goddess herself.
Before he could give the order to his gunner to fire, Luna was upon him. Her attack was fierce; Angel was terrified and humiliated in one swift move.
"He's so adorable!" Luna gasped, clutching the flailing rabbit to her chest in a oxygen-depriving hug. "Is this Angel? He's just so cute!"
She began making illegible babytalk to the struggling rabbit. Angel knew this torture was uncivilized, against the rules of war somehow. He could hear his tank crew laughing at him.
Slipping through Luna's hooves, he beat a furious retreat to the door of Fluttershy's cottage.
It flung open, knocking him across the room.
"Luna! Fluttershy! Are you heeere? Guess what? Guess guess guess guess!" The pink incarnate of laughter was waiting at the door, happily bouncing in place.
Luna finished levitating her necklace into place and peered across the main room. Behind her, Fluttershy was helping the first mechanized rabbit battalion get lined up to return to the outside. "What, Pinkie Pie?"
"That's not a guess!" her bouncing accelerated.
"Uh... did something good happen?"
"Not quite yet!" She was a pink blur now.
Fluttershy emerged from behind Luna. There was one thing that could alwasy be counted on to get her pink friend this excited. "Oh... is it... a party?"
Pinkie Pie's mane exploded outward, filling the entire volume of the doorway for a moment. "Yepperee! We're having a party for Luna! You're both invited!"
A quick towel dry and a short walk later, a completely relaxed Luna followed Fluttershy to Sugarcube corner. Upon arrival, they realized something was amiss: everyone was idling outside. They all turned towards Luna as she approached.
"Oh hush up Rainbow, you ain't been waiting more than five minutes."
"What are we waiting for?" Fluttershy was curious. Pinkie Pie was not the type to delay a party.
Twilight nodded at Luna. "Pinkie's got some big surprise for all of us."
As if on cue, the party planner poked her head out of her door. Behind her was darkness. "Is everybody here?!"
There was a chorus of agreement.
"Okie-dokie-lokie! Everyone come in! The lights are off 'cause it's going to be a big surprise!"
Twilight was skeptical. "If this is some kind of prank..."
"No worries! You guys are going to love it!"
They filed into the darkness. After a moment of waiting, Pinkie Pie threw on the lights.
The sight that met their eyes left all of them speechless. Their reactions went, in order, a little like this:
Fluttershy thought the party decorations were surprising, if a little dull. She would later go on to say that they were "nice."
Applejack was genuinely impressed; Pinkie Pie had obviously pulled a full day of hard work getting things set up.
Rarity had a moment of panic, before realizing that all the ‘dust’ was simply clever applications of paint.
Rainbow Dash finally understood why Pinkie Pie had needed her rainbow. There was a lot of grey.
Twilight suddenly understood where she was going. After this, Princess Celestia would have no choice but to banish the lot of them to the moon. At least she knew what to expect, now.
This was because Pinkie Pie had turned the interior of Sugarcube Corner into a reasonable facsimile of the surface of the moon.
Everything was grey, the bright grey of lunar soil. The ground had been covered in painted-on craters. The furniture had been replaced with rocks. The walls were covered in a rough mural depicting the lunar surface, stretching for miles. The image was completed with a few green rubber alien ponies making themselves at home in a corner.
They all slowly turned towards the guest of honor, waiting for her reaction.
Luna's jaw dropped.
Pinkie Pie pranced to the middle, and reared up in pride. "I, Pinkie Pie, have done the impossible. I have brought party... TO THE MOON!" She came down on a button, and streamers erupted from the ceiling to cover the grey in festive cheer.
Luna began laughing. Out of shock, and joy, and happiness, and the best feeling of all: the feeling of friendship. A feeling that had been removed from her life for a millenia. She hadn’t realized it, but now she couldn’t understand how she had lived without.
From somewhere, Pinkie Pie began singing.
"The moon is a joyful place
It's like a great big smiling face
That comes to greet us in the night
And scare the spookies with its light!"
She danced around, pulling desserts from their hiding places - lunar cupcakes, star-shaped cookies, a host of other space-themed pastries, and even a big UFO-shaped punch bowl. There was even a cake, a great big one, shaped like a crescent moon. It wouldn't have been a party without it.
"The moon is a wonderful place
Its got its very own special grace
There's plenty of craters and tons of rocks
And enough dust to get up in your socks!"
"I have to admit," Luna was saying around a mouthful of moon-pie, "Festivals and celebrations were fun... but not quite like this."
"I reckon there ain't nothin' like a Pinkie Pie Party."
Pinkie Pie beamed. Literally; the area around her was lighting up from sheer happiness. Luna could relate. The past few hours had been a whirl of games, food, conversation, and friendship, and it looked like there were no signs of stopping any time soon. In fact, the party had only grown, as random passerby from the street had joined. (This was apparently quite normal for any of Pinkie Pie's events.) Many of the newest partygoers had even foregone the typical partying-with-a-princess awkwardness and skipped right ahead to the partying-with-a-princess excitement.
She eyed the notice that greeted each new pony. "LUNA'S WELCOME BACK BASH" - and under it, in Pinkie Pie's wild cursive, "Bowing is forbidden under penalty of pie." Several quite sticky ponies would testify to the validity of the threat.
One more thing to be thankful for.
"That notice was a great idea Luna!” Pinkie Pie bounced up, pie at the ready. “Even Twilight thinks so!”
"Really?" The silvery giggle. "She's been so worried all day, I don't possibly know what could have changed her outlook."
Upstairs, Twilight was still washing off meringue evidence of the fact that it is not a good idea to avert one's eyes from a mischievous princess. In one pastry, all of her worries about Celestia had been replaced with plans for revenge against Luna.
Pinkie Pie shared in Luna’s laughter. "I have no idea~"
"You know, I think I know someone else who would appreciate that notice... would you mind gathering everyone together? I have one more favor to ask."
Her Royal Highness Celestia was staring down at the latest revision of the Equestrian Tax Code, Section 42c Revision 81d. Some wonk somewhere had drafted it, and it was her royal duty to look it over before it affected her citizens.
Everypony always assumed her duty began and ended at sunrise. Sometimes, she wished it were so.
She sighed, searching for a distraction. Eternal patience was nothing compared to tax code. Her mind wandered, like it often did, especially when confronted with taxes, it wandered to thoughts of her sister, who somehow enjoyed tax code. Hopefully, Luna was enjoying herself. Celestia knew she was in good hooves, but she couldn't help but worry about her little sister.
Another sigh, and she turned back to her tax law. Whatever Luna was up to, it had to be more entertaining than this.
There was a flash of dark.
Celestia blinked a few times. She was... on the moon? Or at least a terrible representation of it, going by the green space ponies in the corner. It was still a shock; was this some kind of joke?
There was singing coming from behind her.
"The moon is a special place
Its got no air but plenty of space~"
She turned slowly, to find a crowd of ponies staring at her. All at once, they shouted a greeting: "CELLY"
Luna was in front; she dived on her big sister, wrapping her in giggles and a hug. "Surprise! You're banished to the moon. We're even now!"
Celestia blinked in awe. She couldn’t remember her sister this happy in millenia. Her gratitude for Twilight and her friends swelled. Whatever they desired, it wouldn’t be enough to return the favor.
She even felt a speech coming on.
"Oblige an old mare for a bit of a speech? I'll keep it short." She addressed the crowd.
"Speech!" The gathered ponies cried.
"Luna, my dear sister, I'm so very glad to see you've enjoyed today. It is clear Twilight has been passing on her teachings. Twilight, my most faithful student, join me?"
Twilight was pushed to the front of the crowd. She nervously made her way to Celestia. "You've done a great thing, hosting a wonderful day for my sister. We are both deeply grateful. Just seeing her this happy has made me realize just how much you have grown. It is clear you have learned a great deal about friendship. As such, I am considering your studies complete." Cheers rang across the room. Luna even blushed, but you would be hard-pressed to see it.
"I present to you a new task. It is your duty, as a learned scholar of friendship, to pass on your knowledge. I am giving you a student... my dear sister Luna. Teach her well, for friendship is a kind of magic even stronger than our own." More cheers. "Twilight, Luna, do you accept?"
The turned towards each other and smiled. Then, in unison: "Yes!"
"You have my sincere gratitude." Celestia bowed deeply to them both.
"No bowing, silly!" Pinkie Pie bounced away to uproarious laughter, knowing that she could now cross "Pie the Princess" off her list of things to do in her life.
Celestia was rendered speechless. A thousand years of life experience had not given her the knowledge of how to take a pie to the face gracefully; she would later admit it had been quite funny, and was a good way to make sure no one thought to formally of her presence.
Indeed, for the rest of the evening, she hadn't been called anything but 'Celly'. It certainly beats ‘Her Royal Highness’ Celestia mused. I’ll just have to spread ‘Lulu’ around in return.
"So when you've been sent to the moon
It’s not so much a curse as a boon!"
The sun continued its downward decent, oblivious of the ponies celebrating. The ponies were oblivious of it in return; save one.
Luna watched the sun disappear behind the horizon. She had slipped away from the party for a brief moment to carry out her ancestral duty. Spreading her wings, she began to draw upon the ancient powers that were her birthright. Her horn flared with darkness as she willed the last wisps of day away. The stars, her eternal companions, greeted her call with twinkling welcomes. Far beneath the horizon she felt the ethereal weight of her namesake, and began to usher it skyward.
Her mind began to wander, as it often did as she performed her eternal duty. She thought of everything that had happened today. It had been even better than her imagination, far beyond even her wishes to her stars. It might even have been the best day ever. The best part was that it didn’t have to, no, it wasn’t going to end, because now she had friends. Friends who, Luna realized, had just saved her twice.
She would have to work hard at being a good friend to them in return.
With one final magical push, she set the moon on its upward journey for the night, and fell to her hooves. Upon landing, she came to a realization: She hadn't been alone. In fact, it seemed like the entire party had taken a pause to watch her perform her royal duties.
Now, for the first time in a very long time, everypony was cheering the rise of the moon.