Rays of the noon sun cast long shadows against the bedroom wall as dust motes danced in the beams. Tucked up against the bay window lay a wood-carved bed with deep purple covers pulled up to the headboard. A lumpy mass moved underneath the sheets as a sleepy mumble emanated from the white down pillow now jutting from the mass of purple.
Once the movement ceased, the head of the bed’s occupant, Twilight Sparkle, was now visible. Her normally placid mane was a frizzy mess; the infamous bed-mane having claimed another victim. She sighed deeply to herself, still asleep and blissfully unaware of the world around her.
The purple unicorn was immediately ejected from her cocoon of covers and tossed into the air. Her eyes snapped open as she plummeted face-first back onto the spring-filled mattress. With a garbled yell, her head was buried in a cloud of floating feathers as her pillow exploded.
“It’s about time you woke up you sleepy head.” Twilight groaned as she pulled her face from the impact site.
“Pinkie Pie,” she groaned. “Why?”
“Why,” the cotton-candy pink pony asked. “Well, you’ve been asleep all day and I was afraid something happened and then Spike told me you were up all night and I was like ‘HUUHHH’ and then I waited and waited and – ” Twilight put her hoof to Pinkie’s mouth, silencing the hyperactive pony.
“What do you mean ‘all day’?” Twilight asked, looking over at her alarm clock on her nightstand.
“I mean that it’s already lunch time silly filly.” Twilight wanted to rebuke her friend, but the clock’s hand’s did not lie. It was already a quarter past noon.
“Wait, how did I sleep in? I set the alarm for eight this morning.”
“That one was me Twi’,” The purple dragonling nudged the bedroom door open with the corner of a breakfast tray he was balancing on the top of his head. “Owlowiscious told me you pulled another all nighter, so I got up extra early and turned off your alarm clock.”
“Spike,” Twilight moaned. “Wait, since when did you and Owlowiscious talk?”
Spike grinned as he placed the tray on Twilight’s desk, nudging aside several books in the process. “Well, we came to a gentleman’s agreement. He’s really quite talkative once you get to know him.”
“But isn’t his entire vocabulary one word?” Spike shrugged as he brought Twilight over a plate.
“There you go, one peanut butter and apple sandwich.”
“Spike, you know I hate peanut butter.”
“OH,” Spike hastily withdrew his fingers as Pinkie Pie bit the sandwich out of his hands. “Datch one’s mime.” She announced, trying to speak through the copious amount of sticky residue in her mouth.
“Ok,” he sighed, reaching for another plate on the tray. “Here, some celery and carrots, along with a freshly toasted corn muffin. Oh, and Granny Smith sent over some more of that apple and cinnamon tea you like.”
Twilight sighed to herself as she floated the china teacup to her lips. “Mmmm, that’s wonderful.”
Pinkie Pie, however, interrupted the unicorn’s moment of bliss. Almost immediately, the curly-maned pony began making frantic motions with her legs; her hooves flailing about in wide patterns.
“Um, Pinkie Pie, what’s wrong?” Twilight asked, setting the teacup down on her nightstand. Pinkie continued to wave her arms around while making spitting noises with her tongue.
“Umm, you wanna start a cart-wash for Sugarcube Corner?” Spike suggested. Pinkie shook her head before putting a hoof to her lips and opening her mouth.
“You need a bullhorn?” Twilight asked. Pinkie shook her head again. This time, she made grabbing and pulling motions with her hooves, all while grunting and groaning.
“Umm, I’m not sure I wanna know what that is supposed to be.” Spike announced.
Pinkie slapped a hoof to her face and sighed. Twilight cringed as the pink party pony opened her mouth, revealing a mass of gooey peanut butter clinging to the insides of her cheeks.
“I meedpth milmk.” She shouted; her words muffled by the sticky obstruction.
“Well why didn’t you just say so in the first place?” Twilight asked. Pinkie’s mouth snapped shut as she leveled a flat stare at her unicorn friend.
“Downstairs, in the fridge, behind the turnips,” Spike told her. Pinkie saluted with her hoof before galloping out of the room. “And don’t touch the sapphires in there. They’re my dessert for tomorrow!” There was a series of loud thumps as Pinkie Pie dashed out the door and down the stairs to the library’s kitchen. “You think she heard me?” Spike asked. Twilight regretfully shook her head.
“Alright Spike, since I slept in today, we need to tweak the schedule a bit.”
“There isn’t anything scheduled for today Twi’.” Spike announced.
“What about helping Applejack fix the barn roof?”
“That was two days ago.”
“Well, Rarity wanted my opinion on a new line of summer wear she was planning for the Carousel Boutique.”
“You’re doing that tomorrow.”
Twilight paused, astounded that her plans were all muddled. “I still need to write that letter to the princess about the parasprite migration.” Seemingly out of nowhere, Spike pulled a sealed scroll. He tossed it into the air before bellowing a burst of emerald flame. The scroll vanished in a puff of smoke, which snaked its way out the window and up into the air. Spike turned back to his caretaker grinning sheepishly.
“How late was I up last night?”
After finishing her breakfast / lunch, Twilight came downstairs into the library proper. The shelves were neatly lined with row after row of books of all shapes and sizes. It was one of the rare times when Twilight’s studies did not interfere with Spike’s seemingly endless task of keeping Ponyville’s public library neat and orderly. Only a smattering of books lat strewn across the desks and tables that dominated the library floor. Much to Twilight’s surprise, Pinkie Pie was leaning over one of these books; a frosted glass of milk perched beside her.
“Twilight, what’s an elf?” The mare asked. Twilight trotted over to her and looked down at the book she was reading.
“Elf, Pinkie Pie, where did you hear that word?” Spike asked.
“From this book.” Twilight announced, nudging a paperback tome toward the dragon.
“Hmm. The Lord of the Rings? I’ve never heard of this book?”
“Neither have I,” Pinkie announced. “After I got my milk, I was looking around because I knew Twilight wanted to talk to in private, so I looked at this book here on the table. I don’t normally read as much as Twilight, but I could tell it was different, so I opened it up and I was all like ‘HUUHHH’. Because there’s so much stuff in here I don’t know about.”
“That’s because it’s fiction Pinkie Pie,” Twilight told her. “This book is a part of the human mythology.”
“The what?” Pinkie Pie and Spike asked together.
“Human are mysterious creatures that often appear in books that nopony seems to write. The Canterlot Library has a collection of all the books on humans that have appeared throughout the centuries.”
“Wait,” Spike asked. “You mean these books just, appear?”
“Spooky.” Pinkie Pie whispered, wiggling here forelegs in a supposedly scary manner.
“That’s right Spike. For some strange reason, books about humans just seem to appear. The strangest part is that these books don’t seem to be connected in any way.”
She levitated the paperback tome into the air in front of her. “For example, this book, The Lord of the Rings, talks about a Middle Earth, and a dark lord named Sauron. But I’ve read a few other books about humans, one of them was even a play. And none of them even approach any of the topics mentioned in this book.”
“That’s amazing.” Spike announced. Even Pinkie Pie seemed stunned for a moment.
“Wait a second,” she finally said. “How come you believe in these humans, but not in my pinkie sense?”
“First off Pinkie Pie,” Twilight retorted, levitating the book back onto the table. “I don’t ‘believe’ in humans. I find these books fascinating pieces of literature and nothing more. Second, they’re only books.”
Twilight turned her head and motioned to the books surrounding them in the library. “They hold knowledge and wisdom beyond comprehension. They tell stories of grand adventures and aspiring romances. But that’s all they do. Anypony can write something down on paper. Within the realm of a story, anything is possible. What you were doing was in the real world, which warranted closer investigation than the tales between the pages of a book.”
“Umm, what did half of those words mean again Twi?” Spike asked.
“Oh, well that makes sense.” Pinkie announced.
“Thank you for seeing it my way.” Twilight sighed, glad things were straight with her friend.
The two ponies and young dragon made their way down Mane Street, idly passing the multi-colored ponies that shared the thoroughfare.
“So what were you planning on doing today Twilight?” Pinkie Pie asked, bouncing alongside the unicorn.
“Well, I thought I had a whole lot of stuff to do, but according to my favorite assistant here, I’ve got nothing.”
“Then you should totally come down to Sugarcube Corner with me. Cheerilee from the filly school is having the annual End of School party, and I could really use some extra hooves. I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Cake would appreciate it too.”
“A party at Sugarcube Corner? I am so there!” Spike announced before zipping off toward the bakery.
“I guess that’s my answer,” Twilight told Pinkie, as the two fillies made their way after the dragon.
“I Pinkie Pie Swear that this is going to be fun Twilight.” She announced.
“I have no doubt Pinkie,” Twilight agreed. “You’ve never let any of us down with any of your parties. I’m sure this is going to be a real hit.”
However, when they reached the door to the bakery, they were greeted by a pair of eyes full of tears.
“Applebloom, what’s wrong?” Twilight asked.
“Twilght,” the young pony cried, running up behind her. “It-it-it’s them again.”
“Who?” Pinkie Pie asked.
“S-s-silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara,” Applebloom replied, trying to bury her face in Twilight’s coat.
“What did they do?” Twilight asked, turning to face Applebloom. The earth filly sniffed once more before launching into her story.
“Ms. Cheerrile went ta go talk ta Mr. and Mrs. Cake for a bit, and then Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon started talking about me.”
“What did they say?” Twilight asked.
“They, they said that bad things happen ta fillies who don’ get their Cutie Marks. Like, like they get sent ta some place called a glue factory, or get banished ta the Everfree Forest.”
Twilight scoffed. “That’s absurd. Nopony gets banished for not having a Cutie Mark,” Twilight leaned over and nuzzled Applebloom’s wet face. “You’ll get yours when you find your special talent.”
“But that’s just it Twi’,” she cried. “What if I don’. What if there’s nothin’ special ‘bout me?” Applebloom resumed her crying as Twilight put a foreleg around her shoulders.
“Of course there’s something special about you Applebloom. You just need to find it.”
“But ah’I can’ Twi’. Ah’I can’ find what’s special ‘bout me. Not me, not Sweetie, not Scooots, not none of us.” Applebloom began crying in earnest rubbing her face into Twilight’s soft coat.
“Applebloom,” Twilight sighed. “Come take a walk with me.”
“But, but what abou’ the party?” The filly asked, trying to keep her tears in check.
“I think this is more important.” Twilight momentarily stuck her head into the bakery, noticing all of the students celebrating the end of another school year. “Pst, Twist.” She whispered.
“Whatpst the matter Ms. Twilight?” The framed candy making pony trotted over to the door.
“Could you please tell Ms. Cheerrile that I’m taking Applebloom out for a walk?”
“Applebloom, are you alright,” Twist asked. “Do you wantst some candy?”
“Not, not right now Twist.” Applebloom replied, trying to hide herself behind Twilight.
“I’m sorry for not standing up to them for you,” Twist confessed. “They’ve been making fun of me. They keep saying my Cutie Mark is a failure.”
“It’s alright Twist,” Twilight told her. “But if you could just tell Ms. Cheerrile about what’s been going on, I think it’ll help everyone.”
Twilight Sparkle walked side-by-side with the young filly as she tried to regain her composure. She lead the child away from Ponyville proper and down one of the many winding roads that crisscrossed the countryside.
“You know, it was right here that I ran the Running of the Leaves last year Applebloom.”
“Ah’I know Twi.” She replied; her eyes fixated on the ground.
“Look, Applebloom, I think I understand now.”
“You understan’ wha’?”
“I understand why you and your friends what your Cutie Marks so soon. It’s because you want to feel special.”
“It’s cuz I wanna be special Twi’.” Applebloom insisted, stomping her hooves into the dirt path. “All the other fillies have their Cutie Marks, cuz they’re all special in their own way.” She waved her hooves in the air, adding sarcastic emphasis to the last few words. “But Ah’I can’ be special without mah Cutie Mark. Until ah’I get mah Cutie Mark, I’m just gonna be Applejack’s little sister.”
Twilight couldn’t help but smile at her plight. “You’ve got it backwards there.” Applebloom looked up in confusion. “It’s not your Cutie Mark that makes you special,” she nudged her in the shoulder. “It’s you that makes you special.”
“Ah’I don’ get it.”
“Look, what’s Applejack’s Cutie Mark?”
“It’s apples. E’rypony knows that.”
“So if Applejack’s special talent is apples, why is she also such a good athlete?” Applebloom sat in the dirt as she scrunched up her face.
“Ah’I guess cuz she works so hard at the farm.”
“Exactly. But what do sports have to do with apples?” Again Applebloom paused for thought.
“Exactly,” Twilight announced. “A Cutie Mark appears when a pony discovers her special talent. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that she is restricted to just her special talent. Like Applejack and sports, or Fluttershy and fashion.”
“But wha’ does that all mean?”
“It means that you’re already special Applebloom, and what makes you special has nothing to do with your Cutie Mark.”
“Ah’I don’ get it.”
“You will soon.”
Applebloom sighed, standing up off the path. “Ah’I just wish those two’d stop pokin’ fun at me.”
“Look Applebloom, I know how hard bullies can be. Back in Canterlot, a lot of ponies thought it would be funny to make fun of me for being Celestia’s personal student. You just can’t let it get to you. Nothing Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon say about you or your Cutie Mark is true. And if you’re not sure, just ask any of us.”
“Really?” Applebloom asked.
“Of course. Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, any of us will be glad to set things straight.”
For the first time that day, Applebloom smiled. “Thanks Twi’. I really appreciate that,” she looked back toward Ponyville. “But Ah’I really don’ wanna go back to the party.”
“Well, where are Sweetie Bell and Scootaloo?”
“Scoots is up in Cloudsdale signin’ up for Young Flier’s Camp. And Sweetie Bell said somethin’ bout workin’ with her sister.”
“Well that’s strange,” Twilight announced, scratching the back of her head with her hoof. “Rarity doesn’t normally accept help with her projects; not even from Sweetie.”
“Ah’I know. But she said this was real important-like.”
“Well, how about we head over to the Carousel Boutique? I’ll just tell Ms. Cheerrile that you’re with me, and we can go say ‘hi’.”
“Oh Twilight, thank Celestia you’re here!” If there was one thing Twilight was used to after living in Ponyville for a year, it was the way some ponies said ‘hello’. Today, Rarity opted for a more dramatic approach. After Twilight opened the door, Rarity practically leapt into her hooves, shouting for help.
“Calm down Rarity. What’s the problem?”
“Problem? Oh Twilight, this is much more than a problem. This is an emergency!” Rarity seized hold of Twilight’s shoulders and shook her back and forth.
“Easy sis,” Sweetie Bell squeezed her way into the doorway and helped Applebloom pry her sister off of Twilight. She stood there for a moment; eyes spinning like tops in their sockets. “She’s just overreacting a bit.”
“Overreacting,” Rarity shouted. “Overreacting? Is it overreacting when my shop is a shambles? Is it overreacting when my refrigerator breaks and all of my food goes bad? Is it overreacting when you know that your parents are showing up in three hours for dinner?” Rarity stopped, and threw herself to the floor. “Momma and poppa are coming in from Fillydelphia on a stop during their trip to San Franstaillion for their second honeymoon. They’re expecting me to host them for dinner tonight; showing off how successful I’ve been at running my own business. But look at it!”
Twilight regained her composure as she and Applebloom took a good look inside the Carousel Boutique. Dresses and ponyquins were lying all over the floor while thread, fabric and paper were strewn about from ever possible place. At the center of it all, Rarity’s cat Opalescence lay at the center of a maelstrom of dirt, grass, and mud. The cat gazed at the four ponies; looking very smug with herself as she stretched out and went to sleep.
“What happened?” Twilight and Applebloom asked.
“I stepped out earlier with Sweetie to gather some fresh herbs for tonight’s dinner,” Rarity began, picking herself up off the floor. “However, while we were out, some mice got into the store, and Opal took it upon herself to chase them all over the place.”
“She got into everything,” Sweet continued. “The dresses, the fabric, Rarity’s supply of designing paper. She even got into the kitchen and messed up the fridge.”
“A mouse must have made its way into the refrigerator and muddled up the temperature settings. It went from an ice box to an oven. All my food is ruined, my shop is a mess, and I have just three hours to fix everything.”
Twilight and Applebloom exchanged a glance for a moment. “We’ll gladly help you Rarity.” Twilight announced. “Yeah, anythin’ for a friend.”
“Oh thank you both.” Rarity sighed. “You have no idea how much stress I’m under right now.”
“Alright,” Twilight began as she walked around the shop. “So we’ve got two problems. The place is a mess and Rarity can’t cook dinner tonight.”
“Ah’I’ll go get Applejack,” Applebloom announced. “She’s the best darn cooker in Ponyville. If anypony can whip up a lip-smackin’ dinner in three hours, it’s her.” Rarity trotted over to her upturned register and pulled out a small bag. With a flick of her head, she tossed it to Applebloom.
“There’s thirty bits in that bag,” Rarity announced. “If it’s not enough, then consider it a down payment.” Applebloom looked at the purse with confusion.
“Ah’I’m sure Applejack don’ wanna get paid for helpin’ her friend out.”
“But I insist Applebloom,” Rarity pressed. “At the very least offer it to her. I don’t want to seem like a freeloader.”
The young filly looped the purse’s string around her neck. “Ah’I’ll be back lickity split. Don’t you worry none.” With that, Applebloom shot off like a rocket toward her family’s farm.
“I’ll go get Fluttershy.” Sweetie Bell announced, making her way to the door.
“I appreciate all the help we can get, but why Fluttershy?” Rarity asked. Sweetie motioned to the portly cat lounging in the middle of the store.
“Because she’s the only pony in Ponyville who can deal with Opal.”
“That’s brilliant Sweetie,” Rarity told her. “Just, don’t tell Fluttershy what happened to the mice. It would break her heart.”
With a nod of understanding, Sweetie left the boutique, leaving the two unicorns alone with the cat.
“Come Twilight, let’s fix the kitchen first. I would rather we wait until Opal is out of the way before we tackled this mess.”
“No offence Rarity, but why do you have her as a pet when she acts out so much?” Twilight asked.
“Opalescence was a gift from my aunt before I moved out here to Ponyville. I love her to death, but her attitude could use an adjustment.” Twilight nodded in silent approval as the two entered Rarity’s kitchen.
Compared to the lavishly decorated store proper, the kitchen space was relatively Spartan. A creamy white floor tile was accented by a pale yellow paint job around the rest of the room. Glossy stone countertops sat on top of birch cabinets, which flanked a simple stove and refrigerator. It surprised Twilight greatly. Rarity enjoyed surrounding herself with lavish beauty; not so as to make one feel uncomfortable in the face of wealth, but to feel welcome in the face of comfort. It was similar to how the princess decorated her personal chambers; lavish but not suffocating.
“Wow Rarity, I didn’t know your kitchen was so…” she paused, trying to find the right word.
“Simple,” Rarity finished. “Yes I know, it is a bit drab. But I’m a pony who works with style, not silverware. I’m not exactly the best cook, and a simple kitchen is much easier to clean.” Twilight nodded in approval as the approached the fridge. Rarity grimaced as the white door loomed in front of her like a monolith. “Well, here it is I suppose.” She grimaced, flinching heavily at the mere sight of the appliance.
“What’s wrong Rarity?” Twilight asked.
“Oh nothing. It’s just absolutely filthy in there.” “I’m sure it can’t be that bad.” She replied, opening the door with a telekinetic tug.
Needless to say, it was ‘that bad.’
A wave of heat struck the two ponies, followed closely by a nauseating stench. Twilight’s eyes began to water as she beheld the mess in front of her. Gristly lumps floated in bottles of runny-looking milk, the orange juice had turned brown, bundles of vegetables had begun to wilt, while a large bushel of apples looked more like prunes. And Twilight was sure that hay wasn’t supposed to be that shade of orange. On impulse, she slammed the door shut.
“On second thought, let’s just drag this old thing outside,” she suggested, her voice a bit louder than intended. “I’m sure you could use a new one anyway.”
“That’s just what I was thinking as well.” Rarity agreed as her horn began to glow.
It took the two ponies about ten minutes to drag the offending appliance out the back door. It was heavier than normal and they had to move slowly so as not to upset the delicate balance of putrid food inside. Once they had returned, they found Fluttershy and Applejack in the main store, gaping at the carnage wrought within.
“Golly Rarity, Ah’I never knew this place could look so messy.”
“Well,” Rarity huffed, tossing her mane. “I can’t always be held responsible when my cat acts out.”
“Don’t worry Rarity, I’m sure Opal just needs a little time outside the shop.” Fluttershy nudged a wicker basket at her hooves with her nose, eliciting a rather unpleasant growl from inside.
“Thank you so very much Fluttershy. And thank you Applejack. Oh you’ve both saved me from an extremely difficult afternoon.”
“Now ya’ll don’ need ta go thankin’ me Rarity. Ah’I know you’re the one wit the Element of Generosity, but that don’ mean I won’ go out of mah way to help mah friends.” The two of them descended into a discussion of how the dinner should be planned, while ideas for dishes to prepare. Meanwhile, Fluttershy was making her way toward the exit, Opal’s basket in tow.
“I’m sure Opal wouldn’t mind staying at my cottage tonight. I’ll be back as soon as she’s comfy to help you guys clean.” Taking the basket up in her mouth, the shy pegasus lazily lifted up into the sky. However, just as she was out of sight, a muffled squeak drew everyone’s attention. Twilight peeked out the door to find Fluttershy flying upside down, holding a now yowling Opal’s basket in her forehooves, and Rainbow Dash tangled up in the boutique’s hanging sign.
“Hehe, sorry Fluttershy. Kinda lost control there for a second.”
“Oh, Rainbow Dash, you’re not hurt are you?” She cried, floating over to where the cyan pegasus was untangling herself.
“Don’t worry Fluttershy, it’d take a way bigger crash than that to knock this pegasus out of commission.”
“I told you to watch out for Fluttershy.”
Twilight Sparkle nearly jumped out of her hooves as Pinkie Pie spoke. Spinning around, Twilight came face-to-face with the magenta pony; her diminutive assistant perched on Pinkie’s back with a befuddled look on his face.
“Pinkie, what,” Twilight stammered. “How did you get here? What happened to the party at Sugarcube Corner?”
“Oh, Ms. Cheerrile canceled it after you came in the second time which was a shame because I was winning at Pin the Tail on the Pony, but then my right ear started tingling, but it was a good tingle, not a bad one. So I said to myself: ‘Pinkie Pie, Rarity needs your help.’ And I realized that you’d be here to so I got Spike to come with me and here we are.”
“And I saw Pinkie Pie over here heading towards Rarity’s,” Rainbow Dash explained. “So I decided Rarity might need a bit of real muscle with whatever she’s got planned.” Twilight blinked before standing aside to let Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie have a good look at the inside of the boutique. “Jeeze,” Rainbow gasped. “Did Ditsy Doo let a hurricane in here?”
“ Wow Rarity, you really let this place go.” Pinkie Pie announced.
“I know, it’s a disaster!” Rarity moaned, flopping onto the floor.
“Yeah, you’re not getting the usual crowd you used to,” Pinkie continued, trotting over to Rarity. “But here’s what we’re gonna do. We’ll put up a sign out front, saying we’re having a big party. A party so big, it’ll knock everypony’s eyes out. And once their eyes are out, they won’t be able to see what a mess this place is.”
The entire boutique was silent as the sound of a crow echoed in the background.
“Pinkie Pie,” Rainbow Dash sighed. “You are so random.”
Twilight wasn’t sure where the afternoon went after Pinkie Pie’s incredibly strange suggestion. Soon, She was busy organizing Rarity’s fabric rack while Pinkie Pie and Applejack went to work in the kitchen with Spike and the fillies. Rarity nearly had a heart attack several times when Rainbow Dash tried to pull off some stunts while she was fixing the unicorn’s upper shelves; but in the end, everything seemed to work out just fine.
It was quite a surprise when a loud knock on the door nearly made Rarity jump out of her coat.
“Oh my goodness, they’re here already,” she shrieked. “Oh no. Applejack, please tell me the food’s ready. Oh Sweetie Bell, go put on that new dress I made for you!” Rarity quickly descended into a long ramble as she continued running around the store. Twilight took it upon herself to open the door for their guests.
“Is this the Carousel Boutique dear?”
With all of her knowledge of Rarity, Twilight had already formed an idea of Rarity’s parents. She imaged two ‘stuffed saddles’, brimming with all of the same upper class fluff most of the royal court had. What she saw, was drastically different. A unicorn couple stood on the threshold to Rarity’s shop, loaded down with full saddlebags and apparently trailing two pieces of rolling luggage. Rarity’s father was a tan-colored stallion with a pair of small glasses perched on his face and Cutie Mark in the shape of a geometric compass. The mare accompanying him was about a hand smaller, with a soft, cream colored coat, sky blue eyes and a painter’s pallet as her Cutie Mark.
“Oh yes, I’m sorry,” Twilight apologized; moving aside to allow the couple into the store. “Yes, this is the Carousel Boutique. I’m Twilight Sparkle. Are you Rarity and Sweetie Bell’s parents?”
“Of course,” the stallion announced. “I’m Cornerstone, and this is my wife Watercolor.”
“A pleasure to meet you Ms. Sparkle.” His wife greeted, extending a hoof to Twilight.
“Momma, Poppa!” Rarity snapped out of her confusion just in time to gallop over to the couple and throw her hooves around the mare.
“Oh Rarity, it is good to see you.”
“And Sweetie, oh c’mere you little scamp.” Twilight couldn’t help but smile as she watched the display of family love in front of her.
“Well hello Ms. Older Rarity.” Twilight couldn’t help but groan as Spike waltzed out of the kitchen. He licked his claw and ran it through his head spikes, approaching Rarity’s family with a ridiculous swagger. Twilight took it upon herself to nab Spike’s tail with her mouth, dragging him back into the kitchen.
“Not today Spike.” She scolded him, depositing the young dragon on the tile floor.
“But c’mon Twi’. Everypony knows that the way to a lady’s heart is through her parents.”
“Parents that Rarity obviously haven’t seen in a while,” she told him. “We should give Rarity some space.”
Spike began to open his mouth and reply when two things happened. One, his cheeks bulged out as a distinctive bubbling sound erupted from his belly. Two, a loud series of bangs and thumps came from the other side of the kitchen door followed by Pinkie Pie’s signature holler.
“W-w-w-woah,” she screamed. “T-t-t-there’s a real – ”
“Doosey coming.” Twilight recoiled as a burst of emerald flame erupted from Spike’s mouth. Almost instantly, the swirls of smoke gathered together into a scroll, which floated down in front of Twilight. Spike made a motion to pick the parchment up, when he yelped in pain and recoiled.
“Spike, what’s the matter?”
“Yeow,” he shouted, waving his claw back and forth. “I dunno. That message just zapped me.”
“Zapped?” Twilight asked.
“Twi’, wha’ in the hay is goin’ on here?” Applejack and Applebloom walked over to the unicorn and her assistant, worried looks plastered across their faces.
“I dunno Applejack.” she announced, picking up the scroll with her magic. Her stomach flip-flopped when she saw that the seal wasn’t the princess’ usual crimson, but a foreboding black. She turned the scroll over in the air. “But whatever it is,” she beheld red lettering scrawled across the back of the parchment. “It’s a real doosey.”
BY ORDER OF PRINCESS CELESTIA, THIS DOCUMENT IS LABLED TOP SECRET:
FOR THE EYES OF TWILIGHT SPARKLE ONLY
My Faithful Student Twilight Sparkle,
It is with a heavy heart I write this letter. Over my lifetime, which spans more years than I can even remember, I have only written it three times before. But now, once again, I must write for the aid of another. Once again, darkness looms on Equestria’s horizon, and once again, I must call for the aid of another in her defense.
Tomorrow morning, one hour before dawn, two of my personal guard will be waiting a mile outside of Ponyville, between the town and Sweet Apple Acres. They will fly you to Canterlot and escort you to me. I have informed the court that you will be assisting my sister and I in a magical experiment. I ask you, if you are required to explain your absence to anyone, please use this explanation.
Sadly, I cannot tell you the details of this threat, or even the measures we must take against it in this letter. Not everypony has the best interests at heart. Twilight, I understand the bonds you share with your friends. However I must ask, as both your teacher and sovereign ruler: you must not tell them of the true nature of this letter. I understand it may be hard, but this matter is more serious than they could possibly imagine. Soon the time will come when you may reveal this letter’s true contents, but not now.
Again, I apologise for the secrecy, but there is no other way. We must act quickly, otherwise we stand to lose all we care for.
“Twilight, hey Twilight.” Spike shouted. The unicorn continued to stare blankly at the paper in stunned silence.
“Now what in the hay is goin’ on here?” Applejack walked over to where Twilight was seated on the tiled floor, scroll still levitated in front of her.
“I don’t know Applejack,” Spike confessed. “I think it’s something to do with that letter.”
“Now ain’t that just plum dandy,” the farmer pony sighed. “Applebloom, pass me them there smellin’ salts.” The young filly reared up on her hooves and nudged a freshly baked apple crumble across the counter. With practiced ease, Applejack nabbed the still warm dish in her mouth and placed it in front of Twilight’s face.
“Huh, hey what?” Twilight shook her head violently as the scent of freshly baked apples wafted across her face.
“Granny Smith’s apple crumble surprise. Gets ‘em every time.” Applejack announced.
“Twilight, what’s the matter?” Spike asked, laying a claw on Twilight’s shoulder.
“Um, well, you see,” her nervous gaze flirted between her draconian assistant and the scroll. “The princess wants me to come to Canterlot tomorrow.” She confessed.
“Really?” Applebloom asked.
“Wow Twi’,” Applejack announced. “It’s always a real treat when a pony gets recognized for her achievements. What’s the princess want?”
“Well,” Applejack narrowed her eyes as the unicorn hesitated. “Just regular old magic student - teacher things, that’s all.”
“Like what kinda things?” Applejack asked.
Twilight subconsciously began to back up away from Applejack. “Well, you know, magic stuff.”
“You mean like the time the princess had you observe her during that solar eclipse?” Spike asked.
“Yes,” Twilight shouted. “Just like that.”
“So, there’s gonna be an eclipse tomorrow?” Applejack asked.
“Hey sis, what’s an eclipse?” Applebloom inquired.
“Oh it’s this really neat event where the moon passes in front of the sun.” He answered.
“But don’ that happen all the time?”
“Yeah, only during an eclipse, the moon blocks out the sun and it gets really dark.”
The young filly gasped. “But how in the hay are we supposed to grow our apples without the sun? Does the princess want you to stop that from happenin’? Did that evil no-good moon pony come back?”
“Of course not,” Spike admonished. “I’m sure the princess just wants Twilight’s opinion on something.”
“Really.” Applebloom’s eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. “Twili’, are you really that special?”
“Well, I wouldn’t use the word ‘special,” Twilight laughed, her nervousness evident in her tone of voice. “But she does trust me. I mean after all, I am her most faithful and trusted student.” Applebloom grinned at the thought of one of her friends being a royal advisor, while Applejack continued to gaze at Twilight.
“Umm, Twi,” she began. “Does any of this here faithful student magic stuff involve secrets?”
“Secrets,” Twilight shouted, her neck shooting straight up into the air. “Why would I keep secrets from anypony, let alone my friends?”
“Umm, maybe cuz of that there piece of paper that says ‘Top Secret’ on it.” Twilight glanced at the paper before hiding it behind her back.
“Oh this thing? Oh you know the princess, she loves playing games. Why, I remember this one time when she alphabetized the whole library by title instead of author; had the whole place topsy turvy.” The panicking unicorn slowly edged her way toward the door. “Well, I’d hate to eat and run, but I’ve got places to go, books to read and all that fun stuff. Gotagobye!” With that, Twilight bolted from the room and galloped out of the boutique, her friend’s shouts of surprise barley registering in her ears.
The front door to Ponyville’s library was ripped open and slammed shut within the space of an eye blink. Several lamps were still lit, casting flickering shadows against the bookshelves as Twilight made her way into her home. Time had gotten away from her during her quest to help Rarity. The sun was sinking slowly in the west, casting long shadows against the tree tops of Whitetail Woods. With a loud sigh, Twilight sunk into a cushion she often used for reading. Her head pulsed with the pain of an oncoming headache as the princess’ letter floated once again into view.
Bile rose up in the back of Twilight’s throat. In the past twelve months, the five ponies who made up the core Elements of Harmony had become a staple in her life. Not a day went by when she didn’t feel their impact on her life. They meant more to her than almost anything in the world. But now, now the princess was asking her to betray their trust; to drop everything and dash out to Canterlot to face some new threat. Her insides bubbled with a whole host of emotions; ranging from panic, to fear, to even anger. It all just seemed to confusing to her.
“Wow, I wonder what the princess wants.” The front door opened as Spike waltzed in. “I mean, a top secret letter straight from the princess, boy this is exciting.”
“Maybe she wants to give you a medal. And she made it top secret so she could keep it a surprise from everypony.”
“In fact, she’s probably going to give you a position in the court,” the excited dragonling announced. “Twilight Sparkle, official court mage and royal advisor.”
“SPIKE!” Twilight’s assistant was bowled over at the force of Twilight’s shout.
“Jeeze Twi’, what’s got your horn in a twist?”
“This letter Spike,” she sighed. “The princess wants me to come alone.” Silence echoed throughout the library.
“Alone?” Spike asked.
“Alone as in not me?”
“Why would the princess want you in Canterlot without me?”
Twilight quivered inside as she remembered the princess’ request. “She wants me there to assist her in a magic experiment of some kind.” She felt a pain in her chest as she continued to lie. “She wasn’t specific on what I needed to do, or even what the experiment was, but I think it’s fairly reasonable of her to ask for some privacy; especially if it’s volatile.”
“Well, I guess that’s alright,” Spike reasoned. “Well, if you don’t need anything else tonight, I’m gonna hit the sack. My blankie’s callin’ my name. Goodnight Twilight.”
The unicorn did not reply as her assistant mounted the stairs toward their second floor bedroom. At the sound of the wooden bedroom door closing, Twilight collapsed to the floor. The jumble of emotions rising in her stomach were replaced with what felt like a lead weight. She lied. She lied to her closest companion; at the princess’ request as well. Hot tears welled up in her eyes at the thought of the trust she was breaking. Equestria was supposedly on the cusp of disaster, and Twilight wouldn’t have her friends at her back. Even worse, she was being forced to push them away. She laid her head on her forelegs as Pinkie Pie’s words echoed in her ears. She was breaking their trust. And breaking a friend’s trust was the fastest way to lose a friend.
“Girls, please help me!” Twilight’s ragged plea for help echoed across the burning wasteland that was Ponyville. All around her, the familiar businesses and homes of the ponies she had grown to love were engulfed in wreathes of flames. The only lifeforms that could be seen for miles were the bodies of four ponies.
“Nuttin’ doin’ Sally,” Applejack coughed. “We don’ work with liars.” Twilight recoiled, as if physically stung by the Earth pony’s words.
“Why Twilight, why didn’t you just tell us?” Fluttershy’s normally brilliant yellow coat was marred with the blood seeping from the wounds on her back where her wings used to be.
“But I can’t do it alone,” Twilight sobbed. “I need you!”
“You forgot Twilight,” Rarity’s normally crisp and clean voice sounded cracked and broken, just like her horn. “You lost our trust. You lost our friendship.”
“Forever.” Twilight blinked away the tears at the sound of Pinkie Pie’s final words. Not even the Element of Laughter could stand against...
Blots of lightning tore through the indigo sky before they raked the ground, purging it of the broken wreckage of both the town and the ponies who inhabited it. An evil, bone-chilling laughter rose up amidst the cacophony of thunder. It filled the air with its perverted, twisted tone; as if mocking the last of the Elements with its very sound. Two thuds finally forced Twilight to turn around, only to face her greatest fear.
The bodies of two ponies lay before her. Rainbow Dash’s normally beautiful rainbow-hued mane was a mass of ripped hairs and blood. Her cyan coat was likewise mattered in the crimson liquid, creating a sickening pattern of violet splotches over her lifeless body. Twilight’s stomach nearly purged itself as her eyes fell over the second corpse.
The once proud and dignified ruler of Equestria lay in the dirt before her. Everything that once identified her distinguished and lofty role had been desecrated in her death. Her sun-shaped Cutie Mark has been ripped from her flank and impaled upon the stump of her horn, dripping blood over now closed eyes. Her mane and tail had been shaved and tied around her neck, well beyond the point of choking her. Before Twilight was forced to endure the sight of her beloved teacher’s body, something came between them. A dark pony, deep from within the darkest corners of her mind. The cornerstone of her nightmares, for a nightmare was what she was.
“So this is the great Twilight Sparkle,” the corrupted lunar deity sneered. “Tell me child, how does it feel? The emptiness, the loneliness, the despair!” Her wings furled, whipping up a massive windstorm around her. “Tell me, who will save you and your precious Equestria now?” Twilight shielded her eyes from the buffeting wings of Nightmare Moon. “Who, Who WHO!”
“Whoo, Who-whoo.” Twilight lashed out with a hoof, trying to swat away the wings currently assaulting her face, snapping out of her terrifying dream. It took the unicorn a moment to realize that she was not cowering before an evil monster, but lying down on the floor of her library home. In front of her, Twilight’s nocturnal assistant, Owlowiscious, stood, gazing at her with his usual, unblinking stare.
“It, it was all just a dream.” Twilight sighed to herself as relief washed over her like a wave of cool, refreshing water. She carefully picked herself off the floorboards, somewhat disgusted at the film of sweat now clinging to her coat. She walked over toward the kitchen, desperately craving some form of liquid relief against her now parched mouth. Her owl companion flew out in front of her, guiding Twilight through the now dark recesses of her library.
The sound of her hooves against the tile floor told her that she had arrived in the kitchen. Willing magic into her horn, she threw the kitchen into stark relief from the purple light she created. With a force of her will, she picked up a glass from the draining board next to the sink, filling it with cool tap water with another whim. As Twilight brought the water to her lips, a booming bell in the distance caught her attention. Pausing only to take a sip, Twilight cantered toward the front door as Ponyville’s clock tower chimed out three-quarters of an hour. She nudged the door open with her shoulder as she gazed out into the dark night.
Ponyville was black as pitch, with only a scant few dots of light illuminating the town around her. The only movement she could see was the gentle turning of the windmill’s long arms in the steady breeze that wormed its way through the buildings. Above the sleepy town, the clock tower loomed over everything. Twilight squinted as she tried to make out the time on the illuminated clock face.
A quarter to six.
The tinkling of glass echoed throughout the night as Twilight unconsciously threw her water somewhere into the night. She bolted back into the library, igniting candles as she went. “Oh no, the chariot is going to be here in fifteen minutes,” she whinnied as she pranced about the room. “What should I take, should I pack a lunch? Oh, I don’t even have time to take a bath. I can’t believe I slept in!”
The sound of flapping wings caught Twilight’s attention. With another hoot, Owlowiscious landed next to Twilight, motioning to the door with his wing. “Do you really think I should?” The owl turned his head all the way around, before turning it back the other way. “Umm, I think I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.” Twilight’s horn sparkled once again as she telekinetically opened the door, bolting from her tree house and out into the night.
It was strange being out in the open at such an early hour. Twilight was used to being during late nights and early mornings, but she never left the safety of her home. Ponyville was very different in the hour before the sun rose. A strange, otherworldly silence nearly deafened her ears. Even the sound of her hooves against the well worn cobbles did little to diminish the silence around her. The buildings that made up the town proper were dark and lifeless; each one forming an imposing wall which lined both sides of the road. It was a bit unnerving.
Finally, Twilight breached the town limits; reaching the point where there were more trees than houses. Remembering the princess’ letter, Twilight scanned the skies, searching for the chariot which would whisk her away to Canterlot. The familiar sound of rumbling hooves told her that it was closer than she thought. Tearing her eyes skyward, she could make out the silhouette of a royal carriage and its two charges bearing down in front of her. Hastily, she leaped to the side of the road, not wanting to get run down by her escort. The purple unicorn watched in awe as the two majestic pegasus stallions brought the chariot to a controlled stop a few pony-lengths in front of her.
Tentatively, Twilight stepped back onto the road and approached her armored escort. “Are you Twilight Sparkle?” The pony of the left asked once Twilight came closer. She paused, his gruff voice startling her a bit.
“Umm, yes. I am Twilight.” The stallion nodded.
“We were ordered to escort you to the palace. Do you have any excess baggage?” Twilight shook her head as she made her way around to the back of the vehicle. However, a commotion drew her attention away from her embarkation.
“What in the hay is goin’ on here!” Much to Twilight’s surprise, Applejack came barreling down the road toward the chariot. There were a series of loud jangles, followed by a muffled *CLUNK*, as one of the guards suddenly vaulted over Twilight’s head, blocking her from Applejack.
“Halt in the name of the Royal Sisters!” He commanded, his wings snapping out to the sides with a menacing *SHINK*. Applejack dug her hooves into the dirt road, coming to a stop right in front of the guard.
“Who in the name of Granny girdles are you supposed ta be?” Twilight flinched as the guard tossed his head and brayed.
“I am a member of the Canterlot Palace Guard,” he declared. “You are infringing upon royal matters. Stand down or I shall have you incarcerated!”
“Sir please,” Twilight shouted, trying to force herself in front of the stallion. “She’s my friend. She isn’t infringing on anything.”
The pegasus fixed Twilight a stone stare. “Are you saying that this is one of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony?”
Twilight managed to push herself out of the chariot and between the guard and Applejack. “Yes,” she panted. “This is Applejack, proprietor of Sweet Apple Acres.” She heard Applejack begin to say something, but Twilight motioned her quiet with a nudge of her hoof. The guard momentarily looked between Twilight and Applejack, before he withdrew his wings back to his sides. Then, much to Twilight’s surprise, he lowered his head and raised his front right leg until the tip of his muzzle and his right knee were equal. In all of her time studying in Canterlot, Twilight had only seen the guards salute either their superior officers or the princess. The stallion lowered his hoof and raised his head.
“My apologies ma’am. I am Wing Lieutenant Eurus of the pincess’ private guard. I and Wing Sergeant Zephyrus were under strict orders to escort Ms. Sparkle to the castle with minimal interference.”
“Well that just don’ excuse all that racket y’all were makin’ flyin’ over my farm.”
“Again you have my sincerest apologies. However, I was also under orders, in the event we were to encounter any of the bearers, to extend the princesses’ gratitude for your actions a year ago during the Summer Sun Celebration.”
Applejack couldn’t help but blink in surprise. “Ok, but what am I supposed ta do with ‘em?” The Lieutenant did not seem phased at Applejack’s awkward reply.
“The princess has authorized me to inform you that you and your fellow bearers will be receiving official commendation for your actions during the next Summer Sun Celebration. However, the princess also requests that you keep this information a secret until the Celebration.”
“Well, ain’t that just plum dandy of the princess.” Applejack announced. “Now, would you be so kind as to give me and Twi’ here some privacy?” Lieutenant Eurus looked to the sky for a moment before nodding. “Thank ya kindly.” Applejack replied as the pegasus returned to his position at the head of the chariot.
Applejack turned to Twilight, cocking her head to one side. “I’m never sure exactly what that there princess is thinkin’ half the time,” Applejack sighed. “I mean, I know I get up before the crack ‘o dawn, but I’m sure Spike had to drag his scaly behind outta bed a long time ago ta get you out here.” Twilight half-heartily chuckled at her friend’s joke. She was still wary about her breaking her friend’s trust in her with this deception. Applejack seemed to sense this unease.
“Twi’, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing’s the matter Applejack,” Twilight sighed. “I’m just tired.”
“That excuse may work on Fluttershy or Rainbow, but I like ta think I’m a bit sharper than that. I mean, you bolted out of Rarity’s like a jackrabbit at a rattler’ convention. What’s eatin’ ya?”
“Well,” Twilight’s heart sped up as the pressure to tell her friend the truth built up inside her. “Well, you see.” The princess’ scroll suddenly pushed itself to the front of her mind as the words ‘For the eyes of Twilight Sparkle’ flashed in front of her eyes. “The princess wants me to help her with some experiments, and I’m a little bit nervous. That’s all.”
“Well shoot, why din’ ya say so?”
A lead weight sunk in Twilight’s stomach as Applejack bought the ruse. “I can understand why pressure’s got you in a twist. But I know, you’re the best there magic user I ever met.” Twilight hung her head at her friend’s complement as her gut seemed to drain away into her tail. She was caught by surprise, however, when Applejack’s hoof caught her chin and gently brought it up to eye level. “And remember. If’in you ever need somethin’, don’ be afraid to ask. Me and the other girls are here for ya Twi.”
The unicorn’s voice was caught in her throat as she gazed into Applejack’s green eyes. “Thanks Applejack.” She managed to choke out. The orange earth pony smiled and nudged Twilight toward the chariot.
“Now you don’ keep that princess a your’s watin’ any longer Twi.” Applejack announced. “And you two fly boys better learn to mind other ponies while they’re sleepin’, ya hear?” The tailgate slammed shut as Twilight positioned herself inside. She could only watch as the chariot pulled off into the sky; her friend and all of Ponyville getting smaller and smaller until they vanished into the shadows of the early morning.
Author’s Note: I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to my readers for this delay. This summer’s been hectic; working for a summer camp always is, and these chapters are a lot longer than I’m used to writing. Coupled with my own family tragedy last week, and I’ve been really pushing myself to update my stories. I hope the sudden cliffhanger doesn’t turn too many people off, but I PROMISE I’ll have more for you sooner.
Celestia’s golden orb began it’s ascent across the eastern sky, sending Luna’s indigo canvas aflame with stirrings of orange and yellow. The once dark and abandoned land of the nocturnal Equestria was brought to light in a dance of rising mists and piercing sunbeams. However, this beauty was lost to one purple unicorn currently borne aloft in a chariot pulled by two pegasus stallions. Twilight Sparkle’s muzzle hung dejectedly over the tailgate of the chariot, her eyes still focused on a far off spot on the horizon where she had last seen her first real friend. Her heart ached with the weight of the lie she fed the honest-working earth pony. Never before had guilt weighed her down so much.
Twilight was not sure how long the chariot flew above the lands she normally walked. After what seemed like an eon, the rolling pastures and dense forests gave way to the rocky landscape that was the foothills of the Diamondback Mountains: The home of the capital city of Canterlot. The dejected mare looked around, noticing the sudden presence of two more pegasus stallions, each one garbed in the armor of the Royal Guard. They did not acknowledge her in any way; their eyes locked forward on their destination. Turning around, Twilight followed their gaze. The chariot was making its descent, guided toward a long, covered building built into the mountainside just beneath the castle. Two long strips of glowing crystal illuminated a straight path for the stallions to land.
The touchdown was feather soft; only the sudden creaking of the chariot wheels actually signaling their return to the earth. The two wing ponies came to a quick halt as the chariot rolled down the runway before Twilight’s two drivers brought it to a halt. With an ominous *THUD*, the tailgate dropped, allowing Twilight to disembark. As her hooves touched the coarse stone runway, the two new pegasus guards approached her.
“Ms. Twilight Sparkle?” One of them asked. It was all Twilight could do to nod. “I am Wing Colonel Boreas of the Princesses’ personal guard. My second in command, Wing Major Notus and I are to escort you to her highness’ private chambers.” The officer peered into the chariot. “Do you have any bags with you?” Twilight simply shook her head. “Please follow me.”
The indigo unicorn fell into step behind the stone-faced guard, following him toward a door leading away from the runway. It was a good thing the colonel was escorting her; Twilight had never been down in the Air Force’s primary runway before. Any and all trips Twilight had taken in one of the palace’s flying chariots always began and ended in the princess’ private landing strip located a bit farther up the mountainside. However, down here, it was obvious to Twilight that not everything was as it seemed. She was being escorted by an armed guard, directly from the Air Force’s main hanger; which was normally reserved for troop deployments. When placed next to the Top Secret scroll the princess had sent her, it was a marvel that Twilight wasn’t already shaking in her horseshoes.
The two stone-faced guards led the unicorn through a labyrinth of corridors, rooms, and courtyards; bringing her from the castle’s main barracks, to the castle proper. Shades of slate grey walls and grim-looking guards gave way to the colorful and decorated spaces of the Canterlot Celestial Palace. Suddenly, Twilight became incredibly self aware. She was surrounded by the numerous nobles and politicians who called the castle their home and place of work. As she continued her way through the castle, several passing ponies glanced at her; looks of disgust and contempt written out on their faces.
Finally, the two guards stopped inside a small, but comfortably furnished room.
“The princess is currently in a meeting,” Colonel Boreas announced, his gruff voice making Twilight jump. “Please remain here until she is prepared to meet with you.” The two guards saluted her again, before marching out of the room, closing the door behind them. Twilight blinked, slowly realizing that she had been left alone in the room. She looked around the room, gauging her location.
The room was just larger than her bedroom back in Ponyville. Against one wall was a large bay window, opening up into one of the smaller courtyards in the castle. Opposite the window was a long couch with an armchair next to it. A hardwood table rested in front of the couch with a modest breakfast laid out on its surface. The only other furniture in the room was a large mirror hanging against the wall. The comfortably furnished room was a stark contrast to the overly-decorated and flashy castle proper. Twilight knew that her mentor had a personal touch in this room’s decoration.
It was always a surprise to Twilight at her teacher’s down-to-earth attitude. During her time under Celestia’s tutelage, the princess almost never adhered to anything Twilight imagined would be any form of ‘royal protocol.’ There were nights when the princess would sneak down to the kitchens and prepare snack foods and deserts for her, her student, and any staff still awake at the time. Her lessons were often peppered with practical jokes, puns, and humorous stories. Anytime the princess wasn’t teaching her student or overseeing the inner workings of her state, she was a combination of Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy. She was tough and tenacious, yet she was one of the gentlest ponies Twilight ever knew. And on top of all this, Princess Celestia had a humor streak bigger than the sun.
The purple unicorn paused in her reminiscing to look at herself in the mirror hanging on the wall. Suddenly, Twilight realized why so many of the passing nobles were looking at her with such disgust. To put it bluntly, she looked like a walking disaster area. Her mane was an unkempt mess; her normally straight and tame hair seemed to be trying to escape her head from several different directions. Her coat was slick with perspiration, and Twilight only just caught the stench of her own odor. She had never felt more disgusting in her life. Although considering how her day had been so far, it was a bit of a relief to concentrate on a ‘normal’ problem.
Lacking any resources to care for her personal appearance; Twilight turned back to the table. Her stomach felt too queasy to eat anything, however she helped herself to a long drink of water; ice cold from the porcelain pitcher sitting next to the tray of eateries. She then sat down on the couch, sighing to herself. She wanted the princess to come soon; maybe she’d be able to alleviate these feelings of dread. To occupy herself, Twilight began idly spinning the water glass she held in her telekinetic grip.
She was so entrapped with the sight of the spinning vessel, Twilight neglected to notice the Wing Colonel enter the room. However, she was jarred out of her mental slump when he cleared his throat.
“Announcing her royal highness, Princess Luna.” The glass suddenly shot off, throwing itself against the far wall and shattering to pieces. Twilight could only gape as the guardian of the night sky entered the room. Celestia’s sister hadn’t changed since their last encounter. She barley stood a nose taller than Twilight, though her wings made up for her intimidation factor.
“Twilight Sparkle,” Luna spoke. “It is both an honor and a pleasure to meet you again.” Twilight immediately dropped to one knee, almost smashing her nose into the carpet in her haste. She found herself panting as the sound of Luna’s hooves approached her. A chill went down her spine as Luna cupped Twilight’s chin; lifting her face toward the nocturnal monarch. “Rise Twilight Sparkle. You and your friends need never prostrate yourselves to me. I owe you a debt that could never be fully repaid.” Twilight gathered her legs together and picked herself up, trying to find her voice in her mental confusion. Luna tilted her head to one side. “Are you alright Ms. Sparkle?”
“I, I’m fine,” she shouted. “Why wouldn’t I be fine? I’m mean you’re here, I’m here, we’re in Canterlot, we’re all fine, aren’t we?” She mentally kicked herself when she realized that she was needlessly rambling again.
Thankfully, Luna seemed gifted with the same patience of her elder sister. Smiling, she furled her wings for a moment. “I am glad to hear that Twilight Sparkle. Come, we have much to discuss.” She took a few steps toward the door before turning around. “I’m so sorry, please forgive me Ms. Sparkle, but I believe you might wish to freshen up after your journey?” Twilight nodded, thankful for the opportunity to fix herself up before meeting her teacher.
Luna turned to one of the guards. “Notus, please ask Honeysuckle to draw my bath for me.” With a curt nod, the remaining guard took off like a bolt of lighting, vanishing in the blink of an eye. “Shall we proceed then?” With that, Twilight followed Princess Luna, with Colonel Boreas following close behind them.
The knot in Twilight’s stomach was replaced with a maelstrom of confusion. Ever since that fateful Summer Sun Celebration, Princess Luna had become an enigma. Celestia never mentioned her in their correspondence and word never trickled down from Canterlot that Celestia’s younger sister even existed. Twilight was ashamed to admit it, but she had practically forgotten about Luna altogether. However, from the younger Alcorn’s cheerful demeanor, she assumed that Luna was finally getting the appreciation she deserved.
“I do apologize for the rude invitation Ms. Sparkle,” Luna chimed as they made their way through the palace. “Celly has been hosting the mayor of Stalliongrad and his entourage for the past week.”
“That’s alrig-” Twilight paused. “Celly?” Luna spun on her hooves, her face turning a strange shade of purple.
“Celestia,” she shouted. “Yes Celestia has always put the needs of her subjects over everything else. Unfortunately, this is why she neglected in contacting you until the last minute.” Luna instantly turned around and continued trotting onward, leaving Twilight with a bigger headache than before.
Luna’s private chambers were what Twilight had come to expect from the Equestrian royalty. The room sat facing the east; a broad balcony opening up to the lesser mountains that led toward the coastline. The room itself was decorated in stunning navy blue and deep violet, with white, and yellow stars adorning the walls and ceilings. The furniture mirrored this theme. Along with a grand four-poster bed adorned with mauve curtains, a large sleeping cushion lay on the middle of the floor; inky black with a hint of deep-blue fringe. The only other noticeable features in the room, aside from a door Twilight assumed led to the bathroom, were the massive bookshelves lined with tomes and volumes of every size and color.
“Oh, good morning your highness.” Twilight was caught off-guard as a daffodil-yellow pegasus emerged from the bathroom. Luna nodded her head in acknowledgement.
“Good morning Honeysuckle.”
“I finished drawing your bath for you. Is there anything else you require?”
“Please inform my sister that our guest has arrived.” With a bow, the chambermaid left. After Honeysuckle closed the door behind her, Luna nudged the bathroom door open a bit more. “Come Twilight Sparkle, I didn’t ask her to draw this bath for myself.” Twilight sighed to herself as she followed Luna into the bathroom.
A heavy sent of lilacs permeated the air as Twilight felt enrobed in the heavy steam of Luna’s personal bathroom. The white-tiled room was far larger than anything short of the Ponyville day spa. In one corner stood a large shower with multiple heads for different sprays. A gleaming porcelain toilet sat in another corner, while a vanity with three sinks was lined against another wall. Standing in the center was a tub large enough to fit Twilight, all five of her friends, Apple Bloom, Sweetie Bell and Scootalo comfortably. It was overflowing with a thick layer of snow-white foam that she was sure could hold her weight if she tried.
“Thank you Princess Luna,” Twilight sighed, her weariness finally catching up to her. “This looks fantastic.” She mounted the carved wooden steps in front of the tub and climbed in, momentarily losing herself amid the cloud of foam. She blew away a large pouf of the stuff from her vision as she sunk into the warm waters of the bath.
“How does it feel?” The princess asked.
“Divine.” Twilight sighed, sinking up to her muzzle.
“I will be waiting outside for Cel, I mean Princess Celestia. Please take your time.” Twilight heard the door shut, leaving her alone in her foamy bliss.
The purple unicorn shifted her body until her back lay against the smooth walls of the tub. She willed a bottle of shampoo to her and squirted a descent sized dollop of the liquid out into the air. Using the same techniques Rarity showed her, Twilight began running the thick lather through her mane. She had finally given up trying to loosen the apprehension in her stomach. If her mentor was on her way, then things would become clear soon enough.
Twilight had long since finished her usual bathing rituals and the thick wall of bubbles had popped themselves out. Taking advantage of the solitude of the bathroom, she began working through a basic magic control drill she learned in her early days under Celestia’s tutelage. Reaching out with her inner will, Twilight gathered some water from the tub she sat in. Twilight mentally flexed and brought the water up into the air, forming it into a perfect sphere. She held it aloft as she began cycling through several basic matter manipulation spells.
Slowly, tendrils of ice began to form from opposite ends of the sphere. Twilight breathed deeply as the inside of the sphere began to change into water vapor. Soon, Twilight held a sphere of water in each of its three phases of matter: a solid icy surface, a swirling liquid middle, and a cloud of vapor for the core. She allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction as she released the magic holding the sphere together. As it fell back toward the surface of the tub, the ice melted almost instantaneously, while the water vapor condensed back into a liquid.
Before Twilight could repeat the drill, the click of an opening door caught her attention. Training her ears toward the closed bedroom door, Twilight heard the sound of her mentor. “Oh, what a relief,” she heard the elder princess sigh. “Mayor Crimson Mane always was a bit of a windbag.”
“You know you prefer having your subjects be independent rather than suckling at you all the time Celly.” Luna replied. Celestia sighed again.
“I know. I just wish they would learn to see the bigger picture, rather than what they want their eyes to show them. Crimson Mane knows I can’t authorize that new mine. It goes against our treaty with the griffins of the north.”
Twilight could discern the faint sound of unicorn telekinesis, but she was unsure what exactly the princesses were doing. “So, Lulu,” Celestia began. “Where are you hiding my most faithful student?”
“I’m surprised she hasn’t come out yet,” Luna replied “I had Honeysuckle draw her a bath. She looked a bit stressed.”
“Why a bath sounds like a wonderful idea!” With that, the bathroom door was flung open, revealing a beaming Princess Celestia, and a purple-faced Princess Luna.
It was quite startling to see her mentor without her royal regalia on. Her tiara, chestpiece, and slippers had all been removed; Twilight assumed by magic. She bore an immense smile on her face that seemed directed straight at her. She hated being the center of attention and tried to sink lower into the water. However, any attempts at a water-breathing spell were halted as Celestia entered.
“Twilight, my darling student,” she beamed. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“Hi.” Twilight replied meekly.
“Oh that looks heavenly,” the matriarch of the sun announced, teasing a hoof into the still warm water. “I do hope you don’t mind.”
It was a new experience, taking a bath with your teacher and princess. If Twilight wasn’t so utterly mortified, she might have enjoyed it a bit more. But at that moment, her face was quickly becoming cold with fear as her mentor made herself comfortable in the water. “A nice warm bath is always the best answer for any stress,” Celestia mused. “That and chocolate.”
“Do the citizens of the Nipony province still use those natural hot springs,” Luna asked, trotting toward the bathing pair. “I haven’t been out there since my return.”
“Oh yes,” her sister replied. “Onsens* and furos* are still a popular affair. I’ve been meaning to have one installed on the lower terraces, but the budget planners seem to think that taxpayer money is better spent on those frivolous statues and gaudy stained glass portraits of me.”
As the sisters began laughing to themselves over the inside joke, Twilight couldn’t help but feel dead inside. Everything that she had been through in the past dozen or so hours began rushing into her. Visions of her vivid dream began playing in loops through her mind as the sounds of Applejack’s goodbye rang in her ears. She put her hooves to her ears in a vain attempt to quell the chaos of her own mind. She didn’t attain the mental peace she needed until a soft touch drew her attention.
Celestia stood in front of her, a hoof to Twilight’s head. “Twilight, child, what is the matter?” She asked, concern radiating from her like sunbeams from a new sunrise.
“I, I just...” Twilight fought to keep her tears down. “I want to know what’s going on,” she finally spat out. “What is so important that you asked me to come so early? Without my friends.” She added, a tad more forcefully than she meant to.
A deep sigh escaped her mentor’s lips as she sat back in the tub. “Forgive me Twilight,” she spoke. “Sometimes I’m so busy looking at the big picture, that I forget the smaller details.” Twilight sucked in a breath, preparing to apologize for upsetting her teacher when Celestia raised a hoof. “These past six months, my sister and I have been observing the signs of the world around us. The shifting winds, the animals, the trees, even the rocks themselves speak to us. They are crying out Twilight. A great danger is approaching.”
“What is this danger?” Twilight asked, growing incredibly nervous.
“A danger I once faced a thousand years ago. A danger that tore from me, the one thing in this world I hold more dear than the ponies I guide. That’s why, Twilight.” Celestia stood up from the tub, spreading her wings. “Twilight Sparkle, my most faithful student. I have called you here to aid us. Help us Twilight. Help us summon a human to Equestria.”
And the human element is finally introduced. I took a lot more time in setting up this plot than most people, but I prefer laying a good foundation before building the house.
* On the topic of foreign bathing, for those of my readers who are not as in tune to the Japanese culture as others, an onsen is a style of Japanese bath, situated out of doors; normally a natural hot spring. A furo is simply a term for a conventional Japanese bathtub. It’s interesting to note that in their culture, one does not clean oneself in the tub. Rather, one is cleaned outside of the tub, while the water itself is simply used for relaxing. Think ‘hot tub’, naked.
My high school music teacher has been to Japan on multiple occasions, and he told me that an onsen is a really incredible experience. It’s not like anything we have here in the west.
Just a tidbit of information, for those of you who want to know.