Once again the mailponies had delivered the wrong weather report. Today’s forecast called for blue skies, but the color overhead was a thick, dark gray that only got thicker and darker towards the horizon. The wind was brisk enough to kick up clouds of dust from the dirt-road, and the smell of rain breezed along with it. Every few seconds, a black cloud rumbled in the distance.
I’d better wrap this up soon, Trixie thought.
“And now, for her final feat of spectacular sorcery and marvelous magic, the Great and Powerful Trixie will make a member of the audience… disappear!” Trixie reared back and flourished her cape. Enchanted fireworks went off behind her: a dazzling volley of sparks, swirls, and shooting stars. The crowd oohed and aahed. Trixie smirked.
“Now, which one of you little ponies is brave enough to volunteer?”
She strutted across the stage, a confident smile hanging on her face. She loved audience participation; it was always fun putting ponies on edge, even if she couldn’t get away with the usual “anything you can do, I can do better!” routine with a crowd of fewer than twenty. Thanks to the weather, though, the audience was too busy shivering and glancing at burgeoning storm-clouds to really get into the act.
“What’s this? Nopony’s going to step forward? Looks like the Great and Powerful Trixie’ll have to choose somepony herself!” The crowd buzzed, glancing at one another and whispering excitedly. Good to know I can still keep them interested.
Trixie scanned the crowd for potential volunteers. They were tourists, or at least they looked like it: they all wore tacky, comfortable clothing, and behind them stood a large, black trolley-carriage with a peevish-looking stallion at the reins. A few of them had cameras, though nopony took any pictures. They’re probably on their way to a tour of Ponyville; they’re not gonna waste any film on some street magician. Still, maybe I can get them to waste some more of their time.
The faraway clouds grumbled impatiently. Trixie took the hint and made her choice.
“How about… you!”
Trixie’s hoof shot towards a little blank-flanked filly wearing a red scarf and a large pair of sunglasses. “Do you mean me?” she squeaked.
Trixie chortled precociously. “Well, Trixie isn’t pointing at anypony else. Now, come on up!” A few audience members moved aside, opening a path to the stage for the filly, but she wouldn't budge. She looked up expectantly at a rotund, mustachioed stallion standing next to her—he gave her a few gentle nudges with his hoof, but it still wasn't enough to get her moving. The filly was shaking so hard, Trixie could hear the giant pair of sunglasses rattle.
“Well, alright then. If you won’t come to the stage, the Great and Powerful Trixie’ll have to bring the stage to you!”
Another batch of fireworks flew up into the air, but instead of exploding they just hung above the front row. Then they glided down into the audience, weaving their way towards the filly, circling around her and slowly lifting her into the air. The filly squirmed in their grasp stars, her head shooting between Trixie and the old stallion even as the stars lifted her higher, glowing brighter and brighter, so bright that the audience members all turned away and shielded their eyes. At last, the stars exploded, crashing into the filly with a ferocious bang.
Slowly, the audience members turned back to where the filly was. They gasped. She was gone.
The crowd was silent for a long moment. Then, the old stallion spoke up. “Where’d she go?”
Trixie sauntered slowly down the stage and into the audience, giving her cap a mysterious tilt. Monologue time. “Trixie knew you were going to ask that question. In fact, she knows you're all thinking the exact same thought: ‘where did she go?’ you ask yourselves, ‘she just vanished into thin air!’” Trixie looked straight at the old stallion and stared him in the eye. “Well, you’re all wrong. Nothing ever vanishes. Nothing ever simply disappears. Not even the Great and Powerful Trixie has the magical power required to violate such a basic law of the universe, and she may well be the most powerful unicorn in Equestria!” Trixie reared back once more, this time to call down a bolt of lightning. It crashed dangerously close to the audience, and they leapt backwards, screaming.
Except for the old stallion, that is. He just glared. “Seriously, where’s my daughter?”
Trixie rolled her eyes. “Somepony’s getting a little impatient. Well, if you want to know where she is…”
She removed her hat, closed her eyes, and clapped her hooves together, and small beam of light shot out of her horn. It wound its way between the audience, eventually moving past the back of the crowd, all the way over to the carriage.
“...Why don’t you ask the driver?”
A little peep came from behind the peevish stallion: “Daddy?”
The crowd cheered and clapped their hooves. The stallion galloped over, scooped his daughter onto his back, and joined the rest of the audience in applause, his daughter looking thoroughly pleased that the trick was over. Trixie hopped back on stage and tossed her cap by a sign that read, “donations welcome.”
“You have all been made witness to the amazing magic of the Great and Powerful Trixie!" she said, making as many subtle gesture towards the sign as she could. "But the greatest magic of all is how quickly time flies by. Be sure to tell your friends and family about The Great and Powerful Trixie’s Marvelous Magic Show, although Trixie’s sure you don’t need too much encouragement!”
After a few seconds, the applause died down. The crowd chattered happily and meandered around the stage, many of them walking over to the sign and tossing some bits into Trixie’s cap.
The carriage driver let out a loud harumph, drawing everypony's attention. “Alright, this concludes our pit-stop at the Great and Powerful Trixie’s wandering caravan. Now, it’s time to head down to Ponyville, where we’ll have dinner at our first official stop on the tour: Horte’s Cuisine.” Everypony shouted their approval and rushed back into the carriage.
Trixie rolled her eyes. She pushed the pop-out stage back into the caravan and undid the knot in her cape, then wiped a bit of sweat off her brow. That went pretty well, I guess, she thought, even as the tourists flooded their bus.
Trixie tried not to hear how quickly they sped away. She picked up her cap, now heavy with bits, and tossed it through the caravan’s open window, then pulled a black tarp and a few metal spikes out of a box lying by the door.
Out of curiosity, she looked down the dirt-road that lead towards Ponyville. Her eyes fixed themselves upon the tour-trolley, now nothing but a speck in front of the slate-grey horizon, and watched it move farther and farther away until it had disappeared completely, vanishing into thin air. She closed her eyes and let the breeze play with her mane.
Luna did not wish to attend tonight’s Harmonious Nations conference. It wasn’t that she disliked the conferences; she always enjoyed performing her royal duties, no matter how trite they might have been, and those meetings were far from trite.
They themselves, however, were of no particular importance. Rather, it was that they gave Luna some time to spend with her sister that made them so special: Luna and Celestia would always meet at the observation deck one hour before the meeting began to catch up over a pot of tea and watch the sunset. Once dusk had settled in, Celestia would summon her guards, and the sisters would make their way down to the meeting hall together.
Today went a little differently. Instead of chatting idly with her sister, Princess Luna found herself sitting alone on the balcony, watching the sun tick down to dusk all by herself. When Celestia did show up, it was only to tell Luna that she had been completely blindsided by a mountain of paperwork left in the aftermath of the changeling invasion, and that she was just too exhausted to attend the meeting. Indeed, Celestia was a wreck—hair freyed, coat blotched, eyes heavy with dark circles and red veins.
In any case, Luna would have to preside over the conference herself, aided only by one of Celestia’s nephews. Now she found herself walking through the castle halls with that very pony: an officious, pretty-faced stallion with a blonde mane and an impossibly clean suit.
“If you don’t mind me saying so, your majesty, I think you’ll be splendid even without the aid of your sister!”
Luna trotted quickly through the hallway, her eyes fixed stubbornly ahead of her. “I appreciate thine confidence, Prince Blueblood.”
Blueblood chuckled nervously. “Oh, Princess—your sister did ask me to remind you to watch your thee’s and thou’s.” He cantered ahead of her, trying to catch her eye. “Not to question your judgement of course, your grace.”
Luna wanted to roll her eyes. She could understand why she had to drop the royal ‘we,’ but why was it so bad to use proper grammar? How were ponies supposed to tell whether she was speaking to one or all of them if she only used ‘you’ and ‘your?’ And she felt like an idiot every time she made herself say ‘does’ instead of ‘dost.’
She turned to Blueblood and forced a smile. “I take no offense. 'Tis an acceptable correction for you to make.”
“Very good, Princess!” Blueblood chortled. “Now, if I may be so bold once more; why are we not accompanied by your guards?”
Again, Luna felt the urge to roll her eyes. “My sister deems their presence to be inappropriate in the company of others. She finds them intimidating."
Of course, Princess Luna was outraged when her sister suggested that she attend the meeting with the Celestial Guard at her side. It was tradition for the royal guard of the presiding princess to protect the delegates, after all; anything else would be simply unacceptable. Luna would have rather gone without guards at all, and she suggested as much.
But, as always, Celestia had foreseen this conundrum and devised a solution: a clandestine operative with the power to turn invisible would don the armor of the Lunar Guard and defend the meeting while cloaked by magic. Luna had to admit, it was the perfect compromise: the meeting would be protected, the delegates would feel at ease, and Luna would still technically be adhering to tradition.
There were, however, drawbacks. For example, Luna had no idea whether the soldier was really following her. He could've wandered down some other hallway and Princess Luna would be none the wiser.
Prince Blueblood's voice snapped Luna out of her thoughts. “Well, I can understand why Princess Celestia made such a decision! The eyes and ears on your guards are quite… eugh.” He shivered weakly.
Luna chuckled. She almost wanted to believe that the guard was standing right in front of Prince Blueblood, making lewd gestures at him.
At last, the two of them—three counting the guard, which Luna didn’t—reached the meeting hall. Thankfully, the other delegates had taken their seats already, allowing Princess Luna and Prince Blueblood to quickly take attendance and call the meeting to order. Much of the Cosmic Council was absent, as per the norm, though there was a pair of regular attendees who were missing as well: Captain Shining Armor and Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, both of whom were away on their honeymoon, and both of whom had thankfully found replacements in time.
Once everything had been put into order, Luna began her proceedings.
“The first item on this evening’s itinerary is the effect of the changeling invasion,” she said, addressing everypony in the room, though she looked at none of them. “Said effect is, in point of fact, the reason why this meeting was postponed for two nights. Have you any information on the subject that bears reporting, Lieutenant Brigandine?”
A stone-faced mare sitting in Shining Armor’s seat spoke. “There were no casualties outside of a few injured civilians, all of whom are currently receiving medical care. Property damage was minimal, and we have no reason to believe that the changelings have invaded any HN member states or Equestrian commonwealths.”
Several ponies sighed in relief.
“It is good to hear that so little damage was dealt,” said Luna. “Though the true dilemma lies not in what the changelings did while they were in Canterlot nor in what they might do to other lands, but in how their queen managed to penetrate our defenses in the first place.”
A tired-looking alicorn with a silver coat spoke. “Indeed. There are obviously some gaping holes in Canterlot’s security, and we need to plug them before the changelings attempt a second attack. After all, we cannot—” The princess yawned for several seconds. Apparently, Princess Celestia wasn't the only one exhausted by the post-invasion efforts; every alicorn at the table looked a little sleepy, if not outright fatigued. It was almost enough to make Luna think that maybe the...
No, that's preposterous. If that was the case, somepony would have figured it out by now.
Before Luna could ruminate any further, the silver alicorn finished her yawn. "Pardon me, everypony... As I was saying, we must tighten Canterlot's security measures. We can't expect Princess Cadance and her husband to defend us from every threat we face.”
“And why not?” asked Prince Blueblood. Everypony turned towards him, puzzled looks on their faces. “Well, really! You’ve all seen the power of love in action. What’s stopping us from—”
“No.” Luna gave Prince Blueblood a halting gaze. “Before you say anything else: no. We will not be weaponizing the power of love.”
Blueblood retracted into his chair. “Apologies your majesty, but is it really such a terrible idea?”
“Yes it is!” said the pony sitting in Cadance’s seat. “For a wide variety of very good reasons, yes it is. We will not be turning a marriage into an arms dealing, nor will we take any action that might deprive the Crystal Empire of its princess, should it ever return.” Blueblood opened his mouth to reply. “And we will not be performing any experiments upon soldiers with loved ones! End of discussion!”
“But just think of it!” Blueblood leaned forward, tapping his hoof against the table. “With the power of love at our disposal, Equestria may never be in danger again! We won’t have to rely on the Elements of Harmony every time—”
“Oh, now I think I see what Prince Blueblood’s getting at.” A cobalt stallion sitting near Cadance's replacement wagged his hoof at Blueblood. “He just wants an excuse to keep Rarity out of Canterlot!”
A few of the ponies sitting near the stallion snickered. Blueblood turned up his nose.
“No, I don’t think that’s it, Prince Palladium,” said a mare sitting beside the lieutenant. “I think he wants to exact revenge on Princess Cadance and Shining Armor for serving such a big cake at their wedding!” The ponies laughed again, more openly this time. Blueblood kept looking away.
Luna tilted her head to the side, confused. “I’m not sure I follow. Why does Prince Blueblood wish for the Spirit of Generosity to be barred from Canterlot?”
“He doesn’t!” Blueblood spat. “That is to say, I don’t. And for your information, Palladium”—he sneered at the cobalt stallion sitting across the table—“Rarity and I get along just fine!”
“Is that why she never writes you?” asked a princess sitting beside Luna. Blueblood gave the mare a deadly look.
Cadance’s attendant gave Luna an incredulous smile. “Hold on just a moment, everypony. Your majesty, have you not been told the greatest Grand Galloping Gala story of all time?”
“I'm not sure that I have.”
“And you don’t need to be,” Prince Blueblood said hastily. “It’s actually quite overrated as far as Grand Galloping Gala stories go. Now, I think that just about covers it for the changeling invasion. Shall we—”
“Prince Palladium tells it best!” said a stallion sitting next to Blueblood. “Oh, you’ll love this, Princess Luna. It’s simply a riot!”
“Alright, alright, I’ll tell the story again.” Palladium cleared his throat loudly. Blueblood pulled a handkerchief from his coat and began to dab at his brow. “So, Prince Blueblood is mingling at last year’s Grand Galloping Gala, flirting with just about every lady he sees. Nothing out of the ordinary there.” A few of the mares at the table snickered. “When all of a sudden, who should appear before him but the Spirit of Generosity herself, Rarity!” Prince Palladium leaned over the table, pointing at Blueblood. “And this guy doesn’t even recognize her! He just takes her for some common mare!”
Prince Blueblood sank into his seat. “I think that’s enough."
“Oh, but he hasn’t even reached the best part!”
“Indeed, I haven’t! Anyway, Prince Blueblood decides to play a game of ‘how much can I get away with,’ since he figures his actions won’t have any lasting consequences. After all, it’s not like she’s somepony important or anything, right?” At that, even a few of the alicorns were chuckling. “Long story short, he winds up spilling cake all over Rarity—”
“I didn’t spill it on her!”
“—and she lets fly! She just screams at him and smothers him with the cake he spilled on her, and she does it right there in front of everyone!” Everypony at the table laughed uproariously, excepting Princess Luna. She only felt sorry for Blueblood; he looked thoroughly embarrassed.
Prince Palladium wiped a tear of laughter from his eye. “So, long after that fiasco’s ended, I’m walking back to my carriage, when out of the corner of my eye, I see Prince Blueblood vomiting by the side of the building. His nerves must have gotten the better of him!” At that, Blueblood bolted upright. He stuffed the handkerchief back in his suit-pocket and glowered at Palladium hatefully.
“I offer him a ride back, he accepts, and as my chauffeur helps him into the carriage, he goes: ‘That was mortifying! Who in the names of the Spirits of Harmony does that mare think she is!?’ And I say, ‘She must think she is a Spirit of Harmony!’” The delegates doubled over in laughter. Even Lieutenant Brigandine was sniggering into her hooves. “And he just nods in agreement! And then, a few seconds later, he gets this look of abject horror on his face like...” Palladium opened his eyes and mouth as wide as he could. “He just stays like that for a full minute! And then, he—”
“And then I threw up right in the middle of your carriage!” shouted Prince Blueblood, clapping his hooves derisively and faking laughter. “Oh, yes! Isn’t it just the funniest story ever told!? It never gets old!” Princess Luna felt a bead of sweat form on her brow. She had the feeling that something very bad was about to happen.
Nopony else seemed to feel that way, though. “Oh, you ruined it!” said Palladium.
“Yes, I ruined it! I ruined the one-hundredth recital of this tired old joke, and I am very glad to have done so! Palladium, if you had your way, you would be telling that story for a living!”
Prince Palladium rolled his eyes. “Prince Blueblood, I think you’re taking this a little personally. It’s just a funny story! Have a sense of humor!”
“I do have a sense of humor!” Blueblood roared, slamming his hooves against the table. “And that is precisely why I am getting so sick of everypony taking every chance they can to remind me of that Gala!”
The stallion sitting next to Blueblood chuckled uncomfortably. “Prince Blueblood, the smell of cake has filled you with mortal dread ever since that night. Surely, you understand the humor in that!”
“I’ve disliked cake my whole life for reasons far more complicated than—” Blueblood bit his lip. “And just because of that one night… It’s infuriating!”
One of the mares sitting near Palladium looked askance. “Don’t get so bent out of shape, Blueblood. You act as though it’s all we talk about.”
“Oh, Princess Almandine! Yes, you’ve certainly earned the right to talk!” Prince Blueblood hunched over the table and jabbed his hoof at her. “What was that joke I heard you telling Prince Noble the other evening? ‘Blueblood hates cake so much he sends some to Rarity every day!’ Such a gem! I would expect nothing less from a mare of your stature!”
Luna tapped Blueblood on the shoulder with her hoof, startling him with her touch. “Prince Blueblood, please calm yourself.”
“Yes, calm down,” said Prince Palladium. Luna bit the inside of her cheek. “Now, I’m sure the whole cake thing is as complicated as you say it is, but—”
“THEN STOP TREATING IT LIKE IT’S AS SIMPLE AS YOU’RE LETTING ON!”
Everyone jumped. The ponies nearest Blueblood fell to the floor clutched at their ears, writhing in pain. The others could only stare, their eyes wide with shock; even Luna was speechless. Prince Blueblood had just used the royal Canterlot voice.
He looked as shaken as everyone else. He tried to say something, but as soon as he opened his mouth everyone flinched away, the ponies on the floor scrambling into the corners of the room. After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, he galloped through the door, never to be seen again for the rest of the meeting.
“Two-hundred-twenty-one, two-hundred-twenty-two… Huh. Two-hundred-twenty-three bits and it’s only Wednesday. Not bad.” Trixie scooped up the gold coins and dropped them back in her lock-box. “To think, all it took was some cloaking magic and a teleportation spell, and the crowd flipped out.”
Trixie reclined on her futon and looked at the ceiling, listening as the rain pattered against the tarp. “That’s a forty-one bit surplus... How am I going to spend it all?” She buried herself deeper into her futon and stretched, only to feel something sharp jab into her withers. She looked down to find part of a spring jutting out of the mattress. “Okay, that’ll cost about two bits to fix.”
Trixie placed a pillow over the spring, then looked around her caravan to see if there was anything else in need of repair. Some of the wooden panels beneath the stove were starting to rot; that would cost perhaps four bits to replace. The window above the sink had a crack in it, which would be another four bits.
A drop of water hit Trixie’s eye. She looked upwards and saw that a small patch of the ceiling was letting the rain through. That meant she would need to get a new tarp, which would cost eight bits. In the meantime, she could lay a bucket under the wet-patch and hope it wouldn't overflow.
“Twenty-three bits left. What am I going to do with twenty-three more bits? Hmm…” As Trixie pulled her bucket out from beneath the sink and held it up to the leak, she noticed a news-page lying under the edge of her futon. “Oh right! Let’s see what’s playing at HCT this week.”
She pulled out the news-page and skimmed a few lines, only to frown in disappointment; the Hoofington Community Theatre wasn't putting on anything she hadn’t already seen. There was The Glass City, The Importance of Being Honest, Potions and Poisons, The Stranger… “Wait, what?”
For the first time ever, HCT is proud to present Albert Chameau’s The Stranger, as adapted for the stage!
Trixie flopped back onto her futon and squealed happily. “I didn’t know they made that book into a play! Oh, this’ll be so much fun!”
Performances will take place every day this week at 7:20 PM with a matinee on Friday at 2:00 PM. Tickets cost 10 bits at the door.
This groundbreaking and controversial play, which will be performed in its original French, has been heralded as—
“‘Original French!?’” Trixie dropped the newspaper and hung her head solemnly. “Why would—Well, I guess I could pick up an English script somewhere. Oh, but the Hoofington public library doesn’t carry plays, and those scripts are always so expensive... I guess Ponyville’s library is my only option.”
She hopped up from her futon and started pacing around the room, her head hanging lower with every step. “Oh, but what if somepony recognizes me? What if I see that purple unicorn and she remembers who I am?” Trixie’s head snapped up. “ Or worse! What if I see those two colts!? They spent so much time around me while we were repairing the caravan; if they see me, they’ll know who I am instantly and they’ll call out to me and then I’ll get a big earful from everypony and… Oh…”
Trixie stopped pacing. She began to wring her hooves, forcing herself to breathe as slow and deep as she could. “Okay, okay. Try to calm down. Those two don’t seem like they would be spending a lot of time at the library anyway.” She glanced out the window and watched the storm for a few seconds to calm herself. The wind outside howled and moaned, and thunderbolts clapped furiously against the sky, calling down a wall-rattling torrent of a storm. “Come to think of it, nopony is going to go out in this weather! I don’t think anypony who would recognize me is going to be at the library.”
Trixie walked over to a small box sitting by the door, opened it up, and pulled out a wig and a pair of fake cutie marks. “If I’m really going to do this, I better do it tonight.”
As Luna watched each unicorn prince and princess bow to her before they left the meeting hall, a feeling of contempt overtook her. She marveled at the way they carried themselves, gracefully prancing about as if they hadn’t just caused somepony to have a panic attack. It was a gift that only non-alicorn nobility was lucky enough to receive.
“Good night, Princess Luna! Give your sister my regards, if you would," said Prince Palladium, looking as pleased as the rest of them. “All things considered, your highness, I think tonight’s meeting was quite productive!”
Luna sneered. “Then you haven’t considered all things.”
“Beg pardon, your grace?”
“Nothing. Enjoy your evening.”
“And you yours!” He gave Luna the deepest bow of all, then trotted out the door. “I’ll see you in two weeks, your highness!”
Sooner than that. Sometime this evening I’m going to have a private conversation with you, but first… Luna tried to remember where Prince Blueblood’s quarters were. She knew they were very close to the meeting hall, probably less than two minutes’ walk away, somewhere in the northern wing of the castle. In fact, they might just be straight down the—
“Would you like me to escort you to you to your chambers, your majesty?”
Luna screamed and spun around to find a Lunar Guardpony standing at attention before her—she had forgotten he was there. He must have done something to conceal the magical emissions of his invisibility glamour; otherwise, she certainly would have noticed him.
“I do not plan on returning to my bedchambers immediately,” Luna said, trying to recapture her dignity, “although I would like an escort. Preferably one that I can see.”
Luna turned around and began her walk to Blueblood’s quarters, but stopped after a few seconds. She couldn’t hear the guard following her. Was he still standing in the middle of the meeting hall? “Come along, unless—Oh.” Luna blinked; the guard was walking right at her side, but his hoofsteps didn't make a sound. “I must say, I am rather impressed by your quietude.”
“Thank you, your grace."
“Tell me,” said Luna, “have you cast a spell on yourself?”
The guard glanced up and down the hallway, then looked up at Princess Luna. “In a sense,” he said, without quite making eye-contact. “My armor reduces my weight, which makes it easy for me to move around without making any noise. But I can completely soundproof myself if you would like, your majesty.”
Luna rolled her eyes. This guardpony was a precocious fellow, eager to show off his mastery of concealment magic. It was hardly an impressive feat; the five spells comprising the apocrymantic corpus—invisibility for light, inaudibility for sound, intangibility for touch, inosmibility for smell and taste, and insorsceptibility for magical run-off—were all quite rudimentary, if a little hard to perfect. They were more of a physics exercise than an actual test of magical prowess.
What are those simpletons at my sister's School for Gifted Unicorns calling them again? The five 'I's of indiscernibility? No matter. Luna returned her attention to the guardpony. "That will not be necessary."
“Understood.” The guard glanced furtively back down the hallway, searching for signs of trouble. It was enough to make Luna’s lip curl; even she didn’t take her job so seriously. He seemed more anxious than dedicated though, as if he were looking for a specific pony. Eventually, he spoke. “Where am I escorting you to, your highness?”
“Ah, yes. My apologies. You will be accompanying me to Prince Blueblood’s chambers.”
“I see.” The guard trotted a little more quickly, his pace soon overtaking Luna’s. “To fill him in on everything he missed?”
Luna cocked an eyebrow. “Yes, I will be providing him with that information.”
“Alright.” The guard dropped his pace and followed behind Luna.
“...Among other things.”
“What other things? If you don’t mind telling me.”
Luna gave the guard a puzzled look. All of a sudden, he wants to have a conversation? “Well, if you must know, I was going to have a word with him about his outburst. Such an extreme reaction to a bit of teasing…” She bit her lip. “I’m certain he could benefit from a talk about his feelings.”
The guard stepped in front of Princess Luna, stopping her in her tracks. “With all due respect, your highness, that isn’t a very good idea.”
Luna loomed over the guard petulantly. “And why might that be? That is, if you don’t mind telling me.”
“I...” The guard refused to meet Luna’s gaze, clearly intimidated. “I once served in the Prince’s personal company, and I know from experience that he doesn't do well in conversations about his feelings.”
“All the more reason to talk to him! Do not overstep your bounds by trying to dissuade me. If anypony knows the value in conferring one’s feelings, it is I.”
“I don't question your judgement, your royal highness. It’s just that—Well, he’s not the kind of pony you can change with a conversation. If anything, a talk with him will leave the both of you even worse off than you were before. I urge you to reconsider your decision.” At last he looked at Luna, staring up at her with pleading eyes.
Luna was taken aback. She studied the guard’s face for the first time in their conversation, and decided that was sincerely concerned for the Princess’s well-being, though he tried to hide it behind a veil of dutiful stoicism. She then saw how young he was: perhaps only slightly older than Twilight Sparkle and her friends, and certainly no older than any of the other clandestine operatives she'd met.
But of course, this is no time for coddling.
Luna leaned in close to the guard and narrowed her eyes, speaking to him slowly and sharply. “It is not your place to question me on these matters. I will go to Prince Blueblood’s quarters if I wish. I will discuss with him whatever I please. I will then return to my bedchambers and—because you have frustrated me—I will do all of these things by myself.” The guard opened his mouth to protest. “And if you debate me any further, I will see to it that you are demoted! Do I make myself clear?”
The guardpony looked away with a sigh. His face lost any concern or youth it had a moment ago. “Understood.”
The guard’s body became translucent. He grew clearer and clearer, from his head to hooves, until every part of him was invisible. His eyes were the last to go. They looked sad.
Luna scoffed. She picked herself up and continued her walk.
Of all the ponies in Ponyville, why does this one have to be the librarian!?
Trixie shivered by the doorway, her head hanging between her forelegs. Her wig was sopping wet and clinging to her face, keeping her from seeing past her own eyebrows.
“You really came here through this awful weather just to pick up a script?” The purple unicorn picked up Trixie’s umbrella, now broken by the wind, and tossed it into a bin by the door. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s always nice to meet a pony who likes to read, but even Chameau isn’t worth braving this storm!”
“What can I say?” Trixie replied through chattering teeth. “I really like his work.”
“Well, I can see that!” the unicorn said, holding out her hoof with a friendly laugh. “My name is Twilight Sparkle. What’s yours?”
“Nice to meet you, Lulamoon!” Twilight Sparkle picked up Trixie's hoof and gave it a firm, well-practiced shake.
Nice to meet me, huh? Well, she doesn’t recognize me. That’s something good. “Nice to meet you too. Say, do you have a towel I can use?”
“I was just about to get one for you. “Wait right there while I’m gone, okay? I don’t want any rainwater to get on my books.” The unicorn quickly ascended the stairs, leaving Trixie alone to drip water on the floor.
She wiped the seafoam-green wig out of her face and glanced about the room, looking for anything suspicious. Much to her relief, the library was a completely ordinary one, except that it had a kitchen and a second floor. It wasn’t at all what Trixie expected the home of the purple unicorn to be; there were no dangerous magical artifacts hanging from the walls or bizarre, ominous sigils carved into the floor. No glowing rune-stones, no statues with moving eyes, no grimoires bound together by pony skin… It was actually pretty cozy.
Okay, so it’s not like I’m in any immediate danger by being here. But I still need to get that script and get out as soon as—
“Here you go!” The unicorn reappeared at the top of the stairs and tossed Trixie a small pair of towels, interrupting her train of thought. “Sorry the towels are so small. I had some larger ones I could’ve given you, but someone lit them all on fire this morning.” The unicorn glared at a basket sitting in a dim corner of the room.
That can’t be good.
As Trixie began to dry herself, she stared into the basket as nonchalantly as she could manage. Whatever was in there was alive and asleep, snoring softly like a small dog. She then noticed the purple, spiked tail poking out from under the blanket, shining as though it were covered in scales.
“Is that a d-dragon?”
Twilight looked back at Trixie, smiling with pride. “Yep! He’s a baby dragon, alright. And he’s a pretty terrific personal assistant, too.”
“That, um…” Trixie couldn’t think of anything to say. She just stood there, frozen, trying to come to terms with the fact that she had walked into a house that had a dragon in it. And there was Twilight Sparkle, thumbing through a stack of scripts as though it was a completely normal thing to live with an animal that could breathe fire.
The towels were tugged out of Trixie’s magical grasp, snapping her out of her stupor. “I wasn’t finished with those.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Twilight said, handing the towels back to Trixie. “I just assumed because you weren't using them.”
“Never mind. It’s fine. I’m just going to get wet again as soon as I leave.”
“Well, if you insist.” Twilight levitated the towels over to the dragon’s corner of the room and nestled them beneath the basket. Trixie gave her a confused look. “His body heat dries them off. You said you wanted a copy of The Stranger, right?”
“The theatrical adaptation, yes.”
“Excellent! I’ve got it right here.” Twilight pulled out a script and stuffed the rest of the pile back in the bookshelf. “You know, you don’t have to leave right away. Before you came in, I was preparing for a late-night study session. I thought I might need some caffeine, so I brewed myself a pot of tea." The unicorn set the book down on the kitchen counter, right next to a steaming teapot and a bowl of sugarcubes. "There’s too much for one pony, though, so maybe I could pour you a cup?”
Trixie cast a sidelong glance out the window to find that the rain was still torrential, and the wind still blew at gale-force. She turned back to Twilight and nodded her head.
Twilight smiled approvingly, then pulled a pair of teacups out of the cupboard. “How do you take yours?”
“With lemon." Twilight walked over to the refrigerator and started nosing through its contents. As she did, Trixie glanced around the room, hoping that she might find something to talk about so this wouldn't be completely awkward. Her eyes quickly settled on the basket in the corner. “So, um... how did your dragon light your towels on fire?”
“Oh, it wasn’t the dragon,” said Twilight, her face still buried in the refrigerator. “It was my phoenix.”
“Your what?” Trixie’s head shot back towards the basket. Sure enough, there was a tiny, yellow bundle of feathers lying on top of the baby dragon.
“Yes, I know,” Twilight continued. “I live in a treehouse filled with books and paper, with two creatures that shoot flames from their mouths. Believe me, it wasn’t easy to get a passing grade from the safety inspector.”
“How—So you own a dragon and a phoenix?”
“And an owl!” Twilight giggled. She pulled a few lemon wedges out of the fridge and squeezed some of the juice into a cup. “Is that enough?”
“Enough lemon juice or enough pets?”
Twilight let out a loud snort, then poured a spot of tea into Trixie's cup, nearly spilling it several times. “Yes, it’s quite a menagerie! I actually know this one pony that takes care of animals for a living—I told her and my other friends about the phoenix, and she was afraid that I was becoming a hoarder!”
Once Twilight was through pouring tea, she handed the cup to Trixie. She took it with an uneasy giggle. “So, you’re a librarian, then?”
“Well, that’s just a day job,” Twilight answered, still chuckling at her own story. "I'm actually a student."
Trixie took a sip of the tea to calm her nerves, and was surprised by how good it tasted. “What do you study?”
“Oh, a little bit of everything. I mostly study the magic of friendship, though.”
“The magic of friendship…” Trixie swirled the tea in her cup and watched the leaves spin, laughing despite herself. “I didn’t know there was such a thing.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised! I’m actually having an open house tomorrow for Library Day, if you—” A loud grumble coming from the corner of the room interrupted Twilight. She and Trixie both looked over to find that the baby had awoken and was now sitting up in bed, rubbing his eyes. Now that Trixie had a better look at him, she could see that he was actually pretty adorable. Harmlessly so, in fact.
“Twilight?” the dragon said, yawning loudly. “What’s going on?”
“Spike.” Twilight set down her cup and cantered over to the baby dragon. “I’m just having some tea with a friend while we wait for the storm to pass.”
I’m her friend? Trixie had to mull that thought over for a moment; she wasn't sure how it made her feel.
“I’m sorry if we woke you up.”
“Is Peewee still asleep?”
The dragon looked at the little Phoenix lying next to him. “I think so…”
Twilight pulled Spike’s covers back over him. “Do you want to go to your bedroom where it’s nice and quiet?”
“No…” The dragon looked over at Trixie and scratched his head, somehow looking even more out-of-it than he did a second ago. “Who’s that?”
“She’s that friend I was—You know what? It’s too late in the evening for us to be having a conversation.” Twilight gently lifted the basket into the air, Spike and Peewee still inside, and carried it towards a small room beneath the staircase. “Why don’t I just take you into your bedroom, where you can get a good night’s sleep? When you wake up tomorrow morning, I can tell you all about—”
The dragon pointed at Trixie. “What’s wrong with her cutie mark?"
Trixie froze. She glanced down at her flank and found that the fake cutie make was pealing off, revealing the real one underneath. She must have rubbed too hard when she was drying itself, that or the glue was giving out; it didn't matter either way. She was caught for sure.
But Twilight didn't seem to notice anything at first. She gave the dragon a chastening glare, then looked over to where he was pointing. “Spike, you know it isn't polite to say those sorts of—Oh my gosh.”
Trixie dashed towards the door, but the purple unicorn’s magic yanked her off the ground before she could make it. She struggled fiercely, kicking the air beneath her, trying to break free of Twilight’s grasp, but to no avail. She turned her head as far back as she could while her body was still facing the door, hoping that Twilight wouldn't give her too severe a look.
She didn't; instead, Twilight was studying Trixie with the same expression a pony might give a traffic accident. “Well, this is awkward.”
“You’re not the one in the wig.”
Trixie plummeted to the floor with a shriek. She looked up, dazed, to see Twilight marching towards her with a sour look, a piece of the cutie mark hanging in the air beside her. “What is this? Why are you pretending to be somepony else?”
Because I was afraid that if you recognized me, I would be put in a difficult situation. Kind of like the one I’m in right now.
“Because, sometimes, the Great and Powerful Trixie likes to go about town without being begged to perform spectacular feats of magic!”
Twilight smacked her forehead. “I see you haven’t learned anything since the ursa minor incident.”
“Oh, but Trixie has learned something!” She straightened up and brushed herself off, taking a moment to get fully into character. “In fact, Trixie has learned two things: Don’t tell the ursa major story while impressionable foals are around, and don’t ever accept tea from Twilight Sparkle!” She twisted up her face, trying to look as disgusted as possible in the hopes that Twilight would kick her out of the library. Anything to get out of this mess.
“Well, that’s just great!" Twilight said, walking over to the kitchen. "Right as I think I’m about to make a new friend, surprise! It’s just Trixie in a wig, and she hasn't changed one bit!” She picked up Trixie's tea-cup and dumped it into the sink, looking genuinely hurt. “I really did hope we could be friends... Look, if you promise not to disturb Spike, I can set up the guest bed downstairs. You can wait out the storm here.”
Trixie’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding.” Twilight gave Trixie a deadpan look. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Don’t you live outside Ponyville? It’s a half-hour’s gallop just to the town limits, and you're already looking miserable. Just stay here tonight. I’ll be on the second floor studying, so we won’t be at each-others' throats.”
“You’re being serious,” Trixie said, shaking her head in astonishment. “You’re really, truly being serious! What is wrong with you!? Do like me all of a sudden!?”
Twilight sighed heavily. “To be frank? No. After tonight, Trixie, I don’t like you very much at all. But I don’t hate you either, so I’m not letting you go outside in this weather. You’re staying here.”
Trixie couldn’t think of anything to say to that. She just sat there, her mouth hanging open stupidly.
Luna found Prince Blueblood’s chambers to be nearly as lavish as her own. Everything about the room was tastelessly extravagant: every rug was foreign, every golden surface was twenty-four carats, every piece of wooden furniture was agarwood and covered in intricate, mesmerizing carvings. It was obvious how he chose to spend his monthly stipend.
“I’m sorry my chambers are a bit of a mess," said Prince Blueblood. He sat at an antique-looking writing desk, quill and parchment at the ready. "If I’d known you were coming, your majesty, I wouldn’t have given my cleaning staff the night off, nor my guard for that matter. Now, what is it you wanted to discuss with me?”
Luna let out a thin sigh; this was not going to be easy. “I wish to speak of tonight’s conference.”
“But of course!” Blueblood lifted his quill to the paper, a relieved smile on his face. “Now, if I am not mistaken, the second item on the agenda was whether or not to grant sovereignty to the colony of Asinia?”
“That was the second topic of discussion, yes.” Luna walked over to the window next to Blueblood’s desk and drew the curtains open with a bit of magic, taking a moment to gaze at her sky. “...But I actually wish to talk to you about your outburst. I feel it's a topic that warrants discussion above all.”
Blueblood’s face fell. “Oh, please don’t go to the trouble.”
Luna opened the window up, letting in a soft breeze that played with Blueblood’s mane and pushed against the corner of his parchment. “Prince Blueblood, your reaction to Prince Palladium’s story was very disturbing. You must have been feeling a great deal of anguish to use the royal Canterlot voice on accident. In fact, I was rather impressed that you could use it at all.”
Blueblood adjusted his bow tie. “Yes, well, it’s a talent that I rarely get the chance to—We don’t need to talk about this, your grace. Just know that I deeply regret my behavior and that it will never happen again.”
“I didn’t come here to reprimand you, Prince Blueblood. I only wish to help you.”
“It’s nothing you need to concern yourself with." Blueblood looked down at the blank sheet of parchment, a few drops of sweat falling on the page. "For the most part, I have control over my voice.”
Luna gave Blueblood a knowing look. “For the most part?”
“Yes, for the most part." After taking a moment to fruitlessly search for his handkerchief, Blueblood shoved the parchment and quill back in his desk. “That is to say, I rarely let my voice slip. The discussion you wish to have with me is entirely unnecessary.”
“I do not think that is the case, Prince Blueblood. I think you should talk to somepony about your problems so that we can avoid such displays in the future.” Luna took a seat in front of Blueblood and gave him a hopeful look, absentmindedly tracing the carvings on his desk. “Now, at the conference, you said that your situation was complicated, but these things rarely are. Why don’t you—”
“What, exactly, do you mean by ‘such displays?’” Blueblood leaned over his desk, a malicious look in his eye.
Luna blinked. Had she offended him? “Well... If I may be perfectly frank, I thought your actions were quite extreme, for lack of a better word. Of course, I completely sym—”
“Extreme? You thought that my actions were extreme?”
"Are you trying to imply something?”
“Yes, I am trying to imply something, your highness." Blueblood got up from his chair and closed the windows, then drew the curtains shut with a loud snap. "I mean to say that you are a hypocrite.”
“And why, may I ask, is that?”
“Well, it’s just that if you want to talk about extremity”—Blueblood turned to glare at Luna, his voice cold and quiet—“look no further than the mare who tried to bring about eternal night just because she thought she wasn’t getting enough attention.”
Luna balked at Blueblood’s words. All she could do in reply was sputter indignantly. “Thou—you—It was far more complicated than—”
“Complicated? Are you sure? Because, you know, these sorts of things rarely are." Blueblood turned away and briskly opened his chamber doors. "I believe I've made myself clear. Get out."
“I will not!” Luna slammed the doors shut with a bright flare of magic, then loomed murderously over Blueblood, a hot glare in her eye. “How dare you bring my faults to light when you are so very full of your own! What gives you the right to repay my compassion with this most ungrateful of—”
“BE QUIET! I will not subject myself to this blatant condescension—”
“I do not condescend!”
“—under the obvious guise of ‘compassion!’ You will leave my quarters right this instant!”
Luna scoffed. “You think you can simply order me out of your chambers? When they are in my castle!?” She pounded her hooves against the desk, her horn ablaze. “I am your princess! Mark my words, Prince Blueblood, you will suffer the consequences of—”
“You may be my princess!” Blueblood roared. “But I am still a prince! And these are my quarters, no matter whose castle they’re in!” With a flash of his horn, the chamber doors swung violently open, nearly tearing themselves off their hinges. “You. WILL. LEAVE!”
Luna wanted desperately to hit Blueblood. She wanted to wring his neck with her magic. She wanted to scream at him as loud as she could until he passed out, bleeding from the ears, deafened by the sound of a true Cosmic Councilmare's voice.
But she couldn’t. She already felt a touch of familiar darkness creeping into her heart; if she took this any further she would be lost again, and she'd already come so close on so many occasions—Discord's return, Nightmare Night, that first Cosmic Council meeting where Virgo and Equuleus refused to speak to her. Even on the night of the wedding reception, when she discovered that she'd slept through an attack on her kingdom...
No, she wouldn't go through with this. She wouldn't allow herself to lose another thousand years just to get in the last word. Instead, she marched out the door in a furious huff, not bothering to hide her anger from passers-by who'd left their chambers to see what all the yelling was about.
Trixie couldn’t sleep. She didn’t want to sleep. All she wanted to do was check out her script and leave.
Sleeping should have been easy, though. Twilight's library was completely dark, save a bit of candle-light flickering from the top of the stairs. The house was mostly quiet as well, but every few seconds, Trixie heard a quill scratching against parchment among other restless sounds. It reminded her of the few months she spent in poverty after the ursa minor incident, when she couldn't afford lamp oil and had to make due with wax candles instead.
The reminder left Trixie feeling a little resentful. She turned away from the staircase and pushed her face into the pillow, trying to ignore the candlelight and quill-scratching that came from above. Twilight Sparkle... What kind of a name for a powerful magician is that?
But Twilight Sparkle didn’t make herself out to be a powerful magician. True, she was a very fortitudinous unicorn; she did defeat an ursa minor singlehandedly, after all. In fact, she had many magical elements under her control, living or otherwise, and her studies could only give her more power. She was probably reading some ancient text right now, learning all sorts of things well beyond Trixie's comprehension.
At the same time, though, Twilight was kind of doofy. She was naive and socially awkward. She lived in a town called Ponyville, and had no less than three different pets. She studied the magic of friendship.
A soft thump came from up the stairs. Something blocked the light of the candle.
Did she just fall asleep at her desk?
Trixie listened intently. There was no scratching of the quill, no clattering of teacup and plate, no chair legs grating against the floor. The room was completely silent.
Wait. No rain? No thunder?
She crawled out of bed, muted her hoofsteps with a sound-cancelling charm, and crept across the floor as quickly as she could, searching through the darkness for her wig and her broken umbrella. Once she had found them, she vanished silently out the door.
It wasn't until she got home that she realized what had been left behind.
“I was only trying to help him, sister! I held out my hoof and he rudely smacked it away!” Luna stomped around her bedchambers as she had done for the past few minutes, hot tears of anger burning her eyes all the while. Her sister sat at the end of the bed, listening patiently. “Thou shouldst have heard him! What he said was treasonous!”
“Luna, please try to calm down.” Celestia touched Luna’s shoulder with the tip of her wing, halting the tirade. “Ranting and raving about Prince Blueblood isn’t going to make you feel any better. Besides, it pains me to see you so angry.”
“I am not angry.” Celestia cocked an eyebrow. “I speak the truth, sister!”
Celestia moved over to Luna’s side and draped a long, tired wing across her back, pulling her close. Luna leaned into her sister's touch with a weary sigh. “I am just very frustrated. When Prince Palladium told his story, I was reminded of... You are no doubt aware." Her eyes began to sting again. “I imagined myself in Prince Blueblood’s place, and I felt sorry for him. Now I’m not sure what I feel.”
That was a lie. Luna knew exactly what she felt: uselessness, despair, and a black, unholy rage. Still, those feeling would pass in time; there was no point revealing them.
Celestia nuzzled Luna’s cheek. “I know you only wanted to keep Prince Blueblood from making the same fatal mistakes you did, but sometimes a pony needs to make a mistake before they can learn. Of course, this does not mean Prince Blueblood will get away with his behavior.” Celestia turned away from Luna, then yawned for several seconds.
Luna frowned. It was unfair that Celestia had to listen to such petty concerns, especially when she was already so greatly burdened. With her heavy eyelids and trembling wings, she looked as though she were about to fall asleep on the spot, and what kind of sister would Luna be if she were to deny Celestia the rest she deserved?
With those thoughts in mind, Luna stepped out from beneath Celestia's wing, giving her a concerned smile. “Sister, I do not wish to burden you at so late an hour. What say I escort you back to your bedchambers so you may retire for the night? We can continue this conversation tomorrow over breakfast.”
Celestia pulled herself off the ground using Luna as a brace, her head resting affectionately on her withers. “I can think of nothing I’d like more, little sister.” The Princesses smiled warmly at each other for a short while. Luna trotted over to the door to open it for Celestia, but just as she gripped the handle, she heard a great thump come from behind her, followed by another yawn. She turned around to see what was the matter.
“Goodness, sister, you are even more—” Luna froze. What she saw took the words from her mouth.
Celestia’s fur fell from her face in loose, reddened clumps, cracks and sores covering the skin beneath. It was as though some fungus had seeped beneath the hairs on her head and was now spreading downwards through her flesh, poisoning the rest of her body from the outside-in.
“Luna, what is… My...” Celestia brought a hoof her cheek. When she looked at it, she found that it was covered in blood. “My… Oh, no.” She crumpled to the floor.
“Sister!” Luna rushed to Celestia's side. She began to stroke her sister’s mane, trying desperately to soothe her, but to seemingly no avail. “Sister, it's happening. It's happening just as we were told it would. Spirits, help us..."
With some effort, Celestia brought her muzzle to Luna’s ear and let out a feeble whisper: “Take a letter.”
Twilight woke up in a very uncomfortable position. Her head was lying on a hard surface, and her spine felt like it had been dipped in rubber cement. When she picked herself up, she found a black smear on the parchment beneath her, as well as a hoofprint right beside it. Tell me I didn’t fall asleep at my desk again.
She slunk over to her dresser and looked at herself in the mirror. With her messy hair and blackened face, she looked like she’d spent the night in the Everfree Forest. She wiped off the rest of the ink with a tissue, then tied her hair up with a white ribbon, hoping it would be enough to hide her cowlick.
I didn’t set the alarm clock. Pinkie Pie’s going to be here any minute with her party supplies and I’ll have to… Twilight became distracted by a delicious smell coming from the kitchen. She set down her brush, tightened the ribbon in her mane, and walked over to the top of the staircase. Is Trixie cooking me breakfast?
When she looked over, she found that Spike was frying strips of hay bacon in a pan, standing on a chair so he could reach the stove-top. There was already a large, steaming plate of bacon sitting on the kitchen table, along with Peewee, who was happily munching on the crumbs.
Twilight smiled to herself. I should have known better. “Good morning, Spike!”
“G’morning Twilight! Hey, what happened to your friend from last night? Did she stay over?” Spike gestured towards the other end of the room with his spatula, where an empty bed sat.
“Believe it or not, that friend was actually Trixie in disguise.”
“What!?” Spike glared at Twilight in disbelief. “That was Trixie!? Tell me you didn’t set that bed up for her!” He violently flipped the bacon in the pan, causing a few drops of oil to splash onto the table. Peewee dodged the grease with an angry squawk, then grabbed his bacon and flew up the stairs.
Twilight tugged the blankets out of the bedspread, lined them up in the air, folded them all into a large bundle, and tossed them into a hamper beside Spike's bedroom. “It was raining pretty heavily, Spike. What else was I supposed to do?”
“Gee, I dunno! Maybe just let her leave?” Spike hopped off of his chair and snatched up a piece of bacon, tearing off a large chunk between his teeth. “Heck, I’d have forced her walk home in the rain! I’d take pictures!”
“As funny as that might be, I don’t want to give Trixie a legitimate reason to hate me.”
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense.” Spike walked back to the stove and shut off the burners.
“Spike... what’s with all this bacon?”
Spike pulled the frying pan off the stove and slid the rest of the bacon onto the plate. “Hm? Oh, Pinkie Pie came over here earlier. She asked me to make some for the party. She said it was for a new cupcake recipe. She and Applejack are gonna bring over all the other ingredients.”
Twilight tilted her head to the side. “Bacon cupcakes with apples? That sounds—Wait a second, Spike. Was Pinkie Pie really here earlier this morning?”
Spike pulled some dish-soap out of the cabinet beneath the sink. “Yup.”
“And she didn’t wake me up?”
“You’re welcome.” Spike shot Twilight a tired glare, then pulled himself onto the counter with a grunt.
“Let me help you with that.” Twilight lifted up the chair by the stove and set it in front of the sink.
“Thanks. Hey, before I forget—I saw a letter next to my bed this morning when I woke up. I must’a coughed it up in my sleep. It’s right there if you wanna read it.” Spike pointed towards the kitchen table.
Sure enough, there was a letter with a golden seal sitting right behind the bacon platter. Twilight opened it up and read the first line.
To my friend and savior: Twilight Sparkle,
Twilight chuckled. “I think it’s from Luna!”
“Really? What’s it say?”
“Give me a second, Spike. I need to read it before I can tell you what it says.”
To my friend and savior: Twilight Sparkle,
It is my immense displeasure to inform you that every alicorn in Canterlot has fallen fatally ill, not least of all my sister. By the time you read this, she will almost certainly have passed.
Twilight stopped reading. She set the letter back down on the table.
Spike hopped out of his chair and walked over to the kitchen table, a look of vague concern on his face.“Is something wrong? What’s the letter say?”
“It’s nothing. Somepony’s just trying to pull a sick joke on us. Trixie probably left it.”
“Huh. I guess she hates you anyway.” Spike reached onto the kitchen table and grabbed the letter.
“Spike, don’t read it!” Twilight snatched the letter out of Spike’s hands and held it above her head, well out of his reach.
"No." Twilight shook her head. It was just some twisted prank, that’s all. No point letting Spike read it.
For a prank, it was written well. It also had the royal seal, which was difficult to forge.
“Spike, I think there’s still some soot in the downstairs bathroom. Could you go clean it up?”
"Spike, you know what's going to happen if you can't take proper care of Peewee!"
After a few more sounds of protest, Spike left the room with a grumble, and Twilight returned to the letter.
To my friend and savior: Twilight Sparkle,
It is my immense displeasure to inform you that every alicorn in Canterlot has fallen fatally ill, not least of all my sister. By the time you read this, she will almost certainly have passed. I know not of your sister-in-law, though I suspect that she is ill as well.
Thankfully, there is a cure for this illness. If you travel down to the deepest depths of Tartarus, you will find it: a panacea, hidden away so that it may only be used in times of need. Unfortunately, you and your friends will be unable to obtain this cure on your own. The chaos found at those depths will exhaust you both physically and emotionally, leaving you largely unable to complete the challenges that lie in wait. The Elements of Harmony will be rendered powerless as well, which is why I did not send them to you.
Instead of going by yourselves, you and the other Spirits of Harmony will need to be guided by those who have what is necessary to successfully brave the perils of Tartarus. The power possessed by these beings manifests itself thusly: they are seemingly unable to learn from their mistakes. Because of this, they will require your aid as much as you require theirs.
My sister tells me that you have already met seven of these individuals. You need only find six. I have sent one of them to you already, and he is accompanied by a newly appointed agent of the Lunar Guard. These two have been taught the secrets of Tartarus and the panacea, as they are both tied to Equestrian royalty.
Find the other beings, traverse Tartarus, and obtain the panacea. You haven’t any time to lose.
It wasn’t a prank. Nopony would go to these lengths for a prank.
Twilight dropped the letter on the floor and fell into a chair, resting her head in her hooves. A million questions swam through her mind. Why was this happening so suddenly? Who were the other guides? Where was Twilight supposed to find them? How were they supposed to get all the way through Tartarus, of all places? Why would not being able to learn from your mistakes make you any better off down there?
Could Princess Celestia really be dead?
Twilight bolted upright, shaking her head in incredulity. I can’t think like that right now. I need to find the others so we can figure out—
A knock on the door interrupted her train of thought.
He was floating. It didn’t feel like it, though. It felt like he was standing, but he must have been floating, because there was no floor to stand upon. There were no walls, either; in fact, there were no ceilings, windows, or barriers of any kind. There was only the sky: a perfect stretch of forget-me-not-blue dotted with bright, snowy clouds.
Woven into every one of these clouds were innumerable diamonds. They were fragmented and oddly shaped, some bigger than others, though they were all colorless. That seemed to be the only thing that every diamond had in common. He reached out and felt the ones on the cloud closest to him, and found that each diamond was like a memory.
He tapped an especially large diamond and felt a cold hoof stepping on his cheek.
He touched an even larger diamond. A friend of his screamed insults, flecking his face with spit.
He touched the biggest diamond he could find and saw his lover turn to leave, her tail lashing at his face, stinging his lips.
“Are all these really mine?” he asked. “No, they can’t be. I only remember one of these, although I’d forgotten it until now.” But how could he ever forget about such a large diamond? How could a painful memory fade away, and then reappear as easily as it went? Where did it go while it was gone? Had it been here this whole time, waiting for him to make the choice that would bring him to it?
He touched the smallest diamond he could see. Downy feathers brushed against his legs, and he smelled several beautiful flowers whose names he didn’t know. It wasn’t his memory.