Up upon a balcony high above the sleepy streets, a small orange filly looks up at the stars, at the shadowy formation upon the moon and wonders. She's not scared exactly, even though she knows what it represents. Who it represents. And, more importantly, that it would be gone before the next time the moon rose upon Equestria. It'll all be alright. Her mom had it all handled well in hoof.
She reaches a little orange-coated hoof up for a moment, wondering if maybe... maybe some small part of the Mare in the Moon is reaching back to her. She wants to know who she really is, to know her as a pony and not just as a myth or second hoof tale from her mother. Maybe if she could just give her a hug, if nothing else. Just some small token towards her. Maybe-
"Oh, look. I seem to have found a fallen angel. A pity, I was hoping for some fun. I guess I'll just have to get it by tickling her belly!" The sound of the young little filly's mother laughter fills the air as she pounces upon her daughter from above, the pink- and orange-coated pegasus deftly rubbing her hooves against the filly lying on her back. Little squeals of ticklish delight reward her efforts as the pegasus lying on the wood decking curls up to save her ticklish little underside from the fiendish attack.
"No! Eeik! Moo-oo-oom!" The words are hard for her to get out between peals of laughter, little hooves waving madly in midair from her efforts.
"Mo-Oo-Oom? What a strange name to be calling out. Oh, does my little filly mean 'mom'?" The orange mare redoubles her efforts, grinning madly as the little filly squeals with laughter even harder, laughing at their antics herself as she leans in for the kill. Her hooves swoop in under the little filly, scooping her high into the air as the mare lets herself drop onto her back, lowering the filly to lie atop her chest.
In the darkness of the summer night, the two lie there, enjoying their precious time together as mother and daughter. Sure, they didn't get nearly as much time together as they wanted, but they had their moments and nothing was going to take them away.
"Summer Sun Festival tomorrow, Mom..."
"I know. I'll be leaving in an hour or so. I need to be there, at Canterlot, when she is freed." The mare looks wistfully up at the black horsehead, and the stars now visibly drawing closer to the moon, wings sprawled widely against the cool wood.
"But I don't want you to go. She'll... she'll..."
"I know. But I have to. She needs the chance. I'll be back, my little filly. With the morning light and the rising sun.Everything's already set." The mare nuzzles her daughter between the ears, listening to the indignant giggle from her target. Everything is as close to plan as possible, with one wondrous deviation.
The little filly wriggles out of her mother's hooves at last, rolling to her own for a moment before she hugs her mother around the neck. "I know. But I don't want you to go. She'll banish you to the sun!"
"Oh, and what is that going to do to me, give me a sunburn?" The mare chuckled at her humor, running a hoof down her daughter's back soothingly. She pulls herself free of her daughter's grasp, rolling to her own hooves gingerly. It was time; the stars were moving quicker than she anticipated. "I think a little pony needs to go to bed if she wants to hit up the party in the morning before it's crashed. Can't have you running around silly. Just listen to Big Macintosh and Ms. Sparkle; they'll keep you safe when everything happens."
The filly nods as she walks with her mother back inside to her room. Small posters of the stars and moon, ones overlooking Canterlot as the Wonderbolts flew overhead decorated the walls, a small plushy of the princess protectively perched over her small and cozy bed. The filly jumps up onto her bed, circling about as she tries to calm down for the morning activities, at last slipping under her covers as her mother watches.
"Good night, Scootaloo."
"Would you tell me the story, one last time before you go, Mom?" The little filly's plea pauses the mare in her tracks for a moment. The little pegasus snuggled a little deeper into her covers as her mother turned around to give her a sad and tired look.
"The one everypony else hears, or the real version?"
The little filly answers without hesitation, knowing which version she wants to hear. "The truth, Mom."
The older mare walks back, leaning against her child's bed as she sat down, hoof gently tussling her filly's mane one last time. "Once upon a time in the magical land of Equestria, two wonderful princesses and their loyal court magician ruled the land with benevolent care. The elder managed the sun, giving time for all their little ponies to work and build their land into something wonderful; the younger was the mare of the moon and night skies, who managed the time of rest and dreams of a better day. For so long, the three of them guided the land in a glorious golden age never before seen, and only barely seen since. But, it was not to last."
The older mare blinks away a tear at what comes next, her voice choking in her throat for a moment. "For the younger cared about the court mage with all her heart, with all her soul, with all her mind. And he was mortal. As the years passed, so did his youth, and eventually his life began to come to a close. Desperate, the younger princess turned to the elder, looking for something, anything to save him. But he had anticipated her, and asked that nothing would be allowed to interfere in his natural passing of time."
The little filly winces, squeezing deeper under the covers at the painful look upon her mother's face. The older mare stumbles over her words, thinking of the painful events that came afterwords. "The younger was furious, terrified and inconsolable as she watched him pass from the realm of the living. She blamed the elder for his passing, and withdrew from contact with her. The mare of the night grew cold and distant, throwing herself into her work and shunning so many who wished to know her."
The old mare blinks back painful tears, knowing she has to hurry before her appointed time comes. Her voice breaks and cracks with the long-smoldering memories, of the pain and suffering that still echoed through time. "One day, after many years, she came to the elder mare, her heart darkened by a cold loneliness. With nopony actively working under her night, and without her favored friend keeping her company, she had become bitter and confused. She demanded that their faithful subjects be forced to work under her blessed night, by reducing or eliminating the day. When she was told of the horrible effects such an action would have, she grew enraged and out of control. The elder did everything she could, not realizing how deeply the younger had been corrupted, desperately protecting her people as the two of them fought. She did everything she could to snap the younger out of the corrupting darkness that had swallowed her up, until..."
Scootaloo picks up where her mother left off, reaching over and hugging her around the neck comfortingly. She speaks quietly, knowing she shouldn't have asked, but knowing the story needed its conclusion. "But you couldn't, and eventually had no choice but to turn the Elements of Harmony against her, banishing her to her beloved moon for a thousand years in the hopes that a group of ponies with a strong enough friendship would emerge, able to wield the Elements to restore her to her former self and to bring Luna back to you. You'll get her back, Mom. They'll do it."
"I know they'll stop her, my little filly. I don't know if I'll get her back, though. You deserve a better pony than me as your mother." The elder mare sniffles for a moment, looking up to see the stars drawing rapidly closer to the moon.
"No, I don't. You're the best mom I could have gotten. Sure, you made mistakes, but... you did the best you could. And I'm getting all mamby-pamby sentimental, aren't I?"
The elder mare chokes back a giggle, before deciding to screw it all, gently laughing with her wonderful voice, hugging her daughter one last time. "Oh, never change, my silly little filly. I need to get going now; go to sleep, and don't worry."
"Never do, Mom. I'd probably... dunno, have a heart attack or something if I did. Or heartburn, Pinkie says you get heartburn from worrying too much."
The gentle laughter returns as the elder mare walks towards the balcony once more. "Oh, she's entirely right on that count. Good night, my little filly."
With a slight golden glow, the solid oak door is pulled shut, leaving Scootaloo's room bathed in the faint glow of her sunburst nightlight. The far more brilliant flash of golden light seeps that seeps through the edges of the doorframe comfort the little filly for a moment, her mother's light soothing for her as she tucks in under her covers and drifts off to a gentle sleep. It'll be morning soon enough, her mother will be back then safe and sound, and an ancient mistake at last corrected. Besides, it wasn't like her mom was going to walk in the door sunburnt and smoldering, after all?
The cold and frigid wind of the continuing night squeezed through whatever tiny drafts it could, tickling the feathers upon Scootaloo's form. All she could think about was if her mother was suffering on the sun, if the night was ever going to end. She'd pulled the covers up over her head, trying to blank out the thoughts of just how scary Nightmare Moon had been, of the contempt she had shown for the mortal ponies of the land. Unhinged was one thing; what she had demonstrated had been... her mind blanked out, unable to come up with a proper term for it. Unnatural was as good a word as any. With the night still going, all she wanted to do was just curl up and-
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
The little filly squeaked in surprise at the knocking on her balcony door, curling up even tighter under her covers at the heavy thuds of a hoof upon her sturdy door. Her shivering frame flinched at the sound of the latch within the door being manipulated and opened with a metallic click, afraid to look and find out. Everything was supposed to have been all right, supposed to have been fine... she was going to be there when the-
"Let it be known, for all time, that my brilliant plan to redeem Princess Luna was not as well thought out as I thought it was." Her mother's voice was music to Scootaloo's ears as the little filly burst from under her covers to glomp the elder mare with all her strength. For her part, her mother fell over onto her side wearily, drained from her disturbingly easy escape as her mane smoldered with the leftover heat of the sun slowly escaping her.
"Mom! But..." Scootaloo looked out the door as her mother gently kicked it shut with a weak buck, looking at the dark and clear skies beyond. Confusion reigned in her head, as she looked from the bare moon to her mother, who looked like she'd been through the nine rings of Tartarus after breakfast. She'd said that she'd be back when the dawn came, so why was she here now?
"Luna's really gotten rusty after a millennium of being locked up. It was actually rather embarrassingly easy to escape the sun. Not that it didn't hurt." The elder mare groaned as she wiggled each leg painfully in turn, testing to see if she had forgotten anything other than part of her celestial power on her heavenly body. Gentle wisps of smoke rose from where the power of her domain had touched her uncontrollably and left her looking like an innocent bystander in Twilight's lab after twelve hours of study.
"I wouldn't know... pegasus and all that." Scootaloo leaned over the side of her bed, licking a hoof before jamming it firmly onto a smoldering patch about to catch fire once more. The smoking lock of mane found itself mashed between a head and a wet place, hissing as the drool coating the underside of the hoof put it out.
The elder mare was tempted to look cross-eyedly at the hoof, feeling the blessed coolness soaking through her fur. "I know, I know. They should almost be there by now; it won't be too long." The old mare wanted to just vegetate for a few weeks, relax and enjoy herself. How long had it been since she'd had a vacation, an actual proper 'don't even go to work'-style vacation? She couldn't even remember. A pity she was about to have to go back.
"Yeah, she is kinda scary-focused. It's like obsessing over a task is fun for her or something." Scootaloo flopped along the side of her bed, leaning over lazily and upside down to look her mother in the eyes. For her troubles, she found her nose being beeped by one of the creamy orange hooves of her mother, who lazily had rolled over onto her side.
"Yes, that would describe Twilight exactly. And it's why I chose her for this. What better mare for the task than somepony that would obsess over anything, even friendship. What could possibly go wrong?" The elder mare laughed lightly at the thought, even as a tingle of magic touched the edge of her senses. As she sat up, the rapidly descending moon could be seen on the horizon, lowering from the skies as its owner found herself on the wrong end of the Elements of Harmony.
"I'll see you in a bit, my little filly. I think I just got called back to work." And with that, the old mare dashed out the door, leaving little Scootaloo alone once more with an intriguing and worrying thought.
"Did Mom REALLY just ask what could possibly go wrong with friendship?"
"We must once more apologize for locking thee away in the sun. We were not at all thinking properly." Luna walked alongside Celestia down the majestic halls of the Canterlot castle, absently gazing out the windows at the sprawling metropolis Canterlot had become. Other than the castle, she hadn't recognized anything at all.
Celestia's laugh surprised the younger alicorn, the elder mare letting out her mirth in the relative privacy of the royal suite complex. "Oh, Luna. You have nothing at all to apologize for. I was already out long before you were freed from the nightmare that haunted you. And I could not accept an apology of that kind when I've made similarly rash decisions of my own of late."
The night diarch raised an eyebrow in thought, stepping forward once more to continue the journey to her quarters. "Pray, tell. What manner of rash decision would make thee think our own treachery be but a footnote in comparison?"
Celestia shook her head and smiled enigmatically, raising a hoof to rest against the ornate double doors entering into Luna's quarters. "In private. It's rather sensitive and not for the court to know." Celestia reached forth with her power, unlatching the door quickly and sweeping the younger diarch inside with her, shutting the door as fast as it had opened.
"Is this a cruel joke upon thy part?"
"What do you- oh. Oh for-" Celestia massaged her muzzle with a weary hoof, realizing she had forgotten something terribly important as she looked upon Scootaloo's 'improvements' upon the room. She'd forgotten to have the little filly return it to its original state after nearly 1000 years of disuse. She completely understood exactly why Luna so indignantly had begun to grumble, wondering just how foalish she had to look herself. "Well, this is technically part of what I had to tell you. My apologies, she was supposed to clean up last week."
Luna gave her a scathing look as she touched the woolen comforter on 'her' bed, idly tracing the outline of the strange yellow arrowhead with her hoof. "She?"
The elder diarch slowly trotted over to the younger, looking about conspiratorially for several moments before she leaned into Luna's ear and whispered several true things. Each drew the younger princess's eyes wider and wider in shock from the revelation that Celestia would, well...
Especially in that place! DRUNK, NO LESS!
"SURELY, THOU JESTETH WITH US!?!"
Celestia smiled, sitting down to remain stable for the laugh building in her. "Oh yes, I'm afraid so, Luna. I would dare say that beats your locking me in the sun on the scale of bad ideas fairly easily." The tears of barely suppressed laughter welled up in the corners of her eyes as she ignored the paling Luna, the strange cosmic irony still catching her by surprise.
"Didst thou think this would be AMUSING to us? Thou treatest her almost as a surrogate for our own affections! If anything, thine actions are worse than an intentional slight!" Luna fluffed out, spreading her wings wide instinctively at even the suggestion that she might have been replaced in Celestia's eyes by some mere whelp of not even a decade.
"What? No! She could never replace you! I couldn't just cast her aside, not if I was going to give you a second chance. And then, some bright spark flared in her soul, the same fire that drove you in your youth. It's some cruel cosmic joke against me, that somepony who is destined to live and die a short life reminds me so much of who you could have been, that she cares so much about your work, about you..." Celestia found herself horrified as she realized what her words had implied, reaching out to hug the younger diarch and calm her down. Instead, she had to watch as the dark alicorn retreated back, ruffling the thick rug on the floor with her movement.
Crestfallen, she drew back as she realized she'd hurt Luna once more, shuffling backwards towards the door. "Luna, I would like you to meet her. Ever since I told her of her heritage, of your tale, she's wanted to know you, to comfort you. I don't know why, but she's always loved the stars you hung in the night so long ago. Give her a chance, Luna."
Luna turned her head, pacing to the desk, still littered with bits and pieces from the last time Scootaloo had come over. A photo of the little orange filly and what was obviously Celestia dressed and disguised as a pegasus mare, and another one of the little one and the moon, the faint image of Luna's prison still visible in the photo. With a painful sigh, she turned that one down. She could see why Celestia had latched onto the filly; even if she found the answers painful, all around were signs of the energy of youth, innocence and strength of will together in spades.
"Alright. We shall give her a chance when the time comes. If she is what you claim, then we shall be satisfied."
"That's all I ever ask. I will be down in Ponyville for a bit, Luna. If you need me, you can find me there as... 'Sunbeam'. Though you really should rest." Celestia began to cast the spells of her other life as she spoke, the change rippling over her like gentle waves in a pond or the heat over a road. White gave way to orange, the gentle fading colors of a sunset burning to a bright and firey pink as the solar diarch assumed her other identity once more.
Luna began to protest, wanting to say something. Instead, as she opened her mouth the thunderous tones of a Royal Canterlot enhanced yawn emerged to rattle the castle, the exhausted lunar diarch at last drooping over, dropping where she stood to fall upon her old bed. As her legs instinctively kicked and tangled the sheets around her, Celestia smiled, stepping out with a bright golden teleport, for home. After all, there was still a chance for everypony to be happy, and a family again.
Luna blearily blinked, half asleep from the exhaustion of so heavily working herself after having escaped a thousand years of her energy being drained into her beloved moon.
Thop! Thop! Thop! Thop!
All she could mentally ask herself was 'What in Tirek's black bones is making that infernal racket?' Her legs feebly twitched in the tangle of covers and comforters she had assembled to envelop her form, unable to move much. She reached with what little magic hadn't deserted her, yanking another layer over her head to drown out the-
The lunar diarch poked her head back out, looking to smite whatever foal was creating the noises that stole her blessed sleep from her. To her unease, nothing, not even a floating pegasus could be seen. The aggravatingly cheerful decorations looked back at her, as if mocking her bleary and confused mind. Where was the intr-
Confound that pony! Luna groaned and rubbed her scalp delicately, the noise driving her slowly towards finding a good chunk of moon to throw at the whole room. She wished nothing more than to scream in frustration at the irritation, miserably digging deeper into her tangled mess until a misshapen lump in the covers was the only sign she still existed.
Luna began to scream in frustration, until the bed shook with a loud, creaking THUMP! as something fell from the ceiling, the pitter-patter beat of small hooves shaking her as her attacker rushed her hideaway. The lunar diarch began to call up any magics she still could wield in her weakened state, prepared for-
The hooves digging into the blankets were to be expected. The feeling of them glomping tight around her, hard enough that she feared the hug around her neck was about to turn into a chokehold, was not as small tears dripped into her fur from a nuzzling face. The flickering glow of her magic fizzled out altogether, as she looked as best she could down at her young 'attacker' who was, to her surprise Celestia's mortal foal.
The little orange filly trembled against her for a moment before looking up into the lunar diarch's eyes. "Luna, you are still LOVED. Don't you forget that." The little filly clung tighter to the blue form of the mare of the night, sniffling slightly. "Don't you ever forget that."
Luna was at a loss for words. She hadn't expected, well... the little filly to seek her out so quickly. Let alone seek her out currying her favor with such a strange message. It was almost as if she was genuinely sincere. "Thy mother would be pleased, little one. But this will not change our opinion. We are not about to suddenly like thee simply because thy mother sent thee to plead thy own case."
"Mom didn't send me, Luna. Well, she told me about how you felt. I can't replace you for her. That was never was she meant."
"Really?" Luna slowly untangled herself from her bedding, wondering how much force it would take to remove the filly from her royal personage.
"Really really. You know how cool your sky is? VERY COOL! I've loved looking up at it! Mom's only been able to kinda-sorta duplicate what you did with it ever since you, uh, had your incident. I've been wanting to meet you for so long!" To Luna's relief, Scootaloo bounded off of her to bounce in place excitedly. She was bursting with energy with every bound, giving the lunar diarch a frightful headache from keeping track of her.
"So, thou doth not desire anything more from our royal personage?" Luna narrowed her eyes as she finally freed a forehoof, almost free of her messy bed-spread.
"Other than to be a friend? Why would I? You're my family! You're family that's been hurting for so long that almost everypony's forgotten why you were hurting." Scootaloo stopped her manic movements for a moment, looking to see if she could get away with hugging Luna again.
"And what wouldst thou know of our pain?"
"Mom told me. I... think I'm the last one alive other than you and Mom that knows the real story instead of the one she spread to clear your image." Scootaloo drew closer to Luna, the lunar diarch creeping backwards upon the bed for a moment. The little orange and purple filly almost glowed in the dim light of Luna's quarters, wings abuzz from her feelings good and bad.
Luna scowled as she at last freed herself, standing up atop the mess she had made of the bed to look down upon the young daughter of Celestia. "Then thou realizes that we fell for want of a mortal. Thou seekest to replace HIM! And that we cannot ab-gak!" Luna's proclamation was cut off mid-sentence as she found herself tightly hugged once more, the mass of Scootaloo nearly knocking her over.
"No, I don't. I want to be ME! Not anypony else. I know about him; I know what his death did. And I want to be with my family; I want to be with my mom, with the part of our family that got cut out! I don't want to be alone." Scootaloo's return argument slowly broke down into sniffles as she went along, tears streaking Luna's leg once more as the lunar diarch realized the little filly was being entirely serious.
She knew the pain of loneliness. Of despair and heartbreak, sitting alone in a quiet room with a piece of her heart cut out. It was a risk, to open back up again to some pony she barely knew as anything other than Celestia's foal. But she couldn't deny somepony whose cry so closely echoed her own. Family, somepony to trust and be with. To have somepony she could be herself with, no matter what mask the world wanted to paint her with, who just wanted to love her with no strings attached and no favors to wring.
Was that so hard to ask, even for a broken soul such as her own?
Luna gently lowered her head to rest against Scootaloo's, nuzzling her with every ounce of her heart and will she could muster as she spoke. "Then, thou wilt be loved, as thou so lovest ourself. Scootaloo Morningstar, daughter of Celestia Morningstar, we apologize for our arrogant presumption and for our slights to thyself. If family is what thy heart desires, with nothing more, how can we say no?"
The little filly sniffled once more, looking up into Luna's eyes with hope. Hope that maybe she'd get to know Luna like she'd always wanted to, hope that the poor mare might finally get the peace of mind she wanted, to remember how much she had been loved all along. "Really?"
The young diarch reached down, gently wiping a tear from Scootaloo's eyes. "Yes." The slight pain from the filly tightening her hug to bone-crushing force was worth it. It was so hard, being alone. And the mare of the moon was sick and tired of being alone when she had her family right beside her.
It was then that she looked up. "Are those... suction cups upon our ceiling?"
Thop! Thop! THOPTHOP!
The guardspony turned about, eying the ceiling carefully. The little nemesis foal had been brought to the Castle once more, and already the sounds of her annoying gravity-defying walks were echoing through the halls.
Thop! Thop! THOPTHOP!
She might have fallen off on Blueblood's face last time, but not this time. Neither cloud, nor rain, nor lunar rebellion, yea not even a rain of foals would prevent him from securing the Castle. Nothing got past Commander Eaglehoof, no matter how sneaky that blasted foal became. His eyes turned to the guard posting at the end of the hall, the grey-coated unicorns nervously looking towards him.
Thop! Thop! THOPTHOP!
He couldn't help but think the infernal racket was coming from two directions as he trotted up to the guardsponies, gruffly looking each in the eyes. The two straightened up to attention, one saluting him as the guard commander pointedly looked. "Guardsmen, have either of you seen Scootaloo? Her antics are disturbing the princess!"
Thop! Thop! THOPTHOP!
The two nervously passed a look between each other, knowing the commander wasn't going to like what they had to say. Finally, the one on the right spoke up, looking about as he spoke. "Sir, Sunbeam's foal headed for her room an hour ago. However, she never came back out before the sounds started up again." The guardspony on the left glared at his partner on the right, nudging him with his shoulder.
Thop! Thop! THOPTHOP!
All three of the guardsponies looked up once more, looking about for the source of the suction cup noise. Vigilant in their every movement, knowing that at any point the dreaded foal could come crashing down and force their less noble duty of being the royal foal-catchers to come into play. The commander shifted uneasily as he waited for the hooves to drop. "You realize, Private, that the foal's room used to be Luna's royal apartment, correct?"
Thop! Thop! THOPTHOP!
"Princess Celestia is going to kill us."
Thop! Thop! THOPTHOP!
The commander glared at both of them angrily, jabbing his hoof towards the door to the royal wing. "Hunt her down, get her OUT! Nothing is to disturb the new Princess's rest!" He could just imagine the royal banishment ceremony already, the little foal at the front of the line, then her mother, then HIM! Not while he still drew breath would it happen!
Thop! Thop! THOPTHOPTHOPTHOP!
"Where is that little foal? We have her this time, she can't be far!" The guard commander all but bowled over the two enlisted ponies before him to jump at the source of the sound, growling angrily as his look beyond the doors turned up nothing. The sound had grown obnoxiously loud, and the new Princess Luna was bound to turn up at any moment and demand the incompetent in charge of the guard detail, namely HIM.
"Don't sir me, get moving! Bring me Scootaloo!" Eaglehoof stomped a hoof against the carpet, ignoring the dull thumps of two jumping ponies.
"I'm right here, Commander EaglePoof. What'd I do this time?" Scootaloo slurped at the straw of her drink hat, looking up at the ceiling expectantly as she stood behind the frazzled guards. Eaglehoof twirled about, staring at her for a moment, most noticeably her lack of suction cup hoof sleeves and the fact that she came from the kitchens, not the royal suites. He knew his eyes had to be twitching as the filly began to try and go around him to the royal suite. "I need to finish unpacking, would'ya move?"
"No! You're going right back to your mother, delinquent! Your rule of terror over this poor castle has reached it's end! Princess Luna will not be disturbed, you will be assigned to new quarters later today!" Eaglehoof ignored the splutters from the guards behind him as he reached towards Scootaloo. The little filly easily dodged his grab, dancing to once side without spilling either of the drink containers she was carrying, both the one still mounted on her head and the one she balanced on her back.
"What's that supposed to mean? I don't even know what deliquncish is supposed to be!" The pegasus filly duck and wove once more, hopping up onto one of the guardspony's back. A quick hoofpress slid her liquid-filled hat back into place from where it had slid down, letting her look into Eaglehoof's face once more.
"It'll be what you'll be now that you won't be able to hide behind your mother and the princess anymore! Princess Luna will not tolerate your antics, now get down!" The tawny coated guard captain swooped his hoof out with the speed and grace of his namesake animal, missing Scootaloo by mere fractions of an inch as the filly jumped back. His growl of frustration was matched by the yelp of guard Scootaloo had been standing upon as he dove out of the way. Scootaloo toppled over in a heap from her momentum, the sticky feeling of malt chocolate spreading through her fur as she rolled to her feet.
"Eeeww. Now how am I supposed to deliver a triple mocha chocolate malt to Princess Luna? I just got that!" Scootaloo pressed a hoof to her darkly stained chest, inwardly groaning at how nasty she felt. In her distraction the little filly failed to notice Eaglehoof pouncing her way, his several hundred pounds of bulk rapidly pinning her to the ground in the spreading puddle of cold drink and ice cream.
Growling, Eaglehoof picked her up from the growing stain in the carpet, glaring at her eye to eye as the little filly dripped with gooeyness. Scootaloo didn't flinch from his gaze, calmly taking a single slurp from the straw still sticking from the containers in her hat. "You will not be doing anything near Princess Luna. She will be provided the respect due her position, and you will be escorted back to the children's wing, understood?"
The two junior guardsponies jumped in their armor, twirling about in search of where the noise had come from. Scootaloo leaned in closer to Eaglehoof, her tail flicking instinctively as a small rivulet of liquid chocolate ran down it. "You should probably get that." A wry and knowing smile slowly spread across her face as she looked up, seeing the pony above her.
The guardsponies all followed her gaze to the ornate ceiling, and the unicorn mare there gleefully giving rational physics the bent hoof salute. The dark blue mare grinned down at the awkward group, her moonlight blue mane hanging down from her like a fine moss from a tree branch. "Is there a problem, guards?" She began to step away, the amusing and obnoxious 'Thop!' of the suction cups on her hooves echoing in the still hallway as she did.
Eaglehoof dropped Scootaloo in surprise, the filly bouncing lightly on her rump for a moment before she started running, realizing who the sweatervested 'unicorn' really was. It might have been wrong of her, but payback was a dish best served royally. And Eaglehoof? Eaglehoof was known in the guard and amongst the general populace as a jerk, a blowhard, and an overall poor commander who only got the job because his 'old blood' family put him up. Siccing her new favorite 'big sister' on him was the best thing to happen between the two of them in the three years they had known each other.
Torn between his old nemesis and his new challenger, Eaglehoof hesitated for several crucial moments indecisively trying to determine his target. Finally, his hoof stomped against the luxurious carpet, angrily pointing towards Scootaloo's trail of dripped chocolate and glaring at the junior guards whom she had run past. "Catch her! I'll deal with the new one!"
With that, he spread his tawny wings, launching into the air after the rapidly retreating form of the deep blue 'unicorn'. The two junior guardsponies, clad in the standard cosmetic enchantment, looked at each other with worry. The crazy little filly was nuts in the good and the bad way. They nodded to each other and briskly trotted after the little orange filly into the royal quarters.
"Scootaloo, we need to talk. You and Commander Eaglehoof have got to stop baiting each other before something happens." The slightly larger stallion of the pair carefully peeked his head around the corner into the back of the royal apartment complex in search of the little filly, his hoof motioning to his junior partner for him to check in the other direction.
"What do you want now, Tenderhoof? I didn't do anything to him this time." Scootaloo sat in the baths, wiping off most of the nastiest portions of the formerly delicious muck from her form.
"It's Lieutenant Tenderhoof, kid. I know it's not your fault and I can't blame you for being mad at him, but you're giving him more fuel to go after you with." The strong city twang of the guardspony was comforting for her as he scruffed the thick towel into her sides to help out.
"Yeah, thank you. I know, I know. He doesn't know how to stop and I've gotta do what a filly's got to do. It's not like mom can do anything to him." Scootaloo squirmed under the scruffing being inflicted upon her as she spoke, indignant from the attention. She was all too familiar with the speech and the reasons the commander couldn't be removed from the palace guard.
"Good. Now then, go get yourself another shake if it's for the princess. I'll cover for you." Tenderhoof picked up Scoot's drink-encrusted hat as he affectionately spoke, squishing it down upon her head with a brief pat. The little filly rocked back and forth under the pat, hooves clattering slightly on the marble tiles of the magnificent bath.
The somewhat veteran guardsman smiled, crouching down to look Scootaloo in the eye, squinting to see her face past the glare of one of the sunbeams that always seemed to follow her around. "Yup. Your mom Sunbeam owes me one after I caught her snacking on the Princess's cake. I figure her having to explain to Princess Luna why her daughter tried to feed her a chocolate shake is payback enough. Now get. Unlike 'Commander Eaglepoof', I actually paid attention to the photos we received from Ponyville this morning, and I know she's about to beat you to the kitchen even if she has to run upside down with suction cups on her hooves." He paused for a moment, towel hanging over the gold filigree laundry bin as he realized what had just come out of his mouth.
Scootaloo giggled in her little way, knowing how crazy it had to sound. "Yeah, I get that a lot. See ya later, Tenderhoof!" The clatter of still sticky hooves rushed away past the guardspony, who sat there in thought of how in the bucking blazes did a filly convince a full grown princess to stick suction cups on her hooves and climb up a wall.
'Sunbeam' was busy doing her best not to fall asleep in the stupefyingly mundane and trivial business of the court, busily projecting a more attentive looking illusion of her real self on the throne. After 1000 years of practice with not falling asleep in court, it was disturbingly easy to wing her way through it most days even half-asleep. Blueblood needing something for his house, denied. The annual call for a draft from the pegusi contingent, she didn't have a clue why they thought they needed more ponies at the moment. The guard commander flying screaming through the halls on the far side of the courtyard in the windows chasin-.
"Sunbeam, would you mind seeing what has Commander Eaglehoof worked up today?" 'Celestia' smiled warmly down at her, the orange mare enjoying the odd recursiveness of giving herself orders. Nodding back to the illusion of her real self on the throne, and glad for giving herself an excuse to take a short stroll; she made her way down the center aisle of the court to the front doors of the royal chambers, gingerly opening them with a single hoof to-
She found herself falling solidly onto her rump in shock as Luna ran past in a sweatervest. On the ceiling and floating a chocolate shake before herself in a dark blue field of magic. Some things you just couldn't make up, it seemed. The faint clippy-clop of a foal's hooves grew in the distance, her daughter Scootaloo skidding around the column holding up one side of the hallway junction. Hooves still weren't good for running on polished marble as the little filly found out, having trouble building momentum at first until she at last zipped by her mother. 'Sunbeam' grimaced at the sight of the little filly coated in some form of dark brown stain and wondered what her daughter had gotten into and why she was busily chasing after Luna (on the ceiling!).
"I'm not entirely cer-" 'Sunbeam' began to speak, turning her head back into the court as the little filly squeaked and slid around the other corner; at least until the rustling of a great many wings filled the air. Shock etched itself onto her face as 30 guardsponies followed Commander Eaglehoof screaming around the corner in formation, darkening the halls with their shadows as they stormed past at high velocity. The orange mare stoically glared as they rushed past, her mane twirling into a twisted mess from the wind of their passage. She'd faced down Discord, the Nightmare of the Moon, the Dark Reaper Tirek, even the Demons of Air and Shadow. She would not get angry, not get angry, she was not going to-
"SCOOTALOO! What did you do!?!"
"So, which one of you two would care to claim responsibility for riling up the palace guard?" 'Sunbeam' slid the thick paneled door to Luna's room shut with a gentle push from one of her hindhooves as she gently inquired the guilty looking pair. The fizzle of anti-surveillance spells reestablishing themselves crackled behind her as she strode up, fixing princess and filly in turn.
Scootaloo bowed her head in shame as her mother sat down on one of the floor cushions, guiltily avoiding her mother's gaze. Her hoof restlessly scuffed at the thick blue carpet as she cleared her throat as she wondered how much trouble she would get into for dealing with Eaglehoof, again. The chocolate stains were still sticky and all over her back from the shake she had spilled, though they hadn't gotten into her wings.
'Sunbeam' looked towards her young daughter more intensely, noticing her sticky and distressed state. With any chance of being stumbled upon gone, the orange mare began to strip her cover away enchantment by enchantment, her true alicorn form emerging once more. The quiet air of Luna's apartment whispered in the faint breeze of the change, pushing away as Celestia decompressed herself and sprung back to her normal size, glowing with the faint traces of her light. Scootaloo sighed, opening her mouth to admit she had pushed the guard commander's buttons once more.
"As the exalt and bearer of Loyalty and Honesty, we shall not let thy filly take responsibility for our actions. It twas our practicing using her ideas that first agitated thy guards. Scootaloo's actions were in her own defense, and thy wrath should be directed towards our own person." Luna reached a hoof over as she spoke, gently pressing the pegasus filly's mouth shut once more. She leaned back, grimly sitting before the solar diarch in wait of what she had to say.
Celestia, for her part did her best to keep the incredulous look off her face. After all, before her sat Luna; who barely six hours before had said she found the room given back to her to be childish and mocking and its occupant an affront to her. And now? The lunar diarch was defending her, comfortably in the very room she had taken offense in. Her mind sorted through the possibilities slowly as she considered what might have just happened to immediately change the relationship for the positive. "Luna, I'm not going to be that tough on her. Why would-"
"Because we have already said it. We are, nay, were the bearer of Loyalty, and Honesty. We say these things because they are true. We had naught an indication beforehoof that thy guards would be so, excitable." The lunar diarch stood her ground before her counterpart, knowing what she had to say. She'd heard the 'responsibilities' speech before, and it was not about to bug her again.
"All I did was come up to the front doors with a chocolate shake for Luna. Then he went all 'rawr! Bad Filly! No shake for princesses!'" Scootaloo reared up as she spoke, imitating the angry tones of the guard commander as she did. Her mother gave her only the slightest hint of an incredulous look; more than a thousand years of leadership had given her far stranger examples to gawk at.
"That doesn't explain how you managed to become a friend to her in less than three hours, and succeeded in getting half the castle guard chasing the both of you through the castle and then Canterlot itself. Luna, you said you didn't want anything to do with her." Celestia wanted to massage the growing headache from her mind as she tried to piece together how two plus two became 42 somewhere along the lines.
"Well, I might maybe might have snuck up on her from above and given her the 1000 years of hugs she's been missing. But that would be all sappy and sickeningly cute. And I'm not cute." Scootaloo gave her mother the roughest and toughest look she could; her cool foal reputation was on the line. Her drink hat shook as she did, her hoof reaching up once more to seat it properly.
"Oh, I don't know about that, you look adorable and absolutely messy to me. You almost look like the time Luna got covered in alfalfa sauce, ac-" Celestia lit the ornate lamps around the roof of the room as she spoke, getting a better look at the sticky filly. She jumped slightly as Luna grabbed Scootaloo with her magic and broke out the normally disused royal speaking voice.
"Tis a lie! We never-" Luna stopped as the golden aura of a magical bubble appeared about her muzzle to quiet her down, sourly looking at Celestia.
"Indoors and in private, Luna. And amongst family." Celestia released her hold, letting Luna speak once as the golden glow faded away to the muted flickering lighting of the wall lamps.
"Tis a lie! We never sought out the vile alfalfa sauce! Thy foal has shown great martial prowess and joyous eloquence in the pursuit of giving us hope once more. Even knowing of our foalish ignorant pain, she came to us. We were gravely wrong and have already apologized to her for our slight. And, she became our guide." Luna quietly made her proclamation once more, a muted clap of thunder punctuating her small speech. "We like her, she's trouble." A predatory smile graced Luna's face as she ground a hoof into the plush carpet.
"Really?" Celestia's eyebrow raised cautiously, the horrifying realization that the two of them had joined forces working its way through her mind.
Scootaloo hopped up and down in annoyance, wings buzzing slightly in her agitation. "I am not! I only wanted to cheer her up, since I've gotta stay with her." The little filly's voice was indignant at the suggestion, Scootaloo's seat softly fluffing with each hop.
"Thou hast fooled us well, then." Luna carefully levitated in a bowl of familiar green gloop from the balcony outside, keeping it under Celestia's line of sight as she did. A small, slight glance to Scootaloo confirmed her own plan. The lunar diarch understood deception far too well; especially the art of hiding in plain sight. "Well, then this brings us back to the point of Commander Eaglehoof. Why hast thou not replaced him already?"
Celestia narrowed her eyes for a moment at Luna, suspecting the younger alicorn had something on her mind. "He's one of the old families. I've tried before, but after signing several agreements to prevent civil war when you had your indiscretion I am afraid I cannot simply fire him." Celestia looked to the wall of legal documents, one of the few concessions to the fact that this had been Luna's room at one point. She couldn't remember where, but the original copy of the treaty between herself and Eaglehoof's bloodline was stashed somewhere within.
"Tell me about it. Why can't we get, I dunno, Shining Armor or Tenderhoof to take over?" Scootaloo scrubbed at the sticky mess on her chest once more, glad that her rump was dry. Taking a shower with a pillow stuck to her butt would be awkward.
Luna looked at Celestia gleefully, thinking of the punishments of old. She couldn't imagine what 'firing' somepony meant, but it had to be good if Celestia considered it a worthy punishment for such a loathsome creature as Eaglehoof. "Tell us, what does this 'firing' consist of? We hath no recollection of such an intriguing sounding punishment. Tying him to a spit roast until his fur is crispy? Forcing him to drown two whole bottles of the purest rainbows and shaking him well? Perhaps tying him to the sling of a trebuchet and launching him from the castle?"
Luna settled down from where she was nearly levitating at the thought of showing the proper consequences of unfairly disturbing a foal when she noticed the shocked and horrified looks on the faces of her family. Her mass slumped back to the soft starry cushion as she realized she wasn't going to have the enjoyment of making a royal example out of Eaglehoof for disrespecting her and her family. "And, judging from thy looks, 'firing' hath nothing to do with such amusing pastimes even if we were allowed to have them."
"Why is my whole family crazy?" Scootaloo carefully edged away from Luna for a moment, putting some space between her and the still medieval minded lunar diarch. "Mom, you should have mentioned the fact that Luna liked doing... things to everypony."
Luna grinned as Celestia began rubbing her face in frustration with the strange direction the conversation was headed. "Yes, I should have. Luna, firing means to dismiss him from the job with immediate termination. Well, I suppose I could start rigging up the trebuchet for removing peg- oh no, Luna. No. I'm not playing this game." Celestia gave the younger diarch the most pointed stare she could conjure up, the faint rattle of something nearly upending behind the dark blue mare barely noticed behind the choked squeak she gave.
"Moooom! You're doing your scary face again!"
Celestia eased up immediately as she realized she had unleashed the glare of kindness, her counterpart giving an annoyed look in return as she tried her best to straighten her now unruly and disheveled mane. "Tia, after all this time thou still hast the power?" Luna slid her surprise a little closer to Scootaloo as she tried to distract her elder counterpart once more.
"Yes, we still have the blessings of the Elements, Luna. Now we're- now what?" Celestia turned her head to look out the windows, in the direction her daughter and fellow princess were staring, wondering what they had suddenly found more fascinating than their discussion. Beyond the fading sunset and the stars emerging from the night skies once more in the most brilliant night in 1000 years, she couldn't tell. A sudden rustle and rattling of ceramic on marble and carpet surprised her as she did, the elder alicorn turning back to see a horrific sight that had replaced Luna and her daughter.
Two voices rose up at once as their bearers leaned in towards her, a viscous green mask upon both their faces as eldritch voices spoke. "Bleagh-bleagh-bleagh! Alfalfa Monster!"
"Ew! Noo-OooooO!" Celestia reared back in shock from the close encounter, rising to her hooves before lurching as the inconveniently placed footlocker at the base of the room's bed arrested her rearwards movement. With the rest of her still moving backwards, Celestia yelped in surprise as she tumbled backwards, sprawling out into an awkward and shocked daze upon the bed. Small twitches of her hooves showed that she was still alive as the rest of her family approached in worry and surprise over how well their prank worked.
"Wow. You're right, she does just fall right over. When she snaps out of this, you know she's going to kill us both, right?" Scootaloo carefully nibbled some of the alfalfa off of her face, wiping much of the rest of it back into the bowl that Luna had proffered. The little filly approached her mother, leaning over the side of the bed to poke her once in her trim belly for a moment to see if she would snap out of her shocked stiffness.
"Nay. Perhaps maim us, but not kill. She hast always been too sweet-hearted as the former bearer of kindness and friendship. But we feel that sometimes revenge is a dish best served cold. Very, very cold." Luna gave a mischievous smile as she looked over Celestia's shocked form, nibbling on a bit of alfalfa she had licked into her mouth. A mind that had long ago been sharped into a razor point rapidly considered ways that she and her accomplice in crime could finish the rather horribly cruel and lighthearted vengeance upon their mutual family relations without turning the affair into a grudge match of ever more expansive pranks. "Now then, pray tell us, doth the castle carry a pink fur dye within it's cosmetic supplies?"
If she could have looked, Celestia might have shivered slightly at the wide grin upon her daughter's face.
The morning court started as any other would, petitioners slowly filing in past the gathered nobility and assorted high ranking figures of Equestria beneath the gaze of the rising sun shining through the windows. Concerned whispers murmured through the crowd at the sight of the oddly... pink sun that was rising in the east, the morning light tainted by it's color. Ponies whispered in confusion, wondering if the sun had been pink before the banishment of the mysterious Princess Luna, or if some strange illness had befallen their beloved Princess Celestia. Either way, all conversation ceased as the diarch of the day was announced by the triumphant fanfare of a hundred horns, the crowd parting for the mighty and majest-
The whispers returned tenfold as Celestia walked down the red-carpeted aisle with as much majesty as she could given her unusual condition. When she had come to that night, Luna had informed her of the punishment for so many year's worth of pranks and jokes and assorted slights that she was going to be bearing for the next week. And, since the castle was most unhelpfully lacking in stocks of certain colors of fur dye, the lunar princess had seen fit to add a distinctly personal touch to the punishment and had directly applied a cosmetic spell to the solar diarch. One that only turned an ever brighter shade of pink with each attempt to remove it, as Celestia had found to her perpetual annoyance. By morning she was almost glowing after a futile night of attempts on her part and that of her staff to remove the spell.
Luckily, she still had it in herself to bluff her way through the crisis at hand as well as plan her own revenge upon her family. She wasn't certain what that revenge would be, but it would have to be most exceedingly pointy and memorable. Celestia sat down upon her dias, the illusion of her alter ego running up from the court offices conjured up as a final touch to the preparations for the morning work. She bowed her head, the faint golden glow of her magic reaching forth to draw the remaining curtains upon the windows open, flooding the room with her light and warmth. "I hereby call this court to order. Petitioners, come forth and make thy grievances known."
"Your majesty, why are you pink?"
Celestia closed her eyes in annoyance at the question, a single thought running through her head. 'This is going to be a long, long week.' Her mortal illusion shook her head, facehoofing in expression of the annoyance Celestia wished she could fully unleash.
Next Time, on Scootamom: PROGRESS! Celestia vs. Knitting!
Celestia sat at her desk, silently ignoring the two curtiously waiting behind her. The old mahogany creaked slightly as the still irritated demigoddess scribbled out the last of a great many diplomatic letters, a small pile of them already shove messily into a corner of the desk out of the way. At the top, a lone letter addressed to Twilight rested, awaiting delivery to explain to her faithful student why the sun had been pink all week. With one last flourish of her quill, she signed the letter and sealed it; the letter and all it's fellows found themselves picked up in Celestia's magic and sorted away into the ceiling-high warren of shelves for delivery as Celestia at last turned to her family.
"So, what have we learned?" Celestia furrowed her still pink-tinged brow as she stared the duo down. A week's worth of damage control, embarrassment and chaos found itself weighted against the sad and sorrowful looks that Luna and Scootaloo were desperately giving her.
"Pranks that the entire world notices are really bad and make Mom very very angry." Scootaloo piped up first, looking her mom in the eye as she spoke.
"We should take more care in the methodology of our pranks as there is a limit to just how much somepony is willing to take before they lash out and turn us green with purple and orange 'polka dots'." Luna, as the architect and instigator of the Great Pink Week, as it had come to be called, had suffered her just reward for her actions. With interest, as the dripping sugary mess her mane had become attested.
"We're sorry." The two spoke in unison, hoping to avoid further retaliation after a week of turning the palace into a warzone with the forgotten pranks of a millennium before.
"Very well. I hope my point has been made clear. I am still very unhappy about turning so pink that the sun and my mortal guise showed it; but perhaps we can avoid this unpleasantness in the future." Celestia tapped her horn to Luna's own, the golden flash of her counterspell returning the lunar alicorn to a presentable state. She was glad that it was all over after a week of having to keep away from her daughter for appearance's sake.
Even if bespelling the moon into the illusion of a giant pretzel for a few minutes in the heat of battle had been worth it for the priceless look on Luna's face; the havoc unleashed by two alicorns and their mortal family had drawn far too uncomfortably close to unleashing the garden guest.
"Now then, if everypony is back to normal, I'd like to talk for a moment." Scootaloo and Luna scooted closer on their cushions to find out what Celestia had to say.
She nuzzled both in turn as they did, each getting as much of her love as she could bring to bear in a few moments. The sun, ascendant in the skies cast it's light deep into the study as she did, warming the trio with the slight metaphysical touch of Celestia's guarded heart. The weekend, part of the time she had at last reclaimed for her own was at last upon them; and finally the group had a chance to breathe and think in the quiet morning light.
"Luna, I know this should all be about you, and your return home. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, especially not this week. I've let things get more than a little out of hand since you left. More importantly, I've let them take what little time I can spend with the most fleeting part of our family." Celestia spoke quietly, the regrets of a thousand years finding themselves forcefully purged with each soft word. Thoughts of could have, should haves, would haves ran through her mind at the edges of her consciousness; teasing her each and every moment.
"Nay, Tia. It should be as every other week should, a celebration of all that we hath in each other's strengths." Luna rebutted her elder counterpart's words, preferring a different approach. Scootaloo nudged her after she spoke, the filly pointedly staring at the wood tiling afterwards so that Luna would get on with it.
"Oh. Yes. We know that we will not always have thee, our any of the rest of our family. But, there is a way we all could remember one another's love for each other no matter how far apart our journeys take us on our separate paths." Luna gently smiled and rubbed Scootaloo' head until it crackled with static electricity from her mane. Scootaloo just smooshed her face into her seat and giggled at the tickle from the static grounding out into the floor.
"Really... Let me guess, Scootaloo came up with the idea, and she suggested a present exchange." Celestia arced an eyebrow as her daughter gave her the best little angel impression she could imagine.
"Well, you do know me kinda well, Mom. But not just presents, but the best presents ever! The kind of awesomely cool stuff that'll stick around to the end of... uh, everything!" Scootaloo popped up with glee, one hoof punching the air as she spoke.
"Right. And Hearth's Warming Eve comes next week." Celestia turned to Luna for help with her wayward child, only to find a sly grin on the blue alicorn's face.
"It does? Why doth nopony tell us these things?"
Scootaloo leaned against her partner in crime while giving her mother a mischievous look. "Well, duh! It's some kind of... responsible adult, uh, thing! Trying to hog all the fun to themselves and stuff."
"A pity, we were looking forward to testing our creative mettle against forging a present worthy of Tia for her dedication towards saving us from our moon." Luna pouted, standing up and pacing as if in protest. The lunar diarch carefully waited as she slowly prowled about the room, waiting for Celestia's inevitable reaction.
Celestia still had every bit of work that Luna had ever forged. The lunar diarch had a brutally brilliant way with metal, and the very magic of her night had often seeped into her work."Let's not be so hasty. You mean-"
Scootaloo shuddered as she remembered some of her more memorable school projects. "Yeah! She'll make something for you and me, I'll hunt down the best and coolest presents ever since I can't make anything without it catching on fire or getting covered in goo, and you could-"
"Luna, I do construction, and shrubberies. I have never, and will never knit." Celestia stamped a hoof, ignoring the rattle of the desk behind her and the bookshelves around the room's perimeter.
"Aww, c'mon Mom. It'd make us really happy if you did. And it'd make Luna feel appreciated." Scootaloo pleaded with her mother as Luna impassively stared out over the palace grounds and the Canterlot skyline.
"Alright, I'll consider it." Celestia felt the rumble of the cheer building behind her as she waited for the perfect moment to counterstrike. "But don't expect anything too good. I'm afraid I won't have too much to offer."
Celestia stood up, and headed for her room and the millennium old cask of fine ale hidden within, wondering how many glasses it would take to nurse away the growing headache developing behind the base of her horn.
"It can't be nearly as hard as flipping gravity in a single room." Scootaloo scrubbed a hoof against her pillow as she spoke, looking at Luna and waiting for the golden moment.
Luna met her gaze before turning towards the bedroom door. "Nay, a proper knit is a far worthier task than merely toying with the forces of nature." 5, 4...
Celestia paused suspiciously at the doorway, the wording of Luna's rebuttle worrying her. She didn't notice the pair behind her exchanging concerned looks behind her back as she finally reached out with her magic and opened the doors. A series of horrified realizations passed through her mind in the split seconds that followed.
The first was that she knew exactly which room they had reversed gravity within as she found herself halfway into the altered gravity field. The second was that the duo of disaster behind her had somehow doubled the strength of gravity within her room. The third was accompanied by a startled yelp as she found herself rapidly ascending towards her ceiling.
"All is fair in love and pranks, Tia."
"Last one, Mom, we promise."
"She stared at it, a vile abomination from the darkest markets of Canterlot. Shapeless, and yet round it defied her understanding of geometry. Its surface was marked with the twisting twirls of individual strands wrapped within each other without a known beginning or end, an affront to her senses. The amorphous object rested unheeding of the baleful gaze weighted against its form, an uncaring truth within the universe. She beheld it, taking in the colors intertwined within the endless maze, grotesquely fading from one to another. Why it even-"
"Mom. Stop playing with the yarn. You sound silly narrating like that."
"The mare recoiled from the object, hunching down below the plain of existence it rested upon until only her magnificent horn could emerge from the dark depths. Once more, she slowly rose forth in careful consideration to rest her gaze upon its fearsome form. Study revealed no means to manipulate the object, no manner in which to unravel its secrets. Knowledge of its dark wonders remained hidden from her, beckoning her to touch it, to try and unravel it without being consumed and ensnared by its convulted and endless depths."
"Mom, you're over 1000 years old. Stop talking about it like its something out of Marecraft's... stuff."
"Clearly, the voice was calling forth from within the object's depths, some former victim forever ensnared within. She would have to be cautious. The hypnotically twisted surface beckoned to her, enticing her with the promise of knowledge. Its dread call distorted her mind, drawing her closer to the thing from another world. Points began to appear, as if materializing from its depths as strange wooden rods parted the surface."
"Mom, if you don't knock it off, I'm going to stick that thing on your horn."
"She recoiled back at the horrid noise, her ears burning with the discordant notes of the unknowable thing. The brave and valiant mare struggled to regain her senses after the punishing horror, knowing that she had to master the material or be cursed to miserable, dismal failure."
Scootaloo groaned, dropping the book on Canterlot she had been studying as she decided to carry through with her threat. While her mother muttered and peered intently at the impressively sized ball of tye-dye yarn, the little filly snuck around behind the table it sat on, grumbling all the way as she did. Normal fillies don't have this problem. Normal fillies don't have moms who went stir-CRAzy 1000 years ago and became unable to do anything the normal way anymore. Then again, normal fillies don't have the coolest mom in the country. Scootaloo hopped up off of a reclined chair as she finished her train of thought, clip-clopping lightly across the wooden table to where her mother had become entranced by the way the colors of the yarn ball twirled around. Giving the elder mare no time, she picked it up, impaling the innocent yarn on the white alicorn's horn with a violent press of her hooves.
"Aaauuuuuaaagh! Save yourself Scootaloo! The yarn is attacking!" Celestia jolted back from the sudden assault of color in her vision, flailing her hooves trying to get it off. Scootaloo fell to her side, clutching her chest as she burst out laughing at the ludicrous sight of her mom under 'attack' by her project to be. Desperately trying to remove it, Celestia began to try and push it off her horn, discovering to her horror that she had only managed to begin unraveling it as the arcane knot caught her forehooves within the tangled mass. "It's all over me, get it off!"
"Mom, you are crazy. Cra-ZY!" Scootaloo giggled as her mother struggled to entangle herself. Waiting for a moment, Scootaloo jumped into the mess and tackled Celestia playfully, digging into the rapidly entangling mess. Grinning, Celestia wrapped her yarn-covered hooves around the little pegasus, stringing her up into the mess with swift deftness.
"Arg! Scootaloo, no! It's got you too! What is this?" Celestia struggled as she tussled Scootaloo's mane with her magic, soon finding that she had manged to bind herself and her foal tightly together in a web of inadvertently knitted yarn. "Scootaloo?"
Purple eyes glared halfheartedly at her for a few moments, softening up at her mother's smirk. "This is all your fault, Mom. At least nopony can walk into your study and find us like this. I don't want to explain how you fell to the evil charms of Yarnthulu or something."
Scootaloo reached out with her remaining free hoof, nudging a loop around Celestia's regal muzzle and tugging it until the solar diarch couldn't speak. "Mom, maybe you shouldn't talk anymore. You're freaky when you get distracted. Maybe you should go talk to Twilight. She knows everything." At her foal's words, Celestia's eyes widened and she leaned forward, kissing Scootaloo between her eyes. "Mom wait, don't-"
The solar princess lit her magic, glowing blindingly with the warm golden glow of the sun; the field of her teleport spell tingling the pegasus's orange legs for just a moment. And then, she was gone in a brilliant flash and Scootaloo found herself hovering in midair amongst a twisted web of yarn. "Awww."
A heavy thump marked Scootaloo's landing, and she groaned as the twisted and entwining mess landed atop her and buried her up to her neck in yarn. A brief struggle only tangled her more thoroughly until the little orange filly couldn't move at all. "Mom? Mom, left me here, by myself. And Luna won't be back until midnight. And nopony can get in."
"I hate my life."
Luna scowled as she stalked the lower halls, looking for landmarks long since erased by the passage of time. When Canterlot had been founded, a mere hundred years before her fall, she had commissioned a mighty and magnificent forge in the depths of the castle; perhaps the finest ever constructed. Built to amplify the power of her moon and draw it into her works, it had been the armory of her lunar guards. And now, other than the chimney and magic center she could find not even the slightest trace of it's existence.
Not a scrap of information in the archives for 200 years, not a sign of its doors where it clearly had to be. She was ready to rip the mountain from its foundations if she could stoke the great fire there even one more time. Now if only there was somepony she could scream her frustration out at, she might-
"M'am, the dungeons aren't exactly fit for everypony. Mind if I suggest that you head upstairs?" The white guardspony tapped Luna on her rump with an oddly familiar magic pulse.
Spreading her wings regally for the full dramatic effect and summoning the ethereal light of her moon; Luna stood tall and turned around to face him. The wind of her gathering her presence kicking up a small dust storm in the unused corridor and nearly knocked the helmet off his head as his eyes grew wide at the realization of how massive his accidental breach of protocol had been. A moment's movement saw him prostrate on the floor, horntip scraping against the carved basalt.
"Ah. Excellent, somepony who remembers the old ways. Praytell, what is thy name, and were might we find what our sister hath done with our forge?" The rumble of Luna's voice shook the corridor, echoing for what seemed like forever in the dark and empty passageways.
"Shining Armor, m'am. Head of the unicorn guard."
"Thou seems familiar to us, despite our long departure. Hmm, no matter. Once more, we beseech thee, where might we find what our sister hath done with our forge?" Luna toned down her voice in the realization that a dust storm wasn't particularly regal, settling back to her hooves just before Shining Armor. That he was a unicorn with her sister's colors instead of those of her own guard intrigued her. It almost made her want to bend down and sniff his mal- err, magic.
"The Forge of Protheus the Mad? Her majesty Princess Celestia had it walled over after he set the defensive spells to kill everypony just before he died." The distinctive unicorn raised his head to look at Luna, who cupped his chin with a hoof to look him in the eyes. Darkness stared into light, the gaze of the moon sending a chill into the air as she almost bored through his soul and past it into the black rock flooring.
"We would ask if thou jests, but we see that thou telleth the truth." Luna narrowed her eyes as she stepped away and turned to the dimly lit stone walls, her magic sweeping away the cobwebs and dust. There was one solution to the immovable object.
Unresistable force. "Very well. Bring us a hammer."
Twilight dreamed, fitful almost feverish visions induced by Pinkie Pie experiments haunting her sleep.
The lilac-coated unicorn rolled over in her snug bed, twitching her covers tighter around her as frightful dreams took shape. The warm summer night had penetrated the defenses of her hapless new home and was slowly driving her mad in the humid heat.
"Twilight. Twilight. Twilight."
A terrible vision filled her sleep; one of a thousand small birds, each wearing her mentor's face and wearing Pinkie's mane. The flutter of wings filled the air from the cloud of abominations surrounding her on all sides.
"Twilight. Twilight. Twilight. Twilight."
And then the thousand voices spoke as one, the terrible flock pressing closer to her form in the shiftless void of existence she beheld beyond her terrors. Their fell voices chirped in her ears and the young unicorn flinched back from them in horror; their wings brushing at the nape of her neck and the marks on her flanks.
"Twilight, Twilight, Twilight, Twilight, TWIIIII-LIIIIGHT!"
Twilight screamed as the creatures landed upon her and began pecking into her flesh; their cruel muzzles nipping away at her as they pressed into her belly, her legs, her ears. The smothering weight of their forms pressed down upon her in a frenzy of poking and nipping and squawking of her name as-
"TWILIGHT! I NEED YOU!"
"Auuaaagh!" Twilight flailed her limbs as her sudden jerk flipped her off of her bed and onto the hard floor. Spike's cries of surprise could barely be heard over the frantic rustle of feathers on fur and the thumps of hooves and a horn on the wood floor. Pegasus and unicorn grappled for top position, rolling across the floor in a frenzy of struggling to free each other until they found themselves tipping over into midair.
The thump of two bodies slamming onto the ground floor of the library rattled books from the shelves and Spike out of his basket. Twilight groaned in agony as a stray hoof brushed the nasty lump on the side of her head from hitting the floor twice over, entangled in the sheets she had formerly been so comfortingly ensconced within.
"Twilight. I need you."
"AuuuAARRGH!" Twilight jerked back once more at the sight of Princess Celestia's personal assistant Sunbeam standing so close that her lemony fresh breath tweaked Twilight's nose. The now thoroughly panicking unicorn scuttled backwards across the floor until she rammed herself into the far wall with a bone-jarring thud. "How did you get in here!?!"
"Celestia's key. Do you know how to knit? Celestia needs to learn really quickly for Luna before she ends up creating Yarnthulu again."
Sunbeam held up the items in her saddlebag with a hoof, namely a mangled ball of yarn and two knitting picks. "Knitting. You know everything! Please don't tell me you don't know how to knit!"
Twilight reached out for the light switch as she heard Spike stumbling close to the top of the stairs, blinking in the sudden infusion of light into the room and the revelations it brought. The orange pegasus's mane had been transformed into a rats nest of yarn knotted around formerly graceful locks of hair and hung dreadfully around her face as she held up the bundle of items. Her soulful, pleading violet eyes seemed to etch themselves into Twilight's soul as she reached out with her hoof towards the mage of all trades.
"I don't know how to knit." Twilight held up her hooves defensively as Sunbeam began to protest, waving one wildly before her. "Nonono, I never studied it because I couldn't find a spell on it! I was majoring in general magic studies under Princess Celestia!"
Twilight winced as Spike at last tripped in his semi-slumber, tumbling bodily down the stairs and yelping on every step until at last he rolled to a stop in an ungainly heap by the front door. Twilight started to grab a notepad with her magic to make a self-memo to install padding at the foot of the stairs before Sunbeam shoved her implements into the telekinetic field.
"Does he know?!"
"No what, Twilight?" Spike rubbed his eyes as he sleepily stumbled across the floor to the pair, blearily looking at the notepad Twilight carried for a moment. "Oh, why do you think I don't know how to take notes?"
"Not notes; knitting, Spike!" Twilight moved out in front of Sunbeam, trying to keep her from getting to her number one assistant.
Spike looked between them as Sunbeam beamed a hopeful smile in his direction and Twilight did her best to hover a large atlas in the way. Thoughts slowly bubbled to the surface as he tried to make sense of the strange situation. "Uh, maybe you should try Rarity?"
Sunbeam stopped her antics as muddled considerations ran through her head and a dozen expressions briefly graced her features. Twilight glared at Spike who shrugged in confusion back at her. Worry sprouted as he wondered how exactly Celestia's assistant had gotten into the library. "I said the wrong thing, didn't I?"
"Oh, no. You only gave Princess Celestia's creepy assistant who woke me up by whispering in my ear while standing on my bed the idea to bug all our friends all night long until she gets answers. What could possibly be wrong with that?" Twilight reflexively reached up and smoothed down a stray lock of her mane as she spoke. In her frustration, she missed Sunbeam sinking flat to the floor and backing away on her belly towards the door.
Spike missed it as well as he realized that Sunbeam would be heading for Rarity's place next."Oh no. You said it, not me. Why does Sunbeam need to know how to knit, anyway?"
"Something about Princess Celestia needing to knit a present for Princess Luna and not knowing how. And Yarnthulu, whatever that means." Twilight turned back to where Sunbeam had been as she spoke, a chill running through her blood as she realized the pegasus was gone. The creaking of the unoiled hinge for the libary's front door confirmed her suspicions and sent a pang of guilt into the pit of her stomach. "Well, now we'll never get back to sleep."
"How'd she get in, anyway?" Spike hopped onto Twilight's back as she wearily began to trot towards her door, hanging tightly around her neck from sleepiness.
"A key Cel- oh no. She might be able to get into our friend's houses as-" Twilight stopped talking as Rarity's ladylike scream echoed through the night and awoke ponies all across the village. Spike clung tighter as Twilight reared up, getting ready to run to the fashionata's house. "Hang on, she can! We've got to catch her if we want sleep tonight, Spike!"
Twilight's leaping start out of her door nearly threw Spike off her back; and the faint sounds of a pegasus being thrown out a window could be heard in the distance. The hunt for the yarny burglar was on.
Granite and basalt crumbled under the punishing hammer blow; the barely restrained fury of the goddess behind it punching a hole deep into the formerly solid stone. Behind Luna, Shining Armor bounced from fright and the shockwave that rattled the corridor. His hooffalls echoed skittishly in the long-abandoned corridor as he scooted farther away from the now furious princess of the night as her telekinetic field flared brighter; her massive sledgehammer swinging backwards until it bounced off the other corridor wall hard enough to leave an impressive dent. Luna's eyes narrowed once more with intense concentration, and her implement of destruction whistled through the air like the cracking tip of a whip, meeting the wall with terrifying force.
"Tis not enough that Tia failed to abolish the nobility after they drove us to madness." Luna strained for a moment as she angrily growled, ripping the sledgehammer from the powdering stone once more.
Thunk! Fwe-CRACK! THOOM!
"Tis not enough that she let us BE FORGOTTEN. Reduced to naught by some mere foal's fable!" The lunar goddess paid no heed to Shining's shaken form as she slowly wedged and levered the massive hammer from the deep hole. Stone crackled and groaned as it was pulverized by the grinding. Her temporary bodyguard backed away several more paces, wincing at the chips snapping from the wall into the air.
Thunk! Fwe-CRACK! THOOM!
"Nay, she had the audacity to let some lesser hooves disturb our forge, OUR INTIMATE HAVEN! And the interloper had the idiocy to change the triggers of our wards!" Luna strained to free her instrument of destruction from where it was nearly entirely buried in the former wall; her aura glowing nearly brighter than Celestia's sun as it ground her weapon free.
A ragged cry broke from her lips as she began to flail at the wall, each hit a ringing crack that dented supposedly unbreakable steel and pulverized rock. Again and again she smashed the wall, her wordless anguish counterpointed by her relentless pounding as the full realization of just how much had changed finally hit her. In her state she didn't even notice the small cuts as granite chips were ejected from her bezerker fight with the wall. The soft noise of steel against magical barrier didn't reach her either; but the feel of its owner grabbing ahold of her and shouting something in her ears did, to the detriment of Shining Armor.
He found himself flung through the air by reflex as she lashed out once more. Undaunted, he picked himself out from the crater his shield had carved into the wall and once more launched himself at her hoping to calm her down. "Your majesty! Princess Luna, please stop! You're hurting yourself!"
Her thrashing at the impediment slowly ceased, her dark form trembling with mixed emotions as she struggled to hold back her tears. Finally, though, she at last sank to her belly, splaying her legs about as she pressed her face against the solid rock below. The realization at long last of just how much time she had missed, of her true friends long having turned to dust ages ago, of how so much of what she had made had been turned into myths at best; it all hit home in a train of misery and loneliness.
Shining's hoof slowly stroked at her shoulder as he laid beside her in the darkness. "It'll be alright, your majesty. We're not all bad nowadays. Your sister did purge the ranks after you, uh, left." Shining slipped his helmet off, lifting Luna's head with his magic and sliding it plumed-side up under her muzzle as a pillow.
Shining winced at the faint dark trails of tears on his charge's cheeks as he continued. "The family has been nobility for a while. Got the title of an old abolished house for kicking an Ursa Major into an Ursa Mini four centuries back. Most of us don't bug your sister, just a few houses she can't touch."
Luna growled deep in her throat, but cut off with a wince as she felt how her aural stress relief had left her throat feeling tender. At the same time, though, she was confused. Never in her time had the nobility cooperated, nor comforted her or Celestia. Or acted selflessly in extreme danger. If it had not been for her sister's kind hoof and the need to rally the masses, they would have all been wiped out at her own will long before she had fallen.
And yet, here was one whispering reassurances into her ear. Luna raised her head for a moment to look at the damage inflicted by her anger, horrified by what a moment's lapse of control had inflicted. A strong white hoof slowly reached up and curled a forelock of hair from her face, before hugging her around her neck.
Shining channeled a bit of his magic into a specialized variant of his shield, gently pushing the multitude of tiny drying rivulets of blood from Luna. His voice had become quiet as he laid against her, knowing that she needed a friend. "Most of the nobility has tried to ease your sister's workload. After most of the real jerks got taken out under mysterious circumstances, the rest have been slowly trying to take the workload off your sister, your majesty."
"Why?" Luna plaintively looked towards him at last, as the adrenaline and initial despair leaked out of her system.
"Why- oh. Well, most of the kingdoms and principalities around fell in the thousand years you were gone. We learned from your sister, and if she ever left us, we'd all be in trouble." Shining slowly tried to break physical contact with Luna, only to find her wrapping a leg around him to keep him pinned in place.
"What happened? What changed?"
Shining winced, remembering how bored history class had left him. "I can't say for certain. I know that in the first hundred years you were gone a lot of bad things happened while your sister grieved. My lil' sis could tell you more, your majesty. Princess Celestia could get you in touch."
Luna laid her head back down at the knowledge of how much her absence had hurt the land, even indirectly. She wished she could take it all back, to go back to the horror she had started. And yet, if she could take it back, Scootaloo would never have been born. With somepony to lean on, Celesta would have never found happiness, never worked so hard to restore the land and make it one worth living in.
"Thy sister, what is her name?"
"You already know her, your majesty. She's the one who, uh, overdosed you on friendship to save you. Twilight Sparkle." Shining Armor perked up at the question, glad to see Luna at last rise up slightly at the name. Before he could react much more than that, the sudden tight hug around his neck began to dim his vision from a lack of air.
"Thank you, Commander. For proving us wrong, and for thy sister. We owe our life to her." Luna nuzzled him once behind the ear, and then released him as she rose to her trembling hooves. One thing left to do, it was time to start again.
"Uh, thanks, your majesty. But what now?"
"Stand back, Commander. We have another way. We suggest down by the stairs." Luna pointed down to the barely visible stairs to the surface, where a strange silvery glow could be seen. A similar glow began to seep though an otherwise unremarkable section of wall; revealing it to be some form of glowing liquid that began to coalesce around Luna's outstretched hoof.
"Your majesty?" Shining tentatively began to push an extension of his shield towards the mystic substance, feeling great power coming from it. The touch of Luna's magic surprised him as she drained away his spell and pushed him away with it.
"Nay, you foal! Do not touch it! It is the light of our moon condensed into liquid form. Your slightest touch would release untold amounts of energy instantly, killing thy foalish self without hope of salvation. Get to the stairs!" Luna's magic shoved him along as she continued to gather her concentrated moonshine to her, great streams trickling down the walls and dripping into a ball gathering at her hoof. She paid no attention to him making a break for it as she continued to gather her energy, beginning to slowly push it into the crater she had created.
Far down the corridor, the white unicorn loped towards the stairs, silently praying to Celestia that Luna wasn't about to get hurt. Heavy hooffalls behind him alerted him to her rapid approach just moments before she scooped him up in a telekinetic field and poured on more speed with her pegasi magic. The slight look of worry and panic on Luna's face frightened him just before she shoved his helmet down on his head and covered his eyes. Rough stone scraped against his belly as she yanked them both behind the curve of the spiraling stairs and pressed them against the curve of the floor.
What followed next could not be described as a sound, only the sensation of a great wind and terrifying pulses of energy washing over him from where they had been.
Shining held onto his charge with all of his magical and physical strength, praying that he wouldn't be ripped free in the onslaught of the magical detonation. The pressure shocks continued for several moments from rockfalls and air rushing back in a screaming wind, until at last it all died down into a slight breeze blowing in from the forge.
Dust choked the air, swirling in obscuring clouds of silicate powder. Luna's hooves roughly reached out of the dust, grabbing Shining's head and yanking him close to her own. Her aura lit up in a pinpoint light that shined roughly into each of his eyes in turn. Shining squirmed under the grip of the princess, breaking free at last to look Luna in the eyes.
"Hold still, Commander. We hath not finished inspecting thee for head injuries. We should not have been so impulsive in our actions." Luna released him as she concluded that he seemed well enough. Her voice had reverted to her original gruff tone as she tried to hide her concern.
"Well, so long as you use less of... whatever it is that was, I'll live, your majesty." Shining Armor blinked in the sudden change in ambient light; trying to identify the source of the mysterious glow which illuminated the dust still swirling.
"Moonlight. Liquefied moonshine. We concentrate it until it is dense enough to be liquid, then release it when we will." Luna hauled Shining Armor to his hooves as she spoke. It was an old trick that was a part of her talent pool that had fallen from favor. "We are unsure of the exact terminology to describe what we just did. How is instinctive, describing it is not."
"Right. But how does blinding me with a hornlight help?" Shining blinked his eyes in confusion, wondering where the stars had come from.
"Light makes the eyes react. If they react improperly, it means thy mind was damaged by the blast. Thou art fine, though." Luna tried to hide her concern as she looked down the corridor once more, seeing faint light from somewhere reflecting in the dark stone.
"I don't know about that. I'm seeing stars." Shining cut off any retort to that that Luna might have; his hoof reaching up and sliding a lock of her now ethereal mane blowing in a nonexistent breeze down into hr vision. The sight of her mane transformed into starfield crashed her mind in disbelief. Somehow, though, Shining wondered what the law said about letting the sovereigns blow stars into their manes.
"Fluttershy, Fluttershy... I need you."
Sunbeam facehoofed as the shy pegasus that looked almost like her twin dove under the bed, letting only the tip of her tail show as she shivered in terror. An orange hoof gently pinned the trembling pink appendage, dragging the scared-stiff mare loose from her hiding place. A gentle hug from behind comforted the butter yellow pegasus. Fluttershy's trembling form calmed and ceased struggling against Sunbeam's grasp.
Gentle murmurs of comfort were whispered into the poor pegasus's ears for several moments, until at last she was released and sat down upon one of the room's many cushions. Sunbeam joined her after a moment, checking out the windows in the brief period before she sat down next to her excitable friend. Luckily, though, the lynch mob out to tie her up with her own yarn had yet to track her down.
"Sorry, Fluttershy. That was very rude of me." Sunbeam held her head low in shame as she sat across from the animal keeper of Ponyville.
Fluttershy shook her head in response Her voice grew cheerful as she spoke, her nerves calming from the thought of helping a friend. "Oh, no. My door is always open for my friends. What's wrong, Sunbeam?"
Rustling filled the air as Sunbeam rummaged through her disheveled saddlebags for the objects of interest. Fluttershy perked up, edging closer to her friend as she recognized the sight of a ball of yarn falling apart from the abuse it had sustained over the course of the night. Her hoof reached up, nudging the ball as if in sympathy for the troubles it had sustained.
Fluttershy 'ooooh'ed in the dim lighting, as she realized what Sunbeam was asking of her. The gentle pegasus got up and approached her companion, picking up the object of attention to get a closer look.
"Fluttershy, please help me. Celestia needs you." Sunbeam pleadingly looked to her, hoping she could help her. "I tried Twilight first, but she didn't know. So she sent me to Rarity, and she didn't know. So I snuck into Pinkie's place. You would figure she would know how for helping her parties, but she didn't know. So, she sent me to Rainbow Dash, who sent me to Applejack. Not even Granny Smith knew. Help me Fluttershy, you're my only hope."
The shy pegasus shook her head, not quite understanding what Sunbeam had said. "Oh no, I really couldn't help Princess Celestia make anything. I'm just a beginner, I'm not even very good." Apologetically, Fluttershy gave her unexpected guest the most innocent look that she could in exchange for her trouble.
Sunbeam jumped up in frustration from her latest failure. The pre-dawn light cast a menacing pattern of shadows across her form as she wracked her brain for something, anything to help her quest to help Luna. "C'mon, please? Celestia just wants to learn the basics so she can give something she made to Princess Luna! She'd do anything if you could help her."
Pink locks of hair swished in the still air as their host jerked back in pleasantly surprised thought. Ideas of all shapes and sizes passed through her head, her decision promptly reversing itself at the thought. "Oh. Well, I suppose I could maybe possibly show her something. That is if she really wants to learn."
Stiffness knew her once more as Sunbeam pounced her; knocking her to the floor in an ecstatic flurry of hugging and hoofkissing and slightly incoherent thank-yous. The poor abused ball of yarn rolled to the floor, unraveling as it rolled towards and down the stairs to the ground level. Neither noticed; Sunbeam because of her victory celebration, and Fluttershy was far busier worrying herself into a state of shock over the pegasus hugging her tight and whirling her about in a dance frenzy slightly above the floor.
Then the knock came from the door, silencing the mini-party, Sunbeam's eyes widening as she realized she was about to be caught. "I wasn't here!" Her harsh whisper grated in the suddenly silent cottage, gaining a meager nod from the still startled and dismayed pegasus.
"Saturday, nine in the morning alright with you?" Slow, gentle nods.
"Eeeeii! Princess Celestia 'll teleport you to her study. She's got loads of stuff there. Be ready, please. Gotta go!" Sunbeam dashed for the window, quietly unlatching it before flaring her wings and accelerating into the air with extreme haste from the sound of further knocking at the downstairs door.
After what seemed like an eternity, bright blue eyes suddenly leaned into Fluttershy's field of view, looking down at her where she laid upon her back. "Oh no! Fluttershy!"
"What, what happened Pinkie!?" Twilight could be heard as she reached Fluttershy's room, clip-clopping across the wooden floors to where the creamy pegasus laid. The faint sound of two more sets of hooves and a pair of wings gently flittering in the air followed the studious unicorn, though Fluttershy couldn't tell from where she remained.
"Look! The blank look in her eyes, the yarn in her hair, the blank look of the icky truth eating her soul! We're too late, Yarnthulu ate Flutterbrains!"
The sound of a hoof faintly impacting a muzzle could be heard as Applejack couldn't contain her exasperation any longer. "Sugarcube, it's too dang early in the morning fer this."
Sunbeam snuck into the royal study, eager to stretch out for the morning in seclusion. The bright sunlit glow of her telekinetic field eased the room's panoramic windows shut and drew the curtains to a light-engulfing close. The diarch in disguise let her magic further flare; the great plume of power breaking apart the latticework of magic that hid and compressed her true form.
Celestia breathed easier as her native colors washed over her once more, illusion ripping free in a dazzling light show. The spectral wind began to brush her mane once more as the binding mana ripped free, her horn fading back into view from the energies. And yet, at the same time, as free as she felt there was a strange emptiness that came with her true form. The alicorn of the sun put her feelings aside as she strode towards her room, glad that she had an hour or two before court.
"Scootaloo? Scooty-Scootaloo?" The white furred diarch glanced about, hoping her daughter hadn't run off to do something rash-at least not yet. Thinking further, she found herself surprised that Scootaloo hadn't been glaring at her from the reading nook in the back from under a pile of yarn. "Scoota- oh. Oh my."
Her golden aura still gripped the handles of her personal room's doors; her form paused in surprise at the sight within. Luna was posed awkwardly, stiff as a statue as Scootaloo and Shining Armor worked to try and make her look asleep. Celestia realized her mouth was hanging open in surprise at the sight, and snapped it shut with an audible clop.
"Uh, this is exactly what it looks like?" Scootaloo tugged at Luna's hoof in yet another attempt to free the spectral mane clutched in a deathgrip before her face.
Shining shot the little filly a desperate look as he kept trying to repose the lunar alicorn. His mind frantically thought thoughts of his marefriend Cadance as he pushed Luna's rump down onto the cushion.
"You mean it really is you two trying to pose Luna after she shocked herself to death with the sight of her adult mane? Oh, good. I'd have hated to have to hand out banishment decrees for the brother of my faithful student." Celestia smiled cannily as she bounded over to Luna, who's eyes faintly quivered in shock still.
"Please don't- wait. 'Adult mane'?" Shining found that his mind had blanked out at the implications.
Scootaloo joined the older unicorn in boggling; even as Luna herself let her eyes widen ever so slightly in confusion and embarrassment. The two attempting to pose her innocently found themselves brushed away by Celestia, as she caressed the elegant new form of the dark alicorn's mane. A gentle nuzzling graced the back of her head between her ears as Celestia took advantage of the moment. "Oh, yes. You see, when a young alicorn either performs a terrifyingly powerful feat of magic or a very special act with their special somepony-"
"Lalalala! Not listening! Ewewewew!" Scootaloo grabbed a great fold of the covers from the day alicorn's bed, wrapping it around her head in a vain attempt to blot out the suggestions from her mother.
Shining instead scooted backwards across the center of the room, ignoring the static building up from his shuffling hooves as he did. "I-I didn't do it!"
"Oh, of course not." Celestia patted both of them atop the head with her magic. And then wrapped them in the glow of a teleportation field, depositing them beyond the boundaries of her chambers. Small whimpers escaped Luna as her elder counterpart turned back to her; drawers opening all around them to give the solar diarch access to their contents for her devious makeover. "Oh, I've been waiting more than a thousand years for this day, Luna. I'm thinking lace..."
The early dawn light streaming through the eastern windows cast deep melancholy shadows across her study; the grey and lonely light brought no warmth to Celestia's soul. The elder diarch of the land sipped her early morning tea as the sun rose over the mountains that Canterlot straddled. She couldn't remember the last time she had a chance to just go out and explore them; to wander the ever winding roads and see what her hooves had wrought from the barren earth that had once been the natural state of her lands.
What a sad, lonely life she'd created for herself. Separated from her subjects, almost separated from her daughter by her workload; even apart from the lands she called home. She took a soft slurp, inhaling the nose-prickling scents of her tea as she did. Just once, one time, she so desperately wished she could do something even as trivial as flying The Ribbons from their Canterlot headwaters to the sea. For even a chance to ignore her subject's fears and just be herself; that wasn't too much to ask, was it?
She sat her tea down on her bedstand, beside the warped helm of Nightmare Moon. She didn't know why she had kept it or what to do with it; but it had only served to deepen her melancholy. The ornate clocks sounded the hour, reminding her of the time and the appointment she had.
A warm breeze tickled her haunches, its passing the slightest sign of her scrying spell being called forth to hunt down her teacher. Rising, Celestia strode to her balcony to look over the heartlands of her nation; the gentle breeze gaining strength to become a rippling wind passing over the lip of Canterlot into the valley below. Every quiet glen, every nook and home felt their sovereign's gaze in that wind for a moment, settling at last in a gyre of agitated air that circled about the forest-side cottage that Fluttershy called home.
Small tendrils of that essence-infused wind found the nooks and crannies of that small and rustic cabin, whistling in with a slight rattle of loose boards. She could feel the pegasus within, feel the nervous mare well enough to grasp, to tug her. Arcane energies reached out to that small cabin, swirled about Fluttershy for a moment as the bridge was made. Golden light spun forth from what appeared to be nothingness in Celestia's room, taking the shape of a cowering pegasus for a moment as the energy reached its crescendo.
Her relatively barren room shook slightly with the release of energy from the dissipating spell; Fluttershy shivering at the epicenter of the swirling wind. The solar alicorn slowly stepped across the soft carpet and tile floor, coming up beside the daisy yellow pegasus to comfort her. Softly, she stroked down Fluttershy's spine with the most comforting touch she could muster. It took a minute, but the pegasus's shivers eased to a comfortable halt as she at last looked up at the royal presence she found herself in.
"Oh, Princess Celestia! I-I... Oh, why do I make such a flutterbrain of myself?" Fluttershy prostrated herself on the floor, avoiding looking Celestia in the eyes as she did.
"Fluttershy, you are not the one who must bow. I owe you more than I could ever tell or repay. Please, rise." Celestia looked to her as she spoke, curling a hoof under Fluttershy's chin to get the pegasus to look her in the eyes.
"Um, okay." Fluttershy reluctantly stood, legs quivering slightly from Celestia's presence as she did. She almost buckled back to the floor in surprise as the solar alicorn lifted the weighted saddlebags from her back and brought them to the bedroom table.
"My little pony, I brought you here because I need your help. You've proven you can be trusted, and more importantly, you know how to knit." Celestia held up the set of knitting needles and a ball of yarn to her guest, hoping for actual help. "Didn't Sunbeam tell you who you were supposed to be teaching?"
"Oh, yes. I just never realized that- that-"
"It really would be me?" Celestia groaned inwardly, pondering how to convince 'shy to teach her without the timid pegasus falling over herself all day. "Would changing myself to be less worrisome to you help?"
"Maybe. If you really feel that is necessary"
The solar alicorn resisted the urge to facehoof, if only just barely as her foreleg twitched against the floor. Gathering herself once more, she cast the familiar illusion once more and shrank herself into mortal form. "Like this?"
Fluttershy nodded numbly, as she realized she could have been looking at the princess at any point over the few years she had known her friend Sunbeam. She reached into her saddlebags in an effort to keep from making even more of a foal of herself, handing the disguised princess a partially completed piece with a shaking hoof. The question sat on the tip of her tongue, and she decided to finally get it out of her head. "Um, how long have-"
"What? Oh. Ever since I hired her. We switch out on a regular basis. I just want to not have everypony bow to me all the time, to be a normal pony. And she rather enjoys my privileges. Now then, how do we start?" Celestia held out the partially complete work to Fluttershy in her currently orange-coated hooves.
The shying pegasus quickly nodded, and held up a pair of knitting needles for her disguised companion. "I need to show you the basic knitting stitch before we can get into more advanced techniques. If that's alright."
Celestia nodded, dutifully doing her best to mimic her companion's movements. Yarn twisted and wrapped around wooden needle as the disguised alicorn fumbled through the movements shown to her. Smiles turned to frowns and then to scowls as the yarn wrapped over and over around the needles. The overwhelmed mare of the sun whimpered as she saw the mess she had made, turning to Fluttershy for help.
"What? Oh. Oh my, I've never seen somepony stitch one wale through another before." Fluttershy crouched over as she spoke, looking through the tangled mess of yarn. "Could you tug on this thread here, please? It should free up enough to fix this. Ohhhh."
"I'm not sure what went wrong..." Celestia reached into the mess as she was shown by Fluttershy, working her needles as she did. To her frustration, she watched as her inexperienced fumbles drew a knot shut instead of freeing up yarn and trapped her hoof in a tight loop of material. "This isn't right at all."
Fluttershy grimaced as her expert hooves reached in with a pair of knitting needles of her own, expediently plucking at the threads in a way that Celestia could only dream of. A deft tug freed Celestia's hoof once more as the timid pegasus' tongue began to poke ever so slightly out the corner of her mouth from her concentration. "Oh, I've never seen anypony cast onto five wales at once."
"I would imagine Pinkie would say that I've done a fairly good job of harpooning this lesson, then." Celestia reached in once more, pinning a section of yarn for her teacher to work with. To her annoyance, the first string that pulled free wrapped around her leg multiple times over in its mad dash to escape. She could only imagine what horrors were to come.
Nightlife chirped in the pre-dawn darkness, only just barely drowning out the sounds of a titan's hammer below the surface and the noise of a town awaking. Battlements grew wet with the morning dew, deadening hooffalls ever so slightly as the guards made their rounds. And silenced those of a prowler on the move. Dim grey light failed to illuminate the nooks and crannies of the ancient posts and gave shelter to the small figure darting forth with improbable speed.
Commander Eaglehoof surveyed his realm, the tiniest wry smirk of joy gracing his face as he did. All was well, no intruders from without, not a missed patrol path within. None could threaten the princesses or any under his protection, no matter what cost he would endure.
Tiny pitter-patters echoed behind him, an intruder on the prowl catching his attention. Sharp eyes darted to the cityside battlements in search of his target. He knew his most infamous prey was close by; no other pony had quite the distinctive gait that she did. Pitter-patters rang slightly throughout the fortifications, seemingly coming from multiple directions as he touched down onto the rough and wet stone. Senses stretched themselves to the limits as he silently stalked towards the tower at the epicenter of the aural disturbances.
He mused on the strange situation he found himself in; an actual mandate to keep Scootaloo in custody and within the castle walls rested in his helmet as he pressed himself flat against the exterior wall. Gleeful thoughts passed through his mind as he soundlessly slipped inside. Shadows darted about the tower interior from reflective puddles and two figures in a game of cat and mouse. The sharp pitter-pattering of hooves passed behind Eaglehoof, the tawny-furred stallion twisting about in pursuit of his prey.
Nothing once more. He turned back, shock widening his eyes as he realized how well he had been played. He threw a hoof between himself and the crackling peril that hovered before him as-
Scootaloo looked down from atop the thundercloud she had borrowed from her foalsitter Cadance, grinning at Eaglehoof still twitching from the epic thunderbolt that had shocked him. A moment was all it took to tie him up, sliding his quivering form under a table in the tower. With the only obstacle that could stop her from achieving her Canterlot shopping spree out of the way, it was time to break out the grappling hook launcher.
The rest of the guards never expected an escapee, their watchful gaze missing her stealthy movements as she set up her equipment on the roof of the tower. She was just glad that Pinkie had loaned her the modified party cannon after having sent home a letter to her. Sights slowly lined up on the unsuspecting building across the way as the little filly took aim, touching off the fuse as soon as she was certain she'd hit her mark. A pity, then, that she forgot Muleton's first law of physics. Finding herself on the other side of the tower reminded her nicely of it, however. It took Scootaloo a few seconds after the forceful air blast to realize she'd missed entirely. Her small frame just couldn't hold the cannon steady on her own.
A few minutes work had the cannon braced with every loose object she could get her little hooves on as she stood off with a remote fuse in hoof. It was now or never, considering that Eaglehoof would soon escape his bonds.
Scootaloo watched with unbridled glee as the grappling hook flew across the gap between the castle and the city of Canterlot proper, wobbling from side to side as she did. The thin steel cable tied to it buzzed in the air as it fed out from the pile it had been rolled up into; it's passage scorching the stone with friction. Filly hooves found their places atop the edge of the battlements as she anxiously watched her line to freedom slowly losing momentum, drooping in midair as it arced down towards the lonely target.
By luck, it landed atop the roof, sliding as gravity tugged at the cable it had trailed. Scootaloo tugged at it and prayed it would hold as she hooked up. "Got to be the craziest thing I've ever done. Got to be the craziest thing I have ever done!"
Steel creaked as she swung out into open air. Damp, cold air rapidly slicked her mane back as she crossed the gap in a riotous screaming rush of adrenalin. Hooves kicked out midair as her instincts warred with her higher thoughts; her wings splaying out instinctively in terror from the sensation of free-falling brought on by her unorthodox escape. Nothing but the roof before her could stop her, she'd let nothing but the roof before her end it.
Granted, a sound not at all unlike a beach ball hitting a five story tall mountain of jello never factored into her plans. Scoots whimpered against the purple-glowing magic force field that had so rudely impeded her progress, painfully aware of yet another of the laws of physics from her encounter. Angry buzz and the acrid smell of magic burning into steel assaulted her senses as the field transformed and cut the zip line that held her. As quickly as she had been crossing the gap, she found herself sliding down the field tailored to her identity; the little filly knowing exactly who to blame for the rude and awkward rubbery noises that plagued her ears as she did.
"Alright, alright. Ten bits, as promised."
"Come on, Scooty. Jig's up, your mom is not letting you run out this month."
Scootaloo painfully glared from where she rested upside down, fixing on Shining Armor and Tenderhoof exchanging bits. The two white-furred stallions closed in on her, Shining wrapping her in a personal magic bubble as he did.
"My Mom, or Princess Celestia?" Scoots was glad her hooves and wings were not the only things she was quick on. One shot was all she had to pull off her escape. Tender, she could outrun. But Shining, well, her sensei could handle him.
Shining patted her on the head through his bubble, smiling knowingly. "Both, Scooty."
Tenderhoof eyes widened almost imperceptibly as a thought came to mind, the white pegasus scanning the battlements for something. The dim and grey overcast morning made it hard to tell, but for a moment he swore he saw a figure clad in black atop the walls.
"So, how is my sneaking out any different from you and Princess Cad-"
Shining jabbed his hoof into Scootaloo's mouth as soon as she began to speak the name. Tenderhoof jumped ever so slightly at the sudden movement and glanced over to see Shining sweating arrowheads.
"You alright, Shining?"
"C-... My betrothed has been rather twitchy about what I've been doing since Princess Luna reopened the Lunar Forge." Shining looked back to Scootaloo as he felt her grin about his hoof, the little devil ready to make her move. "And for your information, we both had our cutie marks before we went out alone."
Scootaloo's eyes crossed, focusing on Shining's hoof as she began to wriggle her tongue around it. Instantly, the hoof shot from her mouth as Shining began to try and shake off the sensation of being violated. Boy cooties were worth it for what was about to happen next. Tenderhoof gave Shining the strangest look as he danced about, his eyes glancing back to their prize as he disregarded his partner's actions.
"So, what did licking him accomplish? You're still bubbly, Scoots. I know you want to ge- why are you smiling like that?"
Scootaloo took the deepest breath she could, her deep gasp of air calling Shining to her horrifying solution. "Oooooh Sensei Ca-"
"-aaadaaaannce! Luna's hitting on your Sweetums again!"
"Sweetums!" The black-clad form swooped from the heavens on pink wings of love, wrapping her hooves around the barrel of Shining's armor. Cadance gave her faithful student a knowing wink as she gripped harder and nipped her fiancee's ear in a playfully dominant fashion. "Mine!"
"Save yourselves!" Shining Armor scrabbled for any purchase he could find for the last few seconds he remained on the ground. The heavy wingbeats of his alicorn lover ripped him out of his shoes and dragged him into the skies towards her retreat.
Tenderhoof glanced sideways with shocked eyes, met by Scootaloo's smug and knowing grin. The pegasus gave her no chance to try again as he shoved his own hoof in her mouth to stop her from siccing Princess Luna or some other terrible fate upon him. Scootaloo didn't care as she began mumbling something around his hoof, an apparently long-winded monologue as her new captor started planning his return to the castle.
"You're not cootie-reflexing my hoof out of your mouth, Scoots. I'm not interested in finding out what hot, delicious moon-love was like 1000 years ago. Oh don't try that pouty face either. You know the Thousand Yard Puppy Plead technique doesn't work on me. Wait just a second, I know I've got- what, what's the matter?"
Scootaloo mumbled what sounded like 'look out!' loudly about the white stallion's hoof. Her eyes had grown wide with terror and she dropped flat to the street; the actions triggering reflexive instincts in her companion as well. Tenderhoof looked up several seconds later, wondering where the threat was coming from. An irritating realization struck him as he noticed he had failed to protectively cover his mark.
"Look out, a convenient distraction. So that's why Eaglehoof always ticked off with her. Stupid cheap trick."
"It's not cheap if it works, Lieutenant. You had her?" Commander Eaglehoof dropped from the skies to land beside his pegasus right-hoof man, his armor blackened and his coat unusually fluffy and cuddly.
"Err, yes. Shining Armor and I set up a trap along her most likely point of egress. She sicced Princess Cadance on him and got me with the-"
"Oldest trick in the book. But it's oldest for a reason, uses our reflexes against us. You need a reason to get going, noodlehoof? She's getting away!" Eaglehoof lightly smacked his subordinate on the back of his head as he spoke. The two flared their wings, taking flight in pursuit of their mark like a pair of guardian angels on a mission from Celestia.
Hammer met semi-molten metal, sparks of magic flowing forth from the impact. Heat forced itself from the very core of the world to twist the armor-work. Hammer met semi-molten metal, its owner forcing her magic into the mythic alloy. The Lunar Forge howled in the blasting wind channeled from the four ducts from the corners of the world, magmatic heat rising from its heart. Hammer met semi-molten metal, driving the natural crystalline lattice from the alloy with divine fury.
Luna inspected her progress, alicorn eyes seeing so much more than even a blacksmith using magic. Her four winds whipped harder about her form; flapping her smith's smock and her tied back mane in the hurricane gale whipping past. Her pool of magma boiled in it's superheated state, a conduit forced directly from the heart of the world. Adamantite, Mithril, and Vibranium shimmered upon the surface of the great molten lake as she drew the legendary metals from the core of the world.
The diarch of the night replaced her hammer upon her tool wall behind her; freeing her full attention for inspecting her work. One of the perks of being in magical semi-stasis for 1000 years was that her skills had remained as finely honed as the day she had been locked away. Her studious eyes scoured the surface and shape of the still white-hot piece, looking for imperfection and misalignment. Magic poured forth as she twisted with all her might; metal groaning as telekinetic force crushed and strained at it. Alloys thought impossible to make or mold bent at her will, forming further into the helm they would become.
Satisfied with the perfection of her work, Luna reached forth and took her hammer once more. The great shutter of the chimney opened and the magic of the moon itself poured forth; silvery strands of energy wrapped the work in their grasp and sank into the silvery form. The very rock beneath Luna's feet roiled from unseen forces as heat burned upwards, reheating her piece once more.
Hammer struck semi-molten metal, crushing it denser once more. Magma from the deepest depths boiled beneath it, heating it white-hot once more. Hammer struck semi-molten metal; Luna wrapping mystic power into her work. Precisely aligned structures channeled energy and drank it down into the rippling layers of crystallizing matter. Hammer struck semi-molten metal; Luna's pursuit of her ultimate work continuing into the night.
The two guardsponies stalked the alleyways of the deep Canterlot markets, shuffling uncomfortably in the enclosed space. The warrens had been built into the uppermost levels of the old mine, blocking the skies above in the smothering embrace of solid rock. Thousands of gazes, not all eyed, uncomfortably glared at the pair through the teeming throngs. All-consuming noise blotted out any sound from beyond a few feet's distance; a hundred deals competing with each other for the same limited spectrum of sound saw to that.
Eaglehoof glanced over the wares, looking for anything that might attract a foal of Scootaloo's age. Noticing just such a thing in the distance, he shoulder-nudged his grudging partner and the two set off across the tight marketplace to take a closer look. Neither noted the slight glint in the shadows of the ceiling that kept itself pointed at them. The throng jostled and churned with movement and nearly swept them away as they made their way to the stand in question.
Their silent watcher crept closer to them, the crowd's dull roar keeping them from hearing the hoofsteps above. Tenderhoof could be seen looking about in suspicion as his counterpart banged a hoof atop the stall countertop. Behind it, the two tall and gangly unicorns manning the shop glanced at each other nervously, their snide commentary muted flat from the distance as the stalking being moved ever closer. A red mustache twitched as the two were shown Scootaloo's photo, its owner pulling an assortment of strange and likely useless items to placate the guardspony before them. Eaglehoof swept them back out of his personal space, the proud commander shoving the photo into the two's face as he started in on a tirade once more. Coins spilled out between the pairs, a bribe by any other name as the unsuccessful unicorns did everything in their power to make the guardsponies go away.
Tenderhoof leaned closer to his tawny superior, whispering an aside to Eaglehoof meant to be overheard by the two ginger-maned troublemakers. Eaglehoof gave his best smile back, before nearly breaking the stall in half as he slammed a hoof down in fury. His voice echoed in a passable imitation of the old royal speaking voice as he swept the coins back at the pair of unicorns in preparation of arrest. "Tell me, which of you two mouth-breathing, noodlehooved, salt for brains idiots thought it was a good idea to bribe the solar guard?"
The watcher in the dark kept her vigil as the unicorn brothers ran for their lives from the irate guard commander. It hadn't been her planned distraction, but it had been amusing to watch. The not at all merry chase pounded a path in the deep markets, even as the pair of guardsponies took to awkward, shallow flight in pursuit.
Scootaloo gave the group another minute to disappear into the further depths of the bazaar before she ripped herself off the overhangs with a stuttering ThthTHOP! of abused suction cups. Stubby foal's wings spread open as she fell and the little orange would-be ghost glided down out of sight further into the deep alleyways. The old cobblestone nearly tripped her as she landed and stumbled to a halt outside of a curious shop she had been observing. A glance to her left revealed nopony looking in the maze of old homes and alleys; a glance right only gave her a glimpse of the unceasing stream of hoofborne traffic back and forth across the plaza beyond.
Scootaloo looked up to the shop's sign, which disturbingly displayed a mummified hand; wondering what it meant. No matter, she had a rare and mystical artifact to find. Well, if she ever figured out what 'mystical' meant. Her still suction-cupped hoof quickly pressed the door open, and her small orange form slipped inside with the slightest whisper of rustling feathers.
"I tell you again, Doo, 25 and no more!" The wizened old voice echoed forward from deep inside the old shop, past the jars of mummified creatures and ancient vases.
Scootaloo paused in her removal of her noisy hoofwear, swearing the second voice sounded disturbingly like one of her mother's old guards. "And I'm telling you, 'uncle', that I'm not parting with any of the ancient coins for anything less than 30. Take it or leave it."
"For you, Doo, and your retirement, deal."
Scootaloo slipped free of the last of her irritating hoofwear, looking to get a glimpse of the mysterious mare at the counter. As she did, the miniature pegasus tugged slightly too hard and toppled backwards into a massive pile of scrolls and elder knowledge in an almighty crash and bustle of scattering papers. A mammoth stony 'whumph!' answered her from the front counter as the sound surprised whomever had been haggling.
"Deal! Got a back way o-"
"Past counter, over the seven fountains of Judo, second left and-"
"'kay, thanks, gotta go!" Rapid hoofsteps faded away into the back of the store, faint sounds of old artifacts tipping over rumbling in the distance as the customer beat her retreat.
"I would ask for one more thing, but..."
A wrinkled old stallion thrust his head around the corner into Scootaloo's face a second later, peering dead on into her eyes. Pegasus hooves tripped over each other as she scuttled back from her observer and over her small mess. "But, I do believe my original customer has already left. Call me 'Uncle', everypony does."
Scootaloo nodded at his suggestion before he bumped her between the eyes on her forehead. The faintest glimmer of orange light flickered from the hoof-tap, just the slightest ember. "Ahh. I thought I saw your mother's eyes. Come, come. I think I have just what you are looking for."
'Uncle' hobbled away, leaning back around the corner of the aisle to wave an old greenish hoof and beckoned the young filly to follow. Scootaloo blinked, trying to clear the vague fuzziness from her vision as she stumbled on after him. The deep, dark aisles of old nicknacks and magic artifacts gloomily rose up about them as the light from the front of the store was slowly swallowed. "What do you mean 'my mom's eyes'?"
"Ahhh, the purple. It is very distinctive. She doesn't even write anymore, not even to her keeper of treasures. When you decide on your gift, you should tell her to write again." The goateed old earth pony kept up his swift pace even as he talked. Somehow, he could squeeze nimbly through even the tightest of gaps that Scootaloo found problems with navigating. Everything around them seemed to grow more primal, and ancient as they continued for an improbably long time.
"Err, I still dunno what you're talking about, my mom is the royal assistant Sunbeam." Scootaloo just barely avoided missing her stride, repeating the lie drilled into her head by her mother.
'Uncle' paused to shift an old suit of armor, revealing a small alcove in the chaos of the shop. Disturbingly neatly organized and lined with tidy shelf after shelf as well as a wall of safety deposit boxes; it seemed completely out of place compared to the rest of the shop. A multitude of items had been carefully sorted onto each of the shelves, mostly locked away behind enchanted glass.
"So that is what she calls herself now. No matter. I have just what you need."
Scootaloo rolled her eyes, shuffling about as she waited in the stifling silence. Oddly modern lighting hummed overhead, further driving her to distraction as her wings fluffed ever more anxiously. The old proprietor seemed to be taking his time in looking for whatever it was he had in mind, opening the boxes one by one to inspect them.
"Ah, the animal talismans. Have been looking for far too long for them."
Scootaloo slowly zoned out as 'Uncle' went on with his search; her eyes glazing over with boredom. Disturbingly, a deep reverberation began to tickle every strand of her fur at once as she continued waiting; growing stronger bit by bit as she uneasily began to look about for it's source. In a daze, she began to reach out towards the nearest shelf as the reverb began to grow into a mind-consuming mechanical klaxo-
THWAP! "Touch NOTHING!" 'Uncle' stood behind her as he spoke, his cuff to the back of the filly's head smarting.
Scootaloo jumped back in surprise as she realized that it had been some strange metal pony skull encrusted in painful-looking wires that had been beckoning her. Looking to the small archway they had entered in by, she found herself shivering even more at the inky blackness beyond the tiny radius of the alcove's lights. "What is that thing?"
"Old. A reminder of things past and yet to come. Has the power to warp minds, would have been very bad if you had touched." The old shopkeeper had dug himself into the deepest part of the largest lockbox, rummaging loudly for his goal.
"Why keep it?" Scootaloo edged back around 'Uncle', looking over his back at the skull. She realized that the air was filled with faint, creepy whispers at the very edge of her hearing; indistinctly trying to tell her great horrors.
"As a reminder. Ah, here we are." 'Uncle' slid free of the box, clutching a small inlaid redwood case between his forehooves as he wormed free. Scootaloo slid back a little, wary of whatever might emerge from the head-sized box as the proprietor tapped it in three places and broke the timeless seal with a hiss of equalizing gasses.
"Ah, here. The last known." With a final clunk of opening locks, the distinctive box opened wide, revealing the small hoof-sized black-inlaid box within.
"Last known what?"
'Uncle' smiled widely as he continued, opening the tiny latch on the small case. Inside, an ornate compass spun lazily about as colors shifted atop its needle in a strange display. Markings Scootaloo could almost, but not quite make out faded in and out atop the dial and within the inner casing of the nautical compass.
"This, young one, is the last known Compass That Doesn't Point North."
"What kind of a lame compass doesn't point nort-OW" Scootaloo found herself lightly bopped behind her ears once more for doubting the artifact before she could finish speaking.
'Uncle' ignored her slight glare as he supported it with a sole single hoof; smiling slightly as it turned first blue and then jade and set itself on two distinct headings. "North does not matter if it points instead to somepony. Here, take it. And think of your mother."
Lightly quivering hooves reached up to the mythic object and nearly flinched away as its needle turned brilliant yellow. Mustering her courage took only a second, however, and she snatched it up. And a brilliant glow burst forth from it with the fury of the sun in response to her grasp and her thoughts.
"As I said, Morningstar. It knows, and shows. So long as she lives it will attempt to point to her, even if it can only spin endlessly." 'Uncle' watched inscrutably as Scootaloo jerked at the mention of her name. "No cost. I was overpaid for replacing the Elements in the old castle."
Scootaloo thought as fast as she could to try and cover for her mother; her ears laying flat back as realized there was no real way to deny him. The old shopkeep reached forward and pressed the compass shut once more for her; shutting the bright light of the sun within its case. "Perhaps it is time to leave."
"I don't really know who 'Morningstar' is." Her protest felt wooden as she was turned around and led back out from the deep, dark realm towards the front of the shop. Feeling strangely short, the journey back was quick and simple. And waiting for her was an unwelcome sight.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the term is 'busted'." Tenderhoof waited by the counter as Eagle stood outside with his two sullen antagonists bound up and waiting for them both.
Nobles twitched at the sound of knitting needles hard at work, many averting their eyes from their fair princess's latest attempt at knitting. All bowed before her as she absentmindedly strolled towards court with her work strung out before her with magic. A few brave souls looked up to see if she had any attention left over to even notice any of them.
A decision that all who dared quickly came to regret as the action brought their gaze to rest upon the... thing, that Celestia was knitting. No mortal mind could dare examine it for more than a few seconds before the impossible geometries and viewing angles would drive them into a shivering wreck pressing their eyes into the floor. It was madness given fluffy form.
The solar diarch paused in her perky stroll, turning to face her favorite nephew where he stood. Despite the cozy mid-afternoon light, he still had his eyes tightly screwed shut for protection. "Oh, Blueblood. Its wonderful to see you again. Why are you squinting like that, though?"
"Have you noticed your little project, auntie? I'm afraid I drew the short straw in asking you to cease working on it."
Celestia leaned backwards as she began to wonder what in Equestria was so objectionable about her knitting. She had the basics down after a nice week of lessons from dear, timid Fluttershy. And after more than 2000 years of multitasking, the princess of the sun found the mildly confusing task of walking and knitting at the same time to be enjoyable. "Oh, Blueblood, you don't need to worry about me. I know it needs a great deal of work, but I only just now learned. And this little sweater is for my d- sister."
"I'm not worried about you, Auntie." Blueblood winced as he felt her tail tweaking his nose. He had already seen her abomination once before, and the glance had nearly driven him to drink. "The court-"
"Is more than capable of minding its own business and staying out of my personal life, nephew. Or have they forgotten about their agreement?" Celestia's voice darkened with past irritation. When Scootaloo was still growing within her, she had decided it was time to finally take her long overdue vacation, and had taken her private hours back one by one from the grueling business of the court. More than once had they attempted to butt in on matters concerning her eclectic personal hobbies, and as far as she was concerned the matter was as good as dropped already.
"Yes, they remember, but-"
"Blueblood, let an old mare have her little foibles every once in a while." Celestia slowly circled her nephew, wondering if he was growing to become as 'noble' as the rest of her hecklers.
"Princess, they don't mind that you are knitting! Your current work has soaked up some of your magic and is harming mortal ponies who look at it!" Blueblood spat it out before his aunt could walk off. Swiveling his head, he tried to keep track of the solar princess's movements as she circled him like a hungry kitten.
Celestia raised an inquiring eyebrow as she listened and wondered what in Tartarus Blueblood was babbling about. "Oh, my little pony, how could something made of yarn hur-" The color struck her, a tri-pronged attack on her perception of time and space alongside incomprehensible geometry and improbable angles. Her knitting needles dropped to the carpet soundlessly as she gave a strangled yelp of surprise at the sight she beheld.
Blueblood groped about with a foreleg and hugged his aunt after a moment of blind searching. "Will you please rid us of it, Aunt?"
"I- uh, yes. I think that would be best, to start over. I- is it bigger on the inside?" Celestia did her best to find words to properly explain her shock as she examined the offending tangle of absentmindedly knitted yarn. Her questing hoof poked at it, and disappeared deep into the loose mass. Her eye was not amused with the rest of her when she leaned in closer to discover that space and time were twisted within the construct as her hoof reemerged from it at an inopportune moment. Getting a hoof in the eye, especially her own hoof, tended to do that.
"Auntie? Aunt Celestia?"
"I will be right back, nephew. I apologize about this, and for assuming you were speaking with the lesser members of the court" Celestia wormed out of Blueblood's grip and teleported away to her most trusted hiding spot.
After a few moments the elder prince of the courts opened his eyes, grumbling to himself as he did. He had hoped Celestia would have just burned the thing on the spot so he could spend time with her. After Twilight, and her 'working vacation' that had been going on for the past ten years, he had wanted to take any chance he could with his favorite aunt. After all, he only had a finite amount of time left in the world with her, and her orange yarn ambitions.
"Orange?" Blueblood leaned in, inspecting the yarn that his distant aunt had been using. "Aunt Luna is a blue and purple wearer. Why would Auntie knit a sweater for her in orange?"
Luna moaned as she did her best to stay awake. After her debacle with one of the land's most recent inventions, she barely even had enough energy to watch her beloved moon rise once more. She sat in the common room of the royal suites in a tired state and struggled to hold her eyes open. The slight smell of smoke still lingered in the air from the defenseless popcorn so utterly fried in the kitchenette of the shared apartments.
Blood throbbed between her eyes as a symptom of her migraine. The pulsing beat of her heart sent itsy-bitsy spikes of pain shooting through her sinuses and brain while a red-hot stick seemingly pressed deep into the back of her eye-sockets. Hissing, she almost laid her head down to rest and to take the pressure off her mistreated head. But the lunar diarch jerked back, barely resisting the sweet siren call of sleep. She still had her m-
She still had 'Tias boots to plan out atop catching up on the most relevant current events for herself. The Neighties seemed oddly appealing to her for some confounded reason. Appealing and familiar, hauntingly so. A deep breath found itself interrupted by the acrid smoke still lingering; disrupting her train of thought as she did her best to fight off the accompanying spike of pain from beneath her skull.
She paused in the middle of a coughing fit, choking back her wheezing as her ears and nose caught the slightest hint of somepony else in the room. Celestia sheepishly paused mid tip-hoofing behind her lunar counterpart, her abomination still clutched in her magic. Luna groggily stood and wobbled over to hug the elder alicorn, trapping her in place.
"Yes, Luna. Please let go, I need to get rid of this before more of our subjects see it."
Blue tinged aura clashed with the golden glow of the noonday sun as the Lunar diarch took the twisted mess of sheeted spacetime and yarn. Luna's tired mind dutifully processed the inelegant folds of twisted dimensions in space and time as she sleepily clung to Celestia's foreleg. "Oh, 'Tia. Thou still reacts badly to failure, doth thou not?"
"Luna, this is rather dangerous. Its making our little ponies sick, I need to lose it." Celestia nipped at the twisted ball of hyper-dimensional space time with her teeth in an attempt to tug it away from her younger companion. Her leg was slightly cramping as Luna held tight to the elder alicorn's shoulder, using her as much as a crutch to keep standing in her tired state as she was in.
"Nonsense, 'Tia. It needs to be studied. Carefully, yes. It doth nopony any good for it to be hidden away, when it could teach our little ponies so much about the workings of folding space." Luna tugged at her elder companion, trying to drag her to a lockable cabinet. Celestia grudgingly wobbled with Luna as the younger alicorn continued.
"Thou hast seemingly become less willing to admit and learn from thy mistakes as thou hast become older, 'Tia. Look at us, notice how such actions effected us. Rejoice, thy mistake is something to take notice of and avoid in the future." Luna wished she hadn't made such a grand proclamation as her head throbbed in answer to it. With a final flourish of her magic, Luna slid the eldritch mess into her private cabinet and locked it fast.
"And what does this have to do with protecting my little ponies?"
Luna gave her elder the faintest of concerned looks as the tone in Celestia's voice worried her. "Thou art smothering them, 'Tia. Let them make mistakes, let them hurt themselves. They will not think you the lesser."
The solar princess raised an eyebrow at Luna's semi-accusation. "Let them? They're more than capable of making mistakes on their own. No, they don't need their princess setting a bad example for them." Celestia kept her voice even and quiet as she spoke. Luna found herself being gently rested against the foot of the communal couch with a downy blanket draped across her.
"Too hard on thyself, 'Tia. Far too hard on thyself."
Celestia ignored her lunar counterpart, stepping to the darkening window in introspection and inspection of the deep orange sunset. Finally, after a time she at last spoke softly. "Then why do I feel like I'm failing them?"
Luna's breath hitched for a moment as the echoes of her own fall whispered hauntingly in her ears. "Thou art not, 'Tia. Trust us. No more than we were failing them. Keep trying. We did not become master of our forge overnight, after all. Thou might wish to wait on blind knitting for a few years, however."
Celestia calmly avoided talking further even as a dark blue ball of yarn impaled itself on her horn in the grip of Luna's magic. "Thy daughter keeps on attempting to make an abacus for us despite her... inprofficiency; we continue to forge our present for thou despite four days awake and our continuing research into troubling issues. The least thou can do for thyself and thy ponies is to keep going and never doubt thyself."
"One to talk, yourself. Though, if I might ask, 96 hours on coffee? Not good, I've tried." Celestia carefully slid her newest attachment from her horn. "Just not enough of me left for everything at the end of the marathon. Not enough of me left for much of anything now."
The solar diarch paused with her hoof poised just before her door, realizing that a terrible mistake had just been made. Whirling, she turned to her young counterpart to find her buried in the kitchenette's refrigerator. The starry tail of the time-lost monarch quivered like Pinkie Pie with an attack of the twitchy tails as she made great and terrible slurping sounds from within.
"What have I done?" Celestia rushed to the side of the moon princess, unsure of how best to pry the chilled mug she had from her muzzle. "I did it again, I just doomed us all to the night that never sleeps. Luna, please don't drink anymore, its not-"
"Huzzah! What nectar of the moon is this? I know this drink! We must have more, it hath made us ready for the week already!"
The Crown Princess of Equestria wondered if it was possible for herself to be brought up on treason charges for introducing Triple Expressos to the the night princess. It couldn't be any worse than burning retinas with 7-D knitting. "Luna, put the coffee down. Please?"
Slurps answered her. "Please?"
Celestia glared at the implement of her frustration, daring it to mock her once more as it had the day previous. The lunar blue yarn sat there, unheeding of the solar death glare attempting to burn holes in it with ill intentions alone. Her hooves darting forth with intent to mangle, Celestia roughly stabbed the yarn with her picks and dragged the tip free of its messy home.
Magic enhanced her sight and reflexes as the thrice-defeated mare of the sun did battle with her most successful foe. The fearsome clicker-CLACKing of knitting needles rang through the air with the speed of a rainbow (Dash). Intense concentration built from more than 3000 years of life experiences held each stroke within the latticework as the diarch of the sun performed her miracle.
A blue sleeve slithered into existence from her needles as Celestia kept at her latest attempt to produce something wearable. It wasn't the prettiest of knits, but her magic held the emergent fabric within the normal dimensions of the realm. Celestial telekinesis drove the sleeve to fold back upon itself to form a liner, a deft knitting spree hooking it to itself and anchoring it all together.
Celestia gave her creation a stern glare, daring it to do more than sit there quietly and obediently. Something about it was still slightly off, some angle or magical current in the midst of the impossible. With a flourish, though, she slid the completed sleeve onto her horn for safekeeping and began again.
No rest for the weary.
"So Mom, why has Luna been jittering like Pinkie Pie with a Twitchy Tail all week?" Scootaloo gave her matron a stern look past the counter they were sharing breakfast at as the lunar diarch kept up in her manic history trawl behind them.
The young orange pegasus graced her regal mother with a strange look, before inspecting her other relative once more. Sure enough, a Starbucker mug was hidden amongst the clutter of history books and almanacs. Shudders wracked her form as she wondered how long Luna could last before twitching out all over the throne room from drinking too much of the stuff.
"Mom, if she flips out and declares that nopony shall ever sleep again-"
"We make a mistake just once, and never hear the end of it. We are not going to make everypony stay awake forever. How would we gain the time to finally catch up and work upon our forge?" Luna reached past a book detailing the full integration of Equestrian society as she spoke and drug her coffee mug out once more to partake of it's caffeinated goodness.
"Yes. Now everypony will heckle me for introducing you to coffee and your all night forging sessions." Celestia light-heartedly joked with her young counterpart past her own newspaper. The first petitioners asking for the shutting of the lunar forge had arrived only the day before, asking for the source of the infernal racket that rang across Canterlot each night.
"Yeah. Kinda loud, Luna. Really cool seeing the giant column of fire and smoke coming out of the mountainside, but really loud." Scootaloo scratched in several more answers onto her homework as she spoke. An idle questioning thought passed through her mind; wondering why she always ended up with more homework whenever she was in Canterlot.
Celestia absentmindedly nodded in assent. "The 'Keeps everypony from Fillidelphia to Ponyville awake every night' kind of loud."
Luna looked up to her companions with wry and sarcastic displeasure. "Yes. Our forging from the very heart of the world would perhaps do such a thing. Very well. We shall install one of the modern devices, a 'muffler', we believe? Yes. Perhaps thou shalt sleep without the comforting lullabye of progress tonight."
Scootaloo choked her chuckles into a pained snort as her mother merely closed her eyes in mirth. Celestia spoke once more, jabbing home with her retort. "Yes, I suppose one could call banging on mithril until it relents begging for mercy 'progress'."
"Say what you will, 'Tia, but we are far better able to work with it than thy pitiful 'smiths'. If we were not, why, we would still be working on thy and thy youngest daughter's gifts." Luna snapped her book shut as she spoke. The slight shock on the rest of her family's faces was more than worth it.
"Mithril?" Scootaloo's eyes widened in awe of the sheer awesome of owning anything made of the nearly unworkable and invincible metal.
"Yes. Well, tis actually our own unique alloy of mithril, adamantium, and vibranium. Tis what we forged the settings for the Elements from." Luna counted the seconds down in her head, smiling without even needing to look as Celestia's utensils dropped as her magic failed her.
"Alright, Luna. I gotta call you on that. No way you could'a made those three play together." Scootaloo spoke up as her mother continued to stare into space.
"Tis true that they are hard to work with together. But, heat from the core of the world itself helps. As we said, we are already done."
Celestia shook out the slight surprise at the revelation of Luna's true talent with metal. "Oh. Well, I did finally get your presents knit as well. Though I must say that I wish I had never learned to knit."
"What, with you going around knitting holes into the world? That was awesome!" Scootaloo pumped a hoof in the air at the thought.
"And making everypony sick whenever they looked at it. So, you never did tell me what was so important that you had to leave the castle without permission. Oh, I think I can guess, though I would imagine you'd like to show us instead." The solar diarch hid her face behind her newspaper, remaining steadfastly unreadable.
"Yeah, I need to work on hiding what I do more. I did get some things."
Celestia's brow furrowed in thought, a realization striking. If everypony was done, why wait? Her magic snaked out into her room, grabbing the sweaters she had crafted and brought them out into the common room just out of sight. The faint glow of Luna's own magic alerted her to her counterpart's own thoughts as several angular objects slid beneath her table.
"So, if I am done, and Luna is done, and my little pegasus is done then what exactly are we waiting on?" Celestia set her newspaper down as she spoke. It wasn't all that interesting anyway.
"Tis a good question, 'Tia." Luna slowly slid her books away from her in anticipation. She would have to hide her own present for Celestia in her books: and Celestia wore shoe size 'extra-super-jumbo', so she needed the room.
"Uhhh, I'm gonna have to go gr-saack!"
Scootaloo paddled the air as her mother's telekinetic field picked her up and slid her towards the elder diarch. Fabric squeezed over her head and down her form in a tight and smooth embrace. Tingling magic clutched to her form, the soothing warmth of her mother's power buzzing at her from all angles. Murmurs of confusion echoed from her alicorn family at her coverings, and the reaction they had to her.
"Moooom! You know I hate it when you pick me up like- Whoa this is cool." The little orange filly marveled at the thin black sweater clinging to her. It was like a warm breeze was wicking at every strand of her fur, and soft as her mother's morning light. "Best. Sweater. EVEEER"
Celestia looked down to her hooves, then back to her daughter's outfit. It had been orange, and distinctly unmagical only a short time before the little filly had been stuffed into it. Luna put her own hoof on Celestia's shoulder as they watched Scootaloo free-float midair, twisting and turning to inspect herself. With a grin the size of a small manticore, Scootaloo's wings began buzzing furiously and slowly drove her towards her own room.
"I have no idea what just happened. I know I had nothing to do with the enchantment on that. It was-"
"A mess, 'Tia? We know. When we started out, we encountered similar oddities. In time, we came to recognize it. For now, we may need to give her a helm." Luna's magic caught the young daughter of the sun by the tail; long enough for the night princess to slip on a strange angular helmet onto the pegasus's head. Scootaloo squawked and protested as Luna did her deed, her wings buzzing faster into an almost droning roar before the night diarch released her. Shortly afterwards, the filly's new helmet passed its first stress test with shining colors as Scootaloo shot into her room in pint-sized recreation of a sonic rainboom.
Celestia scowled at her dark counterpart's innocent grin. "Why, exactly did you work her up?"
"We test our work. Twas just the final proofing. And before thou asks, yes we were fully assured that she wouldst survive intact." Luna slid back from the azure sweater hovering threateningly close to her face. The garment was held aloft in the grip of Celestia's magic, sticking close to its intended owner.
"Mom! Stop it! I'm pegasus, we're built for going splat at high speeds! I don't need babying!" Scootaloo's indignant shouting interrupted whatever Celestia was about to do. Sounds of belongings getting tossed out of drawers followed her voice out and distracted the celestial diarch.
"Mmm. We find this exquisitely comfy."
Celestia raised an eyebrow in inquiry as Luna trotted about, stretching out her new sweater that gleamed with the faint lights of the stars. Words died on Celestia's lips as she wondered how Luna had gotten into it so quickly. Her attention had only been diverted for a few seconds, nowhere near enough time to entirely squeeze into it or even do so comfortably. She raised her hoof to her chin to scratch at it in pondering wonder. The odd feel stopped her, and Celestia found her leg clad in a segmented armored boot painted in white and gold.
"Yes, our present. We know how thou enjoys thy hikes through thy lands. Cloud lines them, and they are enchanted to disguise themselves using thy own illusions." Luna preened at one of her wings nonchalantly to cover her smug, sly grin.
"Alright. How did you get them on?"
"We shalt not bore thou with the details. Tis a technique we pried from our niece Cadance during our Modern Equestrian lessons with her. Her 'Swift Romantic Reclothing' technique? Nay, that tis not the title"
"I won't ask any further then. And, I need to apologize for my slight outbrust concerning Scootaloo. It's a subject of concern for me." Celestia circled Luna with grace and comfort in her new leggings. Each step she inspected with immaculate precision from the way the light reflected to the slightest noise any step might produce. Luna's quality had not dropped at all in her banishment.
"Tis motherly to be concerned with her wellbeing."
"No, it's mushy. I feel all soft and tender just listening." Scootaloo sat in the doorway to her room with her two presents behind her. She was eyeing the pair with concerns that they might try and drag her to a hug club or something. "I uh, don't have much. I kinda had to find mine instead of making them."
"Oh, Scootaloo, it's the thought behind it. I don't mind it if there wasn't much you could give." Celestia leaned down to Scootaloo to inspect her helmet as she spoke, marveling at the strange transparent visor that protected the eyes.
"Um, yeah. Luna, I didn't know what to get for you. I mean, you've got a telescope and hammers and, er, stuff. But I did remember how you were grumbling about numbers the other day." Scootaloo dug into the box she had drug out of her room and pulled free a frame made of the richest mahogany one could find. The brilliant beads strung out between the sides glistened with their enamel finish and slid back and forth as the orange filly wobbily presented it to Luna.
Her hoof quivering ever so faintly with admiration, Luna took it from Scootaloo and admired the dedicated craftsponyship required to make the abacus before her. Softly, the lunar diarch at last spoke as she cradled her gift to herself. "We... how didst thou know? We have sought for something like this since our return."
"Well, you were old-timey, it was old-timey. I figured, well, if they used 'em a jillion years ago you'd want to use one now instead of a calculator." Scootaloo brushed off the praise with a wave of her hoof.
"Old... timey? Oh, thou means antique! Well, yes, we are. As is thy mother. We shall ignore thy accidental slight and proceed with enjoying our delightful present." Luna swept Scootaloo up into a hug of nearly crushing proportions as she spoke. Her other unoccupied foreleg cradled her gift as she grinned at Celestia.
"Yes, I'm old. Old enough to remember your ticklish spots and how to sneak up on you in the middle of the night." Celestia pawed at the floor in enjoyment of her new hoofwear, pleased enough to ignore the light ribbing.
"Well, old enough that if I wanted to get a present for you from when you were a filly, it'd end up being two rocks to make fire with. So, I gotchya this instead." Scootaloo managed to slide slowly out of Luna's semi-headlock and dug out her other present. Luna paid no attention to the scurrying menace as she calculated away on her gift.
Scootaloo shuffled over to her mom with her ornate present on her back. Its relatively miniscule size clashed with the sense of power emanating from it as Celestia picked it up with her magic. The little orange filly watched as her mother brought it up to eye level, and ever so slowly opened it. The solar diarch's eyes drew first narrow in confusion, before growing wide in bafflement as she looked down at her daughter.
"A compass that seems to be broken?"
Scootaloo nodded as Luna furrowed her brow and looked up. "A Compass that Doesn't Point North."
Celestia's jaw worked for a moment as she attempted to place where the phrase seemed to have come from. Then the metaphorical mage light burned brightly above her horn as she saw how shocked Luna had been when she heard the name. Why, Luna was still fumbling her abacus from hoof to hoof from the shock. The Compasses, mystic guides to what couldn't be found any other way and long thought lost forever.
"Which one?" Celestia spoke quietly as she inspected the lost object closely.
"Tis the last. The Compass of the Loved."
"Yeah. I figured, since you already had everything you actually wanted, you'd want something that told you what you already have. Us, no matter how far we go, no matter what happens. Us, together."
Celestia wearily scribbled her signature into yet another of the blocks of the quintuple-duplicated form. A small part of her cursed whatever misanthropic, self-hating, bored sadist that had come up with the concept of paperwork; then another reminded her that she only had herself to blame. She should be with her daughter enjoying their precious evenings, instead of filling out notices of a change of celestial body ownership for Luna. As she dipped her quill back into her inkwell to continue signing, a small tapping against her withers interrupted her.
Celestia turned to her right, looking down to her youngest daughter. In her teeth she clutched a notice poster for one of the latest attractions of the modern night life, one of the infamous 'Monster Buck Rallies'. A smile graced Celestia's muzzle before she patted Scootaloo on the head in pity.
"No, my little pony. We can't go, I have paperwork to do so I can transfer the moon back to its rightful owner." Scootaloo's lip trembled in disappointment as she continued to stare at her mother. "No, Scootaloo, I can't put it off. We're stuck away from home until it's done." The trembling lip was joined by quivering, soulful eyes. "If you can find another to be your adult supervision, you can go, Scootaloo."
"MPPHHH-HOOO" What would have been an exuberant cry of youthful joy was swallowed up by the muffling crinkling of the poor abused poster.
"Princess Cadance doesn't count. Anypony who calls herself a 'Love Ninja' needs the supervision themselves." A small whimper was the only response Scootaloo had. "Luna might, as would Eaglehoof or Shining Armor." Scootaloo's ears, formerly laid back in worry perked straight as she heard her mother's suggestion. "You grabbed a poster off the board before the glue was dry again, didn't you?"
Celestia smiled lightly at the muffled yes from her daughter. "Well, Luna has the ungluing agent. If-"
The door to Celestia's study slammed shut as Scootaloo ran to get her mouth free, her soft pitter-patters of hoof on hard flooring fading away as she ran. Quill dipped into inkwell once more, the wax of the royal seal melting over a small open flame in preparation to shut a letter. Celestia inspected the densely printed page, comparing it to the thirty left to go. And their forty brothers.
"Monster... Buck... Rally? We must ask, what manner of madness is this?" Luna held up the poster she had ripped from Scootaloo's mouth. Tiny stylized overmuscled stallions of all races were depicted across the panorama as a hint of what was in store. Luna glanced down to the information section, where some small part of her mind understood the abbreviations and lingo within. Curious.
Scootaloo massaged her raw lips with a hoof; wishing that Luna has read her note before just ripping it out. "You know, where a bunch of stallions get together in an arena for wrestling, smashing some stuff the producers found, that sort of thing."
The lunar diarch's room sat still at the nonchalant explanation as its master paced. Luna took a moment to cast a healing spell on Scootaloo as she pondered the implications of what her family member had said. "An exhibition of the greatest feats of strength, cunning, and martial acts of this time? Why doth thou believe we are interested?"
Scootaloo shrank down against the carpet as she was subjected to Luna's piercing gaze and the echoes of the still barren room. "Uh, I kind of didn't. But Mom wanted me to have adult supervision and she said Princess Cadance didn't count. And Shiney is going to be busy that night, Twilight is in Ponyville, and I don't know who else to turn to. Please, Luna?"
"Why doth she consider thy Aunt Cadance not trustworthy enough to guard you?" Luna closed her book at last as she devoted her attention to the problem at hoof. Her memories of the Neighties could wait for a time.
"Because she loves her job as much as she does Shining Armor, and I'd be the trusty one of us. Big, big show and the press and Mom having to take something for the stomach problems she'd get. Probably a bad idea, even if it would be even more entertaining than the show itself." Scootaloo drew a small pictogram of Cadance sneaking about the Canterlot Arena helping everypony find love and joy in their lives, with two smaller ones of a crowd of ponies crowding a sick looking Celestia alongside a drawing of herself chasing Cadance while carrying a giant sign saying 'No'.
"See? Really bad idea."
"Perhaps thou has not thought this entirely through. Princess Cadance shall attract the attention of the modern vultures known as the 'press' for her antics. We, however, shall require no antics to attract them. Our mere presence escorting thou would inspire a great and terrible event that would give thy mother the worst sickness the world hath ever known. The speculation alone would be enough to inspire years of these 'reporters' to hound us mercilessly no matter where we dared travel." Luna stood and slowly circled about Scootaloo as she spoke. Her echoing hooffalls against the marble floors leant an ominous tone to her voice as she prowled and prayed that Scootaloo had a better plan.
"Well duh, 'course I knew about that. That's why you're not going as yourself! You'll be my big sister Moonbeam, and Cadance can come along so you don't slip into your old-timey Equish. It's the perfect plan!" Scootaloo hopped into the air at the height of her proclamation, her wings buzzing furiously with excitement as she did.
Luna rubbed at her ears one at a time, clearing the ringing in them that had come from the excitable filly's shout. "Surely thou jesteth. Surely?"
"Nope! Gotta buzz, Luna. I'll be right back!" Scootaloo dropped to the floor and ran for the door, nearly bowling Luna over in her haste to recruit Princess Cadance for her mad scheme.
"But we hath not agreed," Luna said as she stared after the little filly in confusion. She then turned to the drawing Scootaloo had left behind and gently picked it up. Luna studied it as her mind rumbled down a train of thought. While she wasn't particularly interested in the dubiously entertaining show, she still had far more extensive considerations at hoof.
"Well, 'tis not like we needed that night anyway."
"So, I've got to get you trained in speaking modern Equish and undercover in-" The pink mare of love itself opened her pocketwatch, frowning at the date displayed. "- A week. Well, I'm sure I've faced more difficult challenges. I can't think of any right now, but they'll come to me."
Luna glanced down to her side, where Scootaloo clutched a Cadance sports flag in her mouth. She decided it would be better not to ask where her young companion had produced it from. "Yes, charming. We have the utmost confidence that thou will do something for us."
"Princess Luna? There isn't any need to be excessively formal today. This is going to be awkward enough already." Cadance gave a slight smile to her protege as she clicked her forehooves together in unease.
"Tis the problem at hand. Since we returned from our exile we have been unable to talk except in the royal 'We'. We consider it to be our greatest obstacle against successfully infiltrating undetected." Luna kept herself from following Cadance's pacing as the younger mare began planning her elder's social rehabilitation.
Cadance frowned at the specificness of the complaint and gave her aunt a puzzled look. "That... doesn't make any sense. So, no first pony at all, or is it some form of verbal tic for the word 'I'? I ought to ask Twilight if she has any-" Cadance stopped at the frantic headshaking of her student and began to wonder just what exactly was between her and Luna. Her hoof pawed lightly at the hardwood floors of her tower in agitation over the issue as she leaned in closer. "Yes, Scootaloo?"
Luna slipped a hoof in between them to defuse a potentially messy chain of events. "Twilight would inquire more than is necessary, Cadance." Luna's face twitched oddly as she continued to speak, her eyes shiftily looking about as she did. "Our- urg- sister would be informed. We would prefer to avoid the amusing antics of her involvement."
"Shouldn't Aunt Celestia know already?"
Scootaloo giggled around the flagstick in her mouth and ignored the gentle jab from the lunar diarch. Luna cleared her throat and kept talking past her. "Nay. Rather, she believes that we are being archaic either to be contrary or that we are merely taking our time in fully reintegrating. We hath no interest in correcting her." Steadfastly she kept her gaze straight ahead, avoiding the distractions of Cadance's slow browsing of her bookshelves and Scootaloo's exuberance for her teacher.
"Right. You know what? I'm not even going to ask. Do you have any means of hiding your identity? I know it goes against your nature, but it'd help out. I mean, sure it'd be easier to hit everypony with a 'Work it Out' charm if they're all prostrate or trying to steal a piece of your mane, but Aunt Celestia would make me work through my ministry for a month." Cadance mused aloud as she searched through her jumbled collection of books, reports, and paperwork. Finally though, she paused her hoof at a particular favorite of hers and she eased it gently from it's home.
"Yes, you have a disguise or yes, you agree with me?" Cadance floated over her book, looking at the title with anticipation of everything she would be teaching her newest aunt.
"Yes, we hath a disguise nearly foalproof in richness and impenetrability. We think." The lunar diarch deadpanned back to Cadance, patiently restraining her charge as she did.
Scootaloo gave a muffled 'yeah!' for a moment before confusedly pausing to look at her cheeree.
"Think? Oh aunty, this is going to be bad. Okay then. 'How not to be Heard; The Art of the Lingo'. Everything and more about how to talk and converse in a way that makes everypony ignore you." Cadance clip-clopped happily at the thought of formally passing along everything she knew to a fellow alicorn. Especially the lessons on helping her find love herself. "So, do you want to start at the heart of the matter? Say 'I'."
"We." Luna's eye twitched ever so slightly.
Luna inhaled deeply, her face growing red through strain as she tried to force out that single letter word. "Urghh- ah! Wee-eeeee ARRG!" Her voice pitched dangerously up in volume as she spoke, it's titanic power from her struggle blowing the light and casual tiara from Cadance's head to where it embedded itself quivering in the wall. The small Cadance sports flag fell from Scootaloo's mouth as it hung open in shock; and her sensei vigorously shook the surprise from her system.
"Well okay. Is everypony okay? Okay. Let's not do that again." Cadance smoothed her mane with a trembling hoof before ripping her poor abused light tiara from the plaster of the wall. She hardly noticed its bent state before she set it atop her head absentmindedly. "I guess we had best start from the beginning, then."
Scootaloo looked at her sensei with worry and uncertainty, wondering how Luna would react. Cadance had a tendency to solve problems that defied her in a way that could be confrontational, after a fashion. The lunar diarch raised her eyebrow in inquiry to her young companion as the pink alicorn before them began humming.
"Tell us that she is not-"
"Wish I could."
Cadance's humming grew to a crescendo as she rose fully to her hooves and spread her wings wide as she broke into song. "Word by word, putting it together~!"
"Kill us now."
Tenderhoof grumbled gloomily as he stared across the formal entrance to the royal apartments at his inexperienced partner. The almost-foal nodded once to him before slipping into the small guard post in the side room. With only Celestia within, the posting wasn't as necessary as normal, but it was maintained for necessity's sake. Just as he was about to sigh and take up counting the pieces of decorative molding on the wall, a damp 'thunk' came from between his forehooves. A cupcake, of all things, with a string attached to it.
"Scootaloo, the 'cupcake filled with sleeping potion' trick stopped working a hundred years ago. What's so important that it requires me being out cold?" The guardspony listened carefully, noting where the muffled 'darn' had come from. Poking his head around the corner, he found the little orange menace hunkered down in thought as she tried to work out a plan B. "Right behind you, you know."
"Oh. Uh, yeah that was kind of a stupid idea. You've gotta help me, though!"
Tenderhoof fought down his guards training as Scootaloo pounced on him and took ahold of his breastplate. The little filly had a wild look of desperation in her eyes as she buzzed her wings in an attempt to drag him along someplace. A frown emerged from him as he contemplated what strange worst case scenario could possibly drive her to willingly ask any of the guards for help with her problems. He hoped it was one of the strange kind, anyway.
"Scootaloo. Count of three, or else I'll have to do something about your clinging to me." He glared down into her eyes as she clung to him, calmly beginning his count. "One."
And that was more than enough as she immediately dropped to the floor in a graceful landing. Scootaloo quickly straightened up as Tenderhoof readjusted his breastplate back to its proper fit, waiting patiently for her chance to speak. After a moment, the guardspony clopped his hoof against the carpet to signal that he was ready for the little filly to babble out the explanation of her woes.
"I was helping Miss Cadance with a project of hers and she got all frustrated because something wasn't working right! Then she decided to try and focus herself by singing and she's been stuck in a musical number for the past thre-"
"Whoa! No! No-no, no, No! The royal guard division is banned from getting involved in any musical event in the palace. I'm in enough trouble from letting those con artists down in the lower markets get Eagle and me riled up, I don't need to bring the Sun down on my head for encouraging Cadance's problems with music." Tenderhoof scuttled back from the favored filly of Luna in something that more resembled terror than prudence; waving his hooves before him in warding off the horror of getting caught in another musical event.
"But you'll please the Moon! Think about it, you'll be in a prime position to be in Luna's personal guard if you help us. And Princess Celestia will understand if you're doing it for her extra special only family in the whole wide world." Scootaloo followed him, advancing on him in a way that reminded him of how Princess Celestia would lay the pressure upon some hapless noble. The little pegasus kept coming after she rapidly maneuvered him into a corner and pressed her hooves against his chest as she looked him deeply in the eyes.
"Look, Scoots, I can't just leave my post even if it is for Luna, or if I wanted to confront whatever dark magic Cadance uses in her songs. It's just-"
"-Just what, exactly?" Scootaloo pressed harder against him, summoning some strange show of force as her gaze drew him deeper. Her voice had some slight echo in it as she spoke; some aura or sense of power that made him listen very carefully to every word that she had to say. "Just afraid? Just unwilling to work for one of the rulers of everypony who needs your help? Just worried that Luna won't help those who help her? I didn't know Princess Celestia and Mom allowed the guard to hire cowards."
Tenderhoof's demeanor changed instantly at the accusation, a new light in his eyes as his sudden movement bounced Scootaloo to the floor. "You win, you sneaky little- err, well, point me towards them, I'll have Cadance getting too snogged by her 'sweetums' to think about singing anything."
"I don't know if that's going to work."
"What? Why?" Tenderhoof never noticed the pink leg wrapping around his neck until its owner tightened her grip and dragged him backwards across the marble floors. His helmet tumbled to the ground as he watched Scootaloo in shock before he himself was twirled by Cadance to join a small throng clustered behind her.
"-Word by Word~ Thought by Thought; Luna's new voice is going to be so hot!" Cadance pushed her 'volunteers' towards the stairs with her magic, singing all the way as she did. Several pegasi guards watched warily from outside the windows as she walked on, all of them flinching down out of sight as she glanced their way.
Scootaloo's small forelock of mane drooped ever so slightly over her eye as she watched her plan fall apart. Sure, she had others, but none were ready to go. The soft thud of the old oak doors to the royal quarters alerted her to the new guard coming out and returning to his post.
"Say, kid. You wouldn't know where Lt. Tenderhoof went, do you? He said he'd cover for me."
Softly, quietly in reverence of the sacrifice Tenderhoof was about to make, Scootaloo responded. "Princess Cadance got him for her musical number."
The new guard's armor rattled loosely as he shivered in horror behind her. "Oh, wow. The poor guy was a good guard too. Hey, he left his muffin behind!"
Scootaloo twirled about to the bleach-white pegasus behind her so she could watch him. He had already taken a great bite out of the delicious trap and was noisily swallowing it down bit by bit. "Mmmm! Omnomnom, this thing is delicious! It's like somepony took a cloud and made it out of sugar. Got a funky aftertaste, though- tastes like-"
He never got a chance to finish as his eyes rolled back in their sockets. His limp body crashed bonelessly to the floor before the orange filly, splayed out like some poor squirrel hit by a train. 'How does Mom make her plans work? This is harder than it looks. I wonder what my Plan C will be.'
The almost metallic slicing of mage-armored wing on mage-armored wing drew Celestia from her work. The guards could be over-enthusiastic at times but they had never moved to defend her in her sanctum before. Her quill clattered to the desk as the paperwork was forgotten, the solar princess rising to face whatever threat had come for her. It wouldn't be the first time she had stood within her own room to do battle, and it wouldn't be the last. Two soft thumps of guards hitting the door hurried her pace once more. Moments were all that it took to unweave the spells upon the wide doors of her study and fling them open for her inspection.
"Hi Princess Celestia! Can I talk to you?"
Celesta's gaze was drawn to the floor, where Scootaloo had put forth her bravest and most innocent face. Scootaloo, standing in the guard's position in place of her brave soldiers. Celestia's uncovered eyebrow raised as the faint sound of two bodies clattering in their armor reached her ears from above. Looking up, their forms were clearly visible as the pegasi hid in the farthest corners of the doorframe from the harmless little filly.
"Really, now? If you wouldn't mind, gentleponies, would you please get down before you make any more of a scene? Why in Equestria are you so afraid of little Scootaloo here?"
The two guards looked to each other, quivering in fear of the doom that Scootaloo heralded. Even so, the two slowly lowered themselves to the ground as they answered their royal commander; all but hugging the white marble walls as they moved.
"She's a herald of doom!" "A bringer of cheerful gloom!" The two looked at each other over once more and spoke as one. "She'll bring Princess Cadance here to drag us to a musical fate!"
Celestia looked from one guard to another in exasperation before turning to her filly of affection. Scootaloo beamed a smile as best she could; seemingly so innocently that a halo was hung above her head. A sigh escaped Celestia's lips as she began to withdraw back into her study. 'I need to find a new spot to do paperwork. I'll never get Luna's new position ready at this rate.'
All three reached out to her in an attempt to keep her from shutting the door in their faces. The guards called out first, even as they kept their backs in a corner protectively. "Your majesty, you can't leave us out here!"
Celestia gave her guards the strongest look of disappointment she could before she finally pressed her study doors shut. With the distraction out of the way, she could finally finish her pape-
"Mom, you've got to help me! I was trying to help Luna, but we made Cadance relapse! We didn't mean to!" Scootaloo's voice rang in her ears as a familiar weight wobbled upon the solar diarch's back.
Celestia jumped ever so slightly in surprise; only barely stifling the reflex to spread her wings wide and yelp in shock. She turned about, glaring at her young daughter in disappointment as she smoothed her feathers flat once more. "Scootaloo Morningstar, I cannot solve all your problems for you. And you nearly scared ten pounds off of me."
"Yes, Mom." Scootaloo hopped from her mother's back hastily at the use of her full name. Finding a seating pillow nearby, she dragged it to her mother's desk and sat down atop it in wait.
Celestia returned to her paperwork, quill scratching away in her telekinetic grip. A slight glance to her left revealed her daughter patiently and worriedly waiting for her turn to talk. "I've never seen you wait on me before. Are you that worried about your cousin Cadance?"
Scootaloo nodded vigorously, piping in loudly enough that the soundproofing wards barely held the noise in. "Yeah! I mean, all I did was ask her to help Luna with her speech problems so she could be understood."
"Okay." Celestia signed off upon a new draft of her treaty with Zebabwae with a flourish of her quill.
"Then Cadance found that Luna couldn't talk in first-pony and that she was talking in the royal Canterlot voice all the time. It made her all wig out and her mane got all funky. Next thing I know, she's started singing and dragging everypony in for 'social activity obstacle courses', and everypony is running screaming because they don't want to get involved and Shining's off on business and can't distract her and-" Scootaloo found her increasingly hysterical rant cut off with the touch of a golden shoe to her mouth. Celestia looked down upon her with pity as Scootaloo's eyes watered ever so slightly with panic and worry.
A small smile tugged at the corners of Celestia's lips as she thought through everything her foal had said. She could work with what she had been given. Slowly, she removed her hoof from Scootaloo's mouth and patiently waited for her filly to pay hopeful attention before speaking. "Its alright, Scootaloo. I need you to distract Cadance with something other than Luna's speaking voice."
"I, will be busy getting Shining Armor back from his assignment in order to finish her off." Celestia's grin grew wider as Scootaloo worked through her statement. The fading of the little pegasus's worry and confusion was deeply satisfying, especially as it transformed into the determined look of somepony who knew victory was in their grasp. "I can see I may need to create a new guard division with him at it's head. Now go on. Scoot, Scootaloo."
"Mom, I don't know how you come up with this stuff. You've got to teach me." Scootaloo saluted as she spoke, before the solar diarch teleported her in a flash of yellow to the corridor outside the royal tower.
"I wish I could. I really do, but I mostly make it up as I go along." Celestia sighed into the empty air, before pulling forth a blank letter to write a new set of orders for Cadance's fiancee. "At least Luna likes musicals."
"We. HATE. Sing-alongs." Luna glowered at Cadance as the pink alicorn at long last finished off the last note of her song. Seated in Cadance's own tower room, the trio awkwardly looked at each other in the silence that followed.
"Oh, it wasn't all that bad. We've got you talking in modern Equish now." Cadance awkwardly smiled at Luna as she glanced over to the last of her 'volunteers' shuffling out tiredly.
"We would agree, save for one minor problem."
Scootaloo winced as a cowlick popped free in Cadance's mane once more. The little filly shuffled closer to Luna as the alicorn of love slumped over and groaned at the unfairness of it all. Scootaloo's little orange hoof poked at Luna's haunch until she got the diarch of the night's attention. She whispered into Luna's ear as soon as her older counterpart leaned over. "Keep her distracted, Mom's got a plan with Shining to break her out of it."
"Tia has a plan!?"
Cadance perked up at the stifled shout of surprise from the dark alicorn, who flashed her a distracting smile. Cadance frowned in concern over what her guests were planning, even as a white hoof reached out from under her desk and stroked her back a few times. Her content purr of relief eased the tension in the room as she laid her head back down onto the floor.
"We've never seen Tia plan out properly. And what do you expect Us to do, dance for her?" Luna whispered once more, keeping her voice softer so as not to alert Cadance once more.
"Uh, she didn't give me any ideas. Maybe work on a disguise?" Scootaloo worriedly looked at Cadance once more, hoping that her mother would come through on her plan shortly.
Cadance shot upright with a startling burst of energy at the reminder of what remained in her task. She looked around her room, eyeing various wardrobes full of her own disguises in worry over what to make Luna wear."I can't believe I forgot that we need a disguise for you! Rocking goddess of the night is something nopony forgets! Give me just a second, I know-"
"It will not be necessary, Cadance. We can assure you. May We, praytell, borrow your bathroom? The spells necessary tend to be rather intensive and We would prefer not to be interrupted." Luna waved her forehooves to dismiss any help from the Princess of Love. Cadance began to advance on her counterpart as she began levitating drab outfits out, only to be stopped in her tracks by a solid bubble of magic. "Please."
Scootaloo looked up to Luna, hoping that the alicorn of the night knew what she was doing. "You sure, Luna? You used to wield Honesty. And hiding who you are would be kind of like-"
"Lying? Yes. Unless We change who We are."
Cadance rubbed her chin with one hoof as she pondered what Luna meant. Slowly, she retreated back to her desk and sat back before it in silence. "Alright, I suppose we can try. I don't know how we're going to hide you if what Scootaloo said is true, though."
Luna smiled smugly, as she noticed the hoof emerge from the shadows under Cadance's desk once more. She nodded to the alicorn of love; even as the pink demigoddess arched her back at the feeling of the wondrous massage working against her. Luna began to retreat towards the bathroom, carefully making certain Cadance kept her eyes on her as she did.
"Trust us. We already know exactly what We are doing." Except for the small, tiny voice in the back of Luna's head that continued to scream out that the lunar diarch didn't have a clue as to what she was doing. The poor little voice back there hadn't quite gotten the proclamation yet. Luna reached out with her magic and slid Cadance's bathroom open as she steadily retreated towards it. With a last glance over the bedroom, Luna pulled her head inside and shut the door behind her.
"Well, she might maybe only sort of knows what she's doing. She might explode. Twice, even." Scootaloo was too busy watching the bathroom door to notice the irritated and exasperated look Cadance gave her.
Luna breathed deeply as she prepared herself. Celestia's spell was fiendishly complex and immense in its scope. To hide an alicorn's full power, to make others perceive another form and to make it her own took a spell thousands of times more complicated than anything she had cast before. Nopony but Celestia herself had actually managed to achieve a psuedo-shapeshift. To layer a new being, a new truth so to speak, over herself would strain her abilities to levels she had never even considered.
Slowly, she focused deep, closing her eyes to draw her mind inward to her soul and the ten tiny sparks of light that surrounded it. It had taken her all of the previous month to decipher what even one had been, the one that now seemed to gladly float from her core to greet her. A life, a shard of a soul that seemed so hauntingly familiar; a truth she could cling to instead of her own. She didn't know how it had come to her, but she knew it now and knew it well. She grasped the shard of being, hugging it tight as she brought it forth to the surface and into the beginnings of her spell matrix.
The dark alicorn gasped in pain and cold, icy shock as the first strands of magic began to lace themselves over her form. The process began to feel like she was stuffing herself into a box ten sizes too small as the magic wove its tight mesh of change over every inch of herself. Light blotches of azure blue began to polka-dot her form, the very texture of her fur altering as her regal coat was swept away by something more... common. Tingles erupted on Luna's flanks; nearly disrupting her grasp on the tightening spell as the night skies behind her lunar cutie mark retreated into themselves to leave her crescent moon and star shining alone on her sides.
She was compressing, squeezing into herself and down to the size of a 'mere mortal' as the spell continued. Light began to shine as the spell grew in intensity and focus; shifting to remove signs of the other races from her form. Her glorious, beautiful horn was wrapped in a mummifying layer of magic; no longer than even the impressive point of Twilight Sparkle. Luna's majestic wings clamped themselves fully around her barrel, painfully squeezing to her sides before appearing to meld away into unbroken fur under the influence of the symphony of magic.
Luna began to choke back a wordless cry of pain as her body fell fully under her spell; the echoes of the Element of Honesty fighting fiercely against her subterfuge as the last aspects began. She allowed the shard to move to the forefront of her mind, struggling to make it her persona for the time being. Memories of times both good and bad flickered within the forefront of her mind as she twisted and bent to the patterns of thought and reconciled them with her own. Light flared from her eyes as the shard joined fully with her, and a mind long thought lost awoke once more.
"Am I? What- I..." She glanced towards Cadance's mirror and stumbled backwards in shock at what she saw. "I did it... I made her who I am. We really were one and the same. I did it... I did it! I DID IT! So magnificent."
The purple eyes with which she glared into the mirror slowly narrowed. A sly and snake-eating grin creased her muzzle as a phrase bubbled up within her mind. "The Magnificent. Mighty and Magnificent. Oh yes."
Cadance and Scootaloo winced at the grunts and choked cries of pain coming from the bathroom. Their impulse to go in and check on Luna warred with her warning that the spell she was attempting might react dangerously to any interruption. Scootaloo shuffled closer to her foalsitter and friend, the welcome hug keeping her from rushing in on the lunar diarch.
"I should be in there with her, I know disguise magic better than anypony alive." Cadance impatiently swayed from side to side as she waited for Luna to emerge.
"Not this kind. Nopony knows this kind very well." Scootaloo wobbled as Cadance broke her grip and marched over to the door. Her eyes widened and her wings flared in alarm at the sight of the lonely hoof that continued to reach out from under Cadance's desk. The little filly scooted across the carpeting towards Cadance as the hoof reached in her direction, pressing against the older mare's legs as it reached out forlornly and then retreated back into the shadows. "Uh, is there something with your desk?"
"Not now." Cadance shrugged off the worried pokes from Scootaloo as she knocked loudly on her bathroom door, listening within for sounds of the lunar diarch. With no response, she knocked again and pressed her head against the sanded wood of the door. "Luna, its Cadance. Are you alright in there? Scootaloo told me about how you were trying an entirely new variety of disguise magic."
Not even a peep emerged from within in response to her words. "Luna? Please, I have other ways of disguising you. Could you come out now?"
The two of them felt it before they could hear it; a chill in the air and a shiver in their bones. Low and nearly below their hearing, the cackle of joy slowly built up into a thunderous and maniacal roar of laughter that pierced the quiet atmosphere. Slow, even hoof-falls echoed upon the tile floor within the bathroom as their owner began to speak. "Oh, no. I'm afraid I'm not going by Luna at the moment."
"What?" The little filly's voice squeaked in surprise as she spoke; Scootaloo's eyes meeting Cadance's with worry at the sultry and sly voice from within as the hoof-falls stopped at last.
"Oh, no. For behold-" The bathroom door slammed open as Luna's voice paused; bowling the pink alicorn over to rest dizzily next to her desk. Illusory fireworks burst from the bathroom as the unfamiliar form of a ghost-blue unicorn strode from within the cloud of mist they generated. "- The glory of the Mighty and Magnificent Moonstone!"
Cadance and Scootaloo looked at each other with identical expressions of shock and surprise, jaws hanging open slightly as they tried to process what had just happened.
"Oh, no need, hold your applause. Only the finest illusory work and the second shapeshifting spell ever created. Nopony shall ever know my real identity." 'Moonstone' flicked her head to toss her mane back, dramatically posing before the pair. Taller than the average unicorn and with a grey-white mane and a sky blue coat that glistened under the light, she stood imposingly there for a moment as she basked in her achievement.
Cadance began to rise up to her hooves as she came to her senses at last. Her voice grew loud and she pointed an accusing hoof at the freshly concealed princess of the moon. "What is this? That's the exact opposite of being subtle and unnoticed! What in Aunt Celestia's name possessed you to think that going anywhere as a famous magician who's been dead for ten years was a good idea?"
"Dead magician?" Scootaloo looked between Cadance and 'Moonstone', trying to figure out what had just happened as she sat down in confusion.
'Moonstone's face drooped in embarrassment and a seeming lack of self confidence as the mare seemed to shrink in upon herself in a startling transformation. Her grey mane slipped from the bangs she had it held within, cascading down into a gently flowing stream of hair that partially obscured her face. Even her body language seemed to change as she rubbed her hooves awkwardly and timidly in a strange sort of dancing in place. 'Moonstone' looked up to her companions, giving them a slight sad and humble look. "Oh, I'm really sorry. I guess I could go as her Meek and Merciful alter ego, Moonbeam. Um, if that's okay with you that is."
"Wait a second, you're talking in first pony! How the-" Cadance found herself caught mid-roll by the persistent hoof as it wrapped itself around her barrel with the gentle and strong caress of a lover. She looked down at it as it began to gently stroke her, squirming her head to one side from the tender kiss that nuzzled her just behind the ear. "Wha- Hey!"
"Smoochie, Schmoopiedoo." Shining Armor pressed himself further from the magical portal hidden beneath his fiancee's desk, kissing her ticklishly once more. "Smoochie." And again. "Smoochie!" And again. "Smoochie!"
"Shining! Not- eeik! Now! Shiiinneeey! Eeeik!" Cadance began to giggle helplessly as Shining Armor began sliding her across the floor into the center of the room, kissing her slowly down the curve of her neck and tickling her with his telekinesis and hooves. It was all the pink princess could do to keep her hooves from flailing sillily at the attention being paid to her by her wonderful knight as he kept her belly up and on the ticklish defensive.
"Smoochie! Smoochie! Smoochie! Somepony has been a naughty girl and got me called back from my assignment. I guess I'm going to have to smoochie my dear Schmoopiedoo until she learns to relax a little." Shining Armor draped himself over Cadance as the room's other two occupants held back cheerful snickers at the helplessly wriggling alicorn. His teasing lips kissed at her ticklish spots, before he broke contact to look at the duo interrupting the couple's alone time. "Run."
Scootaloo and 'Moonbeam' scuttled backwards as they rushed out the door as fast as they could. The gentle touch of 'Moonbeam's magic shut it soundlessly Shining Armor kept up his playful attack.
"Fly you foals! Smoochie, smoochie!"
Scootaloo and 'Moonbeam' looked to each other as they listened through the door for whatever might come next, their faces slightly flush with embarrassment from the sounds of young puppy-like love. What came next made them run for the castle grounds, fearful that the mad guardspony would come for them next.
"Shiney, don't you dare! No, no, eeeeeeeeiiiikkk!"
"Not my belly button! That tickles, cut it out! Shine-ey-ey-eyyyy!"
"Aww, I thought you liked getting raspberried there. Hmm, what about here?"
Squeals of ticklish princesses echoed long into the night from the north tower, keeping many of the lights in the castle on as the occupants wondered what in the name of Celestia was Shining Armor doing to his marefriend and bride to be.
"All three, I've got all three!" Scootaloo bobbed her head in time with her horrifyingly off-key singing as she waited with the rest of her small group in line to get into the rally.
'Moonbeam' hung her head in irritation as she leaned against her more conventionally disguised companions. The grating singing of the little filly upon her back had been continuing for close to an hour as they inched their way across Canterlot to the ticket booth. The trio's trenchcoats and hats were uncomfortably warm in the summer evening, even though the night breeze was whistling through the streets of Lower Canterlot, channeled by the mountain and the balconies of the upper city.
"Yes, we know. Keep it down, please." Shining Armor nuzzled up against his fiancee protectively as they continued to slowly trudge forward. At least they were finally in view of the ticket booth just around the corner. Almost there. A fresh wisp of wind brought the faint sounds of the crowd within the auditorium, and the smell of a thousand tasty snacks taunting their taste buds.
Cadance snorted slightly as she stepped forward with the line. "And I did not need guarding! You have your own career-"
"As the new captain of your guard. The guard meant to keep you from doing silly things, and to protect the common ponies from your bad days until you get older and wiser. Err, not that your bad days are really harmful, just annoying and disturbing. Please don't look at me like that." Shining shied away from Cadance as she glared at him, leaning on 'Moonbeam' as he did.
"Um, we totally shouldn't be fighting. Wouldn't that be a memorable thing?" 'Moonbeam' looked up and over to them, flashing a small smile as she did. The fighting couple grumbled ever so slightly, before both nodding. As the group moved up again almost to the ticket booth, Cadance and Shining Armor looked back at each other and smiled once more. "See?"
"Uh, Moonbeam? I think the ticket guy is calling us." Scootaloo leaned over the tall unicorn mare's head, pointing a forehoof in the direction of the ticket booth where the ticketmaster held up four tickets already behind the glass of his booth.
"You guys Party 'Moonbeam'?" The gruff Manehatten-accented pony waved them forward to him as he inspected a photo within his booth.
"Yeah! Uh wait, why? This isn't bad is it?" Scootaloo buzzed her wings in confusion atop 'Moonbeam's head as the ticketmaster passed them the tickets through the small opening in his booth.
"Only if you weren't supposed to be getting four tickets for box seating. Some mare going by Sunbeam came by to reserve them for you." A soft buzzer ring signaled the doors unlatching to allow the group entrance to the auditorium lobby. As the steel and glass doors popped partially open, the ticketmaster waved them in. As he did, he got a good look at the little filly atop 'Moonbeam's head. "She wouldn't happen to be your mom, kid?"
"Oh, yeah. She's always doing stuff like this."
'Moonbeam' nodded slightly, unsure of how exactly to respond. "She's radical like that."
Shining Armor and Cadance hunched over slightly, both in embarrassment and in fear that they would be revealed as they made a break for the door. Meanwhile, the ticketmaster frowned in the darkening sunset light, trying to place where he had heard 'Moonbeam's voice before. "Say, why do you sound like you came from the Neighties?"
The surprised mare scooted back from the window slightly as she tried to come up with a response, cursing the blank that her mind drew before Scootaloo slid down from atop her back. "She is! We've been trying to get her to talk like somepony normal for years! Totally stuck in 'em."
"Oh. No wonder, then. I could have sworn I've heard her voice before. Better get in there, you're holding up the line."
The group seated themselves in their box as quickly as they could sneak their way through the crowd. Nervous chuckles broke out among them as they considered their near miss with exposure.
"Heh. Stuck in the Neighties. That's a new one." Shining Armor rubbed the back of his head as he took off his large hat in the privacy of their enclosed booth.
"But accurate, for this fragment of me. Um, if you know what I mean." 'Moonbeam' stretched and sat as she spoke, quietly taking one of the front seats. The show was already warming up for the opening events; giving the group a view of the massive and not so massive stallions as they prepared to perform insane feats of strength.
Scootaloo and Cadance perked up at 'Moonbeam's remark and inquisitively sat down to either side of her. The shy blue mare chirped slightly in concern as she studiously tried to keep her eyes on the activity of the auditorium floor far below.
"As in 'multiple personality' fragment, or should I get an exorcist on the castle staff?" Shining Armor leaned in next to Cadance, nuzzling her as he did.
'Moonbeam' began to sweat at the attention she was on the receiving end of. Below, the stallions were all heading back to the staging area for the event as the time grew near. She fidgeted as her companions drew in closer, old twitches coming to the fore as they did.
"Would you imprison an innocent mare alongside a guilty one? The elements would not- oh, look! We never purchased any condiments! Let me get those for us!" 'Moonbeam' rushed to her hooves and squeezed out of the box while the other three were distracted; her fluttering tail the last they saw as she rushed away.
Shining worked his mouth for several moments as he tried to think up a response to the poor mare's flight. "What in the hay was that all about? I think I need to follow-"
"-NO!" Scootaloo's exclamation drew her companion's full and undivided attention to her. Realizing that she had puffed up in an attempt to look threatening, the little filly tucked her wings back against her side and ran a licked hoof across her mane to calm it down.
"I mean- oh boy. Princess Luna's been getting antsy lately around everypony. I think it's 'cause whatever the Elements did is wearing off and leaving her with whatever issues she used to have." Scootaloo slid around the two grownups, planting herself firmly in the doorway to the box to keep them from following.
"All the more reason to keep an eye on her." Shining began to step towards the door when Cadance's hoof arced between him and Scootaloo.
The little filly nodded and began to scoot out the door. "I know, adult babysitter and all that. But she trusts me, out of all the crazy ponies in town. She says I remind her of Starswirl or something. I'll stick with her, okay?"
"Cadance, I can see those eyes. You can stop staring at me now." Shining wilted under the withering eyes of his beloved, before getting poked in the flank for his troubles. He gave her a curious glance, somewhat shocked as she tapped out a message quietly with a hind-hoof. The old guard code was one that Scootaloo hadn't picked up, yet easily conveyed her message. Shining Armor made a show of grumbling and deliberating for a moment and at last spoke once more. "Oh, alright. Go, catch up with her fast."
Scootaloo started to walk out the door to the private box, before her brain caught up with her hooves. "Wait a second, that was too easy. Were you trying to reverse psycho-whatsis me?"
"No! Go get 'Moonbeam'!" Shining Armor gave a good shove to Scootaloo, pushing her into the hall where the disguised lunar diarch's tail could still be just barely seen. And then, with just a moment more, he shut the door behind her to prevent any further conversation.
"So, why exactly did I just lock Scootaloo out with Luna?"
Cadance sighed as she realized that Shining couldn't sense and see love as a material force of the world, like she could. Drawing him back to the seats, she lovingly nuzzled against him before explaining as quietly into his ear as she could. "You can't see love, dear. The two of them love each other. As sisters, as tightly as you and 'Twiley'."
"What do you mean, as sisters?"
"Sush, the show is starting. Supposed to be a magic challenge against somepony known as 'Trixie'." Cadance draped her wing over Shining as the lights in the arena grew dim. A spotlight blazed forth in the darkened arena, highlighting a cloaked blue unicorn deep below as she crouched down there. Shining wanted to say something in that moment, wanted to ask, no demand to know what Cadance was keeping from him. The self-proclaimed 'Ninja of Love' gave a loving and tiny smirk as his words were drowned out by a massive plume of fireworks from the stage as the magician below began her act.
Scootaloo chased after 'Moonbeam', catching up with her as the elder mare came to the front concession stand. 'Moonbeam' seemed boggled at the sheer number of treats and items available to her as the little filly snuck up upon her. It took Scootaloo grabbing her elder's tail in order to gain her attention.
With a yelp, the elder mare jumped at the tug, seemingly partially metamorphosing as she turned to face her 'attacker'. The aura of electrical energy she had gathered to her in a split second evaporated just as quickly as she saw Scootaloo before her; looking irritated as she did. 'Moonbeam' rubbed the back of her foreleg against her brow in irritation as her mane fell back somewhat into place with the last of her energy dissipating. With a sigh, she at last spoke in irritation, looking to discover why she had been followed. "Do your other minders know you're out here?"
"Well, duh. Think of how crazy Mom might get if I started making a habit of running off on my own? I came to make sure you were alright, yanno, after you ran out of the box upset." Scootaloo walked around her to the counter, legs wibbling in mid-air as she struggled up onto the foal's stand so she could make an order.
"Let's not talk of her getting crazy. It isn't a pleasant subject, I'm afraid. As for me, I'm afraid I let the past get the better of me. I- err, left, because of the way others treated me, especially those of status. He reminded me far too much of them for a moment. I needed the air." 'Moonbeam' hummed to herself as she turned back to the rich array of goodies, and ordered for herself and her small companion.
"What? Shi- err, he's not that bad. Watch the lemon drops, by the way."
"I know he's not. Intellectually, that is. But, some small part of me that still remembers how I was hurt back then started twitching when he acted like that. No matter that I know better, it is hard to... trust. My loyalties, my so-called friends hurt more than you might imagine." 'Moonbeam' took her order with a smile, passing a small chunk of it to Scootaloo as she gestured for the tiny pegasus to follow her. The two looked at the movie posters as they passed them heading for their box, 'Moonbeam' catching up on history as she did.
"Well that's silly. But given what you carried, I can see where you're coming from. What happened- wait, don't eat the-" Scootaloo looked on in horror as 'Moonbeam' tossed several of the Lemon Drops into her mouth. The filly whimpered slightly in sympathy as the mare mmm'ed in delight for the first few moments.
Then, as expected, 'Moonbeam' yelped as best she could as the sourness kicked in. Eyes watered, her mouth puckered to an unusable tiny pinprick as she clutched at it. Scootaloo pulled out a straw, sticking it in one of the drinks the elder mare had ordered so that 'Moonbeam' could try and get the sourness out. The grateful mare snatched it from Scootaloo, and drank from it greedily with a slurp that echoed through the lobby as she desperately tried to suck down enough liquids to kill off the taste.
"Well, I did warn 'ya." Scootaloo forlornly averted her eyes from her companion as they sat there, a refrain passing through her mind as they noisily slurped along the way back to their private seating. 'Now how am I supposed to find out the full story?'
"Oh dear, what happened to her?" Cadance looked back at the sound of their private box's door opening as Scootaloo and 'Moonbeam' walked in.
"Lemon Drop. Told her to watch out for them, but she already had it in her mouth." Scootaloo helped the whimpering mare into her seat and took off the saddlebags full of goodies for everypony to enjoy. Once the little filly had settled in, she dug into the completely full bags and passed the puckered up 'Moonbeam' a drink for her to wash the tartness out. Scootaloo then turned to the arena, peering down into it unable to see anything in the darkness between acts. "So, what'd we miss?"
Shining took the moment of distraction and deftly nabbed a box of popcorn to share with Cadance, passing it tantalizingly close beneath 'Moonbeam's nose as he did. "Some crazy showmare was the first act. She was beating every last one of these 'monster bucks' in magic and everything else."
Cadance nodded at Shining's words as she remembered the rather memorable act. "She was something rather special. She could even use lightning magic of all things." She reached towards Shining Armor's box of popcorn, only for him to teasingly slide it away from her. "Wait, isn't lightning magic a domain of the pegasi only?" Cadance wouldn't let up even as she pondered the interesting implications, nabbing Shining's ill-gotten popcorn with her magic along side swiping some of Scootaloo's sweets.
'Moonbeam' mumbled an affirmation of Cadance's observation through her puckered mouth as she watched the floor far below. As she took a deep and needy slurp from the tiny straw in her mouth, an idle thought convinced her to pick up one of the program guides from the balcony rail to investigate the rest of the show. A further thought paused her pinkish counterpart mid-popcorn toss as a realization struck her.
"Odd. You know what, I seem to remember that the performer you based your current persona on used to use better lightning magic than most of the royal air guard before she vanished. Hmm." Cadance nibbled on the buttery goodness of the popcorn once more. Shining Armor grumbled a weak protest as he tried to keep her magic from sliding pieces of popcorn from under his shielding hoof, too busy to consider the implications of her idle inquiry.
'Moonbeam' tried to mumble something back as she mentally cursed every moment of her predicament. Lights blazed forth upon the stage and music drowned out her cries, however, as the main event began. Far below, a motley assortment of worn furniture was in the glare of the spotlights, piled atop the stage and waiting its rendezvous with mayhem.
'Moonbeam' tried to speak up over the music, only for the sound of a distant scream to stop her. Not a cry of horror or sorrow, but a call of challenge as several of the spotlights turned upwards to highlight a white shape emerging from atop a platform in the scaffolding decorating the ceiling. The strangely-proportioned pegasus high above surveyed all before him, staring down the challenge ahead. He launched himself from the scaffold towards the stage far below, screaming like a maniac all the way down.
Wood became kindling in a great shower of splinters as the over-muscled white pegasus smashed through the props far below. A cheer rose from the stands at his feat, including the quartet's own box as everypony encouraged him to continue. The white pegasus's head popped clear of the debris as he gave his characteristic cry once more. Bursting free of the mess, he snorted and prepared to face his next task. All thoughts about asking anything else fled from everyponies minds, or found themselves gagged and stuffed in a deep dark closet in anticipation of the glorious carnage and mayhem to come.
Several more of the massive stallions emerged from the corners of the arena, carting improbably large objects as they did. Many of these were destroyed long before they could even reach the stage through flying kicks or sensational spells cast upon them. 'Moonbeam' did her best to cheer on the madness below with her companions between tastebud-saving gulps of liquid as the show continued.
Acts and events rotated in and out, growing ever more elaborate as they moved deeper into the show. A dull, hidden part of the disguised lunar diarch's mind erupted back into life at the sights and sounds of the show below. Stallion-to-stallion combat began in the form of hoof wrestling and synchronized headbutting. 'Moonbeam' would jump to her hooves and attempt to cry "Huzzah!" every time somepony upon the stage found themselves flying through the air from the friendly competitions; the good sport of the stallions strangely familiar to her as everything came together in the strange and eclectic show.
Thankfully, eventually 'Moonbeam' found her mouth unsealing, having at last worked the sourness from itself over the course of the hour-long show. She even managed to collect a few souvenirs that had found themselves ejected from the arena to land in their box. But, alas, all good things come to an end.
The fanfare of the small band behind the stage grew to a crescendo, and then fell entirely silent as the wooden stage below went entirely dark. Spotlights faded from the stars of the show one by one; casting ghostly after-images into the audience's eyes. Cadance flipped through her show program as she laid there waiting; her wing draped over her sweetheart. She could find nothing left in the night's lineup as far as she could tell. Reluctantly, she clambered to her hooves at the signs of a finished night's entertainment.
"Oh schmoopie, where are you going?" Shining Armor hooked one of his white forelimbs around Cadance's leg and gently drug her back into her seat.
"Shining, the show is over. We can go home now." Cadance stomped a hoof cutely as she sat back down.
Shining Armor paid no heed as he snuggled closer to her, expecting a last surprise from the show. "These shows always have a last hidden act that you have to wait for. Be patient, this ought to be good." Shining gave his love a brilliant smile as they rested there. At her coy grin back, he followed up with a surprise deep kiss that tickled her tonsils.
"So, besides Shining doing things to Princess Cadance's mouth I don't want to think about, what else is there to do?" Scootaloo impatiently tapped her hooves upon the sticky carpet as she waited for something, anything to happen.
"Well, usually a show is capped by an unannounced act. Something that is visually and constructively different from the earlier material and the rest of the show, but still related somehow in theme." 'Moonbeam' munched upon a Strawberry Bite as she spoke from a wellspring of knowledge within the shard of herself she wore.
"And what is that supposed to mean? Sudden Opera? Blleaaagh."
"I was thinking the Overture of 812, maybe, given the rest of the show."
Whatever else Scootaloo's older companion was about to say died in her throat as the music returned. Not the clarion call of a trumpet or the wail of a stringed instrument, but the strange and melodic tinkle of breaking glass. Beats joined it, from the smashing of sledgehammers into wood to the squeak of bending metal. The cacophony of sound brought an eerie harmony to the assembled watcher's ears as the show's stars were illuminated one by one once more.
Lighting crackled amidst the lighting above as a thunderclap drum beat. Tinkling arrays of glass being delicately broken one by one served in place of a string section, and even the great smash of steel on wood served a place in the strange new orchestra that stood assembled before them all. 'Moonbeam's thoughts went to the sheer insane effort it would take to set up the mad instruments. The magical tuning of all the objects breaking alone had to have taken somepony absolutely brilliant in spellcasting. Why, they even-
'Moonbeam' snapped herself out of her trance and fixed herself on just enjoying the show for what it was. A glance was spared for Cadance and Shining Armor, who were merely basking in the ambiance of an orchestra piece set in 'B Smash'. Satisfied in their own satisfaction, Moonbeam began to hum along. A silly whim struck her, and after a few nudges to her younger companion along with a gesture or two the two began to pretend-conduct the Demolition Orchestra.
Lightning boomed constantly overhead as the concussive piece began to come to it's climax. Smashes grew in intensity as the massive stallions furiously worked to keep the music going. Fireworks burst once, then twice, and thrice more as the piece at last ground to a halt in a fury of triumphant notes. The herd of stallions wearily stepped back from their instruments, bowing before their audience as one; basking in the sudden tumult of over 10,000 ponies breaking into stomping applause.
'Moonbeam' looked to Shining, Cadance, and Scootaloo as she flashed a gleaming smile. "And that, my good ponies, is how you end a show. The Overture of 812 in B Smash. Wish I had thought of that myself."
Ponies crowded the lobby like candies in a jar as they all slowly trundled towards the doors and the comfort of their homes. Darkness had fully fallen upon the land in the evening hour and the glitter of a thousand streetlights twinkled all about Canterlot. Of all of them, a quartet stood alone, an island in the stormy sea of coats and manes as their waited for their own carriage ride towards their home.
Amidst them, 'Moonbeam' gave a quiet sigh as she stared up at her beloved moon. The very reason for her existence, and the former cursed prison that reminded her of how far she once had fallen. The crowd parted about her as she contemplated the rocky path ahead, and the nightmare she had left behind. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on each of the shards within her soul, taking in the strange memories that each of them brought to her.
The Healer, The Captain, The Firebrand, The Businessmare, The Equalizer, The Explorer, The Rebel, The Warrior, The Leader, The Showmare.
She could remember each of their experiences as easily as she could her own life. But why? Granted, she had already considered the hypothesis that the Elements of Harmony would not imprison a just mare for the actions she performed while unjustly controlled. But it was just a hypothesis, and how could it be true? The only 'proof' that she had was that The Showmare supposedly had existed. There was nothing to tell her if the experiences she remembered were actually a part of a shard of herself, or just memories adsorbed from the void.
Shining Armor's hoof jolted her from her introspective trance, nudging her in the shoulder. 'Moonbeam' cleared her throat awkwardly in the silent moment afterwards before speaking. "Yes."
"Well, it looks like our carriage got caught up in mid-town traffic. The porters say it'll take another ten to fifteen minutes to get here. The castle isn't exactly on the other side of the city, we could walk back if you'd like." Shining Armor apologetically rubbed his mane with a hoof as he explained their situation.
"Oh, that's fine. I can wait. Though I do notice that somepony is ready to go to bed. Scootaloo looks like she only needs a lullaby to sleep." 'Moonbeam gave a small, quiet laugh at the sight of the filly only just barely managing to stay awake atop Cadance's trenchcoat-covered back.
"I'm not- yaaawwwwwnnn~ sleepy. I can do this all night." Scootaloo was still fighting off the lethargy that threatened to drag her off to her dreams. A second massive yawn cracked her face as she tried once more to rub the tiredness from her eyes.
Cadance adjusted her stance at the sounds of the great yawns, trying to make Scootaloo more comfortable. With bags of leftover goodies at her flanks, her sweetheart trapped in the feathery embrace of a wing, and a hat on her head she looked positively ridiculous as she stood there. A deft touch of her magic telekinetically dragged a small blanket from her coat's pockets to drape across the little filly. "Oh, I don't know, you could have fooled me, Scootaloo."
'Moonbeam' slid up to Cadance's other flank and began humming quietly. Waiting until she spotted Scootaloo sleepily nodding along, she turned her nearly inaudible tune into a soft lullaby.
"Hush now, quiet now the Moon is watching high above;
Hush now, quiet now, feel safe in all its love.
The morning light shall end your dreams,
So keep them in your heart then.
Wake up with the dawning skies,
and search them out and find them!
Oh, hush now, quiet now, time to rest that sleepy head.
Hush, now, quiet now, it's time to go to bed~"
Haunting thoughts, seeing a belly filled with a life not her own. A half-remembered children's song is all she can think of to comfort herself in the uncertainty she faces.
Pain, searing pain of childbirth. The screams of an awakening daughter.
"Momma!" The joy of knowing her daughter's first words, of seeing her first spell.
The roar of the crowds before her; drowned out by the tiny, happy clip-clops of the beautiful foal watching her in the front row.
Silence, the watchful gaze of a young mother over her young in bed as she proudly reads over the report of her child's brilliant schoolwork and the promise of what is to come.
"Momma! Stoppit!" The playful food fights of a family over alfalfa; it's green splattered across both of them equally.
The disbelieving parent/teacher conference to inquire as to how a unicorn filly of all ponies could use weather magic so easily, so casually.
"Oh yes, Mom. I'm a very Trixie pony."
"MOMMA! Please don't leave me!" Numbness. Watching herself dissolve into a blue mist bit by bit before her beautiful, courageous daughter. Feeling the icy tendrils of the lunar prison reclaiming her soul for crimes she tried her damnedest not to commit. The dread as she tried to speak, to reassure her foal that everything would be alright; only for her words and ability to speak to be stolen from her as soon as she tried. The look of horror on her daughter's face as she pleaded and begged and tried to hang onto her as she dissolved away in her filly's grip.
The flash of light, and the proud realization that her daughter had found her purpose in life; that she had been privileged enough to get the chance to see that one defining moment. And then nothing more.
"'Moonbeam'? C'mon, snap out of it, the carriage is here!"
The mare in disguise shook her head violently as she rejoined the world of the living. The memories invoked had nearly drowned her identity with their intensity and urgency. 'Moonbeam' snapped her gaze to Shining Armor with terrifying force as she realized that of all the things in the world, she only needed to know about one at that very moment. "The showmare that I missed! Was her name Trixie?"
"Err, uh- yeah. Yeah, it was. Why?" Shining Armor took a step back as 'Moonbeam' seemed to grow in stature. The wind fluttered about her as she dropped her innocent and meek persona; filling herself back with the intimidating presence of her first transformation. Her sudden telekinetic grip upon him picked him up and gently dropped him in the waiting carriage before he could protest.
"Take them home, I'll catch up at the castle. There is a wrong that I must fix." 'Moonstone's horn glowed brighter as she shut the door to the carriage and turned her gaze towards the back of the arena. Electricity built in the air as she charged her rather unique teleportation spell, and she vanished from view in the brilliant flash of a lightning bolt.
By some miracle, Scootaloo didn't awake at the spectacle. Shining Armor enviously looked at her for a moment before sticking his head out the window and looking out into the dark skies. Cadance joined him in looking out as she realized something was amiss.
"Honey, tell me she didn't just put her 'Moonstone' personality back on and start something incredibly reckless."
"Cadance, I wish I could."
She followed the dream, the shifting thread of sleep that her target was deep within. Lightning flashed again and again as she teleported from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit. 'Moonstone' could sense how close she was to her goal, yet always just barely around the corner from the showmare she followed.
The street was filled with dozens of carriages, with nothing to tell them apart other than the thread she followed. She knew she would shortly need to return to street level in order to continue her pursuit. A dangerous proposition, given the chances of her being recognized. A glimmer of thought became caught within her senses, and the vehicle her quarry obliviously trundled along within came into sharp focus.
Legs tensed, magical fields intertwined, and 'Moonstone' lept fearlessly from the top of the three story building she had stood upon towards the sidewalk below. Her magical might and true nature came to bear as she caught herself upon a descending staircase of tiny puffs of cloud; allowing her to land soundlessly on the stone sidewalk. 'Moonstone' marched briskly towards the carriage stopped at the corner, shouldering aside anypony that impeded her movement. Murmurs grew amongst the crowd as they grew irritated at the rude mare within their midst. Whispers of whom she might be passed from ear to ear as the gaggle grew even more packed and as the milling throng of ponies threatened to dislodge her disguise.
"Move, please. Let me through." 'Moonbeam' pressed through a particularly thick clump of ponies, almost in reach of Trixie's carriage. The slight glimmer of recognition in the eyes of one sea-green mare was all the warning she received before everything went horribly wrong.
"It's Moonstone! She's BACK!"
The thread of dreams snapped instantly as the murmurs of the crowd turned into an adoring roar of affection. 'Moonstone' struggled back as the herd of ponies surged upon her, trying to lift her up and cart her back to the arena. Ponies began to chant her shard's name as she found herself upside down and helpless upon an endless wave of hooves.
"Let me go! I need to see somepony! Begone, and curse you all to the Everfree, LEGGO!" 'Moonstone's hooves waved midair as she tried to wriggle off of the equine wave. A chill ran down her spine as the carriage's occupant leaned out the window to glare upon her hapless form. Venomous hate seemed to pour forth from Trixie as she at last gained a glimpse of her pursuer.
The young mare made a series of hoof gestures in the knowledge that nothing would be audible over the roar of the crowd of fans. Crude gestures, yes, but effective as she signed her intent to pummel 'Moonstone' at the first chance she could possibly take. Shouting something to her driver, Trixie's carriage pulled away into the jammed streets and blended into the sea of traffic as it passed from sight.
'Moonstone' squirmed and struggled to free herself from the crowd, to try and catch up and explain herself before she lost sight of Trixie. But it was of no use, the crowd was far too massive and enthusiastic for her to slip free. Magic glowed about her horn as she teleported herself once more; cloaking herself with spells to hide from aerial observation atop the very same rooftop from which she had started.
A ragged sob was all that she could force from her lips as she looked upon the sea of carriages. She had failed Trixie. Again. Just as she had failed Starswirl, Celestia, the Old Court...
Her mane slipped free from it's clips to obscure her face. Tears dripped from her eyes as she wondered what had embittered her beloved Trixie so much. She had to do something, there had to be some way to explain to her the metaphysics and her helplessness before the might of the Elements. Somepony had to be able to-
Oh. Ooooh. He would do nicely. He hadn't accepted yet, but the new captain of the Lunar Guard would work nicely as her messenger.
Celestia followed the sobbing. Not happy sobs of joyful tears, nor the tears of somepony scared out of their mind, but the deep and sorrowful sobs of somepony convinced that nothing would ever be alright again. Carefully generated clouds deadened the sounds of her every step as she crept across the living areas of the royal quarters and headed slowly towards the source of the dreadful wails. Thankfully, the guards had been posted outside the royal wing for the day, and were unaware of the sorrow that had seemingly claimed Princess Luna.
Celestia edged the door of Luna's room open, glancing about the still partially unfinished room. The mare of the night was curled up tightly atop her bed, clutching one of the remaining plushies that Scootaloo had left for her. Luna's bitter sobs were interspersed with tired whispering as she looked out into the fading sunlight. Nothing was visible to Celestia, and whatever Luna's mystery concern was it had the elder diarch worried enough to sneak up upon the younger to find out.
Luna jolted from contact with Celestia only once, her fur bristling for a time as Celestia's form gently slid onto the bed with her. Deftly, Luna tugged one of Celestia's wings across her barrel with her magic, and hugged it as tightly as she could. Celestia took the pain of Luna's action without complaint, letting her hold it tight. Celestia began to hum into Luna's ears as she wrapped her legs around the the younger alicorn and returned her hug with every inch of her body. Beneath her blankets, Luna blinked back her tears and did her best to hum along with Celestia, her tone breaking up despite her best efforts.
"What's wrong, Luna? Captain Shining Armor told me how you seemed distraught and worried last night. And here you are, so alone. Whatever it is, Luna, I'm here for you this time." Celestia nudged Luna ever so slightly for the younger mare's comfort. Her brilliant white plumage ruffled as it brushed against the exposed dark blue fur of the lunar diarch; blanketing her until she felt comfortable enough to talk.
"Tell us, Tia, do you believe that the Elements would imprison us in our entirety beside the dread spirit of the Nightmare? Even if our actions were not our own?" Luna's ears gradually crept from their splayed position of sorrow to one of desperate attentiveness as she spoke. Her breath grew deep as she nuzzled into her Tia for comfort, and straightened up against the elder diarch.
Celestia's mind wandered at Luna's question. She'd never given the matter thought. She couldn't have given it thought for fear of despairing in hopelessness and helplessness before Luna's condition. The Elements wouldn't have left her conscious with that... thing. Could not have, not for a thousand years. Nor could they have left her eternally dreaming. A thousand years of dreams would have been no better for Luna's sanity than a thousand years with the Nightmare. Celestia looked up and out into the sunset's last gleaming as it sprayed great bursts of light upon the contents of the room. She watched one of the last twilight's of an era come forth as she thought and tried to develop any form of explanation as to Luna's miraculous sanity. Her sanity, and her disturbing ease with which she adjusted to the modern era.
With no real firm guess, Celestia rested her chin against Luna's downy-soft mane. Whispers of her breath drew across Luna's ears as Celestia closed her eyes and spoke. "I don't know, Luna. Some part of me thinks that maybe, most likely you slept dreamless and unchanging in stasis. Slept and waited for your hero to save you from yourself."
Celestia opened her eyes once more and started in shock. Luna wasn't in her grasp, but she still knew the mare beneath her. She knew her name, and the question she had asked so long ago. The question that had-
Celestia Invictus Morningstar watched it all burn, and was glad for it. They had taken her Luna, reduced her precious, beloved Luna to a wreck in her inattentiveness.
She would have the satisfaction of taking their entire worldly existence in exchange.
Smoke billowed, rugs burned at her hooves, tile melted at her approach. Flesh sizzled, on fire yet not dying. Screams beckoned to her ears as nobles ran for the merciful death of the cliffs.
"Somepony KILL ME!"
Treacherous wretches kneeling in fear before her, begging to be spared from her divine wrath. Failing, when one slips up and calls Luna 'The Spare'. Screams of the unworthy, as the most loathsome one is reduced to a soul within a skeleton and sentenced to kill his fellows.
Sparing not even their names, blotting them from having ever existed at all. Watching in enjoyment as victims pleaded and begged as they faded from existence due to having no concept at all.
Marching upon even the homes of their children, intent on wiping out any trace of their houses, staring down at the tiny blue unicorn filly that dared stand in her way so defiantly. Her eyes so much like her precious lost Luna's her-
Realization, despair, horror at the depths she has sunk to. Solar fire quenching as she falls to her knees and weeps for forgiveness; the soft touch of a filly's hooves hugging about her neck. The-
-Celestia recoiled from Luna's form, staring accusingly at her. She'd taken the form of the young mare who had become her first faithful student, her healer and her own savior. The same ghostly blue mane, the same cutie mark, that notch in the tip of her horn from when-
Celestia shook the distractions from her head and spoke, pointing a hoof at Luna as she did. "How do you know of Moonbeam? How dare you take her form!"
"Because I was her! Or at least a piece of me, the smallest tiniest bit was. Just what the Elements could free without giving the Nightmare an avenue of escape! Just a piece, a shard of me. The Elements couldn't leave the world without me, or leave me without any way of living. Just enough of me to learn, to be a pony, to heal myself." Luna's initial outburst tapered off into a soft declaration of what she knew to be true as she stood before Celestia, cloaked in the form of Moonbeam. Celestia stepped back warily as Luna stepped forward, uncertain of how to react. Luna's eyes were still puffy and red with the tears she had shed, even as they soulfully gazed back into Celestia's own stare.
"How can you tell? Any question I ask you, any proof that you could give to explain could be just as easily resolved by the Elements taking some small remnant of her soul after death and letting her live on in you." Celestia hesitantly let Luna close the distance with her, keeping still as the notched horn touched her own. She trembled as she struggled to keep from leaning forward instinctively, to keep from grabbing up the pony before her that her heart swore was Moonbeam.
"You never did discover where she- where I came from- did you?" Luna reached forward and hugged Celestia once more as she spoke, nuzzling tight against the elder alicorn.
"No. I never could find her parents. Or any clan or house that thought she was theirs. That is why she became my-"
"-Faithful Student. More importantly, even moreso than her seemingly appearing from the Elements themselves, she was not normal. Look at her, look at how large she was compared to a normal mare. She was built more like an Earth Pony stallion in their prime than a unicorn mare." Luna broke contact, stepping back and baring her whole body to demonstrate the heavy build she wore.
Celestia's eyes narrowed as she inspected the form of her first Faithful Student, and realized how right Luna's words were. "Earth Pony in stature and heart, but Unicorn in her powers. You might be right, but..." Celestia found herself cut off as Luna hushed her with an unshod hoof gently resting across her shoulder.
"But she was also a healer. Not just in the Unicorn manner of spells and science, but in the Earth Pony way. Did not the very ground that she walked upon heal itself, did her hooves not press every last pain from your body? She knew instinctively what was wrong with you, and would only ask you what was wrong so that you could see it for yourself, didn't she?" Luna circled Celestia, sliding up behind her and massaging away at the old pains in the solar diarch's back; pains that had been untouched for hundreds of years.
Celestia almost felt like she was melting at the deft touches against her back. She stumbled over a thick fold in the rug, wobbling over to the now moonlit balcony in her attempt to remain upright. After catching her footing atop the white marble and straightening herself out once more, she turned back to Luna and wistfully replied at last, denying the lunar diarch's insinuations. "Luna, even if what you say is true, it does not mean that you were her."
"Nay, but it is a piece of the puzzle. I know what you shall say, your counterpoint of Fluttershy. But, she replaced her pegasus talents in nearly their entirety with the talents of those who reside upon her beloved ground." Luna returned to Celestia's side and kept at her gentle work. The moonlight seemed to brighten and almost glitter in her presence, as if awaiting its long-lost master.
"You're basing your evidence on circumstantial proof, Luna. You could still be only experiencing memories."
Luna's form glowed as she returned to her natural state; her wings sprouting forth from where they had been hidden as she soaked in moonlight. Turning, she stared wistfully towards Manehatten, where her sole desire in the world was likely performing. "So we thought at first as well."
"So, what convinced you otherwise? Wait, and why are you talking in third-pony again, Luna?" Celestia raised her voice only slightly as she belatedly picked up on the quirk in Luna's speech patterns.
"Because we speak not just for ourself, but for all ten of the shards of our soul as well. With them, we are one pony in many." Luna smirked slightly as she picked up the sounds of Celestia attempting to work out the math of what her lunar counterpart had just said. Turning, she tapped Celestia on the shoulder again, looking into the solar diarch's eyes as she continued. "But, no matter. We found somepony. Barely a babe by our timescales. Somepony we knew from our last shard. Somepony with the strength of an Earth Pony, the weather magics of a Pegasus, and the magics of the Unicorns."
"Impossible, Tia. A pony could swap another race's talents for their own, or in certain rare cases emulate one at a time like your student could. But, none could do so as casually or instinctively as she could." Luna turned back to the distant glimmer on the horizon that was Manehatten. A stray thought began to call forth her latest shard, the mare of the moon taking her change slowly so that Celestia could watch and study her spell-work.
Celestia sat back against the white marble pillars separating the room and the balcony, thinking over what Luna had said. "Alright, so if what you say is true, then who are they, Luna?"
"The daughter of Moonstone the Magician, of Moonstone Lulamoon. MY daughter." Luna looked over her shoulder, once more clad in the form of Moonstone. She glanced up to her moon, and prayed to the Enkindler that somewhere Trixie was looking up as well. "Trixie Lulamoon..." A sigh with the weight of the world behind it came from her lips. ", Morningstar. My beautiful, courageous daughter who has believed that I have been dead for eleven, maybe twelve years now."
"Tell me, Luna, why does she think you are dead?"
The sun was shining, the skies were clear and it was her precious Trixie's big day! Sure, the pesky accident that those two 'apple salespony' unicorn brothers had created upon the Ramps had slowed them down, but their appointment with Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns was a preferred time. They only had to show up before the end of business, as their exam was a 'floater'. Trixie happily hopped alongside Moonstone, supremely confident in her abilities. Ponies made way for the cheerful duo, warily respectful of the glares Moonstone gave them.
"Now remember, Trixie. Don't act like a jerk; don't disrespect the examiners or the students, m'kay? You're totally here with an opportunity I never got. So, the better you act, the more likely you are to get the 52 flavor ice cream cone later." Moonstone's normal icy stage behavior had softened for her adorable, affectionate daughter's taste; hiding behind the facade of a bubbly go-lucky middle-class mare. The acclaimed showmare beamed happily as her daughter squealed with delight and skipped with her along the sidewalk, heading slowly but surely for the castle annex.
Well, Moonstone skipped. Trixie bounced about her in a circle and happily chanted about her upcoming 'Super-Mega-Ultra-Deluxe Cone of 52 Flavors'. The performer was glad that at least one of them was unreservedly happy, as a sense of dread had been hanging about the showmare for the past week. A sort of sense that evil lurked behind her, and that everything was about to end.
As they began to pass through a portion of the royal garden complex as a shortcut, Moonstone decided to take one last moment to make certain her daughter really was as ready as she could be. With nopony around, it was safe enough to practice. "Honey, would you like to go through your routine one more time?"
"Alright, Momma. Ready?" Trixie stretched herself out, and concentrated; white dew developing in the grass at her hooves as she prepared to be the Great and Powerful Trixie once more.
"Alright, one ana two, ana-"
"Bouncing like a Pegasus high in the sky!"
Trixie hopped up onto the cloud she had generated, bouncing up and down with the beat. With each press of her hooves it rebounded higher up, and spat out rain, hail, snow, and lightning in turn.
"Swimming like a Seapony, coming out nice and dry!"
Trixie bounced higher than ever before, and dove into her cloud as it suddenly turned liquid. The little filly deftly swam through it with an unnaturally superb stroke, and hopped out it's other side. As she did, the water literally peeled from her form and left her drier than before she had dove in.
"Strong as an Earth Pony, and happier than a tree!"
Trixie thrust a hoof into the ground, pulling out a green acorn. As she held it up, it sprouted into an oak sapling before their eyes; its roots reaching past Trixie's hoof into the ground to anchor it. As the filly pulled away from it, it swayed towards her but remained steady.
"And even as a Unicorn, you scream 'Hey, lookit me'!"
Trixie reared up on cue, her horn setting off a spell of a thousand fireworks. She cast a colored magelight over her form to highlight herself as Moonstone laughed gleefully at her daughter's antics and scooped Trixie onto her back.
"Best! Kid! Ever!"
Trixie nodded before she jumped off and ran ahead, laughing all the way as she expected her mother to follow. The gasp from behind her brought her up short, however. Hesitantly, slowly, she turned back to her mother, eyes wide with worry. Her mother's eyes flickered between their normal selves and monstrously slitted ones as Moonstone clutched her head.
"Momma!" Trixie ran up, trying to grab one of Moonstone's hooves. Trying to hold onto her as the elder mare began to glow. The little filly choked in horror as her mother's hoof turned to blue sparkling mist in her grasp, and she rushed to take hold of Moonstone's barrel. "Momma, please don't LEAVE ME!"
"She didn't think it was a trick?"
"No! I mean, if the flickering demonic eyes and noises of pain weren't enough of a clue, the fact that I would never practice a new trick on my daughter would have informed her! We both knew how dangerous experimentation with magic could be. No, I had a panel of experts who made certain that I wouldn't hurt anypony to go before." Luna sniffled as Celestia nuzzled against her once more, and hummed to herself to keep from falling into a greater rut.
"I remember now. I passed that reform myself after somepony rather silly managed to set my mane on fire. And to stop that one band of unscrupulous ponies from sawing others in half for their show." Celestia turned her gaze out upon the ever so distant glow on the horizon that marked Manehatten. She held a wing across Luna's form as the mare of the night let go of her shard and reverted back to her native alicorn form. "You know, you could make it there tonight. Explain it in person."
"We just returned, Tia. We couldn't find the theater she was performing at, that is why we have been so sorrowful."
"I could dispatch the Solar Guard with a royal summons for her, Luna. We could get her here and, " Celestia let out a sigh, "I don't know. You know her far better than I could." Celestia let Luna lean against her. The deep, slow breaths of somepony drifting lethargically towards sleep rattled against her barrel as Luna laid her head against Celestia's neck. The cool of the late summer evening soaked into their bones as the stars came out. Wind tussled at them, blowing up out of the Narrows with a lonesome moan.
"No, Tia. She would never forgive us. Managers don't like the implications of hiring somepony who has had a run-in with the Guard of any kind, for good or ill. Too much of a risk, they say. We think it's a load of-... well, nevermind. She loves being onstage, and we could not take that from her. We shall have to be subtle." Luna stiffed as a knock sounded upon her door. She had been expecting her visitor at hoof, and a small gauntlet of cantrips and illusions cleaned up her face for the meeting at hand.
"And who would that be, Luna?"
"The captain of our guard, Tia. Somepony subtle. We need to forge his armor shortly, but plain clothes work better for what we have in mind." Luna pushed off of Celestia, moving towards her door. A decree and a poster to identify Trixie floated from her desk, joining her as she quietly trotted to her door. She focused, bottling her fears and anguish up inside of her, for the sake of her new captain. No need for him to see her in her moment of weakness; she had Tia for that. She needed to be strong, for the foundations of her new guard.
Celestia felt that she was missing a very important point as Luna picked up a slight sway to her steps, and paused at her door to straighten her mane. "Wait a second, what do you mean 'somepony subtle'?"
"Princess, why exactly do you want black for the color of your guards? I feel a need to spout lines like 'I am altering the deal, beg that I don't alter it further' or 'I AM INVINCIBLE!'. Are you sure that accepting the post didn't give me megalomania?" Eaglehoof stepped into Luna's room as the princess opened the door for him. His manefro bobbled slightly as he twisted his head to peer at Celestia; his golden eyes narrowing in confusion. His jet black uniform seemed to make the colors of his coat pop as he stepped in; and Celestia wasn't entirely certain that she liked the way that his outfit seemed to hug every one of his curves so snugly.
"Well, somehow subtle isn't the word that comes to mind, Luna." Celestia inspected the pony that she would have sworn all the way to the sun had been the captain of her guard not even thirty minutes before. She wondered where Luna had hid the funnel to pour him into his new uniform.
Luna and Eaglehoof glanced over each other with a critical eye and wondered what Celestia was going on about. They shrugged simultaneously, before Eaglehoof elbowed her lightly in the ribs. The princess of the night led him to the mirror in the corner, poking him lightly in several places as she did. "Perhaps you are right, Tia. Captain, remind us to have a tailor loosen that uniform for you. Breathing is something that is not optional for mortals."
"I don't think you're getting what Princess Celestia is poking at, your majesty."
"No, no, please continue Luna. This is good!" Celestia grinned unabashedly at the spreading blush upon Luna's face as she caught Celestia's insinuations. The lunar diarch spluttered and grumbled at Celestia's light innuendo, struggling to keep from responding in the royal speaking voice.
"Yes. well ignore Princess Celestia, Captain. She is just projecting her own desires onto an innocent observation. This shall be your first assignment as captain of our guard. Find this mare, and discretely persuade her to return to the castle. Discretely, nopony must know who you are but her. No threats, bribes are acceptable. Understand?" Luna recovered quickly from Celestia's taunt, and passed her poster and decree into Eaglehoof's pockets with care. She turned to Celestia eagerly, only to be vaguely irritated that the elder alicorn failed to show even the slightest hint of a pinkish blush.
"Oh, I'm not that easy, Luna. So... how did you convince House Hooves to sign a new treaty with you over the one that they already had with me?" Celestia's words were even and measured as she kept the illusion over her face up in embarrassment.
"Pity. We offered them a better and less restrictive treaty. One that is renewable instead of trapping them forever in one form of agreement." Luna took her tiara and chest-piece from their stands as she spoke, letting Eaglehoof do his own talking as she dressed for an evening appearance.
"Military, political, or civil service. A good portion of the family was about ready to tell you to stuff it when it came to the portion that read that 'The eldest son shall forever be the head of the guard' part. Don't worry, though. I'll be as quiet as a mouse. A mouse carrying a thunderstorm, anyway." Eaglehoof saluted Celestia as she warily backed towards the door. The princess returned his sign of respect with a dose of decorum and a measured dip of her head.
"Very well, if you'll excuse me I think I hear my dinner burning." Celestia ducked out the door with nothing more to say, leaving the newly reminted captain with his sovereign.
A minute passed as they patiently waited for Celestia to be out of earshot, before bursting into raucous laughter. "Oh, Tia. You call US a bad liar!"
Hurricane winds roared about Luna in the depths of Canterlot. The central fires of the Lunar Forge twisted themselves into a screaming funnel of white-hot fury at the touches of Luna's magic, imparting her power upon her work. The very rock beneath her hooves shuddered with the ongoing storm, shook by the roiling inferno she had worked the magma pit below into. Blacked out goggles protected her eyes as she stared into her terrible and magnificent work as she forged.
Armor plates as perfect as the sun and moon shaped themselves under the influence of her magic as her 'lunar steel' cooled slowly. Her starry mane whipped under the power of her winds, brushing at something upon her back. Whomever it was, or whatever it was, Luna did not care. Any mortal foalish enough to enter the central chamber when it was fully lit would be incinerated nearly instantly in the heat. Nay, more likely it was something blown free of the wall by the winds.
Luna squeezed at the plates of armor before her, condensing their matter into even tougher and denser forms. She could almost swear that somepony was trying to yell something into her ears or tug upon her mane as she worked, and that the weight that lightly brushed her back had moved up. She shook her head, wondering just how long she would be haunted by the echoes of her past. If she was hearing voices, she probably needed therapy.
BzzzzzZZZZZT! "HEY! Luna!"
The plates of Eaglehoof's new armor nearly fell back into the lava from which they had been claimed as Luna jolted in fright from the sudden noise in her ears. Luna looked left, then right over her shoulders and only saw a patch of orange and purple with buzzing wings uncomfortably perched against her neck. She nodded as she passed it off for a moment, having not caught on yet. Coat recognition flared in her mind and her four winds came to a crashing halt as she tried to cool the room down to a tolerable level as quickly as possible.
"SCOOTALOO! What are you doing here?!" Luna shouted in shock as she partially turned around to face the foal. Other than looking oddly... tanned, she seemed none the worse for wear after having been in a room with an ambient temperature of at least a thousand degrees.
Scootaloo took off her own pitch-black goggles, and looked at Luna with a lonely gaze as she spoke. "Well, I got my homework done, and Mom was busy with your paperwork, and Cadance was working with Shining Armor on something, and Tenderhoof just got picked to be the head of Mom's guard, and I'm just so bored!" The pleading tone of the filly's voice plucked at Luna's heartstrings; convincing her that there were things more important than armoring the captain of her guard.
After this, she'd talk to her Tia. Luna promised herself that she would make Tia see reason, to not make the same mistakes all over again no matter how well intentioned her actions were. Scootaloo would get the childhood she missed. The lunar diarch picked Scootaloo up in a field of her magic; holding her in place as she funneled the remaining heated air from the room in a whistling gust. With everything becoming chilly rapidly from the sudden cooldown; Luna set Scootaloo down upon the grooved floor and knelt to look her in the eyes. "Oh, Scootaloo. It was very brave of you to keep us company. But it was also very foalish. When we work, this room heats up to hundreds of degrees or more at times. Not only that, but there is the danger of catching a bit of molten metal in your coat, or the horrors in the dungeon passages."
Scootaloo's ears fell with her expression as Luna scolded her. She hadn't even considered that keeping Luna company might have been dangerous. "But I just wanted to help. How hot is 'hundreds of degrees' anyway, and why are the basements so dangerous if nopony has ever said anything about them?"
"It is hot enough that we are curious as to why you did not immediately turn into the Incredible Flaming Pony, Scootaloo." Luna floated her partially completed work upon a cooling rack; unsteadily dangling from its pegs and hooks. With her attention no longer divided, she could at last devote her full attention to her third favorite pony in the world. As she did, memories rushed through her mind of the various horrors she had encountered recently as she cleaned the catacombs of the remnants of Discord's rule hidden in the deep, ghastly shadows. "And more importantly, there are things, terrible things that would think nothing of gobbling up even Tia in a single bite down here."
Scootaloo gasped slightly, edging closer to Luna as she looked towards the door. "Why does nopony ever tell me this stuff?"
"Because you are a little foal, who should have dreams of joining the Wonderbolts or becoming a star. Nay, never should they be a nightmare of horrors that come from the darkest points of the world to gobble you up." Luna extended her wing protectively over Scootaloo as she spoke; laughing slightly as the filly shivered and clutched her leg in return. "Nothing shall happen, Scootaloo. We are here with you, and we cleaned out the monsters a month before. Is there anything you would like to talk about?"
Scootaloo perked up at Luna's reassurance. Pulling herself off the roughly patterned floor, she looked around the room. "Anything?" Her eyes wandered from the vaulted ceiling high above, tracing down the walls of solid rock until they caught sight of a set of iridescent shards in cases upon the wall. "What are those?"
Luna traced Scootaloo's hoof across the room, recognizing what she had pointed out. "Ah, the remaining shards of the Rainbow of Light. The ones that we could never finish reforging into the Elements of Harmony." Luna wistfully removed the shards from their wall cases as she spoke. Under the influence of her magic, they floated down and began to orbit the pair in a brightly colored constellation. Mare and foal found themselves covered in glittering arrays of multicolored light from the crystals all about them.
Scootaloo gasped in amazement, touching a shard as it passed by her. Energy raced through her form at the nudge; warm spots making themselves known on her head, wings, and hooves as she pulled away from it. She almost glowed, or at least that was how it looked from her own point of view. Every shade that adorned her body seemed more vivid and powerful than they had ever been before while under the influence of the fragment. As she slunk back against Luna, it rose up and rejoined the others in the glistening orbit of light. Scootaloo gaped at the electric feeling running through her body, and tried to form a coherent question. "You... forged the Elements? But I thought Mom found them!"
Luna shook her head at that; hoisting Scootaloo up to her back. The various shards and fragments of Light were wisked back into their cases and sealed against their deterioration for a darker day once more. "Nay. When Discord shattered the Rainbow in our struggle against him, we forged the Elements each from a single shard of the Light. In doing so, we saved the world."
"So what are you saving the rest for, Luna? I would'a figured you would make a super-awesome sword out of them or something." Scootaloo laid down atop Luna as she spoke; resting in relative quiet there, sprawled out reversed and against Luna's back.
Luna shook her head, wondering where Scootaloo had gained such a strange and amusing idea. A Sword of Light? Nonsense. The doors to her forge were thrown open before her by a show of telekinetic might as she solemnly spoke. "Nay, though we have been tempted to use them for petty purposes. We wonder, how much of the country's history do you know?"
"Only a little more than the books. Mom doesn't like to talk about the old days, and even when she does she leaves stuff out. Why, you wanna tell me?" Scootaloo turned around on Luna's back so she could lean against the lunar diarch's neck. The dark halls took time for her eyes to adjust to as they walked along; with the only source of illumination being Luna's mane. Creaking, the doors of the forge shut behind them ominously as they trotted towards the staircase.
Luna enigmatically smiled as she began to climb the spiral stairway towards the surface. It was just barely wide enough for a skilled pegasus to fly within it, and perfect for what she wanted to do. "Perhaps we will. That is, if you can hang on and talk at the same time."
Scootaloo swiftly looked all around, wondering what Luna was talking about. All too many memories of her mother about to do something completely crazy came to mind, and she worriedly tightened her grip on Luna's neck until it was nearly choking. "Why do I need to hang on?"
"Because I'm not going to tell you about history, I'm going to show it to you," Luna spoke once more, her voice sounding strange to Scootaloo's ears as she did.
The little filly looked down and realized that Luna's fur had darkened to nearly jet black; and that her mane had wove into a wavy riot of blues and greens that spilled down the diarch's neck. And she realized in a moment of horror, that Luna's horn had disappeared from view. Another shard, but this one was a crazy pegasus. "Oh no."
Luna flapped her wings once, rising from the ground in a grand billow of dust. She smiled happily as an old and familiar thrill came upon her. She knew this, and she was about to enjoy herself. "What's the matter, Scootaloo? Afraid that being majestic and awesome doesn't run in the family?"
"No, afraid that crazy does!" Scootaloo's shout of surprise trailed off as Luna craned her neck and launched.
Tenderhoof polished his new Captain's stripes in the convenient mirror, enjoying the bliss he received from their golden shine. To hear that Eaglehoof had asked for and had been granted a transfer was strange, and worrying for a moment when he had first heard. Of course, then he had realized that Eaglehoof hated politics. Between that, and the chance to be known as the first Lunar Stallion, oh well. Tenderhoof was just fine with that.
Tenderhoof turned to his new subordinates, getting ready to address them as part of the change in command. Before he could even think of something to say or open his mouth, a yell of surprise stopped him in his tracks. Coming from down the hall, he turned his head to trace it to the source.
Black hooves picked themselves up with less than a second to spare in order to avoid hitting his head. As he hit the deck, he could swear that a small voice managed to shout out a soft "Sorry!" as whoever that had been had blown by. Wind rushed through the hall in the pegasus' wake, kicking up light papers and other debris as the speedster banked around the corner and disappeared beyond.
"What. The Hay. Was That?"
Celestia had ordered donuts for a late night paperwork binge. Again. The lonely courier had been taking her similar snacks every night for the past two weeks as the princess continued her work on filing paperwork for the mysterious new 'Princess Luna'. The plate he balanced upon his head was loaded with the solar diarch's favorite fattening goodie varieties; a special order kept in the palace refrigerator made by Pony Joe's.
But that was all fine. He smiled, knowing he was going to get yet another chance to peep at her magnificent body again. Those luscious curves, that ample flank that bubbled all the way out, that sensual scream of excitement....
Wind nearly bowled him over in the passing of a black and orange blur. Two hooves nabbed the pieces off the top of his pile as he wobbled and struggled to keep it all together. As he set the plate upon the ground for it's own sake, the blur shot out of an open window into the night skies beyond, and disappeared into the darkness. Forlornly, he looked at his delivery, wondering who would have the audacity to steal donuts from Princess Celestia herself.
Scootaloo clamped herself to Luna, hoping that she could hang on against the windstream from their speed. Her muffled squee of excitement as they buzzed the city rattled against the donut she had bitten down on in her mouth. With the tugging of gravity against the pair's forms, they looped out over the city wall and dove into the air above the plains far below. Spray from the great Canterlot Waterfalls soaked them both as they hugged against the edge of the city's platform; the dampness slicking their manes back as they flew.
Luna felt the little filly's gaze through her movements, and followed it to look at the mighty structures that supported the city. "Hard to believe that the only reason we built Canterlot is because 'Tia wanted an architectural challenge to distract herself with!"
Scootaloo blinked, needing to rub the stinging spray from her eyes as the pair banked and dove into the support superstructure of the city. A few second's chewing cleared her meal from her mouth so that she could speak; the filly leaning in even closer so that Luna could hear her. "Wait, Mom built Canterlot like this because she was bored? I thought we had just mined the mountain out from under it!" She looked about with a sense of wonder as she realized that she likely knew far less than she could even suspect about the world and what had gone on so long ago.
Luna slowed down so that she could hold a better conversation with her passenger. With graceful and elegant strokes of her wings, she slid with practiced and expert ease through the columns and supports, speaking to Scootaloo all the while. "No, the mines are recent as far as I know! She built it to distract her mind from the war that tore down the old world!"
"The war!" Luna tucked in her wings for a burst of speed as she arced beneath the city, diving into The Narrows through a tiny gap. She could feel Scootaloo clutching her tighter in reflex as they began whistling down the notch canyon behind Canterlot. The broken mirror-surfaced walls of the rip in the earth cast nauseating and horrific reflections back upon them as they passed; what little of them remained amidst where landslides had partially collapsed the cliffs. Luna spoke up as she faintly recalled the dark days of the decades before the founding of Equestria. "The war that burned this terrible scar into the world; that wiped out most of ponykind from existence and left us all in primitive misery!"
Scootaloo worked her mouth in silence as they at last alighted atop an outcropping of rocks a few miles down the course of the canyon. Her voice was shrill in surprise and horror at the implications as she squeaked out her response. "A SPELL made this place?"
"Nay. No spell, but a terrible weapon of technology and knowledge. Only twelve hundred years ago, now. I- well, my full self was only forty years old when it was carved. A monstrous chariot of the skies was attempting to kill me, one of the enemies of all civilization." Luna knelt to allow Scootaloo off, reflecting in melancholy upon those dark and terrible days as she did. She had taken them better than her Tia, or Starswirl had. At first, anyway; but only because she could remember fragments of them at best.
Beside her, Scootaloo looked at the mirrored surfaces of perfectly cut stone, and how the canyons stretched into the distance; and eventually... to the sea. It was incomprehensible how something could have kept chasing Luna for so long; terrifying in some ways to her. "But all the history books say this place has been like this since... I dunno, before Canterlot was made! What happened, how did everypony forget?"
"Besides Discord targeting the scholars, the keepers of knowledge and anypony who might pass on the old tales to their youngers? Or the Wendingos targeting them for their bitterness at the world, or the Demons of Air and Darkness making deals with them that would destroy more than they restored?" Luna's cynical and slow list of the ways that knowledge had passed from the world disturbed Scootaloo as the lunar diarch laid down near the edge of the cliff.
Luna looked back to her innocent companion; uncertain of how to explain further as she laid against the smooth and glass-like rock and pulled Scootaloo against her with a wing. Her colors slowly faded back to her deep shades of blue and purple as she released her shard and prepared her spells. "But, in the end, we think that the only reason that Tia did not correct the records is because she feels... guilty. Neither she, nor Starswirl ever gave us the whole truth on the matter, but we have reasons to believe she was the key point of failure. We think that she was the one who was to warn everypony of the Dark Reaper's coming, and failed."
Their home burned. Tirek's chariot hovered over the ancient city, raining death upon the inhabitants within. Hateful power tainted with dark magic burned away everything before it, cutting into one of the great sky-towers as it swept a swath across the urban landscape. Metal groaned and gave way with a shriek that could be heard for miles as the massive complex collapsed upon itself, and the tens of thousands of ponies below. The city that had been their home for as long as Luna could remember, and all of her friends were burning, being slaughtered by Tirek in there. And she couldn't help them.
Her home had already collapsed, a pile of rubble stretching across blocks and blocks of development. Her school had been burned to ash, her friend's homes jagged bits and pieces amongst the towers of steel and glass that were slowly shattering under the steady assault.
Luna buried her head into her brother's side, using Starswirl to protect herself from the horrible images. From the bluff they all watched upon, the screams of the dead and dying couldn't reach them. No, only the sickening rumble of the sky-towers falling, the crackling and explosions of the power stations shorting out, and the rushing roar of the dam in the mountain valley beyond failing could be heard from so far away. A little bit of Luna was glad that the wind was at least blowing the other way. Just the sounds were making her queasy; the smell would make her lose her lunch all over her brother.
Starswirl stroked her back as he stoically watched on, his armored hoof rubbing circles between her wings. Even though he flinched at every building collapse, he kept watch on the city as a tribute to everypony he had to leave behind. He whispered into Luna's ears as he leaned his head down against her in a brotherly nuzzle. "It'll be okay Luna. I promise you. One day this will all be over, and the sun will be shining; and we will all live quietly without fear again."
Luna looked up past Starswirl's combat-armored form so she could plaintively look into his eyes. Her voice cracked with sadness as she continued to embrace him. "Will I ever see my friends again?"
Starswirl shook his head, heart-breakingly denying her. "No, Luna... I don't think so. Just like I'll never see my soldiers again, or... I see your point. But things will get better. I promise." Starswirl scooped Luna up in his forelegs and hugged her to himself; feeling her grabbing him by his equipment harnesses and hugging him back. He looked over her shoulder at Celestia, waiting for her to say something.
She just kept staring off into the distance at the destruction; her pink mane fluttering in the ghastly winds as she forlornly held her vigil. She was still clad in her work attire, having teleported home as soon as she had seen that she was far too late to stop Tirek. The ripped suit still fluttered in places from where she had been caught near blasts, blood dripping from her cuts and soot staining her face.
She was the only reason they were still alive. She had abandoned her post for her family. She'd taken Luna from her bed with only a few things from the room. Starswirl had been grabbed out from under his squadron's collective noses shortly afterwards. Celestia blinked the great and terrible tears from her eyes, trying to commit her home's fate to memory. Trying to convince herself that there was nothing she could have done.
Tirek himself broke away from the city; his massive sky-chariot leaving in a crackle of angry lightning and a howl that chilled the soul. The other four Dark Reapers he had brought with him remained and continued to destroy the great capitol city. Nothing could stand before them, any force that had been mustered was easily swept aside by the great arcs of red energy projected from their monstrously huge sky chariots.
Starswirl picked Luna up, setting her on his back between the weapons mounted upon his shoulders. With a tap of his hoof against the rocky outcropping, he activated the controls of the small family sky-chariot so that they could depart. His voice echoed against the barren rock and into Celestia's ears in an attempt to reason with her. "We need to go. The general should have the annihilation bomb ready to activate by now. If we're this close, we'll die with the city."
Celestia gave Starswirl and his sister a sad, tired look. The soldier instincts within Starswirl flinched at the resignation she wore, suspecting that she was about to do something insane. Celestia's words confirmed his suspicions as she began walking towards the cliff's edge. "Go. Save yourself and Luna. I'm not worth it, and I don't deserve salvation, Starswirl."
Luna nearly lept from Starswirl's back to tackle her; stopped only by the same telekinetic grip that held Celestia in place as well. She screamed and kicked and tried to get to her Tia, tried to stop her. "Don't you leave me!"
"She's right. Our old world is dying. We need you. She needs you. I know someplace on the western continents where we can hide for now." Starswirl held Luna up in his grip; weaponizing her tearful expression as he pleaded with Celestia. He held himself together as best he could; keeping calm and rational with his training. A heavy rumble emerged from the city as several more sky-towers fell, and he stepped closer to try and connect. "Luna needs somepony. I don't think she could bear to be without you forever.
Celestia nodded, knowing what he meant. Reluctant steps slowly led her back to the sky chariot; turning her away from her home that she had so utterly failed. The heavy rumble hadn't ceased, growing stronger with each passing moment as the ground quaked with it's noise. The trio dove for their vessel as the bluff began to crumble and collapse under the assault; the chariot hovering upon it's enchantments as the ground fell out from under it.
Five pillars of fire launched themselves from amongst the ruins, ascending upwards into the darkening smoke-filled skies. Silver shapes stood at the tips of each of the spears of fire, a sight that would be mesmerizing were it not for the peril that the family found themselves in. Starswirl wriggled and flailed his hooves in midair as he clung to the side of the chariot. As the ground had fallen out from under his hooves, he had thrown Luna into the enclosed vehicle with a squak of protest and leapt for safety himself. Celestia landed in the driver's seat with an awkward flare of her wings; ramming into the side of the passenger spaces as she did. Starswirl began to slip as the chariot jostled back and forth from the movements; his strength waning even as he called for help.
Teeth nabbed the grip on the back of his armor vest, hauling him bodily into the vehicle. As it wobbled, his hind hooves found purchase against the metal sides and he crawled over Celestia in a dash to take over the controls, Luna cheering all the way as he did. The armored doors slammed shut as he slapped a button and activated all the enchantments; throwing the vehicle into a steep turn to escape the coming fire.
Celestia grumbled as she strapped herself into a passenger seat, rubbing a hoof against her head where Starswirl had planted a hoof in his scramble. "You're welcome, by the way. And you're right about-"
"Not now! They activated the Exodus Protocol! He's about to fire, we've got to-" Starswirl, and the memory faded in a burst of light brighter than the sun.
"We do not remember how long we were out for. We had remained unbuckled when the blast hit, and..." Luna trailed off as she watched the fading orb of memories dissipate. Beyond it, the darkening moonlit skies faintly twinkled, as if calling to her and begging her to give her love to them once more. Scootaloo buzzed her wings, letting Luna know that she was still waiting for further knowledge. "-Oh! Well, we were just a foal then, even younger than you are. Even the memories that were not bashed from our head with that concussion are faint at best. We suffered so much in that era."
Scootaloo sighed as she let her expectations drop. An idle hoof kicked a rock off the crumbling edge of the canyon; her attention diverted slightly towards listening to it clatter against the walls on it's fall into the deep abyss. She couldn't see or hear it hit bottom, though. The canyon was supposedly a mile or two deep in places, and the drainage river for Canterlot filled the rift's floor. Scootaloo didn't know what to think; the first surviving record in Equestrian history was the unification of the three tribes only a hundred years before Luna fell. Questions bubbled up in the little pegasus, roiling in her mind and filling her with a need to know. "So, Luna. Um, what race did Starswirl really belong to? I mean, there's you, and Mom. And, you're both alicorns, so wasn't he all wingy-hornish-awesome?"
A gust of wind buffeted the duo from behind as a third party swooped in to hover above them. "Unicorn. Just plain, ordinary unicorn, no matter how long he lived." They turned to see Celestia's tired form looking down upon them as she gently descended to the ground. Hooves choreographically touched down with practiced precision simultaneously; the golden boots upon her hooves swallowing up any sound in their cloud linings. Celestia leaned against Luna, sliding her head against the younger diarch in a casual hug of greeting.
She pulled away after a few moments, looking at the still unpreened feathers in Luna's wings. "Though, as for your own recent performance, oh I don't know. I was thinking about giving you an A+ for your technical performance, style, and audacity; but a C- in stealth. You were caught by Tenderhoof when you ran him over. And, you stole my donuts. Nopony steals my donuts." Celestia growled playfully, giving a mock scowl of disapproval to her companions.
Luna and Scootaloo looked at each other sheepishly; both chuckling nervously at the suggestion. Scootaloo stepped around Luna, speaking up as she knew just how terrible the lunar diarch and former element of honesty was. "We don't know anything about that, Mom."
Celestia perked an eyebrow upwards, stepping closer and bowing down to look Scootaloo in the eyes. "Funny. I seem to remember an awfully distinctive pair of ponies with donuts in their mouths. Why, they were even passing my study's window at well over two hundred in the middle of what is supposed to be the Safety Low-Speed Castle Airspace. Black pegasi aren't exactly rare, but one with an orange filly clinging to her with the same stickiness that a certain pair of foals likes to cling to ceilings with? Subtle was not what I would describe it as."
Luna facehoofed, to Scootaloo's exasperation. The lunar diarch stepped around Scootaloo to address Celestia directly. "Alright, Tia. You caught us. But, it should have been you taking time with her instead of letting us lead her astray."
Celestia pondered what Luna had said, wondering how she could have possibly spent more time with Scootaloo under her current constraints. Wearily, she spoke on the matter; certain that she could have done no more. "I don't see how I could. I've done everything in my power to lighten my workload already, I just have so much paperwork to fill out for you, Luna."
It was always hard to just be plain old Celestia to her family. The solar diarch found herself struggling ever more each day since Luna had returned. All she wanted was to give them a normal life. She didn't want them to know of all the kind lies she had told in order to repair Luna's public image, or of how she had fought to keep Scootaloo separate from her own public web of contacts. She just wanted the two to be able to bond, and live, and not worry about the insanity that she forced herself through to keep society running without dragging them into it.
Luna smiled much like a shark might, the corners of her lips curling devilishly upwards in forewarning of her intentions. "Very well. We shall make it simple for you. As your paperwork concerns us, we shall claim it in our name, FOR THE GLORY OF EQUESTRIA! Onwards, we say, to quill and pen!" Luna smirked for Scootaloo's sake and to keep up her facade of a healing princess; giving Celestia just enough time to realize she had been outmanuvered. Luna glowed with a pale lunar light, and vanished in a beam of light that arced towards the castle.
Scootaloo gasped and shivered at the thought of somepony who liked paperwork. "She- but I.... She likes that stuff?"
"No, I don't think so. That was probably her trying to distract us. She has a hard time dealing with the pity of others, or trusting them. So she puts on a brave face and deals with it alone. That's what she did before." Celestia groomed her daughter with magic as she spoke. The soot gathered into a dingy black ball above them as it was swept from Scootaloo, dispersing in a great puff of smoke as Celestia wistfully plotted.
"Dunno. You sure it was her pain she was dealing with? You're looking all lonely and grumpy." Scootaloo wondered what was eating her mother up; considering whether or not she should ask some more about the old days while the elder diarch was dealing with Luna's issues.
Just learning a teeny bit about how they had come to Equestria; finding out what life had been like before Discord and Tirek and the Demons her Mom had said she had fought. For all that her Mom needed to be analyzed and studied upside the head, Scootaloo still had something she had to do for Luna. "You know, since Luna feels that nopony loves her, wouldn't it help out if she started doing magic shows once a week? Think of all the fans that would be cheering her on!"
Celestia frowned as she picked Scootaloo up with her magic for a flight back to the castle. "So, why do you say that?"
" 'Cause I already know about the whole 'soul-shard' mumbo-jumbo you two are keeping to yourselves. And, since she was Honesty and Loyalty, well, you know." Scootaloo gestured with her hooves and wings, trying to get the point across to her mother.
"No, no I don't."
Scootaloo grumbled and tried to put it into words for her mother, resignedly squeezing out her idea. "Since she IS Moonstone, or at least a part of her, she will be honest with herself. And, think of how loyal her fans are! They're all completely nuts!" Scootaloo waved her forehooves in the air to emphasize her last sentence. Every theater in town had been blockaded ever since Luna had shown her shard's face with ponies lining up from all over begging for Moonstone to show up.
Celestia hummed in thought, flaring her wings for takeoff as she did. Tenatively, she decided it was worth a shot as she spoke. "I'll see about it, Scootaloo. Very insightful." The whumpt of Celestia's wingbeat filled the air as she took to the skies; leisurely gaining altitude for the journey home.
"Yeah, I've got my times. Say Mom, Luna mentioned 'Demons of Air and Darkness'. She said they had something to do with making this place, what's up with that?" Scootaloo buried herself into her mother's mane as she spoke; only her head free of the flowing solar hair. Given the way Celestia nearly dropped out the skies at the mention of their existence, it had been a good idea.
Powerful wingstrokes hauled them back to altitude as Celestia glared over her shoulder at her innocently smiling daughter. She stiffened her wings as they caught a thermal, preparing for the long glide back to Canterlot airspace. Irritating questions posed themselves in Celestia's mind, demanding answers. "What did Luna tell you about them?"
"Not much. Only that they made this canyon trying to kill her, and that they came after you beat up Tirek and did, well whatever it is you do to bad ponies that try to kill everypony. And I know the history books have only a footnote on them as part of their coverage on Discord, so you must have messed up again." Scootaloo poked and prodded her mother verbally, hoping to get something out of her. Clouds tickled them both as they ascended upon a thermal into the night skies as the awkward silence stretched on.
Celestia hopped upon a cloud high above the castle so that they could talk privately. "I don't know where you got this silly idea that I hide my mistakes-"
"Luna. Discord. The Dark Reapers and whatever you were doing when they invaded that Luna says makes you feel that you were responsible. Nothing big like blaming Cadance for stealing the cookies from Twilight's cookie jar or something."
"-Ah. I see. Well, no. They just got swallowed up, historically speaking, and became associated with a phenomenon of Discord's rule. They really had nothing to do with him, but I gave up on correcting my little ponies a long time ago." Celestia refrained from Luna's fancy illustrated illusions of the past as she spoke, instead quietly laying out history as she let Scootaloo slide off of her onto the cloud. "They were beings of literal shadow. They flew about, supposedly granting the wishes of 'worthy ponies'. In reality, they believed that chaos and fighting and hurting others brought about growth."
She settled Scootaloo into her lap before her; and sighed as she remembered the dark years. She whispered, leaning down over Scootaloo's shoulder to keep her voice as low as possible. "They would say that you owed them 'favors'; and they would collect them in ways that further separated everypony from each other. And their chariots... Imagine a spider of darkest darkness, screaming at you from inside your own head and you might begin to imagine what they were."
Scootaloo quaked at the thought, shivering in her mother's lap. She hated spiders, and now she knew why her Mom did. At least she didn't really need to sleep that night, since it was the start of a weekend. "Mom. I think I know why I didn't need to know."
"They're gone, Scootaloo. They vanished under the power of the Elements, and they will not be coming back. I promise. Now, how about a board game at home?" Celestia grinned as her daughter perked back up at the thought of beating the jewelry off of the solar diarch in yet another board game.
The old nightmares and horrors were gone. Even with all that went on in the modern world; and the short time she had with her daughter, she was at rest. She had so much to share with Scootaloo. And there would be no more shadows, no more reaping of souls, and especially no more of that bastard Discord. She was sure of it.
Blueblood held up the sample of orange yarn to the light once more, pondering whom it's matching pony might be. House Blueblood had served as Celestia's moral guardians for centuries, and it was his obligation to ensure that she remained unheart-broken. The family's newest edition of their guide and reference primer on the royal court was laid open before him on his coffee table. Hopefully somewhere within it's many pages and pages of dossiers was the identity of Celestia's courtier, whom the royal diarch had clearly become deeply smitten with.
Within his secret study, his family's products of their many years of research and dedication mocked him, daring him to live up to the rest of them. Bookshelf after bookshelf of contingencies and plans in case of any eventuality in dealing with the solar diarch filled the cramped space, each begging him to crack them open and inspect the plots within. None of them would be any good if he could not identify whom it was that he was actually dealing with.
Blueblood groaned as he inspected the sheer thickness of his current book. It had everypony from the highest noble to the lowliest family members of the castle servants in it, organized by name and title. The sheer volume of entries made him wish for his aunt's strongest drink as he sniffed his shot glass of grape juice in frustration; wondering why he had swore off alcohol.
A snarky little corner of his mind laughed at him, reminding him that he had sworn it off upon his aunt's name and upon the honor of the Order of Celestial Compasses. So, he sipped his grape juice in the dark silence of his sparsely furnished lair and prayed that Celestia would strike the headache from between his eyes. Preferably without taking his head with it, he mentally added as an afterthought.
The gentle fire in the fireplace was his only illumination, its flickering light adding to his irritation as he flipped to the next profile in his book. 'Sunbeam'. Or at least, that was the pseudo-name that Celestia's secretary went by, since no pony by that name could be proven to be alive. So, yet another name found itself added to the list of suspects linked to the thread; possibly linked to Celestia's recent erratic behavior. With matches including complimentary colored and near-matching coats, his list was mercifully short. Sixty names out of the 3000 or so closely enough linked to Celestia to be on the order's senses wasn't a bad narrowing down.
Blueblood wondered if he would have to intervene should he locate the stallion (or mare) involved with his beloved aunt. It was the order's mandate to keep Celestia's heart from being broken by a mortal, and to keep her from falling astray. If the relationship was benign and truthful, he supposed he could let it slide. His page turned, a young orange foal's face staring up at him from the-
The Doom-Bells at his door ominously thundered in the night; heralding a new visitor. A muffled curse died in Blueblood's throat as he slammed the guide shut upon his list. Rising to his hooves, he dashed across the pine-paneled floor past the shelves that filled his secret study towards the front door.
Skidding across tile towards the more traditionally opulent front hall was nearly the end of him as he crashed into the pillars in the foyer at high speed. As Blueblood's heart raced neck and neck with his thoughts, he did his best to slip on the face of a drunken dullard and slicked his mane back. Doom-Bells rang as his doorbell was abused once more and three sharp raps of a hoof on wood cracked in the relative silence of the hall.
"Coming, just a moment!" Blueblood clamped down on the spasms of his heavy breaths, regulating them down into a beat approaching that of a stallion having just come away from a rather vigorous night in bed. The three raps echoed in the hall once more, and Blueblood at last opened the door.
The stranger before him stood in an all-black suit, with a slick mane and tail slimily completing the look of a lawyer. Or worse. Strangely, Blueblood uneasily realized that he couldn't make out the colors of the disturbing figure's fur coat; or any further details beyond the vague outlines of his suit and face. With a voice like the tendrils of a demon of Tartarus, the stranger spoke and riveted Blueblood's attention with his words. "Oh, I must apologize for interrupting, Prince Blueblood. My associates have rather unusual business habits. They insisted that I drop by at this rather late hour, and ask a few questions for a survey they're performing. That is, of course, if you're interested."
Blueblood's hackles began to rise at something in the stallion's nature. Maybe it was the way he seemed to soak up the miniscule ambient light of the stars; or the seemingly soulless eyes of a predator upon the stranger's face; or perhaps something else altogether telling him that he needed to run far, far away. Blueblood swallowed back the slight bile in his throat, and asked what was foremost in his mind. "So, who are you?"
The strange stallion grew agitated as Blueblood's gaze bored into him, and beyond into the blackness behind him. "My associates would prefer that I not answer that question at this time. Instead, what do you want, Blueblood? Out of everything on this little rock, what do you desire most of all?" The stranger returned the favor of a question, seemingly eager to hear every little thing that Blueblood had to say. Eager to divine the prince's every secret and inner thought, or so it seemed.
Blueblood realized something was terrifyingly wrong about the situation. Whispers harshly slithered around him in the night. Dark shapes at the edges of his vision moved, inspecting him. Old family tales struck home as he looked at the figure before him with his magic, and beheld the writhing black miasma. Blueblood yelped in utter terror, slamming the door behind him as he readied a teleport spell to run as far away from the dread figure as he could.
"Smart stallion. Never had that reaction before." The mysterious stallion cocked his head, listening to the insectile noises of his associates as they made their decisions. "I like it. Shall we see the griffon ambassador afterwards? I thought so."
"Oh, I'm walking on sunshine, ~woooah-a-wooo-oh! I'm walking on sunshine, ~woooah-a-wooo-oh! And I'm feeling real good!" Twilight did her best impression of 'dancing' in the lazy afternoon summer sun, frolicking through verdant fields of amber grass. Why even the sun bobbled and jigged to the beat of her singing as her mentor listened to her. Carefree, and deep within what she knew to be a dream, she bounced her flank and carved a happy path through nearly head-high foliage towards a mighty old gnarled oak tree. And thank Celestia that it was a dream, with the blissful lack of Pinkie Pie that came with the territory.
Breath whoofed from her lungs as she lazily flopped into the shade of the old tree, rolling to her back. Idle hooves continued to twitch in mid-air to her mental beat, twirling little patterns in the lethargic light. All of it just a relaxing dream at long last, her sleep uninterrupted for once. All just a dream, her world reduced to herself, the midsummer light, the cool bark scratching against the fur of her back, the creepy giant Blueblood-woodpecker...
"Oh HAY no! Shoo! Shoo! This is my first pleasant lucid dream in the past month, and you are not going to ruin it!" Twilight hopped to her hooves and fired off magic bolts into the canopy to rid herself of her pest. She knew it had to be the obnoxious representation of somepony in the waking world trying to steal her away from her dream, and she was having none of that.
Rap! Rap! RAP!
Twilight flinched, ears folding against her head to drown out the noise. Glaring upwards, she had the unfortunate luck to watch as it smugly grinned at her. Before her eyes it began vibrating, fissioning into two, TWO! Blueblood-woodpeckers.
Twilight looked up once again, seeing to her horror that the creatures had begun to multiply like mad. "Oh no. No-no! Stop that, stop that right now!" A cacophony of noise answered her, mocking her declaration with an unholy racket.
Twilight's world spun under the noisy assault, making her press her hooves over her ears. Purple eyes widened as one of the abominations flew down and inspected her body. Hooves waved at it, trying to ward it away as the twisted thing hopped closer. It croaked her name in a parody of birdcalls as she stuffed her face under the concealing protection of a leg and prayed that it would leave her be.
A hard, angular muzzle poked into her soft gut. "Twilight!" Poke! "Twilight! Snap outta it!" POOOOKE!
"Twilight, Twilight! Snap outta it!"
Twilight woke with a slight gasp as Spike shook her. Trying to move out of his grasp demonstrated to her that she had wrapped herself into her blankets like a mummy; folds of her blankets twisted about each and every one of her limbs tightly enough to prevent even the slightest hoof-wriggle. Magic flickered around her horn, untangling the knots with sleepy difficulty.
Spike hopped from her belly to the floor, looking up at his big sister figure with concern. "Are you okay, Twi?"
The mare in question fixed him with an exhausted stare of utter fury. Not one wink of sleep had been allowed for her over the past month, and she could feel it in every one of her bones. Her bloodshot eyes and ruffled, ragged mane lent a wild look to her face as she contemplated whether she should go directly back to bed, or if she should use her new trick number 36 to transmorgify Spike into a pillow for the night so that she could get an uninterrupted night's sleep.
Twilight's words were unnaturally calm as she spoke, though her eye twitched every few syllables. Sleep beckoned to her, begging her to rejoin her restless dreams. "Spike, this had better be important. Everypony in town seems to relish the thought of waking me up every night. I get about three hours of sleep a night if I'm lucky, and I'm starting to go a little Cra-ZY!"
Spike pointed downstairs, towards the front door. A resigned look in his eyes hid the relief that Twilight would have somepony else to take her frustrations out on. As Twilight growled with the anger of an insomniac, he hastily filled her in. "He's been out there for thirty minutes, Twilight. He just keeps knocking on the door. I try to get him to come in so he'll stop making noise, or go to the inn. But then he just ignores me, or stares blankly, or asks for you and begs that you'll save him from having his soul eaten or something like that."
Twilight groaned, throwing her pillow on her face in an attempt to block out the world as she flopped backwards back into bed. The cacophony of knocks upon her front door began again, mocking her desire for sleep. For a moment she felt like she would win the battle of wills, before she grew restless and launched her pillow into the ceiling with her magic. Twilight rolled to her hooves and fell out of bed as gracefully as she could as her pillow bounced back to the floor.
"Spike, stay here. I'll deal with whoever it is, even if I have to send him to the inn myself." Twilight's mind ignored the anxious look on her number one assistant's face as she stomped towards the stairs and complained all the way. Her mind analyzed who might be outside trying to frustrate her. It was probably Pokey Pierce, or that crazy Doctor Hooves, or somepony else from the humble town of Crazyville.
Twilight stalked down her stairs, listening to the panicked whimpers outside and the frantic staccato of knocks against her door. Her eyes twitched with frustration, her scowl vibrating at its corners with the happy thoughts of sending somepony on a magic teleport ride out of her mane. A mantra built within her, quietly recited with each step. "All work and no sleep makes Twilight go crazy! First Sunbeam, then Pinkie, then everypony else..."
Twilight stomped across her home's lobby towards the front door as Spike watched on from the balcony. Her horn lit every candle in the room as she warmed herself up, preparing to teleport whoever it was at the door to someplace, anyplace but her front door. "Spike, take a note! I need to put a sign up. Just because we run the library and handle most of the messes doesn't mean we work after hours! From now on, unless the town's burning down, everypony can wait until morning. The business hours are there-"
Twilight yanked her front door open mid-sentence just as Blueblood leaned into yet another knock. The noblepony wobbled without balance as the surface he expected to rest against was swept from under his hoof. She yelped as he fell over onto her in the entryway, awkwardly sprawled atop her like a big arrogant blanket. Blueblood grabbed her up into a hug as they laid there and wildly looked into her eyes.
"Twilight! Please, you have to help me! I've turned into such a horrible pony that The Demons are after my soul!" Blueblood wildly shook Twilight beneath him as he begged. As she started getting nauseous, she teleported him far enough away from her that she would have time to get her eyes to stop wobbling.
Twilight held a hoof to her head as she tried to steady her woozy world. The pretty chandelier on her ceiling seemed to be spinning round and round, dragging the edges of her vision with it as Spike suddenly loomed uncomfortably large in her vision directly above her. She flinched, until he helped her by taking one of her hooves and pulling her back into a sitting position. That left her with two Bluebloods spinning around each other in a dizzying circle by her table, but it was the thought that counted.
Twilight took a moment to gather her thoughts, squeezing her eyes shut as Spike waddled to the kitchen to get her a glass of water. The words came difficultly to her, hesitantly emerging past the nauseating dizziness. "Blueblood, The Demons are myths; old pony tales only. Even if they were once real, they've been long gone for centuries."
"Says the pony who Whap!-Pow'ed-FizzaNNNNEEAAMMER!~" Spike stopped awkwardly as Blueblood and Twilight glared him down, their irritation with his sound effects plain to see. "Err, right. Says the pony who beat Nightmare Moon." As he nearly died of embarrassment, Twilight saved him the trouble of coming over and picked up the glass of water from his paws and dragged it over to herself with magic. At least she didn't know about his cool new 'Twilight Sparkle, HERO OF EQUESTRIA!' figurine.
Blueblood pointed a trembling hoof at Spike, nodding his head frantically as he did. "Almost three months ago! You beat a myth come to life with another myth come true. You beat Nightmare Moon even though everypony laughed you off, and completely failed to believe you. And you call ME crazy?" Blueblood's eye twitched as he waited for Twilight to answer him.
Twilight did her best to avoid putting a hoof to her face; instead studying the bottom of her glass intently until she could ignore Blueblood no more. Idly, she wondered if having frozen to death in eternal darkness would have been better than the price of her newfound fame. She weighed a thousand courses of action within her head as Blueblood patiently, pleadingly waited. "Fine. I'll come by your manor and investigate tomorrow. But if there is any truth to this silliness, get Princess Celestia to help you, she'd be the one with actual experience on the matter."
Blueblood perked up eagerly, his eyes shining with an unhealthy interest as he did. His horn glowed for a second, kicking the door gently shut as he asked one further question. "Thank you, can I stay here for the night?"
Twilight groaned, and once more shot a glare across the room to Spike. Her number one assistant gave her an uncertain shrug and threw his blanket around his shoulders, ducking back into the kitchen to hide from Twilight's gaze. Her hoof ground itself into the floor as she considered the chances of Blueblood having reformed himself from his old, irritating ways. "Fine. You can stay, but you'll take the floor. No whining, and we'll leave in the morning."
"Oh thank Celestia! I was worried I would have to stay up in some peasant hovel all night driving myself mad with worry!" Blueblood turned tail and dashed for the supposed safety of Twilight's room.
"Oh Spike?" Twilight's voice was deceptively cheery as she lured her number one assistant from his kitchen lair. Her magic flared forth, extinguishing every candle and light downstairs in one single burst of magenta light as Spike stuck his head out from the kitchen door. "Would you be my very best assistant, and put up a sign out front? We don't want any more visitors in the middle of the night now do we? Business hours are from seven in the morning until six at night, and friends can come over until nine'o'clock at night. ESPECIALLY Pinkie. Got that?" Twilight shot Spike a warning smile as her twitchy gaze fixated upon him and her mane fluffed out in a disturbingly familiar way. She waved him goodnight as a sign found itself floated up from downstairs for him to paint. "Good-Niiiiiiiight!"
"Alright, Twi. I got it, I should stop answering the door at all at night so the town will stop using you as its sole nighttime emergency resource, okay. Go to sleep, you look like you need it."
Twilight's growl was enough for Spike to shut up and find a paintbrush. She stomped up her stairs in an adorably angry fashion and all but marched into her bedroom for some sleep. Her eyes narrowed as she found no sign of her slimy unicorn noble guest in her bedroom. "Where are you, Blueblood?"
Twilight's bed shuddered as the faint reflective gleam of a pair of eyes glinted beneath it's frame. Blueblood's voice was slightly child-like as he curled up deeper under her bed after having somehow stuffed himself down there without upsetting her bed any more than it already had. "You said the floor, Sparkle. Not where on it. I'll be safe if they have to go through you first."
"Wow. Uhh, okay. No shivering. I want sleep, or else." Twilight crawled up into bed, tiredly re-cocooning herself in her blankets at last. "Princess Celestia doesn't have to deal with this. She's probably fast asleep, dreaming of happy bunny land, or monopoly or-"
"-Go! And I get six million bits!" Scootaloo smugly looked over the top of her towering pile of money at the victim she was draining every last bit out of. It felt good to win, sometimes.
Her opponent's snowy-white hoof slowly and irritably counted out the enormous amount owed. With a flourish of her lengthy leg, she stuffed the fake bills of currency into the loose golden shoe on Scootaloo's hoof. "Oh, don't worry, I'll turn this around. Just you wait."
"I've been waiting, Mom. If I wait much more I'll turn all old and wrinkly. Ew." Scootaloo took off the golden shoe she had temporarily won from her mother, dumping the game money in it into her messy 'slush fund' pile. It wouldn't be much longer until she had completed her set of 'borrowed' jewelry from her mother. To say that she was all too pleased with her luck wouldn't even begin to describe her attitude.
Her mother suspected it was more than just 'luck'. The 'invincible' Celestia Invicus Morningstar had found herself consistently the victim of the single most vicious beatdown that she had ever faced. First, it had been a simple game of checkers when they had gotten home. That, well it wasn't what somepony would call a resounding success for her. And she had lost her neckpiece in a bet with Scootaloo.
So, she decided to up the ante, and fought to get it back in what she expected to be the single most lopsided game of chess she had ever played. Surely, Scootaloo couldn't play the great game in something that could be remotely called proficiency, or competency. She thought that right up until she found her Princess to be her last piece on the board, with Scootaloo's rooks, knights, and prime minister surrounding it, checkmating her in a single fell swoop. That little performance had won her little filly rival one of the diarch's golden shoes and added insult to injury.
Celestia decided to cut to the chase and broke out her Majong set, daring Scootaloo to beat her. It was about then that Celestia gained the sneaking feeling that she was completely and utterly outmatched. Surely nopony besides Luna could be good enough to consistently win against her. It had to be luck. But not even Battleclouds, or that one ridiculous trap game seemed to stop Scootaloo from taking the rest of her shoes and aiming for her golden crown. With nothing left to lose, not an ounce of mercy left to pity her child, and her crown on the line she had done the unthinkable. A game of Monopony seemed like the perfect way to bore her down and win everything back.
Yeah, that hadn't exactly gone according to plan.
Celestia at last reluctantly rolled, and visibly flinched at the number displayed upon the dice. She slowly and resignedly pushed her piece along and took off her last ornament of office as the game token came to a rest beside Scootaloo's most expensive and built up piece of property. She floated it over to her victorious foal, holding it in the air over Scootaloo's head.
Scootaloo precariously snatched the crown from the air and placed it on her head, where it wobbled on her smaller skull. "Victor- Yaaaaaawwwn- ry!"
"Bravo, Bravo! We want to see it again!" Luna stomped out her appreciation of the spectacle from where she had emerged from Celestia's office. As she slid the rest of the way from where she had esconced herself, she floated out a mighty stack of papers as tall as she was, letting it crash to the ground with a floor-shaking thud. She smirked at the look that Celestia gave her, flicking her tail as she did. "Oh, Tia. Pouting like that is unbecoming of you. What if your face got stuck? Scootaloo won that game fairly."
"A six game winning streak is hardly 'fair', Luna." Celestia grumbled out her words, sourly reflecting on how she had been beaten. The pieces of the game found themselves swept up into a whirlwind of motion that fitted the contents of the game back into it's box.
Luna shook her head, admitting that Celestia had spoken the truth. "Yes, it does seem rather lopsided. And yet, Scootaloo performed her mighty winning streak with a sleep handicap. Your gaming session has lasted the entire night, it's nearly dawn." Luna's hoof pointed to the western horizon, where her moon slowly dipped out of sight.
"Guess I'm -yaaaaaaaaa~wwwn- just too good for you, Mom." Scootaloo shook her head violently to break the hold of her sleepiness. Her mother's crown nearly slipped off her head in the motion; held in place only by one of her ears before she could press it back up. She almost wanted to collapse on the spot and let the snores come.
Celestia grumbled once more, before a wicked idea came to her and spread her lips wide in a knowing smile. She leaned in close to her daughter and hummed the first few verses of a tune. At the gentle sound, Scootaloo dropped like somepony on a remote controlled trap door. As she laid on the ground, her deep sleep quickly slipped down into a snore-filled snooze. Celestia leaned back, pumping her forehooves into the air, silent chanting "Victory!" as she did.
Luna nodded, smiling bemusedly as Celestia floated Scootaloo up just long enough to slide a pillow under the filly's peaceful form. As Scootaloo twitched at the movement fitfully, Luna joined Celestia and wrapped a blanket over her Tia's youngest daughter. Luna nudged her elder counterpart, slyly whispering into her ear. "Oh, yes. Bravo. You defeated the sleepy filly with the power of song. Most worthy of prize and laud."
Celestia took a mock bow towards Luna, basking merrily in the friendly verbal sparring. After she rose, she walked across the room with the game set to stuff them back into their cabinet. "Oh, Luna. So naive and unaware of the dangers of a bored and 'unsleepy' filly. Why I bet you could bore yours to death, couldn't you?" Celestia remained cheerful and upbeat even though Luna made several silly faces behind her back.
She chuckled and turned to the massive stack of forms beside her at the door to her study. Luna had done a great deal, and had somehow mastered her own signa- Celestia twitched as she realized that Luna had developed some form of signature copying spell. "Hmm, I see you've lightened my load by quite a bit Luna. This can't really be all of them."
"Yes. It is all of them. Honestly, Tia, it seems as though you spend more time bellyaching about your work and eating comfort foods than you do actually working." Luna scolded her elder lightly, rolling her hooves in circles as she spoke to ease their cramps. "And you could lose some weight. Especially in the hips of birthing and those... generous curves."
Celestia raised one of her eyebrows; slowly stalking towards the lunar diarch as she did. "Oh, is that so, Luna? I'd love to see you run a country and raise a filly at the same time in separate lives. That'll drive you to comfort eating in a second."
"Tia, we managed a magic show and cared for our own Trixie little foal at the same time. With a few small tricks, all things are easy to handle." Luna dismissively waved a hoof as she spoke, unaware of Celestia's proximity. Luna blinked and rubbed her own eyes as she stared out across the castle towards her moonset even as Celestia crept up to her side.
"Oh. Tricks like this?" Celestia hummed the same tune that put Scootaloo to sleep quietly into Luna's ears. The lunar diarch stumbled, fighting her sudden fatigue. She blinked her eyes rapidly as the strength left her magic and legs in the face of a reminder of her childhood nights. She at last slipped off rapidly to sleep, slumped out laying out flat on her belly on the floor.
Celestia carefully levitated Scootaloo's bundle over next to Luna, spreading it out to comfort Luna's legs as she did. A further blanket and pillow found themselves wedged under and around Luna, quieting her discomforting dreams.
No matter, best to just let Luna sleep. She had plans to make, after all. From what paperwork she had read Luna had set the ceremony to retake the moon at the same time that the solar diarch was set to go home to Ponyville in three weeks time. "Oh, Luna. I know how much you just want to be loved, and noticed. But you never have to prove yourself. Especially not to me, so why start now?"
Twilight poked the patch of dead grass before her with a magic detecting crystal, frowning at the results it gave her. She had already sent a sample of the affected vegetation and soil to Applejack via a jar of dragonfire, but until the farmer got back to her via Spike she couldn't tell what had killed it. Whatever it was, the grass had just withered up and died in under six hours. Possibly even instantly.
"Tell me, tell me it wasn't them!"
Twilight wished that she could tell Blueblood that it was all just a dream. She really did, as it would keep him from bugging her again. Unfortunately she couldn't just discount Blueblood's tale out of hoof. The three trails of dead grass matched Blueblood's description of what had happened that night to the last detail. Too closely for the chance of mere coincidence. Something else was going on. So, she grimly looked at Blueblood, shaking her head and keeping quiet.
Blueblood paced behind her on the front porch, afraid to enter his manor alone. He was restless, worried that Twilight might uncover his alternate profession. Or worse, there was the chance that she might decide him to be pure evil for having dragged her away from Ponyville and back into the den of snakes known as Canterlot. Or, maybe he was just nervous for his soul given the fearsome old tales of the Demons.
He cleared his throat, deciding to take the chance and called over to where Twilight stood with a compliment. "You know, being the bearer of the Element of Magic seems to have done wonders for you. Its almost as if you're just glowing with their majesty."
Twilight sighed in frustration. She spared a glance for the castle hanging off the mountain high above, silently asking the Princess how she put up with the suitors and yes-ponies that likely surrounded her every single day. Knowing that Princess Celestia couldn't answer her, she finally answered her client and old school-hood friend to get him off her back. "The Elements don't make us glow, Blueblood. You're imagining things. Let's go inside since we aren't going to learn any more out here."
As he opened his mouth for a remark, Twilight stuck a hoof up at him with a slight glare of disapproval. "And no comments about how you can't imagine the radiance of the sun coming from me, or some other wishy-washy flirting. I'm not dating you, or any other pony. Especially not you. I still remember the jerks you called parents. And I remember what they said about Princess Celestia taking me on as her student."
As she stepped through the open front door, she failed to notice how Blueblood deflated and flinched back like a kicked puppy. "But- but I would never..."
Inside, the decor seemed untouched. As far as Twilight's eye could see everything seemed to be in order. If tacky and overdone. Twilight gave Blueblood the glance of somepony who didn't even need words to describe how gaudy and overdone something was. He nodded, extending out a hoof in invitation to tour his home, letting Twilight lead the way in her inspection. He said nothing as she passed him, afraid of what she might say.
Twilight grew puzzled as the opulence she remembered from the few times she had visited the manor faded away, with bare walls replacing the gaudy furnishing of the 'public spaces'. Her interest grew as tasteful minor touches showed themselves in the house, humble in their strange way. "What happened? I seemed to remember this hall being filled with family portraits. And a bunch of really expensive sculptures."
Blueblood cleared his throat hesitantly, stepping up beside her as they continued to look at every inch of the manor. "Sold, mostly. Some was put into storage. I'm not proud of what some of my family did. Unicorn supremacists, greedy, wasteful. I sold quite a bit for charity causes. They reminded me too much of my father."
Twilight snorted, disbelieving what she was hearing. "Oh, right. I seemed to recall you liking what they had to say." She took a quick look into the kitchen of the manor, noticing old takeout boxes piled in a corner. In fact, that seemed to be the only thing in the kitchen other than the furnishings.
"Well, sometimes we do know better. Reality has a way of being somewhere in between. I mean, really? Do we need to pander to those pegasi warrior ethos types? Or what about the Fillydelphia iron workers trying to undercut unicorn smelting shops? They can be right, but its so dreadfully rare." Blueblood rambled as his thoughts worked back to his secret study, hoping he had remembered to lock it before he ran screaming.
Twilight restrained herself from calling him out on how crazy he sounded. If she did, they would be there all day trying to sort fact from fiction. But it did seem oddly convenient that he would have all the signs of somepony trying to live down his wealth, on top of apparently renouncing his parent's views.
"Strange. You know, I am rather envious of you." Blueblood didn't notice how Twilight froze slightly at his words.
"Why?" Twilight trotted quickly to catch up to him as he led on back through one of the public spaces where the old decor was still intact. The old lounge had been a spot where they had met on several occasions when he had brought her home to hang out in their early school years.
"Here I am, marinating in everything that my parents considered 'right' and 'just'. I want to be better than them, but I can't help but feel like I'm becoming no better than they are. And then, there you are, down in Ponyville learning about what society should be like. You and your friends." Blueblood wistfully explained himself as they moved back into the private sections of the manor, still seeing nothing out of place. He hoped nothing was out of place. If he had to explain to the leader of the Order that he had lost his head and let plans fall into the wrong hooves, it would be a rather bad day.
"I- I didn't know. After the way your parents banned me from being your friend, I thought you would end up like them. But I-" Twilight trailed off as the sounds of her hooves clip-cloping across hardwood and marble floors ceased; replaced by the familiar crinkling of abused paper underhoof. Her gaze fell to the floor, where it traced a veritable flood of paper across the hall. They all looked familiar, like the documents Shiney would often bring home from work.
Her magic field picked up the first page she could find beneath her hooves, holding it up to her eyes. She didn't notice Blueblood's choked expression of horror as he realized what Twilight was reading; the mage not noticing as she read around the warped and creased areas where her hoof had crumpled the document. "Celestia suffers breakdown over missing and/or heartbroken student?"
Twilight read onwards, her puzzled gaze turning into a righteous fury at the implications she read into the document. It mentioned nothing about how she would go missing, filling in the gaps after events had begun. She snorted as she read various plans for how to convince Princess Celestia to forget about her faithful student and focus on the needs of the moment, and presumably the unicorn nobility. Twilight turned her fierce gaze on Blueblood, watching him wilt under her eyes. "I cannot believe you! I was about to trust you, and here you are planning on doing something to me?"
Blueblood shook his head in horror as he realized how he had been played. The Demons had been busy in his empty home after all, and his one chance to make things up with Twilight was about to go up in smoke. "No! It's just a contingency plan! We- I would never hurt you! I couldn't do that to Auntie Celestia!" Blueblood scrambled to figure out how to explain himself as he saw the mounting disgust on Twilight's face.
Her mind busily tried to fit the pieces of what she had discovered together, filling in the gaps with what she presumed to be the truth based on how his family had reacted in the past. Slowly, she began to stalk towards him, grinding each hoof into the floor as she marched towards the backpedaling prince. The use of the word 'we' drew a great deal of her ire, implying that there was an actual conspiracy at work. She turned without another word, marching for the front door. As far as she was concerned, Blueblood could go and stone himself.
He ran to catch up with her, knowing he had to say something, anything to convince her to see reason; sticking close to her side. Twilight cast a sound muffling spell on her ears before he could start talking, dampening down Blueblood's voice into a level that she couldn't understand. She didn't want to understand after she put away the page that she had read in her backpack.
"-light, please! I- ave to -en to me! I never w-"
Twilight stopped to whirl on Blueblood, irritated that he was still making himself heard. "No! No more! I don't know what you're up to; but I will be telling Princess Celestia about this. And I do not want to listen to one more thing from you, and I want nothing more out of you. Goodbye, Prince Blueblood." Twilight teleported from the manor suddenly at the end of her angry tirade, determined to go somewhere, anywhere other than the Blueblood family property.
Blueblood stood there, staring in shock. He hadn't meant for that to happen. Why had she picked up that sheet out of any of them? He had just wanted to do something nice for her...
His trembling hoof reached up into the remaining swirl of wind, letting the papers picked up into the air current gently slap against his fur. He tried to wish her back, tried to understand why the universe seemed intent on hating him so much. He tried to find words that wouldn't come to him, begging her for forgiveness, for her terms or anything to give him a chance. "It's only to keep Celestia happy..."
Celestia greeted the late morning light with a toast of her teacup and her outstretched wings rising into the air. The morning's glory spread through her blood like a song in her heart. Soon, it would be time to go home. Just two weeks until she could drop most of her paperwork on Luna, and spend more time than she ever had before with her precious Scootaloo. Two weeks until she could let Luna spread her own wings and soar; until the lunar diarch could begin laying the foundations of her own age.
The duet of snores behind her continued unabatedly, making a merry melody. The two of them had slept for hours already, snoozing gently in the dawn light. Luna had curled protectively around Scootaloo, hooves wrapped around her small charge until the little filly could barely be seen. The pegasus's ear flicked with each deep and languid breath the lunar diarch took next to it. Stellar mane had become Scootaloo's blanket, wrapped tightly about her by her sleepy motions.
Celestia sipped her tea once more, enjoying the bitter brew as she contemplated the world. The peaceful morning almost made her horn tingle with happiness at the thought of having no work at all for the first time in over a hundred years. Unfortunately, as somepony overly optimistic often does, she failed to realize that the tingle in her horn was due less to happiness and more to the teleport field outside.
Twilight tapped the thick, sound-dampening glass before her, trying to get in and warn her teacher of Blueblood's plot. Celestia drank on calmly behind the glass, unaware of the unicorn banging against the other set of windows across the room. Twilight hopped up and down, screaming at the glass and hoping that Celestia would hear her. With the sliding doors locked and the royal suites teleport-warded, it was her only hope of stopping whatever nefarious plan Blueblood was about to unleash on her.
Celestia took another slight sip, wondering where in Equestria the faint tapping she was continually hearing was coming from.
Twilight pressed herself against the sun-heated glass, shouting even harder at Princess Celestia until her coat started turning blue from the lack of air. She slumped down to the pleasantly warm marble in exhaustion from the workout she had given herself. Mmm, warm and toasty marble. It almost made her want to just get some sl- NO! She had to warn Princess Celestia!
Twilight struggled to her hooves, swiping the sleep from her eyes as she rose. Groggily, she spat the pillow she had bitten into out, gagging slightly at the taste of dyed fabric. Magic charged in an aura around her horn as she prepared to amplify her voice and try to catch the Princess's attention again.
Wait. Spat... pillow... out? Twilight looked down, seeing the sun-print pillow coated with her sleepy saliva. Uh-oh.
"Oh, I was wondering when you were going to wake up, Twilight. When I found you like that you seemed so exhausted. I felt it would have been almost criminal to wake you up, so I made you comfortable so you could sleep. You still make that adorable little snore." Celestia's wings gently draped themselves around Twilight's form from behind. Their warm feathery forms dragged her deep into the cuddle of Celestia's embrace.
Twilight tried to break free from the hug, looking up past Celestia's surprisingly bare body to stare her in the eyes. "Princess, I need to tell you of a terrible plan to overthrow you!"
Celestia jerked back, irritably musing as to whether or not she had taunted the gods of bad luck. The day had started out so nicely, after all. She fixed Twilight in her stare, feeling acutely uncomfortable doing so without her symbols of office on. "Twilight, this is a very serious crime you are accusing somepony of."
Twilight dug into her saddlebags, pulling out the page she had stolen from within. "Prince Blueblood has concocted a scheme to kidnap me or do something to make me go away in order to destabilize you!" Her worried explanation came out in a massive rush of words, disturbingly close to how Pinkie Pie talked on a regular basis.
Blinking, Celestia took in Twilight's wild statement and tried to make sense of it. Thankfully, she was still awake enough for the mental 'Pinkese to Normal' translator to work. Her lips quivered and twitched with displeasure as she considered her faithful student's words. Even the sun seemed to grow a little brighter and harsher as she steeled herself for whatever possible revelation was to come.
"I brought the copy I found." Twilight held the crease-infested scrap of paper higher pleadingly as she saw the slight hesitancy in Celestia's eyes.
The solar diarch took the sheet into her own telekinetic field. Her violet irises seemed to darken slightly as she held the document before her eyes, twitching back and forth as she read each line in turn. And then, she laughed. She laughed with relief and self-depreciation as she realized that she had forgotten the most obvious answer.
Celestia's voice gained a gentle and motherly lilt to it as she began to lay out how her faithful student had mistaken a royal order for treason. "Oh, Twilight. I'm afraid you have made a dreadful mistake. This isn't a plot against me."
"It's not? But Princess-"
"Blueblood is a part of a group that I founded, Twilight. They're called the Order of Celestia." Celestia was glad that they were outside the muffling glass, as Twilight was sure to-
"You WHAT? Why?" Twilight's initial shout of shock turned into broken confusion as her mind tried to make sense out of the idea that her beloved mentor would plot her own downfall.
Celestia bowed her head in shame, sad that her student's faith was being so rudely shaken by her newfound knowledge. She sweetly and tenderly nuzzled against the top of Twilight's head, calming Twilight for what she was about to reveal. "Twilight, if Luna could fall, why can't I? Twilight?" Celestia drew a hoof up her student's leg and chest, at last cupping Twilight's chin to bring their gazes together and let their eyes meet.
Twilight's eyes glimmered with the faintest tears, watering as she tried to blot out what Celestia was about to say. "Twilight, I did fall. After I... banished Luna to the Moon I was in a horrible place, and discovered even more horrible things. I- ulp, why and what I did isn't important anymore. After-" Celestia had to steel herself to continue, and forced herself to go on for Twilight's sake. "After the mare who became my first faithful student stopped me and picked me back up, I founded the Order to keep my weakness from happening again."
Twilight shook her head, unable to believe that Celestia, her perfect teacher could be wrong. She wouldn't believe that her mentor had hurt somepony badly enough to force herself to forever plot against her own interests. "Princess, maybe they've already brainwashed you! I- I can fix this."
"There is nothing to fix, Twilight. You're as much a part of this as anypony else. You're one of many things to keep me from falling like Luna did. This plan is one of many, meant to be something just in case the worst happens. It's an emergency checklist, just like one of many you make for your own planning." Celestia reassured Twilight once more, raising a hoof to her student's face. A hoof that beeped Twilight's nose with sudden ferocity. The horrible, horrible 'Beep!'ing...
Twilight jerked and giggled, recovering as she remembered what she had came for. "Princess, please. At the least he's-"
"Plotting out how to save both of us, should something bad come to pass. He is far kinder and more loyal to both of us, especially you, than he lets on. Give him a chance. And believe me, he would never harm either of us. I would know before the thought even crosses his mind." Celestia cuddled Twilight a little tighter to reassure both of them. With her warmth drenching Twilight from all around, the young unicorn began to be drowsy once more. "Give him a chance. He wants to be like you. He's envious of you, and your life in Ponyville."
Twilight didn't know if she could.
Captain Eaglehoof glared at the list on his hotel room's counter. Twenty theaters spread across six cities in less than two weeks. That he had checked, anyway. Luna forbid that this showmare went to more. And the irritating thing? He had missed his target every single time. He didn't know how a showmare could manage six different shows in a day and still find a way to get to the next city by daybreak. Or hay, find time to eat, sleep, and drink in the middle of that marathon.
He leaned back in his chair, manefro bobbling about his head as he considered the possibilities. The likelihood of Trixie being an alicorn in disguise who could fly around with her coach and show props was minimal. Nonexistent, even. Every image he had of her showed a pony without the slightest hint of an earth pony. So... Oh! Oh!
He shuffled through the notes on his table as an image of what had been happening formed in his head. Repeated phrases like 'vanished the second I took my eyes off' and 'she got in before I could unlock the door' and variations to such effect plucked at his mental strings. A teleporter, she was a teleporter that Celestia's School hadn't caught!
No. No, well... maybe. Somepony should have caught the magic surge of a pony teleporting an entire wagon, right? Unless it was a new class of teleport, or-. No, he was getting paranoid again.
"Trixie. Yeah. Tricks ME is more like it."
He turned to the list once more, looking of what he had collected of Trixie's itinerary. First a stop in Shady Hollow, followed by Dodge Junction, then Ponyville. And then? Canterlot. Why was she in such a hurry to go back to Canterlot?
A week of relative peace passed; no rampages, no fillibusters in the court or the parliament, not even a sick hiccup from Scootaloo.
And as far as Celestia was concerned? It. Was. BORING!
Celestia found herself lounging in her pillow-nest in the main suite of the royal rooms, sprawled out flat on her back with her wings splayed to either side as she tried to figure out what she was missing. She had gardened for the week, played around with Scootaloo's crazy idea for a space habitat, she had even hiked twelve miles through the Everfree three times over out of boredom. Was there anything left to do in Canterlot?
Celestia opened her eyes, blinking away the drowsiness of somepony who had nearly fallen asleep. Nearly directly above her, Luna hovered about besides Scootaloo, supervising the filly as Scootaloo practiced her ceiling-walking. But, where were Scootaloo's suction shoes, and why was that orange glow surrounding her hooves? Wait...
Scootaloo's birthday was today! Celestia rolled to her hooves with a slight cry at her realization. With the sudden noise disrupting her concentration, Scootaloo lost her balance and grip. She fell the twenty feet from the ceiling to the thick pillow nest, bouncing off of it as she landed.
Celestia snatched the filly out of the air as she rebounded, floating her next to herself. Luna swooped down next to them as Celestia began applying the web of spells that hid her within her Sunbeam persona. At the curious tilt of Luna's head, Celestia perkily spoke up to explain. "I almost forgot between packing up, the paperwork, and your revival! Today is Scootaloo's birthday!"
Scootaloo's head whipped around to look at the wall calendar in shock. She just as quickly turned back to her mom with wide eyes and eager hopes.
"Oh." Luna looked between them, her smile deflating slightly and the bright joyous light in her eyes dimming. "Well then, go on. We are more than able to entertain ourselves for a few hours. We have doted upon your daughter enough to last for years these past two months." Luna nudged Scootaloo onto her mother's back with a poke of her horn into the magic field. Luna let a small chuckle escape her lips as Scootaloo flailed in the sudden collapse of her mother's field, falling awkwardly onto the elder diarch's back. "Could we borrow your compass as well, Tia? We need it to track down somepony to help with our guard's armor."
Celestia nudged a pillow aside to reveal the compass in question, letting Luna snatch it with a hoof. Mother and daughter shared hesitant grins as Luna backed away, grins that slowly morphed into wider and wider smiles as the last of Celestia was hidden under Sunbeam. The now pegasus mare galloped for the open balcony door and lept into the summer skies beyond, leaving Luna alone in the royal suite.
"Go. Go on, you don't need somepony like us tainting Scootaloo's day."
"No, Mom. I don't want another telescope." Scootaloo shook her head at her mother's eager pointing. Undeterred, 'Sunbeam' shifted her hoof as quickly as she could to the nearby bookstore, earning an exasperated eyeroll from her unscholarly daughter. "And no books! I I learned any more, I'd sprout a horn, my mane would go straight, and everypony would start calling me Twilight Sparkle!"
'Sunbeam' reached over and tussled Scootaloo's mane until it kind of-sort of remotely resembled Twilight's own precision cut mass of hair. "Hmmm... nah. Though if you did sprout a horn, quite a few ponies might think that you're Princess Celestia's secret lovechild."
Scootaloo paused in the street, looking up to her mother irritably in the middle of the square. Her mother just smugly smiled back, as if bemusedly challenging Scootaloo to pull off a better joke. Pint-sized hoof met shin as Scootaloo wondered how her mom had gotten so crazy. The lightly-bopped elder mare rubbed her stinging shin and tussled Scootaloo again in retaliation. "I take it that it might be too soon?"
"Nah. That would be the joke about getting our own pet Luna." Scootaloo shook her mane back into it's normal messy state, hoping that her mother wouldn't take the obvious punchline.
"Aww, but I just found the perfect one! She's housebroken and sweet, and she just wants some love." 'Sunbeam' looked into a pet store across the street, wondering if a puppy would be just the thing to keep Scootaloo out of trouble. After all, Philomena had to stay on the other side of the castle since she had last met Scootaloo. The two weren't exactly a good combination.
"Mom, if we need another pet, Fluttershy would give us way too many." Scootaloo sighed with amused resignation as they walked down the street. Part of her was wondering if Luna was alright back at the castle. She knew her mom had noticed the mopeyness the lunar diarch had been displaying. She hoped it wasn't a repeat of the last millennium.
Hmm... Scootaloo smiled widely as she galloped ahead into the center of the plaza, sing-songing at the top of her voice as she ran. "Help! Help! My Mom is a DORK!"
'Sunbeam' tisk-tisked as she walked up behind Scootaloo more sedately. She had a grin on her face like that of a shark who just found an all-night buffet. "What's that? A filly too sick to have her traditional birthday ice cream cake with quadruple fudge and cookie-dough center?"
Somewhere behind them a mare cried out in shock. "The horror, the horror!"
"Was that Daisy?" 'Sunbeam' blinked as she looked back over the crowd.
"Yes?" Scootaloo shrank down and tucked her tail between her legs at the thought of not getting her special birthday cake. Onlookers chuckled slightly as she hopped off the fountain ledge she had climbed on to rush back to her mother's side. "I mean, 'Yes! My Mom is the most awesome pony in the world!'"
"Hmm. Not feeling it." 'Sunbeam' held back her giggles as best she could while Scootaloo jumped onto a taller bench to try and shout it out louder.
"My mom is the most awesome pony in the world! She's so cool that every bath she takes turns to snow after she gets out!" Scootaloo pointed her hoof into the heavens, shouting as loud as she possibly could.
Ponies snerked at the absurd proclamation. Its loud tones echoed off the storefronts in the wake of the crowd's chittering and chatting. 'Sunbeam' had the oddest sensation nagging at her, like she might have already pushed the joke too far already. But... it was just too good to let it stop at just that. "Louder."
"My Mom is the-"
"-Most Awesome Pony, IN THE WORLD!"
"Why, She's so cool, she's cooler than Princess Celestia AND Princess Luna at the same time!" Scootaloo's shout vibrated the street with its power, nearly blowing the manes off the closest ponies. Even 'Sunbeam' seemed slightly dazed from its force.
Scootaloo wobbled nervously and from a slight dizziness as 'Sunbeam' seemed to deliberate. The little pegasus looked up to where the sun was dipping behind the edge of the roofline, nervously watching the day slip by.
"Well, Scootaloo, that all seems rather silly. I can't possibly be cooler than Princess Celestia."
Scootaloo wilted at the suggestion, rolling over slowly onto her back in resignation. It seemed like her mom wanted so much out of her sometimes. Her one chance to completely and totally pig out, and she went and blew it...
"Scootaloo? Are you okay?"
The little filly shook her head, unable to see what her mom was doing with her eyes closed. 'Sunbeam' nuzzled her slightly, realizing that she really had overdone it. "You know I was just joking, right?"
Scootaloo sadly sighed, moving like she was trying to shrug. 'Sunbeam' squirmed mentally, realizing how much her approval meant to Scootaloo, and just how badly the hint of rejection hurt her daughter. The crowd in the square edged away and returned to business as normal as the awkwardness fully set in.
"That wasn't cool, Mom." Scootaloo's depressed and lifeless voice startled 'Sunbeam'. She had never heard Scootaloo so... flat, so emotionless. Not even an immediate application of feathers to filly belly seemed to perk her up.
She knew she had been harder than normal on Scootaloo, reprimanding her for being a pest to the palace staff and a general nuisance over the past two and a half months. She'd never considered the chance that Scootaloo had been looking for attention. With Luna taking up so much of her time, Scootaloo had been looking to steal some back to be with her mom. So that was what Luna had meant when-
"Scootaloo? I'm sorry. I've been ignoring you, and I didn't realize that I would hurt your feelings with that. I can see what she meant earlier, and can I make it up to you by helping you find your present? Okay?"
Scootaloo's slow sigh whistled out of her like the last teeny puff of air from a train. Her scalp ground against the polished marble of the bench as she shook her head, not very interested in her own birthday anymore. So much for having a nice day. She had made her Mom mad, then sad, and there was no way she was getting what she wanted. After all, what if she was a bad filly again? Then she would get grounded, and her present taken away, and-
"Scootaloo? C'mon, please? Let's go and get you something."
"Nah." Scootaloo tried to hide the pessimism in her voice. "Let's just go home. I don't want to get my hopes up."
'Sunbeam' jerked back, looking around for something to break Scootaloo's funk. She had to love going fast, right? And fun, lots of moving and doing! Scootaloo loved being active, outdoors, at the forefront like she had a rocket strapped to her back keeping her there. 'Sunbeam' kept turning around, running through her mind all the possible- Oh. No... No. She had banned Scootaloo from getting one of those because she had never found a helmet that she felt was good enough to protect her poor filly's head.
But that wasn't true anymore, now was it?
"Scoots? Mope right there. I'll be back before you can say 'Magic Hiccup'." 'Sunbeam' started dashing for the sports store behind her daughter, and the perfectly sized item in the window.
"Magic Hiccup." Scootaloo laid still, contemplating whether or not she was going to turn all black and 'grr'-ey from the incident. After all, Luna had fallen from something stupid in the end. And she was just a foal, what did she know? Always breaking things by accident, not listening to her mom, slacking off on homework, wanting a-
Yeah, one of those. Her mom was right, too. She was always plotting out crazy stunts that she could do one day, like a triple axel off the castle walls, or loop-de-doops, and just generally thinking of creative new ways to break her head.
Ow. Her imagination was... loud? Scootaloo opened an eye; the sight of a pair of handle bars propped up by another's orange hoof greeting her sight. She must have fallen asleep and into a dream, her mom would never buy a scooter for her. The obnoxious horn beeped once more next to her ears as the hoof pushed the scooter forward. Cool metal lightly tapped against the tip of Scootaloo's nose where she had partially hung her head off the edge of the bench.
"I finally get you a scooter, and you fall asleep on me? Oh, you silly filly."
Scootaloo's squeak of excitement could only be heard by the dogs as she flopped off the bench and scrambled back to her hooves. "Oh. My. Gosh! But you said you'd never get me one because I would hurt myself and you were always fussing about my safety and where did my helmet come from and why is it on my head?"
'Sunbeam' bit the cloth tab on the end of Scootaloo's chin adjustment strap and tugged, listening to her daughter's soft 'oof!' as the helmet squeezed tightly to her head. The powerful lunar magic woven into the helmet had transformed it into something that resembled a normal child's helmet; if there was one out there that gleamed in burnished steel.
'Sunbeam' chuckled as she finished going through what her child had said, stepping back from her. "Well, if I had know you were going to babble like Pinkie, I would have brought her to translate." She picked Scootaloo up by the scruff of her neck after a moment's admiration, plonking the filly down upon her new mount. Everypony around felt a strange chill and a sense of dread as the filly took hold of the handle bars for herself.
Scootaloo smiled widely towards 'Sunbeam', as if asking if she could ride home.
"Oh, head on back to the castle. I've got to find your cake. And try not to run over anypony." Sunbeam gave her daughter the initial push, feeling the new wheels on the scooter struggling to turn for the first time.
Scootaloo pushed with a hoof herself to try and get going. Wheels squeaked once as her developed momentum carried her a measly foot. It was all Scootaloo could do to keep from moaning in disappointment; her wings buzzing with pent up energy as she started to lay against the handles of her defective scooter.
Heads turned as inquisitive ponies all around them tried to figure out where the noises were coming from. 'Sunbeam' stood back with an anxious smile as she gave a shooing 'go on' wave with her hooves. Scootaloo pulsed the buzzing of her wings again, purposefully trying to drive herself forward at the encouragement from her mom.
Slowly, the scooter built up momentum as the dust and grease in its moving parts properly distributed amongst the bearings. The squeaking of its wheels faded away as Scootaloo began to slowly pass the trotting ponies in the streets. Wind from her movement began to tickle at her mane, gaining power as she pushed herself. Scootaloo let her wings rest for a moment as she became comfortable with her ride. Turning back gave her the sight of her mother hovering over the crowd, shooing her with a wave of her forehooves once more.
"Alright. Wings up, let's do this thing! Yeeaaahh-haww!"
And upon the wildly buzzing wings of a filly, Canterlot discovered the fear of being run over.
And 'Sunbeam' facehoofed. "Luna is going to kill me. I already know it."
"My mom is the most awesome pony in the world! She has made me into the Scoota-GOD!"
"Okay, checking off: Sheets!"
"Helmet and Scooter!"
"Wearing and packed!"
"Mom! It was mine anyway."
"Oh, fine. Schoolwork?"
"Loaded into the trunk. And it's all done. Luna's awesome like that."
"Ignoring that last part, clothes?"
"I wear clothes? Oh, wait. Yeah, sorted into the luggage."
"One Mom Class Alicorn?"
"One silly-filly class pegasus, also hugged!"
"What about the sister class alicorn?" Luna poked her head into the room, looking around at the mess Celestia and Scootaloo had made of their belongings as they packed up for the journey back to their home in Ponyville. Her family's strange and silly sorting and packing rituals were hard to take seriously. The lunar diarch's black-shod hoof found itself draped before her muzzle attempting to hide her smirk in vain. Celestia and Scootaloo each had a clipboard that was nearly about to pop with all the listings of all the things they needed to check before they left the next day.
As if noticing a sudden discrepancy, the solar diarch mock-frowned and tapped her chin while tut-tutting to herself. Scootaloo joined her in making a mock frown, bunching up her face adorably. The little filly spoke first, dropping her checklist onto a convenient piece of luggage. "Nope, no listing for that. Guess we don't have one."
Celestia pointed a hoof to the doorway where Luna stood. "But there's one right there. Hmm." The solar diarch made a great show of checking and rechecking her checklist, pulling out a pair of fake reading glasses. Golden magic slowly and almost imperceptibly moved a few pieces of luggage around to clear a path towards Luna. From where she had burned her nose into the checklist, Celestia at last cried out in triumph, flipping Scootaloo's copy to a random page. "Here we go! Supplementary instructions for 'In Case of Luna'!"
Luna pushed off of Scootaloo's doorframe, stalking in to see what instructions could possibly handle her. As her magic nabbed Scootaloo's checklist, she failed to notice the sly looks that Celestia and Scootaloo passed one another as they tiptoed backwards. Dark purple eyes darted back and forth as Luna read down the list, finally finding the contingency sublisting under her own name.
She mumbled, frowning at the odd instructions within it, unaware that she had started to read it aloud. "-st handle with care. Luna/Sister Class Alicorns are prone to mood swings, unnecessarily over-acted proclamations, 'emo' tendencies, attempting and/or succeeding at taking on terrifying behavioral habits, and in general being a lonely and depressed type of pony. The only known control mechanism is sustained and unrelenting Harmony-Grade hugging until pony ceases complaint."
Luna's eyebrows twitched with irritation and confusion. Looking up from the borrowed checklist only furthered that as she found that Celestia and Scootaloo had vanished. Whipping around to the door yielded more bad news, as a golden glow pushed a stack of luggage into place to block it off. "Everypony? Where did you-"
"HUGS!" Scootaloo tackled Luna from behind, trapping the diarch's wings against her back.
"HUGS!" Celestia swept Luna up into a more gentle, but no less firm hug from the side. The near tackle-glomp nearly knocked Luna off her hooves and trapped her within a tight cluster of warmth and love.
Grumbling in their grip as they hugged her even more tightly, Luna gloomily pouted at the undignified treatment. A few squirms proved to be completely ineffective, hardly budging either fuzzy hanger-on. "Ah, yes. Hugs." Grumble.
Celestia leaned around Luna's shoulder, looking down to where Scootaloo clung with all her might. "Quick! The hugs are ineffective! We need more love to save the subject, begin the tickles!"
Luna's coat instantly stood on end as the hooves began to rub at her sides in all her weak points. The lunar diarch redoubled her squirms to break free, knowing she had only a few moments before the- "Eeeip! Noo! Stoo-op it! Ti-i-iiiiaaaa! Eeeip!" The tickles to the withers always worked.
The powder blue tip of the compass spun lazily as Luna glided above the expansive Whitetail Woods. Tia's compass had lead her to the woods in her private search, and with her quarry close she prayed that it could lead her the rest of the way. Trixie was somewhere in the dark underbrush, camping along the route back to Canterlot. Luna couldn't understand why she was back so soon. Did Trixie understand that her mother had returned, or was it just business?
Compass-point whipped about as Luna flew, its wielder hastily shedding momentum and shifting course to follow. Cloudy skies hid the stars and darkened the night until only the glow of the compass-tip and Luna's own magic illuminated the way. Wind moaned in her ears, rustling the trees not far below. Luna banked and twisted into the wind as she smelled the slightest signs of a fire below her. The gagging stench and fumes of the smoke column caught her off guard all the same as she flew through it.
Solid matter transmuted into mist for a moment as Luna spun out of control and down into the treeline. The lunar diarch only transformed back once she reached a clearing on the ground, pulling back from the sparkling cloud she had become into her imposing form. Luna shook every last inch of her form out quietly to rid herself of the wiggy and creepy sensation the transformation had left her with.
A loud screech of frustrated rage burned through the air, with the electrical fizzle of lightning joining it from somewhere nearby. Luna wanted to swear that she heard the sounds of battle nearby, setting her on edge. The Compass of the Loved found itself open once more as Luna consulted its guidance to find her quarry, pointing firmly towards the target of the hunt.
When she had heard from Eaglehoof that her Trixie had somehow been teleporting or at the least moving far faster than should have been possible, Luna had been ecstatic. And she had been terrified. It meant that Trixie was on the cusp of alicornhood, if she had found a way to teleport that no unicorn could detect. Her foal was doing what Starswirl had refused to entirely by accident, doing what she suspected Scootaloo had only just begun. Trixie had to be taught and warned of the dangers of her power.
Pieces of a training dummy suddenly rained upon Luna, breaking her train of thought. Forehoof paused in midair, holding just out of sight of the furious showmare within the clearing. Luna inched back with all the stealth she could muster as she listened in. Caution and horror reigned in her heart as she heard Trixie's angry ranting.
"How DARE she!" Fire wreathed a makeshift dummy, courtesy of a flaming fireball from Trixie. "How dare she profane the dead!"
Lightning poured forth from the showmare like the bursting of a dam; crackling at the ground and melting dirt and sand into heated glass. Trixie raggedly panted, closing her eyes with either pain or anger. Lower and slower she continued her vitriolic cursing, angrily trembling upon the ground. "How dare she take the form of Trixie's mother, and then dare to confront Trixie with it!" A dummy of sticks and leaves exploded in a show of telekinetic force, scattering debris across the encampment.
"How dare she remind Trixie!" The showmare struggled to rise to her knees, pounding on the ground with a hoof in anger as she tried to hold back tears. "Momma... Why were you so foalish? Why did you mess with those stupid shards you found, even after Trixie wanted you to stop? Why, why did you leave me?" Trixie's anguished cries scared away what little wildlife was left in the area, causing them to scatter to the four winds.
Luna reached out with a hoof as some fear she couldn't fully comprehend snuck into her heart. Her hoof that she had outreached for forgiveness froze in place, just out of the light. Her little Trixie was furious. Not at some random mare on the street, but at her. Luna couldn't remember ever hearing Trixie talk about the shards of her soul, but somehow Trixie knew. She knew, and blamed her for having disturbed them. Hay, Luna couldn't remember messing with the magic necessary to find them in her last life, how had Trixie known?
More importantly, how would Trixie take it? If she didn't prepare Trixie for the shock, any number of horrors could be inflicted if Trixie lashed out instinctively. Trixie might accept the truth. Or, she might descend into a rage that she could never escape and never believe her. All that power, churned up by the potential emotional crisis and looking for a place to get out. It was already hurting her! Trixie was flat on the ground, clutching her horn and moaning in pain from her exertions.
No, Trixie had to hear the news that her mother was still alive from somepony else... Tia! Tia would be in Ponyville at long last. Tia would finally get home at the same time that Trixie was scheduled to arrive.
But what story could Tia tell her? It had to be something that was relatively truthful. An argument for spinning it so that herself as Moonstone had been kidnapped by Nightmare Moon came to mind, something just close enough to the truth. Honesty gave her no grief on the matter, since it was the truth from a certain point of view. It would work. Had to work.
She shouldn't be there, she should-
Luna teleported away, unable to face the sorrowful anger of her daughter anymore. Magic pulsed through the clearing, jolting Trixie back to her senses. The realization that she had been watched sent a brief chill down the showmare's spine as the wind whispered, seemingly sizing her up.
"Trixie doesn't like this." She looked all around her campsite, seeing not a trace of eyeshine or other hints of wild animals. Hay, with the wind dying away she couldn't even hear insect life. Something that utterly unnerved her. "Ponyville isn't that far, right? Trixie could be there by morning..."
A gush of magic extinguished the campfire, and within an hour nopony would have been able to tell that there had ever been somepony staying in the deserted forest clearing.
With night approaching, the family air-carriage was nearly packed to the point of bursting. Scootaloo eyed her mother's work and prayed silently that it wouldn't collapse on her if she climbed aboard. "Mom, maybe we could take a few minutes and let 'Moonbeam' pack this thing. You know, so we won't die."
"Nonsense! Urf! I've got this." 'Sunbeam' tugged down on a strap once more in defiance of the ominous creaking coming from the stack it held together. Stepping back, she stamped her forehooves against the ground and rubbed them into the rough stone of the Canterlot landing area to clean the slight patina of grease and dirt from the packing straps off. "See!"
"Yes, I do. I see a spontaneous explosion waiting to happen, 'Mother'." 'Moonbeam' stepped out of the shadows of the office complex behind them uncannily. She had somehow appeared from the very shadows without any sign of her approach. "Perhaps a second carriage is in order?"
'Sunbeam' turned away from her counterpart, shaking her head ruefully at the suggestion. Who had heard of using two carriages to transport the family goods home? She wasn't some hoity-toity Canterlot noble! "No, no, we're fine."
"Uh, Mom? Maybe we should listen to 'Moonb'-"
"We'll be fine." 'Sunbeam' slid under the harness pole and shimmed into the pulling harness for the carriage. A brief shake shimmied its way through her form as she got rid of the sensations of being rubbed wrong by the material. "Say, isn't it time for the moon to rise?"
"Yes, yes it is." 'Moonbeam' looked up to the tower balcony where the first moonrise presided over by the lunar princess since the banishment would soon be taking place. "It's being saved for when you leave."
'Sunbeam' grunted as the unicorn yanked her straps tight with a burst of magic. "You don't have to impress and prove yourself to us of all ponies." Half-heartedly, she wondered if one of the other soul-shards in her companion had taken up certain risque pastimes with the way that her straps had been tightened to the point that they nearly squeezed the life out of her.
"Ah, good. I wasn't trying to. Ponyville is your home, not here. The least that I can do is insure that the way back is properly lit." 'Moonbeam' eased up on the straps. A few gentle tugs loosened several strategically to ease the pressure on the alicorn in disguise.
Scootaloo shuffled up into the carriage, making room for herself in the midst of the badly packed luggage. "Wow, that's pretty cool. Thanks."
'Sunbeam' more subduedly thanked 'Moonbeam', nuzzling against her tenderly. "Thank you. Thank you so much." A few tender caresses at each other's necks was more than enough, and 'Sunbeam' broke away so she could prepare to take off.
'Moonbeam' nodded, not needing to say anything more. Well, one more thing. "Before I forget, I need you to pass a message on to Trixie." 'Moonbeam's ears splayed back as she thought back to the miasma of emotional pain and turmoil she had found the showmare in.
"You found her?"
"She shall just be arriving in Ponyville when you do. Look for the overly decorated travel wagon, she will be there." 'Moonbeam' stepped around the harness poles, resting a hoof on 'Sunbeam's shoulder pleadingly.
"It should be you." 'Sunbeam wondered why her counterpart had found it so difficult to confront Trixie. She loved the showmare, or so she thought. The hint of worried fear in 'Moonbeam's eyes concerned her. 'Moonbeam' leaned in close, whispering into the orange mare's ear to keep Scootaloo from hearing the bad news.
The little filly did her best to wait patiently, something worrying her as she fidgeted. The pained gasp from her mother startled Scootaloo slightly; as did the sudden and awkward hug at the front of the carriage. The adults of the family whispered things into each other's ears, comforting and hugging each other. Scootaloo tuned it all out, looking down across the edge of Canterlot to where Ponyville sleepily laid.
Something was off. She swore to herself that there was some kind of movement down there, something that should have been impossible to see at a distance. There was something that her subconscious noticed that the rest of her hadn't caught up to yet. "Hey, Mom? I hate to interrupt, but I think we need to go."
'Moonbeam' nuzzled once more before she broke contact and began walking back to the shadowed overhangs of the offices behind them. Calling out over her shoulder, she gave a few last words of encouragement. "She's right. The moon is about to rise. Go on, I'll be here tomorrow for court. Find her please, and bring her home."
"Alright. Then I'll see you at the morning light." 'Sunbeam' perplexedly watched as her lunar companion finished stepping back into the shadows and vanished into the darkness without a trace. "You know, one day I am going to figure out how she does that."
Scootaloo shook her head at her mother's antics. Great. Her family now could add magic envy to its long list of problems. At least she was just fine with being a pegasus. Hard to get more awesome than that, but somehow her family managed to pull it off. "Mom? Less talky, more 'lets get home'-ey. You've got work tomorrow, remember? And I've got school..."
The massive wings at her mother's sides snapped open with a thunderous WHOMPH! and prompted Scootaloo to dig down into the luggage as 'Sunbeam' broke into a run as part of her takeoff. Gravity squeezed at her stomach and drained some of the blood from her head as they shot into the skies. Scootaloo hung onto their luggage for dear life and watched the clouds shoot by overhead as they ascended and put distance between them and Canterlot. It took her a moment to struggle back to her hooves so she could look back at the city of her birth with the faintest sense of longing.
Her mother slowed to a halt, looking back with her daughter as a small figure began to rise. Wind rippled out from the mountain-side city to push away the scattered clouds, revealing the glory of the star filled skies. The first rays of the moon peeked out from behind the horizon to fall upon the duo and coat them with a radiant glow. Faintly, the tiny figure floating above the castle rose high into the air, dragging the moon up with her power.
"Scootaloo? I think its time to go home." 'Sunbeam' flapped steadily to hold them in place as she spoke. She could barely see past the faint tears of pride in her eyes.
Scootaloo found her voice again, quietly and awedly replying. "Yeah, let's go Mom." Scootaloo watched for as long as she could, just barely able to witness the figure disappearing behind the towers of the castle. Her mother's massive wings swiped at the air once more, propelling them towards Ponyville like Pinkie chasing a cupcake; their force nearly jerking the filly off her hooves.
Down they flew, sailing high above the woods and plains that formed the gulf of empty lands between Canterlot and Ponyville. Scootaloo couldn't turn her head about fast enough to take it all in as her mother picked up the pace.
Faint noises echoed up to them, like the roar of a dragon or bear. Scootaloo could tell that her mother heard as well, watching her turn her head to better catch the sounds for a moment. Sweet Apple Acres zipped by below, their swift passage swinging the barn's wind vane around as 'Sunbeam' eased them towards a landing on the road. The little filly puckered up as the ground rose up to meet them, anticipating the impact that shook the cart tremendously.
'Sunbeam' flared her wings one last time to kill their velocity; her hooves clip-clopping on the gravel of the road to slow herself to an easy canter for the last few miles of the journey home. "You know, I don't know what it is. Every time we come home it always feels like there is something different about the air in Ponyville, Scootaloo."
"You're not getting philo-whatsical again, are you? You always get all goofy when you do." Scootaloo took her helmet off gingerly, basking in the sounds of their journey and those of the night creatures all around them.
'Sunbeam' shook her head and cantered on, cresting the hill outside the Apple's farm. "No, I think its more about how relaxed everything in town seems to be. Maybe I feel like I can be myself out here."
"Okay, so? Quit. Luna can handle the job, Mom." Scootaloo looked up at the skies filling with stars, wondering how Luna managed to make lighting up the night skies seem epic.
'Sunbeam' shook her head in denial. "She isn't ready to handle the nobles yet. She would probably do something crazy. Why, she might even turn Equestria into a republic!" 'Sunbeam' sighed as she trotted along, listening to the babbling brook by the road and the crunching of the wagon wheels. "And if I quit, who says I would get to stay who I am?"
Scootaloo rolled her eyes, feeling a headache come on as she turned around to try and find her scooter in the mess. "So you're saying that everypony else gets more of a say in who you are than you do? That's glum. You're the Sun, Mom. If you're letting somepony else tell you who you can and can't be, you're doing it wrong." Where was that stupid thing? Did she leave it with her sweater? Ooh! Scootaloo yanked her sweater out from the box and wriggled into it with gusto.
"Well, yes. Society is formed by the mutual partnerships of everypony involved. There must be compromises, give and take." 'Sunbeam' did her best not to reach over and snatch Scootaloo up for a surprise hug as the sound of rubber-lined wheels on gravel reached her ears.
Scootaloo enjoyed the slight burn in her wings as they buzzed like doom itself, skidding out in front of her mom to play around for the rest of the way home. "Yeah, but you can't be all give and no take like you have been, Mom. Sometimes there comes a point when you have to take back. You can't be generous and give to somepony else when you have nothing left of yourself."
"I know, Scootaloo. But some things a pony should never take back."
"Like what? When was the last time you took time for yourself, for who you wanted to be before I was born? Centuries, right?" Scootaloo swerved and cut across 'Sunbeam's path quickly, trying out the gravel of the Ponyville roads.
Scootaloo slowed down, falling back into formation with her mother and buzzing along steadily. "See! You're still gloomy and serious. How are you supposed to run the happiest place in the world if you won't force everypony else to stop and leave you alone to do your own thing every once in a while?"
'Sunbeam' looked up, seeing Ponyville through a trough between two hills as she did. Almost home. Almost to her own private realm away from the realm. Somberly, she whispered back to Scootaloo, hearing something she had never really considered in her urgent dash to keep control of the country over the past few centuries. "I... can't."
"And how are you supposed to find joy and happy-sappiness if you won't give yourself that bit of 'me! ME!'? You'll end up like Luna did, Mom." Scootaloo could feel sleep coming on as they came around the bend, her eyes drooping even as she stayed awake for her Mom.
'Sunbeam' turned to her foal, wondering when Scootaloo had become wiser than she had. Why, that had been a fairly well thought out argument for selfishness. The smell of sawdust reached her nose, prickling her senses as they trotted down into Ponyville. When had they expanded the main street?
"Well, Scootaloo... If you start making any more sense, I might just stick this crown on your head. You'll be the new Princess Celestia! When did you start thinking so much?"
"I blame it on Luna." Scootaloo's rueful words convinced 'Sunbeam' to laugh heartily at her foal's discontent. "I'm serious, Mom! Don't you laugh at me! I know where to find liquid rainbow, Twilight will be writing letters asking why Dash is fangirling over the new Rainbow Sun!" She pouted half-heartedly at her mother, trying not to laugh with her right up until a wisp of green fire arose from Ponyville and morphed into a scroll before them.
"Well, speak of Tirac, and he shall come." 'Sunbeam' released the spells upon herself in a burst of sunlight, cheerfully opening the letter to read what her student had to say for herself. Celestia frowned at a phrase and began to read at a more urgent pace as she stopped dead in her tracks.
"Mom?" Scootaloo skidded to a halt, wondering what had her mother so worried. "What is it, Mom?"
"No. No, no, no, NO!" Celestia teleported straight out of the wagon harness in a horrified burst of energy, letting Twilight's letter flutter to the ground as she departed for Ponyville.
Scootaloo buzzed over to the wagon, hoping her mom would remember to come back for it as she hopped off her scooter to pick up the letter. Words immediately stuck out in her mind, like 'Ursa Minor' and 'Trixie' and 'Ran into the Everfree'. She didn't know much about the member of the family they had been trying to keep secret from her, but she knew something horrible must have just happened. The Everfree? After an Ursa Minor? Luna was going to be horrified.
"Why does Diamond Tiara get all the luck? She hates me. Me and every other kid in town. She's a jerk, and she gets her cutie mark just like that? And then! Then she invites me to her cutiecanara just to screw with me! Why do I have to go, Mom?" Scootaloo valiantly held her ground, stomping a hoof pitifully to express her displeasure with the whole idea.
Celestia once more took her brush into her magic, dragging it into Scootaloo's mane to try and make it cooperate. "Scootaloo, good can come from even the worst of things. You need to go; it'll show Tiara that you aren't afraid of her. Who knows, you might even make some friends." Tug. Tug. Celestia pulled her brush with a great deal of force to try and save it from Scootaloo's mane. With horror, she watched as her efforts just picked the filly up from the floor entirely, dangling her by the mane.
"But you skip meetings you don't want to go to all the time, and you miss out on those fancy dinners!" Scootaloo flailed her hooves grumpily, wishing she didn't have to get up before dawn with her mom every school day. It always left her grouchy. She didn't even want to think about how often her mom got brushes stuck in her mane.
"Well, that's different, Scootaloo."
Celestia caught Scootaloo in a bubble of her magic as she finally shook her foal free of the brush, gently setting her down onto the dining room floor to keep on talking to her. That mane was never going to get tamed. Sometimes she swore that it looked like a big purple simmering flame stuck to Scootaloo's head. "Scootaloo, I'm a head of state, AND a mom. Sometimes, I have to choose you over the state, because we're only going to have a short time together. Sometimes I have to pick and choose what I have to do, because I can't do it all no matter how long I live."
"Really." Scootaloo drawled out her response as she shuffled her hooves against her mane to work out the worst of the tangles. She fixed her mom with a look, smiling as she knew she had her. "Funny, I didn't know sneaking out to Sugarcube Corner instead of meeting up with Eaglehoof and Luna counted as affairs of state. I guess I could get out of anyth-"
Celestia rapidly cleared her throat, glancing back and forth to make sure that Luna hadn't stopped by to find out what was taking her so long. Seeing nothing in the hallway or the kitchen, she pointedly questioned her filly in a hissing tone. "Now where did you find out about that?"
Scootaloo unzipped her backpack, dragging out a single photo of 'Sunbeam' in an all-out eating contest with Pinkie Pie in Sugarcube Corner, with a timestamp marked into the corner. She slid it over to her mom almost smugly, enjoying getting one up on the supposed chessmaster of Equestria. "I've got more. It'd be a real shame if Luna found out and decided you needed to go on a diet."
Celestia snatched the photo with a little too much force in her urgency, nearly ripping it as she yanked it from under Scootaloo's hoof. Her head whipped around again, even looking out the dining room windows to the front lawn. No sign of her. Celestia held the photo up, wincing as she wondered who had taken the picture. "Where did you get this?"
"'A good newspony never reveals her secrets', didn't you say that, Mom? I figured you would be asking what my price for not revealing them to Luna would be." Scootaloo slipped her backpack on, taking it off the dining room table. Darn, already ready for school, and the predawn light was only just starting to come up on the horizon.
Celestia glared crossly at her daughter and passed a lunchbox from the kitchen counter to her. "Oh, I already know what your 'price' will be. The answer is no, by the way. I should be asking whether or not you want a spanking for trying to blackmail me."
"No! Not that!"
"You're right." Celestia smiled wickedly, and stuffed a copy of Diamond Tiara's invitation into Scootaloo's backpack. "Your punishment shall be instead to go to her cutiecanara, and deliver your acceptance of her invitation. Personally."
Scootaloo shrank back like a kicked puppy at her mother's judgement, nodding meekly in response. The hardwood floors squeaked and creaked as Scootaloo rocked back and forth with anxious energy, hoping that no further punishment was to come. "But... I don't want to."
"Well, it was rather silly of you to blackmail Tia. We gave you those photos for other purposes. At least you picked the one we were not all that proud of. We prefer the one where she and Pinkie attempt to eat the same cake at the same time."
Celestia sighed, knowing that one of the more embarrassing moments of that ordeal was still in the dark. Luna didn't need to know, especially with her daughter's situation. She still didn't know who could have taken the pictures, there had only been a blue- "Scootaloo, tell me that Luna isn't smugly staring over my shoulder."
Luna chuckled, nuzzling Celestia in the ear while harshly laughing. "You didn't think that Scootaloo would rely on a mere mortal to take these photos, did you?"
"No, I- that was you?" Celestia reflexively hopped to one side as Luna sat down next to her. Luna irrelevantly preened herself, taking glances at the shelf coated in photos and memorabilia of the 10 years that Scootaloo and Celestia had been together. "But... I- HOW?"
Luna looked to Scootaloo, who had been uncomfortably edging towards the door. Her hoof imperiously pointed to the foal, clad in silver and onyx spiraling and swirling in an intricate pattern on her royal shoe. "Tell us, what is the modern parlance for obvious facts presented with indifference?"
Scootaloo set her hindhoof back to the ground, plopping down in the archway to the foyer from the royal command. Eyes shifted back and forth, looking from her mother to the nearest window, hoping the two wouldn't do something rather foalish in the house. "Uuuhh, duh?"
"Yes, that is it. Duuuh." Luna rubbed the hoof she had pointed at Scootaloo against her breastplate, scratching at the slightest defect in her workmanship. Rather sloppy, actually. Hmm, sloppy. Maybe she could have some oatmeal for breakfast? "Say, Tia? Where is the pantry. We're hungry." Luna rose and started into the kitchen, her magic reaching out to all of the cabinet doors.
Celestia jumped to her own hooves, nabbing Luna by the tail to drag her back. "No! Bad Luna! You already ate half the royal pantries, you're not eating us out of house and home! Especially not until you tell me how you got that photo!" Celestia waved to her daughter as she began charging up a two-pony teleport spell, looking to keep Luna from getting into trouble.
"Once again, Tia, duh. Shapeshifter, remember? You can let go of our tail now." Luna sat back down, nearly pulling Celestia over on top of her as Scootaloo edged out the door. "You know, Scootaloo, your mother would be far more distracted and likely to agree if you just made some friends. We're a rather easy target for her." Luna yelped as the teleport spell took hold, zapping them across space to the balcony of the sun and moon in Canterlot.
"Yeah, just make some friends. Real good idea." Scootaloo grumbled as she hopped up to hit the light switch for the mage lights of the house. "Real hard to explain that your Mom's real job is classified. And that she's actually cool. I can't just go around making pony friends." Scootaloo paused with a hoof against the front door as a trick of words struck her suddenly.
The thick oaken planks of the door coldly supported that hoof as Scootaloo's brain worked in overdrive. The little filly's ears perked up, then curled inwards, as if forming small spines atop her head in response to her idea. "They're right. If I can't find a pony friend..."
Scootaloo took her backpack off and pulled out a sheet of graph paper and a pencil, sketching up her most insane idea ever developed. "You know what? I can make a pony friend. Forever."
Luna's eyebrow raised in impressed admiration as she beheld Scootaloo's concepts. For somepony with no knowledge of advanced robots, not even the concept of automation, it was a rather intricate design. Careful thought had been poured into the articulation, protection and control of the limbs she had designed. Not at all bad for a school day's idle drawings. "So, tell us Scootaloo, what inspired you to create these designs?"
"Well, school's kind of inspiring me. You know, Miss Cheerilee's riveting classes about the future. I kinda want to surprise everypony at the Tri-Town Science Fair." Scootaloo tried to sound as truthful as possible, looking up into Luna's imperious gaze. After catching Luna at home in the observatory hiding away in a nap, she had presented the Lunar Diarch with the plans she had come up with.
Luna's eyebrow raised higher, its counterpart drawing closer to the bridge of the blue alicorn's nose in a scowl. She knew that Scootaloo wasn't telling the whole truth; it was visible in the little filly's purple eyes. Luna set the scribbled plans back down on the oak planking of the observatory floor, only a single question at the front of her mind. "So, did Tia put you up to this to distract us?"
"What? No. Mom didn't put me up to anything!"
"Ah. So, why present us with the balm of busywork? We know that you know of our own troubles, that much is clear in the way that your gaze trembles and flinches away from ours." Luna cupped Scootaloo's chin in a hoof, raising the filly's eyes to her own.
"Oh, yeah. You and Trixie. I, uh, might have heard." Scootaloo backed away, pulling herself out of Luna's light grip. The filly walked to the south wall, looking over the many maps that adorned it, all covered in notes and photos.
Luna followed, not letting Scootaloo escape her inquisition. "How much?"
"Uh, well what I didn't hear I figured out. It's not that hard, and figuring from the fact that you somehow was Moonstone the Mighty and Magnificent made it kind of easy to figure out."
"Oh?" Luna traced a hoof along the lines of a starchart, tracing out the forgotten constellation of the Enkindler in the zodiac.
Scootaloo nodded slowly, bowing her head afterwards while kicking at the planks. "Well, they're surprisingly more likely to just hand you birth certificates if they think it's for a school project."
"A school project? How did you even find the hospital that we gave birth to her in?" Luna picked the plans up into the air, arranging them before herself to better inspect how they all fit together. Wait... oh dear. Clever, clever Scootaloo.
"Well, I found out where you started performing as Moonstone, and it wasn't that hard to figure out when she showed up." Scootaloo padded over to the telescope, poking the eyepiece with a hoof to distract herself. She hadn't really ever explored the observatory that her mom had built for Luna. She'd never realized how big the telescope was. Hay, bigger than her mom, even.
"Clever. Just like trying to circumvent your mother's edict by MAKING a friend." Luna shuffled all the sketches and plans together; rolling them up and floating them over to the desk she had set up.
Luna drew the sketches out in air with her magic, layering on page by page of the designs until the whole had been completed. "As admirable as your designs are, a mechanical friend is not what your mother meant." Luna watched as Scootaloo squirmed under her gaze, slowly walking over to join her. Poor thing, afraid to reach out, much as she herself had been. "Perhaps we should help you out."
"So you'll build it?"
"No. We're going to help you get over your fear of this 'Diamond Tiara'. Your avoidance isn't healthy. It reminds us far too much of our own troubles." Luna scooped Scootaloo up, knowing where to head off to first. To her credit, Scootaloo didn't quite flinch at the words.
Scootaloo sweated under her mother's sun. Not from the heat, of course, but of the nervousness of fear. Fear that 'Moonbeam' might have issues with ponies in town, and the fear that at any second Diamond Tiara and her little friend might show up. Somepony couldn't be too careful in avoiding those two. She just wished 'Moonbeam' had let her use those crates her Mom had in the upstairs storage room for a disguise.
A nearby trash can rattled for a moment, startling her in the shadows of the alley, causing the foal to swiftly zip back around the corner and press flat against the back wall of the Sugarcube Corner. After a moment of no activity, she peeked around again, groaning at her own stupidity as a cat jumped out from behind the can and into the dirt-paved alley to lick it's paws.
Why the hay was she so nervous? She could get through town without being seen, there was no way that-
"If you stand around all day, you'll miss a perfectly good weekend." 'Moonbeam's voice whispered into her ear teasingly, startling the filly into the air and yelping in surprise from the sudden noise. "Oh."
"Don't do that!" Scootaloo huffed and panted, leaning against the bakery's wall to catch her breath as she held a hoof against her pounding chest. She had almost forgotten that 'Moonbeam' had been right behind her.
The irritating mare chuckled lightly, her magic tightening the straps on her saddlebags as she did. "Come now, there wasn't all that much to be scared of. Okay, there is me. I'm rather scary, but that's it. Nopony is going to eat you, or bury you in apples, or tar and feather you. It's just a marketplace you silly filly." 'Moonbeam' stepped out into the sunlight as she spoke, closing her eyes and letting the warmth of the late summer day soak into her coat.
"I am not a silly filly!"
"And you're not a mare. But you do act rather sillily. So, therefore as a filly who acts sillily, you are a silly filly. It all makes sense! Now do I have to drag you out here, or will you come willingly?" 'Moonbeam' cheezily smiled at her charge as she beckoned from the sunlight, her horn glowing and threatening to drag Scootaloo out.
Scootaloo anxiously looked about, darting towards 'Moonbeam' from crate to crate in the alley, annoyedly realizing that the older mare was stepping back each time. The gravel underhoof crunched with her movement far too noisily for her taste, setting off her nerves every time she moved. Magic snatched her tail as 'Moonbeam' became impatient, dragging her up next to the full grown mare and plopping her down in the shadow there.
"See, now that wasn't so bad, now was it?" 'Moonbeam' draped a set of foal-sized saddlebags on Scootaloo's back, enjoying the pouting scowl on the foal's face as they sat in the grass outside Ponyville's extravagant bakery.
'Moonbeam' smiled, mentally marking off the various vendors in the town square, noting to herself how it seemed to wrap around the multi-story town hall. Sensible enough to increase traffic flow, she supposed. But there was just so much variety! She couldn't even imagine where a good place to start could be found, what stall would be her best bet to start with. Why, just look at those necklaces, or that curious little replica-Dijinn bottle emporium, or those hot, juicy apples...
In a warning of her ravenous hunger, 'Moonbeam's stomach growled like a demon had possessed it. She and Scootaloo looked at each other in shock at the strength of the shaking in her belly, wondering how long the mare had been neglecting her taste buds.
'Moonbeam' sheepishly looked to her charge, rubbing her belly with an idle forehoof. Several ponies around them stopped to gawk, lightly embarrassing the pair. Finally, the chaperoning mare cleared her throat and pointed towards the apple stand nearby, where an exasperated orange mare was trying to run herd on a yellow and red filly who was excitedly bouncing around. "So, Scootaloo, how about some apples. Lots of apples..."
"Well, what else is there to eat on short notice? I didn't pack a Pinkie."
'Moonbeam' leaned over and stuck her tongue out, firmly SLUUUUUURP!ing up the back of Scootaloo's ears, before tasting the flavor left over on her tongue rapidly. "Bleagh. Pegasus fillies taste like citrus. Maybe if I get really, really hungry."
"WHAT!?" Scootaloo hopped back, her wings extended in shock as she stared at her chaperone with pinprick eyes.
"I was joking. What crazy stories has she been telling you about me, anyway?" 'Moonbeam' shook her head, firmly marching towards the stand. Curiously, despite the utterly delicious-looking apples displayed for all to have, ponies were keeping a wary distance from it. Why over to one side, a trio of mares with flowers woven into their manes cowered behind their stand with only their eyes barely visible over it's back lip.
She stopped, feeling Scootaloo trot up behind her and sit down. 'Moonbeam' rubbed a hoof against the grass, feeling for possible razor wire or spell hidden in it, or something, anything to explain the lack of business. It wasn't like the stand was suddenly going to start raining apples on hapless customers, surely they wouldn't be that-
ZIP! "Hiya, Ah'm Applebloom! Care for an apple? No-no-" ZIP-ZIP! "Two Apples! Ya' can't go wrong with two apples!"
'Moonbeam' recoiled in shock as the yellow and red blur shot up to her and dropped off two apples at her hooves. Oh no. Scootaloo had already made a break for it, leaving her with no bait to distract the sudden overeager apple peddler. "I- uh..."
"Oh no, ya' don't know about Sweet Apple Acre Apples? Only the most yummy, good-for-you apples to ever be grown if Ah do say so myself and Ah do, but ya don't want just two apples, do ya', no ya want our Apple Cobbler, too!" ZIP! ZIP! "No? Aww, c'mon, please buy something! Ah know, ya want our Apple Jam and Zap Apple Jam!" ZIP-ZIP-ZIP! "See, look how all goldeney-good they are!"
'Moonbeam' trembled back from the growing pile of apple-based foodstuffs in bewilderment and shock, hoping that it would end shortly. The deep, soulful eyes of the earth pony filly before her seemed to bore into her soul, demanding that she buy all the apples that they had. Apples, apples.... oh why were there so many kinds of apples?
"Ya' know what they say; an apple a day keeps the doctor away!"
A brown stallion jumping up behind a stall on the other side of the marketplace broke the reverie as he shouted at the filly before the besieged mare. "No it doesn't! Crazy fillies who try and stuff me with them keep me away!"
"Hey! Ya'll still need to try our Zap Apple Cider!" The yellow filly before her shook a hoof at him, giving 'Moonbeam' a chance to gather her wits about herself.
"I'll take it, I'll take it, please stop giving me more apple stuff!" Whipping coinage out with her magic, she counted out the total she came up with in her mind and dropped it into the collection chest on the stand's counter.
The blond and orange mare behind the stall swooped around, hooking a leg around the errant filly driving 'Moonbeam' away."Applebloom! Stop scarin' away our customers. M'am, Ah'm terribly sorry, she's been such a hassle all day. You really don't need to pay us that much Miss..."
"Moonbeam. Uh, I should probably go." 'Moonbeam' snatched up the offered goods in her magic, backing away skittishly towards the storefronts as she did.
"Probably for the best, Miss. Ah'm sorry, again. Ah just don't know what's gotten into little Applebloom here." The orange mare tipped the large hat on her head towards 'Moonbeam', before scowling and pulling out a rope to tie her filly store-partner up with. "Sis, all this nonsense has to stop before you get somepony hurt, or drive us out of business."
'Moonbeam' skittered back a little further, before turning and galloping away as fast as she could. Oh Tia, Oh Tia that was horrifying! The corner of her vision caught the rapidly flailing hoof that Scootaloo was waving around a corner, and she ran headlong for it, tripping and tumbling end over end as she tried to stop. Blue skies gave way for purple mane as Scootaloo leaned over her, poking her in the chest.
"What was that you said? It's not scary, you said? Nopony was going to try and bury us in apples, you said? I told you so." Scootaloo sarcastically poked her hoof into 'Moonbeam's heaving chest to punctuate each sentence as she rolled her eyes.
"That was- Huff... The most Random- Huff... Encounter- Huff... I've ever had." 'Moonbeam' tried to raise her head, but let it fall back down after it proved to be too much strain. Distantly, she could hear, and just barely see the conversation the apparent siblings were having about their treatment of their customer.
"-Ain't nopony else in this town having such a hullabaloo about it, Applebloom. Now after this, ya'll are going home, and yer' gonna think long and hard about what ya did here today." The older sister had her little sibling hogtied and sitting on her back, squirming in indignity over her situation. The crowd seemed to relax as the mare set Applebloom into the shade under the stand, though her voice kept on ranting pitifully.
"But Applejack, Diamond Tiara is gonna rag on me forever if Ah don't get it. Ah need it to appear, right naow!"
Scootaloo mumbled under her breath, low enough that 'Moonbeam' couldn't quite catch it. She wondered just who this 'Diamond Tiara' was, and what she might have done to drive two fillies to shun her. She concentrated, slowly straightening out her breathing rhythm and calming herself to keep it under control.
"Well, 'sis', where do you want to go next in the crazy, crazy town of Ponyville?" Scootaloo's proffered hoof was gratefully accepted, helping 'Moonbeam' back to her hooves with a bit of effort.
Looking about, she sought an indoors store, needing to hide her shame. It wasn't everyday that a goddess of the moon, even one disguised as a mortal pony was beaten by somepony just trying to sell her something. Sheesh. "Perhaps you could tell me about a store that sells hats? I have a need to hide my face, because I'm too ashamed to ever show my face again."
Scootaloo's smile widened further, the little filly rubbing her hooves together in a somewhat disturbing fashion behind 'Moonbeam's back. "Oh, I know just the place."
'Moonbeam' nodded, panting ever so slightly still as she mused about her horrible luck. "What's next, a unicorn who can't do magic? A Seapony walking on dry land?"
"Blessed be, Bartholemew. That cold of yours isn't getting any better, is it?" Bonnie Pie rubbed at her colt's blue-tinged nose with a hankerchief, wiping away the mess that had come with his sneeze.
"I'm fine, Ma. Really. I just think somepony important was talking about me again. My nose always gets like this when they do." The youngest member of the Pie Clan rubbed at his nose after his mom was done, wincing at the dust stuck to his normally damp fur. Wet earth was always an unpleasant smell to sniff into your nose, after all. With that done, he fell back onto the couch in the family parlor, stretching out his aching body.
"Hardly anypony knows about you, son. It's your imagination. I doubt you've got your sister Pinkamina's sense." Clyde Pie stepped out of the kitchen with a newspaper clutched in the crook of his leg, the family's prodigal daughter pictured front and center as the star of it's big article.
"Just like Inkie and Blinkie don't? They get flashes of it, too, Pa. What'chya reading?" The young colt squirmed on the couch as his mother checked his temperature, doing his best to ignore the thermometer in his mouth and stare at the picture filled walls. It used to be so much more fun back when his sis Pinkie was still around.
"Something about Pinkamina. Celestia bless her, do I miss her. But she's just too big for this little old farm of ours. Something you do share with her, son." Clyde sat down beside his wife, looking to her for the prognosis. A solemn shake of her head was more than enough for them to make up their minds.
"Ma, Pa? What exactly are you saying?"
Bonnie sighed, running a hoof down her son's mane. He was never what she had expected, or wanted. But that bright spark in his eyes... she was scared for him, scared for their relationship, and their family as a whole. "Bartholemew, we're sending you to live with your sister Pinkamina. It's just too dry up here on our farm for you to get over your sickness."
"You're sending me away?"
Clyde nodded, a frown of sadness upon his face as he did. He wished it hadn't come to this, just as he hadn't wanted to send Pinkamina to their cousins in Ponyville. But just like his daughter, their farm was slowly strangling the life and light out of their son. "I won't lie to you. Yes, we're sending you to Pinkamina. It's going to be the second-hardest thing I've done in my life."
"But, you're sending me away anyway."
"Yes, son. The most important lesson I ever learned was that sometimes a problem is just too big for you by yourself. I want to build you a nice lake so you can stay, but with certain things that have gone on lately, we can't afford it. And we can't afford to see you get sicker and sicker up here. We want to help you, son. We want you to stay here, so we can see you grow up into a fine young stallion." Clyde was normally a stoic and repressed old farmer, as stony as the rocks he farmed. But it wasn't something he could keep up. His voice cracked as he spoke, knowing how much he was hurting his family, and how much more it would hurt if he didn't.
Bonnie nodded, sliding a foreleg under her son's shoulder's to hug him tightly. "If you love something, Bartholemew, let it go. If it comes back, it was yours to keep. If not, it was never yours to begin with. This farm is going to eat you up if you stay. Maybe you'll be able to come back some day, when we've got the place fixed up. Maybe we'll have to come join you. But we love you enough to let go."
Their colt nodded, knowing how dreary it was and how hard the farm was on him. Tears slipped down his cheeks as he rolled over, hugging his parents tightly. "I think I get it, Ma. I don't suppose you two could help me find my back legs and get them on? It'll be hard to walk to the train station without them." Small giggles met his words as they hugged for a while longer.
"Say, where did you leave them, son?"
"Hey, Berry!" Inkie's widely smiling face popped up in the front windows as she reared up on the porch. "Guess who's the six-legged pony!"
Clyde and Bonnie winced; Clyde's hoof finding it's way to his face to rub out the sudden headache that jumped in between his eyes. "Celestia almighty, give me strength..."
"No buts, Missey! You've scared the daylights out of our guest, and I mustn't let this little farce continue any farther. Now march right up to the bedroom, and sit on that bed to think through what you just did, young lady!" Rarity angrily pointed towards the stairs for Sweetie Belle, glaring at her little sister's smoke-encrusted form.
Scootaloo and 'Moonbeam' stared on in shock from having watched Sweetie Belle's disastrous attempt at replicating 'Moonbeam's fireworks spell. Rarity waved her hooves before their faces, whistling as she did. Concernedly, the fashionista upgraded from semi-passive means of signaling, and proceeded to her little sister's favored tactic. Two licked hooves tickled at the insides of the pair's ears, shocking them into awareness again.
'Moonbeam' shook out of it first, looking to the scorch mark on the floor where Sweetie's attempt at a spell had gone out of control. "Oh my goodness. I'm so sorry, Ma'am. I didn't know she would attempt to cast the spell inside like that. I've caused you so many problems, I really should take my sister and go..."
Rarity's magic caught her by the tail, dragging the disguised mare back to where she had been standing before her attempt to slink away. "Oh, no-no-no! I can't have such a natural beauty like yours go to waste over such a silly little incident! Besides, what are a few burns on the floor between friends?"
"But-but- what about the damage? I barely even know you, how could we be-"
"Because I want to be, darling! Oh, look at you, so afraid to trust. Somepony must have hurt you in the past, didn't they?" Rarity snuggled up to her now slightly disturbed customer, using her telekinesis to throw the measuring tape around both their necks in a friendly gesture.
Before she could start dragging 'Moonbeam' to the fitting room for her measurements, she realized that there was one last pony in the room who needed to be taken care of. "Oh, I'm sorry. I seem to have forgotten your name. Rather dreadfully embarrassing of me, since you're around town so much. Soobertoo? Scoogerboo?"
"Scootaloo. I'm one of your sister's friends."
'Moonbeam' nodded with Scootaloo's statement. "And she's my little sister and totally best friend forever."
Rarity looked between them, eyebrow raised in confusion. 'Moonbeam' carried herself like somepony who spent their formative young adult years in the Neighties, while Scoober- ugh, Scootaloo was only a little older than 10 years old. Curious. And they barely looked anything alike! Sure, they both had those remarkable purple eyes, so much like Princess Celestia's, and they did have the same general facial structure, and hmm, maybe they were closely related. After all, the Lotus twins didn't look all that much alike at first glace.
"Ah. I suppose I do see a slight family resemblance. I don't suppose you would be willing to keep Sweetie Belle company while I fit Miss Moonbeam here? It will be so awfully boring to somepony as young as you are." Rarity drew a tape measure out of her workstations, cracking it like a whip as she extended it out to full length.
"Aren't you punishing her?"
"Yes. But, I know how... boring, foals find my work." Rarity picked Scootaloo up with her magic, pushing her towards the stairs. Scootaloo caught a glimpse of Rarity backing 'Moonbeam' onto a fitting stage, armed to the horn with a cornucopia of sewing instruments as she gleefully planned how to harness the natural beauty before her. "Now then, who's ready to shine?"
"Um... I only came here for a hat."
"Nonsense! Why would anypony hide such a mane as your own in a mere hat?"
Scootaloo shook her head, feeling sorry for 'Moonbeam' as she quietly opened and slipped into the bedroom upstairs. "Sweetie Belle?"
Scootaloo found herself practically pulverized by the protectively perky pounce of the miniature marshmallow pony projectile that pressed her into the portal. Weak groans of pain escaped her as she wriggled underneath the animatedly jibbering unicorn above her, who busily was trying to catch Scootaloo up on everything that had happened in Ponyville while she was gone. Scootaloo raised a foreleg over her eyes, shielding them from the mid-afternoon sunlight that streamed through the western windows of the room.
"And that's everything that's happened!" Sweetie Belle hopped with her exclamation, sending a fresh wave of pain through Scootaloo's poor abused body. Oddly, from where she was being stepped on, Sweetie's form almost looked like her Mom's in the midst of one of her 'showy' days. Might have had something to do with the way that Sweetie Belle stood within a beam of light from the windows.
"Could you repeat some of that? Yanno, while not standing on me? Kind of hard to listen when you're being squished to death." Scootaloo grunted out her request in the short breaths that she could get with Sweetie on her chest.
Sweetie sheepishly cringed in embarrassment and hopped off, helping Scootaloo back to her hooves with an offered leg up. "I was just so excited to see you again... Diamond Tiara was going on about how your mom got killed and eaten by Nightmare Moon, and how you got taken to some horrible orphana-"
"What? No! NononoNo! That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. My mom is fine, we've just been in Canterlot helping Princess Celestia transfer the moon back to it's rightful owner. And getting to know my sister, who got kidnapped in some crazy plot to give Nightmare Moon a body. It didn't work, and she got dragged up into the moon until Princess Celestia's student freed Luna." Scootaloo spun her tale as quickly as she could, her summary accurate enough. Speaking of Luna, what was going on downst-
"But darling, sparkles in your mane would make it look like you're wearing the night skies on your head!"
"No! I get mistaken for Princess Luna enough, I don't want more ponies mistaking me for her!"
"Princess Luna has a mane made of STARS? Idea!" The sound of a hundred drawers slamming open at once rocked the business for a moment as Rarity enthusiastically got to work on her latest idea for 'Moonbeam'.
Sweetie Belle winced, realizing that any chance of hanging out with her big sister during the stupid party coming up just went out the window. A dejected sniffle scrunched her nose, and her head slowly drooped in disappointment as she turned to walk to Rarity's bed. "That figures."
Scootaloo confusedly walked up to Sweetie's side, tapping her on the shoulder. "What's wrong?"
"Sniff. Nothing." Sweetie tried to turn away from Scootaloo, only to find her mysteriously somehow already in her path again.
"It's not nothing. I hate it when you get mopey. It means I have to break out the robot chicken dance. You know I hate that dance." Scootaloo poked the tip of Sweetie's horn, using it as leverage to make her shake her head 'no'. It was pretty depressing, seeing her only friend that was her age all mopey. Wait. "Stupid Tiara invited you to her cutiecanara as well, didn't she?"
Sweetie nodded faintly. "She invited all the foals, so she could make fun of everypony that doesn't have their cutie marks yet. I was gonna go with Rarity, or stay here with her. But now she's all inspired and stuff, and I'll be bored. And... I'll have nopony to keep me from going." Sweetie Belle climbed up on the bed and slumped down over it's side, her head hanging against the edge as she closed her eyes in moping frustration.
Odd whirring noises and clucking sounds tried to tickle her ears. Sweetie tried to ignore them as best she could; she knew that it was Scootaloo making an utter foal of herself for the sake of a friend. But the beat to the noise was too infectious, and a single peek of an eye was all it took to wipe the frown from the little unicorn's face. A minute or two more had her eyes closed again once more from the mechanical movements and pretend-pecking at the ground as Scootaloo danced; this time trying to hold back tears of mirth as she clamped both forehooves over her mouth to try and hold back the uproarious laughter.
"I can ~CLUCK!~ keep this up all day, Sweetie. And you know what? If every foal in town is getting dragged in, guess who else has to go?" Scootaloo pointed to herself in the middle of her movements as Sweetie Belle opened her eyes, nearly loosing her balance from the act. The marshmallowy unicorn squeaked happily, falling off the bed and into Scootaloo, who collapsed atop her.
Panting from the exertion, she continued. "And you know what? Mom never did find out I became friends with you. It'd be a good way to make her stop needling me about makin-"
"For the love of Celestia, I look like a pink clown! I only wanted a hat!"
Sweetie Belle looked to Scootaloo, trying to hold back the laughter. Scootaloo didn't even try, rolling onto her back as her wings buzzed in time with her wheezing chuckles and squeaks.
"YES! I AM THE MIGHTY AND MAGNIFICENT MOONSTONE, AND I WILL- ooo~OOOOH! You have my attention!"
Sweetie hopped off her sister's bed, poking Scootaloo in the belly to see if she was dead. No time quite like having her sister distracted to make a deal. "You know what? Let's go. It can't be all that bad..." Her eyes flickered over to the windows, which still were nearly glowing with late afternoon light. Well, why not? "But maybe we should go. If my sis gets too into the zone, she might borrow us as scale dummies for her dress."
Scootaloo's eyes snapped open again as the horror of being caught dead or alive in a little pink dress in Rarity's shop hit her. "Run away. Run AWAY!"
There was still the meeting with the Subcommitte for Northern Mining he had to attend, and having to listen to the begging of the Airdock Union whining at him to give them a raise on the shipping lines, and maybe even time to enjoy an hour or two of cursing Celestia in private. Not the best day for Redcoat, Duke of Neighagra, but at least he didn't have to put up with that weak-willed sunnag.
He brushed off the white cape of office, looking out from his tower suite over the city of Canterlot towards the setting sun; the sun that was setting on Equestria, as it was. The sun's harsh orange evening light glared into his dark eyes, casting long shadows across the dark red of his fur, casting a sinister look upon his features. Redcoat lit his horn, checking the pocketwatch he carried for the time, scowling as he saw the time. At the rate that he kept going, he was going to turn into that careless nag upon the throne himself, always taking personal time and ignoring Equestria's plight. He was almost late.
Striding around his throne-like desk, he headed for his suite's front room to catch up with his schedule. The thick star-emblazoned rug that covered the floor of his office swallowed up his hoofsteps as he walked, protecting the unyielding white marble of his floor. At a touch of his magic, the double doors of his realm opened and he strode forth to do battle with the ignorance of his subjects for the sake of Equestria.
Nodding, he gave a signal of his intentions to his secretary, whoever she was. He couldn't remember her name. "I'm leaving for the day, no appointments for tomorrow, I'm afraid. I have much to do, and to plan."
"Mi'lord, there is a petitioner who urgently requests to see you just outside. He claims several associates of his have a business deal they would like to discuss with you." His secretary bowed against her plain and modest desk; looking up to him from where she planted her nose in her paperwork in supplication.
Redcoat stopped by the plain doors leading into the main hall of the governmental office complex, rubbing the bridge of his muzzle with a steel-clad hoof. He didn't have time for some simpleton idiot who wanted to get involved in the government. Right. Well then, he might as well just barge through, not much that he could do otherwise. "Thank you for the warning. Take an extra bit home for your trouble."
The duke slammed the outer doors of his office open, hearing a satisfying grunt of pain as the petitioner stumbled back from the door. Poor fool had the brilliant idea to stand within the swing radius of the door. Redcoat marched out, heading for the elevator at the end of the hall and hoping every step of the way that he had disoriented his latest leach enough to escape.
No such luck, though. The awkward sound of a pony limping on three hooves caught up to him rapidly. The slightly gurgly sound of somepony trying to breath through a bloody nose that had a hoof applying pressure to it grated against his ears as he steadfastly looked ahead, trying to ignore the commoner fool. "Your excellency, I am-"
"Representing the interests of unnamed associates, attempting to con me into going along with some Celestia-bedamned scheme of one form or another. Yes. Now go away." Redcoat focused on the steeley sounds of his hooffalls, scowling directly ahead.
Blessed silence followed him for a moment, before his tail caught up. "Is that all you want, Duke?"
"All that I care about at the moment. A thousand brush fires to put out, a thousand idiocies that 'her majesty' promotes in the name of her thrice bedamned harmony. I have no time for anything more."
The petitioner caught up with him once more, walking steadily once more as his nose stopped bleeding. They were almost to the sanctuary of the elevators, where he could escape his current frustration. Even if it was only to replace it with the frustration of the subcommitte. Oddly, he could almost swear that he heard something in the echoes of the hall. Harsh, metallic and sinister.
"A shame, really. My associates sought to find out what your real plan for the future of Equestria was. We just wanted to know what you wanted. They thought they could fulfill your wishes, and use your vision for advancing the cause of Equestria. No wonder Princess Celestia irritates you so greatly, since you seem not to have a vision after all. Good day."
Oh, he did not just- yes he did. Redcoat slammed a hoof against the door of the elevator, the loud clack echoing through the halls in voicing of his anger. "WAIT!" The stranger stopped at the corner of the main hall, turning around to finally look Redcoat eye to eye. The reflectively polished marble glittered in the fading sunlight as they stared each other down, a thousand unspoken observations passing between them. "Do you really want to know what I want? What my... vision for Equestria is, hmm?"
"Yes, that is the reason I came, your excellency."
"I want... to see Celestia deposed from the throne. I want Equestria to be the shining beacon it once was. I want to see the Glasslands put in their place for daring to threaten us with sanctions and rules. I want to show Celestia how wrong her 'Harmony' is, to show her that there are indeed betters and inferiors. I want to see Equestria's star rise once more, to put the Aerie States, the Drakesland Republics, to put every nation in our shadow. But your... associates. I rather doubt they can help me in my quest, now can they?"
Every word slowly widened the sly smile on the petitioner's face, a dark and knowing glint shining deep in his eyes. He nodded once as he stepped forward, reaching a hoof out to Redcoat to shake on a deal. "Now there is the vision my associates have been looking for. All you need to do is ask."
"You have yet to actually tell me what they can provide."
Redcoat's eyebrow raised in questioning. "Anything?"
"Anything. As a token of proof, you'll find in your cape something that may be useful in dealing with your problems." The petitioner lowered his hoof as he realized that Redcoat was in no mood to shake on a business deal.
Redcoat turned to his short cape, realizing that a laminated pamphlet had been placed amongst the papers hidden within it. "And what is this supposed to be?" Redcoat looked up from the odd papers, startling as he saw that his petitioner had vanished.
"Leverage, your excellency, leverage."
Redcoat looked one way and another, seeing no sign of where the voice had come from. Opening the small pamphlet revealed only a few sheets of paper, dossiers on several ponies; two mares, a foal, and a comparison between the mares and the princesses. "Why in the world would he tell me about the Princess's secretary?"
Well, the party was going along nicely enough. Such... strange and silly ponies, though. 'Moonbeam' glanced about over the rim of her punchglass carefully, watching the guest of honor and her closest friend talk with the little foal who had driven her so crazy in the market. Their discussion seemed to be getting rather heated. And... was that dress made of a tablecloth? What did she have to hide from those two?
And where in Tia's good land had Scootaloo and that little unicorn filly run off to?
'Moonbeam' yelped and jumped as the dark blue stallion beside her began popping balloons once more; his oblivious happiness continuing onwards past her as he went. Now there was a shock her system didn't need. Wait, where had that silly filly gone?
Oh, at the door, being dragged back inside by- oh, now she recognized the older mare. Applejack, her successor Scion and Bearer of Honesty. She took another long draught of her punch, letting her new wide-brimmed hat slowly slip down over her eyes in the process. Lovely thing, it was. Silken, with braces of unicorn-enchanted wire to hold it's point out above her head.
"Oh, look, she doesn't have a cutie mark after all. What a cute little worthless blank flank."
Punch became mist in a moment, 'Moonbeam's horn lighting righteously in anger as she slammed back what little of her punch remained. A push of her aura righted her hat, revealing the eyes of a mare on a mission. How dare they taunt and tease that poor filly. How dare they back her into a corner like that.
She stomped their way, brushing aside foals and mares in her march, determined to scold that little brat within an inch of her-
"HEY! You got a problem with blank flanks?"
"Scootaloo?" 'Moonbeam' looked a little further on, seeing two pairs of eyes glinting under the nearest tables to the confrontation. She hesitated, wondering now if she should interfere, or let Tia's child grow a little further.
"Who said that? Come on!" The grey filly angrily looked around, even as the little yellow filly they had been picking on looked on in hope.
"I said, DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH BLANK FLANKS?" Scootaloo burst out from under the table she had been hiding under, her white-coated friend cautiously following behind her. The two obnoxious brats recoiled slightly at their approach, even as they joined the yellow filly in facing down her tormentors. "What's it matter to you anyway?"
"I- uh-" The pink one stammered, trying to get back to her mental hooves. 'Moonbeam' slunk behind her, blocking their escape as she relished in their discomfort.
The white unicorn foal spoke up, poking the yellow and red filly in the flank as if pointing something out. "You know what? A blank flank just means she's full of potential! Her special talent could be ANYTHING!"
The other foals began babbling as they realized what Scootaloo and... and... Sweetie Belle! That was it, as Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle stood together with the yellow Apple filly, encouraging them and realizing how they could have been different. The sudden commotion seemed to infuriate the pink one, emboldening her into speaking up.
"And why are you sticking up for her, anyway?"
Scootaloo smirked, waving her rump in the air with Sweetie Belle as she showed off the burnt orange expanse of blank fur on her own rump. "Take a look, Diamond Tiara! I thought you hadn't forgotten that we're blank flanks too!"
'Moonbeam' satisfiedly watched as two of the element bearers swooped in, unintentionally driving off any further efforts on Diamond Tiara's part to put the trio down. So, it looked like Tia was right after all. Scootaloo did make some friends here. How adorable, the little things. Why, there they went over to a corner table, getting to know each other better.
Now if only her problems were so easy to solve. With Trixie in... trouble, a world that had gone without her for so long... The nobles hated her; they hated her plans to dismantle their system for the good of Equestria. She still needed to make something of the remaining shards of the Rainbow of Light; and for that matter she had so many ideas to advance Equestria, to prepare it for what she had seen in her thousand year absence. And even-
A cold icy sweat dripped down her spine, freezing her thoughts in place as three voices spoke at once.
"That's it! The CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS! YAAAAAY!"
Um, well that probably wouldn't be so bad, would it?
Celestia whimpered fitfully in her sleep. Sweat trickled down her body as she feebly kicked and squirmed in the tangled nest of blankets she had formed out of her sheets. The cool night air did nothing to soothe her, only further fueling the nightmare that gripped her dreams. The setting moon edged under the top sill of her window, it's pale moonlight casting long and dreadful shadows across the comfortable bedroom of her secret home. One pane of light arced out across the room, tickling her eyelids with it's cool light, wanting in.
Celestia flipped over, unconsciously tugging at a wing she had pinned beneath her bulk as her nightmare intensified. Why wouldn't it all go away? She dug her face into a pillow, hiding her eyes even as a figure alighted upon her balcony. It's wings spread, and it's horn dimmly glowing with the blue of a midnight sky, it advanced upon Celestia, quietly stalking into her room and touching her horn to horn.
"Monster!" "Murderer!" "Failure!"
Celestia's heart pounded within the barrel of her chest, demanding escape as she squirmed deeper into the corner that she had found herself in. A million faces filled her vision, each marred by anger or disfiguration as they glared down upon her. Her mistakes judged her, and found her wanting before them in the deepest darkest corner of the world.
"Please- no. I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry. I tried to do the best I could! I tried to save you!" Celestia writhed back from the touches, feeling as weak and feeble as a filly before her cutie mark.
Stickiness ran underhoof, pinning her in place as the accusing eyes drew nearer, as the hateful shouts grew louder. She dared not look at it as she tried to cover her eyes with her wings, discovering to her horror that they had shrunk to the little nubs that a pre-flight foal had. Heartbeats thundered in her ears, no, a raw heart pounded it's pulse before her, exposed and squirting as it beat solemnly.
"You called yourself a conquering hero!" "You said you would save us!" "YOU LEFT YOUR POST!"
Celestia could feel her heart ready to burst as she screamed in horror, unable to control herself any longer. Filthy hooves and appendages raked themselves against her fur, staining it with the blood she had shed and the lives she had spent. Raking and grabbing... and caressing and hugging?
The shouts were fading, noise in the distance over the sound of a heartbeat once more. Not frantic and mad, or solemnly accusing. The heartbeat of soempony who loved. Celestia dared not open her eyes, fearing what could be all around her as the feathers tightened around her form. It was all a trick, the demons wanted her to let her guard down, she had to fight, she had to-!
"Tia, you are still LOVED."
Celestia's lip trembled as she slowly looked up; smelling the warm, sweet breath of a mare she dearly loved rushing past her. Purple eyes opened, looking up into Luna's own as the dark alicorn of dreams leaned her head in a little further, touching Celestia nose to nose. A white aura surrounded her, granting her an aethereal feel as the lunar alicorn tightly hugged the one she loved.
"But, all that I did- I-"
"You did the best you could with the hoof granted to you and with your own temperament. Nopony more could ask much more of you. You have failed, yes Tia. But you are still our beloved guiding light. Our first, and better." Luna's wings swirled nebulously around Celestia's shrunken form, giving her comfort as her young counterpart comforted her.
Heartbeats slowed, the tense and frightened shudder in Celestia's breath fading as her nightmare recoiled and faded at the presence of the dream guardian When she finally looked beyond Luna's presence, great rolling plains verdantly greeted her, a gentle twilight sky lighting the landscape all around them. She knew these plains, that sky. The old lands, the last time she had gotten to just be Luna's...
"Rest, beloved Tia. And with the morning's light, we will talk." Luna unfurled her wings, releasing the pint-sized Celestia from her comforting embrace and filling her with a youthful energy. "Be young, as you long ago gave up. Be young, and joyous. We shall not let thy nightmare intrude here again."
Celestia's protest died upon her lips as Luna faded away, bursting into a riotous rainbow of butterflies that swarmed her for a moment. Colors rushed her, and then past her into the rolling fields beyond, reforming for a moment into the shape of a tall alicorn regally beckoning for Celestia to follow. "Why you cheeky little- I'm going to get you, Luna!"
With a laugh, Celestia buzzed her pint-sized wings, chasing after the swarm as it playfully swirled away through trees and bushes. Watching from atop a hill, Luna stood watch from the shade of a spectral stand of trees. She would have her way, no matter how drastic of a course it took. Now then, where did she keep that memory of falling stars? She still had to share it with her Tia...
Warm. Comfy. Safe.
Celestia tried to roll over, feeling light on her face and wishing for it to go away and let her sleep in. Everything felt strange, it felt like her sheets had been carefully wrapped around her, tucking her legs and wings in tightly folded around her body. And a warmth pressing against her, softly contouring to her own body. She wanted the warmth closer...
Whimpers of effort escaped her tightly pressed lips as she tugged her forelegs free one at a time, working through the slight pain of having to stretch and stress them to escape her blankets engulfing grasp. Cold morning air prickled at her fur, a seeming trillion goosebumps breaking out as her hair stood on end from the sensations. Too cold, she had to have warmth. Her legs shot out, nabbing the soft source of warmth and pressing it against her body with all of her strength
"Oh woe, oh folly! To be squished to death by Tia wanting a hug in the morning!"
She wanted to swear that she knew that voice, that she knew the shape of her heat-source. But it was all so fuzzy, maybe she could remember after a few more minutes of sleep. Celestia's head did it's best to seek out the pocket between her body and the warm object, pressing it in until her horn's base slid up against a soft unyielding obstacle.
A gentle, but haughty laugh giggled in her ears from it; it's name dancing on the edge of her knowledge as it wriggled within her grasp. "Oh, Tia... What have you been doing to yourself in our absence? It's time to wake up. C'mon, before you squish us further."
Celestia squeezed harder, wanting the silly noises to stop so she could sleep. A gasping squeak rattled in her ears as the wriggling increased. What she wouldn't do to make it all stop, to go back to that dream with the field and the butterflies and falling stars... She'd lick her ears, ev- "AAAUUUUAAGGGH!"
The not-so-elegant diarch of the sun twisted and squirmed, rolling off the side of her bed at the wet intrusion into her ear, crashing to the floor in a heap as all of her bed's blankets fell atop her. The other occupant of the bed gently rolled off to follow; landing atop her gently in a press of dark fur warmly pinning her to the floor. Luna's laugh giggled in Celestia's ears as the elder alicorn sleepily and crossly glared up at her. Celestia felt like her eyes had almost crusted shut, her cheeks crinkling as her frown turned to a motherly smile.
"Luna, why were you in my bed?"
"Because thou needed the comfort."
"And why exactly am I wrapped up like a hay burrito up to my chin?"
"Because thou had been far more uncomfortably sprawled in the midst of thy nightmare, and we wished to keep thou warm and snug."
"And why exactly are you talking in old Equish again?"
"To be a tease."
"Ah." Celestia laid her head back as far as she could, feeling her horn catch on the soft carpet of her Ponyville hideaway, propping her up slightly. She could feel sleep reaching up into her mind, teasing her with dark tendrils of it's oblivion. If only her throat didn't hurt like she had been talking too much. If only her face didn't feel sore as if she had been bitterly crying and her aethereal mane didn't feel so limp.
Celestia raised her head up, a question at the edge of her tongue again. "Why are you in my bedroom, Luna? Shouldn't you be in the Night Court?"
"Nay, it is over for the night. We came at the calling of thy nightmare, and we have stayed with you since. It was refreshing to raise the sun ourselves. Tis not nearly the cantankerous thing that you make it out to be." Luna polished a hoof with pride, smirking ever so slightly at her success.
"Oh. Okay." Celestia set her head back and closed her eyes once more, eager to slip back into the embrace of- "Raise the sun? I'M LATE!"
Celestia shot to wakefulness, adrenaline coursing through her blood in response to the firing of her neurons and the realization that she had missed the rising sun. This was crazy, she had never been so out of it before! Sheets practically exploded off of her as she unwrapped herself, burying Luna in them as she threw them off. Her safe rose up out of her closet, it's multi-chambered lock opening at her touch to release her symbols of office and regalia.
Her crown effortlessly slipped onto her head, pinning back her ragged mane; her chestpiece intended to follow quickly after. Puzzlement followed, as it failed to follow. Regal blue magic clashed with her golden aura dancing across it's surface, Luna biting her lip in concentration as she kept the chest-piece from reaching it's owner.
"Luna! Let go, I'm already about to miss court! I've never been this late before!"
"Tia, you are going to miss court entirely today. And the rest of the week. Your nightmare was strong enough to wake half the ponies in Canterlot in backlash from your own torment. No."
"Luna, you can hardly banish me from Canterlot this week." Celestia tugged once more, finding her younger counterpart holding steadfast against her grip.
"No, Tia. We look at you, into your eyes, and we see the same seed of self-disrespect and overwork that began our own nightmare. We cannot in good conscience allow this to proceed one step further. You have overworked yourself for a millenia, and tripled that workload for the past ten years, with no breaks or vacations. You carry the burdens of a millenia and a quarter of ruling, and have several times refused those who wished to clear your heart." Luna tugged back slightly harder, taking Celestia's chestpiece from her grip. Luna's eyes softened as she stepped closer, nuzzling along the side of Celestia's face. Her magic stroked through Celestia's wild aurora mane, smoothing it out with remembered practice from caring for her own filly.
Celestia's wings began to rise with impatience, her tail lashing in the solar wind from her irritation. Her voice deepened as she rebuked her younger with the memories of a thousand years fresh in her mind. "Luna, I knew the lonely road that I would take long before I had to walk it. Now please give me the chestpiece."
"Will you please call me Celestia, Luna? You don't have to call me-"
"We shalt respect you as is your due, Tia. As we should always. And no don't growl at us, we can see it tweaking the corners of your muzzle. This is an intervention. Which means no matter what, you are not coming to work today. You are going to do what you love best, caring for your foal." Luna stopped Celestia with a wingtip over the white alicorn's mouth, sushing her to continue speaking. Luna waited as Celestia's features hardened slightly more, waited for the realization to strike within Celestia's mind.
At last Celestia relaxed, slumping in place as she realized that Luna was right. She had been overworking herself. Those old nightmares had come back last night, before that strange dream had rescued her. Luna's wing slid with a ruffling movement from her lips, the lunar alicorn sweeping the crown from her head as she did. "You're right. I am letting things get to me. I even snapped at Twilight the other day. Twilight, of all ponies. I wrote right back to her, but she's not gotten back to me."
"Yes, Tia. That's why we called an intervention."
Celestia turned around in the somewhat tight and cozy confines of her bedroom, looking at the wall with all of Scootaloo's report cards and awards pinned to it, and the one with Twilight's far more numerous achievements plastered all across it just to it's side. "And Scootaloo's new group... That nightmare last night, it was about those foalish crusaders. The ones who's leader committed suicide rather than submit when we stopped them from conquering the old capitol."
"Yes. You were rather distraught when he... splattered you. You let his memories color your impression of the word. Scootaloo's group chose it for the sound, not the history." Luna stood as close to Celestia as she could, playing with the elder alicorn's crown and hovering it before her face.
Celestia bitterly sighed, turning her head from the proud recounting of how far her daughter had come. "When did I get so estranged from her? I didn't even know that she had a friend in town, Luna. I've let things get to the point where I don't even know how to please her anymore. I accidentally insulted her on her birthday, I didn't even realize it."
Luna slid her Tia's crown on, carefully seating it so that it hid her own as she ruefully shook her head. "Yes, Tia. We noticed. Hence why we are about to lock you in the disguise you chose to represent you as Scootaloo's dam."
Celestia nodded unthinkingly for a moment, about to go looking for her old set of regalia when Luna's words sank in. "Wait, WHAT?"
Blue lightning arced between them as Luna forced Celestia to change. The eldritch spell matrixes flickered into life as Luna used her dim connection to the Elements of Loyalty and Honesty to force Celestia into the form of Sunbeam. Regal white crisply transformed into ruddy orange at her energy; aurora flickers fading into the mortal pink of an unendowed pegasus with each charge. Celestia jerked and spasmed as Sunbeam was forced upon her, locking away her alicorn side.
Luna gasped as the power flow ceased, blinking away the purple afterimage around Celestia's form. The sight burned into her eyes washed out the plaster walls and dark oceanic blue carpeting as she waited, hoping Celestia wasn't about to do something to her for her impudence.
"Luna, when I change back, I swear I am going to ground you for forever."
Luna tried not to giggle at the adorable pout in her Tia's words. The voice coming from her mouth sounded far too gentle to be making threats of any kind, let alone threatening to do horrible things to the lunar alicorn as Luna knew that Celestia wanted to. "Oh, Tia. You look just like the new bearer of Kindness. Except bigger and colored like an orange. Besides, we both know that you will only ground us for a month, since we are doing both of our jobs."
Sunbeam stomped her hooves in the small hall past her closet and bathroom, snorting at the thought of Luna thinking she could get away with it. She'd still come to work, after all! "I'm coming, Luna. And that's final. This just means you get a secretary who knows all the right spots to stick pins in the cushions so you don't get comfortable."
"Nonsense! The brave and loyal Sunbeam is busy making certain that her mistress recooperates. Why merely coming to Canterlot would be a gross dereliction of her duties in making certain that Princess Celestia gets a week of rest and good food! We would have to immediately escort her home!" Luna coyly smiled at her little wittiness, knowing that she had Celestia over a barrel.
"You magnificent mare." Sunbeam tried not to snark it out, grumbling as she caught Luna smiling innocently.
"We know." Luna began shooing Sunbeam forward into the great hall of the house with her wings, pressing her ahead to keep her from protesting.
"And take my crown off, gold looks silly on you."
Luna picked the crown off of her head, holding up her leg to compare the gold to her deep and darkly colored fur. "Perhaps. We think we will wear it anyway. Reminds ponies that we are in charge while Celestia forgets her horrid dreams of religious crusades and Discord, and how she has been overworking herself caring for Twilight, the nation, and her secret burden."
Sunbeam frowned, as the empty rattling of her home called to her. Not a single peep from Scootaloo, despite the heated debate that she and Luna had been having. She should have come up to the door and at least snarked at them being an old married couple or Applejack and Rarity by now. Or burnt breakfast trying to impress her mom, or fallen off her balcony on a three foot bungie cord.
Luna noted her distress, seeing the sudden moment of motherly panic starting to worm it's way into Sunbeam. "She is at Sweet Apple Acres with her friends, 'Crusading' for her cutie mark."
"Thank you, got to make certain that she doesn't hurt herself!" Sunbeam about faced, jumping over the upstairs railing to glide down to her front door. Luna waited a moment to make certain that the elder mare was being sincere in her worry for Scootaloo, smiling ruefully as she felt Sunbeam flying off to the south over the Ponyville lake behind the house.
Now then, where did that coupon book for Canterlot go? She remembered seeing something about a 'Pony Joe Quadruple Expresso'.
"She's late. She's never late!"
Shining Armor ruefully shook his head at the high-strung nerves of his fellow royal guard captain, Tenderhoof. The poor pegasus was worrying himself half to death pacing before the Solar Throne, his helmet and neck guards clacking as he nervously shot glances to the windows and doors. Shining contemplated letting him fret further so that the poor guard would be better prepared in the future for the occasions when Princess Celestia held her mysterious late mornings. Nopony had ever been able to find her when she decided to come in late.
"Tenderhoof, relax. This isn't the first time. About ten to thirteen years ago, she used to be late all the time. She'll show up any minute now. Or we could get Cadance. My Cadey-wadey has been itching to sit on a session of the day court for a few years now. And don't make those gag faces at me. That's just silly." Shining Armor scowled as Tenderhoof made a choking face at his pet name for his fiance. Granted, it was hard to take a couple who called each other 'Cadey-Wadey' and 'Shiney-Whiney' and other such sickeningly sweet names seriously. All the same, it was starting to get worryingly late.
"The princess is normally here by 0630 for the morning briefing! It's almost 8:30 now! I should have organized a search party over an hour ago!" Tenderhoof marched down to the front doors of the court, peering through the windows there overlooking the line of petitioners outside. "And we need to get Princess Luna! She's the Princess's sister! She must know how to find her."
"And wake that pony up right as she's going to bed? Ask Eaglehoof what happened, oh wait! He still can't hear quite right after he woke her up last week at seven in the morning. Relax, chill. Panic if she's not in by ten and we can't find Cadance to fill in for her." Shining Armor marched up behind Tenderhoof, putting a hoof on the newly minted captain's helmet in order to stop the rattling it was making.
"But I- what is that smell?" Tenderhoof sniffed at the air, testing the rich aroma that filled the grand hall. He passed a look to Shining Armor, sharing the more experienced guardpony's confusion. It almost smelled like a thousand pots of coffee all brewing together in a bunker for hours on end; a smell so strong that its mere presence was enough to wake somepony up.
"She drinks tea. Except in emergencies." Shining Armor followed his nose, closing his eyes so that his sight wouldn't distract him from the delicious aroma that tingled all the hairs in his nose. He couldn't tell how long he had been slowly trance-walking across the court. His face crinkled in an unconscious grin as he chased it down, bumping nose-first into one of the richly stained doors to the left of the throne. "In here."
Tenderhoof followed him over, sniffing loudly to take the full measure of the scent. "You're right. But this door only opens from the other side. You hear that?"
"Sounds like somepony humming. You listen closer." Shining Armor backed up, his instincts warning him that somepony was about to burst through the door. But just in case they weren't, Tenderhoof was young enough to take the blow and smile.
"It sounds like... somepony humming the Equestrian Girls?" Tenderhoof peeled his ear from the door, looking back to Shining. A grimace crossed his face as he realized the more experienced guardspony had moved to just on the other side of the Solar Throne, waving at him. "That cheeky little-"
Solid oak slammed against his face as the pony on the other side bounced the doors open. A tail colored with the blue of a night sky drowned out by the day rippled through the doorway, undulating in the unseen wind that swept the diarch's manes and tails. Luna's rear end followed, bouncing back and forth slightly provocatively as it's owner shuffle-danced to the beat of the song's chorus. Luna trotted backwards, her humming muffled by the mouth-guard in her teeth that protected her from the heat of the massive tank of coffee she slowly backed into the throne room.
"Augh, it stings." Tenderhoof gingerly poked his nose, wincing with each spike of pain as he tried to make it stop bleeding. Pinkish magic surrounded it quickly, staunching the flow as Shining Armor projected his bubble. "Thank you. Princess Luna, can I ask why you just showed up instead of Princess Celestia?"
Luna smiled as she lowered the dispenser to the floor and slid the dolley she had used to wheel it in out. "You may."
Shining Armor groaned as he realized that Luna had her sister's sense of humor and that it was in full swing. "Why exactly are you here with a ten gallon container of coffee, and do we need to worry about why Princess Celestia is late?"
"Nay, no need to worry. Our dear Tia is at a private place. She needs a great deal of bed rest, fruit juices, and comfort hugs at the moment. Unfortunately, this places us in charge of holding the Day Court." Luna dug into the small stand that her tank of coffee was supported on, pulling out a lunar steel mug she had produced for her benefit. Pausing a moment to bait Shining into opening his mouth again, she cut him off with a raised hoof. "Fortunately, we have discovered the nourishing lifeblood of Pony Joe's coffee!"
Shining Armor let out a long-suffering sigh of frustration, beginning to suspect that his day wouldn't be going as well as he liked. "So, why does Princess Celestia need lots of bed rest, fruit juice, and comfort hugs?" His handkerchief found its way to Tenderhoof's face, wiping the drying blood from the pegasus's reddened nose.
Luna's magic fluffed up the cushion for the throne in a haze of blue magic, another arc connecting her to her mug which was slowly filling with intensely aromatic drink. "Tell us, have you ever seen an alicorn sneeze? Don't answer that. A terrible thing, it is. Imagine the loudness of a mortal sneezing, but with all the strength of the Royal Canterlot Speaking Voice."
The lunar alicorn did her best not to smile at the paling of the two white ponies faces, putting on her most stern and stoic neutral pose for them. She could imagine the gears clicking through their heads, the images of all the irreplaceable stained glass windows shattering in one horrible moment.
Shining Armor spoke up first, maneuvering around to Luna's far side to look at Celestia's favorite windows. "So, when did the Princess start getting sick? I've never heard of her sniffling, let alone breaking into a sneezing fit."
Luna enigmatically smiled, a tendril of her magic reaching out to sooth Tenderhoof's nose with an anesthetic spell. "Sick? Yes, we suppose sick could be one term to describe Tia's condition. Alicorns can easily get sick, though we normally are quite good at controlling the outward signs." Luna deeply inhaled a whiff of her drink, letting it's aroma carry her off to idle fantasies of exotic coffee shops, and being worked over by idle guards on their hours off in a glorious massage in a darkened room. Maybe she let herself get carried a little too far...
Tenderhoof snuck up, stealing a whiff of Luna's coffee before she pushed him back with a forehoof against his chest. "Princess, perhaps I could schedule a visit from a doctor to see her. Provided that I can wrangle her location out of you. I would be negligent in my duties to allow her to come to harm, or illness without trying to stop it."
"Nay, it would only remind her that mortals have failed to reinvent any of the medicines that could effect alicorn biology. No, she will suffer relatively alone, we are afraid. Sadly, she probably caught her... sickness from us." Luna sighed as she climbed the staircase to the solar throne, mug held steadily before her as she ascended. That part was definitely true, it was her fault. Her... Her Tia's melancholy and depression had been stirred up by her own gentle prodding, and the budding connection between herself and Scootaloo.
Tenderhoof spoke up again, planning out how he could fulfill his duties in absence of his principle. Luna seemed unwilling to tell him where Princess Celestia was, after all. And he still had to figure out how to accommodate the Drakesland Ambassador, who undoubtedly would storm in to find out if Equestria was weak while Princess Celestia was sick. Happy joy. And the worse part was that Sunbeam wouldn't be there to take the load off of him. Well, actually...
"Shining, I think we might need Princess Cadance after all, Sunbeam is going to be out caring for Princess Celestia." Tenderhoof raised an eyebrow at the way that Shining Armor perked up from his slight funk at the mention of his fiancee.
Luna puzzledly scowled as she wondered why she would need Princess Cadance. "Really."
"Well, we need a temporary secretary of the court."
Shining Armor twisted around, silently pleading and begging to Luna with a look. It was an old technique he had developed from his Twilie, and if it worked on Princess Celestia, it had to work on Princess Luna, right? The lunar alicorn flinched ever so slightly at the pitiful look, relenting immediately under Shining's stare.
"Yes, yes. Go get her. When you get back, we need to discuss putting a force field around the city configured to repulse our Tia only. She can be such a terrible workaholic, even as tired and unwell as she is. Hmm." Luna bit her lip, wondering what else she was missing. She had her coffee, secretary, guards, Tia was on her own way to Sweet Apple Acres to play with Scootaloo until school, she was sitting in the throne, sun's up... sun- sun... OH! "Oh, and we need to add Sunbeam to the spell, she might try and sneak Tia in!"
Shining Armor saluted Princess Luna from the doors of the court, putting on his serious face. "Yes m'am, repulse the solar court for it's own sake, M'am!"
"And court! Don't forget to announce the court on your way out!" Luna's hoof outstretched towards him reflexively, as if to throw her message a little farther.
"Yes M'am, hailing the court, M'am!" Shining Armor cleared his throat at the front doors, listening to the rabble outside impatiently waiting for the court to come to order. Well, if Luna could handle today of all days, she wouldn't be too bad. His hoof rested against the hidden pressure plate, triggering it and the massive doors with a press, his magic replacing the barrier of the door as the massive oak and gold slabs swung outwards.
"Hear ye, Hear ye! The Solar Court opens! Presiding, Her Royal Majesty Princess Luna Morningstar. Come forth, and announce yourselves before Her throne!" Shining Armor waited a moment as the crowd tried to rush his shield, watching as the rush quickly turned into puzzled confusion. That's right, Luna, not Celestia.
Luna felt her ears wilt and her eyes widen in shock at the throng milling outside the doors to the royal court. Her outstretched hoof fell limply to the cushions of the throne as she rapidly lost count of the multitude that threatened to simply push Shining Armor's shield out of the doorway. So many ponies. Surely there had to be a momentous occasion for her Tia's court to get such a turnout whilst her own received an empty silence still.
Projecting a whisper to Tenderhoof, she hesitantly asked him the great question that dominated her mind. "Tell us this is not Tia's regular attendance."
"It's the start of Tax Dispute week. It only gets worse."
The floodgates burst forth as Shining released his shield, the herd storming the seating with a wild abandon. Scrolls of tax returns bobbed in the air, bespectacled accountants yammered with outrage at the delay and the unfamiliar princess upon the throne, militant protesters held signs declaring their right to be recognized as 'Sovereign Citizens', all of their mass hysteria washed over the unprepared Princess as the storm began.
Luna picked up her mug once more, draining it in a needful and unsteady gulp. The poor cup was tossed behind the throne, jangling the Princess's nerves with it's awareness-granting caffeine. "We doth require a great deal more coffee."
Macintosh stirred from his work trance, pausing in the middle of dragging a boulder to be broken up for the cobblestone fence.
There, standing in the brush at the edge of the farm. He had never seen their next door neighbor in sunlight before. She was kind of cute, with the way she seemed to shine under Celestia's sun. "Howdy, Miss Beam."
The pegasus furtively glanced back and forth before she fluttered over their fence to talk, hovering near the farmer to keep from disturbing the fields. Smart gal. She jerked slightly, staring at the monstrous boulder that he had been dragging, alighting atop it to talk. "Good Morning, Mr. Macintosh. I'm afraid I got booted out of Canterlot today, so I'm looking for my daughter to spend time with her. You do know little Scootaloo, right?"
Sunbeam smiled a little wider, waiting for the laconic farm-stallion to explain where she could find her foal. Big Mac nodded, beginning to tug at his boulder once more with thoughts of how purdy his neighbor's voice was. Almost like Fluttershy, or Princess Celestia with the lilt in her voice. Sunbeam's smile faded as she waited, hoping he would respond without prompting. Aww, buck-it.
"Excuse me, but would you know where she might be?"
Mac moved the straw in his lips to the other side, tossing his head towards the less tamed southern orchards. "Old clubhouse. Moseying with Applebloom and the Belle filly. Something 'bout construction."
Sunbeam swallowed nervously at the thought of Scootaloo playing with saws and hammers, paling. Maybe she should be keeping a very close eye on them, just to be certain. She lifted off, intent on rushing to them. But then again, what about Macintosh?
A small grin quivered at the corners of her lips, naughty thoughts about how chiseled he was when you looked at him up close dancing in her head. And he'd been so polite and helpful, even if she was trespassing. Well, a small reward might be in order.
Big Mac jerked slightly at the brush of a kiss against his cheek, his neighbor making no sound at all as she hovered in place beside him and holding her kiss. A pinkish heat gathered in his face as he imperceptibly blushed, spluttering to himself at the forwardness of his neighbor's sweetness. With a reluctant last moment, she pulled back, gracefully beating at the air as she hovered over his shoulder. "Thank you, Big Macintosh. You've been a wonderful help, even if I've been such a horrible neighbor."
"Eeyup. Should come over some time." Play it cool. She was just his neighbor, no need to look like a colt with his first childhood crush, even if it was partially true.
To his surprise, she seemed to almost glow at the suggestion, a glint in her eyes twinkling at the notion. "I think I will. Wendsday good?"
"Okay then, I really need to go. I wouldn't want them to get hurt." With that last suggestion, she sped off, swooping over the apple trees in a gentle swirl of orange and pink. Big Mac sighed in thought of it, wondering if he could ever find somepony like her for himself. She seemed to just bring out the life in... everything...?
What had been a plain field when she had arrived had sprouted in a riotous aurora of flowers standing tall amongst the grasses, radiantly opened to the autumn day. Since when could pegasi do earth pony magic?
"Now don't that beat all."
"Hammer." Sweetie Belle passed Scootaloo the hammer, eagerly watching as her pegasus partner in crime tried her hoof at keeping the roof up.
Scootaloo strapped the hammer into the ankle-strap toolholster, giving it a few experimental swings to see how it did. A little loose, but not sliding out. Now to get it up to the roof on the wibbly-wobbly ladder Applebloom had set up for the job.
The whole clubhouse had been a wreck when they had shown up that morning. In the ten or so years that Applejack had gone without using it, rot and animals had set in, reducing much of the structure into a soggy, cardboard-strength mess that would likely fall in on them in the first good rain. That wasn't something they were looking forward to. So, the first and most obvious thing to do for their cutie marks? "CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS CONSTRUCTION CREW! YAY!"
With as loud as they had yelled it, the trio was certain that somepony had to have heard them, but nopony had come. Just as well, if anypony saw what they were trying to do, they would likely have all gotten grounded for a month. The whole structure creaked and groaned under the strain of even one filly, let alone two, a bucket of nails, and a ladder.
Applebloom had been the first to try and put some nails in the roof to fix it, only managing to put a hole through the soft wood from the sheer unintentional strength behind her swing. After the sheepish planning session immediately afterwards, she had headed outside to act as the work pony for the winch system and saws they had set up to bring raw material up to the old clubhouse. After all, you couldn't be a crusader without a fort!
With her gone, only Scootaloo felt confident enough to swing a hammer, something that she was regretting as she climbed up the ladder up to the roof. The floor felt like it was about to drop out from underneath her with every slight sway of the tree.
"Hey, Sweetie Belle, could you hold me steady while I smash this thing?"
"You got it Scootaloo!" Sweetie rushed to the base of the ladder, hugging it with all of her strength. "Go for it! Smush that nail!"
"Watch this!" Scootaloo swung back for her swing, ready to hammer a new nail into the joint.
"OH, hey there, Miss Sunbeam! Ya just here for Scoots?"
Steel met rotten wood at a speed that even Big Macintosh would have found impressive. Scootaloo tumbled over the top of her ladder as her swing smashed clean through the rotten ceiling joist, falling to the floor with a heavy and bone-rattling thud.White hooves rolled her over, Sweetie shaking her to try and see if she was responsive.
"Scoots! Speak to me!"
Scootaloo did her best to withstand the frantic shaking that Sweetie inflicted on her, feeling vaguely queasy from the effort. Reaching up to the trio of Sweeties hooves on her that slowly spun around and round, she tried a few times to swat the unicorn's nose, finally landing dead on with a meaty bop. The thud of her body hitting the damp decking rattled her brain once more, making her wish for a pain reliever. "Sweetie, please stop circling me..."
"I'm standing still. You musta hit your head on the way down. Stay still, I'll go get some cider for you. Don't move, your head might explode or something. Well, that's what Rarity says, anyway." Sweetie Belle tried to shine a magic light into Scoot's eyes, only getting a few squirms from the fallen pegasus. Magic was still a bust for her. With nothing else to see, she galloped for the doorway, running right into Sunbeam's face as she awkwardly climbed the ramp.
The orange and pink pegasus smiled, chuckling as she scraped Sweetie Belle off her face. Luna was right, she had nothing at all to worry about. "Sweetie Belle, ponies heads don't explode."
"Rarity coulda fooled me. She's always going on about how exasperated I make her, and how I was going to make her head blow off from all the stress I make for her."
Sunbeam rubbed her forehead with a hoof, wondering how in Equestria Rarity could have been such an over-actor. Then again, given the fact that it was Rarity that she was thinking of, it wasn't that much of a mystery. "Sweetie Belle, I'm afraid that your sister was leading you on a bit. In fact-" She caught sight of a familiar orange form sprawled behind the unicorn filly, sitting in the midst of the weakest part of the floor. "SCOOTALOO!"
"Mom?" Scootaloo sat up in spite of her raging headache, seeing her mom's massive figure protectively bounding towards her, about to plunge hoof-first into a soft spot. "Mom, wait, DON'T!"
Sunbeam yelped as her hooves plunged through the floor, reducing old wooden planks to kindling in an instant as she fell through until her barrel rested against the floor. The structure as a whole began to ominously creak as the tipping point in it's structural integrity was reached. Mother and daughter looked into each other's eyes in shock as they realized what was about to happen. Wood splintered as Sunbeam's mass pushed the dilapidated clubhouse to the point of failure, a spiderweb of cracks running out from where she laid.
Not even giving her daughter forewarning, she nipped at her mane and threw her head back, throwing Scootaloo out the door and into Sweetie with her actions. Sweetie and Scootaloo tumbled down the ramp in a heap, landing in a sprawling tangle of limbs at the bottom. Scootaloo pulled herself back together first, crawling out from under Sweetie Belle to look at the clubhouse as it began to come apart.
"Are ya'll alright? What the heck happened up there?" Applebloom walked under the clubhouse, looking at the pile of debris where Sunbeam had partially fallen through. A loud CRACK! snapped through the air as one of the main joists for the floor gave way, dropping the collapsing structure a foot. Visions of her body smushed beneath several hundred pounds of debris flashed through Applebloom's mind as she frozen in horror, looking up at the clubhouse.
Scootaloo tried to break free of Sweetie Belle, wriggling out as the cracks continued, and the whining of wood giving way struck home. It was too far to reach her in time, but she had to try. Her legs tensed and she jumped towards the yellow filly with as much strength as she could summon, feeling the structure already dropping down atop them.
And just like that, they were clear, rolling across the ground under the trees as the treehouse fell to the earth. Scootaloo rolled her friend off of herself, feeling the pain from hitting her so hard, and the oddest soreness in her head. Applebloom groaned on the ground, sprawled awkwardly on her back in contemplation on the issue of why everything hurt.
"Applebloom! Scootaloo! Are you alright? That was the scariest thing I've ever seen!"
Scootaloo shook her head out, feeling the slight dizziness fade away. "Yeah, I'm fine. I think I squashed Applebloom, though."
The filly in question groaned again, raising a hoof up only for it to fall back against her chest. "What is it that Dash is always saying? 'It isn't the fall that squishes ya, but the sudden stop at the end'?" She leaned up, absentmindedly reaching back and straightening her trademark bow back into place. "Well, Ah found the stop. It's name is Scootaloo, if yer' wondering."
"How did you do that, anyway? One second you were on me, and the next you were all 'whooosh!' and you and Applebloom were all 'whoooosh-CRASH!' and on the ground before i could even look up!" Sweetie mimed the effects of Scootaloo's rescue dive excitedly, not noticing how Scootaloo pensively began thinking.
"I... i don't kn- MOM! She's still in there!" Scootaloo started to dive for the pile of rubble from where the center floor and roof of the treehouse clubhouse had caved in, only stopped in her tracks as Applebloom stepped on her tail. She could see how the rubble and pile of wood twitched with the unseen victim at the heart of the matter. "Leggo!"
"Sweetie, go get Fluttershy! Get her to bring her first aid pouch!" Applebloom waved off her other crusader, who took off running in the direction of Fluttershy's hutch. "Scootaloo, calm down! We've got to be careful! If ya rush in and start trying to grab everything, yer' likely to scratch yerself up with nails, and yer mom, too!" Applebloom waited as Scootaloo tore small furrows in the dirt as she tried to pull herself free.
"Is alright fer' now. She's still moving in there." Applebloom pointed out the unsteady movement of the pile, as she finally released her pegasus friend. Looking it over, she made a quick mental catalogue of all the various pieces of junk pinning the massive mare to the ground. A couple of the big pieces still looked small enough for them to shift loose, piled up from where they had fallen from the roof. Odd, though. One looked like somepony had swung a hammer clean through it.
"Right, where do we push?"
Applebloom pointed to a large weathered piece of lumber that used to be part of the crest of the roof. "That right there. C'mon Scoots, you go left, I'll go right!"
Picking their way to the top, their hooves found the strongest points on the old piece of junk in a minute or two, and they braced for their push behind those spots. Applebloom nodded to Scootaloo across the pile of junk, and with a great heave, the massive old board slid off the heap and down onto the grass, trailing cutie mark crusaders. Sunbeam burst through the top of the pile with the weight taken from her back, collapsing back onto the pile still half-buried, and covered in little cuts and bruises from her misadventure.
"Mom!" Scootaloo pounced her, choking a cough out of the older mare as she hung from Sunbeam's neck lovingly. A slow, weary nuzzle stroked against Scootaloo's back from the bruised and battered pegasus, who hadn't gotten into such trouble in a long time. "What are you doing here?"
"Princess Luna kicked Princess Celestia and myself out of the castle for overworking ourselves. So, I came here." Sunbeam tiredly slumped down, wondering why it felt like Discord was dancing on her brain.
"Wait, you never told me that yer mom worked for Princess Celestia! Come to think of it, Ah've only seen her in town for Nightmare Night and stuff like that." Applebloom pushed some more of the debris off of Sunbeam's back, half-pondering and half questioning out loud as she did.
The first leaves of fall fell as the awkward silence descended upon the group. The shadows of the midmorning sun passing above the trees darkened as the weather team pushed a massive cloud-bank by, cooling the air with it's passing. Applebloom paused in her cleanup work, looking the pair in the eyes. "Why haven't ya told us about your mom working for Princess Celestia, anyway, Scoots?"
"The princess prefers it if as few ponies as possible know the identities of her staff. And I'm just so busy, and I barely have time for Scootaloo in the evening..." Sunbeam gestured with a free forehoof, idly flip-flopping it with her words.
"Oh. Ah guess that makes sense." Applebloom shrugged and went back to her work, kicking a larger piece off to slide down the side of the pile.
Mother and daughter breathed a quick sigh of relief, glad to have diverted attention from Sunbeam's true identity for the time being. As the wind picked up for a bit, though, that sigh of relief quickly turned into a yelp of surprise as Fluttershy dove down from above the orchard's canopy. Sweetie Belle shook her head, clearing out the dizzyness from the swoop as she dangled from Fluttershy's limbs. The buttery pegasus gasped in surprise as she caught sight of her stricken friend, diving down again to hover right before her orange doppleganger.
"Oh my goodness! What happened?" The pegasus let her unicorn passenger drop unsteadily to the ground as she looked over Sunbeam's form frantically, looking for signs of trauma.
Sweetie Belle took a step or two, before dropping to the wood in a dizzy heap, her friends rushing over to check her out.
"Well, I- uh, kind of dropped a tree house on myself like the Wicked Witch of the East..." Sunbeam mimed something big falling on her head with her hooves, illustrating her point for flighty Fluttershy. Shaking her head out once more, she laid back down all the way, feeling the pinpricks of nails against her fur as she did.
"Oh no! That's horrible! Oh, you poor thing." Fluttershy took off her saddlebags, placing them out of harm's way as she rushed the fallen pegasus and began inspecting her for bruises and internal breaks.
Sweetie Belle sat back up as her friends tended to her, rubbing a hoof against her forehead. "Oh, wow. Remind me to laugh at the next pony that says Fluttershhy is a bad flyer. Tell her somepony or an animal is hurt and..." Sweetie Belle moaned as Applebloom helped her to get back onto her haunches. "Well, I have a better appreciation for Rainbow Dash."
Scootaloo and Applebloom incredulously looked at their counterpart, not believing a word of it. Fluttershy was a horrible flier, everypony in town knew that!
"Seriously? She ran into me at the front gate of the farm, and got us back in 30 seconds!" Sweetie's voice cracked as she exclaimed her point, pointing to the trail of treetops with a Fluttershy-shaped gouge in their tops.
Fluttershy continued to inspect her patient, noticing how Sunbeam winced whenever she bent the joints in her forelegs. The poor dear probably sprained them when she fell down. It was such a lucky break, having been coming to the farm anyway to deliver a first aid kit! She'd have to splint Sunbeam's legs and have her lay down for a few hours to keep them from swelling. But who could carry her to the Apple farmhouse? Sunbeam was almost the size of Big Macin- Oooh. that could work.
"Fluttershy, thank you. And thank you for the knitting lessons, since I never did thank you for those." Sunbeam sighed in relief as she spoke, feeling a soothing burn from Fluttershy rubbing gentle circles into her legs to massage the muscles into relaxing.
Fluttershy's eyes opened wide, then narrowed in thought as she started to open her mouth. Then she snapped it shut as she realized what she had been about to say, and smiled widely to say something else. But that wouldn't work either, and the smile faded from her as she tapped her hoof against her chin. And then her smile returned, curling slowly upwards at the corners as the gentle pegasus's eyes devilishly narrowed.
"Girls! Oh, I'm afraid that Miss Sunbeam is in terrible shape! If she moves too much, she might develop jelly-leg syndrome!" Fluttershy spoke up, holding one of Sunbeam's limp forelegs up as proof of her 'diagnosis'. She shook it slightly to give the impression that the limb had lost all support, trying her hardest to look earnest.
"Jelly-leg syndrome? Really?"
Fluttershy nodded a little too quickly, making the girls slightly suspicious. Sunbeam raised her eyebrow as Fluttershy tore into the first aid kit, breaking out several rolls of medical pressure wraps. That wouldn't do at all! She might give it away. "Oh yes, Miss Sunbeam. It can afflict the mouth as well! Girls, would you please splint her legs?"
Sunbeam grumbled as the insufferably adorable pegasus quickly started wrapping up her muzzle before she could refute the claims. Of all things, FLUTTERSHY was pranking her! This had to be payback for waking her up in the middle of the night and being scary at the castle. How in the hay did she get pranked by Fluttershy? It didn't seem physically possible for her to have a mischievous bone in her body!
"Cutie Mark Crusader MEDICS! YAAAY!" The trio of fillies dove into the process, taking some of their wood they had intended to put into the treehouse, and a few rolls of the bandages each. Sunbeam started to thrash her limbs a little as they got to work, but a filly is a heavy thing to lift, especially when you were trying not to hurt her. With only a single hind-leg free from trouble, all she could do was scrape it against the ground trying to get up and get them off herself as she was wrapped up.
"Now now, please hush now, Miss Sunbeam. I wouldn't want you to get hurt any more. We'll have you patched up and ready for a long, long day of rest soon." Fluttershy happily continued to roll up the sides of Sunbeam's muzzle, listening to the muffled complaints that the disguised pegasus tried to mouth.
"I, uh, got her leg! But I kinda got myself, too, a little help?" Sweetie Belle wriggled where she had somehow managed to roll herself up in the bandages as well, having strapped herself around Sunbeam's foreleg by her belly.
Fluttershy's eyes widened as she took in the problem. 'Oh no."
Applebloom nodded, where she had tangled her mane around Sunbeam's other forehoof. "Yeah, Ah'd say Ah could use some."
Sharp squelching noises squished from behind the mare, and Scootaloo fell over covered in something, and twitching violently. "Why is this tree bleeding so much tree sap?! It's all over me, get it off!" Her legs convulsed once more, entangling themselves further in a set of sticky bandages.
Luna twitched as the droning continued. Her mane had broken up into many whisps of nebula-looking frazzle, the usual solar wind billow reduced to a limp mess as she trudged through her third hour of the most boring and infuriating nonsense drivel she had ever heard. It was making her beloved paperwork... frightening. She had never wanted to just curl up and die under a pillow from her faultless, factual paperwork before. Where was Cadance? She was supposed to have arrived with Shining Armor three hours before.
"And so, as you can clearly see, we have properly filed for sovereign citizenship as per the government's covered up paper trails. We once again restate our wish to receive all of our back taxes effective immediately, as is due to us. We once-" The sniveling drone of the mare before her grated on every nerve that Luna had, and a few that she didn't have.
Well, she assumed it was a mare. She was rather horrifically of shape, coated in a brownish-beige color that burned the eyes, and dressed in what might as well be called window curtains. Luna shuddered as she wondered how the mare had managed to even get into the court, let alone appointed as the representative of the 'Sovereign Citizen' movement. Why couldn't they have picked the nice stallion in their back row with the adorable curled up black mustache and red coat?
Luna shook her head, holding a hoof up to try and stop the babble. "We cannot grant your request. Everypony in the land pays income tax. There are no exceptions other than an active royal guard deployment."
The group of protesters behind their representative stood up as one, all trying to shout her down at once. The signs they held were lifted higher as they tried to crowd against the ropes protecting the royal seating, looking like nothing more than a mob. Oddly, the stallion and a few around him were the only ones of the group who remained seated, almost coldly inspecting his fellow petitioners.
Tenderhoof nudged Luna with his shoulder to gain her attention over the roar of the crowd. "Do you want me to clear out the court, your majesty?"
"Nay. Some of them are watching. It would fuel speculation that we have not reformed. We shall have to resolve this diplomatically." Luna looked over the seething crowd, preparing to speak. Starting near the top of her voice range would get their attention. And the attention of everypony else in Canterlot.
But it was not her voice that spoke first. "Excuse me. EXCUSE ME!" A blue heart blazing with fire rushed up from a figure at the doors, exploding near the top of the room in a starburst of blue light that dusted the entire court with sparkles drifting down.
And Luna found that she couldn't remember why she had been so mad just a moment before. Her racing heartbeat of anxiety and irritation faded as the sparkles fell upon her, clearing her mind. She could handle things, it was so clear now that she had some room to breathe in. But why had they even- ah, a power play, perhaps? They were meant to test her Tia, but since she was out on vacation, they had been turned on her to see if she could be easily pressured.
"A-Ah..." Shining Armor panted at the doorway, clutching a hoof at his chest as he caught his breath. "Announcing her royal highness Princess Cadance!"
"I'm so dreadfully sorry that I'm late, Aunt Luna. If you had given me some warning, I would have been here sooner! Just ran into some trouble with some unfortunate ponies. The silly dears thought they were ninjas or something. Poor Shining just drove himself half to death trying to keep up." Cadance spoke softly as she flew over the crowd, landing somewhat clumsily before the throne and bowing in supplication.
Luna shook her head, clearing out the slight fuzziness that had tried to take up residence within it. "Nay, nay. Arise, Princess Cadance. Though we have been besieged these past few hours, we understand fully. Would you be willing to sit in as our secretary and assistant for the week?"
Cadance smiled broadly at the chance to sit in on a court session once more, and took up a seat just below the throne. "I'll take it, Aunt Luna. Tax week?"
"Yes. Ugh. Tax week." Luna poured herself a fresh mug of coffee, feeling the jittering just barely kept away that wanted to sweep her hooves out from under her. She couldn't stop drinking now, lest she fall into a pit of drowsiness and not wake until midnight.
Cadance nodded as she gathered all the instruments of Sunbeam's trade from the hidey holes they were hidden in the small desk below the throne. "Can I ask who exactly is on the docket, for reference's sake?"
Luna jerked awake again, shivering all across her body as she did. "What? Oh, a group of ponies claiming to have found hidden regulations that declare themselves exempt from taxes, and recognized as 'Sovereign citizens.' We have yet to find anything to prove their claims, and have been trying to dismiss them." Luna frowned, turning from Cadance below her out to the crowd, which remained relatively silent and still. Odd, they had been so animate not long before.
"Isn't that a contradiction in terms?" Cadance snapped the stenographer's typewriter into position, ready for whatever came next.
"Yes, it is. And would you please undo whatever you did to them? It is disturbing us greatly." Luna's hoof pointed out over the still crowd, who were at least stirring and staring at one another in confusion.
Cadance frowned, casting out tendrils of her magic to touch the petitioners minds. She burrowed in with her blue aura, feeling for signs of wakefulness, jerking back at what she found. It couldn't be... it wasn't right. "Princess? They were suffering a mental imbalance from something disrupting their brain functions. I must have cleaned it out of their systems with my calming spell."
Luna looked over the crowd, trying to see if anypony was missing. Several were, actually. Whoever had riled the ponies up with their talk must have slipped out when Cadance had arrived. "Excuse us. Excuse US!"
The faint small talk, and the patter of hooves on marble silenced at Luna's second bellow. All the ponies within the room turned to her in confusion and a need for information. Even the obnoxious spokespony for the group silently looked on, apparently confused as to how she received an appointment with the throne.
"Now then, where were we? Ah, yes, We do believe you were discussing your case?"
The spokespony turned to the crowd, who nodded vaguely at her. "Yes?"
"Very well. Now then, unfortunately your case is based upon shakey ground. Calling oneself 'sovereign' implies that somepony would be a ruler or a leader." Luna stepped down from her throne after slugging down her 18th mug of coffee. Stalking down the staircase of the royal platform, she came to stand before the protesters, looking them in the eyes.
"It signifies our right to make our own decisions." The spokespony halfheartedly responded to Luna, feeling fuzzy on what she was supposed to say. And the mare of the night was just plain scary, even in the middle of a sunbeam.
"But you also call yourselves citizens." Luna stalked a little closer, looking at them as they shivered before her.
Luna bent her head down to look the spokespony in the eyes, looking within them for signs of trauma or damage. After all, how could somepony be so dense? Tenderhoof and Cadance shifted uneasily behind her as she stared the protester down, testing her. "And a citizen is a member of a realm. Not a member apart, but one of a whole. Your money is not squandered, it is not wasted. It goes to good causes for the sake of the nation as a whole, to benefit those who need it most, and to protect us."
"From what!? Beyond Equestria is ash!"
"Nay. We can think of two nations that could match us. Have you heard of the Drakesland Republics?" Luna turned slowly to the pony who had stood up, fixating him with a terrible gaze that set him to quivering in his skin. Pale green fur turned white as bone as she strolled towards him, singling him out.
"What of the Glasslands, former home of the alicorns before the cataclysm? They too, could wreak terrible havoc upon Equestria." Luna watched as he shook his head, not recognizing the names as she called them out. The lunar diarch turned away, letting him slump to the ground exhausted from the effort of gazing into an alicorn's glare. "Of course you do not recognize them. Both can compete against us, both seek to undermine Equestria."
Cadance stood up herself, standing beside Luna with her wings spread ever so slightly. The protesters slid back slightly at her approach, unnerved by two alicorns standing together against them. But it was words of pity, not anger, that she had to say. "There are many places beyond us. Some beautiful, some not so much. Your taxes are for the good of all of us."
Luna nodded, taking up where Cadance left off. "Consider them your dues for your participation in society. They pay for your hospitals, for helping farmers with your food. They build the railways that you now ride, and will go towards building the airships that you fly. They help the poor recover and remain productive, and help to inspire those who change our world." Luna kept her voice relatively low, letting them flow across the crowd instead of blasting at them.
"And not paying them, trying to keep that money from reaching those who need it, isn't that rather selfish of you? You show your love for others by giving, so that when the time comes you will receive the love of others." Cadance swept her wing down, snagging Shining Armor and dragging him to her side as he tried to sneak around the crowd to the throne. The exhausted knight stopped struggling as Cadance nuzzled him gently, leaning into her embrace and supporting himself with her.
"We cannot grant your right of 'Sovereign Citizenship', because it does not exist. And, because it goes against everything our Tia has tried to teach you since she came to rule. It goes against harmony, against all bonds of fellowship." Luna cupped one of the protestor's chin with her wing, raising his gaze to meet her own. He almost flinched at her touch, afraid of what she might do as his eyes met hers.
A shameful silence filled the air as they all stepped back; the sounds of several whispering conversations beginning as the ponies tried to understand what Luna had said. The lunar diarch glanced towards Cadance, wondering once more what spell she had cast to create such a sea change in the mood of the court.
"Money isn't everything. If it was, my aunt would never have fallen, and my other aunt wouldn't have paid her own taxes for both of them for a thousand years." Cadance let Shining Armor go, feeling him having recovered as she spoke.
"We dismiss this case. Go home, be with your families. They all miss you very much." Luna outstreched her wings as she gently commanded, pointing towards the front doors with their tips.
With nothing more to do, the protesters began to file out, murmuring amongst themselves and questioning what they had been thinking. The lunar diarch's words had inflicted the effect she had hoped for, convincing the group to depart without a single last peep. All the same, she kept herself in her pose despite how it hurt her wings, unwilling to show a single sign of weakness in her will.
Cadance looked over with a sidelong glance, curious as to how well her aunt was holding up. As the court's doors shut and Luna slumped in the exhaustion of her work, the cheeky pink alicorn giggled lightly and sidestepped over to give her larger counterpart something to rest against. "Oh, auntie. You're as bad as Aunt Celestia."
"Yes, well our Tia needs the rest more than we do. What spell was that that you cast?"
Cadance conjured up a miniature version of the spell, freezing it in place to let Luna inspect it. "Something that I picked up long ago, Auntie. It calms nerves by suppressing adrenaline, and undoes outside influences on someponies mind. Add an aura of rationality, and it can keep even the flightiest of ponies calm in the middle of a crisis."
Luna blinked, trying to remember what adrenaline was supposed to do in a- "Suppresses Adrenaline? Uh-ooooooooaaawwhhh..." The diarch of the moon toppled over to the other side like a great falling tree. Her legs flipped up into the air as she rolled onto her back, limply hanging over her body as she passed out at last.
Shining Armor unsteadily walked to get her a fresh mug of coffee as Tenderhoof and Princess Cadance watched over the fallen mare. The young captain poked her with a hoof, watching her body twitch from the contact. He hopefully shrugged to Cadance, unable to do much more for his temporary leader.
"I don't suppose you have a spell that puts adrenaline back in, do you? She seems to be more caffeine than mare now. Twisted and jittering."
Cadance shook her head, unwilling to try. "I wouldn't even want to know what she would do with enough of that in her bloodstream to wake her back up."
Shining Armor continued filling the royal mug, perking back up himself from the fumes escaping the still steaming liquid. Something troubled him a great deal concerning what his beloved had said earlier. "Cadey-Wadey... you said that your spell undoes outside influences, right? So who was playing with the protester's heads?"
"Now what's this here?" Granny Smith looked over the orange, pink, and bandaged lump laying atop the apple family couch in irritated confusion. She knew it couldn't be one of Applebloom's things, so what was it? Had Winowna fallen into zap apple sauce again? "Well, there went mah plans for a nice afternoon nap."
The mysterious lump perked up at the comment, revealing itself to be the heavily bandaged form of their neighbor, Sunbeam. The poor dear seemed to be almost completely mummified in poorly wrapped bandages, like she had been hurt badly. The mare tried to say something, muffledly spitting out an unintelligable sentence or two before she realized she had forgotten about the tight wrap around her muzzle. Garrumphing in resignation, she drooped her head down over one of her splinted legs.
Granny chuckled in memory, recalling some of her own 'accidents' that had gotten her into similar pickles. The poor dear was probably itching all over. "Hurt yer jaw, dearie?"
Sunbeam shook her head atop her leg.
"Huh. Well, whatchya doing out here instead of that fancy-pantsy hospital in town? Got hurt on the farm, Miss Sunbeam?" Granny Smith frowned at the slow reluctant nod from her guest. That situation wouldn't do at all.
"Now that's a right up shame. Ah know ya just can't get time off to visit us, what with being the Princess's helper and all. Ah'd hate fer all of yer memories of the farm to involve getting hurt." Granny Smith looked for another seat as she spoke, spotting her chair nearby. Seeing her chair a few feet away warmed her spirits, and the elderly matron got behind it to slowly push it over to Sunbeam's side for a chat.
"Say, did mah grandson bring you in?" Granny looked around her chair, seeing Sunbeam slowly nodding for her.
"And he didn't think to tell me or bother to get to know ya better. Fer shame. Ah'll have to remind him later." Granny Smith finished getting her chair in place, satisfyiedly kicking it once to make certain it would stay put. The thing seemed a little bit taller each time she sat in it, probably an artifact of her old age slowly catching up as she sat down and twisted around so she could reach the wrap around Sunbeam's muzzle.
The younger-looking mare gasped in relief as her binding came free under Granny Smith's touch and released her muzzle. "Thank you."
"It's what Ah do." The old apple matron sat upright, letting her plushly cushioned chair take the weight of age off of her bones. "Ah hope it wasn't Big Macintosh bucking without checking again that put ya in yer world of hurt."
"What? Oh. Oh, no. I, uh... dropped through the treehouse in your south orchard. And then it dropped on me." Sunbeam's sheepish confession earned a bark of laughter from her elderly companion. It didn't seem so funny to herself, though. The look on Scootaloo's face had been more than enough to ensure that.
"Oh, that old thing. What on Celestia's good earth were ya doing out there at that old place?"
"Checking in on my daughter and her friends. I have the week off, and I had to find something to do." Sunbeam ruefully recalled what had happened that morning. Well, they had been okay, and at least they had been herded off to their afternoon class. Her ordeal had hurt, but it was better that she take that hurt rather than one of them. And, more importantly, her misgivings about their 'crusaders' fascination had been so far unfulfilled. They were just kids who didn't know the old meanings of a word.
"Oh, what's her name...- Scootaloo? Sweetest thing Ah've ever seen. Sweeter than that gal Pinkie's 'Sweets with a Sweet' treat, even." Granny Smith patted Sunbeam on the leg as she prattled on, keeping an eye out for spots that seemed to hurt. "Ya did right by her, at least. So, who patched you up?"
"Fluttershy. Though I don't know if I could call it 'patching up'. I'm not actually all that hurt, but Fluttershy has been upset for some time now after I woke her up in the middle of the night. And I scared her for two weeks by dragging her up to Canterlot to teach the Princess how to knit. I never thought that she would- well, prank somepony." Sunbeam lifted one of her legs, showing off the immobilizing splint around it a little bit as she spoke.
Granny Smith whooped with joy, startling the poor mare on the couch out of her body for a second. "YEEEEAaaaaa-HAAAW! About time that girl started asserting herself! And here Ah was worrying that Ah'd have to find some young'n from down to lock in a room with her to do the trick." The old matron sat back down, her back popping from how she had jumped up with a hoof in the air.
Sunbeam wondered how shy Fluttershy had been before her student had found her, if locking her in a room with somepony had been considered as an option. Right, best to be off, then. "Um, I don't suppose that you could finish loosening me up? That is, if you don't mind." Sunbeam flicked her ears hopefully, needing to scratch between them. She had been tied up for nearly two hours already.
"Land's sakes, no! The poor dear would go right back to the way she was a few years ago if she ever thought she did something wrong." Granny Smith reached over, fulfilling Sunbeam's need for her. As the sunny mare leaned her head into it, the matriarch put on the speed, rubbing the spot for a long, hard time. "Anyways, since yer plate is clear fer the week, it'll be good fer ya to take a break. And this way, ya can practice being a mummy fer Nightmare Night this year."
"But I really should be checking in on those reports." Sunbeam pleaded, putting on a sad face for effect.
Granny Smith began to mutter beneath her breath, ruefully shaking her head. She could see the reason why she never got to see her neighbor. "And here Ah thought Apple Kin were addicted to work."
"What was that?"
Granny Smith spoke up, making her opinion known as she pulled her hoof back."Ah said maybe yer kid needs more love than yer work. Even by our crazy standards yer working too hard."
"Nopony else can do my job."
"Sure they can, but yer first step is to actually look for 'em." Granny Smith thought back, trying to recall her own struggles between work and family back when she was a fiesty youngster the same age as Applejack. Boy had she been a mess back then, herself. Her son had turned into a right up ornery varmit before she stepped back from the farm for a while in order to take care of him. "Look, yer work is good, but yer only gonna get one time with yer kid."
Sunbeam darkened, remembering a black dawn a thousand years before. "I know what you mean."
"Ah take it you have some other kids besides yer sugarcube?"
"Two, a son and a daughter."
"Well, Ah hope you weren't as wrapped up in yer work for them."
Sunbeam shook her head, knowing she certainly had never been mother of the year material. "I was. Worse, even. It- wasn't all my fault, though. It was a bad, bad time." Sure, what with their flight to Equestria, Discord, the Demons, the fueding madmares and stallions in the supposedly safe land, Starswirl's wife getting....
She had tried so hard to just make things right for her, never quite making it. And then she had-... she had-
"One of them turned out rotten?"
"My- first-" She wanted to hide from the apple matron, to find someplace that wouldn't remind her of how she had bucked up so badly in the early days. She just needed to hold it together, just a little longer.
"It's okay, there. Things get better, Ah promise. Did ya ever get 'em back?"
Sunbeam nodded slowly, sniffing a little as she suppressed her sorrows. "I moved the heavens, earth, and Tartarus to get her back." And she had broken more than a few laws to do so. She'd broken more than a few laws in her own grief over what had happened, because she wasn't as strong as she needed to be. She had hurt more than a few ponies, including her own student, in the last mad dash to... well, it was over now.
"Sweetie? Ah've got a little bit of advise for you, from one mother to another. If yer not wanting to go through whatever it was that got you so broken up, then love her while you can. We spend too darn short of a time on this good earth to let other things distract us from our kin. There ain't a life worth living where you abandon them." Granny Smith smiled sadly, watching as Sunbeam shifted and squirmed in the midst of an internal debate. She knew it couldn't be easy for the mare, but it was better to hurt all at once, instead of holding it for later.
"I suppose I should, shouldn't I?"
"And that's great! And since yer waiting for that dear to show up, care for some Apple family stories?" Granny Smith knew there had been a reason that she had stuffed the photo album into her sitting chair's side pocket last night.
"Take good care of him, okay?"
"Yes, Da." Inkie patted her brother on the head, checking to make sure he was still there.
"And make certain that he drinks plenty of water to keep from drying out on the trip!"
"Yes, Ma." Berry elbowed Inkie in the ribs as she nodded to her mother.
"And don't forget to buy plenty of candy to keep my energy up!"
"Clyde, they got those ridiculous nicknames from you and your eldest."
"Well, you're the one fond of using overly long names." Clyde Pie shifted his unlit pipe to the other corner of his mouth as he prepared for a long fuss between him and his wife.
"Oh, don't listen to him, Bartholemew."
The young seapony shook his head as his parents mock-glared at each other. It never failed, every time he turned around. And every time the night got hard to sleep through, what with the strange rhythmic bumping noises from his parents room as they kept having fun up there. He really wasn't sure he wanted to know what they did on those nights.
Berry decided to nip it in the bud, so they wouldn't have fun at his expense. "Ma, Da, don't you think that this is a bad time to start that again?"
Bonnie grumbled, before looking down at her son and smiling with a bit of teasing mirth. " You're right Bartholemew. It's time to say goodbye, for now." Bonnie pecked her son on the bridge of his muzzle with a quick kiss, before sweeping him up into a nuzzling melancholy hug.
Clyde squeezed in under Bonnie's grip, sweeping his son out into a tight and crushing hug of his own. Picking him up and standing on his hind legs, he twirled his son around like he would with his daughter, Pinkie. After a few seconds, a few laughs from his sisters, and a good pout from his mother, Berry nuzzled his father goodbye as they came to a halt. "Thank you, Da."
"Don't forget it." Clyde winked at Berry, pretending to look cross with his wife. "And don't forget your heart. No matter where your home is, it will always lead you there." Clyde set his son down, tussling the massive mane atop his baby boy's head. Poor Berry always took too much from his older sister's example.
"I won't, Da."
Bonnie gasped as she realized she forgot something. "And don't let your sister Pinkamina get fat if you can help it!" Bonnie stuck a healthy cooking cookbook into Berry's already overstuffed saddlebags, smooching him once more as she scooted back.
"Land's sakes and Celestia's blessings, mare! Can't you leave her be? I know you're the boring-"
Clyde took his hat off his head and covered his face and eyes with it to hide his muttering and eyerolls of frustration. "I know you're the practical one, but some things just aren't worth doing that way. Like Bartholemew, or Pinkie. They just need a little more love."
"Pinkamina." Bonnie insistently corrected him.
"Pinkie. You know she only responds to her full name when you get angry with her." Clyde put his hat back on as he retorted, straightening it out.
"Oh, drat. We have been foiled again in our dastardly plot to make the farm boring once more, Mother." Blinkie tried to keep a straight face as she winked at Berry and elbowed her mother in the ribs playfully.
Clyde took a nervous step back as his wife and middle daughter laughed together, hugging his son around the neck as he did. "Can I go with you, Bartholemew? They're starting to scare me."
Berry tapped his chin with a forehoof, pretending to ponder. "Well, if I took you, nopony would be left to prevent them from turning it into the Boring Clan Rock Farm. I can send Pinkie back as backup, Da."
Clyde hastily unwrapped his leg from around Berry. "No-no! Inkarelda and I can hold the Forces of Boredom at bay."
Bonnie wiped the sheen of sweat from her brow, knowing how disruptive her eldest daughter could be. That had been a lucky bullet dodge. Shaking her head, she smiled and slid up flank to flank with her husband, putting up her best face. "I promise not to bore your father too much, Bartholemew.
The shrill train whistle startled them all, forewarning the approaching departure of Berry's ride. Clyde rubbed his wife down, relaxing her ruffled fur before he patted his son one last time and stepped back. "You're going to be late, son. Take care."
"I will, Da." Berry barely reacted as Inkie scooped him up and onto her shoulders, used to his sister's antics. Inkie pretended to snort and buck as he dug his forehooves down around her collarbone for a grip, letting his mechanical rear legs hang limp around her barrel. "Now then, how did it go? Hi-ho Inkie, Awaaay!"
"N-n-neigh!" Inkie galloped for the train, jumping aboard just behind the conductor. Passengers shouted as she ducked and weaved through, angry that her massive saddlebags had sideswiped them. She didn't care, most of them were rich snooties who had been in for the rock farming expo in town.
The pair hurdled over a trio of foals at last, sliding to a halt within the sleeper car towards the front of the train. Inkie bowed down, letting Berry slide from her back like a little blue seal. The landbound seapony slipped under the blankets, coiling his tail up to hide it from any gawkers and scooted over to the window for a rest. Inkie nodded happily, sliding in with him and placing a hoof over his back protectively. Nopony was going to do anything to her brother without coming through a Pie Sister first.
"Bartholemew! Bartholemew!" Well, there was the small window they could slip through.
Berry unwrapped himself and rolled over, opening his window to see what his mother wanted. A clinking, rattling bag of rock seeds bounced in to land atop Inkie as his mother bounced and struggled to see through their window. Berry leaned out the window, nearly getting hit in the chin by the top of his mother's head.
He drew back, timing it just right for his mother's next bounce so he could kiss her on the nose, saying his mind as he did. "Yes, Ma! I'll make sure that Pinkie keeps the traditions going."
Inkie giggled, knowing that her parents would likely be remembering things they had forgotten to pack for their prodigal daughter right up until the end of the train pulled past the edge of the station platform. They meant well, but Pinkie did always leave them flustered, even before she discovered her strange and sorcerous-seeming cutie mark. One day they'd be able to get it all collected the first time around. Of course, the pack of wriggling toothbrushes that had dropped against her belly might be why she was giggling, too.
"Inkarealda! Remember to remind Pinkie to brush more often so she'll be less afraid to smile while she's singing!" Clyde pushed back off of the train, catching his hat after the windowsill knocked it off his head. Just in time, too, as the train began to depart the station.
"Da! Don't you think that's a little embarrassing to courier?" Berry leaned his head out the window, looking back on his parents and other sister as they began trotting to keep up.
Bonnie felt her old age catching up to her as she shouted ahead to her beloved baby boy. "Don't let her drink alcohol!"
"Or coffee! No coffee!" Clyde kept up a little better than his wife as she fell behind him. The Pie children collectively shook their heads at their parents, wondering how they ever managed to keep up with any of them.
Clyde skidded to a halt at the end of the platform, nearly getting knocked off it by his wife and youngest daughter bouncing off of him as well. The three of them shouted out one last piece of advice at the departing train, hoping that Berry would hear it. "And make sure she straightens her mane!"
"Well, I'm glad that's over." Scootaloo buzzed along at what felt like a snail's pace beside Applebloom as the pair headed for Sweet Apple Acres under the darkening dusk skies. At least Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon had been too busy gawking to be taunting at school. But, that was due to another, and more irritating problem. "I don't know how I'm going to get Luna in to do a show and tell, though."
"Princess Luna." Applebloom felt dirty from having heard the returned princess of the night referred to so casually.
"Luna. We're... good friends, actually."
Applebloom shook her head, trying to focus on how awkward it had been when Scootaloo had managed to ask Cheerilee a history question their teacher couldn't answer. She had an answer for everything! Granted, it was regarding Pre-Nightmare history, but still! How did Scootaloo learn enough to ask questions like a miniature version of Twilight? A thought struck her, as Applebloom remembered something from that morning. "Say, isn't yer mom the personal assistant to the princesses?"
Gravel was sprayed from around Scootaloo's scooter as she screeched to a dumbfounded halt. "WHY AM I MADE OF STUPID?!" Of course her mom would take her up. Scootaloo hung her head, wishing her mom and Luna hadn't told her so many tales about the old days.
"Aw, now don't be so hard on yerself, Scoots. Yer mom doesn't get to spend enough time with ya, that's all." Applebloom patted Scootaloo on the back to relax the poor pegasus. Why, they were almost home, too! Applebloom's heart soared at the sight of the orchard's apple trees upon the hills ahead as she pushed Scootaloo a little bit. "Sides, doesn't she have the week off?"
"Who, my Mom?" She really wasn't liking where this was going...
"Well, yeah! But what about Princess Celestia, too? She'd love to come teach us for a day, Ah bet!" Applebloom picked up her pace, wishing there was a faster way to travel than by hoof. If she hurried, she might be able to catch Princess Celestia talking to Miss Sunbeam and ask her herself! Nopony could resist an apple family pout outside the family!
Scootaloo resisted the urge to facehoof once more. She didn't want to get connected with her Mom publically. Well, not yet.What had she been thinking, boasting about knowing Luna like that? But darn it, now she had gone and gotten herself committed. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon would leave her alone for now, but who knew how they would act if she didn't produce a Princess? "You know what, you're right! I hope my Mom's better, though."
"Ah'm sure she is! Granny Smith can get anypony feeling better in a day or two!" Applebloom looked at the back of Scootaloo's scooter again, wondering about the empty room on the back of her board. "Say, can yer scooter fit both of us? Ah'm getting kind of tired of walking."
Scootaloo glanced around nervously, wondering if her mom was watching. "Okay, but don't let my mom see. She gets all worried about me hurting somepony on this thing. If she found out, she'd probably explode me twice before kicking me to the sun or something." The pegasus filly held out her hoof, pulling Applebloom up onto the scooter with it.
"Yer mom's been taking too many lessons from Princess Celestia."
"Oh, you don't even want to know about it."
"Aww, now why not, Macintosh?" Granny Smith irritatedly scowled at her grandson, ready to buck him into the room herself.
"Not mah place." Big Macintosh shook his head, catching a glimpse of the dining room in the process. Sunbeam, Fluttershy, and his sister all animatedly talked around the family table, gossiping about something. Brrr. He would never make it out of that room unhitched if he went in, Eenope!
"It's not yer place to just ask her or that dear Fluttershy on a date?"
"Eenope!" Big Macintosh twitched at the loudness of his protest, glancing nervously towards the dining room and praying to Celestia that they hadn't heard him. His only chance to escape was to make an all-out break for the front door, preferably by breaking through it and not stopping until he hit Ponyville.
An option that was seemingly greatly helped as the farm house's front door all but exploded open under the force that Applebloom and Scootaloo subjected it to. The panting fillies tumbled over each other, spilling out into a tangled mess by the dining room door.
"Oh Miss Sunbeam! Yer daughter wants to ask you for a favor!" "I do not!" "Yes, ya want to ask yer Mom to ask Princess Celestia to come in fer a show and tell on Friday!"
Big Macintosh saw his chance as the fillies began wrestling in that doorway. He started to make a break for the door, seeing the growing darkness of night outside. Hay, if he hurried, Granny Smith would be the only one to know that he had even been there. With surprising grace, he tiptoed on the edges of his hooves towards the door, careful to avoid the squeaky floorboards as he danced atop his awkwardly posed hooves with seemingly impossible speed.
Granny Smith beat him to the buck, standing resolutely in the breech like a knight from the olden days. "Ya ain't passing, sonney! Now g'wan! Git in there like a stallion! March-March-March-March!" Granny Smith pointed towards the dining room, where the trio of mares fawned over the fillies with motherly care.
As if to further stomp out a lightning storm over his parade, the Aetheral crackle of a unicorn teleporting in interrupted him once more, startling him into silence as Moonbeam snapped into existence beside him. The bedraggled mare looked like she had seen seven of the rings of Tartarus over the course of her day, and she immediately all but collapsed against Big Macintosh for support. She was cute, pert, and wonderfully colored. But Big Macintosh couldn't help but squirm a little at the two tiny little fangs within the mare's mouth as she yawned and gave him and impressive and heart-stopping look at her teeth.
Moonbeam shook her head, rubbing at her eyes with a forehoof to try and clean the sleep from them in a futile gesture. Blearily blinking at Big Macintosh, she realized he wasn't leaning against Sunbeam, and finally answered. "Sorry. I just teleported in from work up in Canterlot. I was homing in on Sunbeam, is she here?"
"Orange, with pink mane?"
Moonbeam nodded gently, afraid to move too much.
"She's here. Just making sure." Well, there wasn't any escaping it now. He was a doomed stallion, doomed to be forever hitched, he bet. Carefully staggering with Moonbeam against his side, he trotted into the den of wolves, breath snorting frantically with each step. He tried to quietly set her down, hoping to escape without being detected as he scanned the room to see where everypony was.
Scootaloo sat in her mother's embrace between her forelegs, nuzzling their upper halves. Applebloom was putting her hooves on the table beside Applejack like she had been told a thousand times not to do. Applejack, Sunbeam, and Fluttershy sat somewhat equidistantly around the table, still listening to the two fillies animatedly telling their tale. And- oh. Goshdarnitall, Sunbeam was looking right at him.
"Sure, Scootaloo. I know the Princess will be available on Friday, she's got nothing else to do. Why, I might stop by as well and finally get that parent-teacher conference out of the way like I've been needing to." Sunbeam nuzzled her filly between the ears, licking the rambunctious pegasus once between the ears to flatten out her mane. Sighing, she picked up a foamy cup of tea and sipped it with an extravagant show. She almost seemed to purr as she drank it down, pulling it back so she could slowly lick the foam off of her upper lip as her eyes wandered dreamily while lost in thought.
Scootaloo broke the gaze by nuzzling up into the soft and fluffy warmth of her mother's chest, burying her head partially into the fluff of fur there. "Mom, you're daydreaming again. Whatever it is, it won't work. And you don't really need to volunteer just because I said you would."
Fluttershy chirruped happily, shifting in her seat as she beamed at them both. "Oh, but she really should, it would be such a nice thing for Scootaloo, showing her that you care! And just think of what all Princess Celestia could teach the foals!" Fluttershy's expression twitched for some reason, the mare shrinking back from her proud and daring pose. "That is, if she wants to. She really should."
"Yer darn tooting that it'd be great if she did! Why heck, it might even make some kids pay attention in school." Applejack boisterously slammed her hoof against the table as she stood up, rattling the whole kitchen. With her other forehoof, she was busily ruffling Applebloom's mane as she had been since she mentioned 'some kids'.
Sunbeam snapped out of her trace, looking wildly at her companions as she did. "What, what?"
"You volunteered yourself and Princess Celestia to go to a school show and tell in order to give the foals a talk about early and Pre-Nightmare Equestrian history." Moonbeam spoke up wearily from where she leaned on Macintosh's side. With a bit of effort, she pushed off of Macintosh's bulk, stumbling in the general direction of the table.
Fluttershy gasped a little at the condition of the newcomer, and rushed over to help her sit down between herself and Sunbeam. The gentle pegasus passed her a cup of whatever she had been drinking to the twitching unicorn as she slipped her pad underneath Moonbeam to make her as comfortable as possible. Fluttershy seemed to nearly squeak with happiness as Moonbeam wearily sighed and leaned against her orange companions beside herself.
Big Macintosh took a step back, hoping to sneak out. Instead of a quiet creak of an old and worn floorboard, the raucous honk of a squeeze horn drowned out his hooffall, drawing attention to him from everypony. He loved her to death, but darn Granny Smith to heck.
"There ya are, Big Mac! Been looking all over fer ya! Miss Sunbeam here's been telling me how ya brought her in. From what Ah hear, yer getting sweet on her." Applejack got up, rushing over to him and dragged him hoofs dug in and headshaking to sit wedged tightly between her and Sunbeam at the table.
"Well, um- I don't know if I would call it 'sweet'. That might be a bit strong."
"But Ah- and she... and how-" Big Macintosh shook his head, trying not to think about his companion. "How is she sitting upright?" Macintosh helplessly spluttered in confusion from his prediciment. Turning his head at last to take a closer look at the ragged pegasus beside him, he blushed simultaneously with Sunbeam as she turned her head to inspect him. Their noses touched with a cold feeling of wetness, rubbing against each other.
Big Macintosh realized with a start as to just how big his companion was. Why, she was almost as big as he was. No, no... she was bigger. He tried to scoot towards his sister to give himself a little space, only for the stubborn mare to push him back and push him more insistently into Sunbeam's smooth, warm side.
"Oh! Oh, that would all be my fault. I'm so sorry. I mistook her sprained ankles for a full-body Jellyleg syndrome! I'm such a ditz, I really should know better." Fluttershy apologetically burst out, all the while slinking further and further down as she blushed as hard as an oven glowed. A well-timed gentle hoof to her flanks got her to sit back up straight, cringing under Sunbeam's motherly smile.
The orange and pink mare shook her head to Big Macintosh, looking rather remarkably like her smaller yellow doppelganger. "Oh, Fluttershy, you don't have to apologize. It's okay. Celestia knows, I've certainly needed the rest. And the light entertainment from Granny Smith that I was treated to all day." Sunbeam giggled at the soft 'heh' from the Apple matron in response to her praise.
The two pegasi reached across the table to each other, drawing into a mutual patting of reassurance and forgiveness once more. At his angle, Big Macintosh missed the knowing wink that Sunbeam passed to Fluttershy, or the apologetic blush that the timid mare reciprocated before they disentangled themselves and sat down in a warm silence.
Macintosh sat them, soaking in the blessed, comptemplative silence for a moment, maybe a minute. Closing his eyes, his thoughts turned to calming things, like the twisted math that went into the farm's tax status. Or the way his skin was crawling, as he realized everypony was looking at him.
"So, are ya okay, Miss Sunbeam?"
"Oh, yes. I hope I wasn't a both-"
Sunbeam blinked at the speed of the response. Closing her eyes, she hummed a few bars of some song long lost to the abyss of time, ignoring the gagging and retching motions and mock-sounds being made from the being between her legs. "You know, I wouldn't mind talking with you later."
Two hooves jabbed him in his flanks and belly as an old voice whispered into his ear. "Say Eeyup, you idjet."
"Oh, oh good. I hope you have a wonderful talk. Don't mind the unicorn about to take a nap in her-" Sniff-Sniff- "- Well, whatever this stuff is. I'm sure it will come to me when I turn undead." Moonbeam unsteadily and sleepily integrated herself into the conversation. The darkly coated mare yawned as her need for sleep nipped at her tail, ready to drop her into blissful unconsciousness.
Everypony at the table winced a little, remembering their latest guest.
"Well, goshdarn golly, what in Equestria happened to ya? Ya look like how Ah felt trying to handle Applebucking season by mahself." Applejack caught Moonbeam as she spoke, keeping her from falling flat on her face into the table and her drink. Fluttershy and Sunbeam joined in, helping to ease the mare back upright.
As a precaution, Fluttershy reluctantly moved over, pinning Moonbeam against Sunbeam's bulk protectively. The timid pegasus brushed away the limp mane that hung around the bedraggled mare's face, throwing it over her shoulder as she stroked at the unicorn comfortingly.
"Ooh, I just sat in on a combined Day and Night Court session with Princess Luna. No biggie, totally cool." Moonbeam tried to dismissively wave a forehoof, only to throw it against her forehead as she jerked back from the trance she was falling into.
Sunbeam facehoofed, the memory of her week's plan coming to mind. "Tax week?"
"Tax week. And a bunch of crazy ponies trying to claim 'sovereign citizenship'. Why does my beloved paperwork hurt?"
Sunbeam winced, remembering how much those foals had irritated her in past years. Her orange hoof slid over another mug for Moonbeam to drink down, knowing she would need it. "I wish I had remembered so I could have warned you. Redcoat tries stirring those poor ponies up every year, convincing them that there is some truth to that old rumor. I've tried to help Princess Celestia pin something on him, but he keeps within the law. He might be just testing her and keeping her wits up."
Moonbeam gave her spectrally opposite companion a withering look of disbelief.
"What? We never found proof, and he is usually out to try and strengthen the country, not weaken it." Sunbeam turned away, trying to hide from the glare from Moonbeam.
"At least it only took us three hours to-"
"HEY! Ah know you!" Applebloom popped up between Moonbeam and Sunbeam, looking up intently at the blue unicorn.
"You, uh- do?" Moonbeam blinked, trying to remember where her sense of dread was coming from.
"Yer that pony pony Ah was trying to sell apples to in order to get mah cutie mark last week!" Applebloom happily hugged Moonbeam around the leg, wilting back at her grumpy, tired glare. "Err, sorry 'bout that."
"Don't worry about it. If she gets mean, I'll hug it out of her. She's my big sister, too." Scootaloo waved a hoof dismissively on the matter, remembering a tidbit of something she had heard before. She picked up an old song she had heard Twilight sing many times before, modifying it in her head for the situation at hoof.
Scootaloo nodded, taking a deep breath for the start. "My Big Sister Best Friend For-"
Scootaloo scowled as Moonbeam cut her off with a hoof injected directly into her mouth. The older mare began twitching and jerking as Scootaloo began licking her hoof in an attempt to gross her out enough. But it sure as hay woke her up, though.
Applejack leaned around Big Macintosh, looking at the family and seeing the faint hints of resemblance. Speaking up, she spoke what was probably on nearly everypony's mind. "So, if yer her sister, how come we've never seen ya before?"
"Kidnapped by Nightmare Moon in the Neighties. I messed with the wrong magic at the wrong time, and she tried to use me to break the seal early. Got sealed up with her up there. Uncool. Wickedly uncool." Moonbeam shuddered at the horrible sensations molesting her hoof. It was all she could do to recite her excuse from memory as her leg trembled with the need to yank out of Scootaloo's mouth so she could try and clean the crazy filly cooties off.
Seeing everypony's expressions of curiousity, she continued, knowing the unspoken question they wanted to ask. "Why work for Princess Luna? She offered the job free as compensation. Nice view, royal ears, becoming a friend with Princess Cadance..."
Everypony covered their ears as Fluttershy exclaimed her happiness to the world at getting a chance to be introduced to one of her idols. Big Macintosh finished blinking the tears from his eyes and rubbed the last of the ringing from his ears just in time to see the normally timid pegasus clinging to Moonbeam like rainbows on a Zap Apple. Moonbeam gave him a look of desperation as Fluttershy began to drag her away from the table, eager for any stories the unicorn had to offer.
"Tell me everything!"