The Sock Swap
Celestia yawned as she walked down the corridors of the palace. It was almost time for the day to begin, and Celestia had just awoken to make preparations to bring the new dawn. Since raising the sun on an empty stomach had been proven to be a bad idea in the past, part of these preparations included eating breakfast, which is why Celestia was heading to the dining hall first.
Celestia yawned again. As patron of the sun, Celestia generally considered herself to be a morning pony--however, she was feeling draggy this particular day, as Luna had kept her up late with lengthy conversations the previous evening. Luna had been more energetic than usual for the past week or so; not only had she been speaking with Celestia more, but the nighttime guards reported that Luna had been more chatty with them as well. She would ask them about life outside the castle, about what the citizens of Equestria did during their average day.
The guards regarded Luna's behavior as unusual, since they were more accustomed to her being quiet and keeping to herself most of the time. However, Celestia remembered Luna being warm and cheerful a thousand years ago. Though nopony else would know it, Luna's current timid personality was a recent development. Celestia suspected that her change in personality was due to her time spent as Nightmare Moon, though Celestia was unsure whether the change came about specifically as part of the transformation, or if it was simply due to guilt over her past actions. Either way, Celestia hoped Luna's shift in attitude in the past week was an indication that she was finally returning to her normal, playful self.
Celestia's thoughts about her sister were interrupted as a guard stepped into the hallway. "Good morning, Your Majesty," he said, bowing.
"Good morning, Alfredo," Celestia greeted. "Do you have anything to report?"
"Only one small thing of note," Alfredo said as he began walking alongside Celestia. "I have been asked to inform you that your breakfast will not be prepared by the royal chefs this morning. Princess Luna asked that she be the one to make breakfast for you, instead. She is waiting for you in the dining hall."
Although she did not let it show on her face, Celestia was surprised. Luna hated cooking. She was good at it, but she preferred not to deal with it most of the time. If Luna had bothered to prepare an entire meal, she must have been planning to talk about something significant. "Thank you, Alfredo," Celestia said to the guard. "I'm on my way to talk to her now."
"Of course, Your Majesty." Alfredo nodded and continued to walk with her down the hall to the dining room, where he opened the door for her. As Celestia walked inside, Alfredo closed the door, and remained outside with another guard to stand watch.
As Celestia entered the ornate dining room, she was faced with stacks of sugary things on the table: pancakes, french toast, fruit, and moon pies. Luna was sitting at the opposite end of the table and already helping herself to the food, her face covered with syrup and powdered sugar. She briefly paused between bites to wave at her sister. "Hey Tia! How you doin'?"
Celestia smiled as she seated herself at the table. "I'm doing very well, now that I have your breakfast to look forward to. I'm also happy to see you in such a good mood." In line with royal table manners, Celestia picked up a knife and fork with her telekinesis and used them to cut her pancakes delicately; mostly out of habit, considering the only other pony in the room was content to just grab pancakes off the plate and bite into them directly. "What's the special occasion, if I may ask?"
"Hah! Like I even have to say it!" Luna took a sip of orange juice. "Even if today wasn’t special enough to get a special breakfast, I wanted to make sure my cooking skills hadn't gotten too rusty, so I'm prepared to make the banquet for tonight. Oh, I'm so excited!"
Celestia swallowed her first bite of pancakes and paused to reflect on Luna's statement. "I'm... afraid you'll have to remind me what that banquet's for," she finally admitted.
Luna raised an eyebrow. "You still drowsy or something? I'm talking about the Sock Swap! I've been looking forward to it for months!" Luna pulled out a duffel bag and put it on top of the table, where she started unzipping it. Celestia squinted at the bag, silently mouthing the words "sock swap" to herself; she had heard Luna mention the term once or twice, but previously assumed that it had something to do with the servants mixing up the laundry. As she watched Luna now, though, she felt something tugging at the back of her memory.
At this point, Luna had opened the duffel bag and was pulling an assortment of socks out of it. "I was amazed to find that my old sock collection was still around! Just think, these socks are over a thousand years old! Some ponies will be thrilled to get these, and I’ll get to see all the crazy things they’ve been doing with socks since I've been gone!"
Finally, something in Celestia's mind clicked, and she remembered why the term "Sock Swap" sounded so familiar to her. "Oh," she said. "Oooooohhhhh."
"Look at these! I forgot how neat some of these were!" Luna continued. "Here's my socks shaped like cats... fortune-telling socks... Möbius strip socks... the anti-socks that cover everything except the hooves... Oh! Here's the ones you made for me, Tia!" Luna pulled out four pink socks with a moon-shaped imprint. "Of course, I'd never give these to anypony."
As Luna started trying on some socks, Celestia looked at the wall. "Yes," she said regretfully, "about the Sock Swap... I should tell you, once you weren't around to host it anymore, that holiday kind of... fell by the wayside."
Luna looked up. "Huh?"
"I hosted it for a few years, but it never had quite the same turnout. Eventually it turned into a privately celebrated holiday, and then the amount of sock-swapping slowly dwindled until ponies just forgot about it." Celestia bowed her head at her sister. "What I'm saying is that there won't be a banquet or a Sock Swap tonight. I'm sorry, Luna."
Luna said nothing. She simply stared at Celestia.
Meanwhile, just outside the door, one of the two guards was viewing the other out of the corner of his eye. "Psst," he whispered. "Alfredo."
"What is it?" Alfredo asked.
"Is there a reason the princess paired me up with you?"
Alfredo crossed his eyebrows, but kept looking straight ahead to maintain his professionalism. "If you have a complaint about it, you may take it up with the princess."
"No, no, I'm not complaining about you or anything. I just... I feel kind of self-conscious about it."
"What do you mean?"
The other guard shifted uncomfortably. "Do you think she's making some kind of comment? About... you know..." He paused and nodded, hoping his work partner would get the drift.
Alfredo only frowned further. "Look, you're going to have to spell it out for me. I really don't know what you're talking about."
"Well, do you think... do you think she's making fun of our names?"
"...What, 'Broccoli' and 'Alfredo'?"
"Yeah! Don't you think she's making some kind of comment about that by having us work together?"
"That's absurd. I'm sure it's just a coincidence."
"...Well, maybe I'm just paranoid after all the jokes from school. But it seems weird to me that she would just suddenly switch out my old partner to replace him with you."
"I had just signed up for service, and she said that my abilities made me especially suited to guard the dining room."
"Yes! What does that even mean? How can you be suited to guarding a dining room? She's making fun of your name, man, I'm telling you!"
Alfredo scoffed. "Our princess would not compromise palace security for the sake of stooping to such crude levels of humor. Furthermore, she specifically explained to me that my exemplary sense of smell makes me especially suited for cooking-related issues of--"
The guards' conversation was interrupted when they heard a loud crash from inside the dining room, followed by sounds of thunder. Alfredo burst into the room immediately, and Broccoli followed shortly afterward. "Princess! Are you all... right?"
The guards were met with the image of Luna standing on top of the table, with socks on all four hooves, another sock on her horn, two socks covering her ears, yet another sock covering her snout, and a ninth sock covering the tip of her tail. She had conjured small storm clouds behind her head for dramatic effect. "I am Sockwear Moon!" she boomed. "Remember this Sock Swap, ponies, for it will not be the last! From this day forward, the socks... will last... FOREVER! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" She magically lifted some sock balls from the duffel bag and threw them at Broccoli and Alfredo, where they bounced off the guards' helmets with a soft dong.
Celestia turned to look at the guards. "I've got this under control. You two go back outside."
"If... if you insist, Your Highness." Both guards bowed nervously, and Broccoli walked back out. Alfredo followed him halfway, then stopped. "Princess Celestia, if I may ask, what did you say my qualifications were for the dining room position again?"
"Errr... put briefly, it was your sense of smell and your ability to recognize silverware. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I... just wanted a reminder. Thank you, Your Majesty." Alfredo listlessly shut the door on his way out.
The Equestrian Royal Family is proud to announce
THE SECOND FIRST ANNUAL SOCK SWAP
Ponies everywhere are invited to gather at their local Sock Swap meetup to wear, share, and compare their favorite socks. Hoofmade or exotic socks are encouraged, but everyone is welcome to bring any type of sock, as long as it is special to them. Expect to see sock shows, sock dancing, socking socks, and other sock-related forms of entertainment and refreshments.
As a special bonus, Princess Luna may be making a visit to YOUR town! To celebrate her favorite holiday, Her Royal Highness will be attending the Sock Swap meetups in select Equestrian cities to share her favorite sock stories and display her famous sock collection. She may even trade some of these socks with other ponies, so be sure to check your local listings to see when she's coming!
Spike stopped rereading the royal decree and rolled it back into the shape of a tube. "This just completely boggles my mind," he said.
Twilight was idly studying a book on manatees when she heard Spike speak. "What does?" she asked.
"This Sock Swap thing! What's the deal? Why do we have a holiday for socks? Why is it Luna's favorite holiday? What are..." Spike unfolded the decree to look at it more closely. "What are socking socks!?"
"Well, come on, Spike, we all have our own unique interests. Pinkie Pie likes cupcakes, Applejack likes apples, Rainbow Dash likes... uh... winning. And they all like sharing those things with us, so why can't Luna do the same?" Twilight raised a hoof, which had a white sock on it. "Besides, I think these are kinda cute, don't you?"
"Twilight, I'm a dragon. I hate socks. I can't put them on without my scales and claws poking holes in them. As far as ponies go, I can kind of understand it when you wear them as part of a full outfit, but when socks are the only thing you're wearing..." Spike shuddered. "I can't explain why, but it just freaks me out."
Twilight crossed her eyebrows in indignation. "I think the Sock Swap might do you some good, Spike. Apparently it used to be tradition, and it sounds like you could learn to be more sensitive regarding the cultural aspects of--"
Twilight was interrupted by the sound of knocking on the library door. Closing her book, she left her desk to go welcome her new visitor. She opened the front door, saying, "Good afternoon, how may I--Princess Luna!"
The younger of the two royal sisters was standing at Twilight's doorstep, waving. "Hello, Twilight!" she greeted. "It's been a while since we... OHMIGOSH, YOU'RE WEARING SOCKS! EEEEEEEE!"
Without asking for Twilight's approval, Luna grabbed one of Twilight's socked hooves and inspected it more closely, speaking at a rapidfire pace. "Coco of the Loco, that's a good brand! Not very durable, but it's nice and soft when you don't have to move around too much, so I imagine it would be perfect for the library. It does mean you have to be careful when washing them, though, and I notice it's already kinda stretchy around this area here. What type of soap do you use? Coco of the Loco socks that were made over the course of the past year have been especially sensitive, and it looks like you got these only a couple months ago, so selecting the right soap is especially important. You also want to make sure the water is just the right temperature when you wash them. It doesn't sound like it would have that much of an effect, but if you pay close enough attention to the cleaning process, not only will you maximize softness, but you can keep the socks at A-level quality for years!"
Twilight slowly pulled her hoof out of Luna's grasp. "Uuhhh... Handling laundry is usually Spike's job, so... I'll talk to him later to make sure he's taking proper care of them. But uh, would you like to come in?" She stepped back to let Luna into the library, then closed the door after she was inside. "What brings you here? I'm assuming you came to discuss something important. Aren't you usually asleep during the day?"
"Oh, don't worry about that. Alicorns don't reallyneed sleep, you know. We just start to feel a little weird if we go too long without it. Heeheehee! Heeheeheeheehee! Ahem." Luna coughed into her hoof. "Yes, I did come here to discuss something with you. I'm guessing you already know about the Sock Swap coming up?"
"Yep! Everypony seems pretty excited about it."
"Oh, great! Maybe I can get everyone's cooperation on this, then!" Luna clopped her hooves together, then suddenly took on a more somber expression. "I don't think I've ever told you this, but I'm really... I'm eternally grateful for what you and the other Elements of Harmony did for me... you know, back then, when I first returned to Equestria. I'd love it if I could have a keepsake from the six of you, so I don't ever forget about it. So, for the Sock Swap, I would be willing to give you any of the socks in my collection if you'd all be willing to make me some socks representing the Elements that you possess. They'd be the centerpieces of my collection, and for every Sock Swap from now on, I'd make sure nopony forgets what they stand for."
Twilight's eyes widened in surprise. "Wow... Princess, I'm touched by the gesture. I'd be glad to make you some socks, and I'm sure the others would be too, but... are you really sure you want socks, specifically? Wouldn't you prefer something more... sentimental?"
"Are you KIDDING? What's more sentimental than SOCKS? They're your bestest bedtime buddies! Through good times and bad, socks comfort you throughout the night, no matter what's going on!" Luna started giggling into her two front hooves.
"Of... of course." Twilight glanced uncomfortably around the room. "Well, I'll try to make you the best socks possible. Did you have anything specific in mind? I could try to get some design plans based on the work of Photo Finish or Hoity Toity or--"
"Oh, please don't worry about doing anything like that. Just go with whatever you think is appropriate, I'll be happy with anything you decide to make."
"Huh. Well, okay! It's nice of you to say that, Princess." Twilight tapped her chin with a hoof. "I wonder where I should start? Obviously it should be magic-related, but how could a sock be enhanced by magic?"
"You'd be surprised! Have you ever read about the old unicorns whose special talent was socks? They've made stuff that defies the laws of nature! Which reminds me..." Luna pointed to one of the bookshelves. "I also need to do some studying on the history of socks so I can write a newspaper article about the Sock Swap. While you think over your design, do you mind if I browse your books to see if you have what I'm looking for?"
"Sure, go ahead. You can borrow as many books as you need."
"Great!" Luna happily trotted over to the "S" section of the bookshelf and started checking the spines.
It was at this point that Twilight turned her attention to Spike, who was simply standing in the middle of the room, staring at Luna. "Spike," Twilight said, "What are you doing?"
"I just... I don't think I've seen Luna up close like this before." Although it was faint, Twilight could tell that Spike was blushing.
Twilight smacked her forehead. "I don't... I can't even begin to point out what's wrong with this picture. Issues of royalty aside, aren't you forgetting about somepony?"
"Huh?" After a moment of hesitation, Spike broke from his trance and smacked his own forehead. "RARITY! Oh, my delicate flower! CURSE THIS FICKLE HEART OF MINE!" Spike punched his chest a couple of times, then unexpectedly belched fire. However, despite the timing, the belch was not due to physical distress; Spike had just delivered a letter from Princess Celestia, which fell from the fire to the floor. "Oh," he said, picking it up and opening it.
Twilight waited. Instead of reading the letter's contents aloud like he usually did, Spike simply stood there, reading the letter to himself in silence. Twilight walked over to him. "What does it say?" she asked.
"I think you'd better read this one yourself," Spike said, handing her the letter. Twilight picked it up with her magic and began to read it.
Dear Twilight Sparkle, My Most Faithful Student,
I am sending you this letter to make a request of you regarding my sister, Luna. Luna has told me that she plans to visit you and each of your friends in order to ask all of you to make socks for her for the upcoming Sock Swap. You may not know this, but Luna adores socks, and I would be grateful if you would comply with her request.
I must make something clear, though. Luna has not been herself recently. In the months since her return to the palace, she has been quiet, private. Understandably, her hardships have taken a toll on her. She was never a truly extroverted pony, but she was fun-loving and kind-hearted, and a millennium ago, she would not have avoided social contact the way she does now. I worry for her well-being, but I have had no idea how to lift her spirits until now. With the Sock Swap, we may finally have the opportunity.
However, though Luna's mood already seems to be improving as the Sock Swap approaches, I think her expectations for the event are too high. She sees the Sock Swap as a return to normalcy for her, but the Sock Swap has not been held in almost a thousand years. Nopony remembers how to celebrate it, and modern ponies will most likely have a different interpretation of how the event should be handled than what Luna is expecting. The Sock Swap cannot possibly be what Luna wants it to be, and I fear her disappointment is inevitable.
You may not have any control over the full outcome of the Sock Swap, but there is a way you can help. What I want you to understand is that, in light of what I have just told you, the socks that you and the other Elements of Harmony make for Luna will most likely be the highlight of the event for her, and therefore the most essential factor in making the Sock Swap into something that will make her happy. More than anything else, I want you to ensure that the socks you all make for Luna are designed with the utmost care and quality in mind. Talk with your friends to make sure they understand the importance of the situation. The socks need to be something special. In fact, in spite of what Luna asks you to do, I request that you ask Rarity to design all of the socks, if she is able and willing.
Right now, nothing is more important to me than my sister's well-being. Do whatever you can to make her happy.
Your caring mentor,
Twilight rolled up the parchment. "Hoooooo boy," she sighed. "No pressure, huh, Spike?"
Curious, Luna turned away from the bookshelf to look at Twilight. "What? What's going on?" she asked.
"Uhhhh nothin'," Twilight said, hiding the scroll behind her back. "I just got a thing. You know. Boring business type stuff."
"Is it from Tia?" Luna started walking toward Twilight. "I wanna see! I bet her letters to you are just as stuffy and formal as her royal proclamations, even though you two are pretty close, am I right?"
"Yep! They're certainly not interesting enough to read! Actually, protocol states I have to destroy all letters immediately after I read them so they don't fall into the wrong hooves, so, uh..." Twilight quickly looked around the room. When she did not see any tools that would assist her, she simply stuffed the scroll into her mouth and started chewing.
Luna tilted her head back. "Woah, uh... couldn't you just burn it with magic, or something?"
Twilight stopped chewing for a moment, then tried to speak with the paper still in her mouth. "I coulb do fthat... but 'ese fings are delifious!" Twilight unsuccessfully attempted to chew the paper into smaller pieces. "Mmmmmmmm... thaf's goooooood eatin'."
"Those letters taste good? The ones that are delivered through dragon burps?"
Everyone stood in complete silence for half a minute. Afterwards, the only sound that could be heard was Twilight slowly and uncomfortably crunching her mouthful of parchment.
Later that day, Twilight took off for Sweet Apple Acres. Most ponies who arrived at the farm on business were daunted by its sheer size; however, Twilight knew from experience that locating the ponies who worked there was a simple as following the sound of rustling trees. After navigating the grounds until she actually saw a tree shake out of the corner of her eye, she called out, "Applejack? Is that you?"
Applejack walked out from behind the tree. "Heh-hey!" she greeted. "Howdy, pardner. What brings you 'round these parts?"
"I needed to talk with you about something," Twilight said as she moved within a comfortable speaking distance. "Has Princess Luna been here to visit you?"
"Yep, she's actually here right now! Big Mac is showin' her 'round the farm." Applejack pointed toward the barn. "So she talked to you about the sock thing, too?"
"Right, that's what I came to talk about. Princess Celestia is pretty concerned about those socks." Twilight held the letter she had received in front of Applejack. "She wants us to make sure that the socks we give to Luna are top quality."
Applejack squinted at the letter. "Why's that paper all wet and crinkly?"
"I... accidentally dropped it in a puddle. And then stepped on it. Eleven times." Twilight quickly rolled up the paper and returned it to her saddlebag. "The point is, Luna's been kind of down recently, and Celestia wants us to give her some super-socks in order to cheer her up. In order to do that, she suggested we just let Rarity take care of our socks for us. You know, to give all of them a professional design. What do you think?"
Applejack rubbed her chin. "Ah dunno if Ah'm comfortable with that idea, Twilight. Luna said we should make the socks ourselves."
"We don't... have to be absent from the creation process. We could help give Rarity ideas. Or gather materials for her. Wouldn't that count?"
"Ah don't think so, Twilight." Applejack started pushing some empty baskets under a tree as she spoke. "Princess Luna said she wanted these socks to be personal. And as a farm girl, Ah know the value of somethin' you make for someone with yer own two hooves. Ah ain't ever seen any designer clothin' that mattered more to me than a sweater Granny Smith knitted for me herself." Applejack finished moving the baskets and placed herself in the bucking position. "Ah can't say Ah've given the princess a personal gift unless it's got the official Applejack touch!"
Applejack kicked the tree on her last word, causing the tree's apples to fall cleanly off the branches and into the baskets. Once the last apple had fallen, something large and bush-shaped also fell out of the tree, and hit the ground with a thud. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple pile of leaves; however, it was wearing a red bow, and after it landed, it rolled over and stood up on four small yellow hooves.
"Apple Bloom!" Applejack said. "What were you doin' up there?"
"Ah'm still tryin' to think of how my cutie mark might be related to the farm!" the walking bush responded. "But Ah'm runnin' out of ideas! Ah decided to try collectin' tree sap, but it got on me instead of in the jar!"
"Apple Bloom, what... what would you need tree sap for?" Twilight asked.
"Scootaloo likes to eat it," Apple Bloom said.
"All right, that's enough foolin' around," Applejack said. "Let's go home to get you cleaned off. And Apple Bloom, the next time you get an idea from someone who eats sap, come talk to me before you actually try it for yourself." The bush faced in Applejack's general direction. "Don't give me that look," Applejack scolded.
Apple Bloom started walking, dismayed, in the direction of the main house. Twilight and Applejack followed. "Anyway, Applejack, I understand what you're saying," Twilight said. "But the important part of a personal gift like that is showing that you care. Princess Celestia thinks Luna will be happier if we give her fancier socks, so wouldn't we still be showing how much we care by following those instructions?"
"Twilight, the socks are s'posed to represent the Elements of Harmony," Applejack said. "My element is Honesty. How am Ah s'posed to show honesty in my sock by havin' Rarity make it for me? If you want someone to follow royal command over personal sincerity, what you want is Loyalty. That's Rainbow Dash."
"Yeah, Rainbow Dash is a pretty good example of how you don’t have to follow your personal Element all the time," Twilight said, raising an eyebrow. "Remember how she switched to the buffaloes' side in Appleloosa?"
Applejack's eyes popped open. "Well, uh... she was pretty loyal to them after that happened!"
"So she's loyal to whichever side she decides she wants to be on at any given time, is what you're saying."
Applejack furrowed her brow in response. Twilight continued, "Let me put it this way. Do you really want to get on Celestia's bad side? Honestly speaking."
Applejack grumbled. "Ah'll think about what you said. But Ah'm not promisin' anything yet."
As the three approached the house, they heard a new voice to the side of where they were walking. "Eeeeyup, it's standard to knock down every apple with one kick, but Ah can actually go even further than that. Watch this." The three girls turned just in time to see Big Macintosh kick an apple tree so hard that, not only did every apple fall off of that tree, but the vibrations managed to jostle a couple apples off of another nearby tree.
Princess Luna, who was watching, stomped the ground in applause. "Wow! That was impressive!" she said. Big Mac beamed with pride.
"BIG MACINTOSH!" Applejack yelled. "Quit showin' off! You know how bad that is for the trees!"
Big Mac jumped at hearing his sister's voice, then cast his eyes downward, hung his head, and trudged back to the house. After watching him leave, Luna turned and said, "Oh! Hi again, Twilight! When did you get here?"
"Just now," Twilight responded. "I'm... picking up a delivery. And since I'm here, I thought I'd help clean up Apple Bloom."
"Well hurry up!" Apple Bloom said. "The leaves are blockin' my view! Ah can't see if Ah got my cutie mark!"
"I see," Luna said. "Well anyway, I gotta go soon, but I was wondering, Applejack, could I try bucking a tree before I do? I just want to see what it's like."
"Uh, sure, be my guest. How 'bout that one there?" Applejack pointed to a small one that had only a few apples on it.
Luna walked to the front of the tree, turned her back to it, and readied herself. "Okay, I think I can do this... heeeyaaaAAAGH!"
With a thunderous kick, Luna uprooted the apple tree, knocking it clean over and sending all apples on the tree flying into the distance. Twilight and Applejack jumped back and fell over in surprise; Apple Bloom remained standing in her original spot, although her leaf-coated head perked up in response to the noise.
"Oh my goodness! I'm so sorry!" Luna said. "You two made it look a lot harder than that! Umm... don't worry, I think I can fix this... Let's try..." Luna pulled the tree upright with her telekinesis, replanting it in its original location, repacking the soil and making sure the roots of the tree were firmly secured. "Phew. Crisis averted. You're not mad, are you?"
Luna looked at the other ponies. Twilight and Applejack were holding onto each other, staring at Luna with their mouths agape. Slowly, Applejack shook her head in response. Meanwhile, Apple Bloom had lost track of the other two and was walking in random directions in an attempt to locate them.
"Okay, good," Luna said, waving goodbye to the others. "Sorry again. I gotta say, though, it sure was a rush doing that! Woo!" Luna happily trotted off into the distance. Twilight and Applejack shared a concerned look with each other. Apple Bloom walked into a tree.
Sometime around sunset, Luna set out for Fluttershy's house. It was almost time for her to raise the moon, but Fluttershy was the only pony left that Luna still needed to talk to about the socks, and she wanted to make sure that everypony was given an early notice if she could. However, as Luna approached Fluttershy's home, she saw that Fluttershy already had a visitor; both Fluttershy and Twilight were sitting at a patio table, drinking tea and holding a conversation.
"I think this is a really good idea," Twilight said. "I'm sure she'll love it, and this way you'd still be contributing something. You wouldn't be leaving everything in Rarity's hooves."
"I guess so," Fluttershy mumbled. "I'm just a little worried about what the bunnies will think."
"I think they'd get adjusted to it pretty quickly, but if it's a concern to you, we could try--"
"Hey girls!" Luna called as she approached the table. "Twilight, looks like you've been pretty busy today! What's going on with you two?"
"Princess Luna!" Fluttershy instinctively bowed; Twilight was caught off-guard and simply waved nervously.
"W-we were just discussing some preparations we needed to make for something," Twilight said. "We were pretty much done, though, and I know you have important things to talk about with Fluttershy, so I won't keep you. I'll just take my bag, and--"
"I don't mind if you stay while I talk with Fluttershy," Luna said. "You sure you don't want to stick around a little longer?"
"No, I should really get going. Actually, Fluttershy, you said this would be the best time of day to go see the bunnies, right?"
"Yes, that's right." Fluttershy nodded. "They're usually pretty calm around this time. This would probably be the best time to go see them."
"Okay. And you're sure you don't want to wait until you can come with me?"
"Oh, no. I-I don't think I could bear to watch."
Twilight raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're okay with me doing this?"
"Um... it's fine. Really." Fluttershy glanced nervously from side to side. "Do whatever you want. I'll just get them some little sweaters or something to make up for it."
"Well, okay." Twilight waved at the two ponies. "I'd better get going, then. I'll see you two later. Thanks again, Fluttershy."
Fluttershy and Luna waved goodbye as Twilight set off in the direction of the field. Although the sun was setting, Twilight was familiar enough with the area to know where Fluttershy generally worked with the animals, and Twilight herself had studied zoology enough to know where small animals generally made their homes. She located an area where the grass was high and the bushes were plentiful, a place that probably contained several rabbits in hiding.
Twilight stopped to think to herself. "Okay, now, what was that song Fluttershy taught me to sing?... Aaa... Aaaaa--" Twilight coughed. "Ugh. I hate doing this. Why do the ponies in this town like singing so much?" She cleared her throat and tried again. "AaaaAAAHH aaaAAAaahhh... huh?"
Feeling a tap on top of her head, Twilight looked up. A bluebird was standing on her horn, bending down to look her in the eye. "Peep?" it said.
"Oh... hello," Twilight responded. "You're pretty cute, but not who I was looking for. Did I get the notes wrong? Let's see... Hmm hmm hmm... AAaaAAaaaahh... uuhhh..."
Two badgers had come out of the bushes and stopped at Twilight's hooves. They then stood up on their back legs and rubbed their front paws together, giving Twilight puppy-dog eyes.
"I don't have any food for you," Twilight said. "What am I doing wrong? It's just two notes. Maybe... maybe if I try this? EeeeeEEEEeeee--"
THWACK. Two bats flew out of a nearby tree and slammed directly into Twilight's face, blinding her. Twilight screamed and started running in circles. "AAAAAAAH! BATS! BATS ON MY FACE! HAAAAAAAALP!"
Meanwhile, back at Fluttershy's house, one bunny was still safely accounted for. Fluttershy had Angel standing on a stool, and was carefully affixing something to his feet. "Sometimes I like to make little things for Angel like this if there's a holiday going on or something like that," Fluttershy explained to Luna. "He's not that used to it yet, but I think after a few years it will start to grow on him."
Fluttershy stepped back to give Luna a better look. Angel was now wearing a pair of green socks, crossing his forearms and looking angry. "What do you think?" Fluttershy asked.
"Snnnggkkhggh," Luna said, putting two hooves to her mouth and vibrating with barely contained laughter.
"Hold on, let me see what you think of the full ensemble," Fluttershy said, pulling a tiny green T-shirt off a nearby chair with her teeth. With great effort and a certain amount of luck, she managed to pull it over Angel's struggling head, revealing the image of a smiling cartoon carrot on the front of the shirt. Giddy from the image before her as well as the fact that she had been awake for over twenty-four hours straight at this point, Luna started giggling uncontrollably, pounding the floor with her hoof.
Fluttershy smiled at Angel. In response, Angel made a rude gesture at the two ponies with his paw. Curious, Fluttershy examined his paw more closely. "'One'?" she asked. "One what, Angel Bunny?" Angel simply huffed and crossed his arms again.
Twilight sighed. With all the birds, badgers, bats, butterflies, boars, bush babies, budgerigars, and other creatures she had accidentally called, she was now covered head-to-tail in small adorable animals. However, she was still missing the one animal she had come to find in the first place.
"Aaaauuaa... Eeeiiaauuoaaah... Aeiou..." Twilight continued to make attempts to vocalize the song Fluttershy had taught her, although she was sure she had forgotten all of it at this point. Still, as she saw the bushes in front of her rustle, she could not help but get her hopes up that there was a rabbit behind it.
The creature in the bushes popped out. It was a small alligator. It opened its mouth at Twilight, revealing its complete lack of teeth.
Twilight squinted at the alligator. "Is that..." she began, but before she could finish her thought, she saw the dirt next to the alligator begin to cave in. A spade began popping in and out of the ground from underneath, and before long, a hole had formed where the spade was digging. A poofy-haired pink pony stuck her head up out of the hole.
"THERE you are, Gummy!" the pink pony said, grabbing the alligator. "I've been looking all over for you! You can come play with the budgerigars any time you want, but you gotta make sure to tell me first, okay?"
"...What the heck? Pinkie Pie?" Twilight said.
Pinkie Pie looked at Twilight, then laughed. "Hey, how about that! I'm a party animal, and you've become an animal party! Teehee!" Without any further comments, Pinkie ducked back into the hole with her pet, and un-dug the hole from the inside until it was refilled with dirt.
Twilight stomped her hoof and cast an air blast spell, sending all animals standing on and around her flying off into the distance. "Forget it!" she said. "This is ridiculous! I'm just gonna use a rabbit magnetism spell!"
Twilight's horn began to glow, emitting a small chirping sound. Before long, several curious bunnies began to poke their heads out of the bushes, and soon several dozen had gathered around Twilight, causing her to smirk in satisfaction. "Now that's more like it!" she said. "Okay, come on, little fellas. C'mere and let me pet you."
As some bunnies approached close enough to start sniffing Twilight, she carefully pet one on the head. "Oooooh... I knew you guys were supposed to be soft, but this goes well beyond my expectations! Who WOULDN'T want to wear socks that felt like this? This'll be perfect!" Twilight used her telekinesis to open her saddlebag to pull out the magic-powered rabbit shears she had brought with her. She then held one of the rabbits against the ground with her hooves, causing the other rabbits to gasp in alarm.
"It's nothing to be afraid of, little bunnies," Twilight said. "You might be a little cold after I'm done, but otherwise, this won't hurt a bit." She activated the shears, causing them to emit a high-pitched buzzing noise.
Back near Fluttershy's house, Fluttershy and Luna had found a place to sit where they could see the open sky. The sun had nearly set, causing the sky to be filled with darkness. However, as Fluttershy watched, she saw stars begin to pop into existence; one by one, like so many fireflies, they began to fill the sky. Before long, the entire sky had been lit up with the tiny specks.
Fluttershy looked at Luna, whose horn had stopped glowing at this point. "Is it very hard to do?" Fluttershy asked.
Luna fluttered her wings. "Well... You have to understand, alicorn magic is naturally suited to handle things like this. It requires heavy concentration, and it can be easy to mess up under certain circumstances... But doing this feels as natural as flying to me." She looked at Fluttershy. "I'll put it this way. Do you ever have trouble communicating with your animals?"
Fluttershy pawed at the ground. "Umm... That might not be the best example... Talking with the animals usually comes naturally to me, but it doesn't always work. Sometimes the animals are uncooperative, or something else happens that I don't really understand, and I can't communicate with them."
"I'm sorry to hear that... But still, that kind of thing happens to me sometimes, too." Luna looked back at the stars. "My emotional state can influence how the night sky turns out. If I'm not feeling great, the stars can turn dim, or they can appear in the wrong places. But it works the other way, too. If I'm in a really good mood, the stars will shine bright, and sometimes shooting stars will appear."
"Oh, like when you finally returned to the palace," Fluttershy said. "For that whole first week, the stars were twice as shiny as they usually were, and astronomers say they saw five shooting stars a night. You must've been really happy to be home, huh?"
Luna looked surprised. After spending a few moments with a stunned expression, she slowly smiled, closed her eyes, and lowered her head. Fluttershy gave her a quizzical look. "What? Am I wrong?" she asked.
Luna spoke softly in response. "I was happy, but... I wasn't the one who created the night sky that week. Celestia insisted that she keep doing it herself for the first few weeks, until everyone had gotten adjusted to the new setup." She opened her eyes. "I was worried what she thought about me, at the time."
Luna and Fluttershy continued to sit in silence for another minute. Eventually, Luna stretched and said, "Well, it's about time for me to raise the moon. Are you ready?"
"Oh, yes," Fluttershy said, nodding. "Thank you for staying here to show me how you do it. Do you fly up into the air, like Celestia does at the Summer Sun Celebration?"
Luna laughed. "I'm gonna tell you a secret. Tia only does that for show. The boring truth is that all we really need to do is use our horns, just like with anything else. Buuut... I'm willing to fly up into the air and put on a show for you, if that's what you want. Would you like to see it done that way?"
Fluttershy blushed. "Oh, um... I don't want to impose... You should do it whatever way you want to."
Luna flapped her wings. "I guess that means flying, then!"
Luna took off into the sky to a spot a few meters off the ground, then hovered and turned to face Fluttershy. With the wind whipping her mane and tail, Luna raised her two front hooves skyward, turning her head to face the heavens as her horn began to glow.
It was at this point that the awestruck Fluttershy was tackled by a horde of stampeding bunnies.
Luna looked down just in time to witness the abduction in action. The horde was being led by a bunny with a half-shaven rump, and in addition to Fluttershy, the bunnies were also carrying a bald-headed Twilight in tow. "FLUTTERSHY!" Twilight shouted. "FLUTTERSHY! HOW DO YOU TURN THEM OFF!?"
The morning after the bunny fiasco, Twilight was relaxing in her library, perusing the morning newspaper. "This really is a fascinating article that Luna wrote, Spike," she said. "Who knew that socks had such a rich history?"
"I was more interested in this article," Spike said, holding up the front page of the newspaper for Twilight to see. The headline read, "MARE'S MOON MIS-ALIGNED BY RABBIT RAMPAGE RUCKUS: Horoscopes To Be Inaccurate For The Next Five Days".
"How was I supposed to know they were that strong in numbers? Take a rabbit by itself, and it's got all the physical prowess of a biscuit!" Twilight put her own section of the newspaper down at her desk and started pacing. "I just need to rethink my strategy. Make use of stealth tactics. Trap each bunny where they least expect it, and take 'em out one at a time."
"Are you really sure you want those guys out for revenge? I'm pretty sure what they did to you last night was letting you off easy. Do you want to lose the rest of your fur, too?"
Twilight self-consciously patted the golden curly-haired wig she was wearing to hide her lack of a mane. "As soon as I can find the spell that accelerates hair growth, this won't be too much of a problem. Maybe I can even figure out how to make it work on the bunnies. Besides, last night was a spur-of-the-moment thing, I don't think they're usually that organized."
Suddenly, Twilight heard a knock at the door. She opened it to reveal the wall-eyed postmare holding a package on the other side. "Express delivery from the bunnies in the meadow!" the pegasus proudly announced, handing the package to Twilight before flying away, swaying in parabolic curves as always. Twilight closed the door and set the box on the floor, where she opened it to reveal something dark purple within; four socks made out of the hair from Twilight's mane.
"Wow," Spike said, looking into the box. "That's both really creepy and really considerate at the same time."
Twilight kicked the box into a corner. "I don't have the time to think about this right now. I still need to talk to the other ponies about what we're going to do for the Sock Swap. Pinkie and Rainbow Dash will probably be easy to convince, but they're also likely to do something silly if I don't reach them in time." Twilight put on her saddlebags. "You don't mind staying here to research sock ideas, do you?"
"Nah, I kinda had fun with it yesterday, actually. I thought I might even try making some myself."
"Joining in on the festivities? Good for you, Spike!" Twilight smiled. "Decided to give socks a second chance, huh?"
"Oh no, I still hate socks. I just thought they'd make a great gift for Luna." Spike put his hands to his cheeks and got a dreamy look in his eyes as he said the name.
Twilight frowned at him. "Spike, you can't just expect that... Actually, you know what? I wish you the best of luck. You're going to need it." Twilight left the library without further comment.
As Twilight set foot inside Sugarcube Corner, she was greeted by the small pop of toy cannons blasting confetti in her face, and was then saluted by a noisemaker being blown by Pinkie Pie. "Surpriiiiise, Twilight!" Pinkie said after she spit out the noisemaker. "Welcome to the party!"
Twilight glanced at the balloons and streamers spread across the ceiling of the confectionary. "Why... why are you throwing a party, Pinkie?" she asked.
"It's a surprise party for Luna!" Pinkie explained. "In fact, it was such a surprise, I didn't even know about it until she showed up! It was the best kind of surprise party, where everyone was surprised!"
Twilight looked behind Pinkie. Luna, Mr. Carrot Cake, and Mrs. Cup Cake were all in the back, wearing aprons, shuffling around and doing cooking-related things. Luna set a pan of cookies on the counter and waved. "Hi again Twilight!" she said. "Look, I'm baking!"
"Luna's making the treats for her own surprise party! How surprising is THAT!?" Pinkie said. Pinkie then took notice of the wig Twilight was wearing. "Hey, my hair used to look like that!"
"Pinkie, you should really refer to her as 'Princess Luna' or 'Her Majesty' when you're in her company," Twilight whispered. "Also, what... exactly... are you wearing?"
Pinkie looked down at the bulky, flowing white garment that was dragging on the floor behind her. "Do you like it? It's a smock! I'm going to wear it to Luna's Smock Swap this week. She seems pretty excited about it!"
"Erm... Pinkie... It's a Sock Swap, not a Smock Swap. You know, those things you wear on your hooves?" Twilight waved a hoof for emphasis.
Pinkie looked at Twilight's hoof and blinked. "OOOOOOH! I see! Well, don't worry, I've got tons of those, too! I'll be right back."
As Pinkie walked upstairs to her room to change, Twilight stepped forward to speak with the others. "Princess Luna, what's the occasion? Is helping out at bakeries a common thing for you?"
"Not usually. But I always make food for the Sock Swap, and from what I've heard, cooks have developed some new techniques over the past thousand years. I wanted to work with some other cooks for a bit to make sure I knew everything important, especially where sweets were concerned."
"She's actually very good at doing this," Mrs. Cake noted. "She knows her way around a kitchen, and her cookies are delightful."
Luna tittered. "Thank you. But we're just getting started! As soon as the oven's done with this next batch, you're all going to experience a world of desserts you never even knew existed!"
"Here we gooooo!" Pinkie Pie said, coming back down the stairs. She walked over to Twilight to show her the small yellow band wrapped around her hoof. "Can't think of anything more appropriate for the Shock Swap than one of my patented buzzers. This party sounds like it's gonna be a hoot!" Pinkie held her front leg up in the air. "Hey Luna! C'mere and gimme a brohoof!"
Twilight smacked the buzzer off of Pinkie's hoof. "Pinkie, NO! It's not a Shock Swap, it's a SOCK Swap! SSSSSSOOOOCK Swap! You can't just go around electrocuting royalty!"
"Oh. Whoopsie! Guess I gotta go try this again!" Pinkie returned upstairs.
At that moment, the oven dinged. "Ooh!" Luna said. "They're ready!" She opened the oven to pull out a tray full of hollowed-out, cup-shaped confections.
Twilight squinted at them, unable to figure out what they were supposed to be. "What ARE those?" she asked.
Luna pulled one of the treats off the tray and covered her hoof with it. "They're sockakes!" she said. "Socks made out of cake! They're soft, toasty, and can be frosted and re-frosted to be suitable for any occasion. And unlike most other socks, anyone can learn how to make them! The only real problem is that they get moldy easily, so you have to be sure wash them regularly."
Twilight bit her lip. "Are you... supposed to eat them, at any point?"
"Oh, sure! It's one of the unintended benefits that if you ever run out of food, you can eat your sockakes to stave off starvation." Luna looked slyly at Mr. and Mrs. Cake. "Of course, I'm sure I don't have to tell you two about the other benefits of edible clothes, now do I?"
"Ha ha ha!" Mr. Cake said. "Um, what?"
"I'm back!" Pinkie Pie announced, returning with a stack of papers on her head. "These documents contain information on all of my stocks. Twilight, you probably enjoy investing in the market from time to time, huh? Let me give you some tips! First, take half of all your money and put it into cupcake shares. Then, never take it back out. You don't want Ponyville losing its cupcake companies. Next, check whether it's currently a bear market or a bull market. Right now it's a bear market, so you want to invest in as many bears as possible. Third--"
"Pinkie Pie," Twilight interrupted. "It's not a Stock Swap, it's a... Actually, you know what? We should talk about this some other time. I'm gonna go talk to Rainbow Dash now. See you all later!" Twilight waved goodbye as she walked back out the door.
"Wait! This is the important part!" Pinkie called after her. "You want to get the good stocks and avoid the bad stocks! Buy high, sell low! That's the ticket!"
Most of the time, Rainbow Dash was one of the most difficult ponies for Twilight to locate. Rainbow Dash had no specific place of work like the other ponies, and she spent most of her time in the sky, so running into her was almost purely a matter of chance. Other times, though, when Rainbow Dash was on one of her racing streaks, running into her was a simple matter of standing somewhere in Ponyville for longer than ten seconds. So it was that about a minute after Twilight left Sugarcube Corner, she saw a blue pegasus zip over her head, and she started running in the direction that the pegasus had left.
Eventually, Twilight finally came across Rainbow Dash, kicking back on top of a cloud, but not looking especially relaxed about it. Rainbow Dash was concentrating on something, brooding as she looked off into space. Twilight approached cautiously so as not to surprise her. "Hey, Rainbow Dash? You busy?" she called.
Rainbow Dash sat up and peeked over the cloud to look at Twilight. Then she started laughing. After continuing to laugh for several seconds, she wiped a tear away and said, "Hoo! Well, I feel better now. Thanks for coming to cheer me up, Twilight."
Twilight raised a hoof to scratch her head, only to have her hoof run into the golden curly-haired wig she was wearing. She resisted the urge to grab the wig and throw it to the side. "This is just a temporary thing!" she said. "I'll have you know my hair was taken by bu--I mean I have a medical problem! Anyway, that's not what I came here to talk about." She sat down and took on a more serious tone. "Has Princess Luna been by to talk with you about the sock Swap?"
Rainbow Dash sighed. "Yeah... That's what I was just worrying about. Did you know she wants me to make socks? I don't know how to make socks! I barely ever even wear them! And I tried to tell her that, but then she started getting all sappy on me." Dash rolled over on her back and hung her front legs over the edge of the cloud. "'A gift from you would mean as much to me as a gift from Celestia herself'? How am I supposed to say no to THAT?"
"So you did say yes, right?"
Rainbow Dash rolled back over. "Yeah... I kept trying to tell her I wouldn't know what to make, but then she told me that she already thought that might be an issue, and had already come up with an idea for me. Can you read this from over there?" Rainbow Dash held out a long piece of paper, which had the words "SONICK RAINBOOM" written in bold letters on the front.
Twilight squinted at the paper. "That's... that's not how you spell 'Sonic', Rainbow Dash."
Rainbow Dash briefly glanced at the writing. "I wouldn't know. The point is, Luna showed this to me, and then she showed me what happens when you rearrange the letters." Dash flipped the paper around to reveal the words "SOCKIN RAINBOOM" written on the opposite side.
"What the heck is a Sockin' Rainboom?"
"I don't really know, but now Luna wants me to perform one." Dash threw the paper to the side. "My first guess was that it's where you punch someone while performing a Sonic Rainboom, which is something I've always wanted to try anyway, but apparently that's not right. Luna suggested I wear socks while doing a Sonic Rainboom, and see if it does anything weird to the socks. She thinks it might give them special magical properties."
"Oh! That's not a bad idea, actually!" Twilight said, excitedly. "Well, there's no harm in trying it out. Why don't you give it a shot?"
"I've been trying! But you know how hard it is to pull off a Sonic Rainboom! And now these stupid things are distracting me." Dash lifted up a hoof, which was covered by a rainbow-striped sock. "I've been trying to get into the right state of mind to make it work, but I just don't think it's possible. Of the two times I've managed to perform the Rainboom, the first involved winning a competition, and the second involved saving Rarity's life and winning a competition. I think I need some heavy motivation to make it work, and I just don't have that kind of pressure on me right now."
"Following a request from the Princess isn't heavy enough?"
"Meh." Rainbow Dash flopped back onto the cloud. "Maybe if you got one of the Wonderbolts to challenge me to a race, I could make it work. Otherwise, I don't think it's gonna happen."
"I'll race you, Rainbow Dash!" came a new voice from below.
Rainbow Dash looked back over the cloud on the off-chance that one of the Wonderbolts would have such a dinky voice. To her dismay, the voice came from Scootaloo, who had arrived at the scene on her scooter and was now bouncing up and down in anticipation of Rainbow Dash's answer.
"Yeah, right," Dash said. "I might as well race that rock over there."
"Don't underestimate the power of the scooter!" Scootaloo said. "I just polished the frame and oiled the wheels, so it goes a whole two percent faster than it did before!"
"Pipsqueak, even if that thing went twice as fast as usual, it’s earthbound. It's not gonna be a match for any airborne pegasus, let alone me. This wouldn't give me the kind of pressure I'm looking for."
"How about we raise the stakes, then? Let's make a bet! If the two of us race, and you win, I'll leave you alone for... oh... I guess I could handle a couple of days."
Rainbow Dash put a hoof to her chin. "That actually doesn't sound too bad. What if you win?"
"If I win, you have to adopt me as your sister!"
Rainbow Dash shuddered and returned to lying back on her cloud. "Not worth the risk. Besides, it's not like you would ever even have the ability to really force me to do that."
"She doesn't, but Celestia does," Twilight noted. "And I could give Celestia suggestions on what she could do with you once she hears that you weren't willing to try to fulfill a simple request made by Luna."
Rainbow Dash jumped back to the edge of the cloud and started giggling nervously. "Uh... heh heh... You're kidding, right, Twilight?"
"No, I'm not." Twilight looked around. "In fact, in ten seconds I'm going to send Scootaloo to that water tower over there. If you can't make it over there and come back before she does, I'm going to go talk to the mayor about the adoption papers."
Rainbow crossed her eyebrows. She stood up firmly on all four hooves, put on her flying goggles, and flexed her wings, steeled with a new resolve. "It. Is. ON," she said.
"All right, are you two ready, then?" Twilight asked. Rainbow Dash nodded. Scootaloo bounced her head up and down in time with the rest of her body, excited just for the opportunity to be in an official race with her idol. "Okay then," Twilight continued. "Three, two, one, GO!"
Rainbow Dash disappeared in a flash, now just a bluish blur heading in the direction of the water tower. Scootaloo started heading down the road full-speed--which was approximately one-fifth of Dash's speed--buzzing her wings along the way. To better get into the competitive spirit, Scootaloo decided to try pulling off a trick. She popped a wheelie, then landed the front wheel of the scooter on an incline in such a way that the entire scooter was launched into the air. Using her wings to get more airtime, she did a tailwhip, kicking her scooter around in a full circle; at the same time, she herself spun around in the opposite direction. Before she could finish her trick, however, a net burst out of a nearby bush, ensnaring both her and her scooter and knocking them to the ground.
Seeing the commotion, Twilight started running toward the entangled Scootaloo. As she approached, she saw Pinkie Pie pop out of a bush holding a net gun across her shoulder. Pinkie pumped her hoof in the air. "SCORE! I got one!"
"Pinkie, what are you doing!?" Twilight yelled. "You could hurt someone with that!"
"Well, sometimes I wonder if tranquilizer darts would be more humane, but they won't sell those to me anymore," Pinkie explained as she moved forward to unwrap Scootaloo. "Anyway, I had a good reason. After you left, Luna told me that it wasn't a Stock Swap we're having, but a Squawk Swap. As it turns out, I don't have anything in my room that squawks! Isn't that weird? Needless to say, I had to fix that problem as soon as possible, sooo..." Pinkie Pie lifted Scootaloo out of the net. "I caught myself a chicken! Pretty cute, doncha think?"
"I'm not a chicken!" Scootaloo said, struggling to get free. "Why does everyone keep saying that!?"
As Pinkie Pie hugged her new pet, Twilight shook her head and looked in the direction of the water tower. "Oh, wow, Rainbow Dash is already on her way back," she said. "She's going really fast... I think she's going to pull it off!..."
Rainbow Dash was halfway between the water tower and the finish line, pressing against the sound barrier. She was flapping her wings as quickly as possible, pointing slightly toward the ground, doing whatever she could to get the small extra boost of speed she needed to create the boom; however, at the critical moment, Rainbow Dash experienced a midair combustion, causing her to fall spinning toward the ground, where she crashed near the other ponies. Twilight and Pinkie ran to her in alarm. "Oh my gosh! Rainbow Dash!" Twilight said. "Are you okay? What happened!?"
"Uuurrrghh," Rainbow Dash groaned, legs twitching. "I went so fast, the socks caught fire and exploded."
A couple days later, Rarity was in her boutique, putting together Fluttershy's socks. "You know, Fluttershy, this material is simply divine," she said. "I saw what those rabbits did to poor Twilight when she tried to get it, how did you manage to do it?"
"Oh, it was easy," Fluttershy said. "I simply apologized to the bunnies on Twilight's behalf, explained what she was trying to do, and promised fresh baby carrots and hoofknit sweaters to any bunnies who were willing to donate their own fur for the cause." She stretched her sore legs. "Well, okay, maybe knitting several dozen bunny-sized sweaters wasn't that easy."
"You should've asked me to help with that, dear... although I admit I'm not sure I would've had the time to deal with it. Do you know how many orders I've received for custom-tailored socks over the past few days? I'm thankful for the business, but I barely have enough time to finish them all before the Sock Swap! Not to mention I still have all of our socks to deal with, and I need to make certain they're a cut above the rest."
"It's okay, Twilight actually helped me make a lot of the sweaters when I told her about the offer I made to the bunnies. She seemed to feel responsible for it." Fluttershy looked closely at the socks Rarity was stitching together. "Um, speaking of the Sock Swap, though... How are the rest of our socks coming along? Have you gotten any ideas for what they should look like?"
"Twilight and I are working together on the designs. She does research on the Elements of Harmony to find out what types of designs would hold symbolic significance, and I turn those designs into something fashionable. We're also trying to use magic on some of the socks, and sometimes I need her to do things with her magic that I can't do. All things considered, I think the socks are going to come out beautifully." Rarity paused for a moment to rub one of Fluttershy's unfinished socks against her cheek. "Oh, gracious. I'm going to have trouble giving these away."
"Have you finished any of the other socks? Can I see them?"
"Wellll... it's not a finished product, but I've already started work on my own design. Let me show you." Rarity walked to one of the desks in the room and opened a drawer to pull out something colorful and shiny. She unfolded the bundle and held it in the air to show Fluttershy something that was like a normal sock, except it had several gemstones set into the surface of it. "What do you think?" she asked.
Fluttershy gave Rarity's creation a sidelong glance. "Um... it's very pretty, but... wouldn't it be hard to walk around in those?"
Rarity laughed. "Oh, Fluttershy... there are clothes that are practical, and then there are clothes that are fashionable, and one of the first things you learn in this business is that those two types of clothes must never come together."
Fluttershy was about to respond, but stopped when she heard the door open. "Oh, hello," she said, gently waving to Twilight and Applejack as they stepped into the boutique.
"Hey guys, good news!" Twilight said, waving back. "Applejack finally agreed to go along with our plan!"
Applejack looked down and pawed at the ground. "Still don't seem right," she mumbled. "But Twilight showed me what kinda socks Princess Luna has in her collection, and Ah have no way of makin' anything that looks that good. Not to mention you're all givin' 'er socks made by Rarity, so if Ah just give 'er some plain ol' thing, it's gonna stand out. Ah don't want 'er to think Ah think badly of 'er or nothin'."
Twilight patted Applejack on the back. "You don't have anything to feel bad about. I'm sure this is the right thing to do. We'll make your socks look great, and if it goes over poorly with the Princess for any reason, I'll take full responsibility for it."
Suddenly, Rarity ran forward and grabbed Twilight by the shoulders. "Twilight, PLEASE! I didn't want to say anything, but I can't take it anymore! That is absolutely the WORST wig I've ever seen, and you have to let me change it RIGHT NOW before I start SCREAMING!"
"Before you start screaming?" Applejack said, wincing and backing away.
"Uh... sure, Rarity, be my guest," Twilight said. "You won't hear any complaints from me."
Rarity let go of Twilight and let out a long sigh of relief. "Thank you so much. Come, let me take you to the changing room." Rarity led Twilight to a room in the back, which Twilight entered. "I've already put some wigs in there that I think would look good on you, so why don't you go ahead and give me that ratty thing and I'll put it with the other items I need to take to the incinerator." Twilight complied, slipping her wig through a crack in the door. Rarity took the wig and placed it with a small pile containing old clothes, failed designs, excess materials, and financial documents.
As Rarity walked away to return to her work, her cat Opalescence peeked out from under a table, intrigued by the furry yellow wad that Rarity had just placed on top of the pile. Opal moved closer in order to sniff it; as she did, she only became further intrigued, and soon she had stuffed her entire face into the wig in order to get the best smelling experience possible. As she tried to pull her head back out, however, she discovered her face had gotten stuck to the wig. Alarmed, she started running around the boutique, slamming into furniture and clawing at whatever scratchable surfaces she came across.
As Fluttershy flew up to the ceiling and Applejack danced around in an attempt to avoid the bolting cat, Rarity remained at her workbench, staring as the chaos unfolded. "SWEETIE BELLE!" she called. "HAVE YOU BEEN FEEDING TREE SAP TO THE CAT AGAIN!?"
The Sock Swap proved to be a popular event for the citizens of Ponyville. Come the afternoon of the Sock Swap, the Town Square was decorated with banners, balloons, and special sock draperies. Tables were piled with various sock-themed sweets and appetizers. A special stage was set up for sock presentations, and several ponies had signed up to talk in detail about what types of socks they had. And, of course, there was much swapping of socks; nearly every pony in Ponyville had shown up, all wearing socks of their own, and many were happy simply to trade a sock or two with any pony they ran across. Before long, nearly every pony at the event was wearing mismatched socks, and anyone who happened to be looking at hoof-level would see a colorful display indeed.
Meanwhile, Twilight, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash were gathered at one of the food tables, talking to pass the time. They were discussing the various applications of sockakes when Rarity ran up to them, saddlebags at her side. "I got them all done just in time," she panted. "It took me a while to work on the finer details, but it was worth the extra time spent. I guarantee that these will match up to anything in the Princess's collection."
"Well, Ah hope so," Applejack said. "It's nearin' sunset. Princess Luna oughtta be showin' up pretty soon, shouldn't she?"
"She's scheduled to be, but she's been busy at the other Sock Swaps today," Twilight said. "I wouldn't be surprised if she runs a little late."
"I don't know how much longer I can wait," Fluttershy said. "I'm nervous about what she'll think of our socks. I mean, look at how good some of these presentations are."
The ponies looked to the stage, which was currently occupied by a shades-wearing white unicorn with an electric blue mane. The unicorn proudly held up one of her hooves to emphasize the black socks she was wearing, then began to speak with a professional tone. "Fillies and gentlecolts! Do you ever feel the need the bring the beat with you when you leave the house, but that boombox is just too big to carry? We've got you covered! Scratch Industries is proud to present to you: Roxxor Sox!"
She tapped a hoof against the ground, causing all four socks to start playing techno music; she then swirled one sock against her nose to raise the volume. "Each sock is outfitted with its own music player and speaker system. When you wear all four, you have yourself a surround-sound system that's not only affordable and comfortable, but you can take it with you wherever you go! Anytime, anywhere, if the mood strikes you, you're free to just get up and dance!"
Grinning broadly, the unicorn raised her two front hooves into the air, preparing to enter into a dance routine. However, as each hoof landed on the ground, a distinct crunching noise was heard from both of them. Before the unicorn could react, though, she had already lifted her back hooves for the next step of the routine, and then those came down with a crunch as well. The socks had now stopped playing music, save for a small buzzing noise one of her back hooves was making. "Oh yeah," she said. "I forgot about that one design flaw."
Rainbow Dash looked to her companions. "I'm bored," she said.
"Well, you can't go anywhere yet, we need everyone here to give their socks to the Princess," Twilight said. "Oh, shoot, that reminds me! Has anyone seen--"
"Hiya!" Seemingly from nowhere, Pinkie Pie appeared next to Twilight. "Sorry I'm late! I had to do some digging in my old belongings in order to find it, but... I found it all the same!" Pinkie pulled out a small plastic figurine. "Here it is! For the Spock Swap, my favorite Spock action figure, from the 11th Annual Bronycon! It's got karate chopping action!" She started cheerfully playing with the toy.
"Pinkie Pie... What we're celebrating right now is Sock Swap," Twilight explained. "You know, those soft things you wear inside your shoes. See what everyone's wearing on their hooves right now? That's what we're swapping, not..." She looked more closely at the indescribably bizarre figurine Pinkie was holding. "What the heck IS that?"
Pinkie looked around at the other party-goers and gasped. "Ooooh yeah! The Sock Swap! I was so excited for the Spock Swap, I forgot this was happening on the same day! Well, don't worry. If I go right now, I should be able to make it back in time to give my gift to Luna. Be back in a jiffy!"
Twilight called out after Pinkie as she started bouncing away. "Wait! Pinkie, you don't have the time to do that! Besides, you don't NEED to! We already made..." Twilight sighed. Pinkie had already disappeared beyond the horizon. "Great. We lost her."
"Wait, didn't you already tell Pinkie what we were plannin' to do for this thing?" Applejack asked.
Twilight winced. "I tried! Over the course of several days! But every time I brought up the subject of the Sock Swap, she would think I was talking about something else! Since she didn't look like she'd have anything prepared for the Sock Swap anyway, I decided we should just go ahead and make her socks without her."
Applejack shook her head. "For shame, Twilight. For shame."
"For what it's worth, I agreed with Twilight," Rarity said. "Besides, it's too late to do anything about it now. Look who's arrived."
The five remaining ponies turned to see the royal procession heading in their direction. Both Luna and Celestia had arrived by a pegasus-drawn carriage, and as they landed, the party-goers bowed before them. As Celestia calmly exited the vehicle, Luna hopped out the other side, smiling and waving. "Hello, hello!" she said. "How's everyone doing? Isn't the Sock Swap the best thing EVER!?"
As Luna excitedly started chatting with some of the other ponies, Celestia noticed Twilight and approached her. "The Elements of Harmony... and Twilight Sparkle, my most faithful student. It's good to see all of you here."
"It's good to see you too, Princess," Twilight said. "And it looks like Princess Luna is enjoying herself, too! I was worried she might be feeling down, based on what you said in your letter."
Celestia looked at her sister, who was now eating a slice of cake. "Yes... to be honest, I'm a little surprised. Things are very different from what they used to be, as I expected... the turnout hasn't been as big as I would've liked, for example... but Luna is taking it all very well. She almost seems happy about some of the changes." Celestia turned her head back to Twilight. "But that doesn't change the fact that the socks you made are the most important part of this event for her. Did you do what I suggested in my letter?"
"Yes, I did. I talked with everyone, and we agreed to let Rarity handle the socks. She's got them in her bag right now."
"Ah, wonderful. Rarity, I appreciate your cooperation in this matter, it truly means a lot to me. If the Sock Swap goes well, I will make certain that Carousel Boutique receives special recognition sometime in the future."
"Ohohoho, you don't have to do that, Your Highness," Rarity said, adjusting her hair. "I won't complain if you do, though."
At this point, Luna spotted the Elements of Harmony talking with her sister, and approached to greet them. "Hey guys! It's almost time for you all to step on stage and present your socks, are you ready?"
"What? W-wait, we're going on stage?" Fluttershy said.
"Yeah! You guys are important to me, so I want everyone to give you and your socks special attention. I thought each of you could go onstage one at a time, and talk about why you designed the socks the way you did."
"I wasn't told about this," Fluttershy said, blushing.
"Sounds good to me!" Rarity said.
"I think we'll all be ready, once you've set things up," Twilight said.
"Great! I'll go do that, then. Ooooh, I'm so excited!" Luna bounced off into the crowd.
Celestia glanced at the pony still sitting next to her. "Twilight, this might not be the best time to ask, but did you cut your hair?"
Twilight touched her wig. She had opted for one that was most similar to her previous hairstyle, except it was half the length and darker in tone. "Yes... Technically, my hair was cut," she said.
"Oh hey, look who's on stage," Applejack said. The ponies looked and saw that Zecora had taken a stand in the center, wearing some heavy woolen socks with intricate designs of the sun sewn into them. As she stood, Zecora began speaking in verse.
Gather 'round, ponies, and I'll tell you a tale
Of the life of the zebras in the far southern vale.
A place where the griffons and growltigers roam,
The place where I made my childhood home.
These socks are a remnant of a time most drear,
When a powerful warlord ruled the land with fear.
He demanded all zebras to bow at his feet,
He'd force them to work in the sweltering heat,
He'd steal all the food so no zebra could eat,
And all those who challenged him were met with defeat.
However, one day, as the legends foretold,
A hero arose, most powerful and bold,
To defeat the terrible tyrant and see
That the zebras of my tribe were all set free.
The name of our savior, who they praise to this day,
"Wait! Wait! Sorry!" Luna stepped on stage. "I don't mean to cut the other sock presentations short, but we're running low on time now that sunset's here, and there's one thing I really wanted to do before we finish the Sock Swap for today. Do you mind?"
Zecora glared at Luna before stepping off stage. "Next year, then," she mumbled.
"Okay then!" Luna faced the crowd. "This next set of presentations will be dedicated to the Elements of Harmony, who faced the dangers of the Everfree Forest to come help me when I was at my greatest time of need, healing me so I could finally return to the palace to be together with my sister again. The nobility of their deeds is beyond measure, and they deserve all the praise in the world." She smiled. "And now they're gonna show us some socks! First up is Twilight Sparkle, the Element of Magic. Come show us what you've got, Twilight!"
"Remember," Celestia whispered, "Luna still thinks you all made these socks yourselves. Keep that in mind when you make your presentations."
"Don't worry, Princess, we've got it under control," Twilight said, winking. She then put on the socks Rarity gave her and stepped on stage.
Twilight cleared her throat. "There's a lot of symbolism going into the design of these socks, so they require a bit of explanation. First, you need to be aware that the overall structure of the socks is based on the types of socks that knights used to wear in the old Equestrian orders, and most of the symbols on here are based on that same time period. The socks are one hundred percent cotton, based on the old practice of knights hoof-picking the cotton for their own socks to show their integrity and dedication to their work. The four-pointed star design on the side is based on the flag of the knights of Applosia, who were well-renowned for their honor and trustworthiness when dealing with other orders. During meetings, they would often fold the tops of their socks down, like this, to show that there were no hidden blades there. To top it all off, these socks have been magically imbued to be slightly transparent, to further show that the wearer has nothing to hide. When taken together, all of these symbols combine to represent the element of..." Twilight smacked her forehead. "HONESTY!? These aren't MY socks, these are APPLEJACK'S socks! How did I put on the wrong socks!?"
Twilight quickly returned to Rarity to swap out the socks, then sheepishly returned to the stage. "Er... heh heh... sorry about that. Um... these socks here... they're, uh... well..." She started giggling. "H, how about that! After all that about Applejack's socks, I forgot what I was going to say about my own socks! Hahahaha! Isn't that always the way!" She gulped. "Well, anyway, they're magically enhanced to switch to a new design when you click them together, so there's that. They're magic! That's how they represent magic." Twilight took the socks off and presented them to Luna. "My gift to you, Princess Luna. I hope you enjoy them."
"Thank you!" Luna said as Twilight returned to Celestia's side to lie on the ground and bury her face in her hooves. "Wow! Twilight is so knowledgeable about her friends' socks! I guess that just goes to show how attentive she is as a friend. Okay, next up is... Well how about that, it's Applejack! Come on up, Applejack!"
Applejack put on the first socks that Twilight wore and stepped on stage. "Well... Speakin' in terms of honesty... Ah hafta say these socks are honestly pretty comfortable. Even if they're kinda ghosty-lookin'." She lifted a back hoof and looked at it. "The star on there represents nighthood... since the stars only come out at night... and you gotta remember to keep 'em folded because... Ahhh, who am Ah kiddin'." She trudged over to Luna and removed the socks. "Here ya go, Princess. You know more about 'em than Ah do, at this point."
"Thank you, Applejack. Very regal! Next up is... Fluttershy! What's our little land-loving pegasus got for us?"
Fluttershy cowered and looked at the other ponies. "Do I really have to?" she asked. Rarity responded by giving her a small headbutt in the behind, causing her to shuffle onto the stage. "Um... hello," she murmured. She lifted one of her sock-covered hooves. "Ummm... these are some nice little... well, you know, they're socks... made out of fur that was kindly donated by--"
"OHMIGOSH, is that THE Fluttershy!?" came a voice from the crowd.
"Eep?" Fluttershy responded.
"It IS! I'd know that squeak anywhere! It's the famous ex-model Fluttershy!"
"She's making a comeback! And she's doing it modeling SOCKS!" came another voice. "Oh, it's everything I dreamed it would be!"
"Quick! Everyone rush the stage and take lots of pictures of her!"
As a small mob started dive-bombing onto the stage, Fluttershy flew up into the air, threw her socks at Luna, and fled the premises. "I'm sorryyyyy!" she called as she left.
"Wow, Fluttershy sure is popular!" Luna said, pulling the socks off of her nose. "And with socks as soft as these, anyone can see why! Okay, Rarity, you're up next."
Rarity stepped onto the stage with her hooves still bare, and she cast a sly glance at her audience as she gracefully whipped her socks out of her bag. The socks she pulled out were filled with so many polished gems, they flashed the sun's rays in all directions, and some of the audience members in the front row were temporarily blinded by the sight. "Take a good look, everyone!" Rarity said as she started putting on the socks. "These represent the finest of Carousel Boutique. Speaking as the Element of Generosity, I guarantee that every item I make is worth its weight in gems. Especially these socks! Now, if you'll focus your attention on the soles here... eh?"
Rarity was distracted by something that was jumping through the crowd. As it reached the front and jumped directly toward the stage, Rarity realized too late what it was; it was Spike, making a beeline for the socks. He latched directly onto one of Rarity's hooves and started gnawing away. Rarity screeched, desperately shaking her hoof in attempt to knock Spike off.
"I take back everything I said earlier! I LOVE socks!" Spike said. "Who knew they had such a subtle, yet sublime flavor? This would go perfectly with ANY meal!"
Rarity tried everything she could think of to get Spike to come off, which included kicking, bucking, rolling around, and smacking Spike against a table, but Spike kept chewing away through all of it. In a panic, Rarity ran from the party in an attempt to find anything that would help her with her dilemma. It would not occur to her until ten minutes later to simply remove the socks.
"Okay, I guess Rarity will give me her socks later!" Luna said as she watched Rarity leave. "Well, they were very pretty, and apparently tasty, too! Next, we'll have Rainbow Dash show us her socks."
Rainbow Dash nonchalantly slipped on the socks Rarity gave her and flew up to the stage. "What was my element again? Loyalty? Okay, let's see what we got here." Dash examined one of her socks. "Well, it's blue. I guess that means, like, being true blue? Doesn't that have something to do with loyalty? Oh wait... this isn't blue, I must've looked at it wrong. It's more of a purpley... reddish... wait a minute..." As Rainbow Dash continued to stare at the sock, it gradually changed from purple, to red, to yellow, and so forth, cycling through several different colors. Dash's eyes widened. "Woah, they change COLOR!? That's freakin' AWESOME!"
Twilight coughed audibly. "Yes it IS, Rainbow Dash! You sure OUTDID YOURSELF ON THE DESIGN!"
"That's right I did!" Rainbow Dash said. "I'm Rainboomin' it all up in this place. These socks are a fine sampling of the sweet, sweet taste of a Rainbow Dash victory." Dash looked back at Twilight. "I forgot how they relate to loyalty, though. Could you give me a reminder?"
Twilight smacked her forehead again. "It's a callback to an old version of the Equestrian flag, which was partially based on the different colors of the Elements of Harmony. It was used to symbolize loyalty to the princess."
"I see." Rainbow Dash looked back to the socks. "But when you think about it, nopony would guess these represented loyalty just by looking at them. I mean, come on! They can't even stick to one color! Say each of these colors represented a different pony, and the color of the sock showed which pony you were showing your loyalty to at any given time. This would be like, one day, you say the yellow pony is the best pony, and the next day, you say the blue pony is the best pony. You can't have a new best pony every day of the week! That's just silly!"
Applejack looked at Twilight and noticed she was wearing the same expression she wore just before her mane burst into flames at Froggy Bottom Bog. "Er, maybe we better move on to the next set of socks, Rainbow Dash," Applejack said.
"Yeah, I guess I've been up here long enough." Rainbow Dash took off her socks and looked at them longingly. "These are pretty awesome, though. Do I really have to give them to Luna?" Steam started rising from Twilight's head. "Okay, okay, I'm going," Dash said, hovering over to Luna and handing her the socks. "Take good care of 'em, Princess."
"Don't worry, I will!" Luna said. "Even if you weren't really satisfied with the symbolism, I still think they're neat." Luna looked back at the group. "The last one is Pinkie Pie, but... come to think of it, I don't think I've seen her since I arrived. Where is she?"
"I'm sorry, Princess," Twilight said. "Pinkie Pie couldn't make it in time. But it's okay, she left her socks with us so we could still give them to you." Twilight held up some brightly colored socks with a triangular trim, with bells hanging off the side. "Jester-socks! See, they've got the jangly bits and everything!"
For the first time since arriving at the Sock Swap, Luna showed a worried expression. "Huh? That's strange. Pinkie Pie specifically told me that she would be..."
"TA-DAAAAAAAAH!" On cue, Pinkie Pie burst through the curtains that served as a background for the stage, throwing confetti in all directions. "I'm baaaaack! Looks like I made it just in the nick of time, too! No need to worry about me, Princess, I'm fully prepared for my presentation!" Pinkie ducked back behind the curtains and came back pushing a small podium on wheels with her head.
Luna gasped with joy as she saw the party pony finally make her appearance. By contrast, Twilight looked on at the same scene in bug-eyed horror.
"Socks are actually a special subject for me, too!" Pinkie said as she took her place behind the podium. "I know the ponies here are used to me being pretty happy most of the time, but I wasn't always like that. When I was an itty bitty little wittle twinkie Pinkie, sometimes things were rough for me, and I would get into a sad mood. That's why I'm so thankful that I had Granny Pie, because she would always help to cheer me up!" Pinkie Pie started digging for something behind the podium. "Whenever we had a bad day at the farm, Granny would gather me and my sisters and put on a little show for us. We didn't have many things she could use for props, but Granny was smart, and she knew how to improvise. So what did she use instead?" Pinkie Pie jumped back up, now wearing her socks. "SOCK PUPPETS!"
Twilight looked at the two socks on Pinkie's front hooves. One was gray and the other was brown, and neither sock was a pleasant shade of either color. They were clearly several years old, and they appeared to have holes in them. Two buttons were sewn into each sock to represent eyes, and one of these buttons was hanging by a thread. "Oh no," Twilight said. "Don't tell me she's planning on giving THOSE to the Princess."
"Everyone, I'd like you to meet Jude and Punchy!" Pinkie continued. "Jude is an aristocrat from the upper crusts of Canterlot society, and Punchy is a working class sock from the coal mining town of South Bales. They're the original odd couple!"
"I say, what what!" Pinkie Pie said in the high-pitched voice of Jude. "So very nice to meet you all. Let's get together for tea and crumpets!"
"Ach, laddie, there's no time fer that!" Pinkie also said, now with the low and grumbling voice of Punchy. "Crikey, we've got bats swarmin' in from the east side o' the mines! Ach du lieber! I say, aaarrrrrrhh!"
As Pinkie continued with her show, Celestia leaned down to address Twilight. "What's going on here? I thought you said Rarity made all the socks."
"Technically, she did," Twilight said. "The problem here is that--"
"ALL RIGHT! ALL YOU PONIES GET ON THE GROUND RIGHT NOW, AND PUT YOUR HOOVES ON YOUR HEADS!"
Twilight returned her attention to the stage. In addition to the two sock puppets Pinkie was already showing at the podium, Pinkie had now somehow lifted a third, red sock puppet to join them, using one of her back hooves. Pinkie looked at the new sock puppet and gasped in surprise. "Mr. Wiggles!? I thought I banished you to the nether dimension!"
"I broke free!" Pinkie Pie said in the baritone voice of Mr. Wiggles. "And now you ponies are all gonna do what I say, or else somepony's gonna get it!"
"N-now now, Mr. Wiggles," Pinkie said, smiling nervously. "We're holding a party here! Can't we all just get along?"
"No! I've had it up to here with your shenanigans!" Mr. Wiggles waved back and forth angrily. "If you all don't cooperate, this pink pony's gonna be the first one to go!"
As Mr. Wiggles continued his tirade, Applejack leaned over to talk to Rainbow Dash. "Ah really don't get her sense o' humor sometimes," she said.
Rainbow Dash was suddenly uncomfortably reminded of what happened at Pinkie's last birthday party. "I hope I'm wrong, but I'm not sure she's doing this to be funny," Dash said. "Look at her eyes when she voices the sock puppets. I think she might've actually gone nuts."
The look on Celestia's face became more and more questioning as she continued to watch the scene. Twilight was sweating at this point. "I can fix this," she reassured the princess. "I'll talk to Pinkie after she's done, explain what's going on, and then we'll tell Luna that it was just an act and that her REAL socks are the ones that--"
"WATCH OUT! THAT SOCK'S GOT A GUN!"
Twilight looked back at the podium. Mr. Wiggles was holding a sock glock and waving it menacingly at the audience. "That's right! Maybe now you'll take me more seriously, huh?" he said.
Twilight grimaced at Celestia. "I can still fix it!" she said. "Probably!"
Mr. Wiggles jumped up, taking the rest of Pinkie Pie with him, landing Pinkie's head on top of the podium so he could gain greater height over the rest of the crowd. "All right, here's what we're gonna do," he said. "I happen to know for a fact that inside that carriage over there is a duffel bag containing the most valuable sock collection in the kingdom. All I want from you ponies is to give me plenty of space while I go take that bag for myself. Get in my way, and I might have to hurt someone. Cooperate, and I'll leave you all alone--forever, 'cause I'll be kickin' back in a mansion in Beremuda! Muahahahaha!"
The ponies in the audience gave Mr. Wiggles a wide berth, as instructed. Mr. Wiggles left the podium, dragging Pinkie Pie with him in the direction of the pegasus-drawn carriage. Before he could get far, though, his weapon was knocked out of his non-existant hands; Applejack had lassoed it away with a rope, then quickly swung the rope back to tie up Mr. Wiggles. "Pinkie, Ah don't know if yer possessed, or off yer medication, or what," she said, "but it seems to me we can fix the problem by takin' care o' this little sucker here."
"Oh, a cowgirl, huh?" Mr. Wiggles sneered, as much as a sock could sneer. "Well, I've been a cattle rustler longer than you've been alive, I tell you what!" Mr. Wiggle yanked the rope from Applejack's mouth, and then, faster than Applejack could fully realize what was happening, he whipped a lasso back at her, tying her legs together and causing her to fall to the ground. Mr. Wiggles then untied the rope that was still wrapped around him. "Please. I don't even need a weapon to take out any of you weird marshmallow things."
"Neither do I!" Rainbow Dash said as she flew toward Mr. Wiggles, aiming for an uppercut to the face. Her hoof made direct contact with Pinkie Pie's; unfortunately, Mr. Wiggles took the blow and turned it against Rainbow Dash, swinging her around and flinging her toward a tree, which Dash then slammed into with no amount of grace, landing on the ground afterward. "Ugh," she said, dazed. "I didn't think socks could learn tai chi."
"If you're all done fooling around, I'm going to go take my socks, now," Mr. Wiggles said. "I advise you all stay away, or else I'm REALLY going to have to get rough with you."
Since the only two ponies who knew anything about fighting had already been taken out, the others in the audience could only watch helplessly as the sock made his way over to the carriage. Just before Mr. Wiggles could grab the duffel bag contained within, however, they all heard a voice cry out, "NOT SO FAST, YOU RUFFIAN!"
Everyone looked to the west. There, standing against the backdrop of the setting sun, was Princess Luna. She was holding up her front hoof, which was covered with a sock puppet of its own; a blue sock puppet with white star-shaped buttons for eyes, its face concealed by a black bandana.
Mr. Wiggles guffawed at the sight. "Legendary Masked Sock Puppet Warrior, El Calcetín! My old nemesis. We meet again, I see."
"Mr. Wiggles, your reign of terror has gone on long enough," El Calcetín said. "I've come to put a stop to your criminal ways once and for all."
"You may talk big, but you've never been able to capture me. You've only been able to delay my inevitable rise to wealth and power. Do you really think you can put me away for good this time?"
"I do." El Calcetín pulled out a katana. "I challenge you to a duel, and this time, I don't plan on stopping until the battle is truly over."
Mr. Wiggles laughed again as he pulled out his own katana. "A sword duel!? You've never even gotten the upper hoof on me in these! Very well, if you insist on dying in such a foolish fashion, I won't stand in your way! I accept your challenge!"
"This is happening?" Twilight asked. "Seriously? This is seriously happening?"
Luna flew forward, hoof outstretched to meet her rival head-on. Mr. Wiggles also flew forward as quickly as he could, considering he had to drag Pinkie's face across the ground along the way. As El Calcetín and Mr. Wiggles came face to face, their tiny katanas clashed; soon, they were dancing around each other, sparks flying as each blade met the other.
"Your skills have improved!" Mr. Wiggles said. "Unfortunately for you, I'm stronger, faster, and more quick-witted than you. No matter what you've learned since the last time I saw you, there's no way you'll be able to defeat me."
"You underestimate me, Mr. Wiggles," El Calcetín growled. "What you're seeing now isn't the full extent of my power, but the results of my training in self-restraint. I beg you to give yourself in while you still can; otherwise, I'll have no choice but to take you out for good."
"There's no place for self-restraint in a battle to the death! Either you're bluffing, or you're a fool! And with this next swing, I plan to see which one!"
Mr. Wiggles dodged El Calcetín's next swing and moved in to strike a killing blow on his own; the strike missed, but the sword swung close enough to slice off the bandana covering El Calcetín's face. El Calcetín quickly recovered and blocked Mr. Wiggles' next swing, and the two duelists remained in place, swords locked together as Mr. Wiggles saw who was behind the mask for the first time.
"No," Mr. Wiggles gasped. "It couldn't be... Ms. Giggles? My sister!?"
Ms. Giggles stared at Mr. Wiggles. "It has been over a decade since I last heard anyone say that name," she said. "How appropriate that I would finally hear it come from you, my brother."
"This is impossible!" Mr. Wiggles moved in to strike some more blows, but Ms. Giggles continued to block all of them with ease. "You died in the fire at Sensei's mansion! I KNOW you did! I saw it happen!!"
"You only ever saw what you wanted to see. Just like your jealousy made you believe that Sensei treated you unfavorably, compared to the rest of his students."
"Of COURSE he treated me unfairly! He criticized me and my methods, he gave me more work to do than any of the other socks, he never praised me for ANYTHING!"
"Don't you see what that meant, Mr. Wiggles? It means he expected more from you than the others. He thought you had the most potential out of anyone, and he refused to let your talent go to waste. You were his favorite, my brother. It's such a shame that you would turn out like this, a common criminal."
"Peh! What value was there in being an overworked student? Do you know how much money and power I've gotten with the path I've taken? And look at you, just some unknown vigilante off the streets! For all your talk, what do YOU have to show for being faithful to the Master's teachings?"
"I don't need money or power. I can be happy without those things, because I know I fight for the sake of the people!" Suddenly, Luna did a backflip several meters away, removing Ms. Giggles from the fight. As she landed, she held Ms. Giggles up high. "Look! Look to the sky!" she said.
The sun had nearly disappeared from the horizon at this point, and the sky was a dark, blank slate. However, as everypony looked upwards, the stars started blinking into existence, one by one. "These stars represent the dreams of the people," Ms. Giggles said. "Every night, we all go to sleep under the same sky, and dream of things to come. Happy dreams... hopeful dreams. Dreams of making the world a better place. What do you dream about? Money? Controlling those around you? That's what brings you satisfaction? I fight to protect the dreams that bring happiness to everyone!"
Luna flew into the sky, holding Ms. Giggles aloft. As she did, the moon appeared on the horizon, aligning perfectly with the figures in the sky and providing Ms. Giggles' katana with an ethereal glow. "This is for Sensei, for our father, and for all the people that you've ever wronged. For the sake of everything that people hold dear, I call upon the power of the heavens to defeat you once and for all! MOON BEAM SLAAASH!"
Ms. Giggles dive-bombed in Mr. Wiggles' direction, moving in for a final blow that he could not possibly block. Her blade split Mr. Wiggles' katana in two before finally striking the sock himself; as Luna landed a short distance away, Mr. Wiggles could do nothing but gape in horror at the final outcome of the battle.
"THIS CANNOT BE!" he roared. "NOOOOOOOOOO!!" As his scream echoed throughout the area, he began to glow; and finally, with a flash of light, Mr. Wiggles vanished from Pinkie's hoof, leaving nothing behind but a puff of smoke.
Finally freed from the insidious sock puppet, Pinkie Pie's back hoof fell to the ground with the rest of her. Luna stepped closer to Pinkie Pie, allowing Ms. Giggles to take a solemn position over where her brother once stood. "I truly regret that things had to turn out this way," she said. "Rest in peace, brother."
For a moment, there was complete silence on Ponyville grounds. After a few seconds, Pinkie stood up, brushed herself off, and waved a hoof at the audience. "Ta-daaaah!" she said. "That's the end of our show! We hope you enjoyed it!"
Luna nodded and bowed. "We really do! We had a lot of fun putting this together. We were worried that we might not be able to get the timing right, but I think we pulled it off pretty well!" Luna grinned hopefully at the audience. "What did you think? Did you like it, too?"
The audience was dumbfounded. For a while, nopony could do anything except stare slack-jawed at Pinkie and the princess. Then, one pony near the front started slowly tapping at the ground with his hooves. Soon, the ponies next to him joined in. As their tapping turned into stomping, more and more ponies within the crowd started stomping in kind, and before long, every pony in the Town Square was applauding the two sock puppeteers with a thunderous stampede.
After the sock puppet show was over, most of the ponies went home. The rise of the moon had marked the official end for the Sock Swap this year, although a few ponies remained behind to do clean-up or continue to chat with each other before leaving. Luna in particular wanted to make sure she got to talk with the Elements of Harmony one more time before she returned to the palace, and after she had spoken with the caterers to thank them for their help, she returned to speak with the group.
"Thank you all so much for coming and making all those wonderful socks for me, I think they're all beautiful." She looked at Fluttershy and Rarity. "And I'm sorry you two had to leave before we put on the sock puppet show, I would've liked for you to have seen it."
"Oh, I actually saw the whole thing," Fluttershy said. "I was watching it from inside those bushes over there. It was very... nice."
"I only missed some of it," Rarity said. "I actually came back in time to see you two start fighting. I almost had a heart attack! I guess I should've been here sooner so I would've known what was going on."
"Oh, okay," Luna said, smiling. "Well, I'm glad you got to see some of it, at least! Also, there's something else I wanted to mention. In all the commotion, I forgot to get my socks from Pinkie. But, um... I'm a little confused about what's going on there." She looked at Pinkie. "Didn't you say that Jude and Punchy were the socks that you wanted to give to me for the Sock Swap?"
"Oh yeah, that's right!" Pinkie took the two sock puppets off her hooves and gave them to Luna. "These two brought me laughter back during a time when not much else did. They're very precious to me, and I'm a little sad to see them go, but I know they're just going to get old and worn if I hang onto them. I want you to keep them, because I know you'll take good care of them, and make sure that what Granny Pie shared with me is also shared with future generations." Pinkie giggled. "I want everyone I know to smile as much as possible! And that includes you, Luna."
Luna took the two sock puppets and hugged them. "Thank you so much, Pinkie. I'll make sure everyone remembers both you and your granny." She scratched her head. "But something weird happened just before we started the show. Twilight told me you made me a different set of socks for the Sock Swap. What was that about, Twilight?"
Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out, just vague noises from her throat. Applejack stepped next to her and put her arm around her. "You should probably just tell 'er, Twilight," she said. "This whole thing was a silly idea anyway. Look how happy the princess was with Pinkie's socks, and those were put together with buttons and glue."
Twilight sighed and looked sadly at the ground. "I'm sorry, Princess," she said. "Even though you told us to come up with our own socks, I was worried that they wouldn't be good enough for your collection, so I had Rarity make socks for everyone instead. Pinkie just happened to slip through the cracks and come up with her own socks anyway."
"Huh." Luna examined Twilight carefully. "You're not really the one who decided to do that, are you?" She glared at her sister, who was sitting next to Twilight. "Tia?" she ventured.
Celestia smiled slyly. "Was it that obvious?" she asked.
"Sis, you've been pulling strings all week!" Luna reprimanded. "I told you, I don't need your help running the Sock Swap, I don't need you trying to force more ponies to come to it, I don't need you 'correcting' everyone's behavior under the assumption that I'm going to throw a fit or something if everything doesn't go exactly how I imagined it! Why do you keep treating me like a child!?"
Celestia sighed. "I'm not worried that you're going to throw a fit," she said. "I'm worried that I'm going to lose you, somehow. No matter how many times you tell me you're not going to let yourself be unhappy with the Sock Swap, the fact of the matter is that, over the course of the past year, you've rarely been anything but unhappy. I don't think I've seen you smile, really smile, more than ten times. I'm sure you'll understand that, when I finally saw something that might provide me with an opportunity to return you to your old, playful self, I did absolutely everything I could to make sure it worked."
Luna fiddled with the sock puppets in her hooves. "Tia... This isn't the way to do it. Do you even know why I was sad?" Luna waved a hoof across the air, indicating the Town Square before them. "A thousand years ago, I abandoned everyone. They're my royal subjects are much as they are yours, and I abandoned them. Then, over the course of the next millennium, I lost all connections with them altogether. When I came back here, I had to start over from the very beginning, rebuild my relationships with everyone from the ground up, only now I had my actions as Nightmare Moon hanging over my head. I wasn't sure I COULD interact with them again.
"That's when I remembered the Sock Swap." Luna slipped Punchy onto one of her hooves and looked at him. "I remembered that was the time I always felt closest to my subjects. I don't know what it is, but seeing the different types of socks everyone makes, the innovative things they do with socks, what types of socks are their favorites, and why... Everyone treats socks differently in their own special way, and seeing that somehow makes me feel more connected with everyone. I've never gotten tired of talking with ponies about socks, and I figured that if I could just get out and talk to some ponies during the Sock Swap, maybe I could become part of society again. Maybe I could start to make amends."
Luna gestured towards the Elements of Harmony. "That's why I went and asked them to make some socks. I said it's so we can continue to remember them at future Sock Swaps, and that is a big part of it, but it's not the only reason. I asked them to do it--personally went and talked with each one--so I could get to know them better. The important thing to me wasn't the socks themselves, it was talking with these ponies, learning what's important to them. I want to be friends with them, Tia. And I want them to teach me more about friendship and the Elements of Harmony, since that's what finally rescued me from my insanity and allowed me to return to the kingdom. I think they could all share important lessons with me... but Tia, they can't do it if you're standing behind them, telling them what to say!"
Celestia looked at her sister with regret. "Luna... You truly were happy with today's Sock Swap in spite of all its flaws, weren't you?"
"Of course I was! Look... I know you've been feeling guilty about not holding the Sock Swap for such a long time. But I should've told you sooner... The fact that we had to restart the holiday was actually a blessing in disguise for me." Luna pawed at the ground. "It's like... I really AM being given a fresh start. The Sock Swap is a new thing for everypony, just like I'm also kind of a new thing. It's off to a little bit of a wobbly start, I'll admit, but that's what happens when you get up on your legs for the first time. I think if the holiday had still been going on when I returned to the palace, I would've felt like I was forcing myself into a place where I no longer belonged; instead, it's like I'm building a new home for myself, and making a contribution to everyone else in the process. So you don't have to worry about anything weird that happened today. I'm actually thankful for it."
Celestia closed her eyes. "I was so focused on helping you... but instead, all I did was coddle you. I never stopped to ask you what it was you wanted, or even thought about why you wanted it. Centuries of ruling alone have made me forget what it means to have a sister." She opened her eyes again to look at Luna. "I'm sorry, Luna. Whatever problems we may have in the future, I promise to discuss them with you first, instead of simply making decisions for you. Will you forgive me?"
"You don't even have to ask, Tia!" Luna stepped forward and hugged Celestia. "You were only looking out for me! Of course I forgive you!"
Up until this point, the other ponies had simply been watching the two royal sisters in silence. Then Applejack wiped a tear from her eye and began to speak. "Aw, shucks. Ah hafta say somethin'. Princess, Ah figured somethin' like this might happen, so Ah went ahead and made my own socks for you anyway. Ah can go get 'em for ya, if ya want, but it'll take me a minute to get to home an' back. Would you mind waitin'?"
Luna pulled away from Celestia and clopped her hooves together. "Ooh, more socks? That would be great! Yeah, we don't have to go anywhere for a while. I'd like to see them!"
"Oh," Fluttershy said. "Actually, now that I think about it, if what you really wanted was socks made by us, I made a few socks recently that I think you might like. I'll go get them while Applejack gets hers."
Rarity glanced at the others. "Well, since they're going out for more socks, I might as well go and get you something to replace the ones that Spike ate."
"Heeeyyy," Rainbow Dash said. "Come to think of it, I made you something, too! It should be a pretty quick trip to Cloudsdale to go get it."
"Oh, wow!" Luna said as the four ponies left. "I'm getting so many new socks today! This goes far beyond what I originally expected!"
"I'd go get you something, too, but I already gave you all my socks," Pinkie said. "Is that why you're still here, Twilight?"
Twilight grinned. "Uh... heh heh... hmmm."
After the ponies returned with their socks, they each decided to present them to Luna one at a time, like they did during the Sock Swap.
"Here's mine," Applejack said, holding up a set of plain hoofknit socks. "They're not too fancy, but this is how the Apple family got their socks for the longest time, by makin' 'em themselves. Speakin' as the Element of Honesty, Ah say nothin's quite as honest as some good ol' hard work. Plus, Ah put some extra paddin' in there, so if ya ever wanted to come back to the farm to try apple-buckin' again, ya won't knock the trees over this time."
"Here's mine," Fluttershy said, holding up a pair of tiny socks. "When I made clothes for the bunnies who had lost their fur, I made more than were actually needed, so I had a few items left over. You seemed to really like the socks I made for Angel, so I thought you might like to have some of your own, if you ever got your own pet. Oh, um... and it represents Kindness, because it lets you show kindness to your little animal friends."
"Here's mine," Rarity said, holding up a set of socks that were identical to the gem-encrusted socks she showed at the Sock Swap. "Like I said, Spike ate yours. These are the ones I made for myself. Now, I made nearly all the socks you were given at the Sock Swap, and I could technically count those as my gifts to you... buuut, as the Element of Generosity, I can't stand to see you take those without also taking these beauties with you."
"Here's mine," Rainbow Dash said, holding up a single ragged cloth band. "This is what happens to your socks when you perform a Sockin' Rainboom. Now you and the rest of the world will know. It represents Loyalty, because I was willing to face the dangers of a sock-based explosion in order to get it for you."
Luna took all the socks and looked upon them with glee. "Wow! This is amazing! The socks from the Sock Swap were great, too, but now I have reminders of the times we've spent together and the conversations we've had. I really don't know how to thank you enough."
Twilight looked at the ground. "I don't know what to say! I spent so much time worrying about everyone else's socks that I never bothered to do anything myself, and now the Sock Swap is over and I don't have anything to show for it. I feel terrible."
Spike tapped Twilight's leg. "You could give her these," he said, holding up a set of purple socks.
Twilight looked at him. "Spike? When did you come back? Shouldn't you be in bed right now?"
Spike mumbled something indistinct while staring at Luna. Twilight sighed and took the socks from him. "Oh..." she said, once she realized what they were. "I can't give her these, Spike. That would just be weird."
"Why? They look fine to me," Luna said.
"Well, you see, the thing is... these socks were made from... uh... my own hair."
"Since Twilight tried to shave the rabbits to use their fur to make socks, they decided to do the same thing with her," Spike explained.
Luna gasped. "Twilight, that's why you were attacked by those rabbits? Because you were getting fur for my socks?"
"She's been working her tail off all week to make sure those things were ready in time!" Spike said. "Do you know how many hours she spent doing research on Equestrian history, just so she could make the designs as accurate as possible? It was a lot!"
"Yes, and she worked with me quite a bit as well," Rarity said. "She not only helped plan the designs, she also helped me with some of the magical properties. You could almost say those socks are as much a product of her work as they are of mine."
"Yeah, she was pretty dedicated to makin' sure those socks were done right," Applejack said. "Even though Ah wasn't on board with her plan at first, she wouldn't leave me alone 'til Ah was. That girl sure can argue up a storm when she needs to."
"She might not have gotten the fur off the rabbits herself, but she did help me do what it took to get the fur," Fluttershy added. "She helped me make sweaters for the rabbits as part of our end of the bargain."
"She gave me the inspiration I needed to perform the Sockin' Rainboom," Rainbow Dash said. "She had to threaten me with a fate worse than death in order to do it, but..."
"She helped me catch a chicken!" Pinkie Pie said.
Luna looked at the ponies in astonishment, then returned her attention to Twilight. "You did all that for me?"
Twilight looked questioningly at Pinkie. "Well... not the chicken part, but--"
Twilight was interrupted as she was suddenly hugged by Luna. "You said this is what Magic represents, right?" Luna asked. "Not literal magic, but the feeling you get when you realize how happy you are to have friends?"
Twilight blushed. "But... but I didn't actually make any socks for you..."
"If you had, the Sock Swap wouldn't have turned out as great as it did. Maybe it wasn't what you intended, but this way, I really know what lengths you're all willing to go through for me." Luna took the purple socks from Twilight's grasp and looked at them. "Besides, these are technically the product of your hard work, right? I think they count as much as anyone else's. I'd be proud to have them in my collection."
"Luna..." Twilight said. "I... don't know what to say..."
"I do!" Pinkie Pie said, bouncing in front of Twilight. "It's time for you to tell Celestia what you learned about friendship!"
"Huh?... Well, I guess that’s as good as anything else," Twilight said. She thought about it for several seconds. "I'm not sure I learned anything, though."
Everyone stared at her. "What?" Twilight said. "I mean, yeah, Luna wanted us to make our own socks, but what was I supposed to do? I got an official request from Princess Celestia to get Rarity to make them. Would any of you have handled this situation differently, if we had to start over?"
Celestia looked at the group for a moment. "I would have," she said. "Spike, take a message. I have a report on friendship I want to make."
Spike stared at Celestia in disbelief. "A Friendship Report FOR the Princess, BY the Princess? Can we do that?"
"I decree that we can." Celestia cleared her throat. "Dear Princess Celestia: Today I learned that, although it's important to do everything you can to support your friends and family, sometimes the best thing you can do is let them handle their own problems in their own way. We all have our own feelings of how certain situations should be handled, but we shouldn't assume our friends always feel the same way. A good friend doesn't dictate her friend's behavior; she simply offers her own viewpoint in an attempt to help her friend. It's better to speak with your friend about your concerns rather than go behind her back to fix them, and a good friend will appreciate your consideration. Signed, Your Own Self, Princess Celestia."
Spike finished the letter and blew fire on it, sending it away on delivery. Of course, it reappeared right in front of Celestia, where she took it and tucked it underneath her wing.
"C'mere, everyone!" Luna said, pulling the Elements of Harmony and Celestia together for a group hug. "I love you all so much! You've done so much for me, I don't know how I can ever repay you!" Her ears perked up. "Oh, wait, yes I do! I still haven't shown you my sock collection!" She let go of the others and started running toward the carriage still containing her duffel bag. "Come with me! As I promised, you can pick out any socks you want to keep for yourselves. You all deserve it!"
The girls spent the next couple of hours going through Luna's immense sock collection. During that time, they discussed many things; not only on the topic of socks, but also on the topic of friendship and what they had learned on their other daily adventures. The following day, Luna would publish a report on the Sock Swap, where she would declare it to be a resounding success. However, she noted that it was not until after the Sock Swap was over, when she spent time talking with her new friends, that she would have the best night ever.
P.S. This story made use of the word "sock" 316 times.