"Rainbow?" Applejack said, frowning in disbelief. "Rainbow Dash? Really?"
Rarity nodded. "Oh darling, it suddenly occurred to me while I was chatting with Twilight over tea this morning. She said she felt as if she was missing something, and I suggest that it was somepony she was missing, rather. And when I suggested it was young Spike, she laughed. But then I remembered that Rainbow was also out of town. As you know, she's in Canterlot at the moment helping the Wonderbolts with the Spring Moon Festival performance – that rather striking Spitfire has a marvellous aerial spectacle in store for the Princess Luna, I hear."
"Ah dunno, Rarity," said Applejack. "Ah mean, Twi and Rainbow? What do those two even have in common?"
"Oh, Applejack," sighed Rarity, lifting a soft forehoof and placing it on the muscular withers of her lover. "I do so love you, but when it comes to the finer points of romance I'm afraid that it's very much a closed book for you."
"Nah wait jus' a minute," started Applejack, but Rarity slipped a forehoof against her lips.
"No, no! Please let me finish. What I mean to say is that unless one has experience in such things or has read an awful lot about them, there are hints that one can easily miss. Signs are what I'm speaking of. Now, I know you don't read romantic novels-"
Applejack snorted. "That's for darn sure. Ah dunno how you kin stomach all that soppy malarkey."
"See! That's what I mean," continued Rarity. "So you're probably unaware that there are personality types that naturally fall in love with each other, even though they're quite different."
"What're you talkin' about?" said Applejack. "You mean that whole 'opposites attract' business?" Suddenly the earth pony's eyes went wide. "Ya don't mean – Rainbow an' Twi are jus' like… US?"
"Oh darling!" Rarity eyes grew large and glistened. "So you do know what I mean! Just as you and I are very different ponies and that no doubt plays a part in our attraction for each other, so is it true with Rainbow and Twi." Rarity's voice grew deep with melodrama as she warmed to her explanation. "Just imagine the scene. Twilight! The bookish librarian, who knows so little of life except what she has read in her books. Shy and retiring, she one day meets another mare. Rainbow! The confident sportspony, who is afraid of nothing and risks everything! They become the best of friends…" She brought a forehoof to her forehead and mimed a faint. "But alas! Twilight falls for Rainbow, drawn to her by her charisma, her devil-may-care attitude! She is so alive, so real – so different from herself. She's like Paragon, the valiant Pegasus mare of old who helped keep Equestria safe from the Griffon menace!"
Applejack listened, and as she listened she started to nod. Maybe Rarity had a point. "An' so Rainbow has no idea 'bout Twi's feelins for her?"
Rarity snorted. "Oh please, darling! This is our Rainbow we're talking about here. Of course she has no idea!" Rarity fell down onto the floor on her knees, her forehooves clutching her chest. "And so now poor Twilight wastes away with longing for her, unable to understand these new feelings that have sprung up deep within her breast. She's sad, and longs for something – but being inexperienced in the ways of romance she doesn't recognise that it is love that torments her so!"
Applejack brought a forehoof to her chin. "And what about Rainbow?"
Rarity chuckled. "Oh, Rainbow! She doesn't have time for that sort of thing, and so she doesn't recognise the gorgeous, sensitive mare who loves her so, the one right in front of her face!" She slipped in front of Applejack and slid her forelegs around her neck, making the earth pony blush. "The one who would complete her soul and make her happier than anypony else in all of Equestria!"
Applejack looked deep into Rarity's blue eyes. Why hadn't she realised this all before? It was just like their story. She hadn't even realised her feelings for Rarity until that great storm had brought them together. And if that storm hadn't happened, well…
Applejack slipped out of Rarity's embrace, then walked up to the window and looked outside. Big Mac and the others were still hard at work in the afternoon sunshine. None of the wonderful times the two of them had enjoyed would ever have happened except for that storm.
Applejack closed her eyes. Even just imagining her and Rarity never coming together was like an awful black sadness deep in the pit of her stomach. Poor Rainbow.
She turned back to Rarity at last, her face suddenly determined. "So what're we gonna do about it?"
"Why, we have to bring the two of them together of course!" replied Rarity. "I fear that the two of them are unlikely to ever recognise their own feelings, so we must step in and give love a helping hoof, as it were."
Applejack nodded. "Like the storm that brought us together?"
Rarity's eyes moistened at the memory and she nodded. "Oh yes, darling – but something not so dramatic. Subtlety is required here, or else who knows what confusion we might cause! The gentle touch is best for affairs of the heart." She tapped her chin with a forehoof. "I suppose we shall have to wait and see. Perhaps when Rainbow returns to Ponyville a situation will present itself."
Rarity was about to say more when there was a sound of voices outside the homestead. Applejack turned to Rarity and put a hoof to her mouth and hissed, "It's Big McIntosh and the others back from the plantin'! Plannin's gonna hafta wait 'til morning ah'm afraid."
Rainbow Dash, standing atop the highest pennant on the highest tower of the castle fussed at the straps that held the multi-coloured lights on her flight-suit - she'd worn them numerous times this past week, but they still didn't feel comfortable. Maybe she was just nervous.
She craned her neck as Spitfire, followed by some two dozen other Pegasus ponies, flew overhead in a V-formation silhouetted against the evening sky. The flame-coated Wonderbolt, along with her two fellow team members Vertigo and Solar Flare, had spent the whole day putting the Spring Moon Festival Aerobatics Performance Team through their paces: loop-de-loops, barrel rolls, and the always crowd-pleasing Immelmann. Rainbow whistled, impressed. It was some impressive flying from a group made up of enthusiastic amateurs drawn from all around Equestria!
Soon Spitfire was bringing the squad in to land on the grassy meadow high up on the Castle Mount that had been serving as their base of operations over the past week. Rainbow threw herself off the tower and with a few keen sweeps of her wings she caught one of the many updrafts that made flying in the mountains such a delight. She swept up to where Spitfire, flanked by the other Wonderbolts, was already debriefing their squad, and hovered there, high above them, watching her heroes in action from a discrete distance.
"Good work today, fliers!" Spitfire said, walking up and down the row of steely-eyed Pegasus ponies standing to attention. She came at last to one Pegasus who was perhaps a lot less straight-backed in her standing to attention, and whose eyes were not particularly steely, but brimming with pride and confidence all the same despite their amber pupils looking in different directions. "Especially you, Ditzy!"
"Thank you, Spitfire ma'am!" said Ditzy, saluting first with her left forehoof before changing her mind and saluting with her right instead.
Spitfire looked the blonde-maned Pegasus up and down. "I know your day job as a mail-mare doesn't really give you much of a chance to do any performance flying, but I have to say I'm impressed with your spunk. You don't even seem to understand the meaning of fear."
Ditzy saluted. "No Spitfire, ma'am, I do not!"
Spitfire nodded. "I'm glad we agree!"
As Spitfire walked back to where the other two Wonderbolts were standing, Ditzy turned to the purple-coated Pegasus with a tornado cutie-mark standing beside her and asked "Hey – what does 'fear' mean again? I forgot!" She brought a forehoof to her head and sighed. "Oh, Ditzy Doo! You can be such a Derpy Hooves sometimes!"
But there was no chance for her purple-coated friend to set Ditzy straight as Spitfire had already turned back to address them again. "We'll meet back here later tonight, squad, for some more night-flying practice." A happy murmur rippled through the squad. "Oh, and some endurance flying as well!"
The happy murmur suddenly changed to exasperated sighs, but a glare from Spitfire silenced them. "No complaining! Cardio work is the backbone of performance flying. I don't want to see any of you falling out of the sky mid-display – Princess Celestia will be totally disappointed if her little message to Princess Luna isn't perfect in every way! Squad dismissed!"
The Pegasus ponies, led by the other Wonderbolts, flew into the air and dispersed to enjoy their free afternoon time in the mighty Capital of Equestria.
Rainbow flew down from her vantage point and landed next to Spitfire, who grinned at her and punched her offered hoof with a laugh.
"You totally put them through their paces, Spitfire!" said Rainbow, and the Wonderbolt grinned at her. "That was one totally hardcore training session."
"It's all about tough love, Rainbow," said Spitfire, grinning and wiping the sweat from her forehead. "Keeping your eyes on the prize and not letting anything distract you from it – that's number one!"
Rainbow's face fell. "But how am I going to get good enough in the next couple of nights so that I don't stink up the skies for you guys?"
Spitfire's grin turned to a smile and she placed a forehoof on Rainbow's shoulder. "You're not going to be stinking up anything, Rainbow. You've been doing an awesome job – the stuff you've learned in just a few days has been totally astounding!" The smile dropped from her face. "You know, if you hadn't come to our rescue after Soarin ended up going on a pie bender and ended up too fat to get into his suit, it'd be the rest of us that would be looking like gnarly dragon eggs. Everything has to be perfect for Princess Celestia's surprise for Princess Luna."
"But to fill Soarin's suit, I've got to pull down weeks of training in just a few days," protested Rainbow.
"You'll do it no problem," said Spitfire. "I've seen your moves – you're one of a kind, girl." Spitfire's eyes crinkled at their corners. "I just know you're going to be totally awesome, Dash."
Rainbow's heart swelled at the praise, and she grinned proudly. "You really think so? For real?"
Spitfire nodded. "For true. Now let's go through that Suicide Dive again while there's still light!" And with that she grabbed Rainbow's forehoof and pulled her over the edge of the cliff, not seeing the deep blush on the rainbow-maned Pegasus filly's face as hoof in hoof they plummeted down through the cold mountain air towards the spiralling earth below.
Up against the orb of the moon, Princess Luna hovered, unseen, a mischievous grin on her face. She watched as the two Pegasus ponies flew in and out in dizzying patterns, the lights on their wings illuminating the darkness in a multitude of shapes and bursts of rainbow colours.
Spitfire's dreams had been so vivid that even without prying into them, Luna knew how the flame-coated Pegasus felt. Oh, trying to bring ponies with compatible hearts together was so much fun! And all it had taken was forty delicious pies!
"What the ponies say is true – the night is indeed for lovers," she whispered to herself. "Maybe I shall rename myself the Princess of Hearts!"
But time was wasting, and she had an important invitation to deliver.
Having finished polishing the objective lens of her telescope and buffing the eyepiece with a cloth, Twilight swung the telescope in the direction of one of her favourite stars – the Dragon's Eye.
She bit her lip in concentration as she gingerly made the final adjustments with her magic, the clockwork clicking over in minute increments as the setting circles slid into the right configuration of graduations for the coordinates of the star she was looking for.
"18 hours 59 minutes right ascension, 39 degrees 26 minutes declination… there!" She looked through the eyepiece and soon her eye was filled with the star's startlingly bright purple orb surrounded by the glittering halo which gave it its name.
For some reason, looking at her favourite stars gladdened her heart. As she sat there and turned the knobs little by little, scanning the sky for her favourite celestial bodies, she was distracted from that strange emptiness for a little while. Her mind filled to the brim with thoughts of whether there were other planets orbiting around those stars and whether there were ponies just like her on those planets as well, looking across at Equestria through their own telescopes and sighing and wondering why.
She walked over to where the Encyclopaedia of Celestial Bodies was open on her book stand and she scanned it, looking for the current position of the next star she wanted to view. But as her eyes flickered over the turning pages, she noticed the small pile of scrolls in the corner of the room – replies from Princess Celestia. The little unicorn clucked her tongue in annoyance. That Spike! It was so like him to go off and leave a job half finished.
She sighed and trotted over to the pile to levitate the scrolls into a more seemly order. It only took her a moment, and as she looked at the neat little pyramid of scrolls she was suddenly taken aback by how few there were.
The Princess hadn't been replying as often as she'd used to.
Twilight's heart sank. Is it… is it because she's still disappointed with me?
She couldn't look at the scrolls any longer. She trotted back to the encyclopaedia and at last found the coordinates she'd been looking for. A few quick turns on the setting circles of the telescope later she peeped again into the eyepiece.
Everything was blurry! She changed the focus and quickly realised that the blur was actually one of the towers of Canterlot Castle. She muttered, annoyed at herself for making the wrong calculations – it was much too early in the evening to see that particular star, still hidden as it was by the castle's great bulk.
Her horn glowed and she changed the magnification of her telescope until the tower resolved itself into clearer focus. Looking at the pattern of pennants fluttering in the night breeze that always seemed to be blowing through the castle, Twilight guessed that she was looking at Aurora's Tower. Wait, so that meant that her old tower was just over… oh, there it was!
She felt a sudden pang of melancholy when she remembered all the years she'd lived in that tower. Her life had been made up of only a few individuals back then – Spike, Princess Celestia, her parents… she'd never wanted to make friends, because having the Princess had been enough for her. She'd been so many things to her – her friend, her confidant, her teacher, in some ways even a second mother to her. She'd been able to tell her anything, knowing that dwelling behind those beautiful magenta eyes of hers was limitless love and kindness.
Without even realising it, Twilight manipulated the telescope so that the lens was pointing towards the Inner Tower, at the top of which Celestia had her bedchamber. She didn't mean to spy or anything like that – it was just that at that precise moment she needed to see the lights on, to know that Celestia was there, or else her heart would break in two.
The lights were on, and as Twilight focused in on the window she could see the opposite wall of the room, the tapestry lit up by the flickering of the fire in that fireplace, perpetually lit throughout the year to chase away that chill night wind that lurked in the mountains. But there was a movement, and Twilight saw a flash of a white coat and a blue and pink mane as Celestia herself stepped up to the window.
Twilight jerked her eye from the eyepiece like it was suddenly a red-hot poker. She'd never intended to spy, but seeing the Princess made her so happy that she couldn't resist bringing her eye back to the eyepiece and looking again.
Celestia was looking out of the window now, her mane flowing about her beautiful face, and Twilight's heart leaped up inside her chest. But then she noticed that something was wrong. The Princess's face was clearly troubled – her eyes were narrowed and she was frowning. Twilight felt her heart flutter as she realised she must be looking down towards Ponyville. What was going through her mind right now? Was she… angry for some reason? Was she angry at somepony in Ponyville? Was that somepony…her?
Don't be so silly, Twilight! Princess Celestia has a million concerns worrying her at any given moment. There's no way she's angry at you. What would she be angry at you about?
Twilight's mind raced across all the possibilities, and it was still racing when a flicker of blue passed across her vision. Suddenly the entire viewer was filled with a single teal-green eye which blinked at her.
Twilight cried out in alarm and, jerking away from the view finder, she fell backwards off the chair and onto the floor, landing on her rump.
"My apologies!" said Princess Luna. She was sitting on the window sill of the library, one forehoof resting on the length of the telescope, the other up against her mouth stifling a giggle. "I did not mean to startle you quite so much, Twilight Sparkle."
"Princess Luna!" Twilight got up off her rump and fell down on one knee, her face glued to the floor. Luna slipped in through the window and was before her in a moment, lifting the unicorn's head and smiling gently at her.
"Oh, no need for such formality!" said the Princess. "This is just a friendly little visit to see how my sister's favourite student is getting on down here in Ponyville."
"A friendly visit?" Twilight's heart sank. Was… was Luna here to check up on her? Had Celestia sent her?
Luna's eyes scanned Twilight's bedroom as she continued to talk. "Well, yes. And also to extend to you an invitation. Well, technically it's an invitation from my sister. She was intending to come and invite you in person, but you know how busy she is. And with your little dragon away and unable to receive mail, she sent me in her place."
Twilight nodded. Something didn't seem quite right to her, but at the thought of an invitation her heart warmed and the strange void inside her disappeared for a moment. "An invitation?"
"As you know, the Festival in honour of my Spring Moon is coming up, and Celestia and I would be most pleased if you could come and join us. The fireworks will be most spectacular I am told!"
"Oh, that would be wonderful!" cried Twilight. "It's been so long since I've seen them from the castle. Oh, the girls will be so excited!"
"The girls?" said Luna, not really understanding.
"My friends!" said Twilight. "They've never been to the Spring Moon Festival before. I'm sure they'll be so overjoyed by the invitation."
Luna blinked at her, her stomach suddenly sinking. "But…" She stopped before she said any more. Of course she couldn't just invite Twilight Sparkle! She'd refuse to come alone without a good reason, and even suggesting it would make her suspicious. Luna tried to think of a good excuse on her hooves, but nothing came. She just smiled and nodded. As long as Twilight got some time alone with Celestia, all would be well. Luna would see to that!
With a clandestine flash of her horn, Luna turned the single ticket hidden under her wing into five and floated them over to Twilight, who took them eagerly from her.
"Oh thank you Princess Luna!" Twilight said, clopping her forehooves together in delight. "Oh, I can't wait!"
"I also," said Luna with a secretive smile. She hopped back onto the window sill, unfurled her wings and was about to fly off when she turned back. "It was good to see you again, Twilight Sparkle. You are very dear to Celestia, you know. And to me, also."
With that the Princess jumped from the window and swept up into the air on outspread wings. Twilight ran to the window and watched as she dwindled away until she was a single night-blue dot against the yellow disk of the rising moon.
Twilight sat back on her bed, her heart beating fit to burst. Dear to her? She was dear to the Princess?
She snuggled her muzzle into the star-embroidered pillow and squealed. Luna's visit had somehow chased away that feeling of bluh-ness. It seemed as though things were finally looking up!
Celestia lay on the rug in her quarters, fidgeting. No matter which way she tried to put her body, nothing seemed comfortable at the moment. The rug felt suddenly itchy, as if it was covered in burrs, and her bolster cushion, which she usually found so supportive and relaxing placed against the long arch of her back, dug into her like the elbow of a giant.
At last she gave up on all thoughts of sleep and got up. As she walked to the window she levitated the goblet of wine she'd half-finished earlier in the evening to her and left it hovering near her head while she stared out through the window across the moonlit landscape at the great mountains and plains that were the domain she ruled.
Or used to rule. With Luna back, she felt more and more as if she could trust her to take over her half of the rule of Equestria again.
Celestia sighed. It would be nice to have some responsibility taken from her back. Lately she'd thought back more and more to how things had been when the two of them had been younger and Equestria had been a simpler, if far less peaceful, place. Over there, far to the left, she could see the black shape of the Temple of the Two Sisters deep in the Everfree where once she and Luna had ruled together. Then her eyes were drawn to Ponvyille, and she remembered when there'd been nothing there excepts plains of grass and a single, inexplicable apple tree growing beside the road that led between Hoofington and Manehatten. They were both cities now, but back then they'd been little towns – Manehatten a fishing village rather than the epicentre of Equestria's luxury and fashion, and Hoofington a fortress town established against the Griffons of the North, so different from the quaint tourist resort it was now.
Beside Celestia herself, only Luna remembered those times now. When Twilight and her friends had released her from her prison of Nightmare Moon and the sisters had been reconciled, Celestia had assumed that the two of them would be spending more time reminiscing about the good times they'd shared – but Luna was looking more and more to the future, and she seemed disinclined to discuss the past in any detail. Celestia couldn't really blame her – after all, discussions of the past brought up the memories of bad blood between the two of them, and of her exile. Who could blame her for seeking to reinvent herself?
But it was the vibrant youth of Luna that Celestia realised she was envious of. Trapped in the moon by the Elements of Harmony, she hadn't aged those thousand years, whereas Celestia had. Maybe that was why they never really talked anymore. Maybe they didn't have quite so much in common anymore except for sisterly love. She'd always been the younger of the two, but with the added tyranny of time the gap had widened between their ages and between their personalities.
Celestia brought the goblet to her lips. She only drank while she was alone – it wouldn't be seemly for a Princess to drink in front of her subjects, except on ritual occasions. The wine, squeezed from the grapes of the golden-leaved vines that only grew wild on the distant Western mountains, warmed her – but it didn't cheer her as she had thought it would.
She sighed again. Every Spring Moon Festival recently had brought with it this strange melancholy. At first she'd decided it was thoughts of Luna, trapped in exile on the moon, but this year, with her restored to freedom, the feeling was far worse than before. What in Equestria was wrong with her? Was she getting old? Now? Was she even able to get old?
"I must be having a mid-second millennium crisis," she muttered, taking another sip of wine.
Celestia looked up and saw that against the shining disk of the almost-full moon was silhouetted the shape of her sister, Luna – her wings were outstretched as she glided down through the air to join her.
"Oh, it's nothing," said Celestia.
Luna stopped her soaring and hovered there in the chill night air just outside the window, a soft smile on her face. For once it had no trace of irony, just fondness, which Celestia recognised right away.
"It's OK, Lulu," she said. "I'm OK. Really."
Luna's eyes went wide. "Lulu? It's been so long since I've heard you use that old name." She was pleased.
Celestia arched her eyebrows. "Is that so?"
Luna nodded, but said nothing, and for a while the two of them remained there, not speaking.
Celestia, looking up at the moon shining above the two of them, at last broke the silence. "Aren't you busy?"
Lulu shrugged. "I think it sometimes does the moon good to find its own way now and again."
Celestia laughed. "Oh really! Do you remember the last time you did that?"
Luna looked suddenly cagey. "What are you talking about?"
"You honestly don't remember?" said Celestia, teasingly. "The time you 'let it find its own way' and it ended up landing in the Painted Desert and then rolled into the ocean? We spent hours looking for it!"
Luna looked up at the glowing orb in question and smiled in embarrassment at the memory. "Oh, of course I remember that. But don't worry – I'm keeping my eye on it this time." She turned back to Celestia, the smile becoming an affectionate one. "I only dropped by to tell you that I invited Twilight Sparkle to the Spring Moon Festival."
Celestia sighed in exasperation. "I did tell you that I'd invite her, Lulu."
"I know," replied Luna. "But I also know how busy you are, and that you'd just send a letter to her or something. Poor Twilight deserves more than just a chilly old letter."
"Perhaps you're right," said Celestia thoughtfully.
"There is a little problem though," her sister said, suddenly rueful.
"Why am I not surprised?" said Celestia with a discrete rolling of her eyes.
"It seems I ended up inviting her and all her friends as well."
Celestia chuckled. "Well, of course you did. You know our Twilight – her friends are so important to her. Of course she'd want them to come as well."
Luna's smile deepened in the moonlight. "That's all very well and good, but the Spring Moon Festival is also a time for lovers, is it not? At least, that was the case a thousand years ago."
Celestia looked up at Luna when she said "a thousand years ago" – so her sister did, in fact, think about the past, then. "No, the event is still popular with couples. I didn't change it while you were…" Exiled.
Luna laughed. "Oh, you can use the E word, sister. I know now that I deserved my punishment. And I thank you for taking mercy on me." Her smile became a softly mischievous grin. "Although I should also take the time to thank Twilight Sparkle herself. Perhaps I should invite her to a little private viewing of the moon on the top of the Castle Mount? The air is so clear there that it appears almost twice its usual size…"
The smile slipped from Celestia's face. "Are you talking about a date, Luna?"
Luna laughed. "Perhaps!" But when she saw the strange fire in Celestia's eyes, she realised she'd perhaps gone a step too far in her teasing. "Oh, of course not. It's just that I think Twilight would benefit from a little private Princessly attention. She was disappointed, was she not, when the two of you could not share any private time together at the Gala?"
Celestia closed her eyes. "You're right of course. There have been so few opportunities for the two of us to spend time together recently." She looked up at her little sister. "Perhaps you could entertain her friends during some of the festivities so that Twilight and I can spend a little time by ourselves, Lulu?"
Luna resisted the urge to cry out in triumph and instead made do with clapping her forehooves together. "I would be delighted!"
Celestia noticed the gleam of mischief in her little sister's eye and she became suddenly wary. "You're not going to try and do any matchmaking between Twilight's friends, are you?"
Luna shook her head, but her lack of a reply told Celestia straight away that she wasn't being strictly truthful.
"Oh, you and your matchmaking, Lulu," Celestia sighed. "It's not a game, you know. You should be careful. Hearts are very different from croquet balls – they're fragile things and sometimes even with the best intentions they can be broken."
Luna shrugged. "I know you do not approve of my more hooves-on approach," she said. "But sometimes some ponies need just a little push in the right direction for them to find true happiness. What about Moondancer and Star Catcher? If I hadn't gotten involved, the two of them would never have admitted their love for each other and they would still be wandering the battlements, dolefully staring into the darkness, filling the night air with their incessant sighing and keeping you awake."
Celestia's eyes narrowed. "They do seem happy together, Lulu – but regardless, you should take a little care in how you orchestrate these little matches of yours. Was it really necessary to push Moondancer off the battlements so that she would land on top of Star Catcher?"
"Old tricks are often the best tricks," Luna sniffed. "I can't help it if I am an adherent to the old school!"
"Well, just so long as you don't trick your way into any trouble, little sister," said Celestia sternly.
"I promise to take the utmost care," replied Luna. "I just wish to make everypony happy, that is all."
Celestia sighed. In one respect it was nice to see Luna concerned with the feelings of others for once. But the road to unhappiness was often paved with good intentions, as the saying went. She would definitely have to keep an eye on her.
Luna, glancing up into the sky, noticed that the moon was already 30 seconds off its proper declination and she clucked her tongue in annoyance "Well, I must get back to watching the moon. It seems to want to dive into the water again!"
Celestia looked at her little sister, and there was sudden glimmer of moisture in her eyes. "You were always better than me at keeping that mischievous thing under control," she said.
"Thank you sister." Luna's heart leaped up in her chest. Her work had been done, and done in spades! "Well, au revoir!" She waved goodbye and flew up into the star-sprinkled sky, leaving Celestia gazing up after her until she could be seen no longer.
When Celestia returned to her rug, she felt suddenly as if all the sleep that she'd missed recently came flooding over her all at once. She curled up, no longer feeling any burrs against her coat, and rested her back against the bolster, no longer feeling any poking or prodding. And soon she was asleep, while far overhead Luna hummed happily to herself as she sent the moon zigzagging this way and that across the sky.
The next morning at Sweet Apple Acres, Big Mac, Applebloom and the farm hands had all finished breakfast and Rarity, who had spent the night (in the homestead's little guest room rather than with Applejack."Alas! Exiled from the one I love. This most cruel torment, this most dreadful…" "For Celestia's sake, Rarity – mah room is just across the hall from you! No need to get all me-lo-dramatic on me!") was helping Applejack to do the washing up. It was usually Applebloom's job, but the unicorn had sent the little filly off to play with her friends.
"Oh don't you worry yourself about this 'chore', Applebloom!" Rarity had told her, enjoying the earthy feeling of that Applejackish word 'chore' coming from her own mouth. "I'm more than happy to do it after those delicious apple fritters that your big sister made!"
Applebloom had thanked her in her usual over-energetic fashion and raced out the door to find the other Cutie Mark Crusaders and get up to some wholesome mischief or other, no doubt! And soon after Big Mac and the hands had left for the fields, which meant that the Rarity and Applejack were at last alone.
Applejack rinsed the plates under the running water and passed them to Rarity, who took them with her telekinetic magic and quickly dried them with her puritanical attention to detail, leaving them sparkling. Suddenly Applejack stopped in mid-rinse and turned to the unicorn, her green eyes questioning.
"What yer were sayin' earlier, Rarity - d'you really love mah fritters, or were you just sayin' it so that…"
Rarity slipped up and hugged the earth pony from behind. "I don't love them, darling," she whispered with sudden heat into her lover's ear. "I adore them!"
Applejack squirmed as she felt Rarity's lips lightly brush the coat on the back of her neck, then turned to face her, throwing her forelegs around the unicorn's svelte waist. "Ya do know the secret ingredient is love, right?" she said, her eyes glistening.
"Oh, I just knew there was a romantic heart struggling to get out of that earthy exterior," murmured Rarity and
She'd just begun to nibble on the earth pony's neck when the front door suddenly flew open and an explosion of lurid pony-shaped pink bounced into the homestead.
"Applejack! Rarity!" cried Pinkie Pie, her blue eyes flicking left and right as she searched for her friends."Big Mac told me that..."
Rarity and Applejack, their mouths hanging open, stared in horror at the unexpected visitor for a heartbeat before they realised that they were still locked in their embrace. They immediately leaped away from each other - but Pinkie had already spotted them.
The little pink pony's eyes were literally boggling out of her head. "I found you! I found you! " she cried, jumping up and down. "Oh, I'm so excited! Wait until I tell Fluttershy the news!"
Applejack took a step forward. "Nah Pinkie, Ah dunno what you think yer saw, but Rarity an' I…"
Pinkie blinked at her, uncomprehending. "Oh, wait a chocolate-coated second!" she said. "I haven't even told you two what I found out yet, and here I am talking about Fluttershy! She's next on my list of ponies to tell!"
Rarity stared at Pinkie, shaking her head "Wait, darling. What in Equestria do you mean? Slow things down to a non-Pinkie Pie pace, if you would be so kind."
"Oh I want to, but I'm just too excited!" said the little pink pony, clutching her head in her hooves. "My mind is getting all muddledy-fuddledy, even more than Pinkie usual, and I'm getting ahead of myself when I should be going backwards instead."
"Pinkie Pie!" cried Applejack and Rarity in exasperated unison.
Pinkie shook herself like a dog, which seemed to at last get rid of all the muddled-fuddlediness. "Twilight has been invited to the Spring Moon Festival in Canterlot! And we're all invited too!"
At the realisation that Pinkie Pie hadn't seen anything suspicious, both Applejack and Rarity slumped in relief, the tension draining from their bodies. It was a nerve-wracking thing trying to keep secrets from a friend who had the mysterious ability to appear literally in any place at any time!
But now their anxiety was replaced with sudden excitement. "The Spring Moon Festival?" they cried in unison. Oh, could things be any more more perfect?
"C'mon everypony!" cried Pinkie, grabbing the two friends before they had a chance to protest and dragging them out the front door. "Let's go tell Fluttershy!"
"The Spring Moon Festival?" asked Fluttershy, her green eyes going wide. Pinkie Pie, with Rarity and Applejack in tow, had come to the door of her tree house and, grabbing her by the forehoof, had dragged her to the Library without an explanation. But now that she'd heard that they'd all been invited to the Spring Moon Festival, she was overjoyed.
"Oh, how wonderful," she gushed. "The star orchids in the castle gardens will look so beautiful in full bloom under a Full Moon! I've always wanted to see them." But then her face fell and she squeaked.
"Whatever is the matter, darling?" asked Rarity.
"Oh, well… you know," Fluttershy whispered, digging a forehoof into the floor before looking up guiltily. "The Grand Galloping Gala?"
Twilight looked at her sternly. "I thought we all agreed that we would never speak of that evening again."
Fluttershy squeaked again. "But I'm worried that ponies will remember the terrible, terrible things I did!"
"Nah Fluttershy, it wasn't just you," said Applejack. "We all went a bit crazy, ah seem to recall." She looked at Rarity. "But ah reckon that things have probably calmed down a lil' since then."
Twilight nodded. "Besides, the Spring Moon Festival isn' a big formal event like the Gala. It will be just us and a few others at the party in the Castle. All the nobility and other citizens of Canterlot will be out in the spring evening enjoying the light of Luna's specially created full moon."
Fluttershy's eyes went wide. "Oh yes! The full moon. And Rainbow will be there as well, won't she, performing with the rest of the Wonderbolts during the fireworks?"
"That's rightamundo!" said Pinkie. "Dashie's going to be completely covered in all these glittering magical sparkles and she's going to be swooping and sweeping and flashing past the moon and everything! I just can't wait to see it!"
Fluttershy blushed. "Neither can I," she said. "I was expecting that I'd have to watch her from a distance, but now that Princess Luna has given us all tickets we'll be able to see it in person! Oh, won't Rainbow be surprised when we arrive to watch her perform!"
"But we all have to be on our best behaviour this time," said Twilight sternly. "We're lucky to be invited back so let's try and make sure that nothing happens to embarrass the Princesses."
"We promise!" said her friends in unison.