The felt Pinkie hobbled forward a few steps, her every move accented by odd, disjointed swirls and bends at each leg. Her expressions changed dramatically as well, shifted back and forth from angry to happy to angry again without so much as a visible twinge of her muscles. When she spoke next, her mouth did not flap, instead simply popping open and staying that way for the duration of their conversation. “Let my friend go this instant, you overgrown pile of moldy mucus!”
Kuchen’s grip on Twilight only tightened. The unicorn gasped and strained underneath the crushing weight of the tentacles around her. “No, you waste of an heir! I will not allow my one chance at revenge to slip by because a stupid little foal like yourself is weak enough to have friends!”
The felt pony hopped up and down in frustration. Or rather, she spontaneously popped back and forth between the imaginary ground and ten feet in the air. As far as Twilight was concerned, she was far more terrifying than the crime against nature that was currently holding her hostage. “I’m weak? Excuse me, but aren’t you the stupid good-for-nothing who became a mass-murdering psychopath and ruined his entire family for generations because one pony said something bad to him?”
The shambling mass of ooze and pink pony bits lurched towards Pinkie. The sudden shift of mass tore at its tentacles, causing them to thin and twist underneath the widening gap between their place of origin and Twilight’s avatar. “That selfish mule of a princess wasted my talents on some meaningless project! She made me murder my best friend! Were it not for her, I would not be stuck here in the back of a mud pony’s mind while her best friend tried to make me reveal all my secrets!”
“But none of that was Celestia’s fault!” Pinkie retorted. Small puffs of steam, also made of felt, popped in and out of existence around her head as she spoke. Were Twilight not already technically out of her mind, she probably would have had another breakdown at the sight. “She didn’t tell you to go out there and hurt all those ponies! Why, if you hadn’t been so crazy, you-”
“CRAZY?!” The entire chamber echoed with Kuchen’s lamenting roar. “I am not crazy! I was supposedly Celestia’s prized pupil! I worked hard my entire life to win her approval, and what do I get instead? I am murdered at her hooves, my name stripped from all of Equestria, and reduced to this…this…shell of a thing!”
The fiend’s attention gradually drifted back to his prisoner, if only for a moment. “But that will be a thing of the past. With a new, powerful body, I will finally have my revenge on Celestia! And then, I can resume my research into alicorns! It will be so much easier once I have some bodies to dissect…”
Felt Pinkie’s eyes morphed into small pink lines. “There’s only one way to deal with ponies like you…”
Kuchen lowered his horn, ready to destroy Pinkie’s felt imagery entirely; or at least, do whatever amounted to destroying anything inside a pony’s mind. The tentacles were definitely weakening as the monster pulled more and more of his attention away from the unicorn, but they were a long way from snapping. Twilight closed her eyes tightly as the hopelessness of the situation washed over her…
Felt Pinkie took in an unnecessary breath, and…
♪ Oh, you’re an evil old pony and you’re feelin’ mad, ♪
♪ But there’s no reason why you should be so bad. ♪
♪ There’s so much more to life than just grumpin’ around! ♪
♪ So come on and join me and we’ll turn around that frown! ♪
Kuchen’s groaned and gurgled at the song, as well as winced when the spontaneous music notes crashed into what amounted to his body. Twilight just settled on a mournful moan, now thoroughly satisfied that she was well and truly doomed. That is, until she noticed the trajectory of the music notes…
♪ There’s a whole world of joy just waiting for you! ♪
“And I will see it when I escape this prison!”
♪ If only you know how! ♪
“I’ve known how for five hundred years!”
♪ So Pinkie Pie’s gonna give you a hoof ♪
♪ And help you out right now! ♪
Pinkie immediately ceased her singing, albeit mostly because she was running out of rhymes than because her blob of an ancestor had commanded it. She smiled and switched between open and closed eyes in a disturbing attempt at simulating a pony’s fluttering eyelids. “Yes, Kuchen?”
With a frustrated roar, the stallion stomped his way over to his spawn. His steps ceased only when he was what would amount to a hair’s breadth away from her. “Listen, you foalish excuse for a pony! I am sick of being trapped inside your brain! You had all the potential in the world to change Equestria for the better; to show Celestia how much of a disgrace she truly is! And what do you do? You squander your intellect on…party gimmicks and pointless games!”
“Hey, nothing I do is pointless!” Pinkie retorted. “Your special talent may have been making things up, but my talent is making sure everypony around me is always smiling. And not because some Crazy McCrazy-Nuts is making them do it, but because they want to! So no, I’m not sorry I didn’t follow your plan to build a cannon capable of knocking Canterlot off the mountainside. And I’m not even sorry I didn’t turn my Welcome Wagon (patent pending) into a five hundred-gazillion foot tall death machine that could crush Celestia like a twig! Seriously, what is your obsession with Celestia?”
A single black tentacle shot from Kuchen’s back, snapping itself around the felt Pinkie like a lasso and dangling her in mid-air before her ancestor. “She ruined me! I will see her pay for what she has done!”
“Um, excuse me, guys?”
The blob and his fabric host spun back to the unicorn. Twilight was standing on her own again, the tentacles having been severed by Pinkie’s music notes. “I’ve been listening to what you’ve been saying, and I think I should tell you something!”
Pinkie’s felt head folded in until it could slip through Kuchen’s grip, sending the pony’s body flopping to the ground. Once she had safely landed, the head returned to its “natural” form. “Twilight, you gotta get out of here! Abort the mission!”
“Your friend is right,” Kuchen growled. “You should be running.”
“Oh, I’m not going to do that,” Twilight said with no small degree of smugness. “In fact, I’m willing to help you.”
Both Kuchen and Pinkie let out a squeak that suggested “What?” Twilight took this as a cue to continue. “Magic has advanced a great deal in the last five centuries, and Princess Celestia has taught me every single thing that has changed. I’m willing to give you my mind, if it will help you find some measure of peace.”
“No Twilight, don’t!” Pinkie screamed.
Kuchen was quiet, almost contemplative, as he mulled over Twilight’s offer. It was several moments before he spoke. “You will…let me take over? You know I will destroy Celestia, right? That is the only way I will ever find peace.”
Twilight nodded. “I promise you, I will show you a magic that rivals any other.”
Felt Pinkie was suddenly behind Twilight; a rather amazing feat, considering she seemingly not moved from where she had fallen earlier. “Twilight, what are you doing? You’re going to doom all of Equestria!”
“I accept your proposal,” Kuchen said. “Take us to your mind.”
Twilight nodded, ignoring the frantic pink pony beside her. An aura of purple energy surrounded all three as the dimension around them collapsed into whiteness…
It had been an hour since Luna had first noticed Celestia’s disappearance, and yet there was no sign that any of the guards had found even a feather of the missing princess. Luna’s own searches had proven fruitless; not even a magical scan of the castle and its perimeter was turning her up. Her every step clopped like a small thunderbolt as her fear began to overcome her senses. What if she’s lost? Or hungry? Or sick? What if somepony kidnapped her? She could be halfway out of Equestria by now! Is it my fault? Is it hers? Twilight’s? What did I do wrong? Ijustdon’tknowwhatwent-
“Excuse me, your Highness.”
Luna snapped back to reality at the sound of her guards returning. Accompanying the small patrol was the royal barber, Curly Top. The alicorn just stared at the startled pony in confusion. “What is this? How is this finding my sister?”
Curly Top cleared his throat. He could just feel the guillotine hanging over his head. “W-Well, Princess Luna, I…I have some information about Princess Celestia.”
The stallion had barely a chance to breathe before Luna had tackled him to the ground. She stood over the downed pony, her muzzle pressing against his in a fit of white-hot fury. “Spit it out! What happened to her?”
The barber squealed in fear. “I-I dyed her body! I can even tell you what colors I used!”
Luna’s eyes shot wide open. She had her coat dyed? She must have been making a disguise. But it would be useless unless…
Her face fell. My chambers. That would be the only place she could find something to complete the ensemble.
“Um…excuse me, your Highness?” Curly Top muttered. “Can you please get off of me? I think my ribs are cracking.”
Celestia’s hooves pressed hard against the mechanism. Every breath she took became more and more labored as she struggled to keep her aim steady and true. The target of her assault shifted back and forth uneasily, its every move designed to throw off the filly’s aim and end her day in failure. The filly would have none of that, however. She was Princess Celestia of Equestria, and there was no way…
“We have a winner!”
…she was going to lose. Again.
Unfortunately, her dedication alone had proven inadequate compared to the other fillies and colts around her. By the time the bell had rung, her own dolphin-riding, elephant-riding pony was at the far back end of the track, while the figure belonging to the foal at the far end of the booth sat proudly in the winner’s circle. Her hooves slid off the water nozzle as the rolling target reset itself, preparing for a fresh batch of foals ready to part with their money.
Celestia couldn’t help but feel more than a little disappointed as she hopped back to the ground. She had spent almost an hour in the carnival’s midway, and all she had to show for it was that half of the bits she had smuggled out of the castle were now missing from her pouch. She had certainly not intended to win every event, but she wanted to return to Canterlot Castle with something to show for this day. Even if she wasn’t going to be an adult again for a very long time, some kind of memento of her first day of real freedom would have been nice…
“I won, mom!”
“I know! Isn’t it wonderful?”
The princess’ ears perked straight up at the sound of a familiar pair of voices, originating from the other end of the booth. The filly spun around so fast her head almost dented itself on the nearby stool. There, by some miraculous quirk of the universe, stood Lofty and Ruby Dream, the former clutching a pegasus doll of some kind in her mouth while the latter looked on appreciatively. Neither seemed to pay the incognito alicorn much attention as they strolled past…
Well, until she said something, that is. “Hey, Lofty!”
The filly and her mother stopped dead in their tracks. They may not have been able to pick her out in a crowd, but there was no mistaking that voice. Lofty almost dropped the doll in gleeful surprise, while the latter could feel a disaster slowly looming in the horizon.
Celestia wasn’t quite sure what to make of the silence, either. Usually, her very appearance had been greeted with trumpets blaring, ponies fainting in shock, or at least some kind of minor fanfare. Granted, not having to listen to a small army of the most poorly-trained musicians in Equestria blare out the national anthem every time she walked five feet in public wasn’t anything she would miss in her new life, but being ignored was still a bit of a downer. “Oh…I…I’m sorry if I interrupted anything.”
Lofty tossed the doll up towards Ruby with a quick flick of her head. The latter caught the thing in midair, flipped open a saddlebag with one wing, and deposited the toy before it could get dirty or lost in the shuffle. The filly pegasus failed to notice any of this; she instead went in for a running glomp, tackling poor Celestia before she could make a move otherwise. “Wow, you actually made it! I told mom you probably wanted to go, but she said you would be too busy with other stuff to come! This is so awesome, Pr-”
Celestia quickly shushed the excited pony. “Don’t call me that here. I can’t let anypony else know who I am right now.”
Lofty tilted her head. “Really? Why?”
“Well, you know how everypony is trying to keep this a secret?” Celestia pushed herself back off the floor, dusting herself and her dress as she did so. “If anypony recognized who I was, my sister might get into trouble. That’s why I’m dressed like this. Well, it’s why I’m dressed period.”
Lofty nodded in false understanding. “Oooooooh.”
Ruby, meanwhile, had shifted her head into a position perfectly mirroring Lofty’s former one. “So…I take it your sister knows you’re here?”
Celestia froze a second before answering. Her eyes unconsciously shifted back and forth as she spoke. “Um…of course! It was her idea for me to go out like this!”
Ruby raised an eyebrow. “Uh-huh.”
Celestia bent back her rear legs, all in an attempt to pitch herself so she could look the pony straight in the eyes. “I-It’s the truth! You’re not implying that I would lie to you, are you?”
Ruby was silent for a while, her eyes casually scanning every inch of Celestia’s being. The pirncess squirmed under the sight, barely resisting the urge to run. Lofty just watched in complete bewilderment at what was going on around her. “…All right, I believe you. Would you like to join us….um…”
“Sunlight,” Celestia quickly finished.
Lofty’s grin was threatening to devour her face before spreading down the rest of her body. “Oh, this is gonna be the best day ever!”
“And you just let her go in there?” Luna snapped.
The two guards shrank back from their enraged princess, almost wishing they could just duck inside the nearby bedroom and vanish. “W-Well, she was so insistent…”
“A-And she did command us!” the other added.
Luna said nothing, instead glancing her eyes back and forth between the two. Their panicked expressions seemed to scream that they were telling the truth, which only served to infuriate her further. She heaved a great sigh. “Tell me, what did she do?”
The guards, now slightly more relaxed, nodded to each other. “She was inside for about ten minutes. When she left, she was carrying a blue piece of clothing. It looked like a children’s dress.”
A children’s dress…
Luna’s eyes sank back as she remembered the “fun” she had when this whole mess began. There were a lot of dresses in that chest, mostly because she didn’t want to deal with trying to get Celestia’s hind legs into pants. However, she was only able to find one blue dress. It wasn’t designed for a pegasus either, and thus lacked any openings or flaps for the wings. It was a long one, too. Certainly long enough to…
Cover her cutie mark…
The facts all clicked together in Luna’s mind.
The timing of her sister’s disappearance.
Celestia dyeing her precious coat.
And now, wearing a blue dress capable of covering her wings and cutie mark.
“She really was disguising herself,” Luna muttered. “She must have ran off to that accursed carnival!”
The night princess, now in full command mode, turned back to her guards. “I want a guard on patrol across every quarter of the city, especially around the fairgrounds. If you find her, do not approach, but instead report back to me. There are a few things I need to say to my dear, sweet sister…”
Outside Canterlot Castle, Blueblood’s spies sat crouched in the bushes, watching the lowered drawbridge with a mixture of impatience and dread. “So, when does this shift change happen?” the colt asked.
The mare groaned. “I told you, the next round of servants should be here any time now. We can probably sneak in with the crowd when they arrive.”
The colt’s frustrated snarl was palpable. “‘Probably sneak in?’ Do you have any idea what that idiot’s asking us to do? This is Canterlot Castle, THE most guarded place in all of Equestria! Every pony that goes through those gates is checked twice over before they can even set a foot inside, and even then there’s guards at every entrance and exit, patrolling every hallway, and certainly blocking anypony from getting to whatever Princess Luna is hiding! Let’s face it, he asks the impossible!”
“Do you want to get paid or not?” the mare snapped.
“Look, we both know there’s those old sewer tunnels leading into the palace. Why not use those?”
“Because they lead right to the gardens, and we can’t go that deep inside the palace without being-”
The conversation ceased as the air filled with a sudden cadence. It was the sound of heavy wings beating in almost perfect precision, as if following a military drill. The two PIs pushed aside the brush above them, and what they saw confirmed their suspicions. The winged members of the Royal Guard were flying out of the castle, fanning out over the city. The chorus of beats was soon joined by the clopping of armored hooves as several unicorn and Earth pony guards joined in the procession.
“Wow,” muttered the colt. “They must have sent out half the castle’s garrison.”
The mare nodded in agreement. “Which much mean there’s now a far lighter guard inside the castle. Now, what was that about a secret passage?”
The three fairgoing ponies sat themselves at one of the open tables in the carnival’s main eatery area, close enough to smell the food cooking/burning in each stand while far enough away that they could safely hold a conversation. In between them sat a plate of deep-fried hay fries, far crispier and greasier than those found in any normal, health code-obeying restaurant. In addition, Celestia had a deep fried candy bar, Lofty had a six-inch asparagus sub, and Ruby was content on a large, batter-covered pickle on a stick.
Celestia was just about ready to bite into the long-elusive treat when Lofty spoke up, her mouth stuffed with several piles of mushed-up bread and plants. “Sho, vhat da yew vnaana do?”
The pegasus filly stopped chewing as her mother’s hoof prodded her. “Lofty, what have I told you about talking with your mouth full?”
The filly swallowed. “D-Don’t do it?”
Celestia rolled her eyes. She could remember having this exact same conversation with so many fillies in the past; not even Twilight was exempt. The first time the filly had come by to dinner, her manners had been so disgraceful that more than a few of her servants had begged that she never be allowed back in. But after a few lessons, some protocol training, and a long talk over tea, her most faithful student had proven to be…
“So anyway, what do you wanna do?”
Celestia snapped out of her reminiscence to Lofty’s voice. “Well…I hadn’t really planned anything. I’ve never even been to one of these as a customer before.”
Ruby’s eyes widened. “I-I’m shocked.”
“It was always one thing or another,” the princess sighed. “The closest thing I’ve ever had to something like this was the last time Canterlot hosted the Summer Sun Celebration, and even then I was busy as the show’s centerpiece. So this is my first real trip. What exactly should one do when they go to these things?”
Ruby tapped a hoof against her chin, contemplating a course of action that would not end with her being placed in the stocks and paraded around town. “Well, there’s always the rides. This carnival seems to have all the stock ones. I don’t think Lofty is old enough for the roller coaster. We’ve already been to the midway. Sapphire Shores has a concert tonight, but it’s past Lofty’s bedtime.”
“Awwwwww,” Lofty groaned.
“The rides sound awfully nice,” Celestia said between bites. “I mean, if it’s all right with you. I don’t want to impose…”
Ruby gave a motherly smile. “You’re not imposing. Lofty was really wanting to go on the Spinning Cups after lunch. I told her it would give her a stomach ache but she didn’t want to listen.”
“Nah, I’m way too tough to get sick,” Lofty said with a proud huff.
Celestia smirked at her friend’s attitude. “All right then. Let’s give it a try.”
The milky whiteness surrounding the three gradually faded away, revealing a large room lined with countless bookshelves, globes, scrolls, books, reading tables, and for some reason, a bunch of bean stalks carefully arranged on every surface. Kuchen was still a mixture of pink pony bits and black ooze, while Pinkie was still a big pile of fluff given life by a deranged animator. Twilight…was still completely normal, much to her relief.
The unicorn waved a leg across the room. “Well, Kuchen, this is it. Welcome to Casa De Twilight Sparkle.”
Felt Pinkie let out a whistle, which amounted to releasing a tuff of cotton that soon plopped onto the floor before vanishing. “Whoooooa. I mean, I knew you were super-organized outside of your brain, but I didn’t know your head was all squeaky-clean, too! Man, I really need to get to cleanin’ out my noggin! At least, that’s what Granny Pie keeps telling me.”
Twilight raised a simulated eyebrow. “Granny Pie?”
“Residual memories from previous hosts,” Kuchen clarified. “Whenever I manage to gain control, a few of those memories intertwine with the host. If strong enough, they have the potential to fully realize themselves and reform as full personalities.”
“You mean…Pinkie has even more ponies living in her head?”
“About twenty-seven different ones, to be exact!” Pinkie finished. Twilight would have felt more than a little light headed at this if she wasn’t already technically inside her own head.
A smile etched across what remained of Kuchen’s face, in the place of an actual mouth. “This is far better than I had even imagined! All I have to do is incorporate the memories of your lessons with Celestia, and I shall be unstoppable! Now, where should I begin…?”
A dozen tentacles shot out from the pony’s body, their black slimy lengths slithering as they passed from one book to the next. Twilight shuddered at the thought of how much cleaning she would have to do once this was over; in fact, she was shaking so much she barely noticed then a flat hold folded over her shoulder. “Twilight, are you loco?” Pinkie asked. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Now he’s gonna take over you, too!”
“No, he’s not,” Twilight whispered.
Pinkie shifted an eyebrow slightly upwards. “Huh?”
“Ah, at last!”
The two turned their attention back to the thing made of fluff and smudge. One of the tentacles had returned to its master, carrying a large book. “Now, let’s see what secrets our master has given you!”
The book slid open, revealing a small, moving picture of Twilight and Princess Celestia, no doubt during their first actual lesson. Kuchen’s eyes widened as the memory imparted itself to him…
The room was massive, which was perfect for somepony as large as Princess Celestia. The filly glanced back and forth, as if afraid she was going to wind up in a dungeon if she did something wrong. She was so nervous that she didn’t even notice Princess Celestia’s hoofsteps until the alicorn was almost on top of her. Twilight slowly moved her gaze upwards, scanning the alicorn’s massive body before settling on her eyes. “G-Good morning, your Highness.”
The princess smiled. “Good morning, Twilight Sparkle. Are you ready for your first lesson?”
The filly nodded. “Very good. Then please take a seat and we’ll begin.”
Twilight turned her attention towards a small student’s desk at the center of the room, its surface already prepared with all the paper, pencils, and other assorted objects Twilight would need for today. The unicorn trotted over, plopped herself into the chair, and looked straight ahead at the waiting princess. “Now, the school you will be attending is one of the finest academies in Equestria, so great expectations will be in place before you even open your first textbook. I know you have been studying magic at home, but there are many other subjects you will have to at least be addressed in if you are to truly succeed in class. So that will be our goal for the next few weeks.”
Twilight’s hoof shot up. “Um…Princess? Why are you doing this? Couldn’t you just hire a tutor?”
Celestia chuckled. “I suppose I could, but I want to make sure you achieve all you possibly can. You are a very special pony, Twilight Sparkle, and it is an honor for me to be your teacher. I promise you, there are many things I can teach you that no tutor could possibly know. And besides, you wouldn’t really want to turn down a private lesson, would you?” Twilight quickly shook her head. “Now, a unicorn’s magic is controlled thanks to their…”
Kuchen angrily slammed the book. “What is this? I need information, not the worthless memories of a foal!”
Twilight took a few steps forward, stopping right next to Kuchen. “Oh well, I guess it’s nothing. You could probably destroy that book now. You certainly don’t need that memory.”
Kuchen’s tentacle lifted the memory back into the air, wrapping around it in an attempt to crush it forever. As time passed, however, the thing did nothing. It was not for several minutes that it spoke again. “I…think not. Perhaps this one will still be useful later. I shall just read another memory.”
The tentacle slowly slithered the book back into place, just as another pulled down another memory to glance through. Twilight grinned as Kuchen began experiencing her first science experiment. Exactly as planned…
Celestia, Ruby and Lofty hopped into the circular carriage almost as soon as the gates had opened. Inside, a large bench had been bolted into place around every surface save the door itself, with a large safety bar hanging overhead. Ruby slid into her spot between the two, waited for Lofty and Celestia to take their own seats, and then pulled the bar down.
“So, what is this ride, exactly?” asked Celestia.
“Once it starts, the whole thing is going to start spinning,” Ruby explained. “It’ll change directions a few times, and after about a minute it stops and we’re done.”
A crack of static blurted out over an intercom back at the ride’s entrance. “Everypony please listen. Keep your legs and wings inside the ride at all times. No magic is permitted while the ride is in operation. For your safety, keep the safety bar secured on your lap at all times. And thank you for riding with us today.”
The stringy unicorn standing next to the ride’s platform lowered his horn towards a set of exposed gears. A quick burst of magic was all it took to set the wheels in motion, and soon the carriage was spinning along in a circle. Celestia was ready to shrug it off as another disappointment when the second burst hit, causing the vehicle they were in to spin independently of the rest of the track.
As the speed increased, Celestia could feel her body trying to slide to her right, then her left, and then her right again. The wind whipped and curled around her, buffeting her entire body with gusts and gales that would send shivers down a weaker pony’s spine. Lofty’s mouth was opened big enough to let out a gleeful scream, while Ruby was simply smirking and taking pleasure in her daughter’s fun. The informally-deposed princess was all ready to join in the excitement…
And then the whole carriage suddenly lurched to the left. Celestia’s head banged in the same direction; unfortunately, that was where one of the bolts for the safety bar was located…
Celestia’s tiny hooves pressed the cold surface of the ice pack against her injured eye. Lofty and Ruby sat next to her on the bench, eyeing her with ever-growing concern. It had been nearly ten minutes, and the princess had thankfully stopped sobbing, but wasn’t moving in any other way.
“I-If it’s all right, may I take a look?” asked Ruby.
Realizing she wasn’t going to get anywhere else otherwise, Celestia nodded in approval. She slowly lowered her hoof, letting the pack drop down with it. Sure enough, there was now a massive black mark around her left eye. Both Ruby and Lofty gasped in horror at the sight.
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” Celestia moaned.
“W-Well, it’s not exactly good,” Ruby muttered. “I mean, does it still hurt?” Celestia nodded. “In that case, I guess we should speak with the manager. Nopony should have a ride that dangerous running when children can still be hurt.”
Celestia was about to agree, until that voice in the back of her head clicked. Complaining takes time and draws attention. Somepony might recognize me. Even worse, I’ll ruin Lofty’s whole day. She’ll hate me forever. She’ll tell everypony how horrible I am. Nopony will ever want to be friends with me again!
Celestia hopped up onto her hooves. Every single fiber of her being radiated unadulterated anxiety and terror. “No! I’m fine! We don’t need to file any complaints or make a fuss! It’s just a black eye. These things heal up. Kids get them all the time!”
“B-But I don’t think we should let this slide. What if somepony else gets hurt?”
Lofty jumped from Ruby’s side and landed next to the princess, her hooves barely staying on the bench. “But what if this takes all day? Can’t we have some more fun before we call anypony else?”
Ruby sighed. She was obviously not going to win this one. “All right. But I promise you, we ARE telling somepony before we leave. Now, let’s find something a bit…slower, shall we?”
The pair of pegasus guards gradually pushed the clouds into position, taking great care not to be seen by the throngs below. Once they were certain the coast was clear, they flashed a wave towards another nearby patch of clouds. A small puff of black energy spread from the fluffy whiteness, slithered its way across the blue sky, and reformed into Princess Luna once it was safely over the newly-formed platform.
Luna smiled as she peered over the edge. From here, she could see almost every inch of the fairgrounds. She barely even registered when the guards landed next to her. “Are all the other positions secured?”
“All sentries in Canterlot are in position,” said one of the guards. “Every square inch of the city is under constant surveillance.”
“Do you really think the princess would come here?” asked another. “It doesn’t seem like the safest place for a filly by herself.”
Luna rolled her eyes. “Unfortunately, my sister is far from herself these days. She wouldn’t even think about the possibilities until they actually happened to her.”
Celestia yawned as a haunted house’s little cart rolled down the track.
Around her were some of the most terrified fillies and colts in Equestria; even Lofty was clinging to the princess for dear life. And yet, she couldn’t help but notice how absurdly poor the ride’s actual construction was. It hadn’t tried to poke her eye out yet, but the broken puppets, half-painted wax figures, and rather stock scares were not enough to chill a pony that had literally faced the embodiment of chaos and destruction in mortal combat.
An obscenely large coffin opened, allowing an automated marionette of a vampony to rise up, snarl, and then fall right back down. They can’t ever get the teeth right on these things?
A sliding panel popped open, revealing a pony skeleton with a bloodied axe embedded in its skull. Why would the blood still be on there after the pony’s a skeleton?
And finally, right at the ride’s exit, stood the most terrifying beast imaginable. It was something like a monkey or an ape, standing about six feet in height, with five round, pointy tips on each claw. The other children screamed and hugged each other, for this was the terrifying visage of the most evil creature to ever grace Equestrian Mythology: THE HUMAN.
It took every last ounce of Celestia’s willpower to resist facehoofing herself at that moment. Really? You’re going to end your ride with something like this? Humans weren’t that bad. Quite a few of them were actually nice, even if the whole race was rather short-sighted. Then again, my ponies also tend to panic if you so much as throw a piece of lint in their direction, so…
“Um, excuse me little filly, but the ride’s over.”
Celestia snapped back to reality, only to find herself still sitting in the cart. Lofty and Ruby were waving by the ride’s exit, just beckoning her to come and join them. Sighing, the princess pulled herself from the ride, hopped onto the platform, and trotted along to join her party.
She never even noticed the pony watching over her…
Luna’s eyes burned as she watched the scene below her unfold. A pink pony matching her disguised sister’s description had just wandered off towards her own personal attendant and her daughter. The three then departed for an ice cream booth, no doubt to cool off from the sun’s merciless rays.
I…I cannot believe that filly! First she runs away from the palace, and now she’s using one of my own servants as protection? Oh, she will pay dearly for this…
“What’s the plan?” asked one of the guards.
Luna pointed a hoof towards Ruby Dream. “Tell one of our non-flying guards to approach Miss Dream. That should send Celestia running. Once she’s on the move, the rest of the guards will block every exit except those leading to the castle. Do NOT apprehend her right now. We cannot make too much of a scene.”
The two pegasi saluted the princess before taking to the skies…
The bench had once been a clean, pure sign of Canterlot’s wonder. Its wooden beams still bore traces of the varnish and polish that had been poured on during construction to give it the appearance of wealth and taste. Now, it bore the white stains of ice cream, dripping from a clumsy alicorn foal’s cone as she desperately tried to hold the thing with hooves.
Lofty was having a lot more success, born from years of actual use. Ruby was doing even better, wrapping the thing around her fetlock like a pony that had done it a million times. Celestia couldn’t help but feel even more self-conscious next to these two.
“So, are you having fun?” Ruby asked.
Celestia and Lofty both vigorously banged their heads in response. “This is the best day ever, mom!”
“I thank you for allowing me to join you,” Celestia added. She took another bite, the small bits of melted cream splashing down her dress. “It has certainly made things much more enjoyable.”
Ruby smiled. “And what if Princess Luna had joined? Wouldn’t that have been even better?”
Celestia froze in mid-bite. She could definitely feel something far more menacing behind those words. “Well, I suppose. But she does have a tendency to spoil things.”
“Yeah, she’s kind of scary,” said Lofty. “But hey, at least we have each other here today!”
“Uh…huh.” Ruby’s eyes locked onto the ever-growingly anxious princess. “Lofty, would you mind taking our trash to the bin?”
“Sure thing, mom!” Lofty jumped to her hooves, grabbed as much of the small pieces of paper the cones had been wrapped in as she could in her mouth, and started walking towards the trash bin across the way.
Ruby watched and waited until she was out of earshot before speaking. “Princess, why did you run away?”
The abruptness of the question caused Celestia to choke a bit on the piece of waffle cone she was swallowing. She didn’t even look back up at the pegasus before answering. “I…I…I didn’t run away.”
“Yes you did,” Ruby sighed. “It was obvious from the moment you first appeared. Your body language, your stammering, and what I know about Princess Luna’s behavior these last few days all suggested it. She said you couldn’t come, so you dressed yourself in a disguise and snuck out of the castle.” The mare winked at the filly. “Besides, I can tell when a child is lying. It’s a mom thing.
Celestia’s frown said it all. “Then why did you let me join you?”
Ruby shrugged. “I wanted to make sure you were okay. This is no place for a filly to run around unsupervised. You of all ponies should know that. But shouldn’t you be thinking about heading home? I’m sure your sister is worried sick.”
“I doubt it,” Celestia scoffed. “She’s probably too busy working to care anymore. And besides…”
The two stopped talking as a pair of stallions walked by. “Did you read what they said about Princess Celestia?”
“Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? I always figured she cared more about parties and social standing than governing everything.”
“No wonder things are so horrible in Equestria right now. I mean, have you seen the price of bread lately? I had to pay two more bits a loaf than a month ago! Now Princess Luna, she knows how to…”
The voices trailed off as the stallions disappeared into the crowds. Celestia slouched on her backside, silently wishing she could meld with the bench and disappear entirely. Ruby watched her former ruler’s defeated expression with no small measure of sympathy. “I know. I read what they said in the Times, and believe me, they will have quite the rebuttal.”
“No point in doing that when it’s all true,” Celestia moaned.
The two ponies turned to the utterly confused Lofty, now back from her lovely trip to the gunk-filled trashcan. Ruby and Celestia hopped back to more natural poses, hoping to fool the filly into thinking that nothing was wrong. Fortunately, she didn’t have quite the world experience needed to see all the way through the deception. “Seriously, what’s true?”
“Um…that…this carnival is a wonderful thing,” Celestia stammered. “I’m having so much fun today!”
“Yes, that is exactly what we were talking about,” Ruby said. “There was nothing else going on. Everything is perfectly fine.”
“Excuse me, miss, but can I ask you some questions?”
The three spun around to match the gruff-sounding voice coming from behind. Sure enough, it was one of the castle’s unicorn guards. His emotionless face was the perfect counterpart for the dread growing within Ruby. “Beg your pardon, but a royal guest has gone missing. We were wondering if you had seen her anywhere. She’s a filly unicorn, about the same age as your daughter?”
“R-Really?” Ruby stammered. “Well, I have seen somepony like that. Sunlight, can you help this…”
It was right about then that the pegasus noticed Princess Celestia was gone.
Once they were certain an army of guards wouldn’t assault them on sight, Blueblood’s spies tiphoofed into Princess Luna’s bedroom. Sure enough, the room was just as unguarded on the inside as the outside, and what would have been a frightening oversight in any other circumstance was certainly advantageous for the two PIs.
The green pony smiled as she noticed the opened chest, filled to the brim with children’s clothes. “Well, I guess that’s proof right there.”
The brown colt scratched the back of his mane. “I don’t think that’s enough. All we have is some clothing we found in a princess’ room. It could be anything.”
The mare sighed. “Then get to looking. We need to find something to appease Blueblood.”
As if obeying a starter whistle, the two set out to work. The colt rummaged through Luna’s dresser, blushing slightly as he ran into the princess’ frilly saddle collection but finding nothing inside. The mare searched under the bed, but only confirmed that the castle’s cleaning staff was some of the very best in Equestria. There was nothing behind the mirror, nor was there anything on the princess’ bookshelf. The window was unlocked, but there was no sign that anypony had been using it to enter or leave.
And then the mare started digging into the chest. A few of the choices in outfits were a tad distasteful, and considering Princess Celestia’s previous actions with her sister, the science fiction-y spacesuit was a rather disturbing choice. Nevertheless, there was nothing particularly incriminating inside.
And then her hoof struck something at the very bottom. Plunging both forelegs into the chest, she slowly pulled out an old camera. And attached to it was a single photo: a white alicorn with a rainbow mane, dressed in a princess costume and looking all the more embarrassed by it.
The stallion peered over his associate’s shoulder, eyeing the picture with shock. “Th-That looks like…”
The green mare quickly stashed the photo away. “Let’s clean up and get out of here. I think we have what we need.”
Celestia bolted from the fairground entrance to the very streets of Canterlot. Around her, the guard patrols only seemed to intensify in number, as more and more armored pegasi centered in on the princess’ most likely location. Fortunately for her, they seemed not to notice the filly underneath all her disguises, and made no actual effort to stop her.
Lifting the manhole was a bit more of a challenge, but after a few tugs the stubborn metal lid finally came loose. Taking one last, deep breath, Celestia leaped down into the sewer, climbing back only enough to replace the top.
Kuchen tossed the latest memory book aside as a deep roar bellowed from deep within. He had been inside Twilight’s mind for who-knows-how-long, and had searched every inch of her mental library for the power he was promised, and yet every memory that seemed of importance was nothing but the same thing. Twilight and Celestia would be performing some activity, during which they would accomplish some mundane task, laugh it up, and then move on to the next. None of the other books echoed with any of the power these before him held, and yet not a single spell they mentioned would accomplish what he had spent so many lifetimes trying to accomplish.
And yet, his hostage’s mental avatar was still there, hanging around with that felt mockery of a descendant of his. The uncontrollable rage building within his shadowy form was too much to bear. “Now listen here, you wench!”
Twilight and Pinkie turned their attention away from Twilight’s memory of her first bicycle (and coincidentally, the reason why she knows how much getting your horn healed hurts) and back towards the shambling corpse. “Well? Had fun picking my brain? I’m sure you found so many things to meditate on.”
Kuchen’s black-and-pink hooves stomped across the imaginary floor. Each step pulsed and vibrated like a small earthquake, threatening to shake the library down to its very core. The black tendrils waved back and forth, just waiting for the chance to strike at somepony. “I have had enough of your stalling tactics, unicorn! You promised me a magic strong enough to rival even Celestia’s, and yet all I can find are pointless visions of you as a filly! Your body is mine now, as we agreed, and you will show me this power NOW!”
Felt Pinkie slid through the side of the chair and popped right back together. The little spot of black fuzz that represented her one visible eyeball locked with Kuchen’s as she spoke. “That is no way for you to speak to my friend! You need to learn some manners, mister!”
“It’s all right, Pinkie,” Twilight said nonchalantly. “I know just what he’s looking for. And if he’s sure he wants it, he can take it.”
Felt Pinkie’s face widened to the point it threatened to fall off the rest of her head. “Twilight, what are you doing? Are you trying to help the bad guy?”
Any further protests died out as Kuchen slammed the pink pony aside. Pinkie slid across the floor a good ten feet before crashing into the shelf holding Twilight’s baby memories. “Yes, I want that knowledge NOW! Tell me, what is this magic?!”
Twilight’s horn lit up, emitting a purple glow that matched with a scroll atop one of the book shelves. The rolled paper slowly floated towards one of the empty tables, unfurling even as it descended. If Kuchen still had lips, they would had been salivating at the potential awaiting him. Now, at last, he would have his revenge.
The stallion peered over the scroll, anticipating yet another vision like those before. And yet, there was no such sensation. Instead, he could only look upon a still picture of six ponies, two of them Twilight and Pinkie, standing in formation against some sort of dragon-like monstrosity. And below that, another picture of the six standing against a black alicorn not wholly different from Celestia or Luna. Kuchen’s paw pocked and scrapped against the scroll, desperate to activate whatever secret switch or spell would propel him inside and grant him the knowledge he desired. And yet, there was nothing.
“Another lie!” he screamed. “You waste my time yet again!”
Twilight smirked. “Really? But I thought you would know about all these events through Pinkie. This is the power I promised you. It doesn’t come from years of study or even just being born lucky. Where it really comes from…” Twilight touched a hoof to her chest. “…is the heart.”
Kuchen’s response was immediate. A tentacle shot around Twilight’s neck, wrapping itself tightly before pulling her upwards. Pinkie tried to jump to her friend’s rescue, but tripped on a discarded book and fell face-first into the memory of Twilight’s first birthday party. The stallion’s every movement was accompanied by what sounded like muffled curses. “You…You made a joke of me! The power comes from the heart? Only a foal would believe in such nonsense!”
“But it does!” Twilight gasped. The unicorn desperately attempted to pry her forehooves into the tentacle mass, but none of her struggling amounted to anything. “It took me a long time to realize it, too. It wasn’t until Celestia sent me to Ponyville that I learned how much power friendship really has.”
The tentacle’s grip tightened. “Do not attempt to lecture me, girl! I have suffered indignities far worse than you can even conceive for five hundred years! Do you really think a little friendship would solve that?”
“F-Friendship defeated Nightmare Moon and Discord,” Twilight coughed. “B-But the Elements are not the only power it has. Together, my friends a-and I are capable of doing anything! And w-we w-w-w-will gladly do wh-whatever it t-a-a-a-a-kes to help each other!”
The tendril drew ever tighter. Twilight could feel the end rapidly approaching. “Tell me, how does it feel to have the life strangled from you? To know that your death soon comes and that you can do nothing to avoid it? Your beloved princess did this to me. It is only fitting that her tool of a student suffer the same fate!”
Twilight coughed and gasped one last taunt. “CELESTIA! IS! NOT! A! FRAUD!”
The tendril suddenly seemed to harden, as a pulse of power surged from Twilight’s captured form, slid down the tentacle’s length, and slammed into Kuchen’s body. The force of the blast sent Kuchen flying, crashing into another bookcase. His extra appendage crumbled into dust as he did so, sending Twilight plummeting to the ground herself. Her neck was still sore from the certain death she had faced only moments before, but the unicorn was otherwise uninjured.
The shambling abomination slowly stood yet again. His entire body shook like a big bowl of grape jelly, and not all of his actual body parts were in exactly the same place. The tentacles that he had used so often to torture the two now hung limply against the ground; a few of them were even smoking like burnt rubber. “Wh-What is this? How is this possible?”
“Did you really think I was just going to turn on Princess Celestia like that?” said Twilight. “Oh please, I thought you would have known better than that. I’ve been her student for almost my entire life. She’s shown me wonders that I could have never dreamed about otherwise. Why, if it weren’t for her, I would have never gone to Ponyville and met my friends. And you thought I was just going to let you try to kill her because of some sob story about how she never loved you?”
What followed was the most primal scream Twilight and Pinkie had ever heard. With a hissing shriek, Kuchen’s extra limbs came to life yet again. The black tendrils shot out in every direction at once, attaching themselves to the walls of the mental library as if to pull the whole thing down. “Insolent child! I am Kuchen, student of Princess Celestia and a victim of her cruelty! I do not need your approval! I can take control of everything without you!”
“And yet you didn’t.”
Kuchen’s one good eye widened. “What?”
“That’s why I told you about the magic of friendship,” Twilight lectured. Even Pinkie, now back off the floor, was eagerly hopping along to stand with her friend on this. “I figured a pony as inquisitive as you couldn’t help but look for something once you learned it existed. So I let you in, had you comb through my head for all my old memories of Celestia, and forced you to see what you would be giving up if you just wiped me clean. You would have lost your one chance to have what you truly wanted this whole time: Celestia’s approval.”
Kuchen’s body trembled. “I…I hate that liar with all my being!”
“And that’s why you’re still here. You couldn’t stop hating her. But think about before that. She took you away from a dismal life as a baker and made you her personal student. You showed her your cutie mark like it was a badge of honor. And even on the night she killed you, you were trying to prove that you were right. You could have planned some sort of ambush; I mean, you had to know she would come after you mailed her your best friend’s pelt. And yet, you tried to convince her that your research was sound, and that it was all going to be used to improve the lives of ponies everywhere.”
“I can erase everything! I…I can make this shell my own!”
“But you won’t. And do you know why? Because you have everything you want right here. The praise, the respect, AND the love of Princess Celestia. Take all that away, and all you have is your own broken self. That’s why you couldn’t destroy those memories. That’s why you kept homing in on the more heartfelt moments of my relationship with Princess Celestia. And that was the real reason why you didn’t just destroy this place the moment you entered. Because you wanted this.”
Kuchen moved to say something, but what had been his jaw splattered against the floor. The tendrils melted into small puddles of ooze before evaporating completely. The horror looked about his decaying form in sheer terror.
“And now that you have it, you can’t give it up. But if you can’t cling to your hatred, then you have nothing to keep on living for. Face it, Kuchen, you were doomed the minute you came in here!”
The monster scooped up the lower half of his mouth and jammed it back in place as best he could. His voice was fading almost as quickly as his body. “PlEase…HElP mEEeeeeEee….”
Twilight nodded. “First, give me the cure. And you’d better not be lying about it, either. Trust me, I know where you live.”
The blob said nothing; or rather, it was incapable of saying anything other than gurgling empty threats. It didn’t take long to get its answer, however. A flash of light exploded in front of Twilight, lingered for a few seconds, and then vanished, leaving behind a scroll. The inquisitive unicorn immediately unfurled the thing, and sure enough, it contained every last bit of information she needed.
Twilight blushed. “Wow. We were way off.”
Twilight and Pinkie turned back to the thing that was Kuchen. His body was almost completely gone by this point, leaving behind a rather sickening odor. Only his top half remained to beg for help. The unicorn and the felt pony both took a few steps forward. “Kuchen, I can’t let you live,” Twilight said. “You’ve done too much to my princess, my friend, and me. You’ve been gone for five hundred years, and it’s best if you…”
“Are you sorry?”
Twilight and Kuchen both turned to the felt pony, the latter seemingly ceasing in his vanishing from existence. “What are you talking about, Pinkie?”
“Well, if he’s really sorry, we can’t just let him die, can we?”
“YES! YES WE CAN!”
Pinkie was stunned by the words jumping out of Twilight’s mouth. Even the unicorn was feeling more than a little embarrassed at the moment. Kuchen was still sitting there, the melting process seemingly slowed to a crawl. “Twilight Sparkle, I am ashamed of you! After all you said, you’re still willing to let him die? He’s a part of the Pie Clan, and I can’t just let a member of the family walk away all sad because they did something wrong.”
“B-But he was a monster,” Twilight said. “Princess Celestia herself said he killed who-knows-how-many ponies!”
“Yes, he was a monster,” Pinkie said. She turned back to the dying spirit. “But that was because you only knew half of what was going on. It must have been hard, going through life with no friends, a mentor that was so cold to you, and no real idea what you were working for. He’s had to suffer for five hundred years; I think that’s a long enough sentence, don’t you?”
Twilight said nothing. She didn’t quite know what to say to that. Kuchen, meanwhile, could feel something stirring within him as Pinkie extended a felt hoof. “Come on, we’ve been enemies my whole life. Don’t you think it’s time we gave friendship a chance?”
Kuchen was motionless. He had no clue how to respond to this. Friendship was the farthest thing from his mind all these centuries; all he had cared about what revenge on Celestia. But Twilight Sparkle had been right. He had experienced something wonderful when he had moved through her memories, and as much as he wanted to fight it, he truly did want to keep hold of that feeling…
His half-melted hoof grasped onto Pinkie’s. “Frheaihfnds.”
What remained of Kuchen’s body became swathed in a rainbow of lights. The spectrums danced along the insides of Twilight’s mind, causing her avatar to smile and laugh unwillingly. The stallion’s body seemed to reform fully, as the light returned what limbs he had lost and burnt away the black tar that had once been his form. After a few moments, the rainbow vanished, leaving a pink unicorn made out of the same felt as Pinkie.
Kuchen stared at his new body, utterly perplexed by what had just occurred. “What is this? I…I feel wonderful!”
Pinkie laughed. “Of course you do, silly! You’re a part of Pinkie Pie’s world now! No more hanging out in the dark. No more trying to take control of me when I’m upset. No more having to be sad and lonely. From now on, it’s just you and me and all the others hanging out! Now, are you ready to par-tay?”
Kuchen’s fabric face gave the first smile he had given in five hundred years. “After all this time? I think I can handle some cake?”
Pinkie turned to the still-stunned Twilight. “Well, you heard the guy. Let’s zap everypony back to where they belong!”
“Um…sure.” Twilight’s horn lit up, and the two ponies vanished into the ether. Once they were gone, an energy field enveloped the unicorn. She could feel herself being pulled free…
Twilight flew back a good five feet as she woke up. The sudden jolt made her more than a little dizzy, and her legs were tingling from being seated for so long, but otherwise she seemed perfectly fine. Pinkie was already back on her hooves, bobbing her head to the music inside her skull. Apparently she and Kuchen were having quite the party.
The unicorn moved to say something, but stopped as she remembered her original goal. Floating over a quill and parchment, she set to work copying down the spell Kuchen had given her…
Once she was certain the coast was clear, Celestia leaped from her potted hiding place, tip-hoofing her way back to the bedroom doors. Fortunately, the guards that would normally be fixed at both sides were gone, no doubt helping in the search for the missing princess. So far so good. All I have to do is go inside and act like I was just going to the little filly’s room. Luna will be none the wiser.
So confident in her victory was she that she darted through the doors without looking, not even bothering to close them behind her. She was just getting ready to toss the doll under her bed when she heard something slam behind her.
Celestia slowly turned around, sweating like a criminal caught in the act. Standing on the other side, behind where the doors would have opened, was a rather perturbed Princess Luna. The filly alicorn managed to catch her just as her horn – and the doors – stopped glowing. Celestia could feel raw terror course its way through her veins as her sister stared her down. “Oh…hello, dear sister. H-How is your day?”
Luna said nothing, instead opting to scan her sister’s current figure. Her gaze intensified as she caught glimpse of the filly’s black eye.
“Well, I’m sure you are wondering why I’m dressed like this?” the filly continued. With a yank, she flung the dress from her body. Her wings, now freed from the garment’s obstructive nature, flung open on pure instinct. “You see, I figured that, since I can’t go around in public, I’d just give a new look a chance. I mean, this is the perfect opportunity, what with nopony looking at me all day or anything. Am I right?”
Luna’s eyes narrowed even more, making the filly fidget under the ever-increasing intensity of the stare. “Celestia, did you really expect me to believe such a transparent sack of lies as this?!”
The filly backed up a few steps. She could feel an appointment with the business end of the Royal Canterlot Voice coming. “B-But I…”
“Have you any idea how worried I was?!” Luna bellowed. “I pulled every guard from active duty just to find where my little sister was!”
“I-I’m sorry,” Celestia whined. A few tears were beginning to collect in her eyes.
Even in this sorry state, however, Luna refused to back down. Her entire body pulsed with a fury she had not felt for over a thousand years. “I have tried to be lenient in your behavior. I allowed Twilight Sparkle to convince me that letting you enjoy yourself would lead to no harm. I was even willing to take you to that accursed carnival MYSELF!”
Celestia could feel her knees preparing to give out. “Y-You mean…”
“How do you think I discovered your disappearance, you clumsy child? Do you have any idea what could have happened out there? You could have been killed, or stolen, or gotten lost on the streets of Canterlot, and all because you refused to keep a serious mind in this! You have acted impulsively and dangerously, and I cannot allow this to continue!”
A cold shiver ran up the length of Celestia’s spine. “What are…What are you going to do?”
“PRINCESS CELESTIA OF EQUESTRIA! AS OF THIS MOMENT, YOU. ARE. GROUNDED!”
The entirety of Celestia’s room shook and buckled underneath the unparalleled intensity of Luna’s voice. Books tumbled down from the shelves, pictures came crashing down, and even the bed the princess had backed herself up against felt like it was mere moments away from collapsing completely. Against such an assault, the now-powerless Celestia had no recourse but to cower. “W-What?”
Her message having been delivered, Luna could feel her voice calming down, if only just. “First, we are going to remove all those horrid colors. Second, you are going to spend every minute of every day in this room until a cure can be found. You will have no dessert with dinner, you shall be under a full escort when using the bathroom, and you shall NOT, I repeat, shall NOT, presume to order anypony else to aid in your escape again! Now, am I understood?”
Celestia’s head hung weakly as her sister’s declaration took hold. A part of her wanted to just accept the punishment her brutish monster of a sister had just dealt out, no matter how humiliating it may have been. Still another wanted to debate the matter in a reasonable manner; after all, she was still (technically) an adult, and Luna was a fairly logical pony when she wasn’t in the middle of one of her moods. But then…
She listened to the third part. The part that dared her to challenge her sister’s undeserved authority.
The filly lifted her face back towards her sister, a sneer of defiance plastered across her lip. “I am not going to spend the rest of my time like this locked up just so you can feel safe!”
Luna had not quite been expecting something like this. She drew back only a moment before fixing her gaze back upon the small foal before her. “Y-You have no right to speak to me that way! There is no defending what you have just done! Do you have any idea what might have happened?”
“What, somepony would have found out who I was?” Celestia snapped. “Oh yeah, I can see how upsetting that would be for YOU. After all that work you put into making me look like the biggest flank in all of Equestria, it certainly wouldn’t do you any good if everypony found out you had turned your sister into a filly so you can fake a government takeover! Oh wait, you weren’t faking a takeover, because that’s what you just did!”
“I did no such thing!” Luna shouted back. “I was merely acting responsible. That’s apparently too much to ask of you these days!”
“Oh, let’s talk about responsibility.” Celestia’s sneer darkened and twisted into something fierce enough to burn the bark off a tree. “If you are to be believed, I was nothing more than an overgrown foal running Equestria into the ground for a thousand years. But in all your research, did it not occur to you that if I was as truly dreadful as you claim, this entire country would have collapsed under its own weight within half a century?! But no, I stuck with it. I worked myself to lengths that would kill any normal pony every day, all so I could see my little ponies happy and thriving. Because of my work, our ponies can be safe in the knowledge that their destiny won’t end with them on an Ursa’s dinner table, or under the hoof of an egotistical tyrant! My entire life has been spent building Equestria from nothing, and what do you do? You go out of your way to make me look like I don’t care!”
Luna’s nerves tightened in response to Celestia’s ranting. “And you believe I don’t? In case you’ve forgotten, I was right there next to you the whole time! Who was it that balanced the royal accounts because her older sister was too stubborn to learn economics? Who was it that commanded the military because her sister was too soft-hearted to even think that a pony might die to defend her and her subjects? And who was it that, after giving everything she had to make Equestria prosperous, was shunned by everypony else while her sister was praised, all because of what time of day fate decided to entrust them with?”
“Oh, there’s a new one! What’s wrong, Luna? You can’t get enough pity so you make yourself some?!”
Luna gasped. “Wh-What?!”
“Do you have any idea how annoying it was all these millennia, listening to you whine and moan about every single little thing that goes wrong in your life? Your ‘woe is me’ stuff is getting old, and I’ve had it up to HERE with your moping!”
“And do you have any idea how terrible it is to have an older sister that refuses to give the effort it needs to actually succeed in her job? I’ve watched everypony praise the ground you walk upon and think you are the most perfect pony to have ever lived. But these last few weeks, I have seen you as you truly are. You are an immature, overgrown bully, and your only idea of ‘relaxing’ is to find pleasure in tormenting everypony around you, EVEN THE SISTER THAT YOU HAD BANISHED!”
“You’re right, I did banish you. It tore me up inside watching you drift across Equestria every night for a thousand years. But right now, I’m wishing I never put those stars in place to bring you back! Maybe I should have left you to rot. It would have said me all this trouble!”
Luna’s body began to seethe a dark aura. Her wings spread themselves, not out of elation or surprise, but rather from the uncontrollable rage boiling up inside her. Celestia followed suit, albeit without any of her own energy seething out. “I…I…I have had enough of your foalish behavior! It’s time you grew up, sister!”
“And whose fault is that, sister?” Celestia sneered.
“Do you really think I would have done this if you hadn’t forced my hoof?!”
“And I meant you no harm! But next time…”
“There shall not BE a next time! And I shall be damned before I let a childish oaf like you back on the throne!”
“Oh yeah? Well, I don’t even want the throne anymore! You can have Equestria AND all those ungrateful ponies for all I care!”
“You are an incompetent pony with delusions of grandeur, trying to force others to see you as perfect while doing nothing to correct your own flaws!”
“Oh yeah? OH YEAH? Well…Well…”
Celestia clasped her eyes tightly shut. Every nerve in her body began to twist and writhe from the agony being exuded from her unquenchable anger. No longer conscious of what was really going on, she reached for the deepest, most horrible thing she could throw at her sister.
“Well…You’re just....just…NIGHTMARE MOON!”
Anything else Celestia might have said died in her throat as a blur snapped across her face. Before either pony could truly realize what had occurred, Princess Luna’s right foreleg was hanging to her left side, while a large red welt had formed across Celestia’s left cheek. Through slanted, burning eyes, Luna watched as her sister touched the wound with her own hoof, as if to confirm what had just transpired. “How dare you use that profane title! Nightmare Moon was a monster! Do you truly believe me to be anything like that…that…”
It was right at that moment that Luna saw the first flickers of emotion in Celestia’s eyes. Her pupils were small and dilated, their focus never fixing upon anything in particular. Her lower lip was quivering as what little power her real self held began to drown under the raw torrent of new emotions rushing through her entire body. Her little hoof never left that mark, as if afraid it would start squirting blood if she didn’t keep pressure on it at all times.
The circumstances may have been different, but it was something Luna had seen far too many times.
Luna’s breaths became slower and colder as she realized the full scope of what she had just done. Her raised hoof gradually lowered to the ground, moving so slow as to make no noise when it made contact. Celestia’s breathing, on the other hoof, became more labored the longer the scene around her continued. “C-Celestia, I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean to…”
“S-STAY AWAY!” Celestia screamed.
Luna froze. She had never heard such a fearful tone in her sister’s voice before. “I…I…I need to heal your injury. Please just stay still, and…”
Celestia hopped back a few steps; an admirable feat, considering she only had three legs available. “NO! You’re just gonna hurt me more!”
“I…I’m sorry,” Luna muttered. “I just got so angry that…”
The filly couldn’t hold it in anymore. Hot, steaming anger burned through her as she cracked completely, sobbing like a wounded puppy. Every inch of her body screamed pain. “Y-You’re the…the worst sister I’ve ever met! I-I HATE YOU!”
Before Luna could say anything else, Celestia bolted past her and banged on the doors. The guards, having returned to their posts once the princess had been contained, opened the entrance just in time for the white alicorn to charge down the hall and vanish. Her cries echoed through the palace, seemingly aimed straight at Luna’s heart.
The confused guards slowly approached the shell-shocked princess. “Your Majesty, is something wrong?”
Luna said nothing. She simply fell back on her haunches and looked at the offending hoof. In this moment of clarity, she could see everything that had happened: how she had transformed her sister against her will; how she had tried to lock her away rather than give her what she really needed; and how, in just a moment, she had destroyed whatever had remained of their relationship. There was no way either could make up for what had been said. Not once in their long lives had either one unloaded on the other like that.
She was right. I really am Nightmare Moon.